"Go!" As his sister's horse bolted, Branaric Astiar turned his own into the path of the oncoming riders, trying to simultaneously distract them, block them from pursuing Mel, and show that he was not fleeing. He watched as her terrified horse carried her up the path, and held his breath as arrows flew over her head, all of them missing her. Through the burning pain in his back, he heard pounding hoofbeats hard behind him, and as two riders swerved around him to after Mel, he deliberately nudged his horse into the mount of the one in front. The man swore, and ripped his sword from its sheath, bringing it down in a vicious blow towards Bran's neck. Somehow, he managed to get his own rapier clear of its saddle-sheath in time to ward the blade, but the blow sent pain jarring across his whole body. He gasped, and his sword fell from numb fingers. I'm sorry, Mel, he thought as he waited for death.
More shouts from the road beyond, and when the blow never came he turned his head to look. Warriors in blue and black and white were attacking the greeners from behind, and his assailant had ridden back to help his comrades. But the Renselaeus equerries were better trained, and had the element of surprise; after a few moments, Bran had the presence of mind to nudge his horse into the tree line, out of range of arrows, as he watched the battle through a haze of pain.
Even before it had ended, two equerries approached him and flanked him. "Can you ride, Lord Branaric?" the woman asked with a bow.
"Think—so," he gritted out, his breath coming in short gasps as he used his left hand to clumsily guide his horse. "Where—to?"
The man gestured through the trees. "This way, if you please."
They flanked Bran closely, supporting him and helping him stay in the saddle; even so, the world dimmed before his eyes, and the passage of time seemed curiously slow. Warm blood ran down his torso and dripped down his leg, so that he left a trail of dark spots as he rode. Their pace was out of necessity so slow that ere they had gone very far, pounding hoof beats sounded behind them. Bran tried to twist around to see who it was, but the pain kept him from turning more than halfway.
"Do not fear," said the woman. "It is our own forces."
Soon they were surrounded by Renselaeus warriors; at least a full riding, and probably two, Bran thought, not sure whether he was counting accurately or seeing double. A brief conversation flowed around him, that seemed to pertain to the state of his wound, but he couldn't quite follow it. But they must have reached some sort of agreement, for the next moment someone reined his horse in, and strong, gentle hands were lifting him down from the saddle. Still, fresh fire blossomed from his shoulder, and he bit his lip to keep from swearing.
Somehow they got him off his horse and helped him stumble into a hastily-erected tent, where a young healer with short brown hair was waiting. But something urgent was nagging at his mind, and he croaked, "Mel. Got to go after Mel."
"Not now," the healer said. "Lay down." She helped him onto the low camp cot, and held a cup of tea to his mouth. As he swallowed, he tasted the bitterness of sleep herbs, and very soon the pain, along with all other sensations, faded.
Mistress Kylar washed her hands, checked on her unconscious patient one last time, and then left the tent, making sure to fasten the flap behind her. She didn't want any flies in the tent; the highland chill should keep them away, but she wasn't taking any chances.
His Grace the Marquis was talking with the riding captains; as she approached, they bowed and dispersed. "The Astiars have a remarkable affinity for injury, my lord," she ventured.
The shadows at the corner of his mouth deepened. "How is he?"
"He will survive and should heal quickly, Your Grace, though he will be in pain and unable to use his arm for some time."
"Can he be moved?"
"If he must," she said reluctantly. "He is unconscious now and would not feel it."
The Marquis nodded once, and she bowed and turned away to make sure her own mount was in order. Then she quickly rolled her healing supplies into the precious cloths bespelled to keep away sickness and packed them in her saddlebags.
She rode side-by-side with the Renselaeus warrior who carried the unconscious lord, and she did not have to warn him to be careful of the shoulder. There was not much of a family resemblance between the Count of Tlanth and his sister, she thought; one was tall, the other short, and their features were dissimilar. Only their eyes were the same, she thought.
Lord Branaric stirred once on the trip, groaning, and she quickly dosed him with tea again. It took more than it should have, and he kept mumbling about his sister. Well, they're both stubborn, she thought. And both loyal to each other: she had been the one to dress the Countess's leg again after she had wrenched it trying to escape the camp in Tlanth.
It was not long before they arrived at the old, decaying woodcutter's shack, which would serve as the command post through the approaching battle. Kylar saw her patient safely inside, then went to replenish her supplies from the stock wagon. Fighting was coming, and she would be dearly needed.
Bran awoke to the smell of listerblossom tea, emanating from a cup held by the young woman standing by his bedside. She helped him to sit up enough so that he would not choke on the hot liquid, but even that small motion left him in strong pain.
"Where am I?" he croaked.
"Near the border of Tlanth," she said. "In the Old Forest."
"She returned back to Tlanth."
Startled, Bran lifted his head higher to see Vidanric standing behind the healer. "Danric! When did you get here?"
"The same time you did," the Marquis said drily. "If you're referring to my arrival at the skirmish, shortly after you were shot."
Bran lay back down with a groan. "What's going on?"
"Nenthar Debegri had spies watching in the inns for your return to Tlanth," Vidanric said. "I found out about them too late to warn you. The escort overpowered the men he sent and brought you here."
"Where?" He tried to look around, to see more of his surroundings, but the movement hurt too much.
"In the former premises of a woodcutter, which are currently serving as the command post for the army."
"Galdran is coming with his own men to fire Tlanth and kill you all," said Vidanric. "It seemed expeditious to halt him."
"Then… he knows?" Bran said, wincing. "About your conspiracy?"
"I believe he does," the Marquis said. "And much as I would like to witness his reaction, events require me to be here."
The healer finished changing the dressing and gathered the dirty linens up. As she did so, she said, "You're out of danger, Your Lordship, but you'll be weak for some time and you're likely to get a fever. Exerting yourself will only make it worse."
When the door—and it was a door, Bran noted, not a tapestry—swung shut behind her, Bran said, "How do you know about Mel?"
"Scouts reported her arrival. She was bound for Erkan-Astiar."
"Was she hurt?"
"I told her… to go back to our people," Bran said. "She'll probably stay… there until this is over."
"You discount the loyalty she has shown to you so far," Vidanric said. There was a wry tone to his voice, and he rubbed his palm absent-mindedly.
"What do you think she'll do, then?"
"As she believes I am responsible for your death, it is most likely that she will seek a swift and exacting reprisal, sword and knife in hand." he said. "I'm about to go to Vesingrui in hopes of intercepting her there."
Bran frowned. "Mel's not… stupid. You really think… she'll be there?" He took a deep breath to try to ease the pain.
"Breathing fire and hunting my blood, most likely," the Marquis said wryly. "Permit me to suggest that you rest before you exacerbate your condition, however." He stood.
"You'll be back… with her?"
"I very much hope so."
Bran stopped the other man as he reached for the doorknob. "Take…" he began. "Take care of her, will you?"
The Marquis paused. "As well as I am able," he said. Then he was gone.
As Mistress Kylar returned from replenishing her supplies, she was in time to see the Marquis mount his grey and ride quickly away with a riding as escort. "Where is he off to now?" she asked one of the equerries, who was carrying a load of debris out of the room next to that of her patient.
"Off to Vesingrui, for Her Ladyship," was the reply.
"Can't anyone in that family stay out of trouble?" she murmured to herself.
"Mistress Kylar?" It was Verin, the man who had brought Lord Branaric from the site of the battle. "The Count is up, and he's asking for maps. I thought I should check with you first."
"Apparently not," she said. Verin looked confused.
"I beg your pardon?"
She sighed. "Yes, he may have them, but I'll take them in. It's time for him to have more tea, as well." I'd better increase the dosage of sleep herb, she thought.
- - -
Author's note: My first foray into CCD fics for a while. How did it turn out? Bran and Shevraeth might be OOC. I'd actually planned to publish this separately, but realized it fit "Meetings in the Mist", so I compromised by keeping the title.