The Retreat into the Mountains

The war bands climb upward into the mountains, putting as much distance between themselves and the enemy as they can manage. Drizzling rain threatens to turn to ice and snow. Kaybrel and his sidekick Fallon believe they should put Kay’s gravely injured war horse out of his misery…

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20 demon

Demon

While Kay was tending to Nando, Fallon washed the soot and ash off Demon’s legs. What he found didn’t please him. The animal’s hide was blistered or burned off from his hooves to his flanks. It was astonishing, he thought, that Kay made it through the flames the first time; the second and third came no short of a miracle.

“This horse is in a bad way,” he said when Kay had a moment. “You probably should put him down.”

Kay looked at the wounds himself. “I hate to do that,” he said, after a moment of silence.

“I know,” Fallon replied, and he did. Realizing his friend’s distress, he said, “Would you like me to take care of it? We can have one of the riflemen….”

“Don’t kill Demon!” Tavi interjected. “How can you do that?”

Kay looked at the boy with some surprise. Was he really asking how two men who had, not long ago, taken part in exterminating the people of Roksan could consider killing a horse? To his greater surprise, he saw that Fallon seemed to take this as worth responding to.

“He’ll die anyway, Tavi—most likely,” Fal said. “It’s no kindness to make him go on now.”

“Would you like to get killed after you saved your friends’ lives?” Tavio returned. “Would you want to die if you had a few burns on your arms and legs?”

“I don’t know, chacho. I’m not a horse,” said Fallon.

“Don’t do that,” Tavi repeated.

“We need to get going,” Kay reminded Fal. “Let’s make up our minds. Do you think he can keep up with us?”

“I doubt it.”

“Then we need to put him down.”

“Yeah,” Fal agreed. “Look, boy. Demon will starve or freeze if we leave him behind. He’ll be hurting too much to forage for himself. Do you want him to die like that? Better to go quickly than to suffer for days.”

“But what if he can keep up with us?”

“That’s about enough,” said Kaybrel, whose patience with this exchange had run dry. “I don’t want to hear any more about it from you, Tavio. Get my saddle off the animal and let’s put it on Rik’s horse, if it’ll fit. I’d rather use my own tack than someone else’s. When you’re done, you can carry Rik’s gear over to the brez’s wagon and give it back while I tend to business.”

“Just give him a chance,” Tavi persisted. “If he falls behind, then you can do it.”

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