(chapter continued from previous post)
Kaveri looked at Tyrel questioningly, and wasn’t the only one; Tyrel just spread his hands, equally confused.
“He’s not saying anything. Kieran, what…?”
Kieran’s poised stillness exploded into motion, the moon-woven leash simply dissolving into a brief shimmer of yellow light.
But he wasn’t the main reason for the screaming that erupted off to one side of the crowd and spread rapidly: that was the grizzly bear currently charging at the party on the steps.
The two closest women in the short white and green tunics ran to put themselves between the princess and the bear, and Kaveri saw the other two coming quickly, but that bear would be able to swat them out of the way with a single blow each.
Kieran met it face-on, teeth bared in a savage snarl and his tail aggressively high. It took a swipe at him with one massive paw; he ducked under it and lunged for its throat, and it barely evaded the snapping fangs.
“What the hell…?” Madoc began.
“Questions later,” Tyrel said, one of his throwing knives already in his hand. “It’s after the princess. Protect her.”
Most of the crowd was, quite sensibly, fleeing in the opposite direction, which gave reaching the steps some similarity to being four fish swimming upstream against a fierce current, but that was better than having more bystanders at risk. With any luck, enough of the local patrolmen would keep their heads to look out for anyone at risk of being trampled or who couldn’t move quickly.
What exactly they were going to do, Kaveri had no idea. They had no weapons at hand other than small ones that could be hidden: Tyrel’s knives, Madoc’s weighted knuckle-guards. Kaveri’s belt, an intricate multi-hued braid of linen cords, had elaborate knots on each end that concealed stone weights, and she knew Mirren had, hidden in her clothes, both a push-knife, a small blade with a T-shaped handle, and a butterfly knife, a longer blade with a two-part handle that folded around it on either side. The sort of knife that could be carried openly as a tool and for eating had only a short single-edged blade. None of those were things that would be very effective against a bear.
Most of the party on the steps had disappeared already, behind the closed front doors of the hospital. The princess remained, watching the battle of bear and amarog fixedly, her face pale and set.
“Cissa, this is stupid,” her companion said in exasperation. “We have to move!”
One of the guard-women, the only one with a strand of red twisted into the green cord over her tunic, clearly agreed, and was similarly urging the princess into motion. Two of the others had fallen into place around them protectively; the nearer gave the moonblood quartet a warning look, clearly with no intention of letting them get any closer. The last was pounding on the hospital doors with the hilt of her knife and demanding that it be opened immediately.
“Oh gods,” Mirren whispered. “Look at the blood.”
Kaveri glanced at her, startled—discomfort with blood wasn’t like Mirren—then followed her line of sight.
The bear was rising up to its full height, towering over Kieran.
The blood on its fur, and streaking Kieran’s, was partly yellow, but partly a pale shimmering blue.
How can that possibly be?
It doesn’t matter right now.
“Duck!” Madoc bellowed.
Not the time to look for why. Kaveri dropped flat to the ground, aware of Mirren and Tyrel doing the same, and of Madoc darting past the startled guards to tackle both the princess and her companion.
Great wings battered the air just above, and Kaveri heard one of the guards cry out in pain. She got to her hands and knees, cursing the entangling folds that hampered motion worse than the corset she’d worn in Galimont, and looked up, spotting a great white-headed eagle just gaining height.
Kieran saw it too.
And actually climbed the bear to get enough height to fling himself at it. It shrieked and dodged, but Kaveri saw blood splatter.
Blood that was pale aquamarine, the colour of Sahen.
Kieran landed hard and stumbled.
The bear hesitated only briefly, torn between targets, and chose the original one: it started towards the steps again.
The eagle circled higher, but Kaveri had no doubt it was only preparing for another attack.
“Enough is enough,” Madoc said, scrambling to his feet and hauling Narcissa up with him. Unceremoniously, he seized her upper arm with one hand, that of her companion in the other, and hauled them bodily away from the savage battle, towards the far end of the steps. “Mirren! Find a door we can get behind!”
One of the guards stayed behind them, covering their escape. In a move probably as blasphemous as it was pragmatic, she snatched up one of the smaller statues from its niche and flung it at the bear. Her aim was excellent: it reared up with a bellow of pain, pawing at the side of its face. The guard fell back a couple of steps to grab another, but the bear charged at her with that deceptive speed that few people believed until they’d actually seen a beast that large run. She had to throw too hastily and it was only a glancing blow. With one swipe, it tossed her aside. She rolled down the steps, and didn’t move.
Kieran shook himself hard and raced after the bear, blocking its path again. He was seriously injured, that was obvious even at a glance, but Kaveri was certain he was too far gone in berserk rage to even notice.
They had to finish this. There were already at least two human injuries, one possibly worse. But with everything moving so fast and with so much going on at once, where to start?
With being able to move freely!
Kaveri began to hastily unwrap the offending length of drapery. Tyrel grabbed one end to help, but didn’t let go; instead, he gave her a slightly manic grin.
“Think this’ll work as a net?”
“Worth a try!”
The eagle stooped again, aiming for the princess and those around her. Kaveri and Tyrel ran after them, but just as the eagle came lower, they stopped and snapped the length of fabric up into its path.
Too focused and moving too fast, it flew right into it.
Kaveri and Tyrel jerked it tighter, dragging the eagle downwards and tangling it in moon-woven fabric, while it fought and shrieked. One-handed, Kaveri untied her belt and wrapped part of it around her lower arm, leaving enough rope that she could get a lot of force behind the weighted end.
It took her three tries, because it was thrashing so much, but she finally got in a solid blow on the eagle’s skull.
The thrashing stopped instantly.
Tyrel drew his dagger from his back, and slashed open the eagle’s throat, spilling aquamarine blood everywhere.
It wasn’t going to heal from that, not in the middle of the day with no moonlight.
Both panting, Kaveri and Tyrel shared a quick triumphant smile, then turned to look for the next threat.
Mirren, maybe thanks to her nocturnal explorations, had led the others to a nearby shop, one with a sign showing a three-legged table flanked by a chair and a stool. The wooden door was less sturdy, and the brick wall less thick, than the metal-bound wood and solid stone of the hospital, but it was cover, and with any luck the door wouldn’t be locked. Someone, without stopping, had sliced off enough of the injured guard’s tunic that the woman could press it over the wounds with her good hand, slowing the blood at least a little; one of the others was staying close to her, though still watching all directions alertly.
As Mirren reached out to open the door, an arrow pinned her hand to the wood. She screamed, but once a quick tug with her free hand determined that it was fixed too securely to get it loose readily, she had the sense not to fight against it; she twisted in place to try to find the source.
Madoc, in an instant, tracked the direction it came from and pulled Narcissa between his own body and the brick wall. The two uninjured guards whipped around, scanning for the source, but there was little they could do against an archer.
“I’ve got Mirren,” Kaveri said, already gathering the skirt of her dress so she could run more quickly.
“Archer,” Tyrel said, spinning in place and racing in the opposite direction. Many buildings had balconies on the second and third floors, especially the sort that had living space above shops or workshops, and rooftops here were generally flat and accessible. The angle suggested that the archer was up high somewhere and within a limited range of buildings; that should be enough for Tyrel to go on.
The next arrow thudded home in Madoc’s upper chest, just below his collarbone, slamming him into the princess and then her into the wall with what must be bruising, if not bone-breaking, force. Narcissa cried out.
Let that be shock or insult or pressure, not pain, Kaveri prayed. Don’t let her be hurt. No arrow could possibly go right through, could it? This isn’t the right area for those massive northern longbows, and other than them, it’s not possible, is it?
“Cissa!” The princess’ companion slid an arm around her waist, holding her against him. Kaveri saw wet crimson, but wasn’t sure how much might be from Narcissa and how much might be from the guard-woman wounded by the eagle.
“Brace yourself,” Kaveri said to Mirren, who took a deep breath and nodded. The arrow had an oddly thick shaft, with little fletching, and she didn’t think she could break it; instead, she planted one hand against the door for leverage, seized the arrow in the other, and pulled, trying her best to come straight out. It didn’t come easily, embedded deeply as it was, and she winced in time with Mirren’s every flinch and every involuntary sound as she worked it out of the wood. As it finally came loose, Mirren swayed alarmingly. Kaveri flipped one end of her weighted belt around Mirren’s shoulder from behind and hastily used the whole thing to tie her injured hand close to her body, careful of the arrow still piercing it, then made sure her friend’s good hand was on the wall before turning her attention to Madoc and the princess.
“Oh, I’m fine, thanks,” Madoc said through clenched teeth. “Leave it or it’ll bleed worse. Inside, now! Everyone!”
Kaveri herded everyone in, all but tossing the last of the guards across the threshold personally, and closed the door. She considered leaning against it, but these arrows had more power than they should and she wasn’t sure they couldn’t pierce the wood; instead, she turned the latch and appropriated Mirren’s push-knife to wedge it shut, then looked around for something to block it further. The shop held an assortment of stools and smallish tables in a variety of styles and sizes along with carved wooden chests with seats built into the top, a very few chairs with arms and backs, and even fewer sets of free-standing shelves. She grabbed one of the latter and wrestled it across the door, for whatever extra protection that might be.
“‘Rel’s alone,” Madoc said.
“And he’s a sneaky little fox, so I’m less worried about him,” Kaveri retorted, in their own language. “Sit. You’re bleeding badly and I’d like you to live until moonrise. Mirren, there’s a chair right beside you, can you sit down?”
Mirren groped for the chair and dropped into it rather clumsily, but once she was in it, Kaveri could stop worrying that she was going to pass out and hurt herself further by falling. There were enough injuries to deal with, and Mirren’s, while painful, was probably the least dangerous. Mirren had the presence of mind to gather up part of her own clothing and press it around the hole, on both the front and back of her hand.
Madoc made his way to another chair and sank heavily into it; he started to lean back, winced, and sat forward again. He’d been injured a lot more frequently, and in a wider variety of ways, than Mirren had, and Kaveri knew his pain tolerance was high; he was, as well, still in battle-mindset, and wouldn’t be feeling it as acutely as otherwise.
On the other hand, once he came down from that, it was going to be a miserable wait until moonrise.
(chapter continued next post!)