I drew my sword and braced myself as Flash threw himself into a dead sprint toward the ongoing skirmish.
"There's nothing for it, Flash. We shall have to fight them all."
The Unicorn lowered his horn.
"Perhaps not. Let's deal with the Calormenes first, then we'll see about the Archenlanders."
Charging at them from the side, they didn't see us until it was too late. The Calormenes were mounted, while the Archenlanders were on foot and carried no spears. The latter had the advantage of numbers however, and appeared to be bowmen as well. The front rank kept the Calormenes at bay with swords and axes, while the archers stood in back taking whatever shots were open to them. One of the Calormenes had lost his horse, and Flash was aiming for him. Hearing hoofbeats the man turned to face us just in time to scream in horror before being silenced forever; Flash's horn had pierced his throat.
I have fought many battles. This skirmish was one of the ugliest and most brutal in which I have ever had to take part. As I later found out, many of the Archenlanders had had relatives in the village the Calormenes burned. They were not magnanimous in victory. Their leader was a tall grey-haired man with close-cropped hair and a full beard. After giving orders for treatment of the wounded and cleaning up the field, he turned to me and bowed.
"Well met, friends. Your assistance is appreciated. You must be the Narnians Alice spoke of."
I dismounted and cleaned my sword. Flash nodded politely, trotted a short distance away, and began rolling in the grass.
"She found you, then?"
"We were in the nearby forest hunting for poachers. I am Colin, Lord Starbuck's Forester. Alice is my niece."
"I am Martin. My companion there is Flash."
Colin walked over to Flash and held out a waterskin.
"Shall I help you?"
The woodsman then rinsed off Flash's horn, drew forth a rag from a pouch on his belt, and scrubbed the horn clean. Flash nodded his thanks and trotted off to the nearby creek. Colin took a drink from the waterskin, then offered it to me. I took it and drank greedily.
"What brings you both to Archenland?"
"We were chasing your Calormene friends."
"I suspected as much. Raiders don't often come this far north, let alone push into Narnia. What did they steal?"
"A jewel and a song."
The forester was taken aback.
"They must be priceless for the Calormenes to risk so much to gain them."
"Beyond priceless. Utterly unique."
His brow furrowed.
"And they burned my niece's village to hide their tracks?"
"I can think of no other reason."
"But why enter the village at all?"
"Pillaging, perhaps? I've no notion how well or ill-supplied they are."
Colin shook his head.
"Pillage was not their goal. Alice said they were searching for someone."
He fixed his eyes on me and glared.
"And I'm willing to wager you know who it was."
I eased my right hand toward the hilt of my sword.
"Don't do it, lad. My men would kill you before the blade left the scabbard."
He nodded toward a couple of figures a few yards away. Both had bows in hand.
"Answer my question. Do you think me untrustworthy?"
"I think your lord is untrustworthy."
"That he is. A greedy, grasping, covetous old miser."
It was my turn to be shocked. Seeing the confusion in my face, Colin continued:
"I remember when Lord Daerin was young. I remember Daer's tyranny and his hatred of King Lune. And I thank the Lion that Daer has no children."
His face brightened.
"There are those of us who look forward to Daerin's return to his family's ancient home."
He grinned slyly.
"Indeed, I doubt there is anyone, freeman, serf, or servant, rich or poor, who will but delighted at
Daerin's return. Lord Daer's guards are mercenaries. They are the only ones who will mourn his passing, and they are not here. So I ask you again, lad: Who were the Calormenes searching for?"
"They kidnapped the Queens of Narnia."
Colin looked like he'd been slapped in the face.
"And you're all Narnia sent to bring them back?"
I shook my head.
"No. There is an army on the way. I am all that's left of Queen Lucy's bodyguard."
The woodsman ran his hand through his hair.
"Well, we'd best waste no more time jawing. You must pursue them at once!"
He gestured toward one of his men and ordered him to collect some supplies and put them in my saddlebags. Turning back to me he said:
"I am sorry we can't be of more help to you, but we have no horses, and even if we did, Lord Daer would be furious at us."
I shook his hand gratefully.
"No need for apologies. You've already aided me much. There is one thing more you might be able to do for me. Do you know the area well?"
He sighed and shook his head.
"Not beyond Lord Daer's demesne, and it is not large. I've no idea why the Calormenes came this way."
Flash, finished with his drink, cantered up and looked at me impishly.
"I told you we might not need to fight them."
"I'm glad you were right."
Less than five minutes later we were galloping after the kidnappers once more.
A/N: Admittedly, this isn't much of a chapter, but it's the best I can do at the moment. I hope to get at least one or two more chapters
published within the next week. Thank you all for reading!