“Demon, I swear I’m going to eat your ears for breakfast.”
Penrys halted her horse, dismounted, and stomped back past her three pack horses to the beginning of the string of seven donkeys, the first of which had dug in his feet on the trail of the High Pass and was bawling like three demons instead of one.
The other donkeys fidgeted nervously and seemed inclined to join him, so Penrys probed to see if there was anything more than a fit of donkey sulks responsible.
Demon’s dominant mode was generally offended pride, but this time his mind showed her something different.
*Najud, something’s wrong. I think he’s afraid of something.*
Her companions mental voice chuckled. *Sure it’s not you he’s afraid of, Destroyer of Demons?*
After three weeks, the joke had worn thin to her. Perhaps the wizard they had destroyed had deserved the name, and maybe this donkey did, too, but she found the full title, applied to her, both ridiculous and embarrassing.
Guess Najud’s not going to bother to dismount and leave his own string to take a look.
She ran her hands over Demon and scratched under his chin in the spot he liked, and gradually he calmed down, placated by the attention. The others took their cue from him and settled.
She looked down their back trail. The view of the southern part of Neshilik, laid out below them, had been lost two days ago. Now only the steep scrambling slopes on either side were visible, along with the winding trail itself.
Footsteps behind her made her turn. Najud had come back to check on the donkeys, after all.
“Is he all right?”
“See for yourself.”
Najud had been making progress on his mind-probes of animals. He was cautious about relying on it—as he said, “I can see the start of a pack sore before the beast begins to feel it.”
“He’s calmer now, but you’re right, I think. Something alarmed him,” he said. “You can see why many clans put donkeys with the sheep herds, to act as guards against wolves.”
“Do they fight the wolves, or is it just the braying that makes them run away?”