Chapter Five

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They spent the next few hours milling. Rinnet longed to do something useful, practice aim or prowl the perimeter looking for weak spots in the fence, but she would have stood out too much. The others, after a brief time wandering the grounds, sat in a mass at the pavilion under the roof. After some hesitation she joined them. She crouched at the edge of the group so that everyone was in view and wrapped her arms around her legs, her head kept low so her hair fell around her face.

Harbaud took up a position at the center of the pavilion. He started off talking to one of his friends, but his rapid speech and wild gestures soon attracted the others' attention. Rinnet tried not to seem too interested.

"It's not as if we are trapped," Harbaud said. "It's true we were at a disadvantage in Goldsriff, since they targeted us specifically and captured us one by one. But here..."

He lowered his voice and squinted, his eyes shifty as he looked between the group and the Tevarians at the fence. Rinnet could tell he was trying to look clever. His audience fell for it, leaning in and not so much as blinking as he kept them waiting.

He grinned. "...here, we outnumber them. Three guards against the thirteen of us? What's to lose?"

"You heard what their leader told us," said one. "They don't mean to harm us as long as we don't cause any trouble. What you want to do would cause trouble."

"If they catch us," said Harbaud. "Which they won't. I have it planned out. We'll figure out how long these guarding shifts are when the next three come in. Then we'll overtake the guards on the latest night shift, making our move at the end of their watch when they're most tired. We hold them hostage and threaten to kill them if the next watchmen leave to report us. We demand to be set free."

Rinnet was glad for her distance from the center, otherwise Harbaud might have heard her sigh. What kind of moronic plan was that? What if the Tevarians had a remote way of calling for reinforcement, or didn't care if a few fellow guards died so long as the captives stayed put? The gate was locked from the outside. The standoff could go on forever and they still would have no way of getting out.

"But what if something doesn't go right?" Flensing whispered, scratching at his arm. "We might not be outnumbered in this yard, but in the country we are."

"Do you want to get out of here or not, Flensing?" Harbaud said. "I wouldn't trust that Yurovin for a second. He could have lied about not wanting us dead. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd rather die for Coreti like a true Guardsman than lie under the enemy's blade begging for life."

That got a response that brought the grin right back to Harbaud's face. The people around him nodded in excitement. Flensing and Rinnet stayed quiet. Flensing had never wanted to become one of the Guard in the first place; Rinnet had, until their flight from the battle in Goldsriff.

Harbaud noticed. He laid eyes on first Flensing, then Rinnet at the back of the group. Beyond her, he saw Yurovin talk briefly with his companions, then head toward the pavilion.

Harbaud's smile faded to a thin line. "And anyone who opposes us is a disgrace to Coreti. They will face the same fate as the Tevarian scum who brought us here."

The last few words narrowed into a hiss as Yurovin drew up behind the group. "Alright, gathering's over. Everybody up."

They scrambled to their feet. Flensing brushed his hands off on his pants a few too many times, and even Harbaud twitched as Yurovin looked them over. The Tevarian was intimidating, tall and lean-muscled, and though he could not have possibly heard what was said from where he had been across the yard, his stare was keen and focused. His chestnut braid was short and tight; there wasn't a single strand softening his pointed face. A trimmed beard cut a sharp line under his high cheekbones. Everything about him spoke of order and precision, yet his tone was cordial and relaxed.

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