“How many of you were there?”
The question breaks the silence they had kept all morning, a pall almost self-imposed by Henya, though Uza had not objected. He answers in a flat tone, ambiguous; indecipherable.
She pauses in speech, the sound of her regular footsteps and the thin scratch of her clothes as they shift against her flesh filling Uza’s ears. He keeps his pace, but grows tense with anticipation that he can barely check. The reason for his enthusiasm escapes him, though there’s a growing sense of something building within; a warmth entirely unlike the heat of the sun that bears down on his skin, flooding him from within.
“Were you… Close?”
He ponders it quietly for a second.
“Yes. Not like friends or brothers, but bound by the inevitability of our association with one another. We were, quite literally, all each of the others had. That kind of dependency necessitates a certain closeness.”
“Bound in purpose?”
“Yes, and in method.”
“What was this purpose?”
He stops, stands shock still and turns to her. His feet begin to sear within his sandals and sweat builds on his brow under the sun’s sustained intensity.
“That… Is something I can’t tell you.”
“No?” her voice carries an edge; he flinches under its sudden pressure, “Is there something you wish to hide?”
“Why must it be hidden? Why can’t it simply be lost?”
It fails to register that she, too, has long since ceased moving. The small caravan separates them from the view of her father, who accompanies the lead pack-mule. He wants to walk, to move again, but her voice and her gaze paralyze his legs, stick them like tree trunks where they rest.
“It isn’t lost, Uza. You remember that you were bound to one another by a purpose, that it was the focus of your very existence until you happened upon me. No, you remember why you were here, why the six of you attempted to traverse this hellish land.”
He sighs. There is simply nothing else to do.
“You’re right. Happy? I still can’t tell you why I’m here. I can, however, ask for your trust. I can beg for it, beg you to understand that I have a very good reason, one in your best interest, for keeping my cause locked away. Please… Trust me. Don’t make me reveal that which must not be laid bare!”
Her body is inches from his, hand stretching out, gently caressing the rough skin of his cheek. His breath catches in his throat, as though to even exhale would shock her, scare her off. A sudden jerk out of the corner of his eye, a brief flash of her palm before it collides with his jaw and turns his head, involuntarily and violently, to the side. He coughs, feels ice on her voice as she walks off to catch up to the caravan.
“You have already tried to lie once now, Uza. My trust is there, but thin. Remember this.”