I was probably crying (again). I was certainly screaming (again). Or maybe it was the other way around. My eyes burned, not only from tears, but from trying to make sense out of the cataclysmic scene around me—and then wishing I hadn’t when I did. Ssssssssslsh. I had thought those last few minutes at Rose Manor were beyond anything I could imagine coping with—or surviving—when at least something resembling the world I knew was still there somewhere outside the windows. Probably. When I still had Sid beside me. Well, I was beyond what I could imagine. My brain was melting like the Wicked Witch of the West. Words failed. Tumult? Pandemonium? Bloody anarchy? Nothing came close. Nothing came anywhere near.
I couldn’t even wipe the sweaty hair out of my eyes; both my hands were too busy elsewhere. I felt like a particularly badly-made puppet being trailed and dangled and dragged around by two very skilled but relentless puppeteers. Sssssssssslsh. Occasionally there was a kind of clunk or crunch as my laser blade sliced through something that wasn’t flesh. But mostly . . . Oh. Ah. Oh. Please make it go away. All of it. Away. Go. Oh. The sound that Glosinda made as she repelled blows—we were now all too close together for any more archery—varied with the weapon in use; there were long narrow shiny blades more like what the average science fiction and fantasy con goer thinks of as a sword and wider duller blades shaped like long thin leaves, narrow at the hilt end, swelling slightly through the length of the thing and tapering sharply at the tip. Some of these latter had something that might have been words or runes written or etched on them. The things the fantasy-writer’s mind notices even when all of her is in meltdown.
And the noise. Bedlam. Bedlam-plus. The noise alone could drive you mad.
And the smell.
I used to put Flowerhair through this several times a novel.
I was a writer, not a warrior. And if I got out of this alive, which hadn’t looked at all likely since I’d found a sword leaning against the wall in my front hall, I was going to have a midlife career change and start writing stories about teddy bears and fluffy bunnies for three year olds. I hoped there was a livelihood to be earned out of the toddler market. Or maybe I’d go to secretarial school. Swords were right out of my range but I could cross flashing keyboard speeds with the doughtiest word processor musketeer. Supposing Silverheart and Glosinda didn’t permanently dislocate both shoulders and tear all the ligaments in both arms.
Scream. . . .
But I was beginning to learn my horse: he bent around my leg like a dressage champion, first in one direction, then the other. Thud-squish. Thump-crunch. Distantly I remembered reading, when I was a horse-crazy kid, about the airs above the ground the Spanish Riding School Lipizzaners learn to wow their audiences, how these are based on what war horses were trained to do when hand-to-hand on horseback was a combat reality, and that these were in turn based on what horses, playing, do loose in the field. It was like remembering what a cup of tea tasted like when you are lost in the desert. Thud-squish. As a sanity aid I tried to imagine Monster as a knobbly-legged foal capering around a paddock and practising his future battle moves on his mom. It wasn’t just that Monster was as crucial to keeping me alive as Silverheart and Glosinda were: having a living, breathing, beating-heart companion in the maelstrom was what was keeping me trying. Let me go out trying.
I felt some enemy blade or other bite into my leg, but I was already screaming; the cut hurt, it hurt like several hells, but all of me already hurt like at least one or two hells; my head and my burning eyes from everything, my back and my shoulders from Silverheart and Glosinda’s grisly antics; my stomach, butt and legs from the unfamiliar demands of riding not merely a horse but an enormous bounding and careening horse while wearing nothing but a nightgown—and I definitely had a blister from that twisted strap.
But my wounded leg was not only still there, it was still working. That would have to do.
There was blood on Monster’s shoulder from a slash at the base of his neck; fortunately it was shallow—but I hadn’t even seen it happen.
I discovered by the frantic expedient of yanking a handful of mane when I lost the reins in some manoeuvre or other but briefly having relatively free use of that hand, and digging my calves into his sides as I did so, that Monster also reared and struck with his forelegs on command. How do people who even know what they’re doing, fighting a battle on horseback, manage the reins, the sword, and the shield? Granted Glosinda was a lot smaller than your standard shield which meant she had to whip my arm around more, but even so—
I was hoarse with screaming. My throat was as raw as a wound.
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