Subverting Borysko


It was Berengar, howling over the collective howling of his rabid war-ready Scarlets. A dragon out of fable and woodcut had whooshed down from moonless night, plucked up a baggage ox too astonished to bawl out. Overhead the dragon winged, black across the stars, across the icy face of the mountain of the Mother. Calla, his heart hammering, peered from under the upturned baggage cart.

Berengar in royal nightclothes had mounted a stump, flaring torch high in his left hand, sword flashing in his right. He was magnificent. He might have been a king.

Scarlets thundered past the court dog under the upturned cart. They formed up around their daring Prince. Walled shields. Prickled spears against the starry sky. Crossbowmen strained over the draw. Calla saw above the forest fringe the great shape sweep low, again to rake the camp.

It was the ideal moment to go for Borysko. Calla galloped from under the cart, head down. The dragon came. Calla sensed its eye regarded him. Great wings clapped together overhead like thunder, like tornado, snatched up tents, the dirt beneath, and shields, and men. And extinguished every last light.

Across the dark dust-choked camp, Berengar barked, "THAT'S ALL, FATHER?"

The men laughed. His Scarlets laughed. Cheered.


Calla reached the kitchen tents, blown inside out like shirts on a line and smoking. Men hobbled like night horrors from the hospital ground beyond. A half dozen of those wounded against the Vagari on the mountain. Evidently able, they set their progress toward their Prince's voice. Calla trotted past the others, their wounds souring, to a man cursing the shape circling among the stars.

One soldier remained guarding Borysko. A sensible lad, he eyed the sky, squatted on his heels before Borysko's pen of brush and sacking from the baggage.

"My Prince wishes me question the prisoner further. You may join the battle, soldier. You are not needed here."

The boy stared, his eyes quite bright enough to show he did not wish to abandon his post.

"Soldier. See to the needs of the wounded. I am on the Prince's business. You are not to witness."

The boy blinked. "Yes, Lord Calla." He picked himself up only tall enough so his legs could carry him over to his wounded mates. He kept his head low.

Through the noise, Berengar rallying his men for the dragon's next swoop and the men roaring their readiness, other sounds prickled Calla's dog hearing. The dragon, high in the night, beating the sky like a drum beneath its wings. All around, forest creatures disturbed by dragon and men. From the forest fringe, a sentry barking challenge. Calla presumed it must be Khoreia choosing the moment to return. Or Berengar's Donovan, with all a night's explaining to do.

Borysko grumbled just then within his pen of brush and sacking. Calla pushed his snout inside.

There was a girl with the man in his prison. One of the six followers who had come along with the baggage, Calla decided. This one straddled him under the stars. She was more out than in her clothes. Her scent was odd. Dangerous. For one moment, Calla took in Borysko's wrestling her for enthusiasm such as Borysko was famous for.

"Geddoff. Geddoff, Urska." He flicked his face from side to side, plainly not desiring the girl's lunging kisses.

Calla coughed. "Borysko. Say you are the Prince's man and I will tell him. Grunt your agreement, at least."

Booted feet thudded the ground. Calla felt it in his paws. "Someone's coming. Borysko. Be clear. You are Berengar's man."

"Take her to safety, Calla." Borysko hefted the girl aside. Toward the brushy side, the forest side. Toward a hole through the brush. "Berey mustn't have her."

Calla woofed, astonished. He comprehended. He remembered.

The shirt this Urska had hung round herself slid off her shoulder. "I no wanna be here. I lick. I go." She tipped her girl's face toward the starry sky, her eyes most wide.

Calla was kneed away from the pen. "Stand aside, Calla." Khoreia. Two Scarlets flung open Borysko's pen.

The witch was mostly in the soldier's shirt someone had got her. She stank of an adventuresome run.

Borysko had sat up. He had one arm around the struggling, kicking girl's neck. His hand over her snarling mouth.

Khoreia puffed. "Take her. Chain her. Harm her — You both will lose your heads."

Borysko smiled. A most unpleasant smile under the stars. "Berey will hear it from me how I got her for him. Understand that, witch."

The End

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