Healing a Princess. . . 33 (Rescue and new friends)

 

Healing a Princess. . .  33

 

(Rescue and new friends)

 

 

by Tim Knight

 

 

 

--o0o--

 

Adiah burrowed deeper into the cloak that Nevyre had given her. She hoped that the brown color of the fabric would blend enough with the shadows, fallen tree and leaves to camouflage her from searching eyes. Too frightened to cry, she wormed her fingers through some of the leaves, creating a hole just large enough for her to peek through the trees to the burning carriages on the road. The burning piles, a few dead horses, and the bodies of slain elves were all that remained from her vantage.

Her heart beat hard against her chest as she longed to leap from her hiding spot and run after the group that she had been traveling with the past few weeks. Did they leave her here? Nevyre told her to stay no matter what. That the dirty pointed ears have ways of tricking the mind, of tricking her out of hiding. She had to stay put until he or someone else called out the secret safe word.

The stench of smoke and battle mixed with the odor of the decaying leaves, loamy earth and rotting log. Adiah withdrew her hand and covered her mouth and nose to help bock out the offending aroma.

Nevyre said that he would be back. He said that she had to stay until he called the safe words, but what if he forgot? What if something happened?

Hushed voices sounded from near the road. Adiah quickly re-made her viewing hole and peered out. Several figures moved. She squinted through the haze of the smoke, what she saw stopped her heart. Elves. Elves dressed in black armor stood on the side of the road and scanned up and down the carnage. Adiah didn't know what they were looking for, but they began moving the bodies of their dead, left by the Riponians off to one side.

One of the vile creatures with green markings on his armor held his arm out, allowing a falcon to land on his wrist. Another of the evil creatures tied something to the bird's leg then the Elf threw his hand up in the air causing the bird to shoot skyward. With a few beats of its wings it was out of sight. The elf then shouted orders in their evil tongue at the others.

A cold shiver ran down her spine as the Elf scanned the trees behind him. Adiah could almost feel his eyes peeling away the leaves hiding her from view. She wondered if closing her eyes would help keep her hidden from the penetrating eyes. She was about to do just that when the elf looked down at the ground. He knelt down to get a better view and then looked to be studying the area around the road.

Save me Bob. Save me please Adiah sent up silent prayers. He's seen Nevyre's trail.

The elf stood up and glanced again into the trees then back to the ground. He slowly stepped into the tree line.

Please Bob she prayed Don't let them find me her heart began to beat against her chest like a hammer against an anvil. She tried to swallow, but her throat was too dry. Should she bolt from her hiding place and run? Should she stay hidden and put her trust in the Gods to keep her safe?

Adiah slowly gathered her arms and legs under her. If the forest demon spotted her, she was going to have to flee no matter what Nevyre had said. Her breath came more rapidly as her fight or flight response began to take over her body's functions.

“Help me!” a woman's frantic cry came from the road. “Some one please help me!”

The elf looked back to the road with an toothy grin full of malice. He then glanced back into the trees scanning the area where Adiah lay hidden. He then turned back to the road and beckoned. Two elves brought the sobbing, screaming woman to the edge of the road and held her. One of the nasty little creatures held a knife to her throat. Blood from a head wound left a crimson trail down the side of her face.

“You out there, human.” the elf called in broken trader speech. “Come now, or this woman will suffer.”

Adiah clasped a hand over her mouth to keep from calling out.

“No! Don't hurt me.” the woman sobbed. “Please don't hurt me.”

“Come now!” the Elf commanded of the trees and Adiah. He paused for just a moment before he tore the clothes from her body as she screamed.

Adiah watched in horror as the elf in armor pulled a broken spear from a nearby body, and traced the inside of her thighs with it's point.

Its a trick, she told herself. Nevyre said that they would use tricks to lure me out. Its a trick.

“Come human.” the elf taunted as he called into the trees.

Adiah closed her eyes and prayed to the three gods as the woman's screams turned from those of pleading to screams of pain and then quiet.

Adiah kept her eyes squeezed tight and shoved a handful of cloak into her mouth as she cried as quietly as she could.

Where are you Nevyre? Where are you?

 

 

--o0o--

 

Feeling drained from his lightening attack on the escaped Princess, Maskalah gathered up just enough strength to transport himself back to the elven base camp at the river. When he arrived, he nearly collapsed. He would have to sacrifice two dozen slaves just to recoup some of the strength that he had expended.

“Maskalah.” an elven soldier approached warily.

“Wine, bread, and three sacrifices.” Maskalah growled.

The elf bowed, backed up and went to do the robed figure's bidding.

Maskalah's knees gave out, causing him to fall into a cushioned chair.

He had them. He had them hemmed in. had them heading towards his trap. No one had ever escaped that snare before. This Riponian Captain was becoming a real nuisance. Had the Riponians discovered the massive Elven camp? Did the Captain know what he and the Elven nation were attempting? He had to figure out a way to silence the Captain. But more than anything else, he desired the Riponian Princess. He caught the scent of her royal blood during the chase. It's sweetness, it's power was what caused him to take the misstep in attacking with the lightening. It was a desperate, wasteful attempt at the fleeing couple.

The soldier returned with a tray of wine a loaf of dark bread and a wedge of hard goat cheese. “Three sacrifices are waiting for you, Maskalah.”

Maskalah took two sips of the wine as the soldier retreated. He sniffed the air and made a face. “Get rid of the old woman, he blood is already dead. Get me someone young and with spirit.”

The soldier nodded and disappeared. Once he was gone, Maskalah tore into the bread, hardly slowing to chew. He washed it down with the rest of the wine and closed his eyes.

“Maskalah?” a nervous messenger bowed before approaching. “we have received a bird from your skirmishers.

Maskalah opened his eyes.

“It seems that the Riponians had a powerful sorcerer with them. One of the lesser blood users senses a strong presence at the ambush site. He thinks that they have escaped into the trees but are afraid to pursue. The blood user says that the sorcery was very powerful. He also says that he can feel the strong remnants of a blood magic spell as well.”

Maskalah sneered. “Riponians don't use blood magic. He must be a fool.” The messenger blanched at the rebuke.

“Yes Maskalah. I'll tell him.” the messenger fled in terror.

Feeling a little better, Maskalah eased himself up onto his feet. His stomach calmed, he now craved the blood waiting for him.

 

 

--o0o--

 

Rikki rode along the overgrown road in the middle of a column made up of men who weren't his and other creatures that he still had a hard time grasping the concept of. He had heard of Horselords and Centaurs but had never seen them. Now to find out that they were related in a way. It was hard to wrap his head around it.

Lorcan had come upon the deep wide trench that scarred the ground. It had been a trap meant for Rikki and the princess, but Rikki realized at the last moment what it was and evaded it. The wall of thorns were still in place as well. One of the heavily armored centaurs trotted up along it and slashed at it with his sword, breaking it apart.

“The Elves have been pushing us away from the border for some time. Many farms have been burned to the ground, trespassers in the forest have been impaled on stakes along the tree line as warnings.” Lorcan explained.

“That elf sure didn't want us leaving alive.” Rikki agreed. “I just hope my men are still alive.”

“I sent a few scouts ahead, but it is best that we stay together.”

Lorcan was one of eight centaurs in the group. Two of them wore heavy armor of an infantryman the other six wore lighter armor favored by the cavalry. Sorryn and another horselord were in the party. They didn't wear armor or even saddles. Rikki questioned their being there, but Lorcan insisted that they could help with the horses. The rest of the party was made up of Blaire cavalry and a few volunteers who would help evacuate the wounded and bury the dead.

Rikki looked up at the sky and worried. It was starting to get late. He hoped that his men would be able to gather up who they could and hurry out of the woods, but if their were too many injured, Sergeant Galyway, If he was still alive, would want to set up a perimeter and protect those that he could. At this point Rikki didn't care who was in charge or what defensive position they decided to take up. He just wanted a majority of the people placed in his charge to be alive.

::We are getting close, Captain. I can reach some of the horses minds::

Rikki wanted to shake his head to clear the mind speech. The very thought put him on edge.

::Can you sense how many men are alive?:: Rikki asked.

:: Horses don't count, Captain, but there are men with them.:: the voice in his head sounded pleased.

::Are they on the move or staying put?::

::They are heading this way, but at a slow speed.::

Rikki sighed with a slight bit of relief. Someone was alive and they weren't scattered through out the forest for the elves to pick off one by one.

“I had better take the lead. If my men see a Centaur, they might attack first and ask questions later.” Rikki explained to Lorcan.

The Centaur nodded, “My scouts are wary of how people outside Blaire and Adwahna would accept them.”

“I'm still trying to get used to the idea.” Rikki admitted.

::The idea of intelligent beings on four legs?:: Sorryn asked.

::And that someone would want to join with another being.:: Rikki didn't want to offend the very people helping him rescue his men.

::Most Centaurs are not sensitive to other's confusion, as long as they are not mistreated for their choice.::

“Lorcan, I have spotted the Riponians.” a Centaur galloped up to them. “They are moving slowly;it like there are a lot of wounded.”

“Captain?” Lorcan differed to Rikki. “Go on ahead and warn them that we are coming.”

::I'll go with you, Captain.:: Sorryn offered. ::I can mind speak with Lorcan as they follow us.::

Rikki nodded to Sorryn. His mind was already focusing on what he might find.

::Your men rid us of a lot of elves, Captain.:: Sorryn stated with approval.

::But at what price?::

::Your scout has just spotted us, Captain.::

Rikki squinted through the trees rounding the bend in the road and noticed a bit of movement. “It's Captain Kalhoun. I've brought help.” Rikki called out.

“Keep your hands where I can see them.” a voice called back.

Rikki held his hands spread out away from his body as his unfamiliar mount trod slowly on.

“It is you, Captain.” Yyan sighed heavily. “Is the Princess safe?”

Rikki nodded. “Yes. It is good to see you too. Who is in charge?”

“Galyway and Bayley.”

“I have brought help.” Rikki told the Cavalryman. “Centaurs, and a few volunteers from Lynonsgate.”

“Centaurs?” Yyan questioned.

Rikki nodded, “They'll be along in a few moments.”

“Thank the Gods.” Yyan sighed. “The elves have been raiding the column most of the day. Thank the Gods that the dwarves found us.”

“Dwarves?” Rikki asked.

“A squad of Dwarves were on their way back to their gate when they heard the commotion and came to help us beat back the Elves.”

Rikki looked to the Heavens. “Thank you Tanitha.”

“They sent one to the gate to let them know what has happened.” Yyan explained.

“I hope Prince Caldric listens.” Rikki sent up a private prayer. “I'll go and see them.” Rikki told him. “Oh, cavalryman, this is Sorryn.” Rikki nodded to the black and white blotched horse. “He's a horse-lord.”

“A Horse-lord?” Yyan looked more carefully at the horse next the Captain.

The horse nodded his head towards the Cavalryman. ::This one does not have the ability to mind speak.:: Sorryn explained to Rikki.

“Oh, there is another Horse-lord coming with the Centaurs and volunteers. Make sure that they pass through.”

Yes, Captain.”

“And Yyan?” Rikki called.

“Huh?”

“It's not polite to stare.”

::It's alright, Captain. I have a magnificent physic.::

Rikki led Sorryn up the road anxiously looking for his men.

“The Captain!” a voice went up. “The Captain is back!”

Galyway broke off from his conversation and rode quickly towards the Captain.

“How bad?” was all Rikki could get out.

“It's not good, Captain.” Galyway hung his head. “Is the Princess safe?”

Rikki nodded. He looked at the battered and bloodied column as it started by, the men with bows had arrows knocked and scanned the trees. “Keep moving.” Rikki instructed. “Some Centaurs are going to meet up with you. ” He rode off to the side of the road with Sergeant Galyway. Sorryn followed. “How many, Sergeant?”

“Of the officers. . . . only Lieutenant Kollyns was killed.”

Rikki took a deep breath. He and Kadyr had become good friends. “What of the soldiers?”

“One quarter of the Cavalry and the Infantry are gone, Sir. Another twenty-five percent are wounded.”

“Tanek's tits!” Rikki swore.

::That is not bad against an Elven ambush, Captain.:: Sorryn stated.

::My men were trained to do better than that.:: Rikki thought back.

::How many elves did they kill?::

“Captain?”Galyway looked concerned.

“Yes, Sergeant.” Rikki acknowledged.

“You alright, Sir?”

“I'm fine.”

“You looked like you were dazed.”

“I was speaking to Sorryn.”
“Who?”

“Sergeant Galyway, this is Horse-lord Sorryn.” Rikki indicated to the horse.

Sergeant Galyway looked from the Captain to the horse then back to the Captain.

::Let me try.:: Sorryn stated.

Sergeant Galyway looked around startled. He then looked to Sorryn “You're talking?” the Sergeant was dumbfounded.

Sorryn tossed his head.

“For the love of Tanitha.” Galyway tried to understand what was happening.

::So only some people can mind speak with you?:: Rikki asked.

::Yes, Captain. Most don't have the ability.::

Galyway shook his head as if trying to clear his thoughts.

“What of the retinue and entourage, Sergeant?” Rikki recaptured the Sergeant's attention.

“Ambassador Zareb is pretty bad off. He was burned pretty badly. Ambassador Kalgar is fine though. I asked him to return with the other dwarf to the safety of the under kingdom, but he just glared at me and told me something about elves not making him hide.”

“Monyka?” Rikki asked.

“She's bloodied. An arrow in her thigh and a few bruises. I have Cavalryman Symon riding by her.” Sergeant Galyway explained. “Captain, there's something not right about her. She was doing things I've never seen before.”

“I saw her do something too,” Rikki nodded. “What about Adiah?”

“We can't find her.” Galyway told him. “She was near the rear of the column when the attack took place. We have a few people that say they saw Nevyre Elbailer ride off with a stable boy, but we don't know where.”

“Where is Nevyre?”

“He's suffered a blow to the head and is unconscious.”

“Well, if he had her and he is still here, then she can't be too far.”

“I didn't want people going out into the trees, Captain. We've had Elves peppering us with arrows all day and have had to fight off a few small ambushes. They seem to be attacking anyone who leaves the road.”

“What about the rest of the entourage?” Rikki was starting to hate asking questions that he didn't want to know the answers to.

“A fair number of them fought with what they had. Those cooks can be very nasty.”

“They handle knives all day.” Rikki nodded.

“You should see what they did with pots and pans.” Galyway wasn't laughing. “And we lost one of those giant dwarf creatures.”

“Son of a whore!” Rikki swore.

“Actually it was the female.” Galyway almost smiled, “She is huge. If it wasn't for the male giant dwarf surviving, it would have taken ten men to lift her into the wagon.”

“Her Highness isn't going to like to hear that one of her Mul bodyguards was killed. What happened to you?” Rikki looked Galyway's caved in breast plate hanging only from one strap.

“We'll talk about that later.” Galyway looked nervous. “We have more important things to worry about.”

Rikki nodded, “ I've brought a couple of wagons. to help with the wounded. Were you able to grab our dead? I can't stand the thought of leaving them for the Elves.”

Galyway nodded.

“Well done, Markys.” Rikki patted the large man's shoulder.

::You have caring capable men, Captain.:: Sorryn observed.

::I used to have more just as good.:: Rikki's mind was full of sorrow.

“Grymm!” Rikki called, suddenly needing his Corporal.

“Grymm's been injured, Captain.” Edwyn rode up to Rikki.

“How bad?” Rikki's heart went cold.

“He'll be alright, Sir,” Edwyn stated. “He just won't be as pretty.”

“Where is he?” Rikki asked.

“He's down the line.”

“Edwyn. Find me two volunteers. I want to start looking for Adiah.”

“Looking for who, Captain?”

Rikki paused for a moment. He lowered his voice but spoke more clearly. “The Princess Adiah stole away with us in Truno. She's been disguised as a stable boy.”

“Tanek's balls.” Edwyn shook his head with disbelief.

“We need to find her. She was last seen riding off with Nevyre.”

“He's unconscious.”

“I just heard. We need to find her though.”

“Yes, Captain.” Edwyn nodded. “Any idea where to look?”

“I just hope she wasn't in one of the carriages.” Rikki thought back to the battle. Had he seen her? “Where's Takoda?” Rikki asked.

“Guarding the half-elf.” Edwyn shrugged.

“The half-elf survived?”

Edwyn nodded.

::You have a half-elf?::

::Not for long.:: Rikki's mind had a sharp edge to it.

“Go find me two volunteers, Cavalryman.”

Edwyn saluted and took off.

::Lorcan is here.:: Sorryn informed.

As Rikki rode down the road, he watched as soldiers and volunteers alike looked up to see the Centaurs join them.

“They are here to help us get to Lyonsgate.” Rikki raised his voice.

Monyka sat like a vacant person who saw things that weren't there Her eyes were dark and sunken as she stared off into the forest. Annyka sat behind her on the horse but barely touched her as if afraid to come into contact with the lady in waiting.

“Monyka.” Rikki pulled his mount next to her.

“He's gone.” She whispered, her eyes still staring into the forest.

Rikki nodded, knowing that she would be able to see him out of the corner of her eye. “He was a good man.”

“I tried to save him, but I couldn't. He was gone.”

“At least it was quick.” Rikki tried to consul her. “Monyka?”

Monyka didn't acknowledge him.

“Monyka what happened earlier?”

“I don't know.”

“I saw an ax thrown at you, suddenly be diverted.”

“I can do horrible things.” tears leaked from Monyka's eyes.

“I'm sure you do good things, Monyka.” Rikki touched her shoulder.

“I almost killed Grymm. I didn't mean to.”

“Grymm is just fine. Edwyn just told me.”

“I could have killed him. I almost killed him.” Monyka's eyes darted to the Captain, then back to the trees. “I could have killed Sergeant Galyway too.”

“I doubt that.” Rikki chuckled.

Monyka looked at him with dead eyes. “You didn't see it. . . . Captain.”

Rikki met her gaze for a few seconds before nodding. “Did someone take care of that wound?” he indicated her leg.

“Tagyrt wants to wait until we get to Lyonsgate to remove the arrowhead.” Monyka informed.

“How is the pain?” Rikki asked.

“I don't feel anything.” Monyka's tear filled eyes pleaded with him. “Nothing.”

Rikki nodded acknowledgement. He looked to Annyka. “How are you doing?”

“Can I ride with someone else?” Annyka asked.

“Why?” Rikki inquired.

Monyka hissed at the Captain, “She saw what I did, Rikki. She knows how dangerous I am.”

“We'll talk about this later.” Rikki's voice was as hard as steel. “I want you to stay on this side of the road.” Rikki told her. “If we are attacked again, I want you to ride as hard and as fast as you can for Blaire. Tonya is at Lyonsgate.” Rikki turned to Annyka. “You stay with her, okay.”

Annyka nodded.

::Captain, I took the liberty of instructing her mount to get her to safety if we are attacked.:: Sorryn informed.

::Will the animal remember it?::

::Yes. Horses aren't as dumb as humans think.::

::I'll have to take your word for it.::

Rikki found Ambassador Kalgar driving a wagon piled with the bodies of the attack.

“I'm glad to see you are in good health Ambassador.” Rikki rode along side of the wagon.

“Bloody demons aren't going to keep me scared or holed up.” Kalgar swore. He turned to Rikki. “I'm sorry about your Ambassador Zareb.”

“How bad is it?” Rikki asked.

“Pretty bad. That's not a pretty way to die.”

“He's dead?” Rikki was alarmed.

“No, but I doubt he'll last to see another day or two.” Kalgar shook his head. “I've seen nasty burns like that before. “Seen dwarves beg to have it ended.”

Rikki shuddered at the thought. “It looks like we are going to be spending a couple of days in Lyonsgate. I'd like to have a long talk with you, Ambassador.”

“Aye, and I with you.”

“Captain,” Lorcan trotted up to him. “I have my men out to the sides as scouts. “We need to get out of this forest as soon as we can. These are the elves woods.”

Rikki scrubbed a hand through his dark hair. “I have two more things to find. One of them is a young girl who stow away with us back in Truno. She is dressed as a stable boy.”

“What is her name?” Lorcan asked.

“Adiah. . . . Princess Adiah. No one knows that she is with us except for a few of my officers.”

“I'll reassign two of my men to look for her.” Lorcan nodded. “Do you know where she might be?”

“I am going back to the site of the ambush and starting there.

Lorcan nodded. “I'll come with you

::So will I.:: Sorryn agreed.

“Thank you both,” Rikki looked from one to the other.

The Centaur nodded

“Captain.” Edwyn rode up. “You've got to talk some sense into him.”

“Who?”

“Grymm. He wants to go with you, but sir. He's in no condition.”

“Do you have any other volunteers?” Capitan Kalhoun asked.

“Yyan said that he'd be willing to come.”

“Get Yyan and yourself supplied for a fast moving scouting trip. Bring two extra, fast horses.” Captain Kalhoun ordered. “I'll speak with Grymm.”

Edwyn nodded and raced off.

“What is your plan, Captain?” Lorcan asked.

“To find her and one other, important item and get the hell out.” Rikki stated. He was already missing Sefu. The two had been together so long that they could anticipate one another. This horse though trained well, just didn't compare. “If you will excuse me, I have to speak to the Sergeant at Arms.” Rikki excused himself from Lorcan.

“Why are you dragging her along?” Rikki demanded of the Sergeant.

“She is still in the care of Riponia, Captain.” Takoda growled.

“She betrayed us and she betrayed our friends.” Rikki snapped back.

“That has yet to be determined by a court.” Takoda locked Rikki's gaze. “The elves were targeting her as much as they were the Princess.”

“It would have saved us a lot of grief.” Rikki snarled back. He looked at the half-elf sitting in front of Takoda, tied to the saddle and the horses neck. She stared at the ground in front of her. Her lank hair, muddy and dripping from the rain hung unnoticed across her face. Her shoulders slumped in a defeat that one only placed upon ones self. “We will deal with this,” Rikki indicated the half-elf with a growl, “at Lyonsgate.”

Rikki turned his horse away and began riding back down the trail. He looked at the wounded as they staggered forward or rode in silent misery on a wagon. He turned back to the Sergeant.

“Look around you Takoda.” Rikki snapped. “She is the cause of this.” Rikki spurred his mount to the side of the road and galloped past remnants of his party.

Lorcan, Sorryn, Edwyn and Yyan awaited him as the rear guard passed him by.

“Captain.” Edwyn nodded his head to something behind Rikki.

Rikki turned to see a solder with his face wrapped in a thick bandage riding to join them.

“Grymm?” Rikki asked.

“I wanna go with you, Cap'n” Grymm stated.

“What happened to you?” Rikki asked.

“Ith a long thtory.”

“Grymm you're not in any shape to be making this mission.” Rikki shook his head.

“Bu Cap'n.” Grymm whined.

“Stay with the column, Cavalryman. That's an order.” Rikki pointed. “I'll talk to you when we get to Lyonsgate.”

Grymm hung his head but turned his mount around and started back to join the entourage, escaping the forest with their tails between their legs.

“Lets move. I want to sleep in a bed tonight after I soak in a hot bath.”

“I sure do miss those.” Lorcan sighed.

“A bath?” Yyan asked.

Lorcan nodded. “They are one of the things I had to give up when I joined. There are a few places in Adwahna that have bathhouses for Centaurs, but it takes so much hot water that it costs a lot. We have to get by with a good bucket of water and a good currying.”

 

--o0o--

 

Despite Nevyre's cloak, the cold of the damp ground slowly crept into Adiah's bones. She clenched her teeth to keep them from chattering. Her bladder was full and seemed to be sapping heat from her body as well. Adiah peered out at the road. The elves had left a while ago, but she could still hear strange bird noises calling to one another from time to time.

Looking at the road, she couldn't see the woman that the elves had tortured and killed. A small part of her curiosity wanted to leave her safe hole and investigate the scene that had taken place in front of her, because of her. Some gruesome, guilty aspect of her brain wanted to look the dead woman in the eye and apologize to her for not coming to her rescue. Blood magic. She had been told that the elves used blood letting to power their magic. The whole horrible incident could be just an illusion, a horrible, sick trick to lure her out and capture her.

What she couldn't understand was that if the elf with the green on black armor suspected that she was there, why didn't he send his men in to look for her? She wasn't that far from the road. She wasn't some large fighter like Sergeant Galyway or an expert knife fighter like Corporal Grymm. She was just Adiah, a frightened, now cold young girl who needed more than anything to empty her bladder.

Should she risk escaping her safe hole to empty her bladder? Or should she just pee in her trousers? Nevyre surely didn't expect her to wait this long for him. Did he forget her? Doubts and horrible scenarios started to play out in her head.

Her bladder couldn't last much longer. Adiah slowly wormed her way to the back of her hiding place. A hole formed by branches and debris was just large enough for her to fit through. She listened very hard. She thought her brain was going to burst along with her bladder as she strained to hear footsteps in the undergrowth or perhaps a branch snap as someone miss stepped. All she could hear was the periodic calls of birds from one to another and the scampering of squirrels as they ran up and down trees.

She drew in a breath and exited her hiding place. She froze and snapped her head around as her eyes darted all around her looking for any elf that might have been hiding waiting for her to emerge. Adiah slowly let out her breath. A soft breeze, damp and crisp with early spring caressed her cheek making her cool hiding place seem cozy and warm. She took a breath smelling the wet needles and leaves of the trees in place of the molding dead leaves and acidic earth.

Crouching low, Adiah very carefully and very slowly took three steps along the fallen tree. She did her best to suppress a violent shiver as her body fought to stay warm. She brushed some leaves away from the dark damp earth and pulled down her trousers to release everything that her bladder had been holding. Steam and the stench of urine rose to mix with the more earthy smells around her.

Alarm over the smell almost caused her to stop. If she could smell it, surely elves could. Adiah finished up her business and pulled up her trousers. She knelt down and grabbed a few hand fulls of earth and dead needles and covered the area where she urinated then covered it with leaves. Like a ground squirrel poking it's head out of its warren, she peered out through the trees to see if any danger was lurking near by. Nothing moved. The only sounds were of the wild life near by. Feeling more comfortable but still cold, Adiah slowly wormed her way back into her hiding spot and pulled Nevyre's cloak around her to keep what little warmth she could muster.

She had just stopped shivering when she heard a noise coming from the road.

“Anyone here?” a man's voiced called. “Hello?”

Adiah peered through the leaves of her hollow of safety and spied a Riponian soldier looking around bewildered. “Hello? If you can hear my voice let me know where you are. The Captain sent me back here to take you to safety.”

Adiah was just about to bolt from her place of hiding when she realized that this soldier too was speaking common trade instead of Riponian. Her heart beat loudly in her chest, hammering against her ribs. She squinted to make out his features. It was hard to see any detail at this distance but she didn't recognize his build, or his movement.

“If you can hear me, Come out so that we can get out of these woods.” the soldier called, looking up and down the side of the road. His eyes slid past her hiding place twice.

Adiah took a deep breath to calm the adrenaline coursing through her body and slowly settled herself back down into the cloak. Where are you Nevyre? Where are you?

The soldier walked down the road, scanning the trees, but he was heading towards the dwarven kingdom not towards Blaire. Please Bob, Adiah prayed. Please tip the scales so that I might escape this place.

 

--o0o--

 

“Yyan, ride ahead and scout.” Captain Kalhoun whispered to the cavalryman. They had rounded a bend in the road and could see a thin trail of gray smoke slowly rising from the trees ahead of them.

::I'll go with him.:: Sorryn stated. ::I can get word back to you faster.::

“Yyan, Sorryn is going with you.” The Captain hissed.

Yyan nodded acknowledgement and guided his horse to the edge of the overgrown road and went ahead with the horselord.

Rikki had never thought he'd wish for Nevyre's presence, but the rogue would be most welcome at this time. Where would Nevyre ride off with her too? Rikki thought back to the attack and tried to picture where he'd seen Nevyre. The only time, the last time he'd seen him was when he had pulled Ambassador Zareb out of the burning carriage.

::It looks clear, Captain.:: Sorryn interrupted his thoughts.

::Can you smell anything?::

::Smoke and death. I can't make out anything more than that.::

::Can you smell a Princess in the area?:: Rikki asked half joking.

::I'm not a dog, Captain.::

Rikki motioned to Lorcan and Edwyn before moving forward.

Lorcan with an arrow still knocked in his bow, scanned the trees as he moved forward with the cavalry captain. “Do you know where this princess might be?”

Rikki shook his head. He looked over to Edwyn, “Scan the trees, they may be waiting to ambush.”

Edwyn nodded, loosened his sword and readied his bow.

::It's a bit quiet, Captain. I don't like the feel of this.::

::I need to grab something left behind and locate the Princess.::

::You'd better hurry.::

Rikki spurred his mount into a gallop as Lorcan lifted his bow and aimed at the trees. Edwyn did the same though he couldn't see anything.

Rikki reined in his horse as he approached the wreckage and smoldering remains of the carriages.

Yyan had a crossbow up and aiming at the trees, his bow was within easy reach and his saber loose in its scabbard.

Rikki scanned the trees for movement before jumping off his mount. He unsheathed his saber and bushed away blackened wood and gray ash. The saber hit something more solid.

“Ambush!” Edwyn called out as several arrows hummed through the air.

Rikki glanced up and stepped to the side as one of the missiles flew past his shoulder. “I need some cover.” he ordered Yyan. “Edwyn, start looking for the Princess.”

Yyan galloped towards him and put his mount between the Captain and the elves. Several more arrows came whizzing towards them. The Cavalryman fired his crossbow into the trees then dropped it in favor of his sword which he used to swat away the arrows that targeted him.

Lorcan and Edwyn called out Adiah's name as they dodged, and swatted at the arrows flying at them.

Rikki scrapped ash and burnt wood away from the hard object. Tucking his hand into the sleeve of his coat, Rikki grabbed the handle of the metal box and pulled it out of the blackened pile.

“Got it.” he called. Rikki leaped back upon his mount with his load and wheeled the horse around. “Adiah!” Rikki called. “Adiah, come quickly.”

Rikki spun his horse around his eyes searching the trees for movement, his ears for any sound. “Damn!”

“Elven riders, Captain!” Yyan pointed as mounted elves broke through the trees riding hard towards them.

“Get out of here.” Rikki ordered Yyan. “Adiah!”

::Come Captain.:: Sorryn called.

::I've got to find her.::

::You aren't going to be able to out run those elves.::

“Adiah!” Rikki called as he spun his mount in a circle as he scanned the trees.

::Now! Captain!:: Sorryn screamed in his head. The horse lord must have spoken to his mount as well for the horse between his legs bolted down the road without his direction.

An arrow glanced off of his helm as he raced after his scouts. “Damn!” Rikki swore as he gave his mount it's rein.

::Sorry Captain, but you are out of time.::

::This means I will just have to come back to look for her again.::

::Right now, worry about getting out of here alive.::

The horse under Rikki faltered. The Captain vaulted himself from the saddle as the borrowed mount stumbled and slammed to the ground. Rikki landed on his feet, but the momentum of the fall caused him to stumble and roll to a stop.

“Crap!” he swore. An arrow landed beside him.

::I'm coming, Captain.::

Rikki stumbled over to the chest which he had dropped and snatched it up.

The borrowed horse screamed and thrashed as it tried to get back up, but couldn't due to two broken legs. Rikki dodged an arrow and pulled out his knife. He dug it deep into the horses neck and pulled it across, severing its jugular.

He could hear Sorryn's hoof beats approaching fast. Rikki glanced up to see two mounted elves, draw their swords and ride hard towards him. The horses suddenly planted their legs and slid to a stop. One of the elves flew over his mount's head and went rolling across the ground. The other managed to stay astride, but then his mount unexpectedly reared high in the air tossing his rider to the ground.

::Get on!:: Sorryn yelled.

Rikki grabbed a handful of mane and swung his leg over dragging the chest after him. He was barely on when Sorryn kicked out with his hind legs caving in the first elf's face. Rikki nearly lost his seat, but managed to hang on as Sorryn bolted down the muddy road weaving around saplings and fallen trees. A few arrows fell around them, but Sorryn's wild path seemed to keep them from finding their mark.

::Thank you.:: Rikki sent. ::Did you cause those horses to throw their riders?::

::One of the benefits of being a Horselord.:: Sorryn snorted, ::

Let's get this item and people back to Lyonsgate. I'll help you find this princess after.::

 

 

--o0o--

 

 

Tonya looked at over the rolling hills of tall grass bowing almost rhythmically in the wind. A brown well worn road led from the timber built out post town out through the nearly waist tall grass and disappeared over a small rise.

The view would have been a pretty one with the snow covered mountains a haze of purple in the distance but Tonya's stomach was tied in to knots. After much pleading, Captain of the guard Dobry had two of his men help Tonya up to the palisade over the main gate. The Captain had a stool brought up for her to sit on as she waited for her retinue to be brought in.

Her heart leaped when she spotted a lightly armored Centaur race over the rise and up to the gate. He slid to a stop before Captain Dobry and delivered his news as his sides heaved in the exertion of his run. Tonya's chest tightened as she saw the Captain of the guard shake his head with sorrow. He heaved a deep sigh, turned and began issuing orders to soldiers and towns folk alike. People and soldiers milling around the gate seemed to erupt into a state of chaos as they scattered about their appointed tasks getting ready for what was about to come over that grassy rise.

Captain Dobry looked up at Tonya, despair and worry filled his eyes. Tonya's heart dropped like a lead weight in her chest, her throat tightened. He dropped his gaze to issue some more orders before he slowly made his way up the stairs to where Tonya was perched.

“Captain?” her voice full of worry.

“It sounds like you were hit pretty hard by an Elven ambush.” Captain Dobry sighed, “It doesn't sound real good from what my messenger told me. I'm not sure where we will be able to put all of them. I've got a detail making room in the barracks for some, They can pitch their tents on the back side of the outpost, but I'm afraid it won't be enough.” he ran a hand over his scruffy face.

“If they still have it, they can set up my tent.” Tonya's voice cracked. She cleared her throat and locked the Captain's eyes. “How many. . . ?” She couldn't finish.

Captain Dobry shook his head. “I don't know for sure, Princess. From what I have heard, two score are dead and twice as many are wounded.”

“My. . . . My Lady in Waiting?” Tonya choked on her words.

“I don't know.” the Captain shook his head. “I'm sure she'll be okay. I sent a patrol of my best scouts, horselords and archers with your Captain. They'll bring her back.”

“Thank you, Captain.” Tonya's voice was full of sincerity and concern.

“I'll have my men escort you down and get you something to eat.”

“I don't think I could eat even if I tried right now. Thank you, Captain.”

Captain Dobry took that as a dismissal. He bowed, took a step back and bound down the stairs, his feet barely touching them.

Tonya retrieve a cloth square from inside a sleeve and dabbed at the wetness filling her eyes. She looked across the grassy plain before looking down on the people of Lyonsgate hurrying about their chores, getting ready for the influx of her people, but they weren't just her people, they were her protectors, her assistants, and more importantly, her friends.

Tonya began to tremble as she re lived the nightmare that took place just that morning although it seemed like a hundred years had passed since. First the shouting as arrows fell from the sky. Next screams mingled with battle cries, then the clash of armor, sword and steel. Mud, blood, and body parts. Screaming, fire and more blood. War was supposed to be a thing of beauty where strong, valiant knights charged into and scattered an evil foe. Songs were sung about great battles. What happened this morning, this blood bath, this was something she hoped would never make it into song. She would probably lose the contents of her stomach if she heard what she witnessed turned into song.

She had seen old war veterans excuse themselves from banquet when certain songs were sung. She thought that they were just being silly. She knew better now.

Tonya was awaken from her thoughts by two little girls standing before her. One rocked slightly from side to side with he hands behind her back. “Hello.” Tonya smiled. It felt forced.

“Are you really a Princess?” the older of the girls asked.

Tonya nodded. “Yes. I am Princess Tonya from Riponia.

“See, Told you so.” the older one told what looked to be her sister. The younger one smiled at Tonya and pulled her hands out from behind her back. She held a small bunch of wild flowers.

“We picked these for you.” she smiled, holding the flowers out.

“Thank you?” Tonya gushed. She accepted the small half crumpled flowers. “They are beautiful.” She held them up to her nose and sniffed lightly. “Smell good too.”

The two girls giggled and bound down the stairs as fleet as deer.

Tonya didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so she did both. She held the flowers next to her face and felt their velvety petals on her skin and allowed the tears to blur her vision.

The daisies mixed in to the bunch reminded her of the fields near the estate house in spring. The white flowers created blotches of white that looked like drifts of snow surrounded by the deep green of grass. Before the accident, she would run out into the fields and fall into the daisies. She would spend hours making daisy chains and day dreaming, until her mother would send someone to fetch her back to the Estate house to work on her needle point.

“Here they come!” a voice called.

Tonya blinked back the tears along with the memories and looked out over the grassland to see the first few horses of a column making it's way to the safety of Lyonsgate. Tonya bit her lip to avoid screaming as she rose from her stool. She stretched out her back and took a step forward and winced as pain shot up her leg into her lower back. The muscles in her leg began to spasm driving the breath from her lungs. A long moment passed before she could breathe. She took a long breath in through her nose and slowly exhaled. The spasms in her leg began to subside, although her legs and knees felt weak from the exertion of the morning's flight.

Tonya slowly made her way down the stairs as the townsfolk and soldiers hurried to assist her retinue. At the sound of horse hooves, she looked up to see the soldiers of Riponia begin to enter the city. Their horses staggered under their loads. The soldier's looked a mess, their armor and tunics torn, muddy and bloody.

“Yeoman Bayley.” Tonya was so happy to recognize one of her soldiers.

The Yeoman half slid, half fell from his horse and thanked the boy who took the reins from him.

“What happened?” She asked as he fell to his knees before her.

“Thank the Gods that you live.” he sighed.

“What happened?” She repeated herself.

Scott told her of how the elves fell on them in wave after wave. How during one lull in the battle that they were able to regroup and start moving the servants and retinue down the road as the soldiers protected their backs. He told of how the elves began harassing and sniping them from the protection of the trees.

As he related his tale, Tonya's eyes kept darting up from his dirty, mud splattered face to take note of other survivors as they entered the gates. Some fell from their horses into the waiting arms of Captain Dobry's soldiers who carried them off to the infirmary. Others didn't make it to the gate, riderless horses entered the gate in as much a daze as the survivors. Groomsmen and boys rounded them up and led them off to nearby stables or into empty side streets where they were unsaddled and brushed as they drank from buckets of water that young girls offered to them. The fallen were then seen carried in from outside the gates.

“They were relentless, your Highness.” Scot Bayley finished is report.

“You did the best that you could.” Tonya assured him as two soldiers came and helped him up. They wrapped his arms around their necks and led him off. Tonya hoped for food, water, a bath and some rest.

Tonya returned her gaze back to the gate as Sergeant Takoda rode in with the half-elf riding in front of him.

“I'll take her.” a soldier said offering to help the half-elf down.

“Do you have a brig here?” Takoda asked.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Lock her in the brig. Make sure she gets some bread and water and see that no harm comes to her.” The Sergeant at Arms ordered.

“Sergeant!” Tonya demanded his attention.

“Princess.” Takoda nodded as he dismounted. It took a moment of leaning on his horse before he could get his legs to obey him. His first few steps were shaky as he approached her.

“Why did you bring her here?” Tonya asked.

“Because the elves were trying to kill her.” Takoda leaned heavily on the stair railing.

“Good riddance.” Tonya snarled. “It is better than she deserves.”

“You don't know that, your Highness.” Takoda countered. “At least my conscious will be clean by giving her a trial rather than slaying her in the midst.”

“I can't believe you are saying this.” Tonya stated. “She is a half -elf. A half-elf who set the trap that we walked into. A trap that killed lots of my people.”

“She still deserves a trial.” Takoda stood his ground even though he could barely stand. He looked up at his Princess standing three steps above him, his tired eyes resolved in what he felt he must do.

“Is Monyka all right?” she asked.

“That too has yet to be determined.” Takoda stated.

“What happened?” Tonya asked suddenly worried.

“Craziness.” Takoda said his eyes turning from resolve to sadness.

“Was she injured?”

“Just an arrow to the leg. It's what she did out there that has us all concerned.”

“What did she do?”

Takoda looked around then up at Tonya. “This isn't the place.”

“What are you talking about?” Tonya demanded.

Takoda's hand snapped out and seized hers in a firm grip. He then pulled her down the stairs.

“Ouch, you're hurting me.” Tonya protested.

“Shush.” Takoda ordered. He did however ease up on his firmness as he guided her limping steps off to a quiet corner and had her sit on a barrel.

“What is the meaning of this Sergeant?”

“Monyka is possessed, a witch, being controlled by a witch or something.”

“Don't be silly.”

“You didn't see what she did to those elves or to Sergeant Galyway's armor, and Grymm's face.”

Tonya's face lost it's color. “What did she do?”

“Did you see her do anything out there in that fight?” Takoda asked.

Tonya was suddenly very happy to be sitting. She looked from the Sergeant at Arms to the ground. Her lips and voice trembled, “I think I saw her turn a thrown ax, with just a wave of her hand. It was coming right at me and she just waved her hand as if to block it and it went flying off in another direction.”

“Did you see how she kept pounding on Kadyr's chest?”

Tonya nodded slowly, afraid to look him in the eye as she recalled the nightmare.

“Every time she did that, I think she drove the spark of life back into him. It only lasted for a second, but I saw him take a breath only to die again.”

“Oh my God, I thought I was imagining that.” Tonya gasped. She looked back up at the Sergeant, “What did she do to Grymm and Galyway?”

“The Sergeant seems to be okay. Some one said that she swung a hand at him, but never touched him but he went flying at least 15 feet. His breast plate is all caved in.” Takoda shook his head, “I'll bet he has a couple of broken ribs. He'll will definitely need to get a new breast plate.”

“And Grymm?”

“It's pretty bad. Oh it's not life threatening.” Takoda told her when he saw her face fall. “We don't know if he's going to lose an eye or not, there is too much blood, but somehow she flayed one side of his face open. It looks like he was mauled by a bear. He's going to have some pretty nasty scars.”

“So you think one of the elves could have possessed her?”

“I would except that she killed too many of them.” Takoda scratched at the three day stubble on his chin.

“How is she now?” Tonya asked.

“She just lost her new husband and went through an elven ambush. She's pretty shaken up.”

“Is she acting out? Does she look like she is going mad?”

“No. Just withdrawn and depressed.”

“You don't expect me to have her in chains, or locked In the brig, Do you?”

“I don't think we need to jump to extremes as of yet. Besides from what I saw her do this morning, I doubt either of those would hold her.”

“How are you doing?” Tonya inquired.

“I'm alive, I'll wish I were dead tomorrow, but I'm alive today.”

“You look like hell. Go get a bath and some food.”

The Sergeant at Arms bowed to his Princess before slowly making his way back to where the people of Lyonsgate took him and led him off.

Tonya sat on the barrel for a long moment before she slowly got to her feet. She spotted Monyka being helped off from her horse. Part of an arrow shaft still protruded from her leg. Two strong Lyonsgate men volunteered to carry her to the infirmary, but she waved them off and began limping in the direction that the wounded were being taken. Tonya watched as Riponian retinue and soldiers gave the Lady in Waiting a wide girth.

Tonya waited until Monyka limped around a corner before taking her place on the stairs again. She wanted her retinue and soldiers to see her, to see that she saw what had happened to them. Tears blurred her vision, but she refused to let them spill down her face. She had to be strong. She had to show them strength so that they could feel comfortable in their loss, their grief.

::The pain will dull with time.:: a voice spoke in her mind. Startled, Tonya looked around to see who was talking to her. Horselords used the mind speech. As did the Centaurs. She didn't see any Centaurs around and the only horses she saw were the ones that were being led off to be brushed, watered and taken care of.

::Down here.:: the voice spoke again. ::Below the stairs.::

Tonya still shaken up from hearing the voice in mind, swiveled her head around to come face to face with a beautiful Palomino with sapphire eyes.

“Are you speaking to me?” Tonya asked.

::My name is Ka'mya.::

“I am Princess Tonya.”

::I know.:: the horse looked away from Tonya towards the wagons being pulled in through the gate. ::You have suffered a great loss, Princess. I am sorry.::

“Thank you, Ka'mya. So am I. We were betrayed by someone we allowed to come with us in Truno.”

::I have heard. What will you do with her?::

“Put her on trial.” Tonya sighed.

::A wise decision. Here comes my Captain.::

Tonya turned to see Captain Kalhoun riding a black and white Horselord through the gates accompanied by the Centaur Lorcan. The pressure in her chest seemed to dissipate with his return. A wave of warmth washed over her body, making he fine hairs on the back of her neck stick up.

Rikki and Lorcan approached the stairs. Tonya wanted to run and throw her arms around her dark haired Captain and hold him tight, but there were too many strangers watching. It wouldn't be very dignified for a Princess to be throwing herself at the Captain of her bodyguard, no matter how handsome and brave he was.

“Captain may I introduce Ka'mya, Princess of Adwahna.” Lorcan gave a bow.

Rikki slid off from the black and white Horselord's back and bowed to the Palomino as well.

“It is a pleasure meeting you, Princess Ka'mya. May I touch minds with you?” Rikki asked. He rose with a smile on his face and then bowed to Tonya. “I was able to retrieve the chest, but was unable to find Adiah, your Highness. I will be gathering some volunteers and going out first thing tomorrow morning. Sorryn has volunteered to help.” Rikki nodded towards the Horselord.

Tonya stood stunned. She turned towards Ka'mya. “Princess? Of the Horselords? Why didn't you tell me?”

::Does it matter?:: Ka'mya asked. “Besides, right now, I'm just another of Sorryn's trail smashers.:: A sound of soft laughter tickled her mind. ::You may touch my mind as well?::

“I don't understand? What do you mean touch your mind?” Tonya looked to Rikki for guidance.

Rikki Started to explain when he was interrupted by Lorcan.

“Captain, I can explain this to her. You have men to look after.”

“Thank you, Lorcan.” Rikki looked to his Princess. “May I have your leave?”

Tonya nodded. Sorryn followed Rikki for a few steps before returning to Lorcan and the Princesses.

Lorcan gave a brief description of how to mind speak with the Horselords. He used verbal as well as his own mind speach to demonstrate.

::Why then can't I mind speak with my Captain?:: Tonya asked.

::Because neither of you are Horselord.” Sorryn answered.

::But Lorcan can mind speak with me.” Tonya pointed out.

::I am half Horselord.:: Lorcan answered.

“Excuse me Princess.” Captain Dobry approached. “All of your people are in. Do you know what you want to do with the dead?”

Tonya's mind reeled. “I'll have to speak with my Captain about that.” she finally answered. “Can I let you know in the morning?”

“Of course Princess. As soon as we get everything situated with your wounded, I'll set some people to cleaning the bodies and taking inventory of their belongings.”

“I'm sure Captain Kalhoun has people who can do that. You have already done so much for us, Captain Dobry.”

“Just doing my job, Princess.” Dobry bowed.

“You are doing it quite well. I will remember this to Queen Sakari when I reach Malden.”

“You are most kind, Thank you, Princess.” Dobry bowed and took his leave.

Tonya turned back to the Centaur and Horselords, “So, why are you all the way up here in Blaire?”

::Let us retreat to someplace more comfortable, shall we?:: Ka'mya suggested.

::You can lean on me, Princess.:: Sorryn offered.

“I'll leave you then.” Lorcan bowed to each of the Princesses. ::If you need me, I'll be assisting with the wounded horses.:: he sent to Princess Ka'mya

Sorryn led Tonya along side Ka'mya as they headed towards a corner of the town.

::Are you going to eat those?:: Ka'mya asked Tonya.

“Eat what?” Tonya asked.

::Those flowers.:: Ka'mya asked. ::The blue ones are especially tasty first thing in the morning with a touch of dew on them.::

Tonya looked down at the small posy of flowers that the girls had given her with new interest. ::Some girls gave them to me.:: She explained. ::I guess it would be alright if I gave them to you.::

::Could you take out the Dandelions? They are a little too past their prime.::

Tonya pulled the yellow Dandelions out of the posy.

::If the Princess doesn't want the Dandelions, I'll take them.:: Sorryn spoke up.

Tonya rolled her eyes and held the yellow flowers out for Sorryn to grab with his velvet like lips. ::Thanks.:: he sent.

::The reason why I'm here,:: Ka'mya began as she chewed on her treat, ::Is because my Mother, Queen Esmeralda and Queen Sakari have agreed to keep our border's open to one another:: Ka'mya began. ::The Horselords are allowed to graze the open grasslands of Blaire and as a way of payment we assist in patrolling the borders. The people of Blaire in return are allowed to fishing rights on our southern coast, to reimburse us, they also help patrol those waters to keep the Lycanthrops from trying to get a foot hold in Adwahna.::

::So you are almost one large Kingdom then.:: Tonya observed.

::Friendly neighbors.:: Ka'mya agreed.

The light colored Princess led Tonya and Sorryn into a stable. The Adwahna Princess led them past several nice paddocks. As they progressed down the corridor, the paddocks became nicer and more lavish. Soon, Tonya was walking on thick rugs. Brass, mirrored lanterns doubled the light. A young girl with short cropped black hair bowed to them and opened a large door.

Astonished, Tonya followed the two Horselords into a large room. Thick rugs covered a polished wood floor. A stand holding a reflecting glass stood against one wall, next to it was an ornate mahogany dresser, which held several drawers. On top of it was the most ornately decorated silver curry comb and brush Tonya had ever seen.

Three servants entered behind the three of them, and placed a cushioned chair, and a small table near a fireplace which had a small blaze eating at a log in it. A silver tray was set on the table containing fruit, nuts, and cheese. A cold glass containing what looked to be peach colored fruit juice was set beside it.

::Please be welcome and try our honovi juice.:: Princess Ka'mya invited. ::It is pressed from the honovi fruit that my people enjoy.::

::Thank you.:: Tonya lifted the juice to her lips and tasted it. Tonya set the cup aside and looked back to see the two Horselords standing in front of her. They seemed to tower over her while she sat.

::Is something wrong?:: Ka'mya asked.

::No, It's just that I feel like I'm craning my neck looking up at you.:: Tonya admitted.

::I can see how that could be a bit intimidating:: Sorryn nodded his head. He and Ka'mya each backed up a step or two.

Two of the servants entered carrying three legged stands with silver bowls and placed one in front of each of the Horselords. They bowed and quickly exited the chambers. Sorryn dipped his head and took a long drink of the bowls contents.

::Back to what we were talking about:: Ka'mya's voice sang in her mind. ::Under Adwahna law, Each Horselord is to spend two years in service of Adwahna. Some serve by being messengers, others assist our human population by pulling plows, working in Honovi groves, and such, but most Horselords serve by going on patrol whether in Adwahna or Blaire. As Princess of Adwahna, my mother has decided that I have to do four years of service, one of which has to be on patrol.::

Tonya could almost see Ka'mya's eyes roll with that last statement.

::Luckily, my year of being Sorryn's slave is almost up.::

::A slave does not have better quarters than it's master.:: Sorryn grumbled. ::A slave also doesn't have servants to wash her and brush her daily.::

Tonya took another drink of the Honovi juice to cover her grin.

 

--o0o--

 

 

Monyka's brain felt as if it was on fire and being beaten by a large blacksmith's hammer at the same time. The shaft of the elven arrow sticking out of her leg stabbed at her with each step. Her eyes felt as if someone was rubbing hot sand into them, twisting and scrubbing it beneath her eye lids. Even with her eyes half closed, the light from the overcast sky felt as if a master of torture was slowly driving a hot poker into her eye sockets. Tired, beyond anything she had ever felt before, more hungry than she ever dreamed, she could barely place one foot in front of the other as she half stumbled, half limped to where a healer could mend her leg. Of all the pain that she was feeling, nothing came close to the ripping, burning and hollowness in her chest. Her heart felt as if it was going to implode with one heart beat and explode with the next. Kadyr was gone. One minute he was smiling at her the next he was laying in the mud, the life gone from his eyes. She should have taken a dagger and plunged it into her chest and gone with him. It couldn't be any more painful than what she was feeling now.

She had been a wife for less than a week. Widowed before she could even begin to know her husband. Left alone, with something in her that caused nothing but pain, sorrow and heartache.

“Come my Lady, let's get you off from that leg.” the blurry shape of a woman in a blood stained apron took her arm.

“It's not my leg that hurts.” Monyka muttered. “Just cut out my heart I don't need it anymore.”

“That is enough of that kind of talk, come on.”

“Shh. Don't talk so loud.” Monyka begged.

The woman looked at her more closely. “Did you take a blow to the head?” the blurry shape asked a little more quietly.

“No.” Monyka whispered. “I just wish I did.”

The woman gently guided her away from the moaning and screaming coming from inside what looked to be barracks more than an infirmary.

“Where?” Monyka asked, “Where're we going?”

“Someplace a little less noisy.” the woman was whispering, Monyka knew she was whispering, but her head still registered it as screaming.

“I should find Tonya. I should see if she is alright.” Monyka mumbled.

“Princess Tonya? She has already been taken care of, dear. She asked that we do the same for you.” the woman said, “Come now. Just a few more steps.”

Monyka's blurred vision couldn't make out any details of the building she was being led to, She only knew it was quieter.

“Climb up on this table.” The woman instructed. “I'll get some hot water and clean rags.”

“Are you a healer?” Monyka asked.

“Of sorts.” The woman set to work. “Mostly, I am a midwife, but I do take care of the woman folk in these parts when they get injured.” It sounded like she was rummaging around in a box of bottles. “Have you ever had Dwarven spirits?”

“Yes.” Monyka didn't feel like nodding.

The midwife stood next to Monyka. “Okay, I want you to down this cup of Dwarven spirits followed by this mug of tea. It doesn't taste too good, so I sweetened it with a bit of honey and it will taste a lot better than the spirits.”

Monyka almost gagged on the spirits but got them down. The tea seemed to quench the burning in her throat and washed most of the taste of the spirits out of her mouth. While she was taking her medicine, the midwife tucked some pillows behind her and rummaged around the room a bit more.

“How are you feeling?” The woman asked.

“A little light headed.” Monyka admitted.

“Go ahead and lay back. It will be a few more minutes before we are ready to get that arrow out of you.”

“I deserve to keep it right where it is.” Monyka's words were a bit slurred.

“And why is that?”

“I almost killed Sergeant Galyway and Corporal Grymm.” Monyka leaned back heavily against the pillows. “My husband is gone. He was shot by an arrow right in front of me. He died in my arms.” Tears were flooding her eyes blurring everything into unrecognizable images. “I tried to bring him back........... but I couldn't........... I didn't know how.” She lay her head on the pillows, her breathing becoming deep and easy. “I......... I couldn't save him............ I almost........ killed......... them.” Monyka closed her eyes.

 

--o0o--

 

 

Captain Kalhoun found several of his wounded men sitting or laying on straw bales outside what looked to be the outpost town's barracks.

“Alright soldier.” a man covered in blood beckoned towards Grymm. “Let take care of your face.”

“Dake thome wun mo injured.” Corporal Grymm held a hand to cover the blood soaking through the bandages covering the side of his face.

“You're next, soldier.” the man beckoned.

“Whut 'bout im?” Grymm pointed to a Cavalryman with a broken arrow shaft sticking out of his leg.

“He's not about to pass out from loss of blood. Besides I need to see if you still have that eye.”

“What's wrong, Corporal?” Captain Kalhoun asked.

Grymm almost jumped on hearing his Captain's voice. “I don wanna looth my eye.” Grymm looked ashamed.

“If you are going to lose it, you are going to lose it. Putting it off like this only makes it worse for infection.” Rikki explained, “If the infection takes hold then you might have to lose your nose too.”

Grymm's eyes got big.

“How about I go with you?” Rikki asked.

Grymm looked from his Captain, to the other soldiers sprawled around waiting their turn back to his Captain and gave a little nod.

The healer gave a sigh of relief and led Rikki and Grymm into a room off the back of the barracks where there was a blood stained table. A pale, but determined youth looked up at them from his task spreading fresh straw over the blood soaked straw on the floor. A dozen mirrored lamps along with an open window flooded the room with light.

“Have a seat on that stool, soldier.” the healer waved. He grabbed a bottle of dwarven spirits off of a shelf, poured a glass and handed it to Grymm. “Belt that down, it'll help.”

“Where is Brother Tagyrt?” Rikki asked.

“He is in the barracks seeing to those who need bandaged and comfort. He's a good man, Captain, but he isn't a battle surgeon.”

The Captain nodded agreement at the last part. The Brother had great intentions and despite his inability to communicate effectively, he did have a calming presence.

Grymm took the glass, looked at Rikki who nodded and quickly drained the contents.

“Now, let's have a look at what those elves did to you.” the healer slowly started to unwrap the bandages.

“Wasn de elves.” Grymm looked to Rikki and swallowed hard.

“Wasn't?” The healer asked.

“Id wath Lady onyka.” Grymm kept his eye on Rikki. “I god n er way. Me and thargant Galyway. We tried ta thtop er and thee lathed oud.”

“Ooooh, she sure lashed you good.” The healer gently removed the last of the bandages to reveal the side of Grymm's face.

Blood began to ooze down his cheek and chin and drop to the fresh straw. Four slashes ran from his temple to his chin. One ran over his eye lid and barely caught his nostril the lower slash wasn't as deep but ran from his ear to his chin. Two pieces of Grymm's upper lip hung attached by just a little muscle. His bloody teeth showed through the two gaps. Rikki could also see the white of the corporal's cheek bone, the muscle and skin pulling away creating a deep crevice.

“Geff, go fetch midwife Gemma.” The heeler ordered as he dabbed at blood and gently probed the mangled side of Grymm's face. “She's has a finer hand with the needle than I.” the pale boy left quickly, Rikki suspected that part of it had to do with getting away from all of the blood and gore.

The heeler stepped back and looked at Grymm. “There's no way around you being scarred but she might be able to minimize the scarring better than me.” The healer stepped back from Grymm and poured another glass of the dwarven spirits and handed it to the corporal. “Go ahead and take another. You're going to need it. Now, let's have a look at that eye. This might hurt a little, but try not to flinch.”

Grymm nodded.

The heeler pulled what was left of Grymm's eyelid up and looked at his eye. Grymm held still for a slow count of five then pulled his head back. “Thorry,” he mumbled.

“No, you did good.” The healer said. “Close your good eye. Can you see anything out of the other?”

“Blurry thapes. No muth elth.”

The healer nodded. “Good, good. At least we won't have to take your eye. We'll try it again in a few days and see if it gets any better. Gemma's going to want you near more light, so lets have you move over here near the window.”

“tho will I be able to thee ag'in?” Grymm asked.

“I can't say for sure, soldier, but I think you should be able to. Lets see what kind of magic Gemma can do with a needle and thread.” If you will excuse me, Captain, I'd like to get started on that soldier with the arrow in the leg.”

“Go ahead, Healer. I just want to talk to my corporal.”

The healer nodded and excused himself.

“That wasn't so bad.” Rikki joined Grymm by the window. His corporal held a thick wad of bandages up to his face to keep the blood from dripping.

“Thanks fo com'n in here with me.”

Rikki shrugged it off. “So what did I miss with Lady Monyka?”

“Thee wen betherk, Cap'in.” Grymm slowly shook his head. “Thee wath like a mad woman a pothethed woman. I thaw er throw an elf up in the air and impaledon a tree branth I thaw er throw an axth that cleaffed three elves. Thee waved her hand and thargeant Galyway wend flying through the air. I went to jumb on er to thop her from hurding anyone. Thee raked her fingers through the air and I feld my fathe rib open. I wuth no where near her when thee did id, Cap'in. Id thounds crathy I know, bud id all happened. I thwear.”

“She didn't physically touch you?” Rikki asked for clarification.

“No thir. I wuth thill a few feed away.”

“Did you see any blood magic being used?” Rikki asked. “Any elves up in the trees cutting them selves or others?”

Grymm shook his head, “No thir.”

“Okay, thank you Grymm.” Rikki poured Grymm another drink. “don't tell them I gave you another.” He winked before he made his way to the door.

Grymm nodded.

A plump woman with short hair and a bloody apron made her way into the room just as Rikki was leaving. “I'll have you looking better in no time.” he heard her say as he rejoined some of the less wounded sprawled out on the straw bales. “Any one see where Lieutenant Kollyns' friend, Nevyre, was put?”

 

Captain Kalhoun entered the over populated barracks. His men, his soldiers of Riponia lay in various positions, most of them in agony from one wound or another. Brother Tagyrt knelt next to a man in the entourage and helped him to drink. On the far side of the stuffy, metallic smelling room were a few beds of soldiers and entourage who lay quietly. Captain Kalhoun approached a bed cradling the body of Lieutenant Kollyn's friend, Nevyre. The rogue lay quite still, the only sign of life was the slow, steady rise and fall of his chest.

Captain Kalhoun knelt down beside the bed and looked at the scruffy, dirty face of the rogue. “Nevyre.” he whispered loudly, not wanting to disturb the wounded in the beds around him. “Nevyre, what did you do with her?” He hoped that the man would open his eyes and tell all. Instead, the only thing he heard was the slow breathing of the man.

“Can I help you?” a voice above Rikki asked.

Rikki turned around and looked up at a pretty woman with short blonde hair.

“This man has some information that could save the life of someone very important.”

“Well, he's not going to tell you in this state. Leave him be.”

“I will. If he wakes up, I need some one to come fetch me right away.” Rikki stood so that he looked down upon the woman.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Captain Kalhoun.” Brother Tagyrt joined them.

The woman nodded understanding.

“Please. I need to find out what he knows.”

“I will. . . . . . um. . . . inform you, when he. . . . . awakes.” Brother Tagyrt smiled weakly at the Captain.

“Thank you, Tagyrt.” Rikki sighed heavily. “I heard that Ambassador is in bad condition.”

Brother Tagyrt nodded, his eyes downcast, “The Gods will take him. . . . . soon”

“Can I see him?” The Captain inquired.

“I don't. . . . think that is a. . . . ah. . . good. . . . um. . . a good idea.”

“No?”

“They are peeling off the charred bits of skin and wrapping him in balm and bandages.” the woman explained impatient of Brother Tagyrt's stammering.

“I will want to speak to him as well as Nevyre.” Captain Kalhoun told them both before he slowly made his way out of the barracks, stopping to exchange a word or two with different soldiers.

The Captain exited the barracks to come face to face with Lyonsgate's Captain of the Guard.

“Captain Kalhoun, I need to discuss some issues with you.” Captain Dobry grimaced. “And this. . . this soldier says he is the Princess' bodyguard and demands to know of her where abouts.”

Rikki looked over the Captain's shoulder to see Kama Takar shadowing him like a mountain in armor. Kama Takar is indeed her Highness's bodyguard. Is there someplace where he can get some food?”

“The bakery is working late and a few of the inns have butchered fresh livestock in anticipation of your arrival.”

“Would you be so kind to have someone show Kama Takar where he can get food?” Rikki looked up at the Mul. “I will be along shortly. I wish to speak with you about what happened today.”

The Kama smashed a fist against his chest in salute.

“Takar.” Rikki softened his voice. “I'm sorry about what happened to Kama Lutala.”

“She died honorably, Captain.” Takar's voice was deep and rough. “It was her fate to give her life protecting the Princess.”

Rikki nodded not knowing how to respond to the Mul's answer. He turned back to Captain Dobry. “Thank you. I have few quick things I wish to look into before we speak.”

“What should we do with your dead?” Captain Dobry interjected.

Rikki was about to shout for Grymm when he remembered that the Corporal was getting his face sewn back together. He looked around and spotted Yyan walking by. “Cavalryman Yyan!” he called.

The Cavalryman raced over and stood before the two Captains.

“Yyan, I need you to find ten men to assist Captain Dobry in preparing our dead for a pyre.”

“Where should I get them, Sir?”

“Anyone who isn't falling down tired or wounded.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Thanks, Yyan.” Captain Kalhoun dismissed. He looked back to Captain Dobry, “Any more pressing issues?” he asked.

“We have run out of beds for your men.” Captain Dobry informed. “The inn's, and barracks are full. I've put some of mine in tents outside the walls.”

“We've got tents with us. I'll have my healthy soldiers pitch them near yours.”

“Your Princess said something about using her tent as well.” Captain Dobry put forth.

“It would sleep a few more. I'll have some one look into it.” Captain Kalhoun nodded. “Can we discuss this later?”

“Of course, Captain.” Dobry nodded before walking away.

“I'll come find you in a few minutes.” Captain Kalhoun told Kama Takar.” Get something to eat while you can.”

Kama Takar saluted and followed Captain Dobry. The Captain felt a little uneasy having something so large and armored following him around.

 

Rikki looked around at his surroundings. Most of the structures in the large fortified town were made of logs. A few looked to have foundations of field stone. Some of the structures closer to log and timber walls looked to be new and green. The stone foundation on one was black with soot. The newer buildings were tiled with slate, while the older buildings as well as a lot of the buildings closer to the center of the town were topped with sod. A few even had wild flowers sprouting from their roofs.

“Symon.” Captain Kalhoun called when he spotted the cavalryman.

“Yes, Captain?” Symon approached.

“I need you to find all of the officers you can, Takoda, Galyway, Bayley, even Grymm, for an officer's meeting tonight at sunset.”

“Yes, Sir.” Symon nodded.

“Symon do you know where I can find Monyka?”

“I heard talk that a woman took her from the barracks and to her own house, not far from here.”

“Do you know where?”

Symon shook his head. “The healer might know.”

“Thanks.”

Rikki knocked on the door of the next to the barracks and entered without waiting to hear an invitation.

“I'm busy.” the woman known as Gemma said as she pinched together the gash in Grymm's cheek and pulled a needle and thread through it.

“I was looking for the healer.” Rikki informed her. He met Grymm's unfocused gaze. The Corporal winced as Gemma poked the needle through his flesh again.

“I need to see if he knows where Lady Monyka has gone.” Rikki thought aloud.

“Did she have dark curly hair and an arrow in her leg?” inquired still intent at her task.

“Yes. Have you seen her?”

“She's resting at my home.” Gemma stated. “She's been through hell today.”

Rikki nodded even though no one was looking at him.

Gemma snipped the thread next to Grymm's face with some shears then turned and faced the Captain.

“Lieutenant Kollyns was a close friend of mine.” he felt he needed to explain. “I want to check on her and make sure she is alright.”

“Well, she isn't alright. She is in shock over her husband's death and feels guilty about hurting two of your men, including I believe, this one.”

“I want to talk to her about that too.” Rikki nodded.

“Right now isn't a good time.” Gemma stated. “She needs to time to recoup her strength. The day's events took a lot out of her.”

“Tell er not too feel guilty. Thit appenth in battle.” Grymm slurred his words around his swelling face.

Rikki scrubbed a hand through his hair, “I'll tell her.” His gaze went to Gemma's, “Where might I find her?”

“Go two streets up and take a left. It's the fourth house on the right.”

“Thank you.” Rikki nodded.

“Captain, if she is sleeping, don't wake her. She needs her sleep.” Gemma warned. “I'll be finished here in a few minutes.”

“Thank you, Gemma.” Rikki suppressed his smile. He caught Grymm's attention. “There will be an officer's meeting at sunset.”

“Kay, Where?”

“I don't know yet. Yyan will find you and let you know.”

Rikki left the infirmary and saw only two of his soldiers left that needed to be sewn up.

“How long are we going to be able to stay here, Captain?” one soldier asked.

“Rikki drew his fingers through his hair. “It looks like a few days at least. How are you doing?”

“Not as bad as some of the others, Sir. But a day or so of rest will do a lot of us good.”

Rikki nodded. “After this morning, you all deserve it.”

 

Rikki was halfway to Gemma's house when he heard his name being called. He turned to see Brother Tagyrt running up the street.

“Captain!” he called again to make sure he had Rikki's attention.

“What is it Tagyrt?” He dropped the priests title.

“Its...... Its...... He's awake.”

“Nevyre?”

Brother Tagyrt nodded.

Rikki sprinted back towards the make shift infirmary with the winded priest close behind him.

The woman from earlier was kneeling besides Nevyre's cot.

“Where is she?” Captain Kalhoun blurted out. “Where is Adiah?”

 

 

To be continued...

Great to See This Again...

...and an excellent job of advancing several different storylines without confusion.

Two male horselords and an equine princess: our helpful trio again? Certainly a step up in class if they are; they've always been independent outsider types before. Nobles don't really fit their pattern: too much accountability -- unless, of course, it eventually turns out that Queen Esmerelda has never heard of her 'daughter' Ka'mya.

Hope we see more of this.

Eric

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