To Ride a Uni: Companion and Steed - Part Three
All Kanine could think as she flew back to their practice field was how right Sara had been. Letting anyone ride on your back was just an invitation for trouble! Maybe some people were okay, as Mare Lilian said, but clearly not everyone could be trusted with such a delicate relationship.
Coming in to land in the field, she spotted another pair of Uni and rider trotting around. They both looked up at her as she flew overhead, and to her surprise, after a few words between the two, they appeared to follow her to her landing spot by Daze’s equipment. Up close, she recognized the red Uni as Ado, a member of their herd a few years older than herself who had started the rumors of Tatch’s grounding. It seemed so long ago.
“Hello, Ado,” she said cordially as he and his rider came to a stop. She resolutely ignored the white pet sitting on his back. “I didn’t know you were also fighting.”
Ado nodded. “I, too, didn’t see you at the midnight meeting. Good to see you now, though.” His speech was lightly slurred, and Kanine noticed he was wearing a bridle and carried a piece of metal in his mouth.
“How is that contraption?” she asked coldly, meaning the bridle.
“Not bad,” he said. “It helps with quick communication; it’s just a bit awkward when talking.”
“Hmph,” she snorted. Well, that wasn’t the answer she was looking for to fuel her anger, but at least she knew none of her friends were going to be inconvenienced by the knight’s gear.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” said the pet on Ado’s back, “but I remember you were Lady Daisy’s steed, were you not?”
“Daisy?” she asked. “No, I was with someone named Daze.”
“Tch, she’s still using that ridiculous nickname!” said the reptile-looking pet. “She was always unconventional. I saw you came from the direction of the woods. I wouldn’t blame you for leaving her there, if that’s what you’ve done. That girl is such a pain.”
Kanine didn’t like the tone of his voice at all. It was true she was angry at Daze—or Daisy?—but that didn’t give this fellow the right to talk about her that way.
“Why?” she asked, keeping her voice disinterested.
“Where do I even begin?” said the knight with contempt. “She may have the manners of a knight, but she’s just riff raff deep down. She came from a bad family, and doesn’t seem to have overcome her poor upbringing—hanging out with pets like the stable hands and squires is not a way to enter high society.”
“Those are people she cares about!” Kanine snarled, turning her bad mood onto the knight in front of her.
“And don’t I know it! She blows up at the slightest hint of a bad word about them. That cold temper of hers is going to get her demoted one of these days.”
“I’ve heard enough of this,” said Kanine, unable to listen to the knight anymore. She still felt resentment toward Daze, but at the very least, she could feel a surge of empathy for the fierce love she had for her friends. “She has something honorable to fight for, and what more makes a knight?”
On an impulse she snatched up Daze’s sword—the woods at night were dangerous and the sun was sinking fast—and took flight once more. She nodded a goodbye to Ado, and then soared on out over the dark wood.
She wouldn’t have believed her luck if she found Daze right where she left her, and surely enough, the Zafara had gone off into the woods to find her own way back. Kanine felt ashamed immediately. Even if she had been outraged, she should not have left another pet defenseless in an unfamiliar forest. She knew she had to find Daze or Daisy right away, but where should she look?
The forest was black and silent all around her. The moonlight seemed to be caught in the branches high above, and only slivers illuminated a spare toadstool or patch of leaves on the ground.
Her senses were on high alert, and her ears brought her a surprising amount of sound. Soft wings, light rustles, damp squelches, and the scratch of small claws on tree bark all told her of the surrounding nightlife. Nothing large and heavy was in the vicinity. She let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding, and began to walk. If she had thought she could find Daze from the air, she would have done it, but the trees were so thick it would have been futile. She had to go on foot.
Kanine knew the stories of wild Aishas and Lupes, even if she had never seen them. She knew well enough what could have been lurking in that cave earlier, and what was most certainly out of its cave now. The going was slow, as she had to keep readjusting the sword in her teeth, or balancing it on her back. Neither was a good solution. She wondered how such a thing was any good in fighting if it was so heavy.
She was so preoccupied with the sword, the bit of yellow in her peripheral vision caught her off guard.
“Daze!” she cried in relief, turning to look at her friend.
But it was not the Zafara she turned to meet.
“Daze?” grinned a hulking yellow Lupe, “No, try again.”
Kanine gasped and took a step backwards. Terror froze her to the spot.
“Heh, not going to run? Do you want to be eaten, then?”
“No!” shrieked Kanine, finding her voice, and then more forcefully, “No.” She shifted her weight forward into an aggressive stance. She wasn’t going to run, now that there was real danger. If she was going to fight monsters more terrifying than a woodland predator, she was not going to be scared of this Lupe. She gripped the sword handle in her mouth and charged—but it was too hard to control!
The Lupe knocked the sword from her teeth easily and shoved her backwards, laughing.
“Where did you get a weapon like that? Is the little filly playing soldier all alone in the woods?”
“Incorrect!” announced a yellow Zafara as she dashed into the clearing, snagging the sword from where it had fallen. “We were playing soldiers together.”
“Daze!” shouted Kanine happily, fear disappearing under a wave of joy at seeing her partner alive and well.
“At your service,” she said, sweeping back to stand at the Uni’s side, keeping the Lupe at sword point. The Lupe snarled and looked for an opening. He clearly had not bargained for fighting two opponents. “And sorry for being a first class jerk earlier,” she said as she lunged with her sword. “I’m more than ashamed of my behavior.” She slashed sideways as the Lupe dodged and tried another angle. “Forgive me?”
“Of course,” said Kanine, suddenly aware of more Lupes coming out of the shadows, “but we’ve other things to worry about!”
“You’ve got a sword coming out of your forehead,” said Daze, meaning her horn. “Use that for a minute!”
“Right!” said Kanine, charging a green Lupe trying to come up on Daze’s defenseless side. Facing back to back, the duo circled, keeping the growing circle at bay. “I think we should retreat,” the Uni suggested, “and save our strength for the fight that matters!”
“You got it!” said Daze. “May I?”
Daze needed no more invitation. She gave one last violent swing at the crowding pack to push them back, and jumped expertly onto Kanine’s back. With horn and sword, the two charged the ring of angry pets and broke through, galloping breakneck along a path that only Kanine knew. The enraged Lupes pursued.
“I’m going loop away from the field and try to lose them,” said Kanine as they dashed around bushes and trees.
“Psht, whatever you think is best! I don’t know one rock from another here!”
“We’re going to go over a little stream.”
“Like I said, whatever you need to do! I trust you.”
“We’re going to have to jump it.”
“Ah.” Daze ducked as they ran through some low hanging branches. “So, tell me what to do.”
“It’s easy, but you can’t make a mistake. If you fall in the river, it might be too long before I can turn around to protect you. I wouldn’t do this, but the lead we could gain might end the chase.”
“Yes, I’m aware of the pros and cons, just tell me!”
“I need you to get up as much as you can, and lean forward on my neck without pushing my head down. If you can’t get forward enough, you might fall backward when I jump. Before I land, lean back or you’ll be thrown over my head. You got that?”
“We’ll find out, won’t we? Is that the stream? Looks more like a river!”
“Yup!” shouted Kanine over the barks and snarls of the Lupes still hot on their trail. She could feel Daze’s tension below her calm exterior as her friend squeezed her legs tight to hold on as they zigged and zagged down the rocky river bank. “Just hold on, Daisy!”
“Hey, no one said you could—!” Daze started to protest at the sound of the name, but Kanine cut her off as they were within feet of the water’s edge.
“One, two, three!”
The two of them soared over the black rushing waters, landing hard but together on the opposite bank. Kanine didn’t miss a beat, and though Daze had to do some quick shifting to get her balance again, she had never been in danger of falling. Some of the Lupes splashed into the water to pursue, but others hung back, knowing it wasn’t worth the cold water if they had lost all the ground they gained. The chase was over.
Kanine didn’t stop running until they reached the forest’s edge and burst into the expansive white of the moon-bathed countryside. She slowed to a trot and finally relaxed into a walk, heading toward the corner where she and Daze had camped the past two nights. Neither spoke until she deposited the Zafara on the ground and lay down herself to catch her breath.
“That was some adventure we had there!” said Daze, lying back against her pile of belongings.
“Yeah, adventure,” said Kanine. “You’re crazy.”
Daze laughed. “I owe you my life. Without your help, I would have been lost and defenseless when those Lupes came around. You’re so brave.”
“You really think so?” Kanine perked up immediately.
“I never didn’t think so!” said Daze easily. “That’s why I was so mean to you when you wouldn’t go into the cave. I thought you were the foolish type of brave who goes looking for danger, like me. But I guess you’re the real kind of brave, going into danger to protect those you care about.”
Kanine glowed with the praise, but reminded her, “I wouldn’t have done too well, though, if you hadn’t saved me, either. You’ve got a lot of skill with a sword.”
“Thank you, but it was my attitude that got me out there in the first place so you had to come rescue me,” she said with self-scorn. “But hey, Miss Real Brave, does that mean you’re my friend?”
Kanine looked into her earnest expression and said gently, “Of course. I never didn’t think so.”
“Great!” said Daze with a big grin. “Then just one more thing before I simply have to go to sleep because I am dead tired: how did you know my given name? And I really don’t like it, by the way. You think it’s hard getting respect as a knight, try being named after a pretty flower.”
“I think it’s a wonderful name, and some foolish knight I talked to called you that and I put two and two together. I figured you didn’t like it, I just said it to take your mind off the tension of the pending jump.”
“Heh,” said Daze, and nodded in understanding. She soon nodded off to sleep.
Kanine woke up first for once the next morning, but let Daze sleep a while longer. The way she saw it, the real training had all been yesterday, and today would just be a few technicalities with riding gear. They had two more days to train, but really, thought Kanine, they were already experts.
When at last their week was up and they were to go join the other knights to head into battle, Daze got herself fully suited in her light armor. Kanine gasped and told her she looked really amazing, and then Daze pulled out the armor she had brought for the Uni.
“It isn’t much, but it matches my armor, and I think you’ll look positively radiant in it.”
Kanine accepted it readily and the two galloped off to stand with the others, marigold-colored vestments flapping in the wind.
“Who’s your rider?” asked Sara and Tatch as they conversed before departure, checking up on the past week’s events.
“Who, this? This is my friend,” she smiled, recalling all they had been though, and said very proudly, “This is my very good friend, Daze.”
Daze gave the two Unis a smile and a salute, before calling to the group, “Let’s move out!”
Kanine needed no more encouragement; she took off right away, and she and Daze led the group charging to the front lines.
Kanine and Daze fought perfectly together against wave after wave of Darigan monsters, never tiring and always keeping each other’s spirits up. When at last the war was won, Kanine stayed around in Meridell for some time, recovering from minor injuries and meeting all the friends Daze had fought so hard to protect. Although the two parted ways to live in their respective communities, they never missed an opportunity to meet the other half way between Meridell and the countryside, and sometimes Daze would ride and Kanine would run for miles and miles through the sunshine, and sometimes they just walked side by side, talking and laughing about the past and present.