Healing a Priness. . . 36 (Its about time)


Healing a Princess. . . 36
(Its about time)
By Tim Knight
            The smell of the foul creatures made her mane stand on end. Balancing Tonya on her back and trying to defend herself against the wolf-stag creations was harder than she had thought. The Princess on her back already had a crippled leg. If she fell, the fall could cripple her other leg, or worse, the wolf creatures could kill her. So’ryn would see her whipped if something happened to this Princess, especially since she took the Princess outside Lyonsgate without leave.
            She blew hard out of her nostrils trying to clear the stench of the evil things. One had gotten close enough for her to kick, but she risked the Tonya if she did. 
            Ka’mya tried to zig and zag as she ran, to gain a few steps here and there but the lupidae were
magically created and were hard to lose. 
            Tonya’s legs gripped her belly hard and her mane hurt a little where the Princess’s fingers were wrapped into her white hair. She could hear Tonya’s rapid, frightened breath, could smell the fear emanating from her skin.
            ::How many now?:: Ka’mya asked.
            ::I only see the three, but they keep coming at us from the side and I can’t see if there are more than that.::
            ::I can only keep up this speed for a little longer.:: Ka’mya warned.
            ::What do we do then?:: Tonya wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the answer.
            ::Do you see any trees?:: Ka’mya asked. ::I could help you get onto a high branch so that they wouldn’t be able to reach you and then I could fight them off.::
            ::Kick, bite, blast. It would only be until your bodyguards can catch up with us.::
            ::I don’t see any trees.::
            ::How is your leg doing?:: Ka’mya asked.
            ::It hurts a little, but I’m doing fine, for the love of Tanitha, just run.::
            ::Corporal Grymm are you okay? Are you getting close to catching up?:: Ka’mya sought frantically.
            ::You’re too fast.:: Grymm’s halted, uneasy mind speech answered.
            ::I’m beginning to tire.::
            ::How fast can you turn around and run back at me?::
            ::Turn around?::
            ::If you can do it fast enough, then the lupidae would be caught off guard and then you could draw them back to me. It would make it two against five.::
            ::Five? I thought you and the Mul killed a couple.::
            ::We did. Two more are flanking your sides.::
            ::Hang on tight to your saddle. I’m going to do something that may effect you.:: Ka’mya warned. She switched her speech to Tonya. ::Tonya, I’m going to need you to hang on to me very tight. I’m going to do a very quick turn and run back towards Grymm.::
            Ka’mya felt the princess’s thighs grip even tighter. She ignored the pulling on her mane as best she could. She just hoped that the Princess didn’t pull too much of her white locks out. ::After I turn around, I want you to continue to hang on tight, you may need to hug my neck if you can. I’m going to create a sonic blast that will confuse those things, but it will hurt and confuse you too. What ever you do, don’t fall.::
            ::A what?:: Tonya asked.
            ::I’ll explain later. Ready?::
            ::Hang on tight, This is going to be a sudden move to the left.::
            Ka’mya planted her forelegs which slid in the wet grassy turf as her hind legs slightly changed directions. Her back end whipped past her. She dug her fore hoofs into the ground and leaped forward.
            “Holy. . . Bob’s balls!” Tonya screamed as she slid nearly off of Ka’mya’s right side. “Tanek’s ass, I almost fell.” She complained as Ka’mya began forward motion again.
            The startled lupidae leaped out of the way as the horse lord suddenly came charging at them. Ka’mya reached into the back of her mind and gathered energy and pushed it to the front of her brain. She gathered as much as she dared and pushed it into a small focal point. 
            ::Hold on.:: She instructed Tonya, ::Your life depends upon it.::
            Ka’mya released and pushed the energy as So’ryn had taught her. She heard Tonya scream and felt the Princess collapse onto her back. She adjusted her stride as best she could to keep under the human princess. Two of the wolf-like creations collapsed in the grass yelping in pain. The third ran off to the North its short deer-like tail tucked tight to its rump in fear. 
            “What the hell was that?” Tonya griped.
            ::Sonic blast. One of the few defensive measures that Horse Lords have.::
            ::My head is still wheeling and ringing.:: Tonya complained. ::Please don’t do that again.::
            ::I’ll have So’ryn teach you how to guard against it when we get back to Lyonsgate.:: Ka’mya turned one hundred and eighty degrees again to head back towards Lyonsgate once the Corporal caught up.
            “What was that?” Grymm asked.
            ::Sonic blast.:: Ka’mya quickly explained to him and Tonya the basic concept.
            “Here they come again.” Grymm interrupted.
            Ka’mya watched as three of the antlered beasts started dashing in from the sides.
            ::Do you have a weapon for Tonya?::
            “She doesn’t know how to use a weapon, Princess.”
            “I can shoot a bow.” Tonya protested.
            The half blind cavalryman swung his sword at one of the charging lupidae. “Do I look like I have a bow?”
            ::What about your crossbow?::
            “I gave it to Takar.” Grymm stated. “This horse isn’t going to be able to keep up this gallop much longer.”
            “What are we going to do?” the human Princess worried.
            “I’ll stay with you as long as I can, but these wolf-deer things seem only interested in you two.” The Corporal pointed out.
            ::Who is that?:: Rikki asked seeing a horse and rider disappearing over a rise at full speed.
            ::Lorcan. He was already near the gate when I sent out a call.:: So’ryn explained, ::One of the gate guards said that he saw an injured Riponian soldier ride out this gate too.::
            ::An injured cavalryman?:: Rikki questioned. ::Hmmm. What is out this way?:: Rikki asked.
            ::Nothing, really. A couple of abandoned farms, some old ruins of a large human house…. Wait, Meadowsweet. I’m going to have her chained to the ground in the corral.::
            ::You’ve lost me, So’ryn.::
            ::While patrolling the border out here a week or so ago, we found some Meadowsweet growing amongst the ruins.:: So’ryn began, ::Do you know what Meadowsweet is, Captain?::
            ::Yes, but what does that have to do with our Princess’?::
            ::Meadowsweet is like catnip to cats, or a good ale to humans.:: So’ryn explained. ::Ka’mya probably took your Princess Tonya out as an excuse to get some Meadowsweet.::
            ::Don’t put all of the blame on Princess Ka’mya.:: Rikki sighed, ::Tonya is probably just as much to blame. I didn’t know that Meadowsweet has that effect on horses.::
            ::Not horses, just Horse Lords.::
            ::What about Centaurs?::
            ::Nope, just Horse Lords.:: So’ryn paused. ::Mule shit! They’re in trouble. Hang on Captain.::
So’ryn put his head down and began stretching out his legs.
            ::What kind of trouble? What’s going on?:: Rikki felt helpless, just hanging on to the Horse Lord. ::What kind of trouble?::
            ::Lupidae. Several of them.::
            ::You mean the wolf-deer creatures that attacked us yesterday?::
            ::The Elves must have sent them out on patrol to gather information. They must have smelled the Princess’ blood.:: So’ryn explained. ::Lyonsgate can expect a raid soon.::
            ::You think the elves will risk an attack on Lyonsgate because of the Princess’?:: Rikki asked.
            ::That blood mage that they have is looking for royal blood. You don’t think he’d risk a few filthy elf lives for two princesses to bleed for power? Lyonsgate will be attacked as soon as this evening.::
            ::If we get them back safely.:: Rikki loosened his saber. ::Where are they?::
            ::It sounds like they are half a league away still, but they are coming this way fast. You’re soldier’s horse is about to falter. Ka’mya is bolstering it as much as she can, but it’s slowing her down.::
            ::Tell her to forget about whatever she is doing to the horse. My soldier can take care of himself, especially if those creatures are only interested in the Princesses.::
            ::She says that Tonya doesn’t want to leave Grymm behind.::
            ::Grymm? What the hell is he doing out here?::
            ::Apparently he found that they were missing and chased after them. Ka’mya says that the giant dwarf is behind them. He couldn’t keep up.::
            Rikki swore to himself. They had been out side the Dwarven kingdom less than three days and already one of the Muls given to them to protect Tonya was dead. Who knew if this one would survive the week.
            Lorcan was breathing heavily as they came upon him still galloping as fast as his legs would carry him. “They aren’t too far ahead.” His gallop was much slower than it was when they had first sighted him outside of Lyonsgate. Rikki noted that Lorcan was ready for battle with a saber in each hand as So’ryn passed the tiring Centaur. 
            ::When we approach, hang on tight, I’ll hit them with a sonic blast.:: So’ryn cautioned.
            ::Won’t that effect Tonya as well?:: Rikki drew his saber and began looking ahead for signs of the Horse Lord and his Tonya.
            ::Most likely.:: So’ryn acknowledged.
            ::No!:: She’s already crippled as she is. I can’t risk her falling and getting hurt any further.::
            ::It may come to falling from a horse or getting bitten or stabbed by a lupidae.:: So’ryn’s ears flickered then lay back. ::I can’t risk Ka’mya anymore than you can risk Tonya. I will do what I must.::
            Rikki spotted them as he and So’ryn crested a rise. Ka’mya and Grymm’s horses were side by side tail to head and slowly rotating as five elven abominations circled them, leaping in at the legs of the mounts, testing for weakness. Grymm kept his saber in constant motion, knocking away thrusts from antlers and slashes of muzzles. Ka’mya was having a harder time of things. She kicked with her hind legs, and nipped with her teeth, her nostrils flaring in anger and desperation, while trying to keep Tonya safely on her back. Grymm’s mount seemed to be in perfect step with Ka’mya as she twisted away from one attack and stepped forward to avoid another.
            ::Thank the Gods you are here. I am so tired.:: Ka’mya’s mind reached Rikki’s and So’ryn’s.
            Tonya’s head jerked up to lock scared and pleading eyes with his. Rikki’s heart nearly jumped out of his chest as So’ryn raced down the hillock. Rage burned in his veins as they approached the circle of lupidae. 
            The nearest of the foul beasts leaped out of the way of So’ryn’s charge, but Rikki was only able to slash the side of the beast as they passed. With speed and focus the lupidae snapped on to So’ryn’s leg. The Horse Lord jerked to a sudden stop as he kicked out to try and free the creature’s teeth. The sudden movement almost cost Rikki his seat.  
            ::Sorry, Captain.::
            Before he could respond, Rikki’s attention was wrenched as Tonya screamed in surprise and agony. He looked over to see one lupidae with its jaws closed on Ka’mya’s neck. A second had pulled Tonya from Ka’mya’s back and was dragging her by the leg through the tall grass, flailing and screaming. A third beast broke from it’s attack on Grymm and raced after the one dragging the screaming Princess. He looked for anyone who might be able to help Tonya. Grymm was in a tug of war trying to free his sword from the teeth of a fourth lupidae. 
            ::Tonya!:: Rikki screamed.
            So’ryn kicked out again with his hind leg just missing an attack from the rear. Rikki leaped from Sor’yn’s back and began running like a madman through the trampled grass. His whole focus was on Tonya as she clawed at the earth tearing large chunks of grass out as she was dragged. 
            Rikki screamed at the second lupidae as it clamped down on Tonya’s wrist. Tonya screamed anew with pain and thrashed, causing the creatures hold to slip. It began dragging her by her dress sleeve, aiding it’s den mate.      
Rikki heard Lorcan’s voice bellow behind him as the Centaur joined the battle.
::Get it off of me! it hurts! it hurts!:: Ka’mya screamed.
::I’m coming Ka’mya!:: Rikki heard So’ryn cry out.
The Riponian Captain lashed out and sliced deeply into the lupidae’s hind leg. The animal whined in pain and released Tonya’s clothing. Rikki swung at the creature again, but this time the animal skipped just beyond the reach of his sword.
“Help me Rikki!” Tonya screamed, “For the love of the Gods, help me!” her voice was sobbing almost incoherent.
Rikki feinted a swing. Anticipating the lupidae’s leap he changed the direction of the sword from one of slashing to one of stabbing. He buried his saber deep into the chest of the animal. Its protesting howl was cut short as the Captain twisted and then freed his saber. 
“I’m coming Tonya!” He called as he chased after her. 
The antlered wolf growled as he ran at it. It released the princess’ leg and bared it’s teeth at the Captain. Tonya, kicking and sobbing, clamored her way out of the creatures reach. Rikki and the Elven spawn began a slow circle, each watching only the other.
            ::Ready yourself.:: So’ryn warned. 
            Two seconds later a sonic blast hit Rikki knocking him to his knees. He could hear Tonya screaming off to the side and behind him. The bewildered lupidae made a miscalculated leap. Too crippled by the sonic blast, Rikki barely managed to get his arm up to fend off the attack. The large furry creature came down on him with all of it’s weight, knocking Rikki backwards and pinning his lower legs behind him. With his head ringing, Rikki’s instincts kicked in. he tried to roll, but with his legs underneath him he couldn’t get the leverage. The lupidae began to shake off the mind numbing blast and began shaking it’s head, it’s teeth tearing through the captain’s leather gauntlets. A dull thunk sounded above him. The lupidae screamed in protest releasing Rikki’s arm and tried to regain its footing. A second thunk was heard. The creature, trying to flee, screamed again and fell to the flattened grass gasping. 
            Rikki struggled to his feet and saw two crossbow bolts. One embedded in the creatures back The other in its chest. He looked up to see Kama Takar on another rise lower the crossbow and start towards them.
            “Tonya.” Rikki turned to see the Princess sitting in the wet grass, her hair disheveled and her dress muddy, bloody and torn. She looked up at him with wild eyes sobbing.
            Rikki’s heart broke. He raced over to the blonde princess and wrapped her in his arms.
            “Thank you, Rikki.” Tonya clutched at him, “Thank you.”
            Rikki pulled back from her grip and looked into her eyes. Her breathing slowed as she looked into his.   “I love you.” The words tumbled out of his mouth before he realized that he had spoken them.  He had said them thousands of times in his head, but never would he have dared to say them out loud, especially to her. He swallowed a large lump in his throat. His mouth felt like it was full of dust. 
            Tonya caught her breath unsure of what she had just heard. Surprise and love filled her eyes. Her heart pumped a new kind of drug through her body, warming it as she hoped that she had heard him correctly.
            “I have always loved you.” Rikki couldn’t believe he was speaking aloud to his Princess in this manner. This was the woman he had sworn to protect, to lay his life down for, the future sovereign of his kingdom. He had no right to think these words, let along say them aloud to her.
            Tonya let out her breath and took another. “I love you too, Rikki.” She said.
            “I know I have no right to speak to you in this way,” Rikki hurried on not hearing her. “As soon as I get you to Malden, You can dismiss me.”
            “Why would I do that?” Tonya demanded. “Didn’t you hear me, Rikki? I love you.”
            “You what?” Rikki couldn’t believe his own ears. This had to be a side effect of the sonic blast or some kind of jest.
            “I love you.” She repeated softer, her voice filled with so much love that her heart ached.
            “You do?” Rikki was now totally off guard.
            “I do.” She nodded.
            The two just looked at one another as their eyes softened and communicated in silence.
            The sound of a horses hooves sounded near by.
            Rikki broke the spell and glanced up as Corporal Grymm jumped down from his horse.
            “Is she all right, Captain?” Grymm was almost beside himself with worry.
            “I’m fine, Grymm.” Tonya kept her eyes on Rikki. He said that he loved her.
            “I’m sorry Captain.” Grymm apologized, “I should have used better logic and kept them at the ruins and waited for help.”
            “It wasn’t your fault, Grymm.” Tonya studied her Captain’s face. Still bewildered by what had just transpired “None of this would have happened if Ka’mya and I had stayed in Lyonsgate.”
            “That is for sure.” Rikki looked hard at Tonya still sprawled in the grass. “Should I have you confined to quarters?”
            “No, Captain.” Tonya lowered her gaze. “I’ve learned my lesson.”
            Grymm stepped forward and offered a hand to his Princess. Rikki went to her other side and the two of them helped her to her feet. 
            Tonya winced as she put weight on her ankle.
            “Grymm do you have bandages in your saddle bag?” Rikki asked.
            “I’ll look, Sir.”
            Takar stood a few feet away and scanned the hills.
            “How is Princess Ka’mya?” Rikki asked Grymm.
            “She’s plenty scared.” Grymm poked around in his saddle bag. “She’s pretty bloody, but Lorcan says it’s superficial. She’ll be all right once she’s cleaned up.”
            Rikki knelt before Tonya and probed her bloody ankle. “Nothing’s broken.” He explained to her. “Doesn’t seem like it tore any tendons or ligaments either. A few stitches perhaps and a good cleaning is in order when we get back.”
            “Sorry, Sir. I gave all I had to Lorcan to take care of Princess Ka’mya.” Grymm closed the saddle bag.
            Rikki grabbed the hem of Tonya’s dress and ripped off a strip of it. Gingerly he wrapped the fabric around her ankle to stem the oozing blood.
Little tendrils of excitement ran up her leg as his fingers gently touched her shin and calf.
            Grymm emptied his water bag into his helm and watered his mount as his Captain saw to his Princess’ needs.
::How is Tonya?:: So’ryn entered Rikki’s mind.
            ::Scared, a little bloody, but otherwise okay. How is Ka’mya?::
            ::The same. Lets get them back to Lyonsgate. We need to prepare for a siege.::
            ::What about these carcasses?:: Rikki inquired.
            ::Lorcan is going to stay behind to burn them.:: So’ryn explained. ::Ka’mya is a little too shaken to be carrying anyone, so I’m going to carry both you and your Princess back to Lyonsgate.::
            ::Are you sure? You can carry us both?::
            ::Captain, I’m not the average horse. I am a Horse Lord.::
            ::I’m sorry if I offended you.:: Rikki apologized. ::Perhaps you can explain to us how to protect ourselves from these sonic blasts you like to use so much.::
            ::We can start.:: So’ryn nodded his head as he approached.
            “That’s it.” Gemma encouraged softly. Get to the core of your minds essence and gather it up. You see it don’t you?”
            “Yes.” Monyka barely spoke.
            “Once you have it gathered, anchor it in place and build a shield to protect it.”
            With her eyes closed, Monyka was finally able to find the part of her mind where the essence of the gift flowed and floated about. This was her twenty-third attempt to anchor her core and put up a shield. A memory, of Kadyr’s face flashed through her mind. She lost her anchor and the core of essence as she began to cry softly to herself.
            “What is it dear?” Gemma asked. “You almost had it that time.”
            “Kadyr.” Monyka’s voice cracked. “I keep getting flashes of him, breaking my concentration. I’m so sorry, Gemma.”
            “Hush, dear.” Gemma lifted her hand from Monyka’s, touched Monyka’s cheek and pushed a curly tendril of hair off of her face. “Malana please go pour some tea and cut up some of the honovi.”
            “Yes, mistress.”
            “There, there dear.” Gemma calmed. “I know that this is hard. It is even harder having to learn it after such a horrible tragedy. But you must learn it so that you don’t harm anyone, including yourself.”
            “I’m just so tired and unfocused.” Monyka complained.
            “I know you are tired.” Gemma agreed. “You’ve used more of the gift in the past two days than I have in ten years. I couldn’t even come close to harnessing the power that you do. It takes its toll. That is why we have to do this. I have to teach you the basics so that you don’t go about accidentally ripping someone’s soul out of his body.”
            “You can do that?” Monyka looked frightened.
            Gemma nodded. “You don’t want to. It not only destroys the person, but it can kill you too.” Gemma patted her hand. “Lets not talk about such dark things. You were very close to getting it that time. You are doing wonderfully.”
            “No I’m not. That was my twenty-third time just trying to anchor my core. I haven’t even begun to think about rooting.” Monyka lay her head back in her chair and closed her eyes, disappointed.
            “Malana?” Gemma called.
            “Yes mistress?”
            “How long did it take you to learn to anchor your core?” Gemma asked.
            Malana looked at the floor, embarrassed. “Four or five days.” She admitted haltingly. “It is hard to do because you’ve never done anything like it before.”
            “How long did it take you?” Monyka inquired of Gemma.
            “Oh, I don’t count. I had a very good teacher and I came from a long line of healers and midwives.”
            “How long?” Monyka persisted.
            “A candle mark or two.” Gemma permitted. “But I don’t have nearly the abilities that you do, dear.”
Malana set a serving tray on a table between the two women and began to pour the tea. Monyka took two slices of honovi and a piece of cheese. “I am so hungry all of the time.”
“You will be.” Gemma smiled. “It takes time and nutrients to recover from using as much of the gift as you have.
            “How was I able to use it if I can’t even anchor my core or root it?” Monyka asked.
            “Wild magic.” Gemma sighed. “Those who are new with the gift or refuse instruction, aren’t trained to harness it correctly, anchor their core, or taught the rules. The gift then can become a curse.” The midwife ate a bite of cheese, “Those with a wild gift will have thing happen around them just by thinking about it. Sometimes it is good, sometimes bad. They’ve been known to accidentally kill their neighbors, cause accidents to family members or even hurt themselves.” The older woman paused, “A fleeting thought could have enough of the gift behind it to drive a piece of straw through a wood plank.” Gemma sipped at her tea. “Without training, most don’t live for more than a year or two after they are given the gift. When you were attacked, Monyka, you were acting instinctively. You didn’t have control over your emotions or your actions. Every little thought had the gift in it. That is how you were able to throw elves fifty feet without touching them. How you were able to dent the Sergeant’s breast plate and turn flying axes.”
            “Why then, couldn’t I save Kadyr?” Monyka nearly choked on her words.
            “He was dead.” Gemma said matter of factly. “The Gods had called him to them and there is nothing the gift can do against the will of the Gods.”
            Monyka reached for another piece of honovi fruit only to realize that she finished it. 
            “Go ahead and finish the cheese.” Malana encouraged. “It’s good.”
            “Malana, I’ll clean up. You go ahead and help out the healers. I need to work with Monyka some more.”
            “Yes, Mistress.” Malana got up.
            “Work on softening your probing. You don’t want to wake someone who needs a good sleep.”
            Malana curtsied, she pulled a shawl over her shoulders and went out.
            Gemma looked back to Monyka and smiled. “She’ll make a great midwife once she learns to soften her touch. Shall we get back to work? Once you learn to anchor, we can start doing the fun stuff.”
            Monyka nodded.
            “Alright, close your eyes, and clear your mind.” Gemma laid a hand upon Monyka’s as she began.
            Tonya’s wrist burned where the lupidae had torn her skin with its teeth. Her ankle throbbed with the punctures and slashes from where she was dragged. Those two injuries were reduced to mere annoyances as she relished the feeling of Rikki sitting behind her, his arms cradling her as they rode So’ryn back to Lyonsgate. The conversation had been stilted at best. Neither she or her Captain wanting to inform those around them of the words that had been spoken to one another back in the trampled grass. 
            Tonya leaned back against his chest welcoming the extra heat and enjoying the smell of him. She didn’t even mind the smell of horse and leather that much. They seemed to add to his musky scent.
            ::We need to teach you how to shield.:: Ka’mya’s voice was full of pain.
            ::What do you mean?:: Tonya asked.
            ::So’ryn and I can clearly hear the thoughts running through your mind.::
            Tonya felt herself blush. She hoped that her blonde hair would hide her red cheeks from her Captain. So’ryn snorted with amusement.
            ::And for your information, So’ryn does not smell like a horse. He actually smells pretty good.:: Ka’mya added. ::I don’t understand how humans can function without scenting the world around them.:: She added with a bit of annoyance.
            ::I’ll have to take your word for it.:: Tonya chose to ignore Ka’mya’s second statement. ::How are you doing?::
            ::My neck is killing me, and my right leg feels like its on fire.:: she complained. ::I just hope I don’t have a nasty scar from this.::
            ::You should be lucky you are still alive.:: So’ryn’s voice was stern as he interrupted their conversation.
            ::How much further is Lyonsgate?:: Tonya asked the Horse Lord.
            ::Not far. Captain Dobry is just ahead. He’s coming out to meet us and to bring your Corporal a fresh horse.::
            ::I’ll carry him.:: Ka’mya’s ears flicked back and forth.
            ::No, Ka’mya. It wouldn’t do for you to be seen with someone of lower rank riding you.:: So’ryn included Tonya in his rebuke. ::Bolster the mare up.::
            “You go on ahead.” Grymm spoke up as he dismounted. “I’m going to lead her back into Lyonsgate. She’s had it. Captain?” Grymm asked Rikki’s permission.
            “Have the stable workers give her a good rub down and some extra grain.”
            “Yes, Sir.”
            “Will he be all right with us leaving him behind?” Tonya asked Rikki.
            “The Lyonsgate guard is just ahead. They’ll make sure he gets back safely.”
            “I’m sorry, Rikki.” Tonya cocked her head back to look at his face.
            ::It was my fault, Captain.:: Ka’mya interrupted. ::I’m the one who suggested that we go for a ride. She was actually the one who insisted on bringing that giant dwarf with us.::
            ::Ka’mya let me talk to him.:: Tonya glared over at the palomino. She turned back to Rikki, “I’m sorry about how I treated you on the ship.” Tonya started again. Her teeth gnawed on her lips. “I didn’t know who you were, but I shouldn’t have treated you that way regardless.”
            “Don’t worry about it, your Highness.” Rikki shrugged.
            “Please call me Tonya.” Tonya pleaded.
            “Not in front of the public.” Rikki stated. 
Tonya’s chest tightened. Was he closing up again? Was he pulling on his armor against her? She was just trying to apologize to him. He didn’t have to be so cold to her when she was trying to right the wrongs between them. She sat upright and straightened her back so that he only touched her occasionally as they made their way back to the wooden outpost. The shift in position caused her ankle to scream in protest.
Rikki softened his voice and lowered his pitch. “We can talk later if you wish, Tonya.”
            His tender voice sent a shiver down her spine.
Captain Dobry along with ten soldiers and two centaurs met them before Lyonsgate was in sight.
            “You are having quite the week, Captain Kalhoun.” Dobry greeted.
            “All in a day’s work, lately. “ Rikki blew out a frustrated breath.
            “Are you all right, Princess?” Dobry inquired.
            “Yes, fine, thank you, Captain.” Tonya wanted nothing more than a long soak in a hot bath.
            “Two of my men will take your soldier a fresh horse and escort him back to Lyonsgate.” Dobry informed her Captain.
            “Did So’ryn warn you of a possible elf attack tonight?” Captain Kalhoun asked.
            “Yes, Sir.” I’ve got people organizing bucket brigades and prepping the walls for a raid. We have three large pyres ready for your people. You wish to do the ceremony at sunset?”
            “Yes, as long as the forest devils don’t bother us.”
            Tonya’s heart felt like a lead weight. They had so many soldiers and retinue who lost their lives during the ambush. They had to be sent to the Gods properly. They would be losing at least one more in the next day or two as well. She still had to make time to go see Ambassador Zareb again. He still had more that he wanted to tell her. She needed Monyka. Monyka would know and remember more of the treaty stuff than she would.
            “How is Monyka?” Tonya asked Rikki.
            “She is mourning the loss of her husband and recuperating from a nasty arrow wound to her leg, Highness.” Rikki explained. “I have her resting at a midwife’s home.”
            “Is she well enough to come help me with Ambassador Zareb?”
            “You can handle the Ambassador.” Rikki assured her. “Leave Monyka to her grief and recuperation. We’ll be sending her husband to the Gods tonight.”
            “I’ve been hearing stories about Monyka being a witch or a blood mage. That she’d done impossible things during the ambush.” Tonya stated, “I saw her turn an ax that was thrown at my head. It might have split my skull if she hadn’t changed it’s course. I’ve heard that she killed a bunch of elves and that she is responsible for Grymm’s face.”
            Rikki nodded solemnly. “I saw her turn that ax too.” Rikki admitted. “She is scared, and grieving the loss of Kadyr right now. I think she’ll be alright in a while.”
            “Grymm insists that what she did to him was an accident.”
            “I’m sure it was.”
            “How?” Tonya asked. “How is she able to do this stuff that we’re being told about?”
            Ka’mya interrupted, ::Sorcery.::
            “Like blood magic?” Tonya asked aloud.
            ::No, sorcery uses the power of the mind, not the power of sacrificed blood.::
            ::She’s never been able to do anything like it before.:: Tonya sent to Ka’mya.
            ::She may have just had that part of her mind opened.::
            ::Can anyone just open that part of their mind?::
            ::Only if the Gods will it.::
            “So the Gods suddenly decided that my Lady in Waiting can suddenly do magic?” Tonya was annoyed.
            ::Who are we to question the will of the Gods.:: So’ryn joined. 
            “Captain,” Tonya inquired of Rikki, “Do you know any sorcerers in Riponia?”
            “There are a few who have the ability, Highness, but they don’t use it openly. Our kingdom as well as Truno has superstitions about magic. Anyone openly using the power is automatically thought to be using blood magic and is usually persecuted, driven out of town or in some cases, burned.”
            “I just don’t understand how the Gods can suddenly bestow Monyka with magic and not see fit to heal my leg.”
            ::The Gods do everything for a reason.:: So’ryn stated. ::Princess,:: he said to Tonya. ::The few who have the power call it the ‘gift’, not magic. They don’t want to be confused with blood mages.::
            “I don’t want to lose my friend and Lady in Waiting, because the Gods suddenly see fit to give her this. . . . gift.”
            “Who said anything about you losing her?” Rikki asked. “Perhaps they meant for her to have this gift and still be your close friend.”
            Tonya fell silent for a few minutes. This whole Monyka matter was another complicated issue and she had enough complicated issues on her mind, especially the situation with Ambassador Zareb. Tonya sighed. “I hate this, this Ambassador duty. It is so boring, and so complicated.”
            “I can help you with some of it.” Rikki offered. Tonya’s heart fluttered at the thought and at his kind offer. 
            “Zareb said that you could handle the military negotiations just fine, but some of the tax and trade agreements, he felt would be better if dealt with by someone else.” She explained, “Sorry.” She added.
            “In a few days, once Monyka is feeling a little better, I’m sure she will help you. She currently has enough on her mind right now.”
            ::Captain, I offered to help Tonya with the negotiations.:: Ka’mya put forth.
            ::Thank you, Princess.:: Rikki bowed his head to the Palomino Horse Lord.
            “She listened in as Zareb lectured me this morning.” Tonya felt his demeanor stiffen. “Don’t worry, he didn’t reveal any Riponian secrets.”
            The gates of the outpost grew larger as they approached.
            “Did Sergeant Takoda talk with you?” Tonya asked.
            Rikki rubbed his jaw. “Yes, he found me.”
            “He came to me spitting mad this morning, is what he said true?” She hoped that it wasn’t.
            “Some.” Rikki’s demeanor was curt. “We’ll talk about it later, if it is alright with you, Highness.”
            Tonya nodded her head. She wanted a bath and something in her stomach before she saw her Captain again. She looked up at the walls of Lyonsgate and thought it odd to see only a handful of soldiers manning the walls. Once they passed through the heavy iron banded gates she was amazed at how busy the city was. Large barrels of water surrounded by buckets dotted all of the buildings near the timber wall. Soldiers sharpened their swords or made arrows as they waited for the impending raid.
            ::I’m going to my quarters.:: Ka’mya said as she broke off from the party. ::I’ll see you later, if So’ryn doesn’t chain me to the wall.:: She moped.
            ::Thanks for the ride.:: Tonya called after her. 
            ::It was an adventure.:: Ka’mya agreed.
            So’ryn pulled up in front of Tonya’s inn. It couldn’t quite be considered a hotel, but it was the best offered in Lyonsgate.
            Rikki swung down from the painted Horse Lord’s back and held out his arms to Tonya. If she wasn’t so sore and exhausted, Tonya would have leaped into his waiting arms, but with her wrist and ankle on fire, her bad leg aching the way it was, She simply slid off of So’ryn into his embrace. His strong arms around her sent a wave of warmth and tingles through her body, erasing a little of the pain.
            Rikki seemed to hold her a little longer than was normal when he set her gently to the ground. Part of her seemed to depart when he released her.
            “Princess Adiah is up in your room along with Annyka.” Rikki explained, “There’s no other room in this town, so she’ll be staying with you.”
            “Okay. Will you come get me for the funeral this evening?”
            “As you wish, Highness.” Rikki nodded.
            “If you can, come by a little early so that we may talk.”
            Rikki gave her a warm smile before assisting her up the stairs to her room.
            “I’m going to ask Midwife Gemma to come by and look at your ankle and wrist.” Rikki told her.
            “Why not Brother Tagyrt or Badiah?” Tonya inquired.
            “They are a bit busy with the wounded. The midwife is very knowledgeable and from what I’ve seen, very capable.”
            “What ever you think is best, Rikki.” Tonya stepped close and stood on toes to give her Captain a kiss.
            Her Captain, pulled back, startled and looked around warily for onlookers. The small corridor was empty. Rikki bent down and found her lips. “I’m glad you’re safe, he said as he parted and stood erect.
            Maskalah swore in anger and flung his arm. A table sailed across the room and smashed a slave’s head. The body of the servant fell to the floor, lifeless. 
            One entire pack of his lupidae were dead. The time and sacrifice that went into the pack was staggering. They were an obedient creature and were smarter than most animals. 
He had sent them out into the grasslands to watch for activity around the Blaire outpost. When the pack had alerted him that they had smelled royal blood, the blood mage ordered them to abduct the Royals. He immediately dispatched a bird to one of his raiding parties and ordered them to retrieve the Royals from his beloved pack. Not only were they not able to assist his lupidae, they were unable to secure the Royals. The entire pack, gone.
Two other slaves quickly removed the body of their fellow servant.
The messenger cowered not wanting to move from his bowed position and bring the wrath of Maskalah down on himself.
Maskalah threw a the bottle of wine and crystal glasses against the wall and then kicked the messenger.
The messenger flinched but didn’t utter a word or cry out fearing even more punishment.
“I want raids on every farm, village and caravan between Lyonsgate and Sprucespring.” He ordered.
“You don’t wish to attack Lyonsgate and capture the Princesses there?” the messenger dared the question.
“They are expecting exactly that.” Maskalah sneered. “I want these Riponian humans to question the safety of the road between Lyonsgate and Sprucespring. I want them to take the Northern road along the river to Evalynton. We will set up an ambush for them just before the ferry where the two rivers meet. That way they’ll have no where to retreat to.”
The messenger nodded approval.
“Send word to the raiders along the west woods that I want two or three raids a day. Harass and retreat. Inform them to leave one or two survivors to spread panic.”
“Yes, Maskalah.”
“I also want two hundred raiders for an attack on Lyonsgate.”
“I thought you just said, that they would be expecting a raid.” The messenger questioned.
“They’ll be expecting it tonight. I want the fort to be attacked tomorrow night. I want the humans tired, on edge and unable to think clearly.”
“Yes, Maskalah.” The messenger nodded. “Only two hundred?”
“I don’t want the raid to succeed.” The blood mage growled.
            Monyka winced as she walked from the midwife’s small house to the out house a few feet out the back door. Gemma had the path between the two buildings paved with large flagstone and covered by a steep pitched roof. Only on windy days would the rain be able to get the person in need wet. 
            The Princess’s assistant was exhausted. She could now finally anchor her core and shield it. She could even root her core into the ground. Malana was right in describing the gift as using a limb that you had never had before. She spent the last hour with Gemma bombarding her core trying to find a weakness in her shield. The exercise was more tiring than being a messenger for the Queen, having to run up and down the palace stairs all day. 
            Her stomach rumbled again. “I’ve eaten more than three of Sergeant Galyway’s soldiers does in one day.” She spoke to her stomach as she released her bladder. 
            Someone suddenly hit her shield with a hard smack followed by a slashing. Monyka reinforced her shields as she sat in the out house. “Really?” She swore, “Even while I’m peeing?”
            “You must always be ready to defend yourself.” Gemma’s voice came from the door of the house. “You did well, Monyka. I’ll leave you alone for a bit.”
            Monyka finished her business and limped back into Gemma’s house.
            “Are you hungry?” Gemma asked.
            “I could eat an entire cow.” Monyka nodded.
“Malana brought us some pasties.” Gemma handed the pastry to Monyka. “We’ve been called to your Princess’s quarters.”
“We have? What for?” Monyka bit into the pie crust and devoured the meat and gravy filling.
“Apparently she was hurt while out on a ride with Princess Ka’mya this afternoon. Your Captain Kalhoun asked that I see to her injury.” Gemma looked Monyka up and down. “You could do with a bit of fresh air as well as a little mental rest.”
“My mind does feel like it’s been trampled by a caravan.” Monyka admitted finishing the pasties.
Gemma handed her another. “Eat this on the way.”
“Shouldn’t I change?” Monyka asked referring to her legs encased in trousers.
“What ever for?” Gemma asked. “You are perfectly acceptable.”
“I’m just not used to trousers.” Monyka admitted. “I’m afraid men will be staring at my legs.”
“I would think you’d be flattered that they are. You have beautiful legs.” Gemma smiled. “Come dear, we mustn’t keep your Princess waiting.”
Gemma secured a long strapped leather bag over her shoulder and picked up a floppy woven basket with handles before stepping out into the muddy street.
Feeling a little self conscious about her legs, Monyka followed her more slowly with a bit of a limp as she favored her injured leg.
“Are you anchored and shielded?” Gemma asked.
Monyka paused for only a split second before answering, “Yes.”
Monyka felt the stiffness in her leg start to ease as they turned down a third street. Monyka almost stopped in her tracks as she saw a young woman walk by surrounded by a multi-colored glow, mostly green mixed with brown. The woman stared openly at Monyka for a moment then hurried down a side street.
“Did you see that?” Monyka asked as they passed the woman.
“What is that, dear?” Gemma asked.
“That woman was glowing.” Monyka tried to keep her voice low. 
“That she was.” Gemma smiled. “I told you that once you were able to anchor your core that you’d see the world in a different way. That was Mazie. She is a bit of a healer, but mostly she is an herbalist. She grows a lot of the herbs that we use in cooking and healing.”
“She has the gift?”
Gemma nodded. “The brown is her gift with the earth and growing things, the green is healing.”
“Why don’t I see the aura around you?” Monyka asked.
“You’ve been around me long enough that it has faded from your vision. When I open my shields to work on your Princess, you’ll be able to see mine for a few seconds.”
“What color is mine?” Monyka asked as her fingers sought out her necklace.
Gemma fixed Monyka with a serious gaze “You are unusual, that is why some with the gift may stop and gape.” So Gemma hadn’t missed the looks that She had been attracting. “You are a bright purple, Dear.”
“What does that mean?” Monyka asked.
“That you are rare, and powerful, but in what, we still aren’t sure. Purple is representative of mystery, and magic. The Gods have decided not to reveal your strengths yet. ”
 “There is a soldier up on the wall with a red and black aura” Monyka kept from pointing. “Is black evil?”
“Klaus.” Gemma nodded. “Red is indicative of a warrior. Black is not evil, it can mean two things, death, or security. In Klaus’s case it is security.  See how it isn’t very bright and only has a few filaments of really deep red and black that float around him?”
Monyka nodded.
“Klaus isn’t very strong with the gift. He probably has just enough to help his arrows find their target.”
 “How bright is my aura?” Monyka asked.
“You are very bright, Monyka. I’ve told you that you are the probably the most powerful sorceress that I’ve seen.”
Monyka bit her lip and hid her face; her thick braid fell forward over her shoulder. “All this power and I can’t save Kadyr.”
“The Gods will, dear.” Gemma laid a hand on Monyka’s arm. 
They stood in front of a large inn. Two of Sergeant Galyway’s heavily armored men stood on either side of the door.
“My Lady.” One greeted formally. The other looked like he was about to piss himself.
“We’re here to see the Princess.” Monyka held her chin up.
“Of course, My Lady. The Captain said that the midwife was coming.” He acknowledged as he opened the door for them.
The two women walked into the dimly lit common room.
“What is your problem?” She heard the soldiers behind her as the door began to close.
“She’s a witch.” The scared soldier whispered loudly.
“She killed more Elves during that ambush than you did, she deserves your respect.” The first soldier whispered back.
“I don’t trust anyone who uses blood magic, I don’t care who they are.”
The door closed shutting off any further conversation. 
“don’t pay them any mind, Dear.” Gemma patted Monyka’s shoulder.
“Mistress Gemma.” A woman wearing similar clothes to Monyka greeted from behind the bar.
“We’re here to see to Princess Tonya.” Gemma smiled.
“I’ll take you up.” The woman skirted the empty tables.
“Thank you, dear.”
“The talk is that we should expect an elf raid tonight.” The woman led them up the stairs. “It’s said that Princess Ka’mya and Princess Tonya were set upon by two raiding parties out on the West side. They say that the giant dwarf and the Riponian Captain slaughtered them all.”
“You know how tales seem to grow and grow.” Gemma clicked her tongue. “You should know better than spread them.”
“Sorry Mistress Gemma.”
Monyka was put to ease by seeing Kama Takar standing outside the Princess’s door. Cavalryman Symon was with him.
“How are you doing, Takar?” Monyka asked as they approached.
“The Princess is safe.” Takar answered.
“Thank you, Takar, but how are you?”
“Fine, my Lady.”
“Takar this is Mistress Gemma. She is here to help Princess Tonya.”
“Kama Takar,” Gemma sized up the large Mul, “may I touch your hand?” she asked.
The Mul stiffened and looked even more wary. He looked to Monyka.
“Its okay, Takar.” Monyka smiled. “She doesn’t want to hurt you or the Princess.”
Takar held out a large, muscular, hand covered in dirt and a bit of blood.
Monyka suppressed the urge to flinch as Gemma was suddenly encompassed by a very green aura. It wasn’t especially bright, but it was very green with ribbons of yellow and white as well as threads of orange.
Gemma laid her hand on the dirt stained Mul’s and closed her eyes for just a moment. As she drew her hand away the aura faded. “Thank you, Takar.” Gemma slipped her hand into her basket and produced a small handful of leaves.  “Chew on this, Takar, it will help take away some of that pain in your legs.”
The Mul stared at the older woman for a moment, but took the leaves. He sniffed them before sticking them into his mouth and began to chew. 
“Cavalryman.” Monyka nodded a greeting.
“Lady.” Symon gave her a forced smile that didn’t reach his eyes. He hastily opened the door and announced them before quickly getting out of their way as they entered.
“Hello, Monyka.” Princess Adiah greeted from the bed.
“Princess Adiah, I’m glad you are with us now.” Monyka dipped a curtsy and immediately regretted the movement. The stairs had been bad enough, using those muscles to curtsy was something she was going to have to avoid for a little while.
“Tonya is in the bath chamber with Annyka.” Adiah pointed. “She’s been in there quite a while.”
Monyka led Gemma into the room next door.
Tonya sat in a chair with both of her legs propped up on a chest that had a folded blanket covering it for cushion.
Monyka bowed her head slightly instead of curtseying, hoping that Tonya would understand. “Your Highness.” She greeted a bit stiffly, not knowing how the Princess felt about her.
“Monyka!” Tonya greeted warmly, her eyes darted from Monyka to Gemma and back. “I heard you were shot in the leg by an arrow. Are you all right? Rikki said that you wouldn’t be walking much for the next few days.”
“Tonya, This is Mistress Gemma. She is the midwife that Captain Kalhoun sent for.”
“Thank you for coming so quickly, Mistress Gemma.” Tonya waved them into the room. “Would you like some tea?”
“No, thank you dear.” Gemma greeted. “I heard that you needed some medical attention.”
“I was attacked by lupidae. They pulled me off of Ka’mya and started to drag me off when Rikki, I mean Captain Kalhoun killed them and saved me.”
“I see you have a nasty gash on your ankle, Dear.” Gemma stepped forward. 
“That is where the lupidae grabbed a hold of me and was dragging me.” Tonya explained. “a second one grabbed my wrist too.”
“May I take a look?” Gemma asked.
“That is why Rikki, er Captain Kalhoun asked you to come,” Tonya stated. “He speaks highly of you. He doesn’t trust people easily.”
“Your Captain is a good man with a good judge of character.” Gemma smiled as she slowly turned Tonya’s foot to look at the oozing wound. “Do you mind if Monyka assists me, Dear?”
Tonya paused and looked at Monyka hesitating for a moment. “Not at all, Mistress.”
Gemma nodded approval. “Monyka, I’d like you to hold the foot just like this.” Gemma positioned the foot. “And watch what I do.”
Monyka nodded. She checked her core to make sure it was anchored and watched the wound. A green glow surrounded Gemma’s hand. She watched as green and white threads flowed from the Midwife’s aura into Tonya’s ankle. She heard Gemma talking to Tonya as she worked, keeping the Princess’s mind off of what was going on with her foot, but she didn’t pay much attention to it, instead concentrating on what she was doing with the gift. Gemma’s gentle probing of the ankle showed that nothing was broken and no major tissues or muscles were damaged. 
“I’m going to put this salve on your foot to help numb the area.” She vaguely heard Gemma tell Tonya. 
Through her use of the gift, Monyka could see that the salve was numbing some of the nerves around the gash, but Gemma’s delicate use of the gift was doing a better job. 
“How are you doing, dear?” Gemma asked.
“Fine.” Tonya answered.
“Now I’m going to close this wound so it will stop bleeding so much.”
            Monyka watched as Gemma began multi tasking. With her hands she began to stitch together the outer layers of tissue, all the while she used the gift to mend broken blood vessels and cleanse any dirt or infection from the wound.
“. . . you doing?” Monyka realized Tonya was speaking to her. 
She blinked and looked up at Tonya. “I’m sorry, What was that, your Highness?”
“I asked how you were doing? You are very quiet.”
“I’m just trying to pay attention to what Mistress Gemma is doing.” Monyka smiled up at Tonya before looking back down at the ankle to watch as Gemma used the gift to start knitting the outer layers back together. Not enough to make it noticeable, but enough to take a few days off of the healing process.
“There you are.” Gemma smiled at Tonya and then at Monyka as the aura faded away. “I want you to take it easy for a few days and then slow but steady walks to exercise it.”
Tonya slowly flexed her foot. “It feels great.”
“Only because of the salve.” Gemma smiled. “Now, let me have a look at your hand.”
“It’s only some scratches.” Tonya waved dismissively. 
“That may be, dear, but scratches can become infected.” Gemma took Tonya’s hand.
Monyka saw the aura become visible around Gemma again. She quickly found her anchor and watched as Gemma again released green and white bits of her aura into the Princess as she cleaned the wound with hot water as well as the gift. The midwife then rubbed a little bit of salve over the gashes and wrapped a clean bandage around it.
“Promise me you won’t go over doing it for a couple of days.”
“I’ll do my best, Mistress. I do have some chores that I must attend to. I have to speak with Ambassador Zareb this afternoon and then attend the sunset ceremony.”
Monyka’s heart dropped in her chest. Her knees nearly buckled. If it hadn’t been for the padded chest, she would have been on the floor.  Kadyr.
“I could really use Monyka’s help with Ambassador Zareb.” Tonya told Gemma.
“That will have to wait, I’m afraid.” Gemma told the Princess. “I’m taking her to attend to her husband now.”
“Oh.” Tonya grimaced. 
Monyka’s chest felt tight, her head clouded with pain and dread as she pardoned herself from Tonya and followed Gemma out of the inn.
Nevyre leaned against a wall and smiled as two woman hurried by on some important errand. He loved the fashions of Blaire. The tight trousers showed off the curves of the legs and butt while the lacey blouse accentuated their femininity.
 Once they had passed, he took a deep breath and pushed away from the wall. The whole street seemed to lean to the side as if it was built on a gentle slope. His mind kept trying to put his right foot on the road how he saw it, but instead the road was further down and he kept lurching forward and careening from one side to the other like a drunken buffoon. 
With the news of a possible elf raid, the barracks turned infirmary was emptied of all who could possibly fight. If they had a leg wound that would allow them to still pull a bow, they were told to be on the wall before the sunset. Those with arm wounds would fight if they could, if not they could be messengers.
 Nevyre took advantage of the ensuing confusion in the infirmary to make his escape. He was responsible for allowing Princess Adiah to be left behind. He needed to speak with her so that she might forgive him for not coming back to get her.
“What are you doing about town?” one of Sergeant Galyway’s men challenged him in front of the inn where the Princess’s were to be staying.
“I need to speak with the Princess Adiah.” Nevyre’s head still pounded.
“Are you sure you shouldn’t be laying down. You don’t look so good.”
“I just need to talk to her.” Nevyre pleaded.
The guard looked to his comrade then shrugged. “I’ll take you up.” He said. “If you are out of bed looking like this then it must be pretty important.”
“Thanks.” Nevyre tried to smile. 
The guard pulled Nevyre’s arm over his shoulder and took a lot of Nevyre’s weight. Once in side, the guard stopped to look up the stairs before half carrying the determined man up. 
“Nevyre, what are you doing out of bed?” Cavalryman Symon questioned.
“I’ve got to speak to the Princess.” Nevyre stated.
“She just left with her Mul to see Ambassador Zareb.”
Nevyre shook his head and regretted it. “I need to speak to Princess Adiah.” He hoped that his head would stop spinning soon.
“How do you know about her?” Symon asked nervously.
“I’m the one who found her back in the Under Kingdom.” Nevyre snapped. “I need to see that she is okay.”
Symon hesitated for a moment before nodding his head. “Okay, but only if she wants to see you.” Symon looked to the soldier, keep him here.” Then knocked on the door before entering.
Symon returned and held the door open for the still injured man.
“Nevyre!” Adiah flung herself at the man. Symon had to catch them both to keep them from tumbling to the floor. “Thank the Gods that you are all right.” 
Symon closed the door behind him leaving the two friends together.
“Well, mostly.” Nevyre stated. “I took a nasty blow to the head. I am still trying to regain my balance.”
Adiah released the rogue and looked up at him with concern. “Shouldn’t you be in the infirmary?”
“I’m tired of lying on a cot, staring at the ceiling.” Nevyre explained. “I wanted to check on you and apologize for not coming back to get you.”
“Captain Kalhoun tried a couple of times, but there were too many elves.” Adiah told her friend of her scary ordeal out in the woods surrounded by the forest demons and how Captain Kalhoun saved her as well as her experience riding Horse Lord So’ryn.
“I am sorry, Adiah.” Nevyre repeated. “I just wish I had time to tell someone where you were, so that they could have gotten you sooner.”
“I did manage to keep these.” Adiah reached under her pillow and pulled out a handful of handkerchiefs. 
“I seemed to have lost mine.” Nevyre sighed.
“You mean this one?” Adiah held out the bright square of cloth and handed it to him.
“How did you get this?” his eyebrows rose with disbelief. “No fair grabbing it in the middle of battle.”
“I managed to get it before the attack.” Adiah grinned at Nevyre’s astonished face.
“I used myself as a diversion while Kadyr swiped it from you.” Adiah’s face fell as she mentioned the Lieutenant’s name.
Nevyre’s jaw opened and closed in wordless protest.
“I’m sorry about Kadyr, Nevyre. I was told that his death was quick.” She looked up at her friend from under sorrow heavy eyes.”
Nevyre’s chest felt heavy. “He was a good friend and a good soldier.” Nevyre sighed. 
Kadyr said that as a Princess, I needed to learn to trust people to perform certain duties for me, and that by setting myself up as a diversion it would still count.”
Nevyre’s gape turned into a smile. “You did just fine, kid. I guess I’m going to have to make your training a little harder it seems.”
“How are you going to do that?” Adiah asked
“I think I’ll sew some small bells on to these.” Kadyr stuffed the cloth squares into his shirt. “It’ll give me something to do while my brain settles back into place.”
“Bells?” Adiah groaned.
Nevyre chuckled. “How are you doing on your juggling?”
“I feel like a poor excuse for a traveling jester.” Adiah grimaced.
“You are already better than that.” Nevyre tossed her five squares of cloth back. “Let’s see it.”
Adiah began tossing the squares into the air.
            Monyka looked down from the timbered wall of Lyonsgate. Three large funeral pyres stood a hundred paces from the wall like moth-eaten wood obelisks.  Captain Kalhoun, Sergeant Galyway and Sergeant Takoda each stood with a torch in front of each pyre. Captain Dobry had several archers and a few scouts out beyond sight, to warn of elf movement. Brother Tagyrt along with three brothers from Lyonsgate stood between the pyres and the walled town. Princess Tonya, looking tired and solemn only slightly leaned against the wall as she looked across at the center tower of wood and soldiers. Adiah stood next to her drawing curious looks from the Riponian retinue who either didn’t recognize her or had only just found out that she was a Princess of Truno. Annyka, holding three large wreaths of flowers, stood to the other side of Tonya and shifted from one foot to the other looking bored, but trying her best not to show it. Standing as far behind Tonya as he could without falling off of the raised platform was the large Mul, Takar
            Tonya turned and received the wreaths from Annyka and dropped them, one by one, over the side of the wall to three of Captain Dobry’s men. The soldiers gingerly placed a wreath on each of the pyres and returned to the wall as part of the small detachment of guards outside Lyonsgate.
            Her husband, her Kadyr, lay amongst the wood and other soldiers. The emptiness in her chest twisted her gut and made her want to throw up again. Monyka took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She didn’t know if she could cry anymore even if she had wanted to; her eyes were so sore and puffy from all of the grieving she had done earlier in the day as she helped to prepare Kadyr’s body.
            Gemma was by her side though out the entire ordeal. During the preparation of Kadyr’s body, she stood near Monyka often humming soft, comforting tunes, other times allowing Monyka to bury her face into her shoulder. The mid wife quietly allowed her space as she railed and screamed at the Gods, and patted her face with a cool cloth after she had thrown up.
            Gemma and her apprentis stood either side of her as she watched Sergeant Takoda thrust the flaming torch into the oil soaked straw. Soft humming of flaming arrows filled the sky like a night of falling stars follwed by muffled thunks as the arrows hit various parts of the pyres. Small flare ups as the wood began to catch fire reminded her of the glowing stalagmites in the underkingdom. Memories of the Cave of Wonders and being adrift out on the underground lake flooded her memories. Raw, sore eyes had to work hard to tear up, blurring her vision slightly.
            Gemma handed Monyka a fresh hankerchief. “Dab, don’t wipe, Dear.”
Monyka’s bottom lip trembled as she swallowed a sob trying to escape her throat. She didn’t think she could possibly have any more raw emotion in her, but it kept thrusting, burning and exploding through her body, whether it was her stomach churning in knots, cry’s and wails escaping her throat, tears flowing to blind her, or the empty, aching of her heart. It just kept pushing through any of the walls she tried to build up around it.
            The sweet alto of a young boy not too far down the wall began a beautiful lament to the dead. One by one others around the boy softly joined in, by the third verse, it sounded like the whole town of Lyonsgate was singing.
            Monyka looked behind her down through the streets of the small outpost to see cobblers, millers, bakers, servants and children standing in the streets, outside their front doors, hanging out of windows or standing on carts; some holding a lit candle, some a lantern, all joining their voices to those of their neighbors, friends and strangers. They lifted up their voices as the fires consumed the dead, singing to the Gods to welcome these soldiers and servants into their embrace. 
            Monyka blinked and was unable to see for the fresh flood of tears. She opened her mouth to join the chorus, but all that came out was a hoarse sounding croak.
            “It’s okay, Dear. Let the others sing him to the heavens.” Gemma wrapped Monyka in a motherly embrace.
            “It hurts so bad.” Monyka sobbed. “why does it have to hurt so bad?”
            “The greater the love, the greater the hurt, Dear.”
            “Can’t you do something to make it hurt less?” Monyka begged. “Something with the Gift?”
            “If I did that it would diminish the person you have lost. It is better that you feel the pain so that you remember him and how much he means to you.”
            Monyka answered her with a cry, and held tight to her. 
            The song ended and a audible hush fell across Lyonsgate and the grasslands beyond. Long moments passed before Monyka heard the shuffling of people as they broke away from their vigil on the timbered wall and went back about their business, anxiously making preparations for the coming attack.
            Monyka pulled away from Gemma and dabbed at her swollen, red eyes. Except for a few archers on guard, most everyone had left the wall. She looked down to what was left of the pyres. Captain Kalhoun, Sergeant Gallyway and Sergeant Takoda still stood next to a pyre, each solemn and lost in his own thoughts. 
            Monyka was surprised to find that Princess Tonya was still there on the wall standing vigil, watching over the three pyres and three soldiers. Annyka was still at her side, trying not to shift from one foot to the other with impatience. Tonya looked up at Monyka and gave her a tight smile of acknowledgement, and sympathy before turning back to watch over the pyres. 
            “Are you ready to go?” Gemma asked.
            Monyka looked down on the pyres. She shook her head, “No. I’d like to stay.”
            Gemma nodded. “I’ll have Malana bring you some food. You need to eat. If the elves attack tonight I may need your help.”
            Monyka nodded and turned to stare down at the hot coals that had once been her husband as the Mid-wife left her in her own thoughts.
            Rikki was sore and exhausted. Saving one Princess in one day was a large undertaking. Saving two in one day was a feat that he hoped to never have to accomplish again. Good men and women dead, now ashes before him, men and women who had served him and his Princess well. Men and women whom he had eaten with, laughed with and had adventures with. Now, all that remained was bits of charred bone and ash among the hot coals. 
            Rikki looked out into the dark wondering when and where the elves would attack. They knew that at least one princess was here, he just hoped that they didn’t realize that there were three princess’ taking refuge behind these timbered walls. Captian Dobry assured him that his scouts were adept at rooting out the forest devils, but he knew how allusive the pointy ears could be. It was going to be a long night no matter how much assurance Captain Dobry gave him.
            ::You worry too much, Captain.:: So’ryn softly interrupted his thoughts. ::If it makes you feel any better, Lorcan has a few centaurs out there as well.::
            ::I won’t feel better until I have Tonya back in Ripon, dancing at midwinter ball.:: Rikki turned and looked up to the wall behind him. The Princess was still there, leaning against the wall staring into the red coals of the pyre. Most everyone else had dispersed after the towers of wood and bodies had collapsed into a mound. Monyka was still up there as well. She had more reason to remain there than most of the others. Lieutenant Kadyr had become a fast friend and one man that Rikki had come to rely upon more than others. He was going to be missed. 
            Monyka was still a concern. He didn’t know what had happened to her in the past week or so, but from the things he had seen and heard about this ‘gift’ she had, she was a bit of a wild card. The midwife, Gemma, seemed to be keeping her in check. 
            ::Is this sorcery of Monyka’s something I need to worry about?:: Rikki asked.
            ::If she hadn’t found the midwife, you’d have had plenty to worry about. The midwife is teaching her the basics of control so that she doesn’t hurt anyone else.:: So’ryn explained. ::Given the right teacher, she could be very powerful.::
            ::Could be?:: Rikki questioned. 
            ::The strength of her gift is not known, but it is strong.::
            ::Is she well?:: Rikki asked. He had grown rather fond of Monyka.
            ::She is sick of heart for the loss of her husband.::
            Rikki nodded to himself, ::I miss him too.:: He turned towards Sergeant Takoda. The Sergeant at Arms was still blaming him for Taelah’s death. The old soldier seemed to know that he was looking at him. He turned his face to meet Rikki’s with a cold stare. The firelight flickering off the scars and wrinkles of his face made that look even more disconcerting.  Rikki forced himself to keep his eyes locked on to the Sergeants, but it did take some effort. He didn’t kill the half-elf, but he did give her the means to take her own life. He had to. He was wasting enough time at Lyonsgate getting medical attention for his men. 
Sergeant Takoda looked back at the small blaze before him. Rikki didn’t need to waste anymore time on a field trial for a traitorous vile half-elf, who would be found guilty. He had to get his Princess safely away from the reach of the Elves and to the safety of Malden.
Rikki looked again up to the top of the wall. Tonya was still there. She looked as exhausted as he and by the solemn twist to her lips, she was in pain as well. 
He wasn’t able to get away from his duties as early as he wanted so that he and Tonya could spend some time talking. When he was able to get away, it was almost time for the ceremony and he couldn’t find her in her room. Instead he found her sitting with Ambassador Zareb.
Her red glazed over eyes spoke volumes of the pain that she was in and the frustration she was feeling at trying to learn years of negotiations and treaties in only a few hours. The Ambassador had slipped into unconsciousness a few minutes before Rikki had arrived to retrieve the Princess. The smell of the burned flesh was as strong as ever and he was told that the Ambassador’s leg had become infected which complicated the strong odor permeating and emanating from his room. The poor girl, Annyka was in tears from the smell despite the mask and dab of mint oil. 
The Princess happy to be rescued from the miserable room was too tired and in too much pain to say more than a few words. Rikki and Kama Takar escorted her from the deserted inn to the wall where Kama Takar put his bulk to good use and carried the Princess to the top of the wall.
“Captain?” Tonya called as Rikki turned to leave.
“Yes, Highness.”
“Be careful out there.” She cautioned, placing a hand on his arm. Her fingers on his skin made his face flush.
“I will, Highness.” Rikki bowed.
“Rikki?” Tonya said more softly.
“Yes, Tonya?” it was barely above a whisper.
“Nothing, I just wanted to hear my name.” her cheeks flushed.
Rikki bowed over her hand and brushed his lips against the silky back of her wrist. He stood and looked down upon her. “It’s going to be a long night, Highness. Don’t over tire yourself.”
“I won’t.”
Rikki released her hand and stepped back a couple of paces before turning and heading down the stairs and out of the town’s gates.
Captain Kalhoun turned to find Sergeant at Arms and Sergeant Galyway both looking askance his direction. Rikki nodded. He turned to Brother Tagyrt. “Make sure they are well taken care of Brother.”
Brother Tagyrt nodded. “I…. I will Captain.”
Rikki joined Takoda and Markys as they walked back to the closed gate. Some orders could be heard and the gates swung open just enough to allow one man at a time to enter.
Rikki slowly climbed a ladder to the wall defenses. “Your Highness,” He mad a small bow before her. You have gone beyond what is required of you this night. You should get some sleep. Who knows what tomorrow may bring.”
“If it is all right, I’d like to go to the temple to pray for their souls.”
Rikki looked to Kama Takar. The Mul looked well rested even after the mornings exertion. He looked down at the base of the ladder. “Symond, you and Kama Takar please escort her Highness to the temple, then see her safely to bed.”
“Thank you Captain.” Tonya sounded as tired as she looked. “Will you be joining me?”
“I’m afraid I have too many preparations to make, your Highness.”
“Remember to get some sleep too, Captain.”
Rikki watched as Kama Takar effortlessly cradled Tonya in his arms and carried her down the stairs before turning and walking to Monyka.
“My Lady.” Rikki greeted.
“It is getting late and with an attack being anticipated, I’d feel a lot better if you were some place safe.”
Monyka’s gaze never left the pile of coals, “I will Captain. I just want to be with him just a little longer.”
Rikki followed her line of sight and sighed. “I miss him to. He was a good man and a good friend.”
“Thank you, Captain.” Her voice broke. She turned and threw her arms around Rikki. Startled, he didn’t know what to do right away. 
Rikki sighed and wrapped his arms around her. “I know it doesn’t mean a whole lot right now, but I’m glad you are safe. If something had happened to you instead, I’d have lost you both.”
Monyka buried a sob in his shoulder.
Rikki watched as the midwife’s assistant strode up to them. 
“Monyka, anchor your core.” She whispered loudly.
Rikki looked askance.
The assistant gave him a stern look that turned into a polite smile. “Midwife Gemma asked me to bring her some food.”
“Thank you.” Rikki took the small bundle.
The assistant dipped a curtsy and made her way back down the ladder.
“What was that about?” Rikki asked.
“Just something that Gemma has me doing.”
“Does it have to deal with your, ‘gift’?”
Monyka pulled back and looked up at him through tear filled eyes. “You know, and you are not scared of me?”
“I don’t have any reason to be afraid of now do I?”
“After all that I have done? To poor Grymm? To Sergeant Galyway?”
“Galyway is fine and Grymm will recover.”
“I’m so scared, Captain. Everything is just so…. So out of control.”
“I know.” Rikki tried to console her. “I’m going to ask Midwife Gemma to join us so that she can continue with your training. Would that help make you feel better?”
Monyka nodded. 
“Stay up here for a little while longer, but I want you getting some sleep.” Rikki ordered. “Here, Midwife Gemma seems to think that you are starving.” He handed her the bundle.
“Thank you, Captain.”
“You’re welcome. Just don’t tarry. You need sleep.” Rikki turned and quickly descended the ladder “What is it, Yyan?” he greeted the cavalryman.
“Captain Dobry wanted me to inform you that all of the scouts have reported no sign of Elves.”
“Does Yeoman Bayley have any archers on the wall?”
“Only a few.”
“Have anyone who is good with a bow put up on the wall. I want them to rotate every four hours.”
“Yes, Sir.”
Rikki looked around and spotted a cart pushed up under the walkway to avoid flaming arrows. “If anyone needs me, I’ll be there.” He pointed to the cart. “If no one needs me, wake me up in four hours.”
“Yes, Sir.” Yyan turned and hurried off to find Yeoman Bayley.
            Rikki settled himself in the cart and lay back. He was so tired. His eyes felt like they crashed shut, and yet the world seemed to be spinning.
            ::I’ll alert you if anything occurs.:: So’ryn stated.
            Rikki yawned and curled up into fetal position.
            Ka’mya opened her eyes and shifted her weight. The gashes she received the day before, felt like they were on fire. She stretched and flexed her muscles and immediately wished that she hadn’t. What little sleep she had received was filled with nightmares of wolves chasing her. Chasing and nipping at her hooves, guiding her, shepherding her into a trap where they could all lunge for her throat. 
            ::Good morning, Princess.:: So’ryn greeted.
She should have known that he would have been up and monitoring her thoughts. ::Morning So’ryn.:: She tried to keep contempt from her voice. ::No elf attack last night?::
            ::No. How are you feeling?::
            ::Horrible. I ache all over and my wounds feel like they are on fire.::
            ::Eat some breakfast. I want to meet you out at the East gate in half a candle mark.::
            Ka’mya groaned. Slowly with a limp, she made her way to her food bowl. Fresh oats and slices of apple had been left for her. She ate without much enjoyment and quickly touched minds with her servants as well as those in town who could mind speak. It was only a light, quick touch. Most wouldn’t even know that she had contacted them. Most were exhausted. Of those a lot of them had been up and working since yesterday morning; The soldiers manning the walls, their eyes burned with want of sleep, the bakers having stayed up late with anxiety, then had to get up early to bake fresh bread. Some of her retinue were up all night due to anxiety and worry of the anticipated elf attack.
            Ka’mya contacted her groomsman and asked him to enter. One there, he began to curry and brush her coat.
            ::Just a quick once over today. So’ryn wants me this morning.:: She told him.
            ::Lorcan?:: she sent.
            ::Yes, Highness.::
            ::What is going on this morning?::
            ::I’m just coming in from scouting most of the night.:: Lorcan explained. ::No sign of the elves or their beasts.::
            ::Do you think they will come?::
            ::They are elves, who knows what they will do.:: Lorcan sighed. ::They will come, we just won’t know when until it is too late.::
            ::Get some food and some sleep.::
            ::Thank you, your Highness.::
            Ka’mya reached out to Annyka. ::Is Princess Tonya awake?:: She asked.
            Ka’mya flinched as visions and words flashed through her mind. The young lady hadn’t been taught how to focus her thoughts to mind speak. Ka’mya closed the contact. Images of Princess Tonya eating and being dressed had flashed through her mind as well as the noise and other images that she really didn’t want to see.
            ::Good morning, Tonya.::
            ::Good morning, Ka’mya. How are you feeling today?::
            ::Good news, the elves didn’t attack last night.::
            ::So I have heard.::
            So’ryn interrupted. ::You had better be on your way, Princess.::
            Ka’mya flinched. ::Coming, So’ryn.:: she made contact with Tonya again. It looks like I’m going to be busy this morning. Perhaps you can come by for tea this afternoon?::
            ::I’d like that.:: Tonya agreed.
            Ka’mya sent a thought to a servant outside the door, who opened them for her. The young man bowed as she passed and closed the door behind her. 
            Ka’mya winced as she picked up speed exiting the stable. After a few more steps she slowed back down. Sor’ryn can wait. He, after all, was her subject even if she had been ordered by her mother to follow the Horse Lord’s instruction.
            Several townsfolk bowed or curtsied as she passed causing he to hold her head up higher, more regal.
            So’ryn stood just inside the East gate speaking with Lorcan. The two looked at her as she approached. 
            ::Let Lorcan have a look at your wounds.:: So’ryn was obviously not in a good mood.
            The Centaur poked and probed at her various injuries before looking to So’ryn. ::She’s doing fine.::
            ::Thank you, Lorcan. Go get some sleep.::
            The Centaur bowed to Ka’mya then saluted So’ryn before heading off to where ever it was that he slept.
            ::What do you want, So’ryn?::
            ::You are out of shape, Princess. I have been to soft on you lately, So I have decided to remedy the problem.:: So’ryn nodded to a gate guard who opened the gate to allow them out. ::Come foal.::
            ::Foal?:: as soon as she spoke it Ka’mya knew it was a mistake.
            ::Only foals go gallivanting off without a care for their safety or the safety of their heard.:: So’ryn’s voice was sharp. “Come!:: he ordered.
            Insulted, Ka’mya lifted her head and snorted disapproval, then slowly she followed her instructor out of the gate.
            A few paces down the road, So’ryn stopped and turned to face her. His ears lay back against his head with anger. ::Since it is unsafe to go far from these walls, I will have to instruct you here, in the presence of the humans. I hope you ate well, because you are going to need your strength.:: So’ryn didn’t wait for her to answer him. ::Keep up with me, or you’ll be doing this all day. Lets go!:: Sor’ryn leaped forward and began running down the length of the wall. 
            Ka’mya wanted to scream. She sprang after him, her muscles aching after the long hard flight the day before. 
            ::So’ryn, I’m sore from yesterday.:: She complained.
            ::You’d be even more sore if Captain Kalhoun hadn’t been worried about Princess Tonya. Run!::
            Ka’mya wanted to scream. So’ryn wheeled around at the corner of the wall and sprinted back the way they had come. ::Move it, Princess!:: he admonished.
            Ka’mya’s ears lay back in her anger. She wheeled around and chased after the black and white instructor. As she began taking longer strides, she felt the freshly scabbed over wounds break open. She could feel the wetness of blood cool against her skin as the cool morning air cooled it before it fell away to mark the grass of her passage.
            ::My wounds!:: she cried. ::They’re breaking open. I’m bleeding again!:: She slowed.
            ::I don’t care if your hoof is split or you break a leg! Get moving or you’ll be doing this through the night!:: Came So’ryn’s retort.
            Ka’mya reached out to contact Captain Kalhoun and Captain Dobry to inform them that So’ryn had lost his mind, but she couldn’t. It was as if contact with them was severed. She tried to contact her servants in the walls of Lyonsgate but to no avail. It was as if she was as lowly as a horse.
            ::I Can’t talk to anyone!:: she screamed with panic.
            ::If you hadn’t been so worried about how ill treated and horrible you’re feeling, I wouldn’t have been able to put a shield around your mind.:: So’ryn’s voice was full of disgust. ::Run, Ka’mya!::


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