Chapter Twenty

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Tregan always kept one eye solidly on the Tevarian, who despite her injuries appeared to ride her new horse with ease. Of course, it didn't belong to her — what little money she'd had on her, Tregan had confiscated, as her attacker had failed to do. What kind of person didn't loot the body, he didn't know.

Well, to some extent, he did know, if the rider was to be believed. But that made even less sense to him. What kind of peasant wouldn't take whatever money she could get? A wealthy noble, a well-paid hired killer, a Guardsman — all understandable, though Tregan himself would never pass on the opportunity. But a peasant?

Tregan hadn't even wanted to use the money to buy another horse. It would have tapped into his personal resources, and he didn't ride enough to warrant it. All he needed was Valor. Still, the woman refused to take him to Rinnet without having her own horse. For someone in her position, it seemed a bold move to negotiate. But Tregan had seen how fast she dodged his attack even with her damaged back and shoulders.

He went back to Zeffiren's house. He apologized, begrudgingly, and held out the full amount he had promised should the rider survive to Villotta. And when he asked the man to borrow a horse, Zeffiren raised an eyebrow and looked down at Tregan's hand, then back up.

"I don't have any more on me," Tregan had snapped.

Zeffiren had paused, looking at a point behind Tregan. When the noble cursed in annoyance and turned to see what the healer could possibly be staring at, Zeffiren shot Distya a wink.

"Wait here a moment," Zeffiren said, and when Tregan spun back around, Distya mouthed thank you.

Distya had felt stronger the moment she mounted the horse, though Zeffiren had to help her up. "Her name is Hawthorn," he said. "Good for the heart."

Distya had to agree, though even a good horse couldn't help the deep wound. She tired often because of it, but would always make herself go further than she wanted. Make it to the next tree, then the next. Get out of sight of the rare group of travelers before painfully dismounting — with Tregan's help, if he was feeling charitable.

Which he often wasn't. Granted, given the circumstances, Distya couldn't blame him too much. He was entitled and rude, sure, but he had for some reason decided to trust an enemy warrior. Curiosity didn't seem to be a quality he possessed in excess, so she had to wonder why he'd agreed to anything.

Travel was slow. Tregan had it so he and his horse Valor led Hawthorn and Distya to prevent her from riding off. It made sense, though Distya's riding experience far outweighed Tregan's. Still, she had to admit that he and Valor had some sort of symbiotic agreement. When Valor dragged his feet, Tregan called for a break. If the noble started to slouch more than usual, his arms growing limp, Valor would stop dead in his tracks.

Shared laziness, Distya thought. They could have been competing for slowest travel possible — not that she could complain. Just holding herself upright became taxing after a few hours.

She couldn't distract herself much, either. While Tregan was not the silent type, he kept his grumblings confined to his and Valor's circle of understanding. Distya tried to listen toward the beginning of the first day, but she soon realized he said nothing of importance, and certainly nothing she was meant to answer. He drank throughout the day, too, his muttering becoming less and less coherent. Distya wondered where all the drinks came from and what would happen if he ran out.

She tried to focus her attention on those kinds of thoughts. They kept her from thinking about the recent, troublesome developments in her life. How she would continue as a rider who couldn't ride at a slug's pace for more than a few hours. How she would fight — on horseback, on foot — with a shoulder so damaged it lost much of its strength and even more mobility. Distya didn't let herself believe all that damage would repair itself over time. She could feel numbness, hard knots where muscles and tendons had not healed properly.

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