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Home > The Bird and the Sword(11)

The Bird and the Sword(11)
Author: Amy Harmon

“They’ve gone, Lark!” Boojohni reported. “The beasts have gone. They just suddenly retreated.”

The king rose to his feet and turned away, dismissing me for weightier concerns. Those who were able were piling the bodies of the birdmen and tending to their own wounded and dead. The stench of blood and death clung to my every breath, but I rose to my feet as well, determined to assist where I could.

“We will send men back for the dead,” the king commanded, “but we leave now, while we still can.” His eyes rose to the skies as if expecting the Volgar to return. “They could have killed us all. Their retreat makes no sense.”

“The horses have scattered,” Kjell said in defeat. “And we have wounded who can’t walk.”

I took three steps on shaking legs and tugged at the king’s sleeve. I pointed through the trees.

He raised a black eyebrow. I tried to make my hand resemble a fleeing horse and looked to Boojohni for help.

“Lady Corvyn has a way with animals, Your Majesty,” he offered feebly.

“There are no animals left, Milady,” the King responded wearily. He knelt to check the pulse of a fallen guard. I could have told him the man was dead. His soul had flown, leaving him wordless and lifeless.

I pointed through the trees once more. I felt the fear of the horses and called them back. Horses were easy to sense. Their emotions were like great beacons, glowing in the dark. They’d run in fear, but they’d run in a circle, leaving a loud, red stream of desperation behind them. They weren’t far.

“If Lady Corvyn says the horses went that way, then the horses went that way,” Boojohni said simply. He sniffed the air and winced. “I will be able to get their scent once we put some distance between us and this place.”

“We can’t go anywhere. We can’t leave these men, and we can’t carry them,” Kjell argued.

The king nodded, his eyes on my face.

“Are they close?” he asked.

I nodded. They would be soon. I could feel their thundering hearts slowing as their fear cooled. They wanted to go home. Home. Home. Home.

“Show me,” he insisted quietly and wrapped his hand around my upper arm. Boojohni trotted along behind us, and the king didn’t protest, though Kjell had demanded to come as well and was denied.

“You can’t go off alone, Tiras,” Kjell argued. I’d noticed the familiarity between the two men. Unlike the rest of the guard, Kjell called the king by his given name, and he didn’t hesitate to voice his opinions.

“I won’t be far, Kjell. And we won’t be long. Stand watch.”

We walked in silence, and oddly, though the king gripped my upper arm, keeping me close, he let me lead. I was grateful for his hand; my rubbery legs and my ringing ears made each step treacherous.

I wanted someone to fill in the blanks for me, to tell me how long my eyes had been closed, how many had died while I’d tried to use my words. I wondered if I’d made the Volgar retreat, then felt silly and small at my wistful thought. I’d simply closed my eyes and wished while others fought. Once I’d made a poppet fly, but the Volgar? No. It was impossible.

I stumbled and the king’s grip tightened.

“We don’t have time to wander,” he murmured. His voice wasn’t harsh, but I could feel his impatience, his worry, and his doubt. The doubt made me stumble again.

I stopped and pulled my arm free. His words were too loud, and I couldn’t feel the horses. He released me without protest, and Boojohni raised his little nose to the air and sniffed. He sniffed again and chortled with glee.

“There.” He pointed directly in front of us. I couldn’t see anything, but I heard them. I felt them.

Home. Home. Home.

The king whistled sharply, and his doubt dissipated with an audible pop as a branch snapped and then another, drawing our eyes to the darkest shadows that shifted and changed and became horses, chuffing and picking their way toward us.

“All of them,” the king whispered, counting as the horses neared. Three dozen horses, led by the king’s black stallion, and near the rear, my father’s grey. The grey that had been taken from our stables.

“Shindoh,” the king greeted his mount, and he extended his hand in welcome. The huge charger nuzzled his palm gratefully. Home.

I pulled away from the king and walked to the grey, greeting him with my own hand outstretched. When he whinnied and bumped me with his velvet nose, I looped my arms around his neck and rubbed my cheek against him. Then I turned and found the king watching me. I walked toward him, leading the grey, and when I reached him I thumped my chest.

Mine.

“The grey looks like a horse that was taken from Lord Corvyn’s keep, Majesty,” Boojohni explained. He knew full well it was the same horse but was wise enough to be judicious.

“Maybe it belonged to one of those soldiers your father sent, think you?” Tiras answered with a mocking twist of his lips. “We found him two days ago not far from Kilmorda.”

“That must be it, Highness,” Boojohni rushed to agree. I could only shake my head.

“You may ride the grey back home when your father fulfills his obligations,” the king murmured, and even the grey scoffed.

There was a horse for every man, even the dead and dying, but I still rode with the king. The fallen were tied to their mounts, and as the night deepened, we made our way down the road once more, descending into the lush, green valleys of Degn. We would reach the King’s fortress by dawn if the Volgar did not return.

I fought exhaustion for as long as I could, but my limbs shook and my head bobbed. The king cursed as I swayed and pulled me back against his soiled breastplate, supporting my hips between his big legs. I tried not to relax against him, but it couldn’t be helped, and when he swore again and tugged sharply on my hair, I bowed my head in defeat.

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