The next morning, Arni and I decided to take the day off. Just like that, but Doctor Prithi agreed, and we decided to take Dog and Donkey, and revisit our special spot near the leper village. The weather was already changing, not into autumn exactly, but the kind of almost sad weather that knows it has to go… Everywhere, the farmers were busy with the harvest, happy in the knowledge that this year, it was going to be an excellent harvest, and no rent to be paid at all!
When we arrived at our special place, it’s only two hours by foot from Three Hills, we had already removed each other’s shirt when we, giggling, decided to look around with semsin, to see if little Leva was close by, or someone else. When we did see someone, we blanched. That was a man, and unknown to us. He was nearby, a bit upstream. And suddenly we realized how stupid we were — going out, all alone, two girls, ready to get naked and have fun while three big, fat escaped ruffians were roaming the countryside.
Of course, they might have all made for Essle, and if they were smart, that’s what they would have done. But smart and ruffian are words that don’t go together, and besides, these men and women were all locals. And to the locals from this region, even Valdis is another world! And that’s just four days walking! So, we put our shirts back on, and with our sword in our hand and Dog at our heels, we made for upstream.
A man was kneeling next to the creek, torso naked, washing his shirt in the water. He held it up as we sneaked close by, and it was sodden with blood, streaming pink into the river. He was humming a tune, tunelessly, and not at all paying attention. There was a horse, a mare, bound to a tree near the road, and his sword was still tied to the saddle!
Meh, what could we do? But I liked the odds, knowing that I’m not bad at all with my sword, against a bandit without a sword! So while Arni untied the horse, and took possession of it and the man’s sword, I advanced and said, “In the name of the Queen, you are arrested!”
He turned around, faster than I had thought possible, but instead of sensibly giving in struck at me with his right hand.
Like I said last time, maybe I’m callous or something. But I wasn’t going to let myself be hit, and I was sure now that this was one of the fugitives. I swept at his wrist, and, oh, excellent sword from Lenay!, cut off his hand. It was’t even hard!
He looked stupified, dumb with with surprise. Then started cursing.
“Well, are you going to give yourself up now?” I asked, “Or should I cut off something else as well? Decide quickly, otherwise you’ll bleed to death!” Because, indeed, blood was spurting from the severed arteries.
He sank to his feet, and with Arni holding his sword to his throat, I made a tourniquet and cauterized his stump. It wasn’t exactly neatly done, but it would only need to keep for a day or so.
Tied to his horse, we took him to Three Hills.
There I got the shakes a bit, and we waited in our house until Doctor Prithi, the captain and the soldiers had returned from their investigations… He was one of the baron’s men, certainly, but he had kept a woman in a little farm he owned, she had borne him a child, and he had visited them to, to, to kill them. He told the Queen, that if he was going to have to flee, he wasn’t going to burden himself with them, and that no other man was ever going to possess her.
Mialle told me that he’d cut the toddler in two pieces, and had cut the woman from groin to chin. What a savage! Even for a Priestess of Naigha, this was just too much, and she and her apprentices were devastated. She had given the man, once or twice, ointment for the clap, and had helped the baby into the world. If only she had told the queen about this farm! She was racked with guilt for not having thought of it.
I helped them as well as I could, in the manner of Doctor Torin, by listening, and making sure they started thinking straight again. When that was done, I sent them all to the bathhouse!
And then I learned that the man whose hand I had cut off had forgotten to kill the newborn baby that was also in the house… Prithi had taken the baby to the queen, and she was nursing her together with her own son now. I wish I had milk now! I’d already held Raisse’s son, and let him suck on my nipples (which he did with amazing power!) — and now I really am feeling like I want a baby of my own! Not going to happen, Hylti, dear, not going to happen, not for a few years more! That’s what I keep telling myself, and fortunately, Arni isn’t going to to put a bun in the oven!