Our Lord rejoices to make a man break a foolish vow.
The Knight started down the path into the scar in the rock, and the past rose up to meet him. Nearly twenty years ago he had left Delve Gavin, headed south on foot to the lowlands, with an oath on his lips never to return to the land of his birth.
And now he was back. Not home, not exactly, but a town he’d known of in his youth, a place that was isolated then and with luck would be isolated still.
“Is this Cairn Shant?” the Princess asked in a small voice beside him, her steps a gentle echo to his own.
“Delve Shant”, the Knight said, then explained, “The valley is the Delve, the town at the bottom of it is the Cairn.” Odd to be here with someone who had to be told that. “We’ll be at the town soon. Might be a bit of work to recognize it as such, Cairns are built not to be seen.”
Return with a warbride, as you return. Silya had said, those years ago. Folk might leave you peace then.
I’ve not done that, the Knight told himself, suddenly aware of the Princess’s body, the warmth and slimness of her close by his side. I’ve not.
He’d sworn to never think of Silya again. Another foolish vow broken. He could hear her voice, feel the thin bones of her wrists against his palms, but, somehow, could not conjure up her face. That was good. There was no reason to remember her, not now, not ever.
The path was steep, but even. Where nature had left a precipice, man had improved with sweat and black powder. The Princess’s steps were near as sure as his own. She was learning mountain ways for the first time, as he was rediscovering them after long disuse. He could almost forget she was there.
No, that was a lie. This long road he had never for a moment forgotten her. He could feel the rhythm of her breath in his blood.
Return with a warbride…
The Knight moved swifter down the trail, felt the Princess lag behind. Once she would have called to him to slow down. Now she simply followed as best she could, struggling without complaint.
She’s no warbride. She’s my lady liege. She’s the last of the line I swore to lay down my life to protect, and that vow was no fool’s oath.
The stranger’s gate was open. A good sign. The troubles of the lowlands hadn’t reached this far into the barrens. He paused and felt the Princess, a shadow of heat, take her place beside him.
“That’s Cairn Shant,” she said. She was only slightly out of breath.
“Indeed. Stay close to me, and don’t speak to anyone.”
She nodded, and they walked together to the gate.