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.She brushed the dirt from the bottom of the staff, replacing it in its holder on her saddle.Lara ordered the fire out, and they departed the grove that had served as their shelter.The vast rolling plain stretched on ahead of them.They rode at a leisurely pace, not wanting to tire the horses when they had no idea where they were going.At midmorning they heard, first faintly, and then more distinctly, the sound of many horses behind them.Lara turned.She could see a group of riders in the distance behind them.“What will we do?” Noss half sobbed.“We have no place to hide.”“Calm yourself,” Lara chided the girl.“If we run, these riders will think we have something of value, or something to conceal.We will continue on as we have been.They will either pass us by, or inquire to our destination.I will speak for us.Do you understand?”“You are so brave,” Noss said.“I should be, but I am not.”Lara laughed to herself.Right now I am terrified, she thought, yet I must appear calm and in control of myself and the situation.I must remember what Kaliq said.I have a destiny.If that destiny were to be killed easily and at a young age, the Forest Lords would have done it.I have not come into the Outlands to be murdered.They pressed onward, and eventually the riders behind them caught up to them, and they found themselves surrounded.Lara and Noss sat straight in their saddles, eyes ahead.They rode for a time within the group of horsemen.All were silent, and then the horse next to Lara’s reached out to bite Dasras.“Control your mount!” she snapped at the animal’s rider.“You ride a stallion as do I,” was the reply.“Yes,” Lara said.“It is unusual for a woman to ride a stallion,” her companion remarked.“And particularly, so little a woman.”“Dasras and I suit each other,” Lara answered him boldly.The man next to her laughed.“I am Vartan of Clan Fiacre,” he said, “and you are very beautiful as well as very brave.You did not flee my riders, though you knew we were behind you.”“I am Lara, daughter of Swiftsword, and why would I run? This is Noss, my companion.” She turned her head to look at him.He was a big man, and tall.His long black hair was pulled back and held by a leather thong.His face was oval in shape; his cheekbones high; his mouth long and narrow.His gaze engaged her most directly, clear and light blue, and filled with both amusement and frank curiosity.“You are two little girls on rather good horses all alone on the plain,” he said.“Should you not be afraid?”Lara’s green eyes never left his as she spoke.“The sword on my back is Andraste.It is not there for decoration.I know well how to use it, and we have killed before, Andraste and I.Noss and I are travelers from the City.We carry nothing of value in our packs.You are free to search them.”He laughed again.“Where are you bound for, Lara, daughter of Swiftsword?”“I don’t know,” she told him.“We have never been in the Outlands before, and all we know of it is that it is uncivilized, or so we have been told.”“Hetar,” he sneered, “so smug in the assurance of its civilized ways.”“It is all Hetar,” she told him.“The High Council doesn’t consider it so,” he said.“For them Hetar is the four neat and tidy provinces of the Midlands, the Forest, the Desert and the Coastal Regions.We are the Outlands, filled with ignorant savages, unable to live by the rule of law.I curse their law!”“It has nothing to do with me,” Lara replied.“I departed the City over two years ago.I cannot go back.”“Why?”“Where are you going?” she asked him, ignoring his question.“Our encampment,” he answered her, “and then to the village of Camdene,” he told her.“Would you like to travel with us? Not all those you meet out here on the plain will be friendly, Lara, daughter of Swiftsword.”“I should appreciate your company,” Lara answered him, “but you need not be friendly, my lord Vartan.Just companionable.”He nodded.“And tonight you will tell me how you came to be in the Outlands.”“Around the fire,” she agreed.“And perhaps you will tell me what you do out here on this lonely land.We rode all day yesterday without seeing man nor beast.”“You camped in the grove of Drem.We stopped to water our horses there earlier.You were fortunate to find it for there is not another like it for miles,” he told her.“I have never seen so much open land,” Lara told him.“It is beautiful and frightening all at once.”“Aye,” he agreed.“Your High Council would like to annex some of these lands if they dared.The Outlands are rich in land and other resources they are greedy to possess.The provinces grow more and more crowded.”“What do you do here?” she asked him.“We live free,” he said, and then he amended it.“Some farm.Many tend to their herds.Our villages are like villages everywhere.The Fiacre have more villages than any other clan in the Outlands.I rule the Fiacre.”“Will we reach your village today?” Lara asked him.“Nay, not until tomorrow,” he said.“We were told strangers had entered our lands, and came out several days ago to find them.You are the only ones we have found so far,” he said.“We cannot be those you seek,” Lara said.“We only entered the Outlands yesterday from the Desert Kingdom.”“That cannot be,” he said.“The border between us and the Shadow Princes is at least three days away.”“We came through a tunnel in the cliffs,” Lara said.“What cliffs?” he asked, puzzled.She laughed softly.“They have made some magic, I suspect,” she told him.“In the Desert where the great cliffs rise the Shadow Princes have their palaces.If you are a guest in these palaces you will discover a wonderful valley between the cliffs where the princes raise their horses.Yesterday Noss and I were led across that valley from Prince Kaliq’s palace.We entered a tunnel and traveled for several hours before we reached its end, which opened out onto your plain.After we had ridden for a time across your land I looked back, but the cliffs from which we had exited were gone.”“Why have you come here?” Vartan wondered.“I don’t know yet.I just know that given the choice of the Coastal Province or the Outlands, my instinct told me to come here,” Lara explained.“Have you magic?” he asked her.“Some,” she said lightly, “but nothing powerful of which I am aware.I can light a fire without flint and stone.” She gave him a small smile.“A very useful magic for a traveler,” he told her, returning the smile.“Have you magic?” she asked him.“Some,” he said, not elucidating further, and then Vartan chuckled at her delicately raised eyebrow.“I shape-shift,” he said.“Fiacre is a word for eagle, and I take the form of my clan’s badge sometimes.Each leader of the Fiacre is given this gift.It is generally useful.”“Indeed,” she said dryly, but did not reveal her own proclivities to him.Not yet.“Why did you simply not seek for these intruders as the eagle?” Lara asked him.“I had no chance.Most do not know of the ability I possess.They would be afraid,” Vartan told her.“Shall we keep it our little secret, Lara, daughter of Swiftsword? You appear to be a girl who can keep secrets.”Now it was Lara who laughed.“I can, and I do,” she agreed.Noss pushed her mare closer to Lara’s stallion.“There is a man who keeps looking at me as if I am his next meal,” she murmured.Vartan heard her, and looked quickly about him.“’Tis Liam, little girl, and I will tell him he is frightening you.He is a good fellow with a soft heart who would not harm a flea.But he is obviously taken with you [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]