We have a long ride ahead of us tonight, and you wouldn’t want to regret your first good meal in days.”
In weeks, I thought as I picked up a spoon, but I didn’t say it out loud--it felt disloyal somehow.
Then the sense of what he’d said sank in, and I almost lost my appetite again. “How long to the capital?”
“We will arrive sometime tomorrow morning,” he said.
I grimaced down at my soup, then braced myself up, thinking that I’d better eat, hungry or not, for I’d need my strength. “What is Galdran like?” I asked, adding sourly, “Besides being a tyrant, a coward, and a Covenant breaker?”
Shevraeth sat with his mug in his hands. He hadn’t eaten much, but he was on his second cup of the coffee. “This is the third time you’ve brought that up,” he said. “How do you know he intends to break the Covenant?”
“We have proof.” I saw his eyes narrow, and I added in my hardest voice, “And don’t waste your breath threatening me about getting it, because you won’t. You really think I’d tell you what and where it is, just to have it destroyed? We may not be doing so well, but it seems my brother and I and our little untrained army are the only hope the Hill Folk have.”
The Marquis was silent for a long pause, during which my anger slowly evaporated, leaving me feeling more uncomfortable by the moment. I realized why just before he spoke: By refusing to tell him, I was implying that he, too, wanted to break the Covenant.
Well, doesn’t he?--if he’s allied with Galdran! I thought.
“To your question,” the Marquis said, setting his cup down, “’What is Galdran like?’ By that I take it you mean, What kind of treatment can you expect from the King? If you take the time to consider the circumstances outside of your mountain life, you might be able to answer that for yourself.” Despite the mild humor, the light, drawling voice managed somehow to sting. “The King has been in the midst of trade negotiations with Denlieff for over a year. You have cost him time and money that were better applied elsewhere. And a civil war never enhances the credit of the government in the eyes of visiting diplomats from the Empress in Cheras-al-Kherval, who does not look for causes so much as signs of slack control.”
I dropped my spoon in the empty soup bowl. “So if he cracks down even harder on the people, it’s all our fault, is that it?”
“You might contemplate, during your measures of leisure,” he said, “what the purpose of a permanent court serves, besides to squander the gold earned by the sweat of the peasants’ brows. And consider this: The only reason you and your brother have not been in Athanarel all along is because the King considered you too harmless to bother keeping an eye on.” And with a polite gesture: “Are you finished?”
I was ensconced again in the carriage with my pillows and aching leg for company, and we resumed journeying.
The effect of the coffee was to banish sleep. Restless, angry with myself, angrier with my companion and with the unlucky happenstance that had brought me to this pass, I turned my thoughts once again to escape.
Clouds gathered and darkness fell very swiftly. When I could no longer see clearly, I hauled myself up and felt my way to the door. The only plan I could think of was to open the door, tumble out, and hopefully lose myself in the darkness. This would work only if no one was riding beside the carriage, watching.
A quick peek--a longer look--no one in sight.
I eased myself down onto the floor and then opened the door a crack, peering back. I was about to fling the door wider when the carriage lurched around a curve and the door almost jerked out of my hand. I half fell against the doorway, caught myself, and a moment later heard a galloping horse come up from behind the carriage.
I didn’t look to see who was on it, but slammed the door shut and climbed back onto the seat.
And composed myself for sleep.
I knew I’d need it.