Incidentally, since it wasn't super clear (will poke that passage again in the future when I can, maybe), the reason Ryou chased the creepy out of his mind was because his instincts suggested that thinking about it too hard was a way of helping it find him. He's in a place where the mind can bend space and time, who knows what kind of beastie can evolve in those conditions; maybe it uses thoughts and nightmares like some sort of mental echo-location *evil smirk* Sleep well tonight, dear readers...
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The next day started out wonderfully. Ryou's sleep was not plagued by any more scary visions, which his burgeoning instincts suggested was a good sign. Better yet, he woke up next to Darius, and despite the complexities of his situation here, the pitfalls that might lurk between them, virtual strangers that they still were, Ryou felt a rare and pure moment of happiness as he watched his lover sleep. Sleeping very soundly indeed, one arm thrown up above his head, eyes closed, face relaxed. He'd wrapped his hair in a twist of cloth tied at the nape to avoid having the disks braided into the ends clink against the roll of blanket that served as pillow; with his hair pulled back like that, Darius looked different, younger, and a little less fierce.
A dog yipped in the main part of the pavilion, followed by a soft mutter of "Shhh, Zuru."
Ryou, who'd glanced around automatically at the noise, jumped as he realized Darius was now sitting up beside him, bleary eyes fixed on the partition giving them a semblance of privacy.
"Rand, is that you?"
"Yes, sir." Rand slipped between the tapestries before Ryou could think of anything to say that'd stop this man from finding him naked in bed with Darius for the second time in twenty-four hours.
Darius rubbed his eyes. "What is it?" he asked. By the sound of it, he'd have liked to enjoy another couple hours of sleep. According to Ryou's watch, it was only a little past six in the morning.
"You wanted me to tell you as soon as the Essin border had a passer again," said Rand. He'd graced Ryou with a small nod of greeting on entering and otherwise didn't seem to find anything noteworthy about their sleeping arrangements.
"Already? That was fast," said Darius, sleep banished. "And? Can we get to Mooncrest any time soon?"
"I doubt it, my Lord."
"Bugger. You got my hopes up," Darius muttered, shoulders slumping. "I really need to talk to Leyam as soon as I can."
"I agree. As for traveling, the Path to Tanatoria will be open all morning."
"Tanatoria? That works just as well." Darius threw back the coverlet in an excess of renewed energy and regardless of his nudity, not that it'd ever bothered him before. Ryou, for his part, kept the thin cover conservatively curled over his lap. "Put together an escort, I'll go square things with Terentius after I break my fast. I'm as hungry as a lion. Make that two lions," he said with a faint smirk back at Ryou which suggested there'd been some undertone to that remark that'd been both culturally significant and ever so slightly lewd.
Rand for his part did not even blink. "Yes sir. I've taken the liberty of waking Dionysodoros already."
"Good. When you see him, tell him it's his last chance to change his mind; seeing how he directed the Hounds for over a twelveday in my absence, he can continue leading the main guard in Teratiqa's place while the Hounds are still in Essin and beyond, if he wants to."
"I already discussed it with him," was the answer, with a hint of sourness that suggested the conversation had not gone according to Rand's wishes. "He reaffirms that he prefers to head your personal guard until Dela comes back. I tried to explain why it would be useful if you and he were not in the same group-"
"I'll make damn sure you don't need a look-alike taking my place again, Rand, so it's Dio's choice to turn down a promotion and ride the harder road," said Darius with a shrug, though beneath it he sounded pleased. "Go find our crazy Ionian, tell him to put together that escort and get his commander some food."
"Yes, sir," said Rand, already beyond the tapestries.
Dressed in one of Darius's two spare tunics, Ryou joined his lover in the main part of the pavilion for a meal of unleavened barley bread, honey, dates, dried figs, strips of jerky and milk. Cow's milk, to Ryou's surprise and delight. Raw and thick, it would have made him gag in anything other than his latte two weeks ago, but after struggling with goat's milk for awhile, Ryou knew a good thing when he tasted it.
The pavilion's flap was tied up; beyond it the camp bustled with soldiers in good spirits going about their business in the early morning sunshine. It was a wonderful day, a wonderful breakfast, which Ryou and Darius had exactly five minutes to enjoy before Rand stuck his head back into the tent and said, "My lord Ghan?"
"Yes. But call me by my name when it's just the three of us," Darius said in passing, giving Ryou a warm glow.
"Yes sir," said Rand, in what may or may not have been an example of poker-faced humor. "The escort is nearly ready, and General Terentius's aide said his master is up and can see you shortly."
"Good." Darius dropped his slice of bread on his plate and brushed off his hands briskly as he got to his feet. "You're off to Aksum capital today as well, yes?"
Rand nodded. "King Ka's emissaries are returning to their master this afternoon, I will join them."
"I'm sure those pompous asses will enjoy your company," said Darius with a nasty smirk. "Can you give Ka the usual salutations for me? I don't have time to muddle around with a tablet. Ryou and I will leave before the sun is too high, a qa at most. That will take us to the Path before mid-morning, and from there we can be in Sura in three days time."
Rand looked surprised. "Sir, it's four days ride from Tanatoria to Sura, at least."
"No, no, the road's should have been clear of snow for over a month now, we can make it in three days if we ride hard and change horses at the provincial outpost on the second night."
"It's four days or more riding normally," said Rand, his eyes flickering towards Ryou.
"Oh, don't worry on his account," said Darius, clapping Ryou on the shoulder hard enough to make the latter drop the fig he was holding. "I know he doesn't look it, but he's as tough as Kalkal's doorknob. He'll be fine."
Rand gave Ryou a sympathetic look and then left to presumably get things ready.
Ryou wasn't particularly looking forward to spending the next three days peering at the road ahead between the ears of a horse, but it didn't occur to him to complain. Darius needed to see his brother; there was a war on, the king of Assyria would expect his commander to report back now that Essin had fallen. But it was nice of Rand to be concerned for him. Ryou liked the man more and more.
"Darius, what does Rand do?"
Darius had been giving the rest of his bread and some jerky to the dogs. He looked a little perplexed at Ryou's question. "Do?"
"I mean, what's his job? He serves King Leyam, right?"
"What does he do? He seems very...organized. And he's been very helpful to me."
Darius scratched his chin. "Hmm. It's hard to put into so many words, really. Rand came to Leyam and me back when our lives weren't worth a pinch of sand. He swore fealty to Leyam and risked his life many times to help us get rid of my brother's regent. Since that messy business at Algmar, he can't work from the shadows anymore, too many people know who he is, so now he's Leyam's factotum. He's...let's just say, Rand's the kind of man who can find out about something before it even happens, and if that something is dangerous to Leyam, then it's got a noose around its neck whether it knows it or not. But he has an official role too, he bears a tablet with Leyam's seal and speaks with the King's voice when Leyam needs something done with a fair degree of seriousness and urgency. He's very good at that, too, it's amazing how well people listen to Leyam's word when it's Leyam's former strangler who bears it."
"Strangler. Oh, your kindly Inlands won't have anything like that, I wager. Strangler is a misnomer to start with, since a strangler will use anything, even poison if that's called for, to insure your enemies can talk over the error of their ways with the Furies. Every great clan has them. But compared to the kind of dispensable fools who carry a garrote around until they're killed off themselves, Rand is something else altogether, and he's become a lot more. Leyam has always had the knack of using a man to the best of his abilities. I have to go, I've got to organize our journey and break the news to Terentius that he's taking care of Essin after all." Darius looked pleased at ditching his obligations and leaving now. He strode out of the tent, the hounds trotting at his heels, leaving a motionless and silent Ryou behind him.
Ryou had wanted to ride at Darius's side again and share a campfire beneath the stars; it'd been one of those wild wishes that'd pushed him to take that leap of faith and magic yesterday to get him back into Essin. Today he'd gotten his wish, though not quite the way he'd envisioned it...Ryou watched the organized commotion around him, bemused. For some strange reason, he'd subconsciously assumed the escort would accompany them to the border, and then it would be just him and Darius again. An idiotic notion that would surely insult the fourteen men of Lord Ghan's picked personal guard who'd packed up at double speed and ridden off with them.
To Ryou's surprise, it seemed he possessed a tiny romantic fiber in his body - half an inch at most - that would have liked to be alone on the road with nobody but his lover for company. But Ryou's much greater practical side easily outvoted it to decide this could only be a change for the better. An ambush was no longer a concern, for starters. Four scouts ranged ahead and behind the main group at all times. A small force attacking their party would not survive the well trained battle-hardened Hounds, while a larger force could be outrun and outmaneuvered. Since they had extra horses for baggage, Ryou could look forward to a night in a proper bedroll on a bed of strewn bracken, his stomach full of lamb stew that had been a cut above the fare he and Darius had made do with these past two weeks. The men bustled about, setting up guards on the perimeter, maintaining the fire in the pit they'd dug out, warming water from the creek for their Lord and his guest to wash up in, and doing all the horse-related chores Ryou had once done himself. All Ryou had to do was sit down and rest after the hard slog. He'd have been ready to pitch in, since he did not want the men of Darius's unit thinking badly of him - and god only knew what they thought at this point. But as soon as he picked up a bucket, grabbed a brush or unfolded a blanket, a soldier materialized at his side with a faintly pained look on his face to relieve him of it with an apology and a 'do not disturb yourself, sir'. After five minutes of this, Darius, probably operating on a hint from Dionysodoros, had walked over and told Ryou to sit down and take it easy if he didn't want to hobble himself. He was referring to Ryou's arm, which had started to ache midway through the fast-paced ride and was now telling Ryou that Darius might have a point.
"Here you go. Drink this," said Darius, sitting on the fallen tree trunk a couple of Hounds had drawn up near the fire, apparently for Ryou's exclusive benefit and to the latter's surprise.
"Thanks." Ryou accepted the cup of warmed spiced wine, steaming in the cold air, and took a long draught in the hopes it would act like an anesthetic for his aching arm and stiffened muscles. Darius had said it contained herbs that would help. They didn't hurt the taste at any rate. The local wines wouldn't be used for vinegar back home; discerning Assyrians sweetened their drink with palm sugar or honey, same as the beer. All of it, of course, safer than the water...This cup was quite good in comparison, Ryou decided, taking a smaller second sip; it'd also been filtered with a cloth to get rid of the heavy sediment.
Ryou put down the cup, making sure the goblet was stable on the ground, and looked back down at the map he was supposed to be studying instead of woolgathering. Tanatoria was an Assyrian province, the closest to Sura, the capital. They'd been traveling through Darius's home country since before noon, on a paved road that cut through the rough terrain separating the various provinces. Darius had given Ryou the map, drawn with black ink on sheep's hide, when the latter showed some interest in the area. It wasn't precise, but it gave Ryou an idea of the geography of the northern part of Assyria, assuming his tired mind could gather enough of his concentration to study it.
A curious plonk-plonk-plonk noise made Ryou glance up again. One of the soldiers had drawn a bizarre instrument from his baggage and appeared to be tuning it. A sealed tortoise shell served as the base, two animal horns fixed into it. A stick near the top joined the two horns together. Four strings ran from the stick to the shell, completing an odd-looking hand harp or lyre, though it wasn't anywhere that melodious.
Men gathered around, talking in quiet voices and laughing. Ryou watched them discreetly. Most of them had been in the group that'd ridden out after him to save Darius two days ago, faces burning with determination and ferocity that’d unified them in intent. Now that they were walking around chatting in the light of the fire, Ryou could see them as individuals rather than as a scary group, and he could already associate some names with varied features from all over the Outlands, as well as scars, tattoos, various skin diseases and warts (the devotees of Hygiea saved peoples lives, not their looks, and in the local culture it was considered unseemly for a grown man to worry about the latter). One thing Ryou had quickly noticed was that none of these soldiers could be more than a year past the age of twenty, the exception being Dionysodoros, currently making his way towards Ryou and Darius. The Ionian officer was closer to Darius's age, twenty five or so. Ryou concluded he was the oldest man around by half a decade and wasn't sure what to do with that thought.
"Sir," said Dionysodoros, drawing up in front of Darius. He gave Ryou the same bow, hand pressed against his chest, that he gave his leader, to Ryou's surprise. "The men would like to do an honor dance for our return to Assyria, with your permission."
Darius nodded. "Just tell them to watch it. We're not finished with this campaign."
"Yes sir," replied Dionysodoros, before gesturing at the men behind him, his fist waving back and forth as if about to throw a lasso. Gestures, unlike words, were fully subject to the Curse of Babel, but Ryou gathered from the enthusiastic rise in the voices and the sudden outburst of directed activity, that Dionysodoros had given the men the go ahead.
The man with the tortoise harp started plonking on his strings, the dull sound almost percussion more than harmony, yet it did have a modulated thumping appeal to it. It was expanded upon when another man sat down next to him and started blowing into pan pipes that could have come right out of an interactive museum exhibit on ancient European countries. The music was simple, repetitive, quick-paced enough where the disparate sounds blended together in an effervescent whole. The men gathered in a loose half circle, leaving space for both the bonfire and for Ryou and Darius to see. They were hooting and laughing and already clapping their hands in time to the rapid beat, looking off to the left where some of their numbers were busying themselves around the baggage.
Two men ran into the circle and got down on one knee, facing each other over a meter of empty space. What they were doing there wasn't clear, even less so when they unwrapped the objects they held in rough woolen blankets to reveal a pair of swords. They drew the weapons and held them at ground level, gripping the hilt so that the cutting edge was straight up. The blades were parallel, two feet apart. A third man had followed them into the circle of firelight; as soon as his friends had knelt down, he leapt into the space between the swords and started to dance.
Ryou's eyes progressively widened as his gaze bounced from the man's sandaled feet to the edges of the blades glinting in the firelight.
The soldier had cast off his hauberk like many of the others who weren't on guard duty, though he’d kept the black scarf around his neck; it fluttered around his shoulders as he leapt back and forth, playing a crazy kind of hopscotch over the blades and back again in time with the music.
"Isn't that a little dangerous?" Ryou couldn't help asking once the power of speech returned.
"That? No, that's fine," said Darius, a grin in his voice.
The moves were so fast Ryou could barely keep up, succeeding each other without pause. The soldier jumped forward and one foot hit the ground before the front blade. He jumped back, and his left foot landed in the middle of the square. A spin, right foot behind the back blade - there was also movements side to side, limited by the presence of the men on his left and right, holding the swords and grinning up at him.
"Go, Romrama!" someone from the laughing, hooting crowd shouted, encouraging the dancer. Romrama grinned, he was looking down but not with the concentration Ryou would have thought was required. His feet looked so light, he could almost be floating. The men had started to shout, something like 'Hey hu! Hey hu! Hey hu!' in time with the rhythm, and Romrama danced between the blades like it was effortless.
"Come on!" shouted the man on the lyre, and the plonking took on a new intensity.
The men burst into song - Darius too, singing and clapping along with them, words as fast as the rhythm. And the blades-
- the blades beneath Romrama's feet began to sweep back and forth at the same cadence.
Ryou's jaw sagged. The fallen map rolled up unheeded at his feet.
The lyre's rhythmic plonk was now joined by the percussive sound of the blades clashing together. Their owners were moving them from one side to the other while keeping them straight, so they met together blade to blade in the middle - clash! - before sweeping out again and thudding - clack! - against the tips of the worn-out scabbards. The swordsmen had propped the latter upright next to their knees to help them delimit the square. Obviously, thought Ryou; if the width the swords traveled changed, it would change the tempo of their sweep, and then the dancer- It was precision work, one on which their comrade's feet depended, but the grinning soldiers didn't make it look all that hard.
"Now that's a little dangerous," said Darius with obvious amusement once the first stanza of the song finished.
And it probably was, but Romrama was grinning like victory incarnate to the encouragement of the others, a fearless joy in his every step between the blades that were now dancing with him, in, out, spin, right foot landing where the forward sword had been but a moment before-
Ryou, watching him, found himself gaining a seed of understanding of the kind of man who could enjoy this unreasonable pursuit, as well as join the Hounds with their dangerous reputation, their brand-new off-the-cuff guerilla tactics and the risks they incurred; the bloody-minded joy of men who'd chosen to live intensely rather than live long...
The second stanza started, still fast yet melodic in its harmony of men's voices rising together. The Gift that Zaratusra had left Ryou was splitting his perception, like it did every time he listened to someone singing or reciting poetry, any activity where the shape and cadence of the words had just as much import as their meaning. So even as Ryou watched and listened to his lover and the others sing out in alien words that melded into rhyme and rhythm, he could also 'hear' the meaning, penetrating his brain at its own pace and with its own wordings. '- beautiful girl, come to my country-...where the river is flowing-...the sword is sheathed now-...my country is beautiful-...when the grain is ripe-...' Ryou did not like the sensation the schism caused, so with some effort he tuned out the meaning and listened only to the melody and the flowing, laughing words.
Then suddenly- Ryou didn't see what happened, but right in the middle of the third verse Romrama leapt clear. The swords clanged together disharmoniously as the sword bearers looked up and around in surprise. Romrama stumbled forward, fortunately uninjured and laughing along with the rest of the boisterous cheering crowd.
"Give the kid some beer!"
"No, don't give him any, he's drunk already!"
"Hey, Romrama, are you that clumsy with a sword?!"
"No, no, how agile he is! See, his father was a goat!"
Romrama gave the last speaker the double-fingered gesture which Ryou knew full well by now was the Assyrian bird. Then Dionysodoros cleared his throat so loudly it could be heard clear over all the noise, and the men toned it down with sideway glances at the log.
"Doesn’t anyone ever get injured?" Ryou asked weakly.
"Hardly ever," said Darius, idly testing the warmth of his wine with a finger. "You don't do it if you don't know how. Besides, they keep a couple of old blades the blacksmith has given up on for that purpose, and wear proper sandals. I used to do it barefoot."
"You? You used to do that?"
"Oh hell, by the time I was sixteen there wasn't any idiotic risky thing I hadn't done," Darius snorted. "I forbid them from taking too many chances while we’re at war. Beyond that, I let them play. Things like that are good for morale, and it makes a stronger unit because you have to trust everyone, the musicians and the sword wielders as well as everybody else who can clap out of turn and throw your rhythm. But mainly it's a good way for young dogs to show off," he added with a tolerant look in the direction of the next dancer who'd taken Romrama's place. "In this instance, they're showing off for you."
Ryou almost spilled the wine he'd been finishing. "Me?!"
Darius looked surprised at Ryou's reaction. Then he smiled and leaned forward until he was talking into Ryou's ear, which didn't help Ryou's sudden struggle with his composure. "You have no idea, do you. Look at it through their eyes. There's rumors all over the Alliance about you already. It’s said you fearlessly charged into camp two days ago as if you were going to attack it single-handedly and fully expected to win."
"Yeah, I know. Trust me, I know. Hearsay carries enough crazy things about me, so now it's your turn," said Darius wickedly, his shoulder warming Ryou's. "As every man in the army is now ready to swear, having heard the truth of it from the friend of the friend of his cousin who was on guard duty that day and not even all that drunk at the time, after your thunderous arrival you stalked up the hill to Terentius's praetorium and ordered him to send out the Hounds to help me. Your eyes may have shot lightning bolts at this point."
"Oh good grief."
"Rand, Leyam's signet-bearer, immediately mounted a rescue party of twelve-score men on your word alone. They charged out, cut to pieces the thousands of enemies I had not yet defeated by myself, so on and so forth. And that was just the start. The next day you were sent to oversee the battle from a height above the city, where you made the sun stand still to give us the victory in an hour."
Ryou buried his face in his hand, to stop from laughing or groaning or maybe both. Darius chuckled against his shoulder, obviously enjoying this.
"Then it was revealed that you were a powerful magian who'd foiled a secret plot to exile me to the Void and the Furies. On hearing the trumps of victory, you broke through the Veil to appear before me and- well, rumor didn't get the next bit all that wrong, though it embellished it with lyrical words neither of us would ever say, and it didn't elaborate on what happened on the bed afterwards."
This time Ryou did groan. "You're kidding me."
"I may be exaggerating a little, but not by much."
Ryou took his hand away and looked around the camp as discreetly as he could. "Do you think they, um, mind?" he asked before he could properly reflect on the question.
Darius snorted. "If there's a man amongst them who minds his commander getting laid, be it with Angra Mainyu himself, let him come forward. I'll teach him a little dance with swords that are not blunt."
Ryou had by then remembered that this world had a very different perception of men sleeping together. So he was reassured on that front. Now he just had to worry about this perception of being some godlike figure with the power to bend space and alter time with a snap of his fingers.
"Most of them have at least as much sense as an ox," said Darius with a hint of an indulgent smile belying his low evaluation as he watched his men. "They'll know not to believe all the nonsense, not when they hear so much about me. But that means they don't know who you are, just that you're different, powerful, and important to me. So like the mutts they are, they're doing this whole song and dance to show you respect, for my sake and your own, and to make sure you know they’re not to be discounted."
Because Ryou was in the habit of regularly discounting heavily armed soldiers all around him, right. Ryou dismissed that notion with a shake of his head, but he absorbed the rest...Having Rand walk in on them twice had only been embarrassing. Suddenly realizing that their relationship was widely known...that was breathtaking. These men - hell, the whole of the Alliance it seemed - knew he and Darius were lovers. That nobody seemed to particularly mind was an immediate bonus, but more than that; Ryou was no longer a random stranger transiting through. His presence, and his relationship with Darius, had caused ripples of actions and consequences around him all throughout the day, it was now as real and solid in this world as the bracers around Darius's left arm and Ryou's right. Yes, it was breathtaking. And a little nerve-wracking, the tension of a salaryman caught in an unexpected social situation and afraid of making a faux-pas. Beyond whispering in his ear, Darius had not made any gesture in Ryou's direction that he wouldn't make with any other man. Was there an etiquette as to how much affection men showed in public, even if everybody knew they were together? This would be a new situation to Ryou back home, here in the Outlands he was twice as much at sea. Better play it safe and take his cues from Darius in the meantime.
And talking of cues, this was the third time Darius had stifled a yawn. He'd only had three hours of sleep last night and had ridden hard all day. Ryou was swaying a little on his log as well, and he did not particularly want to fall asleep on Darius's shoulder and start drooling in front of the men. Time for bed.
It seemed Dionysodoros had reached the same conclusion, as he loudly clapped his hands after the next dancer was finished and the evening quickly wrapped up at that point. Darius shook himself, went over guard rotations with Dionysodoros, and then rejoined Ryou just as the latter was noticing there were now two bedrolls on the bed of bracken.
"I see we're sharing," Ryou said, trying to hide his surprise. Now he was really confused.
"Yes, no more night vigils for either of us," said Darius, mistaking the meaning of Ryou's comment. "And a good thing too; Tanatoria is a lot colder than Aksum or Palis once the sun is down, you'll see. Keep your tunic on, but you can take your shoes off; I'm sure Chamrosh won't mind sleeping at your feet."
Ryou looked down at the one he thought of as 'the slightly less large dog' which was lounging nearby, tongue lolling. The hounds had kept pace with them remarkably well despite the ride alternating between fast walk and stretches of gallops; it was clear these were not cherished pets, they were used to pulling their weight and making their own way in the army.
Darius, already stripped down to his tunic, stopped near Ryou on way to the pile of blankets. "You don't mind, right?" he asked in a low voice meant just for the two of them, tilting his chin to indicate the arrangement.
"Mind? No, not if you don't. I'm sure it'll be warmer that way."
Darius looked at him in silence for a few seconds as if he expected Ryou to add something more relevant. "I meant that I'm taking the right-handed side," he finally said. "Don't the men in your country-...but I guess that wouldn't apply to a magian anyway," he added, rubbing his eyes tiredly, which stopped Ryou from saying 'What do you mean?' "You know there's no disregard intended, of course. My young mutts expect it to be their commander's hand on the sword, while you, my good friend, are not even armed in a way the rest of us dungheads understand."
"It's fine, Darius. Let's get some rest," said Ryou, giving Chamrosh, busy scratching at some fleas, a resigned look. This wasn't the time for explanations; they needed to get some sleep and recover before the next day of hard riding, and if Ryou started to quiz Darius on all the things he did not know about the Outlands, they'd still be sitting here in Tanatoria a week from now. Soon, soon they'd be in Sura. Ryou felt as if he and Darius had been both running full tilt ahead ever since the two of them had first set eyes on each other, but soon it would be time to stop all this traveling, get some real rest and take stock.
Ryou curled up beneath the blankets, suddenly aware of how nippy it was now that Jexen had banked the fire. But he kept his eyes open over the rim of the cover, alternating watching the stars prickle the sky above the line of dark pine trees, and the tail-end of bedtime preparations around the camp. The guards replacing those on the perimeter were bundled up in cloaks with sheepskins thrown over their shoulders. Tanatoria was a northern province, and the road between its border and Sura traveled through a mountain range at high altitude. Of the men who were getting ready to rest, some of the others were also rolling up in pairs; presumably for warmth, unless there were a surprising number of couples in this unit...Ryou couldn't make out many details in the fading light of the fire, but he did pick out Dionysodoros, bedded down on the other side of the embers, amiably shoving at Bareil, one of the youngest of the Hounds who was apparently hogging too many of the blankets. On the left side, Ryou noted, eyes narrowing; Bareil was on the left side, Dio on the right.
He lifted his head a few inches and looked over his shoulder. Darius had Zuru curled up on his side near his knees. His right hand was clear of the blanket and resting straight down his side; his sword, unsheathed and laid on his scabbard, was a couple of inches away from his extended fingers, same as Dionysodoros. Well that rather explained that pre-bedtime discussion, then. Ryou slipped off his glasses and put them on the folded square of Rand's cloak near his head. He did not particularly mind the possible implications of their sleeping arrangements. If they came under attack, it'd definitely be to everyone's advantage to have Darius up and swinging his sword rather than Ryou waving around his table knife.
Darius was already asleep. Ryou felt his own eyelids grow heavy as he watched his lover breathe in and out, slow and deep. The small chain of reasoning and deduction had reminded him that he wasn't completely helpless in this strange land he was becoming a part of; he had his eyes, his powers of observation and his brain, which was still functional and pretty decent by local standards. And he had warriors who didn't mind him being their commander's lover standing watch or sleeping all around him, as well as a dog snoring on his legs, which was considerably warmer and more comforting than Ryou had foreseen...
Ryou was asleep by the time any half-baked conclusion wound its way through his mind.