Carrone was unsurprisingly quiet as they left Teshone’s. Deline let it go as they strode down the avenue, but when they got to the carriage house, where the next outbound carriage would soon be heading towards the Imperial Seat, she broke the silence.
“Do you know what happens if someone bound with a Bear-stone bracelet kills the holder of the bracelet – or if the holder dies through other means?”
She noticed the way his shoulders tensed. She couldn’t bring herself to feel bad about that.
“No.” Even though he had no order along the lines of answering, it looked like it was dragged out of him. “I don’t.”
“I’d suggest you don’t find out. I’d really suggest not finding out.”
“You’d say that, wouldn’t you?” He shifted the way his bag was held. “Do you know?”
“I’ve seen it, once. It’s not a kind way to die – and if you wanted death, you’d have taken that route the merciful way.”
“I don’t want to die,” he agreed. He wasn’t looking at her.
“Good. Neither do I.”
“You could have ordered me to fight Teshone, couldn’t you have?” Now he was looking at her.
“Yes. I’m glad it didn’t come to that.”
“Why? Why are you glad? I was trying to kill you!”
“Because I’m not a vengeful person, and I’m certainly not vengeful about someone doing their job as they see it.” She smiled, an expression slightly more bitter than she’d meant. “I definitely annoyed the Deklegion enough to justify it, although, I mean, I don’t want to die.”
“Me, neither,” he snorted, “and if you had me attack Teshone, I probably would have. I’m surprised you managed as well as you did.”
She didn’t take insult. She was a little surprised herself. “I’ve spent too much of my life actively not dying. Here, I need to get our tickets.”
She showed her mark of office to the ticket-seller and passed over coin to pay for the tickets. “Two to the capital, the express.”
“You’re just in time. Mariko, two for the express,” the man shouted over his shoulder. “Hold the carriage.”
“The carriage don’t hold,” shouted back an irritated woman’s voice.
“You hold for this one.” The man made shooing gestures at both of them, aiming them towards the carriage. “Trust me, you wanna hold for this pair.”
They were still shouting back and forth as Deline and Carrone boarded the express. It was a better-sprung carriage than the slower ones, with padded seats and full doors. It had to be; it went twice as fast, and while the Empire had decent roads, they could still be a torturous ride in a normal carriage.
She jumped up in, followed by a slightly less eager Carrone. “Thank you for waiting.”
“Why you’re so special, I don’t know. Well, we’ll make the time up on the flatlands. Hyah!” She called to her horses and the carriage was on its way.
“I’m surprised you don’t have a mount,” Carrone murmured, as the countryside moved away from them in a comfortable pace.
“Why don’t you?” she countered.
“Mounts cost money, and then you have to worry about upkeep and if they get shot, the thing you were depending on is suddenly not there. Like partners. better not to depend on anyone.”
Deline chuckled. “Okay, partners and horses count the same for you. What do I count as, then?”
He smirked crookedly at her. “I think you count as the rider and I’m the horse. Where’s my grain bag and my rubdown?”
“Maybe when you’re a good boy.” She patted his head. “I don’t have a mount on this mission because the places I was going, a mount would be conspicuous. And a good thing, too, or I’d have had to have bought or rented a mount for you, and then worried about you running off at speed.”
“I can’t, can I? Run off?” He rubbed the bracelet.
“Well, you can’t kill me either, not without consequences, but that didn’t stop you from trying.”
The drive of the carriage was in her own wind-protected area at the front, but even if she had not been, there were conventions that meant that anything that she heard, she “did not hear.” Likewise, if there had been two groups of people in the carriage, they “wouldn’t hear” each other’s business, even if one was the Emperor and one was plotting the Emperor’s death. On such conceits and others, the Empire continued to run far more smoothly than it ought.
“Hrmph.” He glowered at her. “It’s not like these things come with an explanation.”
“The short version is: you want to stay rather close to me – not that close,” she snorted, as he scooted as close to her as possible. “Just within a few miles. If you run off, the bracelet is going to try to return you to me – and no, I don’t know exactly what that means. I’m not a scholar of these things, and I didn’t stop to get more than a quick lesson on them, either. The Bear-stone wants you near me and it wants me alive and my heart beating in tune with yours, that’s what they told me. So. It behooves you not to run off and not to have me killed. Other than that -”
“Other than that, I’m your puppet slave,” he muttered. “Nothing to it. Do what you say, serve at your will, and bow and scrape as needed.” He was still sitting pressed against her, but it seemed like he was shifting away without moving.
“Other than that, your will is bound to mine. Which may serve to keep us both alive longer. Oh.” She feigned innocence at his expression. “Did you think the Empire would let you live after killing me? Did you think the Deklegion higher-ups would leave a witness alive, once they’d realized who they’d had killed? They can’t know, of course. It would mean war. So you might thank me for saving your life along with my own.”