Ky listened to the even breathing of her siblings. The aromatic aroma of the fir needles had grown faint. She slid from her sleep saque and added another fire brick and more of the needles. After pulling on her boots and poncho she crawled from the tangle. Had Dom Senet and the guards arrived at the hut or had Ash imagined the evil man was near? Ky drew a deep breath of the chill air. She had to know.
What did the dom plan? Did he suspect she and her siblings were near? Snow swirled in the air but the fall was lighter than it had been when they’d sought refuge here. With care, Ky made her way through the forest to the log house.
A spiral of smoke rose from the chimney. As she drew nearer she saw the brush barrier someone had erected. She peered into the enclosure and saw five war steeds and a courser. She edged past. Other than a restless pawing and some snorts the beasts ignored her. She slid around the side of the building. A shame there were no windows but there were places where the clay had fallen from between the logs.
She crouched beside a large hole that allowed her a view of the inside of the hut. Two men were seated at the table and others slept on the bunks. One of the seated men rose and went to the door. He hoisted a sack. “Guren, help me feed the beasts.”
The other man stretched. “We going to make rounds?”
“I’m not bucking the dom’s orders. He thought he sensed watchers in the forest. This place has been used recently though he couldn’t tell by whom. Maybe was even used today.”
“Foresters come for the logs is my guess. You saw how many were gone and there were sled tracks.”
The voices sounded louder. Ky panicked. What if they found her? She couldn’t face Dom Senet again. She dashed into the trees. When her sides ached and she had trouble catching her breath she halted. Where was she? The snow, the dark trees and the sullen sky where neither of the moons or the stars gave light made everything look the same and totally unfamiliar. She was lost.
For a moment she shook with fear. She decided to retrace her steps. Surely the men had gone inside. She turned and stared. Her tracks had vanished. Fighting tears, she clung to a tree. What could she do? Her thoughts tumbled in a panicked jumble. She drew a deep breath. Jay. Though he would fuss about her impulsive behavior, she could wake him and follow his voice on the twin bond.
A groaning noise startled her. Had it been a growl? Maybe the weight of the snow caused the trees to make a noise. She heard a second cry. With caution, she crept forward.
A figure appeared. When she moved closer, she saw a war steed. Did the beast belong to one of the guards? She saw the steed stood over a fallen figure. As she peered through the swirling snow, she recognized the man on the ground. Dragen. She held her hand toward the steed. “I’m
I rode on you once. Dragen’s my friend. I want to help him.” Ky.
The animal seemed to understand and moved away. Ky ran to Dragen. “Wake up. I’m
” She saw the jagged and broken tree limb, the
blood on the snow and on his breeches. Ky.
He groaned. “What are you doing here?”
“Hiding from Dom Senet.”
“Me, too. Was so busy hiding from him and the guards I was knocked from my steed and landed on that branch. Hit my head, too.” He frowned. “Did you get lost? You should have arrived at my sister’s days ago. When I didn’t find you there I figured you had other plans.”
Ky bowed her head. “The storms slowed our travel. Then Ash fell into a pond and got wet. We found a hut but the dom arrived and we hid. Can you get on your steed? I’ll take you to Bran. He can fix your leg.”
“I can manage.” Dragen tapped the war steed’s leg and the beast knelt. He crawled into the saddle. “Lass, if you can sit behind me, we’ll go.”
Ky climbed on and the steed rose. She sought Jay on the twin bond. Wake up. I need you to think at me. I have Dragen. He’s hurt.
What are you doing out there?
Went spying. Just guide me. You can fuss later. And wake Bran. Dragen is hurt.
With Jay’s thoughts as a guide, Ky directed Dragen through the forest to the tangle. Once there, the steed knelt. Ky and her brothers helped Dragen into the shelter. She returned to obscure their trail and to tend to the steed. The animal had moved to a sheltered spot behind the brush. Ky fed him some of the grain they usually cooked for their morning meal and returned to the shelter with the saddle and Dragen’s pack.
She found Bran just binding the wound on Dragen’s thigh. Ky dropped Dragen’s things on the ground.
The older man struggled to sit up. “You shouldn’t have done that. I must be on my way. I’ve left Alizand alone for too long.”
Bran handed him a mug. “Drink this and stay for the rest of the night. You lost blood and might not be strong enough to make the trip to Cedris. You could fall again or run into the dom and the patrol.”
“Definitely don’t want either of those things to happen.” Dragen drained the cup. “I’ll stay.” He wrapped in his blanket and found a place beside the sled.
Ash began to cough. Bran gave her a cup of herbal tea. She drank and lifted her flute. The notes of the hiding song sounded. A paroxysm of coughing halted her efforts.
Dragen rose on one elbow. “You need to take the lass to my sister. The house lies due north, perhaps two or three days on foot. Though the house looks small, it’s built into a hill thus hiding the number of rooms. Jandia will keep you safe.”
“I would like to go there.” Ky curled beside Dragen. “I’m glad we found you. Is Zand all right?”
“As far as I know. Everyone at the palace is aware of his affinity for Fire. I left him there and came to find a way to extract him from Cedris. Since Senet touched Alizand’s gem, the dom can discover him anywhere.”
“He has to die,” Ash said.
“In a manner. By spring he’ll be safe.”
Dragen slept through the night and for most of the next day. Though they tried to persuade him to stay another night, he refused. “I’m five days ride from Cedris. Senet is already a day ahead of me.”
“Tell Zand we think about him a lot,” Ky said.
“I will. The bunch of you need to hurry to Jandia’s. Ashlea needs her help.”
Ky looked at her brothers and saw the stubborn set of their chins. They were going to ignore the advice.
Dragen mounted his steed. As he rode off, he turned and waved. “Take care. Go to my sister.”
“I think not,” Bran said.
“Why?” Ky asked.
“I can help Ash.” Bran grasped Ky’s arm. “You and Jay need to go to the hut and see if the dom has left. Ash needs better shelter.”
“For tonight,” Ky said.
Bran ignored her statement. Ky knew she would have to argue. Just because he was older didn’t mean he was right.
She and Jay set out and soon reached the hut. The coursers and steed were gone. Ky pushed the door open. A few embers glowed on the hearth. “They sure were careless.”
“No reason for them to be otherwise,” Jay said. “Let us get Bran and Ash.”
“For tonight. We need to find Doma Jandia. Dragen said she could help Ash get better.”
Jay frowned. “I think we need to listen to Bran. He believes he can cure her. Besides, I’m not sure we can take the risk. She’s a doma and could be allied with the bad ones.”
Ky made a face. “Mama was a doma and Papa a dom. Were they bad?”
“No, but how can we be sure she’s good?”
“She’s Dragen’s sister. He’s good.”
Jay walked away. “Maybe, but Zand’s his first responsibility. He might harm us to save Zand.”
Ky shook her head. “I believe we should go to her. When we get close enough, Bran can read her emotions. If he doesn’t like what he senses we could choose another direction.”
“Is that wise? She could fool him and send someone after us. Let us take Ash to the hut and talk about this with Bran.”
“Fine.” Ky picked up the pace. She didn’t understand her twin. She would wait a day or two and see if Ash improved before beginning her campaign.