“Do you at least know how long it will take to reach this pass?” Stellia asks. “What was the name again?”
“Talvain,” Tylvanor says. “I’d say a week, give and take.”
“A week? We’ve only so much to eat with us!”
“It’d be faster, if you weren’t riding this lumbering nag.”
“My father had no need for a swift horse,” Stellia snaps. “We’re honest people who never had to run from anyone!”
“Is that so?” Tylvanor cocks his head at Phylia. “I’m sure he wishes for a faster horse now, to catch the thief who stole this one.”
The remark stings, all the more because it is true. She is a thief, good intentions or no.
“There you go,” Tylvanor says. “Maybe it’s not just thieves and villains who need to travel swiftly, at times.”
“Maybe,” Stellia mutters. “But we are thieves, you and I.”
“And villains, too, perhaps. It all depends on whom you ask.”
“And if I ask you? Are you a villain?”
Tylvanor chuckles. “Whoever is, by their own account?”
“I would be,” Stellia says. “If I stole without good cause.”
“But that’s just it, isn’t it? Everybody has a good cause, for everything they do. That’s what they tell themselves, anyway.”
“Then what is yours?”
“I don’t want to be a beggar,” Tylvanor says. “So I am a thief. Simple as that.”
“It is pride, then, that turned you to this?”
Tylvanor wrinkles his nose; apparently it is a habit of his to do so whenever he has an uneasy thought. “I have my pride, as well I should. And I wish to stay alive.”
“Stay alive? I can understand not wanting to be a beggar, but surely asking for charity is less likely to get you killed than stealing. To say nothing of honest work.”
“The real question is, who is least likely to be noticed? A young and able-bodied beggar, a traveler looking for work—or a thief?”
“So you’re hiding,” Stellia says. “But from what, or whom? Are you wanted for some terrible crime?”
A sinkhole opens up inside her stomach. What if he is far worse than just a thief?
Tylvanor seems to sense her unease. “You’ve nothing to fear from me. Except to be fed some stolen victuals in the days to come. Though I doubt you’ll object much, once that bread bag of yours is empty.”
“And you? What is it you fear? Old enemies? Or old friends?”
She adds the last bit half in jest, to make light of the dismal topic.
Tylvanor does not laugh. “It seems there’s little difference, in my case.”
He spurs his stallion to a gallop, putting some distance between them.
“Enough chatter,” he calls to her. “Or it’ll be winter before we reach Talvain!”
During the rest of the day, they speak little, and when they do, it is of trivial and more cheerful matters.
But every so often, Stellia catches herself looking over her shoulder.