Lyana's Lament Chapter 4

“I’m in,” Lyana said.

Clayton breathed out slowly, then nodded. His fingers danced in the moonlight, and Lyana wondered what message they passed to the snipers watching in the distance. She took half a step away and leaned her head back, but let out her own breath when no rifle bullet chased her down.

“Good,” Clayton said. The corners of his lips turned up in a smile, but it looked like something he’d forced onto his face. It fell a moment later, returning to the resting scowl Lyana was more familiar with.

“When do you make your move?” she asked.

“Tomorrow night, most likely. Some colleagues are planning to rendezvous with us close to here. They’ll help us escort Andrew and his accomplices somewhere secure.”

“And where might that be if he’s got so much support?”

Clayton arched an eyebrow. “Somewhere secure.”

“Of course.” Lyana let her eyes travel up and down the enigmatic mercenary one last time, seeking any clue that would pierce the mystery surrounding him. He remained inscrutable, though. “Someday, I’d be interested in hearing the story of how you and yours came to be out here.”

Clayton inclined his head a fraction of a degree. “Someday I might even be interested in telling you.”

Lyana kicked up some dust with the toe of her boot. “So, tomorrow night, then?”

“Most likely. I’ll let you know before we move.”

“What’s my role?”

“I’ll let you know tomorrow. I’ll have to see how everything shakes out first.”

They stared at each other, as though daring one another to be the first to retreat. Lyana lost her patience first. “So, I’m free to go?”

“You always were.”

Lyana took a step back while keeping an eye on Clayton. She paid particular attention to his hands, which remained still at his sides. Only after she’d put a few paces of distance between them did she turn around. Her feet wanted to run, but she forced them to walk. She’d learned long ago not to let predators see her fear. She let the fire within her stomach burn the entire way back to the cart, and it wasn’t until she was laying down within that she let herself relax.

She rested her head against her pack and looked up at the sky. Footsteps circled the caravan, and she listened to the snipers return from their posts. For a few minutes, the night was busy as the warriors settled into bed. But soon, they were asleep like the rest, and Lyana grew certain she was safe for the night. The fire in her stomach burned down and her eyes grew heavy. She asked her sagani to keep watch, then let herself drift off to sleep.


Lyana woke with the coming of the dawn, feeling more rested than expected after last night’s adventures. She sat up and stretched, using the time to cast her eyes around the caravan. Rick already had a small cook-fire going, boiling water for tea and heating a pan. Lyana’s stomach rumbled, but she ignored its demands. Clayton’s men walked their usual slow circles around the stopped caravan, and Andrew and his family were nowhere to be seen, most likely hiding in their wagon.

She jumped from the cart and went about her morning chores. Clayton had her on horseback scouting ahead that morning, but patrolling on foot close to the caravan for the rest of the day. She figured if he was going to meet with compatriots, it would be later in the day. After considering the matter for a bit, she decided her curiosity about Clayton would have to go unsatisfied. He could have his secret meetings and his arrest, so long as she made it to Razin with no more trouble.

Lyana broke her fast with the others, savoring Rick’s simple but hearty cooking. After washing it down with some tea, she borrowed one of the horses Clayton owned and rode ahead of the others. She was joined by one of Clayton’s mercenaries, a young man named Cody who spoke little and always rode behind her. She kept twitching, expecting him to draw on her, but he seemed content to ride behind her and make sure she didn’t try anything suspicious.

Her thoughts drifted over Clayton’s claims, but no matter how she twisted and turned the matter, she couldn’t find any certainty. She didn’t trust Clayton farther than she could throw him, but the same could be said for Andrew. If Andrew was working for the church, though, helping Clayton was the best course of action she could take, whether he was an actual marshal or an opportunist.

Eventually, she threw the questions aside. All she could do was keep her eyes open and her wits about her. She didn’t enjoy telling Andrew he was safe, then betraying that trust, but if he had plans for weapons, he had never deserved her protection.

Lyana spent most of the rest of the day staring in the general direction of the sun and wondering if it was broken. She would glance up and feel like it had raced across the sky to set behind the western horizon, but at other times, it felt as though it had stood in place for hours on end. She kept watch for anything out of the ordinary, but Clayton and his crew didn’t give her the slightest indication they were about to arrest Andrew that night.

She saw no sign of the other marshals Clayton had implied were nearby, either. No dust rose on the horizon. No silhouettes were visible against the clear blue sky, and not a sound carried across the prairie.

By the time night fell, Lyana was almost ready to admit that the night before had been a bad dream, a piece of beef in last night’s stew that hadn’t sat well in her stomach. She went to sleep that night with a gentle flame stoked in her stomach and orders for her sagani to remain alert.

It woke her a few hours later by churning in her stomach. She kept her eyes closed and her breath even as she heard footsteps approach the cart. A minute later, she sensed Clayton looking over the edge. “Time to wake up.”

Lyana opened her eyes slowly, then snapped them open and looked around. The caravan was quiet. She’d gone to sleep with the pistol hidden near the small of her back, so all that was left for her to do was grab her rifle and step out of the cart. This time, she kept her rifle in a ready position, her finger lingering on the outside of the trigger guard.

She spoke just softly enough for him to hear. “What do you need from me?”

Clayton pointed north, beyond where Andrew’s wagon was circled with the rest. “Keep watch. Every one of my hands will help me with the arrest, so I need eyes in the distance. I don’t think Andrew’s additional support is too close yet, but I’m not going to chance it. If one of them gets out of the wagon, I want you to restrain them until one of my deputies secures them.”

It was less than Lyana had expected, and she had no problem with it. The request felt more like “stay out of our way” than anything else, and given all her uncertainties, she didn’t mind at all. Better to be off in the distance, armed and watching, than in the middle of the trouble. It gave her better options for action once she figured out what was happening in this caravan. She nodded and started walking in the direction Clayton had pointed.

She searched for Clayton’s warriors. Two walked the perimeter, but all the others sat around the fire close to Andrew’s wagon. When they hit the wagon, Lyana imagined it would happen from both sides at once.

If they were marshals, they were as well trained as any Lyana had ever come across.

The guards patrolling the perimeter walked past Andrew’s wagon without stopping, and Lyana let out a slow breath. Her muscles were bunching up and her finger rubbed eagerly against the trigger guard of her rifle, the same as it always did before a battle. 

The guards completed another lap of the caravan, but as they approached Andrew’s wagon, they slowed. Clayton and the others rose from the fire and crept toward the front end of the wagon while the patrolling guards neared the rear. Clayton took one last look around the camp, then gave a signal.

The mercenaries pulled swords and knives from their sheaths. Lyana’s eyes narrowed, but by the time she decided it was wrong, she was too far away to do anything.

Her hearing sharpened as the mercenaries ambushed the wagon from both sides. Clayton climbed in like a snake in a hurry, and the guards on the other side leaped into the back of the wagon with sure steps. Someone cursed. There was a brief clatter of steel, and then a wet gurgling. The axles creaked as something heavy fell with a sound that reminded Lyana of when she dropped a heavy deer carcass from her shoulders.

She took a step toward the battle, but her foot froze as a pale blue glow briefly illuminated the inside of the wagon. Her eyes went wide and she took two quick steps back as her heart pounded like a sledgehammer in her chest. She whipped around and stared at the dark horizon.

Her sagani raced in circles around her core. It burned so brightly she had no choice but to hear everything happening inside the wagon. Wood scraped against wood as a lid settled in place. Then a grunt and a sharp exhalation. Two careful, heavy steps, and then the sound of gemstones shifting. Lyana risked a glance back to see one guard handing a small chest down to another mercenary waiting behind the wagon.

As soon as the chest was clear, the rest of the mercenaries jumped and climbed out of Andrew’s wagon. A few looked her way, but so long as she remained still, none paid her much attention.

Instead of moving the chest to another wagon, they loaded it up on one of their horses. Once loaded, they mounted and prepared to leave.

Lyana couldn’t help but stare. Clayton was the last to mount his horse, and he looked at her, tipped his hat her way, then gestured for them to ride out.

Rick emerged from his wagon as the first horses left, but he made no move to chase after the mercenaries. A look passed between Rick and Clayton, so quick that if Lyana hadn’t been watching, she would have missed it. Rick dipped his head in Clayton’s direction, then returned to his wagon without a word.

Lyana’s gaze traveled between Rick’s silent cart and the departing horses. They didn’t look like they were planning on returning. The entire event had transpired so quickly and quietly the others in the caravan hadn’t even been disturbed.

She stood still for a moment, then turned and ran to Andrew’s wagon. A space had been cleared in the center for the three of them to sleep closely packed together. Andrew and his wife had their throats slit in their sleep. The son had woken, but a single stab to the heart had ended his fight before it started. Clayton hadn’t even given him time to draw a knife.

She let her eyes drift over the scene. There were no other weapons. No sign Andrew and his family had been expecting an attack, or prepared for one should one happen. Not even Andrew carried a sword, which made Clayton’s claim he was a knight a lie. A knight was never without their sword.

Clayton might be a marshal. Despite the changes they’d gone through in the past few years, the attempts by the government out east to improve law and order out west, there were still plenty of marshals wandering around who put more faith in their steel than in their badge.

But whatever had happened here, it wasn’t an arrest.

It was murder.

A murder Clayton had talked her into witnessing. She cursed silently at herself, but hesitated before jumping down from the wagon. Part of her wanted to chase Clayton down and make him pay for his crime. But she’d given her word to Rick that she would protect the caravan, and she was now the only guard remaining.

You can read chapter 5 HERE

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