Prophecy Story Index || The Sentinel Fan Fan Fiction

Moments of War
by Becky
October 1998

Set immediately following 'A Moment of Peace', which follows 'Silent Song'....



Lying stomach-down in the dirt, Jydan inched up toward the top of the hill that overlooking the canyon just over the ridge. His curved sword, strapped tightly in its scabbard, hung heavy across his shoulders, weighing him down slightly, but not enough to impede his progress. He'd considered leaving it with Ghostrose, the tall black stallion that had replaced Shadowrose so many years ago, but he hated to be without his main weapon of choice. A smile flitted across his lips. Not, of course, that Ghost would ever let anyone take the sword from him. Or would even let anyone even know he was in the area. Way too smart for that. Tucking his head down further, he slowed his crawl, working on making his progress as silent as possible. And with Blaen on his back, he had better stay out of sight if he knows what's good for him.

Reaching the crest of the hill, Jydan parted the tall grasses carefully and peered through the resulting cracks. And there they are -- our naughty raiders that Stefan wants us to thump. He grinned. I mean, have a little chat with. He silently observed and counted, taking note of the size and strength of the large raiding party and the weapons they carried. Formidable group, but not unbeatable with the right defense. Waiting a bit longer brought him what -- or rather who -- he wanted to see. The leader.

Just a few inches taller than Blaen, corded muscles lining his bare arms, dark swarthy skin, thick black hair, black unreadable eyes. Because he surrounded himself with men half again his size, many underestimated his strength and lost their lives as a result.

But not Jydan.

The former mercenary narrowed his eyes in displeasure, his jaw spasming once. Daamen. I should've known. He always did like the villages. I had hoped someone would've killed him by now. He stared a moment longer, then began to move back down the hill, waiting until he was sufficiently out of sight of the top of the hill to stand and run the rest of the way down to where Blaen and Ghostrose waited for him.

Blaen, sitting in the saddle, looked up when Jydan shoved his way through the low, thick tree branches. "Well?"

Jydan patted Ghost's neck with one hand, grabbing the saddle pommel with the other. "Thirty men, all armed, mostly short broadswords, scattered crossbows, a few axes." He motioned for Blaen to move back, which the younger man did promptly, easing himself onto the jerry-rigged padding behind the saddle.

Blaen's horse Eri had taken lame just a day's ride outside the coastal village areas. Deciding not to take the extra time needed to find an acceptable horse for Blaen, they had left the horse with some friendly farmers and continued on their way. Jydan had then added the second "saddle" for Blaen on Ghostrose and distributed Blaen's sparse packs among two or three of the men traveling with them. Jydan had planned to leave Blaen at the village with the rest of the group -- twenty in all -- during his little scouting mission, but Blaen would have none of it. And the mercenary knew better than to argue.

Besides, it's been a long time since we've done this. I think I want him where I can keep an eye on him. At least for the moment he's safer with me. Setting one foot in a stirrup, Jydan swung up on the tall stallion easily, maneuvering carefully so he wouldn't knock Blaen from his seat. It's not that I don't trust the group we're with... He grimaced. Well, maybe I don't trust all of them. I trust the important ones -- the ones I know and have worked with before. Those few and the ones Kell -- Linet -- suggested. As for the rest...we'll see.

Once settled firmly in the saddle, sword adjusted to hang properly across his back, Jydan gathered the reins and knickered quietly to Ghost, communicating with hands and knees where he needed to go and how fast. Blaen's hands clenched at the back of the saddle, his knuckles pressing into Jydan's lower back. They rode silently and quickly toward the opposite end of the copse of trees, where the lower branches rose in height, giving them room to pass underneath without dismounting. Jydan leaned forward, ducking under the broad tree boughs. Behind him he could feel Blaen following his movement, his head touching Jydan's mid-back as they rode through.

Straightening after they emerged from the trees, Jydan wiped one hand over his head, dislodging a few leaves. Glancing behind him, he caught Blaen doing the same thing, only he had to remove quite a few more from his curly hair than the much-shorter-haired mercenary had to do for himself. Jydan suppressed a grin and turned back around, adjusting his position, saying, "If you're ready..."

Blaen changed his grasp from the saddle to Jydan's waist, scooting forward just a bit to hook his fingers securely into the older man's heavy leather belt. "Okay."

Ghostrose went into a trot, then an easy gallop as they rode back to the village, where their little mercenary group awaited their report.

Over the rush of wind, Blaen leaned forward, directing his voice to Jydan's ear. "What else did you see back there, Jydan? I know there's something you aren't telling me."

Jydan turned his head slightly, one corner of his lips pulling up. "I wondered how long it would take you." Blaen had an uncanny -- though very familiar -- way of always knowing when something was wrong, when something was bothering him. In the years they'd been together as friends, partners, and tayaerra, Jydan had come to accept it, to depend on it.

Add in his dironan talents to that and I don't think there's a thing I could keep from him.

Not that I would want to, even though sometimes it really seems like a good idea.

"Well? You gonna tell me or what?" Blaen leaned forward a little more, resting some of his weight against Jydan's back, his finger tugging on the belt for emphasis.

Jydan nodded, only half his attention on the direction of the road. Ghostrose knew the way. Trusting the wind to carry his voice, he shouted, "The leader is Daamen -- someone I ran into back in Eirena and Malinde more than once. Not a nice guy. Got kicked out of the Mercenary Guild for disregarding the Codes. And considering how lenient the Guild can be..."

Blaen made a face. "...Then he would have to be pretty bad. I take it you two don't get along very well."

"You could say that. I'm the one who got him kicked out."

Jydan felt Blaen's head thumping on his back, between his shoulder blades. "Great. Of all the raiders Stefan sends us out to, uh, chat with, we end up with him." He paused, then lifted his head. "What else? What exactly did he do to get kicked out?"

"A lot of things." Jydan kept his answer brief -- too brief.

Blaen's hands tightened on Jydan's waist and his voice sharpened a touch. "Jydan, don't protect me. Tell me."

Sighing, Jydan responded in a compressed story. "Daamen and I joined the Guild at the same time. Fought together, learned together, all of that. We also grew to be very competitive. But while I chose to obey the strict Code of the Guild, Daamen chose to go his own way. There were a lot of little things that added up at first and he was reprimanded several times. He never cared, however, and continued doing what he wanted, without regard for how his deeds would cast the rest of us in the same bad light." Actually he probably did the things he did because it would cast us in a bad light. Especially me. "Finally, after serious complaints from employers and the families of innocent bystanders, the local Guild of the town I was currently in sent me after him. I caught him trafficking with slavers and a few other rather ... unsavory characters." And no, I'm not gonna tell you what other people he was with, Blaen, there are still some things I can and will protect you from. "I hauled him in. He was tried and thrown out. He swore revenge. I never saw him again until now. End of story."

He waited for a few moments but didn't hear any comments from Blaen. By this time, they reached the outskirts of the small fishing village. Jydan slowed Ghostrose down a bit, going from a gallop to a walk in stages. Finally, Blaen spoke up again.

"Well, this ought to be an interesting fight then. Can't say I've seen you go up against too many old enemies before. At least not one like this."

Jydan asked softly, "You're okay with this?"

Blaen's voice came just as softly, a quiet, a slightly long-suffering sigh punctuating his words. "Yes, I'm okay, Jydan. I thought you'd stopped worrying about me every time someone mentions the word 'slaver'. It was a long time ago, and Rik is quite dead."

Jydan shrugged a little. "I know it was a long time ago and that you've gotten well over it. But...it's in my nature. Quite impossible to totally get rid of."

The younger man didn't say anything, just tightened his hands again in an abbreviated version of a hug -- his way of saying he understood, that he didn't really want to Jydan to change, that he appreciated the worry and the concern, that he knew Jydan only worried because he cared so much for his tayaerra.

A few moments later, they came to a large stable in the middle of town -- a good central location. Jydan had wanted a place open and easily accessible for him and his handpicked group of men and women, but also so not readily accessible to the raiders. With a few of the locals always in the vicinity, it also gave them the advantage of knowing when a stranger came into town. With that they could stay relatively hidden from any obvious scouts from Daamen's raiding party.

As Jydan directed Ghostrose toward a hitching post, the stallion whinnied and shook his head in disagreement. Jydan chuckled and patted the stallion's neck.

"Just a moment there, Ghost, and I'll get you the grain I promised."

Ghost whuffled at him, snorting.

Blaen laughed. "That sounded like a threat if you don't get him what he wants." He grabbed Jydan's offered arm and swung down from Ghost's back, landing solidly on his feet, sending up a puff of dirt.

Jydan followed, landing to stand next to Blaen. "Hmm. You're probably right. Come on, let's get inside. We need to see how things are going and fine tune some of the plans."

The two men and the black horse disappeared inside the stable, Blaen's voice drifting out softly.

"Kell's gonna be mad she missed this."

*********************

Several hours later, in the late afternoon, Jydan and Blaen reemerged from the stable. Jydan led Ghost out behind him, the reins loose in one hand. His voice was quiet as he spoke to his friend.

"You ready for this?"

Blaen nodded once, confidence in his eyes. "As I'll ever be. The question is are you ready? I'm not doing the actual hard part, you know. You and most of the others will be at the forefront of the fighting."

Jydan placed his other hand on Blaen's shoulder. "True, but you're our rearguard, you and the townspeople and a couple of Kell's most trusted fighters. This is the best place for you." He stopped and turned Blaen toward him, lowering his voice as he lowered his head toward Blaen's. "And I don't want to risk you out there in the battlefield, Blaen. You'd be too vulnerable. This is just down and dirty fighting. I can't be worrying about you." He stared down into the young man's dark blue eyes, willing him to understand.

A smile graced the dironan's face and he raised a hand to touch Jydan's chest through the light chain mail. "I know, Jydan. Fighting a few is okay for me, but never the horde you say is coming." He paused, shrugging a little, the smile still on his face. "Sometimes it's just hard to be left behind."

Jydan grinned and lifted his hand from Blaen's shoulder to grasp his chin lightly and shake it. "Personally, I'd rather have you at my side where I can keep an eye on you. There's too many pretty women eyeing you in this town. And that includes both mothers and daughters. I'm afraid I'm gonna come back when it's all over and find you carted off somewhere."

Blaen blushed deeply, swatting away Jydan's hand. "Jydan! You make me sound like a ... like a side of meat or something! The women here aren't that bad." He looked around, noticing the looks given them from the cluster of women standing just across the dusty town road. Eyes widening, he swallowed, edging a hair closer to his friend, whispering, "Are they?"

Laughing, Jydan shook his head and started walking again, leaving Blaen momentarily alone before the younger man realized it. With a few jogged steps and a suppressed mutter, Blaen was at his side again.

"Maybe we need to reconsider this plan of yours..."

*********************

"...and then I ran back here to report to you."

"Good job." Jydan squeezed the scout's shoulder, then waved her onward. "Go. Inform the rest. Tell them to gather at the ambush point. I'll be on my way momentarily."

The young woman, dusty and panting, nodded and dashed off, her slight frame weaving rapidly in and out amongst the villagers. Jydan watched a moment longer, then turned back to Blaen, his lips set in a firm line. Both men stood on the porch of what passed for the town hall, in the midst of doing a last check on the security of the stronger buildings where those who couldn't fight could take refuge if necessary. Ghost stood only a few feet away, reins trailing loosely on the hard-packed dirt ground.

Jydan said after a moment, "You know what to do."

Blaen replied firmly. "Yes. You'll notice I already am." He gestured beyond them to the streets of the village. Older children and a few young teenagers ran among the adults.

Jydan nodded approvingly. "I was wondering what you took in payment for your stories last night."

"Only a little training really. I instructed them in a few hand signals," he wiggled his fingers in the air, "courtesy of some of the few signs I've learned from Linet's new lady-in-waiting, Melaani. And I told them what I wanted them to do for each one. One of those signs just happened to be the announcement that the raiders were approaching and that they needed to get the word out that everyone needed to gather in the appointed safe places." He shrugged, his lips tilting up into a grin as he lifted his head to look up at Jydan, eyes squinting in the late afternoon sun. "Just doing my job."

"A good job it is, too. As I've said before, you're always one step ahead of me." He grasped Blaen's arm, shaking it gently. "You stay safe, all right?"

Blaen covered Jydan's hand with his. "You too." He looked past Jydan to Ghost. "You hear me, you overgrown house pet? You take care of my friend. Or else I'll turn you into a rug or something equally disgusting."

Ghost snorted and tossed his head, jerking the reins into the air, then trotted over to stand next to the porch, stretching his neck to reach Blaen. The younger man laughed and stroked Ghost's nose.

"I'm joking, Ghost. Well, not about the overgrown house pet bit..."

The black stallion snorted again, stamping his feet indignantly. Both men laughed softly, then turned to each other one last time.

Blaen nudged Jydan toward Ghost. "Go. I'll still be here. I won't let any of the women carry me off and hide me in her larder or something like that." He grinned.

Jydan chuckled, reaching up to pat Blaen's cheek. "Better not."

With one final squeeze of Blaen's shoulder, Jydan turned, mounted Ghost, then galloped away, joining the gradual progression leaving the village.

Taking only a moment to reinforce his barriers to the outside world, Blaen grabbed his quarterstaff from where it leaned against the wall, then jumped off the porch, yelling for his little troop of warriors to gather round. They had work to do. He'd let Kell's, well, formerly Kell's mercenary friends take care of organizing the adults and the harsher way of fighting. He and the younger ones had plenty they could do before the raiders got into the village -- if they could get past Jydan's forces. And having seen Jydan in action plenty of times, Blaen had his doubts on just how many of those raiders would still be moving at the end of the battle.

*********************

It wasn't until several minutes into the battle at the ambush point that Jydan finally caught sight of Daamen. The shorter but extremely fast and clever man fought with surprising strength and agility, even after all the time that had passed between them. Jydan had warned his forces about him, so some of the surprise advantage had been lost. But even with the knowledge, some still made the mistake of underestimating him.

Jydan fought his way past several raiders, knocking them off their horses with his sword, kicking away any ground troops, relying on Ghost to maneuver his way through the crowded mess. He wanted Daamen. He owed it to the Guild, to himself, to the Code he'd grown up with to stop the man and his treacherous ways. Especially now that he'd dared to invade the country Jydan called home.

Lifting his sword to the heavens, ignoring the red blood that dripped off the curved blade and splattered onto his hand and arm, Jydan roared across the battlefield. "Daamen!"

Daamen's head jerked upward and he stared across the field, his eyes searching for the one who knew his name.

Jydan called again, moving forward. "Daamen! I challenge you."

The other man's eyes finally landed on him, widening first in recognition, then narrowing in some kind of perverse pleasure. His gravelly voice echoed as he pointed his red-stained sword at Jydan, lifting himself slightly in the stirrups of his horse. "Jydan!" He settled back down and spurred on his horse, a huge ugly reddish-brown horse, head fitted with chain mail.

Jydan edged Ghost forward and met Daamen at the edge of the battlefield, standing just out of each other's sword range. The two men stared at one another for long moments before Jydan finally broke the silent contest of wills. "Shouldn't someone have killed you by now, Daamen?"

Daamen shook his head, lips curling up. "I can't be killed. I am a survivor, Jydan. You may've betrayed me, but I survived."

"You're a raider, Daamen, nothing more than a fancy, no-good bandit. I don't call that surviving. And I wasn't the one that betrayed." He pointed at him. "You were. You went against our Code, the very thing we swore by, that which we are meant to live by." Ghost pranced uneasily underneath him, hooves stamping at the ground in impatience.

Daamen sneered at him. "I've heard about you, Jydan. I know all about how you left Eirena, eventually giving up the mercenary business altogether. So who are you to talk to me like that? You're just some sniveling little Guard Captain now." He paused, looking around. "And where's that boy I heard you've taken up with? Blaen, isn't it? Sorta short? Brown curly hair? A cute little thing, I hear. Did you leave the little boy at home with his blankie where it's all nice and safe?"

Jydan growled. "He is no 'boy' and even if he were, he's a better man that you are, Daamen, so just leave him out of this. This is just you and me."

"It was never between just you and me, Jydan. You know that."

Jydan twirled his sword in the air, shifting his weight on Ghost's back. "This time it is. This is mercenary against mercenary. You've killed enough people I know. No more. This ends here."

Daamen grinned maniacally. "You can certainly try." He shifted his own weight slightly, moving his sword forward. "You never could best me in swordwork, Jydan. You know that and I know that."

Jydan smiled a rather deadly smile. "A few things have changed since then, Daamen."

And he charged.

*********************

Blaen glanced down the road that led out of the village, staring at the heavy dust cloud that hung above the road just around the hills. Every now and then he could hear yells, the loud clash of metal on metal, or even a horse protesting against some kind of punishment the younger man didn't want to picture. Just stop it! You know he's fine. You'd know if he wasn't. Focusing briefly inward, Blaen could sense those silver cords that tied him to Jydan still vibrating strongly with life. Cold anger rode beneath the calm, "mercenary" surface. But the emotion leant the older man strength and carried no threat of overpowering him. See? What did I tell you? He's fine.

Forcing himself to turn away again, he concentrated on the task at hand -- shifting yet another heavy barrel in place at the edges of the dirt road that ran through the town. Each barrel was filled with various weapons that any townsperson could grab on the way past. Knives, metal bars, sticks, clay bricks, even a few discarded pots. Anything and everything of use.

Settling the last barrel in its assigned spot, Blaen paused to rest, panting, leaning on the barrel for several moments. Letting his eyes drift around lazily, he catalogued the locations of the other barrels, noting how well the townspeople had come together to fight back against the raiders.

Good people, these Rillandans. All of them hearty and feisty. Never giving up without a fight. And oh-so-stubborn! He grinned. Definitely my type of people.

Pushing away from the barrel, he turned in the direction of the stableyard. From there, he would head up to his lookout post in the second story on the large stable and send messages down to the mercenaries placed in the village of anyone who made it past Jydan and the fighters at the ambush spot. Clamping down on the worry-filled emotions that wanted to take over at the thought of Jydan fighting Daamen -- who did not sound like someone who would play by any rules -- Blaen jogged down the dirt street, heading for the stable, several buildings away.

Be safe, Jydan.

*********************

Jydan clenched his teeth as he forced Daamen's blade away from him, arms straining with the effort. Ghost stayed rock solid under him, moving only slightly in reaction to Jydan's shifts of weight. With one final heave, Jydan shoved the deadly sharp short broadsword away and Ghost immediately danced a few feet back, giving him and his rider some room. Breathing heavily, the tall mercenary smiled grimly at Daamen.

"Like I said, some things have changed."

Daamen only laughed once, a short bark that had no humor in it and stank of malice. He sliced his sword through the air, advancing on Jydan again. "Seems you've only gained enough new skills to buy yourself some time, Jydan. Not nearly enough to defeat me."

Jydan shook his head. "That's what you think. I haven't even shown you my 'new' skills yet. Those are just the improved ones." He shifted his sword in his hand. "I'll still not sure you're worth the 'new' skills I have."

Growling at the implied insult, Daamen charged him, sword raised.

CLANG!

Jydan met the blow with his sword, diverting the strike before making a strike of his own. Daamen was fast, however, and recovered quickly enough to divert it as well. Blow after blow was exchanged in between taunting words and looks. Equally matched, neither of the two men was able to gain the upper hand long enough to deliver a crippling blow.

Jydan kept fighting, patiently and efficiently tearing down the other with words and physical blows, knowing he would win in the end, if he could only provoke Daamen into making a mistake.

Daamen wasn't prepared to wait that long. With a sudden high-piercing yell, the raider shouted out a quick phrase in Old Eirenan. A phrase Jydan didn't interpret until a moment too late.

Archers, attack!

A flash of hot fire lanced across his upper left arm, and Jydan fell forward, nearly toppling from Ghost's saddle. The stallion whinnied in alarm, stamping his feet, moving underneath the tall man's unsteady weight.

Jydan shoved himself back up, looking down to see the deep gash in his arm. The arrow had fortunately missed its intended target, but had still wounded him. He glared at Daamen through slitted blue eyes. "You never could play fair, Daamen. Not then and obviously not now."

"I play to win. Fairness has nothing to do with it." He sidled his horse away from the wounded man, knowing enough to know that the mercenary was even more dangerous now than he had been before. "And there are many ways to win against you, Jydan. And somehow I'm sure you left the best one back in that village."

Jydan stiffened, fist clenched tightly around the leather grip of his sword. "If you even think about harming him...."

"Oh, I stopped 'thinking' about it several minutes ago. Now I'm simply doing it." He gestured once, bringing four burly men, all mounted and armed, to his side. "Keep him busy." Daamen saluted to Jydan once, then turned his horse, heading toward the village and its occupants, sending up clouds of dirt in his wake. An enraged roar followed him as he disappeared around the bend in the road.

"DAAMEN!!!"

*********************

Shifting his quarterstaff to his other hand, Blaen paused to shove one of the barrels near the stable to a slightly different position. Too heavy. He grimaced and laid down his staff to use both hands, letting out a grunt when the barrel finally shifted. The young man looked it over and nodded once in satisfaction, then crouched down to retrieve his staff before he headed inside.

"Look out!"

The shout rang out over the deserted-looking village, startling Blaen. He peered cautiously over the top of the barrel, eyes wide, wondering what had caused the alarm.

A rider, hunched over a reddish-brown horse, tore down the dirt road, a short sword in one hand. It only took a moment for Blaen to realize it was one of the raiders. Someone got past Jydan. Or past someone at least. One of Kell's mercenary friends appeared from behind a building when the raider began to slow. Blaen held his breath, watching, hand gripping his staff, his eyes moving rapidly between the door of the stable, the raider, and the mercenary rapidly approaching the raider's blind side. Well, now what? If I move, I'm noticed. If I don't move, I'm still gonna be obvious when he goes past. It's not that I don't want to fight him -- I'm no coward. However, I did promise to stay safe... Making a quick decision, he stood and backed up, keeping in the partial shadows of the stable building's small overhang, wanting the advantage of surprise if he needed it. If I'm needed, I'll fight. If not, I'm won't miss it.

Kell's mercenary friend, a fast runner and smart fighter, had only just reached striking distance of the horse when the raider swung one leg out and kicked the man squarely in the chest, knocking him flat on the road. Blaen winced in sympathy. The raider kept riding, his head swiveling, eyes stopping at every person that dared to peek out from behind barricades and closed doors.

He's looking for someone. Someone in particular. But who...?

His link with Jydan flared for a moment, breaking past the thick barriers he had put up to protect him from the fighting just outside the village and the rampant emotions that the fighting produced. Blaen blinked, eyesight fuzzing out, and the link submerged again, as if the whole thing hadn't happened. But the moment had been long enough for Blaen to identify several emotions that sang clearly to him from his tayaerra.

Immense anger. Overwhelming distress and agitation. Mindless desperation. Blaen!

What happened? Jydan?!?

Someone yelled his name, and he jerked, the end of his quarterstaff shifting in the dirt and thunking lightly on the wall behind him. Tensing, he held his breath, concentrating on not being found, not able to spare the time he wanted -- needed -- to check on Jydan through their link. The raider's eyes narrowed as his horse slowed up even more and he scanned the area near the stable with careful eyes. Blaen melted back further into the shadows, pressing up against the outside wall of the stable. He didn't want to go inside and thereby trap himself in a closed area, but he didn't know how much longer he could stay safe in the open either.

Behind the first raider, Blaen saw more entering the town, their roaring laughter echoing off the buildings. The mercenaries and several of the village men ran out to fight them. Blaen swallowed hard. Sorry, Jydan, so much for me not fighting.

Eyes going back to the first raider, still sitting calmly on his horse as it plodded down the road quite purposely, Blaen watched as the man dipped a hand into his overvest for a moment, then bring it back out again, seemingly empty. Moving forward just a hair, Blaen squinted, trying to see. Maybe he had an itch? He leaned a little further forward, still being sure to stay relatively out of sight. Is he holding some--?

Next to him, the stable door squeaked open, the old hinges creaking loudly. Blaen shot it a horrified glance, knowing the noise would attract the attention of the raider and his safe spot would be no more. He whipped his head back in time to see the raider's eyes pin him quite solidly and lift his hand to his mouth, then blow hard.

Realizing what the raider had done, Blaen dropped his quarterstaff and threw himself to the side, hoping to evade the dart. A stinging sensation in the exposed skin of his neck told he hadn't. On his knees in the dirt, he reached up and yanked the tiny dart from his neck and tossed it aside, muttering a few creative words under his breath.

clip-clop clip-clop clip-clop

Blaen looked up -- and up -- and found the head of the reddish-brown horse looming over him, dark eyes staring at him from behind chain mail. That has got to be the ugliest horse I have ever seen. The horse shifted and he blinked, feeling his mind beginning to fuzz again, this time from the effects of whatever was in the dart. Have to stay alert. He felt around for his staff, finally grasping it. Using it as a partial support, Blaen rose to his feet, then held out the staff in front of him defensively.

"What do you want, raider?"

The other man lounged back on his horse, crossing his arms, nodding once. "Yes, you must be Blaen. You definitely fit the description. Come here." He reached out and grabbed the staff, pulling Blaen toward him, unbalancing him.

Blaen fell into the horse, then felt that hand touch his arm, strong fingers biting into his skin. His mind screamed for him to do something, to get away, but he couldn't focus. Drug-induced lethargy crept through his limbs, making him weak.

He struggled ineffectively, pushing at the man's hands. Slowly, he began to feel tendrils of darkness playing at the edges of his awareness, threatening to send him into total unconsciousness. No. I can't do that. I have to stay awake. C'mon, Blaen, you can do this.

Inhaling deeply in preparation to pull away with a little more effort, the breath left him quite abruptly when he found himself yanked into the air and dragged across the saddle. One leg was forced over so that he could sit properly, though uncomfortably, between the pommel and the other man's chest. An arm wrapped itself tightly around his waist, holding him in place. The unexpected and unwanted contact with the raider brought with it unsettling thoughts and disturbing feelings that crashed hard against his internal barriers. The need to deal with that first and the belated startlement gave the raider enough time to get a solid grip on him.

Again he struggled against the hands that held him, this time harder. "Let go of me!" His words were slurred but understandable. He stilled when he felt the sharp, cold metal point of a knife come to rest just under his rib cage, cutting through his tunic to touch his skin.

The raider spoke, his voice low and harsh. "You're coming with me, Blaen, so just shut up and keep still." He kneed the reddish-brown horse forward again, heading straight into a gallop, riding in the opposite direction -- toward the sea.

Blaen grabbed the pommel with both hands and held on, concentrating both on staying upright in the saddle and on keeping awake. He forced his eyes wide and took long deep breaths. I have to be awake to help Jydan when he comes for me. He swallowed. And he will come. He always comes. His mind was too muddled for him to even try to reach toward his tayaerra, and he couldn't even see the silver cords that were always with him. He will come.

In the meantime, all he could do was hold on. That and be somewhat grateful for the drug that numbed his senses. He hadn't been this close to anyone so ... evil ... in a very long time -- not since Rik. Without the drug, he knew his skin -- and soul -- would be crawling with the physical contact. As it was, he could sense the darkness hanging out just beyond him, but he couldn't truly feel anything with his dironan talents. And for that, I have to be glad. I don't know that I could survive this any other way.

They burst out from the low-lying hills to find the sea spread out before them, a long beach leading toward distant high cliffs. Slowing the horse to a fast walk, the raider leaned forward to whisper in his ear. "Oh, by the way, my name's Daamen. I'm sure Jydan has mentioned me."

Daamen! Not caring if the man even heard him, Blaen asked, enunciating his words slowly, "What do you want?"

"Want? What do I want?" The man laughed, jabbing at Blaen's ribs a little more. "I want to defeat Jydan. No, I want to destroy him first, then defeat him. That's what I want. And I think you're the best way to do so."

Blaen winced away from the knife, inhaling, forcing out his words in slurred fragments. "Killing me ... not help you. Jydan hunt you ... find you."

Daamen paused, and Blaen felt the man shrug. "Oh, you're probably right. But I never said I was gonna kill you." He pointed toward the cliffs. "I've got a ship waiting just beyond those cliffs. And that ship will take me away from Rillanda and away from Jydan." He finished in a sibilant hiss, hot breath streaming across Blaen's cheek. "And, you, Blaen, are coming with me, across the Drynan Sea."

"No!" Blaen struggled, remembering all too well that across the Drynan Sea was where Rik's original buyer for him awaited. In his muddled state, time shifted and changed, his confusion telling him that Rik was waiting for him on that ship, even though another part of him tried to remind him that the slaver was long dead. He jerked away from Daamen, a sudden burst of strength born of fear giving him the edge he needed to break out of Daamen's grasp.

Almost.

Just as Blaen nearly got free, working in the confined space to bring his other leg over so he could jump off the horse's back, Daamen released one hand long enough to strike Blaen over the back of the head with the knife handle. The young man slumped forward, mostly unconscious, only aware enough to know he failed and that his worst nightmare was happening. Again. A choked cry fell from his lips, but his real plea echoed only in his own mind.

Jydan! Please...

*********************

Jydan wiped the back of one hand along his mouth and stared down at the four men lying in a jumbled moaning heap on the ground. Limping slightly, he turned away, trying to whistle for Ghost who he'd sent out of the fighting as soon as he'd been unhorsed. Unfortunately he found his sore mouth unwilling to cooperate with him. Growling, he cupped both hands over his mouth and called out the horse's name instead.

"Ghostrose!"

A loud whinny answered him and moments later the proud stallion pelted around the hill, mane and tail flying in the wind. Jydan glanced around him and nodded in satisfaction that most of the raiders were down. His forces were stronger and could handle the last few. As he mounted Ghost, groaning as his injuries made themselves known, he told the nearest ally what he was doing -- riding after Daamen -- then kneed Ghost into a fast gallop, heading toward the village.

Upon arriving in the village, he found several other raiders either dead or wounded, but all taken care of by his troops. Heading straight for the stable, he hoped against hope that Blaen would be there safe and sound. Before he even dismounted, he knew that it wasn't to be.

Blaen's quarterstaff lay in the dirt, discarded like a used toy. And several feet away from it, Jydan found a tiny, nearly unnoticeable, red-tipped dart. Crouching down, he picked it up carefully, bringing it to his nose, sniffing at it cautiously. After a moment, his eyes widened in alarm.

Fereneli. That's a sleep drug. Used to keep people pliable ... and suggestible.

Cursing in every language he knew, he dropped the used dart and remounted Ghost. He patted the stallion's neck. "Daamen took Blaen, boy. We need to find him." He looked around, noting the quickly failing light. "And we need to hurry."

Ghost tossed his head, feet stamping in readiness. Jydan eyed the ground around him, determining which tracks he needed to follow. There! Those tracks would fit that beast of his. He's heading toward the Sea. His head shot up. He has a ship waiting!

Kneeing Ghost into a gallop, they headed toward the seaside strip of beach just beyond the village, following both the hoofprints in the dirt and his own instincts.

If Daamen has hurt Blaen in any way...

He couldn't finish the thought, his mind conjuring up too easily any number of things Daamen could do to his friend -- whether knowingly or not. Even just the contact he would be sustaining with Daamen would hurt Blaen. Jydan knew that from the past and even from just very recently with the incident with Melaani. And considering how he reacted to just Melaani's fear, which had no malice in it...

Growling, he leaned down over Ghost's neck, urging the stallion to go faster.

Bursting out onto the beach, Jydan immediately located Daamen's horse nearing the distant cliffs. That must be where his ship is waiting for him. And he plans to take Blaen with him. His lips thinning, Jydan grunted, keeping his head low as Ghost's hooves pounded through the sand.

Not while I'm still alive.

*********************

Groaning slightly, Blaen fuzzed his way back into full wakefulness. Blinking slowly, the landscape swimming before, he realized several things at once. He was still on the horse. Daamen still rode behind him, one arm wrapped firmly around his middle. They were still moving, sand and water spraying his lower legs. The cliffs loomed closer every moment. The drug, whatever it was, still floated around in his body, actually stronger than it was earlier. His tongue felt like a ball of dry cotton.

And he couldn't move his hands apart from each other.

He looked down, frowning, and found that a cord had been wrapped around his wrists. He could move his fingers from their interlaced position, but not much else. Well, isn't this just great?

A particularly hard jolt had him grabbing onto the pommel, clasping it tightly with clubbed fingers. The hand around his waist tightened with the movement and Blaen noted idly that the knife was missing. Of course it's missing. There's no need for a knife with someone who's only barely awake and can't get his brain and muscles to cooperate with one another. What was in that dart anyway?

"I see you're awake again. Behave or next time I don't promise to be so nice."

Daamen's voice surprised him, sounding loud in his ear as compared to the soft familiar sound of the rolling ocean. He flinched away slightly, suddenly aware that some of the drug's numbing qualities were beginning to wear off -- at least where his dironan talent was concerned. The rest of him didn't feel any better. In fact, he felt disgustingly weak and nauseous.

He didn't say anything, just pressed his lips together and stared fixedly at his hands, thinking of ways he could get away as soon as they dismounted.

Fingers tightened again around his waist, digging painfully into his skin and muscle, making him gasp. "Are you listening to me, boy?"

"Yes, 'm lissenin'." He cursed his tongue for not working properly, then went on to curse his whole body for betraying him, even if was the drug's fault.

The fingers relaxed their grip and Daamen shifted in the saddle once. "Good. I wouldn't want--"

Another sound entered into the scene.

Hooves. Pounding on the sand behind them.

Blaen tried to turn but Daamen shoved him forward again. Instinctively Blaen reached for -- and found -- the silver cords he had missed. Bright and thick and strong and glowing and very, very near.

Jydan!

At the same moment, Daamen swore and dug his heels into his horse again. "Yah! Yah! Faster!"

Jydan's voice rang out. "I'm gaining on you, Daamen. You won't make it. I will not let you take Blaen."

Daamen shifted his grip, moving to grasp the reins with the same hand with which he held Blaen. Then he pulled his sword from the sheath on his back to gesture with, his motions jerky, turning his head back to yell. "Once I round those cliffs, Jydan, you'll see I have half an army waited for me. You won't be able to defeat all of them before I board that ship and sail away with your precious little friend. You'll never see him again."

Blaen stared wide-eyed at the approaching cliffs, knowing that with every moment they got closer to loss of his everything he held dear in life. Just don't sit here like a fool -- do something! He twitched his fingers, finding them still quite useless, not that he'd be able to do much with his hands tied together. Lifting his hands from the pommel to maybe pick at the knot with his teeth only made him nearly lose his balance. So much for that idea. Falling off at this speed doesn't sound terribly pleasant. Now what?

His head jerked up and around when another horse -- Ghostrose -- appeared next to them. Not taking the time to look at Blaen, Jydan swung his sword at Daamen. Blaen immediately lurched out of Daamen's grasp and ducked, hunching over the pommel, gritting his teeth and hanging the best he could. Swords clanged and sparked above him for several moments before Daamen swerved his horse off to one side, tearing away from Jydan at an angle. He grabbed Blaen and yanked him back up.

"Not gonna work, Blaen."

Blaen uttered an unheard curse and slammed backward, smacking the back of his head into Daamen's face, startling the man into releasing him and dropping his sword. Hoping that Jydan could now make another move, Blaen dropped back down over the pommel, knowing he needed to be clear so his tayaerra could act.

"Why you little brat!" Rage spilled from Daamen's voice

Blaen heard the sound of a knife being pulled from a sheath. He clenched his eyes shut, holding his breath. His inner barriers finally beginning to falter with the extended contact with the raider, he flinched back from the black emotions as they spilled over into him and waited for something - anything - to happen.

*********************

Knowing Blaen had been drugged, Jydan hadn't expected to get any kind of real help from him, even though he knew Blaen would try, even if it only meant getting out of the way. So when he saw Blaen rear back and smack Daamen in the mouth with his head, he was a little surprised - a lot surprised, actually. But he didn't waste the opportunity that Blaen had provided him with.

Daamen had dropped his sword into the sand and in his distraction hadn't noticed his horse had slowed down considerably. Quickly shifting his own sword to his other hand which also held the reins, Jydan wheeled Ghost toward the raider and advanced while at the same time yanking a throwing knife from his belt. As he again neared them, he saw Daamen pull his own knife to hold aloft above Blaen's bowed back.

No!

Willing Blaen to stay down as long as he could, Jydan snapped his wrist back and threw the knife with everything he had. He watched it fly and arc through the air, outdistancing him quickly, arriving with deadly accuracy in Daamen's unprotected back, hitting a weak spot in the chain mail overvest. Have to thank Kell for that particular move. The raider jerked once, mouth gaping open. The knife fell from his fingers, spinning off to the side. The reins dropped from the other hand and then he tottered and slumped forwards on top of Blaen, then slipped off the side of the horse, landing with a thud on the sand.

The horse, startled by the sudden shift of weight and the lack of control by the rider whinnied loudly and, to Jydan's horrified gaze, started galloping totally out of control, heading again for the cliffs. Blaen bounced along unevenly, tied hands gripping the pommel of the saddle, hanging on, unable to do anything else.

With a loud curse, Jydan sheathed his sword and kneed Ghost forward, pushing the stallion harder and faster. Come on! He yelled, "Blaen! Hold on! I'm coming."

A whisper of a voice floated back to him, filled with fear. "Hurry!"

Gaining on the out-of-control horse, Jydan decided to forego trying to get the reins and just get Blaen instead. He bent over Ghost's neck. "Just a little faster, Ghost, you can do it. Come on, come on, come on. That's it. Just a little closer." The big stallion pushed forward, inching closer to the other horse and finally came in stride with it. Knowing that Ghost couldn't hold the pace for too long, Jydan let the looped reins hang loose over his horse's neck and reached out toward Blaen, stretching both hands across the distance separating them, hugging his knees to Ghost's side to keep his position.

"Blaen!"

The younger man jerked his head up, his eyes meeting Jydan's.

As if prearranged, Blaen let go of the saddle pommel and turned toward Jydan, leaning trustingly into the hands he knew would be waiting. Strong hands locking onto his friend's waist, Jydan hauled him into the saddle, feeling Blaen's hands grab clumsily onto his light tunic when he settled side-saddle in front of him. One hand holding Blaen to him, Jydan grasped the reins and pulled back carefully on Ghost.

"Whoa, whoa, easy there."

The other horse kept going, running wildly toward the cliffs where Daamen's ship still waited. Turning slightly, he nudged Ghost further up the beach line, away from the ocean and toward the shaded coves where it would be safer. Blaen shivered once under his arm and he tightened his hold a little, hugging him, leaning down to whisper to him.

"Sh, sh, it's okay now."

Another shiver and he felt Blaen nod against his chest, shifting to move in a little closer, his fingers still trying to twine themselves in the cloth of his tunic. Realizing that the shock was hitting him sooner than he'd expected - must be the drug - Jydan stroked his arm and continued to murmur softly to him.

Finally, Ghost stopped in one of the sheltered coves and Jydan let the reins drop again, turning his attention entirely onto Blaen, both remaining on Ghost's back. First thing he did was cut the cords around Blaen's wrists, rubbing the markings and checking for any extreme bruising. Not finding any, he released Blaen's hands and tilted Blaen's face up to him with a gentle finger.

"Are you okay? I found the dart."

Blaen blinked slowly. "Feel ... sweepy ... s'ill. Can' ge ..." He paused, frustration showing in his eyes. He thumped a useless hand against Jydan's chest. "Nuffin' ... wor's."

Jydan nodded. "I know." He stroked a hand along Blaen's back, drawing calming circles on the twitchy muscles he could feel under his hand. "He used fereneli. It's pretty powerful. Healers use it sometimes to relax their patients." He paused, then added, "Including the tongue."

The younger man made a face. "Don' like i'." He shivered again and Jydan frowned.

"Are you sure you're okay? Did you, uh, feel anything from him?"

This time Blaen shook his head. "Dwug ... numb ..." He hesitated, then nodded slowly. "La'er ... wan'ed ... kill me ... hur' you ..."

Jydan wrapped both arms around Blaen and drew him close, holding him, whispering into his hair, "But he didn't. He's gone. You're alive. We're both safe. Just let it all go, Blaen."

*********************

Blaen let himself be tucked closely to Jydan, feeling the bigger man enfold him inside his arms. Resting his cheek against the older man's chest, he sighed, smiling inside when the arms tightened just a little more, reacting to that sigh. He shivered again, releasing the pent-up fear and anxiety. Not only about his own life, but that of Jydan's as well. Focusing solely on his tayaerra, he slowly found his balance again. Even the brief contact with Daamen's dark emotions had disturbed him, made him want to run screaming to some dark corner somewhere and hide. When that hadn't been an option, he'd had no choice but to force that reaction away until later.

But it was more than just that. Or maybe just different. It had been a threat to his life, his freedom. Shivering once more, he turned his face into Jydan's chest more fully, hearing the soft thump of his friend's heartbeat beneath his ear. Dropping all the barriers, he let himself be soothed, let his dironan talent be calmed, let himself be healed.

Time passed and the world moved on. But for that moment, Blaen didn't care. He watched with inner sight as the silver cords that bound his soul to Jydan's gathered closely around him, healing him, protecting him.

Idly he mused, Someday I need to tell Jydan about these cords that bind us together. I know he considers the tayaerra bond the only thing we need. But he needs to know about this as well. Somehow I don't think they're part of the tayaerra thing. Maybe more a dironan thing?

Sometime later, Jydan's hand touched his cheek and Blaen came back to the real world with a little regret. He leaned back from Jydan's chest, looking up at him, leaving one hand on Jydan's chest to steady himself.

The older man smiled at him, gripping his shoulder. "You ready to go back now?" His voice was soft, his eyes relaxed and at peace again.

Blaen nodded. "Yes. Bu' dwug..." He waved a ineffective hand in front of him.

"I know. You wouldn't be able to hold on. Do you think you could sit in front of me?" Jydan's blue eyes turned hesitant.

Smiling Blaen patted his hand. "Okay."

Jydan helped Blaen shift around, sitting more properly on the saddle, secured by Jydan's hand on his waist. After a moment, the mercenary commented quietly, "Well, I guess it's a good thing we don't have to worry about your horse for awhile."

Blaen turned a little bit, looking back at him. "Why?"

"Do you know how long it takes for fereneli to totally wear off?"

Eyes widening, Blaen shook his head.

Jydan patted his shoulder. "Don't worry, by tomorrow afternoon you should be able to talk normally again. As well as use your hands."

"Whole day?!?"

"A whole day," Jydan confirmed as he gathered up the reins and kneed Ghost forward slowly, looking around for any signs of raiders. Not seeing any, he turned them in the direction of the village.

A few moments later, Blaen muttered darkly, "Whole day ... man ... wha' 'm I s'pose a' do for a whole day?!?" He went for another minute, half sentences and partial words carrying back to Jydan's ears.

Jydan chuckled low under his breath at the frustration in Blaen's voice -- the slurring of his words didn't do anything to hide how Blaen felt about the whole thing. He also knew his tayaerra was still a little shaken up about his wild ride with Daamen and humor was his method of dealing with it. Minute tremors shook Blaen's body every now and again as they rode along the higher beach areas toward the path that would take them toward the village. But if he's okay enough to joke around, then he'll be fine. And the fereneli will wear off and the bruises, which I know he's got to have somewhere, will heal.

Still half-listening to his friend's muttered monologue (which began to slow a bit at a time, indicative that the sleep drug was beginning to work again), Jydan spotted the pathway and steered Ghost toward it, letting the horse find the easiest and smoothest path. Upon nearing the low hills that guarded either side of the beginning of the village path, he vaguely remembered the low dip where the path ended and the beach began. He'd been riding so fast earlier that Ghost had merely jumped it. He pondered the situation for a moment. Not going fast enough now for a full jump and there's no way I want to jostle Blaen that way right now anyway. He's unnerved enough as it is that he can't do much for himself.

Making a quick decision, he gave a gentle nicker to Ghost to quicken his stride a little. Leaning forward just a bit, he said quietly, realizing Blaen had quit talking, "There's small dip just before the path up ahead, Blaen. We can't go around it, so I'm gonna have Ghost sorta jump over it. Maybe call it a skip. I have to hold on to you to make sure you don't fall, okay?" Receiving a quick nod, he slid his hand around Blaen's waist a little further to secure the younger man to him. Blaen moved one hand from the saddle pommel to rest on top of Jydan's hand over his stomach. "Ready?"

"Yeah." The one-word answer was followed by a long, tired sigh and a squeeze of Jydan's hand.

With a nudge of his heels and a few words, Jydan directed Ghost to jump the shallow spot, shifting forward to accommodate the stallion as he did. Landing again on the other side, Blaen gasped a little and pressed down on Jydan's hand where it lay on his stomach.

Jydan frowned, peering down over Blaen's shoulder. "You okay?"

Blaen nodded after a moment. "Yeah. S'omach hur'. Bruise."

Immediately Jydan pulled away his hand from beneath Blaen's, releasing his hold, unwilling to cause the younger man any more pain than he was already in. He resettled his hand at Blaen's side again, slowing Ghost down a little to ride at a slower pace, one that wouldn't require him to hold onto Blaen too tightly. "Sorry. I should've realized. From the pommel, right?"

Blaen nodded again, one hand rubbing across his stomach, yawning a bit at the same time. He lifted his hand from his stomach to his eyes, scrubbing across them clumsily before reaching down to pat Jydan's hand at his waist. "'s okay. You didn' know. Didn' mean to hur' me." He yawned again. "Ha'e this. Sweepy. Numb. Fuzzy."

"It's the drug. It's catching up to you again. I think maybe you fought it off with the stress, but now you're relaxed and it's getting to you." Jydan paused, thinking a moment. He's gonna fall asleep before we get to the village. Carefully he tugged gently backwards toward him. "Lean back. You can rest against me."

Blaen turned his head a little, looking blearily up at Jydan, unspoken words in his eyes and on his face.

Jydan smiled, hoping to reassure him. "You're gonna fall asleep, whether you want to or not, Blaen. It'll be safer for you and easier for me if you do it this way. I don't mind." He lowered his voice, softening it. "You should know that."

The younger man returned his smile, then leaned back comfortably into Jydan's solid chest behind him. He mumbled, "Really ha'e this. Don' wanna make you 'ake care o' me."

Jydan smiled softly and shifted the reins to his other hand, curling his right arm carefully around Blaen's middle, resting it over Blaen's arms which were protecting his sore stomach. Rubbing his fingers on Blaen's arm, he shifted a little, keeping his friend and chosen brother snugly close to him. He lowered his head down slightly and whispered, "But I don't mind taking care of you, Blaen. It's what tayaerras do for one another, right? You take care of me. I take care of you. There's no shame, no guilt, no debt to repay. It's simply friendship and love and what brothers do for one another. So just rest and let me take care of you, okay?"

Blaen tilted his head just enough to meet Jydan's warm blue eyes again before he let his heavy eyelids droop and close. A smile played on his lips before the drug-induced sleep carried him away.

Jydan hugged Blaen to him, balancing him with ease. He clucked quietly to Ghost, lightly touching the reins to the stallion's neck. "What do you we say we head back and find ourselves a good place to sleep, huh, Ghost? Maybe find some of that grain for you to be spoiled on."

The stallion whinnied softly in agreement, tossing his head slightly as they continued on their way back to the village.

"And when Blaen is well enough to ride," he looked down again at the dozing young man, a fond smile touching his lips, "we can go home."

- The End -


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