Three of them slipped out of the gate of Taimar Velkari a little before midnight, each of them leading a pair of horses. Kráva glanced down the slope, but she could not see the place where the king’s men had camped, east around the shoulder of the great hill. Not likely that any of the king’s men can see us, she thought with satisfaction. Then she turned away, moving silently into the night.
They walked at first, Drúthan breaking trail since he knew the country intimately. The path he found for them was easy to follow, free of tree-roots or stones to cause a stumble, quiet in the stillness of the night. It helped that there was plenty of light. Sky Father’s star shone low in the north, and a near-full moon low in the south, between them providing more than enough to pick out the trail.
About half a mile from the hill-fort, near a quiet grove of trees, they mounted and began to ride cross-country. Kráva rode one of the horses that had drawn her father’s chariot, and which now belonged to her; its partner followed on a lead line. Drúthan and Lóka each traveled with a pair of Wolf-clan beasts. At first, they kept silent as they rode, with an occasional hand-signal or murmured word from Drúthan to help them find the paths he had in mind. They kept their horses to an easy walk in the darkness, not much faster than they could have gone on foot. Even so, they made good time, moving west and a little north to miss the royal town at Verkanta. Kráva counted miles in her head, and guessed they could reach Taimar Nár within three days, four at the most. So long as the good summer weather continued to hold.
While they rode, Kráva’s mind drifted back to the steel blade. She held her horse’s reins in her right hand, so her left could rest on the sword’s hilt, almost caressing it as she rode. The weapon seemed quiet too, offering her no new insights.
A sudden thought came to her. She gripped the sword’s hilt more firmly in her left hand, and stared directly at Drúthan, a dozen yards ahead. Then she turned her head to consider Lóka, where he rode a little distance away at her left.
Nothing. After a moment, she shook her head ruefully and let her grip relax. Perhaps I was imagining it after all.
“That’s a rather sharp glance,” said Lóka.
“I was wondering what the sword might tell me about you.”
It was hard to see his face in the dim light, but Kráva thought he looked startled. “The sword speaks?”
“Not in words.” She shook her head in confusion. “When the king came, I could almost hear when he was lying, and guess why. I was sure it was the sword, warning me about him. Now it tells me nothing.” She said nothing of what the sword had told her about Dúvelka.
Lóka nodded, thinking while he guided his horses around a shallow curve in the path. “That fits,” he said at last. “You’re likely wondering what I know about the weapon.”
“I suppose we have time to talk about it now. I recognized the runes on the blade, you see, when I examined it this morning. They are very ancient, a form of writing I’m not sure anyone uses any more. In our language, they would read as Tarankláva.”
“Thunder Blade,” Kráva murmured, tasting the name on her tongue. She decided that she liked it. “So, since when are you an expert on ancient scripts no one else can read?”
“One learns all manner of things, as a vaita,” he said, and even without the sword’s advice, Kráva could tell he was being evasive. “What is important is the nature of the sword that carries ...