His grandniece Fionna did nothing to hide her desire to be away from the scene as soon as possible. She also did nothing to hide her displeasure with the guardsman, once she learned that he had never ridden before.
To everyone’s shock, it was Simkit who came to his rescue.
“It doesn’t matter, Milady,” the Thamadin declared. “I must carry him anyhow.”
It was several seconds before anyone spoke. It was the mercenary captain Koursh who found his voice before Rogan’s normally talkative grandniece.
“Are you sure, Milady? You would let that man ride you?”
Rogan winced, and he saw Fionna react in similar fashion. Koursh spoke good English, but he wasn’t a native speaker. He was not learned enough in the language to know the second meaning that someone who had spoken it since childhood might have heard in his words.
If Simkit knew that meaning, she showed no sign of it. She simply replied. “It won’t be the first time I wore a saddle. It would be dishonorable to cling to my pride when the need is vital. Help me switch my packs with Brutus’s tack.”
He wouldn’t waste his time defending the Thamadin’s dignity if she couldn’t be bothered, but he did wonder whether the woman should take on such a burden. She’d given birth only a month before this. Knowing too little about the biology of her species though, he chose simply to probe about her reasons.
“Why do you need to carry him, Simkit?”
“Milord, he and Meadhbh must stay together. And as Lady Tatoan exhausted herself, I’m the only one here who can assist him if Meadhbh’s condition turns worse. Thus, the three of us must remain together.”
“And why he must stay with Meadhbh?”
“He is projecting an active form that is holding back her bleeding. If he loses it, her life would be in immediate danger. It’s best not to risk letting him become separated from her, lest it be disturbed.”
With that, he understood why Jack seemed to be taking unusually keen interest in the child. He was maintaining focus on some first-aid technique.
It took some serious effort helping Jack and the girl get situated in the saddle once Koursh had finished helping Simkit don it. The guardsman had already encountered ‘spooks’ of varying forms, and so it had never occurred to Rogan to warn him in advance about Simkit. Although unplanned, he was privately glad he hadn’t. The entertainment of watching Jack’s befuddled dealings with the Thamadin lass was well worth it.
Of course, Rogan did his best not to let his amusement show.
Jack might have gotten his revenge by watching Rogan’s dealings with her, next. The relevant anatomy of childbirth and nursing were in the appropriate places for humans, not horses. Although Thamadil babies were born quite small in relation to their mothers, physically even smaller than Gireidil or Osril newborns, in fact, they grew to a considerably greater size than humans before weaning. He guessed that was the reason female Thamadil busts were so impressive. With nursing having swollen that volume, Rogan found himself needing to avoid looking certain directions while Simkit helped him get situated with Nam in the saddle of the big bay named Bacchus.
No doubt, that was why the question he had avoided came out anyhow. “Simkit, should you really be galavanting about so soon?”
She tipped her head to one side and frowned. “So soon? Tasmi is close to four weeks old now, Milord.”
“Most women would consider that rather early, lass.”
The Thamadin gave out a deep chuckle. “The women of my race aren’t so weak, Milord.”
He shook his head as she departed. He noticed Nam, below his chin, looking up at him with a tired twinkle in her eye.
“Do you ken she just called you a weakling, lass?” he asked the mother of three.
She giggled, yawned and put her head back down.
They were formed up to leave now, so Fionna turned her horse the direction of the Gireidil soldiers, whom Simkit had determined were still watching them from less than a twelfth-league out. She called out in loud Bruxilan, “These make no claim to this place, having come only to rescue their comrades. These leave, having taken no prisoners, entrusting the several dead and wounded of one’s clan to one’s care.”
She wheeled her mount and began trotting toward the main path northward. The rest of them joined in a line behind her. Thanks to the casualties, Yordj and Rillte, two of the Orosjoese soldiers from Koursh’s mercenary company, each had an unused horse to lead, as did Fionna. Simkit followed behind them, then Rogan, and Koursh, with the last two mercenaries, Agst and Hemme, in the rear-guard position
<Althem, my friend. We need you to keep an eye out for us.>
The fight had worn the ancient spirit out. She grumbled in his mind to let Nam do it.
<Nam is clearly more fatigued than you, Althem.>
She actually wanted to leave it to Jack, next.
<Can Jack manage it and keep Meadhbh safe as well? She’s a retainer of our house, old girl.>
His Ijin finally conceded that she was in fact the best available choice and extended her awareness. He soon had the confirmation he needed. The war beasts in the distance continued to keep that distance, and nobody from their recent assailants tailed them.
<Guess we gave them all a pretty good scare.>
Now sufficiently awake to communicate with words rather than thoughts and feelings, his Ijin chided him. <Do not mistake wisdom for fear. They lost badly to inferior numbers. They have few unwounded on their side and several dead. They can see we had no fatalities, and only three wounded out of the fight.>
Althem had been priestess to a Gireidil god of war. She had a tendency to lecture him when she felt he was not giving the enemy due respect. With a private nod, he conceded the point.
Psst! Psst! Click here and join our YouTube Channel