Cursor's Fury

Chapter 24

The rest of the journey to Kalare was neither swift nor easy. Each day required severe effort on behalf of the Knights Aeris to keep the coach airborne and moving without rising more than a few hundred feet above the ground. It was grueling work. The fliers needed rest breaks every hour or so, and after three days both Amara and Lady Aquitaine began to take turns wearing flight harnesses yoked to the coach in order to give the men a chance to rest. Each night, after the meal, they devised the plan for rescuing the hostages.

The sky became covered with a low, growling overcast, perpetually rumbling with thunder and flickering with lightning, though no rain ever fell. The deadly scarlet haze now reached down to some point within the overcast. One afternoon, in an attempt to rise higher in the hopes of it making their travel quicker, Amara realized that they had accidentally ascended into the red haze, and she saw those deadly creatures begin to condense from the fine mist. Amara had led the coach in an emergency dive back out of the clouds, and no one was harmed, but they scarcely dared fly too much higher than the treetops lest the creatures renew the attack.

At Amara's command, they had ceased their journey two hours before sundown, the coach coming down into a region of heavy forest so thick that Lady Aquitaine had to land first and alone to employ her furies to will enough of the ancient tree branches to move so that the coach would have a place to come down.

Panting with effort and weariness, Amara unhooked the harness from the coach and sat down in place, leaning her back against the coach itself. By now, evening camp had become a routine, neatly organized without the need for her to issue any orders. She and the other three bearers settled down to rest, while the others brought out the canopies, prepared food, found water. To her embarrassment, she actually fell asleep, sitting against the coach, and she didn't wake until Bernard touched her shoulder and set a metal camp plate down onto her lap.

The heat of the plate on her thighs and the warmth of Bernard's hand on her shoulder stirred up a number of rather pleasant but inconvenient memories. She looked from his hand, warm and strong and quite... knowledgeable, up to her husband's face.

Bernard's eyes narrowed, and she saw an answering fire to her own in them. "There's a pretty look," he murmured. "I always enjoying seeing that one on your face."

Amara felt her mouth stretch into a languid smile.

"Mmm," Bernard rumbled. "Even better." He settled down beside her, a plate of his own in his hands, and the aroma of food suddenly washed through Amara's nose and mouth, and her stomach reacted with the same mindless, animal lust the rest of her felt by virtue of being near Bernard.

"Fresh meat," she said, after her third or fourth heavenly bite. "This is fresh. Not that horrible dried trail rope." She ate more, though the roasted meat was still nearly hot enough to sear the roof of her mouth.

"Venison," Bernard agreed. "I was fortunate today."

"Now, if only you could hunt down a bakery for fresh bread," she teased.

"I saw one," Bernard said, gravely. "But it got away."

She smiled and nudged his shoulder with hers. "If you can't get me bread in the middle of the wilderness, what good are you?"

"After dinner," he said, catching her eyes with his own, "we can go for a walk. I'll show you."

Amara's heart beat faster, and she ate the next bite of venison with an almost-wolfish hunger, never looking away. She wiped a little juice from the corner of her mouth with one fingertip, licked it clean, then said, "We'll see."

Bernard let out a low, quiet laugh. He studied the others at the fire for a moment, and said, "Do you think this plan will work?"

She considered while chewing. "Getting into the city, even the citadel, is fairly simple. Getting out again is the problem."

"Uh-huh," Bernard said. "A Cursor should be able to lie better than that."

Amara grimaced. "It's not Kalarus or his Knights or his Legions or his Immortals or his bloodcrows that I'm worried about."

"You're not?" Bernard asked. "I am."

She waved a hand. "We can plan for them, deal with them."

Bernard's eyes flicked over toward the fire and back to Amara, his look questioning.

"Yes," she said. "Getting in depends on Rook. I think she's sincere, but if she's setting us up for betrayal, we're finished. Getting out again depends on Lady Aquitaine."

Bernard scraped the last of his meal around his dish with his fork. "Both of them are our enemies." His upper lip twitched away from his teeth in a silent snarl. "Rook tried to kill Tavi and Isana. Lady Aquitaine is using my sister to promote her own agenda."

"When you put it that way," Amara said, trying to keep her voice light, "this plan sounds..."

"Insane?" Bernard suggested.

Amara shrugged a shoulder. "Perhaps. But we have few options."

Bernard grunted. "Not much to be done about it, is there."

"Not much," Amara said. "Compared to our allies, Kalarus's forces only seem mildly threatening."

Bernard blew out a breath. "And worrying about it won't help."

"No," Amara said. "It won't." She turned her attention back to her dish. When she finished it, her husband brought her a second plate, from where the others ate near the fire, and she set to it with as much hunger as the first.

"It's that much of a strain?" Bernard asked quietly, watching her. "The wind-crafting?"

She nodded. She'd broken the hard trailbread into fragments and let them soak up juice from the roast to soften them, and she ate them between bites of meat. "It doesn't seem so bad, when you're doing it. But it catches up to you later. " She nodded at the fire. "Lady Aquitaine's men are having thirds."

"Shouldn't you do that, too?" Bernard asked.

She shook her head. "I'm all right. I'm lighter than they are. Not as much to lift."

"You're stronger than them, you mean," Bernard murmured.

"Why would you say that?" Amara asked.

"Lady Aquitaine doesn't even take seconds. "

Amara grimaced. It was one more thing to remind her of Invidia Aquitaine's abilities. "Yes. I'm stronger than they are. Cirrus and I can lift more weight with less effort than they can, relatively speaking. Lady Aquitaine's furies are such that her limits are more mental than physical."

"How so?" Bernard asked.

"Air furies are... inconstant, fickle. They don't focus well on any single thing for long, so you have to do it for them. It takes constant concentration to maintain flight. Lady Aquitaine does that easily. It takes even more concentration to create a veil, to hide something from sight."

"Can you do it?" Bernard asked.

"Yes," Amara said. "But I can't do anything else while I am-I can barely walk. It's more wearying and takes much more focus than flying. Lady Aquitaine can do both of them at the same time. It's something well beyond my own skills and strength alike."

"She's no more impressive than you are, in flight. She hardly seemed able to follow you when we dived out of that cloud the other day."

Amara smiled a little. "I've had more practice. I fly every day, and I only have the one fury. She's had to divide her practice time among dozens of disciplines. But she's been doing it longer than I have, and her general skills and concentration are far better than mine. With some time to focus on flying, to practice, she'd fly circles around me, even if her furies were only as strong as Cirrus-which they aren't. They're a great deal stronger."

Bernard shook his head, and mused, "All that skill, all those furies at her command, all the good she could do-and she spends her time plotting how to take the throne, instead."

"You don't approve."

"I don't understand," Bernard corrected her. "For years, I would have given anything for a strong talent at windcrafting."

"Everyone would like to fly," Amara said.

"Maybe. But I just wanted to be able to do something about the crowbegotten furystorms that come down on my steadholt," Bernard said. "Every time Thana and Garados sent one down, it threatened my holders, damaged crops, injured or killed livestock, destroyed game-and did the same for the rest of the steadholts in the valley. We tried for years to attract a strong enough windcrafter, but they're expensive, and we couldn't find one willing to work for what we could pay."

"So," Amara said, giving him a coy little glance, "your hidden motives are at last revealed."

Bernard smiled. She loved the way his eyes looked when he smiled. "Perhaps you could consider it for your retirement." He looked into her eyes, and said, "You're wanted there, Amara. I want you there. With me."

"I know," she said quietly. She tried to smile, but it didn't feel as if it had made it all the way to her face. "Perhaps one day."

He moved his arm, brushing the back of his hand unobtrusively against the side of her stomach. "Perhaps one day soon."

"Bernard," she said quietly. "Yes."

She met his eyes. "Take me," she said. "For a walk."

His eyelids lowered a little, and his eyes smoldered, though he kept the rest of his face impassive and bowed his head politely. "As you wish, my lady."

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