Rowan did not name the horses she stole, not even those that won her scores of dinarii at a time. She did not believe in naming things: an object once named by you becomes part of you, and its loss hurt. She never kept one for long enough in any case.
She hurt enough as it was, in those empty nights or slow days when memories unfolded in her mind as she sat, stone-faced. She could not stop the raging tide of recollection and she could not drive away the smell of ask and silence, but she could lock it away without a flicker of expression.
Rowan was the greatest horse thief in the Four Kingdoms, and she knew it. It was not a matter of pride or bravado; it was a simple fact, as true and uncomplicated as the dark of her eyes or being right-handed. Every small taut line of her was conditioned for such work, broken and reformed by stealth and stubbornness and paranoia, but it was not these qualities that made her what she was.
She knew horses, knew them as well as any one living could, and within an instant in her presence the horses knew her, too.
“Do you dream?”
She shrugged, blank-faced. “I remember my dreams if I need to.”
“So pragmatic,” the ashivna said, and she could not tell if there was mockery in its voice. “Everything must have a use for you, then?” It grinned, sudden and acerbic. “That can hardly be healthy.”
She shrugged again and look off into the distance. “I manage.”
“I’m sure,” it said, condescendingly, and Rowan fought to control herself. “I’m sure you manage. With your coldness, and your closedness, and your perfect practicality.”
No reply was necessary and she gave none. She turned from it very slightly, as if deliberately including a figure of silence around the fire.
“You don’t waste word,” the ashivna said.
She shrugged again.
“Why do you use charms?”
Her eyes turned to him warily while she kept her head perfectly still, her face remaining in almost total profile.
She felt the sobs burn in her throat like bile and she acted quickly, instinctively against the coming blindness.
Squeeze knees to stop the horse dismount tether secure baggage and now she was in the thick of it and she put her head in her hands and she sobbed and choked for air and she was drowning in the memories, in the huge roaring tide of things lost but still remembered. It crushed her, it carried her and the noise and weight of it overwhelmed every sense and still somehow managed to never fill the ache somewhere in her chest and she curled her body around the emptiness and she cried and she cried and she cried.
She was so tired.
The ashivna said nothing, only looked at her with its strange glittering eyes and unreadable smirk. It was disconcerting, to say the least, having that old and cynical and mocking glare come at her from its thin young face; no doubt it had found some way, in the manner of its race, to use this to its advantage. Its grin sharpened palpably as it watched her eyes search his face, obviously enjoying whatever confusion he could generate.
“Conversation is a knife-fight,” someone had told her, very long ago, a voice she had erased from her memory but not the words. “You must anticipate. You must remember that everything is double-edged. You must not begin one against an opponent you do not know if at all possible.”
Anticipate. See through the feints, the bravado, the charm, to the quick of the matter. The first move is the most important.
Rowan smiled abruptly. “I have a job for you.”