“I was trying to help you,” she said through gritted teeth.
“I want to know what’s going on, and I want to know now,” he said. He was speaking into her ear in a soft, deadly voice, and she shivered.
“I’ll tell you,” she said, “but you don’t need to threaten me to hear it.” Something about the way her words echoed his bothered her, but she pushed it from her mind.
“I was going to tell you anyway,” she said. It was the truth. All at once, he nodded and stepped back, the tension broken. She released a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Her instinct at seeing his guard lowered was to immediately counterattack; her fingers twitched in the direction of her sword, but she controlled herself.
He sat down next to the stream and eased his feet into the water, grimacing as the water lapped over his cuts. She forced her muscles to relax. He wasn’t attacking her, merely defending himself: she knew this. She took a deep breath. “If I try to find some bandages for you now, are you going to assault me again?”
He grinned. “No.”
She found the bandages and medicated cream and handed them over. “You should get better boots,” she observed.
They looked at each other in silence for a few minutes. “Ayalah,” he began.
“Warrior Tarall,” she corrected him sternly. Just because he knew her name didn’t mean he could use it freely. And besides, she was a warrior; he was only a commoner.
He nodded. “Warrior Tarall, then. You know as well as I that it hasn’t yet been two weeks.”
She was sure nobody was following them. There was no point delaying the inevitable any longer, she decided; may as well be as blunt as possible. “I plan to bring you to the king under false charges of refusing to serve him,” she said. “And, what’s more, to allege that you attacked me along the road and deserve to be sentenced to the dungeons.”
She held up a hand for silence. “But I intend to secure an alternate punishment. That you travel with me and learn to carry out the king’s punishments.”
At this he made no sound. His mouth hung open; his hand hovered somewhere between an appeal and an accusation, palm up to the sky but finger pointing at her. “Why?” he finally asked.
“I believe you’re in danger.”
“That you’re in danger, yes.” She squatted before him and whispered. “What is your part of the prophecy?”
“The prophecy,” she hissed. This smithy certainly didn’t seem to catch on quickly. “I think you’re in danger because you have a piece of the prophecy.”
“Me?” He stared at her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Fine.” She stood up again. “Keep your secrets—for now. But if that part dies with you—well, I’ll just have to make sure it doesn’t.”
“And what makes you qualified to protect me?”
She shrugged. “I have secrets of my own.”