“I am very sorry for the loss of your city,” said Quill through gritted teeth, bringing me back to the present as I peeled the last layer bandage away from his leg. The wound was still an angry red hole, but I thought it looked a bit better. The riding had been significantly kinder to it than the walking.
Vaudrin returned with a waxed canvas bucket filled with water and I set to gently washing the calf.
“Do you need anything else, milady?” Vaudrin asked.
“No, thank you, you may sit.”
Vaudrin hesitated, then sank to his bedroll next to Quill’s.
“If I may ask, Quill, how old are you?” I dabbed the ragged flesh carefully.
“Torturer,” hissed Quill. “Probe my wounds and ask questions, but I will not relent.”
I wrinkled my nose, unsure of the laugh that was trying to strangle out. “You had better relent, else I’ll rinse your wounds with vinegar.”
Quill wriggled uncomfortably but said nothing.
I moved on to smearing salve and changed tactic, “How did someone as young as you become captain?”
“The royal guard was gutted the day Dalyn fell. There were fewer ranks to climb.”
Vaudrin cut in, “He is being modest, your highness.” I glanced at the blond man, who continued, “We all joined the guard well before any boy should be allowed—but the captain has always excelled, they delayed his promotion until he was at least knocking on twenty’s door.”
I finished re-bandaging his leg and moved up to his shoulder.
Quill gave me a pained look when I started plucking the bandage back. I rolled my eyes at him. “And you’re the one who needs rescuing on your first big mission?” I asked as I finished peeling off the bandages and began inspecting the slash. This one was well on its way to healing.
“It’s hardly our first big mission,” replied Quill.
“Where do you think he excelled, your highness?” Vaudrin smiled.
Pursing my lips, I focused on cleaning the sword wound. “You can’t have been more than fifteen or sixteen years old when Dalyn fell!”
“I was fourteen.”
I paused, my fingers poised at his shoulder. Younger than even I was when Galhara fell. Suddenly his story became vivid—like adding salt to stew. I had been sixteen—but born with my rank and taught to fight as a matter of royal schooling. Royal schooling that became entirely practical far before expected or complete. Quill had been even younger when he was pushed into war, and I wondered if he had possessed any of my advantages. I stared at him, “Did you…join right away?” I was afraid to ask the real question: Did his family die, too?
He was looking at the ground, “I did.”
“I’m sorry,” I managed.
Quill met my eyes for a raw moment—and then inclined his head. “What’s lost is lost.”
Our conversation was interrupted by a shattering crack that brought the entire glen to its feet. There was a moment’s confusion as hastily armed men scattered like chaff to cover the area. I started to get up but Quill laid a firm hand on my arm. “Stay, your highness.”
For a split second I was surprised, then I remembered. My brothers were likewise guarded by members of the unit who stood over them like she-bears over cubs. An entire company of Remkos.
A moment later the soldiers returned. Vaudrin came to report, he paused between Quill and Namal uncertainly, then directed his findings at both of them, “We are safe. The draft horse broke the tree branch to which he was tethered. Ripped it right off the tree.”
I shifted as I felt my brothers’ eyes resting on me. Apparently Sinker’s flaw was tying. “Not to worry,” I assured the company quickly—though Quill’s men didn’t know I was responsible for the dysfunctional horses, “he won’t leave—his mind cannot cope with being tied.”
I caught Ayglos hiding a smirk behind his hand.
The soldiers returned to their beds like a flock of sparrows descending on a tree for the night. I turned my attention back to smearing salve on Quill’s shoulder.
Shortly, Ayglos and Namal came to join us; Vaudrin stood and offered them his bedroll to sit on. Once they were settled, Namal said, “Captain, we need to move quickly. I propose that we send some of the men back to Gillenwater to find out what was done with the circus women and our family. If they have sent a raven to Hirhel we have three days, perhaps less, to rescue our people.”
“Agreed, your highness,” said Quill. “Our orders were to return to Dalyn once we accomplished our mission. We will tarry here to aid you, and then will make with all speed back to Dalyn. I hope that you will still make that journey with us.
“I would send Jemin, and with your leave, your sister in disguise. A man and a woman together would be less suspicious. They can take the donkey and behave as travelers.”
Namal considered this. I could see that neither of my brothers were pleased with the idea, but there were clear advantages. With Narya’s men hunting for the rebel soldiers who burned the forges, my chiseled swimmer brothers would surely draw unwelcome attention. Jemin, who had greeted us first when we arrived, was a strapping, bearded man, who could easily be taken for a laborer—a mason or blacksmith perhaps. Add to this that no one brings a woman on a raiding party…
“Zare?” Namal turned to me. “Would you be up for the task?”
“Of course,” I didn’t hesitate.
Namal nodded and bowed his head for a moment. He looked at Ayglos, and then agreed at last. “Very well, Jemin and Zare will go into Gillenwater in the morning.”