Shkai’ra knelt on the Marble Palace roof, waiting for the supposedly not crazy Mahid to come up and spar with her. Megan had said that if she wanted someone to pound on it was him who was most likely to want to… and maybe the women in the Elite. They were so new in their positions, for Arkans, that they still could use a good example of women capable of kicking some men’s asses.
The Aeniri horse fair. Megan had been off doing something to do with her vendetta… The horse dealer who’d managed – again – to catch and bring a live Ri to the market. But he’d lost so many people doing it that he couldn’t imagine any kind of profit from the black and silver whirlwind in the pen, covered in blood.
He’d picked up the axe to kill it when she’d stepped in. There was something… she had to stop him from killing it.
It wasn’t a horse. It was the size of a horse, eighteen hands. Horse shaped, mostly. Clawed pads like a cougar. Wedge shaped almost horse shaped head, but with eyes forward… and fangs instead of flat horse teeth. Black on black stripes like a tiger with astonishing silver mane, flecked with blood and flesh that it had torn out of the hapless man who’d tried to restrain it. Silver tail set high and proud, sweeping the muck it stood in. Rope burns and wounds all over its head and neck.
She’d stared into those crazy, crazy green eyes and somehow… even though she wasn’t Riadyn, the people who were reputed to being the only ones mad enough to bond with and ride the Ri, she’d made a connection.
She’d gotten the ropes off that had cut into his skin, walked backward, eyes locked, to the edge of the island, her bootheels going over the edge, raising a flash of one of the only fears she had: heights.
Hotblood had screamed in her face then, reacting to the fear… and bowled past her into the river. She’d thought he was gone then.
He’d truly bonded with her though, and followed them up river… until the blizzard that nearly killed her and the rest of the crew… he’d loomed out of the snow and wrapped his fuzzy, stinking self around her. She’d pulled the buffalo robe over them both and they’d kept each other warm.
Ten years, she’d ridden him. Ten years they’d been together in her head. Ten years of adventure full of his admiration of her ability to kill things. Ten years of bloody well trying to eat everything in front of him. Ten years of his glorious slaughterhouse of a mind.
He’d been getting more and more uncomfortable with her feelings, settling into the marriage… there was too much love there. Too much feeling. Too much. He couldn’t stand it.
The final straw had been Ashmita. Shkai’ra hadn’t expected to even be able to GET pregnant any longer.
The commotion of people arriving at the rooftop door pulled her out of her thoughts, away from the raw spot where Hotblood had broken their bond. The women of the Sunborn Elite were all there, clattering armour and armour bags. The Mahid girls from their sports team. All of them. And their Senior male… that Ilesias who’d married one of the Yeolis. Yes, she was there, armoured up with women, curly dark blond. Another skinny-ass tall boy already armed and armoured. And a dozen servants, with water service and a couple of those Pages boys with necks almost as thin as their pens.
She grinned and leapt straight up onto her feet. Yes, Megan-mi, you got the right people for me to play with. I’m not soft, I’m not old, I’m not all lovey-dovey, tender, weak. Oh, good, there’s the Captain of their Elite, too. I’m going to get a real set of bruises!