Flight of Fiction (17c)

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Zon did not respond. After several moments’ silence, she mustered the courage to look up.

He was looking at her. He did not look at her in the way most people did, their eyes darting around her face, taking in every gruesome, misshapen detail. He was not looking at her crest of untamed hair or ogling at the claws on her feet or her long golden tail. No—Zon was looking at her eyes, as though there was nothing else about her to be seen.

“No,” he said, slowly. “Perhaps you aren’t free.”

Ameryn tossed her hair from her face, as though the fact were of little concern to her. It wasn’t. She lowered her eyes to the fire again. “Well, there you have it. What’s done is done—the past is what it is. I’ll deal with the scars. There are more important things to worry about now.”

“Are you determined to take the pass over the Mountains?”

“I am.” Ameryn allowed a trace of defiance to enter her tone and her gaze. “With or without you. While you and the troupe have been most kind, my duty is to the Princess.” Hearing the harshness of her speech, she softened. “I am sorry. But that is what I must do. I am bound to her. I have no choice.”

“I understand,” he replied, “and you must understand that I am duty-bound to protect the troupe.”

Ameryn nodded.

“We’ll discuss it in the morning,” he continued. “Narina’s speech this evening left everyone a little cold, so the general opinion wasn’t exactly favorable…”

“That’s an understatement.”

“Narina has walked a difficult road. Her life in the Mountain’s shadow was far from easy.” He looked at her again, his clear blue eyes seeing far more than Ameryn wanted him to see. “You are not the only one of us who has suffered greatly under Sucraám’s regime.”

Ameryn nodded. She stood up quickly.

“I’m warm enough now.”

“Good.” Zon smiled. “Rest well. Prod Enilor awake, will you? Her watch is next. Her tent’s over there,” he added, pointing with his stick towards the smallest tent.

Ameryn left the fire’s warm circle and immediately felt the sting of cold air biting her exposed skin. She lifted the flap to Enilor’s tent and saw what looked like only a pile of blankets. She nudged it, and it grunted.

“Whaaaa…?”

“Enilor, get up. It’s your watch.”

“I don’t wanna…too blame coooooooold.” The bundle hunkered tighter into itself.

“Enilor, come on. The fire’s plenty warm once you get there.”

“Harumph. Fine.”

The wad of blankets stood up and groggily shuffled out of the tent, muttering mutinous grunts under its breath, a paddle-like tail dragging behind. Ameryn chuckled, and returned to the tent she shared with the taurlin twins. She lay down again to sleep.

Sleep would not come.

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