Author's Note: New chapter and yes I am updating this at 1 in the morning. I simply couldn't wait. Well here it is, enjoy! :)
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Coup de main
A single rider galloped along the trail with grave news in his hands. He was given strict orders to relay the message as fast as he could and intended to do as he was commanded. After riding for hours, he came upon a castle with its drawbridge lowered. He crossed through the gates and maneuvered the cobblestone streets as best he could so that his horse would trample no one. The rider roughly pulled his horse to a halt and jumped off its back. He ran up the steps at the castle's main entrance, taking two at a time. At the door, a set of guards stopped him. If he wanted to enter the castle, he had to explain his presence. The rider voiced five simple words that made the guards move immediately. When he entered the castle, a servant sauntered up to him to direct the rider personally where to go. They walked to the throne room, hidden by a large wooden door visible upon entering the castle. The servant knocked on the door and then opened it without waiting for a reply. The rider followed and gripped the note tighter in his hand.
The throne room for Fugaku Uchiha Duke of Konoha's southern lands was gray and large. The Uchiha's emblem was embroidered on every tapestry hanging on the walls will precious artifacts were displayed on small stone columns all around. At the very back of the room, the duke's throne rested atop an uplifted section on the floor. Curtains draped around the seat while a large circular stain-glass window let light in from behind to create a somewhat holy shine on the throne. At the throne sat the duke himself, looking as menacing as he always did. To his left was the duchess, her throne less extravagant than his own. When the rider came up to them, they ceased talking to one another and turned their attention to the stranger. The rider bowed and took a deep breath.
"Who are you?" the duke asked, giving the man before him the once over.
"My name is not important to you my lord, but the message I carry does," the rider said. "It comes to you from your eldest son Itachi who currently occupies a small section of the enemy's territory in the north."
The duke roughly waved his hand and wrinkled his nose. "I know very well where my son is messenger. Now hand me this 'important' message."
The rider did so and as the duke began to unravel it, the rider spoke again.
"It's about your youngest son, Sasuke," the rider explained, speaking more so to the duchess then the duke. "I'm afraid it's grave news."
The duchess quickly covered her mouth and gripped her throne's armrest so hard that her knuckles grew white. The duke read the note, his eyes scanning each page. After he finished it, he handed the note over to his wife. The duchess took the note and as she read, the duke addressed the rider.
"How long ago was this found out?" he asked.
"We were ambushed by the enemy two days ago, his disappearance was discovered yesterday after the battle was won. Itachi gave me the note that very moment to deliver it to you," the rider said.
The duke snapped his fingers and a servant approached him with a silver platter. On it was parchment and a feather pen with some ink. Fugaku scribbled a quick note on the parchment and sealed it with his own unique seal. He then handed this note to the rider along with a gold coin for his service.
"Send this reply to my son immediately and take this coin as payment," the duke stated. "You may go now."
The rider bowed and as he turned to leave, the duchess let out a shrill cry. Her cries echoed throughout the throne room and sent a shiver down the rider's back. He glanced behind him for a moment and was sadden by what he saw. The duchess had fallen off her throne and slumped down to her knees. She covered her teary eyes with her hands, her careful painted makeup running down her face. One of her ladies-in-waiting came to her side to see if she was okay as the duke squatted to help his wife up. The duchess weakly got to her feet and into her husband's arms that wrapped around her small body.
"My son!" the duchess cried out. "My baby!"
"Ssh Mikoto, it's going to be all right," the duke murmured, running his fingers through her hair.
"My little boy," Mikoto continued to howl. "Damn them for taking one of my sons! Damn them! May the Haruno family rot in hell for this!"
A large male deer stood in the clearing of the forest, grazing on grass. Ever so often he would look up to search the area around him for threats. His stance was as majestic as they come and he was a beautiful deer. Sakura was sad to see the animal fall after Katsu Arai shot it. She was not particularly fond of hunting though she knew that it was one of the most common ways of gathering food for a meal. She had only gone on this atrocious expedition because she was supposed to be "winning" the heart of the lord's son, Katsu. It was not something that she wanted to do and she was not about to allow herself to be betrothed to someone like him.
Like she had originally thought, once Katsu had vanished from her father's line of vision, he completely changed. He was not the shy, humble young man that her father had set him out to be. Instead, the lord's son was cocky and very promiscuous just from the way he talked. Every time he shot one of the deer they hunted, he would turn back at Sakura with a smug grin that she just wanted to wipe clean off his face. When they would talk between prime hunting spots, the topics were usually the same. He was the least bit interesting man that Sakura had ever met and she wanted him gone.
When the male deer had fallen, a servant that occupied the two nobles went over to the body and heaved it onto his shoulders. He then proceeded to tie it onto the back of his own horse with the other deer so that Sakura and Katsu would not be burdened with the corpse. Sakura felt bad for this man. He had to constantly whiff the scent of the dead animals while the other two had "fun". Katsu stared at his kill with triumph and lifted his gaze towards the rosette. He smirked, raising his eyebrows in a boastful manner. Sakura forced herself not to roll her eyes. The young man dismounted from his horse and picked something from off the ground. Holding onto the reins of his stead, Katsu handed Sakura a small flower that he had picked. Taking the pitiful bud from him, she weakly smiled and couldn't help but think of unladylike meanings for the plant.
"My lady, how are you enjoying the hunt?" he asked her, his hand resting on the flank of her horse.
"I am tolerable of it," she said truthfully. "To be honest, I find the hunt to be somewhat cruel."
"But did my accuracy with the bow and arrow impress you even in the slightest?" he added, an arch brow lifting for good measure.
Sakura snorted and took note on how close the young man's hand was getting to her leg. This man was outright annoying and if she did not do anything about it, she might have to continue to suffer with him.
"My lord, not to disappoint you, but I have seen better archery skills coming from a number of different men. Now shall we move on to the next spot so that you can hunt another defenseless buck?" Sakura retorted.
Katsu blushed and got back onto his horse. He kicked its side to set it into a trot with Sakura following behind him. The young man looked incredibly defeated from behind with his shoulders now lowered and his back arched. Sakura smirked to herself. The first part of her plan had worked, now all she had to do was get away from him. She nudged her mare forward and coughed to get Katsu's attention. He reddened when he saw her next to him.
"Instead of hunting, why don't the two of us race my lord? It would be a lot of fun and I'm sure the thrill of it will certainly brighten your spirits," Sakura suggested. "What do you say? First one back to my father's castle wins?"
The young man did not take long to think about it. She was giving him a chance to boost back his ego and perhaps prove himself to her once more. He grinned and kicked his horse into gear. As he started to gallop away, Sakura turned to the servant with them and gave him specific directions. The servant was to follow Katsu all the way back to the castle to make sure that he got there okay. He was not to worry about escorting Sakura out of the woods since she knew the area off the back of her hand. The servant agreed to the terms, not really having much of a choice, and galloped off to catch up with the lord's son. Sakura followed behind him at a much slower pace just to prove that she was going to return. When the servant and Katsu were far enough away, she halted her mare and directed it into a different direction.
The trail that she trotted on was not marked, but Sakura knew it well anyway. Back when her mother was still alive, her family would go on small trips into the forest to ride around. Her father would always try to show off to her mother with riding tricks even if it did not impress her very much. Sakura smiled at the memories the forest trail reminded her of. She missed her mother very much.
The rosette crossed over a small stream and began to hum. It was a simple melody that someone would commonly learn in his or her youth. As she hummed, she noticed that it had rained in this area not to long ago and the scent it left still lingered. Sakura loved the smell of the forest after it rained. The earthy scent of the ground and trees entered her nose and she took a deep breath so that she could better smell it. Glancing ahead, Sakura noticed a small cave. She remembered playing in the cave as a young girl with some of the village children. They would pretend to be bears and would chase each other around. At the mouth of the cave, Sakura dismounted her horse and tied the bridle reins onto a low branch on a nearby tree. Lifting her dress high enough to prevent any dirt from ruining it, Sakura entered the cave to explore it once again.
She removed her riding gloves and placed her bare hand against the wall to feel the cool, wet limestone that lined the cave wall. It was as smooth as she remembered it to be. She began to hum again, believing that the sound she was making would stir up any animal living inside. She did not want to come face to face with a bear if she went in deep enough. A little further in, the rosette began to notice a reddish streak on the cave floor. The streaks looked a lot like blood and she started to wonder if she should explore the cave further. On the other hand, the red streaks could be just crushed berries that were smeared onto the ground by an animal. She hoped it was the latter and walked on.
There was a groan and Sakura stopped right in her tracks. A wave of panic hit her hard and goose bumps ran up her arms. When she did not hear the noise again, she slowly walked on. The groan echoed again and Sakura couldn't help but think that it sounded human. For lack of better judgment, she decided to investigate despite the growing fear entering her mind.
It was surely not a sight that Sakura had expected to see when she first entered the cave and what she saw surely shocked her. On the ground of the cave was a young man, wounded and bleeding from an unknown source. He looked like he was barely breathing. A stack of armor laid by his side. Sakura raised a hand over her mouth to keep from gasping. What a poor soul this young man was. The duke's daughter was in such a shock at the sight of the man that she did not know what to do with him. She took a step forward, her leather shoe hitting a pebble on the ground. The young man shifted, lifting his shoulders up with pained strength. When he turned his head towards her, she almost jumped. The man's eyelids were cut, swollen to the point in which he could not open them properly. He was probably blind.
"W-who's there?" he asked softly.
Sakura did not answer him and just stared at him out of pure fear.
"I-is someone there? Please, I-I need help," the young man said.
"What do you need?" Sakura replied, surprising herself that she even answered.
Even the young man looked shocked. He opened his blood and dirt encrusted lips to speak, but coughed instead. His head sagged forward and he gripped his gut in pain. Sakura rushed to his side, but limited the space between them. If he was ill, she did not want to catch it.
"Sir, what do you need?" Sakura asked again. "Is it water?"
The young man nodded. "Please."
"Okay, just wait a moment," she said with a shaky voice.
Sakura ran out of the cave without really thinking about what she was doing. She dug into the saddlebag on her mare and drew out a water satchel along with a small knife. Going back into the cave, she dropped to the stranger's side and handed the water satchel. The young man tried to grip the satchel, but his fingers were too weak to handle it. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't bring it to his lips. Sakura took the satchel and maneuvered herself closer to the young man. Despite how gross and tattered he looked, Sakura placed a hand on the back of his head to level it as she held the water satchel to his lips. With the young woman holding it, the fallen man could bring grip the device. He took large gulps and once it was pretty much empty, Sakura set the satchel to the side. The young man began to breathe heavily and he glanced up at the ceiling though he could not see it.
"You are wounded," Sakura said. "You need a surgeon."
"I cannot make it to one, you're going to have to patch me up until one can be found," the young man stated.
"But I am not a nursemaid sir," she pointed out. "I do not think that I can do it."
The pitiful request he made melted Sakura's heart and she looked at the small knife in her hand. The young man was going to need bandages and there was no material to make them. She was going to have to use her dress. Gently running the blade through her dress, Sakura made numerous green cloth strips. By the time she was finished, a good portion of the lower half of her dress was gone and her calves were visible. Now all she had to do was wrap her makeshift bandages around the man's wounds. Gulping, Sakura lifted up the young man's bloodied shirt and pulled it gently over his head. He shuttered as the temperature of the cave hit his bare chest. Sakura saw a pendent around his neck, but did not pay much attention to it. With some of the water left in the satchel, she washed the wound on the young man's side and then tightened a bandage around it. To keep more pressure on it, she wrapped around cloth strip around it just to be sure. Then she went to his leg. She was afraid to remove the entire garb covering his lower half and resorted to rolling up the pant leg instead. Just like the injury on abdomen, she washed and bandaged this wound as well.
All that was left was his eyes. There was just enough water to clean them off. She poured the water onto a cloth strip and gently ran it across his eyelids. The young man jerked back at first to the touch, but then remained still so that Sakura could continue. She did her best to clean off his eyes and even ran the cloth over the rest of his face to remove the dirt on it. Once it was clean, she carefully placed one of her bandages over his eyes. She had to lean forward to tie it behind his head and was unnervingly close to the man's face. His breath tickled her cheeks and she reddened for a moment.
Sakura sat back when she was finished and looked at her handy work. The young man looked relatively cleaner and somewhat more approachable. All he needed now was a real doctor to look over him and perhaps give him an herbal remedy for his pain. The rosette figured that she would go search for one once she got back home. She reached for her water satchel and stood to her feet.
"I'm going to fill this with more water," she told the young man who answered her with a soft, "Okay."
Back outside, Sakura went looking for the small stream she had crossed earlier that day. She found it eventually and squatted to gather water into her satchel.
What am I doing? She found herself thinking. I do not know this man. Then again, he does look like he's in a lot of pain. Maybe it was fate that brought us together.
When the satchel was completely full, Sakura marched right back into the cave and set the device right next to the young man. Even though he could not open his eyes, she could tell that he was tired. His head was tilted to the side and he fought to keep it upright. Sakura touched his shoulder to let him know that she was there.
"I have to be getting back home, but do not worry I will be back later," she told him with a weak smile. "I'll bring food and a surgeon if I can find one."
"Thank you," was the reply.
Sakura gave his shoulder a quick squeeze and started to get up to her feet. She looked down for a moment and noticed his pendent again. This time she actually studied it instead of glancing at it briefly. It was a simple silver disk with some bird of prey with two distinct precious jewels as eyes. The bird was symbolic to a family Sakura was familiar with and she furrowed her brow.
"Before I go, what is your name?" she asked the young man, hoping that he would not identify himself as part of the family she was thinking of.
"My name is Sasuke, that is all that you need to know," the young man said with a crack in his voice.
"Well I am Sakura and that is all that I will burden you with," she replied.
Sakura stood up and hurried out of the cave. She bit her bottom of her lip and shook her head out of disbelief. It was completely unbelievable and she wished that it were not true. The young man's name was Sasuke, a name he shared with the son of her father's greatest enemy. The stranger that she had just patched up was a Uchiha.
Author's Note: Thanks to everyone that reviewed the first chapter. You guys are amazing. The title of this chapter means a helping hand. Oh and Sasuke will be back to his usual arrogant, stoic self later. He's just in a lot of pain and tired. Hope you liked the chapter and please review. :)