They traveled in tense silence through the trees for a few hours, Ayalah on her horse and Greyson on foot. Finally, he spoke up. “Are prisoners allowed to sleep?”
A pang of guilt registered, but Ayalah knew they were still too close to his town for her to speak openly. “Yes, of course,” she said. “Let’s stop here for the night.”
The spot was nothing special, but it seemed safe enough. She tied her horse to a tree and began to gather branches.
“Let me,” said the smithy, taking the branches from her. She hadn’t tied his hands together, against her better judgment: he’d needed them to carry his supplies, so she’d kept him on a rope, close enough so he couldn’t run away, far enough so he couldn’t cause any mischief without giving her enough time to draw her sword. Now he squatted down and began to build up a fire. She had brought two blankets in expectation, and he took the one proffered to him without a word. It was still spring, and the nights were warm, so he kept the blanket balled up, stretched onto his back, and tucked the bundle of fabric behind his head. “Don’t you sleep?”
“No.” She shrugged and sat by the fire. “I’ll keep watch.”
He raised an eyebrow but did not comment. Soon his mouth hung slack, faint snores blending with the chirps of the crickets around her.
Ayalah didn’t take her hand from her sword pommel for many hours.
She woke him early and they continued onward, deeper into the trees as quickly as the smithy could go. He was plainly a tough man, accustomed to hard labor and lifting heavy objects, but not, it seemed, to wandering through the woods for over a day on foot. He began to wince when he walked, and then to limp, and finally Ayalah stopped altogether. It was dinnertime; the sun was beginning to set.
“What’s the problem?”
“Are you injured?”
He shook his head. “I’m fine. We can keep going.”
She nodded. They were near the stream she had stopped at the week before. She led the way to it and dismounted. “Let me see your injury.”
“I’m not injured.”
With one smooth movement, she drew her sword and leveled it at his throat. “Your injury,” she repeated.
“Ah,” he said, “so you’ve resorted to your weapons again.” He didn’t smile, but Ayalah couldn’t help but think he was somehow mocking her. He set down his tools, sat on a fluffy patch of grass, and removed his shoes obediently. His feet were covered in blisters and blood.
She nodded, sheathing her sword. She’d experienced something similar during warrior training. “Cool your feet in the water,” she instructed. She turned to root through her saddlebags. She must have some bandages and med—
She felt the cold of steel at her throat and froze.