Chapter 11: Resolution

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ANDOC GROWLED, and flopped over onto his back. "Who is it?" he called.

"Messenger from the Council of Elders," said a young voice.

"Hang on a minute," Andoc said. "I'll be right there."

I couldn't help my own groan of disappointment.

"Fuck," he added, quietly enough not to be heard in the hallway.

"Apparently not," Senovo said, and I could tell that the smug bastard was laughing at the two of us—on the inside, at least.

Andoc kissed us both quickly and fiercely. He rolled out of the overcrowded bed and pulled on a shirt and breeches. I followed suit and tossed Senovo his robes. Within moments, we were decent, and Andoc opened the door to the hapless messenger boy.

"What is it?" Andoc asked.

"Your pardon, sir," the boy said. "The council asks that all three of you come to the meeting hall."

"We'll be right there," Andoc said.

* * *

The transition from animal lust to fidgety nervousness was abrupt and unsettling. As we walked to the meeting hall, I was uncomfortably aware of the way my thighs slid against each other with every step, gradually becoming sticky as the evidence of my earlier desire slowly dried up.

The people watching us didn't help. If I'd thought I was getting a lot of attention when I'd gone out to get food and check the horses earlier, it was nothing to the excited chattering and looks of fear that Senovo garnered as we made our way into the village square. Andoc and I flanked him protectively, but Senovo's face might as well have been made of stone. He looked neither right nor left, and I cursed the circumstances that had transformed him from the relaxed and trusting lover of a few minutes ago to this stiff, defensive figure.

It was almost a relief to escape the curious, excited villagers by entering the meeting hall—right up until I remembered why we were there. Unlike our first visit, the heavy table in the large meeting room was completely surrounded by men and women, with Magoldis at the head. We entered at the guard's behest and bowed before the assembled Mereni elders.

"Thank you for coming," the Leader said. "We have been discussing your proposal, Andoc, and we have a few more questions for the three of you before we reach a final decision."

"Of course, Leader Magoldis," Andoc replied. "Please ask your questions."

A wizened little man spoke up. "Horse Mistress Carivel. We were quite impressed by your demonstration yesterday. If the council agrees to an alliance with the Draebardi, we would like to foster an exchange of both breeding animals and methods of horse training. Would this be acceptable to you?"

"Sir," I said, "I've been plotting to trade for some of your horses pretty much since I arrived." There was a quiet smattering of laughter around the table. "I'd say that's a more than acceptable provision."

"Very well," Magoldis said. "Priest Senovo. I have been speaking to our High Priest about you, and First Warrior Andoc was also kind enough to fill us in on some details of your background."

Senovo stood tall and stony-faced, not quite looking at the men and women around the table. I saw his throat bob up and down once in a nearly undetectable show of nerves, and ached to be able to somehow go back and undo the previous evening's events.

"We would like assurance that you will, in fact, be returning to Draebard to assume your position as High Priest upon Rhystel's death," Magoldis continued.

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