bonus scene

(This scene takes place as Malena and Toril are escaping on the other side of the river, and as Kinora floats away, wondering if the toddler named Cricket, who is hidden in the rushes, will be found.) It was removed so I could simplify. It was not vital to the plot, and I wanted to minimize the number of distinct points of view that were used in the novel. Oji will be more important in a sequel.)

A butterfly, fanning amber wings in the afterglow of subsided sun, was the only creature that reacted to Oji’s sudden appearance along the riverbank. One moment the bank was empty; the next, a lithe golden shimmer materialized among the reeds. Frogs continued croaking fitfully; water lapped in an unbroken rhythm; the cat-tails rustled at the touch of breeze as ants crawled undisturbed among their stems and roots.

The butterfly hesitated. Its legs tensed.

Oji pursed his lips and emitted a strange, warbling burble of a bird call. A casual listener would have heard nothing human in it, but within seconds, Hika trotted up, ears pricked.

The butterfly fluttered away.

“C’mon, girl,” whispered Oji, gesturing to a dinghy that nestled beneath a willow, a dozen paces down the bank. “We’ve got to hurry, if we’re going to get word to Toril before the soldiers float beyond reach.“ He ducked beneath some branches, twisting with fluid grace.

The dog picked her way after, sure-footed but somewhat less silent. Oji lifted her over the gunwale with a grunt, then crouched lightly aboard himself. He drew a knife from a sheath at his back, slashed a couple glyphs on the willow trunk, resheathed, and then tugged with his nimble fingers at the mooring knot. In moments they were pushing out from the shade, the hull scraping lightly across mud and rock.

Oji lifted a paddle, carved swiftly, and flipped the prow toward the far shore.
Hika whined faintly.

“Hush,” Oji said. “Crossing before it’s fully dark is probably foolish. Gorumim’s off the ferry by now, I’m guessing, and his men are way downstream. With luck, nobody will notice us at all—or if they do, they’ll assume I’m just a boy. But it’s still risky to move in the open. The less attention we attract, the better.”

Hika whined again. Her eyes were fixed on the shallow bend, a couple bow shots downstream, where the Royal Guard and the osipi had brought the children to load them on barges. Eddies of muddy water still swirled around the depressions left by boots and keels.

Her ears pricked.

Her nose quivered.

“They’re gone,” Oji soothed. “I made sure.” He thrust with the paddle.

Hika looked at Oji, cocked her head, then swiveled back to the empty shore. Her tail thumped softly.