For most of the ride, he faded in and out of consciousness – in part from pain, in part from the wounds bleeding all over his horse. The only time Marlowe had forced himself to come awake was when the horse began making towards Inferni. He had directed him east, and by midday the pair had begun descending the mountains. Machiavelli, big as he was, was nevertheless a mustang with sure footing and sturdy bones. The added weight of the things Marlowe had valued enough to bring (for his sedition had been planned in the same thought as the conflict) slowed their progress, though Marlowe pushed the paint hard and himself harder.
He was dizzy when he stopped at a small stream, and forced himself to eat preserved food. It felt strange in his stomach, and he ate very little.
The drugs were what really kept him going. They sharpened his senses, for the pain had evolved by this point and was now a constant, aching thing. Marlowe understood he needed rest, but the fear drove him further. He imagined the halfbreed bitch leading coyotes into the mountains after him, sending her black birds.
It was nearly to the point now where the trees were more bare than colorful, and there was more sky than there was foliage as the forest thickened. This was barely so – the fire that had scorched the eastern face of the mountain had destroyed everything in its path. These trees were young, and not very tall. At several points, the horse was turned around by the smallest of these.
Eventually, Marlowe and his horse came across a lake. He stopped here, again, and the horse drank deeply while Marlowe washed his wounds. Desperate for food, he forced down fatty pemmican and nearly choked on it. His right arm was swollen and felt inflamed. When he walked it was with a limp, and his arms and hands shook despite his efforts to keep them steady. Getting back on the horse was impossibly hard.
Through the haze made by his injuries and the mind-altering medicine he used, Marlowe understood only that he needed to go and get beyond the reach of Inferni's many hands.
When he could no longer sit on the horse, and when the sound of the ocean was close, he stopped. He found a patch of forest to sleep in, haphazardly covering his supplies and himself. The horse didn't need him at night, but stayed close. What had happened shook them both, though Machiavelli, in his own primitive manner, understood what had occurred. He had understood it when the blue-eyed mare had bit the coyote, breaking the pact under which they had come to live.
His sense of time was cloudier than Marlowe's, whose thoughts had replayed these events under the influence of the mind-altering drugs, drawing new connections where there had been none before.
Thinking rationally helped him walk through the anxiety, and reassuring himself of his own righteousness cleared his heart of guilt.
When he slept, he did so poorly. The pain kept returning, and he spooked himself awake from the sound of low, painful cries. At one point, the mustang settled next to him and Marlowe – overcome by a rush of emotion that struck hard in his bruised chest – buried his face against the painted horse's shoulder until he had stopped shaking.
He smoked again, despite his fears of discovery. The sleeping horse suggested safety, and he could see the surrounding area well enough even in the dark. He slipped into a robotic state of behavior, checking his bandages in the dark, touching the arrows and bow at his side, and drank night-cold water from his canteen.
Marlowe dozed, half-dreaming, and slid back into sleep as a cold wind swept down from the north.
It was cold when he woke, but bright. The horse was grazing nearby, but snorted when the coyote sat up. This was a slow, painful process. His armor had saved him from internal damage beyond the bruising, but this was deep under his skin and hurting from the long ride. Even moving his arms felt like an impossible task, though Marlowe went about things slowly, bundled up in the cloak and still half-wrapped in the saddle-blanket he used for the horse.
He'd need another one, he thought sourly, if it was going to get cold as quickly as it seemed. The horse needed a blanket – something he had been forced to leave behind in the wake of his sedition. It felt like loosing more than it really was, for they had been things, certainly, but for the first time they had been his things and he had not worried over losing them. Mostly, he had abandoned the books and heavy goods. Like losing things in the wake of disaster, the idea felt very raw, as if he had abandoned people instead of things.
Before he had led Inferni to war, and indeed long before his nature had been made clear, Marlowe had spent time helping Harosheth prepare her goods. During the course of this he had stolen, little by little, what amounted to a proper medical kit. Sometimes, he did this long before returning from a trade run. Sometimes he did it right under her nose. It was wicked of him and a product of survival – and something else, perhaps, that saw others with more than enough and knew it would not be missed. Stealing was easy. What came after was harder.
For while he cleaned his wounds carefully in the morning light, he was plagued by thoughts which he understood as guilt but processed as anxiety. What did it matter now, when supposed-treachery was made clear? He would have won that war. Inferni was stronger for it either way.
The thought of their loss seemed distant when in comparison to his own.
Most of the wounds were not deep, but his arm was troubling and his limp was prominent. Smoking his painkillers brought on fast effects, though a fit of coughing had practically debilitated him.
His right arm was worse, and the sight and smell of it turned his stomach. This Marlowe bandaged, though he did not want to risk stitching it up. Teeth and claws were capable of bringing infection, and though it was too early to tell, the red skin warned him of this. He recalled his lessons as he used his stolen goods, and eased his conscious as the medicine took hold. It was easier to eat, though he barely had an appetite for the preserved food.
When the wind turned, bringing with it the smell of salt, Marlowe became consumed with the thought of it. He left most of his supplies and the saddle hidden and rode the horse bareback until they found the ocean.
It was cold to the touch, but the horse and rider trailed the line of the coast a little more than a mile, turning back when the sun turned highest. Marlowe eventually dismounted, aching and wanting to try loosening his stiff leg. He let the stallion run, watching the horse take playful delight in the water. They had both liked the coast, but it wasn't as rocky here and the ocean air was different than that of the bay. The coyote settled on a dune, where, lulled by the heat of the sand, he slept again.