Prey in the Bear Empire

First: Running in the Bear Empire
Previous: Arrows in the Bear Empire
Next: An Inn in the Bear Empire


Deline counted down on her fingers.  Three, two-

“Oy, you in the old Pattane house!  Come out with your hands up. I know you’re trespassing there, and I’ve every right to shoot you, but if you move slowly and ain’t try nothing, I shan’t but warn you on.”

“That….” Deline whispered quietly, “is not a Deklegion bounty hunter, or if she is, she is very good at mid-Fox-lands dialect.”

“Ain’t try nothing?” Carrone muttered.  “Want to shoot him anyway?”

Deline stood up, to a chorus of swearing from Carrone.  “No harm meant,” she called. “The storm lit on us something fierce,” oh, it had been a long time since she’d tried this dialect.  “an’ nothing but our little tent to keep us from the cold. We ‘bout to take ourselves on to somewhere else, we were, when your arrow said hello.”

“Well, take yourselves on, then, and be gone from here without trouble.  Next time the storm comes on you, you don’t go camping out in someone’s house, you hear me?”

“The mid-Fox-lands farmers,” she whispered, “are not all that known for their hospitality.  Next time,” she raised her voice, “we freeze on the road, sure as the Bear has cubs.”

“You do that, not coming on to my land.  Go on, you. Or you knock like decent folks and you sleep in the barn after asking, you hear me?”

“I hear you.”   She grabbed her pack, shoved her bow in its holster, and threw the pack over her shoulders.  “Come on, Carrone,” she muttered.

“I could kill him,” he offered.  “Then he wouldn’t be pointing a weapon at you.  Then he wouldn’t know we came through.”

“We don’t just kill people,” she hissed backwards.  “We’re coming out now,” she called loudly.  “Don’t shoot.” In a mutter, she added, “bodies make more questions than a couple hikers who trespassed.  There’s always trespassers.”

“Come out slow,” the man shouted.  “Might be my hands are getting tired.  Don’t want to surprise me.”

“Coming out slow, sir, like you say.  Slow and easy.”

“You could do like you did with the guard on the road,” Carrone muttered.  “I mean, you are an Imperial agent, right?”

“Yeah, but what’s an Imperial agent doing way out in the hinterlands?  It’s another one of those things that raises more questions then just going along with it.”

“If I get shot over this, I’m going to be really annoyed with you.”

“Less chitting and chatting and more moving and moving.  Come on, you two, getting off my land!  Now!”

“We’re moving, sir, but the weather wasn’t none too kind on us, you hear us?  And our feet are froze and our hands are froze.”

“Laying it on a little thick, aren’t you?” Carrone muttered.

“Look, if you can do better, you’re welcome to try.”  They picked up the pace a little, moving through the damp and half-frozen field until they reached the road.

“And stay gone,” the farmer called, before lowering his weapon and stomping off along the hedge.

“Do you think he knows,” Carrone mused, “how close he came to an arrow through the eye?”

“Of course he does.  That’s why he’s so cranky.  Most places, you can count on the gendarme to protect you, or at least to catch your killer.  Out here in the middle of nowhere, the law is spread a little more thinly and someone could, without too much trouble, vanish into the mountains.”

“You mean the way that we’re about to.”

“Exactly like that.”  She studied the road ahead of them.  “It’s going to be a rough day of walking.  Let’s say we get out of this man’s view and then stop for some breakfast.”

“You have in mind any provisioning along the way? Or are we going to be living off the land in the mountains?”

She didn’t want to admit that she hadn’t given it much thought.  Her trips to the mountains before had been generally short missions travelling through or training missions, where she was under the supervision  of her trainers.

She cleared her throat while she thought about the area.  “There should be a town up and to the south about three-quarters of a day’s travel – less if we find a carriage or cart to ride on.  We can provision there.”

“You keep a map of the whole Empire in your head?”

“You don’t?”  She raised her eyebrows.  “How do you track people?”

“Generally, I – well, I track them. I  follow their path. If I was following us, it would be a matter of looking for places we’d been, following our footsteps, seeing if anyone could be bribed into remembering us.  I guess I’d look to see if there were any dead bodies, although the one dead bounty hunter in the ditch might give me pause. We generally don’t like targets that bite back. If we were going to do that, we would have gone into big game hunting or being mercenaries or something like that.”  His smile was a bit crooked. “You don’t know how many times I’ve heard variations on that. ‘I don’t hunt things that bite back.’ Or, hells, said them. And then look at me. Here I am, with prey that bites back. Being prey that bites back.”

“I’m a very sharp mouse,” she answered solemnly.    “And from all of my experience, so are you.”

Next: An Inn in the Bear Empire

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