Eva woke to the thunder of cannons and the flash of gunfire.
Terrified, and bewildered, she leapt straight to her feet, her head aching from lack of sleep, but her heart pounding with fear. She had no idea what was going on.
The rest of the men in the tent seemed to be just as confused, shouting and bumping into one another in the dark as they tried to dress themselves and grab their weapons.
It was complete chaos inside the tent, but once she emerged, she realized it was even worse outside. Men and horses scattered everywhere, startled by the sudden attack. In the semi-darkness, she could only imagine that the Northlanders must have ambushed them, using the cover of night to creep up on them and attack.
Clutching her rifle tightly to herself, she looked around in confusion, trying to decide in which way she should run. The tents around her only created a chaotic maze made even more confusing by the soldiers that dashed in every direction, illuminated every so often by flashes of gunpowder and cannons.
One man suddenly crashed into her from behind, knocking her forward into the ground, shouting something indecipherable as he dashed away. Eva picked herself up with a groan and stumbled out of the way, merely trying to avoid the other soldiers as she staggered through the camp. She thought anxiously of James but realized that it would be almost impossible to find him in the chaos. She had to find a better vantage point from which to see.
She slowly made her way toward the edges of the battle, her head ringing with the noise that resounded around her. Shouts and screams pierced the air, punctuated by the ringing of cannons and gunshots. A man just in front of her abruptly fell backward with a surprised cry, a stream of blood suddenly spurting from his temple. Eva slipped in the mud and fell backwards as she hastily tried to avoid stepping on the fallen soldier.
Finally, after what seemed an eternally long trek, she managed to reach the outskirts of the camp, climbing a small knoll and hiding behind a few crate-sized boulders. Morning had not yet dawned, but a very faint light was beginning to brighten in the east. It was by this soft light that she was able to see the battle not far below her.
Eva crouched down on her stomach and peered at the scene below, trying to discern what was going on. To the east of the camp, she saw nothing but a barren waste of craggy rocks and shrubs. On the west side of camp lay the stream, and on the far side of that there were scraggly trees. It was from this cover that the Northlanders had emerged; their heavy artillery still sat safely under the boughs of the trees while the foot soldiers crossed the stream and attacked the camp.
She didn't see any cavalry from either side; this did not seem to be the main Northlander army, and they had scattered the other troop's horses before attacking. The only men on horseback were the officers—she could dimly make out the gleam of their swords' gold pommels and the bright colors of their sashes. Fortunately it was easy to tell the difference between the two sides; the Northlanders' pale, dusty blue coats contrasted sharply with the Mainlanders' dark red uniforms.
Despite the smallness of the attackers' army, Eva could tell that they were about to overrun the camp. They had the element of surprise on their side, and there were few soldiers ready to face them. The officers easily sent orders to their men, maneuvering them as if it were simply a rather violent game of chess.
Worry for James pushed her to do what she otherwise would not have done. Holding her rifle tightly, she began to creep along the slope of the hill, dashing from rock to rock, keeping out of sight as she went. She slowly began to descend as soon as she was near the small grove of trees in which the Northland officers and their artillery were stationed. Making sure that the stream was still between them and her, she crouched behind a long, flat boulder and tried to determine where to shoot.
There were several officers, but three of them seemed to command the others. Judging by their uniforms, these were probably the colonel and his two lieutenant-colonels. The colonel was the one giving orders, and the lieutenants relayed them to the other officers and so forth. She knew if she could hit the colonel, the orders would stop, and the Northlanders might be forced to retreat. The only problem was that she was still too far away to have a good shot at the man. She would have to move out of the cover of the rocks and down near the streambed.
She hesitated for a moment, her heart pounding in her ears as she loaded her rifle. Everybody was too focused on the camp. They would never see her. She hoped.
Taking a deep breath, Eva made a quick dash for the stream. She chose a nearby spot where it curved and laid down in a rocky hollow that had been carved out by the water. Stretching out her legs in front of her, she laid the loaded rifle over her body, balancing its end between her feet. She carefully sighted down the barrel of the gun, aiming straight for the colonel.
For a split second she tuned out every single sound until all she heard was her breathing, heavy and ragged. Biting her lip, she tensed up and squeezed the trigger. The shot jarred her entire body, sending her head reeling back into the pebbly sand, but she recovered quickly, desperate to know if she had been successful.
The colonel still sat upon his horse, his arm extended in the act of giving orders. Yet as she watched, he suddenly looked down and noticed a dark spot on the front of his waistcoat. It slowly spread and grew and the man paled before he slid from the saddle and hit the ground with a heavy thud.
Every officer's eye flew to the fallen colonel in surprise, all except one. The nearest lieutenant-colonel had heard the distinct shot and noticed the general direction from whence the bullet had come. His gaze turned toward the hillside and immediately settled upon Eva, lying on the other side of the bank, only a short distance away.
Yanking on the reins of his mount, the man spurred his horse into a sudden gallop, making straight for the lonely soldier near the stream, unsheathing his saber and lifting it high into the air.
Eva hastily scrambled to load her rifle again, her hands trembling with fear. The horse's hoofbeats grew steadily louder as the man came closer, death written on his face. He was midway through the stream by the time she was tamping the cartridge down the barrel, looming over her as she leaned back again and took aim.
Another shot rang out in the chill morning air. The rifle's butt kicked her in the jaw, sending an explosion of pain through her face and down her neck. Through the tears that sprung up in her stinging eyes, she saw the horse rear directly in front of her, its hooves waving in the air for a few moments before it came crashing down and collapsed on its side, crushing its rider beneath it.
She hastily pulled herself to her feet and neared the man. With one anxious glance, she could see that she had shot the horse in the neck, and it lay bleeding in the shallows of the stream. The lieutenant-general swore loudly and glared at her as he tried to extricate himself from beneath the beast. He looked ready to murder her, but his legs were firmly trapped and he couldn't escape. Blood trickled from a large gash on the side of his head, matting his short hair. He must have been hurt when he had fallen, but it was difficult to tell how serious the wound was. His hat had been flung from his head and lay a small distance away.
Eva hastily moved forward. She grabbed the officer's hat and stuffed it inside her shirt before she turned and ran, scrambling back up the hill, stumbling in the loose rocks as she tried to find cover. A few random shots peppered the ground around her, but for the most part she had still gone unnoticed by the enemy, who were milling about in confusion. When she ducked behind a boulder about halfway up the hill, she turned again to look down to see how the battle was going.
It was utter chaos. With the colonel dead or dying and one of the lieutenant-colonels still trapped under his horse, it was impossible for the remaining lieutenant to keep order. Some of the lower officers had knelt at the colonel's side, trying to help him, while others raced off to help the fallen lieutenant-colonel. Others began to call the retreat to their men, disappearing into the trees where the mysterious sniper could not pick them off as well.
Eva had to admit, she was fairly surprised by the effect a mere two shots had had on the Northlanders, and she was glad to see that none of them seemed to know where she was. As she made her way along the ridge of the hill, she could see that the attackers were now being fended off as the Mainlander officers began to effectively organize the men. The element of surprise had worn off, and the Northlanders were slowly, surely driven from the camp and back across the stream, where they retreated into the trees, chased by the cavalrymen who had finally managed to secure their horses.
By the time she made it back to the edge of camp, the first sliver of the sun was visible over the horizon, the battle had ended, and the aftermath followed swiftly in its wake. Everybody seemed exhausted, covered in blood, mud, and gunpowder, but there was no time to sit still and rest. Officers scattered around the camp began to account for their men, calling them together for a count and giving them orders. The wounded were dragged or carried to the medic's quarters, while the dead were taken to an empty field to be counted and disposed of.
Try as she might, in the confusion, Eva could not find James. At first she didn't even see any of her company, their green lapels noticeably absent from the crowds of soldiers. She began to panic. What if they were all gone? What if her work had all been in vain?
Hot tears began to fall down her face as she pushed her way farther into the camp, trying to catch sight of just one member of the light brigade. Even Worthing's haughty face would have been a welcome sight just then.
Finally, about to give up, Eva caught sight of Captain Curtis standing in the middle of a group of officers just outside the general's tent. They seemed to be discussing something rather intently with various expressions on their faces. Most of them were frowning. She quietly moved just close enough to catch a little of what they were saying.
"—explain what happened?"
"I didn't see anything from where I was."
"Aye, those Northlanders simply turned tail and ran."
"Well I saw," began one officer, only to be drowned out by another.
"It was the commanding officer. He was shot."
"Shot?" exclaimed another. "By who?"
"I don't know. I couldn't see."
"Mr. Ross?" Captain Curtis's voice suddenly startled Eva, calling her attention to him.
She nervously came nearer now that she had been noticed. The other officers continued arguing amongst themselves while the captain stepped out of the circle, approaching her with a worried expression.
"I—I can't find any of the others," she explained to him in a soft voice. "I was separated from them, and I can't find the tent."
He smiled wanly and pointed somewhere off to the left. "You should find them over there, lad."
Eva nodded her thanks and turned away, but the captain called her back.
"Yes, sir?" she replied, reluctantly turning to face him.
"I'm glad to see you survived. This was not the glorious first battle you were expecting, was it?"
She shook her head slowly. "No." Hesitating for a moment, she gathered her courage and asked, "What are the officers discussing?"
Captain Curtis sighed wearily. "Apparently some loose soldier killed the Northlander's commanding officer and that's what caused them to retreat."
"Isn't that a good thing?"
He let out a weak laugh. "No, lad. It's not good. The Articles of War expressly forbid that officers be intentionally killed. Can you imagine the chaos of a battlefield without somebody to give orders?"
Eva wanted to tell him that it had looked pretty chaotic out there even with the officers giving orders. Instead, she inquired, "What will happen to the one who killed the colonel?"
The captain looked curiously at her. "You don't happen to know anything of this, do you?"
Her blood went cold. "I—I..." she stuttered.
He frowned and added, "How did you know the officer was a colonel?"
She balked under his green stare and confessed. "I shot him. I was trying to see what was going on, so I climbed that hill to get a better look. I saw the officers and that the camp was about to be overrun, so I got closer and shot the colonel. I didn't know there were rules, sir, I swear it." She closed her eyes tightly and lowered her head in shame. "I'm sorry."
Silence hung heavy, and it took her a moment to realize that the other officers had also stopped their conversation and were staring at her. Trembling, she reached into her loose shirt and pulled the officer's hat from within, tossing it to the ground in front of her. "It belongs to the lieutenant-colonel. I shot his horse and wounded him as well."
The officers glanced dubiously at each other, murmuring in low voices.
"Don't tell me that boy is the culprit."
"What if he is? Do we punish him?"
"He's just a boy. And strictly speaking, he didn't know the Articles."
"Aye, but we can't just let him go free now, can we? Else the others will think it all right as well."
"He won us the battle, didn't he?"
"And it was those blasted Northlanders that broke the Articles first by attacking us before dawn."
"What is your name, boy?" A large officer suddenly stepped forward, towering over Eva and looking down at her with a grim expression on his austere face.
"Evan Ross, sir," she replied.
"To which company do you belong?" he inquired in a booming voice.
"He's part of my company, sir," said Captain Curtis, stepping in for her.
"Is it true that you killed the colonel?" asked the officer as if the captain hadn't even spoken.
She nodded. "Yes. I did it."
"It is a grave thing you have done, Mr. Ross. The enemy will likely not forget it soon. We may yet pay for your mistake with many lives," he stated seriously.
Her gaze fell to the ground. "I'm sorry, sir."
"As you should be." He paused then added, "However, I don't see it fair to punish you for breaking a rule you didn't even know about. You will still be punished for deserting your comrades," he insisted. "You should not have strayed so far. The next time, you will listen to your commanding officers for orders, is that clear?"
Eva nodded, not daring to explain to him how it had been impossible to discern any orders out of the chaos of the battlefield. She was merely grateful that they were not going to punish her for killing the colonel.
"Captain Curtis," said the officer.
"Yes, General Gannet?"
"You will be in charge of finding a fitting punishment for Mr. Ross." Turning to the other officers, the general added, "Back to your stations, men. We've work to do."
Eva sighed with relief as she retreated with Captain Curtis at her side.
"Well, lad, I hope you realize the gravity of your situation. Now the general himself knows your name, and that's not a good thing, I assure you."
"I know, sir," she agreed. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry, Ross. Strive to improve. That's the best solution to your problems." To her surprise, the captain suddenly put a fatherly arm around her shoulders and squeezed. "I don't care what they say," he said in a confidential voice, "you did well today. That was very brave of you. You had to have been very close to them to get a good shot."
"Yes," she said with a nod. "It was terrifying."
"You've courage," he admitted. "Now, as to the matter of your punishment."
She cringed, though she was fairly certain by the tone of his voice that it would not be a strict punishment.
"You may choose between twenty lashes or polishing the officers' boots for a week. What do you say?"
At first, she was tempted to take the lashes, not wanting another experience of polishing Worthing's boots. Then she realized that she'd have to remove her shirt for a whipping, and that would most certainly give her away.
"The boots," she answered. "I'll polish the boots."
"Very well," said the captain. "You are to report to the officers' quarters after the evening meal tonight. Don't be late."
With that, the man stopped and stood, gesturing toward the tent in front of them. It had fallen sometime during the battle and was trampled and muddy, and members of the light company had begun to pick it up and try to clean it off as best they could.
Eva ran toward them, searching for familiar faces. She immediately caught sight of Abe's dark face, and Jack nearby with his thick yellow curls. They greeted her cheerfully, each expressing his relief that she had not died. She hardly heard them, however, still looking for one man.
"Have you seen Lieutenant Spurling?" she asked Abe.
"Can't say that I have," the man replied with a shrug.
"I think I saw him over there," answered Jack from behind her, pointing toward the far side of the tent. "He passed by there with Lieutenant Worthing just a few moments ago."
Without even a word of thanks, Eva left, her heart racing. She had to know if he was alive. She had to see him with her own eyes.
Rounding the corner of a nearby tent, she almost crashed into somebody just on the other side.
"Watch it, boy," snarled Worthing.
She opened her mouth to retort, not in the mood to deal with him at the moment, but she shut it with a snap when she caught sight of James standing just behind the first lieutenant.
"J—lieutenant," she caught herself, trying not to show her obvious relief in front of the first lieutenant.
"Ross," James replied in a soft murmur. His eyes were a sharp shade of blue, flashing with annoyance. Clearly he and Worthing had just been arguing over something.
Not knowing what to say, Eva simply stood and stared at James. He seemed content to do the same. After a few moments, Worthing raised his brow and inquired, "Did you have something to say, boy, or did you merely come to gape? Spurling and I have business with Captain Curtis, and you ought to be helping the others with that tent. I suggest you get to it."
She couldn't think of a good reason to protest. Biting back all the feelings that fought within her, she glanced one last time at James before she turned away and went to work.
There were no drills, no practicing for the rest of the day. As soon as they cleaned up camp a bit, the soldiers were told that they would be moving on. Packing up everything as best they could, they followed the curve of the stream northward.
It began to rain about midday, one of those light, misty drizzles that soaked the clothing and chilled to the bone. Eva was still wearing her filthy clothes, not having had time to change. She had simply thrown her coat on over her mud-covered shirt.
There was no mirth on the soldiers' faces that day as they marched. Many of them had friends trailing behind in wagons with the medics, or left to rot on the battlefield. Some men had tried to dig shallow graves for them with the help of the camp followers, but they hadn't had much time. The officers insisted that they move swiftly, but they wouldn't tell them where they were going or why.
They were in a hurry, so there was hardly any semblance of order except that the foot soldiers marched behind the line of officers, who rode atop horses. As always, a fair distance behind travelled the supply carts and the camp followers.
Marches were known to be dreadfully unpleasant business, but Eva came to see that they were even worse in the cold, the rain, and with mud that constantly sucked at one's shoes. She was not looking forward to polishing boots that night.
There must have been thousands there, but she felt very small and very, very alone. Ahead, somewhere in the crowd of officers rode James, and behind, somewhere among that throng of camp followers was her mother. She knew that amid all the soldiers in between—in that moving, breathing mass of bodies—her father marched as well. If he hadn't died.
She longed for her bed, her ship, a warm fire. Not for the last time.
They marched all day without stopping for rest or food. Later that afternoon, the weather took a sharp turn for the colder, and tiny flakes of frost had begun to fall instead of rain. It was a blessing in disguise that the sky was still overcast by the end of the day, because it meant that it grew dark faster, and they were forced to camp for the night much earlier than the general would have liked.
It was a relief to finally stop marching, though no rest was to be had until the tents were set up and everything in order. They were atop a hill for there was far too much slush on the ground to sleep in the low parts, but they were therefore forbidden to light fires, in case the enemy was nearby.
There was not any food that night except hard bread and cold salted meat. It was very cold by then—snow, which had been falling all afternoon, was finally beginning to stick to the ground. It was still early in the year for snow, which meant that they'd be in for a long, cold winter soon.
Eva reported to the officers' tent immediately, not even unpacking her things before she went. She wanted to get the polishing over with early. All the officers were there in various states of undress. The captain was conversing in a low voice with the sergeants, and James looked as if he was sleeping already. Only Worthing greeted her.
"Ross," he said in a low growl. "We expected you sooner."
"Forgive me, sir," she replied, staring at him as he sprawled lazily upon his bedroll, half-dressed and plucking absently at the ties on the collar of his shirt. "A body can only move so quickly."
"Yes, and you are not moving at all at the moment," the man pointed out haughtily, waving commandingly in the direction of his boots. "Make yourself of use, before I decide to have some sense whipped into you, boy."
As much as she wished to dare him to try, she could not. She couldn't risk being found out. Kneeling, she picked up one of the boots, frowning in disgust at the stench. Both boots were covered in mud, which had splattered and then caked dry upon the leather. Judging by the smell that besieged her nostrils, she could tell that it wasn't just mud that he had stepped in.
"I need to fetch water to clean these," she stated in a voice that sounded less than pleased.
The lieutenant shrugged. "Suit yourself."
Water was harder to come by than she had planned for. There was none in the camp, not even for drinking, and she eventually found herself crunching through a slush of dirty snow to the nearby stream. She had to pierce a thin layer of ice with her boot and then lower her bucket through the small hole, shivering all the while. By the time she returned to the officers' quarters, her hands were numb, and she could barely feel her fingers as she cleaned and polished every pair of boots in that tent.
Finally she finished. Worthing had long since grown tired of abusing her, and his eyes had closed in sleep. To her chagrin, Eva noticed that all the officers were asleep by that point. Exhausted, she returned to her tent only to find that she really was the only one still awake. Even the other soldiers had drifted off.
Taking off her coat and boots, she sat down and realized that she had a bedroll now. Either Abe or Jack must have left it there for her. It probably had belonged to one of the soldiers that were now dead. As she unpacked her things and made her bed, she noticed that there were quite a few empty places in the tent now. She wondered how many more would be empty before long.
She shivered at the thought and hastily climbed under her tattered blanket. Though it was cold, it didn't take long for her to fall asleep, being tired as she was.
She started awake, not certain she had in actuality heard her name. She was beginning to grow used to "Evan" or "Ross", or most commonly, plain and simple "Boy". How long had she been sleeping? She felt as though she had just barely fallen asleep—indeed, she probably had—and she was about to shrug it off as the remnants of a nervous dream when she heard it again.
"Evalyn!" It was no louder than before, but there was urgency in the whisper that hadn't been apparent previously.
"What?" she inquired in quiet reply, not quite sure where the voice was coming from.
A hand suddenly slid under the canvas wall of the tent, fumbling around and grasping in the dark. She jumped and let out a surprised exclamation, cutting herself off with a hand over her mouth a moment later when James's head appeared beneath the loose canvas.
"Hush," he hissed. "Don't rouse the others."
"Don't startle me like that!" she retorted quietly as he wriggled the rest of the way into the tent.
He hastily scrambled beneath her blanket, shivering violently even after she had put her arms and legs around him to thaw him out.
"It's freezing out there, if you must know," he informed her.
"Is it still snowing?" she inquired, aware that he was slightly damp.
"Not anymore, but there's plenty of it on the ground," he whispered.
"What time is it?"
He frowned and shrugged. "We have a few hours yet before dawn."
Eva shifted uncomfortably and pressed herself against him. "I don't even want to think about tomorrow," she said quietly.
James gazed down at her in thought.
"That battle was terrifying," she told him. "I couldn't find you. I couldn't find anyone. I didn't know what to do... I don't know what I'll do next time."
He squeezed her tightly in his arms. "I felt the same way," he agreed. "You had me worried for your life. If Worthing hadn't been there when I saw you, I'm not sure what I would have done." He traced the side of her face with his fingertips and bent nearer to kiss her. "Captain Curtis told me what you did," he murmured after a long interim. "Of all the things you have done, that was by far the most idiotic—"
She silenced him with another kiss. "I love you too."
He sighed and examined her face, first with his dark blue eyes, and then with his fingertips. "You are the light of my life," he whispered to her. "If anything were to happen to you..."
"You've fought before," she interrupted. "How do you survive it?"
He frowned thoughtfully before responding slowly, "Try not to get shot."
"Well thank you for that sage piece of advice," she snorted. "Isn't there anything else?"
"Have I ever told you that you have such talent at making a gray outlook that much bleaker?"
He laughed softly. "It could be worse. I could be overly cheery about this whole business. Nothing is worse than optimism in my opinion."
Eva also laughed. "Oh, hang you."
He grinned at her and put his lips to her ear, his voice secretive and soft as he suggested, "Let's take a turn around the camp, shall we?"
"What?" she drew back in astonishment, not believing what she had heard.
"Right now, in fact," he persisted with a smile.
"It's freezing out there!" she protested.
"Trust me," he whispered, and the hope in his expression made it hard for her to resist.
"All right. Patience though," she added when he leapt into a sitting position. "I have to find my boots."
By the time she had dressed herself, James was already on the other side of the tent, holding the canvas up so that she could crawl her way out on her stomach.
The ground inside had been slightly and uncomfortably damp, but outside it was covered in wet, sticky snow.
"What are we doing out here?" she hissed as he helped her to her feet and brushed stray snowflakes from her coat front.
He wrapped his arm around her and led her away from the tent, squeezing her shoulder with his hand. "Why, my dear, we are walking. You must admit that the snoring in that tent was not conducive to a romantic mood."
She had to agree with his point. "Where are we going then?" she asked.
"Anywhere," he replied, "so long as I am alone with you." He planted a warm kiss upon her temple, and she ceased her complaining.
She sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder.
The moon was nothing but a silver sliver above the few nearby trees, hardly casting enough light to see by, though it reflected brightly off the snow. Eva hoped it was just dark enough that nobody would see them leaving the camp as they walked down the brow of the hill, toward a large, lonely pine. They sat in the semi-dry pile of needles beneath the tree, huddled together for warmth. James suspected that nobody would be awake at such an odd hour, or at least not outside in the snow. Even the sentries wouldn't be so near the camp that they would notice them.
But they were both wrong.
Jonathan Worthing couldn't sleep. It wasn't that he was afraid, or that he could not settle down and fall asleep. He simply preferred to remain awake that night and absorb the silence that hung heavy in the camp. There were plenty of things to think about that kept his mind alert, and the chill in the night air was a bracing antidote for anything that might have resembled sleepiness.
His heavy black boots crunched in the newly fallen snow, leaving behind traces of mud. In a hurry to finish and leave, Ross had not cleaned the bottoms of his sheos. Worthing made note of that and stored it away in a back corner of his mind, where he could remember it and bring it to the boy's attention at a later time.
He had left the shelter of the tent long before it had stopped snowing, and his limbs trembled, despite his best efforts to hide the effect the cold had on him. He preferred the cold. Heat, whether it was dry or humid, always made him groggy and sleepy, leaving him feeling uncomfortably weak. Though he could not feel his feet or hands anymore in the wintery chill, he was otherwise in control of himself, and it made him feel powerful.
Besides, he thought to himself, he was not the only one enjoying the night air. He had seen James Spurling leave the officers' tent not more than a few minutes ago, and he had not yet returned. It didn't really matter—he wasn't Spurling's keeper—but some part of him wondered if the man was simply restless or if he had other plans. He wouldn't be surprised if the boy—Spurling's little shadow as the other officers so quaintly had nicknamed him—was following him like a nervous dog. The boy had an unhealthy obsession with that man; he followed him nearly constantly, and Worthing curiously wondered why.
Asking Spurling about Ross was out of the question. The man always became defensive and brusque whenever Worthing mentioned the boy to him. Yet others didn't seem to know anything about them either. Something about the whole business bothered him.
Even as he pondered the subject, Worthing found himself stalking past his tent. Curious, he glanced inside. The three sergeants were in there, unconscious upon their bedrolls. Captain Curtis had also turned in sometime while he had been out. Spurling, as he already knew, was still missing. Frowning, he stalked to the next tent over. He could hear snoring from within, but no voices. Peering into the dark interior, he didn't see anything amiss, and he didn't feel up to actually entering to see if Spurling was with young Mr. Ross. It was none of his concern anyway, and he chastised himself for even caring.
He made his way around the back of the tent, knowing that there was a wide stretch of open ground on the other side, where he could walk and not worry about being disturbed by any other nighttime wanderers. Looking at the perfect sweep of crystalline snow upon the ground, Worthing smiled slightly when he saw a set of tracks leading through it. Apparently he wasn't the only one out.
The smile suddenly vanished.
There were two tracks in the snow, side by side, and they didn't meander randomly over the ground. These were tracks with a purpose, originating at the back of the light company's tent and leading down the hill. Squinting at the footprints, he frowned. They were fresh. He peered down, following the direction of the tracks. In the dim light, he caught sight of two figures just upon the cusp of the hill. Even as he watched, they disappeared from view. Still Worthing had seen enough to recognize them.
It was Spurling, with his arm around Ross's shoulders. Worthing had no inkling of what they were doing, or where they thought they were going, but it made the hair on the back of his neck prickle. He didn't like what he saw at all. Briefly he considered following them, but he decided against it, not certain he would like what he found. Besides, if they were trying to run (and it didn't seem as if they were in that much of a hurry), the sentries would catch them soon enough.
All he knew was that nothing good could be happening on that hillside. Shaking his head in disgust, he whirled around and continued his pacing, this time in the opposite direction. He reminded himself one last time that it was none of his concern—not his problem—and he tried not to let it bother him.