Most of the onlookers gawked and stored up information so they could hold their own later on at Fetch's. The buyers off the Sand Flats watched with the polite interest of invited guests so Alora didn't expect any surprises out of them. Which was a good thing. They enjoyed a fight. Called them "donners" and wagered quite a bit on the outcome. She'd heard they were fierce fighters but she didn't think she'd cross swords with any of them. Besides, how often did they get to see a bona-fide, genuine article dybbuk maneuver an intoxicated horse through an angry mob?
No, her trouble would come from the two who'd held the highest bid before she'd skunked them out of their purchase. Alora noticed how the two men didn't look away from her assessment. Their eyes were bloodshot and sullen.
They wore half-armor, a herculean feat in itself on a hot day, and their arms resembled well-knotted cordwood. One of them gave her a wide, expectant grin.
She looked away and continued to scan the crowd. She recognised Treze, a morose man who made his living from killing for coin. He tipped his hat towards her in a silent greeting. What he was doing mixed up in all of this she didn't know. His coins stayed so long in pocket that the engraving was apt to be rubbed off by the time he pulled them out.
All of this was disturbing but what bothered her the most was the sudden realization that she was going to have to ride the girl behind her to get out of the crowd.
"Shit." She thought bitterly. The joke had been fun but now she was the punchline instead of Behrin. It dawned on her that she'd bought a living, breathing person with needs and wants totally alien to her own. She had definitely gotten a good one over on Behrin though, judging from his been-run-through-the-mill posture and blank stare. He looked...lost.
(Lost,I lost,I know where they go now,she's gone,everything gone,that pregnant shift,Islinn)
The fragments rolled off of him like noxious fumes off an infected wound and Alora's head gave a warning thump as the words raced through. She pressed her fingers hard against one temple and looked at Islinn. She felt a flash of sympathy.
"Last thing I need is a stray." Alora thought. She ran a quick hand through her hair and resigned herself to the situation. It amazed her how many faces stupidity could wear. This time it had been just a little payback riding in on the coattails of a few bad days but the results were still the same.
She pressed a firm outside leg against Loki's side to make him stand tight against the platform and held out a hand to Islinn.
"Here. I'll help you on. I think it's time we got out of here." Alora said, her voice strained. She could only hope her face didn't register how she felt about riding double.
The heartbeat in the back of Islinn's throat tripled and she took a slow step back.
"I'm not riding behind you." She said, her voice panicked. Behrin giggled. It was a wierd, uneven sound. Alora gave him a sharp glance and suddenly grimaced. Her face twisted with pain.
"Islinn,are you pregnant?" She blurted. Islinn stared at her,baffled.
Alora held up a weary hand as Loki danced beneath her.
"Never mind. Look,suit yourself." She mumbled. "Stay up by Loki. I don't want you to break your neck."
Islinn jumped down off the platform and was surprised her legs caught her and held her up. Behrin wasn't so lucky. His knees hit the wood with a sharp crack.
Islinn turned, as unnerved by the sound as she was by the sight of him so weak and so used up. Even though she hated him and lost sleep over the things he'd done to her and cried for the things he'd taken away she still felt a strange sort of compassion well up in her heart. This abject portrayal of loss was something she was familiar with on an intimate basis.
She knew how it could hurt, how much it took, and what little comfort it gave in return.
The rope tightened on her neck and Islinn looked away from Behrin, her cheeks scarlet. She was embarrassed for him and her participation in what had turned him into what everyone was now staring at.
"Up here. By Loki's flank."
Alora's words jolted Islinn into movement. From her time with Behrin she'd developed an almost unthinking obedience. She quickly stepped up by the big,black horse. She eyed the sweating animal warily.
The crowd eagerly cleared a path and all the mumbling and speculation died away. Islinn was puzzled by this but Alora wasn't. She'd been in this situation many times before. The crowd was like a cat that waited in the tall grass for the mouse to make its play. She knew what followed next. Alora checked Islinn again then nudged Loki forward.
As she drew closer to the two she'd pegged for trouble her eyes picked out details that might figure in the outcome of what was about to happen. Right off,she noticed they "side-rigged" their swords instead of back-rigged.
Of course they were a lot bigger than she was, they could do a side-rig, but she'd found most men that were any good with a blade,back-rigged. It was an easier way to carry and if you practiced enough, the blade pulled just as easily from the back as from the side.
Their scabbards were nothing but flashy trash made of kantak, a heavy wood that was too cumbersome for practical use but held an ornamental scroll beautifully. Both sheathes were magnificently engraved and told the tale of each bearer in glowing, long-winded terms. Alora doubted if either of the two men had been alive long enough to have tallied up so many marks.
"Bullshit brothers." She thought.
Still,she wouldn't underestimate them. Swordsmen like those two were known as "cobs" in the ring. Or sphere, as it was known in the more expensive betting circles. They relied more on the one fatal blow technique then they did on finesse.
Something crashed into Loki's hindquarters and he jittered sideways, almost unseating her. The quick jink caught her off guard. Alora's hand snatched mane and her legs instinctively jackknifed tight against the horse's slippery sides.
"Oh shit,I'm down!" Her mind gibbered but she quickly regained her balance and straightened up. She thought someone had chucked a rock but, as her head whipped around, she groaned aloud at her own stupidity.
She'd forgotten Treze. He'd used the crowd as cover to hide his attack.
With a whipthin agility she'd woefully overlooked, he had jumped out and snagged Islinn around the neck with his left arm. He spun her around and pressed himself hard against Loki's flanks. Islinn yelped like a wounded dog. Her fingers scrabbled at the chokehold.