She slipped out of bed and opened the window, found a clean tunic and slipped it over her head pulled it off and found an under-tunic, slipped both on, and laid out a tunic for Carrone. She looked in her pack, not sure what she was looking for. For understanding.
“Hey.” It took her a moment to realize that he’d said that several times. “Hey, Deline. Lady Dedenarrion. Look at me.”
She looked up, wondering why Pethiarrie hadn’t left her any trews, to find Carrone sitting on the side of the bed. He’d made it and put on the tunic,but he was still sitting there, watching her.
“Ask me again.”
She blinked at him. He picked up a knife — from her pack; it had slept under her pillow — and offered it to her hilt-first as he sank to his knees. “Ask me again.”
“Ask you—” She swallowed around a lump in her throat and closed the distance between them. “Ask you again.”
She took the knife from his hand and looked between the knife and his face.
“Yeah. Do it like you did before, I mean —” he put his hands behind his back. “There. Ask me again.”
She ran her hand through his hair a couple times and caught a good hold on it. “You mean it.”
He grunted softly. “I mean it. Ask me again.”
if he’d known it was forever, he never would have signed up for it.
She was surprised to find out how much she’d miss him, if she released him.
Although as far as he knew, that wasn’t an option. Although as far as almost everyone in the world knew, there was no release from a Bear-stone bracelet.
She put the blade to his throat and tried to remember what she’d said that first time. “I’ll give you three choices,” she murmured.
“Isn’t— isn’t it usually two?”
“Maybe in Dekleg. Maybe in Halor. Here — here, with me, you’ll get three choices.”
He shifted a little, feeling the strength of her grip in his hair but not moving his hands. He really meant to go through with this.
She hoped he didn’t make her slit his throat.
“I’m listening,” he whispered.
“First.” Great Mother Bear’s tit, she couldn’t do this. “First, I kill you. It’ll be a little hard to hide a body, but killing you here — if I get caught, I won’t get in trouble. Not me.”
“Not you.” He rolled his eyes so he could look up at you. “Even murder.”
“It’s not murder if you were trying to kill me,” she countered. Her blade was drawing a thin line of blood on his throat. She felt like it was cutting into her hand, too.
“Second,” she continued, her voice nearly a croak now. “I sell you to the slavers. You’ll have a decent chance of getting away. I figure you’re pretty smart — you tracked me down, after all. But you don’t know much about the Empire. Might take you a while.”
She could, in theory, do that. She could. Slitting his throat might be easier.
“The Empire still doesn’t have slavers.”
“No. We’re much more refined about such things here. But I know where to find Carrup slavers. It’s not a great chance — but it’s a better chance of survival than slitting your throat right here.”
“Messy.” He pressed his throat against the blade, just a little. She pulled back on his hair, getting a better grip on it.
“Very. Don’t court it unless you want it, I’d suggest, or you might take your choice away from yourself.”
“What’s — what’s the third choice?”
“Third choice.” She swallowed again and forced her voice to something calmer. They were replaying that scene. She hadn’t felt anything but a sort of angry respect for him back then. He’d been bargaining for his life back then. “Third choice is a Bear-stone bracelet, and you work for me.”
He arched to her hand. “So. Slavery, slavery, or death.”
What had she said to him, that the first time? “Slavery with a chance of escape. Slavery with ocassional moments of stabbing people but no chance of eascape at all. Or death.”
She let the blade taste his blood again. She had told him. Right there, clear as day.
She hadn’t trapped him in it, tricked him into it – what was wrong with her? She thought more clearly than this, remembered more clearly than this!
Carrone caught his own breath at the feeling of the blade. “Death. Or slavery. Not a lot of a choice.” He snorted a little, as if at a private joke. “Of course, it’s not like I was giving you that much choice.” He rolled his eyes up to her again. “The Deklegion are offering a lot for your head.”
“They’ll pay out.” They’d gone off script. “I plan on making them pay twice over for that bounty. But I don’t plan on dying any time soon.”
“Good.” He began to nod, then stopped, held by her hand and pinned by her blade. “You know — you know what they say about the Bear-Stone bracelet in Halor, don’t you?”
Had he really said that? It had been — not all that long ago but so long past. But she was supposed to be better at remembering things. She closed her eyes and turned her training to this particular question.
“That it eats your brain.” She couldn’t help a little snort. “That… when you take it off, there’s nothing left of you…” She trailed off quietly.
“Ask me again,” he murmured.
“Death, slavery, or my Bear-stone bracelet.” Her voice cracked. “It won’t eat your brain. But it will change you inexorably. And if the Priests remove it — you will not be who you were.”
“Why offer me choices at all?”
“Because I don’t like killing people.” Why not tell him that truth this time? “Because you didn’t know what you’d been put on and I don’t know what lies they told you. Because you were doing a job, and you don’t deserve to just die for that.” Her hand was relaxing on his hair. She made herself tighten it again and shifted, as he rolled his eyes up to her again, so he couldn’t see her face. There were tears blurring her eyes.
And on your head be it, if it steals my volition.
“You’re an honorable spy.” He pulled against her hand, trying to see her. She held him more tightly. “I wonder how rare that is.”
“Surprisingly common in the Claw of the Bear. Your choice?”
She wasn’t holding her breath. She wasn’t.
“The bracelet, Lady Dedenarrion. And on my own head be it if it steals my volition.”
The knife fell to the ground with a clatter. Deline stumbled back onto the bed, only to find that he was offering her his wrist.
She encircled it with her fingers, like she was locking the bracelet again. “By my hand—”
“By your will”
“Be my hand—”
“And move by your will. I know what I’m getting into this time, Deline. And I know — I know it doesn’t tell me how to feel, how to want, what to need.” He turned around until he was facing her, blood trickling down his throat, and took her hands. “It’s all right.” He snorted. “A spy with a conscience. I have to say, that was not what I was expc—”
He grabbed her by the legs and hauled her to the ground on top of him.
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