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I caught up some of her hair in the comb, and lifted my razor. I hesitated. Her hair had been cleaned and perfumed for the wedding. The taboo of touching it had certainly not been lost on me. But, had things been different--ever so slightly different--had she not gone to the bear's cave, then she would have been mine tonight. I could have pressed my face in her warm, clean hair, and kissed her on the head. It would have tangled over my face in the morning, itching my nose. I could have combed it back from her sleeping face with my fingers, and admired her unscathed skin.

And she--she would have been miserable in that little hovel with a man she did not know. She would have despised me. She might have run away--or worse. Perhaps I now had a chance that I would not have had as her husband to win her over. Then again, perhaps I now had a chance that I would not have had as her husband to get rid of her somewhere. Was she worth all this trouble? Or was it far too late to ask that question, now?

I began cutting. Though I am not your husband, I claim your hair. I shear it from your head, so that no man might know your beauty but me.

We began in silence, but after I time, I struck up a conversation, hoping to break the tension in the air, "Amina, if you had horses, then why didn't you take one up to the cave?"

"I did. She was spooked as we neared the cave. That's how I knew it was the right place. I didn't even manage to get her tied off. She took off, the first chance she had."

"Ah, okay, that makes more sense now."

After a long moment, she asked, "Where did you live before Dardun?"

"I drifted for a while. Before that, I lived in Haverford Keep."

"Where is that?"

"On the leeward side of the western pass, probably a month's ride from here, I imagine."

"Why did you leave?"

"We were defeated--well and truly defeated. When I said that there was nowhere left for me, I really meant it. That was our last stronghold. That was our last chance at survival. As a people, we have ceased to be."

Amina pondered this quietly for a moment, before speaking up again, "What did you do, when you lived there?"

"I was a soldier. A Centurion."


"One who leads one hundred men."

"One hundred? That's an entire town!"

"I suppose you're right," I laughed.

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