Leaving the question of the cart, I hurried ahead while the other provka, or untested members of the mercenary company, stared at the blood on my furs. Estevo followed, helping me to stand, asking questions that I couldn’t waste the effort to answer. The merchants and porters we were guarding waved their hands and argued in raised voices. I pushed past them and saw ahead a crowd of provka and tevka, gathered around Vasily Avosha Brobov and Rasakonova Zhrovocha.
Vasily had dismounted and stood at the center of the tevka, in their fine furs and hats and silver jeweley, hands in the air in the grand storytelling style of the Kalughnorans. “She met two others, waiting. In my haste to catch her I nearly raced upon their spears.” Rasakonova Zhrovocha stood before him, arms folded. He had a fine black mustache, gray-tinged, and hard eyes beneath thick brows and a burn scar that boiled flesh into his beard on one side. I pushed through, more by virtue of disgusted movings-aside at my bloodied appearance and reek than by my depleted strength. Estevo hissed to me, asked what had happened, what I was doing, but his protests subsided within the crowd.
“How many fought you, Vasily Avosha Brobov?”
“What did you do, Vasily Avosha Brobov?”
The gathered tevka shouted questions, but he waited for quiet before going on. “They had numbers, and I was far from any other, so I drew my blade and thrust the point to the nearest knave’s face. ‘You can’t fight all three of us,’ the green-garbed woman said to me. ‘You must see that.’ ‘I do see that,’ I said to the woman, my blade a hair’s breadth from her comrade’s eye. ‘Deliver that which is ours, and your companion will keep the means to see it, too. You’ve taken property of the Bear’s Tooth.’ At your company’s name, I saw them quail, great Rasakanova.”
Zhrovocha’s gaze flicked to me where I stood, holding my ribs and covered in blood. I thought to speak, but then Vasily caught my eyes as well. The threat was plain. What could I say of a tevka, and myself still a lowly provka, before his fellows? Should I have called him a liar? In my state there would be no answering the certain challenge that would result, and even uninjured I wasn’t certain of beating Vasily Avosha Brobov. Through the pain of my broken ribs, I felt the long scar on my belly warm. I had learned in forced service to the Lonireilians the price of questioning a captain in front of his fellows.
“So,” Zhrovocha said, after too long a time. He returned his attention to Vasily. The tevka watched them. By this time they’d all noticed me and the blood on my furs. As they, together, held their breaths for a moment, my own breathing filled the bright afternoon air and spread over the snow and road.
“And him?” The speaker was Ivanyaska Broveschka Prupov Zhrovocha, and she jabbed a long finger at me. Her voice was iron behind her wool scarf and her black eyes shot to Vasily.
He waved the back of his hand at me. “Get out of here, provka dur Nashak. There’s work to do.” He then looked back to Ivanyaska. “The idiot fell when racing up to help. Mashed his face on rocks. A good thing, too. He might have cut me instead of them. Luckily, by that time the woman had given over the bag that she stole. She and her knaves went into the forest, running like dogs.”
Ivanyaska looked at me. Zhrovocha looked at me. “Is that so, Serehvan provka?” Zhrovocha asked.
Vasily stared at me, still holding the goods I had recovered, not he. He held them out in triumph, but the glare he gave me was anything but celebratory. His jaw tightened and his eyes burned, ice bright and ice deadly. He bared his fine teeth in the joyless smile. “It’s alright, dur Nashak. Accidents happen.”
I met their gazes in turn and then studied the befouled snow. “I fell,” I said.
“Let’s go, Heshim.” Estevo led me away.
The company healer saw me a short time later. I could taste ash. I had two ribs broken, a shredded lip, cut forehead. Two fingernails had come off in my glove and, now that it was warmed by the little brass hand-furnace in the healer’s wagon, my hand had swollen and gone red. My head ached, but not from the wounds.
When I looked up at a shadow darkening the wagon’s doorway, it was tevka Ivanyaska.
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