Something Worth Worrying About
With a shout of alarm, the camp exploded.
The voice was one Lyn couldn't place right off-hand. She thought, a moment later, that maybe it had been Oswin, but then again, it could have been Marcus. At least it hadn't been someone from Caelin. She'd have known if it was.
It was just after dawn, and the lack of light was enough to send the camp into a writhing mass of confusion. Weapons were taken up, first and foremost—for how were you to defend yourself without one?—but boots and sometimes armor were left as nothing more than an afterthought.
Lyn's own pair of old, worn boots remained in her tent, temporarily forgotten as she scrambled about in the relative darkness. Fire would have been helpful to see by, but to her quiet relief, those that possessed the ability to weave it did not do so. Nino, especially, was quick to jump into battle to do her very best, but someone—probably Jaffar, she thought—held her back on that particular morning. If she happened to chant a fire spell, there was no doubt in Lyn's mind that the young girl would be dead within a minute.
As skillful as Jaffar was, Lyn was confident that even he could not defend the young woman if all their opponents came against her at once.
Perhaps they were being attacked by a small group of bandits, but there was always the chance that larger numbers surrounded them. It would be in their best interest to remain hidden.
Hector's bold voice was louder than the stomping and snorting of the horses, louder than the faint clanging of swords somewhere to Lyn's left, and louder than the voice of whatever poor, unfortunate man had sounded the alarm.
The sting of her face meeting her palm only left her temporarily vulnerable as she heard his voice issue a challenge. Typical of him, she thought as she pulled her hand away from her forehead, but did he really have to go and draw attention to his position? Of course he did. He had been itching for a decent fight for weeks.
She heard the camp awaken further as those who had slept through the first alarm roused at Hector's obnoxious insults and premature declarations of victory.
She spotted someone in front of her, and held back until she could tell who it was. It was hard to recognize everyone that had joined their group. After all, they had divided into nations. (People from Caelin kept to themselves, and the same could be said of almost every canton's individual people.) And sometimes, a person looked very different without their armor on or with their hair worn differently. It would be a terrible mistake to assume the person standing before her was either a friend or a foe.
They were a man, of average height and weight. Shoulders were broader than Erk's but not as wide as Sain's or even Kent's. As she crept closer, she filed away more information until she noticed the bow in his hand. Ah, of course!
"Wil!" she said quite earnestly, though with as quiet a voice as she could possibly manage.
He jumped and did a one-eighty before squinting to try and make out her form. "Lady Lyn!" he replied eagerly, and hustled over to her, scrambling around a sapling and trying valiantly not to trip over rocks. "Don't scare me like that!"
"Have you seen the others?" she asked.
He turned around again and pressed his back against one of the nearby tents. "I did see Sain," he admitted. "And uhm…Rath, I saw Rath."
But not Kent. A part of her was disappointed. She chewed her lip thoughtfully and listened hard. The sound of metal against metal still came from her left side. "I think the fighting is going on this way," she breathed, slowly moving toward it.
Wil's laugh stopped her. "I think I'll stay here," he said when she looked confused. "I'm not, ahh, much good at close combat."
She couldn't help but smile. "We'll have to fix that sometime," she told him, but left before he could respond.
Really, everyone in the group had their own special talent, and she wasn't so prideful that she couldn't see that. It wasn't like she'd ever be able to control fire or thunder like Erk or Nino, Wil was far better at shooting a bow than she ever would be, and Hector, as much as she hated to admit it, bested her every single time she asked him to spar.
But sometimes, she thought, it would be nice if everyone could fight in close quarters. As good with a bow and a quiver of arrows as Wil was, he had no real way of defending himself if he was attacked head on.
And that worried Lyn.
Maybe she worried too much.
Maybe she worried even more than Kent.
The thought made her shudder a bit. Well, if she was going to worry anyway, it might as well be about something worth worrying about. The lives of her friends and companions certainly were worth it.
Her bare feet hardly made a sound as she felt her way across the campsite. They did have a basic setup that they attempted to stick by every time they camped, but it was still difficult to avoid sticks and rocks and the occasional other obstacle. There hadn't been an especially good place to camp the evening before, and so the mountain forest became their temporary campsite. In the low lighting, Lowen had tripped at least once over an ill-placed rock, and Kent had walked straight into a tree. (Or so Sain had said. She wasn't sure if he had been telling the entire truth or not, but the red mark across Kent's cheek had looked suspiciously like that of a tree branch…)
She slapped her hand over her mouth to muffle a yelp and stopped in place to hop on one foot a few times after stepping rather unluckily on a sticker plant. They were quite inconveniently placed no matter what terrain they happened to be in. Just last week, poor Florina had sat down right on top of one.
Blasted bloody thing, she thought wriggling her toes experimentally before she continued on. The sound of swords meeting one another rang in her ears; she had to be close. Very close.
She listened carefully, but it did her little good. People said very little, if anything at all, and most of the grunts and growls she heard refused to register as belonging to any one person.
Suddenly, the sky lit up and a resounding crack filled the air.
Thunder, Lyn thought, and immediately pictured Erk or Pent before it registered in her mind that other people could also create such things. She heard the sound of feet shuffling through the grass only a few moments before something plowed into her, knocking her right off her feet. Hands and feet flailed as they pushed against her face and legs. Confused, she untangled herself from the, ah, person, and blinked.
He looked positively terrified. "I knew that was a bad idea," he said in a hurried whisper. "But he was going to skewer Lady Louise!" And with that, he scrambled to his feet and scurried off again, no doubt because his position had been given away.
Really, she'd have to teach him to climb trees. At least Wil could do that to help protect himself.
After another long moment, she managed to get to her feet again and she continued on her way, her hand gently gripping the hilt of her sword. If she held it too tightly, she could easily use it, and while that could be a good thing, it could also be a very bad thing. It would be a shame to accidentally slice off an ally's arm, after all.
The sky caught on fire as Pent—she hoped it was Pent, at least—cast what looked to be an Elfire spell.
It gave her enough light to see by for just a moment, and she was quick to spot someone who definitely wasn't from their group with their back to her. Without a word, she crept up behind them and in one fluid motion, drew her sword and plunged it through their back.
They crumpled without a sound. For a moment, Lyn's heart stopped beating as the dying man turned over. His face looked too much like Matthew's. She swallowed thickly.
It wasn't long before his heart stopped beating and she put her bare foot on his back and, with a yank, pulled her sword back out. Blood dripped from the blade, and without a word, she wiped it on the grass beside the corpse.
If there was one thing the battles she'd been in had taught her, it was that all too often, the enemy didn't fight alone. With only a moment to spare, she pivoted and lifted her sword as another came crashing down. It probably would have claimed her arm had she not timed it so well.
Her arms shook with the strength she used to force away her opponent's weapon. It was just a little too close to her face for comfort.
She swept his blade aside with her own and stumbled back as she noticed his other hand arc through the air, a second sword held in a firm grip. It barely missed opening her face, and he lifted the first again to attack, but paused there for a moment, mouth wide open, and then fell with a horrid gurgle to the grass.
She blinked in confusion but looked up to see Matthew grinning at her rather devilishly. Of course he'd be sneaking around. He was likely right in his element with the sun only barely beginning to peek over the eastern horizon.
"This one's on the house," he winked. "But next time you'll owe me!"
"Next time?" she started to say, but he left her before she could finish. There would be no next time. Internally, she fumed. It was bad enough to have been saved by Sain only three days earlier, but Matthew, too? She would have to do better.
Obviously, she wasn't trying hard enough.
She had been caught off-guard. Dual wielding hadn't been expected. It was usually a lot more difficult than it looked, so it was rare that a person would opt to use two swords instead of just one.
She continued toward the eastern side of the camp, where she assumed the bulk of the fighting was taking place.
The sky had lightened just enough for her to see an unfamiliar shape as it slid around the trunk of one of the many trees that surrounded the outskirts of the encampment. She drew her sword.
Her opponent was young, nothing more than a child.
He was thin. His clothes were rags.
His weapon was a long, thin sword, much like her Mani Katti.
Not so long ago, she had been naïve enough to ask Kent why it was that children fought. He was a voice of reason, after all; he never failed to give her his sound opinion.
The redhead's expression had been…perhaps a little amused, which she remembered as being strange. Amusement was something very rarely seen on his face, and at the time, she hadn't understood why a question such as that would amuse him.
Perhaps it was because she herself wasn't any older than the opponents she deemed children.
His brow had furrowed when he finally decided to answer, and after a few moments, he spoke. Kent never did have to say much—what he did say always held profound meaning.
"Some people will do anything for a bite to eat."
Had he been speaking from personal experience? She wasn't sure, and she thought it best not to ask. It didn't take her long to realize that some people would do anything for, well, anything, be it material possessions or power.
Kent's words from long ago seemed to echo in her ear as she lifted her sword to block a downward stroke from her opponent. There was no doubt in her mind that this boy fought for his next meal.
His level of skill was…surprising. It wasn't often that a common thief or bandit could match the trained techniques of Lyndis or her comrades, but the boy she fought parried and struck back as if his very life depended on it. (And really, didn't it?)
He pushed her away from the encampment, toward the west, until the sounds of battle were muted, and only the occasional crack of thunder or brightness of a fire spell caught her attention. She supposed it was best to move away from the others; while it would work in her favor if an ally happened upon them, the very opposite could happen just as easily, and she didn't want to be outnumbered if she could help it. The last time had not ended very well.
The rocky terrain left her at a bit of a disadvantage—she was the one moving backward, and so she could not see where she was going. She quickly tired of the game and as soon as she could dodge to one side to avoid an attack, she turned on the offensive, leaving her opponent no room to fight back. Sweat broke out across his forehead as he strained to block each of her careful strokes, and she continued to push onward; she would not relent.
Crumbling rock and a lack of grass should have clued her in on the upcoming precipice, but it took her—and her opponent—by surprise. The ground wore away beneath his feet, and with a startled expression, he dropped his sword and flailed, his heels slipping from the very edge of what originally looked like solid ground.
She barely heard the sound of his weapon as it landed beneath them; her eyes were focused on the boy in front of her. His arms seemed to move in slow motion as he struggled to keep from falling.
"Don't let your guard down, even for a child." Kent had said that to her nearly two years ago, when Nils had pleaded to her for help.
She swallowed and reached out for the boy's tunic, her left fist gathering up the thin material before she jerked him forward and pushed him to the ground, moving over him to stand with her back to the cliff.
The fall might have killed him. It might not have. Maybe it would have left him half-dead, vulnerable to the teeth of a mountain lion. Maybe his bones would break and vultures would pick at his flesh while he was still alive to feel it.
The thought made her feel sick.
He wasn't on her side, but he was just a child.
She pushed her knee into his chest, but lightened the weight when she realized she could feel the sharp bones of his ribs. She pressed the blade of her sword to his neck, but did not let her weapon break the skin.
He stared at her, his expression a mixture of horror and fear.
His eyes were brown.
"If you leave," she said, trying to sound as threatening as possible. "If you leave and don't come back, I'll let you—"
But she wasn't given the chance to finish her sentence. Maybe she should have kept Kent's sound advice. She shouldn't have let her guard down, even for a child.
Having lessened the weight she had been putting on his chest had given him enough room to push her away from him. He didn't have to push her far. She didn't have time to react before his leg lifted up and the heel of his boot hit her square in the chest.
The turn of events left her arms grasping at the scarce tufts of grass as she began to slide headfirst over the edge. The soil was dry, and the grass simply uprooted in her hands.
Her sword fell out of her field of vision as she let it go. The Mani Katti was important, but not as important as her life.
The teenager looked regretful, but soon steeled his gaze and gave her a helpful shove as he mumbled out a quiet, "Sorry."
Lyndis was glad that she didn't know how far she would be falling.
No doubt due to the adrenaline pumping through her veins, she felt little pain as she landed hard on the ground and slid down a rather steep slope before coming to an ungraceful stop in a patch of soft, cool grass.
At first she didn't move. Her eyes remained tightly closed as she forced the world to stop spinning, and when she finally opened them, she saw the lightening morning sky surrounded by long, green stalks and beautiful blue flowers. She squirmed a bit and grasped for the stems of the flowers, trying to haul herself up to a sitting position. The leaves slid off into the palms of her hands, leaving behind a sticky sap. The flowers she had crushed beneath her had left their residue on her feet and legs. Her body ached terribly from the fall.
The flowers themselves were actually quite pretty, and they sat in the shade of a tall tree, the roots of which appeared partially above ground. The soil was rocky, and her skin burned from where it had been rubbed raw or even torn open. It hurt, but it was bearable. At least she was alive.
Her eyes searched the rocks for the young man she had been fighting against, but she didn't see him. He had probably gone back to the battle.
Her feet felt odd, likely due to her fall, and she forced them to move. She needed to find her weapon and somehow get back to the encampment, either to help finish the battle or to join the others before they couldn't find her and started to worry.
Slowly, she got to her feet and took a step.
She only barely managed to keep her face from smashing into the ground.
Maybe she had broken something. She couldn't tell—her feet were tingling, and for that matter, so were her hands. She tried again. Her second attempt was a little more successful, but she ended up dragging herself out of the patch of tall flowers and onto the rockier, less fruitful earth by the base of the steep slope she had fallen down.
Her sword was only a few feet away, its blade dulled by dust. She pulled herself over to it and after fumbling with her uncooperative hands, managed to slide it back into its sheath. She would clean it later.
She turned her attention to the surrounding area.
Somehow, she needed to get to the top of the slope again.
The dry, crumbly soil combined with the rocks was unforgiving, and she only made it a few more feet before her arms, too, started to tingle with numbness. She tried to continue upward, but her hands refused to place themselves exactly where she wanted them to be.
As time passed, she made feeble attempts to reach the top of the steep slope, but she never made it more than a handful of feet before she would inadvertently find herself back at the bottom again. It was more than a little frustrating, and she grit her teeth in determination. She would get up there. Sooner or later.
She wasn't sure what was wrong with her. Maybe she had hit her head on the way down? Her fingers tried to find evidence of such an event happening, but she couldn't feel well enough with them to tell. She flexed her sticky fingers experimentally and found them to be uncomfortably numb.
She ignored it. What was a little numbness, anyway? Maybe she'd done her hands a bit of harm by falling, too. She gave it another try, and another, but each of her attempts ended in failure, and finally, with a frustrated sigh, she laid her head on her arms.
She just needed a short break.
The sun was bright overhead when the tingling spread again, this time to her mouth.
Panic might have set in had she not been so tired—and cold, strangely cold. She would have to try harder. Nobody would know to look for her so far from camp—and practically lying in a ravine, besides!
She lifted her head and scanned the area again. A hundred feet or so away, the grade of the slope was not as bad. Maybe she could pull herself up there.
She took a deep, though shaky, breath and began to move in that direction.
The craziness of an early-morning ambush left the camp sounding noisy even though the battle had been over for nearly three hours. Lucius and Pent had been called to assist the ever-energetic Serra and her lovely partner, Princess Priscilla, with tending to the injuries of the wounded.
Lord Eliwood tsk'd at the bandages being wrapped around Sir Marcus, and Lord Hector boasted about their glorious victory while his chest was firmly bound to cover what was most likely a stab wound.
Sain breathed it all in for a moment, but was distracted by the lithe form of the army's wildflower, Rebecca. He followed her to the smell of potato soup—which made his stomach turn, honestly—and Lowen—who looked all-too happy to see her. He gave them both a smile as he reached for a tin bowl and promptly filled it with the watery substance.
"It's not very good," the huntress said, looking apologetic. "Our supplies are really low."
"Nonsense!" Sain declared, scooping up an overcooked potato chunk and shoveling it into his mouth. It was painfully hard to swallow, but he managed. "It's delicious!"
His smile was hard to keep in place as the food settled like a rock in the pit of his stomach. It was tiresome to eat the same thing day after day. It was either dried meat or potatoes. Sometimes if they were lucky, they'd stumble across wild vegetables, but lately nothing of the sort had happened.
Funny how the meat was over-salted and the potatoes not nearly salty enough. He sighed as he edged away from the canopied tent and nearly ran straight into his old buddy, Kent.
"Whoa!" he said, lifting his food over his head. It probably wasn't worth saving, but it was better than both he and Kent smelling like soup for the next three weeks. "I see you made it through the battle in one piece. What's the rush?"
If Kent was embarrassed about having nearly bowled his fellow knight over, he quickly covered it with a stern expression and straightened. "Have you seen Lady Lyndis?" he asked, his voice as labored as his breathing.
"Is that a trick question?" When his friend threw him a glare, Sain realized that the question was most likely very sincere. "I saw Wil, and oh! Florina. She fought bravely today, didn't she?"
"But not Lady Lyndis?"
Kent's right foot came down on the earth in frustration. Sain doubted that stomping would solve anything, but it was clear that some teasing was in order.
"What's wrong? Heart can't take being apart from her for a few hours?"
This time, the redheaded knight looked confused. "What?" He shook his head. "Nobody's seen her, Sain. Nobody."
"Did you ask everyone?"
"If they were conscious, I asked them."
Interesting, Sain thought. "I'm sure she's here somewhere."
"Impossible. I've looked everywhere."
"Even in the—"
"Trees? Yes. By the creek? Yes. In her own tent? Yes. In the pile of corpses? Yes!" Panic was beginning to creep into his voice.
Sain lowered his bowl again and gave his friend a cheerful smile. It didn't seem to do much cheering, but he supposed that was understandable. Lady Lyn was most likely off doing her own thing, as she oftentimes did. Kent always had worried a little too much.
"I'll help you look," he said.
Relief smoothed a few of the stress lines on his friend's face. "Thank you." And then he was gone.
He supposed that if it was Dame Fiora that was missing, he would be just as worried. His eyes wandered over to her form as she lifted her pegasus's hoof to inspect it. The rocky soil had left several of their horses—Kent's own mount, actually—temporarily lame.
"Ahh!" he proclaimed as he drew near her, shielding his eyes. "Behold! A vision of loveliness! I bask in your heavenly glow, oh angel—"
She gave him a blank stare and he stopped talking to grin at her for a long moment.
"My serious companion and I are looking for our lost Lady Lyndis. Have you seen her?"
She straightened and patted the hindquarters of her white steed to send him over to where her sisters' pegasi stood. Frowning, she thought. "I think I heard Wil say that he saw her briefly today just outside of the camp."
He shoveled another potato into his mouth as he nodded gratefully.
She wrinkled her nose at him in disgust. "Again?" she asked, and then sighed.
He pointed to his food. "It's pretty bad," he admitted, "but considering what they have to work with, not unbearable!"
"Indeed," she said, and rewarded him with a small smile.
Oh, yes, if Fiora went missing, he would search to the end of the world for her.
"Well, my lovely Ilian flower, I must be going!" And with that, he gave her the biggest smile he could muster with the taste of the soup still lingering on his tongue and hurried away.
Worry was something that Kent felt on a regular basis. It was something Sain teased him endlessly about, but considering their daily circumstances, it wasn't as if his worries were unfounded.
Ambushes seemed to befall them weekly, after all, and there would always be at least one person who barely managed to survive the encounter. Last time that unlucky person had been Canas. The time before that, Geitz. The time before that, Farina.
The morning's battle had gone relatively well, all things considered. Perhaps the one with the worst injury was Lord Hector, which Kent found to be either miraculous or a turn of luck in their favor. Though Lord Hector had been injured, it was not too terrible; Serra had fixed it quite easily. It would be excellent if they could all walk away from that particular battle, but realistically that chance was low.
Which was part of the reason he was so worried.
With a sigh, he rubbed his still-stinging face and tried to think of where he had last seen Lady Lyndis. The evening before, Sain had snuck off, and Kent had thought to follow; if Sain wanted to bother any of the women, he could do so in full view of the others, and he had intended to tell him that after he caught up. His supposed boon companion had lifted a tree branch out of the way, but had let it swing back into place. He had no way of knowing that Kent was back there until he had given himself away with a muffled exclamation of surprise when the branch had snapped right into his face. Of course, afterward, Sain had gone to Lady Lyndis to tell her that he had run straight into a tree, which was not the case, but also not far enough from the truth for him to bother correcting his friend, who was really only having a laugh at his expense.
Embarrassed, he had left them both. He tried to remember if he had seen her afterward, but he doubted that he had. (He would most certainly not forget time spent with her.)
When Marcus's alarmed cry roused the camp early in the morning, the first thing he had done (after waking) was cross the few feet to where Lady Lyndis's tent was erected. She had not been there, and so he had joined the others.
After the battle, he hadn't immediately gone to look for her. She would have scolded him for not taking care of himself first, so he had gone to Priscilla for a small roll of bandages to cover what was really only a scratch just above his left elbow.
Afterward, he wondered at her lack of presence, and had without delay began searching for her, first by sight, and then by questioning the others. Sain had thus far yielded the only helpful advice.
He had already searched the outskirts of their encampment (three times, actually), but it would not hurt him to search again. He needed to stay busy.
His imagination was not especially interesting, but he had seen enough battles and enough injuries for it to make him worry ten times as much as he otherwise would. Perhaps Hector was not the most injured of their group.
Lady Lyndis could be out there, hurt very badly, bleeding to death, and if he didn't find her…
He shook his head to try and clear his thoughts. He would worry himself to death if he didn't stop thinking of the many different ways she could be hurt badly enough that she could not make it back to the camp.
Nobody (with the exception of Kent and himself) was bothering to look for the missing Lady Lyndis. This didn't particularly surprise Sain. Lady Lyn had a habit of enjoying alone time.
It wasn't as if it was the first time Kent had declared her to be "missing".
To the redhead's absolute dismay (and very silent frustration), Lady Lyndis had failed to appear several times. Though it was funny to see Kent panic, it hadn't been funny to see half the army (including Lords Hector and Eliwood) frantically searching for her. She had come back smiling cheerfully, and had tapped Wil (who had been looking under a rock, for whatever reason) on the shoulder with a curious, "What's going on?"
It had happened several times. That time, she had been sleeping in Merlinus's wagon. The time after that, she had gone off to pick berries.
And the last time anybody had bothered to search for her due to Kent's urging had been the time she had gone to take a bath, without (again, to Kent's dismay and frustration) telling anyone where she was going.
Sain himself had been the one to find her that time; Lady Lyn had been angry and embarrassed (but mostly angry), and Kent had been absolutely livid. Sain had tried to explain that it wasn't his fault that he had walked in on the (rather amazing) sight of his lady liege bathing, but that had only infuriated his fellow Caelin knight further, so he had turned to avoidance until the other man calmed down.
Kent's temper wasn't really so terrible, but there were certain things that pushed his buttons, and, Sain thought, he might have jealous tendencies. Just a bit.
The next time Lady Lyndis disappeared and the redheaded commander couldn't find her… Well, his questions were answered carefully, but nobody offered to assist him in his search. Sain was, even then, the only exception, though…he admittedly only pretended to help Kent look for her. In reality, she was sitting above them all on a tree branch. He might have bothered to point that out to his boon companion, but it had been fun to watch him search for her.
Kent's expression when her hand brushed the top of his hair as he passed beneath her perch had been the most worthwhile thing Sain had ever seen in his life.
Sain continued to sip at his soup while he assisted Kent in looking for their lost lady liege. She was probably answering nature's call or something equally silly, though even he wondered at the fact that only Wil seemed to have seen her. (Matthew might have known her whereabouts, but he had slipped off unnoticed as usual, and Sain wasn't about to try and track him down.)
As he passed by the side of one of their many supply wagons, something odd caught his eye.
Still carefully holding his precious lunch, he stepped closer and with one hand, reached out and caught the arm of a young ne'er-do-well that appeared to be rummaging through their things.
The kid couldn't be older than fifteen; he looked scruffy and hungry. He had no weapon on him, and that made him look like even less of a threat. In his hand was some dried, salted deer jerky, which he promptly shoved into his mouth, as if to keep Sain from taking it from him.
"What do you think you're doing?" He didn't feel like beating around the bush; they were in the middle of nowhere, which meant the kid could not be from any surrounding villages or farms.
He didn't answer.
"You were with those foul rogues we bested earlier this morning, weren't you?" He gave a nod toward the eastern side of camp, where Dorcas and Bartre were helping to dig a place to bury the dead. Since the bandits (or whatever they were) had been killed, the kid probably had no way to get food. But that didn't change the facts, did it?
He might have appeared relatively harmless, but he was still one of them, which meant…
"I'm looking for someone."
The kid blinked at him.
"She's about…this tall," he began, leveling his free hand over the center of his breastplate. "Long hair, foreign."
Even though the boy looked away stubbornly, Sain could have sworn he saw recognition in his eyes.
He sighed. "Ahh, the stubbornness of youth! Look, kid, we can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way. I want to know where my friend is, and you want some food."
That got his attention. "You'll gimme food?"
Sain nodded, "If you tell me what you know."
"Food first," he said, his voice cracking.
A few minutes later, he had gobbled down the rest of Sain's soup (which he seemed to greatly appreciate, which made Sain feel guilty about being tired of eating it), a raw potato, and even a few more pieces of jerky.
"Now," the armored knight said seriously as he looked over the young boy in front of him. The kid didn't look like he could take on Lady Lyndis—or even Erk, for that matter—in a fight, but one could never tell with looks. "Did you see the lovely lady I described to you during the battle?"
He nodded, swallowing the last of the food that had been given to him. "Yeah," he said, and for a moment, Sain's heart soared. That was good news, right?
"Where?" he asked, and then, "When?"
"A few hours back," he said, and then stood up and bit his lower lip. Sain knew the boy was feeling cornered, but the scruffy brat kept talking, so he listened. "On that side of the camp." He pointed northwest.
"Anything else?" Sain asked eagerly, ready to head in that direction to take a look.
The kid took a step that would take him the opposite way, and he took another before he paused, looking guilty. "I pushed her off a cliff," he said with a burst of courage and took off at a run, leaving the horrified, gaping knight behind him.
The loud, running steps that headed toward him could not possibly belong to Lady Lyndis, but that knowledge did not keep Kent from hoping they were hers. Instead, Sain barreled out of the trees at him. His friend was breathing hard and sweating, and the look on his face was full of horror and panic.
Kent's own skin paled to see it; he knew it was not one of Sain's many practical jokes.
He forced the terrible mental images that he had unconsciously conjured up as he worried out of his mind and took his fellow knight's shoulders in both of his hands before shaking him, perhaps a bit too hard.
"What is it?"
"It…" Sain struggled to pull in air. The man never ran. He never ran. Anywhere. For anything. (Except to charge to a lady's rescue, and Kent was not a lady.) "Lady Lyn," he finally managed.
Kent felt sick. "What about her?" He still held onto a tiny thread of hope that Sain was merely messing with him so that he could tease him about it later.
But Sain shook his head and chewed on his lower lip. "I found a kid," he said slowly, once he had his breath. "Stealing our food, the little thief. There aren't any villages around here, so I knew he had to be with the group we defeated this morning." He straightened to his full height, having finally calmed his heart. "He was half-starved, so I gave him some food in exchange for information."
Kent didn't dare press Sain for more information, but he wanted to. He was explaining just as quickly as humanly possible.
"He said he saw Lyn a couple of hours ago." (Kent let the lack of a title in front of her name, and the shortening of her name, slide.)
"Northwestern side of our camp somewhere." He took Kent's hands off of his shoulders, and let one of his own rest on Kent's, instead.
Bewildered, the redhead blinked at him. Why weren't they looking for her? If Sain knew where to look, why wasn't he already looking? Had she been captured and taken prisoner? Some people were not above selling women into slavery…
"I asked him if he knew anything else, and he said…"
The fact that Sain trailed off as if he didn't want to share the rest of the story made Kent's heart plummet.
"Kent, he said that he pushed her off of a cliff."
He felt as if the blunt end of a lance had been driven straight into his gut. "W-What?" he managed to gasp out.
The image of her body just shattering as it hit the ground came and fled in an instant. He thought maybe he would throw up the breakfast that he hadn't taken the time to eat.
Sain slapped his back hard to get his attention. "Get a hold of yourself!" he demanded, and it sounded strange coming from the man who never took anything seriously. "It was just a kid that said it. Maybe she didn't fall very far. Maybe she fell just far enough down that she couldn't climb back up. Maybe she's perfectly fine. We don't know."
Maybe the fall broke both of her legs. The thought was terrifying, but not unrealistic.
"We have to look for her," Kent said with a hesitant nod. He still felt terribly out of sorts.
"That's right. She might need us." Sain looked thoughtful for a moment before he spoke again. "I'll search the northern side of camp since it's not as rocky and I can cover more distance on horseback. You go on foot to the west and look there. If you don't find her, head north, and if I don't find her, I'll head west."
Kent nodded, but he hardly realized he had done so.
His chest ached.
Sain had been only gone a few minutes before Kent snapped back to reality and headed west out of the campsite.
Sain's plan actually was a good one. If Sain didn't find her, then he would find Kent, who might need his help (if he actually managed to find her), and vice-versa.
The further away from the camp he got, the rockier the soil became, and it wasn't long before there weren't any trees at all, save for a few saplings that dared to try and grow in the dry ground. He wondered if the steep slopes counted as "cliffs". He hoped that they did. The grade was sharp, but not terribly far, and most importantly, not a long fall straight down.
His heart pounded in his ears as he searched over the sides of rock faces, hoping and praying and dreading all at once that he would find her crumpled form among the loose rocks at the bottom.
If she had been pushed off of a real cliff—the thought made him feel ill all over again—then he could see how she would be unable to return to the encampment. But the slopes he found himself looking at would, at worst, maybe break a bone or sprain something. And he knew from experience that something so minor would not stop Lady Lyndis from trying to get where she wanted to go.
The view was actually rather pretty, with vegetation growing close to the bottom of the downward gradient. It looked as if the land stretched out for quite some distance. He could even see wildflowers.
Only a half-hour had passed since Sain informed him that their lady liege had been pushed from the edge of a cliff. He had seen Lady Lyndis himself only the evening before, but it felt as if it had been weeks since he'd last seen her face or heard her speak.
The sun was a little warm, and he pushed up his sleeves a bit for his own comfort as he searched. His heart still felt as if it was lodged somewhere in his throat every time he peered over the side of a crumbling rock face.
His sword felt heavy and useless at his side.
Finally, he approached what looked like a sheer drop-off from several yards away. He swallowed as he approached it. It was the closest thing to a cliff he had seen so far in his search.
The first thing he noticed as he peered over the side was the six or seven-foot drop straight down that turned into a slope that ended in a patch of blue flowers in the shade of what he thought might be an oak tree.
The second thing that caught his eye was the unmistakable form of Lady Lyndis, lying facedown only a few feet up the side of the slope itself.
"Lady Lyndis?" He blinked and then shook his head before he scrambled back a hundred feet or so before he found a place that looked safe enough to walk down. She had fallen quite a distance, but it didn't look too bad. She should have survived.
"Milady," he said as he approached her, and though it sounded stupid in his head, he couldn't help but say it, "don't worry, I'm here."
Her skin seemed to have suffered the worst of the fall. She was covered in scratches and scrapes and bruises. Her ankle seemed a bit off, but it was nothing that the healers couldn't set and fix, though it would take time to actually heal. That did not explain why she wasn't moving. Or giving him that embarrassed laugh that she did every time he had to help her out of a sticky situation. Or distracting him from her predicament by talking about the weather.
He hesitated for only a second before he turned her onto her back. Her eyes were heavily lidded, but she was conscious. She blinked at him very slowly, as if confused.
Drool slipped from the corner of her mouth and down her face. He reached for his handkerchief, all the while finding it odd. He had known her for…more than two years, he thought, but he had never seen her drool in her sleep before, especially not so heavily. (Sain, on the other hand…)
He dabbed it away, and a few moments later, in a delayed reaction, she reached her hand up to feel there. The sound of her palm smacking against her face did absolutely nothing to reassure him of her health. There was something wrong.
"Lady Lyndis?" he asked. "Are you in pain?"
Her hand moved around on her face and she pulled it away before staring at it. She seemed confused to see saliva.
Maybe she expected blood to be covering her hand.
She tried to sit up, but seemed disoriented once there, and grabbed his arm to steady herself. Her grip was unusually tight.
"Do you hurt anywhere?" he tried asking again, gently settling his hand across her back to keep her steady.
She was too busy blinking in surprise at her ankle to answer him for a moment, but then she tilted her head to the side in thought. "No," she finally said. Her words were slurred and even more difficult to understand with her accent, "I don't feel anything."
Impossible, he thought. Any adrenaline she would have had would have worn off. Her ankle looked broken. "Are you certain?"
Lyndis regarded him with something akin to disbelief.
She didn't lie.
He knew that.
But then she took his hand in hers and pressed his palm firmly over her heart.
Her heartbeat was racing.
Her hands were cold.
The sun was hot.
Tentatively, he touched the back of his hand to her cheek, and then to her forehead and the back of her neck.
She had begun to salivate again. He wiped it away. She looked genuinely perplexed, and when he pulled away, she blinked again.
"I'm numb," she said slowly, her mouth barely able to form the last word.
How odd. "Where?" he asked carefully.
She tried to swallow, but she wasn't entirely successful. "Ev'where," she managed to reply.
And she really was numb nearly everywhere. Her ankle had come as a surprise. She had thought something was wrong with it when her initial attempt to walk had failed, but had it been twisted that direction, then? She couldn't recall.
After her mouth had started to tingle, an unpleasant numbness had fallen over her. Her heartbeat had sped up, and she began to feel a little dizzy. It was all very confusing being unable to feel ones own body properly.
She flexed her fingers a bit and watched the way they stuck together. Her hands were sticky.
When she had lifted herself up after her initial fall, she had used the stalks of the flowers, and they had left a sticky sap residue behind.
It had to be the sap that was on her skin that was the problem, but she didn't think that she could articulate that well enough for Kent to understand her with her tongue feeling so heavy and thick in her mouth. There was always the chance that such information could be relevant, though, and she took his hand and tried to gently press her palm against his. With the way his fingers bent backward, she realized she was using too much force, and eased up. When she pulled away, his hand stuck to hers for a brief time before they separated.
"There was…sap on the flowers," she said, and tipped her head back to indicate the pretty blue ones behind her.
He regarded her seriously. "Can you stand?" he asked.
Stand? She wasn't sure if she could stand. Her limbs tingled, and she was tired, but she couldn't rest with the way her chest ached. If she tried to stand on her own, it could end badly.
His brown eyes were dark with concern. She wanted to brush away the lines that crossed his forehead. It was her fault that they were there. She would try to stand if he wanted her to.
He didn't give her time to do so much as wiggle her little toe before he adjusted his position and with a bit of effort, lifted her off the ground and into his arms. The sudden shift in position made her feel lightheaded.
"Try to rest a little, Lady Lyndis," he said. "If you can."
The warmth of his shirt could be felt despite her tingling face, and she let her eyes close as she laid her cheek against the soft material. He wasn't going to carry her all the way back to camp, was he? He was a skilled knight, a capable commander, and an accomplished man, but even he could not manage that kind of distance.
She might have dwelled on it further, but she was too tired.
She was numb. All over. What did that mean, exactly? Kent wasn't sure. Her skin was sticky to the touch, and she had said something about some sort of sap. Was the sap poisonous? That would explain a lot.
But he didn't know anything about toxic plants or the effect they had on the human body. He'd heard that a lot of knowledgeable people used the sap of certain plants to coat their blades or arrowheads with, though, and that was something to be worried about.
He didn't get very far before she slumped against him in what he assumed to be sleep. Her breath was warm.
By the time he reached the top of the slope, he had worked up quite a sweat and Lyndis hadn't bothered to so much as stir. If he had to guess, he would say that she had tried to crawl up the slope until she didn't have the energy to continue trying.
Only one weary step further was taken before he saw the form of Sain on horseback headed their way. The animal had to pick its way through the rocks carefully lest it end up lame like Kent's mare, but they made good time and before too long, Sain was standing beside him peering down at the woman he held securely in his arms.
"I think she's been poisoned," Kent breathed, his voice quiet. He was certain that their liege was still resting.
"By what?" Sain petted the top of her head affectionately.
Kent tried to pretend the action didn't bother him. "Flowers."
The loud snort that erupted from his fellow knight startled him, and he nearly jumped. "What is so funny?" he demanded.
"Flowers! Wait… Are you serious?"
"Yes, I'm serious!" He managed to calm himself before he dropped Lady Lyndis to throttle his disbelieving companion. "She said that she couldn't feel anything."
"Nothing at all?" Sain experimentally prodded at her ankle, which still looked as if it sat at an odd angle.
Lyn didn't move.
"How odd," he said, and held out his arms. "Give her to me." He nodded to his horse. "Go on, get up there."
With a reluctance he shouldn't have been feeling, Kent relinquished his burden to Sain and swung into the saddle. Only a moment later, his friend lifted her up to him, and he took her back, attempting to hold her in a way that would keep her broken ankle from being jostled too much.
"What about you?" He looked down toward Sain.
The sandy-haired knight chuckled. "Kent, you and I both know that if I separated you from your," he paused, and with a wicked grin, continued, "Lady Loooove, that you would go crazier with worry than you already are. So I'll hoof it."
Before Kent could stammer back some kind of reply (probably an excuse), Sain slapped the hindquarters of his horse, and the redhead was forced to take the reins.
Her aching chest was what woke her, and with some difficulty, she managed to open her eyes. It felt as if someone was leaning their bony elbow right into the left side of her chest, and she struggled to get to a sitting position, as if doing so would make the invisible weight go away.
It passed a few moments later, much to her relief, and she noticed that though her limbs still tingled, the actual numbness had disappeared. She felt a million times better than she had the last time she'd been conscious.
"Lady Lyndis, you're awake!" It was Lucius's voice that greeted her, and she looked over to see his comforting smile only a few feet away.
She wasn't sure what to say to him. What happened? That sounded so… "Am I free to go, now?" she asked instead. She was itching to get away from the tent where all the injured people slept. She never had liked it in there.
"Not quite," he said.
"Hey, I heard talking!" The tent flap flew open and Hector stomped inside, a smug look on his face. "Lyn, you're up! Good. See, I wanted to ask you a question…" He didn't give her time to say anything before he continued. "What's it like to get thoroughly beaten by a flower?"
"Monkshood, actually," Lucius murmured under his breath.
"We call that wolfsbane in Etruria," Pent shouted helpfully from the other side of the tent. "Women's bane in Bern, I hear, though," he added.
"Devil's helmet," a creepy voice said, and Lyn turned to see Serra grinning cheekily at her.
"It grows in mountainous, forest areas," Lucius said to her. "The sap in the leaves and the roots can be used to poison weapons with. If you had ingested monkshood, your heart would have given out on you within a few hours…if it didn't paralyze your respiratory functions first."
She blinked at him. She had thought, out there in what felt like the middle of nowhere that she could possibly die, but she hadn't pictured it happening quite like that.
"Don't worry, Lady Lyn," Serra said. "Your problems are only temporary, though you did get a lot of that sap on you. You started to improve after we washed it off, even though your skin absorbed most of it. Since there was so much of it, your heart might ache on and off for the rest of the day, but after tonight…it should give you no more trouble."
Hector shrugged. "Either way, Lyn, you lost to a buttercup. Meanwhile, I was here fighting ten men all alone!"
"That's funny," Serra said. Her voice sounded disturbingly creepy again, and Lyndis wondered if the girl wasn't imitating Hannah, who had always managed to scare the Ostian lordling simply by speaking. "I remember there only being three men."
He slumped, his story ruined.
"And they came one at a time," Serra finished.
Hector left when Lyn said nothing at all, either to defend herself or attack him. Clearly, the man was bored to tears with Farina still not quite on her feet.
"Actually," Serra said, winking, "there were three men, and he did fight them all at once. Even I was a teensy-tiny bit impressed."
"Be careful with your foot, by the way," Pent called out again. This time he looked up and smiled at her. "I used the best healing I know, but don't put very much weight on it."
"We have a cane for you and everything," Serra said.
A cane? There was no way on Mother Earth's great green surface that she would hobble around like a crippled old warrior.
Kent had never been happier to hear Lord Hector grumble about Lady Lyndis. The fact that she was awake again was a big relief even though he knew that she would be fine.
After he'd arrived back at the camp, Serra had immediately started grilling him. He told her about the flowers, described them, and then she whispered in a voice that sounded terrifyingly similar to old Hannah's, that the flower was called "Devil's Helmet" and then, not even a moment later, she had cheerfully told him not to worry about Lady Lyndis. Since she hadn't swallowed the poison, and she hadn't had a poisoned weapon cut her skin…she would be fine.
The moment Serra left to find Pent and Lucius, he had leaned down to kiss her head and brush his hand carefully across her cheek, all the while breathing an immense sigh of relief.
That she was awake and possibly feeling feisty enough to irritate Lord Hector (not that it took much for her to do that) was a wonderful sign. He allowed himself to smile just the smallest bit as he unwound the bandage around his left bicep. It had bled through, and though he still deemed it little more than a scratch, it would definitely be in his best interest to change the dressing to a clean one before Lady Lyndis noticed it.
Sain had resorted to following Dame Fiora all over the campsite as he shouted out what he thought were endearing "pet names" for her. She did not seem too pleased about it, but…then again, the redness of her face could be something other than anger. (Kent had very little knowledge in such areas, and he thought it best to not get involved at all.)
He turned away from what might have been a blushing—or quite angry—Fiora and saw Lady Lyndis hobbling toward him with a gnarled old cane in one hand. The image itself was a little amusing, but he hardly noticed the cane when he was busy looking at her.
"Lady Lyndis," he said, and hoped she would overlook the bloodied bandage that had coiled on the grass by his feet. He moved over on the log he had seated himself upon and let her limp over to sit beside him. She misjudged the distance, and sat quite close, her hand brushing against his leg. He resisted the urge to…to what? To pull her closer? To move away? To put his hand over hers? Perhaps all three, to varying extents.
Her face had color in it again, and the scratches and scrapes had been washed and in some cases, covered. She tilted her head to the side and stared at Sain and Fiora. "What is he doing?" she asked curiously.
Kent flushed, and he wasn't sure what the reason for that was. He gave his "boon companion" a blank stare and sighed. "He is trying to settle on a pet name to call Dame Fiora by," he answered after a time.
Lyndis's laughter was something he had missed hearing all day. "I can't imagine Fiora liking any pet name at all," she said.
"She has rejected many thus far."
"I wonder what she might like…" Lyn looked thoughtful.
Kent watched Sain continue to try and come up with a name that might please her, but none of them seemed to, and after a moment, a question came to mind.
"Milady?" she echoed. "No, I can't see Fiora liking that one at all for a pet name." She gave him a smile. "That's me you're thinking of."
His face flushed again, and he hoped that his embarrassment wasn't too obvious. She had to be teasing him. Surely, she was teasing him. "Milady," he began again, but paused as he realized his mistake and his face reddened further. He tried again, "Lady Lyndis, are… Are you sure you should be up?"
"Yes," she said.
That didn't mean anything, though. He knew from past experiences with her. Her stubbornness could be very endearing, but…it was also frustrating at times. He would feel better if she rested.
"As you say."
A few minutes of silence passed, and she seemed to change her mind. "No," she suddenly said. "I think I'll go lie down."
"Would milady like escorted?" he asked, and afterward desperately hoped that she had forgotten her earlier teasing.
No such luck, of course.
She leaned against him and smiled innocently. "The more you say it, the more I think I like it."
He wondered how it was that she bounced back so quickly from her injuries. It probably didn't matter; her teasing was good-natured, and it wasn't ever offensive—unlike Sain's. He didn't know how to take it, though, when it came from her. Did it mean anything, or did it mean nothing at all?
He gave her a nervous smile as Sain shouted out, "Blossom? Honey? Darling? …Darling! Darling it is!"
"Darling? Really?" Lyndis shook her head. "Milady is so much better than that." She accentuated her sentence with a light touch to his arm…which made him jerk back. It was unintentional. She'd put her hand right on the still bleeding wound he had received that morning.
"Forgive me, Lady Lyndis," he was quick to say.
"Kent." Her voice was suddenly very serious, and she leaned down to scoop up the bandage that was by their feet. "You didn't even put vulnerary on it, did you?"
"N-No." He couldn't lie to her. Ever. It was impossible for him to do. "It is not worth worrying about," he tried to insist, but she caught his arm before he could move it away and held it up to inspect.
"It's still bleeding," she said, and gave him a critical once-over. "That's hardly nothing. I trust you're hurt nowhere else?"
"No, milady, I am not."
"Mmm, again with my favorite pet name," she said slowly, blinking at him. "Seriously, though, to answer your question… I don't need an escort. My tent is only twenty feet away. You know that."
He did. But he would have offered had her tent been six feet from where they sat.
He was only a little disappointed that she had turned down his offer to walk her to her tent. He always enjoyed her company, however briefly blessed with it he was.
"Of course, Lady Lyndis," he said.
She smiled at him. "Now go find a vulnerary, put some of it on this, and wrap it back up. If it's still bleeding in the morning, we're going to talk to Serra." She turned his arm over to see how long the cut was and frowned. "I have a better idea," she said. "You get a vulnerary, you bring it to me, and I make sure it gets put on there."
She was the one with a broken ankle. She was the one who'd been poisoned and was likely still feeling the effects.
She was the one who caused him no end of worry.
But for some reason, she seemed to get satisfaction out of fretting over him for just a moment, about something as silly as a little cut.
He let her.
Done for the KentLyn challenge, "poison", on Livejournal. I did my best with what info I could find on Wolfsbane/Monkshood/Women's Bane/Devil's Helmet, but there wasn't very much information to be had on what happened if you touched it. Also, I know it's cheesy. It's what I do best, haha.