The Riders of the King's Own

Week Thirteen

Nyan rana yn Garuk, di nyan yn Maralu.

My bowstring is so slack itís embarrassing. It was tighter when I was in army training, Iím sure of it. Iíve had these finger exercises the healers have told me to do over the past couple of weeks, while the boneís been healing. Itís supposed to strengthen my tendons or something, I donít know. If itís been working, then I hate to think how slack my bowstring would be if I hadnít been doing them.

Still, itís healed now, even if there is a rather large lump of bone where it broke, but you can really only tell itís there if you feel it. Thatíll apparently wear down over the next couple of months.

I suppose I should say how I actually ended up breaking my arm in the first place, otherwise Iíll either get hounded for it when we get back to Ni-Yana, or people will start making up rumours so it sounds worse than it really was. Iím not sure how thatís possible, but youíd be surprised at what people can come up with.

The guys have naturally mocked me to the ends of the earth about it, most of all Rumal and Kaen, the two other guys in my group. This is not the kind of thing to have lived down easily, though Iím told Yoryl fell out of a tree while theyíve been gone, so maybe thereís hope for me yet.

Keep dreaming, Garuk.

Anyway. Weíd split off in our groups with some number of black-horsed Kazinians after us, as I said, me with Rumal and Kaen. Weíre the ones in the group of three, since weíre all the best at what we do, and we hope that makes up for being one less than the other groups. On this occasion it did-the only injuries in our group were Rumalís black eye (I think he cut through an enemy bowstring and it snapped in his eye, or something. Heís not one to embellish any details except his lost finger) and of course my broken arm, which actually had nothing to do with our group being one member less than the others.

Kaen and I were retrieving daggers and arrows while Rumal poked at his swelling eye. I somehow managed to trip on a stone, stumbled forward, fell into one of the black horses, now without rider, and landed heavily in the mud.

The horse, naturally, reared and screamed for all it was worth. I tried to roll out of the way, but those things are trained well, even when their rider is dead, and it came down on my arm before Rumal and Kaen managed to ward it off with their own well-trained steeds.

Both of them were killing themselves with laughter in spite of my obvious agony. Apparently, from their angle, it looked as though Iíd tripped on a daisy. Do not believe a word of it. It was an Aeia-damned rock. Which isnít much better, but I at least deserve some dignity.

Okay, maybe not, but there was no daisy involved! Iíve suffered enough having to stay cooped up in the Silrona healing house for a month and a half with absolutely nothing to do, and now not enough strength to properly pull my bowstring. Iíve barely got half the range Iíd have normally. Itíll take months to work that up again. I just hope nobody plans on challenging my position with the Own in that time. That would just top it, wouldnít it? Losing your place because you tripped on a rock? (Not a daisy.)

At least I didnít lose everything I own to a group of fur traders.

Nimay says weíre leaving in three days, enough time for that lot to replenish their supplies and for Inel to get himself a new horse. Pretty much everyone but the ever-practical swordies joined him today. Who doesnít love looking at horses? Camels are great, but they canít compare to horses. Theyíre so much more elegant. Haughty at times, especially when they just know theyíre better than anything else around, but I wouldnít trade my Duster for the best camel in Raykin.

This particular stable only sells horses to the army, so theyíre all bred as warhorses rather than for pulling carts or ploughing fields. The stable hands tried to subtly shoo us off initially, thinking we were just a bunch of Raykinians ogling their horses, but once Inel had convinced them he was here to buy, they were considerably more open. Not friendly per se, but as good as youíll get out of the average Kazinian.

Kazinians are odd, in that they pay for a horse based more on its colour rather than what it can actually do. Granted, a dark horse that wonít let anyone touch it, let alone ride it, wonít get as much as a perfectly docile grey, but if there were two horses much the same but for the colour, the darker one would fetch a higher price.

Weíre not that picky. Dark horses are more striking, granted, but if a pale one rides better then we go for that one. Like Duster-pale terracotta, has all the Kazinians looking down their noses at him, but heís a lovely old thing. Iíve had him since I joined up, more than ten years ago.

There were some stunning specimens there today. One particular mare caught my eye, rich brown with a white face and legs, but she was more skittish than I would have liked. She snorted and struggled a bit when Inel lifted her front leg to look at her hoof.

There was a lovely old black gelding there too. Lovely manner, very patient, but he was getting on a bit. A lot of other gorgeous animals too. I love horses.

Inelís naturally finding all possible faults in them, comparing them to his old horse, but thatís expected. Weíre helping him to narrow them down, disregarding any like the brown and white mare and any that just wonít let anyone mount them, any that limp a bit or donít have quite the right gait when being trotted around the yard. That had it narrowed down to seven.

We also introduced them to mine and Ulkarís geldings, Duster and Fleck, and they all seemed to get on well with them.

But then, neither of our two are stallions. We have three stallions altogether-Dizzy, Gylepiís black and brown animal, whoís taken on something of a fatherly role over the other horses; Charcoal, Kuraeís very dark brown beast, who canít stand being behind anyone, so itís good he belongs to a swordie; and of course Mongrel, Nolís little upstart who suits his name to a tee. After the fireworks of when he first met the rest of the group, he has quietened down a bit, but Nol still has trouble controlling him.

ThisÖ could be interesting.

So, weíve narrowed it down to seven. Weíll take those ones out for more of an intensive ride tomorrow and see how they fare. Naturally all the guys whoíve come back from actually doing things for the last couple of weeks want to go for a ride, but Kurae calmly reminded them this evening over drinks that they still have to buy back what they had nicked from them, so that leaves it to the swordies to go out horse testing. They obviously planned this from the beginning.

That, and Nolís judgement is bound to be clouded, given that any horse he rides it going to be smooth as silk compared to Mongrel.

Finally! After a month and a half, Iíll be able to get out of this city! I am so ridiculously sick of Silrona. Kazin in general, really. If we hadnít encountered those black horses, weíd be back in Raykin by now. Or at least, if Inel hadnít broken his leg. Ulkar and I could still ride with arms in casts, we just wouldnít be able to fight. Iím not saying itís Inelís fault-anyone who deliberately kills horse rather than rider deserves an ugly death, which he doubtless received-but it would be nice to be back in heat by now. Itíll start snowing in a few weeks, just watch.

Inel has his horse, and everyone else has restocked their supplies, so weíll be off tomorrow.

Dusterís been well taken care of, as I should expect considering how much that place has cost me to keep him there for the last five and a half weeks. Heís been well-fed, but not so much that heís gotten fat and lazy. Theyíve exercised him too, and even re-shod him and kept his tack nice and polished for me. Iíll give that much to the Kazinians; they know how to take care of a horse.

So while Ulkar and I took our own horses out for a run, the other six swordies and Inel tested the seven horses weíd selected yesterday. Two of the stable hands joined us to make sure we wouldnít nick their horses, which is fair enough. Iím sure itís happened before, and they really are lovely animals.

It was cold, it was drizzling the whole time, and I lost count of how many drops I got falling from the trees onto the back of my neck, but it was fantastic to finally be back on horseback. Iíve not been for so long off horseback since I got into the Own, and I havenít been so long without firing an arrow since my dad handed me a bow when I was about three. Itís like a five and a half week heatwave, only without the heat. No matter how much you want to just get off your arse and do something, you canít. I was stir-crazy after three days.

Even if just for the day, Iíve finally gotten out of the city. You have no idea how good that feels. The swordies were all poking fun mostly at our little country bumpkin, but I reckon the three of us were much the same. Ulkar was just the one showing it most.

In the end, the test ride was pretty successful. We managed to narrow it down to a final two. Inel eventually settled for the mare, a rich honey-coloured animal with white mane and tail, who has now been dubbed Coconut. Two hundred and fifteen gold pieces of horse. The tack was included as well, so that was a pretty good deal, Iíd say. She would have been far more if she was darker, which is probably the reason Inel went for her instead of the gelding. They were both pretty much the same in terms of stamina and agility, but the gelding would have been a good fifty pieces more.

I would have taken the mare as well. I can tell sheíll be absolutely beautiful once sheís out of the drizzle and in the Raykinian sun. The lighter horses always fare better in Raykin, anyway, so long as theyíre not so pale as to get sunburnt.

Tomorrow, we can properly put this city behind us, at least for the next couple of months before the next mission. Iíve had more than enough rain to last me through the rest of the year. Give me a nice long heatwave any day.

Four weeks and weíll be back where people have ten words for Ďsuní and only one for Ďrainí! Huzzah!

Okay, slight miscalculation, more like five weeks, apparently. It took the guys three weeks to get back from where theyíd left the horses stabled before, so itíll take three weeks to get there again, then another two to get out of Kazin. I forgot that going on foot was considerably slower than on a horse.

Itís also been pouring with rain since about half an hour after we left, which is to be expected, but it puts a dampener on things nonetheless. Weíve also been getting spatterings of hail all day, just to add to the excitement. You honestly have no idea how much of a bore rain is until youíve had it in excessive quantities.

The rain and hail, however, hasnít deterred the bandits. I suppose thatís a good thing, since we know weíre actually disposing of them rather than having them still hiding out in wait for a considerably more defenceless caravan than us. Itís still an annoyance though.

It doesnít help that my range is so ridiculously short, either. Normally I can shoot a good eighty paces ahead. Now Iím lucky to get forty. Even the archery range back at the palace is set to sixty paces. This is just ridiculous. Thereís a tip for any budding archers; donít break your arm. Itís embarrassing, if nothing else. Painful, too, I guess, but that goes away relatively quickly. As I said, itíll be months before Iíve worked up my range again. And rest assured that I will be mocked every day of those several months, not least of all the month itíll take to get back to Ni-Yana.

Iíve already copped it today, not firing until the other three archers had shot their first arrow and had nocked the second in. Nol and Gylepi especially, since theyíre now convinced they can end this mission with more kills under their belts than me. Muraliís competitive streak is showing quite strongly too.

I havenít got a hope.

At least I have an excuse though. Aeia-damned rock. And horse.

Gylepiís bow snapped a couple of days ago. Not the string, but the actual wooden bit of it. He wasnít even shooting anything at the time. We were just trudging along, silently or verbally cursing the rain, depending on your preference, when there was a sudden crack and a loud expletive from Gylepiís general direction.

We all spun around to see the poor guy tangled in bowstring and grabbing a bloody gash in his arm where the wood had split.

Hope springs eternal! Depending on how long it takes him to get another bow, I can catch up. If it were me, Iíd just buy the first half-decent thing at the next town with a market then get a better one when I got home, but GylepiÖ Heís a perfectionist. Heís stopped at every single town looking for the ideal bow. In these tinpot little places, itíll be nothing short of a miracle if he finds one.

The best bows are made by Kazinians with Llayan willow for the actual bow, and Kazinian silk for the string. The bows in these places are barely even balanced properly. Until then heís going to have to make do with a sword. At least heís good with a blade, better than any of the other non-swordies. Iíd be laughing if it was Nolís bow that had broken. Well, Iím laughing anyway, but I would be more so if it was Nolís. I can see him fighting with just his dagger so he wouldnít have to get his sword out.

Iím shocked and amazed. Gylepiís actually caved in and bought a very ordinary bow to tide him over until we get back. Apparently heís that desperate to finish this mission well past my total that heís settling forÖ that one.

For the curious, our current standings still have me two ahead of Gylepi, five ahead of Nol and eleven ahead of Murali, despite the fact that I havenít shot anything for nearly six weeks. Iím not out of it yet.

Iíve been doing a lot of target practice on trees in the evening while dinnerís being cooked, helping Haenel with his arrow deflecting, even a bit of sword training. I am going to have my range back to at least Second Company standard by the time weíre back in Ni-Yana, then at least if any First Company archers challenge us before the next mission, I wonít be completely out of it. I can still beat anyone on accuracy. If I do get dropped, Iíll be back by the Summer Solstice.

Course, Iíd rather not be dropped at all, but a broken armíll do that to you.

Week 12      Week 14