Fletcher had given the Talk that morning. Now the pips were coming in for the really awkward part, the individual interviews.
"Darcy and Donovan are here, sir," Sanders announced.
"Both of them?"
"Yessir. They've asked to come in together."
Fletcher pondered briefly. "No, I don't feel like being double-teamed."
"What's the game?"
"I don't know yet, but I expect we shall soon learn."
So Sanders brought in Darcy by himself. The Honorable Bennet Clovis Alcide Darcy was short and slender, pale-skinned but glossy black of hair, beard, and coat. He and his friend Donovan had simply presented themselves from the start as a team and groomed themselves identically: Their hair, growing three times faster under their new metabolisms, was pulled back in ponytails. After a short experiment with full beards, they had trimmed down to neat goatees. Now, Fletcher noted, Darcy had taken trouble to shave off his 10 AM shadow, don a fresh T-shirt, and give his coat a good brush, all between here and the end of agility class. Clearly trying to make a good impression.
Darcy saluted and gave Fletcher a polite, reserved smile. "Have a seat," Fletcher answered, indicating the mat in front of his desk. Darcy sat with good facility for one who had had his legs for only two months.
"I wanted to speak to each of you about this morning's talk," Fletcher said. He smiled crookedly and added, "Privately."
Darcy smiled back, still polite and reserved, and said, "I see, sir. But it makes no bones, sir. Bill– Donovan and I have already started talking it over together." His Chenelaise had an Irish edge.
Fletcher nodded. "You grew up together?" They were the same age and came from the same town, a place on the western Irish coast with a small Grand Norman enclave. He'd heard them wondering to each other about Brendan's Reach.
"Yessir. His father is my father's steward. We were always in and out of each other's houses."
"And how did you come to decide to join the Cavalry?"
"We rather talked each other into it, sir." Fletcher nodded again and waited. More details, lad. "Well, we were considering our careers and thought it would ... be good to find one we could go into together."
Again Fletcher nodded, but replied, "That doesn't narrow it down to the Dedicated Cavalry, though. Which has a cost." He gestured, indicating both his body and Darcy's.
He watched as Darcy tried to decide something. He had been Darcy's teacher for two months, now, and he was pleased to see he had apparently earned some trust, because Darcy decided on candor over discretion:
"My father is squire baron of our enclave. I'm his second son. He– Our family fortunes took a dive in the Spanish Venture." This was an attempt, a decade back, by a group of Grand Norman houses to buy up some Sundered vineyards and other real estate in Spain. It had gone badly. "So the family can't afford to support idlers or careers that don't bring in money like– like musician or academic. So I was looking around.
"Not business. Not my talent or taste, and the Spanish Venture would do my reputation no good. I've shown no spark of magery. Not the Church. That would get me out of the way, but it wouldn't bring in any money, and besides I've no calling. So it was the military. And of course I was talking all about this to Donovan, and we wound up deciding together."
Still no explanation of why the Dedicated Cavalry rather than any other branch. Fletcher let it drop for the moment. "Do you have family in the DC?" Fletcher remembered other Darcies that had passed through his tutelage or that of Captain Alain over in Saint-Eloi.
"Yessir. My great-grandfather and grandfather were in it. And an uncle and a couple of cousins. I guess that made it seem more natural to choose to go up on hooves."
More natural than sticking around home, perhaps. It was, after all, a family in which at least three generations of men had been willing to marry, breed, and then leave, ceasing to be entirely human. Fletcher didn't know it was because of a rocky home life rather than, say, some dire necessity, but he thought he remembered the uncle, and rocky would fit.
"And this morning's talk? Those rules sound like you can keep them?"
Darcy half-smiled and half-shrugged. "Sounded very reasonable to me, sir. Flirting and such with no other end in view sounds relaxing. No pressure, if you know what I mean, sir."
Fletcher thought he did. Darcy's family would have wanted a good match for him, naturally, and had probably sent him out on various dates, but the younger son of a house with fallen fortunes was not much of a catch.
Apparently, no sparks of romance had been struck, or any sparks had been snuffed by the calculations of the girl's family. Between that and what Fletcher guessed about the Darcy men, Bennet Darcy here might well have come to regard marriage as a duty he was happy to be let off.
As for the family, if they were used to transformations, sending Darcy to the Dedicated Cavalry might look like a good second best to marrying the heiress who wasn't showing up.
All of which was ideal from Fletcher's point of view. So he nodded in response to Darcy's remark and said, "Very good. Any questions?"
Darcy's gaze shifted. Fletcher nodded encouragingly. "Sir, I wondered– Do we ever– What about courtly love?"
Fletcher smiled broadly, which he saw surprised Darcy. "As in that between a knight and his lady?"
"Yessir. Or– Or Dante and Beatrice."
"Leaving Gemma out of the equation."
"Dante's wife. Do you have a Beatrice in mind?"
Darcy blushed a little. "No sir, not yet. But I hoped– I hoped it was something that could happen."
"It's happened many times. And I wish you luck."
"(Thank you, sir)," Darcy husked.
"You're welcome," Fletcher told Darcy. "Dismissed. Ask Lieutenant Sanders to send in Donovan, please."
So that's what was left after the dowery-hunt ended, at least in this case: a desire to love from mere admiration. Fletcher wondered how Darcy got along with Vimont. Actually, he knew how Darcy got along with Vimont; he just wondered about the details. Fletcher had already interviewed Vimont. It had been brief and blunt:
"Did you understand what I told you this morning about women?"
"Oh, I suppose so, sir." Cheerily casual. He was now a big, blocky, light brown bay.
"No tupping. Not now, not ever, no matter how you're asked. You're too big now. Understand?" Vimont just stared, open-mouthed. "It's in your oath. Break it and I will know. So will Father Robert."
Vimont nodded dumbly. Then: "Uh– Uh, sir, does 'flirt' mean–"
"No bothering the women. No pushing yourself on them by word or deed. You do not approach them."
"But, sir, you said that flirt–"
"You do not approach them." If any women approached Vimont, Fletcher could do nothing about it. He was rich and titled and easily led, so some might, transformation regardless. "Every step of the way, she invites you. If she does invite you. And no tupping."
After two months of listening to the pips chat, Fletcher knew Vimont's basic strategy had been to never take no for an answer and buy her stuff. His money was his own to spend, but his reputation was now tangled with that of the Cavalry. (Thank you, Lord Vimont.) So Fletcher would do what he could about the "taking no" part.
"If I hear one complaint from any woman in the Standard Cavalry or the town, or from any father or mother, I will skin you for upholstery."
"Sir! I'm sure I never–"
The hell he had never. "And while we're at it, Eowyck has a standing threat that, if he finds anyone bothering the mares, he'll tie a knot in it." Eowyck was the stable brownie.
"Sir!" Vimont shifted his hind legs uncomfortably.
"Just a friendly warning." But Vimont sat there looking bullied, as indeed he was, and Fletcher did not enjoy bullying. And the fellow hadn't done anything wrong yet, not on Fletcher's watch. "You've got to learn to pull your punches, lad," he said more gently. "You're pretty overwhelming now, after all."
"Uh... I see, sir."
"'Overwhelming'?" Sanders had said after Vimont left.
"I didn't say overwhelmingly what."
Donovan was groomed like his friend but was otherwise a contrast: a big chestnut with curly red hair and beard. A Viking to Darcy's Celt, in fact, though the names were on wrong way round. "Is it awkward," Fletcher asked conversationally, "having two Williams in barracks?"
"No sir, we just use nicknames. Corliss and I were going to be 'Poach' and 'Red,' but it turns out he's 'Will' and I'm 'Bill,' so we let it go at that, when we don't use surnames." He sounded a bit more sharply Irish than Darcy.
"And how did you come to join the Cavalry? I know you decided jointly with Darcy, but what was your side of it?"
"Well, sir, to start with, my uncle is in the Cavalry, Evan Donovan. He's out at Yesod-Ra now. You had the training of him."
Fletcher nodded. "I remember him. Good man." A bit of a bronco.
"Whenever he's home, my favorite thing is to hear him tell stories of his life in the Cavalry. He's the one to blame, if you like, sir. I have cousins and other uncles in, too, but he's the one who sold me on it."
"Michael Donovan? Tom Donovan? Peter Donovan?" The current Donovan kept nodding. Those Donovans. One of the "horse tribes," as Fletcher privately labeled such families. Transformation was practically a family tradition. But he hadn't known of the connection to the Darcies before. He smiled at Bill Donovan. "It was an uncle sold me on it, too."
The pip smiled back. "Wondrously persuasive, uncles, aren't they, sir? And I expect the next question on your list is if I mind not having a family. No sir, I do not. I'm the eldest of six. There's seven years between me and the next, and I've already put in my quota of parenting, thanks. And I've plenty of folks to carry on my genes. My first set of genes, I suppose I should say." He stroked the chestnut-clad shoulder where his thigh used to be.
"As to female companionship," he went on, smiling again, "Uncle Evan doesn't seem to lack. His stories advanced, you could say, as I got older."
Fletcher nodded but leaned back and, with a mock frown, folded his arms across his chest. "I brought you in here one at a time to avoid being double-teamed, but now I think I might get double-teamed by Evan and Bill Donovan. Your uncle briefed you well.
"He also had occasion to develop a talent for really heartfelt-sounding apologies, mostly to fathers. There was a midnight gallop to Wiffbourn you may or may not have heard about..." Donovan started to laugh. "Both my life and yours will be easier if you don't need to be so eloquently apologetic." He suppressed an urge to ask what Evan Donovan was up to these days. Later for that.
"But his oath's never been chipped, ripped, nor raveled, sir," Donovan pointed out.
Fletcher nodded. "That it's not."
"So there it is. The usual impediments don't apply in my case. If I need family, I don't need to look far in the Cavalry. And there's good pay, a good education, and even a strong body. In fourteen years, when we're thirty-two, we'll be well-trained and fit, God willing, and it'll be time to look around at the possibilities. Uncle Evan himself is thinking of starting up a ranch near Yetzirah-Thoth. Something like that. Or maybe we'll stay in the Cavalry."
"And you don't mind losing half your humanity, as some would put it?"
"We're not likely to be consorting with people who'd put it that way, sir. Uncle Evan tells me folk in the out-zones are usually happy enough to see a human face, however many legs it's on."
Fletcher nodded again. "And 'we' is you and Darcy?" For the first time, Donovan looked confused rather than confident. "You've been saying 'we' rather than 'I' for the last several sentences."
"Yes." Fletcher raised his voice. "Lieutenant Sanders, is Mr. Darcy still out there?"
"Hanging around the door, yes. Shall I send him in now, sir?"
"Yes, please." Darcy returned and stood beside his friend, looking nervous. "You wanted to see me together," Fletcher said. "Very well. And?"
"You see, sir," Darcy began, "we're a team."
"You are foster-brothers," Fletcher specified.
"Not– Not officially, sir."
Fletcher waved this away. "You've still made it clear."
On the first day, Darcy had smiled as he was shot, and jumped up laughing (even if he did fall down immediately). Donovan, who was standing next in line, grinned even as he watched Darcy warp and stretch and sprout. Fletcher, feeling a tad upstaged, had coughed to attract Donovan's attention, so that the lad might properly see it coming when the biggest change in his own life hit him. Darcy had watched Donovan's transformation in turn, then tried to help his friend up, collapsing again himself.
Then, first night in barracks, Darcy had swapped stalls with Littlejohn so he and Donovan could be neighbors. And so on.
"Yessir," Darcy admitted. "And we wanted your advice on how to stay together."
"Everything we've told you, sir, has been true," Donovan said, "even to the parts about the bachelorhood oath being downright attractive. But the clincher was, we heard that, of all the branches of the military, the Dedicated Cavalry was the one where teams stayed together the most."
Fletcher gazed at them thoughtfully. "And that even overrode considerations of transformation?"
Darcy: "Yessir. It isn't even a question of overriding, sir."
Donovan: "Sir, it's as grand as Uncle Evan said, being this big and strong."
Darcy: "But it is true, isn't it, sir?"
Donovan: "There's Uncle Evan and his pal Maurice, sir. They've been–"
Fletcher held up his hand for silence. "This is the military. We go where we are sent. I cannot guarantee you a way of staying together. But, yes, in practice– Every class that leaves here or St. Eloi is a small group that's trained intensively for a year or more—been through therapy together, you could say, really. You're not only trained, you're trained to work together. That would be true whether we aimed at that goal or not, but since it is true, we do aim at that goal. Only reasonable to make use of the coordination developed. So, yes, we have a policy of keeping graduating classes together when feasible. And since we're an elite force, they tend to listen to requests about assignments. Tend. No promises. We go where we're sent. We answer the need. But, yes, the best chance out of all the forces."
He silently wished them that chance. They might not want children, and Bronco Donovan might have told them more than necessary about getting female company within the limits of their oaths, but there was another side to the family life they had forsworn: companionship. They could hardly be blamed for holding tightly onto the companionship they already had. However:
"Now, think about what I just told you. I know you're best friends and foster-brothers, but that's not the only teamwork going on here. Corliss, Littlejohn, Vimont—they're your classmates, likely enough someday your battle brothers." Corliss with his shady past and a goblin half-enemy, Littlejohn centered on his marriage and his philosophy, Vimont a thick-headed cad. "The team I require you to belong to is your class. It would be foolish and pointless to command the lot of you to like each other, but teamwork and esprit de corps there will be.
"It shouldn't be that hard. The five of you are going to end up knowing each other damned well, no matter what I do or don't. And when you think about it, being transformed together, learning your new bodies together, is a strong bond, like it or not. To do you justice, the two of you may live in each other's saddle bags, but I haven't seen you excluding the others..."
Darcy: "No, sir, we understand that. We count Corliss and Littlejohn as friends already."
Donovan: "Corliss is a fine fellow, sir, no problem–"
Darcy: "We know better than to wrap ourselves up in a cocoon, sir."
Donovan: "–and Littlejohn's very interesting, and a straight shooter."
Fletcher held up his hand again. They ceased. "But Vimont?"
Darcy looked sour. Donovan gave a sigh with more than a touch of growl.
"So, I hear there was a fight between the two of you and Vimont in barracks a couple of nights ago." He had tried to get details out of the uninvolved parties, but Corliss showed a gentlemanly, or perhaps poacherly, disinclination to snitch to authority, and Littlejohn, though clinically evenhanded, was so abstract ("It involved questions of etiquette, sir. Toward women. Misters Donovan and Darcy favored stricter standards.") that Fletcher learned little. "Two on one hardly seems fair."
"That was just the loud talking, sir," said Donovan. "And I don't think it was very lopsided. At that level, stupidity is a marvelous defense." Very true.
"When he offered to kick us into submission," said Darcy, "I was the one that took him up on it, sir." Gentry on gentry. Excellent. Much better than cross-class conflict. And the Irish team probably knew it. "And Bill– Donovan was the one who talked us down."
"Corliss and Littlejohn helped, sir," Donovan said. "Littlejohn said we'd settle nothing by violence, and Corliss said we were all still so unsteady on our legs, neither of us would be able to get a good kick in."
"And what did you say?"
"I said that, in the morning, we'd all still be here and stuck with each other, so we'd best shut up now and lights out."
Fletcher smiled. "How old are you really, Donovan?"
"Well, sir, whatever the calendar number, I've put in overtime keeping peace with my little sibs. With coaching from Mum and Da. And may I say, Ben–" He turned to Darcy. "–I don't need a friend two months older than me acting like a kid brother."
"He called you–"
"I'll get my own kicks in when the time comes." He turned a bright smile on Fletcher. "I understand there's a kind of mixed martial arts for the likes of us, right, sir?"
"Yes, but by the time we start that course, I hope to have life in the barracks settled down. Men, I need your help. Next month, you start getting free time, when you can leave the base and visit the town. What will you be doing?"
They were silent a moment, evaluating this change of topic. Donovan said, "It'll feel funny, walking about in public like– like this." He and Darcy cast glances at each other.
"Yes, it'll be part of your education. But the people of Ufham are well used to us. Where will you go?"
"Um," Darcy ummed. "Walk around. Visit the shops. Admire the church; that's always polite. Are we allowed in, sir?"
"Certainly." There was a clear space behind the pews for horse-sized parishioners, and though the Dedicated Cavalry was less than a century old, there was already horseshoe wear in the stone floor before the St. Martin chapel.
"...Go to the pub."
"Mm-hm. And what will Vimont do?"
"Go to the pub," they chorused. "He said," Donovan added.
"And visit Zelda," said Darcy. "He said that, too. Zelda's his mare, sir."
"Yes, I know."
"For old time's sake, he said," Darcy added. Vimont had been transformed a week before he realized that he could no longer ride his mare. To do him justice, the delay might have been because he thought of her as a pet first and a mount second. Still...
"Your free time is yours," Fletcher said, "but if you would keep an eye on Vimont when you visit the pub, or if you see him about, I would be grateful. If you see him behaving in an insistent manner to any women, interrupt, and phone me or Lieutenant Sanders." Both of them would also be about the town. Patrolling.
"Yessir," they said. "Should we expect that, sir?" asked Donovan.
"I don't know," said Fletcher. He sighed, shifted restlessly, and stood up behind his desk. Donovan stood too and Darcy came to attention. "Let's walk."
He led them outside. The day was fine and they were soon sauntering around the track. "It all comes down to reputation," Fletcher told them. "Ufham has seen half of all the Dedicated Cavalry there has ever been. It's certainly seen worse than Vimont. The DC's reputation in town is good, but we have to work to keep it good. Otherwise, it's ugly for all and less liberty for us. Individual classes have reputations, too. Every year, Ufham waits to see what the new pips are like. You didn't ask for Vimont, but there he is, in your class. Even if Vimont demotes himself from stallion to jackass—that's a slur on a fine animal, by the way—you, the other four, will have better reputations if Ufham sees you trying to keep him in line. Understand me?"
"Yessir," said Darcy seriously. He didn't look happy, but Fletcher could see he was well used to this sort of responsibility.
Donovan said "Yessir" too, but was smiling and had a speculative look in his eye. "You know, sir, I actually felt sorry for him, the day he realized his riding days were over. We could offer him a distraction, it occurs to me—show him how to take Zelda on lead, practice packing with her in Ufham Wood."
Fletcher raised his eyebrows, pleasantly surprised. "Only if you want. I don't want to keep you from seeing the town."
Donovan waved this away. "We'll be here for months, won't we, sir? Not much town to see and plenty of time to see it. And maybe we can rope Corliss in. I know he wants to look around Ufham Wood and meet the local Fair Folk."
Darcy cocked his head and looked at Donovan. "Miss big-brothering already?" Donovan laughed. "Well, I can feel sorry for Vimont, too, if I try. He's been thrown away, after all."
Fletcher shied, just slightly. "What makes you say that?"
"It just adds up, sir. Baron's eldest son, but steered into the DC at his father's 'recommendation.' On inspection, he doesn't have a lot in the way of brains or self-control, especially about women, so that explains the steering." He waved his arms, indicating the whole base. "I chose this. He only thinks he chose it."
"He just needs to learn some manners with girls," said Donovan.
"That is it in a nutshell," agreed Fletcher. He took a few paces in silence. "Do I gather, Mr. Donovan, that you propose to be friendly to him as an opening to leading him into better ways?"
"I guess that's what I've come up with, yessir. We can't keep him away from girls forever. There's already the ones watching when we do track." He waved toward the fence that divided the track field from the street. No one was there at the moment. "But if Darcy and I are at his elbow, and he counts us as chums, we can steer him for the sake of the Cavalry's reputation." This last with a deprecating grin.
"That is ideal, from my point of view," Fletcher acknowledged. "And a very Christian thing to do. Thank you and good luck to you, lads."
They walked in silence for a few seconds. "So," Fletched went on, "how does this new friendly approach affect the duel?"
There was another short silence, then, "Ah," said Darcy. "So you know about that, sir." Unconsciously, his walk drifted a few feet away from Fletcher's course. Dueling was illegal, but popular as long as it didn't go as far as homicide. This was why Fletcher had brought them outside, so they could talk about this without Sanders hearing. Sanders already knew anyway, since Fletcher had told him, but these lads didn't know that.
"I am guessing that the 'loud talking' from two nights ago resumed in the morning and resulted in a calling out."
"Yessir," Darcy admitted. "How did you know?"
"No one ratted you out—be clear on that. I learned from Littlejohn, but by accident. He mutters to himself, you know. It was at archery practice. You and Vimont exchanged glares over nothing much, and I heard Littlejohn grumble, 'You'd think it was the eighteenth century. Next, it'll be pistols at dawn and such. What the hell is a 'second' supposed to do?" Fletcher gave a fair imitation of Littlejohn's Scottish accent. His audience laughed.
"Tell me about it," he told them, with enough push to end the laughter.
Darcy took a deep breath and reported: "The argument two nights ago started when we were showing around pictures of our families on our phones. Vimont made a remark about my sister. He might even have meant it for a compliment, but it was crude. So I told him to take it back, and the argument started. Donovan talked us down–" Donovan sighed. "–but, yessir, we started up next morning. The upshot was–"
"Vimont dared him to challenge him, sir," Donovan broke in. "That's a feeble trick, sir, so Vimont could choose his own weapons."
"And the weapons are–?" asked Fletcher.
"Just hooves, sir," said Darcy. "First blood with hooves."
Fletcher relaxed. They would hurt each other that much sparring in class, then heal by next morning. "Then I don't think Vimont was being devious, Donovan. Do you think he has it in him? He could have picked rifles or pistols, and then where would you be?"
Donovan nodded, conceding the point. "Yessir, the man– the creature can shoot." Marksmanship class had shown that.
"He is a man, as are each of you. So you should all act like grownups and not run on dares. Well. Vimont has shown admirable restraint in the dam-fool thing the two of you have chosen to do."
"Sorry, sir." Darcy gazed at the track. If he could have, he'd have shoved his hands in his pockets and scuffed at the ground as he walked. As it was, he had no pockets, so he folded his arms behind his back and tried to scuff with his right rear. He tripped.
Donovan rolled his eyes. "Look at it this way," he told his friend. "You've taken one off the total of eejit things you have to do in your lifetime." Darcy nodded glumly.
"As the challenger," Fletcher remarked, "you can call it off. I understand that to do so right now would look weak, but if you can bring yourselves to make a friendly approach, calling off the challenge makes a nice topper." Darcy nodded again, still glum. "However, if you go ahead with it, don't throw it."
Darcy grinned, downcast forgotten. "Yessir."
"I officially disapprove of duels, of course, but if there's going to be one, I want you to win it. He's a bit taller, but you're lighter and faster. Shouldn't be a problem. You're still wobbly on your legs, but so is he. No difference there." It would just amuse the spectators more. "I suppose Littlejohn agreed to be Vimont's second?"
"Yessir," Donovan confirmed. "I'm Darcy's and Corliss will referee. The time's not set yet."
"Good. If the issue comes up, propose a time after your first outing."
A few minutes later Fletcher returned to his office alone. "So what was that walk about?" Sanders asked.
"I wanted them to tell me about the duel."
Sanders nodded. "And the casus belli?"
"Crude remarks about Darcy's sister. Vimont called for first blood with hooves."
Sanders snorted. "If they did that much in an informal scrap, I'd let it go with a sarcastic remark."
"Yes. Or they may make friends and call it off. Or not call it off and then make friends. But with luck, our young stallions will work out their band ranking in our favor."
"We'll hope. It'd be simpler if you could just bite them, wouldn't it?" said Sanders, meaning pips generally.
"Don't think I haven't considered it."
"You don't think they're gay?
"You heard. Darcy wants to be Galahad, and Donovan is the admiring nephew of Evan Donovan."
"Oh. Right, then."
"Was that sarcastic?"
"You can't tell?"
"It's not on all the time. But I got a good sample when I talked with them, and I didn't get any feeling of secrets or deception. I think they really do just want to enjoy their foster-brotherhood."
Sanders gazed at Fletcher and twiddled a pencil. "Well, sir, that accords with something interesting I heard from Dr. Blackholt. He was doing the genetic testing on them and, moved by one of those hunches you wizardy types are so good at–"
"I'm no wiz–"
"–he compared them. There's nothing striking about their human tissue, but the equine... Despite the differences in build and color, they're very similar. Considered as horses, they're now brothers."
"Hm. Right, then."
"A nice little data point for your theory that the spell includes a component of wish-granting." Fletcher nodded. "Should we tell them, sir?"
Fletcher considered. "I don't see we have any right to keep it from them. But maybe keep it for a treat. Ha! I've got it: tell them when and if they tame Vimont for me."
"Is that a premonition?"
"No, Donovan proposes befriending Vimont to teach him proper manners toward girls."
"Holy St. Martin!"
"Very possibly." He sat back down and tidied away their folders. There was nothing in there about the duel, nor would there be.
Another interesting Donovan, Fletcher reflected. He plotted good deeds like they were mischief. And Darcy was a good counter-weight, serious and romantic.
They would make a striking pair, he thought, out and about in town, smiling as they trotted down the high street, in cadence despite the difference in heights. Looking sharp, identically barbered and in their dress jackets, this coming Guy Fawkes...
...Aaaand that was a flicker of Vision. It was already over, but he studied the memory. Both smiling.
The petty-Normans, the ones in the world's history books, had made themselves obnoxious enough in Ireland that many had taken the opportunity to jump the Sundering into Grand Normandy when given the chance. A lot of their Irish retainers had come along, and others drifted in later. The team of Darcy and Donovan was a far-off fruit of those events. Far-off. Plenty of time for even the most Norman among them to pick up the Celtic donnybrookery that regarded mischief as a sport. A team sport.
Those smiles. How did he know it was Guy Fawkes? Well, it was. Grand Normandy had no use for Guy Fawkes Day, of course, but Wiffbourn did, and Wiffbourn Hill was Sundered and only a few miles away—a quick gallop under cover of dark and Sundering. Some Ufham folk even attended the Wiffbourn festivities, because, hey, any excuse for a bonfire and some fireworks, right? And it was a good occasion for making "only joking" jabs about their gentry to the Wiffbourn folk. Those gentry rarely attended, of course. But Fletcher had just had a glimpse of an Honorable and his as-good-as-brother—foster brother, brother in transformation, battle brother—two Irishmen on hooves, trotting down the street, smiling.
All very stereotyped. The kind of thing the monde-minor progressives had preached against for generations. The monde-major did not listen much, but Fletcher thought the mundanes had a point here. Usually. This time, though...
And was Vimont in the vision, too? Trailing behind. As ... sidekick? But that might be his own fancy or hope. Or worry. But he now suspected Donovan's charm campaign was going to work. Good?
Fletcher scrolled through his calendar to make a memorandum for November 5th. No, better back up to Hallowe'en. No, start October 1st. Not that he was likely to forget.
"Visions of Irish ponies dancing in your head?" asked Sanders, entering with two cups of tea. He put one on the desk, then sat down and sipped his own.
"What makes you say that?"
"Those two just handed you a blessing on a plate, but now you're cursing and making notes to yourself in response to nothing visible."
"No point being prescient if you're going to ignore it."
Return to Cavalry Cycle
Return to Inkliverse
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2017