Chapter Eleven: The Survivor

Kah’len waited outside the bedroom that had been designated a makeshift hospital. He had been pacing for nearly two hours while Prince Lahn made his potions and saw to the three wounded soldiers. Kah’len had sent two soldiers back to the city to bring Commander Bhne to investigate the attack on their party and take the dead to the city morgue. Kah’len did not like being idle and the longer he paced, the angrier he got. He was not naive enough to believe this was an isolated incident. The usual pattern for bandits was to attack homesteads. This attack on an armed caravan smacked of desperation or…Kah’len scowled. Had someone wanted to attack them, perhaps kidnap Prince Lahn?
The door to the bedroom opened and Lahn stepped out, looking exhausted and pale.
“Are my men alright?” Kah’len demanded.
The prince gnawed on his lower lip. “One is going to come out of it with a bad scar, but that is all. The other two–” He shook his head. “I washed the wounds with disinfectants and put a disinfecting paste on the wounds, but I’m worried about internal bleeding. We need an empathic healer.”
“I’ve sent for one, but he won’t get here for another few hours.”
“Then we must pray,” Lahn said.
“Your Highness,” Kah’len said. “What you did–it was brave but foolhardy. What if they were there to take you? You should not have engaged the attackers.”
Lahn frowned. “You think this was not a random attack?”
Kah’len sighed. “No. Not random. Bandits have been known to attack homesteads, but never armed caravans. I think–” He blew out a breath. “I think they were paid to follow you and attack when you were far enough away from the city walls.”
“Who paid them?”
Kah’len put his hand on the young man’s lower back. “Come. Let me get you a drink and then we can talk.”
They walked down the hall into the north wing sitting rooms at the front of the house. It was late and the others had supped and gone to bed. The villa was quiet.
Kah’len allowed Lahn to sit on one of the couches. He went to the sideboard, where he poured mi’disj into two tumblers and carried the glasses back to the sofa. He handed one to Lahn and took a seat near him on the couch.
Lahn swirled the golden liqueur in its glass then took a sip. “Tell me what your thoughts are, Warlord.”
Kah’len sat back on the couch and crossed his legs. “I think this smacks of Prince Deirohn’s interference. He would like nothing more than to cause an international incident, to interfere with my marriage, to cause a war. He opposes our marriage on religious reasons, but also because he is a xenophobe. He thinks we can best your country in a war and has actively petitioned against peace. He has a few aristocratic families on his side but not enough to outmaneuver our King.”
“But would he orchestrate this ambush and think he wouldn’t get caught?”
Kah’len shrugged. “One bandit survived. I’m going to interrogate him when Bhne gets here. Even if the bandit gives up his secrets, Deirohn will have an alibi. He isn’t a fool, your Highness. Deirohn is crafty and intelligent.”
Lahn sighed. “It is just you and I here, Kah’len. Please use my name.”
Kah’len pursed his lips.
“Please,” Lahn said.
“Very well. Lahn.”
Lahn grinned wearily. “Thank you. Even if your brother has an alibi, Kah’len, it will still put him in a bad light. He will be suspect and, I daresay, even his role as Prince-Heir won’t protect him.”
Kah’len considered his words. “I think you are correct in this. I wonder where Deirohn got the funds to pay all those men off?” He sipped the mi’disj. “The bandits wouldn’t have done it unless it paid well.”
“You said some of the clans support your brother, perhaps they gave him the funds,” Lahn suggested.
“Perhaps,” Kah’len agreed. “But this was a risky move on Deirohn’s part. I don’t think any of the clans would have wanted to be implicated. No, I think my brother has another source of wealth, and I think I have an inkling of who it might be.” He looked at Lahn. “I won’t say who it is until I can verify it.”
Lahn nodded and emptied his glass of liqueur. “I’m going to bathe then I am going to bed. I will pray for your men.”
They rose.
“Thank you for taking care of them,” Kah’len said, taking the empty glass from Lahn.
Lahn gave a listless shrug. “I did nothing to save them if they have internal bleeding.” He looked at Kah’len. “Are you going to bed?”
“I have to remain here until Bhne and the healer come.”
“Goodnight then, Kah’len.”
“Goodnight, Lahn.”
Kah’len took a book from the library and sat in the front sitting room to wait. He must have dozed off at some point, for he jolted awake when he heard the clatter of hoofs outside. He rose, setting the book to one side, and went to the front door, throwing it open.
Bhne was dismounting. “What happened, Kah’len?”
“Did you bring extra guards to leave with me?”
Bhne nodded. “Yes. What happened?”
“The caravan was attacked by bandits.”
Bhne frowned. “They attacked a guarded caravan?”
“Just so. Is the healer here?”
“Here, my lord.”
The young man stepped from behind Bhne’s bahil.
“Come with me, healer. There are two men who might have internal bleeding.”
Kah’len led the healer into the vila and down the hall to the bedroom. They entered the room and the healer set down his bag on the night table between the beds. A cot had been set up for the other wounded guard.
“Do you need anything, healer?” Kah’len asked.
The healer removed the bandages. “Who worked on them?”
“Prince Lahn Obeli,” Kah’len rejoined. “He was trained to attend to wounded at the monastery he lived in.”
The healer nodded. “He did well. Thank him for me.” He looked at Kah’len. “I don’t need assistance. Please bring me a cot so I can rest when I am finished.”
“You can have any unused bedroom you want.”
The healer shook his head. “I’d prefer to remain here.”
“I’ll bring you a cot.”
Bhne was waiting outside. “Where was the attack?”
“I’ll send a guard with you. One of the bandits survived and is tied up in one of the bedrooms.”
Bhne sighed. “I’d like to get to the others’ mounts to go through their saddlebags.”
Kah’len nodded. “I’ll get one of the guards to lead you there. Afterward, we need to interrogate that bandit.”
“Consider it done, Len.”
While Bhne headed back out again, Kah’len found a second cot and, with the help of a guard, hauled it upstairs to the makeshift hospital room. They set the cot near the fireplace and then Kah’len excused the guard and went in search of bedclothes for the healer. He found bed sheets and a soft, thick blanket and pillow. After he made the cot up, he lingered while the healer worked with the wounded. A thin, blue glow covered both the healer and the wounded guard. Kah’len had never seen an empathic healer work before. Fascinated, he watched. After a few minutes, he left and went to the kitchen to make up a plate of food for the healer. He would need to eat once he was done healing.
Kah’len carried the plate back to the bedroom and set it on a stool near the healer’s cot.
“Thank you for the food,” the healer said from the bed.
“You’re welcome,” Kah’len replied. “What is your name?”
“Ethon,” the healer murmured and gave Kah’len a weary smile. “Your men are lucky. I’ve stopped the bleeding, which was not significant. They had nicked organs. No infection as far as I can detect. Prince Lahn did a good job.”
He rose and went to his cot, where he sat then set upon the food ravenously.
In between bites, he said, “I’ll keep an eye on them tonight. They should not get up too frequently. Only to empty their bowels. Make sure they drink plenty of fluids.”
“Of course, Ethon.”
“I’ll remain for a couple of days, just to make sure no infection develops,” Ethon said. “I would have to heal the internal infection.”
“Understood,” Kah’len said. “I’ll leave you to rest, Ethon. Thank you.”
Kah’len went back to his vigil in the sitting room. He fell asleep sitting up and was roused in the morning by his servant, Tebo.
“Good morning, my lord,” Tebo murmured. “Commander Bhne has returned and is breaking his fast in the kitchen.”
Kah’len groaned at the stiffness in his neck and back. He rose and stretched. “Thank you, Tebo. I’ll go see him now.”
The first blush of morning lay upon the clear cerulean skies. The villa was cold as he made his way to the kitchens. He found Bhne sitting at the work table wolfing down some bread and cheese and a glass of mead.
He glanced at Kah’len as Kah’len sat down across from him at the scuffed table.
Without a word, Bhne reached under the table and pulled out a saddlebag. He dropped it with a thud on the table.
Kah’len unbuckled the saddlebag and rummaged inside. He found a bag of coins, several shirts, knives, food wrapped in oil cloth, and a folded letter. Kah’len looked at Bhne and cocked an eyebrow.
“Read it,” Bhne said.
Kah’len unfolded the missive and read it.
“Your target will leave tomorrow at sunrise. Do not attack until you are far enough from the city walls. Kill the prince at all cost. The second half of your named price awaits you. D.”
“D,” Kah’len murmured. “Deirohn?”
Bhne wiped his mouth. “Could be anyone, which is what he will say.”
“Are you up to interrogating the prisoner?” Kah’len asked.
“Yes.”
Sa’nia, the cook, set a mug of mjish tea before Kah’len.
“Thank you, m’lady.”
She smiled and went back to her work.
Kah’len drank his tea while Bhne finished with his meal.
Afterward, they rose as one and headed to the bedroom where the prisoner was tied up. A guard stood outside the door and another stood guard within the room. The room was cold and the brocade curtains had been pulled apart to let in some light.
The guard saluted.
“At ease,” Kah’len murmured. “Go get some food, soldier.”
The guard left and they turned to the bandit, who had been tied with rope to an armchair. He watched them with black, glittering eyes.
“I won’t say nothing,” he growled.
“Then you’ll hang,” Kah’len replied with deceptive calm. “You attacked a foreign dignitary and my betrothed.”
The man spat and glowered at them.
Kah’len held up a letter. “We recovered this from the scene of the crime. I know my half-brother Deirohn paid you.”
“And you think I will survive if I tell you who paid me?” the thief demanded.
“You are a dead man anyway. I can give you enough coin so you can leave the north and head south. You’d be free. All you have to do is tell me who paid you.”
“What about the others, my friends?”
“They are dead,” Kah’len said. “I won’t ask you to come to court. It would just be your word against his. But if you confirm my doubts, I’ll let you go free. Do you write?”
“Passably,” the thief said.
“Then I need a written statement,” Kah’len said. “It is still hearsay, but it will carry some weight.”
“Do you have a family?” Bhne asked.
“No,” the thief replied and shifted. “The plague took them.”
“What is your name?” Kah’len asked.
“Thoren,” the thief replied. “If I tell you who paid me, then you said I can go?”
“You have my word,” Kah’len said.
The thief nodded. “He didn’t give me his name. Our leader knew his name, but as you say, he is dead. The man who paid us, he wore black velvet. Had pale features, an ugly man with ugly eyes. Thinning hair. One of his cronies called him, ‘Your highness’ once. I made as if I hadn’t heard. I think it was Prince Deirohn, but I’ve never seen him up close. He was thin to the point of gauntness.”
Kah’len nodded. “It was Prince Deirohn. That is whom you are describing.”
Bhne cut the ropes with his knife and the thief rose.
Kah’len handed the thief the bag of coins he had found in the saddlebag. “You can take one of the lirtah out front. Come with me and I will give you the saddlebag which we took from the scene.”
They went to the kitchens and Kah’len gave the thief the saddlebag. Kah’len handed the thief paper, an inkwell and a pen.
“Write what you recall,” Kah’len murmured.
The thief wrote two paragraphs while Kah’len patiently waited. Then he rose, leaving the page on the table.
The thief turned to Kah’len. “Thank you, m’lord.”
Kah’len nodded, picking up the piece of paper, and led him to the front of the villa. The thief found his lirtah, mounted and rode off without a glance back.
“I’m off with the bodies,” Bhne said. “I will use one of the wagons you brought with you.”
“Go ahead,” Kah’len said. “Can you wait? I want to write the King a missive.”
“I’ll be out here piling the dead onto the wagon bed. You take your time.”
Kah’len went inside and to the south wing, where his office was located. Once there, he sat at his desk and composed a letter to his father:
“I greet you, my King:
My entourage was attacked by bandits a few sepeks from our villa. Everyone survived, but three guards were wounded. The target was Prince Lahn. The missive we found in one of the saddlebags indicated the prince’s murder was the goal of the attack. The prince was trained in battle, so he survived. Needless to say, Sire, if he had died we would have a war on our hands. I have my suspicions, Sire, but I am not at liberty to reveal those in this missive in case it falls in enemy hands. I am entrusting Bhne to carry this letter into your hands. He will report to you my conclusions.
I will report to you in a week’s time.
Yours,
Kah’len Ys’teis-Thalmar,
Warlord of North Torahn.“
After applying fine sand to the ink to absorb the excess, he folded the missive and sealed it with wax, slipping it into an envelope with the thief’s written account. He rose and hurried outside, where Bhne waited patiently next to the wagon. He handed the envelope to Bhne, who tucked it into the inner lining of his uniform.
“Take some of the guards with you,” Kah’len directed. “Give the King the missive and then tell him what we know. Make sure no one eavesdrops.”
Bhne bowed. “Consider it done.”
Kah’len stood back as Bhne mounted his bahil and led the wagon and eleven guards down the cobblestone driveway to the paved road.

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