Other Worldly Ways (Anthology 1) (16 page)

BOOK: Other Worldly Ways (Anthology 1)
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When Belen gave me this assignment, I never realized I'd spend three months on Falchan. Nevertheless, I had. I was home, now, my boots crunching on the snow outside Griffin Manor as I walked toward the house. How do you walk blithely in and announce to your adoptive parents that you're pregnant? No idea. I was making this up as I went along.

Three months earlier, Belen sent me to Falchan in the past to collect Pheran Tiger. I'd been given specifics on where and when to go and given leeway to, in Belen's words, help Pheran as much as I could before his apparent demise, pull him away just before the moment of death and deliver him to Andelida, who would then transport him to those above her to make him Saa Thalarr.

None of us recalled being made Saa Thalarr—we only recalled waking to a smiling Belen and Andelida, and then being transported to those waiting to teach us what they knew. Usually that was my adoptive parents, Kiarra and Adam, with help from Merrill, Pheligar and the others.

It had been barely a year since Dragon and Crane sent me into the past to participate in the Solstice Trials. I'd surprised myself by winning. I hadn't surprised either of them—they'd already seen it in their mortal past. I was still a little pissed at them about it, so we generally skirted the topic. Dragon always made a production of kissing my dragon tattoo whenever we were in bed, however.

Pheran Tiger, Dragon's Lord Marshall, had been kind to me after I'd beaten him at the Trials and that still amazed me—that he could lose so gracefully to an untried upstart. When my assignment began, I was looking forward to playing the Falchani warrior. Raiding bands of the enemy had infiltrated the hills on the border of Falchan, and they'd stolen or burned much of the crops in the valleys below before escaping into the mountains afterward.

It was early fall on Falchan and the snows would fall soon in the higher elevations when I arrived. The Dragon Warlord had authorized a small force to travel into the hills and hunt the raiders, before winter came and convinced them to increase their attacks. Dragon, I'm sure, worried that they'd move in, take over the smaller settlements and entrench themselves, waiting for reinforcements to arrive in the spring.

I agreed with Dragon on this—they didn't need a toehold in Falchan. They needed to be driven back across the border or killed—they'd already killed enough Falchani farmers to warrant a death sentence. With the Falchani army engaged on another front, there hadn't been forces to send to deal with these raiders—until now.

Pheran had been assigned to lead the force against the raiders, leaving the Warlord far behind with the army. That suited me fine—I didn't need another meeting with the mortal version of the Dragon Warlord. I had enough trouble dealing with the Saa Thalarr version and his twin brother, the former Falchani General.

* * *

With my blades strapped to my back and a pack of supplies, I'd folded to Falchan—to the small settlement called Rosegap. There, I purchased food and two horses. I'd have to ride several days to catch up with Pheran; he was already well on his way.

Although it was fall, it was nearly ninety degrees in Rosegap as I peered up at the cloudless sky and relentless sun. The drought had persisted from the previous year, and very little grass remained. All of it was dry and parched where I stood.

Thankful that I'd brought my sleeveless vest as well as the warmer one, I tied my purchases onto the packhorse—I'd been forced to buy grain for both animals as the grass was sparse away from the Rosegap River. Needless to say, I intended to travel alongside the river as much as possible—I hated being covered in dust at the end of the day with no way to clean it off.

 It would take almost a moon-turn for Pheran's forces to reach the lower edges of the mountains, and the farther up they went after that, the colder it would become. With fall underway, the snow would likely be coming early on those slopes.

The cold actually sounded good at that moment, with the heat beating down on me. Dust kicked up anytime a wagon or a horse came through the narrow, dirt track leading through Rosegap. That dust was fine and powdery, and got into everything. I'd have to wipe down my leathers when I left town, and hoped to keep the dust to a minimum after that.

With the unseasonal heat wearing the horses down, I watered them often as we made our way north along the Rosegap River. Nights were better—cooling off quickly as I tended the horses, bathed in the river and cooked a sparse meal before setting my shields and falling asleep on the ground.

On the last day of my trek, I was forced to travel away from the river. Neither my horses nor I appreciated that fact. I'd been given permission to use power, but mostly in emergencies. I was equipped, as Belen pointed out, to fight with the blades I carried.

Crane had given me throwing knives made by Grey House for my victory in the Solstice Trials, and I had those in addition to my blades. If an enemy got close enough after I'd used all six of those blades, they'd have to fight me with steel. My Driskilhin Night Hawk would be held in reserve, unless there was no other way.

The eight-day's ride to the cut off passed peacefully enough, and I didn't see another traveler during that time. With only the horses for company, I had plenty of time to think, which I did in abundance.

* * *

The Lord Marshall sat outside his tent, writing a message to the General when the horse and rider appeared at the edge of his encampment. Scowling in the bright light of the noon sun, he could barely make out the figure sitting atop one horse and leading another. It looked like a child, at first, bouncing easily on that tall buckskin mare, leading a smaller, brown pack pony behind.

Shading his eyes, he managed a better look as the rider came closer. There was no mistaking the hair; it shone in the early afternoon sun. Pheran was ready to roll up the message and hand it to the waiting courier when his attention had been diverted to this latest arrival, and he glanced up at the courier, back to the girl, then carefully unrolled the parchment and added a single line to the letter before rolling it up again and handing it off.

The courier took three strides to his waiting horse, leapt into the saddle and rode off at a gallop. Pheran rose and stretched while watching as the girl asked the guard at the perimeter of the camp a question. She then headed unerringly toward him. He crossed his arms and mentally chided himself for his impatience.

* * *

I slid off my horse in the Lord Marshall's presence, bowing respectfully to him in the proper manner. Pheran waited for me to straighten up.

"And I was beginning to believe I would never see you again," he said gruffly.

"As you see, Lord Marshall, I am here." I held out my arms in a grand gesture. "That's what you get for thinking." I offered a tentative smile.

"Is that the major flaw, in all this?" he asked. "The fact that I was thinking?"

"Maybe not that you were thinking, just that you were thinking wrong, perhaps." I held back a laugh; Pheran was considering what he might do to me for being disrespectful to the Lord Marshall. In all honesty, I wanted to give him a hug, but that would be undignified and improper before his officers, several of whom were gathering to see who'd arrived.

"It has been more than a year since I last saw you, young one. What was I supposed to think?" Pheran frowned at me.

"No idea. Has it been that long? I've been busy."

"Doing what?"

"Well, the last eight moon turns or so, I had to convince several villages to move out of harm's way. That wasn't easy, especially when they didn't believe they were in harm's way," I said. I had done that—Neaborians in the past hadn't taken well to my explanation that their destruction was imminent. "They know better, now," I added.

"I take it some stayed behind?"

"Yeah. Those I couldn't convince. They're dead now."

"Someday, you may have to tell me that tale," Pheran said. "Are you here to join my little party?"

"Yes. That is exactly why I'm here."

"Good. I have plenty of tents, just not enough people. I wanted eighty, I have half that."

"What's the word on the number of the raiders coming across the borders?"

"I have mixed information. One of the men sent down from the mountains says that twenty attacked their village and ransacked it; another says he saw twice that. I don't know if their numbers are growing, if they hold some back, or if the men who reported the attacks are exaggerating. Hard to tell, actually." Pheran shaded his eyes; the sun overhead was definitely a bother. "Have you learned to like beer, yet?" he asked.

"No, it still smells the same to me," I grinned.

"Well, you can come watch me drink, then," Pheran motioned for me to follow him, after ordering an aide to take my horses to the picket lines.

I received a mug of water, and I did watch Pheran drink his beer. He only had one, and I listened while he told me that six small villages had been attacked and robbed in the past eight-day. In the first two, the inhabitants had been left alive. The last four, many had been killed.

"You got here just in time," Pheran informed me. "We ride out tomorrow. There are some of the suppliers here; we'll take four wagons with us instead of the original eight, and that'll take care of us until we get into the foothills. We'll be forced to travel lighter after that, and in the higher elevations we'll go by foot. The horses will just be a hindrance past that."

I sipped water and nodded at Pheran's explanations. "We'll make our last major stop in Heatherfield; it's a major city, believe it or not—all the wool and fur is brought down the mountains and traded there. There's a good road leading in and out of it, and merchants send in grain, cloth and other goods to exchange. There are some good bow makers there, as well. Can you shoot a bow, Devin?"

"I was never taught, no," I shook my head.

"If there's time, perhaps I'll teach you," he said. "I know you don't eat meat, but the rest of us may survive in the mountains by hunting."

Pheran got his second-in-command, Graywing, to show me to an empty tent. "I go by Gray," he said after I'd bowed to him and then followed him at his command. "The night meal will be in two clicks. We'll ride out just after sunrise, so get up early if you want breakfast. We won't be stopping for the midday meal until we reach Heatherfield. We won't find any major sources of water between here and Heatherfield, so a wet cloth at the end of the day is the only bathing we'll get until then," he went on. "We'll be hauling the bulk of the water for the horses. We shouldn't run short, as long as the rules are followed."

He stopped in front of an empty tent. "You get a private tent tonight; we have more than enough, but that'll change tomorrow. We all get a tentmate, beginning tomorrow night. No sense hauling around what you don't really need." Silently, I agreed with him. Pheran didn't need to wear out his animals or his troops. After marking where my tent lay in respect to the others, I went in search of my pack.

I found Shield, the master of horses, and his assistant, Rafton, who pointed me to my belongings—they'd been stowed in a safe area away from the animals. The saddle and other tack they kept with them; Rafton had already polished it and rubbed down my horses, so I thanked him politely and told him I owed him a favor.

He grinned at me; he couldn't have been more than sixteen, at the most. He explained that he wouldn't be traveling into the mountains with us—he was charged with taking the horses back to Heatherfield, once they weren't needed any longer.

After hauling my pack to the tent, I pulled out cleaning supplies—I intended to have a bath while there was still plenty of water. I'd saved a clean gah, too, so with soap, comb and gah in hand, I went in search of the bathing tents.

Winning the Solstice Trials meant my leathers and gahs were now black—I was considered a well-trained warrior by Falchani standards. Crane had requested that all Falchani with the Saa Thalarr attend the ceremony, where I was given black leathers for the first time. He'd also presented the throwing knives. Dragon, the attending Warlord, had given a Falchani blessing after that. I never told them, but I felt embarrassed during the whole thing.

Grateful that only three others were in the bathing tent, I dumped water over my head, washed myself and then set about combing my hair—the scent of food was wafting through from the cooking tents and I was hungry. I'd settled on a small, wooden stool to comb out my hair before dressing in my gah—I'd almost gotten the tangles out of its length when Pheran came in for his own bath. Politely refusing to look as he found a stall across from mine, he undressed quietly while I pulled on my gah.

* * *

Pheran watched Devin shamelessly, smiling as she kept her gaze pointed downward. She'd have to lose that modesty if she were to become the Warlord's mate.

* * *

The cooking tents were a bustle of activity when I made my way there after dropping my things off at the tent. Wearing a pair of light slippers, I avoided patches of dust wherever possible as I had no desire to wash my feet a second time before going to bed. I saw several others doing the same.

A bowl of noodles with vegetables was served when I asked for no meat and then sat at an empty table to eat. Brief thoughts of Camala surfaced as I dipped chopsticks into my food. I'd already searched the tent—I was the only woman in Pheran's hunting party.

BOOK: Other Worldly Ways (Anthology 1)
13.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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