Thorn of the Rose

“O Scourge of the Sea! Though long you have stalked me, no more shall you withhold your truth from me…

“…O Scourge of the Sea! I see the curtain has parted, your true form at last revealed to me.”

“He was your friend, wasn’t he?” Keelath asked into the quiet. The cavalry had finally stopped, the wuyon’mari dismounting and untacking their rinaani in subdued silence. They gave Keelath a few odd glances as they went about the chore, but the black rinaan had snorted and dug its hoof at the ground in response to anyone looking like they wanted to ask. It seemed to communicate some message only the horsemen understood. They accepted Keelath without a word from then on, not bothering him, though one came over to help him with the girth’s unbuckling.

He was surprised to find the rinaan wasn’t a pure black as he brushed it out, but instead a deep ruby-brown, darkening to true black around its knees and nose. Unlike the wild rinaani, it had no scales, though there were a few white hairs in the crest of its mane, like a birth defect. It guided Keelath through the grooming process, shoving his brushes into the right strokes with pushes of its muzzle. Its breath was hot and moist, its nose soft and tickly with goat-like whiskers.

The rinaan said nothing in response to his question, as Keelath had half expected, only letting out a south whicker and glancing at the path they had taken out of the akor’mar death trap. It stared that way for a moment, and Keelath had the funny feeling it had understood him and was thinking of its old master. It then breathed out a sigh and shoved his hand away from the sensitive whorl of backwards fur near the point of its hip. “Pardon,” said Keelath, correcting his strokes, and it nickered at him.

The cavalry rested for the rest of the day, then retacked the rinaani and began heading west. They didn’t mount up this time, and indeed Keelath’s rinaan wheeled its hocks around in obvious threat when he tried. The other riders glanced at him, and one told him dourly they walked to save their steeds’ strength, for there was no knowing if they would meet more akor’mari on the way back to the calvary’s lodge.

They also told him his rinaan’s name, Rosen, and its rank.

“The horse has a rank?” Keelath asked, mystified.

They laughed, telling him the rinaan knew more about its business than he did.

Keelath pursed his lips and changed the subject. “I suppose I would be the sergeant of the Gladerunners now,” he said softly, naming his old unit, “if any of them had survived that ambush.”

“Better for you they didn’t,” said one of the others, walking at the head of a rinaan colored chestnut-red with a golden mane and tail. “It causes ever too many politics these days to transfer across forces, but the rinaani are so picky.” His beast gave a whicker that Keelath swore was a laugh.

“I am a baron at Dawnmist,” he said. “Does that, too, not matter among your ranks?”

The master of the chestnut shrugged, and another, leading a gray, spoke up. “Rosen is one of the highers of the herd hierarchy, so I expect its similar enough to whatever rank your baron’s title grants you.”

Keelath glanced at Rosen, and it seemed the rinaan’s eye glinted with smug satisfaction. “And how do rinaani decide their ranks?”

The chestnut laughed again. “The usual way,” said its master. “Through battle and through women!”

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