Chapter Twelve

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Farinka patted the shoulder of the palomino as he rolled onto his chest, shaking his head to clear the after-effects of the dozewort.

"Come on, sunshine," she said. "On your feet. You're okay."

"That's quite a good name for him," remarked Tarke. "Sunshine. He's the right colour."

"Yes, he is, isn't he?"

"More of an 'it' than a 'he', now," said Tarke, grinning.

"True. Bit like Nemeth," said Farinka.

"He wouldn't forgive you if he heard you," said Tarke.

"I heard," said Nemeth.

"It's impolite to walk so quietly," said Farinka.

"At least I will be totally male," said Nemeth. "It's only a matter of a Journey." He looked down at Farinka, his eyes full of amused challenge.

You doubt me, Domina? He laughed. "True?"

"Yes, true." – and no, I don't doubt you for a moment, Nemeth, she added.

"Good." – Remember it.

Tarke laughed. "Okay, you two, enough. What are we going to call the others? They ought to have names."

"You could call the rabbit-coloured one Rabbit," suggested Nemeth.

"You're joking! You can't call a packbeast 'Rabbit'," said Tarke. "He's more mouse-coloured, anyway."

"Strange," said Farinka. "You definitely couldn't call him Rabbit, but for some reason Mouse doesn't sound so daft. Wonder why?"

"Because it's more often used to describe the colour, at a guess," said Nemeth, sinking into his usual cross-legged position. "How do you describe rabbit-coloured without calling it 'rabbit'?"

"The correct name for wild-type colour is agouti," said Farinka. "School Biology," she added. "Funny what you remember. But his colour is called mouse dun."

"Now that is a nice name," said Nemeth. "Agouti."

"Yes," said Tarke. "What about the creamy dun?"

Sunshine scrambled to his feet, shook himself, and walked away to join the others.

"He seems okay," said Louka, joining them. "Hardly notices it, does he?"

"Doesn't seem to," agreed Farinka. "We're just trying to think of a name for that cream dun one."

"What have you called the others?"

"Sunshine and Agouti," said Nemeth.

"He's almost barley-flour-coloured, isn't he?" said Tarke.

"Or oats. Or wheat," said Louka. "Too grey for maize. Not grey enough for stone."

"Not unlike raw flax," said Tarke. "A bit darker, perhaps."

"Flax. I like that," said Farinka. "It feels right. Where did Sherath go?"

"Hunting," said Nemeth. "I left him by the alp. There were some alp-oxen up there – he was going to try and bag a calf if he could get near enough. I brought a sheep back."

"How big a calf?" asked Farinka.

"Quite big, at this time of year. Would probably weigh what I do," said Nemeth.

"That's a bit heavy to carry home," said Farinka.

"Don't you believe it. Sherath's carried me before now. Besides, there's a good hide on a calf that size. Very warm; the alp-oxen grow their winter coats early."

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