We took stock of ourselves: Saken was dead, Maydan had taken a hard blow to the head and was still unconscious, and there were many smaller injuries, broken ribs and bad cuts and one ankle that began to swell badly. Gulim went to soak her injured ankle in the cold water of the river; Jolay sat beside Maydan, holding her limp hand and pressing a cloth soaked in cold water against her head. The rest of us raided Maydan's supplies for bandages to wrap the smaller wounds. "We need to get to a healer," Zhanna muttered as I wrapped her arm. "Both for the rest of us, and for poor Maydan."
Janiya came by as I was dragging water back to camp for rice-dragging, because although I'd escaped serious injury, I realized as I bent to fill the pot that I'd pulled some muscles rather badly in my back and could hardly lift anything. "Has anyone seen Kara?" I asked, since Janiya had gone to see about rounding up the horses.
"She's made her way back, as have all our other horses. We seem to have kept most of the bandits'
horses as well, and their dogs. I'm not sure where their camp is, though, and the rest of their livestock."
"The djinn could've told us," I said apologetically.
She shrugged. "You did the right thing." I saw the glimmer of a blue bead in her hand, though she hesitated.
I glared at her. "Keep the d.a.m.n thing. I know perfectly well they're useless. That there's no set number of beads we have to earn to win the privilege of joining the Alas.h.i.+."
Janiya smiled and tucked the bead away. "Yes," she said. "And I think you're ready to be one of us now.
Tamar, too, of course-I've thought she was ready for some time. There will be a ceremony, when we rejoin the rest of the Alas.h.i.+. Which will be soon. We're going to go back to our clan for healing and rest, and we'll be joining the other clans and sword sisterhoods and brotherhoods not long after that."
"So I won't have to choose between killing myself and being sold back into slavery," I said. I tried to speak lightly, but Janiya heard the bitter edge and gave me a quick look.
"You only heard half of that story," she said.
"Yes. That was Ruan." She paused for a moment to let that sink in. "She chose suicide- so she pa.s.sed.
That, finally, is the only test that really matters. If you'd rather be dead than a slave, you belong with us."
Ruan and Jolay dug Saken's grave near the stream, where the ground was relatively soft. They dressed her in her vest, then lay her body on a square of white felt. Jolay held up each of the vests Saken had embroidered in summers past, then folded it and slipped it under her head: the one with the beautiful horse, the one with the vines and flowers, the one of crisscrossed lines that formed shapes but no pictures. Jolay drew her dagger, and placed it gently in Saken's right hand; Ruan slipped a thumb-ring over Saken's thumb and curled her cold hand around a single arrow.
One by one, e
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