And we’re back in the dangerous world of Lunnoor. Where faeries aren’t the only thing to lurk in the dark woods…
Run, Lannie, run. Lannie forced her legs to keep pumping. Grass and dirt fell away under her feet as she raced towards the marching army. Her legs screamed at her as she jumped over a hollow log, ignoring the faerie that scowled up at her. She didn’t have time for faerie hunting today. This was more important. She had to get to the king in time. She had to.
Her lungs began to burn. She was accustomed to loping along mile after mile. Not this mad dash through the woods. But still she ran.
The gold and blue flag of the army appeared through the trees. Run, Lannie! One more burst of speed, and she was standing in front of a captain.
“Where’s the king?” she gasped out. He shrugged, and her heart sank. The ones she had left behind didn’t have time for her to go looking.
“What’s wrong?” The general walked up beside her. He would have to do instead.
“Attack on the forward guard, rebel ambush.” Her legs felt wobbly, but she made them be still.
The general’s face tightened. “Where?” he asked as he gestured for the drummer boy.
“Two miles from here, just outside our intended camp.” Finally at their destination, and now this.
The general barked a command to the boy, who began a staccato beat he had to shout to be heard over. “Can you lead the second phalanx to their position?” He gestured to the captain still awkwardly standing next to them. “The rest will join you as soon as we are able.”
Lannie’s breath still came in large gulps, but she nodded. Hurry. They didn’t have much time.
The captain of the second phalanx yelled at his men, then nodded at her. “Lead the way.”
Lannie was grateful she was still in her messenger clothes. The soft fabric was perfect for running. And cooler than chain mail. The air was hot and close under the trees, or was that just her? Sweat threatened to run into her eyes. But if she blinked, she would lose her gaze on the ground in front of her.
Lannie willed her trembling limbs to keep moving. The advance guard couldn’t hold out for long. She had known that from the moment the rebels appeared from the trees. There were too many of them.
Had she run fast enough? It was hard to keep track of time when your feet thudded against the ground, and your lungs burned for lack of air.
She had to go faster. Dappled shadows hid lumps and hollows in the ground. She had to watch where she was going. Had to keep track of the men behind her. She could hear their clinking armor; were they keeping up? Lannie risked a glance back, her eyes found them even as her feet found a root. Pinwheeling her arms just kept her from eating the dirt. But her momentum was lost and felt impossible to gain again. Her jelly legs screamed at her. Lannie gritted her teeth and ran on, brushing off worried questions. They had men to save.
Jump over a stream, round a stump. The clangs and shouts of a sword fight reached her ears. They were still fighting, good. Run, Lannie. Do not be late!
Lannie reached the edge of the clearing, the edge of the battle, and stopped. The second phalanx streamed around her to aid their friends.
The brown and green rebels had surrounded the blue clad troops, more of which lay still on the ground than up and fighting. But now the rebels were surrounded.
Her body longed to rest, but her work was not done. There was little she could do in the battle in front of her. Small quarters were for men trained for war, not a messenger with small skill in daggers.
Lannie drew her daggers and faded back into the trees. If she could not fight, she would make sure there were no more surprises this day.
She skulked through the trees, keeping one eye on the battle and one on the forest. It was no coincidence the rebels chose the deepest part of the forest for their ambush. The question was whether they had chosen it for the darkness or for what lurked in the darkness.
Halfway around the clearing she found what she was looking for. Two naiads and a dryad giggling to each other as they crept towards the battle. Already men were pausing mid fight, looking around for the siren song of rest. Her men paused. The rebels did not. As Lannie watched one of the king’s men fell to the song and sword.
Lannie froze behind a bush. The rebels knew, and she was willing to bet her sword there was cotton stuffed in their ears to keep out the song. The faeries came closer, close enough for her to hear their chittering language. Near enough she could see the bloodlust in their eyes. Lannie took a breath and threw her daggers.
One found its mark, the other was knocked off course by the naiad. The surviving naiad and dryad hissed, their dark eyes finding her hiding place faster than any man. Lannie drew her sword and leaped. No more surprises.
Her leap fell short of the faeries. Her legs screamed at her as she hit the ground. She had done too much, but she still had to lift her sword. A cry wrenched from her lips as she attacked the naiad. Was it from the exertion or the claws gouging her arm? In her hurry she had forgotten how sharp a dryads claws were. She would not forget again.
Now there was only the dryad left. Lannie gasped for breath as the faeries circled her. Let it think she was exhausted, and attack first. She was exhausted, but she would never, ever let a faerie win. The dryad jumped at her, but it’s attack ended on the tip of Lannie’s sword.
The men shook off the faerie song and renewed their attack. In the time it took Lannie to retrieve her daggers, the battle was over. The rebels were defeated, either still on the ground or kneeling at sword point.
Lannie found the nearest boulder and sank down onto it with a grateful sigh. She was going to stay put until the rest of the army caught up. Nothing was going to move her until she was able to make a full report to the king. Even then, would he mind if she gave her report from the boulder?
Lannie took a breath, then froze as a sharp command rang through the clearing. Every soldier who was still able turned to Lannie and saluted. What do I do, what do I do? It wasn’t like she had done anything. Except run. And kill three faeries. All in a day’s work, right? What did father do when this happened? Oh.
“At ease,” Lannie croaked, and breathed out as they relaxed. This was why she stuck to the forest. No one felt the need to thank her afterwards. And thankfulness was awkward. Anyway, she had just done her job. And she would continue to do so until the king was restored to his throne.