'Verse/characters: Trickwood Unification; Donel, various
Prompt: 34F "locked"
Word Count: 1686
Notes: Before Dón arriving in the Trickwood. I could do without working my way backwards all the time. Sheesh.
Early sections of this reference truth, lie, truth (talking about Hernén having multiple wolfpacks around) and downriver, uphill (Ruadhan trying to work out which of Joceline's horse-masters was the one who taught horses to fight).
He didn't think Ulysse was lying. Did think his brother might not have seen the wolves growling at one another; even down in Teras they'd had an idea of just how busy the man was, and the week he was spending in the Keep-City arranging extra supplies to go up the Arvore hadn't shaken the conviction. Ulysse was busy.
He'd still made time to catch up with Dón, had sketched river maps from memory and shared excellent cider. He hadn't been able to remember the third of Joceline Sandoval's horse-masters either, but Ruadhan's oldest had, much to Dón's private amazement. He'd expected to need to ask Iarlaith, but Jared had gone digging through his desk and come up with an old map and the name Siorsa Ganza.
He hadn't been able to give Dón any idea as to where his father had gotten to, but that was no surprise. Dón had lost him before he'd even left Teras, and he'd had the advantage of proximity. He hated that Ruadhan could do that with a half-day's start. It made his shoulderblades itch, even with four Bordeaux underfoot and every advantage being on the home ground of the Keep gave him.
After all, it was his little brother's home ground too.
The Bordeaux were smart enough not to bring that up, even when he asked them to stay behind when he went up the Arvore. The argument lasted a good three days, and he realised as they were pulling into the dock nearest the Ganza horse-grounds that he'd just brought wolves to horses. He blamed the distraction; if he'd thought he could get away with it, he would have sent them back to the Keep or up the Ret to the rest of the pack. As it was, he just requested they stay on two feet and downwind as much as possible in deference to their host.
That at least, Kotone and Barra didn't argue. They'd argued everything else, even after he pointed out that he didn't want to upset whatever delicate balance his younger brother had managed among the wood's local packs. He wasn't willing to trust Ulysse's claim blind.
Neither were they, but they had to agree that touching off a war because they followed him into someone else's territory was gauche. It took a lot of arguing to manage that; if Barra wasn't packleader within a decade Dón would be shocked. He came at arguments from unexpected angles and gave verbal ground reluctantly, enough so that Dón was starting to consider asking if he had any interest in ships. Ulysse could use that, better than Dón could.
Sweet-talking Thales Ganza--Siorsa Ganza's son or grandson, full of familiar blue eyes and dark hair and temper--out of horses turned out tricker than finding Siorsa Ganza's name and persuading the Bordeaux to remain at home put together. Dón would have taken his business elsewhere in sheer frustration if the Ganza horses hadn't been so obviously, astonishingly blasé about having wolves around, two-legged or not. As it was, he just had to resist the urge to treat Ganza like the brother he strongly resembled.
They eventually compromised by agreeing that someone of Ganza's choosing could come and check up on the horses at random intervals, and the Ganzas had the right to decide which mares were bred, and which of the foals were gelded.
Dón could only hope that whoever Ganza sent up the Arvore after them would be willing to follow the Ganza horses wherever Hernén wound up sending them. He harboured no illusions that they'd stay in the places Dón knew from Ulysse's maps and descriptions, not with what his brother had said about their younger brother's amibitions.
Accounts settled, contracts signed--Dón paid out of his personal holdings but signed his full name--Ganza agreed to deliver the horses to the near-public stables near the Keep within a week's time, and Dón headed back to the Keep to relish civilisation a little longer.
It didn't really work. Aleron knocked on the door to his suite two days after getting back. After asking after various absent Bordeaux, Allé said "Joveta and I are out after that nest Ruadhan reported tomorrow, but I can't find him. Tell him thanks if you see him, will you?" and Dón had to ask what was going on.
His little brother, having planted the idea of getting fighting horses out to the boys in Dón's head, had apparently found a few for himself--not Ganza's--and headed out overland before Dón had even gotten back from Teras. He hadn't taken his personal keys, but had snagged several others. Including one hooked to Allé's inbox, because there'd been a map sketched on the back of a food-wrapper deposited there the day before, annotated with griffin-like strikes and a possible nest location in Ruadhan's shipworm scrawl.
Dón pinched the bridge of his nose, resisting the desire to mutter a curse. "Joveta might want to make sure her arsenal's intact."
"It's not," Allé laughed, "but he asked first. Think he talked her into access to her ammunition account, too--I know he was asking her about it."
'Wonderful,' Dón thought, but didn't say aloud. "At least he was polite about it. Where are you headed, again?"
Allé tried to explain, but after they'd crossed currents twice he summoned a piece of sketch paper and a pencil to show him. They had to shoo Akemi out from under the table; there wasn't enough room for their legs and her under there, and she wandered off grumbling. Dón assumed he'd find her under his desk later, and went back to resisting the urge to annotate Allé's map with Ulysse's information, because if what Allé was describing was accurate, Ruadhan wouldn't hit water--or the trade routes associated with the rivers--until he fetched up well within Hernén's territory.
It was a very Ruadhan approach, on the whole. Dón would go up the obvious route with supplies--including the horses--and Ruadhan would indulge his habit of appearing secondhand, his wake visible in others' mouths.
First time he'd used the twins for it, to Dón's knowledge, and he was reluctantly impressed. Irritated beyond the saying, but impressed.
When Barra came in, Dón left Allé to the wolf's hospitality. Ordered a round of beer for them from the staff member he found in the hall outside Ruadhan's suite, to be polite, and waited until the man had walked out of sight before breaking the lock on his little brother's door with two well-placed twists and a crunch of metal.
One of Joveta's rifles was waiting for him on the table Ruadhan used for writing music down. Dón knew the table's surface was actually a mosaic of coppery waves, but would never have been able to guess it from the state Ruadhan had left it in. Grumbling curses--one of which hit a booby trap somewhere in the room and exploded in a puff of blue smoke--Dón collected the rifle, slid the bolt closed with practiced fingers, retrieved the leather carry-case meant for a saddle draw from the pulled-out chair, and a key that was labeled Deming Supplies from underneath the rifle.
His little brother's card-case took more searching. He caught painful shocks to his fingertips off the pen jar, one of the bookcases, and the door leading into the bedroom, but eventually went digging through the writing desk to better success. Ruadhan didn't use it for its intended purpose, didn't even have a chair at a height comfortable to sit at the desk, but it was built into the bookcases on the wall and it apparently made a good place to tuck things Ruadhan wanted to find again. Dón found a sheaf of wine-pressors' songs tucked in one of the drawers, a palm-sized sketch of Keluki-harbour in another, an enamel-and-filigree bracelet he suspected had been their mother's, and two other card-cases before he found the right one.
He'd been expecting another zap, but the case didn't resist an inspection, or being pocketed. The pen he used to leave a note in the doorjamb about repairing the lock did zap him, and he was happy to see that Allé had left while he was away. Explaining the rifle would have been easy. The singes on his knuckles, less so.
"I'm not even going to ask," Barra remarked as Dón closed the door behind him. The wolf wasn't quite laughing, but it was close.
"You already know the answer," Dón grumbled, depositing the rifle on his desk. The card-case he tucked in with his own. His little brother might have some sort of summoning element attached to it, in which case it could be pulled from his pocket as easily as Ruadhan's desk, or he might not, in which case Dón could throw it as his head whenever Ruadhan showed up again.
The next morning, Deming Supplies proved they knew Joveta's rifles well; he started describing the lion chased into the forestock and the woman who'd answered the key replied by confirming the interlocked feathers carved into the padding at the butt of the stock and where the magazine attached. The rifle was one of his sister's shorter-range guns, he was told, heavy enough to bring down a griffin but not recommended for full-sized manticore. Ammunition was replaced by putting two empty magazines together so that the half-spells carved in their sides touched, preferably on the ground or another solid surface, where they would be exchanged for two full magazines. If he needed special rounds, or if any of the spells carved into either rifle or magazines started fading, he should call.
Circuitous inquiry--the woman knew Aleron well for obvious reasons, and Ruadhan had apparently come to do his own inquiries in person--netted the information that Ruadhan had two of Joveta's guns, one of which was heavy enough to deal with a manticore.
He also apparently had a sword, and Dón had to wonder if Aleron had checked his own arsenal or if Ruadhan had asked permission there, too.