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."