We’ve been riding in silence for a while when Jallia turns and says to me, “Saddle sore?” And she breaks into laughter.
I don’t have to look behind me to hear the other two laughing, too. So I give Jallia my blackest look.
You see, we’re on the road to Tebestora. Last night, while we were preparing to bed down at a campsite for the night, Mia and Jallia arranged that Katrina would be able to creep into my bed and have her way with me, an experience that remains enjoyable and exhausting, both. And all morning the three of them have been giggling over this.
“That was different,” I say. Now, if only I could explain why!
So Jallia offers an explanation instead. “So now I’m hearing about it from the woman’s side.” She turns and looks straight ahead. “Very revealing.”
“That’s not it at all.” I’m so angry I almost bite off my words.
Jallia says nothing. She just stares ahead, a superior smile on her face.
If I’d had my way, she wouldn’t even be on this expedition. We’re going to get involved in a quarrel between gods, and my baby sister has to come along? But Jallia insisted, Mia insisted, and Katrina said she never argues with her employers, except on military matters within her competence.
I try to sound calmer, more sensible. “It’s one thing for you and me to talk of such matters privately. It’s another for you three to set me up to put on a performance for your amusement.”
Instead of replying, Jallia turns to me and says, “Have you parleyed with any gods before?”
“On my own, no,” I admit. “Sarton has occasionally dealt with them, always with a lot of preparation and protection. We’re going to be confronting them with very little of either.”
“So we’re risking our lives,” she replies in somber tones.
“Which is why I didn’t want you on this expedition at all, Jallia. I wasn’t just trying to be the overprotective older brother.”
“But if we don’t stop this, we might end up dying anyhow.” Jallia shakes her head. “Was this how you felt facing the dragons?”
I emit a chuckle. “I was too preoccupied trying to find them and then to fight them to be scared.” And I see a chance to make a point. “No, the closest I felt to what you’re probably feeling now was when I proved to myself that Mia was a fairy.”
“But she’s so sweet.”
“She could kill us all in an instant.” I look back at her. She sees me looking at her, and gives me one of her quiet smiles. I turn back to Jallia. “Fortunately, she seems little inclined to do so.”
Jallia adopts a saucy tone. “And we know why that is, don’t we, lover boy?”
I sigh. Is the whole trip to the Tebestora school going to be like this?