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Kelric

   

 

Chapter  14

The Battle

 
"Come ON!" Briony screamed, grabbing Kelric's arm and hauling him back the way they'd come. "Daaaadddeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!"

Kelric bolted after his sister, just feeling a rush of hot wind at his back. From the corner of his eye, he saw the bright 'thing' descend on its arc and plunge into the waves with a great plume of grayish steam. He kept running, stumbled and fell to his knees on the rough rocks only to be hauled to his feet immediately by Briony's panicked strength. Kelric was far too frightened to look back over his shoulder again, but the strange men behind them were definitely in pursuit. Far ahead and looking terribly small in the distance, he could see Daddy, Mummy, the King and Bishop Duncan all running frantically toward them over the sand.

Briony jumped down off the rocky spit onto the beach, pulling him down after her and they kept running. It was all right on the firmer sand near the water's edge, but in the deeper, dry sand they couldn't run as fast and their pursuers were definitely gaining on them now. But Daddy was also charging down the beach with the other adults at his back, looking ready to kill.

"Down!" Daddy suddenly roared at them. "Get down _now_!"

Briony flattened herself to the sand, pulling Kelric down with her. For just an instant, Kelric struggled to get back up, thinking that lying on the beach and waiting to be caught couldn't possibly be the right thing to do, then he stopped, as the shouts from their pursuers were suddenly muffled. He and Briony were now enclosed beneath a pale, opalescent dome of arcane protection. Kelric didn't need to be trained to feel the power in it, or know that the protective bubble had been cast over them by the King.

Nonetheless, he cowered under the dome as he felt something strike it from the outside and ricochet off without hurting himself or Briony. He screwed his eyes tightly shut and pressed close to Briony for comfort. He didn't like being in the middle of a magical battle at all.

"Up children, quickly!" Bishop Duncan's voice urged. "Come with me."

Kelric opened his eyes he felt Bishop Duncan lift him from the sand. Uncle Seandry was there too and he scooped up Briony and began to run back up toward the pavilion with her. Kelric flung his own arms around Bishop Duncan and buried his face in his shoulder as he was quickly carried up the beach and out of harm's way.

Then Bishop Duncan had stopped running and was gently, but firmly prying Kelric loose.

"Let go, Kelric, you'll be quite safe here behind the Wards. Stay with Derry and Her Majesty. I must go help the others."

Kelric let go and opened his eyes as Bishop Duncan put him down in the sand before running back down to the battle. Lord Dhugal made a gesture, and Kelric could feel the protective circle of Wards snap into place. Uncle Seandry stood near Lord Dhugal, his dagger drawn and ready to protect the Queen in more ordinary ways should it be needed. What servants they'd brought with them also stood around the edge of the tent holding some cooking knives and burning brands and tried to look brave. Uncle Seandry looked as if he wished he had his sword too, but none of the men had brought their swords. Who would have thought they'd be needed on a harmless outing to the beach? Even the puppy was bristling and growling before his young mistress. The Queen herself was holding Briony in close comfort. She reached her free arm out to him and Kelric ran to her for the mere comfort of being near an adult. "It's all right, you're both quite safe, now," she murmured, hugging them. "Your Mummy and Daddy won't let anything happen to you."

Kelric opened his eyes again, and looked down the beach where the arcane battle was being joined. He saw Lord Dhugal tense instintively as another bright something flew a little too close to the pavilion. The silver ball made a little pop in the air and burst into harmless fragments as it rebounded off the Wards.

"Mummy!" Kelric gasped, realizing that she was in the thick of the battle. He started to run forward only to be held back by the Queen who hastily grabbed a handful of his tunic.

"No Kelric! You mustn't go down there!"

"Lemme go!" Kelric wailed. "Mummy's in trouble!"

"She's not in as much trouble as _you_ will be if you get in her way, Kelric Alain Morgan," Uncle Seandry said in a very stern voice. "You're too little to protect her. And she'd have _my_ ears if I let you try it."

"You can't get through the wards, anyway, Kelric. I don't think your mummy needs to be protected right now," Lord Dhugal consoled. The people who need protection are the men who tried to attack you and your sister."

Kelric watched and saw to his amazement that Lord Dhugal was right. This was Mummy as he'd never seen her. Not that he could see her all that well - she looked rather blurry and indistinct, and it wasn't just because of the distance or because of the visual distortion of the wards. She was glowing around her edges in a way that made her look both menacing and mysterious. The Mummy he knew held him in her lap, played with him and his sister, comforted them after nightmares, scolded them when they were naughty, told them bedtime stories and sometimes sang to them in her light, sweet soprano. The woman fighting on the beach had just launched a shaft of brilliant blue-white light at one of the attackers with lethal accuracy. The man staggered to his knees as soon as her light touched him, clutching at his chest and screaming. Kelric was equally frightened and impressed. The air was charged with magic, he could feel it even standing within the protected circle around the pavilion.

He hadn't thought Mummy was remotely capable of hurting anyone. He'd always known Daddy was a warrior, and had seen him practicing his swordsmanship many times, sometimes with the King, sometimes with Bishop Duncan or Uncle Seandry. But grown men were _supposed_ to be good at fighting. Kelric had never seen ladies fight with swords or with magic either until now.

Daddy too, was hurling magical attacks at all comers, as were the King and Bishop Duncan. They flanked Mummy protectively, but were careful not to get in her way, or in the way of her magic. But Kelric could see their attackers were also very able and there were more of them. Lord Dhugal watched too, evidently longing to run down and join them, with only orders to keep him where he was. Kelric stuffed his fist in his mouth, suddenly feeling very much afraid. Even Uncle Seandry looked anxious which didn't reassure Kelric at all. On the other hand, he knew quite well that Uncle Seandry didn't much like magic if it went beyond little things like handfire or mindspeech.

Caradog the puppy didn't much like the magic either. He had put his slim tail between his legs and now cowered behind his mistress, whimpering a little. Kelric knelt down by the puppy and hugged him, with both his short arms around the puppy's neck, hiding his face against the puppy's fur. He didn't want to keep watching the arcane battle that seemed to go on and on.

"How long can they keep this up?" the queen asked Dhugal in a low voice.

"As long as they must, My Lady," Lord Dhugal replied, but his voice sounded worried. "I just wish I had more dueling experience-I feel so useless just standing here _watching_ this!"

The queen and Uncle Seandry turned all at once and looked up the path leading to where they'd left the carriage and horses. Kelric looked too and saw three black-clad horsemen come galloping down the path. The first three men were closely followed by half a dozen well armed Corwyn Lancers. Kelric glanced quickly toward Uncle Seandry and saw he looked hugely relieved.

"It's about _time_ they turned up!" he said to the queen who looked at him in startlement.

"And I think Prince Azim was leading them," she agreed. "Those men with him must be Anviller Knights. How did they know-" Her voice trailed off, and she looked bewildered.

"I didn't know that Prince Azim was anywhere near Coroth, but I _did_ know about the Lancers, My Lady," Derry admitted with a sheepish grin. "My Lord wasn't entirely easy about this excursion to the beach, so he ordered them to follow us down. They were to keep out of sight until and unless they were needed. But he was concerned about your safety and His Majesty's, this close to Torenth. After all, no one knows for sure where Count Teymuraz went, do we?"

The Queen looked at Derry in alarm, then down the beach, where the addition of the Anvillers and the Corwyn men appeared to have tipped the balance of power in the battle.

"I feel like a naÔve child, Derry," the queen said, softly. "Kelson and I would make very useful bargaining chips for Teymuraz or anyone else if we had been taken hostage by those men, but today has been so wonderful that it never even occurred to me that we might be in danger at the _beach_!"

"You've been the Queen of Gwynedd for less than two months, My Lady, while His Grace has been the King's Champion for almost eight years. It's his duty to think about the King's safety and your own, isn't it?" Derry consoled her. "He thinks about it so you don't have to. And if you're feeling foolish about having been caught by surprise by those men, I assure you, His Grace feels far worse."

Kelric sat up in the sand, still stroking the frightened puppy as he watched the end of the battle. Then he stood up all at once as he saw the mast top of the strange sailboat come into view as it began to sail out of the adjoining cove. He further saw that two of the attackers had managed to break away from the Lancers and were running desperately toward the rocky spit where he and Briony had been climbing earlier

"Look Lord Dhugal, the boat's sailing away!" Kelric shouted, pointing to the mast top.

Lord Dhugal looked where he pointed, then swiftly cut a opening in the Wards, and dashed through it to run down toward the others, shouting and waving his hands. Two Lancers immediately wheeled and galloped after the two escapees to cut them off before they gained the rocks. But one of the black clad newcomers thrust his hands toward the boat. Kelric was too far away to hear what he said, but he felt a shiver up his spine at the exact moment that the boat's mast splintered and the sail burst into flames. All at once it was over. The Lancers were taking the attackers into custody, binding their hands behind them with ropes from their saddlebags. Daddy and the King stayed down the beach with the prisoners, but Mummy and Bishop Duncan came back to the pavilion to dismiss the wards. Kelric watched Mummy shyly from where he stood still stroking the puppy. She and Bishop Duncan looked windblown and very tired, but otherwise Mummy looked very much as she always did.

She must have felt him watching her, for she turned to him and smiled, holding her arms out to him.

Kelric hesitated even so. He could still sense the residue of magic hanging around her, and it made her a bit more dangerous than the Mummy he knew and adored.

"Kootik?" Mummy asked, her arms still extended to him, her face now wistful and anxious.

Kelric ran to her and flung his arms around her neck as she bent down to pick him up and clutch him tightly to her.

"Baby, how could I have borne it if those men had caught you? Whatever were you doing on the point?" Mummy scolded, even as she rocked him and kissed the top of his head.

Kelric held on tight to Mummy, not minding that her hold actually hurt his back. It was good just to be near her, again.

"Oh darling, I'm sorry if I hurt - Kelric! What's the matter with your poor little back?"

Mummy put him down and turned him with his back to her to take a look.

"Ow Mummy!" Kelric yelped when she tried to peel his tunic away from his skin and it stuck painfully.

"Oh sweetheart!" Mummy gasped. "You've got a great big burn along the back of your shoulders!" She straightened at once, beckoning urgently to Duncan.

"My God!" Bishop Duncan murmured when he had knelt down behind Kelric and had seen his back. "Kelric, didn't you feel _anything_?"

Kelric shook his head guiltily wondering if he'd failed, somehow. He let Bishop Duncan tilt his head forward so he could get a better look at his back. His knees stung too now, and Kelric was surprised to see they were both crusted with sand and dried blood. He must have skinned them while he and Briony were running away, but he had no memory of doing it.

"I'll heal him of course, but we'd best get him out of the direct sunlight," Bishop Duncan told Mummy who was hovering anxiously at his elbow. Kelric snuggled closer to Bishop Duncan for comfort as he was gathered up and carried lovingly into the shade of the pavilion. He wondered why he hadn 't noticed earlier that his back hurt for he could definitely feel the burning now - the pain almost made him sick to his stomach.

Bishop Duncan gently laid him down on one of the abandoned palettes and turned him onto his side.

"Just relax now, Kel," he said softly, stroking Kelric's hair out of his eyes. "Have a nice sleep, and when you wake up, your back won't hurt anymore.."

Kelric closed his eyes and surrendered to Bishop Duncan's deft but insistent mental command to sleep. He closed his eyes and relaxed, knowing he was safe in the Bishop's hands.

 

 

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