The day came for them to march off to the first location her grand-uncle had set up troops. Her horse constantly bobbed head up and down and shifted left and right. Delia did her best to calm herself before trying to calm the horse. It was picking up her feelings. Finally, her father, the king, rode up. The Captain shouted out the order to proceed and she followed the rest of the elves in the king’s retinue out of the castle gates. A company of elves rode ahead of them while the rest of the force followed behind the king. Now that they were moving, she felt better. Sitting and waiting was difficult.
Sisruo rode up and moved into position beside her. He nodded toward Mage Kaepli who rode beside the King. “I was chosen to be his body servant.”
“Quite the honor,” Delia replied. She looked over him and his horse. He had dressed himself and his horse simply, as she had. There were no silver decorations on bridle or saddle. The sword at his side was plain, no fancy guard or decorations on the scabbard. A simple gray cloak hung from his shoulders over brown and green tunic, leggings and boots. Similar to her own dress.
“Yes. It is. I’m honored and hopeful I don’t make a mess of it.”
“Not likely. He seems to like you very much.”
“True. But that has only made him harder on me.” He gazed off into the distance over the heads of the king and the mage. “He’s convinced me to take my final testing when we return.”
“Good. It’s time. You seem to have an excellent grasp of magic.” She shrugged. “At least to my eye.”
Sisruo chuckled. “Kaepli said pretty much the same. Said I was just dilly-dallying. Get on with it.”
Delia had to chuckle in return. “Very direct.”
They spoke often over the next four days as they marched to battle. The sound of tack jingling and rattling covered their conversation from others in formation. What Delia found annoying was the constant dust. It filled every crevasse in skin and clothing and she was at the front. She couldn’t imagine what the dust was like at the rear of the line.
When they camped for the night the fourth day, her father called a council.
“Have we found Nethene?” the King asked as they stood around a map of the area spread across a rough table.
Captain Neoni shook his head. “No. There’s been no sign of him since four days before we left the castle. The men I had watching him had to be left behind when we rode. They still hadn’t woken from whatever spell he used on them.”
The king nodded and looked at Mage Kaepli. “And you?”
“I can see Iyuno’s forces ahead. Nothing more than that.”
Chief Scout Mystesto spoke up. “I sent scouts ahead, they’ve just returned. It looks like about a thousand elves, half on horseback. The rest on foot. There are humans, as well, sire.”
King Ucheni’s eyebrow rose. “Humans?”
Mystesto nodded. “More than likely mercenaries, Sire. Swords for hire, is my guess.”
The king rubbed his face, the beginning of a beard already growing. “That could mean that Iyuno isn’t as well supported as we thought. Humans also means less magic and more fighting.” He sighed. “And I’m sure Nethene has already joined my Uncle Iyuno.” He blew out his breath. “There’s nothing we can do about it now.”
He pointed at the map. We break our force into three parts. I’ll take the center, here,” he tapped the map at a point mid-way along the valley floor. Captain Neoni, take the right, Mystesto, take the left.” Ucheni looked to the mage. “And you, Master Kaepli. I’ve heard you have a weapon.”
“One I hope, Sire, will spare many elf lives. I and my apprentice Kaya, will be in Chief Scout Mystesto’s force. My right-hand apprentice, Sisruo and apprentice Couran will be with Captain Neoni. Apprentice Pelan will ride with you.”
“Only one mage with me, Kaepli?”
“Oh no, Sire. Your daughter is well trained in the new method. She’ll be by your side as planned.” The old elf gave Delia a quick wink.
Her father turned to her. “Well done, daughter. You seem to be a formidable force all on your own.”
A blush began to creep up her cheeks and she stared at the map. “I will do my best to protect you, Father.”
He clapped her gently on the shoulder—a smile on his face. “I couldn’t ask for a better daughter.”
“Thank you, Father.”
Ucheni drew a deep breath. “That’s all for tonight. Get your rest. We’ll need it.”
Delia returned to her tent. She was still amazed that the baggage train had one just for her. She splashed her face and took off her boots, lying down on her pallet fully clothed. The weather was still warm enough that she didn’t bother with the finely woven wool blanket provided. She stared at the top of the tent, lit in waves by the torches around her father’s tent. The light flickered and moved as the light breeze flew the flames.
After the big build-up by Mage Kaepli she hoped she could carry out her duties to protect her father. She pressed her fingertips against her eyes. Not a good horsewoman, she hurt, especially after four days in the saddle, from head to toe. That didn’t help her sleep either. Her legs would go into random spasms so even if she did drift off, the spasms jerked her back awake. She muttered the chant to awaken someone from suspension. A yawn in the middle of one iteration was so wide her jaw cracked. She worried about her father. What if he went charging ahead. Could she keep up? How long could she keep up the pace of suspending elves and throwing fireballs?
It was all a swirl in her mind until scratching at the tent door woke her. “It’s daybreak, Princess. We have mush and tea ready at the fire.”
Delia suppressed a groan. It hadn’t felt like any sleep at all. “I’ll be right there. Thank you.”
The elf left and Delia rolled from her pallet. She stretched as best she could and pulled on her boots. It was going to be a long day.
Thank You! Come back next week for Part 22.
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