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She spotted a look of concern in his eyes that Talon missed and she turned towards the boy with hands outstretched saying, “Come here, love.  Sit beside me.”  He did and she leaned forward and lifted up the seat he just left.  It hinged on the back revealing a compartment underneath.  “Time for hide and seek.”  He crawled into the compartment and as she laid the seat back down she said, “And remember you must keep quiet.  That’s part of the game.” 

Talon nodded. 

She placed her finger to her lips.  “Shh.”  She forced a silly smile and added, “Don’t let daddy know.”  But behind that smile simmered the dread that this was more than a greeting party.

Talon nodded enthusiastically.  He liked these games and wasn’t about to let his father know where he was. 

Mushina told herself it was just a precaution.  She looked out the window and counted maybe fifty riders coming their way.  That meant they were out numbered almost two to one.  She rebuked herself for allowing Trinel to talk her into bringing Talon.  “Some learning experience,” she mumbled.

Trinel, who now sat on a horse next to the companion captain, turned and saw Mushina and waved her back.  At first, she was a little put out by his forcefulness and then a wave of fear washed over her and she sat back rigidly.  She closed her eyes and prayed silently.

*              *

Only the slimmest sliver of light came into Talon’s compartment and already it was getting hot.  But he held back and breathed little so he could listen.  Despite the fact that he couldn’t understand a lot that was said and that most of the time he couldn’t tell who was speaking, he was able to piece together the following. 

Greetings were exchanged between his father and one who introduced himself as a chieftain of the Nomar tribe and he sounded a little short tempered.  “Where are you taking such a large company?”

“To the Ingaray villages along the border,” answered Trinel.  “We are bringing them food and basic necessities.”

The chieftain grunted, “Did we give you leave to pass through our land?”

A drop of sweat slipped into Talon’s right eye and he wiped his brow with his sleeve.

“No, but safe passage was guaranteed by both the Ingaray and the house of...”

“Their words are useless here.”  The chieftain spat.  “You forfeit all goods to us for this transgression.  Leave the baggage carts and go home at once.”

Talon heard a sloshing clinking sound like someone’s hands going through coins in a small chest.  Then he heard his father’s voice again.  “I offer this gold to you as a payment for passage but please do not take the food.”

“These are not your people.  Why do you care?”

“They are hungry.”

“So am I.”  Then the chieftain said, apparently to his men, “Take it all.”

Talon then heard something he didn’t expect: his mother’s voice.  “And leave those people with nothing?”

Silence.

The chieftain asked, “Is she yours?”

Silence.

The chieftain laughed.  “Will you offer her to us now too?”

Talon heard a scuffle, coins tossed, swords drawn, battle cries, cries from wounds, horses neighing, the twang of many arrows, more slashing and yelling.  Then he heard something in Salmi, the language of the desert tribes, which he didn’t understand.  He heard ponies ride off, then silence -- a long silence when he barely breathed and it was no longer a game any more.  The compartment lid opened and Talon saw his father’s wounded servant beckon him out.  Before the servant could cover his eyes, Talon got a glimpse of the scene that told the rest of the story.  A contingent of Andril border guards had ridden out from the Fortress of Carmel and chased off the Nomar raiders, but not before many Nomar and Andril lay dead or wounded ... and his mother and father lay among the dead.

*          *            *            *

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Copyright 2000 by Darrell A. Newton, All Rights Reserved.
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Last updated: October 21, 2000.