“Come on, silly!” Kyriala actually managed to clip the back of Minis’s head, laughing, standing in her stirrups and her lovely palfrey—Smooth as Cream, the one he’d given her—whinnied a horsey laugh with her as they glided down the road toward where the coaches and palanquins from the city must be coming.
“I was NOT woolgathering!” He touched heel to the side of his own horse, Solsol, which wasn’t Nasty but was a silver dapple with a mouth of butter and an odd sense of humor. Solsol plunged into a gallop after Smooth and he could hear Gan and Farasha both on their bays laughing. “I’m just, um.” He saved his breath as the wind whipped his words right out of his mouth. Kyriala flung her braids behind her and crouched as low as her belly would allow and as he came up, Solsol’s stride so much longer than Smooth’s, she and the horse spun around him and crossed the road into the wet pasture beyond, hopping the stone wall around the field as if it weren’t there.
“Ky! You’re being RECKLESS!” He was breathless with shock. Jumping? In her condition? But… but…
All she did was laugh and dropped back to ride beside him, though a ditch and a wall now separated them. She’s just gone funny, he thought. She could fall. She could get hurt. I mean she’s not showing that much yet but she could still get hurt, hurt the baby… Akminchaer won’t stop her! It’s all, ‘oh, she should exercise and do everything she did before’ and ‘this Arkan idea of putting pregnant women in a padded box is bad for them’!
For a lovely moment they just rode side by side, even separated. The Winter Palace stable master had a long standing rivalry with the Marble Palace stable master and had presented Minis with Solsol as his latest bid to out-do his competitor in the city. Minis didn’t have the heart to tell him that he missed the Mahid war horses, especially if he had to ride anywhere but a nice smooth road. Solsol was a beautifully paced riding horse but he missed Nasty.
“Minis,” she called. “You’re woolgathering again.”
“I am not. I’m merely worrying. Something that I’m eminently good at!” He tried to make a joke of it, as if it wasn’t as though glass knives of fear speared into him every time she did something risky. She had mercy on him and instead of jumping the wall and the ditch back onto the road, she shook her head, pulled up at a gate and expertly toed it open, bent to catch the rope as she rode through and pulled it shut behind, demurely settling at his stirrup.
“Don’t worry, love. I feel wonderful, even as I feel so strange. I feel a bit like “…fluttering wings of fire… spirit of child… spirit of wild… I feel you press against my cheek…” She smiled at him as she quoted and he could feel himself blush hot, even as the winter wind blew cool across the plain. “You wrote that for this child and for me and that’s what I feel like, though it’s not touching my cheek.”
“Oh, look! There’s the pennants!” He said, determined not to be embarrassed by her quoting his unorthodox poetry that he kept writing for her and leaving for her to find, on their pillows, on her desk, tucked into the sleeve of a dress, clipped to the dog’s collar. Bella came snuffling out of the brush and floundered through the ditch to bark onto the road in front of them.
She looked down and smiled. “I’m so glad it will just be close friends and family,” she said. “I’m shocking Dilaria with my behavior.”
“What, so she can write more ‘shocking disclosures of the Marble Palace boudoir?” Gan and Fara came up holding hands, even as they rode, their pair so well matched that they could do it without leaning wildly over the road.
“Min, you still uncomfortable about all the people who are coming?” Gan said.
He clenched his teeth and then chuckled at himself. “Well, yes. There’s us and your families… and yours Ky, except for Nuninibas who’s coming up with Ili. Then there’s Grandfather and mother, and Tesha and the Razor fans and the Mahid babies…”
“And one or two of Ili’s friends,” Gan said, but mercifully leaving off the longer list of friends who were coming as well.
“Tanifas is bringing the new puppies up so we can choose… bloody hayel!” Minis ducked and Doof squawked cheerfully as she soared up with one of the Imperial feathers clutched in her feet. “How did I end up with so much family?”
Ky reached to touch his shoulder. “If you get too overwhelmed we can go out for a ride like this and pretend that there aren't half a Rejin of security around you and we can pretend we're on the road again. You deserve good people around you, love. Don’t panic.”
He took a deep breath. “I don’t even know HOW to family and I’m going to be a dad and a shadow-dad all at once!”
“You’ll do fine, Min,” Fara said. “Just have fun!”
Solsol, the darling of the Winter Palace stable master, tossed his head and jinked on the road as the coaches saw them and someone sounded a trumpet fanfare. “Fun. Like today.” He took a deep breath. “It was a wonderful ride and the weather held and it looks like everyone will get to the Winter Palace before the next icy rain! You’re right, loves. You’re right.” He shook his hand where he’d been holding it on his thigh, clenched tight inside his riding glove. “I’m not inclined to lose my luncheon, and everyone is safe.”
“And neither I nor Fara will be flying ourselves anywhere now, till after the babies are born,” Ky said firmly.
My dearest love, that is less reassuring than it sounds.