There is no greater curse than ‘May you never sleep soundly,’ and no greater blessing than a soft, dry, and warm bed. – Ancient Cālenyena saying
The bed felt strange; it felt stranger to be sharing it with his captor. Girey had taken a long time to fall asleep and, from the sound of her breathing, so had his captor. There hadn’t been many actual beds for them on this journey, and both of them were soldiers; there hadn’t been that many beds for them in years.
There was a mounded blanket between them, the night being relatively warm for this far North and this early in the rainy season. Neither of them had spoken about it; they’d just pushed it there, making a final hurdle that they weren’t quite ready leap.
When Girey had finally slept, it had been a deep rest, with dreams of warmer times and sunnier skies. He had been deep in conversation with a blue-eyed girl when a commotion from downstairs wrenched him out of his sleep.
He grabbed for a weapon he didn’t carry anymore, and heard her do the same. She came up with a dirk instead of her sword, her hair tousled but her expression sharp.
In lieu of being useful, Girey lit the lamp. “Did you hear…” Another loud shout interrupted him. “…that?”
“I did.” Her smile twisted, amused for a moment. The dead had heard that; the gods had heard it. They listened in tense silence for a moment. Crockery crashed. Shouts rose. Something smashed with a high tinkle. Rin chuckled, finally. “Bar fight.”
“It sounds more like an invasion.” Not that there was anyone left to mount one.
“Full-scale invasions have less shouting.” Her chuckle quickly slid into a sigh. “Won’t be getting back to sleep for a while now, will we?”
“Doesn’t look like it.” And on the first night they’d had a bed since Ossulund. “At least we’re not on a schedule.” That was, not one he knew about, at least. She hadn’t shared her plans with him further than “going to Lanamer.”
“We can sleep all day if we want.” So, apparently they didn’t have too tight a schedule if they had one. “There is, however, always the risk of someone trying to requisition you again.”
He studied her face in the flickering light. It wasn’t always easy to tell what she was thinking; her expressions weren’t the same, and her use of the language made phrases sound strange. “You didn’t seem too happy with the idea.”
She studied his face in turn. He wondered if she had as much trouble figuring out what he was thinking. “You had a chance to make me really work to keep you, and you didn’t take it.”
“I wasn’t sure you would.” He adjusted the lamp until the flicker leveled out. “Or if you’d leave me here.” And he’d had no belief the Legate would have been a kinder master than his current captor.
She was silent while he fiddled with the light. When she did answer, she did so slowly and quietly. “If I was going to let someone take you, it would not be a shiny-button book-officer who had never gotten mud on his boots and thought the language was called ‘Bithrain.'”
Her sneer caught Girey by surprised. He barked out a laugh; she’d even managed to get the man’s high-Northern accent down. “I was wondering. I haven’t met many of your soldiers, at least not to talk to. If those people are the sort that beat my country…” His pride, among other things, had been pricked.
“They are not. They are reserves.” She paused, searching for a word, and repeated it in Bitrani. “Emergency troops.” She shifted back to her own language. “Tail-end Tebers, follow-along recruits.”
He was more relieved than he wanted to admit. “Other than the legate, they don’t seem like bad sorts. But to travel all this way, with all those prisoners, and not have any sort of translator-” He could have added “and not inform them of their fate,” but that part, at least, he shared with his countrymen. All he knew was where he was going, which he supposed was more than they knew.
“It seems that, all unwitting, he did bring along a translator.” She was looking at him oddly, her face shadowed. “There are several women in the ranks of their prisoners. I thought that the Bitrani didn’t have women in their army.”
“We don’t. They didn’t.” He had seen the women, of course; he’d talked to that one who had recognized him. But it was one thing to see them, and another to have his attention brought to their presence, to have to contemplate why they were there. “The girl that knew me, back in Ossulund – obviously she wasn’t a soldier.”
“Obviously.” Her voice was dry, dismissive. He felt stung on ’s behalf, but now was not the time. The women here were more important. “The woman here, they’re not like here. A couple of them were just near the Bitrani army when your people went through sweeping up.”
She nodded, thin-lipped. “We both know that happens.” He had assumed, after all, that she was a camp follower.
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