Deline slept more soundly than perhaps she should have, with a bounty hunter in bed next to her and, presumably, several more on her tail.
She woke in the early morning to see Carrone pacing back and forth in the small floor space of the inn. He wasn’t talking, but he was gesturing as if he was having an argument, and every few steps he’d glare at the Bear-stone bracelet and the bloody welts the spell-rope had left.
“Time to get on the road. We can get a bath at the next inn.” She was pleased to see that he was startled and more pleased to see that he didn’t jump but just twitched a little. “I’m going to leave you with your weapons, because your job now is to keep me alive.”
He worked his jaw. “I’d rather stab you.”
“I know. But you don’t get that luxury, and I’m not going to apologize for not letting you kill me. You get to protect me, because I need to get home to report.”
“Whatever you did to get the Deklegion so pissed at you that they’re sending bounty hunters right into the Empire – you know what that costs? – I’d think you’d be able to keep yourself alive.”
“What I did was move a few pieces of paper in a very specific way. I’m not an assassin and I’m not a mage.”
He rubbed the welts on his wrists as if to argue the point. She raised her eyebrows at him. He shifted left to right but didn’t say anything else.
This was going to get old soon. Deline checked her packs, then looked over at him. “You have no luggage.”
“Left it at a drop spot. Didn’t need to be carrying a pack to kill – to kill you.” That thought made him take a half-step backwards.
“Do you think it’s being watched?”
“Nobody after me.” He shrugged. “And it’s not a place where other hunters hide. Not sure you know this, but bounty hunters aren’t the most social of people. We don’t have clubs and we don’t stay near places where we pick up bounties for long. Competition gets harsh, a bounty hunter’s just as likely to kill another hunter as help him.”
She raised her eyebrows at this loquaciousness.
“What?” He shifted again. “It’s true. We’re not all that friendly, as a group.”
“I wouldn’t expect people who chop off other people’s heads for money to be all that friendly.” She pulled her packs onto her back and straightened the bed. “Let’s go get your things.”
“It’s not usually heads, you know.” He followed her out the door and down the stairs. “Sometimes it’s just a hand. A lot of the time we’re bringing people back alive – which is a lot more work, let me tell you. Carrying someone who doesn’t want to be there….” He looked down at his wrists. “I guess you’d have figured that out, if I hadn’t gone with this option.”
“Why did you, anyway?” She paid the innkeeper a bonus to cover the damage. Carrone stayed quiet while they headed out onto the street, still looking at his wrists. “And which way to your stash?”
“This way.” He pointed with both hands, like his wrists were still bound, and they started walking. He didn’t seem inclined to finish answering her, and Deline was willing to let it lie. Srite was not a big city – it was really only a city at all because their last governor had bribed someone high-up in the Emperor’s bureaucracy, and while both governor and bureaucrat had been dealt with, the title of City remained. There was not far to walk in any direction, and Deline had only stopped her because it was a good place to lay a trap.
They were passing a baker – possibly the baker in the small city – and Deline’s mind had wandered to the thoughts of a proper meal back at home, with the sticky buns she so loved when he spoke again.
“I’ve been a slave.” He was staring at the window of the baker’s, too. “And I’ve been very close to dead. I hated both of them. And being a slave is harder to escape than you might think.” He rubbed the bracelet. “I can’t escape this, but bodyguard is better work than wearing the collar and yoke again.”
She gave his answer as much consideration as he seemed to have. “Let’s hope it is,” she answered, when they were passing the butcher’s.
“Why do you care? I tried to kill you.”
“Now you serve me.” She twitched her shoulders in a quick shrug. “And a bodyguard who is happy with his work is more effective.”