Callindra crouched behind a small hill, listening to the sounds and smelling the scents the Winds brought her way. There were creatures moving out there, and they didn’t have the best interests of any living creature in mind. Glancing back at Cronos she gave a quick hand signal, and he nodded, slipping around the hill to the left while she went to the right.
The shouts of distressed humans reached her ears, curling on the back of a malicious breeze. Gritting her teeth, she dropped the guise of stealth and sprinted over the hill, whipping Brightfang’s slender length from his sheath with a whistling rasp of steel against leather.
Two huge wagons drawn by teams of eight oxen each were surrounded by strange creatures, seemingly humans with heads like dogs, long powerful arms and short hair covering their bodies. Most importantly, their eyes glowed with green fire. These were her enemies.
With a shout and a swing of her blade, Callindra sent a blast of wind that cut like razors into the closest beasts. One of them fell shrieking and clutching at a severed arm, and the other two ran to meet her charge. Just before they reached her, Cronos slammed into them from one side and Vilhylm from the other. The creatures toppled to the ground, but dozens more reared up from the grass, some with flaming arrows nocked to bowstrings.
“Ware!” An older man with a mattock in his hands shouted to them, “There be grain in them wagons!”
Callindra watched the arrows flying through the air, the flames on the oil soaked heads flickering in the evening light. She tried to do something, to use magic, but it slipped through her fingers. She might as well try to hold onto a handful of water.
Tryst shouted three words that echoed in the air and the ground around one of the wagons rippled, forming into an earthwork berm. The arrows thudded harmlessly into it, but the oxen bellowed in fear, rolling their eyes and straining against their yokes.
Vilhylm ran forward, breathing into the lead bull’s nostrils and he quieted enough that the wagon wasn’t in danger. Donning a mask of polished wood, he seemed to grow and change. His skin became less like flesh and more like bark. Vines sprouted from his arms and twined around a group of advancing creatures, forcing them to slow their mad rush.
Ignoring them, Callindra slashed the closest one to her from neck to navel before spinning to catch the downward swing of a pike on Brightfang’s blade. The force of the impact drove her to one knee, but she shed the impact and swung her sword to hack the thing off at the knees.
She growled in pain as an arrow slammed into her thigh, deflected by her armor but still hitting hard enough to bruise and then was nearly thrown to the ground when another struck her chest, this time finding a weak spot and plunging into muscle. A swipe of Brightfang cut the shaft off close to the armor and she continued to carve a trail of destruction through the seemingly endless swarm of enemies. A half dozen burning shafts arced high to strike the grain wagon and it began to catch fire, but vines from Vilhylm raced up to smother most of the flames.
Callindra swung about to look for another enemy, but found they were all down. She carefully cleaned the oozing green ichor from Brightfang’s blade before it could etch the steel and sheathed him. Tryst was speaking with the wagon master, Cronos was making sure of the dead and Vilhylm was checking the condition of the wagons with a woodworker’s critical eye.
“- bound for Clarion with grain.” The man was saying, “Good thing you all came up when ya did. Them critters woulda been a fair lot more trouble than we coulda handled.”
“It was a pleasure to assist you master Gild.” Tryst replied, “The Adamantine Brotherhood is bound by duty to help those in need.”
“And we don’t mind killing creatures that need killing.” Callindra said dryly, “Wel met, I’m Callindra-“
“Yer the ones what handled them critters at the Graiven place ain’t ya?” Orin interrupted, giving Tryst a critical look.
“Uh. No.” Tryst said, “We’re just…” he paused; knowing he shouldn’t really talk about their mission. “We’re-“
“Where are you headed then Orin?” Callindra interrupted, annoyed that the farmer was ignoring her.
“We gotta couple loads a grain bound fer Levora.” One of the heavily muscled boys with obvious family resemblance to Orin said, grinning at her. “Ya got some skills with that pigsticker.”
“Aye, I ain’t never seen fightin like that!” The other said, obviously a brother or cousin. “It were like ya was dancin or somethin.”
“Boys!” Orin barked, “Get them teams under control and quit yappin!”
The two young men looked away from Callindra with startled expressions on their faces, talking over one another in their haste to obey. “Yessir! Yes father!”
He turned back to Tryst, still ignoring Callindra. “So ya ain’t from Levora? I heard there was patrols from there tryin ta keep the roads open.”
“No, we’re The Adamantine Brotherhood. We fight evil wherever we find it.” Tryst said, repeating the name he insisted on using for their group.
Callindra rolled her eyes, “We aren’t heroes Tryst, that silly name isn’t going to stick.”
Tryst gave her a resigned, resentful look and then noticed the stub of the arrow shaft protruding from her chest. “By the Powers Callindra, come here at once! I must remove that arrow before it gets infected.”
She unbuckled the breastplate of her armor and winced at the pain when she removed it. She was used to getting injured by now, but it didn’t make the pain any less. The flowers in her hair released a tiny burst of pollen that made her sneeze but somehow it had an anesthetic effect. Either that or she was going into shock.
“Just pull it out.” She said through gritted teeth. “I got lucky, I think one of my ribs stopped it from puncturing a lung, but you can’t push it through.”
Tryst made her sit and frowned. “I’m going to have to cut these clothes off… at least your underthings.”
Callindra pulled her tunic over her head with effort, wincing again as the arrowhead grated against a rib. “I go through more breast bands.” She grumbled, but looked at him and nodded tersely.
He took a small surgeon’s kit from his belt pouch and deftly sliced through the cotton band, exposing the arrow shaft. A look of surprise registered on his face as he looked to the left. It was an ancient trick but Callindra fell for it, glancing away in confusion as he pulled the arrow out in a smooth practiced motion.
She gasped in pain, but nodded her thanks. “Keeps me from tensing the muscles at the wrong time right?” Callindra looked down at the wound just to one side of her right breast. The bleeding had already stopped and she could feel the roots of Jorda’s gift slowly pulling the flesh together.
Tryst was staring intently as well, and based on the location of the wound some women might have taken offense. Callindra knew, however, that he was interested in the healing process. “I just can’t get over this. It’s such an amazing thing to see.”
“Yes, well can I get dressed now?” She asked, smiling at the touch of color on his cheeks, “Those boys are starting to wonder what we’re doing.”
“Of course, just don’t put pressure on it for a bit.” He said, clearing his throat. “No seriously strenuous activity for a day if you can help it.”
Callindra nodded, too tired to argue. She would ignore him as usual, they both knew it, but the routine still felt good. It was so strange and wonderful to have people who cared enough about her to mother her about her injuries. Shrugging back into her bloodied, sweat stained tunic, she went back to the horses to get fresh clothes and a drink of water.
One of the boys met her halfway there with a waterskin and a friendly smile. “I’m Jordan Gild. Don’t mind pop, he’s just scared… likes ta fall back on old habits when he gets rattled ya know?”
“All too well.” She said, taking the waterskin from him with a nod of thanks. She drank deeply and splashed some over her face, feeling it sting where there were still small cuts from the battle. The Crown always healed the largest wounds first, sometimes it was days until the smaller ones got closed.
“I’m not really offended.” She said, then gave him a critical look. “Well honestly I am, but I’m just too tired to worry about it right now. We’ve been on the road for weeks and I don’t think I’ve gotten a decent night’s sleep that whole time. How far out of Levora are we anyway? I want a bath and a real bed.”
“Oh, just about a day an a half.” He said, “At least as the wagon trundles. Ya could probably get there a mite sooner travelin by horse.”
She sighed in resignation, taking another drink from the waterskin before handing it back to him. “I’m sure Tryst will insist on us riding with you, and honestly I will welcome a slower pace until these wounds heal.”
“I ain’t seen anyone take an arrow to the chest an not just fall over dead.” He said, his wide face shining with honest admiration. “How do ya keep them flowers fresh anyways?”
Callindra sighed. It was only for a couple of days, but they were going to be long days if this farm boy spent them all gawking and asking questions.
“Magic.” She said shortly, “I need to go and change… and maybe take a quick scrub down in that little river over there. You should see to your beasts.”
“Oh, uh… right.” He said awkwardly.
“Thanks for the water Jordan.” She said, and went to find fresh clothes.