The soldiers turn up.

Fear kept Borysko close on Urska's heels. Her instincts, a bear's instincts, to avoid those human intruders in her forest.

Heart pounding in his mouth, he settled onto burning legs in the dark place deep under the trees where she stopped. Nyssa de Silva stirred in his twitching arms. He whispered warning, "Soldiers."

Her breath on his face: "Beargirl?"

"Here. And the dog. Shhh."

Obviously annoyed, Urska slapped his arm.

Drakon headed the platoon passing in moonlight across the forest. Borysko saw distress across the boy's face, by snatches through the black of the trees. And then Khoreia, that Vagari witch.

Urska puffed, like a kettle simmering, her eyes glinting.

"Shhh, Urska."

That witch suddenly stopped. Soldiers shuffled past. Her mane quite laughably dishevelled, but face angled over the waiting forest and eyes shining under the moon.

Nyssa de Silva surely sensed him trembling: her hand found his face.

Then Drakon called, loudly enough, brave as a man with a plan, "You slow the search."

Khoreia flinched, her face fallen into shadow. The interruption complete as the officer turned her shoulder, compelled her into step.

“I kill Liar!” rasped Urska, long after the noisy column threaded away through the night.

“And I’ll kill her first – if you don’t.”

“I kill you if you lie!”

“Urska – I’ve promised, on my family name, I’ll keep you safe –“

“Always you are Bear Killer. No way you can be other. Always be like Them! See He do your kind no bad, he wag tail and do all you say, and your kind kill him!"

Borysko slumped onto his backside, quiet though in his relief that Madame lifted her leg-numbing, yet-slight, weight off him. She went to the sobbing beargirl.

“NO TOUCH!”

“Girl, I will only touch Calla.”

The forest floor cooled Borysko’s aching body. He heard the Assessor’s “Oh”, as from surprise, which told him the odd dog lived yet. It should cost him no trouble, nor for these he would keep safe, if he rested his eyes, only this moment.

However it was full day when, blinking, he knew his surroundings again.

Nearby enough that should send any other traveller tripping and fleeing, a great bear dozed under the whispering green trees. And by her wide long-nailed paw, the brown dog, like a companion, swaddled in Madame’s own cape.

Her knee brushed his side. She knelt by him, her shoulders glowing beneath the day, and her hands trembling over his heart. Madame de Silva doing some mage-full doctoring to him, Borysko understood. Pain, or very like it, looked to be crossing her face, again, again.

Then, shuddering, he saw across her shoulders the delicate scarring – “Va’ga’ri.”

“Hold your tongue, Man. I give you Vagari magic – Yes! – to keep your legs moving and keep you from the King’s noose. And I have about had enough of your war-time prejudice!”

“I’m…a fool, in much, Madame.”

“This is no small effort on my part, Borysko.”

“I see it. You risk all – and for my neck. And here I see pain – and you must not do this – I’ll hobble along as best I can –“

“It’s called the cost – and I choose this for reasons I cannot explain to you, not yet. You. Your Urska. You both must escape –“

Borysko saw it take Nyssa de Silva, pain rippling over her, eyes tipping white, her body folding. He caught her, laid her on the ground under the blue sky.

Urska puffed at him: “Your woman sick, like your boy, I see.”

“Tired, Urska. She’s tired.”

“I see. You lighter now. She not so light. Before, she more light. You kill her.”

Tears pooled over the little he saw of Nyssa.

“I can hobble along. You tell them I took you hostage. The traitor, Borysko, abducted the Assessor. They’ll believe it.”

--

Nyssa de Silva heard the cart approaching. She had heard it all!

Standing, shakingly, on her legs, she thought wisely instead to sit on a stump. Borysko had left her by a forest road. Not entirely herself, so she could not know where, but she knew he was near, watching over her until the cart could take her back.

He had dared even to kiss her, on her mouth as he left her, as he might leave some drunken girl in a tavern, presumptuous, and asking no Please. And he meant it for Good Bye!

Creaking, and clanking pans that festooned it like advertisement, the cart slowed. The trader under his wide hat, and his stringy son, both wide-eyed.

She could not tell brave Borysko the wondrous thing: that his Urska had healed Calla’s wound, somehow.

You will know it, soon enough – and the Assessor of the Mages’ Circle picked herself up like an old woman, plodded over to the cart.

The End

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