He stiffened, like the question was some kind of insult. “I’ve been living my life since the day we met. Nothing’s going to change.”
“That’s bunk and you know it. I’ve talked to people around here. They say you came by regularly, but not very often, maybe once a year. You’ve been back every month, at least, to check on us.”
He looked out the window again. “Don’t you ever stop being a journalist?”
“It’s in my blood, I guess. I’d say the Guild put it in me, but I think it was there all along. Now, answer the question – you won’t keep coming back if I leave, will you?”
“What do you want me to say? That you’ve changed my life, the pattern in which I existed for years? Fine, that’s true. But it’s not the whole truth.” He paused for a moment. “I had to keep an eye on Rurek while he recovered. You see, I had been trailing you two for a couple of days. I could have made contact and gotten you off that path before you had your run-in with Spider. But I didn’t and, as a result, Rurek wound up with an arrow in his leg. What was it you were just saying about feeling responsible for people you make connections with? There you go.” He huffed and crossed his arms.
Strefer couldn’t help but laugh. “Don’t be angry, tough guy. I was just asking a question. Which you still haven’t really answered, by the way. I know they pay you for information here, but not as much as you make for bounties handed out by the other cities.”
He stood up fast, like he wanted to leave, but the pouring rain kept him planted. “Which is why this was going to be my last visit here, at least for a while.”
“Oh?” Strefer shifted onto the edge of the bed.
“Rurek’s healthy. You sound like you’re ready to move on. It’s time I moved on, too. There’s a new bounty that’s been announced, a big one. It could really change things.”
“I know I’m valuable, Forlahn, but really, you wouldn’t cash in a bounty on me, would you?” She was fairly certain she knew the answer, but couldn’t be sure.
He reached into his jacket and pulled out a folded piece of paper, yellowed and wrinkled. He handed it to her.
She unfolded it and a surge of anger rushed through her. It was a wanted poster, very much like the one Spider had once shown Strefer with her own name on it. She looked up at Forlahn. “This is a bounty to kill Antrey Ranbren.”
He avoided her gaze. “It’s a wonder it took them this long to issue it. They must have intelligence that she’s come north.”
“So you’re going to track her down and kill her?” It was all she could do not to jump off the bed at him.
“We’re at war, Strefer,” he said as he snatched the paper back. “That presents opportunities that I can’t ignore.”
“Of course you can! You’ve told me over and over about how there are people out there who think the war needs to end, that there needs to be a peace between the Triumvirate and the Neldathi. They’ve made the decision not to get involved in all this.”
“They do it from the safety of their salons or newspaper offices in Greater Telebria or Ventris or Nevskondala. Ask the citizens of Innisport – the ones who are left – whether they think a negotiated peace is possible.”
She sat, stunned, and unable to figure out what to say next. It didn’t take long. “Didn’t you listen to me? Didn’t you hear me tell you what I saw? What I told you about that red notebook? Do you not believe any word of it?”
“This isn’t about you, Strefer.”
“Of course it is! You think I helped unleash all this, don’t you?”
“That’s preposterous. You reported about the past, things that were already done. You didn’t take action because of them. But you’ve gotten too close to things, too close to this woman you’ve never met. You’ve got nothing in common with Antrey, yet you feel the need to defend her.”
“I can still think the war is a bad idea and that she will have to answer for that someday without thinking she needs to have a bullet put through her head some random morning.”
“Why?” he asked, pausing briefly for an answer. “If I could end this war tomorrow with one shot, why shouldn’t I? Why should hundreds, thousands more, have to die instead?”
She didn’t say aloud what she thought of that argument. This was no use, and she had lost any patience for it. “Get out.”
“The rain’s let up,” she said, pointing out the window. “Best leave now while there’s a break.”
He looked at her, mouth open, but said nothing. He put his coat on and opened the door. He stopped as he left, as if he might have one more word to say. Whatever it was, he decided not to say it.