They didn’t sleep well, but they drowsed for several hours, until the sun began to sneak over the horizon and Deline, at least, was tired of pretending she could rest.
The storm, which had come back twice during their restless sleep, seemed to have passed by the time they made it downstairs and into the small town. Deline wasted a few minutes wishing over the carriage system, but even if it was safe for them to risk, the carriages wouldn’t travel if there was risk to the horses.
Their provisioning was quick, since there were only two stores in town. It was at the second one, while Carrone was making faces at Deline’s purchases, that the shopkeeper aimed a sharp look up and down both of them.
Deline tensed. She was Bear, right down to the set of her eyes and the shade of her hair. Carrone was..m well, if he came from a totem-people, they weren’t one that was known in the Bear Empire.
Some people, especially out in Mountain Lion or Fox territories, didn’t like intermixing.
“Some trouble last night?” the shopkeeper asked mildly. “Sojie said she heard something.”
“Someone had some political disputes with us,” Deline agreed easily. “We sent them on their way after we sorted out the argument.”
“Sojie said she saw a little blood.” The shopkeeper was still being very mild. It might mean they just wanted gossip, and it might mean they were getting ready to bring the law down on Deline and Carrone’s heads.
That would be inconvenient, at the very least, and very obvious, at the worst.
“It was a very heated dispute. They didn’t like the things that the Emperor is doing with the tax levies in the east and the new rails,” Deline improvised.
“And they got you out of your bed for that?”
“Well, they thought that my friend here was Eastern, since he’s clearly not Western. And they seemed to think that, being Bear, I worked for the Empire.”
“We all work for the Empire, even if it’s just to pay the taxes,” the shopkeep countered wisely. “And you?”
“Me? I’m from the Capitol. I don’t work for the rail system and neither does my friend.”
“You sure you’re a Bear and, I don’t know, not some sort of ferret?”
“I’m sure I’m a Bear.” There was no Ferret spirit, but it wasn’t the first time she’d heard jokes like that. “Are we all set?”
There was a pregnant pause, the sort that could mean all sorts of different kinds of trouble. “Yeah.” He nodded slowly. “Yeah, we’re all set.”
Deline let out a breath. “Thank you.” She made sure she overpaid for the goods. “We should be on the road. It doesn’t look like another storm…”
“But if it does, you know to take shelter.” The shopkeep nodded. “Nobody ‘round here will turn you away if you come to their door, so don’t let their grumpy faces fool you. The storms are nothing to mess with.”
Deline smiles at him this time. “Thank you. That’s good to keep in mind.”
“You be safe now, you two. And, uh.” He cleared his throat. “Try to keep out of any more political disputes in the middle of town. They make some of the old hens and roosters nervous, you know. And when they are nervous, the whole coop starts to clucking.”
Carrone chuckled. “Wouldn’t want that,” he agreed. “Come on, asta ri bren, let’s get on the road before we get anyone else clucking, shall we?”
She didn’t speak much Haloran, not enough to translate his words, but the tone was of affection. “Of course,” she agreed cheerfully. “We want to make good time while the sky is clear.”
The shopkeeper waved them on their way, and, with a look that conveyed more agreement than they had been in outside of combat, the two of them started walking at a brisk pace.
They didn’t slow down until long past when they could see the town behind them and the hills had given way to climbs that were, if not already the mountains, something close. Deline had spent most of the last two years walking, running, training, and yet she felt the strain on her breath and the way her heart was complaining.
“Asta ri bren?” she asked, the first words either of them had spoken in some time.
“Ah.” He cleared his throat. “It’s, uh. It translates to ‘little beast of mine’, but it’s meant as, um. Well. My grandmother called my grandfather that. And the little, it’s…. Uh.” He looked away.
Deline chuckled. “My grandmother called my grandfather you great big oaf most of the time. I understand.” She eyed him. “I don’t imagine you’re feeling very kindly towards me today.”
He rolled his shoulders. “I don’t like — I don’t like not knowing what’s going on. And the way you’re talking, if I did know, I’d end up feeling even more of a traitor than I feel now, in the bad moments. I don’t know,” he huffed, “maybe you ought to just get me drunk and — oh, curse it, I don’t know.”
Deline eyed him and didn’t mention that he was repeating himself. “The things that people say happen when you get a soldier drunk—”
“I’m not a soldier,” he protested.
“When you get a warrior drunk, in my nation, are: he ends up enlisted, which would be rather inconvenient; he ends up in bed with someone he hadn’t planned on going to bed with; he ends up joining the priesthood; with a tattoo of something ugly; or he ends up married.” She raised her eyebrows at him. “I’m not giving you to someone or something else, so which of the others were you suggesting?”