ladâs thin face. HorrorâKyrem remembered horror and nothing more.
The horses fought. Stallions allâfor mares were not ridden but used for brood and milk, and gelding was scarcely whispered of, an enormity as blasphemous as the mating of mare to onagerâonce the control of their masters ceased to restrain them, the stallions fought.
The white went firstâsoft, posturing, suitable only for ceremony and show; rearing, it was soon toppled over backwards and broke its neck in the fall. The black was more dangerousâthe pure, clear black, not a brown hair on it, not even the fine hairs of forehead and muzzleâvery dangerous, but it took a smashing blow in the jaw from Omberâs hind hooves and fled to die a lingering death from starvation. The falcon-speckled gray, lean and swift, favored as resembling the raptor, fared little better, running off with the blood flowing bright from a deep meeting of teeth at the jugular. And the red bay, the kumait with the lucky star of Suth on the forehead, took a striking blow on that star, strong enough to send it crashing to the ground. Omber alone, the blue roan, remained, and a wisp of a girl of a stableboy scarcely noticed the battle, intent on the fate of the one remaining human sufferer before her.
When at last he awoke, yellow sunlight was streaming through the trees. Morning, he thought. How the leaves have spread. Where has the night gone? He tried to rise and discovered to his hazy surprise that he could not; he felt too weak. He could see to either side. No sign of the captain or the others, but one of their blankets was stretched, tentlike, over his head. He noticed a steady pain in his stomach, not so much the familiar pang of hunger as a more sluggish ache, the feeling of illness. Then Seda appeared above him, carrying a pan of something.
âSeda,â he said, wondering that his voice came out as a quavering whisper.
The lad sat down wordlessly beside him, folding her long legs, and without preamble, she began to spoon the stuff into him. It was a very thin gruel. Kyrem swallowed a few spoonfuls, astonished and insulted, before he mustered strength to bring an arm up from under his covering of blankets. He intended to take the spoon, but his hand, wavering, blundered into the pan of gruel, sending it splattering over Seda and the ground.
âStop that!â said Seda as sharply as he had ever heard the lad speak. âLie still.â
Kyrem glaredâthe ungrateful youngster! But in a moment all his attention was taken up by a phenomenal sensation in his innards. The gruel seemed to be eating its way through them. Pain attended every inch of its progress, and Kyrem doubled up and lay on his side, moaning. Seda came over and inserted her hand into the tight curl of his belly, rubbing it hard. At first Kyrem wanted to shout in protest, but then he realized that the warmth and pressure of the ladâs hand eased him somewhat, and by cautious degrees he relaxed.
âWhat is going on?â he panted. âWas that poison you fed me, Seda?â
Somewhat to his surprise, the lad replied. âThe redcaps,â she said tightly.
âThose mushrooms? But you had eaten them with us many a time.â
âThey are good food cooked, deadly raw.â
The few spoonfuls of gruel reached the end of their agonizing journey. Seda turned back the blankets and cleaned Kyrem without comment. He forgot to be mortified, for a sense was growing in him that he had wet one foot in the river of death.
âDead,â she said. âDead within a few breaths. I could not help them.â
He had eaten less than they. How long ago had that been?
âSleep,â said Seda, and he did.
It had been nearly a week, he found later. Seda had nursed him constantly during that time. She had dragged the bodies of the dead men away and had covered the bodies of the horses with boughs, and she had found pasturage
Donald; Lafcadio; Richie Hearn