Deline was trying to pretend that she wasn’t tense, and she wasn’t doing that good of a job.
She walked by Carrone and near Ranger Learone, wishing for the casual conversation they’d had the day before. The rain had held off while they camped, at least, but now, with the capital city looming on the horizon like a monster peeking out through the Bear Mountains, the rain, too, was looming. It suited her mood, and the tenseness in Carrone’s shoulders, and the worry on the Ranger’s face and in the set of Lord Eigeran’s pace, stomping as if he could kick away his concern.
“You,” she murmured to Ranger Learone, as they got within shouting distance of the city gates, “you should leave now. You need to get back to Dekleg. You know why.”
“I gave my parole,” the woman protested.
“You gave your parole and I release you. Be sure your people know exactly what happened. Prevent the war, and all is forgiven.”
“Do you think it will come to war?” Lord Eigeran probably couldn’t keep from eavesdropping if his life depended on it.
“It could. The lies that are being spread about — the person that just happens to be me in some ways –” She couldn’t really say, this close to the capital gates, where she was actually going to have to be herself, that they were spreading lies about her. That was just the face that she wore – had worn – when she was being an agent of the crown and a Claw of the Bear. Deline coughed and tried again. “They know that someone from the Bear Empire was there, and they’re spreading lies about things no Bear agent would do. That’s enough to start a war, even aside from the unsanctioned attack your people made on Bear Soil on the person of a Bear citizen.”
“Not just a citizen,” Carrone muttered. Deline sent him a quelling look, but he was looking rebellious in turn.
Lord Eigeran raised his eyebrows. “Not just a citizen, indeed. Ranger Learone, you should definitely go back to Dekleg posthaste, if not faster. You should clear things up. Ah, here.” He pulled a ring off of his finger and pressed it into the Ranger’s unresistant hand. “Here, this ought to help. That’s my personal seal.”
The Ranger looked at the seal and then up at Lord Eigeran. “My lord…”
“Tch, Claw of the Bear Deline here is not the only one who can keep things close to her chest. Now go. Ah.” He pulled out a pouch of coin and handed that over. “A fast but unremarkable horse with unremarkable tack, I think; the inn we left ought to have something if not that lovely horse-yard we passed an hour ago. And be careful. Be very careful, if you would. “
“Be careful,” Deline repeated. “Ranger Learone, I find you very pleasant company and would like to find you such again, should you come here. I’d suggest the same haste that Lord Eigeran is suggesting.” She shot the Deklegion Lord a look, which he pointedly ignored. “I release you from your freely-given and honorably-kept parole for this mission, to save both our nations from an unwanted war.”
With a final look at them, the Ranger bowed in acquiescence. “As you order, so mote it be.” She raised her voice. “Oy, you lot. Hold your paroles as you have given them. You’ll be answering to me if you don’t, and I will know.”
With that, with another bow and a wink to Carrone, the Ranger hurried away, back towards Dekleg.
“Do you think it will come to war?” Lord Eigeran looked more worried than she had seen him yet. Lord Eigeran looked more worried than she had seen him yet. Deline wondered what he did, back in Dekleg. What sort of Lord was he?
She considered his question as fairly as she could, but while she was thinking, Carrone snorted.
“The best you can do is pray that it doesn’t. If they did to Dekleg what Dekleg just did to the Empire, there’d be screaming and troops lined up on the border already, and we all know that would just be the start.”
Lord Eigeran looked between them. Deline cleared her throat.
“Carrone has a slightly exaggerated sense of my importance. But keeping all factors that I know of in mind — there’s a chance. It’s not a likelihood, and, as much as I’d like to get angry and righteous and lead an army over the border into Dekleg –” She paused as Lord Eigeran raised his eyebrows at her in clear horror. “…You did try to kill me,” she pointed out mildly. “Deklegion forces sent several bounty hunters after me, at least two of which are dead and one–“
“Defected.” Lord Eigeran’s voice was dry rather than accusatory but Deline still didn’t want to let it stand.
“First, he’s not Deklegion, he’s Haloran. Or he was. Second, he was captured, not defected. Third, he had no loyalty to Dekleg and is allowed by any bounty contract to consider his own life first — even in Deklegion law. So he didn’t ‘defect’, he saved his own hide.”
The lord looked at her. No, stared at her. His expression had gone relatively blank, but one eyebrow slowly rose. “He walks beside a… high-ranking Bear Claw of the Empire with clear affection and fought to save your life.”
“And my own,” Carrone pointed out dryly. “You were going to kill me, too,” he added.
“Besides, Halor and the Empire have no issues with each other at the moment – no diplomatic issues, at least.” Deline cut in. “There is nothing defecting about anything Carrone did.”
Eigeran narrowed his eyes at them. “You’re hiding something.”
“Yes.” Deline smirked at him; that was the first really sensible thing the man had said in this conversation. “Of course I am. You’re a prisoner who attempted to have us killed. There’s no reason to share everything with you and quite a few reasons not to – don’t give me that look,” she added, almost laughing. “I’m not a diplomat, I’m a Claw of the Bear. It’s not my job to be polite.”
Carrone choked on something that might have been a snort or a laugh. She glanced at him and found her lips twitching; that was all it took. Carrone snickered; the snicker turned into a laugh, and then she started laughing as well.
Lord Eigeran stared at them in consternation, his feet slowing until he’d stopped walking. When he realized he was being left behind, when Carrone and Deline turned to look at him, Eigeran snorted as well. It wasn’t long before he, too, was laughing.
Which was good, Deline considered, when they had finally calmed down, because there was going to be a lot less of that when they got to the Imperial Complex.
Next:55: Coming Home