“Oh! Your ladyship!”
Deline blinked at the woman in front of her, digging quickly for a name. “Pallar. I didn’t think we’d gotten that close to the capital…” Had she gotten that turned around? Or that thrown off by the attack?
“It’s a mess out there, isn’t it? I could get lost in my own yard, storming like that. No, no, we branched out. Pennit took the capital bar, I moved out here, and Pollo went east. Anywhere you go, your road lead to us!”
Deline relaxed. “Good to hear business is going well. I… have a situation.”
“Oh?” Pallar reached under the counter. “Point me at it.”
Deline chuckled. “Dealt with that part — at least, I’m pretty sure I did. No, I have a handful of prisoners who’ve given their parole, including some injured and the medic caring for them. Is there a.place, maybe the stables,we could put them for the night?”
“Prisoners! Your negotiations don’t usually lead to prisoners, your ladyship.”
“That’s true.” She had to chuckle. “I wouldn’t call this negotiations. This is more along the lines of the problems with people who lie.” She gave Pallar a warm smile. “But I have a second favor to ask. Perhaps a different title today?”
Pallar raised her eyebrows right up to her hairline. “Of course, Head Claw Deline. And are these –” she gestured behind Deline “–your prisoners?”
Deline turned to look behind her. “No. Well, yes and no. Who’s watching the others, then?”
“Ladyship?” Lord Eigeran nearly spat out the word. “Ladyship?”
Ranger Learone swallowed hard, like she was going to be sick. “I – they – what does that term mean, here? And why -“
“Why I wanted to not use it today is because of the way you’re acting,” Deline snapped out. “Who’s with the others?”
“Your man, the Bounty hunter. Carrone?”
“Your man, mmm?” Pallar leaned forward. “Tell me about that one and the whole thing is free. I swear it.”
“I can’t take it all free,” Deline protested, “but I’ll tell you about it.”
“We’ll see about that. Porthin!” She gestured down one of her children. “Porthin, go clean up the hayloft in the stables that’s got no hay in it. Make sure it’s fit, and then help this – Ranger? and her associate get their prisoners and wounded up there, all right?”
“But mum, there’s-“
“Do they need anything from the inn?”
“Are they burning anything down or threatening to?”
“Then help the guests and then you can go back to it.”
“Prisoner guests, mum?”
“Are you going to question the Head Claw here about her companions?”
No, Deline snorted to herself, that was Pallar’s job.
“No, mum. Well, maybe a little…?”
“Head Claw?” hissed Lord Eigeran.
Deline snorted. “There’s no hiding it, is there?”
“I’d say-” Ranger Learone sounded surprisingly even. Probably dangerously even. “-that you’ve done quite a good job of hiding it so far. Exactly what is it that we’re hiding, by the by?”
“Oh, I’ve gone and done it. Drinks?” Pallar set three sturdy mugs on the bar. “Let’s see, you, my lordship-“
“Excuse me?” Lord Eigeran raised his eyebrows.
“You look like a lord. Like this one is clearly a lady. Are you telling me you’re not?”
“I- you have a good eye, mistress Innkeeper. And for a drink?”
“I’m going to say Carrup whisky, which is something that you have to taste to believe, but is pretty amazing if I do say so myself.” She poured a surprisingly small amount into the big mug. “For your ladyship, of course, the cider. And for you, Ranger- you wear your markings on your shoulder, it’s not that hard to tell- this.”
The bottle was small, the pour was bigger than the lord’s but smaller than Deline’s, and the smell was something like apples.
Ranger Learone sniffed. “I believe we’re being bribed, Lord Eigeran.”
“And if we are? To forget, I suppose.” He lifted the mug and sipped slowly. “Ah. I could forget many things with this, for this. My compliments, Mistress Innkeeper. But — if we are forgetting, what about if we are told again?”
Deline sighed. “We’re heading to the capital. I think it’s all going to come out eventually. But, ah.” She sipped her cider slowly. . “I did warn the team that attacking me was a bad idea. Political suicide, so to speak” She cleared her throat. “Anyway.” She leaned against the bar. “A room for me and – my ‘man’, Pallar, please, one for his lordship here. Ranger Learone-“
“Will watch the wounded. Someone has to keep them honest,” the Ranger sighed. “You could have told me, you know.”
I’ve done my best not to tell anyone. It does one no good to be ‘just another Claw’ if everyone knows exactly which Claw I am.”
Lord Eigeran studied her. “Your face is too known in Dekleg now. Without the proper sorcery–“
“I don’t use sorcery,” she said firmly. “And my face — I don’t think I could change it even with sorcery.” She rubbed her eyes tiredly. “I mean–“
She wasn’t even sure quite what she meant. But the lord nodded anyway. “I understand. I should go see to the prison – the other prisoners.” He cleared his throat. “That will take some getting used to, I suppose, I haven’t been a prisoner before.”
“You’re doing pretty well at it,” she assured him. “I’ll come with you. Thank you, Pallar.”
“Speak nothing of it. There are things we do for the – for the Claws. And this is nothing compared to-” Pallar trailed off, laughing. She looked a little nervous; her rag moving too much on the bar.
Deline chuckled. She could think of a few things that Pallar and her family had helped with. “Still, thank you.” The woman could keep a secret, she’d seen that. Maybe one had to point a knife at her and threaten Imperial sanctions first. Maybe she just couldn’t fathom Deline’s identity being a secret.
You could use sorcery to change your face.
She’d never even considered that. And now she wasn’t going to be able to think of anything else.
She wiped her hand over her face again and headed out to the barn. She had prisoners to see to and a bed to get herself into.
Next: 52: Tales