*****"I don't think we should be here right now," Bryn muttered.
"You could be right," Llaswyr said. He was confident that they couldn't be seen. Lying belly down in the straggly weeds, their grey uniforms would blend into the background. He pushed aside a frond of heather to get a better view of their horses being led up the road that zigzagged across the outcrop and through the gatehouse into the castle. "Whose idea was this?"
"Mine." Bryn sighed, "I'm never going to hear the end of this, am I?"
Llaswyr gave him a humorless smile. To be fair it wasn't all Bryn's fault. No one was holding a knife at his throat when he agreed to this jaunt. But the chance of seeing the castle for himself was too good to refuse. He wasn't going to let Bryn off lightly just the same. "Probably not. You know why?"
"Go on. Enlighten me."
"Because, Bryn, we left in such a hurry I didn't take the gem shipment out of my saddlebag before we set off and when he finds out, my father's going to have my balls."
"Mmmm. That's about the only thing that'd save me. Want to go in there," Llaswyr nodded toward the castle, "and see if we can find it?" He accepted Bryn's obscenely jerked fist as refusal.
"Seen enough?" Bryn asked.
Llaswyr had seen more than enough. Mighty Catref it was called and now he knew why. The legends hadn't exaggerated its size or its apparent impregnability, even after five hundred years of Wildlander occupation. It was the color of the place that amazed him, though. Built of what appeared to be polished ledspar -- but that was impossible -- nevertheless, it glittered in the weak, winter sunshine with a vague purple tinge. A pair of octagonal towers guarded the gate and two-by-two protected the corners of the outer walls, while single towers split the length of the wall that he could see. The roadway's design ensured that no one could ride to the gate at speed, and any who approached would be in bow range the entire time. It was said that four men could defend that gate for a year if they didn't run out of arrows. He believed it.
They slid back down the bank of the cutting and as they scrambled across the streambed, he lost his footing. Bryn grabbed his arm. "Careful Llaswyr! I'm not going to carry you back. How long d'you think it'll take us?"
"Too blasted long." They were a half-day's ride from where the rest of his unit was camped. Sergeant Talin hadn't been happy when he'd announced that he was going to take Lieutenant Bryn on a scouting mission; he'd be less happy when they ... "Wait! You do still have the treaty don't you?" Bad enough that he'd lost the gem shipment bound for Iostyn along with two horses, failing to deliver the treaty to Lady Glasyn would really put paid to any hope he had of forgiveness. In his mind's eye, he could see his father's angry glare.
Bryn's jaw dropped, then he clenched his teeth, sucked in a breath and looked distinctly uncomfortable. And then he grinned, patted his chest and tossed a malformed salute in Llaswyr's direction. "Right here, Captain. I do follow orders sometimes y'know."
Llaswyr shook his head, rolled his eyes and said, "You're a krell, you know that?"
"And you're a sheep-poking --"
"Now! It was only the once." The long-standing joke between them. He ducked the fist that swung toward him, "Come on, 's go. You can take the rear."
"I still think we should have gone straight to Iostyn. This Rhynissa diversion is ... well it's just that, isn’t it? A diversion. Face it my friend, your time's up."
But he didn't want to face it, and if he was honest Bryn was right. He shouldn't have taken the treaty from the messenger, but Rhynissa was not that far from their track. Even now, if nothing else went wrong, they'd get to Iostyn by First Night Eve. Probably. Possibly. And he needed time to think up a reason why the gem shipment was missing. The truth wouldn't do.
Bryn's voice behind him, "I'll bet you ten dramels we'll get back before midnight."
"You think we're going to stroll?" Llaswyr squinted at the sky, "Make it sun down and you're on. That is, if you can keep up with me."
As he set off at an easy lope, he thought he heard Bryn swearing under his breath. But he might have been wrong.