Alora heaved a sigh and slumped over until her face almost touched Loki's crest. A trickster at birth, she'd never dreamed it would all come back around on her. Most people didn't talk to her. They spent their time feverishly assembling mojos, praying to Brede, and genuflecting so vigorously Alora had assumed their kneecaps were made of leather. They didn't waste their time or hers with idle chatter.
Dear god,what had she been thinking of when she'd bought this girl?
She heaved another sigh and breathed in sweaty horse. That was it. She hadn't been thinking at all. In the back of her mind she'd looked at Islinn in much the same way she looked at Loki. Something to feed and care for.
"Boy oh boy." She thought glumly and sat up. Her head felt as though it were filled with a gang of blacksmiths pounding on anvils with a sadistic glee.
"Look...let's just drop this okay?
Alora's voice had taken on a hoarse breathiness.
"I'm going back to the Livery to have Loki seen about. Right now,my head really hurts and I don't feel like talking."
Islinn nodded, a strange expression on her face. Alora caught it and frowned again.
"I just...I'd always heard you couldn't be injured."
Alora grunted and urged Loki into a walk. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a legless beggar fork the sign of the evil eye at her. As if she could curse him any more than he already was.
"Tell me something. What do people believe about me? What do they say?"
Islinn couldn't believe she was having this conversation. She reached behind her and lifted up her white-blond hair, hoping to catch a breeze on her neck. She'd never known evil could be so insidious. That it could creep and spread like a web spun by an ambitious spider in the dead of night that hoped for an early morning feast. Her pre-conceived notion of The Twiceborn had crumbled.
If it weren't for the rune-sketched sword and the strange markings on the scabbard, she would have guessed that the woman was, pretty much, like herself. But no, that couldn't be true. She simply couldn't accept that. There had to be a pool beneath the shoal. A run of deepness that signified the crouching, brooding presence of evil. Evil in layers, so many that the parts were greater than the whole. That was what held the end of the rope around her neck. Islinn felt sick.
"Know any gossip or not?" Alora leaned over and spat blood, one eye on Islinn. At first, she wouldn't shut up; now she wouldn't speak at all. Boy oh boy.
Islinn started rattling off bits her father had told her, scuttlebutt she'd heard from traveling bards, and various pieces of info gleaned from towns where babies had been stillborn and cows' milk had curdled.
Alora listened with half an ear. She'd heard them all before. Her and the tales were like old, uneasy companions. She found them amusing so she visited often but she never quite propped her feet up or turned her back on them. She always wondered how they got started.
The key ingredients had to be a good snootful of liquor and a desperate need for attention. Her favorite tale was: "Whosoever Shall Accept A Kindness From The Twiceborn Shall Have Their Name Marked In Black By The Denizens Below." It conjured up a vision of a little bare room filled from wall to ceiling with the ponderous bulk of an obese demon, a long piece of parchment, and a writing quill.
"Another one. There's...another one." He would grumble and laboriously lick the point of the quill before writing a crude X.
"...everywhere you go?"
Alora turned her head slightly so she could hear better. They were close to Fetch's Tavern and everyone there seemed to be whooping it up for some reason. Probably celebrating her smashed up face.
"I said, is it true that your horse is a man possessed and forced to carry you everywhere you go?"
Alora sat back and thought a moment. That was a new one.
"Nope." Alora finally replied. "A horse huh? I don't run across very many men who'd make good horses. Horses' asses maybe. Hey,maybe you heard it wrong. Maybe I'm traveling around turning them all into horses' asses. That would explain a lot."
Islinn fell silent. Her panic still hovered just below the surface and no attempt at humor from The Twiceborn was going to make it go away. Her mind settled back into the old standby of none of this is happening and she quietly embraced it. She wanted to believe it more than anything in the world.
Alora would have been grateful for the silence if she'd noticed it but her attention was elsewhere. Fetch's was packed to the rafters which was no surprise but the attitude she picked up on was. The usual tangle-footed crew was sprawled outside like garbage someone had forgotten to sweep up but she sensed a coalescing force between them. A bonding together in the name of a greater good.
They didn't look away as she rode by; only stared with eyes as empty as the tankards they held. She watched them uneasily. Several of them were Behrin's men and, judging by their expressions, they appeared to be planning a little crusade of their own.
"Well, shit." Alora muttered. She didn't know why she hadn't realized it sooner. What she had done must have stuck in Behrin's craw pretty good and he'd had a little time to think of some payback. And the best part of all...truly the icing on the cake...was she didn't even want the girl.
Now though,it was the principle of the matter which was something Alora had been screwed by many times before.
She pulled Loki up in front of the Livery and slid down. She stood and peered down the way towards Fetch's, her face a mixture of fear and defiance. For no reason at all, she suddenly thought of Cam Dayin and how he always looked when she ran him to ground. How he'd grin hatefully, and pull his lips back from his teeth and the way his eyes would suddenly lock onto hers and glow with a malevolent hate more ancient than time.
It hadn't taken her long to see through Cam's front and she'd beaten him bloody anyway but it was always there. The instinctual face and turn when all the options had run dry. Alora swayed and rested her hand against Loki's flank.The big horse danced in place and arched his neck in spite of the new splatters of blood across his chest. Islinn looked down the road too, her expression calm.
Alora took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She watched the queasy pump of blood against the back of her eyelids.
( Just once to be something other than a beast who fears the spill of its own blood and alerts the hunters to its scent and the faces we give away and the ones we keep inside shouldn't be so different and tell me: what kind of animal am I?)