After reclaiming her pipe, Nima watched Constance softly puff on it until she was asleep. Nima settled in with the pages, eventually slipping into slumber herself.
Eventually, a shifting pressure caused Nima to groggily wake. She felt hot rancid breath on her neck, and bristly hair scratched her cheek. The scent of strong drink washed over her as her body went rigid in fear. Looking down, she realized that young Lunoun was in her arms. Nima managed to squeeze the girl enough to wake her. She saw the look of alarm in the jade eyes, although it quickly was eclipsed by fury.
Lunoun never broke eye contact with Nima when her small hand swung out fast and hard. Nima heard a howl of pain as the strike hit home. In an instance, the company was on their feet, racing forward, dragging the weight off of Nima. She heard Anse’s voice, slurred, and howling in outrage. The sound broke off with a thud. When she gained her feet, the pages drew around her in a protective circle. She saw the three older warriors driving him away presenting a flowing series of attacks as though the trio were acting through one mind.
Constance and Ulrich shifted into the roles of distraction while Selig moved in. The nobleman was fast and efficient, landing blows with not just his fists, using his entire body as a weapon, dealing crushing blows on the large man. The fight only lasted a matter of seconds, but seemed interminable. Lunoun pinched Nima, causing the priestess to resume breathing as Anse hit the ground.
Ulrich walked over to where Osa should have been on watch. Nima’s eyes drifted over to where the woman’s gear should have been next to her lover’s possessions. There was only his. Ulrich stormed back and followed her gaze. He drew in a deep breath. Closed his eyes, and was obviously trying to control his emotions.
Constance walked over to Anse’s possessions, dumped them into his bedroll, and gathered the bundle. She dragged the pile back to the crumpled form on the ground. It was thrown down beside him and words were spoken, but too low for Nima to hear. Anse dragged himself up, obviously in great pain. He stumbled away with what little he owned.
After watching the man disappear into the darkness, Selig turned and approached Nima.
“Are you alright,” he asked the priestess.
“Yes, my lord,” she sighed, the excitement and nerves draining away.
Turning, he addressed Lunoun.
“Well done, young one. Thank you for keeping watch over her.”
Nima, stunned, looked from one to the other.
“You expected this? How could you have known?”
The younger woman looked surprised, saying: “We have been suspicious of him for weeks. He was always hovering near you and trying to touch you. Not to mention how he looked at you when certain none were observing.”
Nima’s face turned thoughtful, then she nodded, apparently coming to terms with Lunoun’s words. Then she remembered Osa’s absence.
“But where has Osa gone?”
Selig snorted. “No doubt where Anse just went. I think she has been optimistic about Madallon ascending to higher station and wants to curry favor.”
Elijah stepped up, armored and fully armed. Selig nodded approvingly and returned to his bedroll. The young man friendly squeezed Lunoun’s shoulder before stirring up the fire and making more tea for his watch. Nima joined him. They shared a look and smiled.
As the night dwindled away, they could hear loud voices from the other camp. The pair remained silent through their watch until the sun began to rise over the ridge, waking the company from their slumber.
The fire had burned low, but Nima brought it back and began making breakfast. She was the first to see Osa and several mercenaries approaching. She hissed at Elijah who called out. Everyone was up and armed in swift movements. The visitors halted in their place.
“My lady demands your appearance,” Osa said. She steadfastly avoided Ulrich’s stare.
Selig’s patience had obviously ended with the ionsults of being treated as an inferior.
“I will strike down the next one to attempt to order me to do anything,” he roared. Even Osa backpedaled, not having seen such a force of personality from her former leader. He drew his sword, and stepped towards her. “What does your harlot want now?” His voice was a threatening rumble.
Osa’s voice began to treble, and she stuttered, obviously terrified.
“You are accused of murdering three of her soldiers.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Ulrich snapped.
Osa realized that she was in danger of being surrounded and, without a word, turned and fled. Nima looked around and saw Constance sheathe her sword. The squire walked over to her lord and spoke low and quickly. After a few minutes, he replaced his own to its scabbard. He walked over to fire, still breathing heavily. Ulrich retrieved the pipe, filled and lit it before passing it to Selig.
“I want to know what happened here before we leave,” he eventually said.
As one, the company began to nod in agreement.