I'd eventually like to turn this into an rp at some point... Anyway, here we go;
Thomas strained to hear his pursuers through the deafening roar of rain shattering against the forest around him, but he could barely make out the beat of his horse's hooves or the broken cries of his own voice to make the beast go faster, let alone half a dozen men fifty paces behind him. Sometimes he feared he had strayed from the road when he felt the sting of a branch whipping against his legs, and the only argument against that notion was the horse hadn't lamed itself on a loose root or fallen limb.
The horse was starting to overwork itself, but Thomas' legs were on fire from trying to keep himself centered, and he knew his poor horsemanship would fail him before the horse itself. He felt a cough shake through the beast's neck under its mane where he held himself on, but despite his flying sympathies, he didn't dare slow down. If only he had listened, if only
“Give us the horse, Boy, and we'll let you go.”
Thomas hadn't seen the bandits on horseback concealed behind the foliage. He only saw an overfed man and his two matching compatriots who had frog-lipped smiles.
“Not a chance,” he said. Without his horse, it would take weeks to get to the castle, and in the poor weather, he doubted he would last that long. Without a second thought, he kicked his heels back and nearly fell when the horse lurched forward, barely keeping himself up by the reins. He'd dropped them then in favor of the horse's thick tangle of hair, laying himself as flat over the beast's back as possible, and cringing as his abdomen bounced hard against the stiff lip of the saddle with every step. Thomas felt his insides lithify when he heard a sharp whistle behind him, followed by muffled thumps and snaps of twigs breaking over spongy detritus, and then the crisp silence of large bodies breaking out onto the openness of the road. “Get him, Men!”
He stole a backwards glance, catching sight of several men horseback racing after him. He squeezed his ankles against his horse's belly, and started shouting for it to go faster, wondering to himself how it could possibly get any worse. And then the wind picked up, blanketing the sky and closing out the light of the moon, and the off and on drizzle he'd been experiencing since early that afternoon opened to a complete torrential downpour. Oh what a fool I am...
What Thomas couldn't know was that the weather had actually acted in his favor. The bandits behind him were just as sightless as he was, and did not notice that they were soon following a riderless horse. Just before he was dismounted, Thomas felt as if in a void, sensations washed out completely and numbed with cold. His panic relaxed as he started slipping into shock, only to be refocused in an instant when a tree branch wedged itself into his shoulder. His nerve endings sparked violently, and he felt himself wrenched from his horse and thrown down into the mud. The wind was knocked out of him, and he opened and closed his mouth fish-like as he tried to breath.
The ground quaked as the bandits raced towards him as he finally caught his breath. He thrashed, stiff fingers clawing through the mud for something to hold onto and pull himself off the road with while gasping hungrily at the air, trying not to choke on flecks of mud.
The men on horseback didn't notice as they passed Thomas by, not even the one who's horse crushed Thomas' ankle under its hoof. Thomas was now beyond pain, however, so he hardly noticed it himself. His fingers closed around a stickered thorn that poked into the flesh of his palm, but he ignored the pain, and pulled himself into the cleavage of two bushes. He flopped over onto his back and felt the adrenalin pool in the back of his skull, searing his brain, and he basked in its blinding fury as he passed out.
For a long time, there was nothing. Then the subdued sounds of the waking forest began to trickle into his ears. He forgot himself for a while, and became an extension of the forest itself, a fallen tree, buried in moss and leaves. No thoughts, no sensations, just sound.
Then something strange. Something alien. Something outside of birdsong and tree breath. Sounds he knew, but could not understand. The sounds triggered the reflex of thought, and unwillingly, he strained to understand.
“First you want shivs, so I give you my shivs. Then you want a rapier, so I give you my rapier. Then you want Benjamin's bow, so I give you that, too. Now you want a pole arm. Will you ever be satisfied, Mickey?” A smooth wet stone.
“But I've already learned how to use all those, and I'm bored with them. I want to learn something else now. Besides, it'll make me more resourceful, won't it?” Fleeting, bright; a wildflower opening to the sun.
“You never do cease to amaze.”
Voices. Words. Thomas remembered, unleashing the gate in his head that held his pain at bay. He opened his eyes, and the light refracted from thousands of raindrops that still decorated the trees focused into a single point in the back of his head and ignited an explosion of pain. He squeezed his eyes shut in an attempt to blot out the agony, but the damage had already been done. A broken moan rattled loose from his lips.
“Hey, did you hear that, Corvain?” said the flower to the stone.
“I did. Let's have a look, mm?”
Thomas was waking up, but before he could decide whether the attention of strangers was a good thing or not, his brain began to register what bad shape he was in. A dull stiffness in his left shoulder started to burn, sucking the heat from the rest of his body and leaving him shivering with cold. One boot felt like it was several sizes too small, and the toes within it had gone numb. His whole back ached. He curled his good arm over his chest, trembling fingers groping idly for the oilskin bag that held the message under his shirt. He could feel one of the strangers hovering over him, and without opening his eyes, his features begged clemency. “K....king. M-m-message for the K-king... b-ba-b-ba-bandits.” It was no good; his teeth chattered uncontrollably.
“Well,” the stone, Corvain, declared, “He's decidedly delirious. Take care of him while I find something combustible and scout the area to see what might have left our little friend here like he is.”
“You get all the fun,” the flower wilted, but she made no further complaint. Instead, Thomas felt her knees touch his hip as she knelt at his side, and the heat of her her hand pressing against the side of his face, warming his mud-encrusted skin like sunshine. “You're pretty beat up, but don't worry, I can fix you. You'll be ready for adventuring in no time.” He could hear the tenderness of her smile in her voice when she spoke. She tucked a pinch of dried herbs under his cheek, and the side of his tongue went numb almost instantly. The numbness spread, seeping down his neck and into the rest of his body, and before he knew it, the pain in his head fizzled out, and he opened his eyes to sneak a glance at her.
She's a savage.
She wore more weapons than clothes, and had lines painted in mud over sun-bronzed cheeks. Her head was framed by a short russet and gold mane that dangled with wooden beads and little copper pieces. Thomas could tell by what little she was wearing that she was a full figured woman, but she was barely larger than a child. She wore a cloak with huge leaves stitched onto the outside over a sleeveless deerskin bodice, and a pair of pants that looked to be made of countless patches of every color and design under the sun. A rapier with a finely spiraled hand guard sat in a leather frog on a coil of rope she wore like a belt. She had a short bow slung high over one shoulder, and a bundle of arrows strapped to her thigh. Jagged slabs of iron were tucked into each low-cut boot, and, when she twisted to remove her cloak, he Thomas could see a few tucked under her belt at the small of her back.
The girl folded her cloak with the leaf-side out, and tucked it under Thomas' head. Seeing that the battered man was staring at her, she flashed a smile, gray-green eyes shining bright with all the vibrancy of the forest, and despite the wildness of her appearance, Thomas found her astonishingly beautiful. “You'll conk out from the drug soon,” she chirped, and began to take off his clothing, “But don't worry. I won't do anything dishonorable.”
Thomas found that he couldn't move his arms when he tried to stop her, or even raise his voice in protest, but his entire body was numb now, and whatever she did to him while he slept couldn't be worse than the pain he'd a few minutes before. He fell asleep to the slowing chatter of his teeth.
He faded in and out of consciousness timelessly. Sometimes he knew where he was, and sometimes he couldn't remember, but always she was with him. A wood nymph, he'd think before sinking back into a dreamless slumber, drifting away from confusion and anxiety.
He woke up again to a sharp pain in his shoulder, and felt heavy with exhaustion. He sucked in a deep breath through is teeth, and opened his eyes to see the nymph-woman bent over him, peeling a blood crusted bandage away from him.
“Shh, I'm almost finished,” she cooed, running her fingers soothingly through his hair.
Offended by her maternal affection, he steeled himself against the urge to fall asleep again and looked around. A fire burned two paces away, silhouetting a hammock strung between two trees. Thomas himself lay on the girl's cloak, which had remained remarkably dry. When he glanced up, he could see a few stars glittering between the tree branches. At some point, the must have moved him off the road. “How many days have I been out?”
She giggled. “Just two, I think. We found you this morning, and your wounds didn't look more than a day old.” Grinning, she reached over him and picked up a two inch splinter that was about as wide as her thumb. She waved it over his face, and it made him dizzy trying to keep pace with her wiggling with his eyes. “This was stuck in your shoulder. I'm not very good with puncture wounds, so you're lucky it was just a little one, but there sure was a lot of blood.”
Thomas felt sick to his stomach, clapping his good and over his face to block out the sight. “Ugh, yeah.... real lucky.” He tried to sit up, taking for granted that, at some point, he'd also been redressed from the waist down in warm, dry clothes, he frowned when she set the splinter on his thigh and helped him.
“Do you feel ready to eat a bit? We've got hard tack and dried fruit, but that's about it right now. Corvain might share is wine to have something to talk about when he gets up for his watch, but if I were you, I'd stick with water.” She yawned, arching her back catlike and rubbing her eyes with her knuckles.
Thomas flicked the splinter into the fire while she was distracted and tried not to think about it, his nausea calming. “Whatever you can spare. I can't tell you how thankful I am that you've helped me, but...
BUT I NEED TO GET A MESSAGE TO THE KING!
“Where's my shirt?” Thomas demanded, suddenly suspicious of the wild woman's kindness. “The purse I wore under it-- where is it?!”
She opened her mouth to reply, but a cool voice from the hammock spoke out first. “Why? Was there something worth having in it?” Thomas recognized the voice from before, but he couldn't remember the name that went with it. He watched as the man swung his booted feet over the side of the hammock, then sat up. Thomas had never seen a more finely dressed man then this, and stared openly, forgetting to hide his fascination from the possible threat.
The man's boots came clear up to his thighs, the leather folded over just above the knee, and underneath, bright yellow hose. He wore a vest of red velvet brocaded intricately in gold over an off white shirt with billowing sleeves and a frilled neckline and cuffs. He had a rapier finer than the girl's at his hip, and when he got up, Thomas could see a pair of shivs at his back, though how the man slept without cutting himself was a wonder. The man also wore a long brimmed hat that shaded his eyes, topped with an eloquently plumed feather. He righted his hat, and gave an approving smile when he saw Thomas staring.
“Don't worry, we're here to help.” He lifted off his hat and waved it in the air before him, bowing low without taking his eyes off Thomas. “Corvain, of the Great House Aldaeith. Perhaps you've heard of me?”
Thomas found his tongue. “Surely I haven't. Look, the contents of that pouch has no value to you. Please return it to me, I-”
“You're delivering a message. Yes, I guessed as much,” Corvain said, scrubbing his chin thoughtfully while he righted his hat.
“Well, yes, but-”
It was the girl who cut in this time. “Shh! This is my favorite part, when he guesses what happens before he's told. As an aspiring Master Adventurer, this is an important part of my training.”
Thomas was baffled into silence.
Corvain smiled, showing his teeth this time. “Mickey is my star pupil,” he said. “You, however, are quite wet behind the ears as far as traveling alone goes, from what I've gathered.” He started pacing, a fist resting on his hip while he gestured with the other hand. “You were delivering a message, and instead of making camp in a wet, forested part of the road, you decided to go on into the night, where you fell into the presence of distasteful brutes who, either knew you were carrying something important, or were just after your horse. Either way, they'll know you had something more important to risk your life for than your horse, and when they finally caught your horse without you on it, they'll want whatever you carry too.” He paused, wrinkling his nose thoughtfully and sniffing at the air. “You know what that smells like?”
Thomas gave an experimental sniff, but smelling nothing but the fire and the forest around him, stared blankly, waiting for the man to tell him. The girl next to him, Mickey, as Corvain had called her, tensed expectantly, grinning from ear to ear.
Corvain smiled again. “This smells like an adventure.”
Thomas winced, rubbing his forehead as he began to doubt the sanity of his saviors. “Listen. I don't think you realize how important it is that the message gets delivered. If you could just help me get to the next town where I can get a horse, I--”
“Oh, nonsense. Like I said, we're here to help. It's a shame to let an encampment of bandits sit undispatched of, and it just so happens that their encampment is on the way.”
“You mean it?” Mickey asked, her voice trembling with excitement. “All right! Our first week in a new land, and we already get to have fun!”
Thomas blanched. They were completely insane. “You know, I don't mean to be rude or anything, but I think I'll just try and make my way back on my own. I wouldn't want to get in the way or anyth-” He stopped, cut off by a hand on his shoulder. He glanced down, and fell into the trap of two beautiful eyes that were starting to water. God help him, he was attracted to her.
“No, you have to come with us. I wouldn't be able to fight if I knew you were missing out.”
Corvain paced around the fire, his plumage bouncing with every step, and ruffled her hair, the beads and trinkets chiming against one another. “Now, Mickey. You know that's his decision to make, and you'll fight bandits whether or not he comes with. Get to bed, it's my turn to take watch.”
Mickey sighed and got up, stripping off the bulk of her weapons before she climbed onto the hammock, rocking her body back and forth to make it swing. Corvain moved to a pile of gear Thomas hadn't noticed before, and fished around for a moment before coming back and sitting where Mickey had been just moments before. He dropped the oilskin pouch and a strip of hardtack on Thomas' lap. “She's a good girl, if not too easily excited.”
“How do you know where the bandits are camped?” Thomas blurted, tucking the pouch into the waist of his pants.
“The tracks were not difficult to follow. They're only about four hours away on foot, and they only have one lookout posted out of the dozen of them by day, so it would be an easy task between Mickey and I. I thought it would be more interesting if you came along and we could have the additional objective of protecting you, but I shan't push.”
Thomas was awestruck, feeling the simultaneous swell of appreciation for Corvain's insanity, and the sucking at his gut feeling of damaged pride. “I'm no fighter, but I can look after myself.”
Corvain chuckled. “Right. Like you did when the bandits made off with your horse?”
Silence. Thomas' face filled with a sudden rush of blood. Finally, he pulled the oilskin pouch from his pants and held it out towards Corvain. “Fine, then you should take it. Your hands are more capable than mine. You should be the one to deliver it to the King. My village's livelihood counts on it.”
Corvain smiled, using the tips of his fingers to gently coax Thomas' outstretched hand back down to his side. “No, my good man, this is your adventure. Mickey and I will enjoy getting you started on it, but we have our own adventures ahead of us. Besides-- I'm more of a slaying evil type than a King's... messenger.”
“Lapdog,” you mean, Thomas thought. You don't pay homage to anybody but yourself. Regardless of his distaste for Corvain's arrogance, he was touched. The man's words, crazy as the sounded, made it out as if Thomas had a destiny, a legacy of adventure before him. Well... maybe I do. “Okay... let's bag ourselves some bandits... but I'll need something to fight with,” he said, eyeing Mickey's formidable pile.
Corvain grinned, and clapped Thomas on the shoulder, pretending not to see his wince of pain. “That's the spirit.”