as if there were a bad taste in his mouth

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"That's Vallebrion, isn't it?" said Fearghill, pointing at a smudge on the horizon.

"Yes," said Clara. She felt in her bones that she was coming home.

"Do you know how long it has been since a Shayn set foot in the Brionwood?"

"Half a season," said Clara absently. She imagined that she could make out the tips  of the holding buildings on the horizon.

She didn't notice the silence from Fearghill until he spoke. "Ah yes, your halfblood friend."

"Yes," said Clara.

"I suppose I meant fullblood Shayn," said Fearghill, gathering his reins in one hand. "Your friend was People-bred, so he wouldn't have known the significance of where he stood."

"He was rather preoccupied," said Clara. Puzzled by Fearghill's tone, she said, "Do most halfbloods grow up among People?" 

"To be frank, I've never given the matter a lot of thought," said Fearghill.

Clara studied his profile. Until a season ago, she'd never given a thought to the plight of the Shayn, let alone halfbloods. 

"It does remind me, though. Was your halfblood friend in your retinue when you came to High Rock?" 

"What?"

"There was a halfblood lad in your guard. At least, I assume he was halfblood--he was wearing People clothing. I noticed him was riding behind you."

"Black hair?" said Clara.

"Yes, I think so."

"Why didn't you mention it?" 

Fearghill shrugged. "There are a few halfbloods knocking about in mercenary packs like that one, so I didn't think it rated a mention. I had forgotten until the other day. Are you all right?"

Clara hooked her horse's reins over the saddlehorn and curled her fingers in the horse's mane. Somehow it made her feel more secure. Had Duncan really snuck into her retinue and followed her to High Rock? Then she knew who the kind, silent guard had been. 

Why hadn't he revealed himself? And where was he now? "Did you hear anything of a Shayn being captured?" she said. "You see, I haven't heard from him since then..."

"No." Fearghill shrugged. "And that almost certainly would have come to my ears. I suppose your friend is still with Lord Enrico's men."

"I doubt that." Prophets, keep him safe. You owe him that.

* * *

"Lord Fearghill," said Lord Alan, lifting his lips from his teeth as if there were a bad taste in his mouth. "Thank you for bringing my daughter back to Vallebrion. I assure you it was unnecessary."

"She did not think it so," said Fearghill pleasantly.

"She is fanciful and her mother over-indulges her," said Lord Alan. He had not yet spared Clara a glance.

"Where is mother?" said Clara.

"Oh, on her way down, no doubt." Lord Alan shrugged. "Lord Fearghill, you will be anxious to get back to High Rock. If you ride out now, you should make it back to the Copper Arms Inn before nightfall."

"Of course, Lord Alan." Fearghill's tone was neutral, polite. Clara looked over and saw that the shutters had come down over his expression. "I shan't tarry here."

"Nonsense."

Clara gasped and turned, running towards the doorway and flinging herself into her mother's arms. When she felt Maitea struggle to absorb her impact, she straightened, steadying them both. "Welcome back, Clarita," said Maitea softly, stroking her hair. "Who is your guest?"

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