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Chapter Fifteen

Father isnt far behind now.

Kaeritha looked up from the breakfast fire. Leeana was standing beside the road, her raised arm hooked up across Boots withers while she stared back the way theyd come the day before. Her expression was tense, and she stood very still, only the fingers of her right hand moving as they caressed the thick, shaggy warmth of the geldings winter coat.

What makes you so certain? Kaeritha asked, for thered been no question at all in the sober pronouncement.

I could say its because I know he had to have missed me by the second morning and that its easy to guess hes been pushing hard after me ever since, the girl said. But the truth is, I just know. She turned and looked at Kaeritha. I always know where he and Mother are, she said simply.

Kaeritha chewed on that for a few moments, while she busied herself turning strips of bacon in her blackened camp skillet. Then she whipped the bacon out of the popping grease and spread it over their last slabs of slightly stale bread. She dumped the grease into the flames and watched the fire sputter eagerly, then looked back up at Leeana.

The girls face was drawn, and Boots and Cloudy were both beginning to show the effect of the stiff pace they had set. Of course, Leeana and Boots had covered the same distance in twenty-four hours less than she and Cloudy had, but shed been pushing hard herself ever since the girl caught up with her. However furious and worried he might be, Tellian was too levelheaded to risk riding in pursuit with only Hathanthe Lord Warden of the West Riding would be too juicy a target for the ill-intentioned to pass upbut he and his wind brother would be setting a crushing pace for the rest of his armsmen, and Kaeritha knew it.

What do you mean, you know where they are? she asked after a moment.

I just do. Leeana gave Boots one more caress, then stepped closer to Kaeritha and the fire and accepted her share of the bread and bacon. She took an appreciative bite of the humble repast and shrugged.

Im sorry. Im not trying to be mysterious about itI just dont know a good way to explain it. Mother says the Sight has always run in her family, all the way back to the Fall. She shrugged again. I dont really know about that. Its not as if thereve been dozens of magi in our family, or anything like that. But I always know where they are, or if theyre unhappy or hurt. She shivered, her face suddenly drawn and old beyond its years. Just like I knew when Moonshine went down and rolled across Mother.

She stared at something only she could see for several seconds, then shook herself. She looked down at the bread and bacon in her hand, as if seeing them for the first time, and gave Kaeritha a smile that was somehow shy, almost embarrassed, before she raised the food and bit into it again.

Do they always know where you are? Kaeritha asked after moment.

No. Leeana shook her head. Then she paused. Well, actually, I dont know for certain about Mother. I know when I was a very little girl, she always seemed to know just when I was about to get into mischief, but I always just put that down to mommy magic. I do know Father doesnt have any trace of whatever it is, though. If he did, Id have gotten into trouble so many times in the last few years that I doubt Id be able to sit in a saddle at all! Id never have gotten away with running away in the first place, either. And I can tell from how unhappy and worried he feels right now that he doesnt realize theyre no more than a few hours behind us.

Her eyes darkened with the last sentence, and her voice was low. The thought of her fathers unhappiness and worry clearly distressed her.

Its not too late to change your mind, Leeana, Kaeritha said quietly. The girl looked at her quickly, and the knight shrugged. If hes that close, all we have to do is sit here for a few hours. Or we can go on. From the map and directions your fathers steward gave me, Kalatha cant be more than another two or three hours down the road. But the decision is yours.

Not anymore, Leeana half-whispered. Her nostrils flared, and then she shook her head firmly. Its a decision Ive already made, Dame Kaeritha. I cantwontchange it now. Besides, she managed a crooked smile, he may be unhappy and worried, but those arent the only things hes feeling. He knows where Im going, and why.

He does? Youre certain of that?

Oh, I wasnt foolish enough to leave any tear-spotted notes that might come to light sooner than I wanted, Leeana said dryly. Father is a wind rider, you know. If I hadnt managed to buy at least a full days head start, hed have forgotten about waiting for his bodyguards and he and Hathan would have come after me alone. And in that case, hed have been certain to catch up with me, even on Boots.

Since he didnt, I have to assume I did manage to keep anyone from realizing Id left long enough to get the start I needed. But Father isnt an idiot, and he knows Im not one, either. He must have figured out where I was going the instant someone finally realized I was missing, and hes been coming after me ever since. But, you know, theres a part of him that doesnt want to catch me.

She finished the last bite of her bread and bacon, then stood, looking across at Kaeritha, and this time her smile was gentle, almost tender.

Like you, hes afraid Im making a terrible mistake, and hes determined to keep me from doing it, if he can. But he knows why Im doing it, too. And thats why a part of him doesnt want to catch me. Actually wants me to beat him to Kalatha. He knows as well as I do that the war maids are the only way Ill avoid eventually being forced to become a pedigreed broodmare dropping foals for Blackhill or someone. Mother was never that for him, and he knows Ill never be that for anyone. He taught me to feel that wayto value myself that muchhimself, and he knows that, too.

Which wont prevent him from stopping you if he can, Kaeritha said.

No. Leeana shook her head. Silly, isnt it? Here we both areme, running away from him; him, chasing after me to bring me back, whether I want to come or notand all of it because of how much we love each other.

A tear glittered for an instant, but she wiped it briskly away and turned to busy herself tightening the girth on Boots saddle.

Yes, Kaeritha said softly, emptying the teapot over the fires embers and beginning to cover the ashes with dirt. Yes, Leeana. Very silly indeed.

* * * | Wind Rider's Oath | * * *