Alicia's doing her best to soldier on, her jaw set and her eyebrows pulled down into the cutest little frown Rufus has ever seen—and it has to be Alicia, because Silmeria would just keep stalking along without pause until she collapsed, whereas Alicia is stumbling a little, breathing hard. Rufus is getting ready to say something about it when Alicia sways on her next step and bumps into Dylan.
He catches her before she can lose her balance, of course, one huge hand under her elbow to support her. "Are you well, princess?" he says. "Perhaps we should rest."
"I'm fine," Alicia says, shaking her head. "I can keep going."
"Come on," Rufus says. "We've fought what, three hundred monsters today? Five hundred? You deserve a break."
Dylan frowns at him for exaggerating, but doesn't actually complain. "You have fought hard, princess. There is no shame in resting to recover your strength."
"If even the big guy says it's okay," Rufus says, "then it's really time to relax for a while." He puts a hand on Alicia's shoulder. She's tiny between them.
And she sighs, hanging her head. "All right," she says. "Just for a little while."
They step off the road where they'll be less visible, finding a spot in the shelter of a gnarled old oak. Rufus keeps his bow at the ready, and Dylan lays his sword on the ground in easy reach, but they do sit down and try to relax a bit. Poor Alicia really is ready to drop—this has been hard travel for Rufus, and he's used to it. It must be awful for a princess who's been shut up in a castle for years.
She starts nodding off within minutes, slumping sideways until she's asleep with her head on Rufus's thigh. Rufus smiles, smoothing her hair back from her face. She doesn't even stir.
When he looks up, Dylan is watching him. "The princess trusts you," he says quietly. Meaning he doesn't.
Rufus has never been all that good at talking with the heroic type. But there's something about Alicia.... "I want to help protect her," he says. It surprises him a little, how true it is. "She doesn't deserve to be caught up in all this mess."
Dylan's lips twist in what might be a smile. "The gods rarely care what any of us deserve," he says.
"I wouldn't have expected to hear that from an einherjar," Rufus says. He certainly believes it, and the ring he wears is reason enough. But shouldn't a valkyrie's champions be a little more devout?
"We are mortals before we are einherjar," Dylan says. "My first loyalty was to the royal family of Dipan." He looks down at Alicia fondly. "It still is."
For him to trust Rufus even this much, Rufus translates, is already a big deal. "I'm glad she's got you, then," Rufus says. Alicia makes a tiny, sleepy noise, and Dylan shifts closer like it's instinct. Rufus beckons. "Come here," he says. "We're not building a fire, right? So let's at least stick close." He smiles. "I'll take first watch, since I'm stuck sitting up for now."
Dylan hesitates for just a second. "Fine," he says. "Wake me in four hours." He stretches out next to Alicia, barely touching her, and his breath deepens into sleep almost immediately.
Rufus leans back against the oak, settling in to keep watch. It's still strange, traveling with them, feeling so fond of them, but he's...getting used to the idea. It's not bad.