This is for Dawn, who is about to become a Mamma. She kept pestering me to write more of this story, so here you go, Mamma! (Have Not-the-Mamma buy you some ice cream for you!) To catch up, here’s where it starts.
Fenton and Kilasha, Chapter 6
Kilasha trembled with exhaustion, her muscles protesting their unaccustomed position on horseback. She blinked and her vision refused to lighten. She realized with a chill that night was coming, and fast. She pulled her mount to a stop, heart sinking. She had no tent, nor any blankets.
After cursing herself silently for several minutes, she made her decision. She dismounted stiffly and led her friendly companion into the trees.
The horse nosed at her, his breath comfortingly warm. He lipped at her braid and she laughed, pulling it away from him.
“No, my princeling, that’s not for you.”
The stallion flipped his ear in response and promptly tried to investigate her silks.
It dawned on her he was probably hungry. Spotting a small clearing, she tethered him by his reins and left him happily gorging on the fluffy grass and weeds. She removed the rest of his tack. The saddle was much heavier than she expected. She tugged at it and it came free all at once, tumbling into her arms and sending her onto her backside. The stallion turned and regarded her, his eye curious, and then turned back to his meal.
Upon investigation, she discovered three hidden pockets in the saddle; one at the rear and one on each leg piece. She liberated a small woolen blanket, light but warm, and a felt pad. There were fire-starting tools, eating implements, even a carving knife and half-finished animal figurine made from a soft wood. The badge on a spare riding jacket gave her pause, it bore the insignia of the Castle guard.
She made herself a small nest near the stallion, startled by the warmth of the simple blanket. Further rummaging yielded a pouch of jerked meat, beef by the smell. She broke off a piece and gnawed at it distastefully. As the last light faded from the sky, she drifted to sleep, tired beyond endurance.
A piercing scream woke her. It was the stallion. He reared, snapping the branch she’d used for a tether, and spun. His front hooves slashed out and a rough-clothed man fell back with a cry, clutching his splintered ribs.
She started to sit when a hand closed on her shoulder.
“Don’t move,” a voice grunted harshly in her ear, the odor of foul breath overpowering.
The stallion hopped sideways and one hoof flashed out. Her assailant went over backwards, face a mass of blood.
She stifled her scream with one fist. She whirled, trying to see, but the moonless night offered no help. She wished she’d built a fire, but they would have found her sooner. ‘They found you anyway,’ her mind whispered.
She shivered, staring into the night. She got to her hands and knees. The stallion blew out a sharp breath and she jumped. He crow-hopped sideways and kicked another assailant, a faceless mass in the darkness. She fumbled at her side in the bracken and clutched the knife in a trembling fist.
More steps sounded in the inky black and she made up her mind. Kilasha rose, intending to flee. She backed two steps and the third failed to find purchase. Off balance, she fell. Her head slammed into a rock and she felt like she dropped into a deep, dark hole.