In early afternoon, there was a shout from someone at the edge of camp; she could see a cloud of dust in the distance. The news flew through the camp like a swarm of gnats, and even Jolay got to her feet to gather at the edge of camp to see what was going on. "They tracked us," Ruan muttered furiously, then glanced over at me as if it were somehow my fault.
Janiya bit her lip and shook her head; I saw her hand go to something tucked under her s.h.i.+rt. She'd been keeping an eye on the bandits, and was confident this wasn't them-but what if the bandits had split up and the aeriko had chosen to interpret the other group as the "bandits" he'd been asked to watch for? I itched to take Janiya aside and ask to use the spell-chain myself.
Then Janiya pulled her empty hand back and said, "Right. We have to a.s.sume it's them. Jolay and Lauria, take your weapons and hide yourselves away from camp-I don't want you fighting unless it's your only chance of survival. Tamar, you can go with them to help protect them if they're found. Everyone else, get your weapons and horses; we're riding out to meet them."
Tamar bit her lip, then fetched her bow-the one she'd practiced with seemed to be her bow now-and her thumb-ring and arrows. Jolay had a bow and a long knife, and I took my sword and grabbed a waterskin for good measure. It was daytime, and there was no guarantee we'd be hiding anywhere near water.
Jolay took the lead. Tamar and I followed her along the river and then away from it, heading over a low rise. After a few minutes of walking she found a spot shaded by a little bit of overhanging rock; long gra.s.s grew around it, and once we settled down on the ground we were invisible to anyone who didn't stumble across us.
"How will the sisters find us?" I asked.
"Well, eventually I'm sure they'll stumble across our starved and withered bodies..." Jolay said. "Oh, don't look so stricken, Tamar! I was joking. Janiya will blow the horn when it's safe to return, three long blasts."
We settled in. Jolay was out of breath and cradling her injured arm. I pa.s.sed her the waterskin and she gave me a wry smile and a nod of approval. "Very good, blossom," she intoned. "You remembered to bring water without being told. Beads all around!" I couldn't help snickering at that.
I strained to hear the sounds of battle-shouts, the clash of metal, anything. I heard t
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