Deline spent a few minutes focusing on her breakfast. The bread was actually quite good; she’d have to remember to mention the place to other Claws who happened to be in this corner of the Empire. Assuming, of course, that the man didn’t sell them out to the bounty hunters.
Carrone was hung up on false pretenses and she wasn’t about to kill someone just to prove to him that she was, as a matter of fact, willing to kill. So there was no point in arguing that with him.
The cheese was good, too, and the sausage was actually very nice. She sipped water from her canteen and considered him.
“I don’t expect you to like it,” she said, when her mouth was empty. “That’s never been a requirement. I don’t think you’d like being dead, either, or being actually enslaved.”
“What do you call this?” He shook his cuffed wrist at her. “Seriously? I can’t go against your orders!”
“I call it being bound into the Bear. Being tied to the totem. Being my unwilling companion. If you were my slave, you’d be wearing a collar and shackles and be doing a lot more work,” she added dryly. “So far, mostly you’ve just had to walk a lot.”
“And save your life a couple times,” he added.
“And save my life a couple times. Not bad work, considering what slavers would have you doing.” She started packing up their gear. They might as well get a move on, since they were certainly not doing anything restful here, arguing.
“What do you know about slavers?” he muttered. Still, he shifted so he could roll up their bedding.
“You’d be surprised at the places a Claw ends up going to get a mission done. Or, perhaps, you wouldn’t be surprised. Either way, I’ve been a Claw for a while. I know a bit about slavers.” She brought down their wards and stepped out of the cave. “I’m going to go give water to the earth.” Another thing she missed: privies. Proper privies. “Anyway. Do you really think it’s that onerous?” she called, from behind a bush that was more thorn than leaf. Stupid Fox country.
There was no answer. She finished what she was doing. “I said, do you think it’s onerous?” she called.
She stepped back out from around the bush to find the cave empty.
Deline sighed. He couldn’t really be thinking about running away now, could he?
As quick as the thought came to her, it was replaced with another – had they been chased down? Was someone looking after-
A very quiet clearing of the throat interrupted her thought process. She pulled her knife from its sheath, ducked her body down low, and stepped slowly in the direction of the noise. It was another prickly, angry bush.
She stepped around the bush to find Carrone twisted sideways. His pants were caught on the edge of the bush, unbuttoned. He had clearly been doing the same thing Deline had.
He wasn’t looking at her; he was looking over his shoulder, away from her. She followed his gaze
Between two more bushes, a stone’s throw away, a large bear was looking at Carrone. A very large bear.
Deline raised her eyebrows. This wasn’t particularly bear territory. They tended to stay away from here, as if the weird Fox energy sent them back towards the north. This one – this one was brown and shaggy, clearly nearly ready for winter, and it was considering Carrone the way that Deline might consider a nice tasty steak.
She considered the weapons she was currently carrying. She considered the weapons the bounty-hunter next to her was currently showing off and the ones he was probably hiding. She thought even more carefully about the spell components she had in her bag.
In her bag, behind her in the cave.
Mother Bear, she prayed, in the place in the back of her mind she kept for such things, if I get out of this, I am never going to go anywhere at all without a kit. Not to the privy, not to bed, not to the baths. Your will be done, but your daughter, your Claw would like your will to keep her alive just a little bit longer.
She looked back at the bear and down at where the bushes had attacked Carrone’s pants. She considered the situation for three long heartbeats while the bear moved closer.
In the bush were berries, dried now and ready to let go of their seeds.
Her eyes narrowed.
Thank you, Mother Bear.
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