First: Spoils of War I: Surrender
PLEASE NOTE: I WENT BACK TO THE END OF CHAPTER 21 AND AM REWRITING FROM THAT POINT.
“I’m your man,” Aran repeated slowly. Good.” He held her hips more tightly. “I like that. Being your man.” He lifted up his head and kissed her back fiercely. “Didn’t think I would,” he admitted. “But you did save my life and all. Twice now, at least.” He bucked his hips up in suggestion.
She pressed her hand on his chest, just to see what he’d do; he sank back to the bed. She grinned at him as she kissed him again. “And here I thought third time was the charm.”
“That’ll be when we fight the Mountain and win. Maybe-“
She occupied his mouth with another kiss. “Later.”
“Mmm. Later,” he agreed.
When Ford came to find them – walked into the house and up to their bedroom – they were partially clothed, at least, Nikol in a shirt and Arran in some pants he’d been trying on from the closet.
“You look adorable.” Ford thumped a pile of books on the desk. “So Donnal mentioned that there was a university about a day’s travel that way,” she gestured. “If we can’t find what you need in here, it might be in there. Put some pants on first,” she added, snorting. “Or you’ll never get anything done.”
“Yes, Mother.” Nikol winked at the woman and slipped on a pair of pants that she had found in the chest of drawers. They were stretchy, soft, and wouldn’t stop an arrow or even a dull blade, but they were very comfortable. Some things, she’d decided, the old-time people really had known how to do. “So any suggestion on where to start?”
That was all it took. For the next hour, she and Ford were deep into the books, Aran putting in a word here and there, bringing them tea and later some snacks, complaining about one thing they found in the books and arguing about another.
Finally, Nikol was left staring at her notes. “All right. I think we can do this. It would be really useful to have a test run, though. I”d rather…” She made a face. “I’d rather risk killing three or four innocents rather than three or four hundred.”
“That’s fair.” Ford considered. “I’ll talk to Donnal. He knows the area the best. He might know someplace that would serve as a test zone. You two, get fed, get some rest, and I’ll come talk to you in the morning.” She patted Nikol’s shoulder. “Don’t push yourself so hard that you collapse again. You need to let yourself heal, remember that.”
Nikol sat for a long time after Ford left, staring at her notes. “We’re – we’re really going to do this, aren’t we?” she murmured, when she realized Aran was sitting in front of her. “We’re going to bring them down. We can. My spatial sense, you with animals, if we can target the right sort of poison just for the really evil people – we can do this. And if we don’t-“
“And if we don’t, there’s a chance we die,” he agreed softly. “We’ve been living on borrowed time for days now, weeks now, anyway, since you grabbed me off that battlefield. If we die, we die leaving behind notes about what the next people need to do, and we make sure nothing leads back to Ford and the rest here, so they can tell the next group what we did wrong.”
“So… succeed or at least fail educationally?” She snorted. “That sounds – that sounds like a good goal, actually.”
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him, kissing the top of her head. “Succeed sounds like a better goal on its own. You have what you need?”
“I think so. But that test run… that’s going to be important.”
“Ford and Donnal will find you something. You know how they are.”
She smiled. It had only been a few days, but –
“Yeah. I know how they are. They’ll find me something. We’ll test it ’till we get it right. And then-“
“And then the Mountain will never know what hit them until it’s done.”Want more?