It started with Hart. His shoulders began to shake and a wide grin split his face. An answering grin appeared on Navihm’s face and progressed into full blown laughter as he sheathed his dagger and threw his arms around the other man. Rose and the others stared on in confusion as the two men pounded each other on the back and laughed like old friends.
“It’s good to see you cousin,” Navihm said, pulling away slightly.
“I hear a congratulations is in order!” boomed Hart, grabbing Navihm’s hair and mussing it good naturedly. “Congratulations on your amarra. I should have guessed my little cousin would be bonded before me.” Hart tugged gently on the offending braids and Navihm slapped his hand away, still grinning.
“How are your parents?”
“Oh, still going on about how they should have been blessed with the infamous Navihm as a son.” Navihm laughed and shrugged.
“It’s not my fault they always liked me better.”
“What the devil are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to be in the Lowland countries honing your freak crossbreed powers.”
Navihm answered rapidly in a mix of Genti and the common tongue. Presumably explaining the situation. Rose was only able to catch a few words. “School … attack … prophets…”
“We were on our way to see you actually,” Navihm finished. He turned towards her and the others. Rose assumed he was introducing them when she heard her name amongst the rapid Genti. Hart nodded to each person as Navihm gestured to them, bowing deeply when it was the Professor’s turn. When Navihm fell silent he picked up his dropped sword and resheathed it.
“Welcome, everyone, to the Second. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Regus Hart, Commander of the Sworn Guard, Protector of Southern Forests and downright stunning dancer.” He bowed and gave Rose a wink.
Navihm nudged him meaningfully.
“Oh and sorry for the whole ambush thing.”
Navihm sent Rose to pick up the canteens he’d left by the river. She didn’t understand why she had to trek all the way back to get them but she did it with little complaint, eyeing the newcomers apprehensively. She didn’t care that Hart was Navihm’s cousin, he’d attacked her. What else was he capable of? By the time she had made it back to the camp, everything had been packed up and Navihm and the professor were talking to some of the men in Hart’s group. She overheard them talking.
“It will be a pleasure to escort you and your companions back to the Second, Enfeitar,” said the man who had accosted her and taken her horse. She didn't understand how Navihm could be having a normal conversation with him, as if he hadn’t just jumped out of the woods, ready to stab her with the sword that hung at his waist.
Both groups, Rose’s and Hart’s, mounted up and began the short journey to the Second. The more she watched Navihm talk to Hart’s men the more she realised that he was friends with them. Didn’t he have any loyalty to her or the Professor? He certainly didn't seem too interested in talking to her now that his countrymen were around. He took time talking to each of the men as they rode, but ignored her completely.
Navihm rode up next to Hart.
“So, you and Kaia huh?” Hart asked, referring to Navihm’s bonding. Navihm brushed his fingers along his Ib braid which had only recently been woven with a golden ribbon. “I thought you two were ‘just friends.’”
Navihm shot his cousin a sideways glance, not knowing where he was going with his teasing. Hart never took anything seriously so it didn't surprise Navihm that he was joking about something as important as marriage.
“I seem to recall a young Navihm saying quite a lot on the subject of your friendship.” Hart was grinning. “What was it that you said?” Hart put on a high pitched voice. “‘Kaia is a Regina and one day she will rule,’ you said. ‘It would be inappropriate for us to be anything more than friends.’”
Navihm leaned over and cuffed Hart over the ear. He was older by more than a year, but Navihm and everyone who knew him had given up on waiting for Hart to grow up.
“That was before I knew I could control my magic,” Navihm said. “It was inappropriate for us to marry because I was unsuited to rule with my unreliable spirit magic. With my magic under control, I am more confident in my ability to protect a wife and tribe.”
“I should have guessed the reason you haven't married the girl of your dreams yet was because of something so sickeningly noble.” Hart made a face at Navihm and they both laughed.
Rose was so fixated on watching Navihm laugh and talk to everyone but her that she didn't notice that they had arrived at the Second until they were right on top of the town. They emerged from the trees and immediately found themselves in amongst the homes and businesses. There wasn't any separation between forest and town like Rose was used to in the Lowlands. She never even remembered visiting a town that didn't have a wall around it. Rose was shocked to find that some of the houses were actually built amongst the trees, some even had trees growing right through them or were perched in the branches like a huge treehouse.
What do you think of Hart? First impressions?