Ember’s body went cold as she spotted the archer watching her from a white hunting blind on top of a snow-covered building. A quick glance around at the other roofs showed her at least a dozen more in similar positions, all with their attention focused on her.
Trin’s jokes and stories were forgotten.
She was not welcome.
Ember started to look around at street level for a way out.
A warm hand closed around her upper arm and Trin pulled her close to her side.
“Stop. Stop giving in to fear,” Trin whispered in her ear. “People are scared of you and they should be. The weapons won’t go away until they forget what you can do. Be peaceful, be repentant, and eventually they will. Ean will keep you safe until then.”
Ember looked at Trin, at a pair of dead earnest green eyes staring into her own from two hands away and urging strength into her. She steadied.
“Good. It won’t take long. Then you can eat them.”
Ember stared, trying to figure out if Trin was serious.
She couldn’t be. She was human. She wouldn’t want…
The green eyes were sparkling.
“You have a very evil sense of humor for a Lilta,” Ember said.
“So I’m told,” Trin said, releasing Ember’s arm to wave at Kaim who had just appeared around the end of a building. As soon as she caught his attention she signed something at him and his expression went from grim to white.
“If it helps,” Trin said to her, “Ean will not be happy with this show of force.”
Ember watched as Kaim looked at her with some indiscernible expression, then began cutting his way through the crowds toward Ean.
The square was filled with groups of village folk, and most of those within line of sight had noticed her.
Draksl. She was a tiny human and… many of them were armed. The weapons were all sheathed, but still.
Don’t give in to the fear.
Eat them later.
She chuckled, then grimaced. Human was not her choice of meal, but there were those of her kind who made a point of eating them. And she had eaten at least one.
She looked at the large, armed, justifiably nervous crowd, then at Trin again.
“I actually have eaten your kind, you know,” Ember whispered.
“And I’ve killed yours,” Trin said. “Your point?”
Ember stopped at that and looked down at the charcoal gray armor she was wearing.
“It’s drax,” Trin said. “I killed that too. I’m good at killing things. It’s very unladylike. Seems to run in the family, though. Was it Lilta you ate? It couldn’t have been. You wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss us as meals if you’d eaten real Lilta.”
Ember gasped, somewhere between a laugh and shocked confusion.
Trin smiled at her.
“Danya, or whatever your name is, I assume that you have done a great many terrible things that I could hate you for. I choose not to, no matter what they are, because Yasaw is my god, and also because I like you. If you had killed someone here, in my country, I would have a duty to do something about it, but I still wouldn’t hate you for it. The same if I thought you intended to kill someone here. But you don’t, do you?”
Ember didn’t know what to say.
“How do you…?” she murmured.
“How old are you?” Trin asked, suddenly serious again. “Thirty-five? Forty? I am seventy-two, and I have spent thirty-seven of those years travelling in the kingdoms outside this one, fighting, guarding, singing, serving, killing, teaching, researching and observing. I have killed one garagran, been courted by another, and talked with over a dozen well enough to learn how to read them in both shapes. I can tell there are things that you are not telling us. I know that you are running from something. I could make guesses, but I won’t right now. I am as confident as I can be that you intend no harm to anyone here, both from your actions and the expression I see on your face right now.”
Trin could see all that? Ember felt like she was about to collapse. Trin studied her for a moment, and Ember realized she saw that too.
Trin put a hand on her shoulder and steadied her.
“I will leave it at that right now. Believe me when I say that for tonight, you are safe. And look, the archers are gone.” She directed Ember to the roofs with a jerk of her head.
Ember looked and saw that the archers were indeed gone, leaving behind depressions in the snow where their blinds had been.
She looked back at Trin, who flicked her ears out to the side and flashed a wide smile.
“Kaim is getting chewed out right now. I’d love to be there, but you have an apology to make and a dinner to attend, and I really should be with you as your escort.”
“There are two whole cows on spits past the people. See the smoke? The wind’s going the wrong way, so you can’t smell them.”
Ember looked over the heads of the crowd and saw twin smoke trails rising into the sky from the other side of the square.
“What do you mean?”
“One cow is for humans, one cow is for the hungry garagran.”
That was too much. Ember didn’t understand.
They were obviously in control. The village folk were afraid, but the military leaders were confident enough to dismiss their archers. She had stolen in their kingdom, and had no money to pay the fine, but they had paid the fine for her.
And now they were stuffing her with food.
“Why?” Ember pleaded.
“Maybe we’re fattening you up so we can eat you.”
“That’s a horrible joke.”
“Because you need it. That’s why. If you ask Ean, that’s what he’ll tell you. But he’ll use bigger words.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“Just come with me, Danya. I’ll walk you through it.”
Danya. Ember almost poured out the entire truth.
But she pulled herself together.
“Alright. Show me who to talk to.”