A racket started around the corner coming from the direction of South Gate. “Ah, that sounds hopeful”! Talis said as metal on metal, screams and shouts punctuated the air. She was up on Stranger's back, sword in one hand, rabbit in the other as Littlfoot glided up behind her using Stranger's tail as a ladder. They pelted down the small street and swung onto the main road towards the gate.
From her vantage point, she could see a large carriage, doors ajar, driver slumped over with an arrow protruding from his neck. The melee was located just outside the gate.
The two guards she'd passed earlier on her way in were now muscling through several Puntar foot soldiers while several other mounted Punts pelted away from the gate on their stocky horses followed by a hail of arrows from atop the wall.
“Stop, fools! You'll kill him”, came a loud and anguished male voice from somewhere in the center of the fight, but not before one of the fleeing raiders fell from his horse, his back pierced through by an archer's arrow shaft. His horse stopped abruptly and began to circle around his dead rider aimlessly, reins loose, one black boot still in the stirrup.
Screams broke out closer to the carriage and Talis advanced on a tug-of-war between two horsed Punts and a well-dressed woman. The object they were fighting over was wrapped in a swaddling blanket. Talis urged Stranger through the confused crowd parting them like so many leaves with his broad chest.
She pulled up to the two Puntar horsemen as she stuffed the frightened rabbit under her cloak and used her sword to cut the blanket corner from the Puntar hand closest to her. The slack tension caused the gowned woman to stumble back against the coach and loosen her grip. Talis drew the blanket to her in an iron fisted grip as her second swipe left the remaining Punt with a handful of ragged wool.
The Punts spun on her, befuddled, swords raised above their heads. She was about to retaliate when three more Punts pelted around the edge of the gate to their aid. Not liking the odds, Talis spun Stranger, knocking over a covered cart of vegetables backing the big stallion away from the fight to a better vantage. A flash of iridescent green, a blurr of black, a slim hand holding a glistening silver tooth flew across the upturned cart, the slight figure of the rider slashing about with deftness and skill.
One of the Punts lay dead, a scrap of woolen bunting still clutched in his hand. The other had bright scarlet oozing from a double hatch of wounds on the top of his head. The rider turned to Talis, flashed her a grim smile, a lock of pale coral hair fell over one gray green eye.
“I'll distract these three. You ride from those!” A young woman with silvery skin and the unmistakably melodic voice bordering on the sonorous of the ahlvenni faced her. “Tirashar, daughter of Raensalim, at your service, mistress” she said.
Talis held her sword in a vertical salute at her left shoulder, the sign of a warrior honoring another, spoke to Stranger and was off pelting away from those – five more Punt horsemen were trying to negotiate their way through baskets of overturned turnips and potatoes. She would have to ponder the appearance of an ahlvenni rusa this far south of the Charred Mountains when she had more time.
Talis reined Stranger hard left in the street opposite from Vilene's and looked down at the now squawking bundle. She pulled back the edge to discover a highly angered and frightened human infant, red faced, mouth agape and gathering wind for another bawl. Talis heard the hooves of the Puntar ponies behind her. She rolled the squalling child out of the blanket and under her cloak.
“Hang onto this, Littlefoot”!
“Is it food?” his querulous voice brought a fierce laugh from her.
“No, but it may lead to a trade for it! Just see it doesn't fall off”. The infant's squeals stopped as this new, soft and warm thing with small furry hands sat on her. She stuck pudgy fingers into his belly, grabbed at his ears, and cooed delightedly while Littlefoot stoically refrained from tasting the goods.
Talis clipped hard right on Stranger's flank with her knee spinning him around heading back the way she came. She plowed through the Punt gang in the narrow alleyway with Stranger scattering the smaller horses like lawn pins. One of the horses slid down on the slick cobbles with its rider half out of the saddle, half standing. He struggled to right himself and the horse as the others knocked against each other in their haste to turn and give chase.
Talis flew down the alley and skidded Stranger to a dancing stop. “Vi, here! Take this and hide it! I'll be back for it as soon as I can!” she said as she handed off the baby much to the relief of a sorely tried and tested Littlefoot.
She grabbed the rabbit from under her cloak, wrapped it in the infant's swaddling and then galloped off further down the lane. The Punts had regained their footing and were closing in on Vi's little shop. Talis spun in time to see them slow. She mentally threw a glamor incantation at them and held her blanketed booty aloft wagging it in their direction. Any thought of stopping to investigate was waylaid when she taunted them with the swaddled bundle. The horsemen took off after her.
Talis left the small alleyway, made her way among the lanes towards South Gate going just slowly enough to let the cursing Puntars keep sight of her. She whizzed past the gate gaurdsas they desperately tried to restore order to the milling crowd and mashed produce and galloped straight for the Brown River. Once out of the gate, she let Stranger have his head. Littlefoot clambered up to her shoulder with his short tail wrapped around her neck for balance giving her a report of their pursuers every move.
“Oh! Ouch! The fat one hits his chest in the pommel when he jumps the logs! Black one waves his bow, but he's bouncing too hard to knock an arrow! The bald one calls your ancestors questionable names! Is that true?” he asked, repeating the phrase and peering over the top of her head, his face upside down, front paws hanging on to the silver beads in her side locks for dear life. His voice was so serious that she couldn't help but laugh out loud.
“It probably is not knowing about my bloodline!” she answered.
They were nearing the Big Wood. Talis slalomed trees with Stranger, the horse delighting in just clearing overhanging branches and briars that grew on either side of their path. She could hear the infuriated curses as legs found thorns and heads found low hanging sticks and switches.
The noise following them grew louder. Talis turned to see the fleeing raiders that had left with something valuable from the carriage before her intervention had come from a stand in the Big Wood to join the five behind her. This was getting to be more than a lark, she thought, not liking these odds, either.
Ahead through the trees, a meadow opened out and grew almost to the edge of Brown Water River. Talis kneed Stranger and he sailed through the air over the rocky ledge and was down in the cold water of the river swimming with strong kicks against the deep current. Two of the braver Punts followed suit and soon foundered their small ponies on the rocks in the swift current of the shallows. The others knocked arrows to bows and were soon snicking the water very close to them.
Talis made it to the other side, urged Stranger up the steep bank and stopped to face her pursuit. She held the bundle aloft and gave them the universal finger of insult, which was met by angered shouts and lots of fist shaking. Another flurry of arrows impotently hit the water twenty feet from her. She kept her own bow sheathed.
The bald one, whom she assumed was their captain, ordered them to stop wasting the arrows. They wheeled their horses around and rode off clapping each other on the back as if they'd won some huge victory.
“Food now?” asked Littlefoot.
Talis looked down at the spreading red stain from the shaft of a Puntar arrow in the blanket she'd wrapped the rabbit changeling with. She sighed.
“Yes. Food now”.
(I'm publishing this first and then will come back to give credits for the illustrations because I keep losing the post!)