I thought at the idiots pouring down the slope after me, you guys. Wasn’t the nightgown enough? Don’t you know cluelessness when you see it? Why don’t you just let me get killed? (My stomach tried to turn over at this point, but that might have been from trying to sit on a galloping horse for the first time in twenty years.) Wouldn’t—whoever—whatever—provide you with another Defender? Possibly one who had held a sword once or twice in his or her previous life? Maybe had some concept of practical strategy? Knew some good soldier jokes?
But in the stories I knew that involved things like enchanted swords and seriously unlikely heroines, there was this whole honor shtick going on too. Tulamaro had liked the look of me even less than I’d liked the look of him, but when the Gate opened he’d dropped back to rally his lot to follow me. Because following the Defender, even if she is wearing a pink nightgown, can barely hold her sword, and is hurtling toward disaster because she has no idea what else to do, is what the set-up demands.
I’d have to remember, the next time I had a meeting with an editor who wasn’t doing what my agent and I wanted, that my scintillating glare could open interdimensional gates. Surely an assault on a mere publicity budget would be child’s play in comparison?
Supposing I ever had a meeting with an editor again. All the editors I knew were on the other side of that Gate, where more and more things with swords were coming through toward me and the gang trapped by tradition behind me. Trying to find a bright side to look on, I considered the fact that also on the far side of the Gate was the dangerously over-extended deadline for FLOWERHAIR FOUR, which story I still had no idea how to pump up into implacable page-turning thrillingness. And presumably Darla couldn’t get to me on this side of the Gate either. Although I wouldn’t want to lay money (supposing I had any, till FF was written, accepted and paid for) on Darla not being able to do something.
But Sid was on the other side of the Gate. So was Norah. So were Serena and Hayley and Bridget and Mike and Susannah and JoJo.
So were Rose Manor and a dead guy in a pool of blood by the front door. And unknown, but given the way this story was going, probably extensive quantities of further mayhem.
She holds Silverheart, Murac had said, Murac, who’d begun our association by calling me a useless mare.
Okay, I thought. Why? That’s the sixty-four gazillion-dollar question. Why did Silverheart come to me? Why am I the seriously unlikely enchanted-sword-holding heroine in this particular story?
Watermelon Shoulders, long long ago when I still believed I had some faint handle on the real world, had said something about how there had not been a Defender for some time and that the situation had deteriorated as a result. That hadn’t been how Mr Forsoothly had put it, of course. I seemed to remember the word ‘calamity’ had been employed. But I had been distracted by that dead guy in a spreading pool of his own blood in my front hall. . . . and by my panic-arousing loosening grasp of reality.
Most of the time, if you’re not too old yet, and you’re reasonably healthy, and you live (for example) in a city with a (mostly) reliable electricity and water supply, a (mostly) working subway system, the best opera house in the world and some really great bagel shops, your own death seems so theoretical. Dead guys in your front hall shake this comfortable abstraction.
Forests of swords being waved at you meaningfully shake it even more.
I was pretty sure the things with swords had mouths they were opening and closing. Singing their battle song, no doubt. Something with lots of eviscerations and dismemberment in it. There seemed to be more roaring in my ears than just wind and terror could account for.
Monster was still galloping. He ran like a racehorse; that moment every stride when all four feet were off the ground was like flying. If I hadn’t been waiting for death I might have been enjoying it. Except for that twisted strap—drat—and I couldn’t fix it now—I was going to have a blister soon and I doubted Murac had Band-Aids in his saddle bags. Fortunately Monster’s gallop was as smooth as spreading butter on hot toast; I was having enough trouble staying in the saddle on account of the stupid holding naked sword over my head situation. Not only my shoulder but my back hurt, there were various muscles trying to cramp, and I was pretty sure the only reason I hadn’t dropped her was because she didn’t want to be dropped. Don’t try this the next time you’re trying to lead an army into battle in your nightgown: put your sword back in its blasted scabbard before you ask your horse to gallop. It’s not just the weight, it’s the wind resistance.
Thunder of hooves. Thunder of enemy’s battle song. Thunder of your own team shouting at your back.
Defender, I heard.
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