"Archers!" Jahir beat him to the warning. Lord Allesan's party scattered, their horses jumping into weaving gallops. All except one.
Kicking his horse into a faster run, Callen chased after the priest. "Delian," he shouted in warning. The priest wasn't looking back, his horse still moving at a slow trot. Callen didn't know what the fool priest was up to, but Delian was about to get himself killed if he didn't move. "Delian, ride faster. Hurry."
The priest didn't seem to hear him and Callen cursed. Glancing back, his swearing grew to increasing fervor and he hastily kicked his horse to the side. Arrows buzzed through the air, arching high over the party. An arrow struck the earth next to him and Callen offered quick thanks to Adena for luck. He'd never been much into prayer before, but with Delian's strange connection to God he figured it wouldn't hurt.
A piercing scream shattered the air and Callen froze, eyes scanning the clearing to see who was hit.
He kicked his horse forward as the priest started to topple. Marcas and Kendrick were spinning their horses, riding back towards the priest. The shaft of an arrow stuck out of Delian's shoulder, blood spreading to stain his robe near-black. Then Delian's horse turned, sending the priest pitching to the ground.
It felt like the air was thicker suddenly. Callen's horse slowed, fighting against the new resistance. Then Delian hit the ground, a loud snapping sound filling the clearing as he landed. The air went berserk. A strong blast of wind hit Callen, almost knocking him out of his saddle and growing stronger as it roared through the clearing. He turned, watching as furrows appeared in the road as the wind turned into a visible mass. It punched straight into the line of archers, their screams swallowed by the wind's roar. Chaos reigned at the edge of the forest and for a long moment all Callen could see was swirling black and green. Treetops swayed for as far as he could see.
The wind died as suddenly as it had started, leaving a scattered line of crushed corpses along the edge of the forest. Silence settled over the clearing and Callen was hesitant to break it, irrationally afraid that if he moved the wind would come after them too. He shifted in his saddle. Not even a breeze stirred.
Turning quickly, Callen edged his reluctant horse over to Delian.
His movement seemed to unfreeze the others. Half the party fanned out around them, watching the forest with their weapons drawn. Nothing moved. The rest, Callen among them, gravitated towards Delian. Kendrick dismounted with him, kneeling next to the fallen priest, while Marcas grabbed the reigns of Delian's horse and moved out of the way with the beast.
"How is he?" Lord Allesan brought his horse close but didn't dismount.
Callen glanced up at Allesan as he pressed his fingers lightly to Delian's neck. Allesan looked concerned, but they all did. Callen knew his own motivation. Delian had saved his life three times now and that was enough to win Callen's loyalty for the ages.
Delian's blood pulsed faintly in his neck, and he was breathing, though shallowly. "He's alive, thankfully." Callen sent another silent prayer to Adena, asking that she keep her priest whole long enough that they could get him mended. The wound in his shoulder was bleeding freely, no doubt in need of professional attention. It didn't look that bad, he'd taken worse before, but then Kendrick held up two pieces of an arrow, their ends stained red with blood.
"I don't think these came out clean," Kendrick spoke grimly, fitting the two pieces awkwardly together to reveal the shards missing. "He's going to need a surgeon."
The barked order from Allesan was unnecessary. Jahir was already dismounting, pulling bandages from one of his packs before kneeling next to Callen and Kendrick.
"There's a town up ahead," Rory commented softly from near Allesan. "We'll get him there and hope there's some sort of actual healer around."
"And if not?" Faolan voiced the question that no one wanted to consider. Jahir was the best they had at medicine, and even he wouldn't be able to do much if the wood in Delian's shoulder started to fester.
"Then we wake him up," Callen answered quietly. "We'll have no other choice."
The townsfolk watched them warily as they rode into town. No doubt their party painted a gruesome sight. They wore no outward insignia to mark their allegiance, and there was blood on a few of their tunics. Callen rode with Delian at his back, the priest's shoulder patched with a few torn strips of cloth. He could feel the blood seeping into the fabric at his back, and that only made Callen more worried.
They'd ridden slowly from the clearing but Callen still worried that Delian was going to fall off any second.
"He'll be alright."
Callen couldn't bring himself to return Rory's smile so he nodded instead.
Marcas waited for them at the center of the village, outside what looked to be the village's only inn. He nodded as they approached, waiting until the group reached the inn before speaking. "The village only has a hedge witch. She's waiting upstairs."
"Get Delian upstairs. Callen and Rory, go with him. Kendrick and Blair, make sure whatever guardians this village has knows about the black riders."
They nodded as one. Marcas came over to help Callen lift the priest off the back of Callen's horse. For a brief moment, Callen felt jealousy rise up as Marcas carried Delian into the inn, but he squashed it quickly and followed Marcas into the inn. A few old men sat around the inn commons, mugs of ale clutched loosely in their hands. All eyes followed the strangers as they moved through the room and up the stairs.
The hedge witch was a middle aged woman. She looked plump and round, and Callen would have thought her a simple midwife if not for Marcas' earlier words. She clucked as soon as she saw Delian, mumbling to herself as Marcas set the priest on the bed. Her nattering only increased as she carefully removed their hasty bandaging, the cloth already soaked through with blood, and pulled back the priest's robe to examine the wound.
"You say the wood broke off?" Her voice fit her image, she spoke in soft dulcet tones.
"Yes," Marcas leaned against the wall at the foot of the bed, watching the woman's every move. "There were fragments missing from the two halves of the arrow we collected."
The woman clucked again and poked inside the wound with a long fingernail. Rory's hand on his arm stopped him from moving forward, a quick shake of the blonde's head making Callen step back a pace. This woman obviously had no idea what she was doing and he wanted to scream at her to step away from the priest.
"Well," the hedge witch clucked. "There's only one thing I can do for him."
Callen raised his eye skeptically. "What's that?"
Rory frowned at him, but Callen couldn't help his dislike of the woman.
She rifled through the small satchel on the room's only chair and pulled out a small jar with a black stopper. "If you mix this with water and collen flower, his suffering will end. There's not a doctor with skill enough to see to this man's wounds between here and the capital. He's lost too much blood already. I doubt he'll survive the night."
"Don't you dare!" Marcas was already stepping away from the wall as Callen shouted.
The woman shrank away instantly, quickly tucking the jar back into her bag. "Alright. I'm sorry."
"Leave," he bit the word out, his voice sounding murderous. Callen knew he was being harsh but he couldn't bring himself to care. The woman fled the room, glancing back like they were going to kill her. Part of him almost wanted to for suggesting they poison Delian.
"What now?" Rory's voice was low, and as dark as Callen's had been.
"We leave, get Delian into the forest, and wake him up."
The other two men nodded their agreement. Marcas started to move forward to pick up Delian, but Callen was faster. He retied the bandage as best he could even though he knew it wouldn't do any good at this point. Cradling the priest in his arms, he marched out of the inn.
Something was swatting at his face and Delian wanted to reach up and push it away but his arm didn't seem to want to work. He opened his eyes, regretting the action as soon as the firelight hit him, turning his already pounding head into a staccato of galloping hooves. With a groan he closed his eyes, hoping the swatting thing would let him go back to the nice blackness.
"Delian." He was being shaken again. It wasn't going to stop until he opened his eyes again, he knew.
"What?" He was surprised at how raspy his own voice sounded. Carefully, he opened one eye, wincing at the pain consciousness brought him.
Callen smiled down at him and Delian had the irrational thought that maybe being awake wasn't so bad. Then he shifted and his shoulder screamed in pain. Or maybe that was him screaming. It was hard to tell, but he did know that Callen was holding him, saying something softly over and over again in Delian's ear.
Slowly he relaxed enough to think past the pain, or at least part of it. There were no faces missing around the fire, and while all of them looking scratched up, Delian was the only one sporting bandages.
"Glad to have you back with us, priest." Perhaps it was the pain, twisting up his stomach and making him surly, but if Blair had been anywhere near Delian at the moment, he probably would have vomited on the man. Unfortunately the redhead was on the other side of the fire and Delian knew he didn't have that kind of range.
"Shut up," the soft retort was the best he could manage in his current condition.
"How are you feeling?"
The question made Delian glare, his earlier good opinion of Callen fading at the inane question. "Was that all you woke me up for?"
He closed his eyes, intending to pass out again but then Callen started shaking him softly again.
"Stop that!" He was tired and irritable, and he knew he shouldn't be shouting when there was probably who knows how many more men out after them.
Callen didn't seem fazed by the yelling. He stayed next to Delian, still holding him up partially. "You need to do something about your shoulder."
For a minute he thought Callen was insane. He was injured and they wanted him to tend to his own shoulder. It was already bandaged, though through the pain he could tell that wasn't really doing much. He could feel blood leaking through the fabric, the loss making him light headed, and every time he shuffled just a little, new stabbing points of pain shot down his arm. It was broken. He could tell that much from how unresponsive it was.
He opened his mouth, about to ask what in God's name they wanted him to do about it... but that answered his own question. Looking past Callen, he let his eyes drift to the stars as ancient words that were becoming more and more familiar rolled from his tongue.
He called on Adena in an ancient rite, asking her to mend flesh and bone, to fix what was broken. In return, Adena drew the power needed from his body. On a normal day, he could perform this spell twice and be fine after a full night's sleep. This was the fourth time he'd called on Adena in the span of a day to heal a grievous wound and he knew the demand would be taxing. He felt himself slipping into unconsciousness even as the bones of his arm realigned with a crack.
Callen still held him as he fell back into oblivion.
High Priest Drugan drummed his fingers against the cool marble of his throne, the dark frown spread across his face scaring off all but his most loyal servants.
"What do you recommend against the priest, Master?" His aide Cellyan rubbed his hands together nervously at Drugan's side.
Drugan didn't answer. His eyes never wavered from the still form of the priest reflected in his mirror. The image shimmered as the nobles shifted around their camp, but they were no longer his concern. By rights, they should have been dead a day ago, if not at the inn then on the road beyond. Yet they miraculously lived, praise be to Adena.
He spat at the goddess' name, mumbling a curse under his breath. May Pelenthius take her and all that serve her.
First he had to deal with the priest and the unfortunate snag in his plan that the priest posed. His mind was already shifting with possibilities. Armed men alone would not help. He'd already seen that through the borrowed eyes of his crow. No, he needed something more.
His aid quickly snapped to attention. "Yes, master?" The scrawny man instantly stilled his fidgeting.
"Fetch me the old books from the time of our Lord's banishing." Drugan tapped his nails against the marble as he thought. "And have our men find what they can on King Kilan and Queen Tyrna. It's time we gave them sufficient reason to ignore Geldan's emissaries."
"Right away, master."
"And have General Martov report to me."
Cellyan nodded quickly, bobbling like a child's toy as he scampered from the throne room.
A shadowy figure stepped out of the wall as soon as Cellyan disappeared, leaving the two of them alone in the room.
"I want him."
Drugan let none of his displeasure show on his face. He inclined his head in a bow of acquiescence. "Whatever you wish, Lord." That would complicate his plan but only slightly. He had excellent marksmen, when they didn't have Adena's priest interfering.
"He must be alive," the shadow figure rasped. "I will eat Adena's heart and take back what she stole from me."
"As you will."
The figure stalked forward and brushed a clammy hand across Drugan's brow. His body clenched, seizing and automatically trying to fight off the invasion. He willed himself to relent.
Knowledge flowed like wine through his mind, sweet like honey and burning with intoxication. He saw what he must do and the power needed to accomplish it. And at the end he saw himself marching through the palace of Glinden, his sword dripping with blood and the power of Pelenthius thrumming in his veins.
The shadow released him and stepped away, disappearing into the wall once more. For the first time in nearly a month Drugan allowed himself to smile. King Ranulf could send as many of his nobles out for help as he wanted. There weren't enough men in the whole of Geldan to stop him.