THE GALE-BORNE CHILD
Terriat got to her feet. "Warrior! Bandits! In the ravine!" Her shouted warning echoed as she jumped up and down to catch the Warrior's eye and pointed into the defile below her. She saw her head turn and her hands tighten on the reins, which made the horse whirl on its heels. She had been heard.
Belatedly, Terriat realized she had alerted others besides the Warrior. The bandits whipped around and saw her. She took to her heels. Racing along the riverbank behind the bushes, she stayed low and burst from cover only at the last instant and made for the road. Barefoot and armed with only her utility knife, she was no match for the bandit who gave chase. She would need speed and luck to escape the angry man who already crashed through the brush behind her. She hit the road at an angle and raced down the smoothly paved surface. With prodigious luck, she would come on an emergency callbox and summon help.
All too soon, the thudding steps of a running man echoed behind her. He stormed out of the brush entirely too close. Terriat lengthened her stride to add speed and began to recite mental prayers for deliverance. Back at the defile, the other men pressed the attack on the still-unseen rider despite the loss of surprise. Together, they leapt from concealment and rushed the horse. The woman expertly controlled the rearing animal as she drew her sword. Too late, the leader saw her clothing.
"Shii-Alaii!" His eyes widened in alarm. "Run for it!"
The warning came far too late. Hefting the blade easily in one hand, the Warrior swung it in a glittering arc to strike his. The blow clanged on his sword, which stung his arm and hand so badly, he dropped the blade. Knowing the Warrior would kill him if he hesitated, he flung himself to the ground.
"Mercy, Warrior!" he begged. She ignored him the second he surrendered and spun her stallion on his heels. The second brigand hared off as fast as he could run, and she galloped after him. She quickly cornered him in a small stand of close-grown saplings. Terrified, he heeded his leader's example, threw down his sword, and followed it to the ground.
The Warrior sheathed her weapon. "Stand." She gave the crisp order and expected prompt obedience. "I will not harm you." Her voice was mild, but its chill sent shivers down the man's back.
He rose and walked ahead of her to his leader who waited where she had left him. Together, the two faced her, their hands turned carefully down and away from their bodies. Her eyes never left them as she rummaged in her saddlebag for her commlink. The pair exchanged covert, relieved looks. She would turn them over to the Planetary Police. She could have killed them where they stood; Warriors had that right, in some cases, an outright obligation under the law; Cail takes crime seriously.
She activated the commlink. "Band Twelve. First House Security Patrol, please." Her dark brown eyes scorched the two brigands, and they squirmed under her disapproving scrutiny. As did many before them, they felt she saw right through them and was unimpressed. "Patrol? This is Matonee Miat-Alaii. I have two highwaymen in custody on the old post road, three miles south of Galat. Please come for them." She listened to the reply. "I can't wait. A girl warned me of their attack, and a third man is after her. I would lend her aid."
She listened again. "Very well." She broke contact and unholstered her stunner. "Patrol can not come right away. Sit."
The two men sat in the grass, resigned. She stunned them both, and they collapsed into heaps. They would be unconscious 30 minutes, plenty of time for the Patrol to retrieve them. By the time they woke, they would already be in a rehabilitation facility. Whatever else happened, they would not be bandits again. Matonee turned her horse and galloped down the road in the direction the girl had run.
Matonee rode with easy athleticism. At 108, she had been a Warrior for 45 years and a Shii-Alaii sister for 43 years before that. Slightly above average in height, she had a muscular, yet womanly figure still trim despite her years. Historians would one day describe hers as a classic Valkyrie's build, long of limb and body, graceful in carriage. With still-smooth, ivory skin and even features, Matonee could easily be mistaken for someone fifty years her junior. Like all Warriors, she led a physically active life. This headlong gallop presented no problem for her.
Terriat, meanwhile, ran for her life and willed an aircar to happen along and spot her. The man after her labored for breath, but he still closed. She tired too; the thin rations of the past two days punished her stamina. Seeing a callbox, she risked a look over her shoulder to see if she had time to make the call or just trip the emergency beacon.
She paid instantly for her inattention. Her toe caught, and she stumbled. Her tired muscles did not react quickly enough to recover; she staggered and went sprawling. She slammed to the ground and scraped hands, knees, and chin. The breath knocked out of her, she took seconds too long to rise. The man pounded up to grab her.
"Screeching ... little ... brat!" he snarled between gasps for air. He jerked her to her feet by her collar. The material held, tightened across her windpipe, and cut off her already short air supply. "I'll teach you to meddle in the affairs of others!"