Karan looked over his shoulder as he rode back through the streets of Tessam. As the palace disappeared behind the old walls, he gave a sigh of relief. He liked Arlidor less and less each year, and this Council would have been bad enough even without the news about World’s Ending.
What will we do about that, I wonder? It was a useless question, really. They had spent an entire day pondering solutions to the crisis, and none had been forthcoming. Well, none that were realistically feasible, anyway.
Shield Ceragon rode at his side. He’d decided to leave the city when Karan did, mainly so that he could get Caera to go along with what he planned for her. The woman rode behind them in a withdrawn silence as Chichirico tried to engage her in conversation. There was little to be done, though, and as soon as his friend drew his steed closer to her, her hand strayed to her sword.
The party reached a fork in the road. One route would lead them to the gate, and on the way for Dulaban – the other led down to the docks. Ceragon pulled his horse to one side, letting Karan’s soldiers pass by. The young Shield and his companion followed suit as Caera joined her father.
“I’ll leave my daughter in your hands, then, lord Karan,” Ceragon said.
Caera looked sideways at her father. “Surely you don’t mean to leave me here, father?”
“No, silly girl.” Karan grinned, unseen by the noblewoman. “You’ll go with Shield Karan to Dulaban.”
“From there to Ramror?” She was puzzled. “Why won’t you just let me take the ship home?”
“You won’t be going home, Cae.” Ceragon’s expression softened. “You will learn to be a lady at the court of Lord Karan.”
“I’m sure Lady Jesselina will be most welcoming, Lady Caera,” Karan cut in. “She’s always looking to make new friends.”
Ceragon gave him a grateful look. “You heard the man, Cae. It’ll be better than staying at home. Now go – I can’t sit here waiting all day.”
Caera looked ready to say something, but Ceragon turned his horse and fled, leaving her no time to argue. She then faced Karan and Chiri, her face red in anger, daring them to say something. The young lord felt silence was the better option.
“Lead the way, then, my Lord Karan.” She put a hand on her sword. “I know how to follow.”
Karan bit his cheek to stop himself from blurting out a curt reply – something told him it wouldn’t have been a wise thing to do – and nodded to his men. They resumed formation and opened a path for the nobles to follow them through the crowd.
The Shield of Dulaban spared her a last glance before kneeing his horse into motion. Women, he thought, a bitter taste filling his mouth. They were little more than trouble on legs, no doubt about it.
As soon as they had left the city -- they were not even a hundred paces from the main gates -- Caera turned on him.
"How are we getting to Dulaban?" she asked, her voice seeping with anger.
"By horse." Karan patted his own. "I didn't bother with a carriage. We'll be sleeping in inns on the way back, at least most nights."
This seemed to mollify her a bit. "Very well."
A strange one, Karan thought, who would think she'd rather not go in a carriage. Women weren't supposed to like the rough lifestyle of living on horseback. Still, he was not going to complain. It would be a lot quicker than escorting a carriage back home.
They set off, the column extending itself as the riders rode in single file. Karan was behind Caera now, and he paused to admire her unseen. She was a bit feisty, it was true, but there was nothing particularly bad about that. Her clothing was almost like that of a man, though her riding leathers had been adjusted to make space for some femininity. It occurred to Karan that she'd probably not wanted that, either.