Cass stared, mouth slightly agape, in disbelief at the noble creature before her. When Marianora had told her about the beautiful, regal dhakyrs, she had pictured something straight out of a fairytale. What she saw was a horse with six legs. Other than the two extra legs and eyes that seemed to be staring at her soul, it looked just like the mare she had ridden as a child, complete with shiny mahogany coat and midnight black mane and tail.
Beside the dhakyr, gently stroking the flank, was a weathered middle-aged man with sparse golden hair, tired blue eyes, and stained shirt tucked haphazardly into black pants, the bottoms tucked into boots caked with dirt. He was frowning as he studied Cass, looking her up and down with narrowed eyes.
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Marianora said from beside Cass, her hands clasped before her and her eyes shimmering. “She was Mother’s dhakyr and refused to find another rider after Mother passed.”
The man glared darkly at the dhakyr. “She says she’ll move on when she’s ready, but it’s been almost ten years.”
The dhakyr made a soft sound not unlike a whinny that had the man backing off and holding up his hands.
“Take her if you like,” the man grumbled. “I’d rather you take her than my daughter as your companion. All this dhakyr does is wander the fields and eat my corn.”
Marianora gentge touched Cass’s shoulder and inclined her head towards the dhakyr. “Her eyes are asking you to touch her. Dhakyrs can only mindspeak if there’s a physical connection, but their eyes can compel you to touch them if they have something to say. She isn’t compelling you, but asking.”
“Bah!” the man said, throwing up his hands and turning to the small, tidy house behind him. “All she does is annoy me.”
Marianora smiled and said in a loud whisper, “They’ve never gotten along. My father is just glad you’re going to take her off his hands, which is why he isn’t asking anything from you.”
“That sounds like a poor business choice,” Cass said.
Marianora laughed. “Not really. She likes to eat the crops and kick him because she can. All he’s wanted is peace from her. He’s tried selling her and giving her away, but she always came back.”
“But because I’m traveling further away, he thinks she won’t abandon me and come galloping back?”
“No. He’s giving her to you because she’s decided to go with you.”
Cass’s brows rose as she studied the creature silently regarding her. She’d wanted a faster way of traveling, but a dhakyr with her own mind sounded like it might be more trouble than it was worth, or what Cass might be able to deal with. After all, she was just barely coping with being in a completely different world.
Gently, Marianora nudged her. “Go touch her. She wants you to.”
“What’s her name?”
“I don’t know. Mother called her Keta, but, when we did after she passed, the dhakyr told us off, but refused to give us a name. She also growls at us when we try to name her. Go on. She’s waiting.”
Tentatively, Cass slowly approached, one hand outstretched. A few moments later, her hand came to rest on the side of the dhakyr’s neck, who turned her head to look Cass in the eye, her gaze gentle and reverential.
Greetings, Cassidy. The dhakyr’s voice caressed her mind like a soft feather. It tickled a little with its newness, but was as warm as the voice was gentle. You may call me Chely.
Cass smiled and gently patted the dhakyr as Chely lowered her head in deference and extended a leg as though she were bowing.
Behind her, Marianora sighed, a sound full of regret. “I will miss her and fervently wish I could go, too, but it’s already late afternoon and you still have a long journey to reach the next town before twilight.”
Chely snorted and turned to look at Cass. Do not worry. I can run like the wind.
Cass nodded and turned to Marianora. “Thank you. I’ll take good care of her. Are you sure I can’t offer anything to your father?”
“Very sure. Safe travels, Cass. Perhapsone day our paths will cross again and you can tell me all about Raven Cliff.”
Cass pulled herself up onto Chely and settled her bag before her. She smiled down at the other woman. “I hope so as well.”
The two women waved as Chely started walking at a pace akin to a human’s sprint, forcing Cass to turn forward and grab onto her mane to stay astride.
A chuckle brushed through her mind. Don’t worry. You’ll adjust soon enough.
Cass grimaced. “You’re going to be an interesting travel companion, aren’t you?”
Chely’s only reply as they left the village far behind them was a snort and what sounded suspiciously like a giggle. Despite feeling safe with the dhakyr, Cass had the impression this was going to be a long journey.