When I left the Countess tucked in a blanket in the cushions, I thought she looked a little better. Less like she was going to shatter from all the feeling she couldn’t show to her subjects. I went to the neighboring tent and shucked my outer layer, sitting in the cushions and flipping a knife in my hand. Eventually, I lay back, staring at the dark canopy of the tent. I hadn’t removed my harness of knives, and they pressed into my ribs. The other leanyodi trickled in, shedding their jackets and shoes and burrowing into the cushions. I felt them drop into sleep one by one.
It was interesting to me that the King of Angareth cared which of his nobles was trying to kill his niece. Interesting that he didn’t just pick a likely culprit and make an example. Instead he was spending a great deal of money to find out who was really responsible, before they succeeded. I knew the kings of Angareth relied heavily on their nobles, and in theory they were all subject to the rule of law. But, the law could be manipulated.
I felt for the Countess, who didn’t dare show any fear or sadness at the prospect of leaving behind everything she knew to be the bride of a blood enemy. She couldn’t, because her people were having a hard enough time accepting the idea.
Giving up on the notion of sleeping, I sat up and slipped back into my coat and crept out of the tent into the cool spring night. The campfires had burned low and were little more than embers. I could see the dark silhouettes of the carriages, and really nothing beyond except the starry sky. I followed my nose toward the stream.
The guard stationed on that side startled when I came up behind him, “Would you like an escort, leanyod?” he asked.
“No, thank you, just going to the stream to freshen up,” I tossed the reply over my shoulder.
He looked unconvinced, but didn’t follow me.
When I reached the banks, I knelt and put my hands in the water. Hello. The water was cold, and its reply more solemn than most streams when they encountered a nymph, as if the ethereal beauty of the moors made the stream thoughtful. But it beckoned to me, and told me of a swimming hole upstream. A smile stretched across my face, and I shifted to a sitting position to take off my boots and socks, and roll up my breeches to my knee. No swimming tonight, but I could wade. Coarse sand and pebbles rolled under my feet as I stepped in and allowed the stream to swirl and eddy around my shins. I hadn’t been there long when I heard footfalls in the grass behind me and turned to see a familiar form against the dying firelight.
“I thought I’d find you here.” Quill sat down on the bank.
“Couldn’t sleep.” I bent and picked up a pebble the stream had pushed onto my foot. I caressed the water as I straightened. “You didn’t go to the tent first, did you?”
“And disrupt the roosting hens?” he scoffed.
“Oh good. I would’ve never heard the end of it.” I slipped the pebble into a pocket.
“Well…that does have a certain appeal. Let’s go back!”
He moved as if to get up and I took an instinctive step toward him snapping, “I’ll tell Brell one of your heroic deeds, and that you asked about her.”
“Which one is Brell?”
“And now I wouldn’t be lying,” I replied impishly.
He groaned. “Was Brell the one who invited us to lunch?”
Standing, Quill tossed his boots and socks to the side. “Are you going to turn the stream against me? Will I drown if I step in there?”
“I was thinking about it,” I replied, backing deeper until the chill current was lapping at my breeches.
I heard him grunt as his feet hit the cold water. Amusement shuddered through the water and I smirked.
“I can hear you gloating even if I can’t see you,” said Quill, taking another couple steps. “Are you making the water colder?”
“I only just met this stream; you know it takes a lot more than pleasantries to gain that sort of complicity.”
“Mercifully,” he waded closer, stopping beside me, with the sound of the stream covering our voices. “You didn’t last very long in the carriage, are they so terrible to be around?”
“The leanyodi? No, they’re alright…I don’t like carriages.”
“I don’t remember knowing that about you.”
“We don’t really use carriages.”
“No, but we’ve done lots of jobs together. How has it not come up?”
“If it makes you feel better, it’s not as if I’ve always had an opinion about carriages. I just…spent a week in a prison wagon and a box on wheels has just never had the same appeal.”
“When?” demanded Quill sharply.
I waved a hand, “About a year ago—Domjoa found a job liberating some jewels from Azu Kaban.” Pride unfurled a bit in my chest, “My job was to get inside and open the door for Domjoa and Ayglos.”
“The Azu Kaban job was you?” he stepped in front of me as if to see my face better, incredulous.
Burying my feet in the coarse sand, I grinned at him. “It was.”
“I cannot believe Domjoa decided to send the Lost Princess of Galhara into Azu Kaban to open the door for him,” Quill paused and kicked at the water, “No, no…never mind. I can.”
“Not just a lost princess,” I bumped his elbow, “But his sister-in-law, also.”
“Oh yes, how could I forget. And how is your lovely sister?”
“Last I knew, rosy cheeked and busy with babies under foot.”
Quill shook his head. “Good for her,” he sighed.
“Can’t get over everything working out with Domjoa after I broke him out of jail, can you?”
Quill bent close; I could just make out of the lines of his face in the starlight as I looked up at him. My breath snagged a bit in spite of myself—aware that we didn’t need to be this close but unwilling to be the first to move. He waited a beat before asking, “How intimately would you like to know this stream?”
I kept my tone cool, “Did you come here to talk about something?”
Without pulling away, Quill said, “When the caravan stopped for a while this afternoon—you didn’t notice the murder on Druskin’s face when he rode back?”
“I…thought…his face always looked like that.”
His smirk was just visible, but also fleeting. Quill straightened, moving away just a little, his face and tone deadly serious as he explained, “Someone put up a scarecrow in a feather headdress at the crossroads…painted with the word ‘whore.’”
“The guards tore it down so the Countess wouldn’t have to see it.”
The stream pushed at my legs. “Do you think we’ll have more of that?”
“I’m hoping less as we get further from Wuhravinwel and the hot springs.”
I sighed. “I suppose if Namal decided to marry the Nether Queen I’d be pretty pissed.”
“That’s not even remotely the same thing,” snorted Quill.
My legs buckled as a sudden current threw itself against my knees—I threw out at hand to catch myself before I fell completely. Quill cursed as he struggled for footing, too. My long coat now trailed in the stream and water soaked up my sleeves as my hands dug into the streambed. It was trying to tell me something.
“What’s it doing, Zare?” hissed Quill.
“Shhh,” I hissed back.
We both stilled, listening intently. We heard it at the same time, a startled snort, then the thunder of hooves. “The horses…” I began.
At the same moment, the orange streak of a tumbling torch smashed into one of the carriages.
“The Countess!” exclaimed Quill.
Special thank you to my Patrons, I am so grateful for your support! Thanks for coming on this journey with me.
Share Zare with your friends and we will be a merry company.