ONE THIRTY NINE
. . . I was drowning. The Black Tower had turned into a waterfall as it stooped over me and . . . I gagged and tried to turn my head—no, something was in my way—the water was too strong for me, it beat me back, pounded against my closed eyes, forced its way down my throat . . .
Through the roaring in my ears I heard someone shouting. I was stupid with dying (again) and at first it sounded like gibberish . . . although I thought fuzzily that I heard the recently-familiar word azogging . . . more gibberish . . . but then, absolutely clearly, and articulated with deep earnestness, I heard an interesting variation on a routine suggestion about creative uses of horse manure. Whoever was shouting was not in a good mood.
I coughed. That would make two of us. But at least I had air to cough with. The cascade of water had stopped but I was so torrentially wet I might not have noticed except for the breathing and coughing. I couldn’t see out of my glasses—not only were they as wet as the rest of me but I was peering through the smothering water-weed of my hair. I tried to stagger, discovered that only one of my legs would hold me, tried not to scream with limited success about the ‘not’, and would have pitched over on the non-holding side, except that . . . Murac caught me. Oh. Yes. Murac. He was what had been in the way when I’d tried to turn my head. He was as wet as I was. And one of the shouting voices was his.
He was not as wet as I was. He had a lot of leather in the way. I, on the other hand, was starting to shiver in my even-less-adequate-when-sopping, increasingly ragged, flimsy-to-begin-with nightgown . . . which [insert creative use of horse manure here] was probably now transparent. . . .
The only thing keeping me warm was the hard male body whose arms were holding me upright. At the cost of keeping me plastered up against him.
Think about something else. Think about the pain in my leg.
Okay. I can do that. I can totally do that.
Murac was shouting again and Tulamaro—I was pretty sure it was Tulamaro—was shouting right back. Murac’s breastbone and diaphragm or something kept thumping me as he shouted, but given the body parts potentially on offer I wasn’t going to be embarrassed by a diaphragm. My leg was throbbing to a rhythm of its own. Distraction. Distraction is good.
And then someone dropped something across my shoulders—something heavy and warm and fabric—and Murac loosened his grip enough to pull it round me with a sort of impatient gentleness that reminded me of a mother with a tiresome small child. He probably went for buxom barmaids anyway. I hadn’t been built for buxom even when I was young enough to be interesting. I let him jostle me around and this time when I staggered my wounded leg behaved the way a leg should, although it still hurt so horribly I felt light-headed. There, it was nothing to do with hard male bodies. It was just my leg.
Tulamaro and Murac had stopped shouting but they were still spitting words at each other. I wished I could understand them. I had the unpleasant suspicion they were talking about me. Defender, said Tulamaro. Okay, I thought. They are talking about me. Except that . . . I didn’t think he had said Defender. He’d said something that my deranged-by-circumstances brain was translating as Defender.
You saw the stones roll, said Murac to Tulamaro. You saw Lorag put them through fire and water and earth. You’ve no cause now to cry rogue.
My brain was doing a double whammy to come up with ‘cry rogue.’ What Murac seemed to have said originally was ‘no grounds to say your ass is on fire and I struck the tinder’. I would have been brilliant as a simultaneous translator at the United Nations when the honored member from whatsit called the honored member from whosit a dying warthog with mange.
Nor have you cause for arrogance, said Tulamaro.
‘Arrogance’ was something like ‘your sword was forged with piss and horse manure’. Ubiquitous stuff, horse manure.
How am I arrogant? shouted Murac.
Or, ‘How am I the bearer of a bastard sword?’
Would you I had let her fall? Murac went on. Let Defender fall?
So, eh, said another voice. Most of our women soldiers—
I’m not even going to try to de-translate ‘women soldiers’. My first-grade teacher would hunt me down to the ends of the universe and wash my mouth out with soap.
—Will fillet you—
Do I have to translate ‘fillet’?
—if you sneeze wrong. So friend Murac—
‘Friend’ was something like ‘dying warthog with mange’. It’s all in the tone of voice.
—is enjoying his armful of naked woman. Eh, why not? We’re all going to die—
But I had got hung up on ‘armful of naked woman’. ‘WHAT?’ I yelled, involuntarily, stumbling away from Murac and clutching the warm but scratchy cloak or blanket or whatever it was tighter around me. ‘WHAT?’
There was a brief pause.
‘She can understand us,’ said Tulamaro wonderingly. ‘She can understand us. That hasn’t happened in . . . ’
‘A long, long time,’ said Murac.
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