Really nothing fancy to say about this one.
â€œWill the madam be having anything to eat?â€ The bartender, a tall, thin man, rubbed his short moustache as he looked Alina up and down. She smiled up at him.
â€œWhat are the choices?â€
â€œWe have cipolla to eat, or just fish.â€ The bartender paused. â€œTo drink, there is jasmine tea, ale, wine, or watered wine.â€
â€œCipolla sounds lovely. And tea.â€ The bartender nodded, and Alina sat back at her table, looking around the inn. Sheâ€™d spent the last few hours slipping around town, chatting with people, and generally poking her nose where she wasnâ€™t sure if it belonged, and she couldnâ€™t find any evidence that this place was anything more than it seemed. The thought should have reassured her, but somehow it didnâ€™t.
â€˜Cipollaâ€™, as it turned out, was a dish made primarily out of haddock, onions, and some sort of green that she wasnâ€™t familiar with, all boiled together and served on a platter. She wrinkled her nose slightly at the smell, but took a taste. Then she coughed and reached for some water. The bartender grinned. â€œItâ€™s very good, yes? A bit spicy for a non-nativeâ€™s taste, perhaps? We use the best local peppers.â€ Alina managed a smile and nod, and took another cautious bite. She resolved to see if there were any better-tasting local delicacies around, and forced back a laugh. After years of being the concubine of a Dynast, sheâ€™d gotten used to fine meals, and her weeks on the road didnâ€™t seem to have toned her tastes down.
She glanced over as Lodaris entered, and raised a hand. He smiled slightly, and strode towards her, sliding easily into the seat opposite. She smiled back, and nodded to him. â€œI see you got your meeting with the goddess.â€
â€œHow did you know?â€
â€œYour hairâ€™s damp.â€ Lodaris raised one hand to his head, and then grunted. Alina chuckled and took another reluctant bite of cipolla. â€œSo, what did she have to say?â€
â€œWe can stay without interference. Andâ€¦â€ He paused. â€œShe also gave me much to think about.â€
â€œDid she.â€ Lodarisâ€™s eyes narrowed slightly, and Alina let the innuendo pass. â€œWell, thatâ€™s better than I managed. Thereâ€™s absolutely nothing here that would be of particular interest to the Lintha. Certainly not enough for them to let five ships be destroyed. Everybody certainly likes Steel, and there havenâ€™t been a rash of mysterious deaths.â€ She made a face. â€œAlthough, heâ€™s apparantly turning the Lintha he kills into zombies and setting them on patrols outside of the towns in case of a raid. Iâ€™m not sure what I think about that.â€
â€œHm.â€ Lodaris considered faintly, watching the cipolla without really seeing it. The bartender started to approach, and he waved him off with a shrug and a curt â€œTea.â€ Then he leaned in closer. â€œThe goddess suggested that there was a Shogunate base within the heart of the mountain that the Lintha may know of. She seems quite convinced that it is their goal.â€
Alina started to nod, and then frowned at Lodarisâ€™s carefully blank expression. â€œBut you arenâ€™t.â€
â€œDid I say that?â€ Lodarisâ€™s voice was as studiously blank as his expression. He reached out, taking the teacup the bartender was about to place on the table, and sipped from it.
â€œYou didnâ€™t have to.â€ Alina frowned again, studying Lodaris across the table. He set down his teacup opposite hers, watching her in return. â€œWhy do you keep testing me?â€
â€œTesting you?â€ The voice remained polite, absent, but there was a hint of something in it. Pride?
â€œYouâ€™ve been testing me ever since we met. That first attack. Having me chart directions. Deliberately suggesting plans that required me to learn Seatongue as quickly as possible. That speech about me needing to lead. And now this. Why?â€ For a moment, Lodaris met her eyes, and then he looked down at the table.
â€œBecause you must learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible.â€ When he looked up, his face was even grimmer than usual. â€œThis business with the Lintha is not merely raiding. You know that from your dreams, and I have seen enough signs. Something dark is coming. So. Why does the goddessâ€™s opinion ring false?â€
Alina thought for a moment, and then it hit her. â€œBecause the Lintha are raiders, and murderers. Five ships could have killed everyone here, looted the treasury, and left before the Realm had a chance to respond.â€
â€œExactly.â€ This time, there was no mistaking the pride in Lodarisâ€™s voice. â€œBut they did not. Which means one of two things. Either the armoury is not the primary objective, or they cannot take it immediately. Either way, they are trying to cut off support to the island.â€
â€œWhich suggests a future attack. A big one.â€ Alina sat back, shaking her head. â€œWe should tell Steel about this.â€
â€œI would assume that he already knows.â€
Steelâ€™s home was modest, but far less cheerful than the cabin on this ship had been. Instead, it was decorated in much the same manner as the goddessâ€™s temple had been, with few furnishings and little light shining into it. Steel had been lounging on the porch when the two approached, but now he was pacing back and forth. Off to one side, Jasmine simply shook her head in annoyance.
â€œThatâ€™s bad. Thatâ€™s very bad.â€ Steel sat back in the chair he had been in when Alina and Lodaris had arrived, only to spring from it again and resume pacing. â€œI was just getting used to picking them off.â€ He paused. â€œAnd how come the goddess never told me about this arsenal?â€
â€œShe probably thought youâ€™d loot it.â€ Lodarisâ€™s voice was flat.
â€œMm.â€ Steel sighed, looking around at his companions. â€œWell, weâ€™d better go and take a look. In a few days.â€ He grinned. â€œNo rush, though. You can take time to settle in, first.â€
â€œAre you sure?â€ Alina looked around the town, and then raised an eyebrow. â€œWe donâ€™t know what their next move is going to be.â€
â€œNo problem. Iâ€™ve got a week and a half until I leave again. Weâ€™ll head upisland in about a week. Itâ€™s less than a dayâ€™s hike, so we can make it an overnight trip. No problem.â€ When the others looked unconvinced, Steel grinned again. â€œSeriously. Whatâ€™s going to happen in a week?â€
Alina didnâ€™t know, but she had a prickling up her spine that suggested she was going to find out.