From the third meeting, before it was even called a council, before they named him a “king” or her a “priest” or their disciples a “house”, before there were even whispers of an “anumidium”, they travelled back alone together across the country. The journey home was taken in relative comfort, and in relative silence, dreamlike, one might imagine, although typically not all silences were comfortable and not all comforts were silent. Kagrenac did not say a word - not for four days and fourteen hours at least, though that did not entirely deter her from her usual habit of glaring between the pages of her journal. Dumac, knowing this and knowing her, kept his gaze fixed on the horizon as it began to blush, as the wind caressed the grasslands and the petals from summer’s last blooms began to drift, across still lakes and rugged mountains and the ashes that spilled from the mountains. He could smell roses, and only roses, and perhaps he might have been drowning, adrift at sea, in wilting roses, petals thinning, were it not for the dusk of the fourth day, on which Kagrenac finally asked:
“How many times did you dance?”
He paused. For the briefest moment, his diplomat’s smile faltered.
“Oh, well I…. I honestly lost count. Why do you ask?”
Kagrenac sighed, so hoarsely, that he glanced over his shoulder, and saw that as her shoulders sagged and her hands reached her temples, she could not bear look at him.
“Kagrenac, it was nothing.“
“You are so stupid.”
“Don’t - oh, curse the gods and all that’s holy, look at me, Kagrena, please look at me, don’t embarass yourself - it really was nothing. Nothing. He’s a charmer - and he flatters like he’s got nothing left to give except the skin on his back and the words from his throat - you and I both know the type. He’s no different. I doubt I register as much more than a curiosity to him, and if he still insists on pretending he is enamoured with me, well, I say, let him. Let us pretend we are nothing except in love with every honeyed word. It benefits us. It benefits our alliance. Let us have our farce.”
Kagrenac turns to look at him at the mention of that word.
“Yes, a farce.”
“Is it a farce when you stay up dancing until the stars begin to fall? When you ride out to the edge of the wilderness to swap tales and secrets like two giggling apprentices on a grand adventure? Hells, why not braid each others hair with hand-painted beads while we’re at it? Why not make a theatrical production too?”
“It’s all nonsense, Kagrenac. I promise you. Nerevar is a liar, a very handsome one at that, and knows how to use it to his advantage. Any other chimeri warlord in his position would do the same.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Duma, you might be both blind and stupid, but I’m not. I see the way he looks at you. I see the way he lets his hands brush yours, for just a few moments more than they should. His eyes, his touch - it lingers. And you let him linger there. You let him.”
“He is a particularly convincing liar.”
Kagrenac does not say anything to that. Usually, by this point, they have moved onto inventing a number of particularly creative and often amusing insults for each other. But the stars above seem to demand a quiet that the cloistered clatter of brass halls seem to resist. She motions to sit by his side, as the embers burn away and drift west with the wind. They watch them for what seems like an age.
“This is a dangerous game you are playing,” she says as the last light fades.
“They’re the only ones worth playing, Kagrenac.”