Lyana's Lament Chapter 3

Lyana stared at the roll of bills. With that money in hand, she wouldn’t have to worry about work for years. Not bad for a job she planned on doing anyway. She reached out and put her hand over his.
Then she closed his fingers over the bills and gently pushed his hand back. “I appreciate the offer and the generosity, but I gave Rick my word that I’d protect the caravan, and that includes you and your family, so there’s no need for your money.”
“I don’t think you understand—”
Lyana shook her head and fixed him with her best commanding stare. It silenced him so quickly it was as if he’d been muzzled. “It doesn’t matter. You have my protection. That will have to be sufficient.”
He stared at her and worked his jaw, then nodded and turned around without another word. Lyana watched as he lumbered back to his wagon, climbed up, and disappeared behind the flaps.
His cargo intrigued her, but not so much she planned on involving herself in whatever petty secrets he carried across the plains. She would protect him, but ultimately, the caravan was just the best way to get from one part of the world to another. She didn’t need the trouble he brought.
When the sun rose the next day, Andrew acted as though the two of them had never spoken. He didn’t leave his wagon except to piss and crap, but no one seemed too displeased by his absence. He traveled with a wife and son who kept themselves just as secluded. The son was about Lyana’s age and moved with all the grace his father lacked. Andrew’s wife only emerged occasionally, but she always watched her surroundings with a careful eye. They were a unique group, but they didn’t bother her again, so Lyana soon put the problems of the merchant out of mind. The journey west held too much of interest for her to worry much about them.
She’d listened to others describe the plains between Preston and Razin as empty and desolate, but she saw a land rich in life and opportunity. Since most of the sagani had migrated further west, deer, antelope, and bison had returned in enormous numbers. Bullets were too expensive to waste on meat she didn’t need, but if she’d been so inclined, she could have brought back enough prey to feed the entire fort for a few weeks without giving up her seat on the lead wagon.
Frequent and intense rainstorms reminded her that if strong backs and arms attacked the open grassland and tamed it, plentiful feasts would be more common at the farms than at the officer’s tables. The land lacked the mountains, trees, and shores that attracted so many, but Lyana didn’t miss those features. She’d tunneled under enough mountains as a youth that if she never saw a granite spire again, she’d count herself lucky. She’d loved forests until her unit had been ambushed by a squad of knights in one, and now she much preferred the endless vistas of the prairie to the tight confines of an old forest. And she swam about as well as a stone, so it was best if she kept far away from any large bodies of water.
Clayton kept her as busy as his own mercenaries, but he never asked more from her than he did from anyone else, so she slowly reconsidered her opinion of him. Of the travelers, he and his crew were by far the most interesting. She spent almost as much time watching him and his mercenaries as she did the unchanging horizons.
Her first impressions toward him had been unkind, and he still spit and swore too much for her tastes, but he treated the members of the caravan well and performed his contracted duty as though he genuinely cared, which was more than could be said for many such groups. Clayton’s mercenaries helped carry wood, cook, and clean up after meals. They spoke roughly among themselves, and each was possessed of a sense of humor so dark it made Lyana’s skin crawl, but they were all “Yes, sir,” and “Of course, ma’am,” when speaking with those in the caravan.
Their military backgrounds were evident. Clayton kept the same watch schedule she’d just spent years of her life following, and they maintained their rifles and steel with more tenderness than they would show a fresh-born infant. When they were on watch they kept their eyes away from the fire, and she’d never seen one nodding off, no matter the hour.
She noted this all but couldn’t guess what it meant. Perhaps nothing, but maybe more than she knew.
Two nights after she’d been approached by Andrew, she woke to the rocking of the wagon she spent her nights in. Her eyes snapped open and the fire in her stomach burned quietly within. She had no problem seeing Clayton in the dark, squatting close to her feet with his eyes glittering under the star-filled sky.
“What?” she asked.
“Problem.” He cocked his head to the side, then stepped down from the wagon. Lyana discreetly slid the pistol into the waistband of her pants near the small of her back, covered it with her loose tunic, then grabbed her rifle and gently rolled out of bed. She climbed out of the wagon and followed Clayton, who walked west, farther away from the small fire that yet burned in the center of the circle the wagons had made that night.
She stopped before following him too far. “What kind of problem?”
Her voice was barely loud enough to carry to his ears, but he turned to her as though she’d shouted. Was his hearing that good, or was it supernaturally sharp? She hadn’t seen any tics or caught any of the other small hints that hosts usually displayed, but she didn’t take too much stock in that. After all, she was always doing her best to hide those very same hints, and very few found out what she was without her allowing them.
“A problem we need to speak about privately,” he said.
“Private enough right here, provided you know how to whisper.”
He stared hard at her for a moment, and she found herself wishing she had her rifle in a better position for a quick shot. Clayton moved his hand slowly as he reached into his pocket. When the hand emerged, it carried a marshal’s badge. Or, at least, it looked like a marshal’s badge. He flashed it quickly then stuffed it back in his pocket. “I mean you no harm, but there are matters we need to discuss. In a more private place than this.”
The sight of the badge threw Lyana’s thoughts into a spin. Had Marcus somehow already tracked her down?
That couldn’t be it. She’d only remained in Preston one night after the theft, and Clayton and his crew must have been arranged by Rick prior to that. Besides, if Marcus knew it had been her, he wouldn’t have sent marshals after her.
Andrew and his mysterious cargo? That was another possibility, but Lyana wasn’t sure. She wasn’t even sure she believed Clayton was a marshal. Those badges were easy enough to come by, and by themselves, didn’t mean all that much. If he was, though, she’d be best served by following him into the dark.
She looked around for the other guards. One walked the perimeter of the wagons, but the others were missing. She swore at herself for not noticing earlier. How many rifles did they have on her? If she’d been forced to bet, she would have put her chips on a number somewhere between two and four.
It made the math of her decision simple enough. “Fine, but not too far.”
Clayton’s answering grin was tight-lipped. “Fair enough.”
She followed him another few hundred paces west. Tolkin was bright tonight, so she had a good view of her surroundings. The only problem was that it meant the snipers lying in wait would have little problem aiming at her. She hadn’t witnessed any of their marksmanship firsthand, but she suspected it was better than she wanted it to be tonight.
“What is it?” she asked.
“A few days ago, Andrew waddled out of his wagon and spoke to you. What did he tell you?”
Her first instinct was to tell the mercenary it was none of his business, but she sensed little benefit in it. If he pushed, she’d tell him, and there was little advantage to being difficult. “He wanted extra protection. Wanted me to sleep in his wagon and obey his orders instead of Rick’s, if the two ever disagreed.”
“What did he say he wanted protection from?”
“If I had to guess, I’d say probably this.”
“And did you accept?”
“Why not?”
“Because I’d already promised Rick I’d serve as a guard for this caravan. I’d already pledged to see Andrew safe to Razin.”
Clayton’s eyes narrowed. “Quite honorable.” His observation was laced with sarcasm.
“Not so much, but I keep my word, and I prefer to avoid complications. I’m just traveling west, and this seemed like a good way to go.”
Clayton’s gaze shifted until he was staring out into the distance. Lyana tensed and let the burning inside her stomach increase. She waited for a gesture that would signal the rifles in the distance to fire, but Clayton’s hands remained still at his sides.
He sighed. “The marshals can’t allow Andrew to reach Razin. We believe he’s carrying designs and supplies for new weapons for the church. Those designs cannot reach their destination.”
“So why not arrest him back in Preston?”
“He was untouchable, the same as he’ll be in Razin. Surrounded by knights in plain clothes. This is our only chance. You say you’re a woman of your word, and I’ll choose to believe that. Will you help, or will you stand in our way?”
On the surface, the decision seemed an easy one, but his stare sent a shiver down her spine. Too much didn’t make sense. “If he’s that valuable, why isn’t he protected now?”
“Why do you assume he isn’t?” Clayton challenged. “I’m sure you’ve figured out Rick is a believer, and we think he used to serve in one of the church infantry units. Andrew’s ‘family’ is as fake as his claim that he’s a merchant. His supposed wife was a soldier who tried to become a knight, and we believe the young man posing as his son is an actual one.”
“Then why did he attempt to hire me?”
Clayton shrugged. “Why not? I’m sure he has bills to burn, and what’s one extra layer of protection? Either that or he hoped to lure you into his wagon and kill you in your sleep, if he considered you a threat.”
Lyana hadn’t thought of that. Her stomach crawled, and for a moment she longed for the straightforward nature of military life. At least she’d known who was trying to kill her.
“I’m worried that when we move on Andrew it’s going to be a bloody affair, but we must act before he receives more support from Razin. You’re a complicating factor we hadn’t planned for, and from what I’ve seen, you’re competent enough, so I’d rather not be on the opposite sides of this. What will it be? Will you help us capture Andrew or not?”
Lyana stared at the mercenary, wondering what was true and what was lie. She couldn’t tell but didn’t think he was about to give her long to decide. She swallowed hard and said, “I’m in.”

Read Chapter 4 here

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.