Lee-Lack stared at his grandmother, his eyes full of disbelief mingled with something else.
A mixture of terror and relief, Lee-Lonia thought.
“How strange,” she thought. “Relief and surprise, I can understand why they are there. But terror? Why?”
“Are you certain, Gran? I thought Norri-Nack died with the others, crushed by the collapsed roof of the corridor.”
“There’s no reason for Oldo to lie.”
Lee-Lonia looked with eyes full of suspicion at her grandson.
“Well, I suppose it’s possible. I could have sworn everyone was in the corridor when it caved in. Obviously not, and I was trapped myself at the exit to the Plains. I couldn’t check what was happening at the entrance on the other side of the mountain range.”
“So, Norri-Nack escaped. Good for him. He is my little brother after all, and it was just bad luck that he was with the remnants of the group when… when… when I made my decision. Does he suspect anything? Can he? Did I ever tell him about my predecessor’s traps? Did I tell him how Sanduvar had the mechanism made that could make the fake roof of the corridor that ran through the mountains, and the tons of rocks above it, come down? He was a sick and crazy man, Sanduvar Blacktooth. And a genius. No, I’m almost certain I didn’t tell anything about Sanduvar’s terrible contrivances. Not to Norri-Nack or anyone else.”
“Anyway,” Lee-Lonia said, waking her grandson from his daydreaming, “all that can wait. Why don’t you think it over while you go get another load of gold?”
Lee-Lack Scarminckle gave his grandmother a dark look.
“I told you, Gran. It’s getting more dangerous. I’d hate for my luck to run out, as it surely will if I keep tempting the Gods.”
“Weren’t there precious stones as well?” Lee-Lonia asked. “They’re easier to conceal. You only need needle and thread to hide them in the seams or the lining of your clothes. And they’re higher value for less weight. Less risk as well. We… You can decide about resurrecting the Renuvian Plains Robbers when you return.”
Lee-Lack made an effort not to smile. He had brought most of the precious stones during his earlier trips and hidden them in a safe place not too far from his grandmother’s house. Without telling her, of course.
“Good idea, Gran,” he said. “Do you have anything more substantial to eat? Delicious as they are, a man can’t live on almond cookies and milk alone.”
“I’ll warm up some beef stew with carrots. Made it yesterday. It’s always better the day after. I’m afraid the bread is two days old. It’s hard by now, but still good. You can soak it in the gravy.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Lee-Lack said absentmindedly.
He still didn’t know what to make of the survival of twenty of his men. They weren’t his best men, that was for sure. His best men were all dead. Yet, maybe even some twenty of those who survived would be enough to start over again. A lot depended on the warlord’s intentions. Would he keep Mirkadesh under military government?
“Have you any idea at all what the warlord’s long-term plans are?” he asked.
“No, but I could visit Mirkadesh and try to find out. Someone, somewhere, must have heard something.” She shrugged. “He’s after the gold. Our gold. He might lose interest in the region, or in finding you and the rest of the surviving Renuvian Plains Robbers, whenever he finds it.”
“Our gold?” Lee-Lack thought. “My gold, you mean. But the old greedy cow might have a point. What if I were to take part of the treasure, hide it somewhere, and then let the warlord’s soldiers find it…? That might get him off my back. And once he relaxes his grip on the county, maybe the Renuvian Plains Robbers could make a comeback.”
“What are you thinking?” Lee-Lonia asked.
“Oh, nothing. Nothing important, anyway. Just dreaming.” He gave her a reassuring smile. “But I’ve got a lot to think about on my next trip, that’s for sure.”
“You’re leaving tomorrow?”
He would have liked to take a day of repose, but he didn’t feel at ease anymore in his gran’s company. He couldn’t tell why. It was just an eery feeling of danger he had. Years on the Plains in the company of Sanduvar Blacktooth had taught him to trust his instincts. His horse needed the rest more than he himself did. He would take it easy for a day — maybe two — in a quiet inn he knew. The landlord didn’t ask questions, especially not of a young gentleman who paid in advance. He could sit in the dining room and listen to what other travelers had to say. He might learn something.