“Victory to Vervell!”
Sarah started awake and clutched at the stretcher poles as her movement caused Reed and Aaron to stumble.
“Victory to Vervell!” the Scouts and Hopefuls around her responded.
Sound had apparently returned to its normal level so Sarah began a system check from her head to her toes. She moved body parts only slightly so as not to shake the stretcher. Everything but her right leg seemed to be in order, though she felt she could sleep another day away.
At last the group stopped and set her down. As she struggled to rise, they all fell to their knees. Sarah looked up and saw the King standing before them. Kneeling before him was Prince Theodoso. Sarah watched as the King moved his left hand to raise his son’s face to his own. His expression ran between relief and love. At last he moved his hand away and held it out.
“Arise my son and stand beside me.” The Prince clasped his father’s hand. “I have need for your strength.”
Prince Theodoso stood and took a spot on the King’s left side and Sarah realized the King’s left arm was not under a cloak, but in a sling. Even the Prince looked ragged with one of his sleeves missing. In fact, Sarah’s gaze swept the area in which they had stopped, there were few here without injury.
“Rise,” the King commanded and they slowly stood.
Reed and Aaron quickly helped Sarah when they saw her trying to stand as well. She was not very steady on her feet. She felt the King’s gaze upon her but he quickly turned his attention to the two Scout Sergeants who now stood before him.
“You have protected my son well, for I see he has arrived nary a scratch, but at what cost?” King Demetrioso asked them grimly.
Sergeant Deer spoke first. “Your Majesty, two of my men have perished valiantly, and one of my Hopefuls. Fox’s Hopefuls fared worse, with three of them falling in defense of his Highness.”
Sergeant Fox continued. “Deer’s men, Your Majesty, took the heaviest casualties, with two of his men and two of his Hopefuls being wounded. Only one of my men was wounded light enough to survive.”
Sergeant Deer spoke again “Scouts John and Ben were left to help the wounded, Your Majesty, though Prince Theodoso insisted we bring Hopeful Smith back with us.” The King breifiely glanced at Sarah yet again. “Scout Troop Wolf is on the trail of the few enemy that survived.”
“It was the enemy archers, Your Majesty” Fox stated, “that did the worst damage, until they were taken out by Hopeful Smith.”
“I think I only took out one,” Sarah corrected, “but I met one of Wolf Troop on the way to him and passed on the word, Your Majesty.”
The King nodded. “Yes, General Wholawski’s men do have a way with ranged weapons that we do not. It is something to learn from.” He glanced at his son.
“There is another assassin,” Prince Theodoso turned to his father, “Lordling Marcus perished from his blade protecting me and Goodwoman Smith,” everyone glanced to Sarah, “chased him and earned another Nigiri dagger.”
Prince Theodoso stepped away from his father and handed Sarah the weapon that had been in her leg.
“So,” the King studied her, “It seems we have a second Phoenix in our midst.”
“Phoenix,” Sarah suddenly remembered Jay, his faint heartbeat, his tenuous grasp on life.
Reed and Aaron steadied her as she wobbled.
“Scout Second Mathew.” The King beckoned and Mathew appeared from the shadows of the barracks wall. “Take Hopeful Smith to see Scout Sergeant Phoenix.”
“Yes your Majesty.” Mathew bowed and stepped to Sarah.
“Come,” Mathew’s voice was tight and filled with exhaustion.
Sarah tried to follow him, but she could barely stand. Mathew sighed and moved to help her.
“Can you walk any slower?” he asked after a few moments of her struggling along.
“I’m doing the best I can,” Sarah retorted back. “Stupid fricken assassins,” she muttered to herself, “should have stayed in the f’n city and been blown up with the rest of my world.”
“What?” Mathew asked puzzled as he stopped to let her rest.
“Nothing,” Sarah sighed. “Jay is still alive right?” Mathew gave a curt nod as they started again. “So what happened to him?”
“General Wholawski,” Mathew spoke in a clenched voice, “was up to his dishonorable tricks. Phoenix took two bolts to the back before we routed him and the rest of his army.”
“How many were there?” Sarah asked.
“More than expected and given that they got this far in they’ll probably get out again too,” Mathew grumbled. “At least our path forward from here is clear. There is no way the King can continue with letters and treaties. Not with the Princess captured and their attack on his person and the Prince.” Mathew stopped at a fence and turned to face Sarah. His face was set with grim determination. “No, we will have to go to war.”
Sarah held herself against the fence and watched Mathew walk away. Preventing war was why she’s agreed to Jason’s mission. Preventing war was why they’d captured Prince Hermanos. And now it was going to happen anyway. Choking back another sob she turned towards the Willow tree under which bodies lay in concentric circles.