“You,” it said. It sounded afraid. Afraid of me? She couldn’t look at it.
“She killed it with one blow and from a knife?” the Weasel asked, incredulously. Babi didn’t answer him. Her lips were firmed in a thin line. After a moment, she turned to Dalthon. “Drag it off into the woods and kick snow over it.”
The assassin was too surprised to argue or complain. Before he grabbed the thing’s heels and began to drag it away, he inclined his head to Malora. There was something in his eyes that hadn’t been there before. Respect?
Babi turned to the Weasel and interrupted him. “Get the fire going again and warm some water.” The Weasel hesitated, but at another sharp look from the little woman, hurried to the task.
Each time he had stood watch... “You knew, didn’t you.” It was not a question.
Babi met her eyes then lowered them to her hands, which lay on Erron’s chest. The blue light and its healing magic flowed into the thief, suffusing him with color and health. With a sigh, the thief’s body relaxed and Malora knew he was just sleeping.
“You knew what was happening, what’s been happening since Patinara, and did nothing.” Her anger was cold, not hot this time, tempered by all that she had endured, all that had been forced upon her without explanation.
“The water’s getting hot,” the Weasel called.
Babi nodded. “Get some blankets.” She watched the wiry man duck into the shelters to gather them before she turned to Malora to answer her. “Yes. Is my saying it supposed to mean something? You already know the answer is yes.”
“What did he do to you to deserve this?” Malora demanded, gesturing to the young man in her arms angrily.
“Him? He has nothing to do with this. It’s you.”
“Me? Killing him is my punishment? Punishment for what? For my father building that machine? Itt was never his intention..!”
“I’ve got the blankets.” The Weasel returned, laden with his salvaged woolens.
“Good. Help me with him.” Babi took one of Erron’s arms while the Weasel took the other. Malora averted her eyes, not wanting to meet his questions as the two hauled the thief off between them.
“Bring the hot water,” Babi ordered over her shoulder as they disappeared into one of the tents.
By the time Malora brought the water into the tent, they had gotten Erron undressed and snug amidst the blankets. Babi motioned for her to set the pot down then ripped strips off her cloak to serve as rags. These she handed to Malora to dunk in the pot.
The tent flap suddenly opened and Dalthon stood in the doorway. “I dragged it as far as I could and was about to bury it, but it turned to dust.” Babi nodded and the assassin let the flap fall back into place. Without being asked, he took up the second half of the watch.
“Wash your hands,” Babi commanded, “but don’t get the water all bloody. Use the rags.”
Malora looked down at her hands and for the first time, saw the blood staining them. Hurriedly, she took out a soaking rag, lifting it by its corner and began to scrub, trembling violently. It took three rags to get the color off, but she could still smell the iron tang on her skin. Her stomach turned over and she excused herself to vomit outside in the snow.
When she stumbled back inside, Babi stood, drying her hands on her shirt. Despite the woman’s orders, the water was pinkish. “Where did you go?” Malora questioned, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
The Weasel still eyed her curiously, half in awe, half something else, but she ignored him. After a moment, he stood and walked out, leaving the two women to talk.
Babi eyed her oddly then turned away. “I went to take a piss. Is that all right by you?’
Malora frowned, taken aback by the mundaneness of the answer