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Over the Mountains, Under the Stars

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They reach the first slopes of the Taymets by noon, the sun hanging hot overhead. Here there are the cypress and cedar that dust the slopes and they are able to find shade to rest in before starting up the mountains.

They’ve divided the food from Vedra between their two packs, though Costis had made sure he was taking the lion’s share. Kamet looks better for a couple good meals and a good night’s sleep, but he is also looking slimmer and much more worn than when they left Ianna-Ir. Costis feels a flicker of guilt as he looks sideways at Kamet, who is frowning into the middle distance. He hears Kamet’s words, This is all your fault isn’t it, and the guilt deepens and his mind skitters away from the memory.

“Give me your waterskin,” he says to Kamet, “and I’ll go find some meltwater.”

Wordlessly Kamet hands the skin over, and Costis is almost relieved to leave him behind and take his guilt with him.

The stream he finds is clear and bone-cuttingly cold, and his teeth ache as he cups his hands and drinks from it. The bruises on Kamet’s neck have almost faded but Costis isn’t sure he’ll ever be able to unsee them. He shakes his head angrily at himself. They are both alive and well and free of the slavers and Kamet is free of Nehuseresh – even thinking the name makes Costis’s blood start to boil – and Kamet hasn’t brought up what had happened since he’d asked how it was so easy for Costis to kill the slavers. But why would he have brought it up, another part of him says, if he’s terrified of you.

Costis splashes water on his face, gasping at the cold, and returns to Kamet. 


 

The way up into the mountains is clear. They are shaded by the cypress and cedar, and they see so many streams of snowmelt they don’t need to worry about conserving water.

The trails they follow are clearly meant for walking, not game tracks they have to pick their way along. They’re not obvious, but once you know where to look, they’re clear enough. For the most part, Costis and Kamet can walk side by side.

Costis keeps sneaking glances out of the corner of his eye at Kamet, making sure that he isn’t struggling. Kamet is so proud, but at this point Costis feels like he can read him fairly well, can tell when Kamet is keeping something to himself.  He doesn’t seem to be, is just walking along comfortably enough beside Costis, but Costis keeps worrying. At one point, Kamet looks back at him questioningly, and Costis feels himself blush and stops the glances.

The cold water may have quieted his mind briefly but now that the way is so easy, there’s nothing to distract him and he can feel himself slipping back into the spiralling thoughts. He tries to focus on the trail, the mountains, tries to think of a song to hum, tries to think of something innocuous to say to Kamet.

Except everything he thinks sounds wrong and he can’t stop thinking about how comfortable and peaceful Kamet looked last night after a good dinner and how well he looks today after a good rest and how now he’s leading them up into the Taymets, into more danger, into more uncertainty and Kamet isn’t going to have that comfort and peace again for a long time yet. Or ever, a part of him says, after all, you’re bringing him to a backwards, stinking cesspit, and who’s to say he’ll even be safe there, there’s the Mede ambassador and probably all sorts of spies and –

Costis has to stop himself, there, has to remind himself he can’t control what will happen, all he can do is get them through these mountains, get them through this day. The rest is in the gods’ hands. He tells himself this, but it doesn’t quiet his racing mind and he’s starting to feel like if he doesn’t say something he’s going to end up blurting out the first thing on the tip of his tongue.

“Kamet,” he says slowly, deliberately, carefully and Kamet turns to look at him, question on his face.

Gods, he thinks, now what are you going to say. He rubs the back of his neck.

He wants to apologise again but then Kamet will ask why and he’ll have to stumble his way through every single thing he feels guilt over, I’m sorry for stealing you away, I’m sorry for the Namreen and the lioness and Koadester and the slavers and for almost killing you Kamet, I’m sorry.

Instead he says, “Are you doing all right?”

Kamet’s brow furrows. “Yes,” he says, edge of uncertainty in his voice.

Costis wants to kick himself.

They don’t speak the rest of the afternoon. 


 

Evening comes quicker in the mountains, the sun sinking behind the peaks and the shadows stretching dark over them. They stop for the night on a flat stretch carpeted with fallen needles from the trees around them. There’s plenty of dry wood and kindling to make a fire, and they eat well.

Costis sees Kamet’s eyelids drooping across the fire and smiles to himself. It’s not long before Kamet has wrapped himself in his blanket roll and his breath evens out with sleep. Costis watches the fire as it dies down, flames to embers, embers to ash. The sky is clear, and the stars wink through the canopy. He can see the same constellations as in Attolia, and wonders if they have different names here. He resolves to ask Kamet later. The familiar night sky makes him feel oddly homesick, here in this land across the sea.

He glances at Kamet, who has rolled over and is facing him, eyes glinting in the remainder of the firelight.

“Did I wake you?” Costis asks.

“No,” says Kamet.

“What do you call the constellations in Mede?” Costis asks.

Kamet sits up.

“Sorry,” Costis says belatedly, “I should let you sleep.”

Kamet brushes the apology away.

“There are great catalogues,” he says, “from long ago. I suspect that now we have similar names for the constellations. I can tell you some of the old names, though.”

He comes around the fire to sit beside Costis and cranes his head back.

“There,” he points, and Costis follows his hand up to the sky. He can see Taurus, but Kamet says, “the Seven Sisters.” And he finds the small cluster of stars.

“That was called the star of stars,” says Kamet. “They were said to be seven demons.”

His finger tracks over to Orion, “Orion was called Anet’s Shepard, or the Loyal Shepard of Heaven. Sirius,” he indicates the brightest star, hanging just above the mountain tops, “was the Arrow. Hydra was called the Serpent. It was said to be sacred to Death.”

Costis drops his eyes from the sky so he can watch Kamet pointing out constellations, watch his eyes on the stars.

“A lot of the names are the same, or similar at least,” says Kamet. “The twins, Gemini. The crab. Pieces, the fish.”

He drops his hand and looks at Costis. “Sorry,” he says, “I am showing off again.”

Costis shakes his head, “I asked you.”

Kamet shrugs, and drops his eyes. He moves back to the other side of the fire, little more than embers now, and curls back up under his blanket.

Costis lies down too, but before he closes his eyes he says, “Kamet?”

Kamet looks over at him.

“Thank you,” says Costis, and is rewarded with a small smile.