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(Continued from Chapter 8)

They didn’t quite make it all the way to the stone pillars, or to the town that was supposedly on the other side, but both of them were quite able to set up a camp for the night. It was almost like old times, in fact, from their years fighting in Ishbal.

The daylight gradually failed, the rays of the setting sun streaming eastward to light the ochre pillars with flame in the distance before vanishing altogether. By the time darkness finally fell, Roy and Riza had found another little spring and a copse of ragged, stunted trees under which to shelter.

While Riza unsaddled and fed and watered the horses, Roy collected several arms full of broken branches and, grabbing a glove, snapped his fingers and quickly built a campfire. Riza dug into her saddlebags and produced some strips of dried meat, some limp carrots, and some rice. She had a small lidded pot in which she boiled the rice, and then she chopped up and threw the meat and carrots into a flat pan, cooking them until they were soft and ready to be mixed with the rice. She handed Roy a spoon, and they ate directly out of the pan as it cooled on a rock between them.

Riza might have enjoyed the companionableness of it all, except that neither had said a word to each other in all this time. She wasn’t quite sure how to reintroduce conversation into their routine, especially after the way they had left things before. It probably wasn’t important, at least right at the moment, because she wasn’t exactly sure she even wanted to talk to him.

But as they continued eating, and the time stretched out, the silence became like a heavy blanket that covered them and weighed them down. Riza began to want to gasp, as though she were suffocating.

And at last Roy spoke, staring into the rice mixture and twirling his spoon around in it. He said, very softly, “I wasn’t trying to be cruel. Back there.”

“It didn’t sound like that to me,” she retorted.

“I was just trying to make you understand what’s really going on here. And why…” he raised his head and looked around, “why this,” he waved a hand to indicate the two of them, “just can’t work.” He looked her in the face, saying earnestly, “Everything I said back there was true. That’s the problem. It’s the facts that are cruel.”

Riza sighed and set down her own spoon. “They don’t have to be, Roy.”

“But they are, Riza,” he insisted. “There’s no way to change what’s happened to me.”

“I know that. But there are ways to change what you do in response.”

“I don’t see how. I know you want me to come back, but that really isn’t fair. Either to you, or to me. It’s not fair to any of you, to get older and older and have to deal with my staying as young as I am now. And for me to have to watch it happen, and lose every one of you, one at a time…well, talk about cruel.”

“But if you came back and talked to – “

“Stop this, Riza,” he said sharply. “Just stop. I’m not coming back, and that’s final. This isn’t just an impulse I have, you know. I did have five years to think it all through. So you might as well just resign yourself to my decision.” He sighed and his voice softened, “And it would be so much easier on you – and on me – if you’d just accept this, and go back to your life.”

Riza took another couple of bites of the rice mixture, before finally remarking, “I am engaging in my life. You happen to have given up all rights to tell me how to lead it.”

“Are you really going to leave behind the work we were doing? All the plans for helping get State Alchemists out from under the thumb of the military and into their own civilian academy? You’re going to leave that work behind, just as it’s getting started?”

“Why not?” Riza shrugged. “You are. And so,” she said, wiping her mouth with the back of a hand and standing up, “we’d better turn in and get some sleep. It’s going to get hotter as we go further east tomorrow, and we’ll get tired more quickly.”

Roy turned away without another word, and got up to open up his bedroll.

After he had seen to it that the fire would last for another few hours, the two of them laid down on their thin mats. They had equally thin blankets they might have used, but despite the fact that it was still spring, it was now quite warm even at night. They could feel the gentle, almost imperceptible flow of warm air, coming steadily from the eastern desert.

Riza managed to doze for a while, but when she heard movement, she snapped awake. Only a couple of feet away, Roy was sitting up, gazing blankly past the smoldering fire, into the wilderness beyond it.

“You do know,” Riza remarked, “that I will always hear you if you try to get up and leave while I’m sleeping.”

Roy sighed without looking at her. “I’m not going anywhere,” he murmured. “I’m just thinking. Is that all right, or should I stop that too?”

“Roy,” she murmured. “Let’s not fight any more tonight.”

Then he did look at her, trying gamely to smile. But the dark circles under his weary eyes reminded her of how he’d looked in the days after Ishbal. Making an effort to conceal her own grief, she held a hand out. He hesitated, and finally reached across the space between them to take it. He laid down again, still holding her hand tightly as he gazed up at the stars. It wasn’t until she saw his eyes finally droop closed and felt his grip slowly go slack in hers that Riza allowed herself to sleep.

Next morning, they awoke with the sunrise. As they rolled up their bedrolls and cleared up their small camp, there was no more talk of going back. They appeared, at least temporarily, to have put a moratorium on such discussion.

But as Riza filled the canteens again, she heard an exclamation behind her, and turned quickly to discover Roy with the knife she’d used to cut up the bread and carrots. He held it in one hand while blood dripped from the other. “Damn,” he growled, “I grabbed it the wrong way and sliced my palm open.”

“I’ll get something,” Riza began, spring toward her horse to find something to use as a bandage. But Roy waved off whatever help she might have tried to give. “No, don’t bother. It’s going to heal right away. It just hurts while it’s doing it, that’s all.”

She came closer and took his hand, holding it open in her palm and watching the process. And he was right – the healing was already beginning. He had gashed the thick part of his hand at the base of his thumb quite deeply, but even by the time she walked over to him, the ends of the cut had closed up into short pink lines. And literally before her eyes, the rest of it slowly drew together, the pink lines gradually vanishing as though they had never existed.

In just over a minute, there was no sign that Roy had ever been cut. He wiped the blood off on his pant leg, and then flexed the hand a couple of times. He met Riza’s eyes and said, “There. Do you understand a little better now?”

She nodded, but then asked, “You didn’t do that on purpose, did you, as a demonstration to me?”

He smiled crookedly. “No. Trust me, if I were thinking of hurting myself, I’d be trying something a lot more…thorough…than this.”

Riza took his hand again, turning it and planting a kiss at the base of his thumb. She murmured, “Some people might be glad at the thought that nothing can ever hurt you again.”

“Those people wouldn’t be thinking very clearly about what that really means,” he answered drily.

They ate a bit more of the dried meat, plus some cheese and bread, and then mounted their horses and headed for the border into Ishbal, and the next town. They took longer than expected, since they were riding into the sunrise and needed to be careful of their horses’ footing on the increasingly rough, uneven ground. But it wasn’t long after noon when they finally rode between two of the massive, towering pillars of stone that served as gateways into the land of Ishbal.

Roy and Riza paused between them, gazing upward. The two monoliths loomed high overhead, jagged and misshapen, like a couple of worn, battered beams holding up the clear, empty blue sky above. The sun, which had only just passed overhead and begun its westward progress, cruelly revealed every scar, crack, and outcrop. Wide pools of shadow puddle at their bases, as though the sun had melted away a layer of ink that had covered them.

Roy murmured, “Think of the long ages it took to wear this southern end of the ridge away and leave these things standing.” He looked over at Riza. “And I could live to see them worn flat.”

He spurred his horse forward, but she remained for a moment, head bowed. All those long ages… She shuddered to contemplate it, and lifted her eyes to watch him moving slowly away from her. No wonder his altered condition had sent him into such despair. She could hardly bear to contemplate it herself. If he thought she was shrugging off what he faced in the years, probably centuries, ahead of him, he was deeply mistaken.

About half an hour later, they came upon a well-travelled north-south road. They paused on the verge, looking in both directions.

“I know where we are now,” Roy commented. He pointed southward, “The main Amestris-Ishbal rail route is down there.”

Riza nodded. They had passed through the large connecting station many times over the years, first during the wars, and then often again during the pacification and the beginnings of the reconstruction of Ishbal. She looked along the road toward the north, to see the southernmost tip of the solid ridge and a slight sloping of the ground along the base of it. The slope showed a greenish tinge, suggesting some kind of vegetation.

“You know what the town must be, then,” she said.

Roy followed her gaze, and a slow, lazy smile crept over his face. “Well, aren’t we lucky,” he drawled. “We’ve got Ishbal’s western wineries right in our sights. I think we’re going to have a very pleasant evening tonight, don’t you?”

“You can still get drunk, can you?” she smiled, and he laughed.

“Oh, you bet I can. I just don’t get the hangover the next morning.”

“That’s hardly fair. I’d better not tell Jean or Heymans or they’ll never forgive you.”

Roy laughed again, and led the way onto the road. They soon met other traffic, whether that was wagons coming toward them and heading for the southern railway station, or those heading north and moving more slowly than the two riders. Most of the people they passed were Ishballans, with the dark skin and red eyes, but now and then they saw two or three from Amestris. The two groups didn’t tend to mix, but there didn’t seem to be any open unfriendliness. Once they even passed a couple of riders, going south, who had the height and white-blond hair that probably signified that they were from Drachma.

“Well,” Roy commented as he turned and watched them recede behind him, “after all, we’ve given the country back most of its independence. Sooner or later, there are bound to be more people from other countries here, doing business or traveling through. Still,” he frowned. “Drachma…”

They saw the vineyards before they reached the outskirts of the town. The slopes at the base of the ridge were terraced as high as they could go with grapevines in rows staked with tall poles. They were fed by rainwater collected in little reservoirs high up the ridge, and from springs at the base of the slopes. The plants were farther along in the growing season than anything they had seen just on the other side of the ridge in Amestris. The vines were showing green leaves in abundance, along with flowers already turning to fruit.

“Won’t be long now, until they’ve got grapes to harvest,” Roy said. “I’m in no hurry, obviously. Maybe I’ll stay here long enough to do some part-time work, helping them to process the grapes.” He cast a sly glance at Riza. “I think I’d very much like to see you barefoot in a wine vat, stomping grapes.”

Riza felt a blush creeping up her cheeks, which only worsened as he noticed it and laughed again. She retorted, “You’re ridiculous.” But she smiled inwardly at how relaxed he seemed to be. He so clearly needed some relief from the stress he’d been under for who knew how long.

And as his mood improved, so did hers. There was nothing quite so enjoyable as simply being with him and doing things together. The feelings of fear, of being out of control, had completely vanished the moment she had found him in the small in, in the last town. As long as Riza was with him, she felt that it was possible to work things through and come up with a solution they could both live with. She wondered if he was starting to feel that way too.

The inn was quite large, and they checked their horses into the stable for refreshment and rest. Then they grabbed their saddlebags and other gear and carried everything inside, to register a couple of rooms.

Or rather – one room. As soon as she heard Roy asking for two, she immediately told the woman behind the desk, “No, please, make that one room with two beds, thank you.” She answered Roy’s raised eyebrow with one of her own. “There’s no way I’m sleeping in one room while you pack up and sneak out of the next room in the middle of the night. You’re not getting away that easily, mister.”

“Well, it was worth a try,” he shrugged good-naturedly. “Yes, one room with two beds, if that’s available,” he agreed, turning to the woman at the desk.

She seemed to catch the bantering tone, as she asked, her eyes twinkling, “So you don’t want one room with one larger bed?”

Again Roy glanced at Riza with that sly smile. “That would certainly make things more interesting,” he said.

“Two beds,” Riza answered firmly, wondering if she was blushing again.

After they had taken their things upstairs and locked up the room, they came down for a proper meal in the tavern. Riza savored the freshly made stew, rich with large chunks of beef and vegetables swimming in a thick broth. “That’s much better than dried meat in rice,” she remarked.

“It certainly is.” Roy swallowed another bite of stew. “Although,” he added, “you do make a mean dried-meat-in-rice dish.”

“Flatterer,” she said, and they both smiled.

Afterward, they decided that it wasn’t as though they had anywhere to be in any pressing way, so they took a stroll through the market, which still had a couple of hours to go before all the sellers packed up for the day. Not surprisingly, among the usual booths of food (much of it imported from Amestris), they found a few booths selling winemaking equipment.

Roy picked up a large stew pot and turned it over, peering at the marks on the bottom. “Creta,” he commented, setting the pot down again. He remarked to the seller, “It looks as though you’re starting to enjoy some fresh trade with countries beyond Amestris. We saw a couple of people from Drachma on our way into town.”

“Yes, it’s picking up,” a young red-eyed man nodded from the other side of the stand. “As soon as the rail lines were repaired, things started to come in. We couldn’t afford most of them at first, but we had some soldiers helping us bring in the first two harvests. Once we had aged the first wine just enough, we were able to sell it, and start buying a few things. It’s gotten better ever since then.”

“Good,” Roy nodded. “The sooner, the better.” He glanced at Riza, and they shared another smile. One of the first things the two of them had decided, after he’d been appointed Commander of Amestris and its military, was to send a squad to this town and help restart the shattered wine industry. He looked at the seller again. “I’m not buying just now, but good luck to you.”

They wandered away from the booth, and Riza glanced back one last time with another smile. But instead of smiling back, the young simply watched Roy intently, a puzzled frown on his face.

Riza and Roy continued to meander through the market area, taking their time. Riza tried, very subtly, to steer Roy toward things – like that equipment seller back there – that might remind him of all the good they’d done as they’d tried to help rebuild Ishbal. She wasn’t entirely sure what she hoped to accomplish by doing that, but at least it might help perpetuate the more positive mood he seemed to be in today.

Or perhaps she could convince him that their work together wasn’t yet done.

They drew near another booth that seemed to be drawing a large crowd, and at first didn’t know why there were so many people there. But the closer they approached, the more clear the reason became, as spicy, mouth-watering aromas began to waft in their direction. Roy flashed Riza a delighted glance, already guessing what the source was. And when they finally came close, they saw two wide grills upon which lay a series of long wooden skewers laden with kebabs of meat chunks, peppers, and onions.

Roy promptly bought a couple of skewers, handing one to Riza even as he slid one of the marinated meat chunks off of his own with his teeth. He closed his eyes in pleasure as he chewed, and when he had swallowed, he said fervently, “I haven’t had one of these for a year or two. This is well worth the wait.”

Riza nodded in agreement as she ate her own first chunk, all the memories of hot, dry summers in Ishbal rushing back to her. Those early times had truly been terrible – and yet there were small things like these that had brought immense pleasure, even then. And on the official trips they had made here in the past five years, they had always made sure to sneak out somewhere and find kebabs for at least one meal.

“We’re going to spoil our supper,” Riza murmured.

“No way,” Roy shook his head, wiping grease off his chin with the back of a hand. “This is just whetting our appetite.”

Now, as they continued walking through the market, they began to notice sellers starting to pack up. The sun had finally crested and begun to sink behind the top of the ridge to the west, and now a slow shadow was beginning to creep from the vineyard-laden slopes eastward toward the town. The market took on a bit of a holiday atmosphere as earnest sellers relaxed in anticipation of getting home for the evening.

When the shadow of the ridge had reached about halfway across the market, Roy and Riza at last started making their way back to the inn. Roy had been right: even though they had eaten lunch a bit late, the kebabs still whetted their appetite for the evening meal. They headed up to their room and washed the dust of the market off their hands and faces, and returned downstairs to the tavern.

“I think this time we should go for everything,” Roy smiled. “Someone told me their roast goat is spectacular here.” He raised a questioning eyebrow. “Do I have your permission, Keeper of the Purse?”

Riza chuckled. “Well, it’s your money, so do whatever you like.”

When their meal arrived, the aroma was as tantalizing as that of the kebabs. Roy leaned over his plate and breathed deeply of the steaming fragrance. “You see why I wanted to come to Ishbal. I want the chance to eat like this again.”

“Oh yes,” Riza nodded, wide-eyed, “I’m sure that’s the only reason you’d think of coming to Ishbal. It wouldn’t have anything to do with trying to escape my clutches.”

Roy snorted and tossed a chunk of bread across the table at her.

They fell silent for a few moments after that, as each of them dug into their meal of roasted vegetables and goat. Food, too, had been a problem in Ishbal for a while, but it was clear that some of the interbreeding programs Roy had helped institute, crossing native Ishballan livestock with some of their kindred from southern Amestris, had begun to reap rewards.

Another piece of good work, Riza though, that perhaps he should be reminded of.

“You know,” Roy remarked as he neared the end of the meal and was beginning to soak up the gravy with the last chunks of bread, “I feel like all we’ve done since we got to town is eat.”

Riza laughed. “I don’t mind. It’s surprising how the heat drains you of energy. And I can’t imagine you had eaten all that much before you left our house, so I suppose you were bound to still be hungry.”

Roy paused, gazing thoughtfully at his last piece of bread. “You’re right,” he agreed. “I hadn’t eaten much, actually, since Winry and Pinako visited me. It was…strange. My appetite isn’t usually that…affected…even when I’m upset.”

“Maybe that’s significant,” she suggested quietly. “Maybe your body was trying to tell you some– “

“Don’t.” He looked away. “Don’t spoil this. All right?”

Riza quelled a sigh. “Sorry. I had decided not to do that for a while.”

He looked across the table at her, smiling wryly. “I’m a terrible trial to you, aren’t I? Maybe that’s a sign to you, that you’d really be better off without me.”

“No,” she said firmly. “I wouldn’t. And,” raising an eyebrow, “now you’re spoiling things.”

“Sorry,” he said in an attempt to sound meek. But the glint in his eyes suggested otherwise.

Yep. Still in a good mood. Which was a relief, after yesterday’s tensions. Riza felt herself relaxing even further, and when the music started in one corner of the tavern, she let herself lean back in her chair and simply enjoy it. Two men played small stringed instruments and a third played some kind of flute, while yet another sat cross-legged on a nearby bench with a little drum between his knees, tapping out a rhythm. The music had a high, winding, eastern tone to it, and a woman with a tambourine sang what sounded like a mournful lament. That is, until the man with the drum gave a loud flourish, and the other instruments sped up, the song turning into a rousing chorus. The woman’s skirts were wide and colourful, and she swayed and swiveled her hips in time to the music, or swirled in circles as she sang.

Roy leaned forward, across the table. “Don’t you wish there was a dance floor? Wouldn’t you love to try to dance to this?”

Riza looked across at his bright eyes, his unruly hair, and the flushed smile on his face, and had a vision of twirling around a dance floor in his arms. “Yes,” she said calmly. “That would be good exercise.” He laughed with a knowing little smile.

Now people were clapping to the music, and Roy joined in. He laughed again, across the table at Riza, saying loudly over the music, “This is great. It’s been a long time. I think I could stay and do this all night, don’t you?”

But before she could answer, another voice broke into their intimacy at the table. “Well well, if it isn’t Commander Roy Mustang of Amestris.”

Someone who didn’t know him very well might have thought his expression didn’t change at all. But although Roy kept smiling in apparent enjoyment, Riza saw the sudden hardening of his eyes as he leaned back in his chair and lifted his face to look at the two Ishballan men standing by the table.

“Good evening,” Roy smiled. “What can I do for you gentlemen?”

“As if you haven’t done enough,” one of the men growled. The tavern was somewhat shadowed, as such places always tended to be, but they could still see scarring along one side of his face and down into his neck. The scarring of extensive burns.

Riza dabbed her mouth with a napkin, setting it casually down on the table with one hand while setting the other in her lap, and gently unsnapping the security strap on the gun in the belt around her waist. Meanwhile, Roy spoke again, still smiling. “I’m afraid I don’t understand. My friend and I have only arrived in town today, and spent our afternoon enjoying your fine market. We haven’t exactly ‘done’ anything beyond that.”

“You know what I’m talking about,” the man growled again.

“Well, whatever you think you know – “

“We know who you are,” said the second man. “And that’s enough. What are you doing here?”

The smile slowly died away on Roy’s face, but still he spoke mildly. “We are just visiting. And we’re enjoying the new trade and the returning prosperity the town is experiencing. We’re very glad to see it.”

The first man hissed, “Isn’t that rich, after you caused all our problems in the first place!“

They were beginning to attract attention. Riza saw the flicker of Roy’s eyes as he quickly took stock of the situation. Now he addressed the two men quietly, or as quietly as he could with the music still playing in the far corner. “I’m not sure what you want, coming here like this. If you want a fight, maybe we can take it outside so we don’t cause these good people any trouble. Or if you want to talk, we can do that.”

“What we want,” said the second man, tense as a piano wire, “is for you to get out of here.”

Roy regarded him for a moment. “I see.” He glanced at Riza. “Very well. If our presence upsets you, we’ll go upstairs – “

“We want you out of this town!” exclaimed the first man.

Roy stared at him for another long moment, all trace of friendliness at last gone from his cold black eyes. The other man swallowed, hard, but maintained his defiant stance.

“All right,” Roy said. “We’ll go up to our room and leave first thing in the morning.”

“Get out of here now!”

Another extended silence. Roy seemed to be contemplating their demand as he idly doodled on the smooth surface of the wooden table. But as he looked back up at the two men, Riza could see exactly what he had doodled with the last drops of gravy from his plate: the same array that was normally found on the backs of his gloves.

“I believe at least one of you has seen this array before,” he said. “And you know what I can do with it. I would advise you to go back to your own table and enjoy your supper, and we’ll go upstairs. We’ll leave in the morning, and your minds can be at ease again.”

“We’re not going anywhere until you – “ began the man with the burns, but his companion gripped his arm to stop him.

“If you do that – get out of our sight and stop polluting this room with your presence – we’ll drop it.”

“Fine,” Roy said. However, even with that very slight concession to give him a bit of space, he reached into the pocket of his shirt and pulled out one of his ignition gloves, snapping it on quickly. “Still, I think I’ll take a few precautions before we go, just in case you want to try something as we’re leaving.” He looked across the table. “Riza? Ready to go?”

She pushed back her chair and stood up, and watched as the eyes of both of their visitors took in her hand resting on the hilt of her gun. “Perfectly ready,” she said calmly. She looked at the two men. “And you can back off now, so we can leave. I should point out that we’ve just spent the last five years trying to undo the damage our country did to yours, and help Ishbal get back on its feet. You have every right to be angry, but we are trying to make up for things.”

“Sure you are,” spat the man with the burns. “And your helping people plant grapevines again is going to bring back my wife and brother and my parents. All of them,” he pointed at Roy, “murdered by him.”

Roy closed his eyes, his face drawn. “I see,” he said. “Never mind, Riza. He has every right to hate me, and be as angry as he is. Let’s just go.”

By now, the music had stopped, and every eye in the busy, crowded tavern was riveted on the tense tableau at this table. As Roy stood, Riza stepped past him, effectively interposing herself between him and the other two men. Her hand hadn’t left the hilt of her gun. “Fine,” she said. “If you’ll get out of our way, then…?” And the men reluctantly stepped back. “Roy,” she said, “Go now. I’ll be right behind you.”

It was something they’d done countless times in the past. Roy walked ahead, watching for possible attacks from the front, and Riza walked backwards behind him, cautiously keeping an eye on the rear. In this fashion, they stepped into the main clear aisle before the bar, and headed for the door. Just as they passed, Riza pulled some coins out of the pouch she carried, and set them on the bar. “That should cover our meal, our night’s stay, and more for your trouble. Sorry to bother you,” she said to the barkeeper. She didn’t look at him, still keeping her eyes on the two men who had initially bothered them. But she heard the coins sliding across the surface of the bar as he drew them closer.

Just as they reached the door, the man with the burns called out, “Don’t think this is over, Flame Alchemist!” And people at some of the tables closer to the door, who hadn’t heard the original exchange, gasped as they realized just who had been sitting among them. The previously welcoming atmosphere suddenly dropped a few degrees in temperature.

Even going up the stairs to the second floor, Riza walked sideways, her gun now completely out, and held carefully in both hands. But nobody bothered the two of them as they made their way upstairs and down the hall to their room. Riza had almost expected to find the room in turmoil, but it seemed that nobody had thought to try to rob them or harass them. At least not yet. Both of their packs and other equipment were either on the beds where they’d been left, or on the floor at the feet of the beds.

As Riza shut and locked the door behind them, Roy walked to the window and leaned on the sill, bowing his head. “I honestly didn’t expect that,” he murmured. “I’ve gotten used to being in Ishbal and not being bothered, the last five years.”

“I’m sure this was just an isolated incident,” Riza began, but Roy turned toward her, shaking his head.

“No. I’ve realized how stupid I was. Every time we’ve been here, before, I was the Commander of Amestris and was surrounded by an official entourage. No one who wanted revenge could have gotten anywhere near me. And like a complete idiot, I thought I was being left alone because I was doing so much to try to rebuild Ishbal. I thought…,” he turned his face away, “…I guess I thought I might have been forgiven. Or was on the way to being forgiven.” He turned back to her with a bitter smile. “I guess we know how ludicrous that idea was.”

“Roy, please don’t take all the blame on yourself.”

“I take it because it’s mine, and you know it.” He half-turned and leaned a shoulder against the wall, alternately looking out the window and glancing at her. He murmured, “I guess I was…premature…thinking I could come to Ishbal, not be recognized, and participate in some of the rebuilding at ground level. Because I’m always going to be recognized by somebody, aren’t I?”

Riza sat down on the edge of her bed. “I think you’re probably right. Unfortunately.”

“This means that I have to turn back. It’ll probably be another whole generation before I can come here without conflict. I have to wait for a whole generation of people to die off before I can come back.” He bowed his head, hugging his arms across his chest, gripping his elbows. “Where can I go?” he whispered. “Aerugo? A lot of people could recognize me there too. Drachma – the same. Creta, maybe?”

“Roy…there’s another place you can go. You know that.”

“I know. I just…don’t know how to bear it.” He lifted his head and she could almost see him shoving aside such thoughts. His gaze sharpened as he peered out the window again. He said without looking back, “I think you should get some sleep while I keep watch.”

“Only if you let me take over the watch after three hours.”

He nodded. “That sounds about right.”

But both of them had miscalculated. Because it was only an hour later when the flaming, oil-soaked ball of rocks and rags was thrown into the room through the window.

(Continue to Chapter 10)
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