They took turns riding the horse each day, and each night Greyson built up the fire and worked on the king’s staff while Ayalah hunted and cooked their dinner. On the third such night, she interrupted the smithy’s work.
“We’re only another day or two away from the city,” she said. “You’re going to have to hit me.”
Greyson looked up sharply. “What?”
“It has to look realistic,” she explained. “If they can’t tell we got in a fight, it won’t work.”
He shook his head. “I’m not going to hit you.”
“You have to.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Then cut me with something.”
“Don’t be absurd.”
She stood up, exasperated. “How do you not understand the necessity of this?”
He shook his head again. “I’m a peaceful man. I don’t like to fight.”
She shoved him but got no reaction. She shoved a bit harder, knocking him slightly off balance.
“You’re going to ruin my work,” he said.
She shoved him again.
“Would you—” he said, pushing back against her.
It worked a little better than she had intended. As she’d suspected, he didn’t know his own strength, and he’d pushed back much too hard, catching her off balance and sending her stumbling. But she tripped over a tree root, fell against the tree itself, and landed ungracefully in a thorny bush. Ungraceful landings were never part of the plan.
“Ayalah,” he said, rushing over to her. “I’m sorry. Are you okay?”
She ignored his proffered hand and got to her feet without help, albeit a little clumsily. “It’s Warrior Tarall. And yes, I’m fine.”
He pursed his lips.
“One more thing, though,” she said, and slammed her right fist into his cheek.
He reeled back, one hand covering the left side of his face. “What was that for?” Now he was actually angry.
She hobbled to the fire, inspecting the scratches all over her hands and wincing at the stings of the cuts on her face. Luckily, her leathers had protected the rest of her body. “I told you,” she said, “it has to look realistic.”
He clamped his mouth shut and didn’t speak to her the rest of the night.