WARNING - This short story relies on previous tales from the world of Albrene. The previous installments are The Good Soldier, From The Eyes of A Dragon, A Dragon's Battle and The Commander's Final Battle.
“Look, up ahead. . . . He looks injured.” Nosef's cautious voice alerted Nol to the man limping in front of the caravan.
Nol released her horse’s reins, extending one arm above her head to signal the caravan. A moment later the three covered wagons behind Nol stopped. She allowed the thick black cloak she was wearing to fall back over her hand as she wrapped it around the hilt of her sword. The figure before them was silhouetted against the rising sun, making identification impossible. A strand of Nol’s long white hair dropped in front of her young face as she attempted to squint through the sun's rays.
Nol forcefully brushed the strand behind her ear, pushing the thick, dark hood of the cloak, off her head. Her complexion was young and smooth, almost delicate to the touch. Her long, flowing white hair fell behind her pointed elven ears, gathering in the hood now hanging loose behind her. The horse she was riding startled slightly to the sound of steel rubbing against leather as Nosef partially drew his sword.
“Nosef, see who that is, and what they are doing out here. I will cover you from here.” Nol’s voice was quiet and solemn. This is what they had prepared for. Nol closed her eyes.
“Maalawnaf Alüla. Malsa lyahee.” She felt energy pulse from her body and return, revealing all living creatures in the area. She carefully counted the lifeforms nearby, confirming there was no one hiding in the area. – Either that, or they're hiding really well. – . A small tingle ran down her spine, reminding her to watch how she used her remaining energy.
The lead wagon in the small three-cart caravan rolled forward slightly, garnering a glance from Nol.
“Lady Rafaf, is it wise to stop and help this man? It could be a trap.” The driver was a small man, no taller than five feet. If Nol had not seen him eat the night before she would have thought him starved.
“Kokma,” Nol sighed. “It could be a trap, yes. However, I doubt it. I cast a spell a moment ago that would have revealed anyone hiding in the area. Concealment from that spell would require a skilled magic user. Such an individual or group would not attack such a small caravan.” Kokma was about to protest when Nol resumed speaking. “You hired me to protect your caravan, let me work… stop distracting me.” Nol began placing the words together for another spell as her brother cautiously rode toward the man in the road.
Silver flashed in Nol's eyes as Nosef drew his sword. "He's an Imperial!" Nosef cried. The man in the road fell to his knees as though to surrender. – Something's not right. An imperial would never just surrender. – Nol chose the words for a lightning spell she could adapt to strike more than one target if needed. It was a simple spell she knew would not entirely drain her. Nosef barked a command toward the imperial. Suprisingly, the man appeared to obey as Nosef dismounted and bound his wrists. Nosef remounted his horse and began riding toward the caravan, gently guiding the bound imperial behind his horse with one end of a rope. Nol quickly raised her hood back over her head, concealing her bright white hair and pointed ears. She knew of the empire's hatred toward light-touched and elves; she was the unfortunate combination of the two races.
Nol began to make out more details of their prisoner as her brother and the imperial got closer to the caravan. The hostage was tall and heavily built. His dark skin blended into the short, unkept beard along the man’s chin and neck. He wore a thick, padded shirt, one likely worn beneath armor. His dark skin was dirty. Dried blood matted the side of the Imperial's face. One leg of his pants appeared torn or burnt off. It was apparent he had been in a battle of some kind. Nol could not help but wonder if he was victorious, and if so . . . how dangerous he could be.
"What is your name?" Nol's voice was fierce as she expertly concealed the anxiety building within her. Her eyes darted to the Imperial's hands, inspecting his restraints.
"Ata?" The harsh sound of dark-speech leaving her brother's lips caused Nol to wince slightly as though she expected some form of disaster to follow.
When the soldier before them did not respond, Nol looked to her brother. "Nosef, tighten his bonds and check him for weapons. We will bring him to Hatave with us."
"Are you insane!" cried Kokma, the caravan driver behind Nol. "We cannot permit an Imperial to travel with us!"
"I'm with Kokma!" Screamed one of the other drivers from the second wagon. "They are not to be trusted, we haven't enough food for another mouth, and we wouldn't want . . ."
"Enough!" The drivers drew silent at the forceful tone of Nosef's voice. Her brother's shout even startled Nol. It was the first time in months she had heard Nosef's voice rise above its usual calm nature. "This man is clearly injured. He has given us no resistance. He has no weapons and does not appear to be a maji. He poses no threat to any of you. We cannot leave him here to die. We do not know his story, and it is not ours to judge."
“Auta’ show me for hiring such young reskusa as guards,” the caravan driver grumbled slightly to himself, seemingly weighing the consequences of taking him.
"Is it now our duty to help those we can?" Nosef's voice glowed with unusual confidence and determination. "In any way we can?"
“Brother, what are you suggesting?” Nol’s voice was a soft whisper. She knew the teachings of the Setaloa would have her heal those she could.
"I'll never understand how you elves can be so nieve. . . Fine! Have it your way, his food is coming out of your pay." Kokma stepped down from the wagon he was driving and motioned for them to follow. Under other circumstances, Nol would have paid to see Nosef put a client in his place with such finesse. However, this was an Imperial; a soldier from a country with deeply seeded hatred for all other races.
Nol thought back to her grandmother, who had been taken prisoner during the twelfth war with The Regorian Empire. She remembered the scars covering her arms and stomach. She remembered how her grandmother would jump nearly every time someone touched her.
"His injuries are quite severe, Nol." Nosef was trying every tactic he knew to convince Nol to tend to this monster's wounds without ordering her.
– He knows me all too well, but he didn't see what they did to Ela. How can I heal someone capable of such evil. – Nol paused as the words of her father surfaced in her mind – Be kind and show love unto your enemies, least you become like them. – The code of the Setaloan had no guidelines here. She knew she was to help all whom she could when she could. She also knew that The Empire and its inhabitants were pawns of darkness, not to be trusted, and certainly not to be aided. Nol lifted her eyes to the pleading gaze of Nosef.
"Älar," Nol breathed sourly, giving into Nosef's silent pleas. "Nosef, take my horse. I will sit with the prisoner and see to his wounds." Nosef smiled, grabbing the reins she forcefully tossed him. She thought back to Nosef's ability to control the caravan drivers. She admired his ferocity in defending their ideals, even when she would rather abandon them. “Tell him I’m a healer.” Distaste for the deed she was about to perform dripped from her command as she removed the cloak from her shoulders. Nol threw the cloak over a stack of boxes inside the wagon and climbed in next to the prisoner.
"Eta . . . de'radean" Nosef stumbled over his words as he pointed at Nol. The Imperial let out a stifled laugh as he looked at Nol. "Pretty sure I messed up that translation.”
Nol sighed as she sat next to the prisoner. – Was that fear, – Nole thought, as her eyes briefly connected with the Imperial's. – I thought Imperials couldn't feel fear. – “Nosef, could you throw me the healing supplies?”
Nosef unlatched the supplies from Nol’s horse and tossed them through the opening of the wagon as it lurched forward.
Nol began to inspect the imperial for injuries. His hair was matted with dried blood, but Nol could find no fresh or bleeding wounds. She moved to the leg he was limping on before. The dirty skin on his thigh was raw and blistered by a severe burn. It was an old injury judging by the signs of infection around the charred areas of skin. “No other injuries? I expected worse.” The soldier looked at Nol confused. Nol rolled her eyes and began moving things around to make room for him. “Lie on your stomach.” When he didn’t respond she guided him to the floor where she could begin to work on his leg.
“How did you get such severe burns on only one leg? Did a maji attack you?” Nol pressed herself heavily against the soldier, pinning him to the floor of the wagon. She knew what she had to do would cause him a great deal of pain and was afraid of his reaction. Nol patted the Imperial’s shoulder and pressed a thick leather pouch against his lips, hoping to warn him of the pain to come. The soldier bit down on the leather as Nol drew her dagger and gently pressed the blade against the soldier’s burnt leg. “I’ll have to remove the dead and infected tissue before I can heal the burn.”
To Nol’s surprise, the soldier made only a dull grimace as she began scraping at the charred flesh. Nol’s stomach began to sour as the blackened skin snapped under the dagger and fell away.
The soldier freed a long, shaky breath when Nol cut the last of the dead skin away. A knot formed in Nol's chest as she realized how angry she had allowed herself to become at the simple sight of an Imperial. How that anger had caused her to forget the herbs that would have reduced the pain. – I should have been more gentle.– “Now then, we can get to the healing part.” Nol pulled a jar from the healer's kit. In it were several long leaves soaking in a thick liquid. Using crude metal tongs, Nol pulled a few leaves out and laid them across the soldier's leg. A moment later, she removed the leaves and set them aside. Nol pressed her hands against the hot wet flesh of the man’s burns. She watched the Imperial, looking for any signs of pain.
Seeing none, she lifted her hand slightly and closed her eyes. “Mätawna de’Mave, Rafaf.” The skin beneath her hand began to glow with a soft blue hue. Nol closed her eyes and thought of the infection she had seen in his burn. She moved her hand up and down over the soldier’s wound, remaining mindful of the energy slowly being siphoned from within her. “There!” she called as the skin beneath her hand grew hotter. She paused, waiting on the infection to burn away before continuing. She moved over his leg, searching for clots or clogged veins. Finding none, She pictured a layer of skin above the burn, something to keep it clean. – That’s all for today. – Nol thought as a familiar tingling began to spread down her spine. “N’afaf.” Nol stopped, knowing she did not have the energy to continue. She sat back, admiring her handy work. There was a soft, glistening film covering the burn. – At least I was able to stop the infection. Healing the skin and muscle will have to wait. –
Nol grabbed a roll of stained white cloth from the healing supplies and began wrapping the soldier’s leg. Once finished, she helped him turn over to what she imagined was a more comfortable position.
“Let’s put you in a more comfortable state.” – And for our safety – Nol touched the Imperial’s forehead, ignoring the emptiness in his eyes as she breathed the incantation. “Maalawnaf Alüla, Yaseen.” As she finished, the prisoner’s eyes closed, and his breathing slowed. Pleased, Nol leaned back against the tarp covering of the wagon and closed her eyes. She stretched her now numb fingers, smiling. – I believe that’s closer to my limit than I’ve ever gotten. . . . I hope bandits don’t decide to attack while I’m weakened from healing . . . whoever he is. – “Wish I’d thought of that beforehand,” Nol sighed, striving to ignore the hypnotic sound of the squeaking wagon wheels and horse feet on the gravel road as she struggled to enter her dream world.
Before long, the world around her melted away. She was sitting at the base of a large oak. It was the only tree for miles. Flat planes stretching to the horizon, broken only by the ridge of the Dragon Fang Mountains to the north and the towering peak of Mount Hatave to the south. There was no sound, no wind, only silence. Nol closed her eyes basking in the peacefulness of her dream world.
Nol woke when the wagons came to a stop. The sky was lit with the soft glow of twilight. – I must have been more tired than I thought. – Nosef rounded the corner of the wagon into her view. He was carrying a large bedroll under his arm.
“Nol, would you like me to set the camp while you situate the Imperial?”
“Yes, that would be grand. See if the merchants have an extra bedroll. Otherwise, he will sleep here in the wagon. I will take first watch since I got some rest during the journey.”
“Maalawnaf Alüla, n’yaseen” The captive’s eyes slowly opened and moved from side to side as he began to take in his surroundings. He sat up slowly, flexing his leg gently, as if to test its function. Nol marveled when he showed no signs of pain as he tested his greatly diminished range of motion. – No wonder the imperials are feared in battle. They hardly feel pain. –
“Kabäd de’radeade. Ata de Kedeb.” The Imperial’s voice was low and strong. Communicating confidence and gratitude.
Nol stared at the imperial, struggling to understand his words. She recognized the word Ata from when Nosef asked the Imperial for his name. “Your name is Kedeb?” Nol could not stop herself from returning the smile the Imperial cast her way when she said his name.
“My name is Nol. . . . Ata Nol” Nol’s smile faded as she suppressed another wave of anger that rose within her, urging her to stop being friendly with the monster before her. – But he seems so nice, nothing like the stories father told us. –
Nol proceeded to help the bound prisoner out of the wagon. Supporting him as they limped to the small bedroll Nosef had laid out for him. Nol could not help but fear that her rest in the wagon would make tonight's watch painfully long. – At least I'm back to full strength. –
To Be Continued.
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