ONE HUNDRED EIGHTEEN
I wanted to say, In my nightgown? I also wanted to say, What do I do with the—with my sword? Chiefly I wanted to go home, but that didn’t seem to be an option. Aside from the burning question of what or where home was, and, supposing it had anything to do with Rose Manor, what was going on there in my absence. ‘Burning’ was perhaps not the most diplomatic adjective I could have thought of.
I felt sick.
Astur took care of the sword problem. He took Silverheart away from me. I flinched but didn’t resist. I wouldn’t be able to resist, so why demonstrate my helplessness any more than I had to? I didn’t want to press my ‘Defender’ status too hard. Astur, however, stood there examining my sword—my sword—and I found myself growing stupidly and uselessly angry. What was I going to do, kick him in the shins? He was wearing leather shin guards and I was barefoot. And while he was about my height he was about three times my width, and I doubted any of it was flab. Not to mention two or three decades of experience in some of the nastier forms of hand to hand, if what Flowerhair knew about him was anything to go by. I had bailed on self-defense classes because beating up some harmless guy in a padded suit creeped me out. Gelasio had laughed at me. But it wasn’t going to happen to us, you know?
Assuming that getting mugged isn’t going to happen to you and you therefore don’t have to prepare for the possibility is stupid. I grant you that. I don’t however feel I can be faulted for assuming that I was not going to meet any of the less salubrious characters in some of my own overheated novels, and that I could safely remain ignorant of generic-late-medievalish-fantasy mores beyond what I needed for fictional purposes.
Murac dropped his hands and stood upright. “What gija tha playing at?” he said to Astur. “Scabbard’s there. Put ’ee in.”
I looked at Monster’s saddle. I couldn’t see anything. You hung a scabbard on your body on the side away from your sword-arm so you could pull it out. Not that I had ever had cause personally to do this, but these are random factoids from a generic Olde-Worlde high-fantasy writer. If perhaps you were wearing a nightgown and your scabbard was attached to your horse’s saddle, and you were furthermore utterly clueless, presumably you would want to hang your sword on the same side as your sword arm so you didn’t get tangled up with the reins on the draw, or inadvertently try to cut your horse’s head off. Flowerhair had ridden in cavalry before, although never in a nightgown, but I often left out the details I couldn’t find easily on google. Besides, Doomblade had a mind of its own, so expecting it to behave like an ordinary sword was unwise. Flowerhair had the scars to prove it, but she was also still alive.
Astur said something, but I didn’t think any of it was in English. ‘Azogging’ featured in whatever it was. He swung Silverheart over his head as if he was planning to cut down a low-flying pigeon.
And Silverheart exploded.
I didn’t actually see what happened; the dazzle was blinding. But I heard Astur shout—it was more of a scream—and the rushing, scuttling, thudding sounds around us stilled. When I could see again, Monster was still there, as was Murac, although I thought (blinking my watering eyes) they perhaps looked a little tense. Silverheart, still shining rather hard and steadily, was lying on the ground. Astur had disappeared.
“Pick ’ee up,” Murac said. His voice had gone all scratchy again and I thought, He’s afraid. Well . . . that made two of us. “Tis Defender’s sword,” he added.
I tried to mosey on over and stoop down to pick up a detonation-prone sword as if this was something I did every day (although preferably not in my nightgown) and not as if I were an inexperienced cobra handler trying to make a grab for the back of my irritated charge’s neck without getting bitten. When I straightened up with Silverheart’s hilt in my hand Murac was looking dismayed again. But he was also looking sardonic. In the circumstances I decided sardonic was an improvement. I had to stand still a moment or two while my bruises resettled after the stooping business.
“I’ll not handle ’ee,” said Murac as I approached (limping). “Try not to cut me, Defender,” he added as he bent down and cupped his hands again.
Oh. Help. I shifted Silverheart to my left hand and reached up to grab a handful of Monster’s mane. I wasn’t sure I could straddle something this size, even if I were appropriately clothed and hadn’t recently been pounded into the ground by a giant black thing. I hoped Murac wouldn’t recognize the slash on my leg as self-inflicted: this was not likely to build confidence. Although it was only a little slash. But I saw his eyes rest on the rose bracelet as I put my muddy, aching foot in his hand.
. . . And then I was flying through the air as if I’d been shot out of a cannon.
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