Sea of Grass, part three

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The day was cold. Not the windy hell they'd encountered in the mountains but a brisk, quiet cold he remembered from childhood. Arthur saw his breath rising in small clouds when he exhaled. Almost like one of those glorious winters from home, but here there wasn't anyone to call if he got lost. This wasn't a cold he could chose for a weeks travel, safe in his knowledge that someone would come to his rescue if an accident happened. Memories of his failure during the blizzard still clung to him and hurt, but as with memories of his family they were no longer raw, and a long talk with Harbend and Gring had eased the worst of his shame.

He sniffed, almost like Gring. A gust of cold wind crawled inside his coat and made him shiver. It played with his hair, seeped into his nostrils and teased him into a sneeze. He looked up just in time to meet Chaijrild's disapproving glare. She was still avoiding Harbend and made a show of seeking Arthur's company as often as possible. He'd even tried to talk with her mother, but that attempt only met with rough laughter. The matron told him in no uncertain terms that if he had any problems with the girl he'd better bring them up with her directly.

"... day here. The ... makes me remember when I was a child," Chaijrild said, breaking his thoughts.

"I'm sorry. I didn't understand it all."

"Beautiful day. ... brings ... back to me."

He realized she had tried to rephrase her earlier sentence.

"One word I can't understand. The, eh, liat?"

She gave him a bewildered look. Then she dismounted and gathered snow in her hands. He pointed at the whiteness around them and she nodded. So, liat was snow. He barely had time to finish the thought before a ball of it caught him full in the face. He shook off the stinging cold.

"You bloody little wench. I'll teach you about snowballing!"

She stared at him, an expression filled with incomprehension spreading over her face, and he realized he'd spoken in English. He dismounted and slowly explained in De Vhatic while at the same time squeezing a ball of snow in his hands. She giggled and ran away shrieking in delight when he threw it at her. Some things were the same on both worlds he mused as he mounted his horse again.

He was about to give her chase when he heard voices calling. Nakora Weinak, the commander of the escort from Ri Khi, was riding towards him at full gallop, Gring running beside her horse, matching its speed without any visible strain. What could be important enough to risk both horse and rider in snow covering anything that could trap them both? He watched them coming closer and blinked away the stinging light of the sun reflected in the snow.

They were between the vanguard and the long column of wagons. A day earlier he'd ridden the entire stretch along the caravan. Close to ten kilometers, an undertaking of a magnitude he could never have guessed that day in late summer when Harbend told him about his planned enterprise.

The escort seemed insufficient to protect the endless line vanishing behind the horizon if you rode at one end of it. He seemed insufficient as well.

His reputation as a taleweaver spread in the caravan, and he had to stay at a campfire each night to tell a tale or two before going to sleep. Still, less than half had been given a chance to hear him, and he somehow understood he needed to give them all an opportunity unless some of them should feel offended. Some would anyway. He'd heard rumors of dissatisfaction concerning some of the traders from Ri Khi.

Gring, Escha and Trai still followed him whenever he went to spin a tale, and even though it had been but once more that he had done what they called a Weave they followed him with dog-like loyalty. Of course he wouldn't be much use without Gring. It was, after all, her magic that allowed him to tell his tales. Arthur wondered what to tell this evening. Even though there was no lack of heroic tales he was still stunted by the need to come up with a new and fresh legend each night.

Once again he blinked away the sunshine from his eyes, and when a cold gust of wind tempted him to open them. Nakora and Gring were both almost there, and he felt the familiar tingling as Gring cast the spell crossing almost all borders set up by languages.

"Why such a hurry?" he called out, both as a question and a greeting.

"Tomorrow night, or the night after, we eat hot food and some may even feel the luxury of a warm bed." Nakora was grinning as she spoke.

Arthur favored her another glance. She was sweating around her temples despite the cold. It must have been a hard ride, but her glittering eyes told him she had enjoyed it. "Have you found a town large enough to host us all?" he asked.

"No, not that large. It will not happen until we reach Belgera at the end of our journey. However, we have found a town, and I guess it shall be a welcome rest for the caravan."

He thought about it. A bed, yes that would be good, but a bathhouse, now that would be fabulous. He wondered if the people here had such luxuries.

"You didn't see any lakes or a river close to the town?" he said, voicing his private thoughts in a question.

Gring gave him a glance. "No, we were too far away to see a river, and a lake would only look like more snow covered grass.

That made sense. He was used to winter, but he'd never ridden through open terrain like this with nothing but snow around him.

"There is something else as well. Gring thinks we saw a dragon pack in the distance," Nakora said.

Arthur shivered. "How bad is that?"

"I would not worry too much. There are large herds of horses on the plains, and gherins. Dragonlings usually hunt easier prey than humans."


Nakora pointed across the snow.

What the bloody hell is that? A dinosaur, glittering scales shining even at this distance, and as all other strange lizards they'd caught earlier, six-legged. Huge, easily the size of an elephant. "Dangerous?"

"If you stand in front of it, yes I guess. I have heard they breed them in Braka, but here it means food. Lots of food. Today we hunt."

Arthur was still not entirely convinced. "So you say that there's no danger?"

"I would not go that far. Always keep an eye open. Especially if you are alone."

Not a very comforting thought. "Should we ride in advance and join with the rest then?" Arthur asked.

Nakora gave him an amused look, and looking past her shoulder Arthur saw the rest of the vanguard approaching. He smiled back.

"I guess not."

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