To that end, Beau motioned with his dagger and held up two fingers towards the fighters, as if to say, How ‘bout it friend? Take them out while they’re distracted?
Peino’s attention was entirely upon the two fighters, judging each man’s strength and skill against each other, and the weight of their weapons, in their goblin’s dance. He failed to notice Beau’s gesture as he maneuvered into an advantageous position, just as he didn’t seem to notice the rain pouring in gouts down his face and neck or the wind tearing twigs off the trees around him. And in less than a minute it ceased to matter, for the bigger one cracked the shaft of the other’s axe and landed a sickening body blow, cracking ribs just as loudly.
The two goblins staggered free of each other. The scar-faced hob in the long black coat fell into the water and mud, and Baugl in his patchwork of padded armor roared his victory.
“My turn,” said Peino Starhand.
Baugl swung round. Before he could raise his axe again or do more than catch a glimpse of the tall elf and the faerie warriors swarming over the bandit guard, Peino lunged. The rapier’s fine honed point flew at the goblin’s face.
— — —
“So what now? You’re going to engage in a duel in the middle of a battle? Men.”
“She’s right, you know,” said Ruili Windwolf to Haug Handslayer. Fighting raged around them, slipping and slapping in a maelstrom of rain and mud. It was more violent here than anywhere but the perimeter of the clearing, where Lady Moonrain’s faeries pushed Baugl’s bandits in towards this very spot. “This is hardly the opportune moment, surely.”
Haug shook his head, a cruel grin spreading his lips. “We have unfinished business, you and I, and I say no time like the present.”
The gangster’s eyes widened, and Ruili braced himself to dodge, only to see the man’s focus shift. The heavy log he’d picked up swung past Ruili’s head and just barely over Y’lanna’s to smash the skull of a mountain bandit running up on the purple maiden.
“Aye, we’ll have none of that,” he growled over the suddenly dead attacker, “for I’ve unfinished business with this lass, too.”
Ruili took his cue. Grabbing Y’lanna’s shirt, he yanked her along past Haug even as the murderous giant turned in furious surprise to find Ruili now on the Ashcat side of him.
“If you wish to finish your business with this lady,” Ruili called back, “then I advise you to postpone your business with me. For now, I must beg your pardon as we have a more pressing engagement.”
Keeping Y’lanna behind him, Ruili moved back from Haug and towards the strategic target, Baugl of Caernith who had just been surprised with a sword jab to the face.
So it was that the Battle of the Temple drew towards its climax. In sheets and streams of rain, sinking to their ankles in mud, the two Selkie elves closed on the goblin warlord. Ashcat of Sesus lay half submerged in mud and his own blood. His followers, Switchtail and Elda, who had come with their boss on this journey of vengeance for wounded pride, were dead, their bodies riddled with elf-shot. And around the campfire, Y’lanna Sparti, Haug Handslayer, Beau Bergeron, and Jean Lafitte III took or held what positions and actions they could or would, depending on what opportunities or terrors each of them might see in the scene before them.
— — —
Meanwhile, on board the Calinda, Jeneyeru Nightwise did his best to relax.
He was not quite as unconscious as he appeared, having come around as Lotye and Lafitte’s wizard ministered to him. But he knew that the more he moved about, the more slowly his aura balance would restore itself and the more likely he was to dislodge the Webs of Blood and reopen his wound. So he let himself float in the sea of dull, throbbing pain that had become his body while his wound was dressed and healing potions applied and Thimble, dusted over with recuperative powders, wailed and wept over his master.
The faint thought of a smile played over his lips when he heard the wee voice of the Brownie telling them where they were. The Temple of Flidais in Raurugia. Thank the gods.
For the first time, Jeneyeru let himself feel the fear of his injury – not the fear of dying, for he’d done that already a time or two, but rather the fear of being left behind, of failing in his quest, failing to help his brother. He’d held such thoughts at bay just as he’d held his own blood inside. Now with hope in sight, he let them go, and for one instant, they overwhelmed him.
“Master Nightwise, you live!” cried Thimble at Jeneyeru’s ragged sigh.
Jeneyeru’s eyes blinked slowly. Moving as little as possible, he waved off Thimble’s effusions. From what was being said around him, hard work lay ahead, and it would go the easier if he could assist in his own saving.
“My cup,” he whispered, “my cup.”
“Your cap?” said Thimble. “Oh, your cup! At once, milord.”
The phooka tore madly into Jeneyeru’s luggage, emerging at last with a simple earthenware cup inscribed with arcane spells. He held it to Jeneyeru’s lips, and the master wizard used what aura he had already regained to whisper words of Atul and breath darkness into the cup with each syllable.
“Take it, someone. Lotye, or the ship’s wizard, one of you. Not Thimble. Phooka magic would turn my shadows into snails with a sneeze.” His voice was so low it barely could be heard, but immediately, a black mist began to overflow the little cup and pool and grow about the feet and legs of those present. “Carry it. The night will pour of out it for some minutes. It may…hide us…”
“Oh, milord, don’t exhaust yourself,” said Thimble. “Oh, dear, my poor Master Nightwise.”
As weepy as he was, though, signs of life in his beloved employer galvanized the Lord Magus’ valet. While Tayliana organized a transport party and Lotye pulled together whatever she pulled together, Thimble went into action in the form of the keeper of the household and affairs of a Lord of State and of a great house.
In quick order, Lotye was provided with a short sword, steel helm and iron buckler from among the various items she and he had “borrowed” from around the Calinda over the last few days. He called for archers to cover their descent from the airship, and packed up a strategic selection of Jeneyeru’s own possessions and gear. Not forgetting himself, either, he took up a sling and a bag of enchanted elf-shot.
“Fire and ice, and badgers and mice,” he declared naming the charmed shot that jangled in his sack, “for I’m in a mood to give woe to the bringers of all this bother and anyone else who gets in my way. You!” he pointed at the Brownie who jumped a bit before glaring in defiance. “Answer the ladies. How shall we get to the Temple?”
“Bah, simple enough,” the Brownie answered. “You’ll get there by following me. Isn’t this my home, and don’t I know all the best ways in and out of it? And don’t I wager rewards in abundance for saving the brother of the two lords below? That I do, so dawdle not. I, Mouserider MacButtoncap, shall show you the way.”
“Two lords?” Thimble perked up. “Two like this one? You mentioned only one before.”
“I can see and count. One gave the message but two there are.”
Joy gripped Thimble’s heart. “Do you hear, milord? Your noble brothers await you.”
Jeneyeru nodded faintly, but while part of him also rejoiced to hear the news, the rest braced to absorb the agony that would come with being strapped to a stretcher. From that point, he paid little attention to who did what to or about him. He considered his job now to be to keep the wound from opening while the party carried him on a plank out of the cabin and down in a bucket-basket while arrows and bolts kept the battle off them.
Below, the Brownie warrior called to his fellows who had been guarding the ground under the ship, and told them to clear the area and leave it to be their enemies’ trap. Then he led the medical rescue party, under cover of the magical fog of shadows and the magical storm of the God of Winds, straight across the field of combat towards the trees.
Truth be told, it was less a field of combat at this point than a field of bare-knuckle fights scattered among dead or maimed bodies and beaten warriors sitting about, looking miserable. Still, the dark that poured from the Shadow Master’s cup and fooled the bandits into thinking they were seeing nothing there but the gloom of their own mood was a useful aid. It got them not only to the tree line but through it, where the fighting was still hard.
Inside the woods proper, their Brownie guide got them through the faerie line. With relative ease now, they carried Jeneyeru around the edge of the clearing towards the stone hill and massive oak tree of the Temple. They were soon met by the priestess, Lady Moonrain, overseeing her archers and skirmishers.
The glowingly pale faerie flushed even more pallid at the sight of Jeneyeru.
“Is it Lord Peino, or Lord Ruili?” she asked anxiously, but when she saw him, she understood at once. “Ah, the other. So it’s true what they say about the Lords of House Ereon. And this one is a Master Wizard. Excellent. Come quickly.”
The moon-white half-deer, half-woman shouldered her bow and led them on the last leg of their hurried journey to one of the many hidden doorways into the hollow hill, where the healing waters awaited.