First: Running in the Bear Empire
Carrone kept sending little looks her way.
Deline wasn’t quite sure what it meant, and she didn’t quite want to stop and ask, either.
They’d gone from being two people dodging bounty hunters to being an entire entourage, the wounded on wagons with their healers, the rest trudging along through mountains that were clearly no more familiar to them than they were to Carrone.
They had no privacy and no time to talk, but, on the other hand, they weren’t very worried about being attacked. Not with Ranger Learone and Lord Eigeran having decided that they were Deline’s personal bodyguards. Not with their surviving able-bodied soldiers stalking along as if they were an invading force led by Deline.
If they’d been alone, they probably would have made it to the Imperial Compound in three days — maybe four with bad weather, which, since this was the North, there would almost certainly be.
With the wagons and the soldiers and all else, they were going to be likely to make it in eight, and the rain and hail had started falling down.
“Does it ever stop this?” Lord Eigeran was not impressed.
“Never.” Carrone smirked. “It does this or something worse all the time.”
Deline looked at the group and sighed. “All right, let’s look for a shelter. An inn could probably hold us all, but a barn would be good enough.”
She waited for the Lord to complain, but he didn’t, instead just pulling his hat on a little more firmly.
Carrone scooted closer to her. “How is it going to go over? Bringing enemy troops into the capital?”
“Well, they’re only enemy in that they attacked me.” Deline snorted as the words came out of her mouth. “Okay, so. It’s not like I’m leading troops into the –” She stopped talking and sighed.
“It’s all right, they’re my prisoners,” she managed after a moment. Carrone was doing his best not to snigger, she was pretty sure. “Besides… considering…” she trailed off. The sky was beginning to get far too dark. They’d need to
He eyed her sidelong. “They’re going to figure it out eventually.”
“I know. Well, I don’t know, but I’m fairly sure you’re right. The trick is going to be keeping them alive,” she added in a mutter. “What they did-“
“I’d say you have done more than your share to keep them alive already. The rest is going to be up to them.”
“You have no sympathy, do you?”
“No. People should do their research – don’t look at me like that.”
“Empathy, maybe?” she teased.
“Maybe a little,” he muttered. “On the other hand, they did try to kill you – and me. And I think you’ve been more than generous. Hell, I think you were more than generous like seven warnings back.”
“Is that an inn?” She didn’t want to talk about her generosity. About the way she just didn’t kill people.
“You know,” he said, clearly having far too good a sense for what she wanted to avoid. “If you had just killed Teshone –“
“They wouldn’t have been able to try to use him against you. I know.”
“Against you, in a hope of it working against me. He’s not dead, you know.”
“I don’t know how I feel about that,” she admitted. “He betrayed you.”
“He betrayed you! He almost got you killed.”
“No.” She shook her head. “He wasn’t my friend. He wasn’t my, well, anything. He didn’t do anything to me. But he betrayed your friendship and almost got both of us killed. What do you want to do about it?”
“Want? Put a knife through his heart. But I think he might be useful. And he did sort of help us out in the end there. So I’m not sure, either.”
“We don’t have to decide yet. We could even just… not decide. Considering the situation he put himself in -“
“You could speak for him? You are -” He trailed off. They were still surrounded by people they’d taken captive. He hadn’t spoken about her title or her position – or her husband – since they’d gotten into this situation. “-you’re in a position where you could.”
“That’s the decision,” she murmured. “And that’s partially up to you, too. Do you want me to speak for him?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged roughly. “I think that’s an inn. Where are you going to put the prisoners?”
She counted heads. She had eleven wounded in wagons and six able or walking-wounded. “Good question. Stable?”
“Should work, if it’s weather-tight. You’re not worried about them running off?”
“Not really. Especially not with the Ranger watching them.” She smirked a little. “I’m going to miss her when she goes back to Dekleg.”
Carrone ran his hand over the Bear-stone bracelet. “You could keep her…”
“She’s going to be a lot more useful in Dekleg.” She eyed Carrone. “You’re fond of her?”
“I think you are.”
“Ah. One sister-in-battle to another. She’s a fine and honorable warrior-“
“And you’d love to see if she’s a fine and lovely lover?” he teased.
“Well, maybe a little.”
“Well, then, maybe you should invite her a little. After she visits Dekleg. She could come back here.”
She looked at his face. He seemed entirely serious. “You’re-“
“You’re,” he corrected. “Or, perhaps, we’re. But I mean, you obviously have the last say in situations like this. Well, in almost all situations.”
“There is your First Husband,” he reminded her with a smile.
“Ah. Yes. There is him.” She winked at him. She had no idea what had motivated him to become so much more relaxed about the situation, and less idea if it was a genuine relaxation or some sort of act for one reason or another, but she would enjoy it as if it was real for the time being. They had enough other matters on their plates, after all.
They reached the inn just as the rain began to fall in earnest. Deline sent the Ranger and Carrone to get people settled in the stables while she went inside to negotiate with the innkeeper.
She’d meant to negotiate, at least.Want more?