Healing a Princess...17 (Stinking Fog)

 

Healing a Princess...17

(Stinking Fog)

 

 

By Tim Knight

 

The wagon procession slowed down and came to a stop before the small tent erected just off the side of the road.  Two Cavalrymen came forward and assisted Annyka and Monyka out of the carriage, followed by Tonya who was lifted and eased to the road.

 “I believe you will find a nice assortment of gowns have been arranged for you, your Highness.” Rikki smiled at her from beside the tent opening.

 “Thank you, Captain for arranging this dressing break.” Tonya winced as the pain shot up her leg.

 Monyka and Annyka followed her into the tent.  A rug on the ground held out some of the mud and cold.  A large looking glass hung from a cross pole, while several gowns hung to either side of the looking glass.  Against the back wall, standing next to a large dress trunk, and feeling like a cornered possum was Taelah. 

She stiffly bowed to Tonya.  “Your Highness.”

Tonya looked at the half-elf with a cool indifference.  “You aren’t much of a likeness, except for your height and the color of your hair, but you’ll have to do.”

Taelah’s jaw began to ache with the amount of pressure she was applying to keep from saying something.

“Well let’s get  this party started.” Monyka jumped in, sensing the tension.  “Annyka could you start, by unbuttoning her back buttons, while I pull the pins out of her hair.”  Monyka was taking charge of the situation before anyone else did.      “Tail-uh, could you start pulling your clothes off too please?”  Monyka asked sweetly.  “I think the red dress will work best, your Highness.  She can wear the hat that goes with it to help disguise her further.”

“What ever.” Tonya was curt.

 

 “Captain, her Highness is dressed and ready to continue.” Annyka strode out of the tent and stood before the carriage.

 “Thank you, my Lady.” Captain Kalhoun made a small bow to the girl, then signaled Edwyn to follow him to the tent entrance.  “We’re ready for you, your Highness.” Captain Kalhoun called to the tent.

 “This is never going to work.” Taelah snarled as she faked a limp out of the tent.

 “Just keep your gaze on the ground ahead of you and don’t look to either side.  No one should recognize you.” Captain Kalhoun whispered.  He and Edwyn assisted the Princess into the carriage.  Edwyn followed the Princess inside and sat opposite of her.  Monyka came out the tent next and looked to Rikki with a worried glance.

 “Come Annyka, we’ve kept the Captain waiting long enough.” She smiled to the young girl.

 
 Several cavalrymen began tearing down the tent and putting it away as the procession began to move on.

 “Be careful of her Highness’s chest of dresses.” Takoda ordered as he rode up from the Ambassador’s carriage.  “In fact, she’ll probably need those this evening or tomorrow morning, why don’t you put that trunk on that last wagon there.” Takoda pointed.  “That way it will be easily gotten to once we reach Roberton.”

 Takoda made sure that the clean up crew was different from the set up crew.  The two men who heaved the trunk up into the wagon would never know that it weighed much more than it did when it was placed inside the tent.

 Tonya concentrated on her breathing.  The pain in her leg was excruciating, and was becoming harder and harder to ignore.  The darkness of the trunk didn’t bother her much, but the air becoming quickly stale did start to cause her to become claustrophobic.  She dug her fingernails into her skin and focused on her breathing trying not to count the minutes that she was shut into this trunk.  This danger that Dianthe had warned about, had better be real, or she was going to do something horrible to get back at being treated like luggage.  Her mind slipped from breathing stale, humid air, to ways she could torture the Duke for having put her through this.

 “Hold on your Highness, I’ll get you out in just a minute.” A voice called softly out to her.

 A moment later the lid to the trunk was thrown open, blinding the cramped princess.  Cool fresh air.  Tonya inhaled deeply, relishing the sweetness of clean air.

“Help me out,” Tonya demanded of her rescuer.  “My leg is killing me.”

A young man jumped up into the back of the wagon and hoisted the Princess out of the dress trunk and held her in place a moment so that the blood could circulate through her cramped and aching legs.

“Thank you, Cavalryman.”

 

 

“Do you remember what the Captain said?” Monyka looked Annyka in the eye.

“That we are to leave the carriage one by one and pretend that Princess Tonya is still riding in the carriage, although she is riding back in one of the wagons.” Annyka repeated what she was told earlier.  “Do you really think that someone will attack us?” She asked.

“I don’t know.” Monyka darted a look over to Taelah.

“They will attack.” Taelah assured.  Just as dusk settles, if my sources are correct.  That is when they figure the soldiers will be most tired.”

“Alright Annyka.” Go ahead and join Rose, and remember don’t even tell her what is going on or the secret about Princess Tonya.”

Annyka nodded, she opened the carriage door and hopped down.  Edwyn closed the door again.

Monyka looked at the Half-elf sitting across from her wearing Tonya’s gown.  “In case no one else has said anything, I would like to say thank you for the warning and for volunteering to be a decoy.”

“I didn’t have much choice in the matter.” Taelah sighed.

“You could have stayed home this morning.” Monyka put her hand on the half-elf’s.  “But you chose to make a difference.  Thank you.”

Taelah’s heart skipped a beat.  The only difference she was really choosing to do was to spy on these strangers so that she could be reunited with her father.

Monyka stood up, gathered her skirts and exited the carriage from the other side.

The two remaining occupants rode in silence for a bit.  “So you are my guard.” Taelah snarled across the carriage at Edwyn.

“Yes. Your Highness.” Edwyn sneered.  “You’ll have to forgive their manners, but the Captain and the Sergeant at Arms both have a problem with trusting Elves, even half-elves.” Edwyn eyed her and gave her a smile.  “I’m under orders to kill you if you attempt to warn off or assist in the attack on this procession.”

“Or try to escape.” Taelah added.

“Or try to escape.” Edwyn confirmed.

“Why are you so special to be put to this task?” Taelah looked out the window at the passing scenery, ignoring it.

“Because I speak Elven.” Edwyn answered speaking a language that she seldom heard.  His accent was thick and his syntax choppy, but he spoke the language well enough.  Taelah was torn between wanting to converse with him in her father’s language and holding him in contempt.

 “Not a bad design, this carriage.” Edwyn commented, checking out the surroundings.  “Our Princess had a hand in it’s design you know.”   Edwyn picked up a large leather bound book that was neatly tucked to one side.  He thumbed through it, finding diagrams, illustrations, and charts along with detailed descriptions of machinery.  “Wow, her Highness sure has peculiar tastes when it comes to some light reading.”  Edwyn closed the book and gently replaced it.  “Your Highness,” he addressed the half-elf.  “this may be a long carriage journey.  This is one of the smoothest carriages ever made, you may wish to take the opportunity to take a nap.”

 The look Taelah gave him was full of hate.  She slowly turned her gaze from him and refocused out the window.

 

 Rikki watched the sun start to dip behind the hills.  There were so many details to take care of and so little time.  Fortunately he had good men who worked under him.  Men that he had helped to train as well as those who have proven themselves in battle by his side.  With men like that, he didn’t, or shouldn’t have to worry about details.  Each knew their job and how it was supposed to be carried out.  Kadyr was one of those who had fought with him and who he had trained.  The young Lieutenant was approaching him from the end of the procession.

“The last of the scouts have been sent out, Sir.”

 “How many do we have to guard the carriage?” Rikki asked.

 “I’ve kept twenty to guard the Royal carriage and ten to help protect the Ambassadors and support team.”

 “Is anyone suspicious?” Rikki asked.

 “A few of the servants have questioned the lack of protection.” Kadyr answered.  “I’ve explained to a few of servants who can fight that something was up, they are keeping weapons within reach.”

 “I’d prefer that the servants and support group wouldn’t get involved.” Rikki shook his head.

 “Sir, they all volunteered for this duty and knew when they signed up that there may be dangers involved..” Kadyr reassured.

 “What of the Ambassadors?” Rikki scrubbed a hand through his hair.

 “Zareb has been napping or worrying over political matters and is oblivious.  Kalgar however, is aware and has his axe close at hand.” Kadyr started to chuckle.  “When I told him that it would be safer if he stayed in the carriage with Zareb, he told me to go straight to the underworld.”

 Rikki’s chuckle joined that of his Lieutenant.  A stillness fell over them, and all that they could hear was the horses hooves in the drying mud and the creaking of wagons as they slowly made their way down the road.

 “You know your orders?” Rikki looked to his Lieutenant.  He knew that Kadyr did, he just wanted to reassure himself, along with the mental checklist he was reviewing in his mind.

 “I’m to stay with the Ambassadors, servants and entourage, holding a defensive position, while you act as decoy with the Royal carriage.” Kadyr explained his part.  “If we become separated, I am to finish off any attackers and then force a march to catch up to you and act as reinforcements if need be.”  Kadyr paused.  I’ve got a few men to assist Brother Tagyrt.  He will be coming along behind, picking up any wounded, and  meeting us in Bolton.”

 “Pray to the Gods that this works.” Rikki commented absently as he watched the front of the entourage start to enter a ground hugging fog.”

 “The ground is kind of cold for there to be fog, isn’t it? Sir.” Kadyr started to scan the fallow fields around him.

 “If something happens to me, Lieutenant, you are to take command and get the Princess to safety, at all costs.”  With that, Rikki spurred Sefu and galloped to join the carriage.

 Sefu smelled something wrong before they even got to the ground hugging fog.  It wasn’t until they were in it that Rikki figured out why his horse was acting so funny.  The fog had a horrible smell to it.  It was hard to see his men.  He could see two of his cavalrymen double over their horses and loose the contents of their stomachs.  It wasn’t just the men either, he could see that they were having trouble keeping their mounts from bolting.  The odour was horrible  it smelled metallic like something he’d smell on a battle field, it was the stench of old, putrid blood.  It was constant and seemed to blot every other scent out.  Rikki passed several of his men, keeping a tight rein on their horses and approached the carriage.

 “What is this?” he tried to say………… at least he thought he did.  He opened his mouth again.  “What is this fog?” but nothing came out.  He was sure that he had voiced it the second time, but nothing could be heard. 

Sefu’s muscles twitched and his ears laid back.  His eyes became wide with fright.  Rikki, scared him self, patted his friend on the neck to try and reassure him.  Sefu pranced to the side as a dark figure raced towards him swinging for Rikki’s head.  Sefu’s fright along with some last minute reflexes not only allowed Rikki to keep his head, but stay on his horse.  Rikki pulled his sabre from it sheath and blocked a second blow by yet another rider.

“We’re under attack!” he screamed.  But again, nothing came out.  No noise could be heard.  He had felt his vocal cords vibrate and the air forced from his lungs but yet he could hear nothing. 

Rikki spurred Sefu to catch up with the front of the carriage.  The driver hung upside down, nearly dragging the ground, several arrows protruding from his chest.  Another dark form seemed to appear out of no where in front of the Captain.  He blocked two blows and ran the attacking Elf through.  The pointed eared demon looked startled and fell from his mount.   The carriage lurched from one side of the road to the other as the horses trotted  unguided. 

An Elf on the other side of the road, jumped from his mount onto the carriage and pulled himself into the drivers seat.

“Sheep shit!” Rikki cursed, without sound.  He pulled a dagger from his boot and hurled it at the Elf.  The Elf, crazed beyond comprehension reached his hands up to his neck where the dagger was buried and pulled it out.  Blood spewed forth as the Elf lost his balance and fell from the carriage.

 An arrow whizzed by the Captain and flew into the window of the carriage.  A moment later the wooden shutters were thrown into place   Several more arrows buried themselves into the carriage, a few into the shutters. 

 

 Kadyr watched as the Captain galloped into the strange fog.  But something wasn’t right.  As soon as Rikki was enveloped by the swirling vapour, the sound of his horses hoofs stopped.

 “Hold!” Kadyr called out at the top of his lungs.  “Stop and hold fast!”
The servants practically froze in place and several of the guards silently drew their sabres or notched their arrows.

 Kadyr strained to hear noise from the front part of the caravan, but not a horse hoof, voice, or creak of a wheel could be heard.

 Out of the mists a dark figure came racing down the line swinging at anything with in reach.  One of the Cavalrymen flung a sabre up in time to block a killing stroke, but fell to the mud from the force that was behind the blow.

 “Attack!” Kadyr called out.  “We’re under attack!”  As soon as the first word of the warning left his lips, the dark mysterious rider, fell from his horse with an arrow protruding from his throat.

 Several others came riding out of the mist.  Arrows whistled by Kadyr and found their homes in the attacking elves.  Kadyr guided his horse over to the Ambassadors carriage.

 “Ambassadors, Ladies, stay in there, and keep those shutters closed.”

 “Like Hell!” Kalgar roared.  He jumped out of the carriage on the other side with his axe and ran forward a few paces so that he could see better.

 “Ambassador, I don’t have time to argue.” Kadyr swore as more dark riders emerged from all around them.  “I won’t be responsible for your death..  Get back in the carriage.” Kadyr ordered.

“I will not return to face my King, with the knowledge that I didn’t do my duty as an ambassador and negotiate with these demon spawn!” with that, Kalgar swung his axe and cleaved through a horses, foreleg, causing the horse to flounder then to flip flank over head along with it’s pointed-eared rider.  Kalgar ran over and decapitated the elf, then slit the screaming horse’s throat.

So far Skot’s archers were keeping most of the demons at a distance.  Only a few were getting close to the servants and wagons, and they were being dealt with by the limited men he had.

 

 Rikki screamed soundlessly as an arrow pierced his left arm.  Another dark shape was fast approaching him.  Rikki readied himself, but held his swing.  The dark figure was too large to be an Elf.  Sergeant Galyway threw up his shield to deflect an arrow, then flung it to land on top of the carriage.  He turned his mount to come up between Rikki and the carriage before he matched Sefu’s gallop.  Using battlefield sign language, he motioned to Rikki that the Cavalrymen were having trouble with their horses and a couple had been wounded thus far.  The others were confused as what to do.  He then reached over and snapped the shaft of the arrow sticking out of the Captain’s left arm.  Rikki was glad that no one could hear him scream.  Galyway then slid the rest of the arrow out of the Captains arm.

 This was a surreal nightmare.  He couldn’t see very far or in much detail, and there was no sound, no way to communicate.  Elves suddenly popping out of the ground, or dropping from trees he had expected, but this?  To be enveloped by a foul smelling fog that caused violent wrenching.  A vapour in which no sound could be heard?   If everything were to start moving in slow motion, he would know it as a nightmare, and wake himself up.  The sharp, throbbing pain in his left arm was one of the things in his mind that kept him from believing that this was in fact a nightmare.

Rikki pointed to the empty driver’s seat of the carriage and pointed to Galyway, who nodded and lunged his heavily armoured frame over to the carriage.  Another dark shape attacked, followed by three more. 

Rikki blocked the initial assault and slashed behind him, slicing open the Elf’s ribs as he rode past.  The next attacker swung but was just out of reach as he rode by.  The third attacker swung low  Sefu, seeing a sword being swung at him shied out of the way.  Rikki’s sabre slid past the Elf’s low swing and punctured the chest of the demon attacker. 

 Galyway grabbed the reins to the team of horses and steered them into the middle of the road and snapped them into a run.  An arrow bounced harmlessly off of his breast plate causing him to swear.  He needed to concentrate on the road which became visible only a few feet ahead of the team.  Another arrow buried its self into the carriage near his thigh.

 More of the mounted heavies along with the cavalry regained control of their horses and regrouped around the Royal Carriage as it began to move faster and faster down the road. 

 The Captain of the Princess’s bodyguard didn’t feel alone anymore as his brothers in arms helped to deflect attack after attack against the carriage.  Foul fog or not, fog that allowed sound or not, his men, the fighters of Riponia were starting to regroup and carry out their assignment in a more habitual manner.  A behaviour that was as automatic as scratching an itch or blinking dust out of one’s eye.

 As if breaking through a wave, the carriage and it’s protectors broke through the back of the mists and into clean, clear air.  The steady thuds of their horses hooves sounded like rolling thunder compared to the absolute silence that they had just ridden through.

The Captain took a deep breath and yelled, hoping  that his voice could be heard.  “Make haste, and get the Princess to safety!”

 Sergeant Galyway snapped the reins again and again, urging the team of white horses to take on more speed.  Arrows now came from behind them as the carriage and it’s company made it past the ambush that didn’t quite do it’s job. 

 Captain Kalhoun swore to himself as he caught sight of the road ahead of him.  Trees were closing in around the road, making it impossible to see any impending dangers.  “Sound the bugle for reinforcements!” he ordered, hoping that his Corporal was still with them.

 The sweet sound of the horn calling for help was a relief to his nerves.  He just hoped that his reinforcements were close enough to arrive in adequate time to save his men, unknowingly being used as decoys.  “Sound it again, Corporal!”

 They were approaching the darkness of the trees more rapidly then Captain Kalhoun had first thought.  “Watch for another ambush!” he called.  Rikki dared a look behind him and saw that their attackers were starting to slow their pursuit. 

 “The road is blocked!” one of the forward riders called a warning.  Captain Kalhoun turned to see the Cavalryman’s horse jump over a large shadow laying across the road.

 “Stop the carriage!” Captain Kalhoun roared.  “Rally around the Princess!”

 Sergeant Galyway pulled hard on the reins as the team of horses decelerated.  The company of Riponian guards circled the wagon, their four-legged friends heaved, as they tried to catch their breaths.  Steam rose from their over heated bodies as their riders strained to see in the dark copse of trees, surrounding the road.  Their sabres, wet with blood were drawn and at the ready.  Those with bows had arrows nocked in anticipation for their Captain’s order.

 “Lay down your arms, Captain.” A voice thick with accent called from the dark trees.  “You are surrounded.  No more need to die.  We only wish the Princess.”

 Captain Kalhoun scanned the trees where the voice was calling, but could see nothing.  “I’m sorry, more of you will have to die, for I will not allow you to take her Highness.” He challenged forcefully.

 Out of the corners of his eyes, Captain Kalhoun could see his men.  They stood taller, proud in their saddles, knowing that their Captain would protect the future monarch of their country, even if it cost him his life. Tall, proud and tense.  Muscles bunched, in anticipation, nerves on fire,  ready for anything that might happen. They sat upon their mounts like hunting saber-cats ready to pounce with blinding speed.

 “Please, Captain.  Would you truly risk the lives of these fine young men, their futures, for one princess?  What of their wives? Their children?”

 “You obviously don’t know the stubbornness of Riponians.” Captain Kalhoun smiled back.  “Especially the tenacity of the Riponian Cavalry.  We are so rebellious that our great King, Tobias, sends us to Truno to patrol its borders.”  A few of the Cavalry smiled at that.  “So come and die upon our sabres, our arrows.  For we shall not yield to you, and you shall not have her Highness…….. or are there too few of you left to carry out such a task?”

 “Captain, we heard your bugle call for your reinforcements.” The voice called out again, “If you can call a few men guarding untrained servants reinforcements.  Please Captain, stop stalling and throw down your arms.  Your reinforcements are a mile or two behind you, and there are too few of them to save you, your men, or your precious princess.”

 As if on cue and not far off, a bugle sounded a charge.  The sound of the horn was quickly followed by several bird calls from various parts of the woods.  There were so many types of bird sounds that Rikki felt like he was in an Aviary of one of the Noblemen of Truno.  The bird sounds stopped abruptly then a howl emerged from the trees.  Arrows whistled through the air and hit horses, men and carriage.  At almost the same time. Elves burst through the undergrowth or dropped out of trees with knives and short swords swinging in what seemed an all out charge to get to the Princess.

 Swords catching the light of the moon, winked and shone as they were swung or plunged into an enemy.  Sergeant Galyway found himself being attacked on three fronts.  It was all he could do to twist away from one and swing his sword in a large arc to try and fend off this attackers. 

 Captain Kalhoun could now hear the thundering of horses hooves as his reinforcements charged into the copse of trees and joined the battle forcing their attackers to fight on two fronts.  His thoughts became fragmented.  He was fending off an attacking elf with one part of his brain, and hoping that Tonya was all right with the other.

 

 “Sergeant, can we take a break? My leg is throbbing horribly.” Tonya begged.

 “I’m sorry, your Highness, we need to make as much speed as we can.  It is getting dark and we need to reach the ferry.”  Takoda said softly.  “We need to get you across the river as soon as we can.  Captain Kalhoun and Lieutenant Kadyr are trying to keep the diversion as long as they can.  To give us time to get you into the Kingdom of Thame.”

 “Just ten minutes, Sergeant.  Ten minutes won’t matter that much.” Tonya continued.

 Takoda looked to Nevyre. “How much farther is it to this hidden ferry?”

 “Perhaps another mile.” Nevyre looked around him,  “Once we reach the river, I can get better bearings.” Nevyre smiled.  “I agree with, her Highness, Sergeant.  Ten minutes won’t matter too much at this juncture.  I’m sure if this farce is working, that your fellow soldiers are having fun killing lots of Elves, while we close ever closer to our goal.”

 “Grymm.” Sergeant Takoda called behind them.

 “Yes Sergeant.” Grymm rode up to them. 

 “We are going to take a break.  Her Highness needs to rest her leg.  I would like you to keep guard.”

 “Yes Sergeant.” Grymm smiled to Tonya before turning his horse away to scan the rolling hills around them.

 Nevyre was assisting Tonya out of her saddle by the time Sergeant Takoda turned back to his charge.

 “Here you are, Highness.” Nevyre soothed as he helped lay her to the ground.  He reached up and grabbed a blanket from behind her horse and tucked it under her arm and shoulder.

 “Thank you, Nevyre.” Tonya grunted as she shifted her leg to a more comfortable position.

 “Is it muscle pain, your Highness?” Nevyre inquired, looking at the Princess dressed in the pants of the half-elf.

 “Mostly.  But there is some deeper pain, a kind of sharp aching.”

 Nevyre reached his hand towards her leg.  “May I?” he asked.

 “Sure.  It always seems to help.” Tonya smiled weakly.

 Nevyre laid his hands upon the Princess’s leg and began to probe a bit, then began to slowly work the muscles.  Tonya laid back and closed her eyes, a mixture of pain and relief passed over her face.

 “If this ferry is so secret, Nevyre, how do you know of it?” Tonya inquired without looking at him.

 “Your Highness, I am in the business of knowing things and knowing people.” Nevyre looked up from her leg.  “People who don’t often associate with Royalty, unless they are being tried or sentenced.”

 Tonya opened her eyes and met his.  “So you are a criminal?”

 “I’m more of a trader, your Highness.” Nevyre’s fingers worked on a knot in her calve.  “I trade in goods as well as information.”  Nevyre began to chuckle.  “You might ask your Sergeant at Arms how well I know my trade.”

 “So you traded something to find out about this ferry?” Tonya probed.  She stiffened slightly.  “Right there.  Yes, right there is where it hurts.” Tonya moaned as Nevyre’s thumb worked out a knot.

 “The ferry is one of several ways to cross into Truno without stopping at the borders to pay fees and bribes when bringing certain items into the country.”

 “You mean illegal items?”

 “I mean special items as well as items that are frowned upon by Trunonian officials.”

 “Such as?” Tonya bit her lip to keep from moaning as the trader used the palm of his hand to push and rub.

 “Well, certain Aukai fish poisons for one.” Nevyre smiled as the Princess looked coldly at him.  “As well as hard to obtain items, such as the teeth of the great white bears in the icy north, or Elven crafted jewellery.”

 “Elven jewellery isn’t illegal.” Tonya protested.

 “But it is hard to come by and frowned upon by Trunonian nobility.” Nevyre started working on the outside of her thigh.

 “Just watch where you put those hands.” Tonya warned.

 “Your Highness, do you really think that I would try something that   ……  with your Sergeant at Arms sitting right over there and his lackey not far away?”

 “You are a criminal, you would try to get away with anything, its in your nature.”

 “It is in my nature.” Nevyre agreed, “however, so is using my head.”

 “How ever did you meet and befriend a person like Lieutenant Kollyns?” Tonya wondered aloud.

 “Kadyr wasn’t always a cavalryman, your Highness.  In fact there was a time when Kadyr and I used to be in business together.” Nevyre sighed.  “He however, didn’t have the moral fortitude that goes with this kind of business.”

 “I find it hard to believe that Lieutenant Kollyns was once a trader such as you.”

 “Oh, he was……. He could have been a great purveyor of inconvenient objects.  He has a way of figuring out solutions to complex puzzles.  Even seemingly hopeless ones.”  Nevyre pulled his hands away from the Princess and looked her in the eye.  “Who do you think came up with this bait and switch and switch again?”

 “I thought you were the one with the underground knowledge of the area.” Tonya looked a bit surprised.

 “I do.  Once he figured out what might happen back there on the road, he asked me if there were any covert traffic lanes around that we might use.  It was your Lieutenant who is behind this, your Highness.”  Nevyre looked around at their surroundings, which he could barely make out in the dusk.  “I’m just your guide.”  Nevyre stood and looked down at the Riponian princess, sitting in the grass.  “So who is the conniving underhanded person?  Your Lieutenant?  Or your guide?”  Nevyre offered her his hand to assist her back to her feet.

 Tonya looked at it with new interest.  After a few seconds, she took his hand and allowed him to help her to her feet.  Nevyre boosted her up into her saddle before mounting his own.

 Takoda came up beside them his horse as silent as the wind in the grass.

 “Oh, before I forget, your Highness.” Nevyre looked to Takoda, before looking back to the Princess.  “From now until we get to Bolton, you are not Princess Tonya, nor will we address you as such.  You will be the Lady Efrata, a noble woman of Truno who is escaping an arranged marriage to an old, bitter, man.”  Nevyre watched as Tonya’s serious face registered the cover story and Takoda nodded his assent.  “You are hoping to make your way to your cousin’s estate just outside of Evalynton in Blaire.”

 Why do we need such a deception?” Tonya looked from one to the other.

 “Lets just say that some of the people that we will meet and have dealings with might take advantage of a wayward Princess.”  Nevyre sniffed at the air.  “Smell that?” Nevyre asked the old Sergeant.

 “Yes, how far do you think?” Takoda asked.

 “Smell what?” Tonya inquired.

 “The river, my Lady.” Takoda stressed the title then looked around for Grymm.

 “You can smell the river?” Tonya shook her head in disbelief  “All I smell is horse and grass.”

 “Once you become accustomed to horse and grass, you will begin to pick up on more subtle scents, such as rivers, my Lady.” Nevyre took the lead again.

 *****

 
 “Where is she?” Monyka demanded.  “I am her maid, her personal assistant.  I have every right to know where she is.”

 Lieutenant Kollyns looked to the beautiful young lady who he found himself falling in love with.  The brunette beauty now stood in front of him with hands on her hips and fire smouldering in her eyes.  “She is safe, Monyka.  That is all I can tell you at this time.”  Kadyr looked up as another wagon loaded with provisions, servants and wounded rolled by.  “In order to ensure her safety I am under orders to move this group of wagons as quickly as I can to catch up with the main attachment and the Captain.” 

 “She was supposed to be back here with the servants.” Monyka stomped her foot.  Are you telling me, that she was left up with the main group?”

 “I can not tell you anything at this time, My Lady.” Kadyr was starting to loose his calm.  “If I tell you anything, it will put her at risk, so do not ask again.  Just know that she is safe for the time being.”

 Monyka ground her teeth, spun around in the muddy road and mounted a horse which she spurred into a gallop to catch up with the others.

 “Brother Tagyrt.” Kadyr called out.

 The brother looked up with a tired, almost hollow look.

 “What is our status?”

 “A few wounded, ah……. None…….none too serious……..”

 “Good, good.” Kadyr cut him off. I’m going to have four men stay with you to assist you and the wounded.  Meet us in Roberton as soon as you can.  I have to catch this group up to the Captain, in case they need reinforcements.”

 Brother Tagyrt’s eyes were big with fright and worry.

 “Don’t worry Brother, you’ll be safe bringing up the rear.  You aren’t their target, Princess Tonya is.”

 

 Rikki opened the door to the Royal carriage.  “Are you alright in there?” he asked.

 “A bit tossed about, but over all a smooth ride, Captain.” Edwyn commented.

 “Did she give you any problems?” Rikki asked, nodding towards the other passenger.

 “Not a bit.  I think she was just as scared as we were.” Edwyn stepped out of the carriage.

 “Please stay where you are, Highness.” Rikki instructed Taelah.  “We’ll head on into Roberton, shortly.  I need to have a few words with the Duke there.”  Rikki turned to have a cavalryman rip open the left sleeve of his coat and dab at his wound with a wet cloth.

 “It doesn’t look too serious, Sir.” The cavalryman re-dipped the cloth and cleaned the wound up a bit more.  This will take care of it until we stop for the night.”  The cavalryman took a clean cloth and wound it around the Captain’s arm, binding both wounds.

 “Get all that can ride and wield a weapon on their horses.  We’re going to pay the Duke an over due visit.”

 “Skot, send two men back to meet with Lieutenant Kollyns.  He is racing to catch up. “ Rikki instructed.  “Tell him that he can relax his pace, but he is to push through Roberton.  Buy fresh horses, if he has to, but he is not to stop in Roberton.”

 “Yes Sir.” Skot turned to his duty.

 Captain Kalhoun turned to face up the road.  “Why isn’t this tree cleared yet!!!” he demanded.

 The six men chopping at the large tree doubled their efforts. 

 “You six stay here and get this tree cleared.  Everyone else, mount up!  We’re moving out!” Rikki called above all the noise.  “When you’re done with this tree, I want two of you to stay here and care for our wounded.  Stay with Lieutenant Kollyns and advise him of what happened.  The other four…..  catch up as fast as you can.  I’m going to need you in Roberton.”  With that Captain Kalhoun mounted Sefu and made his way around the tree.  “Move out!” he called and urged Sefu into a slow gallop.  Yeoman Bayley rode up beside him.

 “How many are at the bridge?” Captain Kalhoun asked.

 “Thirty, Sir. Except for the few assigned to Lieutenant Kollyns, the rest were divided up between me and yourself.”

 “Do we have any intelligence gathered on Roberton?”  Captain Kalhoun asked.

 “Very little, Sir.” Sergeant Galyway joined them.  It is primarily a way station for goods coming in and out of Thame.  It’s fortifications are pretty minor since Thame and Truno have never been at war.  The Garrison only has a few Trunonian soldiers, the rest are conscripts and mercenaries bought by the Duke.”

 “How many?” Rikki asked.

 “Unkown, Sir.  But probably less than a company.  They don’t get many raids up here.”

 “Captain, are we going to leave the Princess out here with only a couple of cavalrymen to protect her?” Yeoman Bailey voiced concern.

 “The Princess isn’t in the carriage, Skot. It’s that half-elf, Taelah.  she’s a decoy.” Captain Kalhoun whispered to his archer.

 “Then where is the Princess?” Skot was sounding alarmed.  “Not back with  the unarmed servants?”

  “She is safe, Skot.” Captain Kalhoun tried to calm his Yeoman.  “She is with Takoda and Grymm  I wanted to make sure that this Duke can’t get to her.”

 “Are you sure that the Duke is behind this?” Skot asked.

 “That is one of the things we’re going to find out tonight.” Captain Kalhoun said.  “Skot what are the major signs of blood magic being used?”

 “Self mutilation, blood shot eyes, the draining as well as the burning of blood.”

 “Have you ever seen blood magic being used?” Captain Kalhoun pressed.

 “No Sir.  Just know what they tell us in officer training.” Skot shook his head.

 “Galyway?” Captain Kalhoun posed the question to the heavy fighter.

 “I’m still not sure I believe in the stuff.”

 “Oh, it exists.  Once, while I was doing some reconasense in the woods to the south of here, I witnessed a ritual being preformed.  Animals can be sacrificed for small spells, but for the more detailed and stronger spells, human blood as well as human sacrifice is warranted.  It isn’t often that the blood magicians will brave a human sacrifice.  People tend to get touchy when friends and loved ones start to go missing, but when the need is great enough  You can be sure that they can find a victim in the streets of any town.  After all who’s going to miss the town beggar or crazy person?”  Captain Kalhoun looked behind him to reassure he had most of his men with him.  “What did that fog smell like to you?” he posed.

 “Disease, or rotten meat.” Skot answered.

 “Old blood, like after a long bloody battle.” Seargeant Galyway blew air out his nose, trying to rid himself of the memory.

 Captain Kalhoun slowed the pursuit as they approached the ancient stone bridge.  Across the bridge the road slowly made its way up a hill in which the first lights in the windows of Roberton could be seen.   

 “Is it clear?” Captain Kalhoun called out to the dark woods.

 “All clear Captain.” A voice announced.  All around them the Cavalry and Heavy fighters of Riponia materialized from the shadows.  They mounted quickly and gathered around their Captain.

 “As you may have guessed by now, we have been attacked.  Their weren’t many casualties and the Princess is safe.  But we now have the opportunity to stop these kinds of attacks from plaguing this area. “  Captain Kalhoun paused and looked around him.  “There is a possibility that the one perpetrating these gross attacks is the Duke himself.  So we are going to ride in and do a snatch and grab.”  Another pause as he let that sink in.  “The most important detail in this raid is that there has been blood magic at work.  So if you see anyone using blood magic, grab them ……… even if it’s the Duke or his ninety year old mother………Galyway, what’s the lay out of the town?”

 “One main road, this one.  The Duke’s Estate is on the North side of town looking down over it. A tree lined lane winds up to it.  Not much in the way of fortifications…….. there hasn’t been fighting or a war up in this area in memory.  The town has a garrison that is staffed by mostly the Dukes men.  Mercs and the like.  Shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”

 “The towns people here are terrified.  Try to leave them alone as much as possible.  They are as much victims as we have been……… Galyway take ten men and subdue the garrison.  Once that is done meet us up at the Estate.  Skot I want you and your best scouts to proceed us as fast as you can.  Take out anyone on the walls or that can raise an alarm.  I’ll explain it all to King Talison and Queen Dianthe later.  I want this done quickly……… I want to be back on the road to Bolton by the time the moon has reached it’s zenith………. Understand?”

 A murmur of assent went up from all around him.  Sergeant Galyway was already calling out the names of men he wanted while Yeoman Bailey was doing the same.  Before he knew it, Skot and the scouts were already across the bridge and splitting up. 
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<em><strong><small>Thus Ends Part Seventeen</small></strong></em>

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