The third day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
I'm finding that I no longer have time to write in my journal regularly, since at the end of the day I'm too tired to do anything except sleep. By "end of the day," I don't mean when the day patrol ends its work, for I am usually awake for several hours after that, helping care for the cottage and hollow, playing Law Links – which is a duty for me, since I need to learn so much law – or spending the time in excruciating bouts of memorization.
There is so much to memorize as a patrol guard. There are many more whistles than Fenton ever guessed – hundreds, in fact – and I also have to memorize the names and locations of all the mountains near the pass, as well as the names and appearances of Koretians and Emorians whom I might encounter as border-breachers. These are people who have proved particularly dangerous or successful in the past twenty years; one day I found myself memorizing the description of a slave who could be none other than Fenton. I also need to learn of people who might try to cross the border in the future, such as the King's spies.
It's like being Fenton's student again, only much worse, for I've never been good at memorization. My only consolation is that Teague is far worse than I am. Carle says that he is an excellent guard otherwise, but that if his head weren't attached to his body, he'd forget to wear it every day.
It's becoming quite cold in the mountains. I wear my cloak every day now, except for last week when the winds ceased blowing for three days, as they occasionally do. Carle and I have been busy discussing our plans to rent a city house together when the patrol withdraws from the mountains at the end of the month. "If not sooner," said Carle, but when I asked why, he simply shook his head.
The fourth day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
Teague and Sewell have been sent back into Emor with the horse and cart. Sewell broke his leg during tonight's patrol, and Quentin thought the leg should be inspected by a physician.
It was Sewell's own fault; he and Teague were taking a shortcut back to the patrol hut after they met our mail messenger. Chatwin has been eagerly awaiting a letter from his betrothed, and they wanted to see his face when he received it. The lieutenant gave Teague and Sewell a lecture on safe climbing that made even my ears burn; then he cut up his extra tunic as a bandage for Sewell's bleeding, as we are short of supplies at the moment. Usually we have two weeks' worth of supplies on hand, but Devin, who is in charge of supplies, got into an argument recently with the peddler who delivers our goods, and I suppose that the peddler is taking his revenge by delaying delivery.
Carle helped Teague and Sewell to hook up the cart and came back swearing mildly about incompetence in young soldiers. Carle's twentieth birthyear begins this winter.
"After all that, Teague didn't even remember to deliver the letters," said Carle. "Well, if Chatwin dies of heartbreak before they remember to send the letters back, it will all be Teague's fault."
He grinned then, and we spent the next couple of hours memorizing laws. Carle has promised to start teaching me the Great Three soon.
The fifth day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
I awoke at dawn today to find that it was a beautiful day: the sky was dark blue, and clear like spring water. Even with my cloak swept back so that my blades were close to hand, I was drowning in heat, and I was sorely tempted to drop the heavy cloth down a fissure. Carle reminded me, though, of the patrol regulation I memorized last month, about always wearing cloaks in the month of December, so I spent this morning sweating my way along the paths.
"You're lucky compared to the rest of us," Carle pointed out as we took a mid-morning break from our patrol, near the southernmost point of our patrol route. "You're a southerner; you'll be able to bear the mountain summers much better."
"And bear the mountain winters much worse," I retorted. We were lying on the side of a mountain, watching a flock of migratory birds make their way south.
"Ah, but we won't be here during the winter, so you have the better end of the deal," said Carle, swallowing with a gulp the remainder of our bread.
"Greedy man," I said with a laugh. "That was meant to last us until evening."
Carle grinned. "We'll dip back into the hut at noonday and pick up some more. Devin won't like it; he has been guarding our supplies this week like a hen guarding her chicks. I sometimes wonder whether Devin was meant to be a woman; he has a woman's obsession with these trivial details of domesticity. May the Chara preserve me from ever marrying someone—"
He stopped. I thought at first that it was because of the wind, which was blowing so hard from the north now that it was becoming hard for us to hear each other. Then suddenly he was on his feet, blowing one long note: it was the Immediate Danger whistle.
He followed this with a series of notes so rapid that I couldn't follow what he said. He must have guessed that this was the case, for he grabbed me and shouted, "Run! Back to the hut! I will meet you there!"
I have by now become accustomed to following orders without question and without hesitation. Even so, something made me pause when I reached the curve of the mountain, and I looked back at Carle. He was busy sending out the whistle demanding to know the locations of the rest of the day patrol, and the others were busy sending their replies back. His red hair, bright under the sunlight, made a striking contrast with the blue of the sky, but in the brief second in which I watched him, his hair was thrown into shadow as the storm-clouds rolled over us like deadly boulders.
I was racing through the tunnel when the snow arrived.
When I entered the tunnel, the first few flakes were beginning to whip against my face. By the time I reached the end of the tunnel, a journey of less than a minute, the world outside had become a wall of snow. I stood uncertainly for a minute, trying to see through the white blanket smothering the hollow before us. Then I realized that the snow was becoming heavier as I watched, so I took a blind step into the storm.
I have travelled this route eye-bound, I have travelled it at night, I have travelled it with the wind howling so hard that I had no sound to guide me – why, then, was it so much harder to find my way through the snow? I suppose that in the past there was always some small sense to guide me: if not my eyes, then my ears; if not my ears, then the light cast by the stars. Now, though, there was nothing to show which direction I was headed in, and the winds kept blowing me off course.
I hadn't gone far before my face was raw from the cut of a thousand tiny ice blades striking my face. My feet were too numb to feel the ground beneath me; more than once I fell when I slipped on the snow beginning to coat the grassy ground of the hollow. I stumbled over something hard, and my heart beat fast with hope, but a moment's worth of groping showed me that I had missed the hut and was standing next to the fireside rocks. I turned around, willed myself to walk in a straight line again, and started again.
In the end, I think my lone salvation was the fact that I was in the hollow: I could not wander aimlessly forever, as I would have done if I had not reached the tunnel in time. I bounced from one end of the hollow to the other until finally, by pure chance, I found myself touching something large and flat. I raised my hands higher and touched the whipping ring.
The wind was pushing me against the wall like a bully sitting on his victim. There was a great temptation to simply stay where I was and recover my breath, but I forced myself to grope along the wall. So intent was I on travelling in this manner that when I reached the end of the wall, I forgot to turn the corner and would have wandered off into oblivion again, except that hands grabbed me and dragged me a short distance to shelter.
I nearly fell to the floor as the door closed behind me. The hut was thick with smoke from the fire – I learned later that the smoke-hole had been plugged to keep the snow out – and all that I could see was the others crowded beside me. Devin thrust warm wine at my lips, and I gratefully swallowed the few drops he allowed me. The lieutenant still had his arm around me, holding me steady. He waited till I had finished swallowing, then said in a sharp voice, "Adrian – where's Carle?"
I looked over at him in bewilderment. Gradually, my numb senses began to take in who was surrounding me: Devin and Payne and Gamaliel from the night patrol, and Chatwin and Hoel from the day patrol – the latter two must have outraced me to the hut. Carle and Iain and Jephthah were nowhere to be seen.
"God of Mercy," I whispered.
Quentin gripped my arm harder; the pain brought me back to my senses. I said, "He was on Mount Sword— No, wait." This, as Quentin began to slip away. I paused a moment, trying to recover, from the depths of my memory, the whistles I had heard. Now of all times I must remember correctly. "Jephthah and Iain were on the eastern side of Mount Skycrest. Carle told them to go to the cave under that mountain – the one I discovered when you were hunting me. He said he'd meet them there."
The lieutenant whirled around, the edge of his cloak hitting mine; the snow that had clung to my cloak slid the warm floor. He was at the door to the hut before I knew that he had moved; the only reason I caught a glimpse of him at all was that he paused at the door, said, "Stay with the unit," and threw an object into Devin's hands.
It was not until he was gone into the blizzard that I saw what he had thrown, and then, like all the others present, I was stunned into silence. Quentin had given his partner the seal-ring of his lieutenancy. It is the ring he uses to seal official documents, and it is never to be removed from his hand unless he is in imminent danger of dying and needs to deputize his power to the soldier who will take command of the unit upon his death. Devin turned the ring over and over in his hand, as though he were examining a man's will.
It is five minutes from here to the cave. The lieutenant has been gone for an hour.
Two hours. We've all been sitting silently around the fire, except for Devin, who has been occupying his mind by counting up his beloved supplies in the store room. I've been spending the time thinking about Carle. Iain and Jephthah were on the eastern slope of Mount Skycrest, twice as far from the hut as the cave. Carle must have guessed that there would be just enough time for me to get back safely; if he had come with me, he would be safe too. Instead, he ran for the cave, where he could do no good except to be trapped there with Iain and Jephthah.
Try as I might, I cannot imagine Carle, being what he is, doing anything other than what he did.
Four hours. Chatwin and Hoel have been discussing how, several times a day, the mountain winds will stop for a few minutes before starting up again.
"If the lieutenant made it to the cave, that is what he could be waiting for," said Hoel. "The cave is close enough that the four of them might be able to make it back here during the break. The snow is not the problem; the problem is the winds blowing the snow around."
"Then why should the lieutenant risk himself at all?" asked Payne. "Carle and the others could make it back on their own."
Hoel shook his head. "The passes are tricky in the snow. You lose sight of your familiar landmarks. It takes someone like the lieutenant, who has grown up next to the mountains, to be able to find the way back from the cave."
"Then we can be sure that they will find their way back," Payne said confidently.
"If the lieutenant made it to the cave," said Devin without looking up from the supply list he was checking.
Seven-and-a-half hours. The winds died a short time ago, and everybody's head jerked up. Devin opened the door and stared out at the frosting of snow on the ground. The white blizzard blanket had fallen suddenly to the ground, and the air was clear of but a few steady flakes.
Devin was shifting from foot to foot. I could see that he was aching to leave in search of Quentin, but the lieutenant had placed the rest of us under his care. Devin dared not disobey orders while there was any chance that Quentin was still alive.
A minute passed, then another. Finally Devin said, "I am going to the tunnel. I can find my way back to the hut from there."
He left, and Gamaliel took his place at the door; he is next in rank after Quentin and Carle and Devin. The rest of us strained to look over his shoulder, trying not to be too obvious about it. There was a long silence, like a pause between the songs of a Daxion bard; then Gamaliel abruptly slammed the door shut, narrowly preventing the renewed winds from blowing out our fire. Gamaliel remained on the outside of the hut as he did so.
Payne told me earlier that this was the first time in his life that he ever wished he was Koretian, so that he could pray to the gods. Well, I have managed to keep from praying to the god I renounced, but in the five minutes that followed, it was a very close thing.
The door slammed open again, the winds screamed into the room like a wailing woman, and the four of us who had been waiting scrambled forward to help the figures stumbling in. As I threw my cloak over Devin, I counted automatically in my head, and then felt relief fall over me like sunshine. Six men had entered the room; everyone was back safe. No one had died.
Not yet, anyway.
The sixth day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
We spent most of yesterday evening rescuing Quentin and Carle and Iain and Jephthah from frostbite. "It's cold in that cave," Carle said with a grin as I wrapped a fire-warmed blanket around his feet. "It makes this hut seem like a southern summer in comparison."
Carle is the only one who thinks so. The first thing Quentin did after he got back – before Gamaliel had even been able to persuade him to strip off his wet clothing – was to go into consultation with Devin about the supplies. Two minutes later, he smothered the fire with dirt; then he removed all but one of the logs and started a much smaller fire, one that Hoel says can barely be dignified with the name of fire-embers.
There was no evening meal. The reason for this became clear after Quentin, having submitted himself patiently to Gamaliel's doctoring, called us together in council. He had Devin read out the list of supplies. The list sounded long, but Devin followed this up by telling us how much food ten men can eat in a day.
What Devin's news amounts to is this: There is no telling how long it will be before the winds die down for a few days. If we keep the fire going at its present temperature – just warm enough to keep ice from forming in the hut – then we have enough firewood to last us three weeks. That's the good news. The bad news is that we have enough food to last us three days.
The lieutenant has put us on quarter rations: this means that every day we get a few gulps of wine, as much water as we want (we have plenty of snow to melt), a handful of nuts, and two large hunks of bread. Gamaliel is looking worried. I found him reading through his doctoring manual this afternoon; he was turned to the page discussing the need for men in cold climates to eat lots of food.
"When Teague and Sewell returned to the headquarters without the rest of us, Captain Wystan must have known that his letter of warning to me went astray," said Quentin. "There is nothing he can do, though, until the winds die down; nobody can reach us through these storms. The best we can hope for is that the captain will retain enough faith in us to send a search party when the winds die down, as it is likely we will be in no condition by that time to make the journey back on our own. Our duty, then, is to stay alive so that the search party's efforts are not wasted."
I decided that it was characteristic of Quentin to describe our desperate attempt to stay alive as our duty rather than our natural desire. If it wasn't our duty to stay alive, I think Quentin would have us feasting on the supplies right now, rather than condemn us to the prolonged death that awaits us.
The seventh day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
Eleven days' worth of food left; we're still on quarter rations. We've all been squeezed up next to the fire today, trying to ignore the cold against our backs – all but Devin, who seems to find comfort in counting our supplies over and over, and Quentin, who keeps going outside to check on the weather. We slept in pairs last night, curled up against our partners so that we could throw two cloaks and two blankets over ourselves. I only woke up twice from the cold, but I think that's because Carle insisted that I face the fire and that he protect my back with his warmth. Like everyone else, he's worried that my southern constitution will prevent me from surviving.
We're all wearing our two uniforms double now, one on top of the other. Since Quentin cut up his extra tunic for Sewell, I tried to give the lieutenant my Koretian tunic, which I still have here, but he simply remarked that it was a good thing I would have extra protection. I didn't argue; it's amazing how quickly men become selfish in such situations.
Not all of us. Quentin isn't wearing his cloak, not even when he goes outside; he gave it to Iain, who has been suffering from a bad cold since his return from the cave.
The eighth day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
Ten days' worth of food left. I'm finding it hard to write; my hands feel like lumps of ice most of the time now, even when I'm sitting directly next to the fire, which is most of the time. We've been playing Law Links throughout today, and Jephthah, who has been to Daxis, tried entertaining us with some songs. But it turns out that all the songs he knows end with the protagonist dying, so the lieutenant made him stop.
Gamaliel has been spending most of his time with Iain, whose fever has grown worse. I heard him muttering something today about the need for isolation, but I'm not sure what he meant.
The ninth day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
Now I know; the rest of us have caught Iain's cold. Iain has taken a turn for the worse and is starting to become delirious. We all volunteered our blankets to Iain, but Gamaliel crossly said that having one patient was bad enough; he didn't want all of us dying from the cold. It's the first time Gamaliel has let slip his fears about Iain's state.
Nine days' worth of food left. I took an informal survey and found that five of us have fasted before: me, Quentin, Gamaliel (he says that it's part of a physician's training), Devin, and Jephthah. Iain may have fasted as well, but he wasn't in any state to ask.
The tenth day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
Eight days' worth of food. Quentin caught Jephthah feeding his dinner to Iain and brought Jephthah up before the unit for disciplining.
"I know what this is going to lead to," said Quentin, "so I am going to stop it now before it spreads any further. Jephthah, you are under my command, and you are to follow my orders to keep yourself alive by eating. If I find that you have failed to do so, I will force the food down your throat. That goes for the rest of you as well."
He let Jephthah go with a reprimand; I don't suppose any of us could survive a beating at this stage. I feel absolutely no temptation to stop eating. It's all I can do to remember my honor and not take more than my fair share when the food is passed around.
The eleventh day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
Iain died during the night. Chatwin and Payne are now quite sick; Quentin, after consulting with Gamaliel, has raised their food allowance to half our usual rations. However, because of Iain's death, we still have eight days' worth of food left.
Jephthah borrowed my pencil and a sheet of paper earlier. He said that he wanted to write a letter to his family in case we didn't survive, but that he didn't want to bother Devin by asking for writing supplies.
Devin just found Jephthah's body in the store room. Jephthah hadn't disobeyed Quentin's orders by starving himself; he had fallen on his sword.
Quentin had us lined up against the ice-cold hut wall within minutes. I've never seen him look so grim, not even when he captured me. He spent a brief period ascertaining that none of us knew what Jephthah had planned. I was racked with guilt, but the lieutenant said I couldn't have known what a simple request for writing materials meant. After he had questioned us, Quentin didn't bother to give us a lecture. He simply made every man in the room take out his blade and place his palm on the flat, swearing that he would not take his own life by any means. This is called a free-man's oath and is the Emorian equivalent of a blood vow, treated just as seriously.
Emorians are usually buried whole, but Jephthah asked in his letter that his body be used for fuel, so we had a warm fire tonight as we sent his spirit to the Land Beyond.
The twelfth day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
Nine days' worth of food left. The reason we have so much is that another man died during the night: Gamaliel, whom nobody even suspected was ill. As the unit's physician, he could conceal that information from us.
Payne and Chatwin are much better, thanks to Gamaliel's doctoring; the lieutenant has put them back on quarter rations. There are now seven of us left here: Payne, Chatwin, Hoel, Devin, Quentin, Carle, and me. Despite Quentin's orders, Carle has been trying to sneak portions of his daily meal into my rations, though I've caught him doing it every time. During the rest of the day, Carle entertains us with stories of the worst winters he knew as a boy. If he is to be believed, we are experiencing an exceptionally mild winter.
The thirteenth day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
Eight days' worth of food left. Devin has been urging Quentin to let him try to make it back to Emor in order to lead the search party to us, but Quentin has refused to let him go. The winds continue to howl about our hut except during brief periods of silence that seem almost louder than the wind-blows.
Carle has been teaching me the Justification to the Law of Vengeance. I protested that my mind was in no state to be memorizing thirty pages' worth of law, but Carle sternly told me that I wasn't on convalescent leave and that I was to continue with my duty of learning the law. I didn't have the energy to argue with him.
Devin took Quentin into the storeroom with him tonight to consult him about the supplies. When it's used as a sickroom, a brazier is placed in there, causing the storeroom to be the warmest part of the hut. Now it's the coldest part, but all of us find ourselves wandering in there periodically to stare at our dwindling supplies.
The fourteenth day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
Six days' worth of food left. The reason we have lost a day's worth of food is that Chatwin has been stealing food. Quentin, lying in wait, caught him during the night.
Emorian law is amazingly comprehensive. I never would have thought there'd be a law covering the crime of stealing food from one's fellow soldiers when you are all on the point of starvation – but there is, and Carle knows it by heart. He says that the last time he recited it was two days ago, when Chatwin asked him whether such a law existed.
This was the evidence that caused Quentin to give Chatwin the maximum punishment, which is death. Actually, the maximum punishment is a Slave's Death, which is a fate too sickening for me to record here. But we all agreed that Chatwin didn't deserve a prolonged death of any sort, and the council and judge together can commute the sentence to a Free-Man's Death, which in this case meant a blade through the heart.
Quentin gave Chatwin's partner, Hoel, permission to carry out the sentence. Hoel thought it would be easier for Chatwin if he did it. I don't know whether it was; we could all hear Chatwin crying in the storeroom for a quarter of an hour before he reached the point where he was calm enough that Hoel could carry out the execution.
Hoel has been white-faced ever since then. The rest of us, by unspoken consent, decided not to play Law Links tonight. Carle's one comment was that Chatwin had an easier death than the rest of us will have.
The fifteenth day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
Still six days' worth of food left. We have Chatwin's share to divide.
Carle, evidently feeling that our time is short, has leapt to the end of the Justification of the Law of Vengeance and is now having me memorize the Chara's burdens, the passage he told me about during our trip to Emor. As Carle promised, it is a humbling recital of all the suffering that the Chara endures for the people of his land. The passage ends by talking about the sacrifices that the Chara's subjects should make out of love for the Chara. Carle has been providing no commentary on the passage; he doesn't need to.
The winds have finally started to die down, and Devin again begged to be sent back to Emor. Quentin has refused him again.
The sixteenth day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
We've been here for eleven days now, and we've been debating whether anyone at the army headquarters will believe that we're still alive. I think that was what made Quentin give in to Devin's request – though Carle thinks Quentin could see that Devin was on the point of disobeying orders and wanted to spare him that dishonor.
There was no lengthy farewell, but all of us ignored the fact that Quentin accompanied Devin to the tunnel and spent longer coming back than one would have expected. Quentin has known his partner since childhood; they grew up in neighboring villages.
Quentin gave Devin a generous portion of the food, so I assume that we have four days' worth of food left, though Devin is no longer here to say, and Quentin has not issued his own report.
The seventeenth day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
I learned today why Quentin isn't reporting how much food we have left.
"He isn't eating!" I whispered to Carle, having watched as Quentin went from man to man to ensure that we were all eating our rations, without ever picking up any food himself.
Carle was busy licking nut-grease from his fingers. He looked up and whispered back, "It took you this long to notice? He hasn't eaten for three days."
"But he'll die!" I protested. "He can't survive long in this cold."
Carle made no reply except to draw out from the folds of his cloak a small object: it was the lieutenant's seal-ring.
He hid it again before anyone else could see it and said, "He gave it to me this morning so that, if he died suddenly, there wouldn't be any dispute over who was his successor. In the meantime, he's still lieutenant. Short of mutinying against him, there's nothing we can do to stop him."
"But he made us swear—" I stopped, remembering the line of men holding naked blades, and Quentin standing nearby, his sword still sheathed.
"He administered the oath; he didn't take it himself," replied Carle calmly. "It's his privilege to sacrifice himself for the sake of the unit. He is like the Chara to us."
I've been thinking about the lieutenant tonight, with his skin stretched tight across his bones, and his eyes much too bright. He has stopped going outside to check the weather, and he hasn't been on his feet since mealtime. I've also been thinking about Carle, who will become lieutenant if Quentin dies, and who may decide, oath or no oath, that it is also his privilege to sacrifice himself for the unit. And I've been thinking about the passage Carle has been having me memorize, about how the Emorian people should make sacrifices out of love for the Chara.
I'm having a hard time deciding how to do this right.
The eighteenth day of December in the 940th year a.g.l.
The hard part was figuring out how to die. Jephthah was Emorian-born, so he regarded slaying himself as an act of honor, but I kept remembering Fenton's words about how the worst crime one can commit is to kill oneself. I wouldn't want to do anything that would shame me in the eyes of Fenton's spirit.
But allowing death to come to me naturally would be different. If I went to the cave in Mount Skycrest and waited there, it wouldn't even be a painful death. I would probably die of the cold rather than starvation, and Hoel has been saying that it isn't so terrible to fall asleep in the cold and never awake.
But I had to be sure that no one would come after me, so the device I eventually decided upon was to write a note pretending that I had gone unbalanced – that my wits had fled me and that I would be dead soon after I left the hut. I wrote a letter that I hope sounded sufficiently mad about how I planned to swim naked in the snow – some nonsense I blush to think about, since it will be the last communication anyone will receive from me. I hope that it doesn't hurt Carle too much to think that my life ended that way.
I waited until the winds had dropped before sneaking to the door and opening it in the still silence of the night. Carle barely stirred. I worried most about waking Quentin, but he was shuddering and breathing deeply in his sleep; I wondered if he would even be alive by morning. I left the two of them, along with Payne and Hoel, and raced into the snow-frosted world outside. As Hoel had said, it was hard to find the cave under the unfamiliar landscape of snow, and when I got there, I found that the gap was filled with snow that I had to shovel out with my arms before I could scramble into the cave.
The winds blow gently now and then, but there are long periods when the air is still. I hope it will remain that way for the sake of the others.
As it is, I'm surprised that I'm still alive. Part of the reason is that snow blocks the entrance and keeps out the winds, so this cave is no colder than the storeroom. Every hour or so, I shovel back some of the snow to allow in air and a bit of light. I don't know why I bother to do this, but I suppose that keeping alive is more an instinct than anything else.
It is in this light that I have been writing the words in this journal. I suppose I should have flung my journal on the fire and provided the others with more fuel; no one must ever read these words and know what I have done. I must be sure that I destroy my journal before I rest.
It's harder to keep awake in the cold than I thought. With this journal as my pillow, I fell asleep, thinking how nice it would be to escape just for a while from the aching in my stomach.
I awoke to the sound of a whistle: the hunted had been captured alive. For a moment, I lay where I was, feeling the cold floor cutting like a blade through my cloak. Then a shadow fell over me, and I opened my eyes.
It was Carle, standing above me with a wine flask in his hand.
As I pulled myself painfully up into a sitting position, he squatted down next to me and thrust the wine into my hands. The flask was warm: he must have held it over the fire before leaving the hut in order to keep the liquid from freezing. The look in his eyes was such that I dared not disobey, so I swallowed half the liquid before handing it back to him.
He took it after inspecting to make sure I had drunk enough, then said, "You know, you might have considered what it would be like for me, dying without my partner at my side."
"I'm sorry," I said in a low voice.
He grinned then and finished off the wine before sitting down cross-legged beside me. The wind had begun to howl outside again, and I knew without asking that Carle was now trapped in the cave like me. I thought of Devin, and wondered whether he was dying in the winds.
"You just did what the rest of us wanted to do but didn't dare," Carle said. "It takes a brave man to break a free-man's oath."
"I'm used to oath-breaking," I said with my head bowed.
"Only under the right circumstances, though I can't say that your wits always match your sense of honor. Did you really expect that letter to fool us? You're lucky you didn't have the lieutenant searching for you; Payne and Hoel had to pin him down to keep him from coming after you. He'll probably have us all up on charges if we survive, but we're past the point of caring about that."
We talked for quite a while after that. I can't remember everything that we said, but it was mainly about how I had made my decision to break my oath and disobey Quentin. At a certain point, Carle said, "But it's easy enough to find a justification for breaking an order. At his trial, Shepley said that he had tried to capture the barbarian on his own because he wanted to protect the rest of us from danger. He said that he couldn't have known that the capture would go awry – but that's precisely the point. We can never know the full consequences of disobeying orders; that's why it's up to our officials to make such decisions. They have greater experience and skill, and so they can see further ahead than we can."
"That's true," I said, huddling closer to Carle. He had wrapped his cloak around the two of us, and we were drawing upon each other's warmth like autumn flowers seeking the last rays of sunshine before their deaths. "And there's a more positive way to phrase it: we can never know the full consequences of obeying orders. It seems mad to me sometimes, the way that we risk our lives to stop unimportant men who would probably cause no trouble if they breached the border – but we just can't know that for sure. The best path to take is to obey orders, even if it seems that Emor will receive no reward for our sacrifices."
"Then why did you disobey the lieutenant? Don't mistake me; I think you did the right thing. I just can't find the words to say why."
I leaned my head against Carle's shoulder, closing my eyes against the dagger-sharp cold that bit at us. He put his arm around my back, and I felt him reach his bare hand out toward the cutting air in order to pull his cloak closed around me. I said, without opening my eyes, "I suppose it's a matter of instinct. When you threw yourself weaponless at the barbarian, you didn't stop to measure whether what you were doing was right or not. You just knew that Quentin and Shepley were in danger, and you acted accordingly. I think that you have to start with a strong love for the Chara and his laws, and draw upon that when it comes time to make such decisions."
I felt Carle's head move, and when I tilted my own to look up at him, I saw that he was smiling. "So my law lessons to you during the past few days haven't been wasted," he said.
"What?" I replied, blinking rapidly in confusion.
"The Law of Vengeance. You actually paid attention to what you were memorizing."
"Oh." It took me a moment to realize what he was saying. "I hadn't thought of that. Yes, I suppose that says the same thing."
"What law passage were you thinking of, then?"
I seemed suddenly a great deal warmer than I had been before – at least, my ears were quite warm. I ducked my head, but Carle had already read my eyes and was laughing. "Not a law passage," he said. "Something Koretian? Well, go ahead and enlighten me."
"It's religious," I mumbled.
"I promise to eliminate my usual sharp commentary on the subject. In any case, this doesn't seem to be the right moment to ridicule your gods. I suppose you've been praying to them."
"No," I responded quickly. The look of approval I received from Carle emboldened me to say, "It's something Fenton told me during our last conversation. He said that if you truly love the gods and their law, you will know when the right moment comes to offer up your sacrifice. He said that a cousin of mine who is a jeweller had once described the Koretian people as joined together by their love of the gods, like the links of a precious chain."
I expected Carle to say that Emlyn had stolen this image from the Emorians, but he was silent for a long while before saying, "Perhaps the Koretians are more civilized than I'd thought. By the law-structure, if they'd only direct their love to the proper source . . ."
"Perhaps they will some day," I said as I yawned. "Perhaps we'll find some way of persuading them to serve the Chara and his laws."
"Perhaps." Carle's arm tightened around me like a ring encircling another, and sleepily I remembered that we would not be there to help with this battle. But it scarcely seemed to matter, so strong was my satisfaction at having conquered another hard question of the law, and so pleasant was the sensation of being with Carle when this happened.
And so, when I fell asleep a short while later and knew that I was falling asleep for the last time, it seemed unimportant compared to what had happened before. It was thus an anticlimax when I awoke and saw the lieutenant standing in front of us, and behind him Devin and Malise and the rest of the rescue party. I was glad that we would live, but I was even gladder that we hadn't been rescued a few hours before. All of the pain we had gone through seemed worth it, just to have had that one conversation in the cave.