War Maid’s Choice – Snippet 34

“Making you feel guilty, is he?” Hathan asked.

“Oh, not so much as all that,” Bahzell demurred with a grin.

“But not for lack of trying. Is that what you mean?”

< Tell him a champion of Tomanāk doesn’t resort to trickery to get what he wants, > Walsharno said.

“Now that I won’t.” Bahzell shook his head with a laugh. “First, because it’s a fearful lie it would be, and, second, because he’d not believe a word of it.”

Walsharno snorted and shoved hard enough with his nose to stagger even the massive hradani, and Hathan laughed. He obviously didn’t need to actually hear what Walsharno had said to make a pretty shrewd guess about its content. He started to say something else, then paused and turned his head, shading his eyes with one hand as another courser — this one an iron gray, smaller (though no courser would ever actually be called “small”) than Walsharno and obviously at least a few years older — came drifting over.

“Good morning, Gayrhalan,” Bahzell said courteously, and the newcomer snorted with a very horselike head shake before he nodded to the hradani.

There’d been a time when Bahzell Bahnakson had not been Gayrhalan’s favorite person in the world. Those days were long gone, but Hathan’s courser had been well named. “Storm Souled” — that was what Gayrhalan meant — and the gray’s temper was as stormy as his name suggested.

Despite which, he whinnied like a child’s pony in delight as Hathan reached into his belt pouch and extracted a large lump of maple sugar.

“Greedy!” the Sothōii said as Gayrhalan lipped the sugar delicately from his palm. The courser ignored the charge with lordly hauteur…and crunched the sugar loudly.

< It’s nice to see that some wind riders actually appreciate their brothers, > Walsharno observed.

“Ha!” Bahzell shook his head. “‘Appreciate,’ is it, now? More a matter of who’s after being under whose hoof, I’m thinking!”

“That sort of honest evaluation isn’t going to make you any friends, Milord Champion,” Hathan said.

“Aye,” Bahzell sighed and shook his head again, his expression mournful. “It’s a hard lot, this being an honest man. There’s never an end to the trouble it can be landing a fellow in! If I’d the least notion then where it would be taking me, I’d not have fallen so easy for Himself’s little invitation. I mean, when it comes to the sticking point, what’s one wee little demon one way or the other compared to a man’s spending his whole life long speaking naught but the truth? And me a hradani, to boot.”

Hathan laughed. But then he gave Gayrhalan’s neck one last pat and turned to face Bahzell fully, and his expression was far more serious than it had been.

“Gayrhalan says Dathgar’s strength is coming back nicely. Has Walsharno spoken with him this morning?”

< Yes, I have, > Walsharno replied, and from the strength of his mental voice Bahzell knew he was speaking simultaneously to Gayrhalan, as well. < I think he’s almost fully recovered, although I’m none too enthusiastic about putting that to the test just yet. > He shook his mane and blew heavily. < He’s not so young as he used to be, and I don’t think it would hurt a thing for him to have another day or so of rest before we head on to Sothōfalas. >

Hathan’s eyes had narrowed as he listened to Gayrhalan relaying Walsharno’s comments. Now he smiled and nodded his head vigorously, but his expression was quizzical.

“I don’t know that I’d like to be the one suggesting to Dathgar that he might be getting a bit past it,” he said, regarding Walsharno with a raised eyebrow. “In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t, even if I were a somewhat younger fellow than him and a champion of Tomanāk. Having said that, though, I agree there’s no need to rush getting back on the road. And not just for Dathgar’s sake, either.”

“Well, I’ll not deny it’s easier I’d be in my own mind if it so happened we could convince Tellian of the same thing,” Bahzell acknowledged. “Mind, champion of Tomanāk or no, I’ve no mind to be suggesting to him as how he’s ‘getting a bit past it, either,’ if it’s all the same to you.”

“I think that would be an excellent thing to avoid doing,” Hathan agreed fervently. “In fact, I can’t think of anything you could possibly say that would be more likely to inspire him to insist on leaving before breakfast!”

< There’s no need to do anything of the sort. > Walsharno flipped his ears in the courser equivalent of a shrug when Bahzell and Hathan looked at him. < We’ll just suggest to Dathgar that it would be better for Tellian to rest for another day or two — and, of course, that we don’t want anyone telling Tellian that, given how stubborn he is. And then we’ll suggest exactly the same thing to Tellian about Dathgar. > He flipped his ears again. < They’ll both jump for it the same way Gayrhalan jumps for sugar. >

“Sure, and a sad thing it is to see such deceitfulness so early in the morning,” Bahzell sighed.

< Oh? > Walsharno cocked his head, examining his wind brother with one skeptical eye. < And do you have a better idea? >

“That I don’t,” the hradani conceded cheerfully. “And it’s no quarrel I have with deceitfulness so long as it’s after working, when all’s said.”

“From your lips to Tomanāk’s ears,” Hathan said feelingly. “And if convincing the two of them to go easy on each other doesn’t work, we can always add Tarith. For that matter, I’m pretty sure we could convince him to hobble around for a day or two — with a properly stoic expression, you understand — to convince Tellian he needs the rest!”

“No doubt,” Bahzell agreed.

“Good.”

Hathan reached up to rub Gayrhalan’s nose again for several seconds, then looked back at Bahzell and Walsharno, and his expression was far more serious than it had been.

“Things were a bit hectic yesterday,” he said. “I’m not sure I got around to thanking the two of you for saving Tellian’s and Dathgar’s lives. If I didn’t, I should have.” His eyes darkened with emotion. “I knew they were both gone, and all I could think of was telling Hanatha. I think it would have killed her, too, you know.”

“I’m thinking she’s a stronger woman than that,” Bahzell disagreed. “Still and all, it’s happier I am we’ve no need to find out one way or the other.”

“The gods know I agree with you there!” Hathan said. “When you pulled those arrows out of his chest, Bahzell…I was afraid you were going to finish him off on the spot!” He shook his head. “Of course, I knew even then that we were going to lose him anyway if you couldn’t heal him, but still –!”

“I’ll not deny it gave me a twinge or two,” Bahzell admitted. “Yet I couldn’t be leaving them where they were, and there was no time at all, at all, for being gentle about it.”

“No, and I knew it at the time. For that matter, I had to do the same thing with Dathgar!”

< And a good thing he did, too, > Walsharno said, looking at Gayrhalan. < Tell him he was my hands, Gayrhalan. Without him, we’d have lost Dathgar for certain. >

Hathan cocked his head as he listened to the other courser relaying that to him. Then he nodded to Walsharno with a courteous formality.

“It was my honor,” he said quietly. “But we were all lucky to have the two of you and Vaijon along! Toragan only knows how many we would’ve lost without you.” His mouth tightened. “For that matter, it was bad enough with all the three of you could do.”

“That it was.”