THE MIRROR OF WORLDS — snippet 10

 

THE MIRROR OF WORLDS – snippet 10:

 

 

            That reminded him of Tenoctris. Dropping the bloody wool on the body, he stepped quickly to her. She'd collapsed when she shouted the final word of her incantation but she was trying to get up again.

 

            Cashel knelt and put his left arm under her torso. He wasn't going to lift unless she asked him to, but he'd make sure he was there to give her support for whatever she wanted.

 

            "Cashel, cover the fountain," she said in a raspy voice. "Let me be. Make sure that starlight doesn't fall on the fountain."

 

            Cashel pursed his lips. He withdrew his arm carefully and walked to the pool. He held the quarterstaff slanted in both hands again; excitement had washed the recent fatigue out of his blood.

 

            The pool wasn't very big or deep either one; the body, slowly revolving, didn't leave much room. Peering in, Cashel saw the round outline of the buckler that the dying man'd dropped when his muscles spasmed for the last time.

 

            As for covering the rest of the surface….

 

            Cashel looked down at the bodies of the old men. The ground'd been damp from the first; now it was sticky with congealing blood. A shepherd doesn't get picky about what he puts feet in, but Cashel'd tried just out of courtesy to the dead not to step on the bigger pieces.

 

            Courtesy was fine, but sentiment didn't come before need. Rebben was wearing a short cloak; the night wasn't cold, but old men's blood gets thin. Cashel removed it–it'd been pinned with a thorn–and draped it part on the floating body and part on the curb. If he'd laid it on open water, it'd have sunk when it got waterlogged.

 

            There was still a rim of surface gleaming on the other side; moonlight rippled and condensed as the corpse rocked gently. The tunic of the fellow who'd been cut in half was in sections, the jerkin on his torso and the skirt below. Cashel jerked both parts away from the body and covered the rest of the pool.

 

            Rebben's body gave a sudden jerk. Cashel poised the quarterstaff, but that was just a body cooling.

 

            I'm sorry, old man. I'll make an offering to Duzi for you when I get a chance.

 

            Cashel believed in the Great Gods, the Lady and the Shepherd and the Sister, but in the way he'd believed in cities like Carcosa when he was growing up in Barca's Hamlet. They were real, no doubt, and people said they were important–but they didn't touch him. Cashel and other shepherds gave their offerings to Duzi, the figure scratched on a boulder in the pasture south of the hamlet.

 

            He went back to Tenoctris. She was sitting, but she wouldn't be able to walk unaided back to the gig. When the ground got too soft for wheels they'd left the horse, still harnessed, on a feeding peg. It could easily pull up the stake and wander off, but generally it'd just walk in a circle cropping the sedges.

 

            "The pool's covered, Tenoctris," Cashel said, squatting beside the old woman. She looked as gray as last night's corpse; partly that was moonlight, probably. "What should I do next?"

 

            Tenoctris'd scratched a figure with five sides on the ground beside the circle she'd used for the spell she'd come to cast. The new mark was under where she'd fallen so he hadn't seen it before. It made sense that she'd have to do something completely different to tie up the swordsman, but Cashel hadn't thought about it till now. No wonder she looked gray, having worked a second spell!

 

            "We have to get back to the palace at once," Tenoctris whispered. She closed her eyes, opened them briefly, then squeezed them firmly shut. "Cashel, I'm afraid I won't be able to drive. You'll have to."

 

            "Ma'am, I can't drive a horse," Cashel said simply. "Here, I'll help you to the gig."

 

            Folks brought up with horses–like Tenoctris, who was a lady by birth even though she said her family hadn't had much money–didn't realize that most folk farmed with oxen and got where they were going on their own legs. Horses were for nobles and their servants.

 

            "I can't drive!" Tenoctris said, exhausted and frustrated. "I'm sorry, Cashel, I really can't."

 

            Mind, put a nobleman to plowing behind a yoke of oxen and you'd be lucky if the furrows stayed in the same field as they started. Still, that was neither here nor there. Nobody needed a field plowed or sheep watched or a tree cut so it fell within a hand's breadth of where it was supposed to. Nobody wanted Cashel to do any of the things he'd learned to do in the eighteen years before he left the borough.

 

            "That's all right, ma'am," Cashel said in the calm tone he'd have used to settle sheep for the night. "I'll lead the horse. We'll get there."

 

            He lifted Tenoctris in the crook of his right arm, holding the staff at the balance in the same hand. There were things he'd liked about the life he lived in the borough, but he hadn't had Sharina then and he hadn't dreamed he ever would. This was better. And if it meant he kept trouble away from folks like Tenoctris and Sharina who weren't strong enough to handle it themselves–well, that was better than watching sheep, wasn't it?

 

            The gig was only built for two, but that gave Cashel another idea. He'd have called Hareth to help him, but he saw the old man hoofing it away in the direction the other survivors had taken. Well, that was probably as well.

 

            Cashel squatted by the man whose brains he'd battered in, gripped him by the back of the sword belt, and threw him over his left shoulder. The fellow was stiff as a statue; that could happen when you killed a sheep with a hammer, too, though mostly folks in the borough slit its throat with a knife instead.

 

            This time the stiffness was handy because the fellow's hands had frozen on his sword and the double grips of his buckler. People at the palace, especially the soldiers, would want to see those for whatever metal they were made from.

 

            Waddling slightly–the weight wasn't a problem, but it took some juggling to carry two people and make sure the sword in the corpse's hand didn't slice Tenoctris' ear off–Cashel reached the gig. The mare snorted at the smell of blood, but she didn't bolt the way he suddenly realized she might've done.

 

            He tossed the corpse into the far seat, then braced Tenoctris as she climbed off his arm. "It's five miles," she murmured doubtfully. She opened her eyes but couldn't keep them that way.

 

            "That's fine," said Cashel, taking the reins in his left hand and guiding the horse's head back in the direction of the metalled road. "We'll get there fine, ma'am."

 

            He clucked to the animal, wondering what he'd do if it tried to fight him. Pull it till it gave up, he supposed, but the mare didn't make any trouble. Ambling along–he was used to following sheep, and though he mended his pace for this purpose the horse didn't have any trouble in following–Cashel broke into a broad smile.

 

            He'd be seeing Sharina soon.

 

About Eric Flint

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