The captain was her’s, heart and soul, devoted as a pup. Khoreia was but a dabbler, though, in the old magic of the grandmothers, and an impatient fool at last she admitted to try the spell only the traitor who called herself De Silva ever had managed. Better if she had applied her conventional manipulations. Her pup now should not cling so, worse than useless.
The ambush swift as glary morning found them tramping in the beech copses bordering on lands once Vagari. So like a general, or a king himself, the boy at the lead.
Noises. Scrabblings through the green underbrush along the platoon’s right. Sighting of a large dog galloping past.
“Form up – Around my lady.” ordered her captain, scraping the sword from scabbard.
Blinking, the bearded sergeant assessed the situation correctly – “Captain? I must take six and give chase. Captain!”
“Yes. Six. Now.”
Efficiently away went sergeant and his six.
And suddenly again. Some very large something thrashing along the left.
“Form up. Ring round my lady. Form up, Corporal.”
“Stay, Corporal! She shall come to no harm!”
“Captain! – We are ambushed! – I will go!”
“You stay! – Corporal! – Soldiers, stay! I will keep my lady from all harm!”
But the whiskered corporal, eyes all whites, took his five, fanning into the trees along the left. His sixth, but a boy, mouth open, rooted to the ground, stared at Khoreia’s failing flailing captain.
And then ahead a soldier’s cry she might have predicted – “Captain! – The Prince is taken!”
And so her bumbling complete. Her captain, certain in his imaginings that she was in mortal peril, thrust his man’s backside between her and the rout all about them, and knocking Khoreia over on a harder patch of ground. But making the best of her position, she stayed down.
“Archers! – The left!”
“Captain! – Corporal’s at the left!”
“I will keep her from all harm! – Where’s my sergeant?!”
She crawled. The opportune moment. Slaughter of the remainder should predictably follow, silence the fine morning’s disturbance, erase her folly. Good fortune perhaps blessing her in the shape of Vagari hunters taking the King’s soldiers for sport; and the King’s boy for ransom, or useful assassination. The unmanageable man did not even register her slipping away. For the briefest moment, Khoreia heard him distantly, though perhaps a trick of wind rustling the leaves, calling her name, again and again, but her long legs carried her away swiftly as a doe, huffing through the beeches bowing in morning light.
Later she would think. Later, bathe, again. Cool herself in last night’s pool hidden in the forest and plan. Khoreia ran on, sweating from the effort through borrowed clothes, for it prudent to put herself distant from her miscalculation.
The very next instant she ran instead from fear that shivered over her, from glimpses beside her in the green, from hunters hunting her.
Too late she comprehended the sun in her eyes again – knew she had turned full around. The blow spun Khoreia off her legs, like a puppet in the air.
No recollection of her hard smacking against the ground. Coughing only. Dirt in her mouth. Hands rough with her than any she had ever known.
“Wait, Urksa!” barked a man.
Khoreia saw then. The bear puffing in her face. The great paws raking at the soldier’s clothes she wore. The gleaming eyes of the beargirl.
“Liar!” in her face Urska roared, “You I kill!”