The Sorii and Haaryd tribes feasted merrily. Haaryd’s warriors
presented every horse for sale to the Sorii one by one with great
ceremony. There were over a hundred horses, so the process took quite a
while and Toryn committed a Thalarii breach of etiquette by falling
asleep midway through the ceremony. The fact that he’d consumed a large
quantity of a smooth but potent alcohol had not helped. He woke up
half-buried by soft furs with a female body curled next to his. His
brows lifted in surprise as her blue eyes opened and a smiled curled
“Do I know you?” he asked and mentally kicked
himself. The way his head pounded, he could have been quite active the
prior night with no memory of it. Luckily, she was not offended.
“No.” She smiled. Her hair was light brown, bordering on blond, and
pulled back in a loose braid that was beginning to come undone.
“Oh,” he said and smiled uneasily. He still had all of his clothing on,
so he hoped nothing too serious had taken place. With his luck they
would demand some obscure wedding ritual for simply lying next to a
woman. He glanced around; dawn just touched the sky. The Thalarii
warriors were either passed out in drunken stupors, sitting in groups
talking quietly, or riding their horses.
“I am Colina,” the
girl said. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly
on the lips. Surprised though he was, he enjoyed the act thoroughly
before she pulled away.
“What was that for?” he asked. She
smiled in satisfaction and gestured to Daryna, who stalked away from
camp. He had not noticed her nearby.
“She deserved it.” Colina
grinned. “Always she comes here and flirts with our best warriors,
acting as if no man can resist her. When we saw her making calf-eyes at
you last night, we drew straws to see which of us got the honor of
making her pay. I won.”
“Who is ‘we’?” Toryn asked. She smiled
again and looked over her shoulder. He reluctantly turned and saw a
group of giggling tribeswomen clustered near the main tent. They waved
happily at Colina.
“You think being seen in my bed would upset
her?” he asked and gave the girls a wave which made them squeal happily
and race off to their horses.
Colina stood. “Can’t you tell?
Daryna wants you, Northman. And she gets very upset when she cannot
have what she wants. Even we Sorii know that.” With that, she strolled
to the edge of camp and whistled until a dark spotted horse trotted up
to her. She mounted with no bridle or saddle, gave him a wave and a
dazzling smile and charged away.
Toryn sighed in disappointment. Women! He heard a chuckle and looked over to see Garyn watching him.
“What’s so funny?” he snapped.
“Nothing.” Garyn chortled again as he got up and poked some sticks into
the embers of the fire. Toryn could see his shoulders shake as he
laughed. He snorted and climbed out of the furs, stretching out the
kinks. He felt restless today and wanted nothing more than to be on his
Haaryd approached as if reading Toryn’s mind.
“Greetings, Toryn,” he said. “This is as far as we may travel with you,
for now we head into our own territory. If you will come with me, I
will show you the way to Darii.”
Toryn shrugged on his vest
against the chill of the morning, took a slab of half-cooked meat out
of Garyn’s hand while passing the fire, and followed the chief. He
chewed on the steaming haunch.
Bloodsong had been saddled and
awaited him with the chief’s horse. When Toryn approached, the stallion
stretched out his nose to see if Toryn had brought him any treats and
recoiled with a snort as he encountered the meat in Toryn’s hand.
“Sorry.” Toryn grinned and tossed the bone to Haaryd’s dog, which was
never far from the chief. The mongrel snapped it up with a slight wag
of his tail. Toryn wiped the grease from his hands and mounted.
They had not ridden far before Mikyl and Daryna joined them. Mikyl
looked at Toryn with the same measuring gaze of the previous day and
Toryn, likewise, studied him. There was something about the young man
that set Toryn’s teeth on edge, apart from the fact that the man was
possibly better looking than him. Possibly. By just a small margin. His
black hair gleamed somewhat more brilliantly than Toryn’s and his blue
eyes were riveting.
Something more than competitive envy made
Toryn dislike, Mikyl, however. After all, Redwing was just as handsome
and he didn’t cause Toryn to want to strangle him. Well, not often, at
any rate. He felt a twinge at the knowledge that he would never have
the urge to throttle the Falaran again. He ignored it resolutely and
returned his attention to Mikyl.
Perhaps it was the air of
unconscious arrogance that Mikyl portrayed. He acted like everyone
around him was little more than a servant. Toryn sighed and looked at
Daryna, who glared at him as though she could sizzle him into ashes
with a glance. He raised his brows and flashed her a winning smile. She
stuck her nose into the air and ignored him.
Mikyl’s gaze sharpened.
“Good day to you, Mikyl,” Haaryd said, apparently not noticing the crosscurrents of tension that suddenly filled the air.
“Good day to you, Haaryd-chieftain.” Mikyl smiled, taking his stare from Toryn. “Are you coming to look at the herds?”
“In part,” Haaryd said. He turned to Toryn.
“Darii lies in that direction, Toryn. Travel southwest until you come
to the River of Grass. Cross it when you can and follow it until it
reaches the coast. Darii will be perhaps three leagues south of the
“You are leaving us?” Mikyl inquired politely. His face gave away nothing. Toryn nodded.
“Indeed. Today, if it is permissible.”
Mikyl smiled, not bothering to hide his pleasure at the words. Toryn
was suddenly glad that his brother had beaten courtesy into him, or
else he might have been tempted to backhand the whelp.
traveling,” Mikyl said, then turned back to Haaryd. “I see he is riding
Bloodsong. Are you finally going to sell him to us, sly fox? We have
wanted his blood in our foals for a long time.”
silent for a long moment while he looked off to the horizon. Finally he
said, “Actually, I am giving him to Toryn, since he is the one who
Toryn and Mikyl’s looks of astonishment were compounded by Daryna’s shriek of outrage.
“What?” she burst out. “Father, you cannot be serious!” The old chief sent her a quelling look.
“I am quite serious. This young man has far more need of Bloodsong’s speed than either the Haaryd or the Sorii tribe.”
“That is absurd!” Daryna snapped, not in the least bit daunted. “He is an outlander. He will probably sell Bloodsong the minute he reaches one of his cities!”
Haaryd gave her an enigmatic look and Toryn looked at her mockingly.
The chief turned to Mikyl. “Will you excuse us for a brief moment?” he
requested. “I must speak with my offspring.”
troubled, but he bowed his head gracefully and turned his horse about.
When he was out of range of their voices, Haaryd looked at his stubborn
daughter, who stared at Toryn in thinly veiled contempt.
“Daryna,” Haaryd said calmly. “You have been to Darii, have you not?”
She looked at her father and tossed her black-maned head like the horse
“Of course, Father. You took me there, yourself.”
“Then you will remember the route. I have decided to send you with
Toryn and Garyn to be their guide. You will accompany them to Darii at
sun’s rising tomorrow.”
Daryna gasped in outrage. “But Father! You cannot mean that! I will not—!”
“The matter is not open to discussion, Daryna,” Haaryd said in a voice
that brooked no argument. “You will go and prepare your things.”
Daryna was still for a brief moment as her face mirrored fear and
loathing, as well as surprise at her situation. Then she turned her
horse and galloped at full speed back to the encampment.
cleared his throat. “You really need not send her, my lord,” he said
politely. “Garyn and I have traveled half across the world. We should
find Darii with no problem.”
Haaryd smiled softly. “That is a
very polite way to say you do not want her along, Toryn,” he said.
Toryn flushed. “It is not for your sake that I send her. She has become
arrogant and vain. Perhaps a journey will take some of that out of her.”
Toryn had no idea what to say, but he tried anyway. “My lord, this is a great honor, but ...”
Haaryd snorted. “Honor, my enemy’s tripes! It is a curse. But I hope
Bloodsong will make up for the inconvenience she will cause you. You
can send Daryna back when you get to Darii.”
Toryn shook his
head when he remembered the chief had given him the stallion. The old
fox meant it as payment for putting up with his headstrong daughter,
but it was too much. The horse was too fine.
“This horse makes up for every inconvenience I have ever felt,” he admitted. “I cannot accept him.”
“Nonsense. You cannot not accept him,” Haaryd countered. “If Bloodsong
helps to get you out of a tight spot one day, then I must give him to
you. May you ride the path of Shahar.”
Toryn felt a curious
tightness in his throat. “And you, my friend,” he replied to the chief.
They smiled in shared comradeship and rode back to the Sorii camp.
As expected, when they rode out the next day Daryna acted like a viper
that had been stomped. She rebuffed Garyn’s polite questions with
snarled replies that left the sensitive man stunned and silent. Toryn
she ignored, until they were a couple of hours away from the camp and
she could stand the quiet no longer.
“So tell me, foreigner,”
she said scathingly. “How did you persuade my father to force me to go
on this dreadful trip? And to give you Bloodsong, as well?”
Toryn looked at her in amusement. “You have it wrong, child,” he
replied condescendingly. “I would rather have your father’s dog along
than you. Perhaps he felt the same way.”
Her rage was something
to behold. He had thought her angry before. Her face turned bright red
and her eyes narrowed to barest slits. Her fists clenched on the reins
and her teeth ground together until he thought bits of tooth would fly
“How dare you speak to me that way!” she finally
exploded at high volume. Poodik, who trailed them afoot, jumped, looked
at her in surprise, and cautiously trotted around to put Garyn between
himself and the enraged girl. Toryn kept his eyes on the path in front
“I dare whatever I want. Now do be quiet. You are
scaring all the game within a thousand miles and I would like to be
able to catch some fresh meat on this trip.”
Garyn, barely able
to control his laughter, choked suddenly and erupted into a coughing
fit. Daryna’s hot gaze swung to him. He managed to stop coughing
without killing himself and Daryna turned back to Toryn with her head
“If I must ride in such foul company, I believe I
will ride in the lead where the stench will not be so bad,” she said
and kicked her mount into a canter. When she was a barely visible speck
far ahead of them, she slowed to a walk and rode without looking back.
“I think she got you that time.” Garyn grinned.
Toryn sighed. “She is worse than Alyn. At least the Akarskan wench
didn’t mean all the nasty things she said to me.” He was thoughtful for
a moment. “At least, I hope she didn’t.”
“This should be an interesting journey,” Garyn noted.
“I could do with a little less interesting. I just want to get on a
ship and away from our babysitting duty,” Toryn declared. Garyn nodded
and they continued on in silence.
The next week was largely
uneventful. Daryna at first refused to do any menial chores such as
gathering dried cattle dung for the fire, or cooking, or even fetching
water from the small springs they camped near. Toryn retaliated by
refusing to let her eat until she “had something more to contribute
than a bad temper.”
Apparently, she was not well skilled as a
huntress. After two days of attempting to catch her own dinner, she
stalked into camp with two skins full of water and prepared a fire.
Toryn allowed her to cook their meal without a word and that ended the
first battle. He knew she had fought well with her pride, so he kept
his mocking grins to himself.
One night they sat around the
campfire absently listening to Poodik chattering away in his native
tongue. He had conquered his fear of Daryna and now included her in his
conversations. She had quickly learned not to ask what his babbling
meant, for Garyn usually had no idea.
Toryn watched the red
embers snap and sparkle and his mind drifted to nothing in particular.
Then, so faint he almost immediately doubted it was there at all, he
felt the tiniest whisper of his name being called in his head.
He sprang to his feet.
he screamed in his mind, putting his entire will into it. He sent it to
the farthest corners of the earth and raced to the top of the nearest
hill, mentally yelling mentally Brydon’s name until his brain was numb.
There was no reply.
He sank to his knees and barely noticed when Garyn sat down beside him and clasped a gentle hand to his shoulder.
“Brydon,” Toryn murmured dully. They sat listening to the wind for a
long time and then Toryn turned expressionless green eyes to Garyn. “He
really is gone, isn’t he?”
Garyn nodded and Toryn looked away.
“I’ll be fine,” he said. Garyn stayed for a moment and then went back
to Daryna. Toryn stayed on the hill all night, staring at the horizon.
He did not even notice when Daryna came and draped a fur-lined cloak
across his shoulders. His thoughts were far away.
day, things had changed somewhat. Daryna, although she did not exactly
speak to Toryn, did not quite ignore him as avidly as she once had. She
talked to Garyn frequently and seemed to watch Toryn for any sign of
annoyance or jealousy. If so, she was disappointed.
short-tempered with impatience. Garyn asked him about it once when he
complained about how slowly they were traveling.
Brydon’s body is lying at the base of that mountain, unburied. I plan
to lay him to rest properly. Whether in the Redolian fashion or the
Falaran way with fire, I haven’t decided.” Perhaps then he would be
able to convince himself that Brydon was truly dead.
heard his words with an expression akin to horror. "I hope this new
obsession doesn't lead you down the path to madness," he said
carefully. Toryn shrugged off his concern with a ghost of a smile and
urged Bloodsong into the ground-swallowing trot that had become their