I can’t find it in me to relax. Not being surrounded by all these men.
We are on the road for a few hours, no one speaking, before Mikael rides up beside me.
He says nothing, but it is clear he has questions.
I, too, say nothing. I would be perfectly happy to ride in silence all the way to Quinteray.
He sighs and looks at me expectantly, probably waiting for me to invite conversation.
“If it’s alright, Maia, I have a few questions.”
“Congratulations,” I reply, still looking ahead.
“I’ll just ask the questions. Whether or not you answer is your decision.”
He pauses, I think waiting for an agreement, and when I don’t respond he continues anyway.
“Why did they come for you?”
I see Grayson come to attention, clearly listening, and I imagine the other knights are listening as well.
“A formal request from the villagers,” I reply, giving a simple answer.
“No, that’s not right. We made sure you would be protected. All requests from Boar Creek were to be assessed by the Kingdom.”
We ride in silence for a while again after that.
Them processing a blow to their knightly egos and me just enjoying the quiet. I was stuffed into that caravan for days while being taken to the castle and those men would not shut up.
Mikael falls back again, letting the silence continue as we ride and I let my ears tune into the sounds of nature around us.
My magic allows me to hear it all. The beetles in the ground beneath us, the flutter of a butterfly’s wings. The caw of an eagle in the distance and the delightful sound of deer hooves in the woods.
Before I know it, my horse is slowing to a stop behind Grayson and everyone is dismounting.
“This is as good a place as any to camp for the night. The sun will be down soon, but we have time to gather firewood and set up.”
I dismount, leading my horse beneath a large oak and dropping his reigns to let him roam and graze as he pleases.
“You might want to tie his reigns, don’t wanna look back and see he’s run off,” suggests Anders, reaching for the reigns despite suggesting I do it myself.
“He won’t run from me. Let him roam, I will call him back later.”
“Are they trained to do that?” Asks Mikael, looking to Anders who, if I recall, is the expert on horses among the knights.
“Not that I’m aware of. They are instructed for battle, not grazing.”
“I can communicate with animals, Anders. They may not be trained, but for me that is irrelevant. You can let all the horses graze, they will return when I call them.”
They all look at me with baffled expressions that I ignore, calling upon my magic to assist me in my search for medicinal herbs in the woods around us.
I start walking, heading for a clearing thirty or so metres into the bush where I can sense a beehive. I can take some of the honey and use it in my poultices.
When a hand grips my elbow, my reaction is immediately and involuntary.
I pull a knife from my arm sheath and slash the offending limb.
There is a pained shout, the grip on my arm is gone, and there I pull back into a defensive stance.
It isn’t until a moment later, when everyone is backing away from me with their hands up, that my vision clears and I become aware of the fact that I have just opened a long, deep, gash in Anders’ forearm.
“Maia?” Grayson walks toward me, an expression that could be either concern or pity plastered across his face.
I sheath my knives in a slow controlled manner that doesn’t betray how rattled I am by my reactions.
“New rule gentlemen: no touching,” I say, and the men nod at me in agreement. “I’ll make a poultice and tend to your wound.”
I move forward and take his hand away from the cut, taking a proper look.
I allow my magic to gather in my palms and let it flow into Anders’ arm.
“That will stop the bleeding until I return with the right herbs. Keep it covered.”
I turn and walk into the forest, knowing already where I am going.
“What are we looking for?”
Grayson followed into the forest, which I expected, but I also expect that he knows nothing of herbs and remedies and will not be able to help.
“I know what I’m looking for, so I’ll gather and you can carry.”
I stopped repeatedly on the way to the clearing, passing various herbs to Grayson and cutting strips of bark from the right trees.
It took me longer than I expected to walk to the clearing, and I gathered a lot more herbs than necessary, but it’s what I’m used to doing and it’s never a bad thing to carry extra supplies. My saddles are empty anyway, so I definitely have the room for it.
I head straight for the tree containing the beehive when we enter the clearing, having already scanned the area for herbs that I was yet to collect. The tree was dead and rotten through, allowing the bees to build inside the bark.
It’s more convenient when they are built like this.
I pull the long knife from the top of my boot and cut a large square into the soft bark. A large section of honeycomb, dripping with the rich, golden honey, was attached to the bark as I pulled it back.
After cutting a few thinned strips of bark with which to wrap the honeycomb, I turned to Grayson.
“I have everything I need, it won’t be a problem to heal Anders. Let’s go back.”
We walked at a much brusquer pace this time, getting back to the campsite within a few minutes.
I sat down with my back resting against the oak and set to work. I used my knives to carve bowls of some of the thicker branches that had fallen from the oak and the prepared my hers.
“Anders, come sit with me please.”
He came over without question and sat near me, watching me work.
I mixed the honey, the pollen of some flowers I had gathered and a mixed lot from medicinal herbs that I gathered, smearing it thickly onto a thin strip of alder bark.
I put it aside for a moment while I cleaned the dried blood from the outside of the wound and made sure that nothing had gotten into it.
“This may sting for a moment when I put it on, but it will only be a second or two.”
He nodded, letting me know it was okay to put this on him, and I went ahead.
I know how badly this particular mix can burn when applied, so I was impressed to see that he didn’t so much as flinch.
I pushed down, making sure the herbs got all the way into the wound, before summoning my magic again.
I close my eyes, concentrating on healing Anders, and let the magic flow.
I hear Anders gasp and wonder for a moment if he is in pain, but I know he isn’t.
I open my eyes when I know my magic has worked and watch the glow fade from my fingers.
“It should be healed now,” I say as I remove the bark, which is now completely dried and disintegrating after releasing all nutrients it had to give into healing Anders. “See, not even a scar.”
I smile at my work, happy that I was able to use magic that I kept to myself in the village, and examine his arm to make sure it healed all the way through, not just on the surface.
“Is there any pain?”
“Not even slightly,” Anders replies, staring wide eyed at his forearm. “That was amazing.”
“Thank you. Close your hand and make sure there is no weakness or strain in the muscles.”
He does, with me watching closely to watch for lingering damage.
“Nothing,” he says, confirming what I already know.
“Good, it means you’re fully healed.”