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“So much for going through Anarchen unnoticed,” remarked Jessica dryly. “Weren’t you the one who originally said we shouldn’t stop there?”
Libus glared. “We have until tomorrow morning at worst before they discover what actually happened. By then, you should be outside the city limits of Granttan, posing as a pair of weary travelers on the road. It was a slip up, and a necessary risk.”
“So I take it news of me has spread?” asked Cinis from his position sitting at edge of the raft, picking at the wood splinters. He fingered the two knives at his belt, wondering if he should have used them minutes before. “If they’re going to kill me, Libus, I’d rather give them something to remember me by than go quietly.”
“Violence will come soon enough, boy, and until then I’d prefer to keep you from committing involuntary suicide. Oh, they’ve heard of you alright—you’re famous. There’s a warrant out for your arrest, for treason against the king himself, and they’ve got you described down to your boots. Brown hair, medium stature, smells like stale beer, surly, and vicious to the bone. Plus a sizeable reward out for your arrest, the crown of the king himself, to be traded for your body, dead or alive. On that money, a man need not worry about working for quite some time, though I suspect the king offered that bounty simply so he could have a newer crown made.
“I’d say, though, my smith friend thinks you’re quite the hero. He has long been regarded as one of the best smithies within Quarkus’ vicinity, and as such he’s had the displeasure of working with the royal guard. Nasty bunch for business, he says, and he hopes that our treasoner here managed to put a dent in a few of the breastplates he sold ‘em. Plus, the guards stationed in Anarchen since your warrant was put up have driven the town as a whole to near revolt. I’m sure there’s plenty who would be willing to buy you a drink, and just as many who would likely share your sentiment in braining them. I would have tried to get more out of him, but at that point the guards were walking toward the raft, and I had to take action.”
“Take action?” inquired Jessica, enraged. “Why did you attack them? We were hidden and there was no provocation. Now, as soon as he’s found, it’s going to be obvious that we were here and they’ll be hot on our trail. For declaring yourself as leader, you’ve shown little promise.”
“Do you want me to leave? I saved you both from Querkus, the least you could do is give me some trust, Jessica. And I didn’t have a choice but to act, ” said Libus. “Look.” He reached his hands inside the crate that the guard had pried open and inspected, pulling out a handful of black pearls and letting them slip through his fingers.
“The whisterwood crates,” breathed Jessica. “They were smuggling the pearls in the crates. Pearls that Rorcul was going to use to bribe the king.”
“Is that so? We’ve stumbled across a small fortune of them,” answered Libus, dropping the remainder of the pearls from his hands like hot coals.
“That’s perfect, then!” exclaimed Cinis, scooping out a handful. “Not only did we steal from Rorcul, but now we have enough money to pay our way to Rhymenia. We can buy weapons, disguises, and proper passage. Maybe even hire someone to help us finish off Rorcul, too!”
Libus turned to Jessica. “Is he being serious? Boy, if you don’t start using that head of yours soon, I’ll be surprised if we even make it to Granttan. I know Rearden invested heavily into forcing knowledge through that thick skull.”
“He’s right, Cinis,” said Jessica, “the pearls will be highly traceable, since they only come from Corsus, and by simply revealing that we have them, we will be painting targets on ourselves. It would be more than suspicious—it would be like shouting Rorcul’s name in every town that we walk into, and leaving notes behind for him at each inn. Furthermore, if you don’t put aside this quest for revenge for the time being, you’ll endanger us all. And I can promise that you won’t succeed in killing him, no matter who you hire.”
“What makes you think that? I held up to Rorcul just fine in the palace gardens!”
“You fled like a cat with a tail between its legs,” answered Libus. “Though that was, of course, the appropriate course of action.”
“It wasn’t my choice,” Cinis shouted, “and it certainly isn’t now! I could take him, I know how to fight. I stood up against his demons. I found the tunnels to escape. Give me a proper sword, and I’ll finish the job that apparentlyboth of you are to scared to do!”
For a moment, all was silent on the raft as Cinis’ chest rose and fell from the outburst. His cheeks turned red, not from the exertion, but rather from embarrassment. From knowing the fragility of his words, yet refusing to take them back.
“Do you really believe that?” said Jessica, her voice soft, walking to the center of the raft and sitting down with her legs crossed, closing her eyes. “Let’s see it then.”
It’s time he learned, she thought. Time to put this foolishness aside. Time to show him what he’s up against. She recalled Cesaro’s words in her mind, from an evening when she had watched him working magic so far beyond her own skill that she could not discern his methods. He had smiled, reached his hands into a raging furnace, pulled forth a red hot sheet of steel between his bare fingers, and coaxed molten roses to spring forth from the metal as if it were fertile soil.
“A mouse does not know it is a mouse until it meets the elephant, Jessica,” he had said as the first rose bloomed and died, its petals falling with soft clinks to the ground. “It is often best for the mouse to forget his size, but even the elephant must stomp his foot on occasion, and the mouse will remember.”
“See what?” retorted Cinis to her challenge.
“Let’s see you kill him. Go on then, I’ll be practice. Pretend I’m him and strike me down. Surely it would be easy for you, since Rorcul frightens me, but you think you can best him. Libus, hand Cinis the crowbar the guards brought, if you please. It should serve as a sword for lack of a real one.”
“Pull your punches,” said Libus, handing Cinis the crowbar. “We can’t afford a serious injury here.”
“I’m not going to actually hit her,” Cinis answered, his hand gripped tight against the hard metal.
“I wasn’t talking to you, boy,” Libus responded. “I was talking to her.”
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