Healing a Princess...12 (Cold!!)

         Healing a Princess...12

                  (Cold!)

 

                                By Tim Knight

 

 

 

It was all she could do to keep from inhaling the water.  The shock of the icy, cold waters, made her want to scream, but doing so, would only increase her need for oxygen.  It was so dark, so cold.  Which way was up?  She could only guess.  Her lungs screamed for oxygen while the nerves through out her body felt like they were being stabbed by thousands of needles all at once.  Air, which way to go to get air?  The resistance around her changed, her hand felt lightness, no water.  She kicked hard against her skirts, and erupted into the oxygen rich night air. Sucking in air, she finally had the ability to scream.

 “Help!” She screamed.  “Somebody help me!”  She struggled to keep her head above water.  The water soaked skirts, and under-dress kept pulling her down.  Her hands pulled while her feet kicked to stay afloat.  Her hands kept hitting debris in the water, sticks, leafs and only the Gods knew what else. 

 The silence of the night was being punctuated, by men in the water, also screaming.  Some in horrible pain, some for rescue and a few as they started to loose the struggle to live.  She felt like a top, spinning as the fast current, swirled and pulled her in various directions.

 “Someone, Help me…. Please!”  Monyka begged.

 “Monyka?” a familiar voice called out.  “Monyka, keep talking, I’ll find you.”

Other voices around her renewed their efforts as well, begging to be saved as they were whisked down stream.

 “Gods, I’m cold.” Monyka called out.  “I don’t know which direction I’m facing,  I can’t feel my toes.”

 “That’s it, Monyka, keep talking.” The voice was drawing closer.

 “Who are you?” Monyka asked.

 “It’s me, Kadyr.  Keep moving your arms and legs and keep talking.”

 “The Princess.  Oh the Gods,  Kadyr is the Princess alright?”

 “The Captain was taking care of her, just worry about keeping your arms and legs moving.”  He huffed.

 Kadyr was just a little ways off now. Monyka could hear the splashing as he swam towards her.

 “I’m tired, Kadyr, I don’t know how long I can keep kicking.”

 “Take off your skirt.” Kadyr said from right next to her.  “Can you kick your skirts off?”

 A wave of dirty cold water filled her mouth.  Monyka sputtered and spit “I think so.”

 “I’m going to grab a hold of your bodice and start towards shore, Get those skirts off, as quickly as you can so that you can help me.”  He said, spitting some water from his own mouth.  “What ever you do, do not grab a hold of me.  You’ll pull us both under.”

 Monyka felt the pressure of his hand on her back, and some tightness as he gripped the fabric of her bodice.  The handmaiden took a deep breath and submerged herself as she attempted to free herself from the heavy weight of her skirts.  She was surprised at the feeling of being pulled through the water, as the Lieutenant tried to get them to shore.  Monyka came up for air, and kicked free of the skirts, that had been her mill stone.

 “Did you loose them?” Kadyr asked.

 “Yes.”

 “Start kicking and swimming for the shore, I’m right here with you.” Kadyr encouraged.

 “I’ll try, Kadyr, I’m just so tired.” Monyka gasped for breath as she fought against the current as well as the water, trying to fill her mouth.

 “There is no try, Monyka, It’s either swim or die.  Keep swimming.”

 The other cries for help began to fade as they were swept further down stream, or perished beneath the muddy, glacial water.

 “The shore, Monyka, think of the shore and warmth once we get there.”
Monyka’s arms felt like nothing more than lead fishing weights.  She knew she was moving them but couldn’t feel them moving.  The same was true about her legs.  Numb.  Cold and numb.

 ‘Breathe’, she told herself.  ‘Is it really so hard to breathe?’

 “I …. I can’t…..” she mumbled.  She started to feel her head slipping more and more below the surface.  She tried to kick again to get her head above, to the air.

 Something grabbed a hold of her collar and pulled her up.  Her mouth broke surface and she took in a gulp of air.

 “I’ve got you, Monyka.”  Kadyr said. 

 She felt herself being rolled onto her back.  Something gently wrapped around her chin, an arm.  Kadyr was swimming for the both of them, trying to get them to shore.  Monyka tried to help.  She tried kicking, but kept forgetting how to, or that she was to keep it up.  Her feet thrashed, then stilled only to thrash again.

 “We’re almost there, Monyka, I can make out the shore. We’re almost there.”

 Cold, so cold.  Monyka’s mind slipped into darkness.

*******

 Tonya came to with a jolt and a cry.

 “It’s alright, Highness.  I’ve got you.  You are safe.”  Rikki soothed.

 “Where am I?” Tonya asked.

 “The River Master’s cabin.” Kalgar replied from a stool nearby.

 “The door to your cabin was demolished and your room was turned inside out.” Rikki added.  “This is the safest place on the boat.”

 “Monyka.  Where is Monyka?” Tonya’s eyes darted around the room.

 “She fell into the River.” Rikki looked away. “But Lieutenant Kollyns went after her.”

 “She’ll be alright, Highness.” Kalgar assured.

 “How can you be so sure?  What happened?” Tonya asked.

 “It’s my fault, Highness.” Takoda said from a dark corner of the cabin.  “I was in the head when a boat approached asking for assistance……. Apparently there were a few other boats sneaking up behind them in the darkness.”

 “What about the guards?” Tonya asked.  “You did have guards posted didn’t you?”

 “Yes, your Highness.” Rikki answered.  “We had a light guard posted, who aren’t used to night watch on a river.”

 “After a morning like this one, who could blame them for wanting to help.”  Kalgar stepped in.

 “What do you mean?  What happened this morning?”  Tonya demanded looking from one man to the next.

 “She doesn’t know.” Rikki told the dwarf.  “We didn’t want her to witness some of the unpleasentries.”

 “Captain, what are you keeping from me?” Tonya glared.

 “We found some floaters this morning.” Rikki stated.

 “You mean the debris.  Kadyr told us about the debris.”

 “What he didn’t tell you was that amongst the debris, we found the bodies of an Elven attack from up stream.  Good, honest, hard-working, people, killed and left for the river to swallow.”  Rikki stared back at the princess.  “We searched for survivors, but found none.”

 “Captain, I may be the Princess of Riponia, but I am also an adult.” Tonya glared at the Captain of her body guard.

 “Tonya, we didn’t want to bother you with this.” Takoda explained, trying to make light of the issue.  “This sort of thing happens on the river from time to time.  We simply fish out the bodies we can get to and burry them when we reach our next port, or town.”

 “Would you really want to come out of your cabin to see us pull a bloated, grey body out of the river?”  Rikki asked.

 “No, but I should be kept aware of what is going on.” Tonya stated.

 A knock broke the tension in the room.

 “Yes.” Captain Kalhoun called.

 A young man poked his head through the door. “Do you have a moment, Captain?”

 “What is it, Cavalryman?”

 “We have the counts, Sir.”

 Captain Kalhoun got up from his chair.

 “Come in Cavalryman.” Tonya invited.

 The Cavalryman looked to the Princess, sitting up on the bed, then to his Captain.  He Squeezed through the door and bowed.  “Yes, your Highness?”

 “What ever you were going to tell the Captain, you can do so in here.”

 Captain Kalhoun looked to the Princess, thought for a moment and nodded to the Cavalryman.

 “Sir, through the wounded, we were able to find out who they were.  They are a gang of river pirates known as the River Wolves….”

 “Numbers, Cavalryman?” Captain Kalhoun prompted.

 “Well, of the River Wolves, we have counted Seventeen dead, and Twenty-two wounded, but that number will be changing before morning…”

 “What of the Cavalrymen?” Captain Kalhoun interupted.

 “One dead, Twelve wounded, two of them severely, and three missing, Sir.”

 “Who are the dead and missing?”

 “Cavalryman Dobry was killed… Lieutenant Kollins, Cavalrymen Danyel, and Aaryk are missing, along with Lady Monyka.”

 “What of the River Master’s crew?”

 “Four dead, eleven wounded.”

 “What of the other boats?” Takoda asked.

 “We’ve not heard yet, Sir.”

 “See to it that the all of the wounded are seen to, Cavalryman.  I’m sure Brother Tagyrt would appreciate some help.”  Captain Kalhoun dismissed the young man.

 “Let’s just hope that our boat caught the brunt of the attack.”  Captain Kalhoun stared off into space.

 “Why, is that Captain?”  Tonya asked.

 “Because for being caught flat-footed, and blind, like we were, I’d consider those numbers pretty damn fortunate.” Captain Kalhoun said making his way to the door. “Now, with your permission, your Highness, I have a few too many letters to write.”

 “What a waste.”  Takoda shook his head.

**************

 Monyka felt different, still cold, but different.  Something warm was pressing up against her back.  She opened her eyes.  In the partial moon light, she could see that she lay on a grassy slope, just above the churning water. 

 “Now that you are awake, we need to get moving.” Kadyr mumbled softly in her ear.  His teeth were chattering.  It was then that Monyka realized that the warmth she was feeling was coming from Kadyr cuddling up to her.  “I’m sorry, Monyka, I tried to carry you, but I’m too exhausted from the cold.”  He pushed himself up to his knees. 

 Monyka felt the warmth evaporate from her back, a chill started her shivering, and her teeth to chattering.

 “We need to find some warmth soon.  Until then, we need to keep moving.”  Kadyr reached down and assisted her to her feet. 

 “I’m not dressed.” Monyka exclaimed.  Having escaped from her skirts in the river, and wearing only a short chemise, her legs were bare from the thighs down.  If she wasn’t so drained and frozen she knew she would be blushing red.  She fingered her necklace while looking around in vane for some kind of covering.

 “Here.  I don’t think they will make you any warmer, but take these.” He said shakily stripping out of his pants.

 Monyka took them gratefully and leaned against a tree as she tried to pull them on while her body was wracked with shivering.  She belted them tight and turned back to Kadyr.  The Lieutenant was a sight to see.  If it wasn’t for his chivalry, Monyka would have started laughing.  He stood before her expectantly, his arms folded across his chest, wearing his shirt, coat and boots.  His legs, bare from mid-thigh to just below his knees practically glowed white in the moonlight. 

“Thank you, Kadyr.  Where do we go?” she asked, looking around the dark wooded river bank.

 “Towards Cleveland Rapids and hope we come across some friendly farmers, or an Inn.”  Kadyr took her hand in his and started staggering through the trees, following the Palriada River up stream.

 “Who were those men?” Monyka managed through chattering teeth while stumbling along.

 “River pirates.”

 “Why would they attack a boat with so many soldiers?” Monyka asked.

 “I’m not sure…….. Normally they wouldn’t, but they seemed to know what and who was on our boat, didn’t they?”

 “Someone told them?” Monyka stumbled on a root and regained her awkward balance.

 “They had an awful lot of armed men with them, not to know.” Kadyr mumbled.  His teeth had stopped chattering, but his shivers continued.

 “I was so scared, Kadyr.”

 “You were excellent back there.” He smiled thinking how she distracted then doubled over that large brute.

 “I just realized…… It has stopped raining.” Monyka smiled to herself.

 “Well, that there is a good thing.  We are warmer now, than if it didn’t.” Kadyr shivered with the thought.

 “I still can’t feel my arms and legs.” Monyka complained.

 “Keep them moving; It’s the only way to warm them until we find a fire.”

 Monyka felt Kadyr gently squeeze her hand.  It felt more of a presence than any actual feeling.

 “What did you do in the palace?” Kadyr asked, trying do drive the cold from his mind.

 “What do you mean?  I am the Princess’s handmaiden and personal assistant.”  She asked puzzled.

 “I meant, what did you and the Princess do to pass the time away?”

 “Oh.  A lot of reading and needlepoint.”

 “That’s all?”

 “No.  When weather permitted, we would spend some time in the garden  Queen  Isabel constantly wanted to culture us, so she hired an artist to instruct us how to paint.”  Monyka paused, thinking back to those sunny afternoons in the garden. “It only lasted one summer.  The Princess showed no talent in the art.  Every once in a while I get some time to paint.  I’m no artist, but I enjoy it.”

 Kadyr chuckled.  They broke through the tree line and into a large field.  Leaving the trees, somehow seemed to give back some warmth.

 “What else did you two do?” Kadyr prompted.  Her voice helped to keep both of their minds off their exhaustion and bone numbing coldness.

 “We would go horseback riding.”

 “I didn’t know Tonya could ride.” Kadyr was surprised.

 “She can only ride for short stints at a time.  We would bring a carriage along, and she would rest in the carriage, between rides.  I think the longest, I have seen her stay in the saddle was half an hour.”

 “I didn’t think she knew anything about horses.” Kadyr pondered aloud.

 “She loves that bond that takes place…… Well, you know,  that trust between you and beast.” Monyka described. 

 “Yes, I know it well.”

 “She especially loves to run and jump.  Not being able to do so herself, it must be the next best thing.”

 “What about in the winter?” Kadyr asked.

 “Lots of needlepoint.” Monyka sighed.  “We would also spend a lot of time in court.”

 “What is there to do in court?” Kadyr nudged.

 “Politics and games.  We would spend a lot of time helping King Tobias in getting houses to stop fighting…… Of course, then Tonya would rile up their kids, playing one off the other.  She is pretty good at the game.”

 “Look a road.” Kadyr pointed.  “It’ll be easier walking the road than stumbling through the fields.” 
 A closer examination of the road proved otherwise.  With all of the rain, and the continuous traffic, the road proved to be just as hazardous if not more so than the boggy, fields.  The two soon fell into a staggering pace along the very edge of the road.

 “Are we still heading the right direction?” Monyka asked.

 “Cleveland Rapids shouldn’t be too far from here.”

 The two stumbled along the road in silence for a bit.

 “Kadyr?”

 “Yes, Monyka.”

 “Thank you for jumping in after me.”  Monyka’s voice was full of gratitude.  “I would have drowned, if you hadn’t been there.”

 “We aren’t out of this yet, Monyka.  How about we save the thank you’s for when we are warm, and we can laugh at this whole situation over a mug of ale.”

 Monyka, walked on, hugging herself to keep her breasts and arms warm.

 “Do they think we are dead?” Monyka asked.

 “Who, the Captain?  The Princess?....... No, they’ll be waiting for us in Cleveland Rapids.”

 “How can you be so sure?”  She pressed.

 “The Captain has seen me swim across that river twice before.” Kadyr smiled.

 “You  have swam across the Palriada twice?”  Monyka was in disbelief.

 “The then Lieutenant Kalhoun and I were doing some scouting while on manoeuvres.  We drew straws to see who had to swim across the river and gather information……. I lost.  It was a bit warmer then, and almost as swift.  I swam it one night, gathered my information and swam back the next night.”

 “Kadyr, is that a light?” Monyka interrupted, pointing down the road a bit.

 “It sure looks like one to me.”  He smiled at Monyka, who could just make out his grin in the moonlight.

 The two human popsicles picked up their pace.

 The light was coming from a blazing hot fire.  A fire of that size was ordinarily an unwelcome sight, but for the two of them it only beckoned.  The light cast off by the blaze showed a tarped wagon, and three figures moving about.

“Good evening!” Kadyr called as they neared the light.

“Kind of late for a walk isn’t it, friend?” a gruff voice called back.

“Yes, and cold.”  Kadyr and Monyka reached the edges of the light.  Kadyr kept a firm hand on Monyka, so that she wouldn’t rush to the warmth beckoning to her.  “My Lady and I were robbed.”

“Well, come into the light so we can have a look at ya.” The gruff voice instructed.

Kadyr led them forward.  Monyka wanted nothing more than to stand in the middle of the burning blaze.  She could faintly feel the warm it was radiating as it was.

“Oh for all our sakes, Tanner, can’t you see that they are hypothermic?”  A stern woman’s voice chastised.  “You two get over near this fire, immediately.” She left no room for argument.  Monyka stumbled forward and held her hands over the fire.

 “Robby, get the blankets out of the wagon, and bring a couple of the rugs.  The ones up near the buck board.” 

 Once by the fire, Kadyr was able to concentrate more on his surroundings.  The woman taking charge was a middle aged blonde woman with touches of grey at her temples.   Tanner, a dark haired man in his middle years, although gruff in voice had an easy sure way of holding himself. 

 “Tanner, stop playing statue, and help Robby erect a screen so that we can get the Lady out of her wet clothes.” 

 Tanner rolled his eyes and stomped off to meet Robby partway.  He took a large blanket from the man, leaving him to carry two rugs and two blankets.

 “Lieutenant, could you throw one of those rugs out so that this poor, wet girl, has a place to stand that is dry?”

 Kadyr took one of the rugs from Robby, then stopped in mid-stride.

 “How did you know I was a Lieutenant?” He asked, alerted to trouble.

 “It’s on your uniform, silly.” The blonde snickered.  “You must be colder than you look.”

 Kadyr unrolled the rug and stepped back.

 “Tanner, Robby, you both face the other way and hold that rug up as a screen.  Lieutenant, you change on that side, while I assist the young Lady on this side.”

 Everything in place.  Kadyr quickly stripped out of his wet clothes.  Robby handed him a blanket to wrap up in, then he sat down on the edge of the rug and yanked off his saturated boots.

 “You sure are wet for having been out in this rain.” The blonde woman commented.

 “Actually, Ma’am, We were on a riverboat that came under attack by some river pirates.  During the scuffle, we fell into the river.”  Kadyr explained.

 “I fell in.” Monyka corrected, “He dove in after me.  I would have drowned if he hadn’t saved me.”

 “You poor dear, you must be scared half out of your mind.” The blonde mothered.

 Kadyr could start to feel his body, but began to wish that he couldn’t.  His muscles ached, while unknown bruises and cuts started to burn and hurt.

  “River pirates, huh?”  Robby asked.

 “Yea, a lot of them.” Kadyr stated.

 “I’d jump into a raging river to avoid a bunch of brigands too.” Tanner commented.

 “Why do you always think the worse of people, Tanner?” Robby asked.  “I’m sure the lieutenant killed his fair share of them.”

 “Only three that I know of.” Kadyr mumbled.

 “That you know of?” Tanner tried to clarify.

 “I threw one overboard, and knocked another one out…… I think I might have smashed his skull.  I ran another through with my sabre….”

 “Ever kill and Elf?” Tanner questioned.

 “Too many to count.”

 “Gentleman, can we change the conversation, I really don’t care to hear about body counts.” The blonde interrupted.  “Okay, you can put the rug up for now.”

Tanner dropped his side of the rug and walked off, mumbling, leaving Robby to roll it back up while the blonde woman scooped up the wet clothes and set about placing them on sticks before the fire to dry.

Kadyr turned from the fire his eyes meeting with Monyka’s.  She was bundled up in two blankets.  A bit of mud marred her cheek, and her hair was uncombed, but she was the most beautiful woman, Kadyr had ever seen.  Monyka’s eyes met his.  She smiled shyly.  A smile that brought a sparkle to her eyes.  She blushed slightly and turned towards the fire.  Kadyr stepped closer to her.  Monyka turned back to Kadyr.  Her eyes met his again, this time they sparkled with tears.

“Kadyr……. Thank you for jumping in after me.”

“I couldn’t let someone I care about, take on the river alone.” He smiled.  Hesitantly, Kadyr reached out and wiped a tear away from her cheek.  Monyka closed her eyes and turned her soft lips up towards his.  Kadyr’s hand caressed her cheek and cupped her head bringing her lips to his. 

A hot spark raced from her lips to her heart.  A spark not from the fire, but from Kadyr’s lips taking hers.  Monyka kissed back, encouraging that spark to burn brighter and hotter.  A warmth began radiating out from her heart, and in waves reached out to her fingers and toes.

“Well, that’s done.” The blonde stated breaking the spell. 

Kadyr pulled away reluctantly and smiled down at the Princess’s Handmaiden.

“You two must be hungry.  I’ve got some stew left over from our meal.  You are more than welcome to it.”

“Actually, I’m famished.” Monyka smiled.  “Thank you, very much.”

“You’ll take those thanks back once you’ve tried it.” Tanner sneered.

“You weren’t complaining while you were eating it.” The blonde snapped back.  She turned back to Monyka “Don’t mind the old coot.  He’s a good man, just rough around the edges.”  The blonde wandered around to the other side of the fire to prepare the stew.

“If you’re going to eat some of that….” Robby said coming up to Kadyr. 

“You’re going to need to drink some of this.”  He handed Kadyr a flask of brandy.  “Go ahead, I can get more tomorrow in Cleveland Rapids.”

Kadyr thanked the quiet man and took a long swig of the brandy.  The burn helped to warm him up.  “You should probably take some of this yourself, Monyka.  It’ll make you feel a bit warmer.”

Monyka took the flask and took a quick swig.  Her eyes popped open and she made a face as if she had eaten a lemon.  She swallowed and gasped as the burning liquid slid down her throat.

“That’s awful.” She said when she found her breath.

“I warned you she couldn’t cook.” Tanner could be heard over by the wagon. 

A spoon clanged and bounced off the wagon next to him.

“I keep telling you, you need to put more of that one seasoning in it.” Tanner snapped back.

 “Are they married?” Kadyr asked Robby.

 “Oh, Hell, no.” Robby exclaimed then started laughing.  “Could you imagine what this world would look like if they were?   Nope, just been together too long.”

 “Here you are, Lieutenant.” The blonde offered him a bowl of stew.

 “Thank you, Ma’am.” Kadyr took his stew over to the rug and took a seat next to Monyka, who was almost shovelling it into her mouth.

 “It’s not too bad, but it is missing something.” She smiled between mouthfuls.

 “She never puts enough seasoning in it.” Tanner whispered, walking by.

 “Let me know when you two are done.” The blonde asked.  “I’m going to bed you down in the wagon.  It will be comfortable and warm.”

 “Thank you.” Kadyr said, after a hard swallow of the stew.  He had had worse, but not by much.  It did need some seasoning.

 After they ate, The blonde took them over to the wagon and threw back the tarp revealing a cargo of rugs.

 “Go ahead and climb up there.  You won’t hurt anything.  They aren’t that high a quality of rug.”

 “Thank you so very much for your assistance and hospitality.” Monyka said hugging the woman.

 “I’ve got friends in Cleveland Rapids who will off set any damage or any trouble we might have caused.” Kadyr said.

 “Don’t be so silly.  Get up there, you two and get some sleep.  Just make sure you pull the tarp back down in case it rains.”

 Kadyr helped Monyka up into the wagon and climbed up beside her.

 Monyka settled down, and tossed a little bit.

 “What’s wrong?” Kadyr asked.

 “I’m so sore all over.” Monyka confided.  After that workout by Takoda, the struggling with that pirate, the swim for shore and the shivering.  Every muscle in my body aches.”

 Kadyr could sympathise.  His body hurt as well.

 “What can I do to help?” Kadyr asked.

 “Could you just hold me?” Monyka asked.

 Kadyr snuggled in closer, and put his arm protectively over her.  Even after being in the dirty water as long as they had, she smelled wonderful.

************

 “Ambassador, Princess, we are coming up on Cleveland rapids.  Would you like to take a look?” Premilla asked.

 “It has been a while since, I’ve seen the rapids.” Kalgar stated wistfully.  He got up from his chair and headed for the door. “Are you coming, your Highness?” he asked.

 “I’ve seen rapids before.” She stated, looking up from her book.

 “Not like these, you haven’t.” the dwarf slipped out of the door.

 Tonya finished the paragraph she was reading, and slowly rose.  She took up her walking staff and limped her way painfully out the cabin door and to the front railing of the boat’s upper foredeck.

 Kalgar stood at the railing, watching the river ahead as they started rounding a bend.  “Ah, there she is.  Isn’t she beautiful?”

 “Isn’t what beautiful?” Tonya replied.  “The statue on the river bank?”

 “That statue, and it’s twin on the other bank are all that are left to remind us of the rapids.” Kalgar said.

 “Where are the rapids?” Tonya asked.  “All I see is calm water.”

 “That is the beauty of it, Princess.  Three hundred years ago, this stage of the river was a labyrinth of rocks and hazardous rapids.  The Trunonians, Hasslemeriens and Darves joined together.  They broke up, chiselled and cleared all of the hazards, allowing river boats to pass freely between Lakemere and Tarporley.  That statue is a marker of where the rapids had once been, and stands as a symbol of the men and dwarves who worked together for a better world.

 “Excuse me.” Captain Kalhoun said to a crewmember as he ran up the stairs.  He dodged past Tonya and Kalgar and quickly climbed the stairs to the pilot house.

 “Something’s going on.” Kalgar said aloud.

 Grymm came running up the stairs.

 “What’s going on, Cavalryman?” Kalgar inquired.

 “Cleveland Rapids has been hit by the river.” Grymm pointed port.

 Tonya and Kalgar followed his glance. 

The Palriada river slid through the carved channel and slammed into the bank of the bend where Cleveland Rapids had been built.  Broken pieces of timber stuck out of the water at jagged angles, where piers had once been.  As they watched a large section of ground, including a tree, crumbled from it’s hold and slid into the current.  Remnants of a building, now a pile of timber stood like a defiant island as river water lapped around it.

“We have no place to dock the boats.” Grymm stated the obvious.

Two Cavalrymen stood knee deep in water, waving their arms at the River boat.

“Doesn’t the River Master or the Captain see those two Cavalrymen?” Tonya asked.

“Of course they do.” Grymm replied.

“Then why are they waving their arms, still?”

“It’s hand signals.” Grymm watched more closely.  The two on shore stopped waving and turned to walk back inland.  “Sorry, your Highness, I only caught the last few signs.”

The boat began to turn around in the middle of the river.

“What’s going on?” Tonya asked.

“We’re turning around.” Captain Kalhoun stated.  “There is a usable dock half a mile or so down stream from the town.  We will be unloading there…… Your Highness, can you ride?”

“Of course, Captain.  Not for long I’m afraid, but I can ride.” 

“Good.  I’m going to ask that you, along with a bodyguard ride into town, while we finish unloading the boats.  Cavalryman Dyrk has a room for you in one of the Inns…… That is of course if it is alright with you.”

“Of course Captain.” 

The boat swung completely around, and started to pick up speed as the current took it along. 

 It didn’t take long for the dock to come into view.  A bell from the pilots house rang out, followed by the churning of water.  The river boat slowly started to loose momentum.  Tonya looked around.

“They are back paddling, to slow us down so that we can dock safely.” Kalgar explained.  “In this current, this is going to be a rough docking.  You might want to go in and sit down.”

“I would really rather watch.” Tonya protested.

“Okay, but when they throw those ropes out,” Kalgar pointed down to the main deck where several men stood poised to do just that. “You had better hold on to something. Or we may be picking you up off the deck.”

The bell rang out three times.  The sound of churning water grew louder as the crew turned and pulled on the paddle wheel as hard as they could.

Tonya watched as they neared the dock.  The men on the lower deck threw out their lines to men on the dock.  They were still moving quite fast.

“Hang on, Highness.” Kalgar warned.

Tonya grabbed a hold of the railing, and waited for something to happen.

The men on the docks quickly wrapped the rope around large posts and leaned back, holding the rope taut. 

The boat slowed down quickly as the rope pulled against it’s mass.  Then as warned, the boat heaved to a stop.  It wasn’t a jerk, but rather a hard slowdown. 

Tonya was glad of the dwarf’s warning.  When the men felt the lurching boat, they stopped paddling and made ready to unload the cargo for Cleveland Rapids, including the Princess, her bodyguard, and her carriage.

The lower deck of the River boat as well as the dock came to life as men scurried back and forth, unloading crates, and horses.

 “Your Highness.” Rikki greeted.

 “Yes, Captain?”

 “This is Cavalryman Dyrk.  I sent him ahead of us, from River Bend West.  He has secured a nice room in an Inn.  With your permission, I’d like Cavalryman Dyrk along with Sergeant Galyway and a few other of the guard, escort you there.”

 “Your Highness.” Dyrk bowed.  “I asked the maids at the Inn to prepare a bath for you, before I left.”

 “Oh, thank you, Cavalryman.  I so desperately need a bath.”

 “I’ve got a horse already saddled and ready for you, your Highness.” Rikki waved his hand down to the river bank.  “I also have a pack horse carrying one of your wardrobes.”

 “Thank you Captain.” Tonya hobbled over to the stairs of the upper deck.

 “Your Highness, Please allow me to assist you.” Dyrk stepped forward.

 Tonya looked down at the steep stairs then back to the Cavalryman, and nodded her assent.

 “Ambassador.” Premilla greeted.  “I’ve got some crew seeing to your belongings.”

 “Why thank you, Primilla, that isn’t necessary.”

 “The River master wants me to see that you are safely ashore, Ambassador.  She hopes that the pirate raid last night won’t mar the friendship between the River folk of Hasslemere and the Dwarves of Thame.”

 “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it, Lass.  Last night was some long overdue exercise for me….. I just proved to myself that although I still have what it takes, I’m getting a little rusty.”

Once the Princess was mounted, and her small but effective bodyguard ready to go, Captain Kalhoun strode up to her dodging through the men unloading.  “We’ll spend the night here, and leave in the morning, your Highness.”

 “Thank you, Captain.” Tonya bit at her lower lip.

 “What’s bothering you, Highness?”

 “I’ve just never been without Monyka for so long…… I’m worried.  Are you sure she’s alive and well?”

 “We should be seeing them before nightfall.  Remember, Lieutenant Kollyns is with her.”

 “But what if she drown, or Lieutenant Kollyns couldn’t find her?” Tonya was working herself up.

 “Your Highness, we don’t think negative thoughts in the Cavalry, they lead to too many negative outcomes…… They’ll be alright.  Now you have a good fifteen minute ride ahead of you and a hot bath waiting.  I’ll check in on you later.”

 Tonya gave him a grateful smile, wheeled her mount around and joined her guard.

 

 Much of the ‘immediate needs’ baggage was already in Cleveland Rapids.  Now he just needed to get this wagon train of goods, baggage and people to the river town.  On top of the Princess’s things, and entourage, Captain Kalhoun now had in his care, the crates and baggage of deliveries for Cleveland Rapids.  It was the least he could do for the River Master, after a good number of her crew had been killed or injured in last night’s battle. 

 Sefu was quite restless and quite happy being off the river boat.  Rikki tended to agree with him.  The stallion kept trying to take his lead.  Rikki pulled the horse off to the side of the road and turned around to scan down the line of wagons, horses and people that were following on the muddy road.

 “Keep them moving.” Rikki called out to Yeoman Baely.  “Okay, Sefu, it’s all yours.”  Rikki squeezed the horse with his thighs and let him have his rein.  Sefu not wanting to miss this chance, leapt into motion, and ran down the side of the road.  Soldiers and people alike waved, cheered and laughed as he blazed by, kicking up mud as he went.  He let Sefu race all the way back to the dock where they unloaded.  He wheeled the horse around and urged him forward again. 

 It didn’t take Sefu long to catch the wagon train again.  Rikki thought about reining Sefu in, but decided to tire the horse out.  Let him race ahead a little while longer, after all he had been cooped up on the river boat for three days.  Besides the wind in his face felt good.  The Princess was safely in the Inn in Cleveland rapids, his company of men thwarted a band of brigands last night after a day and a half of gruelling work.  What better way to blow off steam then allow his four-legged friend to run free for a bit.

 Of course, he did loose one man and three others were unaccounted for, and don’t forget Monyka.  He would gladly loose those men, just to have the Princess’s handmaiden back.  She was worth at least twice that many lives.  Dark thoughts started to sneak into his consciousness.  Sure Kadyr had swam the Pariada before, but at that time, it wasn’t above flood stage nor was it this early in spring.  The rushing water was still very cold the rains having melted the snow pack in the mountains, adding to the torrent.  What if the Lieutenant didn’t find Monyka? or was too late in going after her? What if he too was swallowed by the raging flow?  How could he face Tonya again, having lost her handmaiden and best friend?  It was bad enough not being able to hang on to her on that roof.  Now add getting her best friend killed.  This was supposed to be a journey to salvation not to devastation.

 Sefu swerved suddenly.  Rikki’s thoughts cleared as he reined in the horse.  A wagon.  He almost ran Sefu right over a wagon.  The horse having been trained to run through anything, could have done some serious damage to both himself and the wagon’s occupants.

 “What’s the hurry?” a dark haired man called.

 “I’m sorry, my Lord.” Rikki smiled sheepishly.  “I was exercising my horse, and lost track of everything around me.”

 “Well hello, there soldier.” A middle aged blonde woman called from the back of palomino. 

 “Good evening, my Lady.” Rikki smiled.

 “I believe we have found some things of yours.  Would you care to take them back?”  she asked.  She pulled back the tarp on the wagon exposing two bodies, wrapped in blankets, laying upon a pile of rugs.  Rikki’s heart felt like a lead weight that somehow worked it’s way into his throat.  He swallowed hard.  He looked closer and felt feint.  It was Kadyr and Monyka.  Monyka snorted in her sleep.

 “Thank the Gods.” Rikki cried silently.

 “No problem….. They came wandering out of the dark last night, they were practically icicles with legs.” The dark haired smiled.

 Rikki looked up, tears stinging his eyes.  The blonde woman smiled at him and winked.

 Kadyr shifted and opened his eyes.  “Captain?...... ah, this isn’t what it looks like, Captain, we were just trying to get out of wet clothes.” Kadyr tried to get up, but decided against it.

“It’s alright Kadyr.  Shhhhh…. Let her get some more sleep.  I’m so glad you found her and that you are both alive.”  Rikki looked up at the three rug merchants.

“You have my eternal thanks…”

“You are more than welcome.” The blonde smiled.

 “Are you staying in Cleveland Rapids?” Rikki asked.

 “We’re tying up some loose ends there and moving on.” The dark haired man said.

 “Then you must be my guests.  I’m afraid I have bought out all of the available rooms in the town.  You must let me put you up for the night and allow me to invite you to dinner.”

 “Don’t worry about it, Captain….” The blonde started.

 “You be quiet, “ the dark haired man interrupted.  “After a week of your cooking, I’m more than ready for an edible meal.”  He looked to Rikki.  “Thank you for your invite, Sir.”

 “Kadyr, take them to the Cleveland Court Inn, and make sure that they have everything they need.”

 “Yes, Sir.”

 “If you will excuse me, I have some work to do.” Rikki nodded to each of the merchants.  “See you this evening.”  He reared Sefu, turned and spurred him to race back to the wagon train.

 The wind felt in his face felt better, smelled sweeter, as he urged Sefu on.  A grin slowly spread across his face.  The grin grew into a chuckle, which in turn changed into a full hearty laugh.  He laughed aloud all the way back to the entourage.

 “They’re alive!” he shouted as he approached Yeoman Baely.  They’ve been found and they’re alive and well!”  He reined in.  Sefu was blowing hard.

 “Who, Captain?”

 “Lieutenant Kollyns and Lady Monyka, are alive and well!”  He made sure that the front part of the wagon train could hear him.

 “A cheer went up, as word spread down the line.”
 

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