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SotS Snippet 18[?]a

Fans of Bahzell and Tomenack come on in! Let's talk about David's fantasy series and our favorite hradani!
SotS Snippet 18[?]a
Post by runsforcelery   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 2:31 pm

runsforcelery
First Space Lord

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Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

And here's the second installment:

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CHAPTER EIGHT: Korun in the Spring

Korun was a welter of sights, sounds, and smells — a confusion of the senses made even worse because Kenhodan had grown accustomed to the empty Western Sea. The raucous voices and seething life of the city, especially so late in the evening, daunted him.

He stood on the dock, pack on his back, while Bahzell and a curiously serene Wencit bid Brandark farewell. The wizard’s strange mood shifts worried Kenhodan. Yesterday, he’d been nervous, irritable and brooding — almost frightened. Now he looked simultaneously exhausted and glad, as if the weight of years had fallen on him in an afternoon, chipping holes in his armor, only to let flickers of some strange, deeply quiet joy shine through the chinks. It was good to see the old man smiling, exchanging cheerful insults and jests with the hradani, yet his changing spirits made the redhaired man vaguely uneasy. Wencit was Wencit of Rūm, the bedrock of endless legends and deadly serious history. He wasn’t supposed to be as changeable as Vonderland weather or the unstable slopes of some Wakūo volcano, and Kenhodan tried to divert himself from his puzzlement — and, however little he liked admitting it, worry — by studying the scene about him.

The day’s embers burned over distant Banark Bay, bathing the sky in blood. Wave Mistress’ masts bulked black and hard against the light, and lanterns and torches already lit the docks. A crisp breeze cut through the crowd sounds, flapping awnings briskly, snapping and popping Wave Mistress’ banners. The sunset was an ominous boil of smoke and burning cloud, and he was unpleasantly aware of approaching rain. Was he destined to be rained on in every city he visited?

“Well, lad,” Bahzell slapped his shoulder as he joined him, “be welcome to Korun. Not one of the Empire’s most respectable cities, I’m thinking, but as good a place as a man might ask to be getting his throat slit for a copper kormak.”

“I was just thinking that,” Kenhodan agreed, eyeing the motley crowd.

“Oh, it’s not so bad as all that.” Bahzell inflated his huge chest and grinned. “A bit wild, like all South March towns, but that’s the East Walls, I’m thinking. A man never knows what might be after brewing up there, so folk with their wits about them count on it’s being something nasty, just to be on the safe side. The worst bandits in the Empire are after making their homes up around the Traitors’ Walk, because it’d take half the Army to be rooting them out.” He shook his head and grinned, ears half-flattened. “That’s a job not even the Order would be so very happy about taking on unless it was to happen we’d no choice about it. So the White Water rivermen are after looking after themselves, and it’s a tough, stubborn lot they are. They’ve a hard trade, and they’ve a right to their reputation as the south’s finest watermen, but there’s no one can deny they’re folk as make Korun lively.”

“I see.” Kenhodan watched a cluster of rivermen set upon one another with eye-gouging gusto. “I don’t much care how they manage their civic affairs, if they’ll just keep their knives out of me.”

“Wise of you.” Wencit joined them, and the bubble of laughter in his voice drew sidelong glances from both of them, although he seemed unaware of it. “They are a bit wild, especially during the Spring Festival, but they’re some of the Empire’s best fighters, too. And Korun boasts its share of cutpurses and backstabbers. The Thieves Guild thrives here, so bear that in mind.”

“You sound as if we’re less than welcome,” Kenhodan observed.

“I sound as if I’ve been here before,” Wencit corrected cheerfully. “But don’t expect gracious welcomes traveling with me. I’ll admit I have the odd friend scattered about, but don’t count on finding a comfortable fire to prop your feet in front of. Too many would like me dead — and you with me — and there’re more than a few in Korun, among other places, who’d cheerfully kill us both at bargain rates, no questions asked.”

“I note your deep concern,” Kenhodan said dryly. He watched the brawl for a moment, then turned to Bahzell. “You watch the shadows on the left. I’ll watch the ones on the right, and Wencit can watch our backs. But who’ll watch his back?”

“Don’t get too cheerful,” Wencit growled. “You two might match any assassin in a fair fight, but neither of you has eyes in the back of his head or a poison-proof belly.”

“Aye.” Bahzell sounded unusually thoughtful. “I’d not thought of dog brothers, and Korun’s after being a likely spot for such as them. Oh, not on the docks, but there’s places in Korun as the city guard goes only in platoons.”

“In that case, I suggest we finish our business here as quickly as we can,” Kenhodan said pointedly.

“Agreed.” The hradani checked his bearings. “I’m thinking we’d best head for Lendri Street. There’s a man there as owes me a favor who can guarantee a good price on fast horses.”

“How can you be sure they’ll be fast? Or cheap?”

“Because Fradenhelm’s after stealing only the best and he knows as how I know he does,” Bahzell said simply.

“I thought you were a champion of Tomanāk,” Kenhodan said, quirking an eyebrow at him. “You know, the God of Justice?”

“And so I am,” Bahzell agreed genially. “But I’ve not stopped being a hradani, and my folk are after having what you might be calling ‘contacts’ in places where little details like bills of sale aren’t so very common. And it’s never so very bad a thing for a champion to be having an eye inside such goings-on.”

“You mean he’s an informant?”

“Now ‘informant’s’ a hard, hard word,” Bahzell rumbled thoughtfully. “The kind of word as could get a man’s throat cut, now I’m thinking on it. So it’s in my mind we’d best call Fradenhelm . . . a fount of wisdom, let’s be saying.”

“I should’ve guessed,” Kenhodan sighed, shaking his head, and Wencit chuckled.

They fell into a loose formation and pushed off along a street so crowded that Kenhodan wondered who ran the city by day. Rough-trousered rivermen rubbed against prosperous merchants in silks, hucksters, food vendors, and itinerant entertainers. They were all there — from veiled lady to corner prostitute, from mime to beggar to magistrate’s clerk. They thronged the streets in a wall-to-wall ferment as they celebrated the season of the floods. Here and there a clumsy pickpocket’s fumbling gave him away or an intoxicated rowdy gave or took offense, but a path opened miraculously for Bahzell. Kenhodan wondered if the crowd was moved by recognition of who he was and the green surcoat of Tomanāk or if it was simple prudence, given his towering inches and the hradani’s reputation. But whatever its reason, the press of people parted and let them move with speed.

They crossed a quarter of the waterfront, then turned down a quieter street, and Kenhodan sighed with relief as the congestion thinned. He heard Wencit chuckle at his soft sound and wondered again what could have produced such cheerfulness.

Lendri Street was a good forty minutes’ walk from the docks, where the imperial high road cut through the city’s eastern arc of avenues and alleys. The smells of horse dung and hay hung in the air like a signpost as they followed Bahzell to a long, low building bearing the sign of a rearing horse. Bahzell beat on the closed door with a hard-knuckled fist, and the hollow booming woke a nickering equine chorus.

There was no other response, and after a moment, he pounded again — harder.

“Go away!” a nasal voice shouted at last. “We’re closed!”

“Not to me, you’re not!” Bahzell bellowed back.

“And why not?” the nasal voice snapped pettishly.



“Because I’ll be after kicking this door down, wringing your scrawny neck, and booting your thieving backside to Belhadan!”

“Bahzell?” the nasal voice asked incredulously. “Is that you, Bahzell?”

“And who else is after having the patience to stand blathering through a closed door?! Not, mind you, as I’ll be patient much longer!”

“Er . . . just a moment!”

Voices muttered, then the bolt thumped and the door creaked open. A small, bald man blinked like a mole, rubbing a wisp of straw from his apron, and a nervous stable boy stood a pace or so behind him, fidgeting as he peered around him at the newcomers.

“It is Bahzell!”

“Is it, then?” Bahzell retorted sarcastically, and glared at him. “It’s horses I need — and I’m after needing them quick. A mount each for Wencit and my friend here, and two pack horses. Would it happen you’ve got them?”

“Uhhh . . . . Of course! I mean — Well, that’s to say I can mount one of your friends at once, Bahzell, but —”

The little man stopped to wring his hands.

“But what?” Bahzell asked ominously.

“I don’t have one big enough for you!” the small man blurted.

“And were you thinking I’d not’ve thought on that myself?” Bahzell snorted. “Rest easy, Fradenhelm. I’ve a friend on his way to meet me.”

“Walsharno?”

It seemed to Kenhodan that Fradenhelm was less than delighted to suggest that name, and he wondered why. In Old Kontovaran, it meant “Battle Dawn” or “Dawn of Battle,” which, he admitted, sounded more than faintly ominous, but the stable master’s attitude still struck him as a bit odd.

“Aye,” Bahzell replied, ears cocked and one eyebrow raised as he considered Fradenhelm. “And where else were you thinking I’d find something with four hooves as was up to my weight?”

“Nowhere,” Fradenhelm said hastily. “It’s just . . . .”

“Just what?” Wencit asked, and Fradenhelm turned quickly to face the wizard as he entered the conversation.

“I’ve one mount here that could probably stand the sort of pace Walsharno would set, Milord,” he said quickly, “but not two, and I wouldn’t want to slow him and Bahzell down.”

“And?” Bahzell prompted as the stable master paused, and Fradenhelm’s eyes darted back to him.

“Well, I was only thinking it might be wiser for you to wait until I could find another as good as the one I already have. I mean, if you were to take a room at the Lively Vixen while I looked about, I might be able to —”

“You’re one as always knows where the best horseflesh in Korun’s after being found,” Bahzell interrupted. “So you’d best be saying it straight. Would it happen you’ve the horses we need? And if you don’t, where might such as you lay hands on them?”

“I don’t know. I mean, it is late, so if you could just find someplace to spend the night, give me until morning, I mean, and then —”

“Fradenhelm,” Bahzell said ominously, “you’re after being a thief and a cheat, and well we both know it. Korun’s not my city, and it’s a time or two you’ve been useful to the Order, so I’ve not made it my business to be discussing the Mayor’s matched bays with him . . . yet. But if it was to so happen you couldn’t be finding the mounts we’ve need of, and quickly, it might just be I’d have time to do it while we lie about waiting.”

“What I meant to say,” Fradenhelm said hurriedly, “is that I can mount one of your friends suitably right this moment, and if you’d care to wait, I’m sure I can find another mount almost as good despite the hour. I can send Refram here —” he gestured at the silent stable boy “— to check with Cherthan at the city livery and Terahn at the Gray Pony. Terahn had a Sothōii warhorse he wanted me to look at day before yesterday, and if he’s found a buyer already — and the gods know he may well have — Cherthan always knows where the best horseflesh’s to be found. It may take a while, you understand, but I can guarantee — well, almost guarantee — I can find you what you need. Truly I can, Bahzell! There’s, uh, no need to be bothering the Mayor at this time of night. Really there isn’t!”

“As to that, it’s a few minutes we can spare,” Bahzell replied. “And while Refram’s after running about town, we’ll be looking at this other mount of yours, Fradenhelm. And the pack horses, too. I’ve a mind to be gone by mid-watch, and I’ll not appreciate it if we’re not.”

“Of course!”

Fradenhelm bowed them in and jerked his head in silent command at the boy, who dashed down the street. Kenhodan watched him go, then followed Bahzell and Wencit into the stable. Somehow, he reflected, Bahzell’s . . . bargaining style wasn’t quite what he would have anticipated out of a champion of Tomanāk. It did seem to cut right to the heart of things, though.

Fradenhelm scurried about, lighting lanterns in the front half of the stable. The rear half remained shrouded in shadow, but there was light enough to see the open stalls in the front and Kenhodan felt his eyebrows rise. However and wherever Fradenhelm acquired his stock, Bahzell was right about its quality. The stable was full of horses, all above average and some excellent, and Kenhodan gravitated almost unconsciously toward a tall, gray stallion the color of fog under the lantern light. He had a shaggy, mountain mustang’s winter coat, but the long, powerful quarters and graceful head of Sothōii breeding, although he stood at least two full hands taller than a normal Sothōii warhorse.

“Ah! I see you’ve noticed him, young master,” Fradenhelm purred as he opened the stall’s half door and led the stallion out. “Caught your eye, hasn’t he? And well he should! I’ll stand behind any horse in this stable, but if you’re going to travel with Walsharno, this lad’s the only one for you.”

“No doubt,” Kenhodan said, reaching up to lay one hand on the horse’s shoulder, the rough coat marvelously soft against his palm, while he wondered again who the mysterious “Walsharno” might be, “but I’m afraid he’s beyond my means.”

“By no means! To be sure, such don’t come cheap, but I’m sure we can reach agreement if you’re Bahzell’s friend and travel with Wencit of Rūm.”

“You’d be striking a better bargain because he’s after being my friend?” Bahzell’s eyebrows rose and his ears twitched derisively.

“Not precisely.” Fradenhelm coughed into his fist. “I really meant that Wencit of Rūm carries a heavy purse, and you’re clearly in a hurry. That should produce a mutually acceptable price, don’t you think?”

“Aye, and you’ve relieved my mind, too,” Bahzell told him. “For a moment, I was afraid as how I’d underestimated your greed.”

“You don’t have to meet my price.” Fradenhelm sounded hurt, although the expression of mournful reproach seemed an unnatural fit on his sharp, foxy features.

“Never fear,” Wencit said, reaching for his purse. “He’s a noble beast, and you’re right — we are in haste. Name your price.”

“Forty gold kormaks,” Fradenhelm said promptly.

“Gods!” Bahzell exclaimed. “A noble beast, fair enough, but he’s not after being made of gold! Give him twenty, Wencit.”

“Thirty-five?” Fradenhelm suggested. “You won’t find a finer horse this side of the Wind Plain, Bahzell, and well you know it! He’ll carry the young sir all day on a handful of grain, and not hold Walsharno back while he does it. No need for a spare mount with this fellow!”

“Hirahim was after leaving a son in your father’s bed!” Bahzell snorted. “I’d not give thirty-five for a purebred Sothōii warhorse! Still, you’re not so very wrong about his quality.” The last sentence came out grudgingly, and the hradani reached up to run a huge hand down the stallion’s proudly arched neck. “Throw in his saddle, and it might be we’d give you twenty-five.”

“Saddle, bridle, saddlebags, and blanket — and not one copper less than thirty kormaks!” Fradenhelm replied indignantly.

“Well . . . .”

Bahzell examined the horse thoroughly, skilled hands searching the shaggy coat for hidden infirmities. He peered into the stallion’s mouth and examined each hoof and shoe minutely.

“It’s robbery without a weapon,” he muttered, “but not so much more than he’d be after fetching if it should happen his papers would stand in court! Take it, Wencit.”

“Very well: thirty gold kormaks.”

Wencit counted the money into Fradenhelm’s hand while Bahzell selected suitable equipment from the tack room just inside the stable’s entrance and handed the gear to Kenhodan with a grin. Thirty gold kormaks was a princely sum . . . and ludicrously low for such a beast, if he’d been honestly come by.

Kenhodan had become accustomed to finding hidden talents within himself, but it was especially pleasing to learn horsemanship was among them. His hands were gentle as he worked, whispering softly, and a velvet nose pressed his shoulder. The stallion blew softly, and his ears were as expressive as Bahzell’s as he and Kenhodan felt one another out.

Wencit and Fradenhelm soon reached agreement on two more horses to serve as pack animals. Both were well above average, but Kenhodan noted smugly that the stable master had spoken no more than the truth when he said neither of them was the equal of his own new beauty. Under normal circumstances, he would have been more than satisfied to accept either of them, however, and he found himself wondering once again what sort of mount the mysterious Walsharno intended to provide Bahzell if they needed an even better horse to go under Wencit’s saddle.

Fradenhelm provided two pack frames for a modest fee, and Bahzell and Kenhodan quickly packed their gear onto the horses. In the event, they needn’t have hurried, however, for there was no immediate sign of Refram’s return, and Bahzell paced slowly, smoking his pipe and stopping occasionally to examine the shaggy-coated stallion. The horse stood behind Kenhodan, resting his jaw on the redhaired man’s shoulder with his eyes half-closed as he luxuriated in the fingers reaching up to caress the half-lowered ears.

“I’m thinking you’ve made a friend,” the hradani said.

“And who wouldn’t want a friend like this one?” Kenhodan asked cheerfully.

“No one as I’d care to know. Would it be you’ve a thought about what to call him?”

“I’ve been thinking about that, but I haven’t come up with anything suitable. Why? Do you have a suggestion?”

“As to that, it might be I do. It’s after being a Sothōii-ish sort of a name, but I’m thinking it’s one as fits. Look at that coat; see how it’s after shifting under the light and melting into the shadows like mist? I’m thinking he’ll show gray under the sun, but I’ll swear to silver under the moon. And if he’s not one as outruns the wind, my name’s not Bahzell Bahnakson . . . which would be something of a shock to Leeana, I’m thinking!” He chuckled, then turned serious. “Aye, I think I’ve a name. How would ‘Glamhandro’ strike your fancy?”

“Glamhandro.” Kenhodan tried it slowly, savoring the sound on his tongue. Like “Walsharno” it was Old Kontovaran, and it meant “gray wind of autumn.”

“I like it,” he said. He whispered the name in the stallion’s ear, and the horse flicked his head as if in agreement. “I swear he understands every word I say!” Kenhodan chuckled delightedly.

“Why, as to that, I’m thinking it’s not so unlikely as he does.”

Kenhodan eyed Bahzell suspiciously, then glanced at the wizard. Wencit grinned and settled on a bale of hay, settling his poncho about him, and Kenhodan looked back at Bahzell.

“What do you mean?”

“Any fool could be seeing as he’s Sothōii blood, and there’s no faster, smarter horse ever bred than a Sothōii warhorse. Mind you, I’m thinking this lad is after being something special, however it might be Fradenhelm laid hands on him. He’s warhorse blood, sure as death, but I’m thinking there’s more than that to him. It’s not so very often a courser and one of what they’re after calling ‘the lesser cousins’ mate, but it’s not something as never happens, either, and it’s in my mind as how there might just be a wee drop of courser blood in this lad’s family tree. And any wind rider knows any courser’s after understanding us ‘two-foots’ when it happens we speak to one of them.”

“Like Blanchrach?” Kenhodan asked, seeing a sudden light.

“Eh?” Bahzell’s ears flicked. “No! Coursers are after understanding anyone, Kenhodan, though it’s true enough that it’s only their own wind brothers as can hear them reply.”

Kenhodan bit off a sigh. It was frustrating to think he saw a door crack of light only to have it vanish, and that seemed to happen a lot in his case. Gwynna and the direcat confused him, and he longed to understand the child’s relationship with the enormous predator. But he refused to pry if Bahzell didn’t volunteer information. Still, the hradani’s explanation of the coursers left much to be desired, as well.

“So do you mean the coursers read minds?”

“No, I mean they’re after understanding two-foots’ language. Now, it might be fair to be saying they read their riders’ minds — and t’other way about, come to that — but that’s not the same thing.

“You know the Sothōii well, don’t you?” Kenhodan asked curiously, remembering Brandark’s explanation of Bahzell’s past.

“Aye, you might be saying that,” Bahzell acknowledged, and Wencit laughed.

“And you might be saying the Western Sea’s a little damp,” the wizard said. “Mind you, there was a time — before that unfortunate business in Navahk and his introduction to Tomanāk — when young Bahzell Bahnakson was one of the most accomplished horse thieves in all of Norfressa. Of course, that was before his father put an end to Iron Axe raids on the Sothōii herds. Although I do seem to remember that there was that one raid after that, wasn’t there, Bahzell? That little business with Lord Warden Resak’s prize stud, wasn’t it?”

Bahzell ignored him and busied himself tamping the tobacco in his pipe and relighting it from one of the stable lanterns, and Wencit chuckled.

“I’ve often thought Prince Bahnak had more than one reason for picking young Bahzell as his hostage to Navahk,” he said. “Just getting him away from temptation on the Wind Plain probably would’ve been enough to convince him all by itself. Of course, then Bahzell wandered off and got himself enlisted by Tomanāk, which was a horrid shock to any hradani’s system, as I’m sure you can imagine. When he came home again, butter wouldn’t have melted in his mouth.”

Kenhodan snorted in amusement, trying — and failing spectacularly — to imagine Bahzell as a prim and proper reformed horse thief.

“I’m thinking,” Bahzell said to no one in particular, gazing up at the rafters, “as those who’re after opening their mouths too wide are like to be finding a boot stuck in it. Aye, and sometimes it’s even their own and not someone else’s.”

“I believe Brandark did mention something about surrenders and paroles,” Kenhodan said. “I didn’t get much detail, though.”

“That’s a pity,” Wencit replied. “It’s worth telling in full, and if we had time, I would. The heart of the matter, though, was that some of Tellian of Balthar’s vassals had taken it upon themselves to launch an unauthorized invasion of Hurgrum while Prince Bahnak was occupied fighting the Bloody Swords. Since no one else was available, Bahzell and a few score Horse Stealers who’d taken Tomanāk’s service took it upon themselves to block the only good route from the West Riding to Hurgrum and . . . argue the point with them. Rather empahtically, in fact.”

The wizard’s humor settled into something rather more serious, and he shook his head.

“The fellow leading the Sothōii was an insufferable young hothead, the sort who thinks with his spurs and his sword instead of his brain — and doesn’t have much brain even if he should miraculously try to use if, for that matter — and he got a lot of his supporters killed when he tried to rush the hradani’s position. He was getting ready for another try when Tellian arrived. He’d hoped to overtake the idiots before they actually crossed swords with the hradani, and when he realized he was too late for that — that the war he’d been trying to stop had already well and truly started without him — he was sorely tempted to follow through with the attack himself. He had a lot more men with him, as well, and getting the first blow in quick and hard might have made that war a lot shorter, after all. And there’s no doubt he could have done just that, although the price tag would’ve been steep. I happened to have ridden along with him, however — just to do my own bit to prevent the normal sort of Sothōii-hradani ‘negotiations’ — and I decided the foolishness had gone far enough, so I gave them a little history lesson.”

“History lesson?” Kenhodan repeated in a careful tone, and Bahzell snorted thunderously.

“Aye, you might be calling it that. He was after standing the Sothōii’s understanding of how the war betwixt us first started on its head.”

“He did?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Wencit acknowledged. “And once Tellian understood that it truly had been the Sothōii who’d started all those centuries of mutual bloodletting, he found himself in a bit of a quandary.”

“Don’t you be making light of Tellian, Wencit.” Bahzell’s tone was dry, but something very like a warning gleamed in his eyes. “It’s a good man he was, one of the finest ever I’ve known.”

“Yes. Yes, he was,” Wencit agreed. “Unfortunately, the only way anyone could see to bring the confrontation to a close without major bloodshed was for one side to surrender to the other. Logically — although I realize we’re talking about Sothōii and hradani here — Bahzell ought to have surrendered to Tellian, given the enormous imbalance in their numbers. I doubt he and his lads were outnumbered by any more than — eighty or ninety to one, would you say, Bahzell?”

The hradani only grunted, and Wencit chuckled softly.

“The problem was that our Bahzell, as you may have noticed, is sometimes a bit on the impulsive side, and it was much worse then. You may not believe it, Kenhodan, but he’s actually mellowed quite a bit over the years I’ve known him. At the time, however, that mellowing process hadn’t really taken hold yet, I’m afraid. So he basically he informed Tellian that no one had ever taught him how to surrender. Hradani can be a bit stubborn, you know.”

Kenhodan felt his lips quiver but managed to restrain the smile as Bahzell snorted in disgust and busied himself unnecessarily adjusting one of the pack horses’ load.

“So what . . . what happened?” Kenhodan asked just a bit unsteadily.

“Well, Tellian was a wind rider, you know, and so was his sword brother, Hathan Shieldarm. Now, there was a stubborn man!”

“And as fine a man as Tellian,” Bahzell said over his shoulder. He never looked away from the pack horse, but his voice was dead serious, and Wencit nodded.

“Indeed he was,” he said. “Up to that moment, though, Hathan had probably been as staunch a dyed-in-the-wool anti-hradani bigot as you could hope to find. He was as honest as he was stubborn, though, so he climbed down from his courser and told Bahzell that if he didn’t know how to surrender, he’d teach him. Which he did . . . by surrendering to Bahzell. At which point Tellian surrendered his entire force to Bahzell, as well.”

“He did what?” Kenhodan blinked. Brandark’s description hadn’t included all of those details, and he looked at Bahzell in disbelief. “At eighty-to-one odds?!” Wencit nodded solemnly, and Kenhodan shook his head. “And how did the rest of his men take it?”

“Some of them were a bit . . . irked,” Wencit said with the air of a man seeking exactly the right verb. “Mind you, they got over it eventually. In fact, most of them decided — in the end, not immediately — that it was hilarious. They’re all mad, you know.”

“Mad they may be,” Bahzell growled, “but they’re also after being the finest horsemen as ever the gods put on earth!”

“And that they truly are,” Wencit agreed. “As Bahzell has better reason than most to know. Their regular warhorses are the finest light and medium cavalry mounts in the world, and no mere horse can compare to a courser.”

“I was under the impression that coursers are horses,” Kenhodan said.

“Aye?” Bahzell turned and cocked his ears at the redhaired man. “And would you be saying Blanchrach and yonder tabby —” he flicked his head at the ragamuffin calico in charge of ridding Fradenhelm’s stable of rats “— are both cats?”

“Well . . . .”

“He’s right about that, Kenhodan,” Wencit said. “Coursers are every bit as intelligent as any of the Races of Man. That’s something most non-Sothōii seem to find it a bit difficult to grasp, but every Sothōii ever born knows the truth down deep in his bones, and the wind riders are the elite of the Sothōii cavalry.”

“How does someone become a wind rider?” Kenhodan asked curiously, and Bahzell snorted again, very softly this time.

“If a courser’s after choosing to bear you, then it’s a wind rider you are, lad. And if the coursers don’t choose to bear you, there’s no power on earth could make you one.”

There was something about the hradani’s tone, something that spoke to the heart, even if Kenhodan didn’t understand the message.

“There’s no bond closer in all the world than that ’twixt courser and rider,” Bahzell went on. “Heart and soul, mind and life — all either of them are after being, all poured out together. That’s what makes a wind rider, and there’s naught but death can break that bond.”

“So they truly can speak to each other?” Kenhodan asked, and Bahzell nodded.

“Aye, but only to each other. Still, there’s signals — calls, you might be calling them — as every wind rider and courser recognize.”

“What sort of ‘calls’?” Kenhodan asked curiously.

Bahzell glanced at him, then grinned and closed his eyes. His mouth opened, and the sound which came from him startled Kenhodan to his feet, knowing he would remember it even if he forgot everything else he’d ever heard. It was wild and fierce, a wordless cry that mingled wind and the dusty beat of hooves with the whistle of a stallion defending his mares. Glamhandro’s head rose high and proud as he nickered a fierce reply, but Kenhodan stared at Bahzell, amazed the hradani could make such a sound.

It was an amazement that became confusion as a whistling scream answered from a closed box stall in the gloomy darkness at the rear of the stable, beyond the lanterns’ illumination. Bahzell spun toward the sound in shock, and it came again, louder and fiercer. The hradani launched himself at the stall like a thrown spear as pride and fury whistled from it yet again, followed by the savage beat of steel-shod hooves on wood. The stall’s closed door shuddered under the pounding, but its heavy timbers held, and Bahzell reached for the latch. It was padlocked tight, and he caught the lock in one hand. His wrist twisted, metal spanged and cracked explosively, and he tossed the shattered lock aside and flung open the door.

Phrobus!

That shrill, whistling cry of fury sounded a fourth time, and Bahzell snatched the hook knife from his belt and vanished into the stall. Kenhodan heard the heavy blade thunk against the heavy timbers once, twice — a third time — and then a horse prouder than morning burst from the enclosure, trailing half a dozen heavy, severed leads from a halter which had galled angry welts across a coat of gleaming black. He must have stood at least twenty hands — seven feet at the shoulder, his head towering even over Bahzell — and his eyes were fierce and dark, touched with gold under the lanterns.

Bahzell followed him from the stall, hook knife still in his hand, and the stallion wheeled to face him. He glided closer to the hradani, hooves moving delicately, each stride like newborn grace, and Bahzell sheathed the knife and raised his right hand. He extended it in front of him in an oddly formal salute, and the stallion reached out and touched it with his nose.

“Is that what I think it is?” Kenhodan breathed in Wencit’s ear.

“If you think it’s a courser,” the wizard replied softly.

“Aye.” Bahzell heard them and turned, and his ears were flat to his skull, his eyes hard. “Born on the Wind Plain, and nigh on two thousand leagues from home and herd, and he’d not’ve come this far without his wind brother. And that —” his deep, rumbling voice went harder than his eyes “— makes me wonder.”

Kenhodan suddenly realized Fradenhelm was creeping for a side door and moved to intercept him. The stable master squealed and broke for the main entrance, but Bahzell caught him in three strides. His massive hand closed on the nape of the scrawny neck like a steel viper, and the little man squealed again, even louder than before, as the hradani snatched him high at arm’s length and held his toes a foot from the straw strewn floor.

“And why might it be,” Bahzell asked gently, “as you weren’t after mentioning this courser to me?”

“I-I-I —” the horsetrader gobbled in terror. Bahzell shook him gently, and he squealed again. “H-he’s sold! I-I’m just h-holding him for the buyer!”

“I’d not be wishful for you to lie to me,” Bahzell said softly. “It’s angry I’ve been known to grow when someone’s after lying to me, and when I’m angry, I’ve been known to act hasty, friend.”

His fingers tightened, and Fradenhelm’s face twisted in pain.

“No, I’d not like to think you’d be so foolish as to try lying to lie to a champion of Tomanāk, Fradenhelm. There’s never a Sothōii born as would try to sell a courser. They’d die first — aye, and so would the courser! I’ve no notion — yet — how it was he found himself in that stall, but that’s a thing I will know before all’s done, and this I know already. However he came to be here, there’s not a fool in all the world as would trust you with such as he! What’s stolen once can be stolen twice, not but what you know that already. Now — once more — why was it you weren’t after telling me?”

“I-I told you! It’s the truth!”

“No, you lied.” Bahzell’s free hand gripped Fradenhelm’s left forearm. “They say as how hradani are barbarians, little man, and some tales tell true. I’m wondering how it is you’d like going through life with one arm.”

“I told you the truth!” the horsetrader whimpered.

“It’s many a year I’ve known you for a thief,” Bahzell said softly, almost caressingly, “but I was never after taking you for a fool . . . until now.”

The hradani’s fingers tightened, and Fradenhelm shrieked. Kenhodan stepped towards them, appalled by the expression on his friend’s merciless face, but Wencit’s tiny headshake stopped him.

Kenhodan watched in something like horror as Bahzell tightened his grip and Fradenhelm writhed. He screamed again, setting horses neighing and stamping, but Bahzell’s eyes never flickered. Tighter his hand clamped, like a vise of steel. Kenhodan knew what had to happen, but the snap of breaking bone and Fradenhelm’s howl of agony made his stomach muscles jump.

Bahzell released the broken arm, visibly bent in the middle. He gripped Fradenhelm’s other arm . . . and smiled.

All right!” the horsetrader shrieked as Bahzell touched him. He sobbed in terror and pain as the hradani released him contemptuously to huddle in a beaten ball. Kenhodan smelled his terror, and he couldn’t blame him. For the first time, Kenhodan realized that Bahzell was truly hradani, whatever else he might be.

“Quickly, Fradenhelm,” Bahzell said quietly.

“It was . . . was the wizard. They told me . . . told me he’d pass through. They said — they said they’d pay . . . pay five hundred kormaks if I told them w-when he got here . . . .”

“And the courser?” Kenhodan barely recognized Bahzell’s icy voice.

“The . . . the courser?” Fradenhelm cradled his broken arm, whimpering as he looked into Bahzell’s stony face.

“This is a courser.” Bahzell spoke tonelessly, as if reciting an indictment, and his rustic accent had completely vanished. “No wind rider will abandon his courser, and no more will a courser abandon his rider. They’ll die first. So tell me, Fradenhelm — how did you get this courser?!

“I-I —” Fradenhelm stuttered helplessly at the whiplash question. “I don’t know! Please, Bahzell! They brought him here! They said he’d be good bait to . . . trap you —”

His gobbling voice broke off in a fresh howl of pain as Bahzell backhanded him. The hradani grabbed the front of his apron and yanked him to his feet, and the hook knife whispered evilly from its sheath.

“Hear me, Fradenhelm. You can play Hirahim’s game with the local magistrates whenever you choose, but your life is mine now, little man. This courser came here with a wind rider. I’ve no idea how you got him fastened in that stall in the first place, but this I do know — you’d never have done it unless his rider was dead first. And that means someone — and it may have been you — killed a wind rider in this stable. But that wasn’t wise, d’you see, because I’m a wind rider. I don’t like people who kill my brothers, and himself doesn’t like those who do murder in the dark. So there’s no least reason in the world for me to leave your throat uncut. You’d best be thinking of one, and you’d best come up with it fast.”

The keen edge of the hook knife touched the side of Fradenhelm’s neck delicately.

“It wasn’t me!” Fradenhelm shrieked. “It was them! They asked after you, and he wanted to know why! They killed him, and one of them darted the courser with a blowgun. I don’t know what they used on him — I swear I don’t! — but it left him meek as a kitten. They . . . they made me put him in the stall. It wasn’t my idea! I told them it was madness! I warned them the wind riders would find out! But it was done. It was already done, I tell you! I was supposed to get rid of him, but I couldn’t. He’s worth too much — the Purple Lords would pay a fortune for a courser! I didn’t even know who they were, or why they were hunting you — not at first! I swear! On my father’s life I swear it!”

“You never met your father,” Bahzell said coldly, “but that’s neither here nor there. Tell it quick and tell it true, Fradenhelm, and it might be you’ll live another hour. Who’s this ‘they’ you keep yammering about?”

“Chernion,” Fradenhelm whispered ashenly. “It . . . was Chernion.”

Bahzell’s lips tightened and he dropped the horsetrader with a thud, then snatched up a blanket and saddle. He turned to the coal black courser, holding up the blanket, and the courser dipped its head, touching its nose to it and then turning broadside to help the hradani throw it across his back.

“Who’s Chernion?” Kenhodan demanded, dazed by events, as a saddle followed the blanket.

“Better to ask what he is,” Wencit said grimly.

“Don’t you start any damned word games with me now!” Kenhodan snapped.

“Start — Oh, I see.” Wencit chuckled humorlessly. “I meant that the important thing is his trade. He’s the master of the Assassins Guild.”

Assassins Guild?! They’re outlawed!”

“And would you be telling me what that matters?” Bahzell tossed over his shoulder as he tightened the saddle’s girth. “I’m thinking corsairs are after being outlawed, as well, but it’s in my mind as how you’ll meet them now and again. What’s after mattering is that someone’s set the best assassin of them all on us — and I’m thinking as how he’ll be here soon.”

“True. So we’d best leave even sooner,” Wencit agreed.

Bahzell nodded curtly and reached up to unbuckle the heavy halter. He hurled it away from him with an ugly expression, then bowed to the courser.

“Will you bear him, Wind Brother?” he asked quietly, and the stallion looked back at him for a heartbeat, then bent his head in an unmistakable nod of agreement.

“My thanks, and Walsharno’s as well,” Bahzell said, and turned to Wencit. “I’m thinking you’ve found the mount you were after needing, Wencit.”

“I thank you for the trust and the honor.” Wencit’s voice was deep and measured, and he held out his hand in the same gesture Bahzell had used. The stallion touched it with his nose, and Wencit bowed.

The courser started walking toward the open door. Bahzell gathered up the pack horses’ lead reins and followed, and Kenhodan shook himself and began leading Glamhandro in the hradani’s wake.

“What about —?” He jutted his chin at Fradenhelm.

“What about him?” Wencit asked. “What more harm can he do? Does he know where we are bound, or why? All he can tell them is that Bahzell’s with us, and they know that already, or they wouldn’t have murdered the wind rider. Leave him be.”

“Aye.” Bahzell paused in the open doorway and looked down coldly. “We’ve had our dealings, Fradenhelm, and it’s once or twice you’ve done me a good turn. I’m remembering that now, and you’d best be grateful. Aye, and be thankful you’re a crawling dog, for well I know you couldn’t kill a wind rider even from behind. But mark me, little man. If ever I see you again, I’ll not break your arms; I’ll rip them off and feed you the stumps!”

The hradani glared at the horsetrader, and Kenhodan knew he meant it. Bahzell waited for an answer, but Fradenhelm only curled more tightly and moaned. The hradani snarled in disgust and pushed through the door.

Clouds had settled lower, and the air was moist with river mist. Kenhodan sniffed. The promised rain was close, the air was raw and chill, and breeze swirled about him, stirring his hair as he leaned against Glamhandro. Wencit swung into the courser’s saddle with a curious formality, and the huge black stallion accepted him, stamping briskly, eager to be off.

“Which way, Wencit?” Bahzell asked.

“East. Make for the Morfintan High Road. Perhaps that will throw them off.”

“East it is, then. Mount up, Kenhodan!” Bahzell’s deep bellow was rich with laughter. “We’ve some running to do.”

Kenhodan swung up on Glamhandro, and the big gray sidled sideways beneath him. He felt muscles tighten as his thighs gripped the strong barrel, and in that moment, he was a centaur. Elation pounded in his throat, and his head whirled with the staccato pace of the last few minutes.

“What about you?” he asked, looking across at Bahzell, whose head was only a little lower than his own even with Glamhandro under him.

“There’s never a horse born as can run a Horse Stealer into the ground, lad!” Bahzell laughed. “A courser, now — he might be after doing it, but it won’t be happening soon, and I’ve a suspicion I’ll not be stuck afoot long. You just be worrying about your own saddle sores and leave the boot leather to me!”

“Whatever you say.” Kenhodan shook his head, and Bahzell laughed again.

“Lead us, Bahzell,” Wencit said, and the hradani nodded sharply. Then he turned, impossibly quick — impossibly graceful — for someone of his towering inches and Kenhodan blinked as he disappeared out of the stable yard’s front gate at a dead run with the startled packhorses lunging into motion to keep up with him.

The redhaired man looked across at Wencit for a moment, and then — as one — Glamhandro and the courser shot forward, steel shoes sparking on the cobbles in a battering of hooves.

The night swallowed them, and they were gone. The sound of their horses died on the moaning breeze.


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: SotS Snippet 18[?]a
Post by AClone   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 3:31 pm

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Posts: 743
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Location: Midwestern United States

Thanks, RFC! Nice to see that you are still well and breathing! :mrgreen:
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Re: SotS Snippet 18[?]a
Post by RHWoodman   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 5:35 pm

RHWoodman
Captain (Junior Grade)

Posts: 386
Joined: Tue Mar 30, 2010 10:06 am
Location: Columbus, Ohio USA

:D :D :D :D :D :D :D

Thanks, RFC, for the snippet! That is most appreciated. And a great snippet it is also.
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Re: SotS Snippet 18[?]a
Post by dan92677   » Thu Jul 09, 2015 11:34 pm

dan92677
Commander

Posts: 218
Joined: Thu Apr 18, 2013 9:33 pm
Location: Southern California

Thank you, rfc!!!!!

And, Walsharno is on his way! Yippee!!!

Great snippet, and the story is now truly started.
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Re: SotS Snippet 18[?]a
Post by Tigertina   » Fri Jul 10, 2015 7:20 am

Tigertina
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Posts: 10
Joined: Tue Oct 04, 2011 3:03 pm
Location: Norway

Thank you for both snippets :D
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Re: SotS Snippet 18[?]a
Post by lyonheart   » Fri Jul 10, 2015 10:12 am

lyonheart
Fleet Admiral

Posts: 4838
Joined: Tue Sep 08, 2009 10:27 pm

Hello RFC!

Thanks for the snippet and very glad you're well.

RHWoodman wrote::D :D :D :D :D :D :D

Thanks, RFC, for the snippet! That is most appreciated. And a great snippet it is also.


Amen.

L
Any snippet or post from RFC is good if not great!
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Re: SotS Snippet 18[?]a
Post by Louis R   » Sat Jul 11, 2015 12:27 pm

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Rear Admiral

Posts: 1192
Joined: Thu Jan 01, 2015 8:25 pm

and somebody else is _very_ annoyed that she has to go to Belhaden first and will have to play catch-up ;)


[quote="dan92677"]< snip >

And, Walsharno is on his way! Yippee!!!
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Re: SotS Snippet 18[?]a
Post by dan92677   » Sun Jul 12, 2015 1:06 am

dan92677
Commander

Posts: 218
Joined: Thu Apr 18, 2013 9:33 pm
Location: Southern California

I'm not so sure about that. Bahzell's call probably reached him, if he wasn't already on his way to meet them. Bahzell seems to think that he (Walsharno) would be along shortly, even though the direction they were traveling had just been decided upon.

I think that the two of them can communicate for a long distance, otherwise why would Bahzell be so sure that Walsharno was soon to arrive, more or less.

However......
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Re: SotS Snippet 18[?]a
Post by Randomiser   » Sun Jul 12, 2015 3:53 pm

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Posts: 1434
Joined: Sat Mar 10, 2012 1:41 pm
Location: Scotland

dan92677 wrote:I'm not so sure about that. Bahzell's call probably reached him, if he wasn't already on his way to meet them. Bahzell seems to think that he (Walsharno) would be along shortly, even though the direction they were traveling had just been decided upon.

I think that the two of them can communicate for a long distance, otherwise why would Bahzell be so sure that Walsharno was soon to arrive, more or less.

However......


You are right, but Walsharno is a 'he', after all, so I'm pretty sure Louis R is insinuating Leanna's courser (her name escapes me at the moment) is going to be joining in the fun too, after going to Belhadan to pick Leanna up. Even with Gwynna in the care of the Academy, I'm not so sure he is right about that. Not at this early stage, anyway.
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Re: SotS Snippet 18[?]a
Post by dan92677   » Sun Jul 12, 2015 7:09 pm

dan92677
Commander

Posts: 218
Joined: Thu Apr 18, 2013 9:33 pm
Location: Southern California

A good point! Gayrfressa could be on her way to Belhaden right now to pick up Leanna. Then the four of them would really be a force against Wulfra! Or, anyone/anything else that just happens to show up, of course.

Perhaps we'll see the elimination of the Assassins Guild, at least for a little while. They haven't had very good luck against Bahzell so far, and I don't expect that to change!
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