Healing a Princess...16 (The Warning)

         Healing a Princess...16 

               (The Warning)

 

                                   By Tim Knight 

 

 

 

The Inn was dark, smoky and full of sweaty men who hadn’t bathed in a month or more.  Its reputation for watered down ale and barely edible food was well known throughout Roberton.  Only the dregs of society came here.  Taelah kept her cowl up, covering her hair and shadowing her angular facial features.  The man she was to meet was in his usual corner, shrouded in shadow.  He was known only as Maskalah.  She had never seen the mysterious Maskalah’s face.  He too kept his anonymity guarded with a deep cowl.  Taelah thought she had seen his eyes once, during a meeting in a dark alley.  If those really were his eyes, she was glad he kept them hidden.

 Others in the Inn made a point to not notice anyone else.  They kept their eyes on their weak ale and on their purses.  Taelah sat down across from the mysterious Maskalah, and looked into the dark recesses of his cowl.

 “What do does Raulah want of me?” She asked in a hushed tone.

 “This Trunonian Duke has arranged a surprise welcome for the Riponian Princess.” A deep raspy voice seemed to echo from the depths of the cowl.  “Raulah wants you to leak this information to your friends.  Do with it what they please.  Raulah believes they will act on it.”

 Taelah nodded slightly.  They would definitely want in on this one. 

 “If they do, Raulah wants you to work your way into the Riponian’s confidence.  They are heading into the under world of Thame.  Raulah wishes for you to gather information on the filthy tunnelers.  Numbers, armament, tactics etc…”

 Taelah was glad she was still hidden in her cowl.  She was sure she had gone white.  Raulah wanted her to go underground.  Under all that earth, where she couldn’t see the sky.  Into that darkness.  The very thought chilled her blood. 

“Find out where they are coming out.  Raulah believes it will be near the northern river.  The tunnelers are very secretive about the location of that entrance.  Gather information on how well fortified it is, and if it has any weaknesses that Raulah might exploit.”

 Taelah nodded.  Underground.  The air under the ground would be stifling.  No breezes to feel on her face.  No way to tell which direction they were going.  All of that weight over her head, waiting to come crashing down on top of her, crushing her.

 “Gather information on this Riponian Princess.  Find out what plans they have made.” Mashalah  fell quiet.  The silence was a blessing to Taelah’s ears after all of that harsh rasping.

 “Thank Raulah.  It is a pleasure to serve.” Taelah slowly got up.

 “Failure is not an option.” Maskalah said to her back.

 Taelah stiffened her back and walked out of the inn.  Her skin crawling at the thought of going into the dwarven kingdom. 

 Once out of the inn, Taelah headed down a dark alley and took several turns, watching to see if anyone was following her.  She then made her way to the back of a stable where she opened an old grain bin and pulled off her cloak.  She tossed the old cloak in and retrieved her hunter green cloak.  She peered through a crack in the door to see if anyone was around.  Once the coast was clear, she slipped out and headed to a temple devoted to the Goddess of the harvest. 

 Several people were in there, praying to the Goddess for good weather for their crops and for a bountiful harvest.  A priest of the temple sat with an older woman who looked to have been crying.  He gave her a hug, said a few words to her then made eye contact with Taelah  a look of anxiety flashed across his face.  He nodded his recognition and went to light a candle.  Taelah walked over to a niche in the wall where small bundles of wheat shaft were piled.  She picked up two of the offerings and took them up to the alter and lay them down in a line end to end.  She bowed her head for a few seconds then left the Temple.  The Priest would send a acolyte to round up the members of the group for a meeting.

 

 Kadyr finished up the report he was working on and stretched.  Dawn was an hour or so away and there was a lot to do.  He looked over to the sleeping figure on his bed.  Her long curly brown hair mussed by squirming in her sleep, fell haphazardly over her beautiful face.  Kadyr slowly got up, stretched again and knelt down beside the ‘sleeping beauty’.  He watched her for a long moment before daring to move some of the brown tendrils away from her face.  His finger tips barely grazed her cheek.  Softer than the softest silk he had ever touched, warm and invigorating his blood was stirred by such an angelic sight.  Tenderly, he caressed her velvet cheek.  She stirred, struggling to shed sleep before opening her eyes to greet his smiling face.

 “Good morning.” Kadyr greeted, his hand still stroking her cheek.

 “Already?” her eyes glanced out the window.  “I need to get up to her Highness and get her packed so that we can leave.”  Monyka stretched, pulling her face out of Kadyr’s reach.  She sat up and stretched again, yawning wide.

 “Did you sleep all right?” Kadyr asked.

 “Better than I have in quite a while.  I think I’m going to like weapon practice she grinned.  “How about you?”

 “Too much paperwork, and I had to be available in case of difficulties.  The Captain was up for forty-eight hours and needed a good nights sleep. Takoda was indulging in a rare and exotic treat.” He said the last with a big smile.

 “Did Tonya ask for me?” Monyka looked worried as she slid out from under the quilt.

 “No, I haven’t heard a peep from her all night.” Kadyr shrugged.

 “I’ll get these back to you by tonight.” Monyka said pulling at the tunic belted over trousers, she had borrowed from the Lieutenant after a bath.

 “You wear those quite well.  You’ll have to get some of your own once we get to Malden.” Kadyr smiled, as he took in the sight of her in his clothes.

 Monyka flushed.  It was a nice change from dresses and skirts.  It would be great for riding in too.  “I’ve got to make sure if she is alright.” Monyka glanced in the direction of Tonya’s chambers.

 Monyka eased the door open thanking the gods that the hinges had been well oiled.  The sitting room of the chambers seemed to be intact.  Nothing broken or missing.  She slid the door closed and eased her way towards the sleeping chamber. 

 Tonya lay snoozing lightly, with a bundle in the crook of her arm.  On closer inspection, Monyka realized that the bundle was Annyka, Rose’s apprentice.  Thankful that Tonya was still asleep, Monyka quietly retrieved her clothes from her trunk and slinked into the bathing room to change.  She winced as she put pressure on one of many purple, and brown spots on her arms.  Hopefully they would have a few days to heal before the next weapon’s practice.

 The door to the bathing room opened.  “Oh, my God, are you alright?” Tonya gasped in a harsh whisper.

 “They’re just a little sore.  Nothing a day or so won’t heal.” Monyka shrugged.

 “I thought I’d let her sleep in a bit longer.” Tonya looked towards the bed chamber.  “I thought, and rightfully so, that after being beaten up by ogres, that you would need some down time.  When Rose dropped by, I asked if I could have use of Annyka.”

 “So you’re not angry with me?” Monyka asked.

 “I was for a while yesterday.  But you know me, I’m over it.  In fact, I’ve asked Takoda to give me weapon training as well.

 “You did?” Monyka gaped.

 “I think he is going to teach me how to throw knives or something.”  Excitement filled the Princess’s entire being.

 “The Captain wants us to be moving by first light, so I need to get you dressed and your things packed.”

 “Start making use of Annyka.” Tonya stated.  “I think, we’ll start training her to be your back up.  Besides, it looks like you have had other interests lately.”

 Monyka turned red.

 Kadyr was about to knock on the Captain’s door when Rikki opened it, and greeted him with a sheepish smile.  “Man, I needed that.  What have I missed?”

 Kadyr quickly filled him in on weapons practice, and the condition of the injured from the river raid as they walked down the stairs to the lobby of the Inn.  Rikki chuckled upon hearing about the Corporal ‘thinking out side the chute’.

 Two men sitting in the lobby stood up as they approached.  “Lieutenant Kollyns?” 

 “Yes?” Kadyr greeted.

 “We were told to deliver two of our best mattresses to you this morning.” The leader of the two explained.

 “Mattresses?” Rikki looked to Kadyr.

 “Where are they now, Sir.” Kadyr asked.

 “Just outside, Sir.”

 “Thank you for bringing those over so quickly.” Kadyr pulled two silver from his purse and handed them to the two men.  “The mattresses will be very much appreciated.”

 “Thank you, Sir.” The man smiled upon taking the coin.  He motioned to his comrade who followed them out of the Silver Fountain.

 “Care to explain?” Rikki asked after the two delivery men left.

 Kadyr laid out his meeting with Nevyre and the special qualities that Nevyre had in obtaining services and needed items such as the mattresses.  Rikki listened in awe as his Lieutenant shared the list of requests that the Sergeant at Arms had indulged in last evening.

 “And he was able to come through on all of that?” Rikki asked.

 “If I know Nevyre?  Yes.” Kadyr affirmed.  “Lets see how Takoda felt about it.”

 “How I felt about what?” Takoda asked as he finished coming down the stairs.

 “Whether or not, Kadyr’s friend came through on your requests.” Rikki looked to his old friend.

 “Boy did he ever.” Takoda grinned.  “I haven’t been kneaded like that in years, and after such a long time out of the saddle and having to ride most of the day yesterday, I sure needed a good kneading.”

 “Was he able to find you a blonde Ladamorian?” Kadyr inquired.

 “A pretty on too.  How can he get so many different things like that together on such quick notice?” Takoda asked.

 “He knows people.  He talks to people, and he remembers people.” Kadyr explained.  “He actually had a hard time getting some of those things last night.  And that is what I wanted to talk to you about, Captain.” Kadyr looked to Rikki.

 The three men walked out onto the front steps of the inn.  Two nice mattresses lay against a column at the foot of the steps.  Already the Riponian honor guard gathered and busied themselves hitching, and loading wagons, checking over their horses. 

Kadyr explained to Rikki and Takoda the situation Nevyre found himself in with the guild master and that he would be an asset to have along, with his connections with the dwarves and the people of Blaire.

“He sounds like trouble.” Rikki shook his head.

“I’d take responsiblility for him.” Kadyr offered.

“Rikki, I had horned tree lizard, roasted, with persimmon sauce.  Do you know how rare that is to find?  If he can find that, as well as get a blonde half-Ladamoian to Knead me, then I’d say that he could get just about anything.” Takoda added.

Rikki looked from the anxious Lieutenant, to the almost pleading Sergeant at Arms.  “Alright.  Take care of his debt and get him a horse.  If I have any trouble with him, you’ll wish I hadn’t agreed to this.” Rikki shook his head.

“Captain Kalhoun?” Corretta bid from the Inn’s doorway.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Rikki went back to the Inn.

“Her Highness is ready to depart, but was wondering if she could get some assistance in descending the stairs.”

Rikki looked around.  The royal coach hadn’t been brought around yet. “Where is she now?” he asked the Silver Fountain’s housekeeper.

“In her chambers.  One of the guards is bringing her trunks down now.” Corretta pointed her chin towards a Riponian blue uniform, on the stairs, struggling with a trunk”

“Please inform, her Highness that her punctuality is greatly appreciated but that her carriage isn’t quite ready for her,” Rikki looked to Kadyr who nodded.  “And that I will send some assistance as soon as it is.”

“Thank you, Captain.” Corretta smiled.

“Whoa.  Sleep did you some good.”  Ambassador Kalgar grinned as he exited the Inn.

“Did you even find your room?” Rikki asked his discheveled short friend.

“After buying some gifts for the wife and kids, I decided to treat myself.”
Kalgar chuckled.  “The problem is that once I started to treat myself, I couldn’t stop.”

Rikki pat the Ambassador on the shoulder and turned to survey the sea of Riponian blue working around him.

“Captain?” a cavalryman came jogging up the steps after him.  He was rumpled and looked like he had slept in his uniform.

“Yes, Cavalryman.” Rikki eyed him.

“Sir.  I have just arrived from up North…..”  The cavalryman began.

Rikki relaxed.  This was the messenger he sent with the scouts to check out Roberton and the Duke.  He was new to the company and eager to be a scout.  “Relax, Cavalryman.  Is one of the scouts dead or injured?”

“No, Sir.”

“Then, your report can wait until we are on the road.  Have you eaten?”

“Some cold rations last night.”  The Cavalryman admitted.

“Grymm!” Captain Kalhoun called out.

“Yes, Sir.” Grymm called stepping out from behind a horse.

“Take this scout over to the Silent Night and get him some hot food.”

“Right away, Sir.” Grymm came half way up the stairs to meet the scout.

“And Cavalryman.” Rikki called after them.

“Yes Sir.” The scout messenger turned back.

“After you get some hot grub, put on a fresh uniform.”

“Yes, Sir.”  The messenger turned and dodged out of the way as Kadyr drove the Royal carriage up to the entrance of the Silver Fountain.  Being led by the carriage was Sefu, saddled and looking feisty.

“Lieutenant, can you and Sergeant Galyway go escort, her Highness, out to her carriage?”

“On it, Captain.” Kadyr jumped down from the seat.

Rikki greeted his four-legged friend and checked his tack the cinching on his saddle before swinging up.

 

“Okay, I just did another sweep through the suite.” Monyka stated.  “I can’t find anything that is ours.”

“How long will they take?” Annyka asked.

“They’re men, they take their time.” Tonya looked up from her book. 
“Soldiers are even worst then normal men.  They take twice as long.”

Annyka was sitting as quietly as she could in a chair across the room from the big windows and the Princess.  Quiet for her was sitting still while kicking her legs back and forth, being too short to reach the floor.

“Do you know how to cross-stitch?” Monyka asked.

“No” She shook her blonde head.  “But Miss Rose is showing me how to darn.” She grinned.

“That is a very useful skill.” Monyka smiled over at Tonya who was having trouble keeping a straight face.  “Would you like to learn how to cross-stitch?”

“I don’t know, is it hard?”

“It’s easy to learn, but hard to be good.” Tonya interrupted.

A knock came at the door.

“Come.” Tonya called.

“Your Highness, your carriage is ready for you.” Lieutenant Kollyns announced with a bow.

“Thank you Lieutenant, We’ll be right out.”  Tonya marked her page and put down her book dismissing the Lieutenant.

“Do you want your staff?” Monyka inquired.

“Just until we get to the stairs.” Tonya heaved herself up out of the chair,. wincing as the all to familiar pain shot up her leg.

“Sore from riding yesterday?” Monyka noticed Tonya’s pinched face.

“I just need to start building up my endurance.” Tonya took the staff from her friend.  “Okay, Annyka, open the doors and walk to the head of the stairs to let them know I’m coming.”

“Yes, your Highness.” Annyka curtsied.  She threw her shoulders back, held her head tall and walked with as much poise as she could muster down the hall.

 Monyka threw Tonya a smile who returned it with a sparkle in her eye, as they watched the young lady stride down the hall.

 Kadyr, noting the open doors and the young laundry apprentice coming towards him, signaled Cavalryman Johnak, who cleared the lobby of servants and workers.

 “Good morning, your Highness, my Ladies.” Kadyr included Annyka.

 “Good morning, Lieutenant.” Tonya greeted.  I heard that you pulled an all nighter, so that my Captain could get some sleep.”

 “Yes, your Highness.  He needed his sleep as you will soon find out.” Kadyr smiled.

 “I trust you’re not too tired to assist me down the stairs.” She asked.

 “Of course not, your Highness.”  Kadyr and Sergeant Galyway moved in close, lifted her from her feet and effortlessly carried her down the stairs to the main floor.

 The sky was gold with the promise of a glorious day as Tonya was settled into her carriage.

 “Good morning, your Highness.” Rikki greeted the princess with a smile.  “We have a long ride ahead of us today, but tonight we will find out the mysteries of the Duke of Roberton.”  He winked at her as he withdrew from the carriage window.

 Rikki remounted Sefu and looked around at the line of horses and wagons.  “Everyone ready?” he called out.

 Corporals, Sergeants and the like all nodded or smiled at him, as the first rays of the sun started to peak over the mountains of Hasslemere.  “Move out!” he ordered the front guardsmen.

 “Captain.” Kadyr called getting Rikki’s attention.

 “Yes, Lieutenant?”

 “I’m going to ride with Nevyre over to take care of his debt.  I’ll catch up to you later…… That is, if it is alright, Sir?”

 “Don’t be long.  We have business to take care of.  Our messenger from the Roberton is back with a report.” Captain Kalhoun said. 

 

 Taelah combed her fingers through her blonde curly hair, making sure that it covered her pointed ears as best as possible.  It was bad enough that she was a good hand shorter than most human women in Roberton, and had slightly more angular features as well as large almond shaped eyes.  She didn’t need to add insult to injury by revealing her all too elven ears to show her half elven heritage.  She threw the saddle bags over the back of her sturdy horse and secured them.

 The night before, a group of frustrated people of Roberton met in secret to discuss whether or not they would take action against the ‘surprise welcome’ the Duke was planning for the Riponian Royalty.  The vote was almost unanimous as was expected. 

This morning, a shop here or there was closed.  A young man sent his little brother to inform the blacksmith that his apprentice would not be available today.  A Baker’s wife took her husband’s place at the ovens baking bread.  The Wheelwright’s shop was silent, it’s owner and his sons absent from repairing spokes or greasing carriage axles.  A few farmers, having just finished feeding their livestock,  galloped up, with bows and some homemade weapons.

Taelah Swung up into the saddle and looked around at the familiar faces.  Faces she had lived near, but was never really excepted by except as a comrade in arms.  Raulah had promised her that she could join the elven half of her family in the woods after she worked to undermine the Duchy of Roberton.  She had been in the dark recesses of the forest, to meet with the Elves in the area, She had been blindfolded and led in circles as a precautionary, but the elves didn’t treat her as badly as the humans she had grown up with in Roberton.  Raulah even promised her that she would be reunited with her father.  A childish dream yet to be realized.  All she had to do was befriend the Riponians, warn them of the Dukes treachery and brave the dark depths of the underground.  It would be a great toll to pay, but one she was more than willing to make.

 

“Yeoman Bayley!” Captain Kalhoun called out.

“Captain!” Skot steered his bay and spurred her to join the Captain.

“Are the scouts out?” Rikki asked as Skot was within talking distance.

“I’ve got one forward and one out to each side, Sir.”

“Have you seen Lieutenant Kollyns join us, yet?”

Yeoman Bayley shook his head.  “He should be along any moment though, Captain.”

“Do me a favor, Skot.” Rikki looked towards Tonya’s carriage.  “Have the messenger that came in this morning, report.”

“You’ve got it, Captain.” Skot wheeled his horse around and cantered back towards the end of the line.

Takoda joined the Captain as Skot went about his duty.

“So what happened with you last night?” Rikki looked questioningly to the Sergeant at Arms.  Takoda had a more peaceful, relaxed look about him today.

“Well, it started off with a great meal and ended with me totally relaxed and sleeping in a soft bed.” Takoda smiled in remembrance, then went into details of his meal, bath and kneading.

“Yeoman sent me up, Captain.” The messenger looked a bit grim.

“Yes, Cavalryman.  Go a head and give us your report.”

The messenger looked a little uneasy as he began his account.  “Sir, first off, It was very difficult to get anyone to talk to us.  The closer to Roberton we traveled, the more closed mouthed people became about the Duke.  They don’t like him, Sir, but they are all too afraid to talk about him.  If you mention his name in a pub, Silence falls like a coffin lid across the room.”

“Were you able to get any information?” Rikki asked.

“Mostly rumors, Sir.” The messenger shrugged his shoulders. “Some said that the Duke was an evil tyrant, who imprisoned any who spoke ill of him, others claimed that he was a warlock, who practiced blood magik.”

“Were the fields near Roberton being tilled or laying fallow?” Takoda asked.

The messenger was taken off guard by the question and frowned as he searched his mind for an answer.  “Only about half the fields I saw were being worked, Sergeant.  Now that you mention it, we thought it odd that farmers were heading home while the sun was still up.  The farmers back home and down south always work until it starts to get dark before heading in to dinner.”

  “How was the food at the inns and pubs?” Rikki asked.

“Not good, Sir.  Old cabbage and tough meat, and the bread was a bit mealy.”

Rikki looked to Takoda, who’s face started to loose its relaxed features.

“Did you see many children?” Rikki asked.

“Yes.” The messenger was confused by the question.

“Were they loud?  Playing out in the open areas and streets, or were they quiet, skittish, and watching their parents?”

“Now that you mention it, the children didn’t seem too happy.  It was quite depressing near Roberton.”

Captain Kalhoun looked to the Sergeant at Arms.  “Double……”

“The guard.” Takoda finished. “ I’ll send out a secondary wing of scouts and set up an outer perimeter.”

“The Princess’s safety first.” Captain Kalhoun called after Takoda who had already pealed away and was signaling the other officers to join him.

“I’m sorry, Sir.  I didn’t realize it was that bad.” The messenger looked scared.  Scared and tired.

“That’s alright, Cavalryman.  Go ahead and fall back.  See if you can catch a ride on a wagon and get some shuteye.  You look exhausted.”

“Thank you, Sir.” The messenger turned his mount back.

“Grymm!” Captain Kalhoun called, not knowing where the young man was.

“Yes, Sir.” Grymm called from his position behind the Princess’s carriage.  He turned his horse and galloped over to the Captain.

“Grymm, ride back towards Crossroads and find Kadyr and his friend.  Tell them we have a situation brewing and that they are to catch us with all haste.”

“Yes, Sir.” Grymm looked serious and older than his years.  He wheeled his horse around and began spurring it.

 “Don’t kill your horse getting to them, Grymm.” Captain Kalhoun called after the young Cavalryman.

 Rikki galloped Sefu over to the Princess’s carriage and knocked on the door.
The drape was pulled back.  “Yes, Captain?” Tonya greeted.

 “We need to talk, your Highness.” Rikki looked from her to Monyka and Annykah.

 “Go ahead, Captain.  I’m sure these two will find out soon enough.” Tonya invited.

 Without stopping, Rikki swung off of Sefu and onto the step of the carriage.  He leaned out of the way, opened the door and climbed in, opposite of Tonya.  He looked around the carriage at other two riders then back to the Princess.  “Having had Dianthe’s warning, I sent out scouts and messengers from Cleaveland Rapids.  They were to scout out anything that might be of importance in the Roberton area.  One of my messengers returned this morning, having ridden through the night.  After hearing his report, Sergeant Takoda and I have agreed to set up a second ring of scouts and to heighten our defenses.  This Duke of Roberton is up to something, and no good at that.”

 “We have to go through Roberton to get to Bolton and the Dwarven Kingdom.” Tonya thought out loud.  “Isn’t there any other way to get through to Bolton?”

 Captain Kalhoun pulled a map out from inside his coat pocket.  He laid it out, handing a corner to each of the young ladies.  “We are here.” He said pointing at a spot just North of Crossroads.  “As you can see, This is the only road in the area that leads to Bolton.  We could back track to Crossroads and head West  to Charmaine, then over to Cascadia.” Rikki pointed to the map.  “This northern road goes up into Morpeth, near Thrax.  I’m sure that Ambassador Kalgar could guide us to the Dwarven underground from there.”

 Tonya looked at the route, that backtracked, West, led up North and then tracked back East to their current destination.  “That would add several days, though, wouldn’t it?”

 “Almost a fortnight, your Highness.”  Captain Kalhoun nodded.  “another option though would be to head back to the Cleveland Rapids.  Get another boat and sail up into Hasslemere.  From there we can judge the Elven dangers and figure out if we want to brave the Northwest Passage, or try to gain entrance into Thame.”

 “How far long will that take?” Tonya asked.

 “It would initially take us six days out of our way, but we would be back on track and ahead of schedule in a  matter days once we figured out what we want to do in Lakemere.”

 “Captain, I really don’t want to get on another boat.” Tonya grimaced at the thought.

 “Good, neither do I, Highness.”  Rikki smiled.  “I don’t feel like I have enough control when I’m on the water.  I’m a Cavalryman, not a sailor.”

 “Is there a place we can cross the river, here?” Tonya pointed to the North Palriada river just south of Bolton. 

 “The North Palriada river is too swift and deep to attempt a crossing, except by bridge or barge.”

 Tonya sat back and sighed heavily.

 “I don’t know how to thank you, Kadyr.” Nevyre sighed.

 “I’m sure I will be able to come up with something.” Kadyr smiled to his friend.  “You do owe me big though.  That Guild master was as stubborn as a Ram in season.”

 Having spent the past mile or so, galloping to catch up to the parade of soldiers, the two friends rode their horses at an easy pace.

Nevyre pulled a pastry out of his coat and handed it to Kadyr.  “I thought I might start paying you back by giving you this apple tart.”

“Where did you get that?” Kadyr asked.

“Before we left Crossroads.” Nevyre said non-chalantly.

“We didn’t stop long enough for you to buy any food.” Kadyr looked hard at his friend.

“We didn’t?” oh, well I must have found it.” Nevyre said pulling out another pastry and biting into it.

“You lifted those from that street peddler outside the Guild master’s office.” Kadyr accused.

“Are you going to eat it?” Nevyre asked.  “If not, I’ll be more than happy to find a place for it.”

Kadyr bit into the tart.  Worrying about where it came from wasn’t going to help.  “I thought you had learned your lesson when it came to lifting goods.” Kadyr swallowed.

“I’ve gotten better.” Nevyre protested.  “I’ve had to.” He added under his breath.

“Remember the trouble we got into when you tried to lift that glass ring for that tavern girl, that you had planned to marry?”

Nevyre groaned.  “You’ll never let me forget.”

“What was her name?” Kadyr pondered, trying to grasp a name out of thin air.

“Oh, I forget.” Nevyre licked the crumbs from his fingers.

“Katee……… Katee Lazorous.” Kadyr plucked the name.  “Oh, you had it bad for Katee.”

“I was young.” Nevyre protested.  “Young with unrealistic expectations.”

“You had it real bad for her.” Kadyr continued.  “I have only seen you have it that bad with one other……….. Delela.”

The sounds of a horses hooves beating the ground at full speed interrupted their conversation.  The two friends became alert and guided their horses to one side of the road to make room for the fast approaching horse.

A Riponian blue uniform riding a black mare came racing around a corner in the road.

“Oh, shit.  This can’t be good.” Kadyr tossed the remaining tart into the bushes and waved at the approaching soldier.  Grymm reined in his heaving mount.  “By the Gods, what is wrong, Grymm?”  Kadyr’s stomach twisted into knots. 

Grymm’s mount pranced as her sides heaved trying to catch her breath.“The Captain has sent me to fetch you.”  Grymm stroked the sweating neck of his mare.  “He said to have you make haste in catching up……. I don’t know what’s going on, Lieutenant, but he and Takoda got real nervous and skiddish after talking with that messenger who came in this morning.”

“Crap!”  Kadyr swore.  “ Catch up after you rest your horse the best you can, Grymm………. Nevyre, We need to ride hard.”  With that, Kadyr dug the spurs into his horse and took off at a gallop and started stretching her into a run.

“Here have a pastry.” Nevyre pulled another tart from with in his coat and tossed it to Grymm before he followed Kadyr’s lead.

 Takoda scanned the road and countryside ahead.  His mind reeling and going through all kinds of possibilities of possible dangers and traps that they may be walking into.  He was suddenly distracted by a whistling arrow shot by the forward scouts.

 “Galyway.” Takoda called out to the Sergeant.  “I’m going to check out what they have found.” Takoda informed the heavily armored man, as he urged his mare into a gallop.

 Takoda’s eyes scanned the terrain around him, his nerves on edge as he rode towards the area that the warning had come from.  One of the inner ring of scouts met him as he approached a copse of trees.

 “Any signs of danger?” Takoda asked as the Cavalryman joined him.

 “No, Sergeant, this inner circle has been quiet.  We’ve flushed a few birds and rabbits, but we take that as a good sign.”

 “Keep alert and don’t hesitate to warn if anything looks, or sounds suspicious.”  Takoda ordered, still watching the bushes and knolls around of him.

 He left the copse of trees, catching only a glimpse of one of the scouts’ horse. 
A quarter mile ahead, he could see a group of mounted men.  If his eyes hadn’t been so old, he would have made out how many from this distance.  In his day, he did many a circuit as a scout.  But now, age was slowly taking his sight and all he could make out was that there were mounted men gathered ahead.  One of the scouts rode to meet him.

 “Sergeant, we have some…….. well some people from the Roberton area who are saying that they are here to meet with the Captain.”

 Are they town officials?” Takoda squinted towards the group.

 “I don’t believe so, One appears to be a blacksmith,  he carries two large hammers with ease, some are farmers, and I believe a baker.”

 “What do they wish to relay to the Captain?”

 “They wouldn’t say, Sir.”

 “Which one is their leader?” Takoda tried to smile as he approached the group.

 “The blonde woman, Sir.”

 “Greetings.” Sergeant Takoda smiled to each of them.  “I’m Sergeant at Arms Takoda, second in command of this detachment.  How can I help you people?”  his eyes looked to each one in turn.  The Scout was right, they were all citizens of the town.  Farmers, blacksmiths, bakers and the like.

 “Sergeant Takoda,” The small blonde woman stood erect in her saddle.  “We wish to speak with you and your superiors about a possible attack on the Princess Tonya, from Roberton.” She had the air of someone who was in control and confident,  a confidence which normally came from a person twice her age.

 “That is an interesting idea.” Takoda looked thoughtful, “And you are?”

 “Taelah. …… Sergeant, we have reliable sources that say that the Duke of Roberton wishes to either kidnap the Princess if not kill her.”

 Takoda nodded to her to go on.

 “The Duke dabbles in the unholy bloody, magical arts.  Some of the more powerful spells of such evil require the blood of a royal blood line or even the sacrifice of a royal.”

 “How, Taelah, do you know of such unholy rites?” 

 “As I have said, Sergeant, we have reliable sources.” Taelah met his gaze as an equal. 

 This Taelah was telling the truth, but not all of it.  Takoda thought.  She is hiding something, she is holding something back.  Takoda’s gaze left hers and searched the faces of the others with her.  They met his gaze, some with worry, some anxious.

 “Cavalryman, you and two others will accompany these guests back to meet with the Captain.  You others, will continue to scout.”  Takoda looked to the still nervous faces of the town folk.  “Your claims are intriguing and should be explored further…… Please, come back to the procession so that we can speak further on this.”  It wasn’t a question.

 The town folk or Roberton fell in along side the Sergeant, while the three cavalry scouts fell in behind them.

 Kadyr’s mount was lathered and breathing hard as he rode past the rear guard and the line of wagons in support of the Princess.  Nevyre was just behind him.  As he approached the coach carrying the Ambassadors, he slowed down to a trot and stroked his horse.  There didn’t seem to be any outward apperance of trouble.  The cavalry was at alert, but not tense.  The procession had come to a stop and Sefu, the Captain’s favorite horse, stamped his hoof impatiently next to the Royal carriage.

 “Yyan,” Kadyr called to one of the nearby cavalrymen.  “Could you walk out and rub down these two?”

 “Certainly, Sir.”

 “What’s going on?” he asked Yyan as he swung down out of his saddle.

 “I’m not too sure, Lieutenant.  The Captain had a secondary perimeter established, then he went into speak with the Princess.  A few minutes ago a whistler was shot from up front.” Yyan nodded the direction with his head.  “Sergeant Takoda went to investigate, meanwhile we’ve been at full alert.”

 “That’s all?” Kadyr asked.

 Yyan shrugged his shoulders,  “All I know, Lieutenant.”  Yyan looked past him.  “Here comes the Sergeant now.  It looks like he has brought visitors.”

 Nevyre handed his reigns off to Yyan as well.  “What’s the big rush? ……. Oh wait, this is the Cavalry, it’s hurry up and wait.”

 “Not now Nevyre.  The Captain, wouldn’t have sent Grymm to get us unless something was up.”

 Just then the door to the carriage opened and Rikki hopped down.  He turned to the Princess and bowed, before closing the door.

 “A bit formal” Kadyr muttered under his breath.

 “Good, Kadyr, you are here.” Captain Kalhoun greeted, then scrubbed a hand through his hair.

 “Sergeant Takoda’s bringing someone in from the forward scouts, Sir.” Kadyr indicated with his head and his eyes.

 The Captain looked to where Takoda was riding up with a thoughtful, serious look on his face.

 “So, Sergeant, what was the warning?”

 “Captain, These are some good folk of Roberton, who are here to talk with us about a particular problem.” Takoda said, stressing the last two words.

 “Hello.” The Captain greeted.  “Are you thirsty, can we get you something to eat?”

 “Not just now, Captain.” Taelah turned down the offer. “Is there someplace we can talk?”

 “Sure.  Would you mind if I signal this group to continue?” 

 Taelah shook her blonde head.

 Captain Kalhoun signaled the lead guards, which started the caravan moving again.

 “Captain, what’s going on?  What’s the hold up?” Ambassador Zareb  called from his carriage as it approached.

 “Her Highness, needed to take care of some business and needed a break from the bumpy road, Ambassador.  Everything is all right.” Captain Kalhoun waved back.  The smile vanished from his face as he turned back to the visitors.  “Would you mind if we left the roadway to talk?”

 Rikki mounted Sefu and immediately felt more in control, being back on his friend’s back.  He patted Sefu’s neck and rode a short ways out into the field.  One of the returning scouts dismounted and handed the reigns to Kadyr, who nodded his thanks and leaped into the saddle. 

 “Captain,” Taelah started, “We have it from good, reliable sources, that the Duke of Roberton is planning on attacking  you  before you reach Roberton..”

 “You do?” Captain Kalhoun raised an eyebrow.

 Taelah ignored him and went on. “This attack will come in the guise of elven raiders.  Their objective is to kidnap the Princess Tonya and take her back to the Duke.

 “What ever for?” Captain Kalhoun played innocent.

 “Well, Sir, that part will be a little harder for you to understand or believe.”

 “Try me, Taelah.”

 “The Duke plays with blood-magic and wishes to use her in a bloody ritual.  Having access to Royal blood allows him to cast and use, more dangerous spells.  So while Truno, and Riponia, are off trying to track down the elves who captured her, the Duke will be draining her life’s essence for unholy rites, or even worse, sacrificing her.”

 “Why should I believe a word of this……. Coming from an elf?” Captain Kalhoun asked.  An awkward moment fell over the group.  “Your hat may be covering your pointed ears,” Rikki continued, “but your stature, eyes, and features give you away.”

 “She’s telling the truth, Captain.” Blurted a man with arms of a blacksmith.

 “And you are?” Captain Kalhoun asked.

 “Jaklen, the Smith.” Jaklen looked ashamed of his outburst.

 Rikki studied the man closely, as well as the others with him.  Homemade, crude weapons, were held by most of them.  A few carried, homemade, but well crafted bows and looked to know how to use them.

 “Are you all from Roberton?” Captain Kalhoun inquired.

 “And the outlying areas, Captain.” One of the farmers spoke up.

 “Have any of you witnessed these blood-magic rituals?” Captain Kalhoun looked from one to the other.  A few dropped their gaze.

 “Many of our friends and townspeople are missing,” the smith charged.

 “As well as our livestock.” A farmer added.

 “There are a lot of strange..... evil things happening up there, Captain.” Another intoned. 

 “I’m sure there are all kinds of horrible things happening, but a charge of blood-magic?  Without proof?......... Gentlemen, I can’t gallop into Roberton and arrest the Duke on a charge of witchcraft, especially one that is unfounded.  “Captain Kalhoun paused,   “Not to state the obvious, but we are Riponian, and this is the Kingdom of Truno.  I have no authority here.”

 “Captain, as Riponians, you are allowed to protect yourself while in Truno, are you not?” Taelah asked with a direct gaze.

 “Yes, we are…….. If we are attacked.”  Captain Kalhoun returned her hard gaze with one as equally solid.

 “Then you should prepare to be attacked, Captain, because you will be, before the moon rises.

 Captain Kalhoun took all of them in with his gaze. “Would you stake your life on that?”

 “Yes Captain, I would.” Taelah said without pause.

 “Aye, so would I.” Jaklen added.  One by one the others added their assent.

 Captain Kalhoun looked to Takoda.  He paused then scrubbed his hand through his hair and looked to Taelah, “Then you will do so.”

 The Roberton group exchanged worried glances to one another, wondering what the Riponian Captain meant by that last.

 “Kadyr, take our guests over and see to their needs, get them some food and refreshment, I’m sure they are hungry, and their horses look like they could use a break.”

 “Yes, Captain.”  Kadyr saluted.  He turned to the half-elf and her friends. “please, follow me.”

 Once they were out of earshot, Rikki turned to Takoda,  “What do you think?”

 “You know me, Rikki,  I don’t trust Elves.” Takoda looked out at the surrounding fields.  “Even half-elves, but their warnings, correlate with our findings.  And they are all willing to risk their lives by leaving their family and home to warn us, as well as to possibly fight with us.”

 “Takoda, Inform Cavalryman Edwyn that he will need to report to me as soon as possible.  He will be accompanying, her Highness in the carriage Rikki sighed, “First, I’ll need to speak with her Highness again.”  Rikki paused for a moment, scrubbing his fingers through his hair,  “Have a few men set up a small tent, just ahead of us.  Her Highness will wish to change out of her riding dress, for  the Duke’s greeting.”

 “We are still going to walk into this trap?” Takoda questioned.

 “Takoda wasn’t it you, who taught me that the best way to avoid a trap was by knowing its existence?” Rikki bit his lip.  “When he returns, ask Grymm to prepare four horses for a five day scouting expedition.  Blankets, food, etc...  I’ll have further orders for him later.”

 Takoda grimaced.  “What do you have cooking, in that devious mind of yours.”

 “The old bait and switch,” Rikki smiled to his old friend.  “Let’s just hope that the Half-elf’s priorities are the same as ours.”

 

 The Group from Roberton solemnly rode along with the entourage, not happy, but not upset with their predicament.  At least the Riponian soldiers were hospitable enough to feed them some decent food.  Although they received strange looks from the soldiers and entourage, they were greeted with smiles……. Something they hadn’t seen for a while in Roberton.

 “Kadyr, I need to speak with you.” Nevyre said out of the side of his mouth as they rode forward in the line.

 “What is it, Nevyre?” Kadyr asked once out of earshot of others.

 “Let’s just say that I am familiar with one of those farmers.”

 “Is he trustworthy?” Kadyr’s warning bells were sounding.

 “Let’s just say that farming isn’t how he makes money.” Nevyre chuckled.  Kadyr gave him a look of questioning.  “He is a smuggler and dabbles in the black market.” Nevyre explained.

 “So we are not to trust him?” Kadyr asked.

 “Oh you can trust him.  His very presence here says that this Duke is a bad person, at the very least bad for business.”

 “Does he recognize you?” Kadyr studied his comrade.

 “He recognizes me, but he hasn’t placed who I am or what I do.”

 “Is there any possibility that they are leading us into a trap?” Kadyr cut to the chase.

 “I don’t think so.  No.” Nevyre shook his head.

 “Which one is it?” Kadyr pressed.

 “I would be very surprised if they were.  The fact that he is traveling with Jaklen the Smith is proof enough of honest intentions.  Jaklen is too honest, to be mixed up in anything even smelling crooked.  And the farmer wouldn’t normally mix in the company of those like Jaklen”

 “Thanks, Nevyre.  I’ll pass this on to the Captain.”

 “If you must.” Nevyre shook his head.
 

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