“To arms, Sergeant,” she said, and stalked away, Patrici trotting alongside.
“Ingrate,” Patrici said.
“Patrici, I need you to send a runner to both Captain Able, and to Horse Marshal Martel. There won’t be enough of us Riders to take on those groundmites by ourselves. Have the runner tell Marshal Martel that we need as many mounted soldiers, ready for combat, as possible, and to meet us at the Lost Lake. He will need to know this may mean life or death for King Zachary.”
“One more thing, Patrici, do you still keep that old horn with you?” It was an old battered thing she had picked up secondhand from a bargain shop, and carried in memory of the First Rider, Lilieth Ambrioth, whose horn, it was said, could be heard clear across Sacoridia by any Green Rider. They had all laughed when they first saw Patrici carrying it, and she had been much offended.
“It’s in my room,” Patrici said, with a quizzical expression.
“I’ll need you to play the Rider Call as we ride through the city. Think you can manage that?”
Again, with the confidence of the young, she replied, “Absolutely. I’ll rouse the First Rider if necessary.”
Laren strode toward the stable. If only the First Rider really could raise herself from the ashes of Ages past to ride again.
Alton and Karigan stopped under the shade of a beech tree for a leisurely midday meal. Alton unpacked food obviously meant for a picnic, not extended travel. Freshly baked bread with honey to dip it in, and cake, meat rolls and spiced wine, peaches and plums. It was as good as any picnic Karigan had ever been on. The tension of the morning faded as they made small talk while robins chirped on a branch above. The horses cropped grass nearby.
Alton asked, “When you return to Corsa, what will you do then?”
Karigan caught a drop of peach juice running down her chin. Remembering it was not exactly polite to use her sleeve, she dabbed the corners of her mouth with a napkin. She had spent too many days on the road by herself, and such niceties had become less important.
“I will assist my father with the summer trade season.”
Alton lay on his side in the fragrant grass, propped on an elbow, considering the golden peach he rotated in his hand. His hands were large and thick. “You are so certain? You won’t return to Selium or join the Green Riders?”
“I was wrongly cast out of school,” she told him.
“And the messenger service?”
“As for that,” Karigan said, “I’ve told you and the others that I am not a Green Rider, and I never will be.”
Alton shrugged and bit into his peach, and both fell silent again for a time. After a while he said, “I don’t feel much like a Green Rider. My family won’t permit me to ride, but I feel as if I must. I hear hoofbeats in my dreams sometimes, and I wake up in a sweat as if I must go, but I don’t know where. It twists my stomach every time someone else goes out, and all I can do is watch them ride off. I can hardly look the others in the eye. Especially when one of them gets hurt. Or dies.”
Karigan was surprised Alton chose to share his feelings with her, and she was even more surprised by the intensity with which he spoke. She supposed he did not have anyone else to confide in, not even Riders who might not understand the limitations of his status. He would be viewed as shirking his duties or, worse, receiving special treatment. His family certainly wouldn’t be sympathetic to his feelings since they forbade him to ride. Maybe he could talk to Karigan because she was resisting the impulse to be a Green Rider, and she also knew what it was like to hear those hoofbeats.
“What would your family have you do?”
“They would have me ornament courts filled with eligible noblewomen.” He grinned wryly. “I still have to do that on occasion, as at the ball the other night. If my family knew I had spent time with another Green . . . commoner . . . young woman . . .” He stumbled along, not quite sure how to say it without offending her. “They would haul me back to the manor house to teach me more stone craft.”
Now he looked at his big hands, fingers splayed out, palms up. “It might surprise you to know that I possess calluses on these hands. From a young age, I had to learn to cut stone. It’s a family tradition. You wouldn’t believe the hours I spent hammering on granite, my knuckles bleeding until I became proficient enough to hit the drill dead on.” He sighed. “The breach in the D’Yer Wall is a disgrace to my family.”
She took his hand in hers, feeling the calluses herself, and the strength of his grip. They smiled at one another. Karigan released his hand. “But the wall was built a thousand years ago,” she said. “Stone walls crumble with time.”
Alton shook his head. “This wall shouldn’t have. It was built of the finest craft we possessed, the rock magically bound in ways that are lost today. The wall had to be strong to keep at bay the evils of Blackveil Forest. A clan disgrace doesn’t heed the passage of time or generations.”
This she had never heard. Of course Clan G’ladheon hadn’t existed for very long, nor was it of original Sacor Clan lineage. She sprinkled water over her hands from her water skin to clean off sticky peach juice. She would have to be careful in this life not to disgrace any of her descendants.
“Will someone repair the D’Yer Wall?”
“I don’t know if we can.”A troubled expression crossed Alton’s face. “As I said, much of the craft that went into the wall has been forgotten. Something must be done, though. I can’t imagine what evil has found its way through it already.”