ONE TWENTY SEVEN
Silverheart’s light went out like a bonfire that had had a bucket of water thrown over it—there was even a burning smell. I let my aching arm drop; my mouth fell open of its own accord. Mr TS wrenched his horse away from Monster, standing up in his stirrups and shouting. I could guess that the rustling, hustling noises around me now were of the people I’d seen forming up . . . to do what? There was a somewhat similar shout and seethe on my left—Galinglud, perhaps, if Mr TS was Tulamaro.
But no one shouted at me. No one told me what to do. Nobody told me to follow them. The muted but urgent noises were leaving a little empty space around me. I didn’t know where Murac was and it seemed . . . unsuitable, somehow, to turn and look. What if he was right there, staring at me? What if he wasn’t? I put Silverheart carefully back into her scabbard and straightened my back. I knew what was supposed to happen: I could recognise a story reaching its climax when I saw it. I just wished I was seeing it the usual way: from a desk chair, staring at a computer screen, my hands clamped around a cup of tea, and my vocabulary having just run away to join the circus.
Only the faint vibration through the reins as he tongued his bit and a silky-rough lash across my bare legs when he swished his tail told me that Monster was maybe a trifle worried also. But he stood perfectly still, ears pricked. Adventurer’s horse. Warrior’s horse.
I wanted to say something funny or throw-away, like oops, or oh well. But I didn’t have the heart. I hate letting other people down. I’m still haunted by Norah’s second daughter’s tenth birthday, when I’d promised her a hot-off-the-press copy of ZOMBIE MACAROONS, published by the tiny indie house that occupied a corner of my then-publisher’s giganticonormous offices . . . and forgot. I got it to her the next day, but it’s not the same, is it? Especially when you’re ten.
It somehow wasn’t making it any better right now that I was pretty sure no one in my immediate vicinity was ten years old today.
Monster swished his tail again.
I was supposed to say something memorable and heroic, wasn’t I? But with my vocabulary cleaning up after the performing elephants nothing occurred to me. And my range of available quotations was limited. Even when you’re curled up in your own bed with Joe the Doorman on guard downstairs and the need for heroism is limited it’s noticeable that Tolkien is short of valiant women. ‘But no living man am I!’ drifted apologetically across my mind: Eowyn had never been a satisfactory heroine because of that whole seeking-death-because-of-unrequited-love thing to which I had had a strong ‘spare me’ reaction even at the age of eleven. “ ‘Beneath the Moon and under star/ she wandered far from northern strands, bewildered on enchanted ways/ beyond the days of mortal lands. . . .’ ”
‘Bewildered’ was certainly apropos.
I sat there, breathing, listening to my ragtag army lining up behind its useless Defender. I had one hand on Silverheart’s hilt, one hand pretending to hold Monster’s reins. I could feel the faint throb of my heartbeat in my throat, in my bare thighs against the saddle flaps, in the thin skin of my wrist and forearm inside Glosinda’s firm but gentle grasp. My heart didn’t seem to be beating nearly as panic-strickenly fast as it should be, I thought. Maybe it was tired of the whole ‘about to die’ situation. About to die did seem to be grinding on rather.
Let me go out trying.
There were quite a few figures marching through the Gate, toward us, by now. Some of them were on horseback. Or on something-back.
I pulled Silverheart out of her scabbard again, with a satisfying ringing noise. She understood her business: she flared up immediately, lighting the harsh ugly empty slope in front of us. The front ranks of the marching figures were disconcertingly outlined in gold, and I saw several swords drawn in answer, although none of them shone with their own light.
Let me go out trying.
“YAAAAAAAAAH!” I howled, wrapped my legs around as much of Monster’s barrel as I could reach and squeezed. Warrior’s horse, Defender’s horse: his rear end dropped and his hind legs drove us forward as if he was longing to plunge into battle. You don’t expect a horse his size to be able to sprint; the only reason I didn’t topple off the back end when he barrelled downhill toward the approaching troop was because I had a good handful of mane in my non-sword-holding hand. And, faintly through the drumming of my huge horse’s huge hooves, the wind in my ears and the banging of my own heartbeat, I heard a YAAAAAAAAH behind me, and the clamor of another company—of my company—sending its horses into a gallop.
Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.