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Friday, December 4, 2015

Yalera the Brave - Chapter 11

Chapter 11

Baethan was torn between waking Yalera and letting her sleep the next morning. He wanted her to stay in the relative warmth and safety of their shelter, but he also knew that she might be tempted to kill him if he didn't wake her now that dawn had arrived. More than anything, he wanted to stay asleep himself, but she was resting her head on his chest in a way that made it slightly hard to breathe. The arm she leaned on was numb. All in all, he was uncomfortable.
Ando snored softly, clearly unburdened by her. Baethan was tempted to shift her onto her bodyguard, but the thought of actually doing so made him inexplicably jealous. He stroked her hair with his free hand.
Rohan,” Yalera murmured with a hopeful smile. Her eyes fluttered open a moment later. Disappointment clouded her eyes just before she closed them again.
I'm sorry bumpkin, I'm not him,” Baethan whispered.
I know,” Yalera murmured so softly that it was almost soundless. She straightened up and stretched.
I know you don't want to hear this, but I really think we should wait for Yemry to find us,” Baethan murmured.
I can't, and besides, Yemry will be going to the place marked on the map. He may be nowhere near us,” Yalera pointed out.
But still... We're basically fumbling around in the dark here. We have no idea where Rohan is,” Baethan reasoned.
He's close,” Yalera insisted. “Not only can I feel him – which indicates that I'm within our limited range – but he feels like he's...” She pointed and shrugged. “Right over there. He's awake and pretending to still be asleep so that they don't have any reason to start beating him again.”
How can you be sure?” Baethan wondered with a curious frown.
We're one person, Baethan,” Yalera reminded him. “The only reason that I didn't insist that we go after him the moment I woke up last night is that I knew it was far too cold to do anything productive even if we found him. But now, I'll never forgive myself if they move Rohan before I can find him.”
Baethan sighed softly. “I honestly don't know if there is a single person in my life that I would walk into certain death for. I mean that I am a soldier in the service of the King, and I will follow orders even if it meant my death, but... I don't think I have anyone who means as much to me as Rohan means to you.”
You will,” Yalera assured him. Then she had a sly expression come over her face as she nudged Baethan with her shoulder. “Wait, what about my sister? You practically risked your life just to get flowers for her.”
Baethan chuckled, tilted his head to the side and half shrugged. “Well, maybe I would risk my life for her.”
Yalera laughed softly. “I thought so.”
Baethan felt his heart skip a beat when her amazing eyes twinkled at him like that. He had to look away and take a deep breath to stop himself from blurting out: I'd rather risk my life for you though!
Yalera busied herself pushing the evergreen needles off her. “I'm sorry that we don't have anything to eat, but if we're lucky, we can sneak up on those who took Rohan, rescue him, and pilfer some breakfast within the next hour.”
Please tell me that I'm not going to have to damn near kill myself running after you,” Baethan teased with the grin of a habitual practical joker. “Even on foot, you're hard to keep up with!”
Yalera took great comfort in his attempts to cheer her up. They helped a lot! Thus, she smiled and laughed as she knew he wanted her to. “Well, you'd probably be a lot better at running if you had a pair of smilodons chasing you around ever since you were a small child!”
No kidding!” Baethan blurted out. He still remembered his first sight of them, when they'd appeared to be chasing Rohan, who was running like his life depended on it.
You sound fairly cheerful this morning, Princess,” Ando remarked.
He had been awake their entire conversation, but kept this fact to himself because he was curious about their relationship. He had gathered that they were friends, but he'd also suspected that Baethan was in love with Yalera. Now, his suspicions were confirmed. The only thing he had left to figure out was how Yalera felt about Baethan.
So far, she seemed oblivious to his feelings, and that worked out for the best in Ando's opinion. So long as she stayed oblivious until she returned to her home and Baethan left, Ando's job would be fairly easy. If she realized that Baethan loved her, and then maybe even decided she loved him in return, Ando would have to be fairly cruel because the peace treaty depended on her remaining loyal to her husband for the next year.
Well...I'm calmer at the very least,” Yalera replied with a shrug. She crawled around until she came to Yuna's face. “Thank you, my love, for keeping us warm. You are the best friend a girl could have.”
Yuna meowed softly and kissed Yalera a couple of times. Her tongue was big enough that even a small kiss left a trail of slobber across Yalera's cheek, but she didn't care. Yuna carefully but firmly used one of her front paws to push Baethan away from her side. Ando took the hint and moved before she decided to do the same to him. When she could, she rolled until she was laying on her stomach rather than her side.
You go do your morning business girl,” Yalera suggested, pointing out of their shelter. Yuna left, letting a draft in. Thankfully, it had warmed up enough that – while still chilly – Yalera didn't feel like she was going to freeze.
She turned her attention back to her companions. “You two should probably go do your morning business too. I'll stay in the shelter until you return.”
You promise?” Ando asked suspiciously.
Yes,” Yalera stated without any annoyance. She couldn't blame him for thinking that she was trying to sneak away.
Then I will trust you, but if you break my trust, I will never give you a private moment again,” Ando warned her.
I understand,” Yalera replied with a tiny nod.
Baethan and Ando left her alone in the shelter, which gave her an opportunity to do her own business. After she was done, she lifted her shirt to inspect her stomach. Yalera would swear that where Rohan had been beaten the most ached horribly. Vivid bruising made her suck her breath in in dismay.
When she had fallen out of a tree a few years back and broke her rib, Rohan had been right there next to her. He said he'd felt winded and in pain, and had even had bruising. However, when she'd sprained her ankle the other night, he hadn't felt it, nor had he gotten bruises. The fact that she looked like she had taken a brutal beating as well only gave her hope that he really was very close by.
She poked the worst bruise with a finger and couldn't quite choke back a loud gasp of pain. Ando and Baethan rushed back into the shelter without warning. Both thought her gasp might mean that maybe she was being attacked somehow.
Prin – !” Ando called out in concern, a gasp of his own cutting him short as he saw her stomach.
Yalera looked up at them, feeling inexplicably guilty. A second later, she hastily pulled her shirt back down. Turning her back on them so that she didn't have to see them gaping at her in shock, she gathered up her bow and quiver – which still carried her hunting knife.
Princess...” Ando whispered, not sure what to do or how to feel.
He knew that she hadn't been touched by anyone, but such evidence made him feel that he had failed in his job somehow. Until this moment, he hadn't truly believed that Yalera and her twin were one person who had been split into two, as she often insisted. He had simply dismissed her ability to read her twin's mind as knowing her twin well enough to guess what he was thinking.
But this proof was irrefutable!
Bumpkin...” Baethan whispered softly, also in shock.
We should get going,” Yalera stated.
She then gasped and slapped a hand over her mouth before throwing herself onto the ground and vomiting. When she was done, she sat back and took a few deep breaths. Her eyes squeezed shut miserably.
They're moving him, and the pain is sickening...” she whispered.
Ando held out his hand to her to help her to her feet. “Then we should hurry.”
Yuna!” Yalera called out. The oversized smilodon emerged from the forest about 20 seconds later carrying a dead fox. “Aww, you brought me breakfast!”
We have time for that?” Ando asked in surprise.
Nope!” Yalera confirmed as she used her hunting knife to slice open the belly and pull out the guts – which she tossed to Yuna. Next, she located the liver and tore it out. She took a messy bite as she held out the fox to her companions. “You want any?”
I'll pass,” Ando declined politely as Baethan gave her a look of disgust.
Suit yourself,” Yalera stated with a shrug, and then gave the fox back to Yuna. “Tear off a bite to eat on the way,” Yalera ordered. Yuna basically considered the entire fox a bite to eat. She chewed on it as Yalera mounted her and they took off in the direction that Yalera felt Rohan. Considering that Yuna was following his scent, Yalera was confident that they'd find him soon.
After taking another bite of liver, Yalera slapped her hand over her mouth and groaned. “Oh Rohan...” she whispered in sympathy. She then pressed a hand to her back. New pain made her wonder if Rohan had been kicked.
Yuna was cantering as fast as she could without leaving Baethan and Ando behind. She was tempted to run flat out because she could smell Rohan's scent getting stronger, but her innate sense of caution assumed that they'd need everyone they could get to combat all the other human scents she picked up. Just when she was certain that Rohan was right up ahead, an arrow shot out, making her jump to the side and come to a full stop.
That's close enough!” A man called out, drawing their attention to the line of men aiming bows at them.
Yalera hastily shoved the last of the liver in her mouth and chewed the bare minimum so that she could swallow it. Then she wiped the blood off her hand so that she could grip her bow without it slipping from her grasp. Finally, she was ready to respond.
Let Rohan go!” She commanded, aiming her bow at the man she figured must be in charge.
My Lord has ordered us to bring you to him no matter what we have to do! Drop your bow and leave that beast behind!” The leader ordered her.
If I do, you'll let Rohan go?” Yalera asked.
Not a chance! He's our insurance that you'll behave!”
Wrong answer!” Yalera shouted, shooting the leader straight through the heart as she signaled Yuna to keep moving. She shot at least three more men – and Ando and Baethan two each – before one of them thought to grab hold of Rohan and hold a dagger to his throat.
Surrender this moment or I'll give him a permanently bloody smile!”
Yalera signaled for Yuna to stop so that she could aim her bow at the man using Rohan as a shield. “If you do, I promise you that you'll die before you can take your next breath!”
He looked uncertainly to the man standing next to him. After a moment of heavy silence, he sighed. “Fine... It seems that we're at an impasse. M'Lord wishes to punish you for shooting his son in cold blood.”
When?” Yalera asked in confusion.
When Prince Hugh was chasing you, you stood atop a cliff in front of a cave and rained down arrows. Rather than shoot Price Hugh – which would have ended the reason any of the mercenary soldiers had for going after you – you shot random men in the crowd. One of them was an officer loyal to Prince Hugh... M'Lord's son...”
Yalera shrugged. “That was self defense. At the time, I was horrified by what I had done. I couldn't sleep and I prayed to my Gods that I could take it back... But right now? I would go back and shoot everyone in that crowd if I could! That way, there'd be none of you left to hurt my brother. We're twins, which means that I felt every...” She shot the man holding her brother in the throat. “Single.” She shot the man who had been standing next to him. “Kick.” She shot the man standing on the other side, and then aimed at the biggest and burliest man out of the 10 men left standing.
A good half of them stepped back. “She's a demon!”
A new man grabbed Rohan before he could run, and scrunched behind him so that Yalera couldn't shoot him at all without shooting her own brother. “Stand your ground! We still out number them more than three to one!”
Unless you count her smilodon,” one of the men grumbled.
Let Rohan go and I'll spare the rest of your lives,” Yalera bargained.
Not likely, Princess,” the new man in charge of the remaining mercenaries denied. “You are coming with us.”
With a sigh, Yalera slid off Yuna's back and set her bow on the ground. She held her hands up in surrender. “If you let my brother go, I'll come quietly.”
No!” Rohan cried out in protest. He was standing with his hands bound together and to his waist while his feet were hobbled by rope that only allowed him to take small steps. He also wore a blindfold so that he couldn't try to plan an escape. “Leave me and run!”
Never, you idiot!” Yalera shouted at him.
It's probably already too late for me, but you can save yourself!” Rohan insisted.
I'd rather save you! I've already fulfilled my destiny, but you! You have a wife now, and who knows? Maybe even a child on the way!” Yalera argued.
So? It means nothing without you!” Rohan growled.
ENOUGH!” The man in charge roared. “If it'll stop your bickering, then fine! If you promise to send your smilodon away and come quietly, I'll let your idiot brother go!”
Don't you dare call him an idiot!” Yalera screeched indignantly.
You called him an idiot!” The man reminded her incredulously.
Rohan, take Yuna and go,” Yalera ordered.
You're the idiot if you think I'm just going to leave you here!” Rohan growled angrily.
Yalera looked up to the sky to pray for patience for a moment. “They're not going to hurt me if they want to bring me to their Lord.”
So? Their Lord plans to kill you!” Rohan countered.
Yalera heaved a great sigh of frustration. Ando muttered in her ear: “I don't see how we can win in this situation. We should just leave for now and try again when we meet up with Yemry.”
If we leave now, they'll just kill him,” Yalera stated, knowing that they would take revenge on Rohan for their fallen comrades the moment that she turned her back on them.
Yemry can't be that far away,” Baethan muttered. “We should just stall as long as we can.”
Squaring her shoulders, Yalera marched forward, squirming out of Ando and Baethan's grasps as they tried to stop her. Yuna also jostled them to keep them from grabbing onto Yalera. The stubborn girl kept marching until she stood directly in front of Rohan, lifting his blindfold so that he could see. He glared at her as she returned his glare.
Which one beat you?” Yalera asked through a tightly clenched jaw.
Rohan lifted his bound hands to gesture to one of the men she had already killed, and then one that was still alive. “That one and that one.”
Thank you for telling me. I'll make sure he pays,” Yalera stated just before she kissed Rohan on the cheek.
Why can't you just run away?” Rohan grumbled.
Because I love you more than I love myself,” Yalera answered with a shrug, and then she abruptly bashed her head against his. He fell to the ground even as she held a hand to her forehead and swayed woozily. “There, he can't argue anymore. Yuna!”
The men trying to capture her all took a step back and made the sign of their Gods as Yuna stepped forward. One aimed a bow at her, his hand shaking even before she roared at him angrily. He accidentally released the arrow, but it flew wildly, shooting a comrade in the leg.
OW!” The comrade roared. “You idiot!”
Yuna, take Rohan and go!” Yalera ordered. Yuna growled at the enemy men as she bent her head and grabbed Rohan's chest with her enormous and sharp teeth.
She just fed her brother to her beast!” One of the men cried out incredulously before he fainted.
Yuna backed away as Yalera walked over to the man that Rohan had pointed out. She tilted her head side to side as she looked at him. One hand slipped her quiver off her shoulder as if she planned to surrender it to him. A moment later, she withdrew her hunting knife and stabbed him through the heart.
There! Now I'm ready to go quietly,” she informed the man in charge with an angelic smile, letting her quiver drop to the ground.
She's insane!” One of the men accused frantically, taking a few steps away from her.
Princess!” Ando protested. “I cannot let you surrender yourself!” He held up his bow, aiming at the man in charge. “Return to your Lord and tell him to forget about Princess Yalera! Otherwise I'll have no choice but to report this to the King!”
You think the King will have any desire to stand up to M'Lord?” The man in charge asked with a scoff.
Yes I do,” Ando stated firmly.
Tired of losing his comrades, the man who was now in charge grabbed Yalera since she was within his grasp and not putting up a fight. The rest of the men aimed their bows at Ando and Baethan.
There're still nine of us, and only two of you,” the leader pointed out. “If you plan to shoot us, chances are good that we'll shoot you and still have enough of us left to bring her in anyway.” In his haste to use Yalera as a shield, the leader cupped her breast in an attempt to hold her to him.
Yalera growled and stomped on his foot. “Watch where you put your hands!”
He nearly let her go as he yelped and hopped in pain, but kept a hold on her as he grabbed a dagger and held it to her throat. “Is this better, Princess?” He asked with a sneer.
Yemry, where are you?” Baethan muttered. The way things were going, he was about to fail his orders to bring her back no matter what.
The leader looked around, and then grinned. “I say we shoot them and be done with it!”
No!” Yalera yelled out in dismay. “If you do that, I will fight you!”
He scoffed again. “What can you do without your bow? Men, shoo – ”
Yalera interrupted him by stomping on his foot again as she used a hand to grab the dagger at her throat, and then rammed the back of her head into his nose.
Whoa, remind me never to anger her...” Baethan muttered under his breath.
Argh! She's not worth all of this!” The man in charge roared as he held a hand to his bleeding nose. “Shoot her; just shoot her!”
I wouldn't do that if I were you,” a new man warned, calling attention to the fact that they were now surrounded by at least two dozen new men. “Lord Willow is growing impatient...”
The surviving members of the initial group of mercenaries breathed out a sigh of relief that they had reinforcements.
Come now Princess,” the leader of the reinforcements murmured. “Behave or we'll have to kill your companions.”
Yalera sighed in defeat. She knew that there was no way that the three of them could win against so many opponents. She held up her hands, the dagger that she'd just confiscated still in her right hand.
I'll behave,” she promised, mostly sincerely.
Men stepped forward to take charge of Baethan and Ando, who grumbled even as they surrendered. The situation was suddenly looking a lot more dire than it had moments before.
Yalera and her companions were escorted to the Lord that wanted her dead. It took most of the day, and they arrived just before Lord Willow was going to sit down for dinner – according to the mouth watering aroma wafting from the kitchen. Yalera covered her stomach with a hand when it growled to let her know that she hadn't eaten since breakfast.
The Lord looked around at the men who escorted her with a puzzled frown. “Where are the rest of my men?”
She killed them,” the leader of the mercenaries stated grimly.
The Lord scoffed incredulously. “You mean to tell me that you had such trouble bringing in one little girl?”
She's a surprisingly brave fighter,” an underling complimented her. “She made it hard to capture her.
But as you can see, we haven't harmed a hair on her head – as you requested,” the leader informed his boss.
He's lying,” Yalera stated as if the words were bitter in her mouth. “He and all his men took turns beating me. See?” She lifted her shirt a little so that the Lord could see the nasty bruises on her stomach.
What? No!” The leader and a few of his men blurted out in astonishment.
The Lord glared at his men.
I swear we didn't!”
It was how they entertained themselves last night,” Yalera insisted.
That was her brother!” One of the surviving men from the party that had kidnapped her brother burst out defensively.
Then how do you explain this evidence?” Lord Willow asked with deceptive mildness.
No one could explain it, so they all shrugged and shook their heads. The Lord snatched a handful of Yalera's hair and used it to pull her closer to him. He smelled her hair with an expression like he was in a barn full of cow manure.
The reason I wanted her unharmed was so that I could beat her myself!” He explained with an angry growl. “I should have you all flogged for disobedience!”
Yalera forced herself not to gasp or react in any way when he yanked her hair so that she was looking him in the eye. He glared at her nastily. She glared at him in return.
So you do have some fight in you,” the Lord remarked, seeing the fire in her eyes. “Excellent! That means that it will take a deliciously long time to break your spirit. I think I might even decide to beget another heir off you before I finally allow you the sweet relief of death.”
Yalera scoffed. “My smilodon and that of my brother will eventually come for me. They'll be part of a rescue party... and I promise you this, if you have harmed me in any way, I will repay you in kind!”
The Lord laughed in genuine amusement. “I think I like you! I'm a bit curious to see how well you actually can fight. My men claim that you are a fighter... perhaps that's how you got these bruises.” He jabbed a finger into her stomach. “Would you like to put on a show for me?”
Why not? Hand me a bow and some arrows,” Yalera responded with an angelic smile.
No!” The man in charge of the mercenaries protested fervently. “If you do that, you may as well sign your death warrant!”
Now that I believe,” Lord Willow stated. “You killed my son and more than a dozen others with your bow. No... I shall give you a simple staff while my soldiers use swords. Don't worry, I won't let them kill you just yet.”
Yalera groaned. “Well that doesn't seem very fair!”
It's not supposed to be fair!” Lord Willow roared, shaking her by the fistful of hair he still held. “You are a murderous bitch and I hope you suffer greatly before you die!” He then calmed down quite abruptly and smiled at her. “But don't worry about those two. I'll make sure they aren't harmed. Not until it'll cause you the most pain, that is.” He gestured to indicate Ando and Baethan, who were bound thoroughly and held captive by two men each. Neither could do more than make muffled protests through their gags.
At a sharp tilt of the Lord's head, a mercenary handed Yalera a staff. It wasn't the best staff she'd ever used, but it wasn't the worst either. Provided that they didn't try to split her in two, she should be able to defend herself fairly well. She thanked her lucky stars that she was still wearing her traveling pants under her skirt and that the skirt itself was light and maneuverable.
The Lord used her hair to throw her into the middle of an impromptu ring formed by his men. Two of them withdrew swords and advanced on her. She moved away from them defensively, holding her staff at the ready.
If I win this, will you let my friends go?” Yalera asked, determination in her eyes.
The Lord laughed. “I might consider letting one of them go, but I need at least one of them to keep you properly motivated. Which would you choose to let go?”
Baethan,” Yalera stated with no hesitation. “He's not my bodyguard like Ando is, and so he has no real reason to be here.”
Interesting,” the Lord murmured with a thoughtful tone.
The two men busied themselves attacking Yalera. She did her best to keep her staff between them and her until she had an opening to disarm one and run the other through. She used the incredulous disbelief of the one she had disarmed as a distraction to knock him out.
There! I've won!” Yalera stated.
Not so fast,” the Lord countered, tsking. “You murder as if it as easy as breathing.”
Yalera rolled her eyes. “The first time I killed a man, it was because a Nandian raiding party had come to pillage our property. They didn't just steal things and leave though, they took the time to light houses on fire and rape innocent little girls. They clearly deserved to die, and yet I felt horrified by what I had done. When I killed your son, I wanted to soak in the lake until I felt like I was no longer covered in blood. But the more Hugh chased me and forced me to defend myself, the more I had to get used to killing men. So now when you have quite clearly told me that you plan to kill me and make me suffer as much as possible before you do, you want me to feel remorse?”
You sadly believe that you have a chance of winning...” the Lord murmured, shaking his head. He gestured a signal for more men to fight her and six men responded by circling around her.
They did not take it easy on her. They clearly wanted to repay her for all the men she had killed. Yalera did her best, but they managed to slice her side, her upper left shoulder, her back, and finally, her left thigh before she had to retreat as best she could. She was panting heavily as she disarmed and killed a second man out of the six – the first having been killed early on.
I take back my initial statement! Apparently it is a lot of trouble to take down one little girl!” The Lord roared in delight. “I am going to have so much fun breaking you!”
Yalera used her staff as a support as she kicked the feet out from under a man with her uninjured leg. She then bashed his head in to knock him out. She launched herself at another man, making him land on his back as she bashed his head too. Gasping from exertion, she rolled out of the way of an attacker.
I can... do this... all day...” she lied between pants.
Everyone stop for a moment,” Lord Willow commanded, only waiting for a second to see that his men obeyed him. “I have to know... Why exactly do you know how to fight?”
Yalera dropped to one knee and rested on her staff as she caught her breath. When she felt able, she answered the question. “I'm told that since my mother was raised as the only cousin to the King, she cultivated an attitude that I apparently inherited. I'm the most stubborn person I know! But that's not the reason I can fight, it's the reason I refused to sit back like a good girl should when my father taught my twin brother how to fight. If you want to know the reason I can fight like this... It's because my father is the greatest Knight in Rubidium... or was before his accident. He taught my twin and I everything he could. I know I suck at sword fighting and I can barely hold my own with a staff, but I will be damned if I don't make my father proud!”
She got to her feet again. “And you should consider your men damn lucky that they caught my twin brother unawares, and then distracted him by injuring Rune. Had he truly fought – like you are making me fight now – you would all be dead!”
Is that so?” The Lord asked, intrigued. “A pity he got away. I'd like to see him spar.” He gestured for his men to resume the fight. More joined in on the battle.
Yalera did her best to avoid them all. She disarmed anyone she could – which was literally the best move she knew when it came to swords. Then she used the swords she'd confiscated like daggers to stab their previous owners. In this way, she killed a few, but mostly wounded the men who were trying to harm her.
As she defended herself, they slowly wore her down. One man kicked her shin, making her roll to the side. Another man slashed her abdomen, but not deeply enough to be a mortal wound. A third man managed to punch her as she disarmed him. As he did so, a big old brute of a man kicked her in the back.
Ah!” Yalera cried out, unable to stop herself. She blocked a punch with her staff just before she rolled to the side, but someone anticipated this and kicked her in the stomach.
One of the mercenaries was more than ready to behead her, but was prevented when his boss called out an order to stop. The mercenary sighed in frustration even as the Lord walked over to Yalera. He grabbed a fist full of her hair again and yanked her up until she was eye level with him.
You've astonished me,” Lord Willow praised her with a smirk. “I think you have the right spirit to pass onto that son you're going to replace.”
Over my dead body!” Yalera vowed, bracing herself by holding onto him so that she could ram her head into his nose.
The Lord howled in pain and retaliated by punching her across the face. She saw it coming and managed to turn her head just in time to avoid the worst of it, but the impact still hurt quite a bit. She inhaled slowly, performing the mental trick she always did to cope with pain. It doesn't hurt to breath, so I can bear it...
She was so focused on the Lord that she didn't see the man come up behind her. He held up his sword and bashed the hilt into her head. She fell to the ground, unconscious.
The Lord held a hand to his nose and swaggered around a bit. “I love her spirit! I think I'll make her fight again tomorrow, which means that you all might want to hone your skills. Imagine! Five strong warriors killed by one little girl!”
One dangerous little girl with nothing left to lose,” a man grumbled petulantly.
The Lord ignored him. “Throw the three of them in a cell for now! And give them something decent to eat. I don't want her to be weak when she fights tomorrow, and she'll be far more fierce if we take good care of her companions, and then threaten to torture them.” The Lord laughed a bit insanely as he walked away.
Baethan and Ando were dragged to a cell while Yalera was thrown over a shoulder and carried. One of the men who still possessed some compassion brought them a small feast along with some medicine for Yalera's wounds before unbinding their hands. He gave both of the prisoners a serious look.
She has earned both respect and enmity today,” he informed them. “Some of the men will want to fight her honestly and win like true soldiers, but others will want to use tricks and try to kill her to avenge those she killed. If I were you, I'd take good care of her so that she stands a chance tomorrow.”
Ando merely nodded, already inspecting the available medicines. Baethan was too busy examining her wounds to care that their jailer left. The cell was made with metal bars in a thick mortar that would be hard to break. Escape would probably be impossible, so he didn't waste a moment on it.
She's bleeding a lot, but none of it seems to be too serious,” Baethan finally reported. He pulled Yalera into his arms and cradled her like one might try to comfort a small child. “By the Gods, bumpkin! I thought you were going to die for sure, but then you amazed the hell out of me!”
Ando chuckled wryly. “You can say that for me too! I had never even considered that a woman might know how to fight until I saw her sparring, but even that did not prepare me for this! She claims that she can barely use a staff, but she managed to survive and kill five men with nothing more than a staff, her bare hands, and the swords she stole as often as possible. I'm not entirely sure that I could fight so well!”
Baethan nodded in agreement. Ando held up some salve and a stack of bandages. He took a deep breath, and then sighed.
In order to tend to her wounds, we're going to have to strip her naked. I can only pray that you do not try to take advantage of her in this state,” Ando murmured grimly.
What kind of man do you think I am?!” Baethan roared in outrage. “I would not lay a hand on her even if she wanted me too!”
Ando tilted his head to the side and frowned in confusion. “You wouldn't?”
No! I know what the treaty means to her! I know just exactly how determined she was to accomplish her mission and marry Prince Crispin so that the peace treaty would be signed. I would not for a second jeopardize the current peace between our Kingdoms!” Baethan explained with a growl, feeling like it should have been obvious to anyone.
Hmm... I think I was wrong about you,” Ando murmured, clearly impressed. “I was so sure that you would try to sweet talk her into spreading her legs for you, but now I think you have more honor than that.”
Baethan looked down with an embarrassed flush. “I might have when I first met her, but...” He shrugged. “But then I got to know her. She's inspired me to be a better man. I'll admit that I hope that one day, she'll find me worthy, but as I said, not until the conditions of the treaty have been filled.”
I understand,” Ando stated with a nod. “In that case, let's work together to fix her up.”
Baethan narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “How do I know I can trust you?”
Ando sighed, and then nodded in acceptance of the fact that Baethan didn't really know him. “I would not dishonor the memory of my best friend by violating his wife. I also hope that she will find me a worthy man once her year of mourning is over – even more so now! … But... I cannot think of her as a woman now. I must think of her as an injured person that needs my help.”
Good,” Baethan stated with a tiny smile. “Then we are both in agreement. We'll help her and not be perverts while we're at it.”
Exactly,” Ando agreed.
Together, they stripped her down, tended to her wounds, and then put her clothes back on her. After that, they let her sleep while they ate their portion of the feast that had been provided for them. Both remained silent, lost in the grim thoughts of what was supposedly in store for Yalera if Yemry didn't hurry up and rescue them.

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