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Chapter 20

They’d been at the Inn about an hour when Ralt suddenly nudged Storm in the side and pointed skyward. He saw a pegasus, a winged horse, climbing into the sky away from the roof of the keep bearing a man on its back. The man turned his steed to the west where they quickly disappeared in the distance.

“So that’s how they were going to get the evidence to the King,” Storm mused. “I wondered how they thought they could do any better than we could. I didn’t know they’d managed to catch a pegasus.”

“Me either," Ralt admitted. "They’re not the easiest creatures in the world to catch – or train. I wonder how they did it?”

“What difference does it make?” Durin grumbled. He leaned across the table. “In view of the Baron’s offer, I think we should take this opportunity to replenish our supplies. This town has a number of well-stocked stores as I recall.”

“When were you ever in Breckinridge?” Ralt asked in surprise.

“Several times,” the dwarf snapped. “None of your sass now! How about it?” he asked Storm.

“Sure, go ahead.” He settled back in his chair then propped his feet up on the scarred tabletop. “I’ll be right here if you need me.” Ralt and Lorelei decided to go with the dwarf. Both hinted there were several items they wanted to pick up if they were available. He waved them away, shouting for another mug of ale. One of the nice things about having command, he reflected, was other people had to do all the fetching and running around while he relaxed in the sun.

When they returned an hour later they found him gently snoozing in his chair. Durin stood over him shaking his head in mock despair. “Will ye look at dat? Sleeping like a newborn babe! Helpless as a bunny rabbit. As defenseless as a--”

The dwarf paled, freezing in mid-sentence. He looked down slowly to see a razor-edged dagger digging into his side just under his armor. He followed the dagger to the hand holding it, then up the arm to Storm’s face.

Storm lazily opened one eye to squint up at Durin. “You were saying?” he drawled pleasantly. “Defenseless as a what?”

The men doubled up with laughter.

Durin turned red. He slapped the dagger away with a disgusted grimace. “Nothing!” he snapped, “Nothing at all.” The men laughed even harder at the dwarf’s embarrassment until he finally relented and grinned back at them. “Oh, alright. The joke is on me,” he muttered. “Let’s get our stuff loaded and get going. We’ve spent too much time here as ’tis.”

Storm slid the dagger back into its sheath as he stood up. “Go easy on them,” he cautioned softly. “They needed this break to relieve the tension on the road. Waiting for an ambush can try any man’s mettle. I don’t begrudge them a few hours, why should you?”

“Aye,” Durin agreed reluctantly.

Storm clapped him on the shoulder. “Good man.” He turned to the men who were still chuckling over Durin’s mishap in judgment. “Let’s get loaded,” he bellowed. “We can still make another eight or nine leagues before sundown. That’s eight or nine leagues closer to Robling and the pleasures of Blue Street!” The men let out a lusty cheer. Blue Street, named for the blue window trim its inhabitants favored, was famous throughout the land for its gambling dens, shows, taverns and ladies of the evening. It was said on Blue Street anything could be had for the right price. It had long been a favorite stop among caravan guards. Storm saw no reason these men shouldn’t have the same privilege.

The wagon was noticeably lower on its springs when they were finished loading Durin’s new supplies. The dwarf assured him he’d procured enough food to last them to Robling without having to live off the land as they had been doing. Storm welcomed the news with a glad smile. Once back on the road with who knew how many enemies possibly closing in on them, speed would be the only thing that could save them. Hunting, especially in a thick forest, took several hours each day, hours they could no longer afford. If their enemies thought they were stopping to hunt, they might underestimate their speed and let their quarry slip through their fingers undetected.

They quickly moved out, re-tracing their path through town. Frayen came out on the steps of the keep to wave at them as they passed. The men waved back, shouting their thanks for the cities’ hospitality. The news had apparently spread throughout town for the road was lined with well-wishers. One woman even dashed out to give them a box of chocolates.

Storm laughed at his men’s befuddled expressions. “Hail the conquering heroes,” he chortled at Thomas.

The bowman put on his best, injured look. “Come on, Cap’em,” he objected. “I ain’t never been a hero before.” He popped a chocolate in his mouth. “I could get used to it though.”

Lorelei shot him a dark look. “Heroes generally have to go through a lot of pain before they get a parade – if they live long enough to get it.”

Thomas ignored her and blithely tossed another chocolate in his mouth.

Once out of town and back on the main road they quickly settled down to their familiar routine. They still had a weeks’ ride ahead of them on the rough mountain roads before they reached Robling. There was still plenty of time to die in an ambush.

They made camp that night just after sunset on a pleasant little meadow at the foot of a small waterfall. A large circle of fire-blackened rocks showed where previous travelers had built their campfire. They hobbled the horses then turned them loose to graze on the tall grass. Dinner was a lively affair, spruced up by the addition of a huge turkey Durin had procured during his shopping expedition. In deference to Lorelei the men toned down their jokes but she quickly put them at ease with a few ribald jokes of her own.

As they prepared to turn in there was a chill in the air which had more than one man predicting snow by morning. Storm felt a faint twinge of satisfaction when Lorelei put her sleeping blankets next to his. Even if her intentions were entirely innocent it would be nice to have a warm body to snuggle up to in the cold. He posted the watch, three men at a time now, then ordered everyone to sleep.

Lorelei slithered into her blankets then immediately threw an arm across his chest as she squirmed close to him. She pillowed her head on his shoulder, drawing his arm around her. Before he could react she was fast asleep. He debated trying to steal a kiss from her while she slept but finally decided he really didn’t know what she wanted from him. Was she interested in him over and above his promise to her father? Or was it just warmth against the night? Cursing himself for an idiot he closed his eyes with a sigh of regret, but sleep was a long time coming.

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