Beaufort stepped forward, smiling, a forced chuckle in his throat, trying to tamp down the tension. “Yes, of course we do, but—”
“Then there’s no problem here. I want to start training some of my men up in the lumber camps to work as caravan escorts. They always need the winter work.” I reached over and swept the stacks of loads from the table into a canvas bag. “And I’ll take these too.”
Sarva’s mouth hung open as I turned away. There was still plenty more he wanted to say. As I left, Zane strolled out of the main drawing room into the foyer, eating a chicken leg. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. “What are you doing here?” I asked. “It’s late for a delivery.”
He hissed out a frustrated breath and shook his head. “I know. I came up the back way to drop off goods.” He rolled his eyes. “More wine and olives. The storm hit and now I’m stuck.”
“We can put you up at Riverbend if you’d rather?”
“That’s all right. I’ve already got my stuff stowed. Hopefully, the storm will pass by morning.”
He eyed the launcher on my shoulder. “You taking that with you?”
He shrugged. “Want me to deliver it somewhere for you? As long as I’m here? I can—” He reached out to take it from me.
“No,” I said, walking away, “I’ve got this one.”
* * *
My hand rested on the door, just as it had several nights ago, debating whether to knock. I was soaked through, and my hair dripped onto the floor. Kazi. I still wasn’t sure how this happened. When we were alone, when the world wasn’t looking over our shoulders, everything was easy. All I wanted was to be with her, hold her, listen to her voice, listen to her laugh, You don’t even know half of my tricks yet. I wanted to know them all. She might not commit to tomorrows, but I knew she wanted them as much as I did. It was late, probably too late—
The door swung open as if she had sensed I was out there.
“Look at you! You’re drenched,” she said and grabbed my hand, pulling me inside. “You need a dry shirt and—”
“I only need you, Kazi, that’s all I need.”
Our path glistened with water and small rivulets streamed across the trail as last night’s storm drained down the mountain. Blinding blue sky winked back at me from puddles and swollen ruts, and bands of jays squawked as we passed.
The back side of Tor’s Watch was green, the trees thick, and enormous colorful lichen taller than a man fanned out on the ancient ruins that lined our path like gaily clad spectators. Everything in this part of the world seemed to grow large.
We were taking the back way that Jase had mentioned to get to the arena. Priya, Titus, Gunner, and straza rode with us.
Jase seemed more like himself now, his eyes focused, already simmering with the work ahead of him. But last night when he came to my room he was a different Jase. He held me, soaking me in his grasp. I only need you, Kazi. After dinner he said he’d had to take care of some business matters. “Business out in the rain?” I had asked doubtfully. The storm had been raging, the windows rattling with thunder so loud I thought they might break. He said the business was out in Greyson Tunnel, and he was caught in the downpour. I wanted to ask about Jalaine. I knew she had to be one of those matters—but I saw his weariness so I said nothing.
We had changed into dry clothes and lay on a thick rug in front of the fire. Tell me a story, Jase, I said, because this time I sensed that it was he who needed to be rescued from his own thoughts, just as he had rescued me so many times. His shoulders relaxed and his gaze softened, melting into a part of me that only wanted more. More of Jase, more of us. He told me about Moro Forest, and the legend of a creature that lived there. His head rested in my lap, the fire crackling, my fingers raking through his hair, until his lids grew heavy and they closed, his story unfinished, his face peaceful. My chiadrah, I whispered somewhere deep inside me where no one could hear, and then I nestled down beside him and we had both slept.
A loud squawk sounded and we both ducked. We had turned on a switchback and loud jays darted close over our heads. “Easy, Mije,” I said, and I rubbed his neck to soothe him.
Jase looked at Mije’s mane and frowned. It was braided again. I suspected Jalaine had escaped to the stables last night and shared secrets with Mije that she could share with no one else.
When Jase rode ahead, to speak with Gunner about something, Priya fell back with me.
“How’s your neck?” she asked.
I had worn a high-collared shirt and left my hair loose around my shoulders to help hide the bruises.
“Fine,” I answered.
She huffed out an amused breath. “Not much flusters you, does it?”
I wondered if she knew I was the one who had killed Fertig. I wondered if Jalaine knew.