Barghast ran for his life with Crow’s unconscious body draped over his shoulder.
The others had already disappeared out of sight. You bastards better not leave us behind! he thought savagely. But sure enough Jack’s horse and Crow’s horse was gone. That only left his horse, Gunpowder, still tied to the tree.
The horse snorted when Barghast laid Crow across his flank. Gripping the reins he stepped up on the stirrups and slid a leg over. He could hear the sounds of angry shouts coming towards the trees. The Okanavian gently shifted the Practitioner so that Crow was leaning securely against him; his head rested against his chest. With a “yah!”, Barghast snapped the reins. The horse whinnied once, jumping back on its rear legs once, before bursting into a run through the trees.
By the time he had made it back to the building where they had camped, the other Strays had already packed up and were already mounted on their own horses. Apparently healed enough to be able to sit up on his own, Fulko sat atop Brona. Though he was upright and his eyes were open the dazed expression on his face said he was only half-conscious. Or maybe the months he had spent being tortured had broken his mind beyond repair. Barghast had seen it happen many times.
Rake scowled when he saw Crow. “Couldn’ leave your boyfriend behind, could ya?” the cutthroat chided. “You would be doing us all a favor if you had.”
“If not for the threat of the noose, I’d rip your balls off and make you eat them,” Barghast growled.
Rake raised an eyebrow. “Sure you wouldn’t just them yourself, cannibal?”
“Enough, both of you!” Sara said vehemently. “We have to go. You two can fight it out later.”
Once more their group rode out into the night. Barghast was glad to leave the necropolis behind with its rotting buildings and starving coyotes. He wanted to get away from the desert as quickly as they could; and quickly they would have to ride for there was a likely chance the Red Wraiths would be after them. Still even as the tombstones of the necropolis faded out of sight, soon lost to the night and the sandy hills, Rake’s comment chafed. More than anything it was a reminder. For most of his life Barghast had done everything he could to part himself from his tribal life, renouncing his family to do so; he would never again be able to see them. Not his father Rhaederghast or his brother, Shamoan, or his mothers. And no matter how hard he tried he could not part himself from the superstitions that had always been a part of his life or the fact that he would always be viewed as a savage by his peers, a savage who raped and pillaged and ate human flesh. Some tribes of the Okanavian people did but Rhaederghast Unalaq had never let his partake in the act of cannibalism, deeming it to be cruel. Why do you think Ika Na-Na gives us wolves, coyotes, and desert animals to feast on? he would say while sitting around the fire. Human life is to be cherished, not cheaply thrown away.
It was because of how people viewed him and his people that Barghast could never bring himself to hate Crow and other Practitioners the way everyone else did; he knew all too well what it was like to be looked upon with fear, to face the threat of eradication all because of what you were. The Eurchurch had spent centuries waging war against anyone who did not share their religion, their way of thinking. It was only until the rising of the Scarlet Church a week ago and the rising of demonic possessions that had raged across the hellscape for the past decade now, that the Eurchurch had begun making changes to their mandate. And even then, Barghast suspected, it was only temporary.
Crow did not wake up for some time. He snored and occasionally he muttered in his sleep but his words were unintelligible. Barghast wondered if the practitioner would remember anything when he woke up. Sometimes he did and sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes he would remember only pieces of what had happened, what he had done. Barghast envied him this. There are so many sins I would like to forget, he thought.
They rode through the night, until the sun started to come up, only stopping at a ravine to water the horses and rest for a few moments. Barghast’s entire body ached by this time; his inner thighs were raw and chafed from hours spent riding nonstop. Sara came over with a wet rag, looking over Crow with a concerned, maternal look. She was the only other one in their group who did not look upon Crow with pure malice.
“Is he alright?” she asked.
“Fine,” Barghast said. “I think he spent too much of himself.”
She nodded. “Do you want to do the honors or shall I?”
She handed Barghast the rag with a knowing look on his face, as if she knew a secret he was keeping and was waiting for him to admit it. Barghast scowled at her before turning to face the still unconscious practitioner. Gently he began to wipe the crusted blood off Crow’s face.
The Practitioner stirred, opened his eyes, looked around in confusion, and jerked away from the Okanavian.
“Hey!” the Okanavian whispered, grabbing Crow before he could fall off Gunpowder facefirst. “It’s okay. I’m just trying to clean you up a little bit. You’ve made a mess of yourself, lettli b’dir.”
Crow nodded, relaxed. “We made it?”
“So far. We stopped for a little rest.” Barghast finished wiping the blood off Crow’s face before handing him a waterskin. Crow drank deeply, his eyes squinted shut, throat bobbing.
“We wouldn’t have gotten out without you,” the Okanavian said.
Crow passed the waterskin without saying anything. Barghast recognized the hidden pain in those dark blue eyes; he saw it everytime Crow came to, when he’d realized what he had done. It’s what keeps him from being a monster like Rake, Lydia, and myself, Barghast thought.
“What did you call me?” Crow said after a moment. “Just a few moments ago?”
Barghast looked away towards the water. He felt heat rise to his dark cheeks. “It’s nothing. It was a slip of the tongue.”
“Tell me. I want to know.” Crow’s lips twitched into what might have been an encouraging smile.
Rake rubbed sheepishly at the back of his head. “Lettli b’dir. It’s something one of my mothers, Rothia used to call me.”
“One of your mothers? How many mothers did you have growing up?”
Crow nodded, thoughtful. “What does it mean?”
“You think I’m little?”
“Compared to me you are, I suppose.”
This time Crow really did smile. “Only because you are so damned big. You’re practically a giant.”
“It was stupid to call you that.”
“I don’t mind. I kind of like it. Can I have some more water?”
It was Barghast’s turn to smile as he took the waterskin. “I’ll just go fill this up.”