The girl watched the man in black, who was kneeling in a small clearing choked with dead leaves. He had been urging her to move for days now. He did not seem to concern himself with how her legs were sore and her feet hurt. She had wished nothing more than to rest. And the man had given her that, but on his terms.
He opened his mouth, and a raven crawed in the distance.
The girl sat down and rubbed her feet. She wanted to go back to her mother. But she recalled her urging that she follow the man in black. There had been fire and smoke and…no. She couldn’t let herself think about that. The man had said not to worry over a maybe.
The raven’s craw came closer now, and then there were two, and then three. The gathering of ravens settled on the man’s shoulders, forming a cloak about him, with the occasional flutter of wings.
The man stood, longsword rattling against his thigh. “Imogen,” he barked. The girl’s heart leapt. “Stand up. We need to keep moving.”
She did as he bid her. “Cormag?”
“What did you see?”
He was silent for a moment as Imogen squinted at him. “The conqueror comes, bringing men shelled in steel.”
“Are they going to kill us?”
Cormag stiffened, and then plucked up Imogen’s hand and led her along. It was scratchy, and when she tried to pull free he only tightened his grip. “All will be well,” he whispered.
The man was three days dying when they found him. He was slumped against the bottom of a hill, his cuirass bloodied and one arm swollen and disjointed.
“Do you see him too?” Imogen pointed to the dying man.
“Yes,” Cormag said. One hand on his longsword, he waded off the path toward him.
Imogen shadowed Cormag through the tall grass. As she drew closer, she glimpsed a long cut from shoulder to collarbone. Every breath wept blood.
“That’s not going to get better,” Cormag said.
“I know,” the man answered. “Damn conquerors in their craven’s clothes. Damn them twice-over!” He grunted. “I don’t suppose you know how to use that blade?”
Cormag nodded yes.
He motioned with his head to the girl “Is she yours?”
“No,” the man said. “Just a girl.”
“But you’re looking after her?”
Ravens wings bristled on his cloak. “Aye, that’s what I’m doing.”
“Do it well,” the man said. “And strike true.”
Cormag stood erect to give himself space to draw his longsword. Imogen couldn’t see beyond his implacable back. But she heard a grunt and a wet noise like a bucket falling into a well.
Cormag turned and stomped back onto the path. “Follow me, Imogen.”
She did. “Who was that?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Cormag said. And then: “I’m sorry.”
“Because you’re stuck in the midst of war. With me.”
Imogen wrinkled her nose. It was how she used to tell her mother she was upset, but Cormag didn’t seem to notice. Crestfallen, she said, “What’s wrong with you? I don’t understand.”
Ravens wings fidgeted on Cormag’s back. “We should keep moving,” he said.