Authors: Jennifer Roberson
I tried not to flinch. "Be careful with that."
"I rather think--not."
I thought about the implications of that a moment. "All right." I sat up, hooked an arm around her, pulled her down on top of me.
Afterward, Del asked, "What do you want to do?"
A delicate pause. "Where is home?"
"Where it's always been. The South."
"But--you said if you ever went back there--"
I interrupted. "I know what I said. I don't care. It's home. And it doesn't matter if there's a price on my head, or if borjuni and sword-dancers come hunting me--"
Her turn to interrupt. "Abbu Bensir?"
I hitched a shoulder. "Him, too. Let 'em all come."
After a moment she asked, "Why?"
We lay on our sides. I scooped an arm beneath Del and dragged her closer, fitting my body to hers, ankles entwined. I set my lips against cornsilk hair. "Because," I said, "it's time I built my home of something more than walls of air. I want brick, stone, wood, tile. I want substance. "
"What kind of substance?"
Del stiffened. "I thought you said Alimat was destroyed years ago in a monstrous sandstorm."
"So it was, most of it. But the bones are there. I'll rebuild it."
"Will they let you?"
"Abbu. The others."
"That will be settled in the circle. And once I'm done settling things, the students will come."
Astonishment was profound. "Students?"
"I taught Herakleio, didn't I?"
"You've always been so ... independent."
"Well, maybe it's time I accepted responsibility." I pondered that a moment. "Some responsibility."
Del snickered politely. "And how long do you think this will last?"
"Ten years," I said evenly. "Maybe twelve. Fifteen if I'm lucky."
She poked me with an elbow. "Be serious, Tiger. You?"
I wanted to smile, but didn't. "Trust me, bascha, I have never been more serious in my life."
She closed a hand over one of mine, carefully avoiding the sensitive stump. Her voice was rusty. "Can you?"
"Oh, yes. It will take time--I have to learn new grips, new balance, new techniques and maneuvers; strengthen my wrists and remaining fingers--but yes. I can." I smiled. "It's called discipline."
"And until then?"
I knew she was thinking of Abbu. "Until then," I whispered into her ear, "you'll just have to protect me."
The stud, grazing contentedly on a patch of nearby grass, snorted.
I glanced across at him. "She can, you know. She's better than I am."
This time it was Del's turn to snort, albeit with more delicacy.
"Well," I conceded, "sometimes. Some days, some moments, some particular movements. Other times, not."
Del laughed softly. "That about sums it up."
"And speaking of particular movements ..."
In mock disbelief, she asked, "What--again?"
I grinned. Then the grin fell away. I pulled her very tightly against me, held her there.
Set my face into her hair. Told her I loved her.
In uplander, downlander, Northern, Southron, Desert, and every tongue in between. All the tongues of the world.
It took a long time.
But Del did not complain.
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