“What’s that?” “How I’m going to make sure tonight is so memorable you come running back here when you’ve got the treaty,” Stefen breathed into his ear. If ‘Fandes wasn’t so bone-deep tired, Van thought through a fog of weariness and cold, I’d ask her to run.
Ah, well. Dull gray clouds were so low they made him claustrophobic; the few travelers on the road seemed as dispirited and exhausted as he was.
Sleet drooled down as it had all day; the road was a slushy mire, and even the most waterproof of cloaks were soaked and near-useless after a day of it.
Dirty gray snow piled up on either side of the road and made walking on the verge impossible.
Van had stopped at an inn at nooning to dry off and warm up, and half a candlemark after they started out again he might as well not have bothered.
Both he and Yfandes were so filthy they were a disgrace to the Circle. :No one would be able to stay clean in this,: ‘Fandes grumbled. :How far are we? I’ve lost all track of distance.
Gods, I’m freezing. : :I think we’re about two candlemarks out of Haven at this pace,: Vanyel told her. She raised her head, a spark of rebellion in her eye. :To the lowest hells with this pace,: she said, shortly. :I’m taking a new way home.: And with that, she pivoted on her hindquarters and leaped over the mounds of half-thawed snow that fenced the sides of the road.
Vanyel tightened his legs around her barrel and his grip on the pommel with a yelp of surprise.
He tried to Mindspeak her, but she wasn’t listening.
After three tries, he gave up; there was no reasoning with her in this mood. She ranged out about twenty paces from the road, then threw her head up, her nostrils flaring. :I thought so.
This is where the road makes that long loop to the south.
I can cut straight across and have us at the Palace gates in half a candlemark. : “But -” he began. Too late.
She stretched her weary legs into a canter, then a lope.
She was too tired for an all-out run, but her lope was as good as most horses’ full gallop. “Look out!” Vanyel shouted. “- you’re going through -” She leaped a hedge, and cut through a flock of sheep, who were too startled by her sudden presence to scatter.
Something dark and solid-looking loomed up ahead of them in the gusting sheets of thick sleet.
She leaped again, clearing the hedge on the opposite side of the field; then lurched and slipped on a steep slope.
Vanyel clung to her back as she scrambled down a cut, splashed through the ice-cold creek at the bottom, and clambered up the other bank. Van gave up on trying to stop her, or even reason with her, and hung on for dear life. The sleet thickened and became real snow; by now Vanyel was so cold he couldn’t even feel his toes, and his fingers were entirely numb.
Snow was everywhere; blown in all directions, including up, by the erratic gusts of wind.
He couldn’t see where Yfandes was going because of the snow being blown into his face; only the tensing of her muscles told him when she was going to make another of those bone-jarring jumps, into or out of someone’s field, across a stream, or even through a barnyard. Finally she made another leap that ended with her hooves chiming on something hard.
Presumably pavement; she halted abruptly, ending in a short skid, and he was thrown against the pommel of his saddle before he could regain his balance.
When he looked up, the walls of the city towered over them both, and here in the lee of the walls the wind was tamed to a faint breath.
Already snow had started to lodge in the tiny crevices between the blocks of stone, creating thin white lines around each of them. She moved up to the gate at a sedate walk, bridle bells chiming cheerfully as a kind of ironic counterpoint to her tired pacing. The Guard at the gate started to wave them through, then took a second look and halted them just inside the tunnel beneath the walls, with a restraining hand on Yfandes’ bridle.
This tunnel, sheltered from the wind and snow, felt warm after the punishing weather outside. Vanyel raised his head tiredly. “What -” he began. “You’re not goin’ past me in that state, Herald,” growled the guard, a tough-looking woman who reminded Van of his own sister, Lissa. “Old man like you should know better than to -” Old man? He shook his head so that his hood fell back, and she stopped in midsentence, her mouth falling open. “If there were any flies to catch,” he said, with tired good humor, “you’d be making a frog envious.” She shut her mouth with an audible snap. “Beg your pardon, milord Vanyel,” she said stiffly. “Just saw the white in your hair, and -” “You did quite right to stop me, my lady,” he replied gently. “I’m obviously not thinking, and it’s from cold and exhaustion.
We’re far from infallible – someone had better watch out for us.
Now what were you planning on doing with me – aside from telling me what a fool I was to be out in this muck?” “I was goin’ to give you a blanket to wrap up in,” she said hesitantly. “Make you take off that soggy cloak.
Gods, milord, it looks like you’re carryin’ half the road-muck ‘twixt here and the Border on you.”
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