First Intermission 14
Turns since TBfGK: 2
They did not stay in Aqua Velva long. As promised, Big Al allowed Jillian to fill her saddlebags. She chose hardtack, nuts, olives and jerky, and bonemeal feed for the gwiffons, enough to keep her on minimum upkeep for five turns. Despite herself, she thanked him and managed to mutter an apology about the fish called Wanda. This led to Al giving her a big, sweaty hug, which she guessed was a reasonable price to pay. He smelled funny. The whole town did, in fact.
Caesar led the stack away into the sky without much discussion. Jillian thought he was brooding on something.
Yeah well, who wasn't?
They didn't follow the water, but turned northwest over scrubby hills that rapidly rose toward a ridge of craggy mountains. Caesar allowed her to trail the stack a bit, with Vinny keeping an eye on her.
Vinny didn't say much either. He simply flew along next to her, keeping exact pace with her while staring straight ahead. She tested him, several times. She'd pull up, or lag back, and he would stay with her as if they were both standing on the same log in a river. But he never looked at her. Never even turned his head.
In less than four hexes, she cracked. "Are you doing that to get on my nerves?"
After a long pause, Vinny finally turned his head, very slowly, and looked her in the eye. "No," he said. "But if I were, you would prob'ly deserve it."
They held eye contact for several long moments before Vinny spoke again. "I am waiting for you to want to talk again."
"Oh," said Jillian. She took up her reins and looked up ahead at Caesar and the other two. They were far enough up that they wouldn't overhear, but she couldn't put her jumbled thoughts together into anything like sensible words.
So neither of them spoke again, until they had entered the next hex.
"If y'd prefer to listen," said Vinny eventually, "I have a rant prepared. I don't usually do that, but this is a pretty good one."
Jillian looked down at the scrub oaks below, and thought about it.
"I don't think I could take a rant," she said. "Summarize."
"You are about to have an audience with my king," he said gravely. "You know what I'm sayin'? I know that don't mean anything to you. But it would be nice if you could pretend to be a person instead of an animal when you meet him."
The air was chilly in this hex, as they climbed in elevation. Jillian hunched forward a bit in the saddle and looked at the increasingly bleak terrain ahead. "I guess it depends on what he wants from me."
"It shouldn't. He's a king. He's my king," said Vinny. "And he's a good guy, too. You should give him the respect he deserves, even if he sticks you in the dungeon. Which he probably won't."
Jillian's mount shivered, a ripple that ran down its flanks. "My father was a king," she said, with bite. "I didn't respect him in the slightest."
"That's your problem," Vinny sniffed. "My problem is that I'm about ta come home from a mission that completely failed, and say, 'Heyyy, King! Meet my new friend here!' And you're gonna walk right inta the royal court and blow yer nose on the drapes."