As noon arrived, Honsa looked about ready to fall off her stag. Rayla stopped their troop and led them into the tentacle forest, far off the road. They made camp near a small tributary of the Ibalin that pooled in a beautiful clearing. Here, the cacti were in full pink and red bloom, the hot, sandy wind rustling their spines.
There also was dense but browning grass for their rides to munch on. The feed bags they had slung on their saddles were halfway empty, lasting maybe another day. This was a problem that would need addressing.
Rayla had hobbled the Peryton’s front legs in a loose figure-eight hoop, preventing them from walking too far, too fast. They were rides and alarm bells both.
Luckily, the templars had been equipped for travel. There was an Auxilia tent with each of their Perytons as well as seemingly brand new sleeping bags. No more sleeping under winter clothes.
Callum had helped Honsa set up her tent. Zym was curled up in the ocean elf’s sleeping bag sleeve, snoozing. He’d been running and flying between Rayla and Callum on their rides, almost throwing him off at one point.
The moonshadow elf and Callum ducked into their own tent, even though it was really meant for a single person. Honsa was already snoring quietly when they crawled into theirs.
“She has no travelin’ experience outside of the Legion. She’s gonna slow us down.”, Rayla whispered, grabbing her bedwear from her pack.
“That’s true, I guess”, Callum nudged her, “Uh, you’re changing?”
“Yeah. Uh, give me a minute.”, she said and he sheepishly backed out of the tent.
“How come? You’ve never dressed for bed while we were on the road”, he inquired through the treated fabric.
“Uh, we’re far enough from the road where I doubt I’ll have to rush out at a second’s notice. The stags’ll let us know if anyone sneaks up on us. No need to wear my dirty road clothes into a clean sleepin’ bag inside a tent, I’d just feel hot. I’m done.”
She appeared in the tent’s opening and traded places with him so he could get out of his daywear.
“Are you feeling okay?”, he asked.
She shrugged wearily, even though he couldn’t see it. “I’ve felt much better, for sure. It’s not really the wounds though, they look like they’re healin’ really fast. My arm’s already pretty well done, so is my thigh. Looks like I won’t even have scars to brag about.”
“I’m done”, her boyfriend said and she ducked back into their tent. She showed him her shoulder.
“I need to learn that”, Callum said with amazement, running a careful hand along her arm. The light touch gave her goosebumps.
“Far as I know, only ocean, earth and sun have healin’ powers.”, she said, smiling, “But I guess if you could figure out sky, who’s to say you can’t get the other ones?”
He snickered. “One thing at a time! I can’t even cast that many spells before falling over.”
They snuggled together in a sleeping bag. It was tight - but that was sort of the point. They both felt a little alienated, still. Neither of them felt that was proper and they were going to fix it.
“I like the ponytail. It suits you.”, he said, softly batting at the hairy construct.
“It’s a mess.”
“As I just said; It suits you”
They snickered. It was a relief.
“I’m sorry I’m such an oaf”, she said, burying her face in his chest, “I love you, and I don’t want us to fight like that ever again.”
He nodded, fully convinced that it would be so. What bolstered this feeling was the relaxation in the moment and their physical closeness.
“I don’t feel like sleepin’ just yet. We’ve barely had a wakin’ moment to ourselves.”
Callum kissed her.
“That’s true.”, he thought for a moment, “Well… in that case…”
His hands moved in a fashion that seemed structured, full of intent.
She blinked. “What are you doin’? Magic?”
“I said `I love you` in sign language. I figure once you meet Amaya she’d be really impressed if you knew some.”
Rayla smiled widely. “That’s a brilliant idea! Show me again!”
‘I love you’, he signed.
‘I love you’, she signed.
“That was good!”, he said, then did another sentence, mischief in his eyes.
She imitated his gestures.
“You just called me adorable”, he explained with a snicker.
She scowled with an amused glint in her eyes, “Okay, that’s just sneaky. Complimentin’ yourself and usin’ my fingers to do it! Tsk! Look.”
Repeating the signs, she gazed into his eyes intensely. He flushed.
“There. I meant that one”, she said, blushing a sick pink.
“No doubt -- whew! That made my heart skip!”, he inspected her worriedly. “You still look kinda... blood...less?”
“The word is `anemic`, oh educated one”, she barbed, “That’s not gonna change for a bit. Maybe a week until I won’t feel like garbage. Wasn’t plannin’ on doin’ much ‘till then but then the hag showed up.”
“Wait; You feel like `garbage`?”, pure concern was etched into his expression now, “Are you in pain? Anything I can do?”
“It’s not painful. I’m just dizzy a lot. So, if you see me swayin’, just catch me like you did before. I can’t fight much, but at least now we have the stags to get us out of harm’s way.”, she started twirling his hair in her fingers, “I need to eat copper rich stuff, like seeds and brassica leaf. Maybe some purple-blooded meat, as much as I hate the thought. I don’t really know the science behind it, but Runaan kept drillin’ that into our heads. Blood loss? Eat copper! Apparently helps elves make more of the sap.”
‘Get well soon’, he signed.
She eyed him, smirking suspiciously. “Now what?”
“Get well soon!”, he said with mock-offense.
She pinched his cheek. “As soon as I am, you’re gonna teach me to dance.”
He blinked. He’d offered, sure, but it seemed odd to bring that up, now.
“Why? Are we going to a ball?”
She smirked. “I’d hope so, considerin’ that the war’s gonna be over soon. Two, maybe three weeks. Then Zym will be home and the Dragon Queen will put a stop to it all. It’s all gonna go so quick now that we’re ridin’.”
Callum frowned, mulling over what she’d just said. He hadn’t really stopped to think about their mission, given their most recent adventure with an actual dragon. “Hm. You know… I don’t mean to ruin the moment, but aren’t we being a bit... naive?”
Rayla glanced at him, worriedly, “How so?”
“Ivine’s a dragon, right? She didn’t seem too impressed by us bringing Zym. What if that’s the reaction of his mom? `Oh thanks. Now go away`?”
His girlfriend drained. “Oh. I can’t believe I haven’t thought of that, gosh, of course! The old hag is a dragon! Yeah, it’s totally possible this is all for nothin’”, she bit her lower lip, her brows furrowed. After a moment, she continued, “I still think it’s right to bring him home. To his mum. I wouldn’t want it any other way if someone took our childr--”, she blinked, the word getting stuck in her throat.
He laughed, hugging her tightly, “Now you’re thinking a bit too far ahead.”
“I-it’s kind of a cute thought, though?”, she mumbled, somewhat dreamily, “just... think of their itty bitty halflin’ horns…”
“Just hard to think of that stuff right now when there’s so much we still have to do”, he said carefully, hoping it wouldn’t hurt her.
She pouted. “I kinda told you I wanted to be a mum at one point. What about you?”
Callum smirked. “I think I could be an okay mom.”
Rayla chortled, slapping his chest lightly, “You know what I meant! Little Rayllums! Do you wanna be a dad?”
He mulled it over. Then, he quipped, “Sure. Yeah. I think so. But only if we can give them less stupid names.” His face filling with worry, he added, “Kinda feel the need to say that I’m nowhere near ready fo--”
She kissed him happily, choking his words. “I know, I know. Me either, gosh! I’ll be glad to just get this dragon child home so it feels like we’re achievin’ something!”
Rayla groaned. “We really are kinda playin’ this crooked music by ear here, aren’t we?”
“We should come up with a plan B. What if Zym’s mom is happy we bring him in but doesn’t see why the war shouldn’t go ahead anyway?”
Rayla exhaled slowly. “That breaks my brain. I feel like we just don’t know enough to make a call on that. Augh! I should’ve thought about this, sooner! Too focussed on getting this done to sit and think about if it even makes sense anymore!”
She ran a pensive hand over her left horn, “We could go bother the assemblies but I’m pretty sure they’d just try murderin’ us again. We could go back to the border and see how thin’s are lookin’ there. Or... we could just call it quits and follow our own nose. There’s a few thin’s I wanna do. Like show you Scotia, the province I’m from.”
The elf frowned. “Actually, maybe not that. Risk of meetin’ people who would want to knock me out goes up a lot in that direction. I’m sure by now they’ve caught news of my `betrayal`. Already hated me for what my parents did.”
“I can’t just go around doing personal stuff while Katolis is in trouble, Rayla.”, Callum said, “I’ve a duty to these people.”
She nodded. “I get it. Just regurgitatin’ anythin’ I can think of.”
“I think going back to the border might be best”, he felt a little selfish, saying it, “I really miss home. Unlike you, nobody in Katolis wants to murder me… well, excluding Viren.”
“There’s a thought”, she said, getting sidetracked again, “We’re gonna have to decide where we’re gonna live at some point…”
Callum frowned. “Yeah, but not right now.”
He waved at the general surroundings. “We’re in the middle of an important discussion here. Focus!”
She pouted, resolved not to get angry. “Sure we are. That question’s important to me, though.”
There was a small smile on his face. “Home is where the heart is. So I’ll be good wherever as long as you’re there with me.”
She blushed a little but shook her head, “That’s a nice sayin’ but not really true. Home is where you make it.”
“Okay, well, I say Katolis, then. Scotia sounds like a bad place for both of us.”
“But… once the war is over and my name’s cleared we could live there.”
“Yeah but I’m a prince of Katolis, not Scotia”, he said with determination.
“I’m Sconi!”, she said, with indignation.
They were getting angry over an issue that wouldn’t be relevant any time soon. Rayla sighed loudly. “What is wrong with us?”
“Everything”, he cackled, “just, everything. People keep telling us about it.”, lovingly he stroked her face. “We’ll figure it all out, babe, when it’s time.”
She eyed him questioningly. “I’m not a fan of that one either, dummy. I just think nicknames aren’t for me.”
He chuckled. “Just haven’t found the right one yet.”
“Well - keep trying, I s’pose. I found mine. Dummy.”
The prince rolled his eyes. “Alright; Stabby?”
She giggled, “Getting more true, at least! Seriously though? No. Rayla’s fine.”
“Do I look like a guy to you?”
He flushed a little, then said, “No.”
She suddenly frowned. “We need a plan, Callum.”
“Hey, I was on task!”
With mock offense she said, “Yeah, you were and then you decided to think up new names for me! Come on!”
“I think you’re right. We don’t know. Maybe we’ll get there and she’s like `well shucks, let me get that war called off right quick`. Maybe we’ll get there and she eats us”, his eyes became dim and he frowned, “Maybe we won’t even make it past the mountains.”
Rayla kissed him, hugged him, bothered him. She couldn’t bear his expression. “We’ve survived a lot. It’s gonna be fine.”
He merely shrugged, not able to shake the dire feeling. His girlfriend couldn’t let it stand. She grabbed his face, forcing him into a pout and kissed him until her breath ran out.
He blinked at her, sheepishly. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to you doing things like that.”
“Good!”, she snickered, “I love the faces you pull when I do!”