Sorry I didn’t write yesterday. I thought we’d have a calm, relaxing day, like we usually do when we’re not helping Darwin. Usually, Kris and Alex potter around investigating plants and animals and writing up reports. Or we ride out somewhere they can look at plants and critters we don’t often see—or they badger me to bespell them things for them.
Darwin showed up for lunch, like he normally does. I didn’t think anything of it, until halfway through the meal, when he offered, “This afternoon, I could take you to fields with crops I don’t think you’ve seen.”
“That’d be great,” Kris agreed instantly.
I groaned inside. I really have to have a talk with her and Alex—soon–about negotiating with fay. You never take their first offer! Or not without careful thought anyway. Any time you’re bargaining, the first offer is always the one that’s best for the person suggesting it. It’s what they’d like to get, but don’t particularly expect.
I think Bristol would have refused instantly, except that we were eating. Darwin had timed his suggestion for when Bristol and I had our mouths full!
“I don’t know,” Alex said, frowning. “I’d rather see new animals.”
“If we bring back seeds for new crops or Kappan versions of ones we have,” Kris pointed out, “We all get bonuses.”
“True!” Alex agreed, cheering up. He took another bite of his stir-fry.
“I’m sure we don’t need,” I began once I swallowed.
At the same time, Bristol finished his bite of stir-fry and snapped, “We can find them ourselves.”
Alex glanced across the fire fungus at him, startled. “Actually, we might not. We don’t travel much anymore.” He shrugged. “Alfa’s a great base camp, but . . .”
“I know we were sent out to explore,” I said hastily. “But that was when DUDE thought Kappa was uninhabited. Our original orders don’t entirely apply.”
“Finding new crops is always good,” Kris insisted. “Think bonuses, Lacey! Paying off school loans!”
Darwin saluted me with his mug of tea. “You helped beyond your agreement yesterday. It’s only right that I do so as well.”
“That’s right,” Kris agreed enthusiastically.
“It was Alex who gave more aid than required,” Bristol corrected sharply, his eyes narrowing on Darwin. “Yet you offer an excursion Kris would want.”
“So I’d rather see more Kappan domestic animals,” Alex interjected, his mug of tea sloshing as he almost slammed it down in his eagerness.
“There’s a hive ready to swarm,” Darwin continued, inclining his head to Alex. “As I recall, you want bees.”
“I do!” Alex’s face lit up. “We need non-related bees, queens especially. Though drones wouldn’t be too bad either. They still get us bonuses, just not as big.” He got up, forgetting his dinner. “I’m not sure how many bee-containers I have though.”
“I can charm them to sleep until they’re needed,” Darwin promised.
“Then we have to go,” Alex said happily.
“We do,” Kris agreed, smiling at Darwin. “You have a village or fields in mind. I’d like to know about them so we can bring the right stuff.”
“I’d like to know where the place is and if we can ride over,” I interjected, since that was a lot more important to me.
“The village I’d take you to would be several day’s ride,” Darwin admitted. “I’d make a doorway for you.”
“First, you promise that you haven’t called on your friends to overwhelm us there,” Bristol demanded. “Or to invade Alfa and ambush us when we come back.”
“He wouldn’t,” Kris protested confidently.
“We’re sworn allies,” Darwin said, wounded. His back straightened indignantly, and he glared at Bristol. “More than that, your charges are wander-students, marked as permitted visitors, just like you’re marked as their warrior.”
“And as our warrior, it’s Bristol’s task to watch over us,” I reminded Darwin. “You may have given us permission to visit Kappa now, but we didn’t have it originally. He’s wise to be careful.”
“Especially since you shieldknots are notorious for trapping visitors to stay on Greenlost,” Bristol agreed, scowling back at Darwin. “Don’t pretend that you don’t know exactly why I’m wary of you. The only reason you were detailed to meet with us is that your usual traps failed.”
“Yes, but we’re sworn allies now,” Darwin reminded him, but from the way his lips twitched, I think he was proud of his organization’s reputation.
“We need new stocks of bees,” Alex said quickly, looking from one fay warrior to the other. “Bees are vital for any crops, and they’ve been dying on Earth. More genetic variation should help.”
“More beekeepers who had their beehives bespelled to keep mites out and keep pesticides off their bees would probably help more,” I muttered, though we do get nice bonuses for bees.
“Truth!” Bristol agreed, laughing.
“I would not break my word to you,” Darwin stated, frowning at me and Bristol.
“You wouldn’t,” I agreed. “But that doesn’t mean that other Kappans wouldn’t capture us if they saw a good way to do it.”
“I’m a shieldknot, and I marked you as permitted wander-students with my captain’s permission,” Darwin said with dignity. “My word is binding on us all. You have nothing to fear.”
“We’re probably helping more as we are now than if we were captured anyway,” Alex added.
“That too,” Darwin admitted, chuckling.
Bristol nodded curtly, but didn’t look entirely convinced. “I still want guarantees from you that we won’t be attacked there or when we come back.”
“You can’t expect us to accept your offer without any consideration,” I pointed out.
“Alex and Kris did,” Darwin said, his eyes impish.
“Bristol and I didn’t, and even by your standards, as our team’s warrior, he’s in charge,” I reminded him. “So Kris and Alex may want to go . . .”
“We do,” Kris interrupted, frowning at me. “I don’t see why you’re complaining.”
“I’ll explain later,” I promised, glancing at her.
“You know Lacey’s right,” Bristol stated. “I’d be failing in my duties to my charges if I didn’t demand assurances from you.”
“Under normal circumstances, yes,” Darwin admitted reluctantly. “But you’re marked as wander students now. You don’t have to treat me as a threat.”
Bristol only snorted at that.
They argued for awhile about the details, but Bristol did eventually agree we should go. I just wish Darwin hadn’t decided to suggest the trip in the middle of lunch!