Tell me where you got your information,” he said.
“Azmus. Our old spy.” My lips were numb, and I started to shiver. Hugging my arms against my stomach, I said, “My reasons were partly stupid and partly well-meaning, but I sent him to find out what the Marquise was after. She wrote me during winter--but you knew about that.”
“And you even tried to warn me, though at the time I saw it as a threat, because--well, because.” I felt too sick inside to go on about that. Drawing a shaky breath, I said, “And again. At her party, when she took me into the conservatory. She tried again to get me to join her. Said I hadn’t kept my vows to Papa. So I summoned Azmus to help me find out what to do. The right thing. I know I can’t prove it,” I finished lamely.
He pulled absently at the fingers of one glove, then looked down at it, and straightened it again. Unnecessary movements from him were so rare, I wondered if he too was fighting for clear thought.
He lifted his gaze to me. “And now? You were riding to the border?”
“No,” I said. “To Orbanith.”
Again he showed surprise.
“It’s the other thing that Azmus found out,” I said quickly. “I sent him to tell you as soon as I learned--but there’s no way for you to know that’s true. I realize it. Still, I did. I have to go because I know how to reach the Hill Folk.”
“The Hill Folk?”
“Yes,” I said, leaning forward. “The kinthus. The Merindars have it stowed in wagons, and they’re going to burn it up-slope. Carried on the winds, it can kill Hill Folk over a full day’s ride, all at once. That’s how they’re paying Denlieff, with our woods, not with money at all. They’re breaking our Covenant! I have to warn the Hill Folk!”
“Orbanith. Why there, why this road?”
“Mora and the servants told me this was the fastest way to Orbanith.”
“Why did you not go north to Tlanth where you know the Hill Folk?”
I shook my head impatiently. “You don’t know them. You can’t know them. They don’t have names, or if they do, they don’t tell them to us. They seem to be aware of each other’s concerns, for if you see one, then suddenly others will appear, all silent. And if they act, it’s at once. Some of the old songs say that they walk in one another’s dreams, which I think is a poetic way of saying they can speak mind to mind. I don’t know. I must get to the mountains to warn them, and the mountains that source the Piaum River are the closest to Remalna-city.”
“And no one else knows of this?” he asked gently.
I shook my head slowly, unable to remove my gaze from his faze. “Azmus discovered it by accident. Rode two days to reach me. I did send him…”
There was no point in saying it again. Either he believed me, and--I swallowed painfully--I’d given him no particular reason to, or he didn’t. Begging, pleading, arguing, ranting--none of them would make any difference, except to make a horrible situation worse.
I should have made amends from the beginning, and now it was too late.
He took a deep breath. I couldn’t breathe, I just stared at him, waiting, feeling sweat trickle beneath my already soggy clothing.
Then he smiled a little. “Brace up. We’re not about to embark on a duel to the death over the dishes.” He paused, then said lightly, “Though most of our encounters until very recently have been unenviable exchanges, you have never lied to me. Eat. We’ll leave before the next time-change, and part ways at the crossroads.”
No “You’ve never lied before.” No “If I can trust you.’” No warnings or hedgings. He took all the responsibility--and the risk--himself. I didn’t know why, and to thank him for believing me would just embarrass us both. So I said nothing, but my eyes prickled. I looked down at my lap and busied myself with smoothing out my mud-gritty, wet gloves.