THE CLEAVED WORLD: Chapter 8

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Chapter 8: THE RIDER

As they reached the city gates, Lea went to one of the guards, a powerful man with a particularly well-tended polearm. She pulled her hood full forward, shadowing her face.

When turned to the dun side, her hood and cloak did good work obscuring who she might be. The Rider was known as a lonely wanderer, happening upon need and trouble by providence rather than intention, and she was known in some places as the Black Rider, or the Rider in Black, for her black leather armor, black cloak, black hair, black horse. As a whole, people did not bother their imaginations to think she might appear to them in any other fashion, so her dun cloak served her anonymity well, and traveling now with companions likely deepened her mystery.

Normally, obscuring her identity as the Rider was a matter of convenience primarily, so that she could move freely and in solitude. Now, however, she and Xian had work to perform in Haresh, and part of their plan hinged on when and where she revealed herself as a hero of legend.

So she went to the male guard and shadowed her face. Keenly aware of her reserve of magic, and the battles she soon faced, she made no magical effort to obscure herself beyond the glamour of her eyes.

He squinted suspiciously at her and said, “Speak.”

“There is no one working the stables. No hand or master. The beasts have gone untended for near a day, by the look.” Aradros was unharmed, but he was angry and restless. The stablemaster was fortunate the building was still standing. “Where should we”—such an unfamiliar word to speak, we—“address our concern?”

The guard before her grunted and turned his head to his match across the gateway. “Gradda?”

The female guard came over. “What’s the trouble?”

“The stable,” the male guard answered. “She says it’s not tended.”

“The master was arrested yesterday. I don’t know or care about the stable today. Talk to Calmarrra. She might know.” The female guard seemed more suspicious and less helpful than her counterpart, though she’d offered them information.

“Calmarra?” Lea asked.

“The innkeep,” Xian answered. He gave the guards a tip of his head, friendly and grateful and conciliatory all at once. “Come, my heart”—he gestured to Lea—“we’ll return to the inn and see about our mounts.”

She followed him but didn’t take his offered arm. When they were through the gates, she said, “’My heart’?”

He grinned and pulled Mya close. “We are best disguised as a family, are we not?”

Lea considered Xian’s bright grin and the girl’s matching beam. Mya was rumpled and smudged from their efforts in the stall. Her braids were in need of redoing. Her dress was soiled and snagged, and her shoes were filthy. But she held Xian’s hand in both of hers and smiled up at them both, and she seemed younger even than her age and innocent of all the evils of the world, though she’d been held a captive to those evils.

Yes, a family was their best disguise.

“She needs traveling clothes, and a pack with supplies. And we must acquire another horse. And supplies for it as well.” Turning her head to the narrow swath of sky the canyon allowed, Lea sighed. “It’s near the high sun. We’ve only a few hours, if we mean to proceed with our plan.”

“We do,” Xian assured her. “We have time. First, to the inn. We need our mounts calm and well-tended.”

*****

Calmarra was busy preparing the midday meal and only grunted when Xian tried to talk to her. When Lea pulled her pouch, ready to offer a crescent for the information, Xian put his hand over hers.

“No. Your pouch is light, and we have trade yet to make. We don’t need Calmarra to know what’s going on in Haresh. The inn is filling with souls who’ll share the news for the enjoyment of it.”

With that, Xian left Lea and Mya at the bar and strode into the room, moving as if he’d already sighted his prey. And he had—a lushly shaped, attractive woman with yellow hair sat alone at a table, laying out the board and pieces of Mercenarium. Since she was alone, Lea assumed her to be one who played the game for coin. Xian turned a chair at the table and sat backward on it, and the woman smiled coyly. They seemed to be acquainted.

“If you mean to sit, you eat or drink.”

Lea turned to the gruff voice and saw that she finally had the innkeep’s attention. The food here was unappealing, but nourishing enough, and they might need the room for another night. She pulled her pouch and set a full moon on the bar. “Until midday tomorrow.”

Calmarra snatched it up, but said, “There’s three of you now for room and board. It’s another moon I need.”

For a full moon, they could outfit Mya in traveling clothes and fill her a pack. With the dwindling weight of her pouch in her palm, Lea pondered. She didn’t like to haggle, and she had little skill at it.

Mya, sitting beside her, set her hands on the bar, her delicate fingers spread wide over the scarred surface. She seemed fascinated by the inn, though they’d spent long hours here the day before.

Calmarra turned to her, and a flickering glimmer of a smile trembled at one corner of her cramped mouth. “Hello, lovely. Aren’t you a dear?”

Mya didn’t speak an answer, but her smile grew brighter.

Calmarra turned back to Lea and lifted in her fingers the moon she’d already taken. “I suppose this’ll do. But don’t fill your plates more than once.”

Lea tipped her head in acknowledgement and agreement, and Calmarra went back to her work. Turning to the girl at her side, Lea considered her. It wasn’t the first time in their brief acquaintance that someone had changed their mind when Mya was near. Most of their plan for the night had been devised while she sat with them, a child and a stranger, but neither Xian nor she had balked much at her presence during such talks. Though she was young and spoke little, she seemed to bear outsize influence. But she was quite obviously not a magic-bearer. The physical traits of the magic races were dominant, so all magic-bearers required a glamour to appear otherwise. Because Saapians had long bred with other peoples, their only magic-specific feature was their eyes, but Farborn could not breed with any but their own kind. In their natural forms, they were distinct from still-souled folk in many visible ways. Violet skin and pointed ears being their most readily visible features.

Mya was far too young to bear Saapian blood; only Lea had traveled in Brisira since the Cleaving. Perhaps she was a Farborn already strong enough to conceal her appearance? Very unlikely, but possible. What was impossible, however, was for two magic-bearers to make skin-to-skin contact and not recognize the magic in each other. Mya had taken her bare hand more than once. She’d taken hold of the girls’ bare arm on a few occasions. She would absolutely have felt magic in the girl if there were magic to be felt.

So, then, what was it that made those around her give her what she wanted? Was it only that she was a sweet, pretty young girl who smiled and was gentle? Was there so much charm in a sweet face?

Lea had been born a battlemage, like her mothers before her and her sisters that followed. Saapian magic was a magic of the mind. She was a warrior and a scholar and had not been taught, nor had cause to acquire, sweetness or gentleness. She had emotions, the full range and the deepest depths, but they were to be felt and comprehended, and then controlled. They were not to be expressed.

Xian returned to them with a saunter and a smirk, but he sobered when he was with them, and spoke in a low rumble at the least limit of hearing. “The stablemaster was arrested for using tablets to clean the stable water. He could no longer afford city water in such quantity. His boys are afraid to go to work and be arrested as well. It seems we were fortunate not to be seen watering the beasts ourselves. The master is meant to be sentenced tomorrow on the temple steps, with the rest of this week’s accused.”

Floggings and hangings on the steps of the True Gods. Lea’s people followed the Circle of Sages, not the so-called True Gods, but she had studied, and she knew the depth of devotion felt by those who knelt to this pantheon. It defied comprehension that the people of Greld would stand by while the temple of their gods was bloodied on a regular basis, and their fellows were unjustly punished, by an Advisor who’d flouted the will of the people to keep herself in power.

She answered Xian with a voice as quiet as his had been. “Then what we do tonight will do more good than even we thought.”

“Aya,” he answered in the Greldish way. She’d noticed that in this single span of a day’s time, Xian had picked up a few habits of the people around him. He was fluent in more than language; he seemed to adapt swiftly to his surroundings.

“I’ve kept the room and board until tomorrow,” she told him. “We should attend to our errands.”

He made a friendly nod that was almost a bow, and offered his hand to Mya, who took it and jumped from the stool. Lea followed them out of the inn and into the crush of Haresh.

*****

“You are to do what we say at all times. Follow no one but the Rider or myself, and stay out of the fray. Do you understand, Mya?”

The girl nodded.

After a great deal of discussion, in the girl’s hearing and beyond it, Lea and Xian had come to the mutual understanding that she would not be safe unless she were with them. Despite what they meant to do, and the blood they likely would let, they couldn’t protect her unless she were close.

At first, they’d both agreed she should stay behind, in their room. But as the plan evolved, and they understood the extent of what they intended, and the possible reach of the consequences should the plan go awry, it became clear that she could be taken again or harmed if they left her behind. The rooms were not secure and couldn’t be made so.

Thus, they would take a innocent child into battle with them and hope to keep her out of harm’s way. It galled them both, but they had taken on the care and keeping of her, so there was no other choice.

In their errands of the afternoon, they’d bought a healthy young mare, trained to the saddle but too small for heavy work. She’d be a good mount for a slight rider. They acquired traveling clothes for Mya—boots with good soles, a pair soft leather breeches, and a tunic in a sturdier weave than her dress. A cloak that would serve well for cover from the sun in the day and the chill in the night. A plainer and more comfortable set of smallclothes. A well-worn, but well-made, leather pack. She was dressed now not as an innocent girl from a moneyed home, but as a young wanderer. Xian had also procured for her a small blade in a plain sheath, but he meant to train her to it before she carried it. Lea had found some pieces of clothing that would serve for the Fair One, should they still be alive when she could return to the Hive and free them.

With his handsome smile and some pretty words, Xian had charmed the leathermonger free of a few scraps in different shades. He’d cut them into strips, and now he sat on the bed in their room and wove them into a complicated braid. Mya had expressed interest in the leather he wore around his wrists and neck, and in his explaining, he’d offered to make her a piece to wear herself.

While he did that, Lea had taken the time to braid her own hair tightly at the fore, in several rows, to keep it from her face in battle. Mya sat on the padded bench and swung her head to and fro, studying the different braids her new guardians wore.

The elegant, delicate pattern of the braids Mya had worn when Tantaren had released her hadn’t held up to her sleep or their efforts in the stable, so now her honey-brown hair hung loosely—fresh enough, but unstyled. Watching Lea braid, she picked up a hank of her own hair and attempted to copy it. Clearly, someone else had tended to her appearance, for the girl hadn’t even the beginning of understanding how it was done.

“Here, girl.” She went to the bench and sat beside her. “Like this.” There was no looking glass in the room, and Lea didn’t carry one, but she showed her the way of the weave in her own hair, and then started a simple, single braid in Mya’s, bringing her hands back so she would feel the movements herself. “A braid is useful for those who keep long hair. It can be ornamental, but for travelers, laborers, and warriors, those of us who work hard and need keen sight, circles and swirls as you’ve worn before are pretty to look at but have no use. What we do now will keep your locks untangled and out of your way.”

The girl’s hair was cool and soft, like spun flax—a gentle soothe through Lea’s fingers that had known battle and hardship far more than ease in these turnings in exile. She found herself stroking the hair as she braided it. Mya sighed contentedly. When it was complete, Lea tied it off with a length of thread and laid the tail of the braid over the girl’s shoulder.

Mya patted her head and grinned. “I’m like you now,” she said, staring at Lea’s hair.

Their styles were little alike; Lea hadn’t taken near the time with Mya’s as she had with her own. But Xian chuckled warmly. “You are a tiny Rider, indeed.”

It was no time for light hearts; their immediate future was too serious. Lea caught the girl’s chin in her fingers—there was no magic in the touch, or in this child—and made her meet her eyes. “You are not like me. I am your elder and long trained. He is your elder and long trained. Do not think that because you’re dressed in breeches and boots you are ready for a fight. You do what we say, and you stay out of danger, because danger there will be, all around us. If you disobey, it will find you, and hurt you. Tell me you understand.”

Wide-eyed and serious, Mya nodded.

“Rider,” Xian murmured, a protest in his tone.

She ignored him. It wasn’t the time for soft feelings, either. “I want you to say the words, girl.”

“I understand.” The word wobbled on the girl’s tongue.

Lea released her and stood. She had more to do in preparation. They would start a battle as soon as the moons sat in a dark sky.

*****

When the city was quiet and the light was right—long shadows in the canyon and bright moons in the sky—Lea, Xian, and Mya slipped quietly from their room and crept along the earth-hewn walkway, staying low, pressed close to the wall, all the way to the fore of the city. There, at the point at which the city gate had been erected, the high canyon walls of Haresh sloped downward in rocky mounds to the low earth of Greld beyond.

The climb was difficult, but Lea knew she was capable, and Xian professed the same. He crouched low, and Mya climbed onto his back. “Watch the blade, sweetling,” he murmured as she settled over his battle axe.

Lea pulled her black cloak from shoulders and laid it over Mya’s instead, closing the two up together in her voluminous black. Xian’s armor was undyed boiled leather, and Mya’s traveling leathers were undyed as well. Lea’s leathers were black, so that she could more easily move as she did now—with stealth, in the dark. In everything, stealth was not Xian’s way. It had caused them some time lost to quarrel as they’d made their plans.

Lea’s way had always been quiet; she had taken her path for balance, not acclaim. The legend that had been made of her deeds was not of her design.

In the end, Xian had prevailed to the greatest degree, showing Lea how a forceful, forthright confrontation might best serve their interests. But for now, as they laid the board to their favor, stealth was best.

They scaled the craggy mounds at the mouth of the city, moving carefully so as not to set small stones skittering and alert the guards. When they reached flat ground, they hurried to the stables. Late in the day, they’d heard that the stables remained untended. Those with beasts there had tended their own. But now, in the dark quiet, the beasts were alone.

They ran to the stallion stalls. Xian returned Lea’s cloak and put Mya on her feet. Fortunate they were that the stablemaster had been free when they’d put their mounts in his charge, for their tack and other gear had been secured in a locked room, and the lock was yet intact. Xian broke it, as he’d broken the lock on the water room earlier in the day, and they reclaimed their gear.

Aradros had been stalled for near two full days, and only Lea’s promises of vengeance had kept him from destroying the stable. As she brought him to the center aisle and saddled him in the near dark, he shifted his feet angrily, making the ground shake beneath them.

“Shh, love. Shh. The time has come. Take your rage and fire your heart with it.” She’d barely uttered the words at all; Aradros had no need to hear them. He could feel her meaning in the bond they shared.

“He wants to kill,” Mya said. She’d left Xian’s side and now stood with her, staring up at Aradros’s gleaming black head.

“He’s a warhorse. He’s born to fight and kill.”

“But he loves you. He would never hurt you.”

Lea gave the girl her full attention for a moment. “I don’t know that it’s love we share. It’s respect and understanding. We know and share our strongest feeling.”

“Is that not love?”

The girl might have been asking true, seeking an answer for herself, or she might have been asking as an answer itself. The day before, she hadn’t known the difference between harsh treatment and fair, so it was likely she didn’t know the meaning of love, either. Lea didn’t know how to answer, or whether she should.

“It is,” Xian said, tightening his stag’s cinch. “To respect and understand one another. To share the strongest feelings of our heart and mind—that is love.”

When their mounts were geared, Lea brushed her hand over Aradros’s sleek withers and pushed magic into his flesh. He disliked the feel of magic, especially this spell; he snorted and stomped, and his hide twitched hard as it moved through him.

“It causes him pain?” Xian asked. Deep creases carved his brow as he studied her horse.

“Yes.” Lea could feel Aradros grapple with it, but he knew the need and worth of this magic.

“There is no way not to hurt him?”

Though they had no time for more quarrels, Lea sighed and explained. “I could make a shield around him, and he would only feel the touch of it. But that is a much more powerful and present working. It would take much magic to cast, and it would be obvious to any who attack him, or see him attacked. I must conserve and conceal, so rather than wrap magic around him to make blades and arrows bounce off, I put it through him. I toughen his hide and guard his life. He might take injury, but nothing will go deep enough to do him mortal harm.” She’d offered to protect his stag in the same way, and he’d agreed. “Do you change your mind?”

“Do you do the same to your own flesh?”

“No. I don’t waste such magic on myself. If I have need of greater strength, I will take that, when the need arises. The armor I wear, the shield I carry, and the sword I wield are my protection. But I will give you and your mount the armor and the strength of magic, should you wish it.”

Xian turned and considered his mount. “We’ve battled together for many turnings without the aid of magic. Our bond is strong but different. It is trust more than empathy. He won’t understand this pain, and it could damage our trust. And I am a seven-times Risen warrior. To rely on any power but my own would not be honorable.” He slammed his fist to his chest. “We don’t want the magic.”

“Very well. Then let us ride.”

*****

They rode straight to the city gates, side by side. Mya rode with Xian, before him on the saddle. When they were close enough that one of the guards called, “Hold!” and both guards dropped their polearms across the gate, Lea and Xian reined their mounts to a stop.

“No mounts in the city. They must be stabled. What business have you here so late?” the guard who’d called out asked.

Lea dropped down from the saddle. The guard who had not yet spoken turned her polearm on her. Ignoring it, she stepped forward until she stood with their mounts at her back and the guards before her. She pushed the hood from her head and the cloak back over her shoulders, exposing her head and chest and the armor she wore. She did not draw her sword.

“I am the one called the Rider, or the Black Rider, or the Rider in Black.” Never before had she claimed the name so many had laid on her shoulders. “I yet have no story in Greld, but tonight I make the first. I travel with Xian, seven-times Risen warrior of Boreld, eleventh clanson of the great chieftain Qal of the Northwoods. We are here to free Haresh from the greedy grip of thirst and need. On this night, we free the water of Haresh. We invite you to turn your polearms and join us in this fight.”

“The Rider travels alone,” the heretofore silent guard challenged and then glanced quickly at his partner. He was obviously subordinate to the one who’d spoken first.

“No longer,” Xian answered.

The guard who’d called them to stop, the one in charge, now pointed her polearm at Lea. “We are gate guards of Haresh, and Kyralla is our duly chosen Advisor. We are sworn to her defense and to the city’s. Who you are, I neither know nor care, but everyone knows Greld is forsaken by the one called the Rider. You are not she. You free nothing on this night, impostor. Except your own soul to Ruara’s keeping.”

“Very well,” Lea said, and bowed her head. They had planned for this outcome.

Two bodies and their polearms thudded dully to the earth. Lea lifted her head and went to the guards. She pulled Xian’s Borledan daggers from their dead chests—almost identically placed strikes in each—and returned them to him. He took them from her, raised their blooded blades to the sky, and then wiped the blood on his breeches before returning them to their sheathes.

“Would you take trophies from them?”

He scowled at the bodies. “They are dead already, and there was no fight. There is no spirit there to claim.”

“I told you they would not be swayed,” she said as she swung onto Aradros’s back.

“I did not say the guards would fight with us, Rider. It’s them we must fight against. The people will rise up. You’ll see.”

Forty guards at the least. Against only they two and their mounts, if he were wrong. “I think you overstate the battle spirit of common folk.”

“And I think you have been wandering alone, doing small rightnesses, for too long. You have forgotten, or mayhap have never seen, the fiery rage of the greatly oppressed in congress. And you tremendously understate what it will mean to these people that the Rider has come at last.”

Lea nudged Aradros forward. If Xian was wrong, she would need magic in this battle that she meant to keep for Boreld. The weaker she was when she arrived at the border with Vraelon, so close to the Farborn and the Dark King, the more dangerous that encounter would be—and not only for herself.

Inside the city, near the inn, while they were still far enough from the torches of the water center to be concealed in thick shadow, Xian dismounted and brought Mya down. Lea took her cloak off and handed it down to him.

They’d not yet drawn notice in this quiet hour. He wrapped Mya in Lea’s cloak, then led her between two closed tents and had her crouch low. They’d discussed this, Lea and Xian together, and then with Mya. She needed to be somewhere either of them could readily reach but no one else would easily see. He’d suggested that these narrow spaces between shop tents were forgotten, and thus invisible pockets of peace.

When he was mounted again, he cast a worried look toward the dark space to which he’d taken the girl.

“She’ll be safe,” Lea assured him.

“I hope you speak true.”

So did she. “Are you ready?”

“Aya. Rider—you do me honor tonight. To ride with me, to take this fight I ask of you, and to hear my counsel in the planning of it. You do me honor. I mean to do you the same in this fight.” He slammed his fist to his chest.

He had just given her a great Boreldan compliment. Without knowing what words would make a proper response, Lea simply bowed her head briefly.

They rode forward again. Aradros’s heavy footfalls alerted the guards at the main doors of the water center; they took torches from the brackets and came forward, their polearms poised on the brink between attack and defend.

Xian and Lea stopped. Again according to their plan, Lea went forward alone, this time still mounted. The two guards shrank back slightly at the sight of her mighty stallion.

“No mounts are allowed in the city! What do you think you do?” one of the guards asked.

With a squeeze of her legs and a push of her will, Lea asked Aradros to lift his forelegs. He did, rising tall and rampant, and cried out a whinny that split the quiet of the night in twain. The sound resounded off the walls of the canyon into which Haresh had been built and answered itself again and again. The guards shifted into battle readiness, but surprise and fear shackled their attack.

When the canyon was quiet again, Lea called out in a voice loud enough to carom off the walls, “I am the one called the Rider! I travel with Xian of Boreld, clanson of Qal! Tonight we free this city from the grip of its thirst! People of Haresh, tonight the water will be free!”

As Aradros returned to four hooves, one of the guards loosed her polearm. It went wide and zinged past Lea’s shoulder. When she didn’t hear it strike, she glanced back and saw that Xian had caught it in his hand. He turned it around and sent it back the way it had come—and did not go wide. The guard fell, with her own polearm through her armored chest.

For a moment, all life in the city seemed to pause. The remaining front guard held position but did not attack. Lea held the grip of her sword but didn’t pull it from its scabbard. Xian was quiet behind her. The guards along the other sides of the building held their posts.

But there was no turning back from this fight, and Lea did not mean to lose the advantage. She drew her sword from her back. At the same time, Xian let loose his warrior’s shout, a roar that vaulted back and forth across the city. Lea leapt to the ground and sent Aradros forward with a shout of her own. The guard ran at her, and they clashed together as her stallion charged to the building and crashed into the doors with his massive hooves.

It was the sound of the horse attacking the doors that finally brought the rest of the guards forward. As Lea dispatched the last front guard, Xian rushed up to her side, brandishing his axe, and masses of guards surged at them from both corners of the building.

So far, Xian was wrong. No common folk had joined them in the fight. But the polearm was not a good weapon at close range, and these guards seemed to carry no other. Lea and Xian fought back to back and made the guards come at them. They were too many for their own good, fighting with no understanding of real battle and the wrong weapons for the fight they were in. These guards were used to defense by intimidation and oppression. They stayed clustered together, vying for their chance to strike, and thus as much a danger to each other with their long polearms as to Xian and Lea.

But there were many of them—more, Lea thought, than the two score they’d expected. Xian’s stag was in the fray as well, tossing guards away on the points of his massive antlers, and Aradros had turned after destroying the doors and begun to fight the guards as well.

All around her, Lea noted with only the topmost of her mind. Her true focus was on the fight at hand, the guards right before her, shoving their polearms forward, trying to hook her with the savage fangs. She blocked their attacks with her shield and swung her sword, breaking their polearms and opening their flesh. Behind her, she heard Xian’s grunts and roars, occasionally felt the muscular movement of his back and shoulders as they were jostled together by the crowd of guards. With their mounts at the edges and them in the center, they should have been thinning their opponents out. Bodies lay all around them, piling onto each other like drifts of flesh and bone, so many they were impeding the fight, and yet more guards came.

Suddenly, the blade of a sword flashed forward, catching the light of the Stone in its gleam. It grazed Lea’s face and left a flare of wet heat behind. The guards gave way, and she found herself face to chestpiece with a true soldier, hugely tall and broad, armored from head to toe, and bearing a greatsword twice the heft of her own weapon.

Greld had not kept a military force since the Cleaving. It was a dead land of nomads. In every part but Haresh, it was lawless and ungoverned but for the code of the traveler.

She knew not whether this new foe were man or woman, but she knew they were not Greldish. This was an Elleren warrior, and by the look of their sword and armor, one who had fought the ice giants in the War with No Victory.

Greld was a long way from Ellerema. A long and unforgiving journey for a warrior to make alone. Few knew as well as Lea this truth.

The fighting had paused, and a rough circle had formed. Lea glanced around and saw that the people of Haresh had roused after all. They stood against the walls, and on the stairways and walkways of the levels above. They bore no weapons, not even shovels and forks, but were only observers, waiting to see who would prevail, and what lot they might face when the fighting was done.

Xian had been wrong. These people were too broken to see their own power, and thus they had none.

The soldier raised their greatsword before their faceplate—they wanted single combat. Amongst the piles of dead guards, circled by those who remained, witnessed by the feeble citizens of this poisoned city, Lea—the Rider—had been challenged to single combat.

If a soldier pledged to the Advisor defeated the Rider of legend, the Advisor’s power would be absolute and eternal. But if she declined the challenge, the result would be the same. She had no choice but to fight.

“Rider,” Xian muttered.

“It doesn’t matter,” she answered, keeping her voice low enough that it would not go farther than Xian’s ears. He was dripping sweat and the blood of his enemies. A red wash coated the blade of his axe. It seeped down the handle, onto his fingers.

“Stand back. The girl needs you. If I fall, you will have the hardest fight yet. Get her from here, at any cost. My horse will help. If you call him by his name, he’ll go with you. He is Aradros.”

He did not answer at once, and Lea stared hard until he finally conceded with a single nod.

The soldier was significantly larger than Lea. She sent through her muscles enough magic to match strength with her foe. Then she turned and raised her sword to her face, accepting the challenge.

to be continued …

©2018 Susan Fanetti

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