“This is going to work,” Eupheme said firmly.
Tythel shook her head and took a step back, eyeing the target of Eupheme’s gaze. They were still upwind, and the beast had not caught Tythel’s scent yet. “These things and I don’t get along,” Tythel said. “They don’t like my smell, and the feeling is very mutual.”
Eupheme shook her head. “Tythel, it’s just a horse. This one has grown up in the shadow of your father’s mountain, and it’s familiar with the scent of dragon. It’s not going to spook on you.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because I asked the seller. Sheress the Wise, last of the Greenkeepers? This horse was ridden by knights fighting alongside her in the last charge. And before you ask,” Eupheme held up a finger, stifling Tythel’s objection before it could even form, “I checked the paperwork to ensure that claim was legitimate. It’s not going to run from you.”
Tythel grimaced. “I just don’t see why we can’t ride a Skitterer,” she grumbled, taking a hesitant step towards the animal. The horse was munching on some kind of grain, completely oblivious to Tythel’s approach.
“Because we still don’t know how we were being tracked. It’s possible there’s something in Skitterers the Alohym can use to follow their passengers, and…oh, Light,” Eupheme’s eyes widened. “You’re not worried about the horse being scared. You’re scared.”
“Am not,” Tythel protested.
“Okay, prove it. Walk up to that horse.”
Tythel took a deep breath and steeled herself. As firmly as she could, she took a step forward. The horse heard the motion, and its tail flicked.
Tythel leapt back.
“Oh Light, you are,” Eupheme breathed. “Didn’t you…I’m sorry, I’m confused. You rode one into battle.”
“I clung to Nicandros’ back on one in battle,” Tythel said. “He was controlling the animal. Not me. I don’t even know what I’m doing on one of these things.”
“Tythel…you’ve fought Alohym. You ran up the leg of one of their machines before beating it with a hammer until it cracked. You faced off against a half-Alohym monster, an insane lumcaster, and my flathing sister. And you’re afraid. Of a horse.”
“Those are different. They’re all people.” Eupheme’s eyebrows went up, and Tythel shook her head. “I said people, not human. Even if I don’t understand weird Alohym logic, I can reason with it, and talk with it, and if it attacks me I can set it on fire. A horse though? You can’t reason with it. There’s no coming to an understanding. It’s a horse. It’s an animal. And if it attacks me I can’t set it on fire.”
“You…you think a horse is immune to dragonflame?” Eupheme was looking sympathetic, but Tythel could see the grin threatening to burst out from behind her worried frown.
“No, I mean, it wouldn’t deserve to be set on fire.” Tythel didn’t mean to snap, but the horse was looking over its shoulder now. It snorted. “It’s just an animal. So if attacks me, it means I did something wrong, and it would be wrong. Also do you know how strong a horse can kick? It could kill a person.”
“You’re half dragon,” Eupheme said.
“And I’m half human. Dragon scale is great for stopping blades and arrows, but it bends as easily as human skin. It kicks me I could break bones. I’d have to go get treatment if I didn’t die. And it would be my fault.” Tythel’s breathing was fast and deep now.
“Okay,” Eupheme said, the grin fading. She put a hand on Tythel’s shoulder and gently pushed her away from the horse. “Tythel. You’re overthinking this, and it’s not adding up. What’s really bothering you?”
Tythel took a few slower breaths, trying to calm herself. “I just…what if it kicks me?”
“You mentioned that, but you weren’t that afraid of these when you were with Nicandros. So I don’t buy that it’s just fear of being kicked. So you need to tell me-”
“What if it kicks me in the head?” The words came out in a muted wail.
Eupheme froze, her eyes widening. Tythel hadn’t wanted to say it, but could imagine Eupheme was seeing the same thing Tythel had been seeing ever since she first saw the horse. Tellias’ indented skull, an injury nothing short of heartflame could heal him from unless they wanted to turn him into a twisted mutant. Heartflame that now only had one possible source – Tythel.
“Okay,” Eupheme said, and she led Tythel to a bench by the side of the road. It was light out, and people were walking about their business. While Tythel’s heavy cloak to hide her wings was certainly drawing some attention in the sweltering heat, not so much that anyone was pausing for more than a glance. Eupheme, who had dressed appropriately for the heat, was drawing far more attention, although Tythel didn’t quite understand why. It wasn’t that unusual for a woman to wear pants, and while Eupheme’s were tight, it certainly wasn’t unheard of. Yet so many of the men were looking at her buttocks. Maybe they’re trying to gauge her mobility?
The train of thought, while slightly ludicrous even in Tythel’s estimation, helped her calm down. Eupheme’s arm around her shoulder helped too. “What are you thinking about?” Eupheme asked.
“Actually, I was distracting myself. Trying to figure out why men were looking at your rear.”
Eupheme snorted. “Because humans find that part…you know what, it would take too long to explain. It’s a human sexual attraction thing.”
“Ah,” Tythel said, smiling shakily. “That…does explain why I couldn’t understand it.”
Eupheme’s answering smile was encouraging. “You always were bad at that. At some point we need to have a serious talk about it. So much of what people – sorry, humans – do is explained by our baser urges, and you’ll need to understand that if you’re to rule us.”
Tythel nodded seriously. They sat there for a moment as Tythel gathered herself. “Eupheme, I’m sorry. It just, lately, feels that everything that could possibly go wrong does go wrong. And the horse is just…one more thing that could go wrong.”
“I understand. Truly. And I know it’s….what?”
Eupheme had cut herself off because Tythel raised a hand to silence her. There was a conversation a block away, and Tythel had heard her name. She focused herself, blocking out all other sounds to try and pick up what they were saying in the bustle of the town.
“I always knew it was a lie,” one voice was saying. He sounded male, and absolutely disgusted.
“Don’t try that line,” a woman responded. “You were talking about the return of the rightful heir from the day that she came out to the world.”
The man sputtered. “I didn’t believe it, though. I mean, it was an interesting moment, but everyone knows that the real princess died.”
The woman’s voice dropped several registers, and even with her hearing Tythel could barely make out what was being said. “Or it’s another Alohym lie.”
“Be careful with that,” the man said in what he thought was a whisper but carried far better than his earlier speech. “You never know who might be listening.”
“I’m just saying,” the woman continued, “they need something after the massacre. It’s awfully convenient for them that they are able to release this information right as people are really focused against them.”
“Yes, but they had to admit they had her captive and lost her. That certainly lends credence to their story, don’t you think?”
“What is it?” Eupheme asked. Every line in her body was tense and ready to spring for some threat.
Tythel didn’t even have the energy to sigh. “A problem. Come on. I need to see what’s going on.”
She just had to hope it wasn’t what she feared.