I went to the back of the house, around the back which faced the long free plains in the north and from which, on a clear day, I could see the city of Naban-ka. The wind was a brown haze in the north, still. I wondered if the city’s high walls would save it from the winds themselves.
The living ox lay beside the dead one, its heavy head resting on the other’s haunch. It startled at my approach and swung its hairy face this way and that. Great hot breaths snorted out from its nostrils, but at the sound of my voice it calmed somewhat. Both creatures were covered in thick dust, dust which rose from the living one in gray clouds as it got unsteadily to its feet. Its eyes were caked shut with dust. The dead one’s leg had stayed out of the lee, out in the wind, and the hair was gone and the thick hide red and bloody and the creature stank.
The living one stood where it was, eyes caked shut, breathing heavy breaths and heaving its great hairy sides. Its head swung to and fro. When I moved closer to the fallen one, the living startled again and backed away a wary pace.
The dead one’s skin was tough and had mostly withstood the first blasts of scything air. I inspected the hide, hoping we might salvage at least that much, and when I reached its face I saw what had killed it. Its eyes, too, were caked in dust, but they were bloodied and open, little ruins. The dust had bored its soft eyes. I looked up at the living one and finally I noticed the dried fluid that crusted the hairs and dirt in great tear-streaks down its face. It was blinded, but, by some chance, the wound had killed one ox and left the other alive.
It took some time to clean the living ox’s eyes but they were useless, scarred and bloody. The creature stirred its head but it calmed itself when I spoke. While my father and mother gathered our tools and saw to food and checked the damage to our drying shed and storage cave in the hillside, I brought the living ox’s harness. It smelled the familiar leather and let me harness it to the dead ox.
“Come, Dasinur,” I said to it, using the Serehvan words for ‘eyeless one.’ “Good, nice Dasinur, come along.” I coaxed the ox to pulling its dead comrade out away from the house. There were no flies. I guess the wind tore them all up. So the knife wind was good for something, in the end. Dasinur pulled the dead one out to the east, and all the while I guided her steps and her great hairy head swung this way and that. On our way, I looked south and saw the soldiers in gold and white drawing nearer, though it might be hours yet before they came, if they came slowly.
We dragged the dead ox into the east, not far from a narrow creek which came all the way from the southern mountains, and which was low but moving with clear water. I left the dead ox and then had a thought, and I walked Dasinur to the creek. She smelled the water and drank for a long time, so long I pulled her away so she might breathe and not be sick. We waited a few moments and then I let her have a little more before walking her back. Last, I walked back to the dead ox with my knife, and there I cut away and saved the hide and I cut away some meat that did not seem too sour.
The men in white and gold did not come slowly. When I looked up from my bloody work they were close, nearing our fields. I saw my father waiting beside my mother with some baskets before the house. I quickly washed away some of the blood, for it was up to my elbows, and then rolled up the heavy, smelling hide and tucked my knife in it and took the meat and ran back. My parcels were heavy but I was big and hefty even at that age and they slowed me only a little.
I reached the house as the soldiers did. There were twenty of them and two others, in finer armor with more gold. They all rode on fat camels, as they do in Lonireil, and they bore spears and crossbows. One of those in front bore no weapons. Her skin was hard and shining, like glazed brown clay, and her face like a smooth clay mask with holes cut in for black eyes to look out and a red, red mouth.
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