Brains. It was almost too much. PDQ knew he couldn't qualify for any other role in a ballad, but it made him blush anyway. Certainly he was no mysterious figure like Griselda, nor a seasoned soldier like Mychael. But letting him aspire to moderate brilliance or even intelligence was far too generous. Probably Mychael was only being kind. She was even smiling now, which changed her greatly. For the better, if someone had forced him to say.
They were on the move again. He wondered for a moment whether he should have taken the time to ask Griselda about their destination. At first it hadn't really mattered, freedom had been the only object, but
now he had that. There was room for other considerations. Such as why Griselda had wanted him along at all. So far he'd been mostly a hindrance, and she'd more than proven how well she would've done on her own. And she hadn't told him what she'd been imprisoned for in the first place.
That was probably why she'd told him to continue riding with Mychael. No chance of asking Griselda anything until they stopped. Although he would have almost preferred to share a mount with the dwarf over the current stretch of bumpy road. There was no question of whether or not he could grab any part of Mychael to stop himself falling off, he knew he never could; but Griselda was not so untouchable. He wasn't certain if it was the age or race difference, but it had to be one of those factors that created or banished the invisible wall.
He began to slide, but before he could correct his seat, Mychael reached back, rather absently, and tugged him forward. He grunted an uncomfortable thank you and tried to hold his shoulders normally, without slouching or turning into himself. Apparently the wall was one-sided. This was important to know, although not at all heartening.
"So, um, as ambassador, would you have had to
" PDQ had once prided himself on small-talk, but that had been when his highest-ranked audience had been kings and princes. Those were just serfs compared to a lady like this, weren't they? "N-never mind, I've forgotten what I was going to say now."
Mychael might have been chuckling at him, but it was difficult to tell as she made no obvious noise and the jolts of the ride could have been the only reason her shoulders were moving. "Perhaps you should think of something else then. Quickly now, we only have a few more hours."
He laughed, half out of nervousness. It was probably more than a little pathetic, but he was getting more accustomed to being embarrassed than he was to being around Mychael. The best thing he could think to do would be to compliment her, but he couldn't lie the way he would to a mark or temporary travel companion. It wouldn't feel right. After a few moments of increasingly uncomfortable wordlessness, he coughed and said, "I think there might be a word for magic-users that isn't bad or scaryin, in my language, I mean."
Mychael glanced over her shoulder, slight curiosity lighting her eyes, but said nothing.
That was quite possibly the current equivalent of her undivided attention. The idea of it made PDQ wish he could have had something useful to do with his hands, rather than just wrack his memory for words he hadn't really used in years. Certainly he still thought in his native language, but he hadn't spoken with anyone in it for quite some time. "Using vedis came later, and it meant 'killer' and 'ender of things' first. There was
" Stupid, should have remembered before speaking! "Another word for magic-users that just was never used, because we never had any."
A hole in the role loomed, threatening to divert PDQ's concentration, but Mychael lead the erehen round it. He sighed, and the word slid into his mind with whispered ease. "Urylai." It was a surprisingly pretty word, by a native's standards, a poetry word from the storytellers' dialect.
However, the beauty must have been lost to a foreigner. She smiled with disquieting politeness and returned her entire interest to the road ahead. It belonged there, but he could not argue against how nice it had been to take up some of it. He thought of explaining that the word was derived from a very old symbol for 'fingers', then bit his tongue. That point had been to get away from Ba Ki, not mentally reconstruct it around him. Why did this young woman bring it to his mind?
Griselda pulled even with them and winked at him. It seemed more a signal than a teasing gesture, and he tilted his head in curiosity, wondering what it might be a signal for. The dwarf held up a hand, then gracefully curled it into a fist and tugged her beast to a halt. Mychael slowed their erehen, then doubled back and stopped.
"What's going on?" she asked, eyes wary, but alive and dancing. Alert.
The dwarf hopped off the erehen and began braiding her beard, occasionally pulling out twigs and clods of dirt. "Though you've not yet proved y'self, girl, I've decided to be generous and bring you along."
"Along where?" Mychael shot PDQ a look, but he could only shrug. He'd thought they were already bringing her along.
Griselda walked over to a rock, not even bothering to look at the creature that was curiously following her like an ugly dog. She picked up a much smaller rock and tapped it in an irritating rhythm all round the surface of the large rock at her feet. After a moment of tapping, there was a rumbling sound laced with gruff cursing in what PDQ knew as the Dundergrownd Dwarf tongue.
The rock tore out of the ground, pulling up grass as it tumbled out of its place. A dark-haired dwarf, much younger than Griselda, poked his head up and glared around at them. When he saw PDQ, his eyes widened, but when he saw Mychael, he smiled, showing peculiarly clean teeth. "Well, well, Bigshoes," he said in a rough voice that made PDQ think of a plough breaking new ground. The dwarf man was apparently addressing Griselda with great deference and respect. "I see you've done well again."