ONE TWENTY NINE
Granted that thoughts frequently take no time at all—except when your deadline is the end of the month and you’re 60,000 words short, or you’re trying to decide which high-heeled lady shoes you can bear to wear for that wedding you don’t want to go to because your friend’s intended is a creep—it seemed to me that this slope we were pelting down was rather longer than it looked. Long enough for me to have a really—let’s not say fatally—clear idea of how little I wanted to be where I was. Did Monster have to have such a turn of speed? Did my sword have to shine like a Klieg light? Low budget horror would be better by torch or bonfire. And preferably on TV, with you curled up comfortably under a blanket across the room.
The shambling figures marching relentlessly through the Gate were, however, getting rather close. Rather too close. And if those weren’t exactly arms waving swords they were enough like to be just as sick-makingly alarming.
TV and a blanket never sounded so good. Or felt so far away.
Oh, do shut up, I thought irritably at the people behind me—almost simultaneously as I was registering that not all the shouts of Defender were coming from behind me. I looked to one side—was that another Gate wavering into existence? But if the cavalry was coming they were going to be too late. I looked ahead of me: the gold-edged figures had closed ranks in what you might describe as a sort of crooked British square, if you weren’t British, might not be human and your sense of geometry was unusual. Where was Jack Hawkins or John Mills when I needed him?
The front rank knelt, or anyway got shorter in some angular, multi-jointed way. Behind them . . . those sure looked like archers.
I swear Glosinda yanked my arm across my body as some kind of bolt seemed to whistle between Monster’s ears before . . . thanks to Glosinda, it failed to bury itself in my neck.
There was a really unpleasant noise as it caromed off my heroic wristlet, and the fantasy-writer part of my brain had a sudden insane desire to know what both wristlet and bolt were made of: funny not ha-ha how when personal combat happens to you it’s nothing like either BEN HUR or BUFFY. Glosinda had also deflected a critical percentage of the bolt’s velocity which meant I stayed in Monster’s saddle; but I had dragged on his reins when she hijacked my arm, involuntarily twisted in the saddle and dug my outside leg into his side—and what had I just been saying about needing to check that he understood the same human rider signals I knew? Violent yanks to the right, with or without involuntary leg action, in my lexicon, meant clumsy incompetent rider wants to turn in that direction. Monster swerved just fine, but I wasn’t expecting—
—as I noticed that the bolt-flingers, and there were other bolts like the one that hadn’t killed me whistling around us, were, what was it called, laying down covering fire for some kind of attack by some of the rest of the squad?—
—him to half-rear, sinking briefly back on his hocks and getting his front legs under him, and then crash his forelegs down as he bounded forward and lashed out with his hind—
—which certainly should have unseated me, except the physics of the thing were totally under Glosinda and Silverheart’s control, and I heard a peace-of-mind-destroying noise, a sort of thud-squish, that juddered through Monster’s body and therefore mine as those powerful hind legs made contact, while Silverheart was wheeling around in another direction to cause another really horrible noise—
—oh God oh God oh God oh God—
—let me just say that strange marching gold-edged not quite human figures even when you know they’re trying to kill you and as far as you’re concerned they’re absolutely the bad guys, and you’ve been telling yourself they’re not even human anyway and you almost died a moment ago—
—it’s still about the worst thing that has ever happened to you when the sword you’re holding onto cuts one of them in half. Ssssssssssslsh.
The fantasy-writing part of my brain, which had spent a lot of time in the library and on google, was shrieking, no, no, you’d have to be Conan or at least Arnold Schwarznegger to cut a human-sized body in half, that didn’t happen, that didn’t happen. . . . But I was still alive, and my sword-shaped Klieg light was now casting chiaroscuro because of the blood, the red, just like human, blood, running down her blade. . . . They were all around us, Monster and me, the bad guys who were trying to kill us. I discovered that Monster was alertly, attentively expecting me to dig my leg into his side when I hauled him around for more of the leaping and kicking action. He knows the drill. He’s a trained war horse: he has an idea about repelling boarders, but he’s also expecting his rider to tell him what to do. He’s expecting his rider to know what she’s doing . . . and to get both of us out of this.
Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.