(OOC NOTE: These events took place several weeks before posting time -- in the immediate wake of the fight between the Royal Guard and the Fellowship, in the City of Minoc. Later other branches of the Fellowship sought, too successfully, to distance themselves from those events.)
“Put her down!,” Sir John of Minoc yelled.
“We're walking out of here! We're leaving this town!”
“No. You are not.”
John was having the exchange with a man dressed as a Minoc town guard. Until a few hours ago, when he'd been persuaded to attack the Royal Guard on behalf of the Fellowship, that's exactly what he'd been. But now he, and the other former guard with him, were fugitive traitors to both the Crown, and to Minoc. These two were among the last such men left.
The man who wasn't talking held a sword and shield. The man who was had a knife and an eleven year old girl, the daughter of one of the butchers. They had already made a small cut in the girl's neck, to show the seriousness of their attempt to escape.
“Yes, we are. We're walking out of here.”
“You are surrounded. You are not going anywhere except with me. Alive or dead is up to you.”
“Then she dies too.”
The girl, whose name was Emily, showing wisdom and bravery, kept her eyes closed, and made not a sound. And for a few moments, neither did anyone else. Apart from the occasional metallic clanging of armor, or the rustle of the late Summer wind, the night had gone eerily quiet. Especially following, as it had, hours of running and fighting as John and the loyal guards had hunted down, and captured or killed, the treacherous ones.
John saw the fear of his quarries but couldn't tell if it was working for him or against him. Two of the guards with him had bows – but he didn't think it'd kill the man fast enough to spare the girl so John was reluctant to give the order to loose. At times like these, John wished he were more like his father, capable of extreme ruthlessness and making the target know it. Right about now a credible threat to kill someone the man loved, or something like that, would have been useful. John knew he could never make such a threat with credibility. At least not to someone who knew him, as did most of the town guard. Unfortunately including these two men.
But maybe John had another asset. The other guard, the one with the sword and shield, was shaking visibly. And the guard with the hostage was sweating despite the coolness of the night. They were nervous.
“What about you.” John now addressed the other guard, the one with the sword and shield.
“Talk to me!” yelled the guard with the hostage.
John ignored him. “Are you ready to kill this girl and face my wrath for it?” He stepped forward, very slowly, hoping the men wouldn't notice his slight movements. “You saw how we handled these other arrests. You saw that only those who resisted or fought died. You saw how we are treating the wounded even as we speak.”
The man with the hostage tried to maintain control. “Talk to me! Talk to me!” The other man was just whispering to himself, shaking more and more. He stared right at John. He knew John was advancing and John knew he knew. But the guard with the hostage showed no sign as of yet of noticing John's slow, steady advance.
John continued to ignore the man with the hostage. He kept talking and tried to lower his voice, to make them have to work harder to hear him. The other guards stayed dead still, ready to pounce. John's own weapons were not drawn and everyone knew how vulnerable this made him – an expert boxer or wrestled John was not. “He has two hostages, lad.” The man was barely that. “The girl, and you. The girl is helpless at present but you are not. You can save all three of you.”
It all seemed to happen at once. The man with the hostage tightened his grip on the knife and started to move it. The guards in John's group realized, correctly, that he was going to cut the girl's throat, and the archers loosed their arrows without waiting for John's order. The arrows sailed through the air and their aim was perfect, one bolt landing in each eye of the man with the hostage. The other guards surged forward, weapons drawn. The man with the sword and shield did a lunge at John, trying to close the distance quickly, a move John had taught him, but he missed wildly because John, having successfully advanced to just within range of the girl, was diving for her trying to pull her away, and it almost worked.
The knife missed the girl's throat but scraped across her nose and one eye as John pulled. Finally she screamed as flesh was scraped off her face and blood spurted. The dying man stabbed forward, and the knife scraped deeply through and across her stomach and abdomen. She fell to the ground, slipping through John's grasp.
Both men then were simply hacked to pieces by the guards as John tried to stem the girl's bleeding. Her screaming and crying had stopped. She was still alive but, seemingly, was feeling nothing. “Hold on,” he told her. “We can stop the bleeding. You'll live.” She just nodded and otherwise, lay still. John summoned Artex, his swamp dragon, and pulled the girl upon it with him. “Keep up the hunt! Strength and honor!,” he told the guards as he rode off, towards the healer.
A few buildings away, a small group of men, mostly hidden in the shadows, watched the dramatic scene unfold. The one of the group not hidden was Duncan. “See boys?,” he told the others, who were other now-former guards compromised by the Fellowship – some of the few not already apprehended or killed. “You can't run from this. They're gonna find you sooner or later. It's better for you if you do it on your terms instead of theirs. 'Specially now.”
“They'll kill us,” said one of the other men. He sounded desperate, on the edge of tears.
“If you turn yourselves in on your terms? Oh, you'll be fine.” Duncan chuckled, took out his pipe, lit it, and took a few puffs. “If you don't? If you try and run? Oh, being killed'll be the least of your problems. I
don't want ta'think about what'll happen to you if they bring back the Highland Guard's ways....Wouldn't be quick or pretty!”
One of the corrupt guards openly wept now, comforted by the others.
“Calm down now, boys,” Duncan continued. “It's like I told you. Go and turn yourselves in on your own terms. Run down to the healer's. Tanda's down there. No one'll harm you while she's around. Go and turn yourselves in.”
“But, worth,” said one of them. “Worth, unity, trust.....The Fellowship.”
Duncan made a mental note of which man was talking. He reckoned that most of the former guards could be reformed. This one, still stuck on the Fellowship's precepts even after witnessing one of them try to murder an innocent child, probably wasn't among them.
“It's ok,” Duncan casually lied to the man. “I'll keep it up. The Fellowship'll survive this. Go and turn yourselves in, brothers.”
The men ran off, Duncan thought they looked like scurrying rats, in the direction of the healer's. Duncan kept smoking. He wrapped his cloak around him and headed off toward The Barnacle. He'd report to John and Tanda later and hoped Destinie was still up when he finally got home. First he needed a little ale. Maybe some wine.
There weren't many of the former guards left, fortunately. Overall their numbers had been small, though far too many. John was able to go to the healer's to check on everyone within an hour after the incident. The scene there was busy but controlled. Every healer the city had, mage and witch and cleric and physician alike, was present. This included Governor Tanda, who was John's wife, and Tanda's sister Serenity. John saw Emily in the corner – four healers were working on her, Serenity among them. Emily had lost a lot of blood and John noticed a medicinal torch and a certain herb paste on a table nearby her. That meant they were worried about infection. The former guards, the real guards who were part of John's team, and and a small number of innocent victims were all present. Most, John could tell, were about ready to go home. Or, in the case of the former guards, to be imprisoned, and interrogated.
Tanda was patching up one of those – kneeling beside his bed, applying a splint to an arm John had broken earlier. There was a bandage over the same man's nose, where one of the loyal guards had smashed the hilt of a sword. For better or worse, he'd heal fine.
“That should do it,” Tanda told the man, whose distress, from the injuries and seeing John, was obvious. “You'll be fine, resting in a cell soon.” The man seemed to accept her word, and laid down in the bed. Tanda tied his good arm securely to the bed. “Can't have you running away now, can we.”
“No, miss,” the man whispered. Tanda smiled at him and stood up, and smiled at her husband. She brushed off the blood, bone fragments, dirt, and whatnot from her brown healer's robe, and walked to him, and embraced him. Without asking, John slowly walked her outside.
“How is the girl,” John asked.
“You saved her life. Infections might still kill her but they probably won't and if it weren't for you she wouldn't have made it here.”
“I am glad. But how is she.”
Tanda sighed. “I won't lie, John. She'll survive unless the infections get her. But, assuming she does, it's still a rough road. There's a lot we don't know yet and won't know for awhile. I think they can repair her face, mostly. But it'll take time. They don't know about the eye yet but even if she can't see out of it they can teach her to see with one eye, given time.. Her insides are torn up. She might be able to eat normally if we're lucky. But....” Tanda sighed again. John could tell the specifics were difficult for Tanda to say. “There's a lot she won't be able to do. She'll never have children, she'll never quite walk right. She's too young to care about the children just yet but....Well she might be able to play with the other children. Not quite normally but close. I shouldn't be saying all this, it's still too early. It might not be that bad in the end.”
“Where are her parents.”
“They were here not too long ago but I sent them home. Nothing to really tell them yet. Soon, though. After the surgery I'll tell them.”
“I will tell them.”
“I'm the Governor, John.”
“And that is why you have minions to do unpleasant things for you....”
John trailed off as Tanda set a finger on his lips. Her mind was made up, and John knew it. John nodded his assent.
“Stay with me until they're done with her.”
“Then after I've told her parents we'll all go home. Serenity's seen her wounds up close....She'll need us, especially you. But that's later. For now just wait with me.....”
They embraced and kissed in the late evening gloom.
Minoc is the city of Sacrifice located at the foot of the Crescent Mountains in the north of the main continent.
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- John Knighthawke
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