Deleted scene: Kallisty and her bandits

Deleted scene: Kallisty and her bandits

Deleted scene from Heavy Ice. This comes after Kallisty and the Hawkwoods regroup after escaping the Roof of the World, but before they cross the River. It was replaced by a shorter version of the scene, because Kallisty and Raj already meet relatively late in the book and I didn’t want to make it any later.

Strat scented the air. She lifted her long skull and started to turn towards the River. Her crystal bridle-ornaments swung and tinkled. The long lappets of skin that hung from her jaw and the frill of loose skin on her neck swayed.

Neleh shouted something from the back. Kallisty’s body knew what it was before her brain got the words sorted out. Riders sighted; unfamiliar riders, unfamiliar vrykols, probably a threat. She gave Besnik a tiny nod. He started unslinging his rifle.

Strat quickened her pace. Idrian shouted something moistly in his sister’s ear. Kallisty didn’t catch a word of it except for weather-station. The vrykols wheeled in formation behind Strat, turning to face the threat. Kallisty reached for her own rifle, and realised that it was sticking into her spine, squashed between the back of her jerkin and the heaving front of Idrian’s chest. She looped the reins into one hand and reached back. Her long-boned body balanced effortlessly, making the small adjustments of knees and spine that were needed. The Fold wheeled in front of her, all of it turned a blurry apricot-dun by the dust in the air. The horizon spun from distant sea to canyon-wall and then to the deep narrowing of the southern valley.

Two figures on vrykol-back were approaching from the south. Something big and white and collapsed trailed after them like an unusually bulky parachute. Kallisty had no idea what that was, but after the longnight she’d had, she wasn’t taking any chances. “Rifle, Idrian,” she said tightly.

Idrian clutched her tighter. “I’ll fall,” he said.

He wasn’t scared. Not much scared Idrian, on account, Kallisty supposed, of Idrian being a Hawkwood. He’d just managed to reason himself into some Idrian version of the universe where falling was the only option, like that time he’d got convinced that he couldn’t leave their uncle’s receiving-room until he’d counted all the tiles on the ceiling.

“You will not fall,” said Kallisty firmly. “Now give me the damn rifle or I swear I’ll stamp up and down on your weather-station.”

Idrian started fumbling with the rifle one-handed, for all the good that did. Kallisty took off her glasses and wiped them on the dirty embroidered cuff of her sleeve, and put them back on again. As the world snapped back into focus, she could see Bhoomi loading a rifle one-handed as her vrykol Podkayne swung round to join the others in a loose arrowhead formation behind Strat. The vrykols were conversing in whistles and deep-bellied grunts, and the throat-clearing noises that meant the ones with vestigial poison-sacs were preparing to use them. Besnik was praying.

Bhoomi nodded to Kallisty as she slid out of the saddle and knelt under the protection of Podkayne’s claws. To Kallisty’s left, Ushantih was doing the same thing. It was a trick that only worked if you and the vrykol really trusted each other; but if you did, it was pretty much unbeatable.

Kallisty’s heart was beating fast but steadily. She grinned across at Bhoomi, because whatever happened now, a world that had Bhoomi in it couldn’t be stacked against Kallisty completely. She looked forward again over Strat’s long nose-ridge. Strat had her head up, scenting the air with both sets of nostrils; but she hadn’t stiffened out the vanes that ran down her sides, and she wasn’t pawing the ground.

And that meant… “Bet you a tenth-share of Rivantia scrip I know who that is,” Kallisty said to Ushantih.

“Can’t afford to take the bet, b’rin,” said Ushantih. “Money problems.”

“You don’t have money problems,” said Bhoomi fondly. “Well, except that you’re a carrier of money problems who infects other people.”

Kallisty wrinkled her nose, like she always did when Bhoomi spoke in high-falutin’ medical cant. At the end of the ragged chevron of vrykols, Augustine lifted her rifle, waiting for a signal from Kallisty to fire. Kallisty gave her a hand-signal: wait.

Strat shifted her weight from one leg to the other. “What if it’s the Prophet and one of her saints, b’rin?” said Besnik nervously. “You can’t draw a rifle on a saint.”

“Nothing in the Ordnance against it, but that’s no saint,” said Kallisty with a piratical grin. “A tenth-share says I ride out to them and come back with something you’ll be glad to see.”

“And if you don’t?” said Vladik. He was mounted up behind Besnik, and didn’t look like he was enjoying the experience. “They might have an Ordainer for all we know. Or they might be spies for the Boccamera. Or…”

“Oh, for God’s sake. If they were spies for the Boccamera, why would they be riding about on vrykols rather than up in the sky on their contaminated drone-wasps? And if they’ve got an Ordainer, I promise you by all that’s holy I’ll wrap it up in a luck-scarf and give it to you for a Landing Day present.” Kallisty squeezed her heels against Strat’s ribs. “Ushantih, hold the line here, and no one fires without my say-so.”

Kallisty rode forward. She was sure about the outlines of the vrykols before she was sure about the riders. Vrykols were bigger, and they had more points where they differed from each other than humans did. Bone spurs, knots of tattered skin, the various benign growths that vrykol-kind was heir to… after you spent long enough looking at vrykols, you started wondering how anyone ever told humans apart at all.

Even though she really needed a new spectacle prescription, Kallisty was absolutely certain that one of the vrykols approaching her was Fastolf, who was Strat’s get and had some of Strat’s length and viciousness; and the other was Twist, who had been stolen from the Ferrantes whilst he was still in the egg and had the worst sense of direction Kallisty had ever seen in a vrykol. Her cousin Bel-Imperia said it was something to do with the egg being exposed to the wrong kind of magnetic field, but Kallisty had no idea if that was true.

That made the hooded figure on the left Milan, and the figure with spirelets of closely curled dark hair escaping from her headscarf Haili.

Of course, it had to be Haili. Only Haili could emerge from a flood and an earthquake and still be grinning like that. “Venna petinche, b’rin!” she said, as cheerfully as if her clothes weren’t tattered and her dark face blotched with pale-dried mud like a badly plastered wall. “Look what we found floating down the River!”

Kallisty looked. Whatever it was that they were dragging behind them, it wasn’t a parachute, unless some eccentric had decided that making parachutes out of cloth was out of date and the up and coming thing was metal struts and memory-plaz. Possibly it was the remains of a very large sculpture representing an outsized white mushroom. Or possibly…

Kallisty’s lips turned up in a wolfish grin. “May the Holy Counsellor and the Prophet and all the little Founders bless you, Haili, and you too, Milan,” she said. “You’ve found us another dome.”

“It’s even better than that, b’rin,” said Milan helpfully. He reached behind him onto the saddle and produced a soaking-wet scrap of fur and a torn scraggle of harness. “I’ve found some of the heavy ice.”

If Kallisty had been close enough, she’d have smacked him round the ear. As it was, she shook her head, and found a laugh working its way out of her throat, determined as a winter cough. “Keep it to make for a sleeping-bag, Milan,” she said, when she could speak. “No one saved your bedroll.”

“Maybe it’ll roll down the canyon-wall on its own,” said Milan, who was an incurable optimist.

“If it does, it’ll be the first thing that’s ever slept with you and came back for more,” said Kallisty. “How in God’s name did you manage to get lost like that? I was about to ask Ushantih to parcel out your share of the debt for your next-of-kin and light two candles to the Saint of Beggars.”

“I don’t know, b’rin. I think Twist got turned about somehow,” Haili patted her vrykol’s long serpentine neck, ” – and Fastolf must have followed him, and then we spotted that dome and thought it was worth taking a detour and going after it, and then we found we were on the wrong side of that Riverlet that comes down by Throne Rocks. We reckoned you’d be coming along after us sooner or later. Gave us a hell of a jolt when we realised you’d gone north.”

“You deserved one,” said Kallisty, showing her teeth. “I was thinking I’d have to train up another scout.”

Haili fell in beside her. Strat inflated her sides, making herself look even bigger to the intruding Twist as she turned her head to snap at him. Kallisty made an adjustment of knees and thigh-muscles, and leaned down to punch Strat in the side of the neck. “Give it up, Strat-bitch-la.”

The sun came out from behind the clouds. The vrykols’ sinuous shadows raced over the uneven ground. Strat gave an ill-tempered contralto trill and extended her neck even further to lip at Twist’s vulnerable neck. Twist lowered his head in subordination.

Strat showed him where she could have bitten open an artery if she’d been minded to and retracted her head, snarling softly with the satisfaction of a job done. Fastolf prudently hung back, though that might have been because he was dragging the dome.

And then they were wheeling back round to the Hawkwood line, and Bhoomi was racing out from the shelter of her vrykol’s claws with her rifle slapping against her back. “Haili, what the berdak were you…” she started scolding her cousin before Haili pulled her up into the saddle behind her. Bhoomi hugged Haili round the waist from behind and carried right on scolding.

The air was filled with relief and congratulation and the sound of vrykols readjusting their social structures to make room for the returned prodigals. Strat lifted her long head and sniffed the air again, turning towards the canyon-wall. Kallisty wiped her spectacles, evaded Haili who was trying to make her a present of a salvaged hat with dank wet tassels, and looked the way Strat was looking.

On the horizon was another vrykol. It wasn’t one that Kallisty recognised, though she admired the clean balanced lines of neck and tail. She didn’t recognise the figure in the saddle either, though she thought it was a man from the silhouetted breadth of shoulder and length of leg. The rest of him, and his vrykol, was nothing but a black shadow among red rocks.

“Go see who that is, Neleh,” she said. “Take Qingchen and… sun-curses, Qingchen’s wounded, isn’t he? Take Baharak and Rikhart, and go and see who that is. Carefully. He might be a scout for a bigger force.”

“I know my business, b’rin,” said Neleh, mildly insulted. “Rikhart, Baharak, with me. Haili, for pity’s sake, I don’t want your drowned mommet in my face! Let’s go.”

“It’s not a drowned mommet,” said Haili, dangling a heavy lump of River-fibres and nameless gunk in Kallisty’s face instead. “It’s a fine pair of Maker-tech binoculars. I can’t make them work. Thought you’d like them, b’rin, or milord Idrian would.”

“They need cleaning,” said Idrian disapprovingly.

“You clean them, then,” said Kallisty. “I know none of us will manage it to your standards. And make it quick, because I want to see who’s trying to claim-jump us to this crater.”

But by the time Idrian had cleaned the binoculars to his finicking standards and got them working again, the rider had given Neleh the slip and was long gone.

Two more safe, Kallisty thought. Two fewer among the un-drunk-for dead. And Ushantih not distracted, which was almost worth a life all on its own.

She set her heels to Strat’s side, and rode towards the sun.

Copyright © 2013 Ankaret Wells

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