First: Running in the Bear Empire
Deline raised her eyebrows at this interloper. “Pardon me, Lord Eigeran. I must have misheard you.”
“Was I speaking to you, prisoner?”
“Sir.” Ranger Learone cleared her throat. “The Claw of the Bear is not a prisoner. I and the soldiers here are.”
“And your commander?” His body language suggested he was either intentionally ignoring Deline to slight her or he was unaware of what a Claw of the Bear could do.
“He died of his own doing, sir. He upset the prisoner Teshone, who fell on him.”
Lord Eigeran, from his expression, clearly knew who Teshone was. “Ah. May the spirit that he chose find him and help him home.” For a moment, he seemed properly solemn. “And all these I see who have died. Ranger Learone, how is it possible that you have been taken prisoner by one Bear and one traitor of Haloran?”
“Well, sir.” Learone cleared her throat and smiled, a dry expression that made Deline quite like her. “They are two quite amazing people who had any number of tricks up their sleeves, as you can clearly see. They were kind enough to give us parole rather than killing us out of hand.”
“And I gave my word of honor, sir.”
Deline cleared her throat. “I’m right here, Lord Eigeran. And if you wish not to be taken prisoner, I suggest you head immediately to the Imperial Capitol and speak there to the ambassador to Dekleg. We’d like to avoid an international incident, wouldn’t we?”
“An incident like that requires witnesses. Ranger?”
Deline smiled, although there was no humor in it. Carrone had come up behind the noxious lord, for one. For another, the Ranger was looking at the lord as if he had grown a second head. For a third, while several of the other parolees were paying attention, Deline did not think that they liked the lord or would support him.
“Lord Eigeran.” The Ranger’s voice held warning and threat. “I believe you are speaking without full knowledge of the situation. I advise you to stand down and learn all the facts before continuing.”
The Lord cleared his throat, because he was, it appeared, not a complete idiot. “You will not deal with these two menaces.”
“No. Because I have given my parole. I will stop anyone who tries to deal with them — and that includes you. You understand honor, Lord Eigeran.”
Deline smiled. The Ranger had it well in hand, but she wasn’t going to step down, not yet. This could still go badly.
“I understand honor.” His voice was tight. “I also understand very difficult diplomatic situations and things that can or cannot get out. And this cannot get out.”
“Lord Eigeran.,” Ranger Learone’s voice had lost all tone. “I suggest that you stop talking before you make things worse. Sir. We have given our parole. We have lost. This will get out. Many things will-“
The lord drew his weapon. The Ranger blocked the sword-swing with her arm, hissing, and fumbled for her own weapon off-handed. Deline drew her own shortsword as the lord and the Ranger grappled, the Ranger holding her own despite the gash on her right arm and the way she was handling her sword-sword off-handed. A stroke, a thwap, a push, but Learone was at a disadvantage and the lord was no slouch in these things. He pushed forward, his sword pricking her throat.
Deline knocked his blade away with her own. She wasn’t sure she could win in an up-close fight with him on her own – he was an amazing swordsman and that wasn’t her weapon of choice, and her hip blade was several hand-widths shorter than his sword. But Carrone was right behind him, waiting for her signal, and Learone didn’t consider herself beaten, it seemed, and had stepped back up to the combat.
The man couldn’t beat the two of them; when he finally saw the truth of that, and, Deline thought, that none of the soldiers were stepping in to help him, he lowered his weapon. “I surrender, but Ranger, this is folly. You know that this is going to lead to war if it gets out.”
“I think there are more important things to worry about at the moment.” Ranger Learone took the lord’s sword and offered it to Deline; she took it solemnly and passed it off to Carrone. “For one, Lord Eigeran, who killed the priests in Dekleg?”
“What?” Eigeran sputtered. “She did. That’s what you were told — why we’re here. She slaughtered them.”
“And, just as a thought exercise -” the ranger’s voice was casual, but her body posture was anything but “-if she had not?”
Eigeran tensed. “Then we would have been lied to.”
“And if we had been lied to, sir?”
“Then we – then we would need to do everything that we could to rectify the situation, if we had acted on false information.”
“Then I believe you see why you need to travel to the Capital with Claw Deline, then.”Want more?