The next day, Crow spent most of his time with Hazel on a halfhearted search for Jaxon. The group of fugitives had split off into patrols of two—Alistair and Rikki made up the other—to scour the forest on the southeastern side of their camp in an attempt to find the band of thieves. Of course, he knew they would find nothing, since they weren’t even close to the part of the outer villages where Jaxon’s camp was really located, but he pretended to look anyway, so they wouldn’t know he knew more than them.
As he had expected, they came away empty-handed at the end of the day and had to turn around with no new information about the criminals they were after. The failure of the hunt was beginning to take its toll on Hazel, who broke down crying on their walk back. The sight of her tears sent a stab of pain through Crow’s heart, but he had no words to console her. How could he even try, when he was the sole reason why they hadn’t caught her husband’s killer? So instead of offering any words of sympathy, he said nothing and simply waited for her to let out her frustrations without interruption as they headed back to the camp.
The second day didn’t go much better either. This time, Alistair went with Hazel, and Crow went with Rikki as they searched the northeastern side of the forest. At first, Crow kept his guard raised high around the female thief, but as time passed, it became clear that she didn’t intend to make any moves on him today. He supposed her new tactic was to strategically time her attempts when Penelope was around, since he had proven to her that he wasn’t going to do anything with her behind the knight’s back. Besides that, she was surprisingly focused in her search for Jaxon. He had never seen her put so much effort into anything before. He hadn’t realized it until now, but Simon’s death must have impacted her much more than she had originally let on.
So, by the end of the day, when they had found no trace of the thieves they were after yet again, she was in an especially foul mood.
“That rotten, no-good bastard,” she cursed viciously as they walked back to their camp, empty-handed once more. “I want to wring his neck!”
Crow flinched slightly at the intensity of her voice. “I’m sure we’ll find him eventually,” he said slowly, trying to reassure her. “The outer villages are vast, but he can’t hide forever.”
“Yeah, well he’s doing a pretty damn good job so far,” Rikki shook her head and raked her fingers through her hair, causing the long, black waves to cascade around her slender neck. “I just don’t get it. We’ve been searching for him everywhere, and there’s been no trace. How can anyone be so skilled at hiding their tracks?”
Because we’re not even close to the place where he set up camp, Crow answered silently. “I don’t know,” he lied. “But no one is perfect. He’ll slip up eventually, and when he does, we’ll catch him.”
“I know,” she sighed. “I just wish he would hurry up and make that mistake already.” He expression turned cold. “I want to make him pay for what he did to Simon.”
Crow nodded wordlessly. He understood her hatred of Jaxon perhaps better than anyone else. Not only had he lost one of his closest companions, but the murderer was now threatening the life of the woman he loved. He wanted to see the thief leader’s head roll probably even more than she did, but he couldn’t do anything about it. As long as Jaxon had his sword against the knight’s throat, his hands were tied. The murderer would continue to roam free, and there was nothing that he or anyone else could do to stop him.
Rikki seemed to catch his desolate look and placed a hand comfortingly on his arm. “Come on,” she said quietly. “Let’s hurry back for supper. Maybe we’ll have better luck tomorrow.”
“Maybe,” Crow nodded, averting his gaze so she wouldn’t see him grimace at the lie. He followed her lead as she picked up her pace, eager to get back to the camp and forget about their futile search for Jaxon as the next problem of how he would approach Penelope that night arose in its place.
Crow spoke little to his companions as they all sat around the hearth for supper together. Fortunately, his silence didn’t stand out, since they were all in a sour mood from the unproductive patrols. However, while they were probably all mulling over their failure to find Jaxon, he was busy formulating the lie he would tell the knight to convince her that Gavin had been lying about his meeting with the killer. He needed to come up with something solid enough to throw her off without leaving room for suspicion.
Once he felt like he’d come up with a reasonably believable story, he set his empty plate aside and rose to his feet, stepping over to grab his cloak in preparation to leave for their next meeting. He murmured a quick goodbye to the others and then walked out into the brisk night air, sending up a prayer to the gods that she would believe him as he made his way north towards the clearing where they had last met during the night.