Chapter 37 - Kell
Kell slowed Zephyr to a canter as he rode through the first village that had been burned. It was devastating to see. Where houses once stood, there were only charred remains. They had spared nothing. Crows flew overhead and landed sporadically to pick through the ash like the scavengers they were. His warriors that had once lived here dismounted and stared at the destruction brokenly. He could see the hope they had carried on the journey here seeping from their bodies.
The second village was more of the same. The third as well. By the time they reached the castle gates Emmalyn was sobbing, and half his men had broken off. Some went in search of their families, others stayed in the villages to look for anything salvageable. Kell knew it was futile, but it gave them a purpose.
He and his warriors rode on, and the sight before him was just as devastating. Tents were set up as far as the eye could see. Food was being dished out to the soot-covered people, and huge barrels of water were scattered among it all. It was crude and obviously erected quickly, but it was effective.
As he passed, each villager looked up at him, and the sadness in their gaze almost brought him to his knees. They were losing hope, and he couldn’t allow that. Kell needed to find however was behind this because now they had attacked his people. It was bad enough when the threat was solely against Emmalyn and himself, but attacking the villagers was unacceptable.
Kell watched silently, not at all surprised when Emmalyn slipped from Beauty’s back and hurried to a young boy covered in soot. She leaned down and tore a strip from the bottom of her dress, then dipped it in the closest bucket of water and wiped the boys face. Immediately a line formed, made up only of children. Emmalyn smiled at each one, spoke softly to them, and cleaned them as best she could.
“Oryn,” Kell grunted. “Get her some clean towels and a comfortable chair. Pick four warriors and stay by her side. Let her continue for as long as she needs. I will be back shortly.”
Oryn nodded and Emmalyn gave him a small smile. It was forced, but it meant the world to him. Once more Emmalyn was proving she belonged by his side. Without hesitation she was jumping in and doing whatever she could to help. He was proud to call her his wife. Without thought he dismounted, pulled her tight against his chest, and kissed her soundly. Then he released her, strode back to Zephyr, and jumped back up on his back. He ignored the gasps from the villagers.
“Where to?” Behr questioned as he pulled up to his side.
“To find my parents,” Kell answered. “I need to know what all happened and I need to know what they have done.”
“I’m staying with Emmalyn,” Thane announced as he dismounted and moved to her side. “I can do more here than with you.”
Kell nodded, then swung away and directed Zephyr carefully through the people. The greetings he received from the villagers were subdued. The entire atmosphere reeked of defeat, and he hated it.
Kell made his way to the foot of the castle, and it was where he found his parents. His mother was assisting an older lady inside, while his father was looking on angrily. But Kell knew it wasn’t anger because of her actions, it was anger because she had to do it.
“Father,” Kell shouted to gain his attention. Both he, Behr, and Torin dropped to the ground and moved closer. His father seemed genuinely relieved to see him.
“Kell,” he huffed as he relaxed his features. “It is good to see you home.”
“Tell me what is being done,” Kell ordered, forgoing a heartfelt greeting.
“We are moving the old and injured into the castle. We have healers set up in the main ballroom where we have erected temporary beds. Food is being cooked nonstop and handed out, and we have barrels of clean drinking water throughout the camp,” his father explained.
“We need to clean up the burned villages,” Kell declared. “The ash will blow if we get even the smallest wind and make things worse.”
“I agreed,” his father nodded. “But our priority has been the people. The men you left behind have been busy moving the villagers here and setting up tents. It has taken all their time just to do that.”
Then he stumbled back as his mother took him by surprise and barrelled into his chest. Automatically Kell wrapped his massive arms around her and held her tight.
“It is good to have you home,” she whispered as tears fell from her cheeks.
“It is good to be home,” he admitted. “I’ve missed you.”
“As have I,” she returned as she pulled away and wiped her face with the sleeve of her dress.
“Are you well?” Kell inquired as he studied her small frame. His mother was only slightly taller than Emmalyn.
“I am unharmed, but my heart is bleeding. I am just thankful our people are alive. It could have been so much worse. It will take a long time for them to heal. Sometimes emotional scars can be more harmful than physical ones.”
Kell nodded, knowing her words wrung true. “Any word on who did this? Surely someone must have seen something.”
“We have been told the attackers wore black clothing and had their faces covered. There were no recognizable markings or insignias to tie them to a Kingdom. They came in quickly, torched the houses and stables, then slipped away. No one knows who they were,” his father huffed.
Kell was furious. Whoever was coming after them was skilled at being invisible. Either they were able to pull a lot of strings, or they had a goddamned army at their back. It made no sense.
“I’ll post men in every village. If another attack comes, they’ll be ready. I won’t let any others burn. I will also send out a party of men to track the men that did this. Hopefully they find them. The tracks shouldn’t be too hard to follow,” Kell grunted.
“That’s a good idea. However you only know about the three villages that were burned,” Kell’s father pointed out sadly. “It took a while for word to get to you and for you to travel back.”
“How many more have been burned?” Kell fumed. He grit his teeth and studied the grounds around the castle. How he had not realized there were far more than three villages worth of people gathered close by, he had no idea.
“We have lost four more. That makes seven in total,” his father informed him. “Although the last time some villagers suffered serious burns. It appears things are escalating.”
“Burns?” Kell questioned.
His father hung his head and refused to meet Kell’s anger. “Houses were torched with families still inside. No one was killed, but the injuries were severe.”
“Goddamit,” Kell shouted as he took a step back and ran his hands through his hair.
“I will head inside and see where I can help,” Torin announced as he moved towards the castle doors and disappeared inside.
“You must put an end to this,” his mother pleaded. “It won’t stop, and I’m terrified of what will happen next.”
Kell leaned down and kissed her cheek. It was the only comfort he could offer. “Tend to the people,” he soothed. “I will find the ones responsible and make them pay.”
Without uttering a word his mother turned and moved away. She had faith in him, and if he said he would find them she believed him.
“Go,” Kell ordered his father. “There is much for you to do. You are still King. The people need you.”
His father nodded, straightened his back, and also moved away. Kell was grateful. He needed time alone with Behr and he needed to think.
“Someone wants you to suffer,” Behr grunted once his father was out of earshot. “They can’t get to you or Emmalyn so they are hurting your people.”
“We need to move all the villagers in, not just the ones that have had their homes burned. More will be hurt and some could die if we don’t move on this. This needs to be a priority,” Kell ordered.
“I will gather the men, split them into groups, and we will leave at once,” Behr promised. “I will find you when we return and everyone is safe.”
“I will be going with you,” Kell announced, taking Behr by surprise.
“Wouldn’t it be best if you stayed here?” Behr questioned with a frown. “You need to be in the middle of things and you need to be close to Emmalyn.”
“I need to be out there,” Kell growled as he waved his arms in an arc. “I need to use my elemental abilities and find the men responsible. They aren’t far and will most likely strike again soon. I will be there when they do.”
“And Emmalyn?” Behr inquired.
“Is safe,” Kell huffed. “She’s on castle grounds and surrounded by my warriors and the villagers. It’s the best place for her.”
“I’ll assemble five groups. That should be enough to cover the Kingdom. We’ll head out in different directions and each group will have a tracker,” Behr explained.
“Sounds good,” Kell agreed. “The cleanup crews will be headed to the villages that were burned, so we can put all our effort into the other areas. I want all warriors heavily armed and ready for anything, even the cleanup crews.”
Behr nodded and moved away. With a plan of action Kell headed back to where he had left Emmalyn. He wasn’t surprised to find her surrounded by children, and it made his heart swell. He wished to see her pregnant with his own child. It was a foreign thought, and one he’d never considered before, but he did now. He wanted a family, and he wanted it with his wee warrior.
Kell strode towards her, and when he was close, he scooped her up. She squealed in surprise and the surrounding children giggled. Kell took her lips on a soft kiss. He wanted to show her his love, not ravished her in front of the children. She returned the kiss and clung to him, and he never wanted to let go. But time was of the utmost importance, and he reluctantly let her go.
“I have to leave you for a short time,” Kell explained as set her back on her feet. “I need you to stay with Oryn and the other warriors you are familiar with. Do not leave with anyone you do not know, even it is one of my men. I have no idea who I can trust.”
“Okay,” Emmalyn answered without argument.
“Thank you sweetheart,” Kell replied with a smile. Then he turned his attention to Oryn.
“Protect her with your life and do not leave her side,” Kell ordered.
Oryn nodded. “May the souls of fallen warriors protect you and give you strength.”
Kell turned away and headed for Zephyr. It was time to put his powers to use, and he couldn’t wait to do so. Heads were about to roll.