Eighteen: Lies and Murder in the Bear Empire

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Carrone was eyeing Deline oddly.  “You don’t like killing. The Deklegion paper-pusher told us you were a mass-murderer.  Then you put a blade to me and offered to leave me in the cabin.”

“I have killed a grand total of… three people and seven animals in Dekleg, not this trip, in my life, and two of those people were actively trying to kill me at the time.  I don’t like killing people.”

“But you would have slit my throat.”

“Sometimes…”  She sat down on the edge of their makeshift bed cross-legged, “the mission is more important than what I want.  And if I don’t make it home, the mission fails.”

“You were gathering information?  Spying?”

“Part of my mission involved bringing information home.  It’s not so time-sensitive that we can’t take our time getting there, but if it doesn’t get there – well, that’s going to cause problems.”

“You said that Dekleg would have trouble if they managed to kill you.”

“I was angry.”  She rubbed the palms of her hands on her knees.  “I’m not sure about you, but I don’t like people trying to kill me.”

“Yeah… no.”  He cleared his throat.  “I don’t like it either.  You said I didn’t get to know what you were doing in case you sold me to the slavers.”

“I said that, didn’t I?”  She studied him. “You’re stuck with me now, you know.”

“I know.”  He held up the wrist with the Bear-stone bracelet.   “I noticed having to obey you, and you explained the part about dying if you died.  So I’d say being stuck with you is pretty clear. You didn’t tell me that you’d lied to me to get me there, though.”

“I didn’t lie to you.  I don’t think ‘I don’t really want to kill you’ is the sort of thing one should have to tell someone who is actively trying to kill you, after all.  And, more than that, I would have done it if I had to.”

He huffed.  “I suppose. I still feel cheated.  And you still haven’t told me.”

“That is true.” She studied him, but she couldn’t figure out exactly what the tension in his shoulders meant.  It didn’t quite look like anger. “Do you actually want to know?”

“I…”  He glared at her.  “What sort of question is that?”

“It’s a reasonable one, considering how miserable you look.  If you don’t want to know….” She blinked at him. “Right now, you’re not a traitor, no matter what the impression might be.  You took the choice that allowed freedom-” She paused while he scoffed. “-more freedom than slavery, at least. And you’re stuck with it.  If you know my things – if you know things about my mission, then you have to decide if keeping me alive – and thus yourself – is more important than getting the information back to your nation.  Since my nation and yours aren’t exactly on friendly terms.”

“Is anyone on friendly terms with the Empire?” he muttered.  She noted that he didn’t argue with her assessment.

“Oh, there’s a few people here and there.”

“Doesn’t seem like a great reason not to tell me things, then.”  He looked at her pointedly from his position on the blankets, looking somehow even more earnest for his lounging.   “I don’t like not knowing what I signed up for.”

“I don’t like people trying to kill me,” she countered. She wanted to lie down.  She wanted to sleep.  She wanted him to just shut up.

“That’s different,” he complained.  “Really. You’re not going to tell me?  Why?”

“Your own comfort,” she countered, wondering if he just wasn’t listening.  “I’m asking if you want to deal with the issue of knowing and not being able to do anything about the knowledge.  If you want to risk feeling you have to fight against your orders, against the Bear-stone braclet. I don’t think you’re thinking it through, though, right now.   I’ll tell you when we’re closer to the capitol. Or, maybe, when there’s no real decision for you to make about it.”

There was no decision now, not if she told him the right things.   But reminding him of that would be no sort of kindness. She settled into the blankets and hoped that would be enough to quiet him, at least long enough for her to get some sleep.


Next: “Disputes” in the Bear Empire

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