His horse carried him past the girl. She was nothing but a flash of black dress and white face as he jumped. The enemy rider’s eyes opened wide an instant before Lyram caught him around the shoulders. In a tumble of legs and arms, they spilled over the horse’s rump.
Lyram crashed to the ground, knocking the breath from him and grass whipping his face. Gasping, he forced himself to his knees, then wobbled to his feet.
The woman stood observing the spectacle. Though the soldier had struck the ground mere feet from her and was already on his feet, moving towards her, her face reflected only a resigned calmness.
The man reached for her with his free hand. Time oozed with the slowness of poured honey.
“No!” Lyram choked the word into a strangled gasp, and broke into an unsteady run.
The girl brought one long-fingered white hand up in a gesture of—what? Supplication? Forestalling? Defence even.
The soldier seized her by the wrist. With her other hand, she reached out and touched the boiled leather plate over his chest.
The sword dropped from the soldier’s fingers. In one fluid motion, he crumpled at the knees and fell face-first into the knee-high grass.
Time snapped back to normal, and Lyram skidded to a stop over the motionless soldier.
The fallen man didn’t move a muscle. Dropping to one knee, Lyram reached for the man’s neck, seeking a pulse—but he stopped before touching him. The skin was blue with such intense cold that it chilled his fingers where they hovered several inches short of contact. He let his hand drop back to his side.
A shadow darkened the dim, rainy haze of the morning and he glanced up. A colourless face loomed over him, alabaster skin, midnight hair made all the darker by contrast, and eyes so black the pupils could barely be distinguished. What he’d taken for a homespun peasant dress was instead the billowing black robes of a priestess of Ahura.