Healing a Princes. . . 32 (Welcome to Blaire)

Healing a Princess : 32

 

(Welcome to Blaire)

 

Written by Tim Knight

 

 

 

HaP 32

 

--o0o--

 

“Skot, send some men out to each side. Tell them to go out as far as they can while keeping the column in sight.” Captain Kalhoun ordered. “I want them to check in with an officer every five hundred count. Galyway, form up ranks around the royal carriage.” Rikki turned to Edwyn. “You found the cavalryman unconscious next to his tethered horse?”

“Yes, Sir. When I didn't find the half-elf I ranged out a bit. I heard a horse breaking through the brush at a fast pace and called for the person to halt.” Edwyn relayed. “She bolted and I gave chase. I knocked her to the ground and began to question her. That is when the flares went up.”

“She could have been lost and scared.” Takoda offered from outside the cone of light offered by the hooded lantern. “I know I would probably bolt if I was challenged by you.”

“That's enough Sergeant.” Captain Kalhoun demanded. He turned back to Edwyn, “Did she seem surprised at the flares?”

“Only a little, Sir.”

Captain Kalhoun swung the hooded lantern closer to the blonde half-elf. “She looks to be coming too. Lash her hands, Edwyn.” Captain Kalhoun ordered. “Sergeant give her a swallow of water.”

After the half-elf had swallowed, Captain Kalhoun stared daggers at her.

“What were you doing out there, Taelah?”

“I. . . I got lost.” she stated.

“I have eye witnesses saying that you asked the cavalryman if you could take a piss.” Captain Kalhoun's voice was steel. “I then have a cavalryman who finds his comrade unconscious in the bushes and you missing. What do you have to say for your self?”

Taelah remained quiet.

“Did you send up a flare near the dwarven gate?” he was more direct.

The half-elf stared off into space.

“Sergeant Takoda, Get word to the front of the line, we have to pick up our pace.” Captain Kalhoun ordered. He caught Kadyr's eyes. “Lieutenant, go down the line and let the soldiers know that our location has been comprised and that we are going on full alert and picking up the pace.”

“Yes, Captain.” Lieutenant Kollyns nodded. He turned his horse around and started towards the rear of the column as the Sergeant at Arms went towards the front.

The Cavalry Captain stared down at the half-elf. “I should have offered you up to the dwarves as a prize when I had a chance.” He looked to Edwyn. Give her a five pace of rope and tie her to the Ambassador's carriage. I can't stand the sight of her, but I want to keep her in sight.”

Rikki took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He slowly inhaled another and let it out. He rode up to the Princess' carriage.

“What's going on, Captain?” the Princess inquired.

“Your half-elf just sent off some flares exposing the gate to the dwarven under kingdom.” He stated. “It also signaled every elf within ten miles of our possible location.”

“Tanek's ass.” the Princess swore. “What have you done with her?”

“Nothing yet. She isn't talking and I can't be one hundred percent sure that it was her.” He sighed. “We're going to be moving a little bit faster, so it will be a bit bumpier.”

“Thanks for informing me, Captain.” Tonya smiled.

The ranks around the carriage opened enough for Rikki to guide Sefu through them. He reined in and waited for the Ambassador's carriage to catch up. Taelah, her hands tied together, with only a little leash behind the carriage walked quickly with her head down.

“What is going on out there, Captain?” Ambassador Zareb asked.

“We were betrayed by the half-elf.” Captain Kalhoun spat towards the back of the carriage. “Somehow she sent up a flare near the Dwarven gate. If there was an Elf within ten miles, they'll not only know where the gate is, but our where abouts.” He looked into the carriage and made eye contact with Kalgar as well as Zareb. “How will this effect our relationship with the Empire of Thame?”

“Prince Caldric's brother Duke Tamon will use this as proof that Humans and Dwarves can't co-exist.” Kalgar grumbled. “This really puts you in a pickle, Captain.”

“Does the Duke have enough support to change the politics of Thame and cancel alliance against the Elves?” Rikki asked.

“This little incident will get people thinking along those lines.” Kalgar stroked his beard.

“Is there a way that we can get word to Prince Caldric to explain the situation?” Rikki asked.

“I don't think it will make much difference.” Kalgar shook his head. “The dwarves will see events in the order that they happen. Prince Caldric allowed humans into the under kingdom and as soon as they exit, they betray their trust with the sharing of secrets with the elves.”

“Damn Tanek's luck.” Rikki cursed.

“I'll do what I can, Captain.” Kalgar promised.

“That is all that I ask, Ambassador, that is all I ask.”

--o0o--

 

“Maskalah! We have a problem.” an elf runner ran up to the cloaked figure.

“What is it?” Maskalah sneered as the elf seemed to be overcome with stage fright.

“Somehow three human scouts have been discovered across the river.”

“Have they seen the flotilla?” Maskalah's voice was like gravel sliding across granite.

The Elf cowered, but nodded.

“Where are they?” Maskalah asked.

“We've only been able to catch one of them.” The elf flinched.

“Where did they come from?” Maskalah snarled at the incompetence.

“We. . . .we don't know.”

Maskalah struck the elf, sending him backwards to the ground.

“Maskalah!” A second elf stopped short seeing the first one sprawled before him.

The opening to Maskalah's shadowed cowl looked to the second runner.

“Flares!” the elf tried to sound confident. “The signal flares have been lit. The human princess from Reepooonya must have exited the tunnel demon's warren.”

“On the other side of the river?” Maskalah surmised aloud.

The second elf nodded “We've just received a messenger bird.”

Maskalah turned to the first elf who was beginning to get up. Maskalah pointed at the elf and said one word. The elf was only able to release a brief scream before his chest caved in. Maskalah faced the second runner. “Where?”

“Near the overgrown road leading into Blaire.” the second elf's voice cracked with fear.

“Send the information to the skirmish squad on alert and release the Lupidae.”

The elf bowed slightly, unsure if that was the right thing to do. “Yes, Maskalah.”

“I'll head them off.” Maskalah spun and disappeared in a nearby shadow.

 

--o0o--

 

“Do you think the Half-elf did it?” Monyka asked Tonya.

“My heart says, no, but my brain says yes.” Tonya sulked. “How could she? After the raid near Roberton, and everything. . . I trusted her. I gave her the benefit of the doubt.”

“You did.” Monyka agreed. “She betrayed you. She betrayed Riponia, and she betrayed the Dwarves.”

“Oh, Tanitha.” Tonya buried her face in her hands. “Prince Caldric must think that we are traitors to his Empire.”

Silence fell over the carriage. “How am I going to convince him that it wasn't our doing?”

“I don't know.” Monyka shook her head. She placed a hand on Tonya's back and rubbed it softly. “I'm sure you'll be able to come up with something. Surely Ambassador Kalgar knows that it wasn't us.”

“I don't know if I would.” Tonya cried.

The carriage rolled over a large rock jarring the occupants of the carriage.

“Ow!' Tonya cried out and bit her lip.

“Sorry your Highness.” the driver called back.

Tonya fought back tears and breathed deeply through her nose.

“You alright?” Monyka asked.

“My legs been acting up again.” Tonya breathed. “I don't know why. I haven't done anything to aggravate it lately.”

“Where is the salve?” Monyka asked.

“I packed it in her trunk.” Annyka winced.

Monyka pulled up the skirt of Tonya's dress. Tonya adjusted the way that she was sitting so that Monyka had better access. With deft hands, Monyka began to massage the area that caused Tonya the most pain.

“Oh. . . . ah. . . . ahhhh.” Tonya let escape from her lips as her friend massaged her leg.

“Go away pain” Monyka muttered. “leaver and begone.” She started rubbing deeper. “Begone pain. Begone.”

Monyka felt a wave of dizziness as she continued to rub.

“Oh, that's feeling much better.” Tonya sighed. “What did you do?”

“All I did was rub it, Tonya.” Monyka closed her eyes to the light headedness.

The carriage was jarred again, almost sending Tonya to the floor.

“I'm sorry, your Highness. I am trying to be careful.” the driver's voice was full of concern.

“You are alright.” Tonya told him. “I was warned that this would be rough going.”

The tap tap tapping of rain hitting leaves and the ground began it's unwelcomed deluge. Annyka dropped the light weight drapes on the carriage to keep some of the moisture out.

It wasn't long before the carriage squished it's way through mud and puddles.

When she peered out of the carriage she could see the soldiers surrounding the carriage were soaked to their bones. Water dripped from their hair and noses, as well as from the edge of their helms. One soldier looked over at her and smiled.

“You're soaked.” Tonya stated.

“Been through worse, Highness. I've had to drag siege engines through worse muck than this.” he grinned. “ 'sides I haven't had a good washing in a week.”

Tonya giggled and sat back in the carriage.

Monyka uncorked some wine and was swallowing a bit of it.

“Are you okay?” Tonya asked.

Monyka stopped and looked at her. “Yes. I was just feeling quite parched.”

“That was quite a bit of wine.”

“Sorry.” Monyka offered the Princess the bottle.

 

--o0o--

 

“Captain.” Kadyr rode up next to Rikki. “How much longer are you going to keep this pace up? The Retinue, especially, is starting to lag.”

“We've got to keep going, Lieutenant. We have to get clear of these woods before we are found by the demons signaled by those flares.” Rikki slid off his horse with a splat in the watery mud and took an ax from a soldier. He stepped up to the tree blocking the road and began swinging with fury and accuracy. Grunts and hisses escaped his mouth as he sung. Chunks of wood fell away as he connected. The Captain slowed down towards the end, Kadyr figured that his arm wound was starting to tear and give him grief, then with a measured swing, the Captain cleaved the remaining bit.

“Move that out of the road, and lets get moving again.” Captain Kalhoun looked to the Lieutenant, “Any word from the scouts?”

“None.” Kadyr shook his head, flinging water droplets.

“Are Skot's men riding with insight reporting in a timely manner?”

“Yes, Sir.” Kadyr nodded.

“Lets keep moving.”

“Are we going to call a halt and let people rest?” Kadyr inquired.

“Not if I can help it. However, if we come across a stream or a pond, we'll get buckets to water the horses, but other than that, we march.”

Lieutenant Kollyns nodded. He rode back towards the carriage as two infantrymen hauled the log off to the side of the road.

“Move out.” He told the front of the column. “Captain, says we can rest when we get to Lyonsgate.”

Groans and mutterings erupted from some of the men.

“You have your choice,” Lieutenant Kollyns stated. “You can push your sorry asses through to Lyonsgate or you can invite the elves to a party.”

Kadyr pulled his horse off to the side of the road and spoke to the entourage and retinue as they slogged past him. Last in the line of the volunteers were the stablemen and boys. Only the injured horses were not being put to work right now.

“Stable boy.” Lieutenant Kollyns called to Princess Adiah.

“Yes, Lieutenant?” The Princess looked miserable slogging her way through the wet road that was more water than soil at this point.

“I've got something for you.”

“Did the plan work?” She asked hopefully.

Kadyr nodded. He pulled a yellow kerchief from his pocket and handed it down to her. “Sometimes I surprise my self.” he said. “it has been a long time since I've picked a pocket.”

“Are you sure it's not cheating?” Adiah asked.

“Not at all.” Kadyr smiled. “You being who you are need to know when to enlist help from people who are more knowledgeable or have better skills than you. You are only using the resources you have.”

Adiah grinned.

“I've got to get back before the Captain starts to think I was eaten by elves.” Kadyr smiled. “Keep it up, we are making good time despite the weather.” he looked at the eastern horizon. A thickening band of silver was promising the beginning of the day.

The Lieutenant rode up and fell in pace with the Royal Carriage.

“How are you doing in there, Love.” he called

The curtain was pulled aside and Monyka's face appeared about the same time as noises of disgust were heard from the back part of the carriage. “I'm dry, unlike you.” Monyka smiled. “Are you hungry? We have a bit of bread and cheese in here.”

“I'm fine. Stay warm and comfortable, this rain should be lifting soon. I'll be back to check on you soon.”

“Lieutenant?” Tonya's voice came from behind a curtain.

“Yes, your Highness?”

“Will we be stopping anytime soon?”

“Do you need us to stop for something?” Lieutenant Kollyns asked.

“No. I'm just getting tired and as much as the engineers worked on this carriage, it is still not the most comfortable thing to ride in.”

The curls around Monyka's face, drenched by the rain clung to her forehead and cheeks framing her smile.

Kadyr winked at his bride. “I'll inform the Captain.” he said to the Princess.

The Lieutenant with a look of shock on his face toppled from his horse, an arrow quivering in his throat. Monyka screamed as other arrows fell around them striking the carriage and bouncing off armor.

Monyka flung herself from the carriage into the muddy road and gently picked up Kadyr's head.

“Kadyr!” she screamed. “For the love of Tanitha, Kadyr, speak to me.”

“We're under attack!”

 

Rikki's heart fell to the pit of his stomach as he saw a few soldiers around him fall with arrows sticking out of their bodies. “We're under attack!” he called, “Galyway form up around the carriage. Skot, pull your men in!” He looked around trying to find where the forest devils were attacking from.

The thunder of a horse running towards him grew louder. Rikki squinted to make out a cavalryman holding on to his mount. Two arrows were protruding from his back. The cavalryman jerked as three more found their target in his body. The horse, exhausted and wounded as badly collapsed on the side of the road throwing the wounded soldier into the muck. Rikki slid off of Sefu, ran to his side and turned him over.

“Elves. . . . the river. . . . too many.” the Cavalryman exhaled for the last time.

“Tanek's ass!” Rikki swore. He dodged an arrow as he got up and jumped up onto his war steed.

What remained of Skot's archer's rejoined the force in a hurry and scanned the trees looking for targets.

“In coming!” a call went up.

Men with shields threw them up while men who didn't wished they did and prayed that an arrow wouldn't find them.

 

“Close the shutters, quickly!” Tonya screamed to Annyka as she began pulling them down around her. “Monyka, get in here!” Tonya screamed. “Get in here now!”

Monyka, now soaking wet bent over her husband and sobbed. “Kadyr! Don't leave me, Kadyr.”

“In coming!” she heard above the roaring sound of her heart breaking and the rain smacking the ground, trees, and wagons.

“Monyka, get in the carriage, now!” Sergeant Takoda yelled at her.

“Kadyr!” Monyka called.

Something sharp and burning stung her leg. It barely registered as she stared into the vacant eyes of her loved one.

 

 

“We're under attack!” Nevsky heard. He looked ahead in the column and saw men hit with arrows. His heart skipped a beat then pounded like a large drum. He snapped his head around, looking for where the attack was coming from. He spotted Adiah, standing like a statue in the middle of the road as others in the entourage ran screaming for cover.

Nevyre whirled his horse's head around and spurred it into a run. He leaned down and grabbed the Princess, sweeping her off her feet and nearly dragging him from his horse. With one hand he struggled to keep from dropping Adiah beneath his horses hooves, the other he used to keep his balance and try to pull himself and the Princess back to an upright position.

“The horses.” Adiah called out.

“Forget about the horses, we need to get you to safety.” Nevyre guided his running horse to the far side of the road to a halt opposite the fighting side of the royal carriage. He slid off his horse with Adiah and looked at the carnage around him. Taking her firmly by the arm, he pulled he off the road and into the trees.

Water soaked branches whipped him across the face as ferns seemed to wrap their water logged fronds around his legs. His head whipped from side to side as he searched for a hiding spot.

“In here.” he ordered.

He pushed the Princess under a large fallen log that had landed across another creating a small hollow. The Princess scrambled in and looked out of her hiding place. Nevyre ran to a nearby maple tree and grabbed arm loads of leaves and dumped them in front of the Princess.

“Stay in there until I come for you or someone calls out the safe word.” he ordered. “Elves are nasty demons and will use someone like your for blood rituals or sacrifice. Understand?”

Adiah nodded, her eyes wide with terror. “What's the word?”

“Dwarf dung.” Nevyre said quickly

“That's two words.” Adiah corrected.

“Just don't come out of this hiding spot unless someone says Dwarf dung. Got it?”

Adiah nodded.

Nevyre unclasped his cloak, wadded it up and threw it under the log at her. “I want that back. Now build up the front with the leaves.” Nevyre turned and ran back towards the fighting on the road.

 

“Kadyr!” Kalgar heard Monyka scream.

“We're under attack!” a voice from nearby called out.

“What was that?” Zareb sputtered as he struggled to wake up.

“We're under attack.” Kalgar repeated. “The pointed ear demons have found us.”

“Oh, oh, oh.” Zareb flailed in a panic. “Do they know who we are?”

“I don't think they care.”

“In coming!”

Arrows slammed into the side of the carriage.

Kalgar grabbed the elderly Riponian Ambassador and hauled the two of them to the floor of the carriage. As the sound of more arrows hitting the carriage sounded. Two arrows stuck out of the seat where the Ambassador was sitting.

“Galyway send ten men to help the retinue.” Captain Kalhoun's voice rang out above the screams of men in agony or dying. “Archers fire at will.”

“What is that?” a voice called out.

“Fire bomb!” Galyway's voice boomed.

Kalgar looked up as a large fiery mass arced right towards their carriage. “Get out now!” Kalgar opened the door and rolled out of the carriage as an explosion and a roar of flame erupted, engulfing the Ambassador's carriage. Kalgar quickly got to his feet and ran to the front of the carriage. He grabbed a sword no longer needed by it's owner and stood next to one of Galyway's fully armored infantrymen.

“Where are they?” Kalgar asked.

“Still can't see them.” The soldier adjusted his shield to give the dwarf some cover.

 

 

Nevyre was almost to the road when a fiery explosion covered Ambassador's carriage in flame. The dwarf, he spotted had gotten out and was running over towards a dead soldier.

Nevyre ran up to the burning mess on wheels. A burning figure thrashed around inside, screamed. Nevyre pulled his sleeves up over his hands and grabbed the thrashing figure and pulled it out of the carriage and into the water logged road. The man in thrashed around as Nevyre rolled him around in the mud as fast as he could to extinguish the flames.

“Oh, Zareb.” Nevyre cried. “You'll be all right.” he determined. “Come on, you'll be just fine.” Nevyre pulled the now silent body away from the burning mess and into the debris beside the road. Nevyre pulled his sword and dagger from their sheathes and joined the layers of human protection surrounding the Princess of Riponia's carriage.

 

 

“Kadyr.” Monyka wailed.

“Monyka you must get in the carriage with Tonya.” Takoda ordered.

Monyka looked up at the elderly man who was like an uncle to her. “Kadyr.” it came out in a whimper.

The roar of a tribal scream sounded from the woods as Elves in blackened armor seemed to have been vomited from the trees.

“Do not break ranks!” Galyway's voice bellowed.

“Come on, Monyka.” Takoda grabbed her arm and jerked her to her feet. The pain in Monyka's leg protested. She looked down to see an arrow lodged in her thigh. Takoda grabbed the shaft of the arrow and snapped it off near her leg.

“Tonya!” Takoda called. “Monyka's coming in.”

The sound of a thousand hammers striking anvils was so loud that Monyka's ears began to ring. Tonya opened the door as Monyka limped forward. She looked up to see Tonya's face go white, her eyes wide with terror. Monyka turned to see an axe flying head over handle towards the Princess. Monyka threw up her hand as a sharp stabbing in her head made her knees buckle. The axe suddenly veered to the side and fell harmlessly into the mud. Monyka, her head still feeling like it was hit by an axe looked up at Tonya and saw an arrow sticking out of the base of the door frame.

Tonya looked at Monyka as if she had seen a ghost. Monyka puts her hand to her head and closed her eyes to the pain. When she opened them again the door to the carriage was closed.

Monyka looked back to the axe laying in the mud. She couldn't believe what she had just done. At least she thought she had done it. All of the weird occurrences over the past week fell into place. She looked back at the cavalry and infantry fighting side by side, back to back, in a bloody muddy mess. An explosion of flames hit an infantryman and burst into flames, covering two more as well as a horse behind him. More balls of flame arced out of the cover of the trees towards the pinned down fighting force.

Kadyr. Her only thought was for Kadyr. She half limped half pulled herself to the muddy body of her husband lying in the mud. A dead soldier lay on top of his legs.

Monyka focused on her husband. “Kadyr.” She said with love and force. “breathe Kadyr, breathe.” the sharp pain in her head made her wince. She saw his chest rise and then fall.

“Breathe. Honey, breathe.”

 

“Galyway, send ten men to help the retinue.” Captain Kalhoun ordered from his horse. “Archers, fire at will.”

Captain Kalhoun watched as Sergeant Takoda jerked Monyka to her feet.

A war cry came from the trees as elves in blackened armor poured forth.

“What is that?”

“Fire bomb!” Galyway warned.

Rikki looked to the sky to see a ball trailing flame sail through the air and explode on the Ambassador's carriage. He saw movement from the other side as one figure emerged and got to his short feet. Just as he was about to see to Ambassador Zareb, Nevyre burst through the trees and ran to the carriage.

“Don't break ranks!” Galyway ordered.

The crash of metal on metal tore his mind from Zareb as his men rebuffed the charge of the elves. Steel scraping steel clangs of metal armor being hit and screams of men and elves was the only thing that he could hear.

He desperately wanted to charge into the fray with Sefu, who seemed more than willing, but if he did, he wouldn't be able to see what was going on around him.

His heart nearly stopped as an axe thrown by one of the forest fiends flew through a gap in the fighting towards the carriage. It flipped effortlessly through the air right towards Monyka. Captain Kalhoun watched in disbelief as the Lady in Waiting waved her hand at the axe. It seemed to have ricocheted as if it were an arrow hitting a tree at a wrong angle.

The two Muls took up places in Galyway's wall of steel. They looked like large pillars bracing reinforcing the line.

More fire bombs arched up out of the trees heading towards the ambushed caravan.

“We need to get moving.” he called.

“Sir.” Grymm rode up next to him. The horses up front are down. We're pinned down.”

“Damn it Tanek! Give me a break!”

An exploding fire bomb took out three soldiers and a horse.

“We've got to get the Princess out of here.” Rikki told Grymm. “Find two cavalrymen and come with me. I'm getting the Princess.”

Grymm was already racing off.

Rikki spurred Sefu into a short sprint to far side of the carriage.

“Tonya!” Rikki ordered. “Tonya, unlock the door.”

The door swung open. Come here.” he ordered. Before she could react, he took her by the waist and swung her onto Sefu in front of him.

“Annyka!” Tonya cried.

“I don't have room for her.” Rikki stated. Annyka get out of the carriage and get into the trees. Tell Sergeant Takoda or Galyway that we are heading for Lyonsgate. Understand?”

The wide eyes little girl nodded and jumped from the carriage as Rikki dug his spurs into Sefu.

“Captain!” Symon called.

“With me!” Captain Kalhoun shouted over his shoulder. “Tonya,” He ordered near her ear, “Make yourself as small as you can.” Rikki attempted to make himself as large a bubble as he could around the Princess as he rode.

Yyan urged his horse to catch up to the Captain's. “Grymm told me and Symon ride with you, Sir.”

“Shield the Princess!” Rikki ordered. He felt an arrow bounce off the back of his neck. As his mind rushed through the situation before him, he thanked the master armorer for doing a good job on his helm. Another arrow struck Sefu in the neck, causing the horse to flinch, but the arrow dropped harmlessly to the ground.

Rikki urged Sefu forward and gave his friend all of the rein he needed.

 

Monyka watched as Kadyr's chest would rise filling with air then deflate. It would stay still until she concentrated again. “Breathe, Kadyr.” She focused her hands on his chest. “Come on, breathe.”

Having found a hole in the wall of steel armored soldiers, an elf cried out as it came upon her. Monyka looked up and flung her arm as well as her mind at it. Like a rag doll being thrown, the Elf flew over the heads of the infantryman and into its own lines. Monyka screamed out as a sharp pain in her head felt like someone was stabbing her with a knife.

“Kadyr, you've got to live.” Monyka screamed at him. “Live! Damn it!”

Monyka felt someone come towards her. With out looking she lashed out with her clawed hand. Another sharp pain lashed out in her head. A man screamed and fell back.

“Damn it Kadyr. You can't leave me. Now live!” She focused. Blood dripped from her nose as she tried to force her will into his body.

“Damn you!” she screamed at the gods. “Damn you!” her vision went red. She couldn't see anything in front of her but dark blurred figures. She lashed out with the other hand and felt rather than saw, a body jerked backwards off it's feet. It's armor plate caved in.

“Monyka.” a voice called. “Monyka, stop it.”

Monyka raked a clawed hand threw the air and heard the voice scream. She picked up an axe laying in the mud and flung it at the elves with her arms as well as her mind. The axe cleaved the head of one elf and caved in the face of another before being buried in the chest of a third.

“Monyka, you've got to stop.” a voice pleaded. “You're hurting our soldiers as well as elves. Please.”

A large weight fell on her, knocking the wind out of her. Her eyes felt like they were on fire. Her head pounded as if someone was taking a sledge to it. She tried to inhale, but couldn't.

“What was that?” someone near her asked.

The voice above her was filled with sympathy, “Madness of losing a loved one. Grymm are you okay?”

Monyka tried to make her lungs take in air, but they refused to move.

“Watch out, Nevyre! Oh shit!”

 

 

Taelah watched in fascination as arrows found their marks all around her. The elves were keeping their promise, they were coming to free her and unite her with her father.

“Fire bomb!” a human soldier called out.

Taelah looked up to see a ball of flame falling from the sky.

“Oh no!” she cried out as she realized it was coming right at her.

Taelah dove for the nearest cover she could find; under the Ambassador's carriage. She had just dssappeared beneath when flames erupted all around her.

The rescue party didn't know where she was, she realized. Blobs of sticky flame dripped from the edges of the carriage. She grabbed a length of rope and held it out hoping for a piece of the burning resin to fall on it. A small blob fell catching the side of her hand. Taelah bit her lip to keep from crying out. She thrust her hand down into the mud to put out the flame and cool the sticky tree sap used in the fire bombs.

“Don't break ranks!” the large human yelled as elves charged through the trees at the humans.

“Over here!” Taelah called out in Elven. “I'm over here.” she quickly crawled out from under the burning carriage

The black armored soldiers of her father's people ignored her as they viciously attacked the Human guard.

“I'm right here!”Taelah called. More softly,“Maskalah promised me.”

An elf broke through the line and charged at Taelah with its sword raised.

Taelah looked for a weapon, a shield, a place to hide, but tied as she was, she felt useless and exposed.

The elf fell clutching its throat. Taelah spun around to see Takoda march past her and retrieve his knife from the elf's body.

The Sergeant looked her in the eye, “Do you really think that they are here to rescue you?” he cut the rope from the burning carriage and pulled her off the road.

“Where are we going?” she asked as she ducked an arrow.

The Sergeant at Arms didn't answer. Instead he led her up the column to where the main body of soldiers were defending the royal carriage. He took her to a near by tree and tied the end of her leash to it.

“You're tying me up?” She protested.

“I can't trust you, now can I.” The grizzled old soldier snapped as he turned his back on her to join the activity on the other side of the carriage.

“How will I defend myself!” She screamed after him.

Takoda spun around and locked her in a gaze of iron “You'll only have to worry about the ones attacking. We mere humans didn't betray you.” He spun back and swatted away a spear that would have pierced his leg.

 

 

Sefu was starting to get winded. Rikki reined his mount in allowing the other two cavalrymen to catch up.

“What do we do, Captain?” Yyan asked. “They're out numbered back there.”

Rikki's heart ached. The men he had trained, his men were in the thick of battle without him. He needed to go back. He had to go back. Tonya needed his protection. He had to get her to Malden, but how could he get her there safely if her entire honor guard and retinue are killed?

“Symon, Yyan.” Rikki slowed Sefu to a walk. “You two take the Princess to Lyonsgate. Once she is safe, get help.”

“Where are you going?” Tonya asked, clinging to him.

“I've got to get back. I can't leave my men there like that.” Rikki's voice cracked.

“You can't leave me Rikki.” Tonya was frantic. “Please don't leave me.”

“But my men?” Rikki looked down at Tonya.

Tears streamed down her cheeks. “Please don't let me go . . . . please.”

Rikki's heart felt as if Tanek had reached in his chest and squeezed it to pulp. He gave her a nod.

“Symon, Yyan.” he looked to the cavalrymen. “Ride back to the battle. Make sure that Takoda and Galyway know that I'm taking her Highness to Lyonsgate. Got it?”

Both men nodded.

“Once I get the Princess to safety, I'll come back with help.” Rikki promised.

“Get her to safety, Captain.” Symon saluted.

“See you before night fall.” Yyan nodded.

Both men turned their mounts around and spurred them into a gallop.

“This isn't going to be pleasant.” Rikki warned as he urged Sefu into a canter.

“Just don't leave me.” Tonya begged.

Rikki was silent for a while then nodded. “Yes, your Highness.”

“Stop it.” Tonya ordered. “Our friends are fighting back there.”

“I'm well aware of that.” Rikki's voice cracked. “There is a good chance that if we can make it to Lyonsgate, we will be the only survivors.”

The only thing that could be heard was the hoof beats of Sefu.

“They'll survive.” Tonya muttered, “They have to.”

 

--o0o--

 

Maskalah crouched near the overgrown road. No one had been through here in a very long time, which meant that he had gotten here in time. Behind him spread the blackened plains of Blaire. Blackened by he and a handful of skirmishers who raided the Blaire border.

A whine next to him caused him to look at the creature. The Lupidae's were his. He spent years and spilled and burned a lot of blood in sacrifice to get the right mix of animals for the forest. The Lupidae's were the results. Part wolf part deer, they carried with them the best of both animals.

“Do you smell something that I don't?” Maskalah asked.

The Lupidae whined and growled in anxious excitement.

Maskalah reached out a gloved hand, lightly pushed the spiked antlers to one side and ruffled the canine fur on top of the beasts head.

“Go find them.” Maskalah ordered releasing the animal's instinct.

The Lupidae leaped and bounced down the road like a dear through a meadow. It stopped every so often to sniff a shrub or some marking left by a passing animal.

Maskalah raised his hand and motioned, sending two more of his creatures to follow the first down what was once a road.

 

--o0o--

 

Adiah burrowed in Nevyre's cloak and waited as told. Battle cries and screams of pain mingled with the sound of steel on steel. The Trunonian Princess peered out of her hiding place to stare in horror as men and elves slashed hacked and stabbed at one another. Blood splattered wagons, armor, and faces making men look like savages. Adiah bit her lip to keep from crying out as she watched a member of the entourage who she had played with, get run through with a sword. A soldier running to the aid of of a cook was shot by an arrow then lost his arm as an elf flailed at him with a sword. Adiah buried her head in the leaves and tried to shut out the sounds of nightmare with her arms. She sobbed quietly into Nevyre's cloak. Wanting it all to end.

 

 

---o0o--

 

“We need to rest Sefu.” Rikki broke the nervous silence between them. He halted the horse near a stream and eased Tonya to the ground.

Both of Tonya's legs were asleep, her good leg nearly crumpled as her weight was settled upon it. She grasped a hold of Sefu and held on as Rikki slid out of the saddle next to her. He supported her with an arm under hers. He guided her to an old slimy log which extended into a creek. “Stretch here while I water Sefu.”

Tonya grimaced at the lichen and mold covered log but didn't protest. She tucked a drenched lock of hair behind her ear and shivered as water from the rest of her hair dripped down her soaked back. “Do you know where we are?”

“Only approximately. According to the map that Prince Caldric and the Hammer showed me, I would be a good two day ride from the dwarven gate through the forest to the openness of Blaire.” Rikki let his four legged friend drink from the creek.

“How far do you think we've come?”

Rikki looked at the mountains behind them, then through the trees south. “About half way. Maybe a bit more.”

“Are we going to be able to rest?” Tonya asked. “I know we are both tired, and I'm sure Sefu is.”

“I don't know if we dare.” Rikki sighed. He led Sefu away from the creek “Would you mind?” Tonya pushed herself to standing and took the reins from her Captain. Rikki produced a brush and a rag from his saddle bag and handed it to her, “Thanks.”

He scouted around the creek and found a tall fir tree. He climbed one branch to the next, slowly making his way through the maze of branches towards the top. He paused when he felt that the thickness of the branches were bowing under his weight and looked around him. Trees, cloudy skies and more trees. Trees spread out like a thick patch of grass, wet after a spring rain. Rikki looked down the valley that held the out dated road straining to see the open grassland of Blaire. He was disappointed with just trees, and a bit of gray showing in a small clearing. Wrapping his elbow around the tree trunk, he reached in to his coat and pulled out the spyglass he had bought in Narva. He admired its craftsmanship for a few seconds before extending it out and putting it to his eye.

Again he looked south down the valley looking for Blaire, but it was just too cloudy and too far for even the spyglass to penetrate. He swept the looking glass to the side and found the gray interruption to the sea of green. It looked to be a building. It had to be rather large for it to be seen from this distance and it was definitely made of stone. No smoke rose from around it so it was difficult to tell if it was occupied. Rikki watched the structure for a long minute.

“What do you see?” Tonya called.

Rikki closed his spyglass and tucked it back into his coat. “Keep your voice down. I might have found a place to get help.” he hissed back down at her.

Rikki scrambled back down the tree and dropped the last few feet to the ground. He found Tonya standing tentatively near Sefu as he drank again from the creek.

“There looks to be a stone building not too far off. Perhaps a monastery or something.” Rikki pulled his horse away from the creek and on to more stable ground. “He looks great. Thank you.” Rikki tucked the brush and rag back into their place. “Come here, I'll boost you up.”

Tonya limped over to her Captain and stood between him and the black horse. Rikki closed his hands upon her waist. The sudden security and confidence she felt caused her heart to spread warmth through her body. Rikki then picked her up. She swung her good leg over the horse as she rose into the air and settled herself in the saddle.

“What about you?” She asked.

“He needs a break from carrying the two of us.” Rikki stated, “It's not too far to this place anyway.”

Rikki left the road and started making their way through the trees towards the gray structure. The rain was starting to let up as the sun began to climb towards mid day.

Only mid-day. Rikki thought. It was only mid day and he had one again embarrassed himself by running away. Embarrassed his King and Kingdom as he stole away from battle as his friends, his men, his charges were being butchered by the forest demons.

“Rikki?” Tonya looked down from her perch on Sefu.

“Hmmm?”

“Where did you go?”

“No where, I'm here with you.”

“No. I mean when I fell from the roof.” Tonya clarified. “I had my father send men to look for you.”

“I thought I was in trouble.” Rikki admitted out loud for the first time, “I couldn't hold on. . . .I tried to hold on.” Rikki dared a look over his shoulder at the Princess.

“It was too wet, too slippery. I weighed too much and couldn't find anything to grab a hold of.” Tonya excused. “No one blames you, Rikki.”

“I blame myself, That's enough.” Rikki looked back down at the ground. “I still have nightmares of that day.”

“You do?” Tonya was surprised.

Rikki nodded.

“I do too.” Tonya admitted.

“No one would blame you, you are the one who fell and became. . . “

“Crippled.” Tonya finished. The woods around them was silent except for the sound rain falling in large drops from the trees and the occasional bird flitting from tree to tree. “So where did you go?” Tonya asked again.

“I needed to get away to go where no one knew me. I spent a year wandering around hoping for death to take me. I was so hollow inside. I was like a dead man searching for an end.” Rikki explained. He peered ahead through the trees then altered their course. “I finally decided that if I joined the Cavalry, then I could die a respectful death. One protecting you. . . from afar. I know it sounds stupid but that is what I thought. If I served the crown, I served you.”

Tonya nodded.

“I was too young. The Cavalry wouldn't accept me. A Captain however saw my need to serve and took me on as his personal stable boy. I was to take care of his horses, polish his gear, his boots. Once I was able to do it well and keep it up, he had me take on the horse and gear of his Lieutenant.” Rikki paused and listened to the forest. After a moment he continued. “Even before I was of age to join the Kings Cavalry, I was riding as a currier, delivering messages to and from the battlefield. On my sixteenth birthday, my Captain and his men, who I have served with for a few years threw me a party and gave me my Privates insignia. The rest is history.”

“I wish I could have found you sooner.” Tonya sighed, “It might have saved you a year of grief.”

Rikki shrugged. “One thing you learn in the Cavalry, what's done is done. You can't undo some things.”

Rikki led the horse over to a log, and mounted. “Do you know think you can handle Sefu?” he whispered in her ear.

“Yes.” She whispered back, “Why are we whispering?”

“I hear something in the woods following us.”

“I didn't hear anything.”

“You aren't trained to. Trust me.”
Tonya nodded. “Elves?”

“I don't know.” Rikki pulled a dagger from its sheath and held it out in front of her. “Don't go dropping it.”

Tonya took the offered weapon and looked at him with disgust.

Rikki fastened the chin strap on his helm and slowly unsheathed his saber.

“What do we do?” Tonya whispered back.

“Try to out run it. . . . them.”

A howl went up behind them.

“Wolf?” Tonya asked.

Rikki shrugged. “I don't know. Wolves don't tend to hunt in the forest like this, so it could be elves. I'm not taking any chances.” He spurred Sefu to a gallop. “If I fall or jump off, you give Sefu free rein and run as fast as you can south. Once you're out in the plains, find Lyonsgate. All survivors are to meet there.”

Two more howls went up behind them.

“Those aren't ordinary wolves.” Rikki stated.

Movement behind him burred between trees. He thought he saw a wolf, but he also thought he saw the antlers of a stag. Could wolves be hunting a stag at this time of day? Another gray and white blur moved behind the first. Rikki wanted to pull Sefu up to turn and see what was really behind him because what he was seeing didn't make any sense. Common sense however won out and he spurred Sefu to go faster.

“Do you see them?” Tonya asked.

“I'm not sure what I'm seeing. But I'm not taking any chances.”

Trees rushed by them as Sefu made his way first one way and then another.

“Hang on.” Rikki warned as they came to a fallen log. Sefu jumped it with grace and the Princess rode as if she had planned the course.

Snarling and barking sounded from nearby. Rikki looked over his shoulder to see what had been closing in on them. It was a wolf. A wolf with antlers. His mind hadn't been playing tricks on him. The wolf leaped closer and slashed his antlers at the side of Sefu, but the horse sensing his presence dodged sideways almost throwing Rikki from his seat.

“What are those?” Tonya demanded.

“I don't know.” Rikki was as fascinated as he was terrified.

The wolf-stag gained and leaped. Rikki slashed at it with his sword striking it's antler. The beast seemed surprised but continued it's hunt. Two more broke cover at a dead run. One raked it's antlers across Sefu's side, but the barding protected him. The Princess' skirt got caught in one of the points. The beast's head was jerked to the side as the skirt finally gave ripping.

“We need to find the road. We'll have a better chance in the open.” Rikki called to Tonya as he slashed at another wolf-stag closing in.

“What about the monastery?” Tonya countered.

“We can't take a chance on it. It looked to be deserted. Blaire is our only hope right now.”

Sefu feeling an attack at his heels snapped a leg back connecting with the head of one of the wolf-stags. It dropped and rolled in a heap of fur, it's skull caved in. The kick however, slowed the horse down as it tried to regain it's balance from the missed step. One of the other wolf-stags leaped and grabbed Rikki's boot in it's maw. Rikki nearly dropped his sword as he grabbed for the saddle to keep from being pulled off of his horse. The creature whipped its neck around trying to loosen Rikki's seat. Rikki could feel sharp teeth penetrating his leather boot and drawing blood. He slashed at the beast tearing a hole in it's muzzle. The wolf beast whined loudly and released it's hold on Rikki's leg. Its teeth however were still embedded in his boot. The animal whimpered and screamed as it finally fell free a tooth or two still in Rikki's boot.

“Hold on.” Tonya called. Sefu broke through the trees and onto the over grown road.

“Let him go.” Rikki instructed “And hang on.”

Tonya let the horse have all of the rein that he desired. Her horse, Comyn was probably faster, but Sefu was more powerful and seemed to have more endurance.

The tall grass and shrubs along the road seemed to be reaching for them as they passed. Long blades of grass seemed to try and wind its self around her legs and the legs of Sefu. But the powerful horse was too strong and the grass snapped.

“Is the grass alive?” Tonya asked in horror as a few blades managed to tear her shoe off.

“It's blood magic. There is an elven mage nearby.” Rikki whipped his head around looking for any sign of the elf.

“Duck!” Tonya screamed.

A branch the size of a club flew over the Princess' head and skimmed his helm as it flew past.

“Oh no!” she screamed. A large log too large to be lifted into the air came rolling at them at a great speed. Sefu jumped but his hind legs hit the log causing him to falter.

The third wolf-beast closed keeping just out of range of hoof and sword. Its tongue hang out of its mouth in eager anticipation, waiting for an opening.

“Duck!”

A large rock hit Sefu in the chest causing his gait to stutter. Rikki off balance cut downward but missed the beast.

“Rikki! What is that!” Tonya cried out.

Rikki wrenched his watchful gaze from the wolf-beast and looked ahead. A large black moving blob was moving at them. “Crows.” Rikki warned. “Duck and hold on, no matter what. Okay?”

Tonya just nodded and lay down against Sefu's head and held on to his mane and neck as he charged forward. Rikki lay over the top of her covering her as best as he could. A quick glance told him that the wolf-stag beast slowed down and held back knowing that danger was ahead. Rikki thwacked Sefu's flanks jolting him into more speed as the cawing screaming flock of crows descended upon them.

“Hold tight!” Rikki yelled above the noise.

Tonya screamed as talons ripped at her arms, her shoulders and yanked at tresses of hair, tearing it and pulling it out as they flew by. Wings and beaks smashed into her poking, biting and tearing skin.

“Tanek's balls that hurts!” Tonya screamed. “Ow!”

“Just keep your head down and your eyes protected.” Rikki yelled. Luckily his helm and armor protected him from most of the attack.

“Aaaahhh!” she screamed. “I'm losing me grip!”

“I've got you.” Rikki yelled. “I won't let go. I promise.”

Sefu tossed his head and slowed his pace. The animal was confused and terrified in the black flapping of wings and raking of talons.

Rikki slapped his sword against the horse's flanks again to stir him into his run. The wolf-beast was just out of range off to one side waiting for the horse to falter and the birds to pass. “Come on, boy!” Rikki shouted hoping his voice would encourage the horse. “Come on.” he heeled the horses sides.

The birds finally passed. Rikki sat up and looked for the wolf-stag.

“Rikki, someone is up there!” Tonya warned.

Rikki looked ahead to see a cloaked figure the size of an elf standing in the shadow of a tree. Finally something he could fight. He shifted his sword and got ready as Sefu ran right towards the figure.

Rikki slashed at the chest but only sliced air as the figure vanished. The wolf-stag leaped and caught the unstable Captain in the side, it's antlers catching the side of the captain's helm, toppling him to the ground.

The two rolled across the ground as Rikki fought to gain balance the antlers of the creature tore into his shoulder. Rikki cried out as part of his wounded arm was ripped open. The wolf-stag on the offensive knocked Rikki onto his back, its antlers framed both sides of his head . The beast's muzzle was drawn back in a snarl as a growl was emitted from it's throat. Drool hung from it's bottom jaw and fire flared in it's eyes. Rikki brought his fist up as the wolf-creature snapped it's jaws forward, catching Rikki's hand in it's mouth. Rikki cried out as the beast's teeth pierced through his glove tearing skin and muscle.

All of Rikki's thoughts were of Tonya. 'Run' his mind screamed. 'Run to Lyonsgate'.

The wolf-creature shook it's antlered head back and forth tearing up Rikki's hand and raking it's antlers across his helm, barely missing his face.

The beast yelped and released Rikki to spin around. Rikki looked past the gray and white fur to see Tonya sitting astride Sefu.

“What are you doing? Get out of here!” Rikki ordered.

Tonya's gaze was locked with the wolf. The wolf snarled and began to walk sideways as if to circle the Princess and horse. Rikki scrambled to his feet and held his mangled hand.

Sefu's eyes wide side stepped away from the known danger. The wolf- beast's muscled bunched and lunged at the Princess.

Rikki watched in horror as everything seemed to move in slow motion. The wolf-beast leaped into the air, fangs open and eager. Tonya didn't move. It was as if she was offering herself as a sacrifice. At the last moment, She urged Sefu towards the wolf and swung her arm upward. The dagger that Rikki had given to her buried its self into the wolf-creature's chest. The wolf thing yelped and contorted its body. Tonya let go of the dagger and pushed Sefu foreword to trample the thing as it hit the ground.

“I told you to keep going if I fell or jumped.” Rikki screamed.

“And let that. . . . that thing tear you up?” Tonya countered. “I don't think so. Hurry up and get on, before another of those things catches up.”

Rikki pulled the dagger from the beasts chest then pulled himself on to Sefu's back. His four legged friend's sides heaved as he tried to catch his breath.

“Are you alright?” Tonya asked looking at his hand.

“Its okay. It's only bleeding.” Rikki strained his neck as well as his eyes as he looked for where the elf mage had gone too.

“Only bleeding?” Tonya asked, “Do you see any more?”

“No, but that doesn't mean anything. Nothing is broken,” he winced as he flexed his hand.

“Who or what was that person? Was that the elf mage?” Tonya looked around too.

“Yes.” I don't know where he went, so keep on the look out.” Rikki cautioned. “Canter Sefu. I don't want him cooling down too quick. We may need him some more.”

“I've never seen a horse take so much abuse, the long run, the attack, the birds, getting hit in the chest.” Tonya patted Sefu's neck.

“He's a war horse. He's trained to not shy away and to fight in combat.” Rikki boasted. “I trained Sefu myself.”

“He is magnificent.” Tonya agreed. “Should we stop to wrap that hand up?”

Rikki shook his head. “Not yet. I want it to bleed a bit to flush out any saliva. We need to get into Blaire.”

The two of them kept their eyes peeled for any sign of the elf mage but couldn't see any dark figure lurking in the shadows.

“Oh, crap. Rikki?” Tonya pointed ahead of them.

Rikki looked up to see another dark cloud of birds flying towards them. “Quick up into the trees. It'll slow them down.”

Tonya urged Sefu into a gallop off of the road and into the trees.

“Keep him at this pace and following the road.” Rikki instructed. “When they get closer, do the same thing as last time, keep close to Sefu and protect your eyes.”

Tonya put the reins between her teeth and ran her fingers through her water soaked hair. She twisted it up and tucked it down the back of her dress before taking the reins again.

“Here put this on.” Rikki pushed his helm over her head. “Strap the chin strap.” Rikki saw her head nod. “A little further into the trees.” Rikki guided. “Here they come. Get down.”

The flapping of wings sounded like a roar as they began entering the trees.

Rikki lay down over her and did his best to shield her. Wings beat against them as talons again tore at their exposed arms, shoulders and his hair.

A growl sounded from off to the side. Rikki looked over and saw another of those wolf-stags. No this one was bleeding from it's muzzle. It was one he had hacked at in the woods earlier. Rikki slapped his sword against Sefu's rump urging him faster. “Take him to a full out run.” Rikki yelled instructions above the roaring of wings and the screaming of the crows, “and hold on tight.”

“Aaaaahhhh!” Rikki screamed as a talon ripped a gash across his forehead. He blinked back tears and watched as the beast matched pace with the fleeing horse, not attacking.

'Herding.' Rikki realized. 'he's trying to keep us near or on the road.'

“Try going more to the left.” Rikki called as the last of the crows flew by buffeting him with their wings.

As soon as Sefu began to turn left, the beast rushed in and nipped at them, forcing them back towards the road.

“Do we want to back on to the road?” Tonya yelled.

“I think it will make it easier for him to target us. Keep to the woods as long as we can.”

“You're forehead is bleeding.” Tonya told him.

Rikki nodded.

He looked to the road and saw two more of the beasts, instead of running like wolves after their pray, they bounded and leaped like deer through tall grass. They would have been quite beautiful if they weren't trying to kill him and the Princess.

“I see a clearing ahead.” Tonya called back.

Rikki looked forward and saw that the wall of trees seemed to end. Blackened grasslands spread out before them. “We're almost there.” he agreed.

The trees to either side sprouted with with thin branches full of long, wicked looking thorns that twined around one another and sprouted again creating a wall of thorns. A narrow opening near the grass opening was all that remained open.

“Left! through the thorns!” Rikki commanded.

“Are you nuts! We'll get ripped to shreds!”

“Better to be ripped up than to break our necks. Trust me.” Rikki gave her wait a squeeze.

“Will Sefu go through that?”

“He's got to or we are all dead. Tuck your chin at the last moment so that you don't get your head ripped off.”

“What about you?”

“I'll be fine. Go!”

The beast closed in to attack as soon as they veered to break through. Rikki swung his sword but the beast dodged to the side.

“Duck!” Tonya screamed.

Rikki tucked his chin and threw his hands up to cover his head as he tried to bury his face into Tonya's back.

Sefu screamed and stumbled as they crashed through the thorn barrier almost tossing the two of them. Rikki's arms burned from the thorn's poison.

“Ow!” Tonya protested. My legs and arms are burning.”

“Its a poison from the thorns.” Rikki explained. “It's mostly an irritant. Look right.”

Tonya looked and saw a wide deep trench cut into the ground at the exit of the funnel. “How did you know?”

“It's an old battle plan.” Rikki stated.

A howl went up from behind them as they raced across the blackened grassland. Three large dog shapes with antlers began racing after them.

::Go West:: an unfamiliar voice called.

“Who is that?” Rikki called out.

“Who is what?” Tonya pulled a long thorn from her skirt and tossed it.

“Did you hear someone say to go West?”

“No. Do we want to go West?”

“Lyonsgate is East of here.”

::Go West. We will help protect you::

“There it was again.”

“What?”

“The voice.”

“Could it be the mage?”

“I don't think so.”

Sefu started heading off to the West.

“We want to go East.” Rikki told her.

“I'm not steering him.” Tonya demonstrated pulling the reins.

::We're guiding him. Just watch out for the Lupidae::

“I'm going mad. Maybe the thorns are poisoned.”

“Here come those things.” Tonya warned.

Rikki handed her the dagger again. “Let Sefu have his head, and help me with these things.”

Tonya nodded.

::We are almost there Riponian::

Lightening struck the ground behind them.

“Where did that come from?” Tonya yelped.

“I think that is the mage.”

An antlered beast lunged at the princess. Rikki arced his saber down slashing and breaking off part of the beast's antler. Its momentum propelled it into Sefu who scampered sideways then continued his run West. The Wolf-stag stumbled and cried out as it was caught by one of Sefu's hind hooves snapping a leg.

Two more half pranced through the black stubble that was once grass. A flash of bright light and a thundering boom of thunder crashed into the ground in front of Sefu. The war horse suddenly bolted to the side. Rikki grabbed for the back of the saddle and barely managed to stay on. Rikki felt every hair on his body stand straight up as a flash erupted next to them. A tingling sensation of power passed over his skin.

::Hang on. We are over the next rise::

“Who are you?” Rikki called out.

“What are you talking about?” Tonya asked.

“You don't hear that?”

“hear what?”

“Someone is talking to me. It's like it is in my head.”

Tonya looked over her shoulder with concern. Suddenly she went white as her eyes grew larger.

“What?” Rikki looked around him. Seeing that the wolf-stags were closing but of no immediate danger.”

“I just heard it too.” Tonya admitted.

As they crested the next rise, two arrows streaked by them. Both hit one of the wolf-beasts in the chest. The creature rolled and flopped into stillness. Another arrow streaked by them on the other side catching the last of the beasts in the shoulder. It yelped and turned away and loped with a pronounced limp back towards the tree line.

Rikki looked back to the source of the arrows and saw something that he had only heard about. A man-horse came trotting towards him. A Centaur. It's muscular build was covered in a leather and ring armor, a helm similar to Rikki's rested upon it's head. Beside it came a beautiful painted horse of black and white marbling.

Without instruction, Sefu slowed to a canter and then to a walk as it approached the two beings.

“Are you all right?” the Centaur asked meeting Rikki's bewildered gaze.

“We were attacked back in the forest.” Rikki managed to get out. “I had to get her to safety.”

“Are you Tonya, Princess of Riponia?” the Centaur asked.

“I am.” Tonya was in awe.

The Centaur put one hoofed leg forward and bowed at the waist. “I am Lorcan, this here is Sorryn.” he indicated the horse next to him. “We were told to watch for you.”

“Is he? . . . a . . . Horselord?” Tonya managed.

The Centaur Lorcan smiled. “This is your first encounter?”

Tonya nodded.

Rikki studied the black and white patterned horse with a studied eye. It was well made, firm strong legs and a good musculature. It's eyes were the purple of a deep amethyst.

“Are we safe out here?” Rikki asked still studying the horselord.

“We are.” Lorcan nodded.

“Was it you who was talking in our heads?” Tonya directed the question at the horselord.

::It was. Sorry to have alarmed you:: it spoke in both of their minds.

“We need to get you to a safer spot and tend to your wounds.” Lorcan gave Sefu a look and started off. Sefu followed without protest.

“My men.” Rikki spoke up now that he seemed to have the Princess in a more safe environment.

“We have more warriors at Lyonsgate.” Lorcan stated. “As soon as we get there we can have a group of warriors and priests ready within half a candle mark.”

Rikki wanted to leave the Princess with them and head back but he wasn't totally sure that the Princess was safe yet. His first duty was to her. Once they were in Lyonsgate he would head out to retrieve what was left of his men. If anything.

“Will that elf mage go after my people?” Tonya asked.

“Most likely not.” Lorcan told her. “He expended a lot of energy trying to keep you from reaching Blaire. It takes a lot for a mage to call down lightening.”

“I need to get back there.” Rikki stated.

“Once we get some more warriors.” Lorcan stated firmly.

::I can still sense many of your horses still alive:: Sorryn told Rikki. ::There is a good chance that the Elves have been defeated::

“How do you do that?” Rikki asked looking at the horse.

::Concentrate your thoughts and direct them at me and you can do the same::

::How is this possible?::

::You are one of the chosen:: Sorryn stated, ::Only the chosen can choose to be joined::

“Joined?”

::To be chosen and joined with a horse lord, like Lorcan.::

“You mean Lorcan was once a human?”

Tonya looked from Rikki to Sorryn then to Lorcan.

“I was.” Lorcan stated. “I was also Horselord.”

“Now I'm confused.” Tonya rubbed at the scratches on her arms.

“When I became a Centaur, my human and my horselord minds melded and became one. I have the memories of two lives.” Lorcan explained. “Come your Sefu says that he is tired and that his barding is starting to chafe him.”

“He spoke to you?” Rikki was incredulous.

Lorcan nodded. “He also says that you are a great warrior and you treat him as one as well.”

Rikki looked down at his black horse, his head hung pretty low, tired scratched and battered.

::He also says that he longs to see you happy:: Sorryn added.

Rikki slid off the back of Sefu. Onto the grass.

“Are you alright, Captain?” Lorcan asked.

“Yes.” Rikki nodded. “If what you say is true about Sefu, then I should lighten his load. He has earned his battle pay today.”

Tonya patted Sefu's neck and nodded. “That he has.”

A wooden fortified town came into view as they crested another of the many rolling hills.

“Welcome to Blaire, Princess.” Lorcan smiled.

 

 

 

"Gripping and Pulse-Racing,,,"

...as the top Google Ad's description says. (First Rowan and Martin and now this -- that AI is really something...)

So the main party's not dead yet -- but the way things were setting up there, they seem to be at a standstill, fighting a holding action while waiting for Rikki and the reinforcements -- hardly a positive situation since elves are presumably more at home in forest and wilderness than they are.

(I wonder if they're going to end up at that monastery -- there ought to be some reason it turned up in the story, and it doesn't look as though the party will be coming back this way on the return trip with the dwarven realm presumably off limits.)

At least the folks in Blaire, who've been scourged by the elves for some time, seem to be ready and able to join the fight here, from what the centaur and horselord are saying.

Looking forward to the next episode.

Eric

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