Watching the three children riding ahead of them, and Jedda riding next to her, Diya imagined three blond heads, instead of the rich reds of the children. Riding with their own children. What would that be like?
“Can we take the ponies across the river on the way back?” Pasha asked, turning in his saddle.
Diya wasn’t sure she liked the sound of that. “Where?” she asked, riding up closer to Pasha. “How deep is the water?”
“There’s a path that crosses the river, just below the village,” he said. “Farmers use it to cross livestock during the summer.”
“How deep?” Diya asked, repeating the question.
“It’s probably about knee-deep,” he said.
That didn’t sound too dangerous. All three of them were watching her now, eyes wide and imploring. She sighed, relenting. “Okay,” she said, “but if it’s too deep you have to come back and we ride on the road.”
In the village, they stopped at the baker’s and got some candies. Then the twins turned Blaze and Dewdrop off the main road, winding through the woods along the river. Before long they came to a well trod swath that led down towards the river.
Before she could shout a word of caution, all three pushed their ponies into a trot, splashing into the river. Her stomach knotted, a vision of pony and child getting swept away in a sharp current but just as Pasha said, the majority of the river was broad and shallow, barely reaching the ponies’ bellies. Chunky stretched her neck, splashing at the water with her muzzle, while the other two ponies struck at the water playfully with their front feet.
“Okay,” Diya called out, nudging Chiyu forward into the river, “time to get you back home. It will be time for dinner soon.”
Esha and Pasha sighed, turning to look back at Diya. Before they could say anything, she just nodded toward the far side, walking her little mare across to the other side. She could hear Jedda close behind her and from the sound of it, the other three had followed. Once she was up the far bank, she pulled Chiyu up, waiting for all three to ride past and turn back towards the road.
“Can we canter up the hill back to the house?” Pasha asked, and then kicked Blaze without waiting for an answer. Esha followed without even looking back for permission, as Diya scrambled to collect her reins.
The canter had turned into a gallop and the two disappeared and out of sight.
“Breshan’s balls!” Diya swore, pushing Chiyu forward to grab hold of Tilly’s reins.
Jedda was right beside her. He called out to her, “Don’t worry, just look. They’re fine. They know how to stay on a horse.”
“Don’t tell me how to do my job,” she snapped, as the twins disappeared from sight.
Jedda remembered being that age and climbing over roofs and down rain spouts. In comparison, the twins didn’t seem to be in much danger. But the look on Diya’s face was dark and angry.
“Okay,” he said, looking back and forth between the empty road and Diya. “I’ll ride ahead and catch up with them to make sure they’re safe. You stay with Tilly, okay?”
Diya growled, but nodded her agreement.
Ashai didn’t need much of a nudge and stretched his long legs into a smooth gallop, enjoying the game. Their ponies were no match for Ashai’s natural speed. It didn’t take long for him to see a trail of dust kicking up from Blaze and Dewdrop. As soon as he got within range, he hollered out to them. “Pull up,” he shouted. “Or she’ll have all our hides!”
Esha looked back over her shoulder and Dewdrop stumbled. Esha sprawled forward onto the pony’s neck and then hit the ground with a thud, crying out as she fell. Pasha pulled Blaze up and grabbed his sister’s horse as Jedda jumped down from Ashai before the horse came to a stop.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She looked up at him, holding her arm, wincing but otherwise she didn’t seem too upset. Then she reached up to touch her head, her fingers coming away with blood on them.
Jedda turned her head, looking at a small gash along the hairline. Diya would not be pleased. In fact, she’d be furious.
Esha stared at the blood on her hand, touching her scalp again where it was beginning to trickle down her jawline. She looked at him, eyes wide, tears welling up and lip quivering.
He could hear hoofbeats of Diya and Tilly in the distance now. He looked at Esha and knew how this would play out. He had seen the Faenyr do simple healing before, mostly cuts and bruises attained playing qwatcha, not unlike Esha’s injury.
“Here,” he said, “let me take a look at this. I think I can fix that for you.”
Esha looked at her brother, and then back at Jedda, swallowed and nodded without saying anything.
Jedda shifted his awareness, and held his hands close to the injury. His hands felt like they were singing and he watched as the flow of blood stopped. He kept his hands there for another moment, watching Esha stare at him in awe.
Embarrassed, he stepped back. “How does that feel now?” he asked.
“What did you do? Was that magic?”
Was it? He didn’t really know. Jedda shrugged helplessly, hands raised. How could he explain it to her, when he didn’t even understand what he had done. “It’s a Faenyr thing,” he said, gently extracting himself from her grip. “I think it’s a healing thing. I’m not sure if it’s magic or not,” he said.
Esha reached up and touched the area gingerly at first, then a bit harder. She smiled. “I can barely feel anything at all,” she said. “Thank you.” She wrapped her arms around Jedda, hugging him. Jedda patted her on the head, then stepped back, pulling Esha off of him as gently as possible. “Better get Dewdrop before she wanders off.”
“Wait,” Pasha said, sounding doubtful. “Let me look,” he said, stepping forward. Before he could inspect his sister’s injuries, they saw Diya and Tilly round the corner and come into sight. She climbed down from Chiyu.
“What’s going on?” she asked Pasha. “What was that all about?” she asked, her voice stern.
The three exchanged looks and then Pasha shrugged one shoulder. “It was fun,” he said, grinning impishly. “Didn’t you ever do anything fun?”
“Oh, don’t be hard on them,” Jedda said, winking at her with an impish grin. ‘It’s not like they stole a flyer or did anything really dangerous.”
“I never stole a flyer!” she hissed back.
Pasha spun to look at Diya. “Wait! You stole a flyer?”
“No one stole a flyer!” Then she looked at Esha. “Hey, you have blood on your face. What happened?”
Esha glanced at Jedda. “Nothing,” she said. “Just a low branch. Barely a scratch.” She waved it off. “Did you really steal a flyer?” She asked, looking impressed with Diya for a change.
“For the last time, no, I did not steal a flyer. Enough about the flyers.”
“But you flew one?” Pasha continued, ignoring her mandate.
“She did,” he said. “We both have, but D-” he stopped himself and Diya looked at him sharply. “She was a natural.” he said, covering his near miss with her real name.
“That is so Najrat!” Pasha said.
Najrat? Diya and Jedda looked at each other, then at Pasha.
“It’s a Faenyr word,” he said. “It means something impressive but with a hint of daring.”
Diya remembered hearing the word. The Faenyr had used it when she had danced on their sacred rock. They had seemed more amused. Pasha was clearly impressed.
Diya sighed, looking at Jedda. “We’ll talk about this later,” she said, but the tone of her voice and the grin told Jedda she had something else in mind.
The ride back to the house was uneventful. Esha and Pasha whispering between themselves, casting furtive glances toward Jedda. The horses were all cooled off by the time they got back to the barn and the three children hopped down, looping the reins over the fence. Then they got wet sponges and scrubbed the sweat marks from the ponies’ coats. When they were done, Jedda used one off the sponges to tend to Ashai and they three led their ponies back to the pasture.
Jedda was getting the last bits of crusty sweat from Ashai’s neck and chest.
“I bet you can fix our mom,” Esha said, from right behind him, startling him.
She looked up at him, her eyes dark and earnest. She turned to look at her brother but then fixed her stare on Jedda. “I know you could,” he said. “Please.”
Jedda looked past the twins at Diya, who shrugged helplessly, shaking her head in doubt. From the conversations they had about the family, and Jinna’s health, he didn’t think there was much anyone could do. The woman had seen doctors and specialists, all to no avail.
But how could he break the young girl’s heart? He looked down at her, putting his hand over hers. “I wish I could,” he said, gently. He smiled at her, wanting her to know he understood. “But I am not a healer. I am not that skilled.”
The hand tightened on his arm. Then she was joined by her brother, and two sets of dark green eyes implored him to help. “Really,” he said. “It isn’t that I don’t want to, it’s that I don’t know how.”
“Can’t you just try?” she asked.
Pasha joined in, looking hopeful. “Please?” he asked. “Just do it the way you did for Esha?” he said, keeping his voice low enough so Diya couldn’t hear.
Watching the two, he felt a wave of grief wash over him. The fear was clear in their faces, the tight grip of Esha’s hand. He felt a knot in his stomach, then nodded. “Okay, I’ll go sit with her. I can’t promise anything, though,” he said. “Understand?”