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Three Little Birds

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When Talia had insisted that they turn around and leave, Kris had laid out the possible ways that could go wrong, not so much to argue as to make sure that they were covering everything they could think of before making a decision. Kris knew Talia wouldn't act rashly, but that was one reason why Heralds often worked in pairs, especially in situations like this. So they'd gone over as many horrible scenarios as possible before coming to the conclusion that as bad as it might end up being, it would undoubtedly be worse if they didn't at least try. Talia hadn't gone into detail, but she'd told Kris she'd caught some very nasty things from some of the guards and they'd both heard things on their way in.

It hadn't been all that hard to find trader Evan again, or to convince him and a couple of other traders he knew that things in Hardorn were going to get bad fast and it might be best to get out. As they changed out of their Whites and into clothes borrowed from Evan and one of the other traders, Talia and Kris had planned their escape, mapping out the best way to the border that would avoid villages where possible to minimize their chances of getting caught by guards. The Companions they sent ahead. Just in case.

They were less than a day out from the capital when Kris used a quiet moment in the back of Evan's caravan to try and See the situation at the palace. What he saw chilled him to the bone. It was clear that Ancar had taken power. There were corpses everywhere and a new banner flying over the palace. Kris was certain that King Alessandar was dead. It was the only explanation.

Confirmation came in the form of the first patrol that caught up with them. While Kris and Talia hid in the false bottom of one of the wagons, they heard the guard refer to King Ancar and Talia mentioned after that she could feel the fear of him radiating off of the guards.

Three patrols stopped them over the next couple of days. It wasn't a hard decision to split away from Evan and his friends. It would likely save their lives to not be sheltering a couple of fugitive Heralds.

That left Talia and Kris to travel on their own on foot through the woods. When Kris Saw soldiers following them, they ran. This had always been one of the more likely ways a retreat could go wrong, but Kris figured it had at least bought them a few days.

"Well," he whispered to Talia as they crept through the brush. "We made it a good deal further than I thought we might before they caught up with us."

"We have trader Evan to thank for that," Talia whispered back. "I hope he's well away. The Companions must have reached the border by now. Do you think anyone is looking for us?"

"Maybe," Kris told her. "But we're still a ways out. There's no way they could get to us."

Talia sighed and seemed about to speak when she clutched Kris' arm. "They're coming this way."

As if to prove her right, an arrow whipped through the air, just missing Kris' head. Another followed, sailing over them to land in a tree trunk not far past them. Talia gripped Kris' arm and tugged as they both heard soldiers crashing through the woods, coming in their direction. They ran as quietly as they could, but there was no chance at silence with brambles and leaves thick between the trees. Three more arrows were loosed on them, all somehow finding their marks. Talia was hit in her left shoulder and right leg. Kris felt one hit his side, tearing a gash through his shirt and likely through his skin.

Somehow, and Kris couldn't fathom how they managed, neither of them cried out. He picked Talia up and kept moving, even as he felt her do something, plucking at his own fear and thrusting it back somehow. No more arrows came their way and the sounds of the soldiers beating a hasty retreat echoed through the woods.

Kris got them behind a rocky outcropping and carefully laid Talia down on the ground. The light was fading fast through the trees but he could see the arrows embedded deep in her flesh. He winced, going through how he could possibly handle removing them. The one in her shoulder he was fairly sure he could manage, but the one in her leg, that was another matter.

"They'll come back," Talia whispered to Kris. "I didn't have the strength to really do anything lasting. It will fade and they'll come back and I know I can't move fast enough. You need to leave me and get to the border. And Kris… Tell Dirk I loved him. Please, make sure he's okay."

"Don't talk like that. Let me think," Kris murmured back, pulling off his cloak and draping it over her as gently as he could. He got out a spare shirt from his pack and pressed it to the wound on his side, wrapping the sleeves around himself to tie them in a makeshift bandage. "We're not that far from the border. If I could See…"

He felt her hand reach for his and grasped it tightly as he tried to send his Sight as far as he could. He'd tried to look farther before, but never when he'd been so exhausted. Still, there was something to be said for desperation, for when he pushed harder he saw a vision unfold before him of an encampment on the border. There were Guards, Heralds, and as he watched two Companions came racing towards them.

"Tantris and Rolan, they got to the camp," he told Talia softly. "Queen Selenay, she's pulled back from the border."

"Good," Talia whispered back, pain evident in her voice. Without breaking his Sight, Kris felt for his pack and fumbled for the medicine kit in the bottom. There had to be something for the pain at least. In his vision he could see Heralds coming out to meet Tantris and Rolan. He could see Elspeth, Kyril… Dirk. They'd sent two arrows, blue and brown bands on the shafts for treachery and a delay. As Kyril checked the arrows, Kris handed Talia the packet of painkillers. He wasn't aware of how tightly he'd been gripping the pack in his hands until he heard a familiar voice in his head.

Kris? If you are there, please, answer.

They were close enough then, for Kyril to reach them with Mindspeech.

We are in the woods on the way to the border, Kris said, letting the answer sit in his mind. Soldiers came after us. Talia is injured. We cannot move fast enough to outrun them. Ancar has murdered his father. They have true magic on their side. Tell the Queen.

"I told Kyril what I could," Kris said, slumping down as he felt a headache gather behind his eyes from the strain of Seeing so far. "I'm afraid I didn't have him long enough to pass anything on to Dirk. We can't let them take us alive."

"I know," Talia told him. "I do wish I'd had the chance to talk to Dirk. He's so stubborn. I love that about him but…"

"But it means sometimes he misses the obvious," Kris sighed. "I know. I'm so sorry, Talia."

They sat there in the growing darkness, Kris considering what options they had left to them now, when suddenly Talia was simply gone. She had been there one moment, and then the next there was only a bare patch of ground behind the rock where they'd taken shelter. Kris's pack was still in his hands, but the packet of medicine was gone, as was his cloak. It took him a moment, but then he knew. It had to have been Dirk. No one else could have done it. Kyril must have somehow given him Kris' location, or perhaps Elspeth. She wasn't well trained yet, but she had the Gift of Farsight. Pointed in the right direction, she could have done it.

Good. Kris got up and started to move as quickly as he could, but the pain in his side made him stop after only a few steps. He'd thought it just a surface wound, but when he touched the shirt he'd used as a bandage he felt it soaked through.

Stay where you are, Kyril's voice came to him. And Kris found he could not disobey. His legs simply did not want to carry him any farther. He sank back to the ground only to find himself not in the woods at all, but in a tent with healers rushing to his side even as Dirk slumped to the floor nearby.

"How did he do it?" Kris asked one of the healers. "It could have killed him!"

"Talk later," the healer told him. "We'll take care of him."

"No, he has to be okay," Kris insisted even as he felt the healer trying to send him to sleep. "They both have to be okay."

"They will be," someone assured him before he couldn't resist any longer.

Waking up, Kris was momentarily confused to see a canvas roof over his head. Sometime in the night he'd had dreams about being chased through the woods, arrow after arrow striking him, over and over and over again. Upon waking it seemed as if that had been the reality and the rescue had been the dream, but no. Here he was on a cot in a tent, someone snoring lightly in another cot nearby.

"Talia?" he whispered, still a little groggy from whatever healer's sleep he had been put into.

No one answered. Kris turned slightly, wincing when the motion pulled on the wound in his side. In the other cot was Dirk, looking far better than he had just as he'd passed out when Kris had arrived. How long had they slept? How much time had they lost to sleep when Ancar was likely already on the march towards them? Where was Talia?

Ignoring the pain in his side, Kris got up out of the cot and grabbed a plain robe that was draped over a chair nearby. He left the tent quietly so as to not wake Dirk. If he'd Fetched both Kris and Talia from across the border it was a wonder that he was even able to sleep with the reaction headache he must have.

There were guards just outside his tent, but they merely nodded to him as he left. So, they were there to keep anyone from going in, not to keep him from going out. Good. The next tent also had two guards stationed in front and they hesitated when he walked up, but let him in after he said simply "I need to see Talia."

Talia was awake in her tent, a healer seeing to the dressings on her wounds. When she saw Kris she started to cry.

"They told me you were okay," she said to him as he took a seat next to her cot. The healer tsked at him and came over to check him as well, then left them to talk.

"I'm fine," he assured her. "Dirk is too. He's still asleep. How did he manage it?"

"It was the Companions," Talia told him. "They bolstered him, gave him strength somehow through Rolan. Elspeth told me when I woke."

Talia had sat up in her cot and Kris carefully hugged her, making certain not to disturb the dressing on her shoulder. She embraced him back and the two of them sat there, just holding each other as the stress of their trip and rescue hit them both.

And that was where Dirk found them not long after. Kris heard the tent flap open and somehow he knew who it was.

"I just wanted to see…" Dirk faltered as Kris and Talia both looked over. "Now that I know, I'll let you both… I'll leave you together."

The rest they'd both had didn't seem to have been enough. Both Kris and Talia sat there, frozen, as Dirk slowly turned to leave. Then, spurred by strength he didn't know the source of, Kris stood and reached out to him.

"Dirk," he said, turning him around to face them. "No. Don't go."

"I'm not going to get in the way," Dirk insisted. "I just had to know you were both going to be okay."

"We won't be if you leave," Talia said from behind Kris. "You know as well as I do what this is, Dirk. You would never have been able to reach us otherwise."

Dirk stared at Kris for a moment, then past him to Talia, and Kris watched as his best friend in the entire world ran the gamut of emotions from denial to fear to dawning relief. Kris himself hadn't been certain of what this was until just then, but now, looking at Dirk, knowing that Talia was right there with them, he knew. It wasn't simply a lifebond for Talia and Dirk. Kris knew he didn't feel the same sort of soul-deep bond. But he could feel something else. Something that needed all three of them there to fully bloom. Without another word, Kris drew Dirk into his arms and kissed him, then led him back to Talia's cot. Likely some healer would show up any minute and tell them off for exhausting themselves so soon after a rescue. Until then, Kris guided Dirk to Talia and let them finally embrace. A war was likely brewing and there were a million things to be done, but at least for this moment, Kris knew something had worked out. They would make it through to a future that had all three of them together.