“She’s not keeping up,” Alana yells out to her sister.
Karlyn looks back to her, her horse being further ahead on the trail. “That sounds like her problem. Tell her to pick up the pace if she doesn’t want to be dragged back to town.”
Alana twists herself on her horse and yanks the rope. The girl falls forward. Alana stops before the girl is hauled too far along the ground. Her sister is not going to enjoy more delays, but the girl has been constantly walking for two days since they captured her. She’s going to need a rest.
“What is going on back there?” Karlyn yells out.
Alana can tell Karlyn’s temper is beginning to flare up, and wants to avoid as much of the annoyance as possible. They’ll unwind once they return to town and turn in the bounty. Fresh beer, hot food. Alana shakes her head. We’re almost there. “It’s about time we break for a rest. We can hobble the horses and eat while we still have the shade of the forest.”
It’s not the best excuse she’s come up with on the spot, but it’ll have to do, unless of course Karlyn is feeling like a belligerent—
Karlyn yells, “Fine, we’ll stop for a meal. Once we’re done eating, we’re back to the road.”
They slow down. Alana dismounts her horse and unties the rope. The captive shambles to the nearest tree and slumps against it. At least the break will be good for her. Alana ties the girl to the tree, and leads her horse away to where Karlyn has set up.
The day is decent, and the land has treated them well since they arrived. Alana wonders how long their good fortune will last. It would be prudent to save their reward for the future. They only have enough of a stash to last them a week.
Alana rummages through her bag for food. She pulls and unwraps a loaf of bread from its cloth. Perhaps this idea wasn’t the most sound. She can barely conjure an appetite. If Karlyn notices her not eating, she’ll not hear the end of it for weeks. Best have some bread now and stop the hunger later. With a great effort, she tears apart the stale loaf. Alana pulls out her flask and hands Karlyn her piece.
“Should we give some to the girl?” Alana asks.
“What for?” Karlyn rips off a chunk and sticks it in her mouth. “We don’t offer final meals, and we’ll be in town by tomorrow. I think we can make it tonight if we keep a strong pace.”
A day’s travel doesn’t sound so bad, but even Alana is feeling the ache in her back and legs. Karlyn’s kept quiet since they captured the girl. It’s not just Karlyn. Both of them have become more reserved the past week. All this wandering is having a toll on them. Alana bites into her bread.
Karlyn squints at her. “You’re not hungry. You have that look in your eyes as you’re sitting there. I can’t believe you’d make us stop for her.”
Alana struggles as she swallows her mouthful as fast as she can. “Where did this accusation come from?”
Karlyn groans. She stuffs the remainder of her bread in her pocket and stands up. “Don’t try to hide it, from me of all people. You’ve been like this since we seized her, which wasn’t without its problems. You wouldn’t be so nice if you were the one dragged down a river.”
Alana throws her hands in the air. “Listen, the girl isn’t going anywhere. Congratulations, you ran her dry. She couldn’t escape if she wanted to.”
“Is that what you think?” Karlyn picks up her crossbow. “How about we put our assumptions to the test? You say we should go easier on her while I think she can walk the entire damn path back home. Let’s see how appreciative she is with your kindness. Release the bonds around her hands.”
Alana laughs at her. “You can’t be serious.”
“I am. I know the act. She’s hurt and can barely walk. If you give her the chance, she’ll run as fast as she can. Do it and watch.”
Alana lies back on her elbows. She knows the girl’s legs are jelly from exhaustion by now. “And what do I get if I’m correct? There’s not a lot on the line regarding you.”
Karlyn raises her eyebrow. “I’ll keep my mouth shut all the way until we get our reward. It doesn’t matter how long we’re out or how many rests you feel inclined in taking.”
Anything to quiet her down. Alana puts down her food and heads toward the girl. It’s not possible for her to have any energy. The girl had just run from town a day before they arrived and got the job, and she left on foot. They were forced to ride all over the damn woods and rivers until they caught her, and Karlyn has been incessant in making it back to town. The girl might try to run and fumble, but that’s about it.
Alana reaches the tree. She bends over and unsheathes her knife and starts cutting the bonds free. The rope strands start to break apart as she applies more pressure. As the rope is cut, Alana starts to speak to her about this wager.
The girl punches Alana in the stomach. Alana topples over and a knee slams into her nose. Lights flash and it hurts to breathe in. Alana holds her sides and face as she lies on the ground. She watches as the girl takes off running in the distance. A bad judgment call.
Alana rolls over to see her sister staring down on her. “I told you she’d be a runner, didn’t I? Unbelievable what a little acting will do to you. You’re lucky she didn’t go for your dagger.”
“Fine, fine. Get her or we’ll lose out on the reward.”
She watches as Karlyn walks over to her horse and pulls a bolt for her crossbow. Alana starts to pick herself up from the ground. Those punches were surprisingly strong for such a small woman. She’s going to hear about this incident whenever they get in an argument again. “What’s taking so long? She’s going to escape at this rate.”
“No. She’s not,” Karlyn responds.
The girl has covered a lot of ground since Alana last saw her. It’ll have to be a good shot and... Alana shakes her head. Karlyn loads a bolt into her crossbow and takes aim. Alana follows the trajectory as it fires off the shot. It flashes through the trees and lands in the girl’s back. She falls to the ground.
Alana’s not going to hear the end of this for some time. She grimaces as she holds her sides and stands up. The throb in her face slowly goes away. “Fine shot,” Alana says.
“We’ve missed nearly a day’s worth of travel because of this girl,” Karlyn responds. She walks over to her horse and takes out a bag and a hatchet.
Alana says, “You know we’re going to lose out on any extra because we’re bringing her in dead, right? I’m sure they wanted her in one piece when we brought her in.”
Karlyn closes her eyes and sighs. “She drowned their baby. They’re going to give us the money regardless. Let’s just hurry up and get this over with. I don’t want to be out here any longer.”
Karlyn walks to the girl. Alana feels a thickness in her throat as if someone stuffed down food and left it there. She went too far in letting this whole ordeal go. Alana opens her flask and takes a drink. Not much left. The next river they pass by she’ll make sure to fill it up. She avoids watching Karlyn work as she takes the hatchet to the girl’s neck, so Alana turns to the wilderness.
This countryside is beautiful. She wishes Karlyn would take the time to put her mind at ease and just enjoy the sights. Instead Karlyn constantly keeps her gaze on her feet. This job has made Karlyn more irritable than usual. She presses her thumb against her nose. We’re acting foolish.
Alana has no idea where they’ve ended up, but people still have coin and need, and that agrees with her. Every place they’ve visited has been more and more dangerous. Alana hopes this perpetual wandering stops eventually. She needs to take this situation more seriously. Once they turn this girl in and get the reward, they’ll rest, and drink, and stay at the town for the next week. No matter the offers that come their way.