Rudolpho watched grimly as his two “soldiers” were sent to meet their maker. He felt some remorse having to sacrifice them, but they would have not hesitated to considerably shorten anyone of their life spans. He sat down and began to knead the clay dolls back into lumps and removed the bits of skin that had bound the two men to his spell. When he was finished, he noted that the party members were taking care of their wounds, and decided to do a quick circut around them to make sure there were no more “unwelcome guests” in the area. Completing the shift he had started with only the voice, he again took on the full panther form. He padded silently around the group sniffing and looking for intruders. He was relieved to find none.
Now time to get my horse. Fortunately, he had not left the animal too far behind, though it did take him a bit to make his way to where the creature still stood stoically, chomping at the grass and seemingly oblivious to the fighting that had occurred further up the road. “So much for just a dozen or so bandits, eh?” Thomis commented as he pulled himself into the saddle, swinging the injured leg – still with its bolt – over with a sharp hiss of his breath. Better to ride the damned thing back to the others than lead it on foot.
Several minutes after the last arrow passed, Keir cautiously poked his head above the rapidly cooling body. “Humph, no more bandits?” He glanced around to where Laurelyn had been fighting for her life and saw she was gone too. “Huh, no nobody!” Drawing himself erect, he prepared to move back towards the road. Being of a practical nature he first relieved the bandit of his purse, leaving two of the coins on the rogue’s eyes before he set out.
“There, let your spirit see what you threw your life away for.”
Daron started to dismount her horse. The world around her seemed to spin crazily. Trying to keep her balance, she overcompensated and, as a consequence, fell off Falcon. She hit the ground hard on her wounded side.
Ow…that hurt…real smart move there…
Her eyes struggled to focus. She saw the jester with a knife in his hand. Pierre appeared to be none the worse for wear. The handsome stranger was still sprawled on the dirt road. His breathing sounded labored to her.
But Rudolpho was nowhere to be seen. Nor was Laurelyn, Thomis, or Keir.
Gritting her teeth, Daron managed to get to her knees without passing out in the meantime. Miraculously, she still clutched the remains of her shirt in her right hand when she fell. She slowly got to her feet. Focusing her concentration solely on getting to the handsome stranger-no, his name was Brendan; he’d told them that before the ambush-Daron stubbornly put one booted foot before the other.
If nothing else, this Brendan could tell her what happened to Rudolpho. Not to mention he was rather easy on the eyes. A plus, since she was having trouble focusing as is.
She staggered to where Brendan lay. Sinking to her knees gratefully by his side, she gently turned his body over.
“Master Keir, I could use your help over here!” she called. Or so she thought; her voice came out a hoarse whisper.
“Is there a doctor in the house?” Jacques asked a little caustically. So much for the fun jaunt through the forest to somewhere where they had lager, women of negotiable virtue, and a decent idea of a bath. Or at least the first two.
He slipped the knife into a pocket somewhere on his uniform, and started toward Daron.
A pitiable whine cut across the field, coming from Laurelyn’s horse, Beast. Or, rather, from a battered backpack still strung on Beast’s saddle. Two crossbow bolts protruded at bizarre angles from the pack.
Jacques’ eyes flicked from Daron to the backpack.
“Stupid animal, always gettin’ in the way.”
He walked a little faster and bypassed Daron on a path to where the pup was still whining miserably, and occassionally howling painfully.
Jacques opened the backpack without touching either bolt – at least neither had penetrated enough to do more than scratch the horse. Just as well since he didn’t want to be facing an agitated animal of that size.
Cowering in the bottom of the pack was a small bundle of brown fur, which looked up with scared brown eyes. Fiend tried a friendly yip when he recognised the face of the jester, but it came out more as a whimper.
Down the pup’s rump and hind leg was a gash about two inches long where he’d been thrown against an arrow’s barb. Blood oozed from the wound in a slow but steady flow.
“Is there a vet in the house?” asked Jacques of no-one in particular, as he reached in and lifted the whimpering Fiend out into the sunlight.
Rudolpho did not find any further sign of the bandits, save a lingering scent trail that grew colder by the moment and was not worth following. He familiarized himself with the scent, so he could recognize it in the future if the need arose. He did however, smell the scent of blood from the clearing and recalled how his group needed help. He turned and started back towards them.
Laurelyn and Rudolpho. The boy had not been seen since before the fighting started; Hillrover had slipped into the shadows of the trees, sword in hand, early on. He was torn between the urge to look for the two, and to stay with the others -Daron looked ready to collapse by the stranger, Brendan’s, side and Jacques held a trembling pup in his hand.
The girl looked to be in worse shape, so Thomis kneed his mount over to her and managed to dismount with a minimum of pain. “Might have been best to leave the bolts in until Master Keir could tend to you,” he remarked. His own leg ached terribly, but the wound had closed around the slender bolt and the bleeding was minor. He carried some medical supplies with him, best suited to dressing injuries, and without further comment he pulled it from the pack, bandages and antiseptic, likely much less than Keir carried as a healer. “I can clean your injuries for you, but you will need to see our resident healer.”
Brendan groaned softly, and his eyes fluttered open. A painful blur of light seemed to slice its way between his eyelids, and he lifted a hand to his head to feel if it was all there.
His vision cleared slightly, and he saw an angel stooping above him.
“Oh damn” he said, “I’ve gone to the wrong place.”
He shut his eyes painfully, and groaned again.
“I don’t deserve this,” he muttered, tasting blood in his mouth.
As Laurelyn crept along she noted the silence of the woods – no longer did crossbow bolts pepper the area. Thomis was foremost in her thoughts and concerns, though she was also deeply concerned about the others – they had several noncombatants within the group. Her worries and the absence of bolts made her more brazen and she quickened her step till she could see the party on the road.
Now she could see the decimation of the bandits since bodies lay all around – causing her to flashback to scenes of the fight between pro and anti-League forces. And causing her to try to wipe the blood from her arm, which really only smeared it.
She saw Thomis over by Daron and Brendan and hurried over to them. “How bad?” she asked, trying to sound relatively calm though relieve rushed through when she saw the Oathbound.
Alert for any sound or sign, Keir dashed from tree to tree til he reached the road and saw his fellow travelers gathered in a bunch. Ignoring the still forms of the bandits he bounded over. “Everyone alright? Oh… guess not.”
He quickly gauged their various wounds. Thomis, with the protuding bolt, and Daron’s growing blood stains were obvious with Brendan’s glazed look only slightly less so. “Mistress Laurelyn, if you’re alright, I could use a small fire and some fresh water here.” he asked as he took over cleaning Daron’s wounded thigh from Thomis. “Let me take that, you should be sitting down master Thomis.” His tone and the look he gave Thomis left little doubt that he felt the matter was not open to discussion. “You can keep yourself busy by making sure that one,” indicating Brendan with a nod, ” does not fall asleep.”
“I’m fine,” the storyteller said.
Unwinding the blood-soaked rag Daron had used to bind the wound, he hissed when he saw it. “Had to pull it out did you, well child you’ve made a nasty job of it. Haven’t you Big Folk ever heard of barbs?” From one of the many pouches he carried he produced a paper envelope and began sprinkling a pale yellow powder into the zagged gash. He bent low and sniffed at the wound, then pinched it shut as best he could. “Lucky, no poison and it’s clean.” His free hand snatched up one of the ant soldiers that continued to scurry about and he pressed it to the cut edges. ::Bite and hold:: he sent and the ant dutifully obeyed. One by one he put the ants in place and the wound was soon closed and wrapped in the bandages Thomis had provided. The process was repeated on her shoulder with Keir keeping up a steady stream of tsks and disapproving head nods. “There now, lie down and don’t move.”
Turning his attention to Thomis he looked him in the eye respectfully. “We’ll wait for the fire before pulling that out. It’s not grating on the bone is it?” If it was he would have expected to see more signs of pain in Thomis’ face but it was possible, even likely, that the man was inured to what would make a weaker soul scream in agony.
“No, no grating,” Thomis answered easily, having watched Master Keir at work with some amount of admiration. “I can wait, tend to the others first.” He settled down and looked up to find Laurelyn approaching, her feet still bare from her dash after the Pup. “Good to see you again, Hillrover.” And there might have been a slight sound of relief in his voice.
“Good to see you too,” Laurelyn answered – only her eyes showing her worry. She stopped for a moment to gauge Thomis’s wounds before going for the wood for the fire.
Daron did a mental headcount of her traveling companions and their whereabouts as she complied with Master Keir’s request (order?) to lie down. Her physical wounds throbbed, but they would heal, in time.
Master Keir was now attending to Thomis. Laurelyn was by the man’s side, seemingly unhurt.. Off a little ways, Jacques ministered to the wounded Pup. Pierre…now, there was more than a physical wound paining him! Daron silently cursed her clumsiness; she could go over and comfort him, if not for those arrow wounds!
A particular absence stuck out like the proverbial thumb to Daron, however.
Where is Rudolpho?
The question echoed in her mind.
Lastly he tended to Brendan, feeling the man’s forehead while his nimble fingers examined his skull. “You must come from naturally hard-headed stock, bandit, for there doesn’t appear to be any lasting damage. Of course, only time will tell but I think you’ll live long enough to hang.” He stood and looked around for the others of their party.
Brendan gave Keir a strange look and sat up slightly.
“Who said anything about bandits?” he asked, then bit back his words, finally seeing all the carnage around him.
His mouth gaped silently for a moment, then he tried to stand up. Gravity and a mild concussion pulled him back down to the ground, however.
His dark (were they brown or jet black?) eyes met with Daron’s for a moment. It was a moment in which many things passed through his mind… and left, leaving nothing but silence. He caught his breath and looked away, feeling much embarrassed.
An involuntary cry escaped Daron’s lips as her green eyes met Brendan’s extremely dark ones. Swirling, confused thoughts-of death, love, passion, heaven…and an angel with braided hair-radiated from him. Her eyebrows rose in surprise at the last one.
“I, uh, I have to get going.” he said, trying to stand once more. His head throbbed in a way that told him the ugly little thing had made a wrong diagnosis, but there was little he could do about it.
“As do we all,” Thomis agreed quietly. “But none of us are moving anytime soon, and you look barely able to stand.” He turned back to Laurelyn, and nodded towards the jester, who had pulled Fiend from his traveling bag. “I believe the youngest member of our troop may have been injured also.”
“I better check,” Laurelyn said, feeling torn between seeing to Fiend and getting the fire started. “Once I get the fire going,” she added. Keir had said they needed the fire for Thomis and it looked like Jacques was comforting the pup.
Laurelyn began to gather branches – checking to find the dry tinder. Once she had plenty of wood she arranged them for the fire.
The fire itself took a couple of minutes to get lit, but when she had it going she went headed over to Beast. The big hunter shifted restlessly and snorted at the storyteller – expressing her distress. “Easy,” Laurelyn said, running her hands over the horse’s neck – checking for wounds as she went to her saddlebags.
Laurelyn’s brow furrowed when she saw the barbed bolts in the saddlebag and the scrapes beneath. She glanced worriedly over to where Jacques held Fiend. She quickly and angrily pulled the bolts free so they couldn’t scrape Beast further. After throwing the bolts into the brush Laurelyn dug out a small pan, some bandages and her first aide bag. From her saddlebag she got her waterbottle. As she headed back to the fire she passed Jacques. Gently she patted the whimpering Fiend and handed the jester a flask and bandages from the medical pack. “I’ll have some hot water going soon,” she said. “Here’s some alcohol to start to clean his wounds.”
The storyteller got the pan filled with water and on the fire. Then she went to kneel by Thomis. She set the bag beside him and since she was newly arrived on the scene, asked, “What got hit?”
Taking the flask from Laurelyn with a nod, he carried the whimpering Fiend over to his pony.
By some kind of miracle, the shaggy animal was unharmed, though a crossbow bolt protruded from the saddle, and another had passed clean through one of the saddlebags leaving a hole. It looked at him with quiet, untroubled eyes.
Jacques looked back with eyes that reflected blood and death. The pony snorted and took a pace back.
“Stupid animal,” Jacques cursed, and grabbed for a saddle bag to pull out a blanket.
The pony rolled its eyes at him as he snagged the blanket and spread it across the ground. Fiend whined miserably as he was lowered to the ground with the injury facing upwards. It was quite deep, but didn’t appear to be too serious.
Jacques pulled the stopper from Laurelyn’s flask and took a sniff.
“This is gonna hurt, boy,” he offered, “so we may as well get prepared.” With that, he took a healthy swig from the flask, and sighed gratefully. Then he pulled a clean piece of bright green cloth from a pocket in his uniform and dabbed a few drops of alcohol onto it.
Fiend yelped in renewed pain as the alcohol met the wound, and continued to whine and howl as Jacques cleaned the gash thoroughly.
“Told you it’d hurt.”
The young boy, still in panther form, silently parted the underbrush and stepped through into the clearing. There was a small fire going and people seemed to be in various stages of tending or having wounds tended. He sat on his haunches and waited to be noticed. He hoped people had noticed his switch to panther form before the battle, but it had happened to quickly for him to be sure that they had. Still he needed to be sure, since he did not want to go through the invisible grinder that Jacques seemed to be capable of becoming. Not knowing how long it would take for someone to see him, he began to groom himself.
His thoughts focused on tending to the wounded, Keir failed to see the panther. The Hortus healer was pleased to see the fire and the rapidly warming water but noticed that Laurelyn moved stiffly and he believed he saw her wince as she knelt beside Thomis. “Thank you mistress. When it gets hot but not yet boiling please take a cloth and soak master Thomis’s wound.” Thomis had been wise to leave the bolt in but the dried blood would have to be softened before the bolt could be removed else it would tear his flesh. He also noted the tear in the shoulder of Thomis’ shirt and berated himself for missing it earlier.
The Oath-bound made no move in reaction when the panther appeared at the far side of the clearing, but he did watch carefully as the creature groomed itself. “My arm,” he answered Laurelyn, and paused as the pup’s whimpering grew momentarily louder. “And this in my leg.” He indicated the bolt in his thigh with a slight wave of one hand. “Yourself?”
The big cat continued to clean himself, Brendan settled back onto the ground and seemingly lapsed into unconsciousness and Daron looked around worriedly for Rudolpho. Who had disappeared shortly before the arrival of the panther.
“I’m a little sore,” Laurelyn said, “But I don’t think I took more damage beyond a bruised rib.” At least she hoped that was all the sharp pain that came with movement meant. She looked back towards Master Keir and said, “I’ll check on the water.”
“Hold tight for a moment,” she said to Thomis as she started to get up. A angry, nervous snort from Beast made her look up – and freeze as she saw the panther.
Thomis’ brown eyes narrowed as he stared at the large cat, and then he smiled slightly. “I believe young Rudolpho may have some talents similar to those of Kitrina Tvyvar,” he murmured softly to Laurelyn. “Aside from their common insatiable curiosity.”
“I hope that’s the case,” she said quietly – looking from the resting panther to her nervous horse.
Keir was about to attend to Pierre, though the lad’s injury didn’t appear too serious, certainly not as serious as the impression the bard’s facial expressions reflected, when he realized Brendan’s eyes were closed.”Arg, no no no!” he cried as he lept into action. He pried Brendan’s eyelids up as he called for him to wake up. He was certain the man had a concussion and if he couldn’t wake him soon he might never wake again. Not that he cared about the fate of one he thought a likely bandit or at least a wastrel but once he took a patient his honor demanded he give it his all. From the glassy blank stare he knew simply shaking or splashing water in his face probably wouldn’t work but he tried them anyway. Finally despairing of his efforts he tossed a pouch to Laurelyn. “When it boils, fix everyone some tea from that. I’ll be back soon as I can.” The last he yelled as he ran towards the stream.
Laurelyn grabbed the pouch. The urgency of Keir’s voice got her to her feet – despite the presence of the panther. “Hold on, Beast,” she murmured under her breath as she headed for the fire.
It looked like Master Keir was going to have his hands full tending to the injured among their group. Thomis shifted, wincing slightly at the continued pain in his leg; not the worst injury he had ever had, and he could easily wait while Keir tended to the more seriously hurt Daron and Brendan.
Daron heard Master Keir’s talk of tea as if through wads of cotton wool. It brought back memories of the bitter concoctions her father brewed the times she and Dillon hurt themselves during the intense defensive training Brion Innes put his children through.
“No, don’t want no nasty tea, Pa,” she murmured almost sleepily. “M’fine…”
Having finished grooming a particularly stubborn spot, Rudolpho got up and stretched. Extending his front paws forward, he showed his claws, and then yawned diplaying his teeth. Properly refreshed he looked up to see if he had been noticed. By the tense looks Laurelyn gave him and the knowing smile Thomis fixed on him, he knew he had been. He stood up on his hind legs and broke the spell holding him in that form. He reverted back to himself and strode forward towards the companions. “Hi.
“Anything I can do to help?”
Daron blinked twice to clear her vision. Rudolpho couldn’t have been that panther; t’was a fever dream. But, by the way both Thomis and Laurelyn talked, the unthinkable seemed to be true.
At least he’s safe, and whole…
That thought comforted her, somehow.
A series of chills shook her body. She clenched her teeth to stop their chattering, unwilling to divert Master Keir’s attention from the other wounded. She’d be fine. If only the weather hadn’t turned so cold so quickly…
All Laurelyn had time to do was register Rudolpho’s quick change – from the sound of Daron’s mutterings she was getting delirious. “If you could get Beast settled it would help,” she said. “Then I think you best see what Master Keir has to say about Daron – she sounds like she might be going into shock.” A pain shot up the storyteller’s nerves as she knelt by the fire.
It was then she realized she would need a mug for the tea. “Rudolpho,” she added, “Could you also get the two mugs out of my backpack?”
While she waited she began to soak the rags that would be needed for Thomis and hoped Beast wouldn’t take offense at the “panther” being near her.
Another delayed thought registered and she asked, “Jacques – are you alright?” Of all of them she figured the jester to probably be in one piece. “And how’s Fiend?”
Winding the last of the bandage around a quietly whimpering pup’s rear, Jacques looked up.
“Oh I’m fine Miss Laurelyn,” he sighed in reply. “You know what they say. Old jesters only ever die on stage.”
He lifted Fiend from the blanket and walked carefully over to where Laurelyn was with the others.
“I think the animal will live,” he said. “Though you’d never know it from the way he was complaining.” The pup took that moment to make a tentative whine. “Won’t be chasing rabbits for a while, though.”
His eyes flicked over Thomis, Daron, and back to Laurelyn, and he shook his head for the comfort of the bells.
“Damn sorry I wasn’t quicker in killing the buggers.” He looked over at the blue handled knife with its blade still stuck in the dirt. “If I’d been aiming for throats instead of the dramatics we might have got away without this.” A waved hand indicated the crossbow bolts littering the ground.
Thomis bit off a wide smile at that, and shook his head slightly. “Better than any of us could have done without you,” he told the jester with a matter-of-fact tone. “I doubt they expected such a display.” Not that his surprise had been much less than the bandits’; though he had suspected Jacques was capable of quite a bit more than sleight-of-hand, he hadn’t predicted the special talents the other man had revealed. Nor, for that matter, Rudolpho’s.
“We were in deep trouble without your help,” Laurelyn said, thinking of the bandit’s leering face only inches from hers. “It looked more like a capture as opposed to a simple robbery.”
The flask of alcohol was in his other hand, and he looked at it wistfully. Then he shook his head again, and passed the flask back to Laurelyn. After all, there was no guarantee that the bandits wouldn’t be back.
“You know,” he finished, looking down at the pup. “I think Fiend here knew about Rudolpho’s ‘talents’ before the rest of us. Think he has a nose for cats.” He gently scratched the pup’s head.
Fiend yipped. And it almost sounded like his normal, innocent self.
Laurelyn set the flask by the other medical supplies and said, “I’m glad that you came to no harm and that Fiend’s only condemned to a few rabbitless days.”
Daron lifted up her head with effort. Now, she was truly seeing things; her uncle Harlan carrying an injured puppy. And dressed like a tailor’s nightmare, at that.
“Uncle Harlan, nice t’see you…” she murmured happily. “Wha’s with th’ getup? Not Festival Day awlreddy…?”
Another fit of shivers shook her frame. Now her tongue felt wrapped in cotton wool too. She thought she said, “Get my cloak out of the sack on my saddle.” Only the words ”...cloak…sack…saddle…” were actually understandable, however.
About to reply to Laurelyn, Jacques closed his mouth firmly as Daron spoke.
What kind of name was Harlan? Sounded like some kind of dark and dangerous part of the city more than a person. Not only that, but the thought of being anything like the girl’s uncle sent shivers down his spine.
He shook his head, dismissing it as merely delusion due to the wounds, and turned his attention back to Laureyn and Fiend.
Rudolpho crossed over to where her backpack and retrieved the mugs. He had noticed Daron’s state and was anxious to help her. Giving Laurelyn the mugs, he went over and sat by Daron. He remembered the hair he had retrieved when they were still at the Inn. Rudolpho rummaged through his pack and retrieved the hair and the clay, molding both into a figurine in Daron’s image. He completed the ritual with a few words and looked up. “Daron, you aren’t cold and you will most definitely not go into shock.” He paused slightly and added with a smile, “I won’t let you.”
Down by the stream Keir found a number of useful plants and items. Though there was willow bark in the tea he had left with Laurelyn, he cut another switch for drying as his small supply wouldn’t go far in the next few days with so many in need. More than anything he wished there were more Hortus’ around, he wasn’t certain he could tend them all in time to prevent some from getting worse. Daron had lost a lot of blood and was already running a small fever when he’d tended her but it was Brendan that concerned him most. The man’s skin had gone cold and clammy and his mind had retreated into some unknown dark recess. He had to be brought back quickly or he might roam within his own imagination for the rest of his days.
In a boggy area in a bend of the brook he found the plants he had been searching for. Bloody-fingers and bloodwort – both for Daron, and Dracontium for Brendan. A bonus was a stand of touch-me-not that he could use on Thomis and Pierre. He stopped on his return trip to carefully wash his bounty and the crossbow bolt he’d pulled from a tree. It comforted him to see that the barbs were small and hoped the one in Thomas was the same.
The pungent dracontium root stung his eyes but cleared his head of idle thoughts. He worked swiftly but meticulously and when finished wasted little time in getting back though when he sped right past some of his favorite mushrooms his stomach rumbled in protest.
He arrived to see that Laurelyn had the tea ready and Rudolpho had returned and was apparently playing with a doll for some odd reason. Keir wondered if he’d have to add the young thief to his list of patients as he set the plants, wrapped in his shirt, down next to Brendan.
Daron’s mental fog lifted a bit. No, that was Jacques, holding Jepardi. For some reason, a childhood song sprang to her fevered mind. Before she could…or would...stop herself, she began to sing in a passable alto voice, Afterwards, she giggled hysterically.
Then, her dark eyes widened in surprise: she saw someone she did not expect to see; not on this side of the Great Divide, anyway…
Daron regarded Rudolpho with catlike curiosity. She giggled at that thought. “Oh, hello there, Rudolfurry. Nice t’see ya…there’s some bread, cheese and meat in th’left furward saddlebag fur ya. No mousies, sorry…” She giggled again.
The jester groaned audibly and stood up, leaving Fiend lying nearby. The animal seemed safe enough, after all.
Then he walked slowly over to the corpses and began retreiving knives. Not something he enjoyed, even under the best of circumstances, but a darn sight better than listening to the delirious girl singing stupid songs.
“Dormez bloody vous,” he muttered and pulled the orange handled knife viciously from the eye-socket it was embedded in. Killing people always left him in a foul mood.
The storyteller was glad for two things – that Master Keir had returned and that the tea was ready. Daron was sounding worst and Brendan was looking worst. She said, “The tea’s brewed.”
With this announced she gathered up the heated clothes and went back to Thomis – with the way things were going she feared that he too might take a turn for the worse. She crouched beside him and for a second just knelt there holding the steaming clothes.
Laurelyn looked at the bolt sticking out from his lower thigh and the gash on his shoulder, and finally said, “errr.. Thomis.. it probably would be easier for you to put one of these on your leg – I’ll take care of your shoulder.” Somehow she thought that working the bloodied cloth away from his shoulder would be a little less personal.
As she laid the heated cloth on Thomis’s shoulder and held it against the gash she quietly said, “I don’t see any of us moving before nightfall or even the next day – which might give those thrice-damned bandits a chance to regroup. Any suggestions? All I can think of is to ride to the next village and get some help.”
With two quick movements of a blade, Thomis cut away his pants leg, and then lay the hot cloths around the broken end of the bolt. “Who would we send?” he asked. The idea of splitting the party did not appeal to him, since any who rode ahead would need to be able to protect themselves – and any left behind, namely those most gravely injured, would need others to guard them.
Laurelyn’s brow furrowed while she thought. Rudolpho, with his unique talents was an option, but despite those talents she did not favor sending a boy out alone. “I could go,” she said, “I’m in decent shape – as is Beast. I think Jacques and Rudolpho should stay here. They would be the woundeds’ best defense.”
She shifted her hand – to make sure that she wasn’t putting too much pressure against Thomis’s wound.
Thomis looked sideways at Laurelyn, then shook his head slightly. He had not missed how the storyteller carried herself more than a little bit gingerly. “Perhaps it would be best if I went. My injuries are not all that serious, and I can easily seat a horse.” And ride at a gallop if it became necessary; for the way Laurelyn held herself, he doubted her ribs could endure a hard ride.
Keir listened to Daron’s ramblings with growing concern as he sliced a chunk of dracontium root and placed it under Brendan’s tongue. The skunk cabbage lived up to it’s name and the Hortus’ nose crinkled in revolt. It tasted worse than it smelled but it had to be strong to penetrate Brendan’s sinuses and reach his wayward brain.
He looked around for someone to help Daron while he was occupied with Brendan. Laurelyn was busy tending to Thomas and readying the tea. He wasn’t certain but she seemed paler than before. Jacques seemed to be off pilfering the dead instead of making himself useful and Rudolpho was fiddling with his doll. Keir shook his head in disgust, he didn’t think he’d ever understand Big Folks and their odd ways. “Rudolpho, could you put that down for a moment and get some of that tea into Daron… and find something to cover her, look in her saddlebag.” Keir didn’t particularly care for ordering people about but knew in an emergency any general request to a group might go unanswered as each thinks someone else will do it.
“I’m not playing.” His tone was not one of amusement. “I am helping Daron with her fever.” Even as he responded indignantly he got up to get another mug for her. He poured some tea into it and returned to her side.
Daron got a noseful of the pungent root Master Keir used on Brendan. The mental fog seemed to part a bit. She looked at the mug of tea Rudolpho held for her with trepidation.
What sort of slimy thing does he want me to drink?
Wrinkling her nose up in anticipation, she sipped at the steaming tea. Shocked at the pleasant taste, she greedily drank the “not-so-nasty medicine”.
Her chills soon subsided. And someone had managed to shave the “fur” off her tongue. She didn’t question “how” or “why”. Nevertheless, she finished off the tea as a precaution.
He was about to insert two slices of the stinking dracontium up Brendan’s nose when he realised it was dislocated. He’d assumed the slight bend was its natural state and berated himself for missing the dried blood that tipped it off. Things seemed to be slipping by him, important things. He grabbed Brendan’s nose and wrenched it back in place then cleaned up the fresh flow of blood with one of the cloths Laurelyn had prepared. He has the luck o’ the Hortus, Keir thought. If he’d been conscious the pain of straightening his nose could have made him faint and the foul flavor of the dracontium would’ve made him gag. He inserted the two slices and jumped to Daron’s side.
The young artist’s fever was not as high as he’d feared and she still shivered but the tea would help. He didn’t think she was ready to eat either the bloody fingers or the bloodwort at this point. “Rudolpho, try to get some more tea into her and keep her warm. If she becomes lucid have her chew on these.” He handed some leaves of the healing herbs to the thief, thankful that he had decided to act as her nurse.
Daron looked at the leaves Rudolpho held. Her arms felt stiff, though she made the effort to reach for the remedy herself. She hated this inactivity! The guilt she felt was more painful than her wounds, though; it was her fault the group would be split up, and exposed to more danger. If she’d only waited…
But then Brendan would’ve probably been killed if we hadn’t stopped the bandits…
Though why that should matter to her, she couldn’t figure out. Her companions should come first. Not some handsome stranger…
“Rudolpho, could you please hand me those leaves?” she asked, relieved her voice came out clear and easily understood. She chewed on the first set of leaves, the “bloody fingers”. Her face screwed up at the bitter taste.
Something Master Keir said about “getting something to cover her” next came to mind. “M’cloak’s in the sack on my saddle,” Daron said. “But I could use some more tea first…”
The better to wash down these nasty leaves!
Daron prayed she hadn’t done anything foolish while her head was muddled. Though she knew, with some certainty, that if she had, Jacques would be sure to point it out to her…
Rudolpho filled her mug first and then retrieved her cloak. He had handed her the leaves which she was now chewing on. He watched her chew for a moment before asking, “Does this mean you are lucid now?”
With his two critical patients stabilized, at least for the moment, Keir turned his attention to Thomis. Laurelyn had done a good job on his shoulder and he was grateful it was a simple graze. He only had to squeeze a few drops from the succulent touch-me-not into the gash before letting Laurelyn bandage it up. The bolt was another matter entirely. He set the bolt he’d collected earlier so its tip was in the hot coals of the fire, then took out his small, thin knife and passed the blade through the flames. When he was ready he looked directly into Thomis’ unflinching eyes. “Do you want something to bite on, Master Thomis? This will hurt, if only for a moment.”
While Keir readied his instruments Laurelyn eased the bloodily, wet material away from Thomis’s shoulder and lay some clean cloth over the wound. Then she began to wrap the bandage round his shoulder with efficient motion. All the while she was trying to keep her mind off of what Keir was going to have to do to Thomis’s leg. Not that she was squeamish, but it always seemed worse when it was someone you cared about.
She offered Thomis her good left hand once she was finished with the bandaging. The motion was hidden from the others by her kneeling form – it was only apparent to Master Keir.
Thomis slid his fingers into hers, with a slight smile of acknowledgment. “Nothing to bite on, Master Keir,” he answered calmly. This was going to be unpleasant, he knew, but he had endured worse in the past; that thought made him want to touch the scar across the bridge of his nose again, but his hand was otherwise occupied. “I will try not to whimper as much as the puppy.”
Laurelyn restrained a grim chuckle and closed her fingers around his.
Seeing that Daron was feeling better and that she was more coherent, Rudolpho broke the spell binding Daron to the figurine, removed the hair from the doll, and filed it for a potential future emergency. He noticed now that Thomis was the next to need his assistance. They were going to cut into his leg and that could really hurt. I don’t think he would mind, under the circumstances. If he does he can yell at me later. He needs my help.
With that thought in mind, Rudolpho moved over to where Thomis was sitting and put his hand on Thomis’ shoulder sympathetically. “Does it hurt much?” As he withdrew his hand, he picked a loose hair off of Thomis’ collar. He then sat down and took out his “doll” and began to “play” with it. A few deft manipulations and words later he had created Thomis’ likeness and had bound the Oathbound to the figurine. I have to do this so he doesn’t notice right away. “Gee Thomis, I hope this doesn’t hurt much and you won’t feel it much.” Rudolpho had made sure that his intent was clear for the spell, and though he phrased it like a statement, it would work magically like an imperative.
It started, as it always did, as an annoying tickle – Thomis always had found it difficult to describe the feeling, even to himself – at the back of his mind. A slightly discomfiting touch, as something unfamiliar encountered the shields that Mesani I’Se long ago had established, a bulwark against any efforts to read his thoughts, or influence his actions. Woven into the very patterns of his own breathing and heartbeat, the shields had been designed not only to protect Thomis, magicless in an environment filled with contentious mages; they also had been established as a way for Mesani to protect herself from an Oath-bound under an opponent’s control.
Thomis tensed momentarily, with a fleeting thought that another sort of attack had begun. But the thing that slid across the weave, seeking purchase and finding none, carried no echo of threat. Having so recently seen Rudolpho shift from panther to boy – and playing with his clay figurine while tending to Daron – Thomis assumed the youngster was the source of this latest working of magic. “I appreciate the offer of assistance,” he said to Rudolpho in a low voice, “but I believe I shall have to decline.” Not that he had a choice – though Mesani and Drywen could manipulate the shields, Thomis could do nothing to control them.
He looked back at Keir, and nodded. He could not help a sharp intake of breath as the knife sliced into him, and squeezed Laurelyn’s hand tightly.
Laurelyn managed not to wince at the sharply tightening strength of Thomis’s grip. And she was more than a little grateful it wasn’t her strained right hand that was in such a vise.
Keir slid the blade carefully down alongside the bolt and gently probed the tip. The Luck of the Hortus struck again as the bolt was nearly barbless. He withdrew the blade and took a firm grip on the shaft, holding Thomis’ leg with the other. “Here goes.” It was all the warning Thomis received before Keir yanked the bolt free. Tossing it aside he sprinkled the yellow powder into the wound and gave it a short approving sniff. Plucking the other bolt from the fire he cauterized the wound and rubbed the juice of the touch-me-not on it to both cool and heal. “There, that’s that.” He sat back and sighed, suddenly realising how hungry and tired he was.
There was still much to do yet though Pierre didn’t seem to badly wounded and he needed to prod Laurelyn into revealing just how injured she truly was. Seeing the look she gave Thomis as their hands remained clasped he decided it could wait and went to check on Daron and Brendan.
Fortunately, Keir acted with quick, sure motions, cutting the barbed head of the bolt free of the muscle and working it loose. Once the little man started cleaning the wound, Thomis released his breath slowly. “I guess I will not be able to chase down rabbits for Fiend for a while, either.”
The storyteller did laugh then – mostly from relief, and tried to ignore the smell of burnt flesh.
Laurelyn gave Keir a quick smile of gratitude and settled into a slightly more comfortable position at Thomis’s side – though she left her hand in his grasp.
Nor was she in any hurry to pull free – despite the fact that her left hand felt a little bruised Laurelyn took comfort in the warmth of Thomis’s hand. It reassured her that he was alive and well.
“Maybe there’s a good seamstress in the next town,” she said with a weak chuckle.
He was more than a little surprised that Thomis was not affected by the spell. It had never happened before and never failed when he needed it to work so badly. He only watched as Keir sliced into the man’s thigh and Thomis hissed in pain, though only for a moment. He was relieved that the proceedure went quickly and smoothly and that Keir was an experienced healer. When it was done, Rudolpho put away the clay and muttered something about having to do something. With that he turned and started toward the edge of the woods.
Perhaps I ought to do something, Pierre thought silently. Of course, he had no idea how in the world he could possibly be helpful, and knew he should keep the job to those who actually knew what they were doing.
Besides, he reminded himself. They have been injured. I have not. At least, he amended himself. Nothing they could help me with. They have plenty of troubles. I will sit here. I must not be rude and bother them.
Daron sat up. The dizziness was still there, but bearable. She mentally cursed her rashness and clumsiness, both of which put her in the position of being unable to do the simplest thing. Master Keir wished her to rest. She wished she could go after Rudolpho.
If wishes were horses, peasants would ride!
“Rudolpho?” she called. “Please come back. I need you to get something for me.” Not wishing to intrude on Laurelyn and Thomis, she kept her eyes averted as she spoke, “Pardon me for overhearing, Mistress Laurelyn, but, since it’s my fault that Master Thomis was hurt, I feel that it is only right for me to make amends.” Daron winced at the unintentional play on words. “I mean, I could mend the ruined garment. I’m pretty handy with a needle…”
Her attention next focused on Pierre. An unbidden mental picture of a ruined letter, one of great import to the young musician, entered her thoughts.
Another casualty to my rashness, she berated herself.
“Rudolpho, could you please bring me my sack? I need to get some things out of it. Thank you.”
Now, how to best bring the subject up to Pierre…aha!
She called to the young musician, “Pierre, do you have anything that needs mending? I need to keep busy while I’m resting…anything at all…?” she added sheepishly.
Laurelyn only caught a part of Daron’s question. The storyteller’s attention was mostly taken by the quiet but grave conversation she was having with Thomis.
Pierre gulped, and considered. He supposed he could say his heart, but that was purely ridiculous. How could she mend that? Only Ana’s wellness could be so, and that appeared not to be.
“No,” he lied, thinking of the letter. Were that the letter whole again! Yet, that would involve revealing more than he cared to do so. It was obvious that Daron had at least seen the image of Ana, but had she seen any more? He hoped not. He didn’t want to bother her-or the others-unnecessarily. They had been through enough already. Also, he wanted to keep his grief to himself, as best he could, at least temporarily. “Nothing of urgency, at least,” he whispered to himself.
He turned when Daron called him. I have to go back and help her. She is injured. That doesn’t change things though. He returned to her side and retrieved her pack for her. “Ummm..here you go. I hope you’re feeling better. He stood by to see what it was that she needed out of her pack. She might need something else. “Do you need me to get anything else for you?”
Daron grinned at Rudolpho.
“Thank you, Rudolpho. You’re a great help to me! I think what I need to fix what’s broken is in here…” She rummaged through the sack and pulled out a small black lacquer box and a sheath of rice paper. “Found them!” she declared happily. “My mending kit and kaboodle.” Daron motioned for Rudolpho to come closer, wincing at the motion. She was reluctant to shout. “I could use a hug,” she whispered shyly.
And so could you, Rudolpho, by the looks of it…
Daron didn’t mind being devious, if it was for a good cause. Like this certainly was…
He had noticed the wince when Daron had motioned him over. Consequently, the quick hug he gave her was a gentle if half-hearted one. He felt a little better, but the consequences of his actions and poor performance in the battle weighed heavily on him. She’ll be busy in a minute. He picked up a twig and began to trace little designs in the dirt.
Keir glanced over at Brendan as he squatted down by Daron and Rudolpho. He was pleased to see that Brendan’s eyes were open, though they were unfocused, as that was a sign that he was on his way back to them. He smiled and winked at Rudolpho. Although the young thief had balked at taking orders, he had tended to Daron anyway and Keir suspected there was an honorable core inside the little miscreant. He also wondered if there was more to that doll business after Rudolpho’s testy reply and the one he made for Thomis. “So how’s our patient, Rudolpho? She looks much better.”
Satisfied that Daron was recovering and in safe hands, Keir approached Pierre, noting his withdrawn posture. “Pierre? Are you injured?”
“A bit,” Pierre replied honestly, putting his hand up to his cheek, somewhat surprised feel a sticky fluid, beginning to dry. He had been aware that he was shot, but had almost forgotten it. “It is not serious, nor of any important consequence, though,” he added.
Laurelyn gave Thomis’s hand one more hard squeeze before she got stiffly to her feet. The Oathbound seemed to be resting while the storytelling moved off – and soon returned with his horse.
No expression showed on Laurelyn’s face as she checked the steady animal over and adjusted the saddle. She met Thomis’s calm eyes as she helped him to his feet and held his horse while he cautiously swung himself to the saddle. “Safe winds,” she murmured before he rode off down the path – the deepening shadows quickly cloaking him.