Nathan half supported and half carried Lana through the streets of Tench. He espied his goal and made way to the door. After a few brief raps an older man, balding with a salt and pepper beard answered. His eyes opened wide at the sight of the bloody mess that was Lana. “Quickly man, bring her in and lay her on my table here” he gestured.
“Doctor, please, help her” Nathan pleaded.
The doctor pulled out a small knife and began to cut away the ragged clothing hanging over and in the wounds. “What the devil happened! She looks like she’s been mauled.”
“It was her twin” he replied “she had some sort of giant ferret with her, and sicced it on Lana. The bitch didn’t call it off til it had nearly killed her.”
The doctor frowned as he worked over the wounds, he hadn’t seen anything nearly as bad since he was a doctor with Morion’s company years ago. Still, he knew what had to be done. He looked up “Nathan, fetch the headsman, and tell the blacksmith to heat his irons.”
“No” Nathan said unbelievingly, “not that.”
The doctor looked deep into Nathan’s eyes “It’s that or her life lad, I’ve seen wounds this bad before, and this is the only sure way to do it.”
Lana groaned again, fighting her way to consciousness. “Easy lass” the doctor said “you’ve lost much blood, just lie still.”
Nathan hovered near her, holding her good hand “just rest Lana” he whispered. Nathan stood, and with a last agonizing look, raced from the building to see to the tasks the doctor had ordered.
A New City
Tara packed up her equipment and carefully arranged it on her horse, Boxter. She shivered in the early morning damp. Running a cold camp the night before hadn’t helped, but with the warnings she’d heard and Lana’s threats on her life there was no point taking chances. Tara knelt down to check the bandages on Zed’s ear. The shivaree didn’t seem much worse for the wear considering that Lana had cut off most of his ear when he attacked her. Tara’s own wound, a shallow slice across her chest just below her breasts was minor as well, the bandage serving only to keep the dirt out, and to keep her from scratching it when it itched. Which it did now with a vengeance.
All packed up she worked her way to the road and headed towards Dargon, mounted on Boxter and with Zed trailing behind. Tara traveled this way for a week, occasionally scrambling off the road and hiding in the forest when a larger party came her way. The shivaree’s keen senses detecting the groups long before they themselves were sighted. Finally after a week of careful traveling, cold camps, and preserved foods bought in Tench, they came over a rise and saw the sea, a town, and the three legendary spires of Dargon keep.
Tara stopped at the crest of the rise, and stared at the bustling city she had set as her goal so long ago. Just a little over two weeks before bandits had raided her town, murdered her parents, a fired the farm, it seemed like a lifetime ago.
She nudged Boxter into motion set forth on the final leg of her journey. She would arrive at dusk, too late to search for her uncle but in time to seek out an inn and a hot dinner. She reached the outskirts with no trouble. As she penetrated into the more populated parts of town the shivaree drew many stares and interested looks.
Since she was exhausted from her journey Tara decided to go to the first inn she came to. This evening that inn happened to be the Inn of the Hungary Shark. She looped her reins around the hitching post and walked into the inn. The inside of the inn was set up more like a tavern. There was no typical desk as the other inn she had seen in Tench. There was already a small crowd gathered for drinks and good cheer. Tara decided to try the bartender. She walked up and took a seat at the bar. When the bartender approached her she looked at him with a hopeful smile.
“You’ll have to leave the ferret outside miss” the bartender told her.
“Oh, yes, certainly” she answered “but perhaps I could have a room and stable space in which to put him. And he’s not a ferret, he’s a shivaree.”
“I see, it’s a room you want” he smiled. He turned and called “Dilp get out here, we’ve got a customer.”
Presently a boy in his teens appeared “yes Thomas, you called?”
Thomas the bartender pointed to Tara, “stable her shivaree and any other critters she’s got, sign her in, and take her stuff to room 219, now hop to it boy.”
Dilp turned to her “This way please lady…?” he asked quizically.
“Tara, just Tara” she told him. Soon Boxter was in his stall with fresh hay and straw while Zed was put in another pen with water and meat scraps on the way. Then Dilp took her to the bar where he pulled out a rather largish leather bound book. He opened it a little more than midway through, made some marks and asked Tara for her full name. “Tara n’ha Sansela” she replied.
He made a few more marks and presented the page to her and handed her the quill, freshly dipped in ink. “Please” he said “put you mark right here” and he pointed down where he had just written. Tara scrawled an X there like there appeared at most of the other entries. Dilp then picked up the pile of her stuff they had taken off Boxter and showed her to a room upstairs.
It was about fifteen feet deep and ten feet wide with an eight foot ceiling. There was a large feather bed and a dresser. The room was lit by an oil lamp which Dilp ignited after he put her gear down. “Do you wish to have dinner brought up here or will you be dining in the common room tonight?” Dilp inquired.
Tara smiled “I think in the common room tonight, I haven’t had much company lately.” Satisfied with that he went down stairs to resume his duties.
Tara used the wash basin on the dresser and attached mirror to wipe off the road dust she had accumulated on her trip. When she was finally satisfied she went down to the common room and with a word to Thomas had her dinner served at one of the tables. She enjoyed her dinner to the tune of a bard who was singing tonight. As she ate she noticed a sad looking woman with a silver half-mask covering her face, and her equally odd companion who’s face was hidden in the shadows of his cloak hood. After dinner and early in the evening Tara returned to her room and fell into a deep slumber.
Lana awoke, blinking in the mid afternoon sunlight that was streaming into the room. Across the room in a cushion armchair slumbered a haggard looking young man, in twenties perhaps? He looked like he’d been there a week without changing. He had brown hair and a thin beard, a bit shy of six feet in height and slimly built. Somehow he looked familiar. Nathan. Now she remembered, she’s had several dalliances with him the times she had been in Tench. Suddenly it came back to her. The girl who looked so much like her, and ruined her reputation. It would take a number of killings to remind people that Lana was not one to be trifled with. She’d have killed the girl if that giant rodent hadn’t attacked her. Lana tried to brush her hair out of her eyes, but nothing happened. She looked where her left arm was supposed to be. There was nothing but a bandaged stump. Lana let out a tremendous scream of shock and rage.
Nathan awoke with a start and tumbled out of his chair. He looked up and saw Lana staring at the stump where her left arm, her fighting arm used to be. They’d had to remove it, the damage was so great. The headsman had chopped it off with one true blow, while the blacksmith had cauterized it, stopping bleeding and infection. They still had almost lost her. Lana had lain unconscious for over a week. He stayed at her side, leaving only to relieve himself. After what they’d been to each other could he do any less?
Lana stared at her stump, realizing that she’d be helpless in any kind of fight. Once word spread she’d be unable to come to Tench. Her enemies were far more willing to draw swords than her friends. It was all that little peasant girls fault, and she must pay! The young man sat down on the bed and held her to him. A pointless exercise she thought, but still strangely comforting.
Looking For Uncle
Tara rose mid morning, having slept uncharacteristicly late. Still, the journey was long and she had needed the rest. She dressed and went down to the stables to check on Boxter and Zed. Both were in fine shape, Zed never the less was pleased to see her. She checked his ear, which was healing quite well. Her own wound had scabbed over and ceased to itch. She returned to the inn and had a good breakfast.
As she ate she reviewed in her mind what she knew about her uncle. He’d left their village some twenty summers before, seeking to make his fortune. The last they’d heard from him he’d become a guardsman in the city of Dargon. He’d also cast aside his peasant name of Glenn and started using the more aristocratic sounding Adrunian Koren. There hadn’t been word of him since, but that night after the raid, her father’s ghost had sounded so certain he would be here, unless it was after all, a dream.
Tara set out into the city just an hour before the the sun reached it’s highest point in the sky. She quickly located a shop where she could buy a new outfit, and then a bath house where she could clean the road grime from her body. Tara felt much better all cleaned up and with a fresh tunic, new boots, and a fine cloth skirt. She girded on her father’s sword and set out to search for some guardsman to ask about her uncle.
Before long she ran across a patrol making it’s rounds through the markets. Tara hurried up to the leader of the group and caught his attention. “What can I do for you lass” he grinned.
Tara curtsied and answered “I am Tara n’ha Sansela, and I am looking for my uncle.”
The officer laughed “I’m Lieutenant Kalen Darklen at you service, but I’m afraid finding misplaced relatives is a little out of our line of work. We’re here to keep order. Where did you see him last?”
Tara giggled “I’ve never met him, he left home before I was born.” Seeing the look forming on Kalen’s face she hurriedly added “but I know he ‘s a guardsman, or at least was one for awhile”.
Kalen looked thoughtful “what’s his name then?”
Tara looked at him “The name he uses here is Adrunian Koren.”
Kalen Darklen’s eyes widened and several of the guardsmen mumbled to each other. Tara thought she heard someone say “Captain Koren”, but she wasn’t sure. She was positive however that these men recognized the name.
“Well, well” the Lieutenant said “perhaps you’d better walk along with us, I just may know the gentleman you seek.” The troop made it’s rounds without incident, making it’s way back to the guards quarters in Dargon keep. Kalen dismissed his men and bade Tara follow him. He led her through several passages and corridors to an office. In the office was a large man with Iron grey hair and a great walrus mustache. He wore a blue uniform jacket with gold epaulets and brass buttons. He looked up from his paperwork as Tara and Kalen entered.
“Good day Lt. Darklen, what have you brought me today?” he rumbled, his voice seeming to come in a gravely way from the depths of his chest.
Kalen answered “Captain Koren, this lady claims to be your niece.”
“Oh really now” the Captain said, focusing icy blue eyes on Tara “and what proof do you bring me that you’re my niece? and what is your name anyway?”
Tara was startled, she hadn’t stopped to consider that she would have to prove her identity. “Um” she said brightly “your real name is Glenn, and your brother was Samuel.”
“Was?” he asked, looking at her strangely.
“Yes, he and my mother and the rest of the village were murdered by bandits.”
He was staring at her sword, “let me have a look at that blade of yours”. She drew her sword and handed it to him. The Captain looked up “Kalen, get my sword will you? the one the Bichu fellow got back for me.” Kalen pulled a sword off the wall where it was mounted and handed it to Captain Koren, who then placed next to Tara’s sword. After a moment a strange look appeared on his face. “Where did you get this” he asked, indicating the sword.
“It was my father’s, I took it from him when I buried him and mother” Tara replied, brought near tears by the memory.
Koren looked at her “My brother and I were given these matching swords when each of us reached his majority. Come Tara my niece, come give your uncle a hug.” And they hugged each other for a long time, as Kalen stood there, pleased to have made this pretty young girl, and his friend and commanding officer Adrunic Koren so happy by bringing them together.
A Seed of Vengeance
The smell of roast pheasant filled Lana’s nostrils. Nathan was serving her dinner in bed. She was still too weak from blood loss and hunger to get up. Nathan had been treating her exceptionally well since she’d awaken. He was behaving better than any other man she had known. He had tried to take nothing from her, not her money, her body, nor had he tried to use her for her skills, ever.
Nathan carefully sliced the pheasant and piled it high on Lana’s plate. He knew she would only get better with plenty of rest and nutrition. He was happy to be taking care of her, but he didn’t know what to do about her sulking about the loss of her arm. It was to be expected, the loss of a limb would disturb anyone, and especially a warrior like Lana. But he would continue care for her as long as she would permit him.
“Nathan” she said, staring absently at the ceiling “the doctor says I’ll be well enough to travel in another week. I have too many enemies in Tench, I’ll have to leave.”
Nathan looked at her intently “but where will you go? what will you do?”
“I’ll go to Baranur, I have money, lands, and connections there. I’m been saving away for the day when I would have to retire. It looks like that day came sooner than I ever imagined.”
“Surely you knew something like this could happen any time, with the kind of life you lead.”
“Yes Nathan, but not this soon, and not because of some amateur. An amateur with my face! It wasn’t even honorable, sending that overgrown rodent after me! And that Nathan, is why I am going to kill her. I can’t go after her myself, but I am going to kill her.”
“But how Lana, how? You won’t be in any shape to go after anyone for quite awhile.”
“I’m going to Baranur, Blastomere, is there. I have enough gold socked away to pay him. But I need your help Nathan, I need your help to travel to Baranur. I cannot go alone like this. Will you come with me Nathan?”
Nathan sat in his arm chair for a few moments, deep in thought, not looking at anything. Then, his decision made, he turned to Lana “Yes, I shall go with you, and I shall help. I am yours to command.”