The riders passed, and the cave fell silent again. Rabin wondered if this was how the dead felt when they descended to their graves.
In the thin stream of moonlight that made it past the shrubs and rock outcropping that masked the cave entrance, the other children were barely discernable shades against the blackness. Rabin knew he could see in the dark better than the purebred Old Race children and supposed Del must be almost blind. Somehow, Del must have sensed Rabin’s glance.
“What are you looking at?” the older boy whispered.
“When your papa takes us out for training, he always tells us to watch you to learn how to do things right. I’m just trying to watch you to learn how to be brave,” the younger boy said earnestly.
“I should have been down there fighting,” Del hissed. “At sixteen, I’m too big to be given the task of babysitting children. There weren’t enough men, and they should have let me stay.”
“Del, I’m only twelve. Nobody else here is older than eight or nine. I heard your father tell you that you have to be the Gatekeeper,” Rabin had assured him. “The Gatekeeper’s the most important.”
“Ha, and what did your mama tell you, hybrid boy? Did she tell you that you were the mayor since that was she is? Maybe she told you that you are a prince since that’s what your trueborn daddy is.”
“Cut it out, Gerson knucklehead,” Rabin said evenly. Older and sturdy as his Scout of a father, Del weighed over half again as much as the younger boy. Still, the bigger boy had never been a bully. Both he and his father took the honor of their clan very seriously. In Rabin’s mind, the men of the Gerson Clan were the tough guys in the village but not villians.
“Nah, I’m not being mean,” Del Gerson said. “I’m just saying that I don’t really have a plan. You always have a lot of questions, Rab. Normally, I don’t mind. Tonight, I feel like you’re pressing me for answers that I can’t supply.”
The hoofbeats had faded. Rabin mulled over Del’s admission. In his mind, a Gatekeeper should always have a plan for when the Gatebreakers arrived. It took him a moment to appreciate that Del had actually trusted him with a more adult truth. He turned back to Del. “We don’t really know for sure who the gatebreakers are,do we?”
“Aye, there’s that,” Del said. “Well, we heard them growling at each other awhile ago, so it’s a pretty sure thing they’re Rehans. That’s more than we were sure of all day.”
Rabin nodded. “Knowing that, it’s easy to guess they’re Raptors under Prince Ovil and Lord Rehail. After the old king died, they took the king’s daughter, Princess Ovilia, into something they call custody. My mama said that’s more like kidnapping. The old king kept the peace, but his son and nephew are different. Apparently, that’s why the old king favored the princess even though she’s a girl. She’s a little older than Prince Ovil, and the king was working to make sure she’d step up behind him.”