“WHAT?” I said again. I tried to lower my voice. “What hasn’t happened in a long time?” I wanted to know, but I wanted to get away from the armful of naked woman remark as fast as possible too. I was shivering harder, in spite of the blanket (or cape), shivering hard enough that my wounded leg was threatening to give way again. You are not going to cave on me, I said to it—telepathy ought to be possible with your own body parts—and tried surreptitiously to press one hand against the thigh of that leg to stop the knee buckling. I didn’t want Murac diving for me. I didn’t want Murac anywhere near me ever again.
“That Defender can understand us,” said Murac, and I thought he sounded wary. I doubted that the tenets of modern feminism were well-known in Murac’s world but if there were women soldiers inclined toward the, um, filleting of insolent men there might be a practical similarity. Gender politics. They are everywhere there are genders. I had spent a good deal of my professional career performing a kind of metaphorical filleting. But that was in my own world where I occasionally had a clue what was going on. I felt tears pricking at the corners of my eyes again. I was so tired. And confused. And cold. And my teeth were missing Murac’s shoulder.
And the pain in my leg seemed to be occupying most of my brain. There must be something I could usefully be thinking about. If I had a brain available.
Murac wasn’t exactly standing with his hands over his groin but it seemed to me he was standing the way an old soldier might who was expecting to have to protect himself from sudden assault. I wondered how much force someone was allowed to use against his Defender. Even if she was threatening to fillet him.
“I’ve been understanding you right along,” I said. Barring the occasional azogging and giztimi.
Murac shook his head. “Na so much,” he said. “When the stones choose you, eh . . .”
You saw the stones roll. . . . You saw Lorag put them through fire and water and earth. “Lorag,” I said. “Who is Lorag?”
Now Murac definitely looked wary. There was a rumble behind me that was probably Tulamaro. It was a negative sort of rumble.
But Murac straightened out of his slight warding crouch and his face dropped wary and became determined. “Should na have mentioned her,” he said. “She . . .” he hesitated.
Louder negative rumble from Tulamaro.
But Murac shook his head. “Na. Here is Defender. And the stones chose me.” He grinned unexpectedly. The grin was still creepy but there was an edge to it I hadn’t noticed before. “Giztimi, eh? Arnehgh.” Arnehgh ended with a glottal stop like a body blow. And my new insta-translate function told me that giztimi was more runs with scissors than strictly moron—which had been my first guess an eon or two ago—and arnehgh was more loose cannon with the fuse burning than weasel which would probably have been my first guess if Murac was about to say something that would piss off Tulamaro.
There was a low nasty laugh from somewhere behind me. Astur, I guessed. The naked-woman remark had sounded like his voice. He was the weasel. I was pretty sure he’d be out to do Silverheart’s bearer what mischief he could but I wasn’t going to turn around and check his position. Tulamaro didn’t like me but I was pretty sure he thought I was this Defender, and would probably stop the likes of Astur from accidentally killing me—‘so sorry, my hand slipped’.
We’re all going to die . . . drifted unpleasantly across my memory. I banished it. I went on staring at Murac, willing him to say what he was poised on the brink of saying. I stood up as straight as my leg would let me, and tried to look as fierce and Defendery as possible. A blanket was less embarrassing than a rosebud-embellished nightgown but I doubted it was any more authoritative.
“Lorag is our zhulmgwlda,” said Murac, and my insta-translate heaved and fumbled, like someone who has just caught a hot potato and it’s a lot hotter than they were expecting. Random syllables bounced around inside my head, caroming off the skull and going squish splat thud through my ex-brain. Ra lah dlah cors fa mor un ta fat grue blee storn. . . .
I saw a castle on a hill and a banner divided into quarters by two swords, containing a hawk, a sighthound, a horse and a rose. I saw a woman in a high tower with a silky golden sighthound at her feet.
Lady, said the insta-translate. Try harder, I answered.
The woman had been writing. But she now laid her pen down with a sigh, and for a moment she slumped forward, elbows on the table, like any tired, written-out person. I’d done that slump many times, with my elbows either side of my keyboard. Then she straightened and turned toward . . . well, turned toward where my point of view was coming from. As if she saw me.
“Kestrel Macfarquhar,” she said. As she turned, the sleeve on her left arm rucked up, and on her wrist she wore Glosinda’s twin.
Shaman, said the insta-translate.
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