[On the Real Life front, the new job continues to be interesting, and the projects I'm building and working on by myself seem to be tapping into my creative drive, which normally get highly frustrated if I don't write at least every week. Good thing for me, not so good for Outlands and anything else I might have felt inclined to write. I should finish this arc at least, and I soooo want to write the other ones, too. I'll just have to skewer my inspiration to the sticking spot (the spouse stealing the PS3 for his little war games should help too).]
Link to all chapters
On with Sons of the Path...
A week after Haaskoning's visit, Ryou received the books the magian had promised him. Two were mathematical treatise dating back forty years; though they were on a branch of mathematics that was only cousin to the one Ryou was familiar with, he could still tell they were out of date. They did allow him to brush up on his maths and abstract geometry, and visit some concepts he'd not studied in university. In view of the dry, scientific subject matter, the scribbled commentaries in the margins from previous Inlander magians were often as fascinating as they were surreal.
The third book was the most interesting, but also the most challenging. 'Of Defensive Useages of The Mysteries', as its title page proclaimed, was hand written by a previous magian, probably a hundred years ago guessing from the style. Not only was it in a cursive hand, it had been recopied since then by someone who was obviously not versed in English and transcribing blind, occasionally inverting letters. For a non-native English speaker, it was quite a challenge, but as it happened Ryou had plenty of time to spend learning the defensive 'useages' of his power, and one day he might conceivably have the need to use them too.
The waters of the two rivers rose and fell, the flood season coming on them like a pause, a heartbeat of stillness bathing Assyria for a few weeks. During that time, Ryou spent his mornings in the Golden Hall, usually in the company of Yau-seen of Tulloa, the scribe that Leyam had mentioned. The young eunuch could read five languages fluently and write in four of them. He was not only willing to read out anything Ryou might wish him too, he was also willing to give Ryou a hand in learning to read and write Latin. Ryou spent an hour doing that, while the rest of the morning was spent learning elements of the local economy and politics with Tupila. Leyam's chancellor was a soft man with soft-spoken manners and a soft smile. He was also one of the most powerful men in the kingdom. He seemed polite and easy to get along with at first, but beneath that appearance he was hidebound, stubborn, set in his ways and unwilling to question them. Most of Ryou's questions on the fundamentals of Assyrian economy eventually wound up with the answer 'because that is the way our forefathers have always done it'. Winning Tupila's trust enough to let him contemplate some of the simpler modernisations Ryou could think of was going to be a long and arduous task...Ryou wondered how this man got along with Leyam, before it occurred to him that Leyam might need someone like Tupila to softly yet surely put the brakes on some of the king's crazier notions.
After butting heads with both Latin and Tupila all the morning, Ryou spent his afternoons reading 'Useages', or the math books for those days he grew tired of the effort required. Once he actually tackled it, 'Useages' was readable, but it also supposed he possessed a few fundamental concepts on the peculiar physics of the Outlands that he did not have, and that he would supposedly have to go to Asha Mainyu to learn. Ryou would finish the afternoon with a pile of scribbled notes dotted all over with question marks, the beginning of a headache and a growing conviction this was just some trick of Haaskoning to induce him to join the Per Gathas.
At least 'Useages' did not try to wrap its contents up in a cloak of magic. The Inlander who'd written it was very much into paranormal phenomenon, so the language and the theories were not always much better than magic to the rational mind, but at least Ryou was not being asked to use cleansing incense or sing out sutras. This was a power of the mind, a power linked to extra-dimensional nature of the planes. This ability would be virtually useless Inlands, where physics knew its place and stuck to it (though the author of 'Useages' speculated wildly at some point about séances). But here in the Outlands, it was another matter. The substance of Zaratusra's spiral was more tenuous than the world Ryou had known all his life. The body might believe it existed within three ordinary dimensions, but the human mind had the ability to create a ripple somewhere else, a superior space. The physics behind this phenomenon was not clear; the margins of the math books suggested this extra space was easily influenced by the ability to think about it, in a way that had superficial similarities to the effect of observation in quantum physics - but no more than that, superficial. If anyone had done research, it was not in these books. Most people were dumb and blind to this extra space that existed a mere thought away from them, but magian had the ability to affect it, mould it and travel through it. Not without risk, though. The Veil, the supernumary dimension encasing the planes of the Outlands, held dangers for those whose minds caused a bigger ripple than the ordinary human.
The last chapter was entirely devoted to 'Paramnormal Biengs' (from the increased number of errors, Ryou supposed the scribe had been getting tired of his transcribing by then). The author once more went off on a lamentable tangent about fairies and other apparitions Inlands instead of dwelling on the very real dangers in the Outlands. It wasn't clear from his writing what these things were; at best, creatures who simply possessed magian-type abilities that extended their predation territories across dimensions instead of square kilometers. At worst...well, if such an insanity as the Veil was possible, who could say that this extra dimension did not have its own inhabitants and predators? How helpless would people be, locked in their little dimensional box and faced with those creatures; like inchworms crawling along the ground unaware how visible they were to a bird's eye view...
That was the chapter Ryou read again and again. Essentially it boiled down to what Haaskoning had told him. Don't use your powers carelessly, don't send up flares in the higher dimensions, and then these creatures won't be able to find you amongst the fog of matter and minds that our wispy dimension must be to them. Ryou disregarded the protective cantrips the book suggested; another Inlander had written 'what a load of bollocks' in the margin which the English-illiterate scribe had faithfully transcribed to Ryou's copy. The mental exercises to hide one's presence and tracks looked more promising, but Ryou would not know how much he'd mastered them until he actually put it into practice in a real situation. And that's what really struck him as odd. Why had Haaskoning given him this information when he was not supposed to use magic and thus not need it?
"Ryou? You going to sleep over there?"
Ryou looked up at Darius, standing before him in the half-light with saddlebags slung over his shoulder. "No, just thinking." Though maybe 'daydreaming' would be more accurate. It'd been a whole month and a week since his arrival in Sura - 73 days in the Outlands, which made it the 23rd of March back home - and in all his time in the royal city Ryou had not had to get up before the crack of dawn. He'd somewhat lost the habit.
Darius glanced around, checking that the Hounds filling the courtyard were not in earshot. "Last chance to change your mind," he said in a way that suggested he expected Ryou to do so right after the sun fell out of the sky like an overripe peach.
Ryou got to his feet. "Let's go."
"It's only for a twelveday, two at most. It will be wet, boring-"
"You gave me an adequate description last night. I'm not going for the fun of it, but I said I would come with you and I will. If nothing else, it will give me a break from constantly studying those books."
"And what would that be?" Darius asked, changing the position of the saddlebags to point at the papers Ryou had been staring at blindly earlier and was now folding away.
"Um, just some notes."
The mouth that'd been set in such a stern expression these past few days twitched briefly at the corners.
"We're going to walk a Path," Ryou said, trying not to sound defensive. "I know I negotiated two already without incident, but I want to be sure-"
"Come along, my bookish friend," said Darius, dumping one of the saddlebags on Ryou's shoulder and leading the way towards their mounts.
Dela the Kush had been promoted in place of the officer who'd fallen at Essin, so Dionosydoros was still leading the personal guard of fourteen men currently getting onto their horses. He gave the mounted soldiers a severe look as he assessed them by the light of the torches they carried, then he gave Ryou a much friendlier nod before turning towards Darius. "Ready, sir."
"Let's ride, boys."
The riders fell out two by two, with just a slight pause in order to let Ryou nudge his horse into the slot left for him behind Dio and Darius and next to Jexen.
They were riding to rejoin the main forces of the Assyrian army, who were going to rendezvous at some point in the next few days with another Alliance group. The men had been marching for a whole two months already. An oddity of Outland military tactics was that the commanders could travel via available Paths as long as their escort numbered less than twenty armed men, but the troops themselves had to march. This meant that a brilliant general like Terentius could command two different campaigns, as long as the men had been led to where they were supposed to fight ahead of time. When a large force moved out over a period of months like this, commanding officers relayed each other to direct the maneuver. Those rank-and-file soldiers who'd showed particular bravery in battle could have leave time at home as a reward, while the seriously injured could be sent back for medical care at Sura's temples - but not the sick, since Darius and every commander in the Outlands knew that there were no surer bringers of plague and disaster than an army marching from point A to point B.
The Paths of Zaratusra had given rise to units like Ghan's Hounds; rapid intervention forces that could split into independent units of sixteen men and scatter to take different Paths or land routes and rendezvous thousands of miles away. A large force composed of men who couldn't read a map could not move about like that, but the Hounds were a small strike force that could appear out of nowhere, cut enemy lines and be gone again to harass them in another place entirely a week later. Darius wasn't often called to interact with the main infantry forces, except when someone of his authority was called upon to oversee a particularly fraught maneuver. Ryou had been surprised to learn that meeting up with another armed group of men to march off together was in fact considered such. He didn’t see what was particularly difficult about that, and he'd said so when they'd discussed it last night.
"You ask that question because you've never seen an army on the move," had been his lover's reply. Darius had been getting ready for the early morning trip in his room where Ryou had joined him. They spent most evenings together enjoying the activities of any free man of certain means in Sura; talking, playing games, visiting friends, conversing with Leyam if the King was in the mood, or just spending time together, a time that regularly ended up in bed.
"You said twenty thousand men once the two groups join up, right? It will be quite a sight."
Darius had picked up his sword without turning around. "Twenty thousand very dirty men hauling their humps across ugly terrain with Namtar and his hungry sisters snapping at their heels. It's nothing a sane man would want to see."
"I get the distinct impression you do not want me to go," Ryou had finally said after studying his lover's back for a minute.
”It's your choice," was the indifferent answer. "Just be aware of what to expect. It's going to be cold, nasty, and once I get there I'm going to hang a dozen men."
That'd caught Ryou short. "Why, what did they do?"
Darius had tossed an unpleasant smile over his shoulder. "No idea yet, but as sure as crows follow soldiers, there'll be some disciplinary action waiting for me to sanction, be it for insubordination, stealing, blasphemy or a knife fight over some cunt."
The way he'd said that, callous and in-your-face...It'd occurred to Ryou that maybe his lover wanted him to stay in Sura rather than come along and rub shoulders with Ghan the Beast for a fortnight. That'd been the man talking so casually about capital punishment while checking the edge of his sword and the binding of the hilt. It was a situation Ryou had not had to face for awhile. But that was because he'd been letting his life here in Sura pull the wool over his eyes. He was with Darius now, and that man was also a hardened warrior feared far and wide as Ghan the Beast. If Ryou stayed behind in safety and only climbed into bed with Darius, he'd be doing neither of them a favor in the long run, though his expectations of what lay ahead on their journey had been busy dipping to a new low...
"If that's what you judge you have to do, then that's what you have to do. It's your army, your rules, your decision," Ryou had pointed out, getting to his feet. "My decision is to come with you. I am not going to live in comfort here while you're away and possibly in danger."
"Not that much danger. Inder and Hygeia have so far protected us from a breakout of camp fever, despite going through the marches of Ayengosor, and this is friendly territory we're crossing."
"I thought you were going because there was going to be some fighting and problems."
"No, I'm going in order to make sure there isn't any fighting and problems," Darius had corrected him with a grin that was all edges. "We've been trying to keep these troop movements towards Bar-Shaparya a secret, so both our troops and the Alliance ones are marching blind and without the usual staging preparations. So to meet up with those Alliance knot-heads, we'll first have to find them, because Ayengosor is large, does not have roads, rivers or other landmarks beyond those stinking marshes, and it's surprising how wrong some buggers can get their maps." Ryou, who'd seen maps in these regions, wasn't all that surprised himself. "We'll be sending out scouting parties to find the other group, and living off the land as we are, we can't afford to take too much time about it, or see our scouts shot on sight because some drunken Olympian on the opposite side thought our rider looked like a Roman, or a haunt or a Fury or anybody but the goats his mom used to have him herd. Once we actually manage to connect our forces, we're going to have to create two camps, preferably on either side of a river to keep the infighting and the petty squabbles to a minimum. After that, we have to make sure the scouts as well as our riders who are rejoining us from other regions can find us, while keeping the men from killing each other through lack of action, and all this is going to be complicated enough without distractions."
All this, and it was actually going to be a couple more months before their forces were going to get into actual combat...Ryou had always thought of strategy as being something applied during battles, but of course logistics was what got an army where it was supposed to go and this was often what won the war. His countrymen had initially conquered their corner of the Pacific sixty years ago by being inventive and thorough in that way.
"I won't get in your way. But I am coming with you. Those magian who attacked you before could try another stab at you in the confusion. Besides-..."
Darius had looked over his shoulder to see if Ryou was going to finish that sentence. Ryou had avoided his gaze, looking down at the arms he'd crossed over his chest. "Besides, I wasn't planning on staying here and sewing a tapestry of your deeds. I can barely thread a needle."
His pallid attempt at humor had fallen flat. "You have nothing to prove to me," was Darius's short reply. He'd sheathed his sword and tossed it on the low table in complete disregard of the soft, elegant wood it was carved in.
"That's not what I meant. I want to go with you, Darius, even it's going to be dangerous or boring and regardless of whether I can actually help or not. That's what's between us. If I had to go to Asha Mainyu for some dire and complicated magic-related reason you could not hope to help me with, I would like to think you'd go with me anyway, in the same spirit."
Darius had put his hand on his hips and stared down at his packed saddlebag as if honesty had been fighting his desire to say something that would keep Ryou in Sura. "If my duty to Leyam permitted, yes," he'd finally said, because neither Darius nor Ghan were at home with lying about things that mattered.
"Go to bed," Darius had said curtly without turning around. "We need to get up early tomorrow."
Ryou had dutifully gotten to his feet to go. The minor victory hadn't tasted sweet at all, but it'd been the taste of a bitter pill that had to be swallowed.
Just as he'd reached for the door, something else got shoved onto the poor table, there was the sound of striding footsteps behind him and then an arm caught him around the shoulder before his fingers could touch the fretted wood.
"This bed," Darius had said in his ear, and then, with a grudging half-smile of surrender Ryou could hear in his voice, "if it pleases you, shield brother."
Ryou had decided just as promptly that he did not want to leave it on that previous note either, and-...
...and what happened next would explain why he was currently nodding off on his horse and Jexen has already told him once, in a kindly way, to make sure he kept a good hold on with the stirrups.
The docks at Mooncrest were already hopping as Ryou and the Hounds crossed the bridge, past the far end which had only recently been dug out of the mud the receding floods had deposited there. The Mooncrest circle, and its attendant Passer sanctuary, were as large as an important country like Assyria required, and staffed with a dozen people. The sanctuary consisted of two large multi-stored buildings joined together by stables and a stone courtyard to shelter travelers and animals waiting for access to their Path. All was quiet as the party approached the circle of stelae. A boy carrying feed to some animals in the stable was the only person visible. The kid dropped his bale when he saw Darius's armor, and ran indoors. By the time their group dismounted, one of the Passers had trotted out of the inn and stood ready to greet them near one of the marker stones.
"Noble Lord," he said with a bow. Ryou, with his cultural appreciation of such gestures, recorded and admired the precise depth of the obeisance. It said that Darius was a great man whom the Passer would treat with all due respect...but not one who could command the guide of Paths as he would an Assyrian. To Ryou, that was just as expressive as the absence of any other formal words such as 'My hand beneath your foot'.
"Greetings, Periklan" said Darius who didn't give a damn about etiquette anyway. "Can you lead us through?"
The Passer bowed again, a little deeper in appreciation at being remembered by name and addressed with no condescension. Then he led the party of men and horses across the thirty meters of open space to the inn.
"We're seeking passage for sixteen of us to Ayengosor," said Darius as they moved across the courtyard. "You may inspect our baggage if you wish."
This was a formula Darius had used once before in Ryou's earshot, when going from Essin to Tanatoria. He'd not used it back in Tot or Palis, when he and Ryou were posing as two ordinary travelers. It was quite understood back then that if the Passer wanted to question them or check them for contraband, he or she was perfectly at right to do so, and refuse them access to the Path if the result was not pleasing, or indeed without any explanation or reason given at all and no chance for appeal. Lord Ghan was subject to this universal law same as everybody else, however the higher up the individual, the more fraught this became for the Passer. So it was custom and a politeness from nobility to the Per Gathas to go ahead and offer without forcing the Passer to say anything. The baggage was piled onto three spare horses with no real identifying marks, so the Passer could poke through a few without worrying whose it was. Of course Darius might have the technical blueprints for a cannon hidden about his person, and Ryou doubted the Passer conducted strip searches...It made Ryou wonder once again why Assyria and its neighbors were stuck so far back in the past. Assyria, Aksum, Ur, and the remnants of areas once held by the Babylonians and Sumerians, all these countries known collectively as the Pariya - the Original Lands - as well as the Doric (Ionian and Greek), the Imperium, the Mauryian Empire, and presumably S'ung Chao...they could, if they wanted to, send people far off to learn from other cultures from the middle-ages Europe and the Yuan Dinasty all the way to Ezo and Sri Lanka refugees, learn everything from reinforced steel to antibiotics and properly built shells. It boggled Ryou's mind that they did not.
Darius, followed by Ryou, entered the inn to further let the Passer do his inspection without their presence. Dio stayed to make sure nothing got broken, and to pay the man, sixteen tiny silver coins that were minted from an almost pure metal specifically for use on the Paths. There were only three other travelers in the Inn, a merchant and his two guards, eating an early morning breakfast of pan-fried gruel, cheese and weak beer. This then would be the owner of the covered bales across four patient mules outside loaded with goods. Ryou was ready to bet it would be the only caravan traveling with them. Mooncrest was a busy center of commerce ordinarily, but the country the Paths led to this morning had been taken by the Roman army one way, freed by the Alliance the other, and were now in a state where they would not be much interested in luxury goods imported from distant lands. They might appreciate staples, but would not be able to afford them when the price of imported food had to cover travel and the Passer's silver, making it so much more expensive than local grown produce.
Darius returned with a nod the bowed greeting from the merchant and his guardsmen who'd gotten to their feet when they saw who had joined them. Three other men, members of the staff at the inn, joined them to bow as well
"Did you want any refreshments, my Lord?" one of them asked humbly.
"No time, I imagine," Darius replied. "Ryou? Perhaps some beer?"
Beer in the morning was something Ryou could not get used to, not that he'd ever tried all that hard. He shook his head.
Darius was about to add something when the boy who'd been tending the stables earlier came back through the kitchen with some bread in a basket, followed by a short man who was belting on a pair of loose trousers, Persian-style. The newcomer had an unsmiling demeanor that seemed to mean business. He bowed to Darius and Ryou immediately.
"New man?" Darius asked, looking him up and down curiously.
"Yes my Lord." He had an astoundingly deep voice for a man who didn't reach up to Ryou's shoulder. "My name is Andrap, I was born in Atta, in the town of Marzuk. I am here to help Passer Periklan and his nephews with their duties. It's a busy time of the year."
"Yeah, it's like that after every flood," said Darius, still looking the man over. Andrap didn't add anything, gaze lowered as befit their respective status. When the silence stretched, he bowed again, lower than before, and disappeared back into the kitchens.
Darius watched him go, then gestured Ryou to the door. "Come on, let's see when we can leave."
"The right Path is not open yet," Ryou said automatically.
Darius gave him a private eye-roll. "You should have read those 'notation' things of yours more carefully."
"I can tell if the rifts are aligned even without exercising any-"
"Huh-uh, just don't shoot us to Hades and back again."
"You know very well- you're trying to get a rise out of me, aren't you."
Darius didn't answer since they were back out in the courtyard full of Hounds and others, but there was a small smirk on his face that Ryou knew well. Ryou threw a few jibes back at his lover in the privacy of his own head, though truth be told, he had been getting a little wound up at walking a Path now that he knew a bit more what kind of dangers lurked there. The fact that Darius was relaxed enough about Ryou's abilities to tease him had loosened him up.
They went back out into the courtyard where Periklan's daughter, a girl of ten, was distributing warmed wine to the Hounds. She quickly trotted over to Darius and Ryou when she saw them and managed to bob down onto one knee, head lowered, without spilling anything on the tray. Ryou's mother would have approved. Darius picked up two cups and handed one to Ryou, who went ahead and took it. He didn't really feel like drinking even watered down alcohol at this ungodly hour of the morning, but the way the warm liquid steamed in the early morning freshness tempted him. He took a sip. Not half bad, even though it was full of sediment and spices and stuff. Damn, but he wished these lands knew about tea and coffee.
Darius lifted his own cup- he did not drink and his narrowed eyes twitched sideways. Ryou, surprised, followed the sharp gaze to see the new Passer, Andrap, disappear into the small barn where Periklan's cow, goats and hens were kept. The man had a pail in his hands and a good reason for being there, and Ryou told himself it was paranoid to feel that Andrap had been looking at him a moment before. Ryou had been jumpy for weeks now with the feeling he was being watched whenever he left the inner palace, which was probably due to the way he'd barged into Sura's heaving hotbed of politics at Darius's side. Now that he was away from the capital, he'd be quite happy to put the itch between his shoulderblades down to his imagination, but something about the look in Darius's eyes told him otherwise.
"What?" he whispered.
Darius tore his gaze away from the dark entrance to the stable and took a pull of his wine. "Nothing, perhaps. It's just that Periklan's never needed help before that I know of. When the Per Gathas send someone out here, it's some boy fresh out of Asha Mainyu for the first time to learn his trade, and that one over there is no boy...But the ways of the Per Gathas are mysterious, it probably means nothing. Stick close to me when we're crossing," he said in conclusion as he walked away, rather ruining whatever reassurance Ryou might have gathered from his words.
Ryou gave the barn a last look and then took a moody pull at his drink. It wasn't as if he'd needed another reason to worry about walking a Path today...But it was true, as soon as he'd crossed the border of stelae, he was no longer in Assyria proper, he was in the domain of the Per Gathas. Ryou still didn't know what to think about them. If Andrap really had been looking at him, that could just mean that Haaskoning had given him and Periklan a description of Ryou and a warning to watch him, particularly while he traveled. That'd make sense; there was no reason to think this reaction particularly ominous. Right. Ryou glanced around to check that Darius was busy with the men, and then, feeling like an idiot, he drew out the second page of notes he'd made, the one that was not about paranormal monsters from higher dimensions but a threat much closer to home that he'd already tasted once. The notes he'd made were in Japanese, abbreviations he used in his business notations for added discretion.
Ever since Haaskoning had stripped him of the Gift of Zaratusra, Ryou had been understandably nervous about a repeat performance that would leave him cast away in a country where nobody could understand him. His pet project had been to understand the Gift, and how to stop it from being removed again. First, Ryou had scoured 'Useages' for anything that might be relevant, but this time the book came up empty. Since it seemed he had to rely on his own abilities, Ryou had then tried to meditate on the matter; it seemed to be the sort of thing one would do in those circumstances. The only guide to meditation he had was from a blurb he’d read at the back of a pamphlet on getting the stressed-out business man to relax; he’d found in a Hilton during a trip to Hong Kong. That didn’t fly. Finally Ryou had sat down and tried what he knew best. In the absence of a laptop, that meant a piece of charcoal pencil and a sheet of vellum to reason it out mathematically, and then using that basis to analyze this element his own head with the help of the knowledge gained from the three tomes Haaskoning had sent. And right there, in his own mind, was where he’d found the Gift.
To break out of Tokyo and into the Outlands, Ryou had touched and pierced the surface of the regular three-dimensional world, what magians called The Veil. When he'd done so, something had clung to him like fresh paint on a wall sticking to his fingers. How this phenomenon had been generated was something Ryou could not begin to imagine; the subtlety, power and potency of it left him in considerable awe of the Per Gathas and their founder. Maybe Per Gathas magians had to constantly renew it so that it would be always ready to attach itself to a new mind that crossed the Veil for the first time...Ryou did not know how it was created or maintained, or how he could stop it from being removed. He just knew - sort of - how it worked. In the same way Ryou's extra senses stretched beyond the three dimensions but affected what his brain perceived, this little hitchhiker stuck to his presence in the higher dimension, reached down and filtered his perception of the world, specifically the visual and auditory combination that the human brain interpreted as words. The incoming signal was parasited with garbage accumulated by culture, accents, imagery etc. It was stripped and modulated into the fundamental kernel of meaning, a universal meta-language that Ryou's poor brain tried to delude itself was Japanese out of an interest in keeping its bearings. The outgoing signals were the same. Ryou had been speaking this meta-tongue ever since he'd known Darius; his audience heard meaning, not words, and automatically assigned their language to it. Logic dictated that Ryou had been speaking this meta-tongue ever since crossing over to the no man's land the first time, and it obscurely upset him in the tiny part of himself not dominated by logic to think his own brother had been hearing him talk in some mystical neo-language and hadn't even realized it. The fact that he was speaking it even now, the only one in Sura to do so, left him feeling oddly isolated...
"Ryou," Darius drawled in his ear, drawing out the vowels.
"I'm fine," Ryou said automatically.
"You're very fine and sleeping on your feet." The warm hand that squeezed his shoulder pulled him out of his thoughts and towards the horses. "Come on, Periklan said we're about to get going."
"Glad to hear it," said Ryou, pocketing his notes and his wayward thoughts to concentrate once more on the material, such as the horse he was going to get very well acquainted with over the coming fortnight of riding alongside a marching army. Couldn't get much more material than that.
Hopefully the next bit won't take quite so long to post, as it's shorter.