Okay, just for you, Celeris. Post two. :P
Thunk, Thunk. Thunk, Thunk.
Sarahi twitched her right arm and rolled over on her side in the grass, feeling the tingling of the dewy spikes against her skin. Her eyelids quivered.
Thunk, Thunk. Thunk, Thunk, Thunk. The sound was closer now. A man hummed and then whistled almost under his breath, blending in and yet distinguishable from the morning songbirds. She blinked, trying to remember why she was sleeping under a bush.
Kathunk, Kathunk, Kathunk. Two shiny black hooves glinted in the morning light not three feet away from her head. Sarahi flinched, rustling the surrounding leaves. The rider stopped whistling, and the hoof beats ceased.
The rider’s brown leather boots appeared on the ground between the front and rear feet of his ebony mount. Sarahi’s heart pounded. No use running now.
A hand lifted back a branch, and a bearded face peered back at her.
“My lady?” he asked.
Sarahi parted her dry lips to scream, but could not find her voice. It was as if it had floated away on the light breeze.
“Are you Sarahi?” he asked again.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“My lady, I represent your kinsman and I have come for you. But we must hurry now to put distance between ourselves and the invaders. I will tell you all later.” He extended his arm, covered in burnished chain mail, and offered his gloved hand. Her fingers trembling, Sarahi grasped it.
She stepped out into the sunlight, brushing dead leaves and dirt from her skirt. The knight swung her light frame up into the saddle of his black steed and then mounted in front of her. He clucked to the horse and they trotted off along through the thicket. Sarahi held on, her arms around his metal-clad waist.
He did not speak for several leagues, and kept looking back over his shoulder. Every so often, he changed direction and avoided following anything that looked like a footpath, heading into a thicker part of the forest.
About half an hour later, after they crossed a shallow brook, Sarahi felt the knight let out his breath. He glanced back at her and smiled. He said, “Well, I suppose you are wondering who I am. Now I’ll give the proper introduction I couldn’t give you earlier, m’lady. I am Johcyn Ranvir. The noble Shacol Wardant, Lord Sarwil—my lord and your kinsman—sent me to seek you and bring you to his castle so that you can be restored to your proper place and receive your inheritance.”
Sarahi studied his face, his dark brown beard and hair cascading over his shoulders, and his blue-green eyes, calm as the mellow ocean waves she remembered dancing around her feet as a child.
Johcyn said, “I’m very glad to have found you. When my companions and I arrived at Evandav late last night, we found the whole village in smoke and a band of Lawrshans marauding the place. I thought you might have been killed or captured like the others, so my men and I spread out over the countryside to look for you.”
Sarahi felt her cheeks warm. “Thank you—”
A long, dark streak whizzed above their heads and struck a tree across the brook. Johcyn turned in the saddle and pulled her down closer to him. He studied the dense clump of trees to their right, his eyes narrowing. His right hand wandered toward the hilt of his sword, and he tightened his grip on the reins in his left hand.
“Is that you, Johcyn?” a rough voice said. Sarahi drew in her breath.
“Thorold!” Johcyn said. “You know never to shoot unless you can see if your opponent be a friend or foe! I’m going to have to redact your badge of knighthood if you do something like that again, man.”
“I’m quite sorry, captain,” Thorold said as he tumbled out of the leaves and into the sunlight, a bow in his hand. “I mistook you for someone else and got a bit nervous is all.”
Johcyn sighed. “You are too easily made nervous. Where is your horse?”
“With Peremar. He’s made a little camp a league or so ahead,” Thorold said, slinging his long yew bow over his shoulder. “I can lead you there.”
Releasing her breath, Sarahi settled back into the saddle again, enjoying the rhythmic sway of the stallion’s gait and the warm rays on her back as they stepped out of the shadowy trees and rode along the edge of a dandelion-spotted meadow. The golden wildflowers reminded her of home. Did Petehjas and Mari survive the raid? Her stomach twisted at the realization that they likely didn’t. She tried to push away the thought of the soldiers’ bright spears and the houses flaming in the moonlight.
“We’re almost there, not too much further,” Thorold said. The group was heading deep into the forest again. Sarahi noticed how the flickers of shadow and light played on Thorold’s reddish-brown hair. His round face made him look as if he should still be a squire. To her, Johcyn seemed at least several years his elder.
Johcyn led the horse through narrow spaces between trees and undergrowth. Brown leaves crackled under its hooves, and the light continued to dim even though it was only midday. Sarahi smelled a faint tinge of smoking meat.
“Here we are,” said Thorold.