The companions have married, and head home to Astrid’s home, which is closest.
As they rode, they saw signs of fighting. The woods were burned in places, fields churned up. Homesteads were gutted and damaged, livestock killed, crops destroyed. A day later, they found a battlefield. Standards of her father’s army, and Revanth’s, littered the ground. Mounds of corpses had been piled up and loosely covered with dirt and stones. No one had tried to give them a proper burial.
Disgusted by this treatment, Revanth asked Alton to raise earth and cover the bodies before they were all torn apart by scavengers. Alton didn’t hesitate. He and Velda, who used her air magic, covered the bodies, while Revanth carved markers from stone.
Another day of travel brought them to the outskirts of the castle land. It was obvious that a vast army had passed by recently. Fresh manure and trampled ground, gave evidence to a large force. Soon, they heard the sounds of siege engines slinging stones and battering the walls of the castle. A group of dwarfs, laden in chains, were digging at the base of the wall. An overseer with a wicked looking whip, was in charge. If a dwarf faltered, down it came on the hapless back.
“Who commands your army?” Astrid asked Revanth.
“My father’s brother. I don’t see his standard, but that means little. Often when he travels with the army, he doesn’t fly his standard, for reasons of safety. Nor did my father. If he’s here, his tent will be centered and surrounded.”
“You and I will go look,” Alton announced. “Velda, please take Astrid to the grove of trees, find a stream. Ask the dryads and naiads to protect you. Whatever you do, don’t look for us. Is that clear? Send forest animals, or ask the trees and grasses. Promise.”
“How can I, my husband? My love?”
He took her hands, kissing them. “Because I am your husband, I ask this of you. I want you to stay in safety. Please.”
Reluctantly, she agreed. Arming themselves, Alton and Revanth headed to the battleground.
“You go first,” Alton said. “I’m your squire. Play the Prince to the hilt, and they will not doubt you, though you look like a beggar,” he chuckled.
“And you look so much better, I suppose?”
“Not at all. But I’m not supposed to look as good. Sword on hip, hand on pommel and don’t forget to swagger.”
Revanth swung his buttocks like an ample hipped woman, making his friend laugh. As they approached the outskirts of the battle, a sentry stopped them.
“Who goes there?”
“I am Revanth, son of Queen Melisande. Nephew to Prince Olster and heir to my father’s throne. Is my uncle here?”
The sentry blocked Revanth when he tried to advance. “How do I know you are who you say?”
“Take me to Prince Olster. If I’m not, you have the satisfaction of killing me. If I am, and harm comes to me—I would not wish to be you.” His smile was disturbing.
The sentry motioned to someone else to take his spot. “Come with me.” He led them into the camp at a quick pace.
They passed a medical tent where men lay dying—some screaming, others still. One young man lay with his guts hanging out. He was completely unattended. Flies crawled on his entrails as he whimpered. Alton stopped, holding up a hand to Revanth.
“You can’t heal him, surely?”
Alton shook his head, face solemn. “Can you watch him die by inches?”
“Do it,” Revanth said softly.
Alton went up to the boy. “I’m going to take your pain away.”
“Am I dying?”
“Yes. I can’t stop that, but I can make it not hurt. May I?”
The boy nodded, gritting his teeth. Alton laid a hand on his head, another on the open gut wound. The sparkles that cascaded from his hands were not gold, but a cold, icy blue. The boy relaxed, his breathing slowed, and he died. Closing his eyes, Alton made a sign of blessing over the mangled body. The surgeon thanked him with a silent nod, which was returned.
“Can you heal others?” the surgeon asked as Alton turned away.
“Can you heal any of them?”
Alton glanced at his friend, who nodded, inviting him to enter the tent.
“I’ll try.” He passed from bed to bed, touching and whispering. “Be prepared,” he told the surgeon. “It is not easy, nor is it clean.”
“But if it works, saves lives….”
Alton went out quickly. The pain and grief resonated strong in the tent, hammering at his calm exterior. He followed the sentry in a daze. Revanth helped him with a hand at Alton’s elbow. The royal tent was not as elaborately decorated as Alton had thought it would be. Slightly bigger than the others, it was the same muted rust and green of the others. The standard out front was small and low to the ground. No flags or banners flew, heralding Prince Olster’s presence. Alton thought under the circumstances, that was wise.
“I beg your pardon, Highness. A man claiming to be your nephew, waits without.”
“Show him in,” was the gruff reply. “And if it’s not Revanth, cut his head off.”
“As you wish, your highness.” He gestured to the two friends. “In you go.” His hand on his sword, he stood between them and the exit.
Prince Olster reclined on a bunk padded with cushions and furs. He did not rise when Revanth entered, but his eyes widened.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes