Balkh, summer 1323
A scream from the hollow below spun her around. She leapt down the loose scree of the knoll and slid into camp in a scatter of loose gravel, barely managing to stay upright.
There she found Hayat and Alma clinging to each other as they watched two young men, ragged and dirty, close in on their three mounts, which were cropping peacefully at a patch of grass next to the little stream.
The two men whirled at Joanna’s dramatic entrance, and then relaxed. “Only another woman,” one said, grinning. He affected a bow toward her and said, “Pretty lady, we mean you no harm. We only have need of your horses.” The expression on the second man’s face said otherwise as he appraised first her, and then Hayat, and then Alma.
“This great white stallion,” the first man said. “Surely he would prefer to be ridden by a man?”
“I’m sure he would,” Johanna said, her amiable reply hiding the fact that her heart was pounding in her ears. She waved a negligent hand. “Go ahead. Take him.”
The first man laughed, excited, and tugged at the sleeve of his friend, turning his attention from the negligible women to the much more important horses. He caught at North Wind’s bridle.
What followed wasn’t pretty but it was certainly efficient. When it was over Alma helped Johanna bury the bodies and Hayat helped her to clean a still indignant North Wind’s legs and hooves. Alma would always be more comfortable with dead men than live horses.
Dana here — Those young mens’ mothers obviously never warned them not to look a gift horse in the mouth. (Sorry.)
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