CHAPTER EIGHT

Misdirection

"Still nothing to say, brother?"

Standing slightly behind her grandfather Lyndis had difficulty recognising the man in the cell as the one who had sought her death almost a year before. Clad in rags and body sunken from a simple diet of hard bread and water he looked barely capable of standing, much less plotting the takeover of a kingdom.

Except for his eyes.

They still burned with a rage and fury that belied his weakened body.

"You haven't tried to escape in over two months," the Marquess continued. "Are you ready to tell me who gave you the gold?"

"And what then...brother...," Lundgren spat out the last word. "Poison? Public execution? Or perhaps exile?"

"Let me have him grandfather," Lyn said, stepping forward. "I'll have him begging to tell us all he knows."

"You hide your barbarism poorly, niece," Lundgren replied. "Besides...my brother never acquired a taste for torture. Our father spoiled him you see..."

"Enough!" Haussen turned away. "Perhaps a few days without food and a change to your straw will loosen your tongue. Come Lyndis...we're leaving."

Lyn grimaced at the order, sparing Lundgren one last smoldering glare before hurrying to catch back up with her grandfather. "Grandfather, he..."

Haussen held up a hand silencing her, "I know how you feel granddaughter. But I've never placed much stock behind information gained through torture.

"Besides," he continued, eyes narrowing as they stepped back into the sun. "I have something else for you to handle. Something I believe you might enjoy."

XXXXXXX

"You realise that being executed is the best case scenario if anyone finds out we know?" Sain demanded.

"I KNOW!" Kent snarled back, anguish tearing at him as he nursed his fourth mug of ale. Their table was situated far in the back and even in a dive such as this their new paladin cloaks kept the riffraff at a distance.

"Well...I can't say I'm surprised," Sain lounged back in his chair. "Though that you were able to keep this from me for so long...I'm impressed. Do you think they saw you?"

"I don't think so," Kent replied, motioning for a new jug at one of the girls. If only he could forget what he had seen those months ago.

"Well Mark's still alive. So it's safe to say that the Marquess doesn't yet know," Sain observed. The tactician's life would've been forfeit if the Marquess learned he's deflowered his granddaughter. "So, what're you going to do?"

I'd like to kill him Kent thought, but aloud he replied, "Stay here for awhile, we've got a few days leave left."

"Not a bad idea," Sain said. Then he inclined his head at a pair of girls in low cut bodices looking in their direction and giggling at the bar. "But maybe you ought to try something other than the ale."

"I don't think...ah hell."

Sain followed Kent's gaze to the bar entrance where Shira stood in full armour. "Well," he muttered as her stare fell upon their table. "I guess leave's been cut short."

"Should've known I'd find you in here," Shira snapped, glancing at Kent before turning a scornful gaze on Sain. "Still trying to corrupt Kent are we?"

"One does what one can," Sain replied. "But for you to come looking for us personally. It must be serious."

"Raiders took out a village near the border," Shira said. "At least two OTHER villages have sent runners claiming that the raiders are near. General Eagler and I are leading a troop to the east. You two are with Lady Lyndis. Personal request I've heard."

"Where're we headed?"

"South," she replied. "Seems that the lady has some history there. She was quite adamant about leading the troop to defend it."

"And the Marquess agreed to it?" Kent demanded, sobriety returning with a rush.

"He apparently suggested it." Shira didn't say it out loud, but her expression spoke volumes. To say that she didn't get along with Lyn would be an understatement. Moreso with Florina after a humiliating sparring match against the Pegasus Knight.

"Well," Sain tossed off his drink. Better to get going before she started into a rant. And before Kent let something slip. Being responsible was such a pain.

XXXXXX

"She looks happy," Sain noted, moving his horse up beside Kent's.

"I hear tell that the Marquess was to be hosting another ball on tomorrow's eve," Wil remarked, jogging alongside. "Mayhap she's hoping to avoid being put on display twice in one week."

"Where'd you learn to talk like that," Kent asked, cocking an eyebrow. "Better yet...WHY are you talking like that?"

Wil grinned lecherously, "the castle girls love the nobleman talk. Makes 'em weak in the knees."

Kent groaned while Sain looked at Wil with newfound respect. "Any luck with...?" The green armoured knight cocked his head in the direction of their Pegasus knight near the head of their column.

"If it's not one thing it's another," Wil shook his before rolling back the sleeve of his tunic to reveal a slightly worn bandage. "That horse of hers is quite the guard dog."

"Huey did that?" Kent asked.

"And I'm not the only one. He's taken a bite out of at least three others."

Sain opened his mouth to respond, then gave Kent a nudge. Up ahead the column had slowed. "This close to the village you'd think we'd have seen something by now," he murmured giving his friend a pointed look.

Kent nodded his understanding. "Keep your bow handy, Wil. Pass the word."

The young archer slowed, allowing himself to fall back, pausing alongside various others. Kent and Sain kicked their mounts into a fast trot, moving up to the head alongside Florina. "What's the problem?"

"The runner's disappeared," she replied, biting a nail nervously. "And none of the scouts've returned yet."

"Are we still going on?"

"They're trying to convince Lyn to turn back." she replied. "But so far she's having none of it."

Sain looked in the direction of Lyn and her guards. Her expression was set in a stubborn line and judging by the slouched postures of the armoured men surrounding her, she was set on having her own way. Finally she pointed angrily in the direction of their destination, then back at the castle. This set off another bout of discussion before one of the guards broke off and kicked his horse into a gallop back in the direction of the castle.

"Problems?" Kent asked as Lyn angled her horse alongside their small group.

"Might be nothing," she grunted in reply before looking at Florina. "I need eyes on the village Flor. I need to know what we're walking into."

The smaller woman nodded and kicked Huey into a canter, turning to gather speed as the Pegasus's wings lifted it into the air.

"The rest of us will keep moving forward," she continued. "I want to reach the village before nightfall. Pass the word on."

XXXXXX

They were quite surprised when they got to their destination.

The peasants paused in the middle of their evening activities to stare at them as they paused in the centre of the small village. It was almost as she remembered it Lyn realised.

Almost...

This time lacked the smell of burning flesh. And though it seemed to be still sparsely populated there were now a few men and indeed several of the women appeared to be with child. The one who approached them was one of the older ones, however. In her mid thirties by her looks with reddish hair.

"My lady," she said, with a curtsy,looking up at Lyndis. "Had we known you were coming we would..."

"Known we were coming?" Lyndis echoed. "Did you not send a runner to castle about raiders in the area?"

At the mention of raiders several of the women paled and a younger one even burst into tears. Their speaker was clearly shaken but her voice was steady. "I'm sorry my lady, but there must be some mistake. We did no such thing."

Behind Lyndis Kent glanced at Florina and inclined his head in the direction of the huts. Nodding, wordlessly she clicked her tongue as Huey moved at a quick trot in the desired direction.

"Are you sure?" Lyn asked, confused. "He was leading us here not too long ago. Tall...short blonde hair?"

"There is no one here that matches that description milady. But maybe..."

What she was going to say was lost as she stiffened and fell forward onto Lyn's horse. For a moment Lyn gazed uncomprehendingly at the bolt sticking out of her back and the growing red stain. She didn't even hear the scream of "Ambush" as she was thrown from her horse as the arrow rain started. She hit the ground badly and had a brief vision of shafts flashing towards her face, and then darkness.

XXXXXX

"Have they moved?"

"Not since the last time. We've thinned their archers some."

"They're clearing for something near the north end of the road. They've got it blocked off good."

"Could you keep it down," Lyn groaned, her hand going to her head as she swung her legs off the bed.

Bed?

She was in a small room...house? It tilted on it's side as she made her feet for a brief second before sinking back down, feeling sick. She tugged absently at the tight feeling around her head. Her vision seemed odd.

"Whoa there milady," Sain said, grabbing her wrist in a firm grip. "Head wounds bleed quite badly and you were quite lucky."

"Head wound?" she repeated, still feeling dazed and sick. Spotting a small mirror she rose slowly, fighting the naseau, ignoring Sain's protests as she got a glimpse of her appearance.

"How long was I out?" She asked, tilting her head to compensate for the fact that bandage covered the right side of her face.

"Three days, milady." Kent this time replied. Lyn could his right arm was lightly bandaged. "We were worried that..."

"We lost almost half our men to the initial attack, but considering the circumstances we were lucky," Sain interrupted Kent a glance.

"Lucky?" Lyn felt sick at heart. Her first command and she'd lost most of her force while unconscious. "What's lucky about it?"

"We managed to save most of their waterskins and rations," Kent replied. "They've poisoned the well somehow. Those that drank from it..."

"Wil's been thinning their numbers," Sain continued, nodding at the tired looking archer. "We've got some decent woodsmen and whoever attacked us doesn't seem concerned with being quiet."

"Uh huh," Lyn nodded absently, glancing around the room. Something was wrong. Then it hit her. "What happened to the villagers? Where's Florina?"

Her four friends shared a look.

"Florina's safe, we think. About that first question...maybe you should see for yourself."

"What do you mean you THINK!?" Lyn demanded.

"We'll explain, but you need to see this," Sain said.

Kent peered out the door for a moment before waving them through. The dead still lay where they fell. Lyn hesitated as she spotted the body of one of her bodyguards. His body lay over her horse, riddled with arrows and bolts. The killing blow had come from a shot, probably more luck that skill that had pierced the slit of his visor into his head.

Then the wind shifted.

Lyndis gagged at the sudden stench emanating from one of the back houses.

"We put them back here as soon as we got a chance," Wil said, his voice muffled by his cloak. "I've never seen bodies rot this fast."

Breathing through her mouth Lyn paused momentarily in front of the door before yanking it open. Her horrified eyes drank it in for scant seconds before she stumbled back a few steps her gorge rising. "Their skin..." was all she managed before what little there was in her stomach finally forced it's way out and she fell to the ground heaving.

"Their eyes changed first," Sain said, slamming the door shut, as Kent helped Lyn to her feet. "Then their skin just started to melt off."

Safely downwind the five began to take deep breaths as Lyn took a quick and short drink to clean her mouth out. She glanced up at those around her.

"What happened?"

"After the arrows those that survived went berserk. Started screaming like banshees and hacking at everyone with whatever they had available. One even bit me." Kent held up his bandaged arm. "Cleaned it out as best we could. Hopefully whatever they have won't catch."

"And Florina?"

"She was checking out the huts to see if there were any raiders. Came out of the ambush without a scratch." Wil answered as they walked. one of the survivors in blood spattered armour opened the door to what seemed to be an improvised barracks. "After we pushed them back the first time Kent sent her back to the castle."

Lyn froze.

"You sent Florina back alone," she said slowly, turning to face the three men. "While there're an unknown number of archers in the woods?"

"She got out safely," Wil said defensively, while placing himself firmly behind Kent and Sain. "We gave her cover and she flew above the range of their bows. Unless she comes down to try and hit someone she'll be fine."

"You may be right," Lyn let out a breathe she hadn't realised she'd been holding. "With any luck she'd have reached the..."

"What is it, milady?"

"With Eagler at the other end of the border who's defending the castle?"

"The Royal Guards I'd assume. Lord Wallace if he's managed to find his way back by now," Kent replied thoughtfully. "There's also the local militia."

"So the castle's effectively empty?"

"Well with the Guards I wouldn't say empty but...," comprehension dawned in Kent's eyes. "Oh...oh no..."

"What?" Wil looked between Lyn, Kent and Sain as the normally green armoured knight also groaned in realisation.

"This was a trap." Kent said. "A trap to draw troops away from the castle."

"And damned if we didn't fall for it." Sain slammed a fist into the wall.

XXXXXX

Florina jerked her head up as Huey stepped on a rough patch, the movement sending fire surging up through her stomach.

Grimacing, she tugged at her chainmail probing at the tender flesh along the edge of the wound. Only Huey's acrobatics had prevented her from suffering the agonising death of a stomach wound. As it was, the near miss made her feel like death would be a welcome relief.

"No!" Angrily she shook her head. They were counting on her. She just needed some clear ground...then she could go find Eagler. He'd be able ot save them.

She came upon the clearing so suddenly that she blinked at the sunlight. Had it always been that bright? Her teeth gritted at the acid pain in her stomach. She almost failed to notice the small camp set up.

Warily she struggled with her spear, even as one the largest men she'd ever seen came into view. His bright red cape set the back drop for his blue black armour and he wielded his greataxe casually as he approached her. He was saying something, but she couldn't hear it through her fear.

Sensing his mistress's distress Huey snapped out at the stranger causing him to leap back with a shout. Fearing for her mount's safety, Florina stabbed out with weapon...weakly she realised as the stranger grabbed and then pulled it from her grip with frightening ease. Her momentum sent her tumbling off Huey. Her sudden stop made cry from a pain and curl up into a ball.

She felt a pair of arms...arms? When had she been held? She could hear a considerable disturbance around her and a familiar loud, feminine and demanding voice.

She could feel the up,down motion of walking and then the soft down of a cot.

"...rina?"

What?

"Florina?"

For a brief moment she thought her injury had driven her mad. She could hear Mark.

XXXXXX

Well it only took almost two years but I've finally gotten my life back...somewhat. Going to be combining both Hector and Eliwood's story for better flow at some areas.