The most dangerous opponents often seem the most harmless - as this story shows...
Shandra dismounted as she entered the great Square of Tammuz, patting the snow-white stallion on the neck. He had been priced much higher than she could really have afforded, but looking around, she saw with satisfaction that she was indubitably the best-mounted of all the Hunters in the square. She smiled.
"That superb creature do be yours, young woman?" The question came from a man with a thick Illianer accent. He looked her up and down, noting her plain clothes and thin purse. "But he do be of Tairen stock, surely, and the Tairens do think more of their horses than of their own children. However did you be coming to own such a one?"
"Ah well," she smiled sweetly, "I did not exactly pay for him, you see."
"You stole him?" That came from a young Hunter on the other side of her. He sounded impressed.
"Oh, I wouldn't say that." Shandra dropped her green eyes demurely, aware that she was gathering an audience, and enjoying it immensely. "Steal is such an ugly word. I borrowed him, shall we say?"
"And how did you do that?" the Illianer enquired, looking amused.
"Well, perhaps it went like this," she suggested, laughing. "Perhaps a Tairen lordling was overfond of drink, and perhaps he made a tryst one night with a pretty Domani woman with big green eyes." She widened those eyes innocently. "Perhaps he dismissed his guards and took her for a moonlit stroll through his estate with a bottle of wine. Perhaps he drank just a little too much. And perhaps he woke up the next morning with a headache, with his companion gone and with his prize stallion missing from his stables."
The men around her erupted into laughter, slapping their thighs.
"One in the eye for the Tairen pigs," the Illianer man chortled. "Illian do be proud to have you in it, young woman."
"Why, thank you." She curtseyed.
"What a clever girl," an Altaran man standing nearby said mockingly. He too looked her up and down, letting his eyes linger blatantly. "And such a pretty one too. Are you going on the Hunt all by yourself, young Domani?"
Shandra had met men like this before, and actively disliked them. "That's right," she said pleasantly. "Why do you ask?"
"A woman riding alone could come to all sorts of trouble." His mocking eyes said just what sort of trouble. "Especially a pretty one like you, with eyes green as rose leaves - and lips sweet as a rose too, I'll be bound." He smiled lazily. "I would be happy to offer you my protection."
"Your offer is most kind." She took a step toward him, a very sweet smile appearing on her lips. It was a smile that those who knew her well had learned to watch out for. "But perhaps -" and abruptly there was a knife in her hand, and it was pressed against his throat. "Perhaps," Shandra said very softly, "the rose has thorns - no?"
The knife vanished back into her sleeve. Domani garb was very useful for that, in that it seemed absolutely impossible to hide anything in. Bystanders were already looking confused, wondering where it had gone. She smiled again. "If I was not capable of protecting myself, my friend, I would hardly be here. I wish you all luck on the Hunt, and may the best man win." She gave the Altaran a cool look. "Or the best woman."
Turning her back, she walked deeper into the crowd. A fool. I wouldn't be surprised if he tries to get revenge for that little scene some dark night...
...and when he does, I'll be waiting.