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“Aye. But not in the barn. That’s the first place they’ll look.”
“And the second place would be under the house.” Liana thumped the wooden floor with her toe. “So where would be a good place?”
“Ah, I think I know.” Chakan fetched a blanket and wrapped up the brass mechanism, explaining his idea. “I won’t be long. Take inventory of what we can use as weapons while I’m out.”
When he returned, almost an hour later, Liana had made a long list. “One thing about farm life, love,” she said, “there’s no end of pointy things lying about.”
“Aye. And I know what bothered me about that carriage.”
“It did seem plain for such a wealthy woman.”
“The Valiant Men of the North—that’s what Reachers call their army—have them,” Chakan explained. They call ‘em juggernauts. Ya have a couple of oxen pull it up a hill, then ya unhook the entire hitch. Plenty of hills in the Reach, ya ken.”
“Your accent is getting thick, heart of my heart.”
“Aye, talkin’ about my old home will do that. So, these juggernauts. An enemy starts up the hill, you loose one o’ these things to smash into ‘em. It’ll carry a whole strike—ten soldiers, give or take—and they can steer it from inside. So they plow into the enemy, then jump out and take ‘em hand to hand. That pointed front end is thick enough to deflect a cannonball, unless it’s really close range. That’s the important thing as far as we’re concerned. Against what we have, it’s an impregnable fortress on wheels.”
“If it’s made of wood, perhaps we could set it afire?” Liana mused.
“Oh, aye, but it would take a while to do more than…” Chakan paused, then swept Liana into a twirling embrace. “I must have married the cleverest woman in all of Termag,” he grinned.
“Aye, my heart of hearts, I would agree,” Liana replied in a horrid parody of Chakan’s Northern accent. “But if it takes too long to burn one of those juggernauts down, what does it profit us?”
“Now say this Misiva sends her boys to take the mechanism. We go to the magistrate with a grievance. Misiva claims she was at some function, with a hundred witnesses, at the time. Sow confusion and doubt, and the magistrate is more disposed to the wealthy anyway. But if one of her properties is marred in a specific way…”
Liana stopped Chakan’s speech with a kiss, long and passionate. “I think it was I who married the clever one,” she murmured against his lips.
“Ah. Our girl will tie the other sages in knots, some day.”
“We’re trying to plan, here,” Liana purred. “If you keep talking like that, I’ll end up dragging you to bed instead.”
“I fail to see the problem, beautiful one.”
“Eh, you’re right. We can plan some more afterwards.”
On the night before market day, the juggernaut rolled quietly along the road that ancient maps called Sunset Coast Highway. The horses wore boots, and the wheels were wrapped in soft leather. Neither boots nor wrappings would last long, but stealth was needed only until they reached their destination.
The carriage rolled past one farm, where someone lounged on the porch with one lit candle and a jug of ale for company. They passed Liana’s farm, then turned about and stopped. Two men emerged, their clothing a darkness reflecting the surrounding darkness. Without a word, they hustled directly toward the house—
“Unh! Ah!” one of them shouted.
“Quiet, ya lout!” the other hissed. “What happened?”
“The untidy fools left a rake out here. I’ll have a bruise for sure tomorrow.”
“Nothing for it. Move a little slower, now. If they heard, they heard. Nothing they can do about it.” They continued, spotting and avoiding other hazards. “Eh, I wonder if they expected us.”
“No bloodshed, the mistress said. Unless it’s needed.”
“Yar. Maybe they’ll give us the need.” He rapped on the front door.
Liana opened the door, yawning, candle in hand. “What is it?”
Hands seized her, and she felt a knife point at her throat. The candle fell and snuffed itself before hitting the floor. “Cry out and die,” one of them whispered.