Once recovered, he straightened then stalked over to her. “Jesus Christ woman!” he swore, gingerly touching his nose. “Are you trying to kill me?” He made a noise of frustration deep in his throat. “Damn it to Hell and back!”
Vashti solemnly shook her head at the display, letting him vent his frustration.
“Okay, okay,” he paced as he gathered his thoughts. “Why the big show? Why have me get clobbered and take that spill? Wait a minute!” He rushed back to Pride and inspected the horse nose to tail. Except for a small scrape on one knee the horse was fine.
“If this horse had gotten hurt…” he couldn’t finish the thought.
“We will be staying here tonight. It is a long ride tomorrow and we both need to rest,” Vashti informed him as she went to him to help remove his armor. Drace flinched when she touched him. His nose still throbbed where she had set it. She made him a bit nervous. He wasn’t sure if she had all her marbles and was thinking he had lost several of his own. It would probably be best if I humor her until I figure all this out, he thought.
He noticed for the first time the fatigue on her face and his flash of anger faded. He felt a moment of embarrassment, remembering his tirade from moments ago. Once he was stripped down to his breeches and heavy linen shirt he looked around and quietly said, “What can I do to help?”
“Would you unsaddle the horses, my Lord?” Vashti asked him. Drace nodded at her request. “One more thing, my Lord,” she added. “You should not swear so much. It is rude.” A dull red crept over Drace’s lean cheekbones as he flushed, chagrined at his language in front of a lady.
Drace had already decided he was having a crazy dream brought on by watching a rerun of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’ll wake up at any time with Thomas curled up in my lap. Might as well play along and enjoy it. He made a mocking bow to Vashti, and with a wry grin said, “But of course, my Lady; my pardon.” He did wonder, however, When is she going to tell me what the hell is going on?
Darkness was approaching quickly, which caused Vashti to rise and head into the brush. Drace took in his surroundings. They were in a small clearing, encircled by thick stands of tall trees. The undergrowth was scattered with young trees, shrubs, and sparse grasses. He thought some of the growth looked familiar, poplar and maples, but some were species he had never seen. Some had large maple-like leaves…only the shapes were more rounded. At least the fireflies seemed normal, he thought.
Drace had Vashti’s gelding untacked and was unsaddling Pride when Vashti returned with an armload of wood and set to work making a fire. “You wouldn’t happen to have an extra halter would you?” Drace asked, fingering her horse’s rope halter.
“Of course,” she replied, digging through her saddlebags and handing him a similar rope halter along with a large rag to rub the horses down; then she pulled out four softball size pieces of quartz.
She disappeared back into the woods and Drace could hear the rustling of the underbrush, making a circle around the camp; then she returned—empty-handed. She went over and rummaged in her bags and came up with a wrapped bundle, along with two blankets. She headed to the waiting pile of firewood.
“I am famished, my Lord, and I am sure you are also. Please, come
He quickly finished both horses and tied them with enough lead so they could graze. He walked up to Vashti. “What were those crystal things for?”
“Those are warning crystals. We are well into the Clan lands but they will serve to warn me if danger comes close tonight.”