Caspian and Karen talk and walk.
| “Yes. Rox and Diana needed to be able to dispel the magic connection, thus the silver and fire. I hope I have not unduly damaged Diana by the awakened magic skills in her. Once the connection the daemon is gone, either of them should be able to stand up to and defeat the queen. Alex mainly needed to get over his childish innocence and inexperience at killing. It was easier to simply program him, rather than train him; I don’t know how much he will be aware of or remember once that starts. Steven just needs to be able to hold his own and get Alex close enough to do the job. From the makeup of the company that took them, I figured the Viceroy arranged to get the Caplan’s as close as he could to the king and queen.|
“Now, I surmise that because all four signals on your trackers are still active in Skarg, they have, or are in process of fulfilling that destiny. By the time we get to the city, the Viceroy will be on the throne. I fully expect that if things go as planned the Viceroy will quickly and quietly get the Caplan’s out of the city, rather than kill them. On that same hand, I should probably keep myself scarce until he has secured his power.”
Caspian nodded on this one. “First Rule of Assassination: Kill the Assassin. In this case, the Caplan’s are only the tool; you are the one wielding it, at request of the Viceroy. I can see that. So, are you telling me this as a way of asking to come back to Shalaia with us?”
Karen looked as Caspian gestured with his right hand, still holding her left hand. She had not realized she was still holding on as he walked; she let go, stepping slightly to the side to put a little lateral distance between them. “If you don’t mind. I’ve never traveled that far away. Might be nice to see some new places.”
Caspian noticed that Karen had a slight bit more blush to her cheeks and face than just the cold could account for. It complimented her straight brown hair. Cyrril chirped and pushed off to stretch his wings.
“I don’t mind. I don’t seem to be in charge anymore, so . . .” Caspian let the conversation go.
They walked for a while quietly.
Caspian started again. “When you first joined us, I though it was a mistake to let you along.”
“I’m still deciding. It would have been a lot harder to get the kids out without your information.”
Karen sensed he was trying to decide if, what and how to say, so she met him at the mark. “Is this the start to an apology?”
“Maybe. I’m still thinking over what you did and why. You submitting to my spell and questioning that day. That was reassuring.”
“That was Steven’s idea, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah. It did help my concerns about you. Probably why I was so off my guard when things did go down.”
Karen had to pause to think about how to answer this. “Well, your being off guard helped me with that bit of theater. And for what it is worth, I’m sorry I had to attack you, but glad it worked out for the best.”
“Well, so far.”
“If I had told you then what I have been telling you since, would you have gone along with it?”
Caspian had to think about this. “I expect Rox might have, and Steven not, for the reasons they expressed when we last talked about this. Me? I need a little time to think about it before answering.”
Karen sensed his confusion of the issue, and let the answer wait.
The conversation drifted to other things as they went. Caspian’s mouth went on about some of the plants he saw and their magical use. Karen added her own limited scope and great depth to the topic. And thus they went: two people with nothing more to do than get to know each other better.
Caspian was quite tired when they stopped a little while after dark this second day of the two of them traveling together. After he set up his usual and wards and spells, he dozed against the base of a tree. Karen took care of the rest of the set up and dinner. Once he ate, he curled up to sleep under a tree, and she curled up in her own blankets next to him to keep each other warm.
The afternoon of their third day the trackers started moving in a manor indicating large scale movement again. It took Caspian a few moments to understand the direction of travel. Karen looked at which way the indicators were moving and comparing that to her memory of the roads and terrain. She then led out at a slightly faster pace. Caspian did his best to keep up, mostly. He did find he liked watching her walking and moving ahead of him.
At the next crossroad Karen turned north, to go to another of the highways out of Skarg. It took Caspian a moment to understand why. When she let him catch his breath to ask, she only had to start to explain before he confirmed what he had already figured. The Caplan’s were leaving Skarg on a different highway.
Karen walked Caspian into the ground this day and again the forth as they traveled through the forest. The weather was clear and cool, the cold of winter had broken. Caspian was gamely trying to keep up with Karen, and realized that he was getting his mental stamina and his physical stamina back together. It took him a while to realize that Karen was deliberately wearing him out. Once he realized this, his ego kicked in and started putting up the front that he was not going to let her win.
On Karen’s part, she was simply pushing Caspian to physical exhaustion, to reset his mind and body into synchronization with each other. She did not think to tell him this was what she was doing, because in her circles this was common knowledge.
During the morning of the fifth day on the road Caspian and Karen reached the next highway north, and found a place to rest. This was a most commonly traveled highway into Skarg from the north, as it was the first one from the main north south highway that ran along the foot hills of the mountains to turn to Skarg. Most of this highway was fronted by farm or fenced range land, so the forest was cleared back beyond these fields. A river wandered the valley this highway traveled to Skarg, before turning south to join the Krogg River at the last port town on the waterways that ocean going vessels could access. As such the highway had long stretches of straight easy travel, punctuated by a few turns through intervening hills from the edges.
Caspian figured and voiced the opinion that if the Caplan’s are coming this way, there is no sense going toward them to backtrack. He then started to wind down. To Karen’s surprise he then got up and started going toward Skarg and the advancing Caplan family anyway, to stay energized. She let him, catching up to him and taking his hand.
As they walked, she took a moment to read him. He was tired but not about to tell her. So she began an exercise, and trickled a little of her own energy into him to keep him going. On Caspian’s side of this, he simply felt a little bit energized by holding her hand. He looked a little for some little flower or plant sprig to give Karen. But quickly his attention went to keeping going forward; there was nothing to find and traffic to dodge as they went. Cyrril just explored and flew near by, leaving Caspian to walk without Cyrril’s weight to off balance Caspian. He could have done for Caspian what Karen was doing, but sensing Karen doing it, went about his own business. Thus they traveled, eating lunch as they walked.
Journal of Steven Caplan: Day 164
Two days out of Skarg. We unexpectedly met some familiar faces. Cyrril swooped in first and landed on Rox’s shoulders. Diana was particularly leery of Karen once she spotted her.
It was an anticlimactic surprise to see Caspian. He briefly looked to be a bit under the weather, and almost grateful to have an excuse to stop. I think he might have been trying to show Karen how strong he is, but she didn’t seem to be buying it. Both were on foot. We all stopped where we met up. Caspian and Karen then spent the rest of the afternoon telling us what had happened between them. Rox and I then began grilling Karen on all she had actually done.
Because of his link to Cyrril, Caspian alerted to the Caplan’s before Karen. Had she been paying attention to her extra senses she would have noticed the Caplan’s for some time before ever seeing them. But with her attention on Caspian, she did not.
“Here they are.” Caspian paused as the family walked into close sight from the other direction.
Karen had been thinking about other things when Caspian suddenly stopped, and pulled her to a stop as she took one more step, their hands still together.
Upon seeing and recognizing them, Karen’s senses passed briefly over the family. Steven was determined to get his family as far as he could as quickly as he could. Rox was relived of anxiety she had previously had, and otherwise shared her husband’s mindset. Diana was as normal as she had ever been, pointing out that Caspian and Karen were again holding hands, while riding on one of the cart ponies. Alex was walking between his parents, holding the lead for the ponies. He seemed a bit subdued from normal.
All the Caplan’s wore arms of some sort openly.
The Mage and the Assassin stood and waited as the family and cart came in the other direction, and then fell into step as they passed.
“Hello,” Caspian greeted.
Karen felt a surge of relief flow out of Caspian at seeing the safety and health of the Caplan’s.
Steven greeted the couple for the family. “Hello Caspian, Karen. We need to talk.”
Rox smiled. Alex waved, and smiled a little. Diana looked a bit pouty.
Karen, her senses refocused on those around her, picked up on Steven’s mood and slight annoyance at her.
“Not surprised to see me alive,” Caspian asked.
“Maybe a little,” Steven responded, without stopping.
They were at a gentle curve of the road as it traveled around a hill on the south side of the valley. Farm lands were to the north, down hill from them. Uphill was some cleared area that was not fenced.
Sizing up Caspian’s movement, Steven led them off the road and up into the scrub.
“We will stop here for now,” he announced. “Depending on things, we may camp here tonight.”
Steven saw to the cart being unhitched from the ponies, and the ponies turned out to graze across the hill. Cyrril landed on the back of the pony he had come to prefer and curled up on its withers. After a few flicks with its tail it left the dragon alone.
Taking a shovel from the cart, Diana and Alex selected a latrine site and used it in turn. Rox and Karen cleared an area for a small fire. Caspian put his usual wards up. Nobody made any move to set more of camp up yet. Diana kept one of her parents always next to her or between her and Karen. Steven got the wood ax from the tools attached to the cart, then seeing no dead trees in proximity, put it back away. Without any usable logs or stumps near by, they all just settled to the ground.