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Theda was the first one to arrive. She went immediately to Lilavati’s side. “Great Lady, you should talk some sense into the Great Lord. You need to rest and being in the saddle you won’t get any.”
“I do not care,” Lilavati said. “I would rather be at his side than trapped in a cart. Should it start raining again, I fear those terrible visions would return and I would fall prey to this same madness.”
“Great Lady, I’ve gotten the saddle ready to put on your horse,” Ludger said gruffly. “We’ll need to get you mounted before everyone else is ready to go so we can get you strapped in properly.”
“All right Ludger,” Lilavati said.
Manas came over. “The saddle has so many bindings, my dark scholar. It takes a great deal of time to get into it. I know. I’ve been in it far too many times to count.” He grinned. “However, this means you’ll be able to ride and we can talk as much as we need to.”
“This is why I am willing to do whatever I must,” Lilavati said, her smile matching his. “I wish to converse with you as much as I may.”
“I’ll be riding with the both of you,” Theda said.
“As you wish, Preester,” Manas said.
Judging by the expression on Theda’s face, she’d expected a fight. Lilavati suppressed a laugh. The strange feeling she’d gotten watching Manas walking was gone. Her happiness at being able to stay with him was too strong.
“Great Lord, it’s still overcast and I sense the possibility of rain,” Ludger said.
“Do we have a spare rain cloak for Lilavati?” Manas asked.
“Not that I know of,” Ludger began.
“I have one she can use,” Theda said, glaring at Ludger. “It’ll be short on her, but it’ll keep her mostly protected.”
“Good,” Manas said.
“I can use magic to take some of the oiled canvas and elongate it to protect her completely,” Ludger said.
“Then do it,” Manas said. “I want to be on the road within the hour.”
“Yes, Great Lord,” Ludger said. Theda and Ludger hurried out of the tent.
Lilavati watched as the camp was broken down around her. Ludger came and got her when it was half down. He carried her to her horse and tossed her up on her horse. Two servants held her up while Ludger fastened straps. It took nearly half an hour, but Ludger was finally done.
He stepped back and looked at her inquisitively. The saddle had a high back, with straps that wrapped around her chest, waist, and legs. “This feels odd, but I think I will be able to grow accustomed to it,” Lilavati said.
“Does anything feel loose?” Ludger asked.
Lilavati moved as much as her weak body would allow. “I do not think so.”
“If you feel like you’re going to fall off, get the Great Lord to stop and call for me. I’ll fix the straps,” Ludger said. He flipped the reins into her hands. “If you don’t think you’re strong enough, I’ll set these up to work with the Great Lord’s.”
Lilavati nudged her mare forward. She tugged the reins and the horse turned to the right. She pulled back on them and she stopped. Ludger’s mouth hung open. “We train our horses to carry even the weakest of our elders,” Lilavati said in her soft voice. “My mare will respond as I need her to, so long as I am on her back.”
“That is good to know, Great Lady,” Ludger said. He smiled and gestured. “The Great Lord is at the head of the line and is waiting – impatiently, I’ve heard – for you to join him.” Lilavati laughed and turned her mare’s head towards the front of the line. She nudged her sides with her heels and again the mare walked forward.
Lilavati could see Manas as he walked his horse in circles at the front of the line. Theda was off to one side. As she got closer, she saw his expression. She couldn’t call out. Her voice was too weak. She groaned inwardly. She didn’t dare push her horse faster. She feared it would cause panic among the other animals, and she did not want to start a stampede so close to the time of departure.
Manas’ entire posture changed when she rode into his line of sight. “My dark scholar,” he called when she got close enough to hear him. She raised one shaking hand in greeting and urged her mare to move just a little faster, now that they were away from the bulk of the animals.
“Great Lady,” Theda said, eyeing her as she caught up with them. “Do you need one of us to help take control of your horse?”
“If I did I would already have asked, Preester,” Lilavati said. “My mare and I have trained together for many situations, including my being something of an invalid.”
“I didn’t think that those who were of ill health were let out of their houses among your people,” Manas said. He raised his fist and the order was given. Lilavati touched her heels to her mare’s flanks with just enough pressure to bring her in line with Manas’ horse. “Aren’t they considered pariahs in your culture?”
“It is dependent on what brought them to that condition,” Lilavati said. She went on to explain the many varying ranks among her people. “I would have been forbidden to leave the house, as I held no value to my father. I was not even considered bride worthy in his eyes. Remember how startled he was when you made the offer?”
“I’m still amazed no one wanted to wed you,” Manas said.
“I am, perhaps, beginning to understand more of why that might be,” Lilavati said, grateful her voice didn’t pass beyond Manas’ ears.
“Oh?” Manas looked over at her.
Lilavati met his gaze, trusting to her mare to stay on the track. “What if the reason for that, for my unnatural gracefulness, for everything I have endured, is because I am inkosi tiikeri?”
to be continued…