Ah, finally, she thought as she crawled onto her bedfurs, lit by the dancing fire. All of her fellowship but Fiorra had snuggled into their furs early this evening. The day had proven itself wearisome. Riding all day in the sun and wind tended to fatigue them. And she ought to be tired as well, but something about being out under the stars enlivened her, revived her, made her want to stalk shadows and sprint through the cool moonlight, lay in the fresh grass and stare up at the stars. She would extend her senses out and listen to owls hooting before they claimed their pray, crickets occasionally singing their contentment as they clung to a wisp of grass, nocturnal animals as they rustled in the leaves, foraging for food….
Emanuella supposed that much of this predilection for the night was an effect of her bond with Fiaz, who preferred to hunt at dusk. They had roamed the immediate three or four leagues together following dinner, content to be in each other’s physical proximity. When she finally could no longer stifle her yawns, Fiaz escorted her back to camp, pushing his great head beneath her hand by way of good-bye. He had yet to hunt, but would return to warm himself by the fire after he had gorged himself fully on an overly confident young galdor of note. She wished him a successful hunt as he vanished into the shadows.
Emanuella threw a last load of firewood onto the fire and placed her sword and belt at the head of her bedfurs. She began brushing her hair, a nightly routine she had developed now that it fell past her shoulders. The only advantage she found in its growing length was that it was no longer quite so difficult to tame, its weight pulling the tight curls into waves. She still would prefer to cut it all off, but her experience in Tillabeth and Terruth City had illustrated how blending in with the crowd was a boon. Although that would be hard to do with a zary’andu at her side, she thought, not for the first time. She wondered why she bothered.
Fiorra settled onto her bedfurs beside Emanuella, the last to turn in. Smelling faintly still of saddle leather and of an herbal soap she’d purchased at the Market, Fiorra remarked quietly, so as not to wake anyone, “Currying the horses is a much longer job than it used to be.”
Emanuella smiled in return, thinking of their five new horses. The boys would be busy building on to their stable once they returned home. She lay back and relaxed slowly, muscle by muscle, relishing the feel of the night breeze on her face, the sound of the fire crackling comfortingly….
A sigh from Fiorra caught her attention just before she drifted to sleep. Reluctantly, Emanuella opened an eye and glanced at Fiorra. Her eyes were closed but she didn’t appear to be resting, Emanuella mused. Her sleep had been riddled with restless tosses and turns since Terruth City. You’d think a Healer-in Training would have something to cure insomnia.
“All right,” she whispered to Fiorra, “out with it.” She flipped over onto her stomach and waited.
Surprised, Fiorra opened her eyes and stared back at her. “What?”
Emanuella smirked. “Something’s been going on in your mind since we left the city. Whatever you’re sitting on must be good because you’ve barely slept since.”
Crossly, Fiorra said, “How would you know? You’re asleep within seconds of your head hitting the pillow.”
“Yes, but every time you toss and turn, you wake me up. Plus, I saw you falling asleep on your horse today, it’s a good thing he’s Keltoi-bred or you would have fallen off him. And don’t tell me again you’re just excited over starting school in the fall. What gives?” Emanuella couldn’t help but grin at Fiorra’s fractious countenance.
Fiorra looked as though she were trying to decide whether to deny everything or give in – Emanuella hoped it would be the latter, she was too tired to stay up all night cajoling her.
Then a grin broke across Fiorra’s face like a wild wave, all at once conspiratorial, worldly, and juvenile. Emanuella hunched closer. This ought to be good….
Fiorra glanced cautiously around at the rest of their comrades’ sleeping faces and then leaned over. “I met a man,” she whispered, her eyes lighting up as another smile overtook her features.
Puzzled for a moment, Emanuella fumbled, “When?” A man? That sounded like an older man, a grown-up, an adult. She knew that in the technical sense of the word, she and her comrades were adults as well, especially in this world, but the two meanings did not mesh in her mind. Emanuella didn’t like the sound of this.
“At my Academy. He’s around my age,” Fiorra whispered.
Oh. That was better, then. She chuckled. “You sly dog. And I thought the guys were bad, spending all their free time at a brothel, while there you were, sneaking around all afternoon. What was it you said, ’why aren’t there brothels for women?’ Now I know what was on your mind. So what’s he like?”
Fiorra gathered the grace to blush. “He’s very nice. And he – ”
-- Awaken everyone! There are riders approaching, some six leagues away. They have trailed you and advance as adversaries. Awake! --
Emanuella stared for a moment before she jumped from her furs. A glance at Fiorra told her that Fiaz had sent her the message as well. Fighting panic, she strapped on her sword belt as she cried out to wake Gabriella and Dar, while Fiorra woke Ander and Rick.
She Looked through Fiaz’ eyes. She was only able to glean what his vantage point revealed as he tracked them stealthily through the trees. Her breath stopped – five riders – six, seven, eight! As they trotted through a moonlit glade that she and Fiaz had strode through only a mark earlier that evening, her heart thudded. They wore red uniforms with embroidered insignia, such as Rick described from his encounter this morning.
Breaking contact, she hissed, “Riders of Rumeth – eight of them! Three leagues away at a trot, still tracking us! That direction,” she pointed to the west. Hopefully, the tracks she and Fiaz had left earlier had confused them.
Fiorra and Ander were tethering the drowsy horses closely to the back of the wagon. It would be harder for the Riders to steal the horses if they had to untie knots, for simply cutting the tethers would mean acquiring a horse with a tether too short to hold onto. Rick drew his sword from his scabbard and began digging in the wagon for their bows and arrows. Dar already had his sword drawn and was studying the perimeter of the camp.
Gabriella, her sword drawn, muttered, “They must have enlisted a sorcerer to track us.”
Ander stepped up and said, “What if we cast another Illusion over Rick? They’ll have no reason to interfere with us.”
“Our Illusions were Sorcerer-class spells, as was the spell I used to cover our tracks from the lake to the tree line. They may still have a Sorcerer with them, so any spell we use we can assume will be detected.”
Rick cleared his throat. “Since I got you all into this mess, I can just take off through the trees. I know my way through the woods well enough to survive on my own, and I’ve got a good lead. When they get here, I’ll be gone and they’ll never know I was never with you.”
Emanuella turned to glare at him. “You’re not going anywhere.”
Dar cuffed him. “Idiot.”
“A brazen boy with a fatalist attitude,” Gabriella remarked dryly. “No, I think we should keep you in our custody for your own safety. Now, Fiorra, I want you with your bow ready in or behind the wagon. Be ready to use it, and you’ll have to, on my mark. Ander, I want you and Emanuella in of front the wagon and you boys, with me, in front of them.”
“Gabriella, what if some of us hid up in the trees and shot arrows down, while the rest of us fought on the ground?” Dar whispered breathlessly. “Fiorra and Emanuella could climb up and stay out of range while still picking off almost a third of their number if they’re careful.”
“Are we sure we’re even going to need to fight at all?” Fiorra asked in a small voice.
Gabriella tore her attention from Dar and told Fiorra, “We’ll have to fight eventually, small talk will not appease men who have tracked us this far. They have no need to come to the swamp-infested Illyth, certainly not eight of them for a misguided boy who made one of them look a fool over three horses. This, I would wager, is not crown-sanctioned. Expect a fight. Have your healing supplies ready,” Gabriella added. She then turned back to Dar, her finger tapping her lips as she paused in consideration. “Your plan – might work.” Her green eyes darted about the campsite.
“Fiorra, that tree, high enough not to be seen. Shoot only on my mark. Rick, help her up. Emanuella. That tree over there,” Gabriella stalked across the small clearing to an old, widespread oak.
As she tucked the skirt of her dress into her swordbelt, Emanuella felt some pride that they were using Dar’s plan even as her stomach constricted in anticipation. “And Fiaz?” she queried as she scrambled up the rough bark of the tree.
Gabriella sheathed her sword but kept it loose in its scabbard and tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Have him – ask him if he would stage his attack late so that it appears that he is simply hunting. If he scares them so that those left alive are frightened off with no doubt that the rest of us left behind are dead or doomed, then no one will have reason to return to this site for rescue or otherwise.” Gabriella did not wait for assent but returned to assist Ander and Rick with the horses.
-- Did you get that, Furface?-- she sent as she swung herself up onto the lowest tree branch she could find. She stood carefully and ignored the wavering of the slender branch, wondering how she was going to get into the crook of the tree. When was that growth spurt going to kick in, she wondered idly as she edged her way along the branch.
“Here,” came a rough voice at her feet. She didn’t dare look down, but felt Dar’s hands close around her ankles. “Ready?”
Emanuella took a deep breath and locked her knees. “Go ahead.” Dar pushed her high up into the tree and stood ready to catch her in case she fell as she clambered onto her new perch.
-- Half a league now. Worry not. I shall terrify them so that the survivors will frighten their grandcubs with the tale. --
Emanuella leaned down and relayed Fiaz’ message to Dar, who nodded shortly and hastened back to the campfire to report to Gabriella.
Settled in a crook of the tree, its branches and leaves cloaked her presence as Dar’s plan had predicted. She peered through the darkness and finally discerned the silhouette of Fiorra, perched high among the branches of a tree across the camp. Gabriella, Ander, Dar, and Rick sat down on the ground in front of the fire, attempting to look nonchalant though each sword and knife was loose in its scabbard. Emanuella slipped three arrows from her quiver and nocked one of them, holding the other two ready for immediate use.
-- They come, -- Fiaz advised.
Within seconds of Fiaz’s sending, Emanuella picked out the sound of horses hooves on the grass. Then several shadows rode into her view, trotting at a vigorous pace. The lead rider stopped as soon as he reached the verge of the firelight, careless of the dust his horse kicked up by its abrupt stop.
“Good evening to you and yours, tevner,” Gabriella said, an edge to her voice. Even from Emanuella’s elevated position, she could see Dar’s eyes glitter as he waved the dust from the air. Emanuella concentrated on keeping a target.
“Ah, here he is. You have concluded our search for us, yendra,” said the Rider, disregarding courtesy. “I am Captain Rorshad of the Rumeth Riders. You’re harboring an outlaw.” His horse danced closer to Rick in the fire, obstructing Emanuella’s view of Gabriella.
“I’m sure you’re mistaken,” Gabriella’s cool voice rang clearly. “This party has been together for several seasons. We are on our way through the Illyth to the Shemwith Coast where we will travel north to Pendymonon with goods from Spring Market to sell.”
“No, yendra, this young man is an outlaw, wanted by the country of Rumeth for refusing to aid the Riders of Rumeth and by the city of Tillabeth for obstructing and running from justice. Lieutenant!”
Another horse sauntered into the firelight. Emanuella was able to pick out a thin scar on the man’s cheek. She glanced at Rick, but Rick sat casually cleaning his fingernails with his boot knife.
“This is him?”
The Lieutenant reined in his horse and leaned down in the saddle to sneer, “I told you you’d swing, didn’t I?” Emanuella’s fingers tensed on her bowstring, afraid Rick would fly at the man, but Rick merely looked up at the Lieutenant as though he pitied him. She marveled at his self-control and decided that Gabriella had reined him in tightly before the Riders had arrived.
“That’s enough, Lieutenant,” said Captain Rorshad mildly. He signaled, and two men dismounted, approaching with rope. Emanuella gripped the coarse tree bark tightly with her bare legs as though she were astride a horse and drew back slowly, desperately fearful that her movement would be witnessed by one of the Riders below her. She waited for Gabriella’s mark and carefully put all thought of (killing) killing anyone out of her mind.
“Captain Rorshad, this young man is going nowhere. He is guilty of nothing beyond exposing your Lieutenant for the fool he is. And that you would give credence to his petulance only demonstrates your inappropriate conduct as an officer. You have allowed one man’s bruised ego to deter your entire company away from its mission into deserted, swamp-infested forestland in the hopes of apprehending one boy who may or may not be guilty of any crime. If all of Rumeth’s military conducts itself so, I pity its citizens that they must abide such puerility. No, my comrade goes nowhere this night.”
Emanuella grinned in the shadows. Disdain expressed thus went unsurpassed.
-- Had she not walked upon two feet, I might have thought she was zary’andu – came Fiaz’s mental rumble of approval.
Captain Rorshad, however, did not find Gabriella’s remarks as entertaining. His Lieutenant found them even less so; even in the flickering firelight, Emanuella could see the man tremble with rage.
To his credit, the Captain struggled for a moment to contain himself before he spoke. “Yendra, your pretty words do little to assist your comrade. Understand that I came with the intent of taking only him into custody, along with the horses he denied my troops. If you wish, I can instead take all of you, for aiding and assisting a criminal.” He waved curtly at the two men with the rope.
The two men yanked Rick to his feet. Emanuella held her breath, wondering if Rick would use the belt knife he’d been cleaning his nails with to plunge into one of his captor’s guts. She studied his face. He appeared to be waiting. She decided he was waiting for Gabriella’s mark as the rest of them were. One of the men easily knocked the knife toward the fire, as if it were nothing more than a spoon while the other began to rope Rick’s arms behind him.
Dar, Gabriella, and Ander rose together in one fluid motion.
“I said, my comrade goes nowhere this night.” Gabriella drew her sword. Dar and Ander drew theirs behind her.
Rick’s would-be captors paused and looked to Captain Rorshad.
“Very well, I’ve lost patience with you. Take them all, take the wagon.” The Captain waved his hand dismissively and the rest of the Riders dismounted.
-- Emanuella, an arrow at the Captain’s feet! -- came Gabriella’s command.
Emanuella didn’t think, she simply aimed the arrow and loosed it. It stuck in the grass between his boots. A cry went up among the Riders. Another arrow had appeared at the Lieutenant’s feet.
“Captain, now that my company has your attention, I think it best that you take your men and leave.” -- If the Captain draws steel, shoot to kill –- Gabriella added to Emanuella and Fiorra.
The Captain pulled Emanuella’s arrow from between his boots and stared at it for a moment. He peered intently into the darkness outside the camp, staring at every bush and shrub.
Emanuella’s heart beat painfully in her chest, sure that she would be discovered. No one in the camp made a sound as they waited for his response. A horse neighed nervously and pawed the ground. In the distance, a pinecone dropped to the forest floor.
Then he whirled and drew his sword. “Kill them all,” he growled.
Emanuella drew back her next arrow. The sound of steel being drawn all over the camp tore the harmony of the night.
-- Free Rick! -- Gabriella ordered as she quickly killed the Rider who had begun roping Rick’s arms behind his back, holding off the second Rider long enough to allow Rick to draw his own sword before running to assist Dar and Ander.
Emanuella aimed at the second Rider, a large, blocky man who was struggling to get free of Rick. Waiting, waiting…. She sucked in her breath as the Rider suddenly wrenched Rick around in place of her target – she had almost loosed the arrow. Finally! She let the arrow go and saw it lodge in the Rider’s back. Rick stepped back long enough to watch the man topple and spared no time spearing him in the back with his sword to make sure of the man’s death before moving on to join the rest of the fray.
Dar had dispatched one Rider and another lay dead with one of Fiorra’s arrows in his chest. Emanuella aimed for the Lieutenant, who was bearing down on Ander. Her arrow hit him in the shoulder as Ander ducked a swing of his sword. Emanuella quickly nocked another arrow and loosed it upon the Rider Gabriella faced, wincing as it narrowly missed Gabriella herself in a sudden dodge from the Rider’s sword.
And then Fiaz leapt into the campsite, roaring with a chilling, primal scream that tore the night. From there, Emanuella could make nothing of the scene below. She saw Dar run to intercept a blow from a Rider that was meant to cleave through Rick. The sheer force of Dar’s impact instead sent the sword glancing off of Rick’s arm. Two Riders, one wounded by one of Fiorra’s arrows, attempted to retreat, trying to mount their spooked horses. Fiaz roared again, panicking the Riders’ horses even more. Emanuella nocked an arrow, finding for once an unobstructed target, though her arm was shaking and reluctant to comply. Her arrow found a shaky destination in the man’s side as they sped away. Were they gone?
-- Daughter of the Soil. Welcome to you. -- Mild surprise, but acceptance.
-- May I fly with you as you hunt? --
-- As always. -- Soaring, gliding, windborne, elation.
She beheld a dizzying, moonlit view of men clinging to horses who ran without care for direction, so long as the distance grew between them and that which frightened them. Beaded sweat flew from the horses’ flanks, blood flew from the men’s wounds, cloaks rippled furiously behind them, and branches slapped their wild, wide-eyed faces and scratched their arms as their horses galloped out of the Illyth. She hooted mildly with amusement and flew in below the tree cover to perch on branch, ruffling her feathers with satisfaction.
-- These others you have hunted, they flee. They are wounded. You should attack. An easy kill. --
-- You are correct. But those I share meals with are wounded and require attention. --
-- As do you, Daughter of the Soil. -- Maternal amusement, mild concern.
-- ?? --
-- You hunt well, flightless one, but you must return ere you fall from your perch. -- Gently teasing.
-- My… perch! I must leave! My gratitude to you, my friend! --
-- Wind beneath your wings, hatchling. --
Hot, stinging pain lanced through her leg. She gasped.
“Emanuella, are you coming down or not?” Ander’s cross tone below her indicated that he had been waiting for her to jump down. The fight appeared to be over.
An arrow was embedded in her thigh. She stared at it, disbelieving. She gulped in air and let her bow drop.
She touched the shaft and saw the arrow glow. She fought to hold on to consciousness as she became lightheaded.
Suddenly Gabriella was in the tree next to her, holding up palm of light. Emanuella heard her suck in her breath and sigh.
“Emanuella. Emanuella, look at me. Do not touch the arrow. Do you hear me? Say something.“
Emanuella heard voices below her and wondered dazedly what she was doing above them.
A sharp pain needled her brain. She cried out in spite of herself. “Stop!”
“That’s better,” said Gabriella. “Now look at me.” She held her hand up so that the light was above them.
Emanuella looked at her sullenly. She was suddenly very tired.
“The more you touch this arrow, the more it will feed off of your energy, which is what makes it dangerous. It is an enchanted arrow. We’re going to get you down first, and that’s going to hurt, so here.” A small piece of wood was placed in Emanuella’s hand. “Bite down on this.”
She wasn’t sure how they got her down, for she couldn’t have been much help. She suspected she had passed out. But once she was on the forest floor again, Ander and Gabriella helped her back to the fire, where Fiorra was already mixing a poultice for her leg. Fiaz hovered nearby, licking his claws free of blood. He had a small sword cut on his side that he dismissed as negligible. Rick’s shoulder had taken a deep sword cut, which Fiorra had quickly cleaned and bandaged. He was already sitting on his bedfurs, staring drowsily into the fire. Dar was hauling aside the dead bodies of the Riders so that their camp was clear.
One unconscious Rider remained propped up against a tree, bound, though needlessly even to her exhausted eye. His wounds looked to be serious if not fatal. Two of Fiorra’s arrows protruded from his side, while a nasty sword wound seeped blood onto his scarlet uniform.
“Okay, it’s ready,” said Fiorra to no one in particular as she laid down her mortar.
Gabriella’s face loomed above Emanuella’s. Emanuella tensed, feeling the arrow in her leg move against the muscle as she did do.
“Ander,” Gabriella called.
“Wait,” Emanuella begged. “Let me sit up for this.” She took a deep breath and sat up. Fiorra pulled her back and propped her up against the wagon with a pillow behind her.
Dar joined them, having finished with his onerous task of disposing with the bodies. His face turned hard as he studied the arrow. “That’s no ordinary arrow, is it?”
“No,” Gabriella replied. “It is a leech bolt, a sorcerer-class spell.”
Emanuella forced herself to look at the foreign object lodged in her thigh. It was much shorter than any arrow. The head of it could be seen roughly outlined beneath her skin, a cruelly pointed head. This was the first time she had been injured since she’d been in this Land….
“And what does it do?” Dar asked quietly. His tone, though quiet, seemed to mask an underlying current of danger just below the surface. She tore her eyes away from her leg to stare up at him, but his face was passive. It must be her. She certainly wasn’t thinking clearly, after all.
“As its name implies, it leeches the energy from the person it is embedded in. If it is not removed within a few marks, that person dies.”
Dar’s expression did not change. “So the Riders not only employed the Sorcerer to find Rick’s trail, but brought him with them.”
Ander cleared his throat. “That’s him there. I took this off of him.” He took a leather pouch from his swordbelt and dumped into his hand several jewel colored crystals.
Gabriella’s eyes narrowed. “Shaliente crystals. Indeed. Erect a dampening dome about him immediately.”
“I already have,” Ander replied.
“So that’s the sorcerer there?” Dar questioned with a jerk of his head at the unconscious Rider slumped against the tree.
Gabriella nodded shortly and turned back to Emanuella. “I fear this will hurt much more than when we brought you down from the tree. Such is the nature of leech bolts,” she said gently.
Ander handed her another piece of wood to bite down on. She placed it between her teeth, heedless of the grit. Fiorra came to her side and laid shaking fingers on Emanuella’s leg, ready to remove the leech bolt under Gabriella’s direction. Ander gripped her shoulder by way of encouragement.
“Ander, I want you to watch this as well,” Gabriella murmured. “Emanuella, on my mark.”
Fiaz sent a rush of love to her as she tensed in anticipation.
New colors screamed around her. Heat froze her, ice seared her, birds screeched, animals roared –
“Bite down, Emanuella, bite down!”
Her leg was on fire. She tried to writhe, tried to twist, but strong arms held her shoulders, held her legs. So she bit down. Her breath hissed between her teeth as the world came into focus again.
“The head’s breaking off!”
“Careful, the other way!”
Another stab of pain shot down her leg, curling her toes. She sank her teeth deeper into the wood. Dar’s concerned face loomed in front of her.
“Just scream!” he hissed. He inserted his hand into hers. She squeezed it as fingers probed her leg, sending needles of pain lancing through her thigh. “Just scream,” Dar urged again.
(I will not scream! I will not scream! I will NOT SCREAM! I WILL NOT SCREAM IWILLNOTSCREAMIWILLNOTSCREAM)
“Don’t lose the head, you’re almost there!”
“Ander, hold her! Dar, help him out!”
The world became white.
Dimly, she became aware of someone taking something from her mouth.
“Emanuella, don’t pass out now, it’s over. Wake up, come on.” A wet rag soothed her face and the campsite swam blurrily back into view.
Ander whistled lowly as he studied the piece of wood he’d taken from her mouth.
“Another minute and you’d’ve snapped it. You must be picking up Fiaz’s habits.” He held it so she could see her own teeth marks. She attempted to smile but found that she could only pant in response. She turned her head and saw Gabriella and Fiorra busily cleaning her leg. The dabbing and swiping of the gauze on her thigh was incomparable to the pain of the removal of the leech bolt.
She looked up to see Dar staring down at her, his eyes blazing. Ander followed her gaze.
“Dar?” Ander asked carefully, suddenly concerned.
Emanuella had just enough time to suspect that all was not well when Dar turned on his heel. As Ander rose hurriedly to his feet, Emanuella heard the sound of the huge broadsword being drawn, followed by the sound of a wet thunk!
Emanuella sucked in her breath and turned to see Dar plant his boot on the Rider’s shoulder. His broadsword was impaled in the man’s chest and in the wood of the tree behind him. With one furious heave, his shoulder muscles rippling, Dar wrenched his sword loose.
Gabriella looked very much as if she wanted to say something, her narrowed green eyes flashing, but Dar’s own aqua eyes challenged her as he towered above her. Without a word, Gabriella went back to assisting Fiorra, though Emanuella was sure that they would yet have words on the subject tomorrow. Dar cleaned the blade of his broadsword on the dead Rider’s cloak and dragged the man off into the shadows.
Finally, Emanuella’s leg was poulticed and bandaged and she was allowed to crawl into her bedfurs. Fiorra, in her new role as Healer, insisted on tending to the smaller cuts, slashes, and scratches that the party had incurred. Gabriella tended to a few cuts and a bruise spreading on her shoulder from the pommel of a sword that would assuredly darken overnight. Ander had incurred a nasty gash across his ribs which Fiorra bound with doeskin while Dar had several slices on his arms. When some giggles arose over a wound of Derrick’s, Fiorra insisted on dragging him over to show everyone in the camp, much to his consternation.
“Enough already, let it go,” Dar tried to pull his arm away.
“Emanuella, would you like to see the fruits of your efforts?” Fiorra laughed.
Dar yanked his hand away, but Fiorra quickly retrieved it and thrust it in Emanuella’s face. Four bloody fingernail marks adorned his hand. Her mouth fell open as a vague memory of him allowing her to hold on to his hand for pain surfaced.
“Was that me?” Emanuella wondered aloud. Stupid question, she thought.
“I told you to scream,” he growled, though there was mirth in his face.
“Enough for one night,” Gabriella announced tiredly. “I have placed a protective spell about the perimeter of our camp and the immediate vicinity that will discourage both humans and predators from approaching. It is time to get some rest – we are all in sore need of it,” she observed as she fixed an eye on the already snoring Rick.
“They won’t come back, they reached the edge of the Illyth at a full gallop and kept going. As wounded as they were, with arrows in their sides, they will be fortunate to make it back to Tillabeth tonight without falling off their horses,” Emanuella said, not bothering to disguise the fatigue in her voice.
The camp was suddenly quiet except for the snapping of the fire. Fiaz had sat up to look at her while everyone else was staring at her. What had she said?
“Is this speculation on your part?” Gabriella asked carefully.
She sighed tiredly. She just wanted to go to sleep! “No, I saw them leave. One was wounded by one of Fiorra’s arrows and I shot the other one in the side just as they escaped. They ran the whole way to the edge of the Illyth and past.”
Fiorra cleared her throat and looked down, her brow furrowed. Gabriella merely looked thoughtful.
“Fiaz never left the camp after the attack,” Ander said.
-- Furless one, he speaks truly. --
“How exactly did you ‘see’ them leave?” Gabriella inquired.
Puzzled, Emanuella thought back. She remembered seeing them, saw them through another’s eyes. She turned and stared at Fiaz. “Are you sure you didn’t leave camp?” How else would she have seen the Riders of Rumeth leave the Illyth, some fifteen leagues away?
The tip of his thick black tail tapped the ground once as he regarded her steadily, and she knew her answer.
She looked at Gabriella. “But I saw them. How else would I have seen them?”
“Think back,” Gabriella urged. “What happened?”
Emanuella glanced across the clearing to the oak she’d hidden in, thought back to sitting in the crook of tree, watching the two men scramble atop their spooked horses. She had a distinct impression of flying….
Quickly, she explained what her experience. She was aware of Fiorra, Dar, and Ander staring at her in amazement.
-- Will wonders never cease, -- commented Fiaz dryly.
-- Jealous? -- she sent with amusement.
-- Of a bird? -- The sound of a derisive mental snort resounded through her drowsy mind.
Gabriella was attempting to conceal a pleased expression, but the labors of the day kept her from complete success. “You have the Gift.”
“The Gift?” Emanuella repeated blankly.
“Of Animal Mindspeech, a kyor’rishtan ability. A very uncommon Gift in these days. Undoubtedly awoken in you by your bond with Fiaz.”
“So she can talk to animals?” Fiorra asked.
“It would seem so, though to what extent has yet to be determined. But we shall speak more of this tomorrow. Sleep now.”
Emanuella needed no further encouragement.