The Search for the Unicorns Chapter Ten and Epilogue

This is the tenth chapter in the story along with the Epilogue, if you have not read the previous chapter please do so before continuing:

Chapter 9 – Attack on the Capital

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Here is the tenth chapter followed by the epilogue:

Chapter 10

THE FINAL BATTLE

The wounded had been gathered. At first they were placed in several large storehouses. Then when the storehouses were full, tents were erected around them. Wissagebreht went through the encampments, taking Carla with him. She started at one side and he at the other. They examined each wound, giving instructions as to how it should be treated. In several cases, Carla was not certain as to how to treat a particular wound. She would then leave that one for the Wizard to look at personally.

The people who cared for the wounded were at first wary of Carla, knowing her to be a friend of the King. But as she went on, they saw that she knew what she was about, and they became easier with her.

As for Carla herself, living with an herb-wizard she had come to see all manner or hurts and sicknesses. But now she was faced with large numbers of injuries. After the first three she wanted to leave, to go somewhere else where she wouldn’t need to look at injured men. But she remembered that it had been her decision to come into the city. Now that she was here, she had best do something to make herself useful.

In the third of the storehouses of wounded, about quarter of the way through, she found herself looking at Gadmot. He had taken a spear through the thigh, and had lost quite a lot of blood, so that he was extremely pale. He was unconscious, but the healers had done what they could for him, and it seemed likely that he would live. She was just leaving him to go on to the next man when he opened his eyes briefly, looked up at her, smiled, and went to sleep again.

By the time they had gone through that house, she was so tired that she was practically falling asleep on her feet. Wissagebreht looked at her and said, “Go find a bed to crawl into, Carla. You can do little more good in this condition.”

All she could do was to stare at him blankly, so he called a servant to take her and find her a place to sleep in the palace. She couldn’t remember anything more of the night after that.

Morning came and Carla, after getting dressed and finding a bite to eat, went out to see if Gadmot was still alive. He was alive, awake, and very weak. He smiled as she approached.

“Good morning to you, Carla.”

“Good morning to you, Gadmot. I won’t ask how you feel.”

His smile grew a little broader. “I managed to stay with the King almost to the step of the palace. Then suddenly there was a blow on my leg and I was lying on the ground with a spear through my thigh. I don’t remember anything after that, save that I thought I woke once to see you standing over me. But I suppose that was only a dream.”

“No, no dream. I spent some time helping to treat the wounded, and you woke for just a moment while I was here.”

“Ah.” He seemed to be trying to find something more to say, but suddenly his eyes shifted to a point just over her shoulder. She turned to see Lungand standing there.

Lungand smiled at Gadmot. “I’m pleased to see you so well, young man. The King will certainly come to express his own gratitude. But I wished to see to it that you know that your deeds have not gone unrecognized.”

“Thank you, Milord Chamberlain.”

“Oh no, it is I that thank you. Be certain that you will not be forgotten, Gadmot.”

The Chamberlain turned and walked away.

Carla looked again at Gadmot. “So you are a hero, too?”

He tried to shrug, a difficult feat while lying down. “All I did was try to keep within sight of the King, and hit anyone who wasn’t wearing the right colour. I think I may have killed a couple of dogs or cats who didn’t get out of the way in time.”

She snorted. “I can imagine. But if I stand here talking to you for any time, Wissagebreht will come and shout at me to let you rest. So rest, now.”

“You will come again?”

“Oh, I will come again from time to time.”

As she turned away, one of the healers approached her a little diffidently. He was a short, stout man, dressed mostly in grey, with a grey beard and a ruff of grey hair surrounding a pink bald spot. He had seen her at work the previous day, and recognized her skill. At this moment there was a particular case he would like her to look at, to see if there was anything she could do for him.

She thought to suggest that he go find Wissagebreht. But no sooner did the thought come to her when she realized that the Wizard would himself be busy with the same sort of thing. And though she was nowhere near as expert as Wissagebreht, she had learned much from him. Perhaps there might be something she could offer.

There were several more cases which the healer asked her to look at. Despite that she was out again about noon when Hargrad came in, under a flag of truce. Bruderic met him on the palace steps, looking at him sternly, waiting for whatever Hargrad might say.

Hargrad dismounted and knelt in front of the King. “Milord King, I have come to beg for the life of my son.”

“You sent your son as part of a trick to trap me, giving his life as a surety that there would be no treachery. Why should he not suffer the fate for which he offered himself?”

“Milord King, he is my only son! I have come to offer my own life in exchange for his, if need be.”

The King considered that for a moment or two. “Is this perhaps a way of changing allegiances for you, having seen that Nechtgang is not so powerful as he had thought?”

“Milord, you will believe what you will. All I can say is what I have said; I come to save my son.”

Bruderic nodded. “So be it. Your life and the life of your son are safe, at least for now. Yet you will have to pay for your treachery eventually. That price will be decided later, when we have more leisure. For the present, you and your son shall remain in custody here.”

Hargrad rose, and there were unmistakable tears in his eyes, but he said simply, “Thank you, Milord King.”

There were mutterings from the people assembled there, and Bruderic heard them. He looked out at the crowd. “I see this displeases many of you. Yes indeed, there are men who deserve punishment for their deeds. And punishment they will have. But if the Lords following Nechtgang see that they may have lenient treatment should they desert him, when the war begins to go against them. They may well change their allegiance again.

“But if they see that they die whether they fight or surrender, then will they not fight all the harder? And I think that none of us wish to encourage them to fight harder.”

There were several smiles in the crowd at that. Though they were clearly not all happy, they were at least satisfied for the time being.

Bruderic remained in the capital for some time, gathering his forces. He also had scouts out to see just what Nechtgang was up to. They brought back word that Nechtgang was also gathering forces. Gaistferu the Wizard was with him. He was using his powers to frighten and cow both those who were unwilling to join him and those who were had become less willing to continue following him.

It was even said that Gaistferu had used his power to blast holes in the walls of certain castles whose Lords were unwilling to join the rebels.

This, of course, led some of Bruderic’s Lords to demand that Wissagebreht do the same to the castles of those who supported Nechtgang. Wissagebreht heard the demands. Quietly stroking his beard, then said, “There is no doubt that I could do this, but the result could be disastrous. You see, we do not know the whereabouts of Nechtgang’s forces. And Gaistferu has hidden them from any search by magical means and covered them with protection from any spells I might try.

“Each time he attacks a castle, he must either weaken or withdraw completely his spells of concealment and protection. And there is a risk that if I were ready at that precise moment, I might find the army and attack them.

“Gaistferu has an advantage; he knows where we are. If I withdraw or weaken my protection in order to attack a castle, he might well wreak havoc among us.”

This did not quite satisfy Wyrgenhelm. “So we sit here waiting while he smashes our castles about our ears?”

Wissagebreht smiled gently. “Oh, I think not. A look at the map will show that the castles being attacked are those in certain strategic positions. Those which cover certain supply and trade routes. Gaistferu is quite well aware of the risk of weakening his protective spells in order to attack. So most of our castles need fear no magical attack.”

“But if we cannot find Nechtgang’s army, what is to hinder Gaistferu from doing as he wishes? You yourself said—“

“I myself said that their army was protected from my searching spells. We also have scouts and patrols out across the land. Along with the fact that every attack which they make, magical or not, gives us some hint as to where they are. When we have found them, by whatever means, then we are on more even terms.”

Another week went by, with no more than continued patrols and scouting. Some patrols and scouts occasionally encountering enemy patrols or scouts. Little coloured markers were set on the map to mark where troops were known to be, both friendly and enemy. Out of all this a notion of Nechtgang’s location began to show itself.

Both Bruderic and Lungand were a little more upset than they let on about the paucity of Lords coming to declare their loyalty for King Bruderic since the capital had been taken. It came to the point where the chamberlain sent messengers with hints, which were little less than thinly veiled summonses, that they should appear before the King.

Wissagebreht was less concerned about that. “Most of them are still waiting to see who has the advantage. We did take the capital from Nechtgang, but he was able to withdraw with most of his force. And then there is the fear of Gaistferu. We have plenty of troops at present, and we will pick up a few more before the time comes to give battle.”

By the end of that week Gadmot was up, hobbling along with an old spearshaft for a crutch. Carla divided her time between Gadmot and Bruderic.

Though Bruderic was too often busy with the business of preparing for the war. Carla also remained curious about the planning. Using the means she had already perfected, standing still in her green cloak, she was able to learn a great deal.

On the last day of the week, Bruderic’s council was interrupted by the word that a party of upwards of twenty Dwarves were coming through the gate, driving four large wagons. They announced that they were making a delivery for the King. The King immediately adjourned the council in order to meet them.

Very shortly after they had gone out on the steps, the Dwarf-wagons rolled into the palace square. Vashchi himself rode beside the driver of the first wagon, looking very pleased with himself.

It was not uncommon for Dwarves to come to the city, but never in such numbers and such heavily-laden wagons. As a result a good number of the people were in the palace square when the wagons arrived, and more kept coming. The wagons rolled to a stop, and Vashchi hopped down, walked to the palace step, and bowed to the King.

“Milord King of Vorholm, as agreed, we bring the memorial you purchased. Where shall we set it up?”

Bruderic gave it a moment’s thought, then said, “Here in this square, before these steps.”

Vashchi bowed again, then turned and spoke a single word of command in Dwarvish. Twenty or more Dwarves jumped out of the wagons and all began moving at once. With so many moving around in such a space, it seemed inevitable that some should bump into each other. They never so much as brushed shoulders, going this way and that. It was as though that they were in some kind of complicated dance where every performer moved in concert with all the others.

They set up tripods, hooked up pulleys and winches, and set to work with a will. They set up a stone column twice the height of a man. On the top of which they set a tree, no more than a foot and a half tall. All of it worked gold, so intricately crafted that it looked as though it had grown naturally. On the tree were small fruit, in the form of small red jewels along the branches.

It was the kind of thing which could very easily have looked cheap and gaudy. But in this case each part balanced every other part so that the whole had a pleasing effect.

When they were done, Vashchi turned to Bruderic and said, “Well, Milord King of Vorholm? Does it please you?”

The King took his time answering. But when he did he said, “Vashchi, ‘beautiful’ is such an inappropriate word. But for this work, there is little else to say. The Dwarves are well renowned for their craftsmanship with metals.”

Vashchi tried hard to keep a solemn face, but it was plain that he was pleased with the King’s speech. “It was fairly bought and paid for, Milord King of Vorholm. Long may it stand.”

“Long may it stand indeed,” answered the King, his mind brought to the reason for the memorial. For a moment he stood in silence, then he spoke again. “Will you and your party accept our hospitality, as the four of us accepted your hospitality under the mountain?”

Vashchi hesitated only a moment, then answered, “Yes Milord, we will, and gladly.”

At that moment there was a mutter of awe in the crowd around. one which seemed to spread from one particular place and sweep out around the circle. Into the palace square trotted a unicorn. Without looking more than once, Carla recognized it. “Quickfoot!” she said.

With only a slight hesitation in order to pick her out from all the others around, Yssarit trotted over to her, and bowed his head.

“Quickfoot,” she said, “Why are you here?”

The familiar laughter was in his voice. “Why, just as the leaving of the unicorns was the sign of the beginning of evil times for Vorholm. So must the return of the unicorns be the sign of the end of those evil times.”

“But the memorial is barely erected! You must have been in Vorholm for some time!”

“But the Elves have ways of knowing many things. They knew that barring some sort of strange mischance, the memorial would be delivered. And I have come at the express command of Queen Serenglas. To bring a message of goodwill to all in the land, and to bring special greetings to you, young Carla. And I see that you have come up in the world from the time when first I saw you.”

“Yes, I suppose I have. And thank you for the message from the Queen.”

The unicorn made a motion which was as near to a shrug as could be. “It was a message I was glad to bring. Now, however, I must say that I do not feel comfortable in the presence of so great a crowd. With your leave, I shall go. But perhaps we shall see each other on another day.”

“I hope so. Farewell, Quickfoot.”

“And farewell to you, young Carla.”

The unicorn turned and trotted away, and the crowd parted for him. As he disappeared down the street, Carla was suddenly aware of the people crowded around the square and staring. They were staring at her, as though she was something strange and wonderful. She looked around, and saw that almost the only ones without similar expressions were Wissagebreht, who held a small secret smile, Lungand, with a look which was slightly less grim than usual, and Bruderic, who had a look that she could not quite interpret.

All those stares were like a weight on her shoulders. So much so that she was on the point of running away and hiding alone somewhere inside the palace. But suddenly Wissagebreht spoke. “Look to the sky, people of Vorholm!”

Everyone looked up and saw that the sky, which had been blue save for a few ragged wisps of cloud here and there, was changing. Those ragged wisps of cloud were rushing together, becoming larger and darker. Until there was not a bit of blue to be seen. Then the rain began to fall, softly and steadily. A rain which was clearly unlike any of the small showers which Vorholm had seen in the past five years.

It was a rain which any of the weather-wise old folk in the crowd knew would last for at least a day, perhaps several days. And as it began to come home to them what had happened, the people began to rejoice. Bruderic and his council, after standing in the rain for a little while, retreated up the steps to the shelter of the porch. Down below, the people of the city were singing and dancing as the rain fell, for the curse had been lifted from the land.

*** ***

Two weeks later, King Bruderic’s host was arrayed on one side of a valley, looking at the host of Nechtgang on the other side. The armies were so near equal in size that it was clear to all that the battle would be a near thing. Carla was with them as well, having stood up not only to Bruderic but to Wissagebreht as well when they suggested that she might want to stay in the capital.

“By no means!” she had said. “If you are going, I shall go too. And you know that I shall not go simply as another burden to you. For even you, Wissagebreht, must admit that I can be of some use to you in caring for the wounded. I am coming with you, and that is that.”

Wissagebreht, recognizing her determination, had merely shrugged. Bruderic, looking to the Wizard for support and finding none, had also been forced to let the issue drop. She sat her horse on the hillside behind the main army, guarded again by three men-at-arms. Wissagebreht was on a hillside behind and slightly to the right of the army, watching for Gaistferu.

In each army the foot-soldiers were in the front line, pikemen and swordsmen, with bowmen just behind them. Behind these were the horse, divided into several groups, each under a particular leader.

In the King’s army, each leader waited for Bruderic’s orders. Bruderic had explained his thinking in the council the previous night. “With our forces as they are, every movement must be carefully judged. Our horsemen will be sent in to any place where it seems possible that they might break through the enemy line. Or in any place where the enemy threatens to break through ours.”

There had been some questions. Some protests about being too cautious. That it would be better to simply charge with all the troops and overrun Nechtgang before he could get ready. Bruderic, with support from Lungand and Hergard, overrode all these objections. And so it was that the two armies met the next day regarding each other warily from opposite sides of the valley.

A solitary black figure appeared suddenly on a hilltop behind Nechtgang’s forces. A mutter immediately went up from the King’s army, almost as immediately hushed by the under-officers in the ranks. Gaistferu, for it was indeed he, stretched up his left hand bearing his staff toward the sky, and pointed a finger at Wissagebreht.

A ball of light was suddenly at his fingertip, then rushing swiftly across the valley with a sort of screaming hiss. Well before it reached him, however, Wissagebreht held up a palm. The ball of light began to slow and fade, until it dissipated completely.

At that moment a bolt of lightning struck down at Wissagebreht, but he stood unharmed. Wissagebreht gestured himself, and sent a ball of flame towards Gaistferu. Gaistferu threw up an invisible barrier and halted it with ease. The magical battle was on in dead earnest. Balls of flame,of blue, orange, yellow, and various other colours screamed through the air. Wissagebreht and Gaistferu both glancing the missiles of with unseen armour. Bolts of lightning streaked down from the sky, leaving smoldering ground in their wake. Beams of diverse hues flashed through the air from pointed fingers.

At first each Wizard was able to dissipate harmlessly any spells used by the other. But they eventually, became too weary to do more than deflect them. The ground around each of them became burned and blackened, with great gouges hacked in it. Smoke and dust surrounded them.

It was impossible to make out Gaistferu on his hilltop. But when Carla looked at Wissagebreht, she could see that he was leaning heavily on his staff. She was suddenly frightened that this Wizard, the man who had raised her, who had always seemed able to accomplish anything, had met his match.

At that very moment Wissagebreht seemed to gather himself up, stand erect, and speak one word. There was a sudden bright flash of flame from the hill where Gaistferu stood, a flame which temporarily blinded the eyes of those watching. When they could see again, they saw that the blast appeared to have cleared most of the smoke and dust from the air for the moment. But Gaistferu was nowhere to be seen.

Carla looked back at Wissagebreht and saw him strive to steady himself with his staff, then slowly collapse to the ground. She turned her horse and galloped up the hill, letting her guards follow her as they would. She leaped down beside him, and saw that the Wizard was unconscious, breathing very lightly, much as he had been after leaving Lothbosc.

That thought told her what she should do next. She turned to one of her guards and said, “Go down to the camp and get me some kind of broth or thin soup. Quickly!”

He hesitated a moment; after all, it was his job to guard her, but she gave him a stern look and he went off. While he was gone she did what she could to make Wissagebreht comfortable. She spread another cloak on the ground to put him on. Then she wrapped it over him. In the meantime, she heard the sound of the battle beginning. But she was too preoccupied to do more than glance down every so often.

Wissagebreht seemed to be in the same state as he had been after he had cast that last spell on the outskirts of Lothbosc. He was breathing, but he was very weak. Having gone through this once before, Carla was not overly concerned. But it still did not feel good to see him in such condition.

At last the guard came back with a small bowl of broth. With Wissagebreht’s head propped in her lap, Carla began to feed him. It was almost as if his body, though unconscious, knew what it had to do. For though he never seemed quite to regain consciousness, he did sip at the soup every time she put it to his mouth.

Down the slope, the battle was still raging. Nechtgang had been first to send in his horsemen. He used about half of all he had in a long, thin rank with which he hoped to ride right over the infantry. Unfortunately for him the infantry were steady. Even though they were pushed back, they did not break. In fact when Bruderic sent in a part of his own cavalry to support that line, they very nearly broke through in their turn.

Nechtgang was then forced to use much of the remainder of his horsemen just to shore up his own line. Bruderic, with great care, sent his horsemen only to those places where it was desperately needed. Or, where there seemed a possibility for them to break through.

Nechtgang himself finally brought the last of his calvary in a final attempt to break the line. He very nearly did so, driving them back until they were near Carla’s hill. Just a little beyond the distance where Carla could sling a fair-sized stone. At that point they began to slow. Just then Bruderic, with Lungand beside him, made the last charge. If this did not end the battle immediately it might well last for a long while. Until one side or the other was too weary to go on.

This last was something Carla knew from the talk of the leaders the night before the battle. If it came to this, it was hoped that Bruderic’s men would be able to last the longer, but that was in no way certain.

Wissagebreht had come to the point where he was no longer eating. In any case, there were no more than a couple of mouthfuls of the broth left. Carla made him as comfortable as she could, putting one of his own old leather bags under his head for a pillow. Then she stood up. Her own horse, who had stood by patiently all this time, moved over beside her and she put an arm on its shoulder.

Down below, the battle was swinging in Bruderic’s favour. Bit by bit, his last charge was driving the enemy back. Though there was one small knot which was holding stubbornly. It was a little swirling fight now some distance behind the main battle. It was in that fight that she saw Bruderic himself, with his uncle beside him, along with a small number of their horsemen.

Then suddenly, so suddenly that Carla never even saw the blow that caused it, Bruderic’s horse went down, and he was pinned underneath. Carla watched for him to pull himself free, but he did not seem to be moving. The little knot of fighting was moving a little away from him, but Lungand, seeing his plight, held back. A moment later four of Nechtgang’s men came galloping back out of that main fight toward them.

Lungand, realizing that horses’ hooves, could be just as dangerous to Bruderic as any sword or lance, jumped nimbly out of the saddle to stand over the King. The Chamberlain knelt briefly beside his nephew. Then standing again, he shrugged loose his shield from his left arm and dropped it on the fallen King. He turned to face the enemy armed only with his sword.

Carla turned her face away, looking toward her horse. A moment later she dug her hand into the saddlebag, encountering what she knew to be there. Her sling and the bag of stones. The thought had never crossed her mind that she would use them again. But neither had she thought of disposing of them.

She hauled herself into the saddle and took up the reins. One of the guards looked up looked up abruptly. “Milady, what are you doing?”

“Doing? Why, I am going to the King!”

She urged the horse into motion, slapped the guard’s reaching hand away from the reins, and was off. Leaving the guard shouting behind her some foolishness about the danger.

She had no intention of riding into the battle, for she had neither armour nor sword. Nor did she know how to use a sword even had she possessed one. She stopped when she had reached the proper distance. Then she brought out her sling and a stone, and a moment later sent the stone flying. It hit one of the mounted men in the temple, and though he was wearing a helmet, he fell limply from the saddle.

The four of Nechtgang’s men in the fight had somehow become six, though she had not seen the others approach. She picked another stone. As she swung the sling, she saw vaguely through the dust and the trampling horses that Lungand was still fighting over his fallen nephew. his mail now rent and bloody. Her stone this time took one of the attackers full in the face, and he also fell. None of them had yet noticed her, so she prepared to sling another stone.

Again it went straight and true. At that moment her bodyguards were racing past her into the fight. Now there were another three of Bruderic’s men come from the main fight. She hadn’t seen them come either. It was then she realized that she had been concentrating so narrowly on the small fight in front of her that she knew nothing of what else might be going on.

Then, between the time she had loosed one stone and bent to take up another, the battle was over. The King’s men were dismounting to look to Bruderic, and to Lungand who had collapsed on top of him.

Carla urged her horse toward them, noticing as well that the main battle also seemed to be over. Nechtgang’s men, more and more, were deserting the fight to seek safety. The battle suddenly changed into a mass of men streaming away from the field with another mass pursuing them.

She pushed her horse into the crowd surrounding Bruderic and Lungand. She barely noticed the surprised looks given her by the soldiers. They had rolled Lungand away, and he was clearly dead. Bruderic looked to be in a bad way as well, but she could see that he still breathed. One of his legs was trapped beneath the dead horse. Already some of the soldiers were preparing to try to lift the carcass to slide him out.

This they managed by heaving the carcass up with spearshafts used as levers. Then propping up the carcass with stones, until they could slide his leg out. Carla waited until that was done before she pushed herself in close enough to see him well. All the soldiers knew her reputation as a healer, so none thought to prevent her from getting to him.

It was soon apparent that the worst thing wrong with him was that he had taken a severe bump on the head when his horse fell. But he seemed not to have suffered any other damage. Carla looked up into all the worried faces around her. She suddenly realized that she had not been the only one concerned for Bruderic. She nodded. “He will be well enough. Let us move him to the camp.”

Grinhalt took rapid charge of affairs. Soon two litters were made of spear-shafts and cloaks. Lungand was laid on one and Bruderic on the other, and they were taken back to camp. The first reaction of those in the camp was woe, for they were certain that the King had been killed. Grinhalt took control of that as well. He began sending people to spread the word that the King was wounded, but not killed.

On Carl’s insistance, he also sent men back to pick up Wissagebreht and bring him to the camp. The wounded were already being gathered. Carla knew that whatever she would prefer to do, she had a duty to do what she could for them. She gave strict instructions as to how Bruderic and Wissagebreht should be cared for. Then went off to find the other healers.

The next morning Carla went again to the tents sheltering the wounded. She did all she could to help the healers. Then she went to see to Wissagebreht. By now he was awake and striving to get up. “I understand we won the battle,” he said, looking at her closely.

“Yes, we did.”

“And I have also heard a strange story about the King, and about you riding into battle to save him.”

She let herself smile a bit. “It was not quite like that. His horse fell on him, and he had only Lungand to protect him. So I rode closer and used my sling to help.”

Wissagebreht nodded. “And how is Bruderic?”

“Very well, though still a little stunned. He recognized me this morning, but that was all.”

“And Lungand is dead?”

“Yes.”

Wissagebreht looked grim, then relaxed a trifle. “Well, at least that will put to rest the rumours about Lungand having plans to eventually do away with Bruderic. Is there any word about Nechtgang?”

“I have heard none, but I have been working with the wounded. I have heard, though, that several of Nechtgang’s prime supporters have sent people in to find out what sort of treatment they can expect if they come to the King.”

The Wizard nodded his head. “Yes, I suppose that would be the next thing to happen. And now Nechtgang’s support will fall away. And fall away, leaving him at last wandering the wild parts of the Kingdom with a few men at his back. Little better than an outlaw. Or perhaps one of his supporters will believe that he will get better treatment if he brings Nechtgang’s head with him.”

They remained silent for a little while, then Carla said, “Well, I will leave you to your rest, now. There are things to be done.”

As she walked away, Carla began to realize how much she had changed over the last months. Here she was, calmly taking on the duties of a healer. Instructing people as Wissagebreht had instructed her over the years. Doing so as though it were completely natural.

She was resting that afternoon when a messenger brought word that the King would like to speak to her. Bruderic was resting in front of his tent, his leg propped up on a footstool in front of him. The leg had not been broken, but it was badly bruised, and he had difficulty walking. When Carla approached, he made a sign to Hergard, who gathered up all the others who were standing around and herded them away. While the King had been incapacitated Hergard had been acting as Chamberlain. Though all his decisions had been made ‘subject to the approval of the King.’

A chair had been set out for Carla, and she sat down. When they were at last alone Bruderic looked over at her. “I am told that you came to my rescue with your sling.”

“They exaggerate. I did use my sling, but only until your men regained control of the situation.”

He nodded. “Even so, it makes what I am about to say to you a little more difficult. Carla, I want you to marry me. There will be those who will say that I do this out of gratitude for your saving me. But I can tell you it is because I have come to know and appreciate you over the time we’ve spent together.”

Carla sat still. It was not a complete surprise, for it was impossible to ignore the way Bruderic had been looking at her since the night they had dined in Drefcwed.

On the other hand, she had not expected him to ask so soon.

Bruderic smiled. “You are shocked? I doubt you could be surprised, we having lived so close together for quite some time now.”

“I suppose I ought not to be surprised, but I must admit to being taken off-guard. Will you permit me to give you my answer a little later?”

“Certainly. Take some time, talk to Wissagebreht, give me an answer when you can. Now I must talk to my Lords.”

She began to get up, but he waved her back into her seat. “Stay here with me. It will do no harm for you to hear what I must say to them.”

He rang a small bell, and immediately a young page approached. “Ask the Lords to gather here, please. I have things to say to them.”

“At once, Milord King.”

Shortly all the various Lords were gathering before the King. Some came promptly, as though to impress the King with their diligence and obedience. Some came more slowly, as though to demonstrate to the King that though he was their Lord. He was not that much above them.

When they were all at last gathered, Bruderic spoke to them. “Well, my Lords, I doubt now that there will be any who deny that I am right in taking the rule into my own hands at this time.

“My late uncle Lungand set me up in the place of his dead brother. He was hoping thereby to halt, or at least lessen, the round of civil wars that had been taking place. With various Lords attempting to set themselves up as King. I know that there were indeed many who believed that his intent was only to knit the Kingdom together until some time when it would be convenient for me to die. And at that time he would himself step forward.

“After yesterday, however, I think there will be few who say that any longer.

“But as I have said, at this time I will begin to take the rule of the Kingdom into my own hands, rather than being ruled by advisors. This does not mean that I will take no advice from my Lords, only that the decisions will be mine.

“In this regard, I wish to ask my Lord Hergard if he will consent to serve as my Chamberlain.”

Hergard stood forth and assented readily enough, then Bruderic spoke again. “My Lord Hergard and I shall confer further, and decide what further changes shall be made in the Kingdom. With all that said, what else needs to be discussed?”

There was silence for some time as the various Lords considered what they wished to speak to the King about. Many of them were now uncertain as to whether their matter was important enough to take up the King’s time. While others had originally hoped to be able to dominate the King’s time. But after seeing and hearing the King in action, were no longer sure of themselves.

At last Hergard spoke. “Milord, Lord Halthorp has died on the battlefield. As you know, his holding is the Berkweg, which protects us against the goblins of the mountains. He has no heirs, and it is necessary to place someone there without delay.”

The King nodded. “Have you someone to put forward for this position?”

Carla stopped listening carefully and let her thoughts go wandering. At first there were such things as making the borders safe from the goblins or from the peoples of the wild. But as it went on people became a little bolder. Some of the Lords who were hoping to extend their holdings at the expense of Lords who had followed Nechtgang began to put their cases.

After a few of these, Bruderic held up his hand. “My Lords, there are some things which must be decided immediately and other things which require some thought. What you are asking now requires that there be trials and finding of facts, which is not to be undertaken in a few moments on the night following a battle. Such questions will be dealt with, and dealt with at the proper time.

“So if there are no other important matters to be discussed, let me bid you good night.”

The gathering of the Lords dispersed, some going less willingly than others, and at last Carla and Bruderic were left alone again.

Servants shortly brought them dinner, and they ate together. They were talking about a number of things. All the while carefully trying to avoid anything which would bring to mind Bruderic’s marriage proposal.

When they were done, she excused herself and went to look for Wissagebreht. She found that he had insisted on leaving his bed and going to help with the wounded. Though by that time there was little more to be done for them. Save for a few cases where the original treatment wasn’t working. She caught up with him as he was leaving one of the hospital tents.

As they walked back to his quarters, she told him what had happened, and noticed that he did not seem at all surprised. She looked at him closely. “You were expecting this?”

He smiled slightly. “No, not entirely. On the other hand, I am not surprised, not since the night in Drefcwed.”

“But what should I do?”

“Ai!.” He hesitated. “Carla, I am afraid that this is a decision you will have to make for yourself. You now know more about who you are than you did some weeks ago, and you are much better able to say what you want to do.”

“But I don’t know what I should do! I’ve found out who I am, but all that has done is give me a lot of things I feel I should do! And now there is this!”

“All these things you feel you must do, is it necessary to do them all at one time?”

That stopped her, and as she thought about it, it became much clearer. “Yes, I see what you mean. Thank you, Wissagebreht,” She looked at him again, “Oh, Wissagebreht, thank you for everything! I’m sure it must not have been easy taking care of a baby, and bringing up a little girl. Keeping her safe from people who might possibly do her harm. Oh, I could go on for ever about what you have done, but thank you!”

It was the first time she ever saw him at a loss. It was as though he had never thought about it from her point of view. “Well,” he said, “at least it won’t be necessary for you to live in a draughty shack any more.”

“Nor you either. You are going to return to the palace with Bruderic?”

“If he asks me to. “

“I think he will.”

“Perhaps.”

“Well, I won’t keep you from your rest any longer. Good night, Wissagebreht.”

“Good night to you, Carla.”

As she was returning to her own tent, Carla heard a familiar voice call her. “Milady Carla!”

She turned. “Gadmot? Why so formal?”

He smiled briefly. “I heard about you riding into battle to rescue the King yesterday.”

“Oh, the story keeps growing. I didn’t ride into battle, only close enough to throw rocks until men could come to help Lungand.”

He shrugged his elegant shrug. “Never fear, the story will eventually have you fighting hand-to-hand with twenty armed men. But however it was, it changes matters. I had once thought to ask you to be my wife, but I see now that would not be possible.”

She forced herself to smile. “Probably not.”

“No,” he said, “But I hope we can remain friends.”

“And whyever not?”

“Whyever not indeed? But you look as though you have had a tiring day, so I will take up no more of your time. Good night, Carla.”

“Good night, Gadmot.”

She had not had time to tell him that she had by no means decided to marry Bruderic. But then she had no desire at all to marry Gadmot. He was nice enough, amusing, but she felt nothing but friendship towards him.

She was sure that she would have difficulty going to sleep, but in fact she had none. In the morning, almost as though it had come to her in her sleep, she knew what to say to Bruderic. It was easy enough to find him. With his leg still lame, he was not able to move far or fast, and he had taken up a seat again in front of his tent. Hergard was questioning those who wished to see the King, and weeding out those who did not really need to see him. He had apparently been given instructions regarding Carla. For when she saw that the King was busy and was about to leave again, Hergard sent a page to summon her back.

Very shortly, indeed, more quickly than she wished, Carla was alone with Bruderic. When she saw his expression, she knew that he must be reading her own face, so she spoke quickly.

“Bruderic, I can’t marry you yet. Now hush, and let me explain. You see, for a long time I only knew that I was Carla, ward to Wissagebreht, and had no idea who my parents were. Now I know, and I feel that there are things I have to do before I step into anything like a marriage. I want to know something about my mother’s people. I intend to go back to the Elves, to take up the invitation of Queen Serenglas, to live with them a while.

“But if you come to the edge of the Wood of the Elves in the spring, Bruderic, I will give you my final answer then.”

 

EPILOGUE

In the spring of the year, King Bruderic overrode the protests of his Lords and went to the Wood of the Elves.

They encamped there for three days. Finally, on the morning of the third day, a young woman appeared outside their camp. She stood with one arm thrown over the shoulders of a unicorn, and she was clearly one of the Elves.

Bruderic looked at her and said “Carla?” Then again, with a different emphasis “Carla!”

“Bruderic! So you did come!”

“How could I not? And what do you say to my proposal now?”

She smiled. “I am here, am I not?”


That was Chapter Ten and the Epilogue. Please let me know what you think by emailing me at [email protected]

Or if you want to wait a week, I can email you a pdf of the complete beta copy.