Prince Gar’dyne pulled off his battle helmet and wiped the sweat. From just after sunrise until now, just before sunset, he’d wielded his battle sword in a bloody swath across the hell hounds and gremlins of the evil wizard, Anrak. They were victorious; he and his battle-scarred battalion, but he had no joy. The wizard had escaped and his battalion was cut to a third of its previous power.
His lieutenant, Yawo, his first cousin from his mother’s side, rode up beside him. “The wizard vanished into a cloud, sire, taking a guard with him. The evilest of the lot, as far as our scouts can tell.”
Gar’dyne pulled his canteen from his hip and drained the last of the well-watered wine. Every muscle in his body screamed but he only had a few cuts, so he hid his exhaustion. “The conjuror has caused great havoc, cousin. Have the seers a destination for the craven?”
“No, Lord. Their cauldrons provide only smoke and confusion.”
Gar’dyne grunted. That was usual in his experience. He’d have the whole lot of seers beheaded and start over. The wizard had power, the seer’s not as much. But his mother favored them so he held his tongue. “Find the damned wizard. Someone must be able to track the stench of his magical passing.”
After his tour of the wounded and prayers over the dead, Gar’dyne retired to his command tent where his servants had prepared a bath and a simple supper. He was scooping the soldier’s portion of grits and bacon with a square of corn bread when his staff entered the tent.
“Sire,” Yawo dipped his head. “We have a seer with news.”
Gar’dyne scraped the last of the gruel from the wooden bowl with the cornbread and chewed while he thought. “A seer actually saw something?”
Yawo dipped his head. The rest of the staff shifted uneasily. Gar’dyne had made his feelings about seers well known. The prince leaned back in his camp chair. Time to put the staff at ease. If the seer knew something, well and good. Best to keep the staff open minded. “Bring the seer.”
Yawo snapped his fingers and the tent flap opened. A young woman entered. Dressed as a peasant, an un-dyed woolen gown reached to her ankles with an apron of un-dyed linen, she caught his attention with a curtain of glossy blond hair that fell to her waist. Her eyes were downcast.
Gar’dyne had to catch his breath. “Speak, maiden seer, what have you for your prince.”
He watched her swallow. She’s nervous! “Tell, maiden,” he said in a softer tone. “Tell your prince your vision.”
She glanced up through thick lashes. “A babe, highness. The evil one has tracked a babe, destined to save the world.”
Gar’dyne blinked. He was so tired and now a riddle. His wrath against the seers was renewed. “That’s it? A baby?” He scrubbed a hand across his bearded face. “What’s that to my king?’
The girl slipped to her knees and he saw that she quivered as she dropped her head to the carpets strewn across the floor of his tent. He did his best to control his anger at the stupid wench. “Rise, girl. Explain.”
Tears glistened in her eyes making him feel even more a callous clod.
“Sire. Rescue the babe and win freedom from the wizard and his minions for the rest of time.”
And in front of the entire staff. Damn Yawo for not dealing with this slip of a girl in private. “Where is this babe?”
“A day’s march, Sire. The wizard is already there. The family resists.”
Gar’dyne wanted more than anything to sleep. “Yawo, Generals, form up. We march on this mud-hole of a town.”
The staff hustled out. Yawo took the girl by the elbow.
The girl turned back to him.
“If you are wrong, I’ll have you flayed in the town square.”
She paled but nodded. Gar’dyne signaled for them to leave.
At dawn they arrived at the mud-walled village the girl had seen. The wizard’s soldiers surrounded the town. Gar’dyne wondered how the peasants had held off the wizard when his own troops had been mowed down the day before. He deployed his troops and had the wench brought up beside him.
“Girl, how do we win?”
“The babe will win, Sire. You will press the attack.”
He glared at her and she shrank into the saddle of the pony she rode. He felt both an ogre and a fool. “Yawo, deploy the men. Attack at each gate. Beat the evil scum back whatever the cost.”
Yawo nodded and spurred his horse. The girl hung her head.
“Have you always had visions?”
“Yes, Sire.” Eyes on the ground she patted the pony she rode and it ceased it’s stamping.
He sighed. From his hilltop vantage he could watch his troops. A horn blew and his troops attacked. He ground his teeth at the first contact. The gremlins and hell hounds savaged what was left of his battalion. Then, sun beams broke through the sullen clouds. Puffs of smoke arose whenever the beams hit the wizard’s army. Gar’dyne blinked. His soldiers were winning!
He and his guard raced down the hillside. Sword swinging, he cleared a path through the town to the stable where the girl directed him. He dismounted his foam-flecked horse and strode inside.
There, a baby lay in a horse manger. Mages surrounded the babe and the parents. They knelt. “Sire. We’ve been waiting.”
Gar’dyne approached the manger. The baby, wrapped in homespun wool, smiled up at him. The girl beside him dropped to her knees. Exhaustion and worry melted from him. Gar’dyne knelt on one knee, his sword point to the ground in front of him and bowed his head. His father would want to know his seer’s predictions had come true. The savior was born.
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