Chapter 81 Hat

        Sennary was riding hard when his comsphere glowed. Behind him were three of the Eletic warriors he'd run into in the gorge - the rest were dead. Or maybe it was a different three? They'd been after him at full gallop for half a day, and his tireless, prossed horse ought to have out- distanced them by now. Yet they were still there, following, apace. Had they switched to fresh steeds somewhere?
        The comsphere continued to glow, tinting the back of his own mount's mane.
        Damn! What if it's Justan? I'll have to stop, find out. A look over the shoulder, they were still behind, ten seconds at most! Best just answer, see who's calling.
        He timed his movement, aimed for the comsphere, bobbed down with a quick tap. Someone's face appeared, life, it was shaking so much, distorted too, coming through the exchange, who - Roween? Gods, what's she saying? Drumming hooves, too much noise! He pulled his horse to a halt, drew his sword. "Wait!" breathless.
        The first Elet charged past, swinging low towards Sennary's belly; he turned the blade up so it flicked past his arm, then raised his shield to meet the second rider's sword, stuck his own weapon beneath, hit air. He felt another blow, glimpsed a man's leg standing in a stirrup, chopped for it. Contact! His sword discharged the power of nine breaking rods into its victim, bounced him dead to the ground.
        Sennary spiralled to meet the third Elet, but he didn't attack. Instead, he signalled to his comrade, who Sennary now realised was female. A slicing gesture, `break off'. She nodded, took the reins of the riderless horse, pulled it away. The body on the ground was ignored.
        Sennary was momentarily dumbfounded. Battle instincts were still spinning in his head, but his two foes had calmly disengaged after pursuing him since breakfast! Breakfast? Hot, but he was hungry!
        "Sennary? Are you alright? Did they hurt you?"
         It was so dark where she was that he could hardly make out her face. "Roween! No, I'm fine, I'm, I just killed a man..."
        She seemed to empathise. "Sometimes, you have to."
        "Still..." His eyes scanned around for cover, none close by. Exposed enough that he wouldn't get ambushed, anyway, and it'd take his attackers time to rustle up reinforcements.
        "Sennary! I warned you! Turn back, please. The risk!"
        He smiled, grimly. "It's too late for that, Roween. Justan sent out two groups of mercenaries, one aside of me, one following on. The Elets got the first lot two days ago, the others late yesterday. There's no escape for me now." He raised his eyes, checked around for danger.
        "For pity's sake, Sennary! We'll beat you to Liagh Na Laerich anyway, you're too far behind us. Forget your mission, think about yourself!"
        In a single movement, he unstrapped the comsphere from its saddlemount, held it out to the right. No sense in showing her the corpse. "What do you see?"
        She paused. "It's not snowing where you are?"
        "Perfect weather." He returned the com-2. "Justan's cleared me a channel all the way to the capital."
        Roween was holding her finger to her lips, waited a few seconds. "Someone was walking past the caravan, they'd have heard. There's some kind of hold-up ahead, Conley's gone to find out what's causing it, see if she can help. I just wanted to call you."
        "To warn me off? But you must have known I wouldn't change my mind."
        She looked to one side, unknowingly exaggerating the convergence of her eyes. "I suppose so, yes. I just, I don't know, something happened in Zoderdhua, it was..." She bit her lower lip. "I haven't been thinking straight since then...". He couldn't quite see them, but her voice betrayed the tears in her eyes.
        "Roween..." soft.
        She glanced back at him, then away again. "Sennary, I'm so afraid. I'm afraid you're going to die, and there's nothing I can do to prevent it. Liagh Na Laerich is huge, there must be ten million people live there, you don't have a hope of getting through before someone stops you. You'll be killed and they'll leave you in the snow and it'll be all for nothing." She covered her mouth with the back of her hand.
        "And you, Roween? Are you safe?"
        "I'm dead already, there's no escape for me. My soul's been torn out and fed to beasts." She sobbed.
        "I have to find you, Roween, don't you see that? It's not to cover myself in glory, or out of misguided loyalty, and I know the odds are I'll die, but I just want - ".
        She'd seen someone coming, tapped out.

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: isif81.htm