“Go fetch Lady Firrisskahv.”
The soldier nodded to Ean and ran off to get the sleeping Garagran.
As Isayh had told him, the feast finally shut down about two marks after midnight when the last of the celebrants stacked their dishes on the central tables for cleaning in the morning and crawled off to cots and sleeping rolls in whatever housing they had been able to arrange. Ean checked the time on his brass-cased pocketwatch to make sure, but already knew that was right. The Bright Moon shown full about two hands above the horizon and the planets Joan and Irlazbeth were high in the faint orange-and-green blaze of the night sky. The time on the watch was 1:98 a.m.
He’d sent half his soldiers to bed at the same time as Danya so they’d be ready when she transformed, though he didn’t expect any trouble from her anymore, and the other half had set up a curtained booth for her to change in and helped the last few stragglers clean up so they could get to bed sooner.
Now it was just Ean, Isayh and two ten-squads of General Jobin’s finest archers, all of whom made themselves scarce on Ean’s orders when Danya came out of the inn rubbing her eyes. It probably would have been good to have Trin around to greet her, but his sister was nowhere to be found. Probably asleep on her bedroll in the church with half the other visitors.
It had been a long day and he wasn’t quite sure how he was still awake himself.
Danya came straight to him and looked at him expectantly, perhaps warily. He glanced at Isayh but the elder had fallen asleep in a chair next to the one remaining fire.
“The cow’s this way. We have a place for you to change as well.”
Once again he cocked his arm for her to take hold of. She slipped a gloved hand around it and he lead her around behind the general store to where the second cow had been roasted. The chef had banked the fire four marks back, but there was still enough heat from the visible embers that the meat would be hot.
He felt a tug at his arm as Danya stopped to stare at the whole roast cow. He smiled at her and she gave him a searching look in return that he couldn’t quite make out in the moonlight.
“All yours. You can change in the booth so no one will see you.”
She nodded and walked over to the fabric changing booth, really just a series of bedsheets that his soldiers had arranged on a frame made from local pole-grass, and vanished within. Two tantimarks passed in silence, and then a pair of great, black wings rose from the open top of the booth and spread out against the sky and a great reptilian head appeared on a long neck.
Then the wings and neck tucked back down into the booth and the fabric on the end toward Ean billowed out as every child’s nightmare pushed the sheets aside and strode into view.
The feeling of animal fear that ran through Ean’s body was electric and he found himself instinctively praying for courage. She was big, as big as the largest land-drax he had ever read about, and a good half-height taller at the shoulder than the one he had hunted himself.
She looked at him for a moment, assessing him again, then walked to the cow, sat down and began to devour it… one precise bite at a time, lifting each one to her mouth with the tips of her claws with a surprising air of elegance that she had lacked in her human form.
“Impressive, isn’t she?” Trin said from right next to his ear.
Ean would have jumped, but he was already braced from watching Danya cross the space between the booth and her meal.
“Very,” was all he said in reply. “Also surprisingly graceful.”
A twitch from Danya’s tail as he said that made him wonder if she had noted his comment.
“Come on,” Trin said. “It’s not nice to stare.”
“Oh, right.” Ean was fascinated by a real, live, Garagran, but Trin was right. However unusual a sight she was, it was still a person under all those scales. He followed her back to the square.
“Did you get any word from home yet?” she asked.
“No. Just father saying he’s reviewing the situation.”
He caught the little hitch in Trin’s step as she heard that and agreed. It wasn’t the best response he could have gotten.
“Where were you all this time?” he asked.
Trin glanced at him then up at the sky.
“Out watching the cows with Pennet. Boring work, but it’s a good place to watch the skies from.”
“Watching the cows? Did he stay for the feast?”
Trin shook her head.
“He ate and went right back out. Some of the militia said that’s all he does in the winter.”
Ean imagined doing nothing but keep an eye on a bunch of cows for a quarter of a year. He decided he would probably go mad without something else to do at the same time. Like read a book.
He walked toward the tables to see if there were any pastries still out.
“What are you planning to do with our guest?” Trin asked.
He stopped with his hand out and looked back at her, riffled through the things she might be thinking, then looked back and grabbed a honey puff.
“Do you still think she’s a threat?” he asked.
“She’s not some runaway slave, Ean. If you want to keep her here, you’re going to have a fight.”
He set the honey puff down and turned around.
“I’m not sending her back out without cause.”
“You have it already.”
“We wouldn’t send away any other wanderer who stole when starving. Not on a first offense.”
“Other wanderer’s can’t burn up half our army.”
Ean focused on his sister’s expression in the dim light, trying to get a read on her. Why was she pushing?
“Why are you doing this? You like Danya.”
Trin took a hipshot stance with her arms crossed and sighed.
“I do, but we know nothing about her and she’s incredibly dangerous. You only have a bare idea what an angry Garagran can do. It can get a lot worse. Are you sure about this? About keeping her here? Have you really thought about what that means? Think, Ean.”
He thought of Kaim and General Jobin. Of Kaim’s steadily increasing resistance. Then he wondered what exactly his father was reviewing. In any other circumstance the decision about what to do with someone who had wandered in innocently wouldn’t have merited his attention at all. And it definitely wasn’t something that would have taken him more than a moment to decide.
But Trin was right. A Garagran wasn’t like an ordinary wanderer, even if she was innocent.
What was his goal? How far did he intend to go?
He thought back to the morning, to his prayers before the sunrise. He reviewed Danya’s face as she looked down at the city and her stumbling, terrified apology to the townspeople.
“I’m going to believe, and obey,” he said. “And I’m going to make certain that the starving young woman who stumbled into a kingdom filled with Yasaw’s people finds mercy.”
Trin watched him for a long moment with an expression he remembered from many times before. She was measuring him.
“Alright,” she said. “Then I’m with you. But we start planning now. Before things have a chance to get worse without us knowing.”