To the Pabinkúe, the eyes of the herd are windows for her masters.
— Pabinkue Nigakúmi
Mikáryo felt Rutejìmo’s anguished gaze against her back like a knife stabbing into her kidney. She didn’t have to look over her shoulder to imagine tears rolling down his cheeks, tracing along the fresh cuts and bruises before mixing with the blood that ran from his lips. He had been beaten badly and the sight of his injuries—when he left her healthy and unharmed only a few hours ago—tore at her heart.
Her vision blurred with her effort not to let the tears roll down her own cheeks. Her lungs ached to hold back the sob that threatened to escape her throat. Everything inside her screamed for her to go back and comfort him, to hold him and tell him that he could join her.
Next to her, riding his black horse, Tsubàyo glanced at her with concern in his gaze. He started to look back but then she hissed at him to stop.
Tsubàyo obeyed and then looked forward. His eyes seemed to soften for a moment and his face relaxed. Slowly, he reached up to scratch his scar; as a child, spilled hot oil had marked him from the top of his brow, along the side of his face, and down to his chest. The scarred flesh frequently drew unwanted attention and Tsubàyo did everything in his power to avoid calling out attention to his old injury, but he still touched it while concentrating.
She barked out a laugh. He was using his magic to look through the eyes of one of the horses in the herd. She could do the same, but where Tsubàyo could use any horse in his herd, she could only share her senses with her black steed, Datobàpo.
“He’s still there,” Tsubàyo said in a low voice.
“I wasn’t going to look.”
A faint smile quirked the corner.
Mikáryo rolled her eyes. “Fine, I want to look but I can’t use any horse nearby to peek like you.”
“Don’t worry, Káryo. I’ll tell you when he stops wailing.” He used the familiar and her preferred form of address. Outside of the endless scraping and bowing of the cities, she never saw a reason to use her full name.
He shrugged. “Explain later though?”
She smiled at him and then nodded. With her thoughts, she had Datobàpo pace closer so she could reach Tsubàyo.
The horse obeyed her telepathic command, smoothly stepping along the gravel until the two riders’ legs brushed against each other. His body moved in perfect harmony with Tsubàyo’s mount, Gafihán, as they stepped in time with each other.
Mikáryo rested her hand on Tsubàyo’s shoulder for a moment. The black tattoo on her hand blended with his dark outfit. She squeezed before the two horses parted.
He briefly smiled at her and then returned to his efforts. Before them, there were thirty horses pulling the large, brass scorpion mechanical. He commanded all of them with his thoughts, directing them to work together to haul the large device on their way to the northern city that had paid for the war machine.
She turned and peered over her shoulder. She couldn’t see any hint of Rutejìmo’s presence though she knew if she went back, there would be blood on the ground and scattered rocks in the way of his leaving. “Can you follow him?”
Tsubàyo shook his head. “He’s moving too fast, I can’t catch the horses fast enough to watch.”
Disappointed, Mikáryo turned back on her horse and settled down. The sadness still choked her and she struggled with the urge to chase him down.
“Why not bring him along?”
She flinched at the question. “He couldn’t travel with us. You know that. He’s a banyosiōu now. Without a clan, he couldn’t be welcomed at any oasis or shelter.” She felt sick saying it and the tears threatened to rise up again.
When Tsubàyo said nothing, she peeked up to see him staring at her.
Gulping, she asked, “What?”
“You don’t care about those things, Káryo. All the bowing and scraping? That isn’t you. If no one would give him food, you’d share your own. If an oasis wouldn’t accept him, you’d camp out in the sands with him.”
With every word, she felt even worse. Tsubàyo knew her too well.
She smiled at him grimly. “Because I think he’s on a path we cannot assist with.”
“A path besides wandering into the desert and dying because he’s too stupid to realize… no…” Tsubàyo took a deep breath and his face untwisted. “It’s one of those desert things, isn’t it? Keep someone in the dark to make sure the knife of experience scrapes the bone?”
Mikáryo chuckled. “Yes.”
“Those sun-addled assholes of the Shimusògo.” He spat out the name of the clan that he was born into. It was Rutejìmo’s clan now just as Tsubàyo was now a member of the Pabinkúe clan. Well, it would be Rutejìmo’s again if he managed to survive a year.
“Trauma does increase the power.”
“Trauma also leaves children to die in the middle of the desert. It inflicted me with nightmares for the last ten years and I still can’t get my heart away from it. Every damn day, I worry I’m going to turn into those assholes and hurt my daughter with their horse shit attitudes and obsession with destroying lives.” His voice grew sharper with every word.
Mikáryo reached over and rested her hand on his shoulder. She left it there instead of parting, now that Rutejìmo wasn’t watching. “You have to admit, you are the most powerful of the Pabinkúe, even without being a warrior.”
He glared at her.
“I’m sure Múchi would never let you hurt your foals. I sure wouldn’t.”
Tsubàyo relaxed and chuckled wryly. “No, she’d have me drawn and quartered if I even suggested it. Being her husband would mean she’d be the one quartering me personally. Besides, at least the Pabinkúe don’t have their heads shoved up their assholes. They talk about the trials, in vague terms but they at least explain that it has to be stressful to manifest magic.”
Mikáryo patted his shoulder. “You ended up a good man, Bàyo.”