Sasha - By Joel Shepherd Page 0,1

high-ceilinged interior, unlacing her banda, and taking time to select her real weapons from the wooden rack where she'd hung them earlier. With weapons, Kessligh had instructed her often, one never rushed.

Most men did not own horses and began running up the trail toward the main road. Sasha fetched Peg from his field beside the training hall, used a stone paddock wall to mount, and galloped him in their wake…but before she could go racing to the lead, she spotted a familiar bay mare coming up the road to the training hall, a slim, red-haired girl upon her back, waving one-handed for Sasha's attention.

Sasha brought Peg to a halt, and waited. Lynette arrived with a thunder of swirling dust and flying hair, eyes wide within a freckled, pale face. She was panting and the mare—Chersey—was sweating profusely. Maybe enough for a seven-fold ride at speed, Sasha reckoned with a measuring eye, knowing Chersey's abilities every bit as well as Peg's.

“Sasha,” Lynette gasped, “it's Damon. Damon's here.”

Sasha frowned. “Damon came to Baerlyn? With what?”

“I thi…think it's the Falcon Guard.” She brushed a ragged handful of curling red hair from her face as a gust of valley wind caught it. Her long dress was pulled well above her knees, with most unladylike decorum, exposing a pair of coarse weave riding pants beneath. And leather boots in the stirrups. “I'm not sure…I was taking Chersey for a ride out past Spearman's Ridge when I saw them coming, so I turned around and came back as fast as I could…They had the banners out, Sasha, it was full armour and full colours! They looked magnificent!”

Sasha's frown grew deeper. The Falcon Guard had been lately posted in Baen-Tar. “You didn't speak to them? You don't know why they're here?”

Lynette shook her head. “No, I came straight back and told Jaegar, and he sent someone to ring the bell, and then I came looking for you…”

“Damn it. Lynie, I want you to go and get Kessligh—he went to buy some chickens.”

“He'll hear the bell ringing, surely?” Lynette asked in confusion, as more men mounted nearby, and went galloping up the road.

“Kessligh takes his chickens very seriously,” Sasha said wryly. “Just try and hurry him along a bit.”

“I'll try,” said Lynette doubtfully. Sasha kicked Peg with her heels, and went racing up the road as Lynette pulled Chersey about in a circle and followed as best she could. A short way along, Sasha came across Teriyan, Geldon and several others, running at a steady pace. She pulled Peg to a trot alongside and extended an inviting hand to Teriyan.

“Come on,” she said, “council heads should get there first.”

“Leave it, girl,” Teriyan answered without breaking stride. “I still got some pride left, you know.” Sasha scowled. Lynette went racing past on Chersey. “Hey, where'd you send my girl off to?”

“Ask her yourself, if you ever catch her,” Sasha snorted, and galloped once more up the road.

The road wove between paddock fences and low stone walls, catching the full face of the sun before it vanished behind the ridge.

She was gaining fast on two men ahead as she reached the main Baerlyn road. Upon the wooden verandahs flanking the road, Baerlyn folk had gathered—mothers with their children, elderly folk in light cloaks or knitted shawls, and the men now walking or running along the road's broad edge, keeping the middle clear for horses. Peg loved a target, and passed the leading horses in a thunder of hooves.

The road wound past Geldon's bakery, then past the trading houses and side alleys leading to warehouses, and the workshops of jewellers, potters, furniture makers and Teriyan's own leather shop.

Up ahead she saw a gathering of horses and dismounted men in armour blocking the road, milling before the stone facade of the Steltsyn Star, Baerlyn's only inn. Heraldsmen held banners, gusting now in the light valley wind, indicating that Damon was still in the vicinity.

Sasha pulled up beside several men from the training hall and surveyed the scene. There appeared to be an effort underway to lead the regiment's horses down the Star's side lane, to the stables and paddocks that stretched to the southeastern valley wall at the rear. Her searching eyes found Jaegar, Baerlyn's headman, upon the Star's verandah gesticulating in earnest discussion, then waving a thick, tattooed arm across the semiorganised mass of waiting men and horses. He spoke with Damon—tall, darkly handsome and notable by his purple and green riding cloak, the gold clasp at his neck, and the

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