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Some Savage Hold

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The king, fearful of letting his heirs out of his sight again, had wanted to give them a royal escort, but Imogen had gently persuaded him otherwise. “When traveling with the four strong saviors of Briton, what harm can we come to?” she had said, and at last the king had agreed to let the six of them travel on their own. Luckily, she had the discretion not to add that she and her brothers had already snuck out of the castle in disguise twice since their arrival, and nobody had noticed or caused them any trouble.

Guiderius was glad of the chance to get out and about. Their new life in the castle was so different from their life in the cave. There were too many people around, and too many walls. He could barely set foot outside his room (he had an entire room to himself now, and it was even bigger than their cave!) before some random person started talking to him. Usually a servant, asking him if everything was comfortable in his new home, or else some nobleman, trying to ingratiate himself with the future king. His father seemed to enjoy it, but he had been at court before and was more accustomed to the society and expectations of royalty.

“It’s so good to get out of the castle!” Arviragus shouted, stirring his horse into a gallop. He rode up the road a little distance, and then doubled back to lead their little procession. His father shook his head at his youngest son’s antics, but he smiled anyway. Imogen laughed from her seat next to Pisanio on the small wagon that held supplies for their journey and was also supposed to carry their belongings back to the castle during their return.

They were going to their former home, the old cave in the mountains. When going off to war, they had only taken the necessary items, thinking that they would be home again very soon when everything was over. But after the battle they had been taken straight to the castle, and once all the secrets had been revealed, they had been moved there permanently. They had never gotten the chance to go back to their cave and retrieve all of their belongings. Now, a few weeks later, they were finally on the road back to Milford-Haven to pack up their cave for good.

They stopped for the night as the sun grew big and low in the sky, and Pisanio tended to their horses as the rest of them gathered firewood. Belarius quickly lit a fire with the special flint rocks that Guiderius had found for him while exploring another cave near their own. They sparked every time he struck them together and seemed to light warmer fires than any other flint rocks they had ever found.

After dinner, they spread their bedrolls on the softest patch of dirt they could find. Imogen went to sleep almost immediately, and Posthumus volunteered to take the first watch. The rest of the men rotated the watch in shifts until morning, when they packed up the wagon and started out again.

The second day was much like the first, and the third was much like the second. Belarius and his sons went into the forest to hunt after they made camp, and always returned successfully with plenty of game. Imogen roasted it over the fire, and they all enjoyed their little feast. The men kept on swapping shifts at night and they all rose again at dawn, one day closer to their destination.

The fourth day was the most exciting by far, for Imogen had grown tired of riding in the wagon and exchanged her seat for Arviragus’ saddle. Posthumus rode closely next to her, and Arviragus yelled out horse riding tips from the wagon. Imogen’s protests that she knew how to ride a horse perfectly well went unheeded, and through sheer force of will Arviragus managed to come up with no less than seventy three useless pieces of advice during the day.

It was a great relief to everyone when they finally stopped for the night. From the look on Pisanio’s face, Guiderius rather thought that the loyal servant wished the Queen really had given him some poison, either so he could give it to his mistress’ brother or so he could take it himself.

His father estimated that they had half a day’s travel left, and with the cheering thought that they were almost home, sleep claimed them all quickly.

Posthumus, who had taken the last watch, roused them all at dawn, and they packed up the wagon and set off once more. Imogen opted to ride in the wagon again, and she told Arviragus that the temptation to spur her horse off into the woods and vanish forever among the trees had been far too great the day before.

“We’re here!” Belarius finally called out, even though it was quite unnecessary. Everyone except Posthumus and Pisanio had been to the cave before. Imogen gave an excited gasp from her place on the wagon seat, and her brothers were already slowing their horses.

Pisanio jumped down from the wagon and offered a hand to his mistress. Imogen climbed down gracefully with his assistance, and she smiled as she looked around. She took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air and said, “It’s so nice to be back in the forest, isn’t it?”

“I think I’ll take a walk,” Guiderius announced as their little group neared the cave. He glanced at Arviragus, and his younger brother gave a brief nod. He placed a hand on Imogen’s back and began to guide her into the cave, pointing out the lovely stalactite features she might have missed when she had first visited their home.

She looked over her shoulder as Arviragus shepherded her away, and said teasingly, “You would leave us to do all the work?”

“I’ll return soon, sister, I just want to take one last look at the forest before we go back to the castle.” He looked at Posthumus, who was helping Pisanio make more room in the wagon. Turning to Imogen’s husband, he casually added, “Brother, will you come with me? It’s high time we got better acquainted.”

Posthumus readily agreed, and the two of them headed out into the forest. Guiderius had grown up in these woods, and he walked with purpose as he weaved through the trees. Posthumus trailed behind, looking around at the scenery and watching his feet as they traversed the rocky ground knotted with unearthed tree roots.

“What do you think of our wild mountains, brother?” Guiderius called back to him as they neared his intended destination.

“Very wild indeed,” Posthumus said, scrambling over a dead log. A squirrel sprung out of the open end and chittered angrily at them before running off. Posthumus took a few quick steps to catch up, but that wasn’t really necessary, for Guiderius had come to a halt just a few feet ahead. They had arrived in a small clearing near the river. A thin, worn path ran along the bank and was a straighter shot from here to the cave, but Guiderius had wanted one last adventure in their forest before he went back to the castle.

“This spot brings back so many memories,” Guiderius smiled, looking out over the banks of the wide river that flowed through the forest and out past their cave.

“Good ones, I hope,” Posthumus said mildly, coming up to stand beside him.

“Oh, very good indeed! This is the spot where I killed that villain Cloten.”

Posthumus paused for a minute, having evidently expected some charming anecdote about fishing trips or childhood memories. Finally, he smiled weakly and asked, “Did you really chop off his head?”

“Yes, I did! As I would do to anyone who dared to harm my sister again,” he said, still smiling broadly. He clapped Posthumus on the back. “Is that understood?”

Posthumus’ eyebrows shot up in alarm, and he paled considerably. He managed a nod, looking frantically between the river and his brother-in-law.

Guiderius returned his nod, and solemnly said, “Good man. Now, shall we return to the cave? I daresay my sister desires your company, although I can’t for the life of me guess why.”

Posthumus hesitated, looking like he was about to say something, but then he just pressed his lips together firmly and let Guiderius take them back to the cave. He took the shorter path this time around.

They walked back in contented silence. At least, Guiderius was contented; he was sure his sister’s husband just wanted to cry. As they neared the entrance to the cave, Imogen came out with a small parcel. It looked like the bundle of squirrel furs that Arviragus had been collecting over the years.

“How was your walk?” she said, coming over to them. She gave her husband a quick kiss on the cheek. Posthumus looked nervously at him, but Imogen did not notice as Guiderius stepped forward and took the bundle of furs from her arms.

“It was a wonderful walk, wasn’t it, brother?”

“Yes,” Posthumus said slowly. “I learned many things about the wilderness that I didn’t know before.”

“Wonderful!” cried Imogen happily. “I really do love nature.”

“I’ll take this to the wagon,” Guiderius said, gesturing to the furs. “Why don’t you go back and get some more things? Just bring them to the mouth of the cave and I’ll carry them the rest of the way.”

“You’re always looking out for me,” Imogen said as she went back into the cave. Posthumus gave him another terrified look before slinking after her. Guiderius chuckled to himself as he brought Arviragus’ furs over to the wagon and gently placed them down. If only she knew how right she was.