Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with another wonderful story from Cianna. It is entitled
Friend or Foe?
Cianna sat up gingerly, raising a hand to her splitting head. She found herself half-propped against an old oak tree. There was no sign of Nick, nor the two ruffians they had been fighting.
“What the blazes happened,” Cianna asked aloud, still rubbing the knot on her head.
“You all right, miss?”
Cianna turned sharply, groaning as the world spun around for a moment, then settled her eyes on a guard standing a few feet away. He, too, was gingerly rubbing his head.
“You all right?” he repeated, concern showing on his face.
“I think so,” Cianna said, trying to stand. “Did you see the men who were here?”
“I saw two of them, briefly.” He smiled ruefully. “They took a sword hilt to my head as soon as I walked up to them. When I woke up, you were the only one here, milady. And by the looks of it, you took a sword hilt to the head, as well.”
Unlikely, Cianna thought to herself. She had taken down her combatant and had turned to help Nick. As it turns out, he had already taken down his opponent, as well. So who hit her? she wondered. That only leaves…
“Beg pardon, miss?”
“Nothing, good sir, nothing. I’m just a bit muddled right now.”
“I hear ya there, miss. Well, if you’re sure you’re alright, I’ll be off to make a report to my superiors.”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine. Thank you.”
The guard made his way to the road and headed back toward Soltown, making a parting wave at Cianna as he went. As soon as he was out of earshot, Cianna exploded.
“Nick, you son of a whoring kobold!”
“Whoa, whoa, little lady. Is that anyway to speak to your betrothed?”
Cianna whipped around, looking for the owner of that familiar voice.
Cianna looked up. Nick, trussed and dangling from a sturdy tree branch, swayed above her. “Hello,” he said, grinning.
“By the Four, how did you get up there?”
“Well, I had some assistance.” He squirmed a bit as the ropes cut into his wrists and ankles. “A little help might be in order here,” he said.
“No?” Nick looked down at her in surprise.
“No. Not until you tell me what happened.” She glared up at him. “Did you hit me?”
“Hit you? Milady, I can’t believe you’d even say such a thing. Hit you? Not if they held my feet in fire and tore my tongue out. Not if they cut out my beating heart and fed it to a dragon. Hit you? Never. I am deeply wounded you would even think such a thing.”
Cianna felt her anger begin to dissipate.
“But…” he continued, just as she was about to smile.
“But…?” she said warily.
“I might have magicked you just a little.”
Cianna’s voice became brittle.
“You did what?”
“Um, used magic on you. Just a little. Hardly worth mentioning at all. Really. Just a little stun.” His voice faded off.
Cianna stood looking up at him, a stunned expression on her face. She felt her aching head again.
“Hardly a little stun. Why in the Lady’s name would you do that?” she asked.
“Well,” Nick said, “I just…um…just wanted to keep you safe and I…um…was afraid you’d try to get those men to take you to Rats Nest and…I told you, it’s just not safe there for someone like you, and…um….” His voice trailed off as he saw the look in her eyes.
“Someone like me?” Cianna said coldly.
“You’re…well, I know you’re an experienced swords woman, I saw that with my own eyes, but Cianna, you’ve led a protected life, I can tell. You were raised as a gentlewoman. You really don’t know what men like that are, how little they care for human life. You just don’t know.”
Cianna stared at Nick for a moment, her eyes clouded and seeming to look beyond the glade where she stood.
“Don’t I, Nick?” she said, finally.
She brushed the dust off her armor, then looked for her sword. “Damn it, did they take my sword?”
“‘Fraid so, milady. Mine, too.”
“Serves *you* right,” she muttered to Nick.
“I’m heading into town to buy a new sword, if I can find a decent one there. Then, I’m afraid I have to be off. I have a couple of men to track. It was good seeing you, Nick.”
She started off toward town and heard Nick begin to sputter.
“Wait! Cianna! You’re not going to leave me here, are you? You can’t do that!”
Cianna whirled back to face him. “Can’t I?” she asked with a smile. “You will have to learn, Nick, that while I accept your friendship, gladly, you have to get over this ridiculous idea that I need to be rescued, not from those men, and not from myself. I have a mission, something that drives me, and I *will* see it through to the end. If those men can help, I must speak with them. And if they can’t, well, we’ll see what happens when the time comes. But if you’re going to be my friend, you have to learn to respect my decisions.”
She walked partly back toward the tree where Nick hung, and smiled up at him.
“Someone will be along soon, I’m sure, to cut you down. This road gets lots of foot traffic. But I have to leave you there now so I can be sure you won’t try to stop me again.”
“Cianna, I promise….”
She stopped him with a look.
“Goodbye, Nick, for now. I’m sure we’ll meet again someday.”
She threw him a wave over her shoulder as she walked back to Soltown proper. A small part of her felt guilty for leaving him hanging.
“You there, boy,” she called to a child playing in the road.
“Will you do me a favor, young man?” Cianna asked, pulling a coin from the small purse hanging from her side. Odd, she thought, that her attackers didn’t take it. Perhaps they were having too much fun hanging Nick. The thought brought another smile. She held out the coin.
“Here, this is yours if you’ll wait ten minutes and then go tell the guard that there’s a man in a tree back there that needs help getting down.”
The young boy’s eyes grew wide. “A man in a tree?”
“Yes, he’s somehow got himself hung up in the tree. So will you do that for me? Wait ten minutes and then go inform the guard?”
The boy nodded his head vigorously and pocketed the coin.
Cianna smiled at him and continued her walk.
“Boy,” she called back over her shoulder. “On second thought, make it twenty minutes, please.”
“Yes, ma’am. I will.” He grinned and ran off to see the man hanging in the tree.
Cianna entered town and began looking for a weapons master. There was still much work to be done.