THEY followed a trail bordering the mountains, cool in their shade in the mornings, and gilded by the sun when it set. That was when the sky was clear enough to see them, at least. There were times when the rain seemed endless. In the north, smoke from Menelat’s burning camp rose and joined with the storm clouds. Days bled together. Riding. Eating when there was food. Drinking when they were thirsty. Rest when they got too tired to ride or the horse got too tired to carry them. Sex when Terimath wanted it—which wasn’t too often, and not unpleasant when it happened, though it was puzzling. Diertan didn’t know what to think of it, or of anything, for that matter.
Terimath had saved his life that day when the camp was overrun, riding in and pulling him out of what was becoming a sour boil of Ammathan infantry. He used the horse capably enough, but he wasn’t cavalry, he was a gunman. He had two Javrenese revolvers and shot well enough with either hand, as Diertan had learned the night they escaped from that disaster in Menelat’s camp—it hadn’t been well-matched enough to be called a battle. But they had survived, and once they’d stopped in a forest clearing and caught their breath they had fucked each other—not quite the right words to describe it, but there were no better ones—for the first time. High spirits, Diertan had thought then; relief was a great aphrodisiac. Now he wasn’t so sure. Relief was too… emotional a thing to happen to Terimath.
Diertan couldn’t think of him as a lover or even as a friend. There was a gulf between a gunman and a swordsman, and a deeper gulf whose two sides he couldn’t quite place. Terimath was capable, he thought. More capable than anyone else he had ever known. It felt wrong to be traveling with him, like a burden, and worse to conceive of any sort of relationship with him—like a presumption.
“Do you want me to leave?” he asked one night.
Terimath looked at him as if he had spoken another language.
“I mean, should we split up? Go our own ways? I don’t know about you, but I’m about far enough south; I’ll have to turn west if I’m getting home.”
Terimath’s expression changed. He had seemed to be following Diertan—right up to that last word. Then he again went blank. Carefully blank, this time—home not only wasn’t a word in his language, it wasn’t one he wanted to learn.
The conversation ended there. Terimath never answered his question, which Diertan took as permission to more or less do as he pleased. He didn’t leave.
The next day they turned west.
The day after that they reached the farmstead, or what was left of it.