Healing a Princess. . . 35 (What could possibly go wrong?)

 

      Healing a Princess. . . 35
 
 
(What could possibly go wrong)
 
By Tim Knight

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
            “Good morning, your Highness.” Annyka opened the door to Tonya's room, “Ka'mya had a breakfast prepared and sent over for you.”
            Annyka set the tray down on the small side table as the Princess rolled over and moaned.
            “Did she say anything?” Tonya asked.
            “I can't hear her thoughts.” Annyka sounded disappointed. “She sent a servant.”
            ::Thank you for sending breakfast.” Tonya was finding it easier to use her mind speech with the Horse lord Princess.
            ::Get up, we have a lot to do today.:: Ka'mya greeted. 
            ::What would that be?::
            ::You need to go see to your wounded, then if there is time, you and I are going for a ride.::
            ::What do my wounded need from me?:: Tonya asked, ::They are being seen to by Brother Tagyrt and the local healer.::
            ::Seeing that their princess cares for their well being will raise their spirits. Get fed and come join me.::
            Tonya tossed the blankets off, and poked through her breakfast. 
            “What would you like to wear today?” Annyka inquired, looking up from Tonya's trunks.
            “Something in red. I think.” Tonya took a bite of warm gruel sprinkled with sugar and spices. “We are going to spend time with the injured soldiers.”
            Annyka pulled a crimson dress out of the bottom of the trunk and began pulling and brushing the wrinkles out of it.
            “Any word of how Monyka is doing?” Tonya asked.
            “A young woman came by earlier this morning and said that Lady Monyka is staying with the Midwife Gemma.”
            “Is she doing okay?” Tonya took a bite of her gruel.
            “She said that Monyka is emotionally exhausted and needs a few days of rest and time off of her leg.”
            “Fetch me a pen, ink and parchment, please.”
            Annyka disappeared from the room for a time before reappearing with the request.
            Tonya sat down and began scratching out a note on the paper. She blew on it and waved it about for a moment before folding it up.
            “Please ask one of my guards to deliver this to Monyka, could you?”
            Annyka was gone and back before Tonya could finish her bowl.
            Tonya finished off her breakfast and washed it down with honovi juice, before getting dressed. Annyka fetched her walking stick and assisted Tonya out of her chambers. The large Mul standing outside the door looked down, but said nothing. 
            “Oh, I forgot you were still with us.” Tonya apologized. “How are you, Takar?”
            “Fine, Princess.” was all that he said.
            A pause fell between them as Tonya waited for him to say something else. When nothing came forth, she continued hobbling out into the common room. The soft creaking of leather and steal sounded from behind her as Takar followed.
            Annyka opened the door to the inn on to a gray wet morning.
            “Where is Captain Kalhoun!” Takoda demanded as came charging up to her.
            “I believe he is out looking for Adiah. I heard that Nevyre came around last night and told him where to find her.” Tonya grimaced as the mud of the road oozed up around the ankles of her boots.
            “He killed her!” Takoda stated.
            “He killed Princess Adiah?” Tonya stopped her slow trudge and looked at the Sergeant alarmed.
            “He killed Taelah.”
            “Taelah is dead?” Tonya was confused. “I thought she was in the Brigg waiting for a trial.”
            “She was, but Rikki killed her.”
            “Why would he do that?” Tonya asked. “What would he have to gain by killing a condemed prisoner?” she poked at the mud with her walking staff and slowly continued on her way towards the makeshift infirmary.
            “The hassle of going through a trial.” Takoda was close to foaming at the mouth.
            “She was guilty of betraying us and the dwarves to the elves, Sergeant.” 
            “She was tricked by the elves.”
            “She still knew what she was doing was wrong; for whatever reason.”
            “She should have been tried.” Takoda insisted.
            ::Do you know anything about this?:: Tonya sent to Ka'mya.
            ::No. It seems that she killed her self from what I am able to find out.::
            “Are you sure she didn't kill her self, Takoda?”
            Takoda's face was one of shock. “How did you? . . . “
            “Princess Ka'mya just told me that the word around Lyonsgate is that the half-elf took her own life.”
            “Where did she get the knife?” Takoda insisted.
            “I don't know. Maybe she had it hidden in her boot.” Tonya was becoming agitated by the man who she had always considered an uncle.
            “All prisoners are searched for weapons before being placed in the Brigg.” Takoda looked from her to Takar. “It's a standard procedure regardless of where you are.”
            “You are going to have to take this up with the Captain when he gets back.” Tonya was done with the conversation.
            Takoda's steps slowed and halted as the Princess pressed on to her destination.
            ::Where are you?:: Tonya wondered.
            ::In my quarters. I didn't want to get my hooves muddy.::
            ::You are making me trudge through this muck while you stay warm, clean and dry?::
            ::I'm not allowed in the infirmary anyway.:: Ka'mya insisted. ::I can stay linked with you while I finish getting brushed. Otherwise I just stand out in the rain getting soaked, standing in mud and I just had my hooves filed and polished.::
            ::You are joking, right?::
            ::No.:: Ka'mya sounded indignant. ::I spent the past week out on patrol. My hooves were a mess.::
            “Ick.” Annyka wrinkled her nose pulling Tonya's attention back to where they were going? Annyka pointed to a puddle of bloody water that had collected in a hole in the mud.
            “We may be in for a lot worse.” Tonya whispered to Annyka. “No matter how bad it gets in here, we need to smile, look pretty and pretend that it doesn't bother us.”
            “I'll try, Highness.” Annyka nodded.
            Tonya and Annyka entered the dim barracks turned infirmary and blinked trying to adjust their eyes to the little light that entered through windows. Takar tried to look imposing and inconspicuous at the same time as he stood near the door.
            “Your Highness.” a soldier shifted in his cot.
            A murmur went through the room like a wave.
            “Good morning your Highness.” a short haired woman dipped a curtsy.
            “Good morning.” Tonya greeted trying to see still. “Please go about your work. I just came by to see how these brave men are doing.” Tonya looked down. “I'm afraid I've tracked mud in.”
            “We all do, your Highness.” the short haired woman excused. “There are some rags behind you, for cleaning your boots, I could do that for you real quick.”
            “Don't concern yourself. Annyka can help me.” Tonya smiled. 
            Once most of the mud had been cleaned from her boots, Tonya turned back to rows men laying in cots all looking at her with curiosity.
            “You all look like you have never seen me before.” Tonya stated.
            Her comment was met with silence. A woman down the street could be heard disaplining her child. After a moment a few shifted in their cots in a more comfortable position. Tonya went over to the closest cot and looked down at the soldier. A thick bandage was wrapped around a stump where his hand should have been. The soldier sat up and leaned on his good hand. Sweat beaded up on his lip as he tried to suppress the pain. Tonya knew a similar pain all too well.
            “Relax, soldier.” She soothed. 
            The soldier gently lowered himself to his elbow but still looked up at the pretty blonde princess to whom he had sworn his life. Tonya could feel many more eyes watching her from all corners of the room.
            “You are cavalry.” it was more statement than question. His slight build gave him away.
            ::Ask him his name.:: Ka'mya inserted, ::And ask him how he got injured. Men like to brag about their battle scars.::
            “Yes, your Highness.” he answered.
            “You are a banner bearer, aren't you?” Tonya remembered seeing him carrying a banner a time or two.
            “Yes, your Highness.” he was astounded that she could recall him.
            “What's your name cavalryman?”
            “Jory, your Highness.”
            “How did you lose your hand, Jory?” Tonya eased herself onto the side of his cot. Annyka tried not to look nervous as she stood by Tonya in case she needed her.
            “I was pulled from my horse.” Jory looked around embarrassed. “I lost my sword and tried to defend myself with my hand.”
            ::Not a very good one.:: Ka'mya sounded disappointed.
            “That just won't do,” Tonya shook her head. “When anyone asks you how you lost your hand, you tell them proudly that you did so defending me.”
            The stunned cavalryman looked up at his Princess with disbelief. “If anyone asks me, I'll tell them that it is true. They have to believe me, I'm the Princess.” she winked at Jory.
            ::Oooh, you are good.:: Ka'mya gave her approval.
            ::I've been in a similar situation. Only I fell off a roof.:: Tonya told her. She directed her attention to Jory. “Is there anything you need while you are in here?” She asked.
            Jory shook his head. “No, your Highness. Thank you.”
            Tonya gave his good hand a squeeze and with the help of Annyka, heaved back to her feet and slowly walked to the next cot. The soldier was asleep with his mouth hanging open. A slight throaty snore escaped his mouth. Annyka failed to contain a giggle.
            Tonya moved on to the next cot.
            “Your Highness.” a middle aged man greeted a little more assure of himself than some of the others in the infirmary.
            “How are you soldier?” Tonya asked.
            “Well enough.”
            “What happened to you?”
            The soldier flipped open a blanket to show a bandage around his arm, hand and leg. “Nothing I can't handle. An arrow through the arm, near cut one of my fingers off and a deep slash to the leg.”
            “Ouch.” Tonya winced, thinking of the pain and in awe of the man's casualness.
            “Took worse when I was serving your father.” the man boasted proudly.  “I'd show you the scars, but it wouldn't be very,. . . . . well, they aren't in places for me showing those who didn't need to see them.”
            Tonya smiled. “You could tell me about them though. Would you mind if I sat down?”
            “If it pleased your Highness.”
            Annyka found a wicker seat chair in one of the corners and brought it for Tonya to sit in.
            The old war veteran turned out to have fought in the same battles as Sergeant Takoda and her father as a young private.
            ::I'd hate to interrupt, but you have other soldiers to attend to.:: Ka'mya reminded her.
            “Thank you for telling me your stories, Corporal.” Tonya eased herself to her feet.
            “It is a pleasure serving you and your father.” the Corporal smiled.
            Tonya visited a few more soldiers, bypassing those who were sleeping and talking to a few who were not too shy.
            “Where is Ambassador Zareb?” the Princess asked a short haired woman changing a bandage.
            “We had to move him to one of the inns. He was bothering the men.” she stated.
            “You mean the men were bothering him?” Tonya asked for clarification.
            “No. His moans and screams along with the stench of his burns were bothering these soldiers.”
            Tonya leaned heavily upon her walking staff.
            ::He's pretty bad.:: Ka'mya told her.
            “Thank you.” Tonya mumbled to the woman as she hobbled off in a daze.
            ::Where is he?::
            ::Come out side, I'll walk with you to him.::
            ::Is it far?::
            ::No.::
            “Are you alright?” Annyka asked, worried at the Princess' sudden change. “I should get you back. You probably over did it yesterday and this morning. Monyka will be very angry if I allow you to over due it.”
            “I'm fine, Annyka. I'm just worried about Ambassador Zareb. I may not have ever been fond of him, but he is one of my father's trusted friends.” Tonya turned to the soldiers in the barracks. “I'll come by and see you again tomorrow.”
            Tonya had to blink back the brightness of out doors after coming from such a dimly lit room.
            “What are those?” Tonya asked Ka'mya aloud.
            ::They are my mud boots.:: Ka'mya stated. ::I didn't want to ruin my new polish.:: Ka'mya referred to some leather boots laced up over her hooves and fore legs.
            ::And I thought my mother was vain.::
            ::Looking your best and feeling good about yourself is not being vain.::
            Tonya snickered, :: You sound just like her.::
            “What's funny?” Annyka asked.
            Tonya smiled at her new lady in waiting. “Ka'mya was trying to explain the need for a Horse Lord to wear boots.”
            “So she doesn't get her hooves all muddy?” Annyka asked.
            ::Hah! Even the girl understands.::
            ::Oh be quiet.::
            Tonya slowly made her way through the muddy road holding on to Ka'mya and being trailed by Annyka and Takar.
            ::Do you need some help?:: Ka'mya asked.
            ::Not yet.:: Tonya shook her head. ::I hate it when people see me being carried around as if I'm a cripple.::
            ::You do have a crippled leg.:: Ka'mya pointed out.
            ::I don't need everyone to point and stare at me more than they already do.::
            ::What happened?:: Ka'mya asked. ::Did you get run over by a carriage?::
            ::If only.:: Tonya sighed. She was quiet for a moment as she trudged through the sticky road. ::I didn't do anything so glamorous as that. All I did was fall off of a stupid roof.::
            ::It must have been a high roof.:: Ka'mya's coat shuddered.  ::I don't like heights.::
            ::You don't?::
            Ka'mya shook her large head. ::Anything higher than I can rear up makes my head spin.::
            ::I haven't liked heights since my accident.:: Tonya shared. ::I even wake up from night terrors where I'm falling or up on a the roof of a tall building.::
            ::Ever get the one where you are on a tall cliff and your hooves lose traction and you fall over?:: Ka'mya inquired.
            ::Something like that.:: Tonya nodded.
            Ka'mya stopped in front of a quiet inn. ::Your Ambassador is in there. I am going back to my quarters for now. I can still hear you from there. Let me know when you are finished so we can go on our ride.::
            ::I would like that very much.:: Tonya patted Ka'mya at the base of her neck, startling the Horse Lord. ::Oh, maybe I shouldn't do that.::
            ::No, it's all right, we are equals. If anyone else were to do that I'd have to reprimand them. It would be like having a stranger come up to you and kissing you on the cheek without warning.::
            Tonya grimaced. ::I'm sorry, Ka'mya.::
            ::Don't be. I enjoy a good rubbing as well as an occasional pat.:: The Horse Lord Princess turned away from Tonya. ::Have a good visit.::
            Annyka opened the inn door and stood aside as Takar stepped through to make sure no one was laying in wait. The common room was empty with the exception of a small fire. 
            A woman with short dark hair wearing trousers and blouse stepped out of the kitchen with a tray. “Good morning, your Highness.” She greeted. “Her Highness Ka'mya told me you were on your way. I have prepared some honovi juice and some refreshments for you.” The woman eased the tray onto a table near the fire. “I must warn you however, you may want to wait until after your visit with the Ambassador The room is enough to turn some of the most hardened stomachs.”
            “How is the Ambassador?” Tonya inquired.
            “The healer says that he has been asking for you, when ever he is conscious.”
            Tonya nodded. “Thank you.” she gestured towards the tray. Please show me to him.”
            “Has anyone told you details of his condition?”
            Tonya tossed her blonde locks. “Only that he was badly burned during the ambush.”
            The woman nodded. “The healer is amazed that the Ambassador has stayed with us this long. He says that he won't last but a few more days.”
            Tonya swallowed. It was suddenly difficult to imagine her life without the ever present man watching her and teaching her. The short haired woman led them down a short hall. Tonya wondered if any of the women in Lyonsgate had long hair. She tried to think back to the day before when she was up on the wall of the city watching it's inhabitants at work. She didn't recall seing any girls over the age of ten or thirteen with hair past her chin.
            Her thoughts were interrupted as the woman stopped in front of a closed door. A small table beside the door was filled with various items. “This is mint oil.” the woman held up a small vial of liquid. “Rub a small amount under your nose so that the smell doesn't affect you.” She demonstrated by dabbing a bit under her nose. “Also, you should not touch the Ambassador. Not only is he very sensitive but any dirt you might have may cause him more infection and he will be more miserable.”
            Tonya handed the vial to Annyka and Takar before putting a little oil on her finger.
            “If you need anything, all you have to do is call.” The woman turned and walked down the hall.
            Tonya dabbed two drops of oil under her nose and blinked back tears as the potent extract permiated her sinuses. She took a deep breath through her mouth and opened the door.
            The body of a man wrapped in linnen stained yellow lay in the bed that dominated the room. Even with the mint oil, Tonya could smell the horrible odor of infection and dying flesh.
            “Takar, its okay, Why don't you stand guard out in the hall.:
            “Yes Highness.” The large Mul didn't argue as he stepped to the side.
            “Your Highness?” Annyka questioned.
            “You can wait in the common room, Annyka. I should be alright.”
            “Thank you, Highness.” Annyka sounded very grateful.
            “Tonya?” The Ambassador's voice sounded thin and muffled.
            “I'm here, Zareb.” Tonya limped closer to the bed. She tried breathing through her mouth to see if it would help. She got the feeling that she was tasting the strong smell. A moan escaped the Ambassador's lips.
            “Can I get you something?”
            “The treaties and trade agreements. Did any survive?”
            “No.” She couldn't lie. “I'll send a pigeon as soon as I can telling father what happened. He'll send another person to get copies from the different kingdoms.”
            “They can't trust the dwarven Prince Tamon. He'll try to sweet talk them the way he did with me. He is as sneaky as an elf.”
            “He showed everyone nothing but contempt. Did he really try to sweet talk you?” Tonya was astonished and appalled at the same time.
            “He threw one smoke screen up after another at me. He then tried disguising his true goals in dwarven rhetoric on paper. He underestimated my grasp of the dwarven language.” The Ambassador coughed to clear his throat before taking a couple of labored breaths.
            “You need to take it easy, Zareb. Reserve your strength.”
            “We both know I'm dying, Tonya.” He took a deep breath. “I have a lot to teach you and only a short time to teach it in.”
            “I don't know anything about treaties and trade agreements, let me get Sergeant Takoda...”
            Zareb cut her off. “If you plan to rule, you had better learn, besides Takoda's trust has been compromised.”
            That was a shock she wasn't prepared for. How could the Sergeant, a man she thought of as an uncle be untrustworthy?” The half-elf. She realized. “The half-elf is dead. What about Captain Kalhoun?”
            “He is knowledgeable about military matters but doesn’t know the ins and outs of trade and taxes. It has to be you, Tonya.”
            ::I can help you out.:: Ka'mya volunteered. ::I have some experience.::
            ::Truly?:: Tonya questioned.
            ::As part of my training.:: Ka'mya explained, ::I had to work with my mother's advisors for more time that I care to recall.::
            ::Wait!:: how can you tell what is going on in here?:: Tonya asked.
            ::You are actively listening to your Ambassador which means that his words come across almost as if they were your own thoughts.:: Ka'mya rushed through the explanation, ::Now, pay attention so that you aren't left in the dark when you meet Sakari. She is nice enough, but she is very smart and will think you are nothing but a pretty princess with no brains if you can't do some basic treaty agreements.:: 
            “Tonya?” Zareb asked the quiet princess.
            “Okay Zareb, Do we begin with Truno or Blaire?”
            Tonya listened and stored away as much information as she could while Zareb lectured about agreements her father was hoping for with the other kingdoms.
 
                                    --o0o--
 
            Monyka was thankful for the fresh clothes. Trousers were seldom an acceptable dress option in Riponia and Truno. They felt comfortable but a little alien. The ruffled blouse that tucked into them was pretty and still allowed her to feel feminine. 
            Malana was amazed at how long and pretty Monyka's curls were as she brushed through them before plaiting them into a long braid.
            “Monyka, dear.” Gemma called.
            “Yes?” Monyka answered. She limped into the main room of the small house.
            “I left a bunch of food out for you. You should be quite famished.”
            “I just ate, but I am still hungry. Why is that?”
            “You used a tremendous amount of the gift yesterday, Dear. You will need to eat and sleep a lot in the next couple of days to recover your strength.” Gemma explained. “You also have an arrow hole in your leg. You will need to stay off of it as much as you can.” Gemma handed Monyka some dried fruit. “When Malana and I get back from the infirmary, we will begin on the basics of using the gift.”
            “What shall I do until then?” Monyka asked.
            “Rest and eat.” Gemma insisted. “Even though you have over taxed your energies, we need to teach you some of the basics in shielding and protection. Unfortunaely that is going to tire you out even more, so relax and recouperate.”
            Monyka nodded.
            “Malana, are you ready?” Gemma asked.
            “Yes, Gemma.” Malana joined them in the main room.
            Just before she was to go out the front door, Gemma turnned to Monyka. “Eat and sleep. Those are your two duties today.”
            Monyka nodded a popped a piece of cheese into her mouth.
           
                                                --o0o--
 
            The Ambassador's voice trailed off and then stopped as he fell asleep.
            “Zareb?” Tonya called. “Zareb?”
            The door to the room opened and the woman who had served them earlier came in. She leaned over the bandaged man and watched him for a moment. “He's unconscious.” She announced. “He'll be out for a couple of hours. This was the longest time he has been conscious since he has been here. He must have a need of you.”
            Tonya nodded. “Is he in much pain?” She asked.
            The woman looked at her. “Yes. Large areas of his body have second and third degree burns. Those areas of the body have no way to keep out bad air. He already has infection setting in.”
            Tonya nodded. “Thank you for not lying to me.” Tonya eased herself up and massaged her sore leg.
            ::You ready for a ride?:: Ka'mya asked.
            ::I want to, but my leg is stiff and hurting.::
            ::Then a ride is perfect. I'll meet you in the stalls near my quarters.::
            Tonya sighed as she left the room.
            “You were in there a while.” Annyka commented looking up from a seat next to the fire.
            “The Ambassador had a lot to tell me.” Tonya noticed the young woman working on needle point. “Where did you get that?”
            “Monyka suggested that I keep it with me in a small bag for when you are busy. She says it will help me get better at my needle point and help pass the time better.”
            “Princess Ka'mya has invited me to go for a ride. Why don't you take some time to yourself this afternoon.  Take a nap, perhaps relax in a tub, go visit with Rose.” Tonya suggested.
            “You won't need me?” Annyka looked alarmed.
            “Not if I'm just taking a ride.” Tonya gave her a reassuring smile. “If you get bored, you can either go through my clothes and air them out, or see if Rose needs help.”
            Annyka wrinkled her nose at that.
 
                                    --o0o--
 
            Ka'mya shifted her weight as she waited for the Riponian Princess to make her way to the stalls.
            ::I'm here.:: Tonya called.
            ::I'm in my quarters.:: Ka'mya turned her mind to one of her servants, ::Please allow Princess Tonya in::
            ::Yes, Highness. And the large body guard?::
            ::Yes.::
            Princess Tonya entered Ka'mya's quarters with a large, thick armored man behind her. The hem of her red dress was covered in mud as well as her boots. 
            “I thought we were going to meet out there.” Tonya spoke aloud.
            ::Your dress is filthy.:: Ka'mya snorted, her ears laying back.
            ::It is muddy out there.:: Tonya explained. ::Isn't that why you were wearing boots?::
            ::Open, please.:: Ka'mya sent to the young servant outside her quarters. She turned back to Tonya. ::I've got a change of clothes for you.:: She pointed with her nose to a corner table. ::I'll be out here waiting for you.::
            At a motion from the Riponian Princess, the large body guard followed Ka'mya out into the hall.
            Ka'mya eyed the bodyguard. Even though he was as large as a tall human, he didn't seem to be one. He was almost twice as thick as any human she had ever met. The little that were not covered in armor showed defined muscles that bunched under his skin. The smell of oiled steel and leather was almost over whelming in the hall. Ka'mya wondered how humans could stand the strong smells that they carried with them. She snorted, but it did little to clear the stench from her nose.
             Ka'mya reached out with her mind but was unable to read any prominent thoughts. 
            ::What kind of creature is this?:: she asked of the servant.
            ::I've never seen anything like him before.:: She admitted.
            Ka'mya probed out to Captain Dobry, ::What kind of creature is guarding the Riponian Princess?::
            ::He is some kind of Dwarven half-breed from what I was able to understand, Highness.:: Captain Dobry explained.
            ::Interesting. Thank you Captain.::   Ka'mya decided to see what was going on and scanned through the minds of the people that served her. Most could not be reached, meaning that they were not trying to speak to her and were holding light shields in place so that she didn't get inundated with stray thoughts. She Searched for So’ryn's mind, but he was still out of reach which meant that he wasn't any where near Lyonsgate at the moment.
            ::What's taking her so long?:: Ka'mya asked the servant next to the door.
            ::It takes time to unfasten and refasten the clothes, Highness.:: She answered. ::Remember how long it takes to get just your boots on. Imagine how long it would take to cover your body.::
            The door opened and Tonya poked her head out. “Could I borrow you for a moment?” she asked the servant.
            The girl looked to the Horse Lord princess.
            ::Go.:: Ka'mya nodded, her ears twitching ::What is wrong, Tonya?::
            ::Having trouble getting unfastened. I usually have Monyka or Annyka to help me.::
            Ka'mya waited in the hall wondering what it might be like to always be so cold as to wear clothing.
            ::She'll be out in just a moment.:: the servant slipped back out and stood next to the door. ::Do you have any messages for So’ryn, Highness?::
            ::If he asks tell him that the Princess and I are out riding. We'll probably go off to the West.::
            The servant nodded as Tonya stepped out into the hall looking around a bit nervous. ::Shall I have someone saddle Comyn?::
            Ka'mya tossed her head. ::I want to take you for a ride not baby-sit a common horse.::
            ::Comyn is anything but common.:: Tonya protested. ::She was trained specifically for me.::
            ::That may be but We'll be able to have more fun and travel faster if it is just you and I.::
            ::You want me to ride you?:: Tonya asked incredulously.
            ::We are of equal station, so it wouldn't be seen as if I was a work animal.:: Ka'mya explained.
            ::Do you have a saddle?::
            ::Of course not.::
            ::I've never ridden bareback.:: Tonya admitted.
            ::Today is your lucky day.:: Ka'mya led Tonya out of the stable towards the West gate.
            ::Should I find a place to mount you?:: Tonya inquired.
            ::I can't have common people seeing you ride me as if I was a common horse.:: Ka'mya laid her ears back. ::How would you feel if someone climbed on your back while in you were taking a walk in your market square? We'll wait until we are out on the plains.::
            ::Quite right. But how will I be able to get on?::
            ::Use this. . . . this giant dwarf that follows you around.::
            The West gate was the least used at Lyonsgate. The dirt road that headed out towards the forest and backed by snow covered peaks was a lot less muddy than any of the other roads let alone the sticky streets of Lyonsgate.
            ::Is he going to follow us everywhere?:: Ka'mya asked.
            ::He has to. I promised Captain Kalhoun that I would not let him leave my sight.::
            This human Princess really needed to get out in the world.
            ::Didn't you ever sneak out of your quarters at night or trick your bodyguards into following someone else so that you could have alone time?::
            ::Look at me.:: Tonya's voice was stern in her head. ::I haven't been able to escape much more than my bed since I was ten.::
            Ka'mya's ears twitched as she watched the Princess struggling to keep up. She slowed down her pace and allowed the human princess to catch her breath.
            ::You aren't playing lame, are you.:: Ka'mya realized.
            “How would you feel. . . if you had a broken leg. . . and every time you put any weight on it, it sent. . . . stabbing pain up your spine?” Tonya's breathing was labored and edged.
            Ka'mya thought about it for a moment. ::I'm sorry. I thought that maybe you were playing it up to get sympathy. I apologize. I've witnessed humans who pretend to be hurt, or more hurt than they are to have an easier life.::
            ::If I wasn't truly hurt, do you think I'd travel clear across this continent to get healed?::
            The wind blew past them causing the long grass to ebb. Ka'mya loved the feel of the light wind blowing through her white mane.
            ::It would be a great excuse to get away from your parents.:: she pointed out.
            A smile flashed across Tonya's face. “It is nice to have some freedom away from them.” she admitted.
            Ka'mya left the road and entered the wet grass. ::Wipe off your boots in the wet grass and have your bodyguard help you up.::
            It had been a long time since Ka'mya had anyone on her back. During some of her training she was forced to allow soldiers ride her so that she could experience combat as two person weapon. Occasionally she had to carry a wounded soldier or person to safety, but never just to run out in the open.
            ::You don't have to squeeze quite so tight with your thighs.:: She instructed Tonya. ::I'd also like to keep some of my mane.::
            ::Sorry.:: Tonya relaxed her hold of the Horse Lord Princess.
            ::There, feel the rhythm of my hooves? Of how my muscles are moving?::
            ::Yes.::
            ::Close your eyes and just feel that for a minute.:: Ka'mya kept a steady pace as the grass brushed her legs and sides. She flipped her tail around enjoying the freedom of riding around without So’ryn bugging her every thought. ::Okay, you've got it, now let go of my mane.:: She coaxed.
            Slowly she felt Tonya's fingers relax and then release her mane.
            ::Good. How does it feel?:: She asked.
            ::Strange. I'm used to reins and stirrups.:: Tonya admitted. ::This whole get up feels strange.::
            ::How so?::
            ::I've never been allowed to ride bareback because it wasn't Princess like, and I've never worn a pair of trouser pants in my life. My legs feel so strange.::
            ::You are complaining about wearing trousers?::
            ::No, I just said that they feel strange. My mother would die of heart failure if she saw me right now. I asked to wear trouser pants once.:: Tonya explained. ::I had an hour long lecture about how a proper royal lady was to dress and showing ones legs off was a big part of that lecture.
            ::You and your mom are weird.::
            ::You inquired.::
            ::Shall we speed things up a bit?:: Ka'mya changed subjects.
            She felt Tonya’s fingers grab her mane again. ::How fast?::
            ::Just a pace. Can your armored friend keep up?::
            ::Sure.:: Ka'mya felt Tonya shrug.
            Ka'mya sped up to a pace. ::Relax, Tonya.:: The giant Dwarf thing seemed to be keeping up just fine he seemed to be barely even jogging. It was going to be harder to lose it than she had first thought.
            ::How is your leg doing?::
            ::So far it is doing just fine.::
            ::Let me know if you need a rest.::
            ::No, I'm fine.  I think I'm getting the hang of this.::
            ::Good, I feel like I'm moving in molasses, lets go a bit faster.::
            Ka'mya felt Tonya's legs tighten up around her girth and her fingers twine tightly into her mane again. Ka'mya eased into a canter. After a few seconds she felt Tonya relax again.
            ::See that isn't so bad.::
            ::No. It is just a bit scary at first.::
            ::We'll keep this for a little bit. How is your bodyguard doing?::
            “How are you doing Takar?” Tonya asked. “Are you able to keep up?”
            “For a while. I was bred to cover long distances in a short time.”
            The wind blowing past her ears, and through her mane felt wonderful.
             A flicker of thought brushed her mind. Ka'mya opened up her shield a little and felt the brush of a horse not too far off heading their direction. Ka'mya sent pictures and feelings asking where it was going. The flashes of thoughts that came back were of a bandaged Riponian soldier heading out in the same direction as the Princess'. The rider seemed to be tracking them.
            Ka'mya slowed to a walk ::We have company.:: Ka'mya told Tonya. She felt the Princess stiffen and begin to turn in her saddle.
            ::I don't see anyone.::
            ::I touched minds with a horse that is not far off. It appears that one of your soldiers is tracking us.::
            ::Ask it who it is.::
            ::It's a bit harder to do than that. Horses don't communicate with words. They show pictures and memories.::
            ::Did you recognize him?::
            ::No.::
            ::You aren't able to tell if it is urgent, are you?:: Tonya inquired.
            ::No. I only got the impression that this soldier wanted to find you.::
            Tonya looked around the rolling grasslands. ::There's no place to hide is there?::
            ::Not with him tracking us and your giant Dwarf following.::
            ::Lets let him chase us for a bit. I'm enjoying this time together.:: Tonya smiled.
            Ka'mya's hooves changed tempo as she pushed off into a canter.
            “Keep up as best as you can.” Tonya told her bodyguard. “We are going to run ahead.”
           
 
                        --o0o--
 
            The horse Adiah was riding was fast. Faster than anything she had ever ridden before. It was probably faster than even Captain Kalhoun's Sefu. She would have liked to have enjoyed the frantic dash to the grasslands, but the fear of the elves was casting a dark shadow over her. She kept looking back behind her looking for the pointy eared demons. Every time she did, she sighed with relief, seeing only Captain Kalhoun and his Riponian soldiers trying to keep up. 
            She found that she didn't have to hang on to the black and white horse's mane as tight as she had a first and she could relax her knee's grip except when he was about to jump a log or a runnel. 
            The rain had lightened to a misting drizzle that seemed even more miserable than the heavy rain. The small droplets seemed to cling to every bit of her. It was if they were magnetized and searching for the iron in her blood. The wet, soaking her to the bone along with the wind constantly caressing her skin as the horse raced started her teeth to chatter. The only part of her that was even partially warm was the insides of her thighs that she kept snug against the horse.
            It was as if they burst from a dark bubble as they emerged from the tree line out onto the rolling grassy plain. The horse she was riding seemed to relax as if it knew that they were a bit safer in the open. 
            Captain Kalhoun caught up and fell in stride beside her. “Are you hurt?” he asked.
            “I don't think so. I'm just cold and hungry.”
            The Riponian Captain unbuttoned his coat and took it off, being careful of his injured arm and handed it to the Princess. 
            Under normal circumstances Adiah would have objected, but she had been so cold for so long, even with the help of Nevyre's cloak.
            “Oh no! I left Nevyre's cloak back there.” She wailed.
            “Forget about it. I'll buy him a new one. Or you can.” The Captain said. “By the way, Adiah?”
Rikki focused her attention to him.
            “What?”
            “Dwarf Dung.” He smiled.
            Adiah began to smile, then to chuckle then she began laughing and crying at the same time. Tears blurred her vision but she didn't care.
            The Captain's jacket warm with his body heat felt wonderful against her skin. The blue wool kept the miserable mist off of her skin. She buttoned it up to her chin and huddled down in it.
            “Skot!” Captain Kalhoun called.
            A soldier caught up with them. “Captain?”
            “Do you have any food? The Princess is hungry.”
            The soldier rummaged around in his saddle bag and brought out some hard rations and cheese. “I'm sorry, Princess, this is all I have.”
            Adiah nearly fell off the horse trying to reach for the food. She took a large bite of the semi-hard cheese and swallowed it after only two bites. Her mother would be furious with her if she had seen her gorging herself in this manner, but the taste of food in he mouth, the weight of it in her stomach felt so good. It felt as glorious as the warm jacket that the Captain had loaned her.
            Captain Kalhoun handed her a water skin to wash the hard ration down with.
            Adiah took a couple of long swallows and closed her eyes relishing the feeling of something in her stomach.
            “What happened to Nevyre?” She asked. “Why didn't he come back for me?”
            “He was hit in the head and knocked out cold.” the Captain explained to her. “He finally regained consciousness last night and told me where you were and to tell you Dwarf dung.”
            “What happened?” she asked.
            For the next few minutes, Captain Kalhoun detailed what he could of the elven ambush and the chaotic ride that he and Princess Tonya had getting to the grasslands.
            “And that is where I met So’ryn.” Rikki gestured to the horse that she was riding.
            “So’ryn?”
            “Horse Lord So’ryn.” The Captain corrected himself.
            Adiah looked at the horse that she was riding in a new light. “Horse Lord?” it came out in an awed whisper. 
            The horses head nodded and turned to look at her. It was only then that she noticed the solid ruby eyes.
            “So’ryn's the one who found you.” Captain Kalhoun told her.
            “You're able to communicate with him? With mind speech?”
            The Captain nodded. “So’ryn says he's sorry, but you don't have the ablility.”
            “I don't?” Adiah's disappointment was like a knife cutting into her chest. “That figures, I love horses enough to pose as a stable boy, but I can't mind speak to Horse Lords.” She slumped in the saddle and brooded for a few minutes. The anxiety and loneliness of the past two days kept creeping into her thoughts. She put a hand on So’ryn's neck and gave it a pat. “Thank you.” She said.
            “He says that you are welcome.” Captain Kalhoun said. “He says that the horses that you have been taking care of all think that you are wonderful. He says that he's sorry that you don't have the ability to speak with him, but that in a way that you already have some ability to speak with horses.”
            Adiah rubbed his neck and watched him with intent as they moved from the grass onto a muddy road.
            As they approached the town, Adiah watched as So’ryn's ears tucked back and his mane seemed to stand up.
            “What's wrong?” Adiah asked.
            “It seems that the two Princess's have decided to disappear on us.” the Captain was practically grinding his teeth as he spoke.
            “There is another Princess?”
            “The Horse Lord Princess Ka'mya is stationed here for patrol duty.” The Captain was quiet for a moment. “We're going to get you settled, Adiah. Unfortunately your days of being a stable boy are over. You are going to take a long bath, put on some clothes befitting your status and will start acting like a Princess versus a stable boy.”
            “But Captain. . . .” Adiah didn't know how to finish the protest. She had already been enough trouble to the Riponians. She slumped again in the saddle and pouted as they entered the fortified Lyonsgate.
 
                        --o0o--
 
            Grymm's face hurt with every footstep that the horse took but he had to find Princess Tonya. He understood her need for wanting to be alone, to have some time away from everything, but this was not the place nor the time. They were in a strange land with strange things happening around them. He needed to find her and be with her so that she had some kind of protection. 
            The swelling had gone down a little since he had woken up. The whole side of his face felt stiff and sore, scabs had started to form over the open areas. He had wanted to take the bandages off this morning but Midwife Gemma stopped him and insisted that they needed to stay on for another day or two.
            He had to find Tonya. He couldn't let anything happen to her. She was too important to the Captain and too important to Riponia. She was the sole heir. If something happened to her, and her father died, the kingdom as he knew it would be thrust into a civil war as power hungry royal houses tried to assert that they had the right to rule Riponia.
            “Damn, this bandage.” he cursed under his breath. The bandage still covered his one eye causing his depth perception to be all off. It was a good thing he wasn't an archer or his career would be over. Few Cavalrymen who had lost an eye could still ride and fight, but they very few of those who did lived to see grandchildren.
            He was thankful that the Princess had enough sense to take the Mul with her. The large creature could do some major damage in a fight. He had seen that first hand before he had been torn up by Monyka. 
            He felt sorry for the Princess' assistant. She worked very hard keeping Princess Tonya comfortable. She deserved to find a good man like Lieutenant Kollyns. To have seen him killed like that right in front of her eyes. He shook his head a the memory. The poor woman went berserk. He'd seen soldiers do it in battle a time or two. He'd seen a soldier lose his brother and charge screaming at the enemy. Seen how he didn't even know that he was taking wounds as he hacked and slashed away at the foe like a farmer using a scythe to cut wheat. Things like that happened in battle. He couldn't dwell on such thoughts.
            Luckily even with having only one good eye he could follow this trail. The Mul wasn't taking any precautions to hide his large footsteps as his bulk bent down the grass under him.
            As he crested a rise, he spotted a shine from the Muls armor and recognized the shape of a woman riding a horse nearby. Grymm spurred his mount into a gallop and raced through the tall grass after the two Princess'.
            “Grymm?” The Princess asked.
            “Yes, your Highness.”
            “What happened to you? Did Monyka do this to you?”
            Grymm nodded. “Please, Highness. Don't blame her. It was an accident that happened in battle.”
            The Princess studdied his face a bit closer. “Oh my Tanitha. It looks like she ripped half of your face off? How could she have done that?”
            “Please, your Highness. We can talk about this as we head back to Lyonsgate.”
            “Princess Ka'mya and I are out enjoying our selves.” The Princess protested.
            “I understand the need, but it isn’t safe for you out here.”
            ::The elves don't leave their trees, Riponian.::
            “Whoah. Who said that?” Grymm looked around. He looked at the Palomino. “Was that you?”
            ::Yes, Corporal.:: The voice sounded inside his mind.
            “I'm sorry, Princess Ka'mya, but one thing I've learned is to never rely on elves to stay constant.”
            ::We are far to the South and West of where you were attacked yesterday.::
            “We should still start heading back to Lyonsgate.” Grymm insisted.
            ::We are almost to the ruins. We'll turn back from there.:: Ka'mya stated as she began picking up speed again. ::Race you there!::
            “Tanek's nuts.” Grymm swore as he spurred his mount to chase. Grymm cringed as he thought about what Captain Kalhoun's reaction would be. One Mul and one injured cavalryman were not enough to defend two Princess's in this open terrain. Just about anything could be lurking in this tall grass; from rattlesnakes to a dozen elves. Why couldn't the Princess see the dangers out here?
 
                                                --o0o--
 
            Monyka was eating for the fourth time in the past two hours. It seemed like as soon as she felt full, she wanted to lay down and sleep. She kept waking up half an hour or so later with her stomach demanding more food. 
            “I'm going to blow up as big as Oba Kanu of Hasslemere if I keep eating like this.”
            The front door opened and Gemma emerged. “Oh good, you are eating.” She praised. “It is amazing how much energy is required for using the gift. And you, my dear, have used more than you should have yesterday.” 
            Malana came in behind Gemma carrying a basket of food.
            “We figured you'd about eaten the cupboards bare so we got you some food.” Gemma smiled. “You craving fruit?”
            “I am.” Monyka was surprised.
            “The strawberries are just coming into season and we recently got a shipment of honovi in from Adwahna. With Princess Ka'mya here, we are getting regular traders from there.”
            “Princess who?” Monyka was puzzled.
            “Princess Ka'mya. She's the Horse Lord Princess from Adwahna.” Malana explained. “She and your Princess Tonya have been keeping one another company.”
            “How do they communicate?”
            “Horse Lords and some humans have the ability for mind speech.” Gemma informed her. “Those of us with the gift always seem to have the ability. I don't know of anyone with the gift who doesn't, do you Malana?”
            “No, Mistress, I don't.”
            “I was able to pick up some special cheese from Ladamore too.” Gemma seemed pleased with herself. “Now, lets get some fruit in us and have some tea before we start your training.”
            After eating more than her fair share of strawberries, honovi and cheese as well as washing it down with half a pot of tea, Monyka felt like taking another nap.
            “Lets start with the basics then how to protect yourself.” Gemma stated as Malana cleaned what little was left on the table. “
            “Now the gift is pulling on your inner strength and energies and shaping them into a thought. You put your will behind that thought and release the energy. I know it sounds like a lot, Dear, we'll just take it one step at a time.” Gemma patted Monyka's hand.
 
 
 
                                                --o0o--
 
 
            ::Is it me, or do Horse Lords run faster than common horses?:: Tonya asked caught up in the thrill of the race through the grass.
            ::We are faster, and more intelligent that is why we are called Horse Lords.::
            ::Could you slow down a little? I don't want Grymm to get too far behind.::
            Ka'mya made a noise that could only be translated as a scoff. ::Why do you allow your subjects to speak to you so flippantly?:: Ka'mya asked.
            ::Not all do.:: Tonya stated. ::Grymm has earned a right to do so. He has helped to save my life at least twice during this sojourn. He may be a Corporal, but he does have good insight and holds my best interests dear.::
            ::But he is common. Beneath your rank. You are the Princess of Riponia.:: Ka'mya argued.
            ::My father and Ambassador Zareb always told me that a good sovereign listens to any who may be wiser than himself, and to value those who have experiences that you do not.::
            Ka'mya was quiet for a few moments. ::I can't find fault in that.::
            Tonya changed the subject. ::So, what is so special about these ruins?::
            ::Nothing, especially. I just wanted to run some more.::
            ::There are ruins, aren't there?::
            ::Yes.:: Ka'mya's voice was indignant. ::You'll be able to see them in just a moment.:: The sound of Ka'mya's hooves hitting the soft ground changed to something with a little more substance. ::We are on what was once a road made of crushed rock.:: Ka'mya explained.
            Tonya looked around her with more scrutiny and noticed that the grass ahead and behind them was a little shorter and a bit more sparse.
            ::There it is.:: Ka'mya announced.
            Tonya shook blonde hair out of her face and looked ahead of them to see gray rock walls thrust up through the grass, their broken tops jagged, looking like broken pottery from this distance.
            ::Are those trees growing out of it?:: Tonya strained her eyes trying to make out the details. Tall white barked trees reached up over the wall's remnants before spreading a canopy of pale green leaves.
            ::Birds drop the seeds inside the walls when they roost.::
            ::What was this place?:: Tonya wondered.
            ::So’ryn thinks it was a human's house, but I'm trying to figure out why they'd need such a large place.::
            ::It's not that big.:: Tonya looked through a vacant window as they passed. ::My summer estate is larger than this.::
            ::Why would you need a summer house as large as a palace?::
            ::The city of Ripon is fairly large with a lot of people. In the summer it gets quite stuffy and a bit smelly. My father moves down to the Summer estate to enjoy the warm breezes and clean air. He has to move his servants, his advisors, their servants, and so forth. It also has to be large enough to entertain his aristocrats as well as visiting dignitaries.::
            ::But he is a king. I can see him needing a large enough place.::
            ::Others, who can afford it, do the same.:: Tonya explained.
            Ka'mya walked to a low window and waited patiently as Tonya eased off of her back and gently put her feet on the ground.
            Ka'mya walked to a far corner of the building's remnants near a large hole that was once a window. ::Ah, there it is.::
            ::What's that?::
            Ka'mya wuffed at a weed and inhaled it's aroma. ::Meadow Sugar.::
            ::It looks like a weed, what’s so special about it?::
            ::Only one of the best tasting things in all of Blaire and Adwahna.:: Ka'mya nipped the tender leaves from the weedy looking stalks. ::Mmmm, perfect timing. Not too sweet, not too green.::
            ::Is that why you brought me here? So you could get some Horse Lord candy?::
            ::I also wanted to get out of Lyonsgate and away from So’ryn.:: Ka'mya defended. Her ears flickered then swiveled. ::Your bodyguards are here.::
            “I really wish you wouldn't do that, your Highness.” Grymm ducked as he rode through an archway. “You need to wait until someone checks out rooms and places for danger before you enter. A group of elves could have been laying in ambush for you here.”
            ::A bit dramatic isn't that Corporal?:: Ka'mya stated.
            Grymm gently shook his head. “You would be more careful if you had been in some of the ambushes and attacks that I have been in.”
            ::We're all right, Corporal.:: Ka'mya ears twitched back and forth. ::Your horse is in need of water. There is a spring just to the south of this building.::
            Grymm slipped off of his horse and led it out of the building as Kama Tarek stepped in breathing only a little heavy. His eyes darted around the structure looking for any dangers.
            “You should not go so far from my protection, Princess.” The Mul took a couple of deep breaths.
            “Get used to it Tarek. This whole trip has been spent trying to keep up or get her Highness to safety.” Grymm called from outside.
            Tarek gave the ruined building another look before turning to study the outside.
            ::They act if we can’t take care of our selves.:: Ka’mya scoffed to Tonya.
            ::Since my accident, I really haven’t been able to.:: Tonya pointed out.
            ::Didn’t you take weapons training?::
            ::No. My mother wouldn’t allow me to handle anything more dangerous than a knitting needle or sewing shears.::
            Grymm came racing back into the ruins pulling the reins of his horse.
            ::That was quick.:: Ka’mya sneered.
            “Something is out there.”
            “What?” Tonya was alarmed. She had learned to trust Grymm’s instincts in the short time she had known him.
            “They almost look like wolves.”
            “With antlers?”
            Grymm nodded.
            ::Lupidae.:: Ka’mya stated, her minds voice now with an edge of worry.
            ::Lupidae?:: Tonya questioned.
            ::Monsters created by elven blood mages.::
            Takar ducked into through the remnants of a door. “There are creatures stalking us.”
            “Grymm just told us.” Tonya looked from the Mul to the cavalryman and then out the nearest windows. “Captain Kalhoun and I were attacked by some of those things yesterday.”
            Grymm looked up from unfastening a crossbow from his saddlebags. “Were you able to see how many?” he asked Takar.
            “I counted four.”
            “Figure up to eight.” Grymm pulled out three bolts.
            ::Eight?:: Ka’mya snorted. ::Why so many?   He only counted four.::
            “Captain Kalhoun has always said that when it comes to elves, count on fighting double the numbers.” Grymm explained his reasoning.
            “Double?” Takar sounded surprised at this.
            Grymm nodded. “The Captain says that because they are so damned sneaky that you only see half of them if you are lucky.”
            ::Your Captain sounds over cautious.:: Ka’mya’s ears twitched.
            “He’s gotten us this far, alive.” Tonya defended. “His over cautiousness saved me on the river boat when I was still sick, and it saved me and got most everyone through an ambush unscathed outside of Roberton in Truno. His caution even helped get me out of the ambush in the woods yesterday.” Tonya continued. “I trust his judgment when it comes to my safety and the safety of my people.”
            “Can you two continue this once we get back to Lyonsgate?” Grymm got back into his saddle. “Takar, have you ever fought these types of things before?”
            “No.” Takar didn’t take his eyes away from scanning the area round the ruins. “We were trained for shield wall fighting.”
            “Go help the Princess onto Ka’mya. I’ll watch.”
            ::I’m told that they hunt in a pack like wolves.:: Ka’mya tried to help. ::They target one animal or human and wear it down through constant attack until it is too tired and then they close in for the kill.::
            “Do you think that they would attack us?” Tonya asked as Takar hoisted her onto Ka’mya.
            “They are taking up positions as we speak.”
            “Oh.”
            “Takar and I will go out first and try to draw their attention.” Grymm explained. “Ka’mya, Don’t try engaging them. Just run hard and fast to Lyons gate.” Grymm looked into Ka’mya’s sapphire eyes. He then looked to Takar. “I’ll try to stay with you as long as I can, Takar, but I may have to race ahead with the Princesses.”
            Takar nodded. “I understand Corporal. I will try to hold them off as long as I can.”
            “Don’t sacrifice yourself, Takar.” Grymm tried to make himself understood. “We’ve already lost one of your kind. I don’t want to be responsible for losing you as well.”
            The Mul nodded acknowledgement.
            Grymm looked to the two Princesses. “Are you two ready?”
            ::Yes.:: Ka’mya nodded her head as Tonya nodded yes, her eyes big with fear and excitement.
            “Lets go, Takar.” Grymm spurred his mount through the door. 
            Three lupidae leaped forward in anticipation. Grymm shot the bolt from his crossbow at the nearest. The animal leaped out of the way as the bolt buried its self into the earth. “Can’t see anything with this damned bandage on.” He swore to himself. 
            Takar stepped towards two of the wolf-deer creatures. One snarled at him and feinted an attack as the second began to circle.
            Grymm hurled the empty crossbow at the snarling beast. It yelped and jumped back unsure of what just happened. Takar took advantage of the distraction and leaped forward as the circling lupidae leaped. Takar’s sword was a blur as its tip penetrated the skull of the lupidae in front of him. The circling beast’s jaws closed over the Mul’s ankle and began to shake its snout as if trying to wring the neck of a rabbit. A clumsy back swing of the Mul’s sword freed his leg from the beast’s maw.
            The blur of grey and brown caught Grymm’s good eye. He flinched as he saw a fiend charge him and his mount. He swore knowing that he could not maneuver his horse out of harms way in time. He pulled back hard on his reins, clenched his thighs, and curled his toes. Every muscle in his already sore body screamed as his horse reared up on its hind legs and Grymm worked to maintain his seat, praying to the three gods that the sharp antlers of the elven beast miss the soft belly of his mount.
            Bracing for the worse, Grymm prepared to jump from his horse if it were to falter. The horse’s hooves came down on the ground and stayed secure in their footing. The Corporal pulled his saber from his sheath and swung as the lupidae swung around to slash at his leg. The blow connected with the creatures antlers and caused it’s head to turn barely avoiding the cavalryman’s boot. The horse lurched causing Grymm to miss another blow as it kicked it’s hind legs out. Grymm looked back and saw a fourth lupidae dodge out of danger of the horse’s hooves. 
            Grymm swung again as the first creature lunged in trying to bite at the horses foreleg. His steel met the hard antlers. He looked back at the ruins just in time to see Ka’mya with Tonya sprinting out of the door. The second lupidae turned from the fight and ran after the princess’.
            “Takar!” Grymm shouted. “The Princess’!”
            Takar grabbed the lupidae by the neck as it leaped for his throat. He twisted the antlers one way and the shoulder another, snapping it’s neck. He let the creature fall to the ground, picked something up, and took off running after the lupidae that was running after the Princess’.
            The lupidae that he was fighting sprang at his horse’s throat. Grymm’s saber came down on the creature’s muzzle. He could feel the bone and cartilage cave in under his swing, knocking it to the ground. 
            Grymm wheeled his mount around and spurred it into a full speed dash after the princesses. 
The Mul’s stride, although quite large, was not going to catch him up with the creature chasing after Ka’mya and Tonya. 
            Grymm stood slightly in his stirrups and squinted his good eye trying to see what was going on with the fleeing pair. A second pair of antlers came at the two from the side. He settled back into his saddle and urged his horse even faster. 
            As he approached he noticed that Takar was carrying something. As he neared, he realized that the Mul had retrieved the crossbow that he had thrown. The weapon looked toy-like in his massive hand. Grymm reached down and pulled his two remaining bolts from where he had placed them sticking out of one of his saddle bags. “Takar!” he called as he neared. “Take these!” he tossed the bolts into the ground five paces in front of the Mul before setting his sights back on the lupidae chasing, and harassing Ka’mya. Grymm could see a third set of antlers bounding through the grass. “Tanek’s ass!” he swore. Grymm pulled one of his knives from its sheath and hoped that he could catch up.
 
                                                            --o0o--
 
            Recognizing the Riponian Captain and So’ryn, the guards at the North gate stood aside and allowed them through.
            “Skot, you and your men drop your horses off at the stables and get a meal and some rest.” Rikki ordered.
            “Sir?” Edwyn asked.
            “You too, Edwyn. I'll take Adiah to Tonya.” The Captain focused on his new ally. ::Would you like me to releave you of the burden?:: Rikki asked So’ryn.
            ::Its okay, I can get her to the Inn.::
            “We'll get you into a hot tub, get some warm food in you and some wine then get you into a soft bed.: Rikki told the young Princess.
            “I won't argue with any of it.” Adiah agreed.
            “Captain Kalhoun a voice boomed down the street. 
            Rikki looked behind him to see Sergeant at Arms Takoda stalking towards them. “What is it Sergeant?”
            “You Son of a cheap whore! You killed her!”
            “What are you talking about, Takoda?” Rikki wasn't ready for this confrontation just now.
            “You know exactly what I'm talking about.”
            “Sergeant, Let me finish getting Princess Adiah's needs seen to, then we can talk about whom ever I'm supposed to have killed.”
            “The Horse Lord can take her.” Takoda growled
            ::You should deal with this. I'll take the Princess to the inn.:: So’ryn insisted.
            ::Thanks.:: Rikki wheeled Sefu around and dismounted.
            Rikki's chin flew up and back as pain shattered all conscious thought. He threw up his hand in defense as another fist came at him. “You cold blooded murderer.” Takoda yelled.
            Rikki was able to block a thrid punch. Then stood staring at the man he had always admired. “Sergeant! You will cease this behavior.”
            ::Do you need help?:: So’ryn asked.
            ::No. Stay out of this.:: Rikki told his new comrade.
            The Sergeant's face was red with rage. Muscles in his jaw twitched as he ground his teeth.
            “I will remind you that I am your superior officer in this assignment.” Rikki's voice was as hard as iron. “I am in charge of Princess Tonya's safety over and above all other concerns in this mission. I have to make decisions in the best interest for her and her entourage. Your obscene affair with the half-breed cost me the lives of good men and nearly got not just one, but two Princesses killed. She betrayed you, Takoda. She betrayed me, and she betrayed our kingdom and our honor. If she is dead, then all the better. I won't have to kill her after a stupid field trial that is a waste of our time and energy.”
            Some of the rage had left Takoda's face. Rikki could tell that he was still angry, but it was starting to turn to grief.
            “I suggest that you do what you need to do to deal with this. Whether it is to visit the temple or drown yourself in dwarven spirits. I will give you forty-eight hours to get this out of your system. This is the last that we will discuss this issue. Understand?”
            Takoda snapped to attention and saluted the Captain, “Yes, Sir.”
            “Takoda.” Rikki hated this. “I asked his Majesty to have you on this trip not just for ceremonial reasons, but because I value and respect your advice. I still do.”
            Takoda remained quiet.
            “Dismissed, Sergeant.”
            Rikki watched as the Sergeant at Arms stiffly walked away. He was glad that no one was around to have witnessed the exchange, especially one of the entourage or soldiers. Takoda was still angry but starting to grieve. It would be a while before the two of them would be able to settle into an easy friendship like they had at the beginning of this trip. 
            Rikki rubbed his jaw where the Sergeant had hit him. He may be getting up in years, but the man still could throw a punch. If he had been a little less balanced, he was sure that Takoda would have been staring down at him sitting in the muddy street.
            ::Captain?:: There was an edge of alarm to So’ryn's mind voice.
            ::What is it?:: Rikki asked.
            ::Did your Princess talk to you about going somewhere?”::
            ::No. Why?:: Rikki's mind wheeled and switched into panic mode again.
            ::No one here knows where she is, and I can't contact Ka'mya, which means that she is quite a ways away.::
            ::Where could they have gone?:: Rikki swore under his breath. ::So’ryn, can you speak to anyone at the gates?::
            ::Most. They said that they don’t remember seeing the Princesses leave.::
            ::What about a giant dwarf? Takar is pretty difficult to disguise.::
            So’ryn was quiet for a moment. Rikki grew uneasy in the silent waiting.
            ::East gate.:: So’ryn wheeled around. ::Leave him, we don’t have time.:: he ordered as Rikki was to mount Sefu. ::I told him to go to the stables.::
            Rikki grabbed a hold of So’ryn’s mane and swung up onto his back. He had barely gained his seat and balance before the stallion was racing down the streets, both of them yelling for people to clear the way.
                                                                        ---o0o—
                                                                 To be continued. . .

 

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