Rogue and Rover: Part Ten
The shoulders of Mount Mistral were both steep and known for being frequented by rather vicious Snowbeasts – neither Kanrik nor Hannah would have come this way if they had another choice. Kanrik asked, "Is it just me, or are the Whitestones knights trying to chase us into the most Fyora-forsaken parts of the mountains?"
Hannah smiled overly brightly as she said, "Oh, I think you're taking it too personally. They're only trying to chase us into somewhat Fyora-forsaken parts of the mountains."
He snorted. "Get the climbing kit ready – we're going to need it here soon. If we don't keep good time, we can start taking bets as to whether the knights or the Snowbeasts get us first."
Hannah started uncoiling the rope as they continued to slog through the snow – they were skirting the edge of what would become a steep cliff farther to the east. She said, "I'd be prepared to admit we got more than we bargained for with this trip if I didn't think you'd never let me live it down."
Kanrik smiled at her, laying a hand on her shoulder. "We also pocketed more than we bargained for, so I think it all works out."
The horns rang out behind them again – at least that racket was likely to ward off all but the boldest of Snowbeasts. They continued struggling up the slope as rapidly as they could. Now Kanrik's longer legs were an advantage, even though she was lighter – Hannah had to move more quickly than he did to keep the same pace, and she was breathing heavily. He said quietly, "The moment we find somewhere to hunker down, we'll do it."
She raised an eyebrow at him, and he amended quickly, "I'm not thinking about you. I could use a rest and something to eat."
She smiled. "I ought to argue about you coddling me. But I agree – it'll be better to find some cave and let the crazy knights pass us, then try and make Grigr's Lodge tonight and have a toast with our coffee to confounding our enemies."
Kanrik nodded, and they kept on.
In a cleft just below the top of the shoulder of Mount Mistral, they finally had a stroke of luck. There was a cave that was nearly invisible from above or below – only experience helped them to find it, and they still had to use the climbing equipment to get down to it. And better yet, there were no knights within eyeshot, though the horns could still be heard, and the wind had picked up enough to help cover their tracks. Hannah said, "Did you know they say they have the horns made at just the right pitch to avoid triggering an avalanche? That's why there's a similar sort of sound to them as there is to a Snowbeast call – that's what it's modeled after, because Snowbeasts never bring mountain faces down on top of themselves."
Kanrik looked around the cave – it was about the size of his room back at the inn in Happy Valley. "I wish we could risk a fire, but they'd see the smoke from miles off. Looks like we're eating nuts, dried fruit, and jerky again."
Hannah sighed longingly, "Coffee..."
Kanrik snorted as he unwrapped the jerky. "You don't drink coffee. You drink milk with a bit of coffee added."
"Better than drinking the stuff you do – I swear it must dissolve the innkeeper's spoons."
"I pay him more than enough to replace them."
Hannah yawned after they finished eating. "I say we take a nap and set out later. We have enough food – we don't have to make Grigr's Lodge tonight. Let's let the Whitestones folk go chase their tails in another direction for a while."
Kanrik wasn't tired, but Hannah immediately curled up inside her coat and went to sleep. Kanrik covered her with his cloak to give her a little extra warmth. Her nose twitched, and her eyelids fluttered, but otherwise she didn't move – she was already deep into a dream. He smiled, and leaned against the wall, picking a few raisins out of the bag of trail mix.
The horns grew more and more distant as time wound by – after an hour, Kanrik shook Hannah awake. She blinked at him, then pushed herself to her feet. "Are we ready to go?"
He nodded. "I think they're safely chasing their tails."
Kanrik drew his sword as Rahm flew into the cave.
The little Korbat was armed and armored, and he held one of the Whitestones hunting horns in his hand. He sighed. "I keep telling them that you two don't run, that you find places to hole up and then go the other way after we've started the wild Mallard chase, but they don't listen. They never listen."
Kanrik said carefully, "And since they don't listen, it seems that a fitting repayment for their carelessness might be to let us go..."
Rahm cried, "You raided Castle Astith! It's been sealed up for centuries! Do you know how much it means to my people?"
Hannah held out the chest they'd taken. "Speaking of your people, this belongs to them."
Rahm asked, eyes narrowing, "Are you trying to pay me off?"
Kanrik snapped, "At least listen, kid. That's for the room and board, just like we promised. How did you even find out we were in Castle Astith!"
"That frost-witch you teamed up with! And how's Castle Astith? Stripped to the bone of the treasures of old? An empty husk due to the greed of rogues?"
Hannah pointed out, "I know he's a dyed-in-the-wool criminal, Rahm, but listening to him like he said would actually be a good idea."
Kanrik deliberately used the sort of tone he would use on a small, rather dim child – perhaps it wasn't nice, but he didn't feel nice. He was tired, he was cold, his leg hurt, and he desperately wanted coffee. "We didn't team up with that little maniac Hemanta, for your information. And Castle Astith is fine. With the defenses that have been laid there, it'll keep its treasures intact for a good age more. Hannah and I took a few things from the treasure room, but there's wealth left beyond even the avarice of thieves. Yes, even the Master Thief and the Thieves Guild, all gathered together, so don't give me that look."
Rahm asked, "How can I trust a single word that comes out of your mouth?"
Kanrik merely put a hand to his forehead. "Didn't we go over this bit in the storage room of Whitestones?"
Hannah asked, "When have we lied to you?"
Rahm mimicked, fairly accurately. "I'm Miranda, and this is Kells."
Hannah threw her hands up. "You have to admit that that was necessary!"
Rahm landed and folded his arms. "But if you haven't done that much actual lying, then why am I standing here feeling tricked?"
Hannah said reasonably – which was more than Kanrik could have mustered – "There's no trick. You were very kind to show us the way out of Whitestones. We're merely repaying that kindness, and paying for our board. That's all. This has your seal on it. It's yours."
Rahm took the chest carefully. "But how will I explain having it?"
Kanrik offered, "Say I threw it at your head and we ran for it when you dodged. I could do it, if you want. Wouldn't mind a bit."
Hannah's tone held a laugh, but also a warning. "Kanrik..."
Rahm looked lost – Kanrik almost pitied the young knight. But as he was interested in saving his own skin, he couldn't afford to indulge that pity. The Korbat said, "Your debt to Whitestones is repaid, I'll grant. But Astith..."
Kanrik wished he could show Rahm the treasure room in Astith. Then he'd realize the fortress was absolutely fine.
He said to Hannah, "Do you still have the parchment?"
She nodded, and handed it to him. Kanrik passed it to Rahm. "It's the way into Castle Astith's treasure room. Be wary of traps. And take a good number of folk, because it's one visit per customer. Take it. See for yourself. There's nothing more Hannah or I can do there." Rahm wasn't affiliated with Kanrik – Kanrik wouldn't profit any from the Whitestones folk getting through the gate. He should be safe enough. And as that treasure was off-limits to Kanrik now, he didn't mind someone else getting into the treasure room. More ancient goods out in the world was always good for business.
Rahm looked down at the parchment. "My mother reads Old Bori. If I bring this back to them..."
Kanrik nodded. "And you won't feel tricked, because you had the same opportunity we did. Plus this chest right here, which belongs to your people by right."
Rahm paused, then picked up the chest. "I guess you did help Dea when she slipped on those stairs. If you'd really been a heartless criminal, you would have just let her fall."
Kanrik tried to look like an upstanding, silly-girl-saving citizen. He offered his hand to let Rahm shake it – the Korbat took it, then bowed to Hannah. "Safe travels. But don't cross Whitestones land again."
Kanrik just looked at Hannah. The little Usul burst out laughing, and Kanrik couldn't help but join in.
"The ice warrior was stumbling around then, like a marionette with half its strings cut, but it still tried to get a kick in..."
Kanrik leaned back in his comfortable chair in the Happy Valley tavern, cradling his coffee and listening to Hannah tell the story of their adventure – she'd left out Rahm and Dea once more, as they had promised, but everything else was intact. There wasn't much to tell after they'd escaped the knights – they had made it back to Happy Valley without incident, though there was already a tale spreading that the knights of Whitestones had gotten into a turf war with a frost witch, and that the roads near the Strait of Ice were becoming dangerous.
At least it would stop anyone from Whitestones trying to follow them here.
There were letters on the table as well as their dinners – Mortman and Paselle were asking him to come back to Tyrannia and help the fighters at the Obelisk. Kanrik sipped the coffee as he listened to Hannah finish telling the tale, then pushed the papers over to her after the applause had died away and she'd gotten several chances to curtsey with no humility whatsoever. The sapphire pendant he'd given her shone in the lamplight. "Want a Tyrannian vacation, Hannah?"
Hannah said eagerly, "I'd love to see the Obelisk! And the Oracle, as well. And I've always wanted to try and buy a few maps from the Seekers – if they don't realize I'm there with you, I might be able to get some good leads."
Kanrik pointed out, "They've got giant robots."
Hannah brought her head down onto the table with a thump. "I had enough of those on Kreludor!" She said as she looked up again, eyes sparkling even more brightly than the jewel she wore, "At least it'll be warm. I'm ready for warm."
He grinned at Hannah. "So we'll start tomorrow, then?"
She grinned back, just as fiercely. "You read my mind."