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Stunned, Mik looked down at Loco. She was panting, turning now and then to look at her sides and digging again at the bottom of the pannier. “She can’t be—I skipped her this season. That’s why I didn’t bring her with me when I—well, you know. Wasn’t sure she was out yet.” He swung down to help Kevi with Jad.
“You may have skipped her. Judging by the date, I’d say she was bred before you knew she was in. Come on, uh, what’s his name, Mikal?”
“All right, Jadel, just sit down right there. Feeling any better? Good. Suppress works fast. Mikal, can you give me a hand? Just keep pressure here and here, while I manipulate his arm.”
Mik swallowed bile, and jumped more than Jad did when the shoulder snapped back into place under his hands. He was more confused than ever in trying to see this man as the hated regent, but Kevi did seem to know what he was doing. “What was that you gave him?” he persisted.
“Mixture of four drugs. First was a painkiller, suppress. It acts very fast. The counterShock is a little slower, but not much. The other two are a muscle relaxant and a mild sedative. Those haven’t quite kicked in yet—don’t worry when you start feeling sleepy, Jad. That’ll keep you from doing further damage by trying to use that shoulder. For right now I want you to lie down in one of the back rooms in that maze of hay so I can use cold packs to keep the swelling from getting worse, and I’ll strap the arm in place when you wake up.”
He made up a couple of ice packs and applied them to Jadel’s shoulder, settling the man in one of the rooms hidden in the hay. Then he went into another room and returned to the front of the cave, carrying an empty box that Mik recognized as one that had held the Confederation supplies he’d traded for. “The dog’s doing fine,” Kevi said as he put an old feed sack in the box, “but I think she could use a little more room. Want to bring her in, Mikal? I’ll have a look at that horse you were leading.”
Whatever else he was, Mik decided, Kevi was an expert at keeping people off balance. Loco was still in the pannier, whimpering, and as Mik lifted her out he felt a very definite kick low on her left side. She licked his chin apologetically, and he sighed. He had thought he had protected her adequately, though now that he thought about it, Blue had seemed awfully interested in her for a couple of days before he had realized she was coming in season. A repeat of the litter Stormy had come from, then. Good bloodlines; he’d just planned to give her a little more time to recover between litters. Must be a small litter, or he’d have noticed something. He just hoped the pups were full term.
Kevi was still going over Star, frowning in concentration, when Mik heard a horse trotting toward the cave. Doc’s bay leopard, he identified the animal when he moved to the door. It didn’t sound like Joker, though—this horse was trotting fluidly, and Doc didn’t look nearly as jarred as he usually did. Mik waved, and got an answering wave from Doc. “How do you like my new assistant?” the vet called as he pulled up by the cave.
“Knows how to reduce a dislocation, anyway,” Mik replied, with a somewhat uneasy glance at Kevi.
The R’il’noid straightened and grinned. “With help,” he said. “How old is this horse, anyway? He’s not too badly hurt—bruises and a couple of pulled muscles—but I can’t do much for old age. Oh, the stuff I’ve got Joker on will help, but it’s pure luck this fellow didn’t break a few bones.”
“Star?” Mik said, trying to think back. He couldn’t remember Jadel on a horse other than Star. “High twenties at least. Maybe thirties.” He felt guilty again. But what else could he have done?
“Does he like the colts?”
Mik looked at this unpredictable R’il’noid in bewilderment. “We can’t turn him out with the mares and foals. He’ll kidnap the foals.”
“If he were mine,” Kevi said, “I’d retire him to baby-sitter and role model for the weanlings. Nothing wrong with his manners, and they’ll learn by watching him.”
And Jadel was far better as a camp organizer and keeper of pedigrees than as a rider, these days. Put Jad in charge of the encampment for those herding the weanlings, come fall. A few people would stay behind this summer to oversee the haying and pick a winter campsite, and Jad was a logical choice. Let him and his beloved Star rest and recover until fall. “You,” he said wryly, still not sure whether Kevi was playing some elaborate game, “are a total surprise.”
“If the stories I heard going around when I was here a few years back are what you’ve heard about me, I imagine I am. I’m being myself, Mikal. More than I’ve had a chance to be for years. Let me strap Jad’s shoulder, and the three of us can talk.”