The Amrtaka finally drew so close that the rising dunes began to hide them from view. I hissed a warning to Dagda and Balhon, who instantly prepared for battle. I thought about pulling my chain mail hood back over my head from around my neck where I had let it droop, but decided against it. The metal might clink and alert the centaur to our presence before I was ready. I didn’t put much stock in my chances if the Ban Renfra caught me spying on her.
I tensed automatically as the group came back into view following the stream between the dunes. Gleaming plate armor covered every inch of their torsos as well as their arms, with wide lower breastplates shaped like the spades in a card game extending down from their chestplates and fastened by leather straps between their legs to a broad billet cinched around the barrel of their equine bodies. The billet held livery stitched with what I assumed to be the Ban Renfra’s insignia in gold, green, and purple. Most of the warriors wore helmets crested with the same insignia, but one stood out with a streaming plume of what appeared to be horsehair dyed in the Ban Renfra’s colors. Centaur hair, I corrected myself. I shuddered, my stomach clenching slightly as I wondered for the first time if Dagda had been right to be wary of a ruler who would wear the hair of her own people as a crown.
“We will rest here briefly,” I heard a woman’s voice say, and the centaur formed up around the plumed warrior. “Never mind formation; you four drink and replenish your water bags. The rest of you take a dune each and scout. Then report back here and exchange duties.”
Her guards obeyed, and I had turned to warn my companions when her next words froze me in place. “Keep a close watch for the king and his human pet. The dwarves said that they had foiled Dracul’s efforts to liberate Gard, and that they were last seen travelling east. If fortune smiles upon us, His Treacherous Majesty will be on his way to manipulate the pegasi into helping him. Dracul would reward us richly for delivering the girl to him.”