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The Sharing Knife Volume Two
Dag had been married for a whole two hours, and was still light-headed with wonder. The weighted ends of the wedding cord coiling around his upper arm danced in time with the lazy trot of his horse. Riding by his side, Fawn—my new bride, now there was a phrase to set a man's mind melting—met his smile with happy eyes.
My farmer bride. It should have been impossible. There would be trouble about that, later.
Trouble yesterday, trouble tomorrow. But no trouble now. Now, in the light of the loveliest summer afternoon he ever did see, was only a boundless contentment.
Once the first half dozen miles were behind them, Dag found both his and Fawn's urgency to be gone from the wedding party easing. They passed through the last village on the northern river road, after which the wagon way became more of a two-rut track, and the remaining farms grew farther apart, with more woods between them. He let a few more miles pass, till he was sure they were out of range of any potential retribution or practical jokers, then began keeping an eye out for a spot to make camp. If a Lakewalker patroller with this much woods to choose from couldn't hide from farmers, something was wrong. Secluded, he decided, was a better watchword still.
At length, he led Fawn down to the river at a rocky ford, then upstream for a time till they came to where a clear creek, gurgling down from the eastern ridge, joined the flow. He turned Copperhead up it for a good quarter mile till he found a pretty glade, all mossy by the stream and surrounded by tall trees and plenty ofthem; and, his groundsense guaranteed, no other person for a mile in any direction. Of necessity, he had to let Fawn unsaddle the horses and set up the site. It was a simple enough task, merely laying out their bedrolls and making just enough of a fire to boil water for tea. Still, she cast an observant eye at him as he lay with his back against a broad beech bole and plucked irritably at the sling supporting his right arm with the hook replacing his left hand.
"You have a job," she told him encouragingly. "You're on guard against the mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers and blackflies."
"And squirrels," he added hopefully.
"We'll get to them."
Food did not have to be caught or skinned or cooked, just unwrapped and eaten till they couldn't hold any more, although Fawn tried his limits. Dag wondered if this new mania for feeding him was a Bluefield custom no one had mentioned, or just a lingering effect of the excitement of the day, as she tried to find her way into her farmwifely tasks without, actually, a farm in which to set them. But when he compared this to many a cold, wet, hungry, lonely, exhausted night on some of the more dire patrols in his memory, he thought perhaps he'd wandered by strange accident into some paradise out of a song, and bears would come out tonight to dance around their fire in celebration.
He looked up to find Fawn inching nearer, without, for a change, provender in her hands. "It's not dark yet," she sighed.
He cast her a slow blink, to tease. "And dark is needed for what?"
"Well, I admit it's a help for sleeping. Are you that sleepy? It's been a tiring day. We could just roll over and..."
She caught on, and poked him in reproof. "Ha! Are you sleepy?"
"No chance." Despite the sling he managed a pounce that drew her into his lap. The prey did not precisely struggle, though it did wriggle enchantingly. Once she was within kissing range, they found occupation for a little. But then she grew grave, and sat up to touch the cord wrapping her left wrist.
"How odd that this all should feel harder, now."
He kissed her hair beneath his chin. "There's a weight of expectation that wasn't there before, I suppose. I didn't..." He hesitated.
"I rode into West Blue, onto your family's farm, last week thinking... I don't know. That I would be a clever Lakewalker persuader and get my way. I expected to change their lives. I didn't expect them to change my life right back. I didn't use to be Fawn's patroller, still less Fawn's husband, but now I am. That's a ground transformation, in case you didn't realize. It doesn't just happen in the cords. It happens in our deep selves." He gave a nod toward his left sleeve hiding the loop binding his own arm. "Maybe the hard feeling is just shyness for the two new people we've become."
"Hm." She settled down, briefly reassured. But then sat up again, biting her lip the way she did when about to tackle some difficult subject, usually head-on. "Dag. About my ground."
"I love your ground."
Her lips twitched in a smile, but then returned to seriousness. "It's been over four weeks since... since the malice. I'm healing up pretty good inside, I think."
"I think so, too."
"Do you suppose we could... I mean, tonight because... we haven't ever yet... not that I'm complaining, mind you. Erm. That pattern in their ground you said women get when they can have babies. Do I have it tonight?"
"Not yet. I don't think it'll be much longer till your body's back to its usual phases, though."
"So we could. I mean. Do it in the usual way. Tonight."
"Tonight, Spark, we can do it any way you want. Within the range of the physically possible, that is," he added prudently.
She snickered. "I do wonder how you learned all those tricks."
"Well, not all at once, absent gods forefend. You pick up this and that over the years. I suspect people everywhere keep reinventing all the basics. There's only so much you can do with a body. Successfully and comfortably, that is. Leaving aside stunts."
"Stunts?" she said curiously.
"We're leaving them aside," he said definitely. "One broken arm is enough."
"One too many, I think." Her brows drew down in new worry. "Um. I was envisioning you up on your elbows, but really, I think maybe not. It doesn't exactly sound comfortable, and I wouldn't want you to hurt your arm and have to start healing all over, and besides, if you slipped, you really would squash me like a bug."
It took him a moment to puzzle out her concern. "Ah, not a problem. We just switch sides, top to bottom. If you can ride a horse, which I note you do quite well, you can ride me. And you can squash me all you want."
She thought this through. "I'm not sure I can do this right."
"If you do something really wrong, I promise I'll scream in pain and let you know."
She grinned, if with a slight tinge of dismay.
Kissing blended into undressing, and again, to his mixed regret and entertainment, Fawn had to do most of the work. He thought she was much too brisk and businesslike in getting her own clothes off, although the view when she finished was splendid. The setting sun reached fingers of golden light into the glade that caressed her body as she flickered in and out of the leaf shadows; she might well have been one of those legendary female spirits who were supposed to step out of trees and beguile the unwary traveler. The way her sweet breasts moved not quite in time with the rest of her was fair riveting to his eye, too. She folded up his astonishing wedding shirt with fully the care he would have wished, tucking it away. He lay back on his bedroll and let her pull off his trousers and drawers with all her considerable determination. She folded them up too, and came and sat, no, plunked, again beside him. The after-wobble was delightful.
"Arm harness. On or off?"
"Hm. Off, I think. Don't want to risk jabbing you in a distracted moment." The disquieting memory of her bleeding fingers weaving her wedding cord flitted through his mind, and he became conscious again of it wound around his upper arm, and the tiny hum of its live ground. Her live ground.
With practiced hands, she whisked the hook harness away onto the top of the clothes pile, and he marveled anew at how easy it was all becoming with her.
Except for, blight it all again, having no working hand. The sling had gone west just before the shirt, and he shifted his right arm and attempted to wriggle his fingers. Ouch. No. Not enough useful motion there yet. Inside his splints and wrappings, his skin, damp from the sweat of the warm day, was itching. He couldn't touch. All right, there was a certain amount he could do with his tongue—especially right now, as she returned and nuzzled up to him—but getting it to the right place at the right time was going to be an insurmountable challenge, in this position.
She withdrew her lips from his and began working her way down his body. It was lovely but almost redundant; it had been well over a week, after all, and... It used to be years, and I scarcely blinked. He tried to relax and let himself be made love to. Relaxation wasn't exactly what was happening. His hips twitched as Fawn's full attention arrived at his nether regions. She swung her leg over, turned to face him, reached down and began to try to position herself. Stopped.
"Urk?" he inquired politely. Some such noise, anyway.
Her face was a little pinched. "This should be working better."
"Oil?" he croaked.
"I shouldn't need oil for this, should I?"
Not if I had a hand to ready you nicely. "Hang should, do what works. You shouldn't have that uncomfortable look on your face, either."
"Hm." She extracted herself, padded over to his saddlebags, and rummaged within. Good view from the back, too, as she bent over... A mutter of mild triumph, "Ah." She padded back, pausing to frown and rub the sole of one bare foot on her other shin after stepping on a pebble. Was this a time to stop for pebbles...?
Back she came, sliding over him. Small hands slicked him, which made him jolt. He did not allow himself to plunge upward. Let her find her way in her own time. She attempted to do so.
She was getting a very determined look again. "Maidenheads don't regrow, do they...?"
"Shouldn't think so."
"I didn't think it was supposed to hurt the second time."
"Probably just unaccustomed muscles. Not in condition. Need more exercise." It was driving him just short of mad to have no hands to grasp her hips and guide her home.
She blinked, taking in this thought. "Is that true, or more of your slick patroller persuasion?"
"Can't it be both?"
She grinned, shifted her angle, then looked brighter and said, "Ah! There we go."
Indeed, we do. He gasped, as she slid slowly and very, very tightly down upon him. "Yes... that's... very... nice."
She muttered, "They get whole babies through these parts. Surely it's supposed to stretch more."
"Time. Give it." Blight it, at this point in the usual proceedings, she would be the one who couldn't form words any more. They were out of rhythm tonight. He was losing his wits, and she was getting chatty. "Fine now."
Her brows drew down in puzzlement. "Should this be like taking turns, or not?"
"Uhthink..." He swallowed to find speech. "Hope it's good for you. Suspect it's better for me. 'S exquisite for me right now."
"Oh, that's all right, then." She sat for a moment, adjusting. It would likely not be a good idea at this point to screech and convulse and beg for motion; that would just alarm her. He didn't want her alarmed. She might jump up and run off, which would be tragic. He wanted her relaxed and confident and... there, she was starting to smile again. She observed, "You have a funny look on your face."
Her smile widened. Too gently and tentatively, she at last began to move. Absent gods be praised. "After all," she said, continuing a line of thought of which he had long lost track, "Mama had twins, and she isn't that much taller than me. Though Aunt Nattie said she was pretty alarmin' toward the end."
"What?" said Dag, confused.
"Twins. Run in Mama's side of the family. Which made it really unfair of her to blame Papa, Aunt Nattie said, but I guess she wasn't too reasonable by then."
Which remark, of course, immediately made his reeling mind jump to the previously unimagined idea of Spark bearing twins, his, which made his eyes cross. Further. He really hadn't even wrapped his mind around the notion of their having one child, yet. Considering just what you're doing right now, perhaps you should, old patroller.
Whatever this peculiar digression did to him—his spine felt like an overdrawn bow with its string about to snap—it seemed to relax Fawn. Her eyes darkening, she commenced to rock with more assurance. Her ground, blocked earlier by the discomfort and uncertainty, began to flow again. Finally. But he wasn't going to last much longer at this rate. He let his hips start to keep time with hers.
"If I only had a working hand to get down there, we would share this turn..." His fingers twitched in frustration.
"Another good reason to leave it be to heal faster," she gasped. "Put that poor busted arm back on the blanket."
"Ngh!" He wanted to touch her so much. Groundwork? A mosquito's worth was not likely to be enough. Left-handed groundwork? He remembered the glass bowl, sliding and swirling back together. That had been no mere mosquito. Would she find it perverse, frightening, horrifying, to be touched so? Could he even...? This was her wedding night. She must not recall it with disappointment. He laid his left arm down across his belly, pointed at their juncture. Consider it a strengthening exercise for the ghost hand. Beats scraping hides all hollow, doesn't it? Just... there.
Oh!" Her eyes shot wide, and she leaned forward to stare into his face. "What did you just do?"
"Experiment," he gritted out. Surely his eyes were as wide and wild as hers. "Think the broken right has been doing something to stir up my left ground. Like, not like?"
"Not sure. More...?"
"Oh. Yeah. That's..."
Her only reply was a wordless huff. And a rocking that grew frantic, then froze. Which was fine because now he did drive up, as that bowstring snapped at last, and everything unwound in white fire.
He didn't think he'd passed out, but he seemed to come to with her draped across his chest wheezing and laughing wildly. "Dag! That was, that was... could you do that all along? Were you just saving it for a wedding present, or what?"
"I have no idea," he confessed. "Never done anything like that before. I'm not even sure what I did do."
"Well, it was quite... quite nice." She sat up and pushed back her hair to deliver this in a judicious tone, but then dissolved into helpless laughter again.
"I'm dizzy. Feel like I'm about to fall down."
"You are lying down."
She tumbled down into the cradle of his left arm, and snuggled in for a wordless time. Dag didn't quite nap, but he wouldn't have called it being awake, either. Bludgeoned, perhaps. Eventually, she roused herself enough to get them cleaned up and dressed in clothes to sleep in, because the blue twilight shadows were cooling as night slid in, seeping through the woods from the east. By the time she cuddled down again beside him, under the blanket this time, he was fully awake, staring up through the leaves at the first stars.
Her slim little fingers traced the furrows above his brows. "Are you all right? I'm all right."
He managed a smile and kissed the fingers in passing. "I admit, I've unsettled myself a bit. You know how shaken I was after that episode with the glass bowl."
"Oh, you haven't made yourself sick again with this, have you?"
"No, in fact. Although this wasn't near such a draining effort. Pretty, um, stimulating, actually. Thing is... that night I mended the bowl, that was the first time I experienced that, that, call it a ghost hand. I tried several times after, secretly, to make it emerge again, but nothing happened. Couldn't figure it out. In the parlor, you were upset, I was upset, I wanted to, I don't know. Fix things. I wasn't upset just now, but I sure was in, um, a heightened mood. Flying, your Aunt Nattie called it. Except now I've fallen back down, and the ghost hand's gone again."
He glanced over to find her up on one elbow, looking at him with the same interested expression as ever. Happy eyes. Not shocked or scared or repelled. He said, "You don't mind that it's, well, strange? You think this is just the same as all the other things I do, don't you?"
Her brows rose in consideration. "Well, you summon horses and bounce mosquitoes and make firefly lamps and kill malices and you know where everyone is for a country mile all around, and I don't know what you did to Reed and Rush last night but the effect was sure magical today. And what you do for me I can't hardly begin to describe, not decently anyhow. How do you know it isn't?"
He opened his mouth, then closed it, squinting at his question turned upside down.
She cocked her head and continued, "You said Lakewalker folks' groundsense doesn't come in all at once, and not at all when they're younger. Maybe this is just something you should have had all along, that got delayed. Or maybe it's something you should have now, growing right on time."
"There's a new thought." He lay back, frowning at the blameless evening sky. His life was full of new things, lately. Some of them were new problems, but he had to admit, a lot of the tired, dreary, old problems had been thoroughly shaken out. He began to suspect that it wasn't only the breaking of his right arm that was triggering this bizarre development. The farmer girl was plowing his ground, it seemed. What was that phrase? Breaking new land. A very literal form of ground transformation. He blinked to chase away these twisting notions before his head started to ache.
"So, that's twice," said Fawn, pursuing the thought. "So it can happen, um, more than once, anyhow. And it seems you don't have to be unhappy for it to work. That's real promising."
"I'm not sure I can do it again."
"That'd be a shame," she said in a meditative tone. But her eyes were merry. "So, try it again next time and we'll see, eh? And if not, as it seems you have no end of ingenuity in a bedroll, we'll just do something else, and that'll be good, too." She gave a short, decisive nod.
"Well," he said in a bemused voice. "That's settled."
She flopped down again, nestling in close, hugging him tight. "You'd best believe it."
To Fawn's gladness they lingered late in the glade the next morning, attempting to repeat some of last night's trials; some were successful, some not. Dag couldn't seem to induce his ghost hand again—maybe he was too relaxed?—which appeared to leave him someplace between disappointment and relief. As Fawn had guessed, he found other ways to please her, although she thought he was trying a bit too hard, which made her worry for him, which didn't help her relax.
She fed him a right fine breakfast, though, and they mounted up and found their way back to the river road by noon. In the late afternoon, they at last left the valley, Dag taking an unmarked track off to the west. They passed through a wide stretch of wooded country, sometimes in single file on twisty trails, sometimes side-by-side on broader tracks. Fawn was soon lost—well, if she struck east, she'd be sure to find the river again sometime, so she supposed she was only out of her reckoning for going forward, not back—but Dag seemed not to be.
For two days they pushed through similar woodland. Pushed might be too strong a term, with their early stops and late starts. Twice Dag persuaded his ghost hand to return, to her startled delight, twice he didn't, for no obvious reason either way, which plainly puzzled him deeply. She wondered at his spooky choice of name for this ground ability. He worried over it equally afterward whether or not he succeeded, and Fawn finally decided that it had been so long since he hadn't known exactly what he was doing all the time, he'd forgotten what it felt like to be blundering around in the dark, which made her sniff with a certain lack of sympathy.
She gradually became aware that he was dragging his feet on this journey, despite his worries about beating his patrol back to Hickory Lake, and not only for the obvious reason of extending their bedroll time together. Fawn herself was growing intensely curious about what lay ahead, and inclined to move along more briskly, but it wasn't till the third morning that they did so, and that only because of a threatened change in the weather. The high wispy clouds that both farmers and Lakewalkers called horsefeathers had moved in from the west last night, making fabulous pink streaks in the sunset indigo, and the air today was close and hazy, both signs of a broad storm brewing. When it blew through, it would bring a sparkling day in its wake, but was like to be violent before then. Dag said they might beat it to the lake by late afternoon.
Around noon the woods opened out in some flat meadowlands bordering a creek, with a dual track, and Fawn found herself riding alongside Dag again. "You once said you'd tell me the tale of Utau and Razi if you were either more drunk or more sober. You look pretty sober now."
He smiled briefly. "Do I? Well, then."
"Whenever I can get you to talk about your people, it helps me form up some better idea what I'm heading into."
"I'm not sure Utau's tale will help much, that way."
"Maybe not, but at least I won't say something stupid through not knowing any better."
He shrugged, though he amended, "Unknowing, maybe. Never stupid."
"Either way, I'd still end up red-faced."
"You blush prettily, but I give you the point. Well. Utau was string-bound for a good ten years to Sarri Otter, but they had no children. It happens that way, sometimes, and even Lakewalker groundsense can't tell why. Both his family and hers were pressuring them to cut their strings and try again with different mates—"
"Wait, what? People can cut their marriage strings? What does that mean, and how does it work?" Fawn wrapped a protective right hand around her left wrist, then put her palm hastily back on her thigh, kicking Grace's plump sides to encourage her to step along and keep up with Copperhead's longer legs.
"What leads up to a string-cutting varies pretty wildly with the couple, but lack of children after a good long time trying is considered a reason to part without dishonor to either side. More difficult if only one partner assents to the cutting; then the argument can spread out to both their families' tents, and get very divisive. Or tedious, if you have to listen to them all go on. But if both partners agree to it, the ceremony is much like string-binding, in reverse. The wedding cords are taken off and re-wrapped around both partners' arms, only with the opposite twist, and knotted, but then the string-blesser takes a knife and cuts the knot apart, and each takes back the pieces of their own."
Fawn wondered if that knife was carved of bone.
"The grounds drain out back to their sources, and, well, it's done. People usually burn the dead strings, after." He glanced aside at her deepening frown. "Don't farmer marriages ever come apart?"
"I think sometimes, but not often. The land and the families hold them together. And there's considered to be a shame in the failure. People do up and leave, sometimes, men or women, but it's more like chewing off your leg to escape a trap. You have to leave so much behind, so much work. So much hope, too, I suppose." She added, "Though I heard tell of one marriage down south of the village that came apart again in two weeks. The bride and all her things just got carted right back to her family, being hardly settled in yet, and the entry was scratched out in the family book. Nobody would ever explain to me why, although the twins and Fletch were snickering over it, so I suppose it might have had to do with bed problems, though she wasn't pregnant by someone else or anything. It was all undone right quick with no argument, though, so someone must have had something pretty big to apologize for, I'd guess."
"Sounds like." His brows rose as he considered this in curiosity, possibly of the more idle sort. "Anyway. Utau and Sarri loved each other despite their sorrow, and didn't want to part. And they were both good friends with Utau's cousin Razi. I'm not just sure who persuaded who to what, but one day Razi up and moved all his things into Sarri's tent with the pair of them. And a few months later Sarri was pregnant. And, to top the matter, not only did Razi get string-bound with Sarri, Razi and Utau got string-bound with each other, so the circle went all the way around and each ended up wearing the strings of both the others. All Otters now. And everyone's families went around for a while looking like their heads ached, but then there came this beautiful girl baby, and a while after this bright little boy, that all three just dote on, and everyone else pretty much gave up the worrying. Although not the lewd speculation, naturally."
Fawn laughed. "Naturally." Her mind started to drift off in a little lewd speculating of its own, abruptly jerked back to attention when Dag continued in his thoughtful-voice.
"I've never made a child, myself. I was always very careful, if not always for the same reasons. There's not a few who have trouble when they switch over from trying to miss that target to trying to hit it. All their prior care seeming a great waste of a sudden. The sort of useless thing you wonder about late at night."
Had Dag been doing so, staring up at the stars? Fawn said, "You'd think, with that pattern showing in women's grounds, it would be easier rather than harder to get a baby just when you wanted." She was still appalled at how easy it had been for her.
"So you would. Yet so often people miss and no one knows why. Kauneo and I—" His voice jerked to a halt in that now-familiar way.
She held her peace, and her breath.
"Here's one I never told anyone ever—"
"You need not," she said quietly. "Some people are in favor of spitting out hurts, but poking at them too much doesn't let them to heal, either."
"This one's ridden in my memory for a long, long time. Maybe it would look a different size if I got it outside my head rather than in it, for once."
"Then I'm listenin'." Was he about to uncork another horror-tale?
"Indeed." He stared ahead between Copperhead's ears. "We'd been string-bound upwards of a year, and I felt I was getting astride my duties as a company captain, and we decided it was time to start a child. This was in the months just before the wolf war broke. We tried two months running, and missed. Third month, I was away on my duties at the vital time; for the life of me I can't now remember what seemed so important about them. I can't even remember what they were. Riding out and checking on something or other. And in the fourth month, the wolf war was starting up, and we were both caught up in the rush." He drew a long, long breath. "But if I could have made Kauneo pregnant by then, she would have stayed in camp, and not led out her patrol to Wolf Ridge. And whatever else had happened, she and the child would both have lived. If not for that lost month."
Fawn's heart felt hot and strange, as if his old wound were being shared through the very ground of his words. Not a good secret to lug around, that one. She tried the obvious patch. "You can't know that."
"I know I can't. I don't think there's a second thought I can have about this that I haven't worn out by now. Maybe Kauneo's leadership, down at the anchor-end of the line, was what held the ridge that extra time after I went down. Maybe... A patroller friend of mine, his first wife died in childbed. I know he harbors regrets just as ferocious for the exact opposite cause. There is no knowing. You just have to grow used to the not knowing, I guess."
He fell quiet for a time and Fawn, daunted, said nothing. Though maybe the listening had been all he'd needed. She wondered, suddenly, if Dag was doubting whether he could sire children. Fifty-five years was a long time to go without doing so, for a man, although she had the impression that it wasn't that he'd been with so many women, before or after Kauneo, as that he'd paid really good attention when he had. In the light of her own history, if no child appeared when finally wanted, it would seem clear who was responsible. Did he fear to disappoint?
But his mind had turned down another path now, apparently, for he said, "My immediate family's not so large as yours. Just my mother, my brother, and his wife at present. All my brother's children are out of the tent, on patrol or apprenticed to makers. One son's string-bound, so far."
Dag's nephews and nieces were just about the same age range as Fawn and her brothers, from his descriptions. She nodded.
He went on, "I hope to slip into camp quietly. I'm of two minds whether to report to Fairbolt or my family first. It's likely rumors have trickled back about the Glassforge malice kill ahead of Mari's return, in which case Fairbolt will want the news in full. And I have to tell him about the knife. But I'd like to introduce you to my brother and mother in my own way, before they hear anything from anyone else."
"Well, which one would be least offended to be put second?" asked Fawn.
"Hard to say." He smiled dryly. "Mama can hold a grudge longer, but Fairbolt has a keen memory for lapses as well."
"I should not like to begin by offending my new mama-in-law."
"Spark, I'm afraid some people are going to be offended no matter what you and I do. What we've done... isn't done, though it was done in all honor."
"Well," she said, trying for optimism, "some people are like that among farmers, too. No pleasing them. You just try, or at least try not to be the first to break." She considered the problem. "Makes sense to put the worst one first. Then, if you have to, you can get away by saying you need to go off and see the second."
He laughed. "Good thinking. Perhaps I will."
But he didn't say which he believed was which.
They rode on through the afternoon without stopping. Fawn thought she could tell when they were nearing the lake by a certain lightness growing in the sky, and a certain darkness growing in Dag. At any rate, he got quieter and quieter, though his gaze ahead seemed to sharpen. Finally, his head came up, and he murmured, "The bridge guard and I just bumped grounds. Only another mile."
They came off the lesser track they'd been following onto a wider road, which ran in a sweeping curve. The land here was very flat; the woods, mixed beech and oak and hickory, gave way to another broad meadow. On the far side, someone lying on the back of what looked to be a grazing cart horse, his legs dangling down over the horse's barrel, sat up and waved. He kicked the horse into a canter and approached.
The horse wore neither saddle nor bridle, and the young man aboard it was scarcely more dressed. He wore boots, some rather damp-looking linen drawers, a leather belt with a scabbard for a knife, and his sun-darkened skin. As he approached, he pulled the grass stem he'd been chewing from his mouth and threw it aside. "Dag! You're alive!" He pulled up his horse and stared at the sling, and at Fawn trailing shyly behind. "Aren't you a sight, now! Nobody said anything about a broken bone! Your right arm, too, absent gods, how have you been managing anything at all?"
Dag returned an uninformative nod of greeting, although he smiled faintly. "I've had a little help."
"Is that your farmer girl?" The guard stared at Fawn as though farmer girls were a novelty out of song, like dancing bears. "Mari Redwing thought you'd been gelded by a mob of furious farmers. Fairbolt's fuming, your mama thinks you're dead and blames Mari, and your brother's complaining he can't work in the din."
"Ah," said Dag in a hollow voice. "Mari's patrol get back early, did it?"
"Lots of time for everyone to get home and gossip, I see."
"You're the talk of the lake. Again." The guard squinted and urged his horse closer, which made Copperhead squeal in warning, or at least in ill manners. The man was trying to get a clear look at Fawn's left wrist, she realized. "All day, people have been giving me urgent messages to pass on the instant I saw you. Fairbolt, Mari, your mama—despite the fact she insists you're dead, mind—and your brother all want to see you first thing." He grinned, delivering this impossible demand.
Dag came very close, Fawn thought, to just laying his head down on his horse's mane and not moving. "Welcome home, Dag," he muttered. But he straightened up instead, and kicked Copperhead around head to tail beside Grace. He leaned over leftward to Fawn and said, "Roll up my sleeve, Spark. Looks like it's going to be a hot afternoon.The Sharing Knife Volume Two
Legacy. Copyright © by Lois Bujold. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.