Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Yalera the Brave - Chapter 10
“Prince Crispin was an avid hunter as well,” Ando informed her. “I'm sure that he would have enjoyed telling you about the time when he took down a rampaging bear.”
Yalera smiled at Ando for a moment before returning her attention to the tracks she was following. “The more I learn about him, the more I think that my husband and I would have gotten along pretty well.”
“Are you actually trying to track a boar?” Ando asked incredulously when he noticed what she was focusing on.
“Well...” Yalera answered with a shrug. “These droppings are over a day old, so...” She didn't have to tell him that the boar was likely long gone.
He watched her carefully as she held her bow up and aimed. At first, he thought that she was simply someone who had hunted once or twice as a child and thought that she was good when she was actually inexperienced. He also thought that all the bragging about her skill was mere flattery. In his Kingdom, it would be almost unheard of for a woman to be allowed to use a weapon of any kind, not even to hunt.
However, as he observed her, he realized that she actually knew what she was doing. He frowned and slightly shook his head. Even if she does know how to hunt, that's no guarantee that her aim is accurate.
Yalera sighed and lowered her bow. “That one got away...” she muttered softly, referring to a plump fox.
Ando took the opportunity a few minutes later to shoot the fattest hare he'd ever seen. As he did this, a pheasant was startled from its hiding spot. Yalera shot it before it could get more than a few feet. She bent over to pick it up with a smile.
“I actually like pheasant, so this was fortuitous.”
Ando harrumphed. “I'm happier with this hare.”
Yalera got very quiet and closed her eyes. “That way...”
Ando aimed his ear in the direction she pointed, and heard some faint rustling. He agreed with a nod. “I'm impressed that you were able to shoot that while it was in motion.”
Yalera smiled at him. “Even before my father was nearly killed in an accident a few years ago, he brought us hunting. He was quite a master in his day. However, after his accident, he had to rely on us. If we wanted to make sure that we'd have enough to feed us and our smilodons all winter long, I had to shoot a lot of prey. I found it so much fun that I practiced it all the time.”
“They can't hunt in winter?” Ando asked curiously.
“Well they can, but they're spoiled,” Yalera answered with a laugh. “Given a choice, they'll take pre-hunted food on the coldest days of winter.”
The faint rustling changed abruptly so that it was an almost panicked rush that came ever closer to them. Yalera didn't even think about it. She simply prepared her bow and braced herself to face down whatever it was.
“That sounds big!” Ando hissed at her urgently.
“A stag, I think,” Yalera whispered to him. She was proven right when a good sized buck ran at her. She calmly aimed and waited for the right moment to shoot it.
It fell to the ground, prompting Yalera to giggle.”I guess that's a joint kill since you got it too!”
Ando sighed in relief. His job as a bodyguard had never quite prepared him to stand by while his charge hunted a large animal running straight at her. He was infinitely glad that she really was a good shot.
Yalera closed her eyes a moment and held up a hand to signal him to be quiet. The rustling hadn't stopped. She grabbed another arrow and prepared it. A boar emerged as if he had been chasing the buck.
She shot the boar, trusting that it had died as she closed her eyes to keep listening. “There's something else coming, but it's being sneakier...”
Sure enough, the wild male smilodon eventually stopped stalking her and showed himself. He growled, clearly hoping to scare her away from the dead prey. To be fair, he had been the one to spook them in her direction.
She held up her hands as if surrendering. “Hi there, boy... I have no problem sharing my kills with you. There's enough for both of us...”
The smilodon stared at her suspiciously. She still smelled strongly of his mates, which confused him. Yalera was willing to bet that he was wondering why her cats had been protecting her in the first place.
“Princess,” Ando whispered urgently. “We should back away slowly.”
“He has no reason to hurt us,” Yalera stated confidently. “We're not threatening him and he can see that he has food right there. So long as we let him take what he wants, he'll leave us alone.”
“He clearly wants us to leave,” Ando murmured, subtly referring to the continued growling.
“That's because he doesn't trust us,” Yalera pointed out. “And why would he with you aiming your bow at him?”
“Princess, I'm begging you! Please walk away for now. Let him eat his fill and leave in peace,” Ando suggested.
Yalera sighed in defeat. “Fine...” She took a slow step backwards. Suddenly, there was a loud roar as Yuna leapt into the small clearing. She faced the male, repeating her threat until he backed up quite a ways and then sat down.
“Yuna my love!” Yalera cried out joyously. Yuna cast a suspicious glance over her shoulder at the male as she trotted over to Yalera. The two greeted each other with kisses. Yuna rubbed her head against Yalera as Yalera hugged her the best she could. “Oh I missed you so much!”
Rune approached the pair much more calmly. She gave Yalera a quick kiss before walking back over to her mate and sitting in front of him. She stared at him as if telling him that she fully planned to keep an eye on him until she was certain that he didn't plan to harm Yalera.
The male sighed almost grumpily and lay down. He got comfortable, licking his paws as he glanced mournfully at the delicious smelling prey. Yalera pulled a hunting knife out of her quiver of arrows as she walked over to the stag.
“Do you want to do it or shall I?” Yalera asked Yuna. Yuna meowed, and then nudged Yalera out of the way. She used her powerful mouth and paws to tear an entire hind leg from the stag. She then carried it over to her mate and dropped it in front of him.
Yalera giggled. “You practically tossed that at him! Did he do something to make you mad?”
Yuna growled and Rune snorted. The way that Yuna purposely strutted over to Yalera and rubbed her head against her arm, Yalera understood what she was thinking. She giggled again.
“Oh! I get it! You're upset that he was threatening me,” she stated with a grin. “I'll take the other hind leg and the ribcage. You can have the rest, but I want the entire boar!”
Both Yuna and Rune nodded at this. Yuna then tore the agreed upon leg off the stag and set it aside. Yalera got onto her knees and stabbed her knife into the stag's sternum.
“My Princess... perhaps doing that yourself is uh... best left to others...” Ando protested awkwardly.
Yalera bit her lip in thought and removed her knife. “Girls, it would be easier for me if you tore the front legs off too.” She crawled out of the way and sat to watch them work. As she did so, she focused her attention on her twin.
Rohan? … Rohan?
What? I'm busy.
By the Gods! Again?!
If he had been standing in front of her, she would have seen him blushing.
I found Rune and Yuna. I also got you that boar you wanted. I could really use some help...
Be right there! Rohan promised.
Yalera ruffled Rune's fur. “Rohan's coming!”
Rune meowed happily, already gnawing on her stag leg. Yalera busied herself harvesting the ribcage from the stag, tossing the entrails at the male smilodon. He caught them with a sound like he was thrilled that she was giving him his favorite part.
Ando sighed in reluctant acceptance that she was going to bloody her hands. He then turned his attention to preparing the boar for transportation. It took him about 15 minutes to make an appropriate pole out of a branch, which he then secured to the boar with rope he had in his hunting pack.
“It's a good thing I could sense you,” Rohan remarked almost derisively. “Since you didn't bother to tell me where you were.”
“You didn't ask!” Yalera stated with a laugh.
Rohan ignored the guards he had brought with him as he walked over to Rune and stroked her head. “I missed you more than I thought possible.”
Rune licked him, not caring in the slightest that she got blood all over him. Rohan groaned softly as he wiped the blood away. As he did this, he looked over at the male smilodon.
“There really is a male... I mean I believed you, but it's different to see it with my own eyes!” He confessed.
The male smilodon was definitely apprehensive about so many humans so close to him. He had stopped eating to watch them suspiciously. Rohan held up a hand as if he longed to pet the smilodon, but he was nowhere near close enough. Even so, the smilodon growled softly in warning.
Rune leapt to her feet and roared her mate. He gave her a look like he was asking: why are you yelling at me and not these humans?! She snorted and rubbed her head against Rohan's side.
“You're getting me covered in blood,” Rohan protested with a laugh. He hugged his cat and gently bit her ear.
Yalera had long since removed the ribcage from the carcass, and had been snacking on bits of the stag's liver. She licked the blood from her lips with a smile before she picked up the stag's heart. She held it out to the male.
“You want this?” She asked, very slowly taking a step closer to him.
“My Princess!” Ando protested in horror as he realized what she was doing.
“Oh hush!” Yalera insisted. “You'll upset him.” She took another careful step forward, holding out the heart.
He looked at her thoroughly before glancing at Yuna. Yuna was sitting at attention. It was almost like she was saying: Don't you dare hurt my human!
He sniffed in the direction of the heart, and then bowed his head slightly. Yalera took this as a sign that she had permission to approach him. She walked slowly but steadily in his direction, holding out the heart. He let her get close enough to him that she could set the heart in his mouth, but she wasn't that trusting. She set it down in front of his paws, and then held out her hands.
He gave her an almost grumpy look, but since no one dared to breath – much less threaten him – he gave a long suffering sigh before sniffing her hands.
“You see? I'm a friend,” Yalera informed him. She slowly set her hand on his head. He looked over at Yuna again, who was stalking closer to him. With another sigh, he let Yalera pet him exactly twice before her shook her hand off his head. “Thank you.” Yalera praised, and then backed away.
Rohan carefully took her place, holding his hand out the moment she was far enough away that the male smilodon wouldn't feel ganged up on. The large cat could smell Rune on Rohan quite strongly, and so let him near without much fuss. He couldn't quite understand why his mates liked these humans so much, but since the humans hadn't tried to hurt him, he was willing to tolerate them.
Rohan was able to pet him exactly twice as well. Then he backed away with a huge grin. “I can't believe he let us pet him!”
A brave soldier decided that if the twins could pet the wild smilodon, it couldn't hurt to try to befriend him. He held out a hunk of jerky as he carefully approached him. However, the smilodon had had enough of these humans and got to his feet so that he could growl. It wasn't an angry growl, but it was clearly a warning to stay away. The soldier took the hint and backed away.
Yalera draped herself over Yuna's back. “Are you ready to come back with me?”
Yuna shook her head. Rune also shook her head. Both carried their food over to their mate and sat next to him.
“I see,” Yalera murmured in disappointment. Noticing that Ando and the soldiers were ready to carry the boar back to camp, Yalera sighed and went over to Yuna so that she could rest her head on Yuna's head. “Have fun, my love, but please come back soon.”
Yuna meowed and then kissed her. Yalera didn't even care that she now had blood smeared on her face. “Let's go back to camp,” she suggested, beckoning to the soldiers.
“I'm going to go take a look at that lake you mentioned,” Rohan stated, and then pointed. “It's that way, right?”
“Yep,” Yalera confirmed with a nod. “Beware of snakes!”
Rohan chuckled. “Will do! I just thought it would be a good idea to check out the lake so that I can help Yemry refill our water bags before we move on.”
“Good idea!” Yalera agreed with a smile. She led the way back to camp, humming cheerfully as she finished snacking on the stag's liver. The moment they got back, the soldiers got busy processing the boar. Meanwhile, Yalera stoked the fire so that she could grill up the ribs she carried in a protective cloth. She let the soldiers deal with the leg they'd carried back for her.
Ando silently accepted the pheasant she'd caught, and prepared it so that it shouldn't spoil before they got a chance to eat it – likely the next evening. The hare he caught was prepared in the same way. A glance at Yalera showed that she really was dirty and had no concern about it. He fully expected her to suddenly announce that she wanted to go take a bath!
Hannah sat down next to her in front of the fire. “Where's Rohan?”
“He went to check out the lake where the snake tried to eat me,” Yalera informed her sister in law.
“I hope he doesn't get eaten!” Hannah blurted out in dismay.
“He should be fine. It's nearly midday so there's plenty of light to see by. I was attacked in full dark,” Yalera explained.
Yemry and Baethan returned with a half dozen small game animals between them. Baethan glanced at the boar and rolled his eyes. “Does this means that she wins? We caught more than her, but hers is bigger.”
Ando snorted in amusement. “She definitely wins! You should have seen the stag!”
Yalera giggled. “Nah! You shot the stag too, thus I only got a boar and a pheasant.”
“I may have shot the stag too, but yours was definitely the kill shot,” Ando muttered, not exactly pleased by this.
Yemry laughed. “You're on the same team!”
Yalera giggled again. “That's true.” She smirked at Ando. “I guess we win together!”
Baethan shook his head and grumbled at this.
Yemry slapped him on the back. “Cheer up, maybe one of the other teams bagged more.”
“Perhaps,” Baethan grumbled, not really believing it.
“I actually had help,” Yalera admitted. “That male smilodon was chasing one or both of my kills before I shot them. If not for him, I probably wouldn't have – Rohan!” Yalera gasped and clutched her head. She immediately grabbed her bow and quiver as she ran out of camp. “Rohan!”
“What's the matter?!” Yemry called out as he chased her. Ando and Baethan both followed, but a gesture to the other soldiers commanded them to stay behind. Hannah wasn't sure whether to follow or stay. Only the fact that she couldn't run prompted her to stay behind.
Yalera was running flat out, barely remembering to check that she still had slightly more than half a quiver full of arrows. “YUNA!” She screamed at the top of her lungs. “RUNE!”
“Yalera!” Yemry shouted. “What's wrong?!”
“Rohan!” Yalera cried as if this answered his question.
“What happened to Rohan?!” Yemry roared in concern.
“He's fighting for his life!” Yalera yelled before taking a deep breath. “YUNA! I NEED YOU!”
A roar answered her from nearby. A second roar let her know that Rune was also nearby. However, it sounded like Rune was traveling away from them. This made sense to Yalera because if Rohan had called out at all, Rune would be rushing to his aid.
Yuna burst through some trees, changing direction to match Yalera's. Yalera reached out and grabbed some fur as she jumped on Yuna's back.
“Oh come on!” Baethan protested. “We can't keep up with you as it is!”
Yalera didn't care. She gasped and panted from exertion as Yuna raced in the direction that Rune was roaring. She barely remembered to look at them over her shoulder.
“He's by the lake!” She called out in case they lost sight of her. The moment she caught her breath, she grabbed hold of her bow and prepared to shoot it the first second she located her twin. If he was injured in the slightest, she'd kill his attackers before they had a chance to realize she was there.
Yalera... Rohan mentally cried out just before she felt a stinging pain in the back of her head – that was actually in the back of his head. The next moment, there was nothing.
“Rohan!” Yalera screamed. She was almost frantic as sobs escaped her. In the distance Rune roared. Yuna was getting closer, but Yalera feared that it would be too late.
They finally burst into the clearing surrounding the lake about five minutes later. Yuna stopped running abruptly. Yalera searched for someone to shoot, but no one was there. Aside from Rune, who was caught in a nasty trap. It was a metal contraption designed to bite anything smaller than a bear's foot clean off.
Yalera was torn between looking for her twin and helping his beloved pet. The fact that Rune was meowing pitifully tugged at her heart. She slid off Yuna's back and quickly stomped on the lever to open the trap. Rune inspected her paw, which was not broken simply because it was far more massive than the trap was made for. Even so, it was definitely injured. It looked like something had bitten her.
“Rohan!” Yalera called out helplessly as she looked around. She also disabled the trap so it couldn't injure her cats again.
“Where is he?” Yemry asked as he bent over slightly to pant. Baethan looked ready to collapse. He was bent in half as he gasped to try to catch his breath. Ando was also breathing heavily, but he didn't let that stop him from surveying his surroundings.
“My Princess,” Ando called out. He yanked an arrow out of a tree and carried the paper it freed over to her.
Yalera accepted it with a frown. It read: This one for the bitch that killed my Lord's son! Three days and he dies!
“He's alive,” Yalera gasped out in relief. She turned the paper over to find a map with an X marking a spot not too far from where they were.
Yemry snatched the paper from her. He read the note. “We can't take this seriously.” Even as he said this, Yalera mounted her smilodon again. “Yalera! No! You can't go after them!”
Yalera drew her bow and aimed it at him. “Try and stop me!”
“Yalera,” Yemry murmured, hurt by her action.
“I would die before I let them kill Rohan!” Yalera cried.
Yemry growled in frustration. “I'm not saying that we shouldn't try to rescue him. Just that this is something that my soldiers and I should handle while you are safely in camp.”
“Never!” Yalera hissed. “The longer we sit here arguing, the farther away they're getting. My plan is to catch up with them and shoot them all!” She nudged Yuna's side.
Yemry hastily got in front of Yuna and held out his hands. “Just wait!”
“Yemry!” Yalera growled, her hands flexing in a way that let him know she was seriously considering shooting him.
“Fine! If you're going to go off impetuously, I won't stop you, but at least hear me out!” Yemry demanded. “Wait just long enough for me to run back and gather up most of my men.”
“In that time, they could reach some sort of safehold!” Yalera argued.
Yemry pulled on his hair to help him think. All it really did was sting his head. He groaned. “Please let me ensure your safety! I may as well kill myself if I have to go back and explain to our mother why I let you go to your death!”
Yalera glared at him and very softly but firmly told him: “If that happens, you be sure to tell her that I cannot live without my twin! I am choosing to be stubborn and not listen to reason, because until I have Rohan back, there is no reason to live!”
Yemry sighed in defeat and lowered his hands. “Baethan, you go with her and Ando. I'll go get my men and catch up to you three as soon as I can. Yalera! At least have the decency to travel at a pace these two can keep up with without exhausting themselves.”
Yalera sighed impatiently. “Fine... Take the map and take Rune. She looks like she can limp back to camp with you, but probably couldn't keep up with us.”
Yemry nodded, then he gave Baethan an utterly serious look. “If the worst has happened and Rohan is already dead, you do whatever you have to in order to get Yalera back alive.”
“What am I going to do? She has a massive smilodon to bite me if I do anything she doesn't like!” Baethan pointed out.
“If the situation was dire, Yuna would sacrifice her life while you carried an inexplicably unconscious Yalera to safety,” Yemry stated grimly, implying that Baethan might have to knock Yalera out.
“Got it!” Baethan exclaimed in understanding.
“Hey!” Yalera protested indignantly.
“If you don't like it, then don't do anything stupid!” Yemry advised. Then he saluted her and ran off toward their camp.
Yalera patted her beloved pet on the neck. “Find Rohan.”
Yuna nodded her head just once before sniffing the ground. She quickly located Rohan's scent and followed it around the lake. To Ando and Baethan's relief, she traveled in a trot that they could keep up with by jogging lightly.
“My Princess, your older brother is right... You should not be trying to rescue your twin,” Ando informed her. “Your place is safely in camp.”
“Ando! I'll shoot you if you try to stop me!” Yalera warned him seriously.
“It's not my place to tell you what to do,” he murmured, sounding frustrated. “However, it is my job to keep you safe. This is madness! A Princess should – ”
Yalera tugged on Yuna in a signal to stop. She aimed her bow at Ando with a fierce growl. “I don't care what a Princess should or should not do! Have you never loved someone so much that you can't breath without them?!”
Ando regarded her silently for a long moment. Finally, he sighed in defeat. “Yes... That's how I felt about Prince Crispin. He was like a brother to me! That's why I have to protect you, no matter what!”
Yalera huffed with a short nod. “Yeah, well imagine for just a second that you actually were his twin sister. Would you really let anyone stop you from rescuing him? Just because you were a girl?”
“I... I suppose not...” Ando murmured.
Yalera stopped aiming her bow at him. Abruptly, she smirked. “I warned you that I wasn't very good at sitting back and letting people protect me.”
“That you did,” Ando stated, returning her smile.
Yalera nudged Yuna so that she would resume following Rohan's scent. “For what it's worth, if we do manage to rescue my brother, I'll owe you both a debt that I'll probably never be able to truly repay.”
“I can think of a couple ways,” Baethan muttered with a wry grin as he jogged, not thinking that they'd hear him.
“I'm sorry, but I couldn't allow any of the things you're thinking of,” Ando stated, also with a wry grin and a slight shake of his head.
“What things?” Yalera asked curiously.
“Nothing!” Baethan hastily denied, blushing as he looked away.
Yalera tilted her head as she looked back at him. She was confused for a moment, but then when she realized what he must be referring to, she was confused for a completely different reason. “Really?”
Baethan wisely held his tongue, simply shrugging and shaking his head.
“Hmm...” Yalera hummed to herself in thought. Thinking about all possible meanings of Baethan's joke helped her to not obsess over her brother. This also helped her calm down.
To her great disappointment, they didn't catch up with Rohan's captors before nightfall. Yalera would have insisted that they continue the search, but the temperature dropped suddenly, making her teeth chatter and her skin stand up as she shivered. She roared in frustration as she signaled Yuna to stop.
“Yemry hasn't caught up to us yet either, and with this temperature, he probably won't!” Yalera growled in frustration. She pointed to an extremely tall and wide evergreen. “There's a natural shelter, and it looks big enough for all three of us and Yuna.
The lowest branches formed a tent like structure. The inside of it was lined with a thick layer of needles. It could keep out the cold a little, but not when the wind blew. As a result, Yalera was soon wishing that she'd had the foresight to grab her cloak during her frantic dash out of camp.
Yuna curled up behind Yalera, trying to stay between her and the wind. Yalera stroked her fur repeatedly, finding the action soothing. “I love you so much, Yuna,” she whispered. Yuna purred, licking Yalera as if the girl was a cub.
“I wonder if I should try making a fire,” Baethan murmured aloud, rubbing his hands together to keep them warm.
“Probably not,” Ando answered. “There's no way to stop the fire from spreading to all the mast under this tree while we sleep.”
Yalera had been raised at the edge of a wilderness that experience extremely cold winters, so she knew how to survive. She shifted until she was centered on Yuna's body, using her a bit like a pillow. She tugged on Baethan's hand even as she lightly kicked Ando.
“Both of you, come here,” she ordered. “We need to stay as close together as possible. Also, pull as much of this over us as we can.” She grabbed a handful of evergreen needles – which were actually brown – and held it out so they'd know what she was talking about. “The more we can pack onto us, the warmer we'll stay.”
“Yes Princess,” Ando responded. He knew she was right even though his winter survival training had always included tents and fur blankets, so he had no direct experience taking shelter in the wild with nothing.
They busied themselves gathering up as much of the mast as they could until they were nearly buried as they reclined against Yuna. She curled her legs around them as she lay on her side. Her head kept shifting to look at Yalera – as if half afraid that the girl was going to disappear.
Baethan chuckled nervously. “Why am I the one closest to her sharp teeth?”
Yalera giggled. “Because I figured that neither one of you would relish the idea of snuggling with each other!”
Baethan blushed. Ando shrugged. “Survival is survival,” he stated.
Yalera was exhausted enough that she fell asleep fairly quickly. Her head rolled onto Baethan's shoulder, which made him blush... and smile softly. Ando caught his look and frowned.
“Don't even think about touching her,” Ando warned softly.
“I wouldn't do something like that,” Baethan protested, clearly offended.
“Rohan,” Yalera murmured in her sleep, slipping one of her hands in Baethan's. Baethan did his best not to react to this since Ando couldn't see it under their makeshift blanket. Instead, he squeezed her hand reassuringly. “Rohan...” she repeated.
“I think she loves that brother a little too much,” Baethan muttered under his breath.
Ando laughed. “I've thought much the same!”
Hours passed in more or less peaceful slumber. Yalera continually murmured her brother's name, but it was softly enough that it didn't wake her companions. Until she suddenly sat up with a sharply inhaled gasp.
“Rohan!” She cried out. She scrambled to get out of their cozy cocoon so that she could vomit without making a mess on her companions. She lay on the ground afterward groaning.
“My Princess?” Ando inquired in concern.
“Rohan,” Yalera repeated, flinching and gasping. She clutched her side and gagged as if she was about to vomit again. “He's alive!”
“We knew that,” Ando muttered dryly. “Or weren't you sure?”
“I wasn't,” Yalera whispered, her voice soft and far away. “I couldn't feel him...” She grunted and curled into herself. “Ah!”
This was not behavior that made sense. Ando and Baethan exchanged concerned glances. There was just barely enough moonlight to let them see each other.
Ando tried again. “Princess?”
Yalera kept moving her body strangely as she grunted. Her breaths escaped her in funny little gasps. She softly started to cry. “I'm going to kill them all...”
“What's the matter?” Baethan demanded, tempted to pull her into his arms and shake her until she explained things.
“They're beating him,” Yalera cried. Her hands pressed to her stomach. “I don't know why! He stopped fighting back, but they won't stop!” One hand moved to her back as she cried out. “Ah! Oh Gods! STOP!”
She tried crawling away, as if that could stop them from beating on her twin. More vomit spewed from her. “Rohan...” she sobbed. To her relief, the beating stopped a moment later, but she could feel him laying in pain.
Rohan! We're coming for you, just hang on until we find you!
No! Stay away! They plan to kill you!
I don't care! I'll rescue you or die trying!
Yalera please... I don't want you to die...
Before Rohan could think anything else, he passed out, leaving Yalera sobbing as she lay on the ground. “I'm going to kill them,” she vowed in a whisper.