The wee hours of the morning wore on, and Veranna’s cheek bounced against her father’s back, since the strength to hold her head up another moment had left her long ago. The horse they rode grew slower and slower, tripping more often. They splashed through a shallow brook at a plodding trot, and the water spattered Veranna’s face with cold spray. She flinched but did not lift her head. How odd to be clutching a virtual stranger so closely, and yet at the same time, to feel more at home than she could ever remember. If only the fierce tingle harassing her skin would abate, she could almost be comfortable. Drift to sleep, even.
Her father reined the horse to a stop once they had put the stream behind them. “Veranna,” he whispered.
“Yes.” Veranna grimaced. In the time her swollen lips had gone unused, they had stiffened. Were any of her teeth loose? In all the commotion, she had failed to check.
“Let us see to your hurts and put you in some proper travel clothes, now that we have put some distance between ourselves and the caravan.” Veranna’s father bent his knee to his chest and pulled his foot over the horse’s neck, then worked his other boot free of the stirrup and hopped to the ground. He reached up and took her by the waist. When he slid her from the saddle, she eased gently to the ground, and her father showed no sign of the slightest strain in lowering her. His ageless face bore no lines of weariness in the wan glow of the setting moon.