Borysko breathed in mountain scrub, and lay still.

It had knocked the breath out of him, falling off that wretched beast, and his chest felt tight and sore; he was not as young as he was, and the cursed weakness from the poison still had him in its grip. He had landed awkwardly on one arm, and the elbow screamed at him.

The sound of hooves retreated into the distance, the vibrations thrumming through the thin soil; if they kept up that gallop on this rough terrain one of the horses would put its foot in a rabbit hole sooner or later, thought Borysko irrelevantly.

But they had gone. It had been worth it, whispering the plan to Alastor while Drakon believed them snappish with each other. The old king was far smarter than he appeared.

His horse, fearful of leaving human company despite its panic and unused to riders who voluntarily unseated themselves, returned to thrust its velvet muzzle into his side. He swore at it and it danced back anxiously; with an effort he scraped up a stone and threw it at the beast. It struck the ground right next to the animal's front hoof, and the rattling thud of impact was too much; the grey horse fled, bounding away after the Vagari.

There were new vibrations coming through the earth now. Heavier ones.

Borysko lay still.

The first of Berengar's scouts crested the rise, saw the prone body, stopped, turned and disappeared back down out of sight. Shortly, others arrived, surrounded him, poked and prodded him.

Borysko feigned unconciousness.

Eventually, after much low-voiced and anxious discussion, he was picked up between two of them and carried unceremoniously down to the bulk of the army, where it had regrouped after the initial exchange with the Vagari. There he was delivered into the care of a sergeant, who was surely too busy trying to regain order to deal with unconcious prisoners.

Borysko, peering out through the corner of his eye, recognised the man; Armel, who had been an insignificant Private in the Scarlet Guard when Borsyko had been important in the regular Army. He had always seemed sergeant material, and Borysko was obscurely pleased to see that he had achieved the rank. But now was not the time for nostalgia.

The earlier shower of arrows from the Vagari forces had taken their toll. There were already groaning wounded, and the still shapes of the dead. But it had been a minor clash, and the majority of Berengar's forces were still here, and gearing up for a clash that would shake the mountain.

Borysko lay unregarded, waiting and worrying. Sergeant Armel had too many things to do before he wasted time informing his superiors of a seemingly unimportant prisoner taken, and indeed he never got around to it; thankfully for Borysko it was Sergeant Esben, intruding into the ranks of the Scarlets for some errand, who discovered him.


The warrior sat up abruptly and held up a hand.

"Not so loud," he hissed. "I do not want Berengar or Khoreia or your Captain Reese to know I'm here."

Esben gave a hollow, humourless laugh. "Reese is no problem now; but I wouldn't like t'see Khoreia if she found you. I won't tell. But why have you come?"

Borysko darted suspicious glances here and there, seeking spies. But the camp was too busy to spend time watching prone figure tucked away in a corner, surely simply another wounded man set aside as beyond help.

"Esben," he hissed. "You helped us afore; will you help us again?"

Esben's face lost all expression.

"Help how?" he asked bluntly. "I smell treason."

"It is not treason if you be helping the rightful King," said Borysko persuasively;  "D'you truly believe now that Berengar is fit t'rule? With me I have both King Alastor and Prince Drakon, and neither's mad."

"How d'you know Berengar is mad?" Esben enquired. "Y'escaped long afore he joined this troop and we've not seen y'since. Has there been spyin'?"

"Only of a sort," Borysko said evasively. "Does't matter how I know? I know that Berengar's no sort of leader now. Surely y'have no bond of loyalty t'him? You ain't Scarlet Guard. The Army answers to th' King, not th' Crown Prince, and th' King asks your help now."

Esben's dark eyes considered, shadowed with thought. Borysko tried to look pleading; it was not an easy task for him, accustomed as he was to looking stolid and expressionless.

"Yes," said the sergant at last. "I'm tired of doin' the biddin' of a mad princeling and the witch-woman Khoreia. Now's the time to strike out. Were those Vagari archers yours?"

Borysko nodded. "My thanks, Esben, for help given t'a man y'hardly know in th' name of a King who seemed t'run away. Y'will be rewarded...that I promise."

The sergeant waved a hand. "I ain't doin' this for rewards," he said brusquely, but before he could continue another voice said,

"And that behoves you well, soldier."

The dark figure of the dog Calla padded towards them, green eyes gleaming. Both men regarded him with some suspicion.

"What d'you want, dog?" said Esben, rudely. Calla put his head on one side, and seemed to smile.

"Only to help, sergeant. Only to help..."

The End

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