Benjamin marveled at Belian's people skills. With a serious face, a small grin, and a gentle touch of two steel electrodes together, the not-lord had inspired such confidence in the prisoners that they had gladly told him everything about themselves and their mission. They were not, as might have been expected, from some baron or minor liege-lord who had caught wind of the adventurer's plan to steal the spice and made a bid to get it for himself. No, the name that was given was that of the King Terryl of Lox.
"Why?" Belian asked quietly, and set a wet twig on fire with a spark from the two electrodes. The machine hummed and thumped behind them.
"Suppose he wanted the spice for 'imself," murmured one of the prisoners, rubbing at his burnt hands but casting nervous glances at the metal tips and the heavily bandaged jaw of one of his compatriots.
"But he had it!"
"She had it," said Benjamin. "I don't recall her putting any on his food. But why wouldn't she, though? Lokely told us she shared with her father's family."
"Aw heck." Belian looked at Benjamin. "She's probably headed back to the castle, you know.
"The king wanted the spice for himself. Isn't that right?" he stood suddenly and leaned over the prisoner he'd been questioning, eyebrows knit, sparking a beat with the two electrodes in his hands.
"Y...y...yes," murmured the prisoner, trying to look anywhere but at Belian and the electrodes. "What was he going to do about the queen?"
"D...d...don't know...hired someone."
"And how," asked Benjamin, "did he know to send you to track us?"
"One of your men squealed to us."
"Let's wake the others," said Benjamin. "We've got to get back to the castle before the queen. If we don't she's dead and who knows if we'll ever have a chance of getting the spice again."
Two hours later
Grizzly Bear was asleep behind Enoch, Belian and Benjamin flanked them on their own trotting horses; Enoch's men were spread thin in a wedge behind them. It was still dark and still raining, but the searchers were desperate, and the closer they came to the castle at Lox Summa, the better chance they had of intercepting the queen before she could re-enter that fortress, intended by her new husband to be her tomb. The inevitable occurred just as the lights of the city outskirts began to resolve themselves. A body of horsemen bearing the gold-flecked blue markings of Lord Lokely's hall swelled up out of the rain before them. Horns trumpeted, steel sang from sheaths, and the two parties found themselves intermingled, glowering at each other from their horses.