Samhain night, twelve years before the Golden Army...
When he heard the thunder of the Wyld Hunt on the cold autumn wind, Wink knew Nuada had chosen an ill time to harass the hunters who had been poaching in the patch of oak forest they had called home for the last moon. He tried to tell the Sidhe prince of this, but Nuada was having too much fun mocking them at every turn. All the Troll could do was shake his head and follow his oldest friend into the breach, perhaps keeping him from doing something stupid; like taunting one of the bastards who still clung to his loaded rifle.
The pitched battle was somewhat amusing for Wink to watch, even to the point that he'd forgotten two of the hunters they were taunting had guns. It was a single shot from one of those guns that set the wheels of fate in motion. Nuada had even laughed at the poacher who took aim and pulled the trigger, but even the fastest Sidhe can't outrun a speeding bullet.
The report was loud to Wink's ears, even as a look of horror and shock came to Nuada's golden-white features. The hunters took that moment to begin closing in on them, looks of malicious glee upon their faces. The troll braced himself for a fight; he'd never let them have his prince and he'd take a few of them with him if he fell.
Before the Hunters could close in more that an arm's length, a slim figure in a molted gray cloak dropped from the tree behind the hunters. One of hunters went down with a sharp cry, his throat slit. A second such form dropped between Wink and the hunter who had shot the prince.
"Go, now…" The figure hissed, charging forward.
Wink didn't hesitate, he gabbed the still stunned Sidhe prince and fled deeper into the mists.
At first Wink thought the shot had been deflected by the ancient armor Nuada wore. However, his collapse shortly after fleeing their former prey, told the Troll that Dragon hide and bone did not stop modern bullets. Now carrying his stricken prince, he was thankful to whoever had drawn the hunters' attention away from them.
In a clearing a mile from where the prince had been shot…
An ancient Sidhe warrior gathered with three others in shaded gray cloaks, listening to a young scout report upon the prince and his troll companion.
"…The prince and Lord Wink are away…" The scout said. "The prince was injured, one of the humans got in a lucky shot…"
The ancient Sidhe turned to the scout, indicating he wished to hear more.
"The Troll did not see you following." The Elder Sidhe asked.
"No, and it will take better ears than Lord Wink's to hear me."
"As it should be…" A sigh, "Make sure they find shelter and that Jaeren and the pearl find them. I wish her to set eyes upon the prince, before she is set to her task…"
"It will be easy enough, they are near on the same road. The pearl and her escort should catch up to them some time after dusk."
The elder nodded, setting two of his companions to carry out their tasks. The young scout also bowed and turned to another task. His remaining companion moved close not wanting to be over heard.
"…You worry overmuch, Silverhand…"
The ancient Sidhe turned frowning; few knew him by that name. His companion was one of the very few who could call him by it and not end up with their guts spilling at their feet.
"Nuadda Silverhand died under the blade of Balar of the evil eye, along with his bodyguard," he said. "It would do you well to remember that…"
The other Sidhe let out a sigh; the past was a sore subject for his friend.
"Lochain then…" his companion said. "Haladar and his enclave will welcome them as planed. There will be enough time for the High King's wish to be granted."
Lochain nodded, too many hopes rested upon the events of this night.
"For all our sakes, I hope this is true." Then his voice went softer. "Survive my namesake…survive until she reaches you."
Both men then turned to continue pursuit of the poachers; they would pay in kind for the royal blood they had spilled.
The well-concealed hut that came into view told Wink they were close to an enclave, but too far to reach before day's end. He crossed the threshold just as the last rays of sun were touching the Horizon.
It is not a good night to travel, Wink thought as he carried his unconscious, bleeding burden inside. Not with one inching so close to the veil…
The sound of the Gabriel Hounds faded behind the door as he laid his prince upon the cot nearest the hearth. The bleeding had to be stopped before they could continue on to the enclave and its healers.
He built a fire to warm the hut before striping Nuada's damaged armor off his limp form. The black silk beneath was sodden with blood and the flesh was dark with bruising where the projectile had torn through pale flesh. There was no matching wound; the bullet hadn't left his body. This was not good, for more than one life depended on the prince's survival; namely the princess Nuala.
With a trembling sigh, Wink pushed aside his fear for his friend's survival and went to search the shelves for medical supplies. If the hut were truly a Way Station, there would be some kind of useful supplies. If there were none, well it would not be the first time that any spare cloth went to bandage a wound.
The shelves turned out to have everything he needed, as if such an emergency was expected. He said a silent thanks to whoever had last stocked the shelves; their foresight was a godsend. There was everything from wadding to pack the wound to vials of simple painkillers and jars of antiseptic powders. He took what he needed and returned to his prince, fearful he would be too late.
As he bound the wound, Wink said a silent prayer to the Gods of Healing that the prince would live until dawn. He frowned when dark blood began to stain the tightly wrapped linen. His prince lived, but he feared not for much longer.
On the road…
Three riders kept speak despite the rapidly darkening sky. The cries of the Gabriel Ratchets were sharp in the air to any who had ears. The Wyld Hunt was abroad and riding hard in the chill sky behind its pack of phantom hounds. One of the riders stops and scans the terrain while the others pull up beside him.
"…There is shelter not far from here, Lord Jaeren…A warm fire will no doubt insure the Pearl's health…"
The middle rider nodded, "The damp air does her voice no good…"
He worries for my voice when I have endured worse than a little damp in my lessons, thought the subject of their conversation, My "father" would only notice such things if it cost him coin. Gods, I wish…
The escort's voice cut through any other thoughts she had along that trail.
"…Do you wish to camp here, little pearl?" Their escort asked. "The sky grows dark and it would be best not to attract attention…"
"No." She said, pulling herself from her thoughts. "I heard shelter mentioned and I do not wish to be caught in the Hunt's wake…"
The escort grinned, "As the lady singer Wishes…"
She knew Jaeren was not happy with her answer, he wanted out of his saddle before his ass chafed. She had no such qualms as to what she wanted, the sound of the hunt was getting louder and she did not wish to meet the huntsman.
Another year, she thought when the look he gave her promised a portion of his wrath. I will be a journey-woman, and no need of a watcher, let alone my "Father" and his false concern.
They continued on, with the hound's bay urging them forward.
A short while later…
Wink froze at the sound of horses being reigned in outside the small hut, had the huntsman finally come for his prince? He braced himself as the door flew open to admit three cloaked figures. One was dark cloaked, the other two in shaded gray. No riders of the hunt were these, only travelers. One of the gray-cloaked ones was smaller; Wink's sharp nose said it was a young female. He also smelled sweat and anger from the other one.
"…Be thankful we found shelter, or I would…" Jaeren hissed as he slammed the door behind him.
It took them a few moments to notice the hut's other occupants.
"What in the nine hells is a Troll doing out of the tunnels…"
The dark cloaked one moved to shield the female, as a blade was drawn. The female gasped when Wink moved aside to reveal Nuada.
"Peace…" Wink said in road tongue and signs. "We sought only shelter, my lord is injured…"
The dark cloaked one sheathed his sword as the larger gray cloaked one pulled back his hood. Silver-blond hair spilled over sharp pointed ears, and a whiff of goblin struck Wink's nose despite the male's Sidhe appearance.
"I see…" He turned to the female. "Go and see to the Sidhe lord, and tell me the extent of his wounds…"
The female nodded and pulled back her hood. Dark waves spilled forth, Wink caught the scent of wild Flowers as she passed. A shadow of a memory brushed across his mind, the scent was familiar but elusive. She paused a moment as if she too had the same reaction to him before going on to see to the prince.
The Girl knelt beside the cot and used gentle fingers to lift the bandages to inspect the wound. The prince made a breathless sound but did not wake as she probed the damaged flesh.
"The wound is deep…from a gun…damage inside, bleeding…" Green eyes turned to them. "…Weak…dying."
"Go get my kit from the saddle bags, I will probe for the bullet…"
The girl nodded and rose, hurrying out to where the horses were tied out of the weather.
Wink near knocked the male over for his tone, but retrieved more bandages from the shelves as the girl returned.
More light globes were lit, brightening the space. The elder motioned the girl to stand beside the cot.
"…Come and observe, Little Pearl." He said. "You may have to do this one day."
The girl came close to observe, Wink thought he saw a look of annoyance on her face as if she had already done such a task before.
The elder made a hissing noise as the sodden bandages were cut away. Strong hands set themselves on either side of the wound, as the elder took a soft breath. What happened next would haunt Wink for the rest of his life,
A note, clear and sustained issued from the elder's lips. A counter note from the girl joined it. Nuada seemed to wake and a scream tore from his throat as a flattened cylindrical object tore out of the wound. The notes died and the elder removed his hands, the small object in his fingers.
"He will live, but you must bring him to the nearest enclave. The wound will not heal on the road." The elder said. "You may travel with us if you wish…"
Wink shook his head, but indicated he would follow close behind them. He would not have minded travel with the escort or the girl, but the elder singer was a pompous ass. The elder nodded and went out to retrieve the bedrolls.
"Stay with him, Little Pearl, he may wake…"
The girl nodded, turning to study Nuada.
As the others moved about in preparation for the evening meal, the girl began to study the prince fully. Wink watched her focus upon the Royal mark; her fingers hovered over the flesh as if wishing to touch. He had seen many women fascinated by it the girl was no exception. He turned to help the others, thinking it better to leave the girl to her explorations.
She pulled her fingers away as the troll turned to some task; she wished the Sidhe would open his eyes so she could see their color. She had long dreamed of a face much like his, save that golden-amber eyes were always narrowed in anger as he loomed over her.
"…Go take your dinner Little Pearl…"
She rose, turning toward her pack and utensils. She barely tasted her stew; her thoughts were focused upon her charge.
A short time after the meal, Wink made his way out of the hut sighing in the chill air of the fall night. The smell of the elder singer's annoyance was starting to irritate him. He turned to notice the escort tending a horse, the saddlebags held the royal seal. The seal was an indication that those bearing it were in service to Balor.
"…His Majesty sends his regards to his son." The man said, absently. "What regards does the prince return?"
Wing gave his report, concerned for the prince. Thankful, he'd run across one of the king's messengers so readily.
"You've done well Lord Wink, the fact that the prince still lives is testament enough." The man said. "…His majesty strongly advises you to encourage the prince to join in the choosing come Beltain. A bride had been chosen…"
Wink nodded, it was well past time for the prince to have a proper bond mate. He turned his head toward the hut; the girl was cleaning her bowl and utensils at the pump.
"…Life Singers, the girl will be spending one turning at Haladar's enclave…The Goblin-Sidhe is to see her settled."
Wink frowned. What were Singers doing traveling to an enclave? Never mind they rarely left their guildhalls without being paid their weight in gold.
"The Girl's blood father lives on enclave lands, he wished to see her before the guild grants her journey-woman status." The man said. "The Market guild raised her, The Goblin-Sidhe is her master…"
Wink nodded, it was not uncommon for a master to claim parental rights to an apprentice. He had seen it in the many long years with Nuada.
"We will be leaving at dawn, hopefully you shall follow shortly after…"
Wink made a sound of agreement as he turned back into the hut.
Late that night…
Nuada stirred, he did not need to open his eyes to know that Wink had found them shelter. The dull ache in his chest made it hard to focus, his last memory had been of a speeding projectile slamming into his flesh. When he made the effort to open his eyes, his blurred vision showed him a dream.
How fitting, he thought, a Beansidhe to sing me across the veil…
A gentle touch to the mark on his temple, and a pause to the song that now soothed the ache in his chest.
His eyes drifted closed and he faded into sleep with the Beansidhe's song.
Wink was startled awake after moonrise to see the girl kneeling beside Nuada's bed. The haunting sound drifted to him. This too would haunt him for the rest of his days. The eerie song was oddly comforting, soothing the weary parts of his soul. Letting out a sigh, he turned back to sleep and the girl to her task.
Wink was up well before dawn to aid the two singers and their escort in saddling their horses. The young Singer's song still lingered in his mind. Lifting the girl's saddle, he saw an ornate hilt half covered by the bag's flap. He set the saddle upon the horse and tightened the girth, there were many reasons one would carry a blade upon the road and he had learned long ago not to ask.
"…Our invitation to travel with us still stands." The escort said. "The prince could be tended better and you are more than welcome to travel with us."
Win refused, the Singer needed no more attention. He indicated he and his liege would follow in their wake. The escort tucked the blade deeper into the bag before the elder Singer could see it.
"…It is unwise to leave such things exposed." The man said as the girl approached. "One would mistake you for an assassin, little Pearl."
"I will be mistaken for many things." She said, softly. "Like now, I am mistaken for a simpering girl…"
Both Wink and the escort looked over at the Goblin-Sidhe. The escort made a noise as he aided the girl into the saddle and watched her take a proper seat.
"Anyone with proper eyes would not mistake you for that…" The man said, and then turned to Wink. "We will bring news of your arrival to the healers of the enclave…"
Wink nodded as the escort swept into his own saddle and led the two singers down the road.
Wink watched them go, intrigued by the girl. He turned into the hut to change the bandages and prepare to travel on behind the singers and their escort. It was not until he was packing up their belongings that he noticed the prince's damaged armor in plain sight. The royal seal was unmistakable. He was fortunate neither the escort nor the elder singer had mentioned it, perhaps knowing whom they sheltered with the night before. The morning mist had cleared by the time he had the prince dressed for travel and their belongings packed. With a weary sigh, he hefted his burdens and made his slow way to the enclave and sanctuary.