15-In Good Company

*

We all looked at Quill in surprise. He’d said nothing at all about being the captain of his unit. How was he possibly old enough to be a captain?

“I am alive, indeed, Jemin,” replied Quill, approaching the newcomer and clasping his hand in greeting. “Report.”

“Five have wounds of one sort or another—but no one has or is likely to die from them,” replied the man. He was barrel chested, bearded, and looked older than Quill by a couple years—but at this point I wasn’t sure I was good at guessing men’s ages. Jemin continued, “When you did not come yesterday we feared the worst.”

Quill grimaced and gestured to his leg. “Caught a quarrel from one of those crossbows.” He glanced back at us, “And then took a detour. Bring us to the camp, we need rest and food and to make a new plan.”

Jemin turned and led us further down the gully until it opened out a bit and got shallow again. I could smell the stream long before we saw the quiet little pool and lazy water by which the soldiers of Dalyn had made their campsite. It was a nice spot.

The men were all standing by the time we arrived and a chorus of pleased murmurs celebrated Quill’s safe return. I got the particular feeling that the presence of five strangers significantly stymied their rejoicing. Quill hobbled to the center of the little camp. “Gentlemen,” he announced, stopping and turning to face us. “I present to you the royal princes and princess of Galhara.”

The surprised looks and soft intake of breath were gratifying. Even more gratifying was the way they snapped to attention. Royal again. My chest swelled.

Gabe and Balleck shifted uncomfortably; but Namal, the rightful crown prince of Galhara, stepped forward. “At ease,” his voice filled the little glen. “We have come for your aid.” He summed up the little raid which had shattered our new life and ended with a suitably humble request for their help rescuing our family.

Namal had directed his plea to the group at large, and I was surprised when it was Quill who answered.

“We are sworn to the protection of Dalyn. You were our allies before all was lost, and we would honor that alliance. You are welcome in our company and protection, and we will do what we can to help you regain your own.”

Captain. Of course.

Quill gestured to a big man who had a shock of curly blond hair, “Your highnesses, this is Vaudrin, my second in command.”

Vaudrin bowed. My brothers bowed in return, and I dipped in a tiny curtsy. Vaudrin was leaner built than the barrelish Jemin, and he was taller. He, like the rest standing around the glen, was on the young side of a soldier’s prime. Quill addressed Vaudrin, “Do we have any food we can share with our guests?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Vaudrin. With a gesture, he passed the order on and the glen came alive with activity. Quill’s soldiers moved like ghosts and barely spoke. Some of the men tended my prizes, others unfurled our bedrolls and began to set out food on a blanket. They built no fire—naturally—but they had a supply of olives, dates, and bread. Our own provisions were actually better, and I made sure our cheeses and slightly fresher breads made it out to the humble table.

Once all the food was set out Quill motioned for my brothers and me to take what we would first, then the rest of the men did likewise. We all carried our bread and cheese to our bedrolls. No one spoke, and the quiet sound of eating reminded me of sitting in a field with grazing animals. I didn’t know who could possibly be around to hear the soldiers in this secluded place, but they certainly weren’t taking any chances.

The long golden shadows of evening dappled the glen and danced on the face of the stream. I wanted to go touch the water and feel the comfort of its music. I didn’t. Instead I picked up Boitumelo’s satchel and went over to where Quill was sitting in close conference with Vaudrin. His leg stuck out in front of him like the beak on a heron.

Quill looked up as I approached. “Your highness.”

Vaudrin moved as if to stand but I stopped him with a lift of my hand. My, royalty was nice.

I dipped my chin toward the satchel. “Let me see to your leg, Captain.”

Quill grimaced. “It will spoil my supper.”

“I waited till you were finished—and it will spoil your life if I don’t,” I retorted.

My mysterious archer dropped his head. “Very well.” He shifted to his side to expose his wounded calf.

I knelt on the ground by his leg and began unwinding the bandage. “Vaudrin, if you wouldn’t mind sending for water from the stream?” I asked, flicking my eyes to the blond henchman.

Vaudrin nodded, “Of course, your highness.” He jumped up and moved off as softly as a breath of wind on a summer day.

“We have never had royalty among us on a mission before,” said Quill, looking away from his leg while I worked. “They don’t know which courtly manners to keep here in the wilds and which are only for civilization.”

“Then they are in good company, since we have not used courtly manners since our city burned and are not accustomed to behaving our rank.” It was only a slight exaggeration. After we fled Galhara we spent a month in the halls of my grandfather, under Daisen Bay. There, we were welcome and as royal as we had been born. My grandfather’s castle had air just like the world above, but those without nymph blood could hardly be expected to live happily under water. My mother, myself, and my siblings were the only Galhirim comfortable in my grandfather’s kingdom. So my father brought us ashore in search of a new life, and perhaps an escape. We found the circus.

*

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