I took Serisi to the livery the next morning. We had no horses at the keep, but she had seen a horse with the Sisters. She had always talked about them and I paid a groom to give her a riding lesson and tell her how to take care of a horse. She was very attentive and I could see her lips moving as she repeated what he was saying to herself. It was a mnemonic trick she had, and she almost never forgot anything she was trying to learn. He let her ride a horse around the stables and she soon mastered the knack. I bargained with him and bought a bay gelding for myself. It was sort of lazy and gentle, just the way I liked my horses, but well put together. There was a little gruella mare that Serisi loved. It was a pretty thing, high spirited and with four black stockings and a black muzzle. She loved it and I bought it for her.
When she saw me paying she flew over and jumped on me. I caught her and she kissed me over and over. “Thank you, Guerin. I’ve wanted a horse and you got me one. I’ll take very good care of her.”
“I know you will, baby. Now we can move faster and carry more. I’m going to get a pack pony, too. We’ll take a tent the next job we do. It’s going to start getting cooler and we’ll be glad to get out of the weather.”
We went to the outfitter and got camping gear. A small tent, just big enough for the two of us, and several canvass tarps. I got her her own horsehair pad and blankets and we made rolls and tied them to the pony.
We bought tack for the horses and rode out of town. As soon as we were away from the buildings Serisi got down and took the bridle off her mare.
“What are you doing?” I asked her.
“She knows where I want to go,” she explained.
“How does she know?” I asked.
“I told her, silly.”
“I didn’t know you could do that.”
“I didn’t either,” she said. “I can, though, and she wants to help me. I told her I was going to take care of her and she likes me.”
“Can you do that with my horse?”
“Yes, but not for you. You can’t feel him and he can’t feel you.”
“I’m handicapped,” I laughed.
“Oh no, Guerin; you can do lots of other things I can’t. I can’t do your signs.”
It was very comfortable to ride along with her and we talked about all kinds of things.
“Tell me about the Shai,” she said.
“They were here on Eiru when humans arrived,” I told her. “We believe they came here from some other place, as well. When the Mother Planet began to die, great ships were launched across the skies in search of a new home. There was a great rift in the sky and the ships went through. The First Humans came here and something happened to their ship. It wrecked here and many of the First were killed. They found that the laws of nature were different here. The sun was different and many devices they used failed and wouldn’t work here. They lost much knowledge and began to live as we do now. For hundreds of years we increased and kingdoms were formed. Powerful men sought influence and riches and then we found the Shai. They are a different people, having powers such as yours. They live long, perhaps forever if they are not killed. They have few children and there have never been very many of them. Humans often call them elves. I don’t know why. They have two kingdoms in the North. They sometimes employ the orders, but they have little to do with humans. There was a great war many years ago and many humans and Shai were killed. There has been an uneasy peace for many decades. I know other things, but that is the history.”
She thought in silence for a long time. I could see the wheels turning in that little head and I knew she would tell me what she was thinking when she got it worked out in her head. We didn’t travel much faster with the horses than we had on foot. I can run a horse to death on foot over a few days, but they can carry more and their rider will be in better shape to do whatever needs to be done after they arrive. After the first day, Serisi climbed down and promptly collapsed to the ground.
I sprang to help her but she waved me away. “My legs are made of strings,” she complained. “What’s happened to me?”
I laughed for a long time while she glared at me reproachfully. “I see nothing funny,” she said indignantly. That made me laugh harder and I scooped her up and hugged her.
“You aren’t used to riding,” I told her. “You’ll be sore tomorrow.”
“So, my soreness causes you amusement?” she asked.
I collapsed laughing with her on top of me. She beat me with her little fists and rolled off, giggling hysterically and I tickled her until she shrieked. We hobbled the horses and made camp. Putting up the tent for the first time was challenging until we got the ropes and stakes figured out. We got a fire built and supper was on when we got a hail.
“Mind if I join you?” a voice called from the gathering darkness.
I bustled Serisi back into the brush and she drew her knife. “Stay here until I give you a signal,” I told her and she nodded.
“If you’re friendly, come in and sit down,” I called.
I drew in the shadows and the flame flickered where I had been. A tall dark man in leathers materialized, and he put his sword down on a rock beside the fire. “I mean you no harm,” he said, stretching his hands out toward the fire.
I let the shadows slip away and he started when he saw me. He looked me over and nodded.
“You from one of the Orders?” he asked.
“Guerin, of the Ruby Order,” I introduced myself.
“Name’s Rupert. Constable out of Gent,” he said. “You coming from there?”
“Yes, we completed a contract and we’re on our way back to the Order,”
“Who’s we? You got a buddy out in the brush?”
“Yes. I didn’t know if you were a danger to us.”
“You didn’t do nothing back in Gent to make me take an interest in you, did you?”
“No, a missing person case.”
“Not that I’d stand a chance against a Gloom Walker, anyway. I’d have to try though. My duty, you know. Call your buddy in and we’ll eat. Got some good bread and a bottle of wine.”
“Serisi, you can come out,” I called.
She came out of the brush, putting her knife away.
I cut him off. “Don’t say it. You’ll upset her and then I’ll have to do something about it. Duty, you know.”
He gave a nervous laugh. “Now don’t you go assaulting a constable. It’s against the law!”
“You’re outside your jurisdiction,” I told him. “I’d like for you to explain to us about this ‘duty’ thing.”
Serisi was listening, but she didn’t say anything.
“The king has laws, they need to be enforced.”
“Why?” Serisi spoke up for the first time.
“Why, without laws, we’d have anarchy in the streets,” he said.
“So, if being a mutant were against the law, you’d have to enforce the law?” she asked.
“Right. It’d be nothing personal, you understand. It’s my duty.”
“What if being human was against the law?” she asked. “Would it be our duty to arrest you?”
“You’re not an officer of the law,” he said.
“What if I were?”
“It’s not against the law to be human. That would be silly.”
“The Shai don’t think it’s silly,” she said. “It may be their duty to kill you.”
“I told you, it’s nothing personal. Just doing my job.”
“So in order to do your job you would arrest people whose only crime is being what they are?”
“The king makes the law, I just enforce it. What’s all these questions?”
“She needs to know about people,” I told him. “There are all kinds and she needs to know how people work.”
“Ah, something like a tutor, are you?”
“Something like that. You’re welcome to share our fire and our food and drink.”
“And you mine,” he said. “Let’s fry up some of this bread to go with the meat and I’ll open the bottle.”
We swapped stories over the fire and he did have a decent bottle. I gave Serisi a little swig and she shivered. “That’s disgusting,” she said. “How can you drink that? Are you trying to poison me?”
We laughed. “It’s an acquired taste, child,” I told her.
“It’s rotten! I don’t plan to ever acquire that taste. It tastes spoiled, Guerin.”
We called it a night and Rupert wrapped himself in his blankets. Serisi and I retired to the tent and she pulled off her clothes and put on her nightgown. She pulled her pad over close against mine and didn’t use it. “I like to sleep where I can feel you,” she explained. That usually meant snuggled into my chest with my arms around her and I didn’t complain. Her little body put off an enormous amount of heat and she felt soft. She smelled good, too.
“I don’t like that man,” she whispered.
“Why not, baby?”
“He thinks that his job makes him something he’s not.”
“Explain,” I told her.
“He thinks he’s different than other people because he’s a constable. He thinks that he can do horrible things because his position means that he doesn’t live by the same rules other people live by.”
“You’re very perceptive, Serisi. He uses force against his fellows. There’s never any excuse to behave violently toward people that aren’t behaving violently toward you. Remember that. He’s human, too, he’s just forgotten that. We’ll remind him. You already did that when you questioned him. He’s not used to being questioned.”
“He’s afraid of you,” she said. “He’s afraid of me, too, but not like you. He doesn’t know what to think about me and he’s not used to that. He knows he’s no match for you, though.”
She stretched and yawned and it was contagious. She kissed me and told me she loved me and she was asleep. When we got up he was rolling up his blankets. We toasted bread and cheese and he was on his way.
“Thanks for sharing your fire,” he said. “Don’t meet a lot of friendly travelers.”