“Tarryn, you’re bleeding through again.”
The voice behind her was strong, gravely from living the better part of his life out of doors, yet soft enough to not be heard by their sharp eared companions. She smiled despite the pain she was in. Garreth was thoughtful that way. She sighed and nodded.
“Let’s find shelter for the night!” He called out to the others. "I’d hate to get caught still walking about after dark.”
There was no need to repeat his veiled order. Every one of the five rangers, and even Wenlynn, the other female of the group, were nursing wounds from the last time they’d tried to make up ground in the dark.
They quickly found a thick patch of woods and began to set up camp among the roots of the trees.
Saulo and his wife Wenlynn started setting out some cold supper, knowing that they dare not risk a fire, while the two determined bachelors, Penn and Barton used the waning light to check each other's wounds. Garreth changed the dressing on Tarryn's shoulder before he checked his own minor cuts that had long started healing.
As usual, Garreth took first watch as the other five companions tried to sleep.
Tarryn was to take second watch, but she had a suspicion that he would skip her tonight. She’d be mad at him if only she wasn’t so tired. So tired.
Four hours later, she woke with the throbbing pain in her right shoulder. She knew the wound was beginning to fester. The placement of it was torture, rendering that the arm next to useless, probably for the rest of her life. It made her angry and even more determined to fulfill her mission. She lay still, gritting her teeth against the pain and waiting for Garreth to wake her.
As she thought he would, he walked over to Penn instead and nudged him awake with the toe of his boot.
“You skipping Tog-Wea tonight?” he asked in a groggy whisper as he got to his feet.
“Yup.” Garreth was already turning over in his bedroll. “She won’t admit it, but she’s in a lot of pain and the wound’s not healing. I think it’s getting infected and it’s still bleeding a lot.”
“Everyone else’s injuries are healing nicely.” The other said, surprised.
“Yeah, well hers isn’t. She’s trying to hide it, but I can tell its sapping all her strength. I’m wondering if there wasn’t some kind of poison on that orc’s blade.”
The other nodded. “She’ll be angry in the morning.”
“Not for long. She won’t have the energy.”
Tarryn squeezed her eyes shut. "I'm weak!" she thought to herself. "I'm slowing them down, putting them in danger, and as usual Garreth is too concerned about me and losing his focus. Curses on all *tog*!" She knew she needed help and soon. But where could they go? She drifted back into a restless sleep, hoping the answer would come to her.
The world lightened, but the sun stayed hidden behind a thick layer of gray clouds as the rangers broke camp.
Tarryn still didn't have any answers. No vision in the night and no inspiring spark of imagination with what was considered dawn.
She couldn't even muster any anger other than a glare at Garreth for skipping her watch.
The six of them ate a cold breakfast and set out again, wondering quietly among themselves where they should go next on their quest.
"Lake Town." Tarryn finally muttered to Garreth. "Old Bard."
He nodded. "I'll tell the others." He moved ahead to tell the others what had been decided. He soon returned to her side. They walked along in silence until mid-day. “Are you in pain?” he asked, softly.
She nodded, but kept trudging on.
“You want me to call a rest?”
“If they need it.” She gingerly touched her bandaged shoulder, grimaced, then pulled a hunk of jerky from her pack.
Her friend looked her in the eye. "You do realize that you'll probably never fight right handed again, right?"
"Yes!" she snapped. "I'm now left handed. Don't remind me again until I am well enough to make you regret it."
He smiled in spite of his concerns. ”Yes, Tog-Wea. I will never remind you again.”
They again fell into silence as Garreth considered how to reach their destination.
Old Bard was no longer the king of Dale, having relinquished the crown to his son, a good though distrustful man. Visitors were no longer welcome within Dale’s borders, so to get the help they needed, they had to stay hidden.
As night began to fall, Tarryn decided that they were close enough to the villages of Dale for them to dare another night hike. They arrived at the shores of Long Lake just after midnight.
While the others kept Tarryn hidden in the edge of the forest, Garreth and began to walk up and down the lake shore, whistling like a thrush. Soon there was the sound of fluttering wings as a bird landed on his shoulder. The young man muttered a few words to it before it again took wing. When the bird was gone, he sat down on the stony shore to wait.
An hour later, a wide raft, rowed by a middle-aged man appeared through the mist. “Be ye friend or foe?”
“Friend,” Garreth replied. “Of the sort who returned Black Arrow from the lake.”
“Ranger,” The man stated simply. “Our young king is not keen on receiving visitors to our lands.”
“We seek the aid of Old Bard, father of the king, not the king himself.”
“We?” he asked as the raft scraped onto the stones.
Garreth nodded. “I and my five companions. One is severely injured. We are all rangers.”
“Very well,” the man said. “Come. I will take you to the old king.”
The young man waved his companions forward. Only three came; Saulo leading Wenlynn by the hand, followed by Barton. The latter stopped and whispered in Garreth’s ear. “She’s fallen asleep and Pann can’t wake her.”
Garreth was to the hiding place in seconds. “Tarryn?”
Pann looked up from their leader’s prone form. “We thought she slept, but she hasn’t stirred beyond shallow breaths.”
“Take her pack and weapons.”
Pann scrambled to collect them as Garreth carefully lifted her limp body into his arms and carried her to the raft.
The oarsman took them across the lake and to the other side of Lake Town, where he finally pulled up to a dock, right outside the door of a large, fine house.
An old man leaning on a cane was waiting for them. His once black hair was gray, but his blue eyes had not been dimmed with time. Even had the thrush on his shoulder not told him that these were the ones, he would have known.
He looked over the first four Rangers to disembark; how one held the hand of his woman, while the other two helped his servant to secure the raft before splitting the remaining gear and steadying the last young man and his load.
Old Bard frowned when he saw who was being carried, unconscious into his house, and the bloody bandage on her shoulder. "Little Tarryn," he muttered as he led the travelers through his halls. "I remember her first Wandering. Strider brought her here." He waved Garreth into a room with a large bed. The sheets had been turned down in anticipation of an occupant. "Lay her there, lad. The rest of you pick a room down this hall. Warm baths and beds await you."
When he saw that his guests were getting settled, he returned to Tarryn's room. Garreth had laid her on the bed as he had been bidden, but he had yet to leave her side. He was kneeling by the bed, still holding her hand.
The former king smiled, then rested a hand on the young man's shoulder. "You too, lad. I'll tend to her myself."
Garreth shook his head, his expression sorrowful. "I should have made her seek help sooner." his voice cracked from fatigue and grief. "Instead, I let her wait, even when I saw her wound was getting worse, not better. I let her keep going until now."
"Garreth, I've known Tarryn for a long time. Such a stubborn female I never did meet, but I tell you now that you could no more have compelled her to seek help before she was ready, than you could have willed the sun to shine at midnight. Do not blame yourself. Go. Wash the road dust from yourself, rest, and we'll see what comes with the dawn."
With great reluctance, the young man obeyed.
Old Bard sighed and began examining Tarryn's wound. "Thought I'd never get him to leave, Little One." he muttered as he carefully cleaned the cut. "He truly does care about you. And I don't think it would hurt you none to return the sentiment." He continued to mutter to both himself and the servant girls that came and went with clean basins of water, bandages, clothes, and helped the former king to tend the injured young woman. "You've really gotten yourself into a mess this time, didn't you, little one? What ever have you been doing?" Probably going to have to learn to fight left handed now."
The thrush began to flap and chirrup insistently.
"What's that?" the former king asked, looking at the bird. "Yes, good idea, old friend. Fly and fetch us a blue wizard."