Once he was on the tall horse, his hands about the Rider's waist, and the numbing drink soaking through his body until nothing hurt, not even the distant burning that were his torn feet, Turnspit drifted. It was a crisp day, and the horse moved as soft as milk. It was easy to drowse against Iros' long back.

They had been traveling quite some time, surrounded by the bleating of cattle and goats, and the dull tramp of people walking. Turnspit was almost warm, his cheek against the Rider's shoulder, and his nose filled with the smell of the hemp oil in Iros' long braids.

"Can you sing?"

Turnspit thought about it. "I think so..."

"Remember any songs?" Iros' voice was sly. Turnspit could imagine the mocking smile, though the Rider did not turn his head. It was some sort of test, like Whipcoil asking his name on the first day. He could mock back.

He coughed a little, and lifted his head up. His voice was not good, but he could keep a rhythm. "Save me, O God, for water has come up to my soul. I have sunk in muddy depths and there is no place to stand; I have come into the deep water, and the current has swept me away..." Psalm 69

When the sun was high and the day hot enough that he could feel it tightening the skin on his arms, the lead Rider called halt by a stream. The captives were allowed to drink and fill the water-gourds, then flop to the ground for a rest.

Iros pulled his tall mare a bit back from the press, near a rocky outcrop, and helped Turnspit off. While he sat down on the mossy granite, the long-limbed Rider clucked to his horse, striped the tack from her, and let her loose to join the remounts. Turnspit watched her watch go, wishing he cared, but feeling too dull and stupid.

Iros hunkered down, and reached into his saddlebag, coming up with something stringy and brown, that he bit into sharply. It made a funny crackling sound at the Rider snapped it apart, and from the smell Turnspit thought it was dried meat mixed with spices.

"Want some?" Iros asked, holding out the strand.

Turnspit looked at the Rider, then reached out his hand. It was food, and he was hungry, having nothing in the morning but meal of bran and dried berries and that awful numbing brew.

"Iros Longshanks!" bellowed a voice from behind them.

The Rider jerked back, and Turnspit snatched his hand back, huddling close on himself.

"Don't you dare feed him!" Toller stepped forward, her chin out.

Iros' eyes bulged, and he took an involuntary step back. "Dog..."

"Don't you dare!" Toller stamped her foot and flung out her arm, pointing away. "Go!"

Iros stared at her a long moment, then flicked his gaze to Turnspit.

Turnspit looked down at nothing and held still. After a moment, Iros picked up his saddle and stomped away. He seemed to be heading towards the remounts, as near as Turnspit could tell.

Toller sighed loudly, and flopped down on the rock beside Turnspit. She rummaged through her sack, brought out two wrinkled apples, and offered one to Turnspit.

"Why are you giving me food?" he asked.

"You're not going to heal if you're starved, yellowbuck." She bit into her apple.

"But Iros would have fed me..."

"Don't accept food from an aughisky, you idiot, especially not meat. You haven't even been placed yet; you have no one to call to for aid or to look after your welfare. You wouldn't have any protection if he decided to abuse you. Magpie might stop him, but only if he looked to kill you outright."

Turnspit looked at her sideways. "All from accepting food..."

"Aughisky don't share meat, except for a reason." Toller looked him up and down, in a most insulting manner. "You're an ugly color, pale as a black-mouthed cur, but you've got good bones under it all. Iros Longshanks might only have meant to tame you, but if you ate meat from his hand, he would think he could do what he liked. And I don't trust his temper or restraint.

"He's too young to be settled." She frowned, and peered off in the direction the tall Rider had went. "I don't want a dead yellowbuck on this road. The profit is thin enough, what with that selkie-blood going straight to the Stormbringer, and a half-blood Wilder to deal with. You accept food only from me, or from one of the tame-bucks, or from Magpie -- not any other aughisky!"

Turnspit nodded.

"Good," she smiled. "Want some bread? It's a bit dry, but no mold yet."

Turnspit looked dubiously at the loaf she held out. "That's horse-bread. It's got beans in it."

"It's good for you. Eat some."

Turnspit reluctantly took the hunk she tore off and chewed at it. When he put it down after only a few bites, she pulled a small horn cup from her belt, and poured from an elaborate flask she pulled from her sack. Turnspit had never tasted anything like the brew -- it was the color of a pale ale, but it tasted bitter under the flavor of honey, like a medicinal tisane.

"Cold tea, with buckwheat honey. You'll need the strength to ride some more."

"Iros won't take me back up now."

Toller shook her head. "Of course he will. For one thing, I doubt you can walk." She looked down at his feet, and he did too. Wrapped in bandages, rags and leather laces, they no longer hurt, and if they still bled, it wasn't enough to get through the layers, as the top was dusty from the trail, but had no other stains.

"I could walk, if I had to." He could walk. Not without pain, but he'd already been forced to walk himself to damage; he might have to walk himself to death. Turnspit found himself rather surprisingly numb about the idea.

Toller's eyebrows went up in doubt. "Three steps, maybe. You'll rot from the ankles up if you try to walk this trail. No, Iros will come back. He's tried to feed you meat already, so he likes you. Just don't accept it from him, but let him carry you on his horse."

They ate silently for a while, with Toller dawdling over her food as Turnspit ate laboriously. It wasn't that he wasn't hungry -- the food was tough, and he had to pause to wet his mouth frequently. The war-woman handed him more bread when he finished the first portion, then a handful of mealy stuff that tasted of fat and some sort of tart berry. He didn't like it much and needed three cups of the honeyed tea afterward.

"Ah, the young idiot is coming back. Whose remount has he borrowed? That's not one of his." Toller clicked her tongue, then jerked her thumb behind them. "Go and piss, Turnspit, and then we'll get you up on that hammer-headed nag."

Turnspit hobbled around the outcrop, and managed to relieve himself against the rocks while Toller greeted the Rider and teased him over the horse he had picked out. Turnspit couldn't understand how Toller could chase off Iros one moment, then welcome the fellow back before the hour was out, and all over who got to feed him. He was a captive, and not a terribly valuable one, from what he could gather. Perhaps he should choose to cling to one of them, and thus avoid being used as a bone between two fighting dogs.

As in the morning, Iros was able to lift him up behind the saddle with Toller's vocal aid, and mount ahead of him. Turnspit gingerly put his arms around the aughisky, thinking he might not be welcome after the fight with Toller, but Iros clasped his hands with long fingers.

"All right, Toller Dog. You don't have to ride herd on me," Iros said.

"No, I have the whole blasted herd to chivy around," she retorted, and went off at a loping trot.

Iros snorted, and shook out his braids. "She thinks she's a shepherd, I swear, and not a hunter. Next she'll be circling lambs." He set the horse to moving at a slow trot; Turnspit was happy to find this one also had a smooth gait, if not quite as easy as the morning's tall mare.

"Aren't we a herd?" Turnspit asked. "She calls me 'yellowbuck'."

"I'm not going to be herded by a tolling dog. They lure ducks to the gun by silliness, did you know? Which makes her a fine companion for Magpie -- both of them are tricky and sly."

"I wouldn't know. I haven't been introduced."

Iros barked a laugh,and Turnspit rested against his shoulder with a smile. The Rider seemed settled, and pleased with him. He could drift off again, and not worry until nightfall.


From: [identity profile]

This looks really good! I'm liking how this is progressing and we get a little more detail as we go along with Turnspit. Iros does sound like a good sort -- at least as far as his fellow aughisky are concerned. I'm also wondering if accepting meat of that sort, something like a sausage, might mean you are eating things you would really rather not eat.

Is turnspit Jewish? Singing the psalm as he did makes me think of Cantors in the temple. Evidently the fairy folk of your universe do not have any allergies to the human gods, or else that song might have wrecked all sorts of havoc.

From: [identity profile]

Iros is very calm for an aughisky, but it's best that Turnspit learns not to push his luck.

The jerky would be safe, as it is peppered venison. While aughisky will eat corpses if they find them while hungry, they would't take the time to dry and pack such meat.

Yeah, I'm writing a world with no analog for Christianity. I'm trying to stretch myself a bit, and write a dominant culture that is monotheistic, but tolerates pagans on among them; there are city-states that are still polytheistic faux-Roman in culture. It's going to require a lot more research.

From: [identity profile]

Speakin of Turnspit's religion, I need to change the rabbit he was eating into duck, because the hare is one of the four mammals specifically prohibited.

It'll be interesting when he starts balking at food because it's not 'fit'; especially when he does it in front of aughisky, who will eat anything that doesn't run away fast enough.

From: [identity profile]

Ooh, what a very strange and complicated world you have here!
I'm interested to know more - so far, i only have questions, questions, questions!

But i like these people. Mostly. Heh.
Nice stuff! Thanks for letting me read!

From: [identity profile]

You're welcome to ask questions. I might not answer, though.

Mostly like? Who don't you like?

From: [identity profile]

Um. Okay. Here's where my lousy memory comes in. Magpie? The one who 'names' everything? She seems *on such passing notice* like the sort of person who'd happily put a bullet - or a knife - into someone else for no other reason than expediency. Which i don't much care for.

Questions...well...are they human? Sorta-human? What, exactly? All this 'not old enough' and etc. - very strange. And of course, why slavery or...whatever it is that's going on? And why take away all the memories? And do they ever come back? And that depresses me.

Well, basically, i want to know it *all*. Right now!!

From: [identity profile]

Magpie is basically a Viking captain during a raid. She's not going to be nice then.

Also, how do you know Turnspit isn't the same way? He's just beaten two people to death in the stuff I posted today...

The aughisky ( aren't human.

The taking of captives is a long and sordid mess that starts with the death of the Queen and the associated collapse of society -- basically, the aughisky lost their farm workforce, and had to replace them somehow.

The memories are pretty much gone.

The rest will come up in the story. Feel free to comment on each section as it goes up.

From: [identity profile]

Yes! And nobody likes raiding Vikings. :)

I have no clues about Turnspit. He'll have to prove himself one way or the other in future...uh...bits. Heh.

Oooh, i'm not familiar with that spelling, though it *was* pinging my radar. Neat. I like that particular branch of the fae.

Ah ha. Stealing labor. Interesting.

Oh, memories gone! *sniffle*

I'll do my best to comment - sometimes i get so scattered. You'll find i'm an odd reader - sometimes things escape that really are terribly obvious and my brain goes rabbiting off in weird directions...
Thanks for answering my questions, such as they were.

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