Healing a Princess... 34 (Finding a lost Princess)

Healing a Princess 34

 

(Finding a lost Princess)

 

By Tim Knight

 

 

 

 

 

 

She didn't know which was better, her stomach growling, or it tying its self into knots for lack of food. She was ever so thankful that Nevyre had given her his cloak, but wondered if she should attempt to leave her hiding place. What could have happened to him?

Earlier, she thought she had seen and heard Captain Kalhoun calling for her. At first she thought it was another elven trick to get her to come out of her hiding place. Her heart jumped in her chest and pumped adrenaline through her body when she realized that he was there looking for her. Nevyre must have told him where she was. She was just about to run through the trees screaming for him, when he turned his horse and charged down the muddy trail with a small group of mounted elves chasing him.

That had been early in the afternoon. The gray skies were darkening now. The shadows of the trees were getting darker and lengthening as the sun, hidden by the clouds, dipped low in the West.

She was gathering up her strength and courage to leave the shelter of the fallen tree and make her way South to Blaire, but just as she was about to emerge, a group of elves set up a camp on the road. They lit a fire that flickered warm orange flames that beckoned to her, promising her warmth and a way to dry out her damp clothes from morning's rain.

All she wanted was to see the different kingdoms and be with the horses. So far, she had been attacked by pirates on the river, ambushed by men posing as elves near Roberton, caught picking pockets in the Dwarven underground and then ambushed by real elves in Blaire where she was left cold, wet, and hungry out in the middle of the forest. Now it just seemed she was in more danger. If she tried to leave, her hiding place, the elves might hear her or even see her.

Adiah tried to focus only on the cut in the palm of her hand. The throbbing pain had gone away, but now it was a burning, itching feeling that came and went. If she concentrated only on that burning sensation then she could forget about the gnawing in her stomach. At least for a little while. What she wouldn't give for some sweetbread with golden honey. Or a small hen stuffed with rice garlic and onions.

An elf left the circle of fire and stepped just inside the tree line. He unfastened his pants and began to urinate.

“Human.” It called in broken common with a heavy accent. “Human sorcerer, I come for you soon. I come in the morning and cut your neck off.” he chuckled as he shook his member and stuffed it back into his pants. “In the morning.”

Where are you Nevyre? She sent a silent plea to the Gods.

 

 

 

--o0o--

 

 

“How has she been?” Gemma asked the young girl sitting beside the bed.

“She is fighting. I think she wants to die.”

Gemma nodded. “It is understandable after all that she has been through today. Have you ever seen such a strong aura?”

The girl shook her head. “The strongest I've seen is Kaniel's.”

“Did you have to reinforce her sleep, Melana?” Gemma asked.

“Just a little bit about ten minutes ago. I only gave enough to quiet her.”

Gemma nodded. “A Captain of the Riponian soldiers will be coming by in a bit. He wants to talk with her about what happened this morning. Once he leaves, I will speak with her.”

“How does one so strong in sorcery go so long without training?” Melana asked.

Gemma shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. “Either no one with the gift is near her in Riponia, or she has only recently been opened.”

The girl looked horrified. “To be opened at her age and with no training?”

Gemma nodded. “Now you know why I encouraged her to sleep.” She lifted the blankets covering the young woman and gently revealed a bandaged leg. “Alright Melana, Lets see how you did on that leg wound.”

Melana put down her needle work and joined her mistress.

“The bandage is a bit tight.” Gemma noted as she began to undress the wound. “Its a waste of the gift if we keep the blood from bringing good energy to the wound by making the bandage too tight.”

“Sorry.” Melana sounded crushed.

“The wrapping is beautiful though.” Gemma tried to keep her pupil's spirits up. “What did you use as a poultice?”

Melana named off several herbs as Gemma nodded.

“Good, good.” Gemma took two deep breaths, closed her eyes and placed her hand over the wound. Melana stood and quiet in anticipation and watched as the area around Gemma's hand began to glow softly.

Gemma took a deep breath and opened her eyes. “You did well, Melana.” She smiled. “All I did was reinforce a little of the tissue.”

“Thank you.” Melana grinned.

“Now go ahead and re wrap that bandage but a little looser this time. I need to start to bring her out of the deep sleep so that she can speak to the Captain when he gets here.” Melana took Gemma's place next to the exposed leg. “How strong do you feel?”

“I feel fine.” Melana reassured Gemma.

“Good. Because tonight, you and I are going to take a shift in the barracks and try helping those soldiers. You can practice using your gift while doing mundane chores.”

Melana smiled. “Thank you, Gemma.”

 

 

--o0o--

 

“Hold on there, Captain.” Lorcan trotted down the row of stalls, “Where do you think you are going?”

“I know where she is.” Rikki stated. “I've got to go get her.”

“The missing princess?” Lorcan whispered the last word.

Rikki nodded. “If she is still alive and you can bet that I'm praying to the three Gods that she is.”

“It's getting too late, Captain. It will be full dark before you even make it too the edge of the forest.”

“She is under my protection. I have to go get her.” Rikki growled as he tightened Sefu's saddle.

“Not this late. It would be suicide to go out there.”

::Captain, think this through.:: Sorryn's voice erupted in Rikki's head. ::If you go out there alone tonight, you will be dead and she will still be in peril. I told you I'd go with you. We'll leave at at first light.::

Rikki slumped and leaned against Sefu wanting the horse's support.

“Sorryn and I will go with you first thing in the morning. I'm sure I can find a volunteer or two as well.”

“That poor little girl. If she is still alive is all alone out in that forest, surrounded by elves. Lost, hungry and scared to death.” Rikki spoke to the ground as he rest his head on Sefu.

“Tomorrow, Captain.” Lorcan insisted.

Slowly Rikki nodded, giving in to their insistence.

“Besides you have enough to worry about right here.” Lorcan stated.

Rikki nodded.

“Have you looked in on your wounded?”

“Yes.” Rikki stated.

“Have you seen to your dead?”

Rikki sighed. “No.”

“What about your Princess? Have you seen to her needs since you've returned?”

Rikki took a deep breath.

“Have you even eaten today?”

Rikki let out the breath and removed the saddle from Sefu

::You are tired, Captain.:: Sorryn stated. :: You aren't thinking too clearly and that leads to mistakes and to more dead. You need a good meal and some sleep. Lorcan and I can be available before first light.::

::You're right.:: Rikki sent back as he sighed.

::Go get some thing to eat. I'll send a page to guide you to Princess Ka'mya's quarters.::

“I'm getting an incredible headache.” Rikki stated to Lorcan.

“I'll bet you are.”

 

--o0o--

 

“How are you feeling, dear?” Gemma asked as Monyka's eyes fluttered open then squinted against the lantern light.

“Not again.” Monyka groaned.

“What's that, Dear.” Gemma prodded.

“Light is hurting my eyes.”

Gemma looked around the room and beckoned Melana to put out a couple of the lanterns.

“How is your head, dear?”

“Stuffy, like my brain is covered in cotton and cobwebs.”

Gemma nodded. “Any pain?”

“My leg hurts a bit.”

“What about your head?”

“I don't feel like blacksmiths are banging away anymore, but it still aches.”

“I've got some tea for you to drink. It has something for your pain.”

Monyka gave a nod and allowed Melana to help her sit upright.

“Tanek's balls!” Monyka winced at the sound of her own voice. “I need to get to the Princess.” She started to get up, but with a nod from Gemma, Melana gently pushed her back into bed.

“Your Princess is doing just fine. I believe the Horselords are taking care of her.” Gemma patted her hand. “You need your rest. You are in no shape to take care of anyone but your self.”

“But. . . “ Monyka began to protest.

“But nothing.” Gemma's voice was stern but full of concern.

Monyka slumped back into her pillows and looked around her.

“My name is Gemma and this is my assistant, Melana.” Gemma introduced. “I'm the midwife in this area.”

“I'm Monyka. I'm the Princess' assistant. I really should go to her.” Monyka began to get up again.

“She has been taken care of. You, young lady are to drink this tea and lay back. Your Riponian Captain will be stopping by in just a few minutes. He wants to speak with you.”

“Kadyr?” Monyka's eyes welled up, blurring the limited light.

“I'm sorry, dear,”

Melana handed her a soft square of cloth to blot her eyes.

“Grymm? Is he alright?” Monyka asked.

“He is doing better. He said not to worry about him.”

A knock sounded at the door. Gemma nodded to Melana who answered it.

“I'm here to see Lady Monyka.” Rikki announced.

“Come in Captain.” Melana stood aside for him. “She has just waken up.”

Rikki entered the small home and looked around. “Its kind of dark in here isn't?”

“She is suffering a . . . headache.”

“Sorry it took me so long, Mistress. I had to take care of a few things.”

 

--o0o--

 

Taelah sat on the hard packed earth floor and leaned up against the thick logs that surrounded her. The Brigg door was made of iron strips woven together. A lantern on the opposite wall was the only source of light.

The two guards who escorted her firmly nudged her into the cell and closed the door. She hadn't seen anyone since. Every so often a sound would penetrate the walls; usually a shout or someone stomping down some nearby stairs. She really didn't care. Everything was falling down around her.

She did as they had asked. . . . Everything that they had asked. She alerted the Riponians to the ambush near Roberton, she began to gain the trust of the Riponian Sergeant, She put up with being all but locked up in the Dwarven underground, and she lit the candle to show them where the Dwarven Gate was located. She did it all and they tried to kill her instead of rescue her as they had promised. They probably lied about her father too. She just wanted to meet her father, to be welcomed into a family, to be accepted. Now she was locked up in a cell waiting to have her head chopped off or be hung or perhaps burned alive.

“I know what your orders are. It's just some bread and a bit of water.” a familiar voice sounded from down the hall. “Go inform the Captain. I'm sure he will be alright with me feeding the prisoner.”

Taelah's heart jumped at the sound of the Sergeant's voice. The one man who had shown her kindness in many a year. The one man who didn't expect anything from her, but friendship. The man who hated her elven heritage, yet excepted her. Her heart dropped like a lead weight. The one man that she betrayed over all of the others.

She swallowed a hard lump as he came into view.

“I brought you some food.” he motioned with the plate. He set it down on the earthen floor and scooted it under the iron bars. “Figured you must be hungry. Don't worry, I'm still following orders, its just bread and water.”

“Why?” Taelah asked in a whispered breath.

“Why what?”

“Why do you care?”

Takoda sighed heavily. “I don't know. I guess I want to believe that you innocent in this whole mess.”

“Does it really matter?”

“I guess to me, it does.” Takoda looked pleadingly at Taelah. “Why did you do alert the elves to location of the Dwarven gate and set up our ambush?”

“I didn't know that they were planning on ambushing you, I swear.”

“But you did know about the Dwarven gate.” he stated.

Taelah nodded refusing to meet his gaze. “I was told that it was just a candle. I had no idea that it was supposed to do that.”

“Why?”

“They said that I would be reunited with my father. That I would be welcomed into their clan.”

“And you believed them.” the old soldier shook his head.

Silence fell between them.

“Takoda, I swear I didn't know that they were going to ambush you.”

Takoda looked up and met her gaze. Tears fell from his eyes. Her heart ached, but she knew that she had done too much damage the pain was like another scar in his face.

Takoda turned and slowly walked away, his head down.

“I'm sorry Takoda.” She called after him. “I'm so sorry.”

 

--o0o--

 

“I don't want you to do anything but rest tonight and tomorrow.” Rikki ordered Monyka. He looked to Gemma, “Is it alright if she stays with you?”

“Of course, Captain. Where else would she go? To the barracks with the other soldiers? I don't think so.”

“Thank you, Gemma.” Rikki gave her a soft smile. He looked back at Monyka. “Annyka can take care of her Highness for a day or two with out you.”

“But. . . “Monyka began to protest.

“No.” Rikki shook his head.

“What about Kadyr?” Monyka managed to get out.

“His body is being taken care of. We can't haul any of them along with us, so we are having a funeral pyre tomorrow night.”

“Can I. . . I need to see to his body.”

Rikki looked to Gemma for help.

“Tomorrow, dear.” she nodded. “Tomorrow, I will help you with preparing your husband.”

Monyka nodded agreement. “Thank you.”

Gemma walked with Captain Kalhoun to the door.

“Are you sure that it will be alright? I don't want to impose more than we already have.”

“Nonsense, Captain. She is a good young woman who needs a little help right now. I am completely capable of handling this.”

Rikki held out three silver coins that had been melted together. “For all of your help, sewing up my Corporal's face, taking care of Lady Monyka and everything you have done.”

“No, that is alright, Captain.”

“Please, her Highness will insist that you accept this. It is far less than you deserve.”

“I'll see you tomorrow, Captain.” Gemma nudged him towards the door.

“Please, my Lady. It will do you good.” Melana's voice was heard from the other room. Gemma turned to see what was going on. Rikki slipped the coins onto a table near the door before stepping out in to a light drizzle.

“Another wet night.” he sighed aloud. He marked Monyka's name off of his mental list of things to do. Rikki looked around to gather his bearings and then started off down the already mucky road.

The Captain took a deep breath outside the inn door before entering. The main room was virtually empty. Ambassador Kalgar sat near the fire with a large mug of ale beside him. Grymm sat opposite of the dwarf, half of his face wrapped in bandages

“How are you doing, Grymm?”

“Fine thir.” The Ambathador found a large pieth of hollow thtraw for me to thuck my ale through.” Rikki hoped that was a grin on the Corporal's face.
“Can't keep a soldier away from his ale, huh?” Rikki smiled.

Grymm shook his head.

“The others?” Captain Kalhoun asked.

“Thould be along thortly, thir.”

“I'll be right back, I'm going to go check on the Ambassador.”

“It's not pretty.” Kalgar warned. He grabbed a small bottle from the table and tossed it to the Captain. “Rub a bit of that under your nose.”

Rikki opened the bottle and took a sniff. “Mint oil?”

Kalgar nodded. “It'll keep some of the odor at bay.

Rikki dabbed some of the strong smelling oil under his nose and walked down the short corridor to where he could hear voices. He knocked on the door and pushed it open. The Captain had seen burned bodies before but he still couldn't get used to the sight as well as the smell that went with it. Kalgar was right. He should put the Ambassador out of his misery.

“Wash your hands,” a voice ordered.

Captain Kalhoun saw the healer that he had seen earlier in the day along with another woman. The pair of them held tweezers and were pulling bits of flesh and clothing off of the Ambassador's body.

“I just came by to check on him.” Rikki said from the door.

“He's unconscious. Thank the Gods.” the woman stated. “We have to wait for him to lose consciousness so that we can clean his skin. It would be too painful otherwise.”

Captain Kalhoun nodded understanding. “He has been conscious?”

“Yes.” the healer pulled a black charred piece of something off of the Ambassador's raw and seeping chest.

“I'll check back.” Rikki quickly ducked out of the room and quickly retraced his steps down the hall, through the main room and out into the evening air to take a few deep breaths.

“Warned you.” Kalgar's voice followed him.

Once his stomach settled, Rikki returned to the main room to see that Sergeant Galyway, and Yeoman Bayley had joined them.

“Where's Sergeant Takoda?”

“I believe Yyan was having trouble finding him.” Yeoman Bayley spoke up.

“Have him check the Brigg.” Captain Kalhoun collapsed into a chair. Grymm got up to leave. “No, Grymm, you need to take it easy.”

“I'll go find him.” Yeoman Bayley went to the door.

The door opened. Takoda, looking worn, and exhausted entered. He shook off the drizzle. “I'm here.” his voice sounded broken.

“Come warm yourself by the fire, Sergeant.” Kalgar invited.

“How are you doing, Corporal?” Takoda asked.

“alright.”
“Skot, could you lay out that map? Okay, give me a run down.” Captain Kalhoun put his head in his hands.

“We've lost about twenty five percent of our soldiers, cavalry, and heavy combined.” Galyway stated.

“What of the retinue?” the Captain began rubbing his temples.

“We lost a few, but they didn't seem to be the target.”

“Just the Princess.” Skot weighed down the corners of the map.

“What is being done with the dead?”

“Most have been prepared for a pyre. The rest will be finished tomorrow.” Galyway drained his mug.

“The Printheth ith thafe.” Grymm stated. “Tho we have done our jobth.”

“Not well enough.” Captain Kalhoun managed to keep the hurt from his voice. A silence fell over the inn's main room. “I was able to speak with Nevyre. I know where he hid Princess Adiah. I'm leaving at first light tomorrow. Lorcan and Sorryn have volunteered to come with me. Skot, I want you and two of your best archers. Markys, I need you to stay here, with Kadyr gone, you're my next in command. Find me two of your best riders who are in condition to fight.”

“I'll go.” Grymm volunteered.

“Sorry Corporal, I need you here, with Markys, besides, you can only see out of one eye right now.”

The corporal looked crestfallen. Captain Kalhoun turned back to Galyway. “How long do we need until we are healed enough to continue?”

“We'll need five, six days.”

“Takoda, I need you to find and outfit a suitable carriage for the Princess.”

Takoda nodded.

The Captain looked at the map spread out before him. Should we go east to Evalynton, to the Malden river and take a river boat down to Malden city, or should we head south to Sprucesprings and then go east taking the roads?”

“Taking the river will be easier on the wounded.” Skot pointed out.

“I don't like the idea of being on a river boat again,” Markys disagreed, “I don't feel we have enough control over the terrain if we were to be attacked again.”

“The river would be faster,” Captain Kalhoun pushed a dark lock of hair back, “and easier on the wounded. I'm sure the horses could use a break too.”

“I know we could all use a rest, Sir, but I don't feel comfortable relying in the river and unknown people to steer us down its course safely. At least on the road, we can send out scouts and have some warning for what is coming our direction.”

“I understand, Markys,” Rikki acknowledged, “We have a few days before we decide which route to take. We have more urgent matters to take care of right now.” Captain Kalhoun looked to the Dwarven Ambassador. “Ambassador Kalgar, were any of Zareb's papers saved from the carriage?”

“Sorry, lad.” Kalgar shook his head. “I was too busy trying to escape with my beard intact.”

“I'll need your help when we get to Malden to remember the different details of the Ambassador's treaties.”

“Aye, not a problem, Captain.”

Captain Kalhoun fixed each of them with a penetrating look. “I'll be leaving before first light tomorrow. Sergeant Galyway will be in charge in my absence. If for some reason, I don't make it back in three days, you are to make plans to take Princess Tonya to Malden to get her leg healed. Once she is feeling better, you are to get her back to Riponia as fast and as safely as you can.” he paused. “If you need it, consider that an order.” heads around the room nodded.“You are all dismissed. Sergeant Takoda would you stay please?”

Captain Kalhoun waited until everyone had left the common room before taking his mug of ale over and sitting next to the tired Sergeant. He put his feet up on the hearth of the fire place and sat in silence watching the orange flames dance as they slowly ate away at the log.

“What do you want me to do, Takoda?” Rikki let out a breath and arched his back. The only sounds came from the hissing of the water in the log boiling away and the old military man's breathing.

“Her actions whether innocent or not, put two Princess' lives in harms way, killed two dozen good men and injured at least that many more. Ambassador Zareb is dying a room down that hall. I'm told when he is conscious that the is in agony. Princess Adiah is still out in the forest and the Gods only know if she is alive.”

Takoda took a deep breath, his voice was hollow and broken. “She swears that she didn't know about the ambush. The elves promised to reunite her with her father if she would light a candle near the gate to the dwarven underground. She says that she didn't know that it was a flare or an explosive.”

“You are aware that we are allies with the Dwarves, and she may have just compromised that relationship?”

Takoda nodded.

“I have too much to worry about right now, Takoda. I need some much needed sleep and I don't know if I can. My eyes want to close, but my mind is like a disturbed hornets nest.” He took a long draw on his ale. “Have you looked in on Ambassador Zareb?”

Takoda shook his head.

“Why don't you go check on him. We'll try to resolve this other issue in the morning.” Rikki heaved himself out of his chair and left the King's Sergeant at Arms in his own thoughts.

The drizzle came down in small drops, not quite a mist, but it seemed to make everything about him seem wet. Rikki made his way through the dark, muddy streets.

“Captain.” a heavily armored guard saluted at the door to the Brigg.

“At ease, private.”

“Sergeant Takoda was here earlier. He brought the prisoner some bread and water.” the guard informed.

“Thank you, Private.” Captain Kalhoun nodded and entered the dark hall.

A lone lantern hung from the wall casting a grid of shadows into the cell that Rikki assumed would hold the half-elf Taelah.

“Did Takoda explain it to you?” Taelah's frightened voice sounded from the cell.

Rikki stopped in front of the grid of iron and looked down on the mud covered blonde half-elf. One of her eyes was in shadow from the bars, the other filled with pleading, and hope.

Rikki reached inside his jacket and pulled out a crudely made elven blade and tossed it through the bars onto the hard packed earthen floor. “You have a choice. You can take care of this problem now or I will have to after the trial tomorrow.” He watched the look on her face flash from shock to comprehension. He turned his back to her and walked out of the Brigg.

Rikki mentally crossed Taelah's name off of his mental list as he trudged through the wet air. He pulled his collar up to help keep some of the moisture from seeping into his skin. All he could think about was laying down in a bed and sleeping for a week, but he had one more thing to do before getting what little sleep he could.

Rikki entered the small, dimly lit temple. A musky aroma from incense filled the air comforting the Captain a little. In front of him a large relief of scales dominated the wall. Its shadows wavered and undulated in the flickering light given off by the candles. Four other people were in the temple, each silently asking the Gods for guidance or forgiveness. Rikki stepped up to the wood carved wall and bowed before igniting a piece of straw from a candle and lighting one of his own.

Bob, Rikki began in his head, I know you keep balance between chaos and order, but I just lost a whole lot of good men. Please don't tip the scales any further into chaos. Rikki paused. In the morning, I am going back out into the forest to find Princess Adiah. I could really use a little bit of your help in locating her and bringing her safely back to Lyonsgate.

Rikki bowed before stepping back. He then turned to the left and faced a wall carved with a beautiful woman. Shafts of wheat surrounded her, as high as her waist. The Sun and a rain cloud both dominated the sky behind her. Animals of all kinds were depicted through out the relief; Ants crawling up the blades of grass, horses grazing in the background, various birds soaring in the sky, butterflies flitting around wild flowers mixed in the wheat.

Rikki bowed to the representation of the Goddess and lit a candle on the small alter before her.

Tanitha, Goddess of love, order and harvest, I thank you for bringing my princess and I safely through the forest. For keeping us safe. Thank you for sending Lorcan and Sorryn to our aid. Please give your blessing to the people of Lyonsgate for their hospitality and generosity. Rikki paused. Please take the souls of the men that I have lost into your loving arms and comfort them as they make their way into the after-life. Loving Goddess, please, I ask one more favor of you. Please help guide me to find Princess Adiah. Please let her be safe and unharmed.

Rikki took a step back and bowed to the image before turning and crossing over to the opposite wall. His bow to this carved relief was a little more stiff. The artists rendering of Tanek was a nondescript man. To one side of the figure was a tornado carved with a tree and a cow in its clutches.. A large wave of water with torn ship in its frothy crest emerged from the other side, while an ominous cloud ejecting lightening hung over his Tanek's head. In the background to his left was a massive war scene with bodies and body parts sprawled out on a ground being consumed by flames. On his right maimed bodies and plague victims looked to be crawling and reaching towards the god, begging for mercy as a grass fire burned behind them.

Rikki suppressed a shiver as he lit a candle before the graphic scene. He may not worship Tanek as fervently as he did Tanitha, but one should not show disrespect to the God. Great lord of chaos, please take pity on me and my men. In your. . . . wisdom, Rikki managed not to choke, You took more than a quarter of my men. They were good men who fought bravely and justly. Please allow their souls to rest in peace, knowing that their friends and loved ones miss them and will remember them. Rikki looked at the horrible carved scene for a long moment not knowing what else to say. Finally he stepped back and bowed. Rikki glanced once more around the room before heading to get some over due shut eye.

 

--o0o--

 

Taelah stared with dread at knife laying in the cell as if it were a poisonous snake. It looked to be a typical elven made blade. One most any of her father's people would carry on them to skin a rabbit. The roughly beaten and pitted steel reflected the lantern light as if it were a faintly glowing star in the sky. Tentively, she reached for the leather wrapped, bone handle. She picked it up and almost dropped it, expecting it to burn her fingers. Instead the leather felt soft, comforting. She held it up and began to study it's craftsmanship.

The door to the Brigg opened. Taelah looked around the cell for a place to hide the knife. She slipped it under the slop bucket. Was it the Captain coming back to see if she had done the deed, or perhaps he changed his mind and was going to release her.

“How are you doing?” The voice warmed her heart yet made the blood in her arms and legs go cold.

“A little cold.” She admitted.

“I'll see if I can get you a blanket.”

Taelah shrugged. “Don't get into trouble over me.”

“I'm the King's Sergeant at Arms. I have a little bit of pull in Riponian matters.” Takoda tried to manage a grin but it quickly faded from his lips, never having touched his eyes.

“The Captain said that I'll be put on trial tomorrow.”

Takoda remained quiet.

“They'll find me guilty, won't they Takoda.” She already knew they would. If she was on the jury, she would have handed down a guilty verdict on herself.

“I doubt they will be able to get a trial put together tomorrow.” Takoda reached through the iron grid offering a hand of support. “We have a couple of more days to figure something out.”

Taelah nodded although her heart was in the pit of her stomach. Even if she managed to survive the trial and was allowed her freedom, what could she do? She would be branded worse than a half-breed, she would be a traitor and a half-breed. No matter where she went, she would be the outcast.

Taleah took the man's hand and held it gingerly in hers enjoying its roughness. The way the strength was so controlled so gentle in hers. Somehow this human, of all the ones that she had met, made her feel safe, confident, loved. How could a man who had fought her father's people all of his life have such an affect on her. This war vetern had killed many of her kin at a word from his king. He had saved his king's life by slaying people who made up her blood line. How could he have such tender feelings for her.

Taelah rubbed her cheek against his hand enjoying its warmth and made a decision.

 

 

--o0o--

 

The silver of pre-dawn was changing to the gold just before the sun peeks over the horizon. The dark forest loomed up in front of them.

::Is there any other way to reach the site of the ambush without taking the old road?:: Rikki asked Sorryn.

::I don't patrol beyond the tree line. It's too dangerous. Lorcan might know.::

Rikki repeated the question to the centaur.

::There's an old goat trail to the west of here.:: Lorcan sent. ::It was used by the monks.::

“I spotted some old stone buildings when I was fleeing with the princess.”Rikki stated speaking out loud and startling Skot and the others.

“That would be them.” Lorcan confirmed

“You said, 'was'.” Rikki clarified. “The monks left?”

“Some were able to make it out before the elves massacred them.” Lorcan shrugged. “The Gods only know about the rest.”

::The stubborn men refused out onto the grasslands where we could offer better protection,:: Sorryn told Rikki.

“No one went to check for survivors?” Skot was horrified.

“Aye, people have gone to check.” Lorcan gave Skot a piercing look. “No one had returned, from the checking. Some say it is haunted by the monks.”

“Haunted?” Skot's eyes grew a little larger.

“Some say.”

“What about this trail?” Rikki asked changing the subject back.

“I know it goes up to the monastery, but I don't know how close it'll get us to the attack site.” Lorcan acknowledged.

“Is it really haunted?” Skot questioned.

Lorcan nodded. “Getting close raises the hair along my spine.”

Skot looked from Lorcan's human spine to his equine spine. “Which one?”

Lorcan looked puzzled at him for a moment then grinned. “Both.” he chuckled. He became serious and pointed at the tree line. “What is left of the trail is just in there.” Lorcan pointed.

Rikki looked east as the gold and orange rays of the sun crested the rolling hills setting the softly waving grass aglow in colors ranging from yellow-green to orange.

::Beautiful isn't it.:: Sorryn stated.

::It is.:: Rikki agreed before stepping into the shadows cast by the trees.

A feeling of dread flooded his extremities, as his chest tightened with anxiety. These woods were cursed. It didn't matter what anyone said; this forest would always feel cursed to him.

The only sound amongst the trees were the slow, steady beat of the horse's hoofs.

:: is it safe enough to send my scouts out?:: Rikki sent to Lorcan.

::As long as they don't stray too far from the trail.::

“Skot,” Rikki's voice was almost a whisper, “Sent your two men out to scout, but keep this excuse of a goat trail with in sight.”

Skot nodded and reined in to allow his two scouts to catch up with him.

::Settle down, Captain.:: Sorryn's voice interrupted Rikki's thoughts.

::I thought you can't see or hear thoughts.:: Rikki posed, embarrassed and a little unserved.

::Relax, I didn't need to read your thoughts, I can smell your fear. Take a deep breath.::

Rikki inhaled deeply though his nose, noticing the wet, musty smell of damp earth, decomposing tree needles and the tang of moss.

::Now think of something that relaxes you.:: Sorryn advised.

Rikki thought about riding Sefu at full speed. Feeling the horse's strength beneath him as well as the wind rushing past his face always thrilled and made him feel at ease. The last time he felt that feeling however was one day ago when he was racing down the overgrown road with Tonya. The thought of the Princess brought other memories, other feelings into the forefront of this mind. The feel of her blonde hair tickling his cheek and nose as the wind tore at her curls. The feel of his arms around her waist keeping her protected as they raced from danger. The way her hand would involuntarily clutch his forearm. Even the way her creamy skin glistened with the excitement and fear.

::What ever you are thinking is working.:: Sorryn's voice interrupted Rikki's line of thought.

::It was until you butted in.:: Rikki snapped.

::What, may I ask were you thinking about?::

::Tonya.:: The thought jumped to the forefront of his mind before he could guard it and shove it back down into the safe recesses of his mind. ::I mean, home.:: He tried to cover the slip up.

Rikki listened hard to the forest around, but only the foot falls of his friends and men's mounts could be heard. If he stared any harder through the trees he felt his eyes would pop out.

::Captain, your secret is safe with me.:: Sorryn's voice startled him.

::What secret?:: Rikki posed.

::I know the truth, Captain.:: Sorryn insisted. “And I think you should know that she has strong feelings towards you as well.::

::No she doesn't.:: Rikki protested. ::She is royalty, my sovereign princess.::

::Are you telling me that Princess' can't have feelings? Because I know of two back in Lyonsgate who are temperamental and have very strong feelings. One of them is my sovereign, the other, yours.::

::A passing infatuation perhaps?::

::Oh, I think it's a bit beyond an infatuation. Rikki, I spent a better part of yesterday and last night with both of the Princesses. Humans new to mind speech sometimes have a hard time keeping certain prominent thoughts hidden. Similar to what just happened to you a few moments ago. Princess Tonya has strong feelings towards you. I heard her thoughts as clearly as I am hearing yours.::

::Even if she does have feelings towards me, what can she do? She is a Princess. I am only a cavalry Captain.::

::Captain, one thing I know is women are unpredictable and do not make any sense, especially where their hearts are concerned.::

::Does Princess Ka'mya have feelings towards you?” Rikki asked.

::Not that I'm aware of.::

“So where did Nevyre stash the Princess?” Skot interrupted the conversation.

“Under a dead fall with a password.” Rikki kept his voice low. “He had her perform a concealment spell to help keep her hidden.”

“Blood magic?” Skot became concerned.

Rikki nodded.

::Riponians use blood magic?:: Sorryn asked.

::No. At least they aren't supposed to. It has been outlawed in Riponia and Truno as long as I can remember.::

“Talison and Dianthe will love to hear that.” Skot rolled his eyes.

“Hopefully they will be too overjoyed that their daughter is safe and unharmed to care about that.”

::I'm sure there are those who practice the dark art of blood magic in secret though.:: Rikki sent to Lorcan.

“I'm sure Brother Tagyrt could pray for her soul or something.”

“Don't push it. I'm just becoming comfortable in his healing abilities.”

::Every once in a while we will come across a witch using blood magic.:: Sorryn stated, ::The first time they are found out, we have their thumbs cut off. They are then watched very closely. If they try it again, they are drown in blood.::

::I take it there aren't too many who practice blood magic in Adwahna.::

“So what is the password?” Skot inquired.

“Dwarf Dung.”

Skot was silent. “You can trust me, Captain. I won't tell anyone unless you personally tell me to.”

Rikki cracked a smile. “Skot,” he lowered his voice, “The password is Dwarf Dung.”

Skot cracked a smile and began to chuckle “Seriously?”

Rikki nodded.

“Good thing Ambassador Kalgar isn't here.”

Rikki nodded in agreement.

 

 

--o0o--

 

 

 

Adiah's bladder was full again. She didn't know how. She was only able to manage a few sips of water collected by some of the leaves during the night. As foul as the water tasted, it felt good on her parched throat. Now her bladder was full and the sun had already crested. Parts of her brain screamed for her to leap out of her hiding place in the leaves and run as fast as she could, the other part begged her to stay. Nevyre told her to stay no matter what until the secret words were spoken.

The elves on the road had eaten their morning meal and began to armor up when a dark cloaked elf joined them with a human boy, hand bound and stumbling along behind. The leader of the elves spoke briefly with the cloaked elf who then raised his arms in the air a few times. The elven warriors who had been waiting over night on the road backed away from the cloaked elf as he began chanting and waving his arms around as if in some kind of dance.

After a few moments he stopped and looked around the road. He pointed to the burned out carriage then to through the trees at the very spot from where Adiah was watching, her heart pounding in her chest like one of the huge hollow drums that the dwarves enjoy so much. The elves all followed his gaze to the dead fall and grinned.

“We come for you now, human.” the elf who taunted her last night smiled. He spoke briefly to the others and they fanned out to either side of the road. The Elf turned back to the dark cloaked one and said something. The dark cloaked elf began to chant again. One hand pulled a dagger from his belt the other pulled the tethered boy to him. In one fluid movement, as graceful as a dancer, the dark cloaked elf slit the boy's throat. Blood erupted from the boy's neck and spilled down his naked chest.

Adiah screamed. She couldn't help her self. The scream burst from her dry lips before she knew she was gathering her breath.

“Ah, we see you now, human.” the elf started forward. The others moved towards her as well.

“Tanek take you, Nevyre.” She cursed

To frightened to notice that warm water ran down her legs, Adiah scrambled out of the dead fall and began running through the trees away from the elves.

“Save me Tanitha!” She screamed as she ran. “Save me!”

She heard laughter from the elves as they chased after her.

A weight hit her in the back knocking her to the ground. Small yet strong hands flipped her over. Adiah slashed out with the knife that Nevyre had given her and sliced open the elf's face.

The elf cursed and hit her across the face. Adiah blindly swung the knife again and again until she found her hands pinned to the ground. Other elves surrounded her, spears pointing just inches from her body.

“No worry, human. We don't hurt you, your blood is much valued by Maskalah.” the leader wiped blood from his face.

 

 

--o0o--

 

“How are you feeling this morning, dear?” Gemma asked Monyka as she entered the room.

Monyka rubbed at her eyes and flexed the muscles in her sore leg enjoying the bit of pain that it caused. She shrugged.

Gemma placed a folded piece of fabric at the foot of the bed. “Here's a fresh gown. Once you've changed, you can join us for our morning meal.”

“Should I be putting weight on this so soon?” Monyka questioned.

“It'll be better the sooner you are exercising it.” Gemma smiled.

“I'm not really hungry.” Monyka grumbled. “Would you mind if I just stayed in bed?”

“Yes, I would mind.” Gemma's voice carried an icy edge. “Get dressed and join us. Melana has made a special breakfast for you.” Gemma walked out of the room not willing to fight with the young woman.

Monyka threw the blankets off from herself and eased out of the bed, gingerly placing weight on her injured leg. All she wanted was to be left alone. She wanted so bad to crawl back into the bed and pull the covers up to hide from the world. Something in Gemma's manner however, couldn't be ignored. Monyka yanked off the sweaty and slightly bloody nightgown that she was wearing. She wadded it up threw it at an empty space on the wall. The light sound of the fabric hitting the wall did nothing to soothe her anger. She snatched up the fresh gown and jerked it on over her head. She half marched, half stumbled to the soiled gown and snatched it up and slapped it down on the bed.

She was hurting. In emotional turmoil, why couldn't everyone just leave her alone. The vision of Kadyr's body falling from his horse with an arrow sticking out of his throat flashed through her mind making a lump catch in her throat. She tears away from her eyes, not knowing how or when they had started. Her chest felt as if Sergeant Galyway was giving her a bear hug. It was difficult to breathe with the restriction. Her chest ached. Or more pointedly her heart ached. She couldn't decide if it felt like her heart was gone leaving behind a dark cavity that would never get filled, or if it was just so painful that all she wanted to do was grab a dagger and cut it out herself.

Monyka wiped the remaining tears on her sleeves and took a couple of deep breaths to try and calm herself, at least so that she didn't join Gemma and Melana choking down sobs.

“Good morning, my Lady.” Melana dipped a small curtsy.

“Morning.” Monyka managed a croak. “You don't have to do that you know.”

“What?” Melana asked.

Monyka cleared her throat, “Call me 'my Lady' and curtsy. I'm not highborn. I'm just the Princess's maid.”

“Please take a seat, dear.” Gemma invited as she brought a small stack of toasted bread to the small table.

Monyka took the proffered seat and looked glumly at the nice presentation of food on the table.

Melana placed a plate of pancakes in front of her.

“Melana does wonderful things with pancakes.” Gemma smiled at her assistant as she took a seat between Monyka and Gemma.

The other two were half way done with their pancakes when Monyka took a bite. Before she knew it, the plate in front of her was clean. She used a piece of toast to mop up the last of the maple syrup, then helped herself to some fruit.

“I didn't realize how hungry I was.” Monyka stated. “Thank you, Melana those were very good.” She washed it down with a few sips of tea.

“Thank you.” Melana beamed as she cleared the table.

“How is your leg feeling, dear?”

“Better than expected. The arrow must not have hit anything major.”

Gemma smiled.

“has anyone ever spoken to you about sorcery?”

“You mean like blood magic?” Monyka's eyes went wide with uncertainty.

“no, no, blood magic is sacrificing life's essence to gain power to create spells. Sorcery uses one's own energy to create and do things.”:

The plate of toast slid across the table towards Monyka without being touched. Monyka pushed herself back in her chair with a squeal as if the plate were a spider.

“I'm sorry dear, I didn't mean to startle you.: Gemma apologized.

Monyka's eyes darted up to Gemma and back to the plate to make sure it stayed put.

“I used sorcery.” Gemma explained. She held up her hands. “See no blood.

“But. . . but. . . “

“I know dear, if you aren't exposed to it, it can be kind of unnerving.”

Monyka just nodded.

“The use of sorcery is not looked upon nicely, so we keep our gifts a secret.”

“Because it's evil? Monyka exclaimed vehemently.

Gemma waited moment for Monyka to calm down.

“Yes, it can be used for evil, but with some major draw backs. Most of us only use it for good. My talent for example, is stronger in the healing arts, so I became a midwife and use it to ease suffering. I'm not very strong in the gift so what I can do is limited. Melana is a little stronger than me and she has some talent in cooking. That is why her pancakes are so good. There isn't a whole lot of call for people with a cooking gift so she has come to me to train in the healing arts as a midwife.”

Monyka's gaze lifted from Gemma's to the short haired apprentices.

Melana blushed.

“And people don't know? Or even suspect?”

“We have learned ways to use it without people suspecting, well at least most.” Gemma grinned, “There are some here who suspect and a few who have figured it out.”

“The local healer.” Melana stated.

“The point I'm trying to get to, Monyka is that you have this gift.”

Monyka stared in disbelief.

“In fact you are the strongest with the gift that I've ever seen.”

“You mean curse.” Monyka sneered under her breath.

“It can only be a curse if you use it as one.” Gemma was forceful. “you haven't been trained so you were unable to control yourself. I have heard that you did keep an ax from splitting open your skull as well as your Princess's. You also saved half a dozen of her soldiers by killing those elves.”

“I nearly killed Sergeant Galyway and you've seen what I did to poor Corporal Grymm.”

“Yes those were unfortunate, and that is why you need training, so you can make sure that it never happens again.”

“So you think think I did all of that with magic?”

“Sorcery, yes.”

“How do you know that I have this? How can you be sure?”

“One of the lesson's yo will learn is to see the aura given off by surrounding people with the gift.”

“What if I don't want to be trained? What if I don't want this?”

“Then more innocent people like Corporal Grymm will be hurt or even killed.”

An uneasy quiet fell over the room as Gemma let that sink in. “Listen young lady You can go around bewailing how cursed you are with this gift and things will happen around you; good and bad because you don't know how to control it or you can treat it as a blessing and help those around you. You may even be able to heal your Princess. The Gods know you have enough strength.”

The two women stared at one another, each lost in their own thoughts.

Monyka finally broke the trance, “You really think that I could heal Tonya?”

“Gemma nodded. “You have definitely been blessed with enough strength in the gift.”

 

--o0o--

 

::There are elves in the forest.:: Sorryn spoke. His voice sounded like he was talking through a tunnel. ::I smell a cook fire.::

::Are you sure it isn't the carriages that burned?::

::I know the difference.:: Sorryn stated.

::Why do you sound like you are in a tunnel?::

::I'm a ways off. Scouting.::

::Where are you?::

::Following the smell of the smoke. I think I'm almost to the ambush site.::

::Which direction?::

::I'm not sure.::

“Lorcan , where is that monastery?” Rikki asked.

“I thought we'd be there by now.” Lorcan admitted.

Rikki swore as he guided Sefu up beside a tree. He grabbed a branch and histed himself up. Like a ladder, he climbed spiraling around the tree as he climbed. Three quarters of the way up, he spotted the ruins of the monastery. They had passed it about five minutes ago. They must have inadvertently taken a wrong fork in the goat trail. Holding on to the trunk, Rikki turned and scanned the tree tops.

::I see a small wisp of smoke.:: he sent to Sorryn.

::How far away are you?::

::Half a league, maybe?::

::Hurry, there is a lot of commotion. I think maybe they found her.::

::Bob's balls! We're coming! Is there anything you can do?:: Rikki switched from mind speech to verbal. “Lorcan! Skot! Head east by north east. It looks like they have found her!”

Rikki moved down through the branches so fast it was more of a controlled fall. He dropped into his saddle and turned Sefu in the direction of the smoke. He barely had the reins in hand when he saw the tail of Lorcan disappear in the underbrush. The cavalry Captain ducked low on his mount to avoid wet branches hitting him in the face. His heart pounded a tempo to match that of Sefu's hooves as his mind raced through horrible scenarios.

::What's happening, Sorryn?::

::They found her, Captain. They are binding her hands. She put up a fight. One of the elves is bleeding from his face; looks like a knife wound.::

::Can you distract them?::

::There are too many, they have a blood mage, and the girl is too close.::

Rikki's heart dropped like a stone. The blood mage could quickly find out that Adiah had royal blood in her veins. He had to get her back and soon.

::We are on our way. Do what you can. We can not lose her to those savages.::

Rikki lowered his head as Sefu plunged between two trees. Dry dead branches snapped and splintered as his weight went through them. Poor Sefu was going to be covered in cuts if this kept up.

::Where are you, Lorcan?:: Rikki scanned the forest around him.

::I'm North of you. I've got one of your armored men clanging with me.::

::Can you get East of the road, come in from behind them in case they get away from me?::

::Not with this clanging peddler with me.::

::Have him stay on the road and head South once he hears combat.::

Sorryn interrupted his thoughts, ::They are without horses, for a little while anyway.::

::Thanks, that will help.:: Rikki spotted Skot off to his right. “Skot!” he got the Yeoman's attention, “Head South a little more and come up the road in case they try to go that way.”
Skot gave a nod and turned his mount.

“Behind you, Captain.” Edwyn called.

Rikki gave him a hand signal to stay with him.

::Whats the blood mage doing?:: Rikki sent to Sorryn.

::Absorbing power from a fresh sacrifice. He must have used it to help find the girl.::

::Can you disrupt him?::

::It depends upon how powerful he is. I'll try. Prepare yourself for a horrible sound.::

::What?:: Rikki demanded.

::Hold on to Sefu's saddle.:: Lorcan warned.

Confused, Rikki did as told. A moment later, he was glad that he did. A sudden blast of a high pitched noise like a scream, but more like a slash of thunder, erupted in his head. All thoughts escaped him as he wheeled in his saddle trying to hang on. He squeezed his eyes shut trying to block out the horrible sound in his head.

The blast was over almost as quickly as it sounded, but Rikki's head still rang as if he had taken a massive blow to the head.

“You alright, Captain?” Edwyn rode up beside him. Rikki nodded

::What was that?:: Rikki sent to Lorcan.

::A sonic blast. I'll show you how to shield yourself from them when we get back. Just be glad you weren't the target.::

::It gets worse than that?::

Sorryn interrupted. ::The blood mage is momentarily stunned and no longer absorbing residue life energy. Two elves are on their knees.::

::Can you get to the princess?::

::There are still to many, Captain, the mage is now looking for me.::

::We have a problem,:: Lorcan sounded alarmed. ::Your soldier was hit by the sonic blast as well. He fell off his horse, it looks like he has broken his leg.::

::Tell him, we will come back for him once we have the princess.:: Rikki ordered.

::They've set up a defensive ring around the girl and the mage and are heading towards where they had left their horses.:: Sorryn described. ::I can hear you, can you see the road?::

::Charge!:: Rikki unsheathed his saber. An echo of Edwyn pulling his was reassuring to the Riponian Captain.

::Watch it!:: Sorryn warned.

An arrow hummed as it flew over his shoulder. A second arrow hit his breast plate and bounced off as Sefu thundered out of the trees and onto the road. Five elves clustered around the mage and Adiah. Three had crudely made or stolen swords drawn. One held a spear ready to throw and had one stuck in the ground next to him. The fifth elf had an arrow knocked and was drawing the string.

Edwyn's mount had trouble keeping up with Sefu as Rikki charged ahead. Rikki managed to get his saber up and block the spear before it was able to skewer his chest. His saber came back down to block the swing of a sword at his leg. The force was greater than he could bear and his saber was momentarily pinned against Sefu's side leaving his body exposed

::Arrow!:: Sorryn's voice erupted in his thoughts.

With his sword pinned, Rikki couldn't do anything but lay back on Sefu's back. An arrow spun past just a hand span from his chest. Sefu kicked out as they rode by the defensive circle. Rikki could hear ribs crack as the elf was lifted and sent sprawling ten feet away. His sword freed, Rikki sat up in time as second sword slashed at his leg, but the aim was poor and glanced off of Sefu's barding.

“He's chanting!” Edwyn's voice called out over the din of battle.

::Sorryn, can you blast him again?::

::He has his shield up and you are too close.::

::He is beginning a spell. Blast him.:: Rikki ordered as he wheeled Sefu back around towards the enemy. The Captain's heart jumped into his throat as he saw Skot release an arrow as he rode up the road. The missile went spinning through the air, it's target, not one the defending elves, but what they were guarding.

Everything seemed to move in slow motion as Rikki watched the shaft of the arrow close on it's target. The fletching skimmed Adiah's head as it passed and buried it's tip in the base of the blood mage's neck.

Adiah screamed and dropped to the ground as the mage's hand released her and reached for the wood shaft sticking from his body.

Rikki's heart skipped a few beats before racing to catch up for the missed ones. He spurred Sefu back into the fray as the one elf retrieved his other spear from the ground.

Edwyn rained saber blows down on one of the sword bearing elves, slowly pushing him away from his group. Skot had another arrow drawn and was aiming at the elven archer. Sorryn and Lorcan charged out of the trees, two sabers, one in each of the centaur's hands spinning as he galloped towards the group.

Rikki gave Sefu his rein and let his war horse do what he did best, ride down and trample the spear wielding elf. Lorcan dispatched one of the other elves as Sorryn kicked the dying mage further away from the princess.

“Adiah, get onto the horse's back.” Rikki ordered.

Sorryn stood perfectly still as Adiah grabbed a hand full of black mane. She stopped and looked back at the Riponian Captain.

“Where's Nevyre?”

“He was injured and had to stay behind.” Rikki explained.

Adiah looked hesitantly at Rikki then to the commotion around her as Lorcan, and Edwyn finished off the remaining elves.

::What is she waiting for?:: Sorryn asked.

“Adiah get on.” Rikki turned Sefu back.

“Did Nevyre tell you something?” Adiah asked, her voice quivering.

“Dwarf dung!” Rikki yelled. “Dwarf dung! Now get on Sorryn.”

Adiah gripped the mane hard and half leaped, half dragged herself onto the black and white horse's back.

::Tell her to hang on.:: Sorryn instructed Rikki.

“Hang on. We are going to get you out of here.” Rikki told her. He switched to mind speak. ::You don't have to be too careful, she is an excellent rider.:: Rikki looked around at the dead and dying elves. Lorcan went around to each one and and stabbed it in the heart.

“Skot, you and Lorcan go pick up the soldier with the broken leg. Edwyn, you stay close to Adiah and Sorryn.” Rikki ordered. “Has anyone seen the other one of Galyway's men?”

Shaking of the head or silence answered the Captain. “Skot where is your other archer?”

“I haven't seen him.” Skot admitted. He turned to his other archer. “Have you seen him?”

The yeoman shook his head. “Not since we began scouting.”

Rikki shook his head. “Lets move, I want out of these woods before these damned demons can send any more after us.”

 

Great to See...

...another chapter of this story.

And a whole lot of new and intriguing ideas. Apparently Monyka can be trained to save her princess, making the rest of the trip to Malden unnecessary for that purpose. We already know that Monyka's powers seem to have been either created or brought to the surface by our ever-popular threesome a few chapters back.

Now we find out that the gods that Rikki and apparently lots of others worship are also a two males-one female trinity.

On the one hand, that makes it really tempting to suggest that all our past trios are avatars of those deities. On the other, one of the three is the Lord of Chaos -- I really liked that idea -- and given his nature, the assumption that he Works Well With Others seems tenuous.

Further, the lady has always seemed to be in charge of the various threesomes, while Bob, described here as the balancer between order and chaos, gets first billing in Rikki's prayers and one might expect his avatar to be the leader.

Anyway, if Monyka has been given this "gift" in order to forestall the need to use the healer in Malden for Tonya if/when they get there, one wonders what they're trying to avoid. (It can't be Chaos if he's part of the group.)

Meanwhile, Taelah has a grim choice to make, Monyka's window for bringing Kadyr back from the dead seems to be closing rather quickly, and the deadly monastery may yet figure in the action. (I'm guessing that it's Maskalah's laboratory...)

Good clarity, BTW, on the action scenes.

Eric

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