Story Excerpt Sunday: From Dun Lady’s Jess by Doranna Durgin

Dun's Lady JessDun Lady’s Jess

Book I of the Changespell Saga

by Doranna Durgin

Carey looked at Arlen in surprise. “You want me to fool around with an untested spell? I’ll rely on my horses, I think.”

“Did you hear nothing of what I have said?” Arlen’s anger flashed just bright enough to remind Carey who and what his employer was. “Everything I know of this new spell is in my head, Carey—except for this manuscript. If anyone—and I mean anyone, from the lowest road pirate to the Precinct Guard—tries to take it from you, you invoke that crystal. It will take you to the only place you can’t be reached.”

Years of working with the wizard as friend and courier alerted Carey to the words that were not said. “Where?” he asked warily, then didn’t give Arlen a chance to answer. “To one of those other worlds. You’d send me to a place that might not even know magic?  How the hells am I supposed to get back?”

“It’s tied to this world,” Arlen said steadily. “It’ll bring you back when you invoke it again.”

Carey frowned as the importance of this run—and its dangers—sank in past his protests. “All right, Arlen,” he said slowly. “I understand.” He put a hand to his chest, feeling the small lump of spellstone crystals.

“I see that you do,” Arlen said in relief. “I’m sorry, Carey. I wouldn’t choose to put you in danger, but I need someone I can trust absolutely.”

Carey raised his head, a sharp motion in defense of his couriers. Arlen forestalled him with a raised hand. “You’re the only one who I know will invoke that new crystal,” he specified. Even though it may take you into even worse danger, unspoken words they both knew.

“I’ll take Lady,” Carey said, a non-sequitur that spoke of his capitulation.

“Not the Dun?” Arlen, too, retreated to unspoken words.

Carey shook his head. “The Dun’s quick—but her daughter swaps ends fast enough to turn us both inside out.”

“Get her ready, then,” Arlen said. “I’ll be down to see you off.”
~~~~~

Lady dropped her weight to her haunches, sliding in the loose dirt of the steep slope where her Carey had guided her. Friction skinned the hide off her hocks as Carey leaned back in the saddle, his hands a lifeline to her mouth in a balance of freedom and support—all the encouragement he could give her. But Lady needed no more encouragement, for Carey was scared. She felt it in the tension of his legs, heard it in his voice. She knew it from the desperate ploy that had sent them down the dangerous slope in the first place.

To the side flashed a sudden falling tangle of arms and legs, hooves and soft yielding flesh, driving her a step closer to equine panic; she lurched to escape from the new threat.

“Easy, Lady,” Carey panted as his legs closed against her sides, giving her reassurance and guidance. She took heart and as they gained the bottom of the steep hill she gathered herself and bounded over the intermingled bodies of man and horse. She landed hard, felt Carey take up the reins and lean forward in the saddle.

“Go, Lady,” he whispered, and her ears flicked back to scoop up his words. She forgot about the tree-dodging chase in the forest, where they’d lost one pursuer to a thick trunk. She forgot about the mad scramble through the knee-high creek; even the dangerous slope disappeared from memory in the depth of her concentration. It was only the here and now, the run, the grunt of exhalation forced from her lungs at every stride she took. Foam dripped from the sides of her mouth and the reins lathered against her dun neck and still Carey whispered in her ear, guiding her as though he knew she lived only in her inner world of effort with no care for what her eyes might see. Then the ground under her hooves turned hard and pebbly, and when Carey asked her for a hard left, she suddenly knew where they were and what he would ask next. With rock to her left and only a narrow rim of a path beneath her, she listened to the caress of his legs, the shift of his weight, and pivoted in a rollback that sent her chest and head over empty air, high above the dry river bed they’d paralleled.

“Good job, braveheart.” Carey wooed her, his voice harsh in a dry throat. In seconds they met one of their pursuers, and Lady, following the pattern of endless drills, put her nose to the inside of the path and shouldered aside the other horse. Then another—bay flesh that dropped aside with an equine scream of fear—and the path was clear, clear until the narrow foothold widened, to where another man stood his ground on a flaming chestnut horse. He dropped his reins, one arm cocked behind, the other clutching a strained, curving stick.

There was a sudden odd thump just behind her ears and Carey’s body shifted wildly, sliding from the saddle, skewing Lady’s balance. Her head yanked far to her left with a brutal jerk on the rein, and her body followed. Fear drove her flailing legs but there was no longer any ground beneath them, and they hurtled toward the death waiting in the hard rocky river bed.

And then the world stopped around them.

Arrested in mid-air, they were snatched by another force altogether, one that held Lady in a smothering grip and would not yield to her mental thrashing. She no longer felt Carey’s failing grip on her black mane, nor his legs slipping off her sweat-darkened sides. Instead, her mind twisted; her body knotted up, disappeared, reformed, and at last abandoned her along with Carey and her senses.

***********

Doranna Durgin’s quirky spirit has led to an eclectic and extensive publishing journey across genres.  Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and dogs. She doesn’t believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided…

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