Chapter 97 - Plans
Rowan absently toyed with the reins, maybe none of them would make it through this, and it was arrogant even to assume they would. Fate was a lot like taming a wild horse, sometimes you were on top, and sometimes you ended up in the dirt.
The closer they came to the mountains, the more their awareness of Belvare grew. It was just there one night, and the sisters glanced at each other with a fear they could not allow Marcus to see. In that instant, the distance between them disappeared.
Their fear of losing each other created it in the first place, and with this awareness of the enemy, they understood that they could not afford to give him even this small victory.
It hurt Rowan to have lied to Marcus. They had to bring him to understand that they needed to come inland and go toward the mountains. They used the same method as their aunt must have once used to create her letter, but instead, they created a fake map on the back of one of the lesser documents.
Their map was an almost perfect copy of the larger map they saw, but the path they marked out varied slightly from the one they had to travel. They had to keep Marcus from knowing their final destination for his sake and theirs. His presence would prevent them from ever getting close enough to Belvare to implement their plan.
Marcus would die if he ever came near Belvare. The premonition was too strong for either woman to ignore. To save his unborn child, and himself, he must never find the mountain fortress.
He never even doubted their sincerity and that hurt both of them more than they would ever dare to admit.
“We would need men to enter his hideout,” Alena put their second gambit into place. Marcus turned his gaze to her, and she feared that her expression had betrayed her, but he nodded in agreement.
“He would not be alone,” Marcus accepted their reasoning.
They didn’t tell him that there was very little chance of them coming to any harm before they reached Belvare, but Marcus was a threat Belvare would dispatch.
“There’s a village marked on the map, to the east of the lair, I can’t think that the villagers would be unaware of the Demvaren,” Alena suggested, and she knew that this tore Rowan in two.
“The Dark One may no longer be there,” Marcus tried to assail their fears, and convince them to stick to the original plan of first returning to the boat to regroup.
“He’s there,” they both said at the same time with exactly the same certainty in their voices and a chill passed through his soul. They knew something he didn’t, and if he lost either of them... Marcus pushed the thought away from him.
“Alena?” Marcus asked, and Rowan closed her eyes briefly.
“Marcus?” Alena asked with an innocent expression, and he let his eyes roam from one to the other.
Rowan fidgeted with one of her blades with bored disinterest and Alena stared him down. He couldn’t tell anything from their expressions, but it didn’t ease his fears.
“There’s an inn in the village according to our information. We can use it as a hideout and a base of operations,” Rowan suggested, and Alena nodded.
They started making plans without a sign of unease, and Marcus knew his trepidation should have eased, but it didn’t. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was very wrong.
They arrived at the village near midnight to find it long since deserted. The houses burnt in typical Demvaren fashion, but some buildings partially remained. The inn didn’t have a roof on its upper story, but it would do well enough for their purposes.
“We’ll have to ask Byron to organize some reinforcements,” Alena sighed with what sounded like genuine regret.
“There ought to be mercenaries for hire in Centerburg,” Marcus countered with a thoughtful expression as they knew he would.
“We have no chance if we go in alone,” Alena stated as she slid from her horse. The animal nuzzled her side, and she fed it a carrot from her saddlebag.
“We have to check it out first to make certain that there is a threat worth hiring ,” Rowan countered as she too dismounted.
“We need to hide the horses,” Alena mulled, and as they expected, the practical things took up Marcus’s attention. They nodded at each other.
Over the next two nights, they scouted the area and made the hideout more defensible. The tension in Marcus eased gradually.
“We need supplies,” Marcus announced when they were ready to bed down before dawn.
“Tomorrow night?” Alena asked, and he nodded.
“Who’s going to finish up here?” Rowan asked, and Marcus frowned.
“I’m not leaving either of you here,” Marcus commanded in that tone of voice that brooked no argument.
“She’s right Marcus, we have to finish up here, but more importantly? Three horses came, three horses go out, and an army comes back. Too much traffic will draw attention,” Alena appealed to his sense of strategy.
“We went unnoticed the first time. It’s less likely to happen a second time, and you can’t bring the mercenaries all at once,” Alena continued when Marcus didn’t interrupt her.
“We’ve scoured every inch of ground, there’s nothing here we can’t handle, and you’ll move faster if you’re alone,” Alena finished her argument, and because it made sense, he listened, but he didn’t have to like it.
You’re just going to have to trust us and your training. That’s what they were really saying, he could see it in their eyes, and it was true. His instincts told him that this course of action wasn’t wise. He wanted to say so, but he realized he was arguing with his heart and not his head. So he didn’t.
Marcus had left more than an hour earlier, and they gave up the pretense of doing as he instructed. Without a word, they made their way to the path and followed it along the rocks. They were alone and running out of time.