Homecoming 6: Silent Witness

by Lobo De la Sombra

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© Copyright 2015 - Lobo De la Sombra - Used by permission

Storycodes: M+/ff; hist; medieval; princess; outdoors; capture; bond; rope; strip; kidnap; force; rescue; arrest; cons/nc; X

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Authors note: This is a standalone story featuring characters from Homecoming Part 6: Silent Witness

"Think you'll be able to keep up this time?" Seated comfortably in her saddle, the willowy blonde grinned at her companion.

"I'll show you keep up," her companion replied, settling herself with equal ease into her own saddle. "It was only luck you beat me last time."

The blonde laughed. "I was lucky," she said, "lucky you decided to wear loose clothes." Cupping her hands over her smallish breasts, she glanced pointedly at her companion's decidedly larger pair. "All of that bouncing around couldn't have been good for your balance."

"Are you here to ride," the other woman asked, "or make jokes about my body?"

Another laugh. "Ok, let's ride." Tugging the reins, the blonde set off toward the forest, the second woman close behind.

To the unaware eye, this was a scene not uncommon; two wealthy women taking a casual ride from their isolated hunting lodge. To those who knew, however, this was something quite different.

The slender blonde was Isolda, Princess and heir to the throne of Iznia. Her muscular, buxom companion was Sabelina, Lady Wayholt, Isolda's former maid and now her most trusted advisor. Together, they'd come to this lodge for a short holiday, Isolda's first outing since the birth of her daughter nearly three months before.

Now, as they rode, Isolda glanced back toward the lodge. Seeing the concern in her eyes, Sabelina smiled.

"Don't worry," she said soothingly. "I'm sure Ivy can handle things until we get back."

"I know she can," Isolda replied, her voice doubtful. "She's been so good with Arietta. It's just I've never been this far away from her before."

"It's natural," Sabelina told her. "But we'll only be gone a couple hours, long enough to let the horses stretch their legs, and let us enjoy some fresh air." She grinned. "Much better than riding in circles around the lodge, like last time."

"You mean when you couldn't keep up?"

"Keep up with this." Flicking her reins, Sabelina urged her horse into a gallop. Isolda quickly followed suit, the two women racing toward the surrounding forest. The two burst past the first trees, only to draw their mounts to a quick halt as armed men surrounded them. Even as they tried to turn away, hands reached up to roughly pull both women from their saddles.

Standing by an upstairs window, Ivy watched the two women ride away. Voiceless since birth, the silent woman had once been a tool in a plot to steal Isolda's identity and ruin the royal family. Forgiven for her part, Ivy had since served as Isolda's maid, her duties expanding with the birth of Arietta.

Now, watching the riders depart, Ivy stood tense, the baby girl in her arms. Today was the first time she had been left fully in charge of the young girl, and she was determined to do a good job of it. For Arietta, whom she'd come to love, but also for Isolda, for whom her love was no less great.

Rocking the baby in her arms, Ivy watched as the two women entered the trees, her eyes widening as figures appeared around them, dragging them from their horses. From this distance, it was impossible to make out any details, but it was plain to see the two women were being taken.

Desperately, Ivy turned from the window, rushing from the room and down the stairs. Quickly, she made her way to the kitchen, where most of the small staff was engaged in preparing the evening meal. Carefully, she placed Arietta onto a table, her fingers leaping into the motions of the simple sign language she, Isolda and Sabelina had learned together.

"What are you trying to say?" Puzzled, the head cook stared at her. Desperately, Ivy tried to make herself understood, but none of the staff could understand her signs. Finally, she picked Arietta up and thrust her into the stunned cook's arms before turning and dashing outside.

In front of the stables, a horse stood saddled, ready in the event of an emergency. Without a thought, Ivy threw herself into the saddle, jerking the reins and galloping away from the lodge. Only one person would be able to understand her, and she prayed silently that she could reach him in time.

"Halt! Identify yourself."

Drawing her lathered horse to a halt, Ivy stared up at the guards over the city gate. Desperately, she raised both hands, fingers once more forming the signs she so desperately needed someone to understand. Almost immediately, one of the faces vanished from above, followed seconds later by the opening of the smaller side gate to allow a guard to pass through.

"Aren't you Ivy, Princess Isolda's maid?" Ivy nodded, her hands never slowing. "I don't understand finger-speak," the guard told her. "Let me get the gate open, and you can tell your story to someone who can understand it."

Ivy waited impatiently as the main gate opened, thundering through as soon as she could. Fiercely, she drove her exhausted horse to one final effort, drawing rein moments later in front of the palace. Throwing herself from the saddle, she rushed toward the doors.

"Ivy?" One of the palace guards caught her, holding her in spite of her struggles. "What's wrong?" He glanced toward a companion. "Find Balian."

Within moments, the stocky warrior stood before Ivy. "What's wrong? Where are my wife and daughter?"

Once again, Ivy's fingers began making frantic signs. Balian's eyes widened as he watched her signs. "Taken? By armed men? Both of them? And what of Arietta?" Once again, he watched her fingers. "Safe with the staff at the lodge. There's that, at least."

Turning, Balian called to one of the guards. "Alert Emeric. And summon a squad of my men," he commanded. I want them mounted and ready to ride immediately. And make sure they prepare a horse for me."

Feeling a tug on his sleeve, Balian turned back to gaze into Ivy's pleading eyes. "It's going to be a long, hard ride," he said softly, "and you've already been through one of those. Are you sure?" Ivy nodded, her eyes determined. "And a fresh horse for Ivy."

In an abandoned shack, two naked women struggled helplessly. Isolda and Sabelina lay on their sides, their backs touching. Each woman's wrists had been bound in front of her. A connecting rope led from Isolda's wrists, between both women's legs, to Sabelina's bonds, drawing both sets of hands down and toward their bodies. Their legs were bound together at knees and ankles. Cloth filled their mouths, turning their words into muffled grunts as they struggled.

"Comfortable?" Both women froze as the owner of the voice entered the shack, moving to stand in front of Sabelina. "Try not to make too much noise," the man advised, his voice mocking. "I've already told my men they can't have you. I'll get more gold for you unused. But if you get on my nerves, I might change my mind."

Grinning, the man watched as the two women resumed their struggles. "Try not to bruise yourselves too much," he said. "Rich women like the two of you can't be used to treatment like this. But don't worry, it will be over as soon as we contact your families and arrange a suitable ransom for you." Still grinning, he turned away, only to pause as a second man burst into the shack.

"We have a problem."

"Oh? And what might that be?"

"This." The second man held out a piece of cloth. "We were going through their things when we found this."

The first man stared. "That," he said slowly, "is the royal insignia. Which means one of these women is...."

"A death sentence," the second man said. "Taking one of the royal household is considered treason. We should just kill them now and get away from here."

"Are you crazy?" The first man shook his head. "You know who'll come after us. Do you want to face him with their blood on your hands? Especially if they turn out to be important to the royals? Take the horses, all of them. Lay a false trail from where we grabbed these two, headed west. Once the hunters pass us, we'll head east, toward Uthrance. Once we're across the border, we'll decide what to do with these two. Now go! We probably don't have much time."


"Eleven horses," the scout reported, "heading west."

"West it is, then." Balian paused as the scout shook his head. "Something?"

"The tracks," the scout replied. "Most of them were too light, as if most of the horses were without riders."

Balian nodded. "A false trail then. Which means the real trail has probably been brushed away." Frowning, he gazed toward the setting sun. "Which means we won't find it until morning. Set up camp, and we'll start searching at first light." He turned his attention to Emeric. "You and Ivy can go to the lodge for the night if you like."

Emeric shook his head. "I go nowhere," he declared, "until we've found them."

Balian smiled. "I would have expected no other reply from you, my friend." His gaze turned toward Ivy. "And you?"

Shaking her head, Ivy pulled a blanket from behind her saddle. Balian nodded toward the silent woman's back, his eyes approving.

No fires," he said, turning toward the others. "If anyone's watching, let's not tell them more than we have to."

Isolda and Sabelina woke to the feel of hands on their bonds. Even as they struggled to clear the sleep from their minds, the two women felt hands roughly remove the ropes from their legs, as well as the rope connecting their bound wrists. Drawn to their feet, the women were dragged from the shack into the light of early morning. Blinking, they gazed at the small group of roughly dressed men surrounding them.

"Anything yet?" asked the apparent leader.

"Nothing so far."

The leader shook his head. "When royals go out, they always keep a dispatch mount saddled and ready. Word should have made it to the palace before now."

"Unless," one of the men suggested, "nobody knows we have them."

"Someone knows they didn't make it back last night," the leader replied. "That by itself would be enough to cause a search. And a rider could have made it to the palace and back several times since night fell. No, they're here, and they're close."

Turning, he gazed at the two women. "Tie them to their horses," he commanded. "I want us ready to move as soon as the hunters go by."

"Here." Moving toward the voice, Balian and Emeric gazed at the scuffed ground at the scout's feet.

"That's it," Balian said, nodding. "And it looks to be headed north." He turned toward Emeric. "North. Isn't that where..."

Emeric returned the nod. "It is. The shack where Sabelina and I celebrated our marriage."

"Mount up." As the men moved toward their horses, Balian nodded toward Emeric. "I never did understand why you chose that shack," he said.

Emeric laughed. "Easier than explaining the rope marks to the staff. Besides," he added, shrugging, "it let us be alone together."

"Good point." Balian swung into his saddle. "Let's just hope we find them there, and that they're still in good shape."

Slowly, the group followed the tracks left by the women and their abductors. As they approached the shack, the group spread out, moving to approach the small building from all sides. In the center, Balian and Emeric paused, allowing the others to get into position. Behind them, Ivy sat her horse restlessly. Finally, after what seemed hours, Balian gave the signal to move.

One by one, the group emerged from the trees surrounding the shack. Within their circle, nine men stood gazing wildly around them, while two naked women sat tied to their horses. For a long moment, the two groups simply stared at each other.

"I knew it would be you," the leader of the surrounded group said softly, staring at Balian.

"And I," Balian replied, swinging down from his horse, "had a feeling it would be you. I'd been wondering if you had a hand in the recent abductions of noble ladies for ransom. But this time, you reached too high."

"We didn't know," the leader stammered, backing slowly away as Balian approached him, Emeric close behind. "If we'd known they were royals, we wouldn't have touched them."

"Not just royals," Balian replied, his voice cold. "Isolda."

The leader flinched. "The Princess Isolda?"

Balian nodded. "Princess, yes. Also, my wife." Slowly, he moved forward.

The leader tensed, then suddenly dashed past Balian. "You won't take me," he cried, rushing toward the trees. Turning, Balian moved to pursue, only to pause as the man suddenly lurched to a halt, his body straightening before collapsing to the ground. Ivy moved to stand over him, her hand clutching a broken tree limb. Seeing her, Balian grinned.

"Somehow," he observed, "I don't think he'll need anyone to translate that message from you. Now, shall we see about setting our women free?"

"With the cook?" Isolda glared at Ivy, one hand absently rubbing the marks on her other wrist. "You left my baby with the cook? What were you thinking?"

"I would guess," Balian replied, his words interrupting the first motions of Ivy's fingers, "she knew she couldn't ride for help carrying our daughter."

"So she left her with the cook?"

Balian frowned. "Didn't I tell you," he asked, his voice low, "that you should make sure someone other than you and Lina could understand her? And didn't you promise that someone would before you left the palace?"

"But, Balian," Isolda protested weakly, "I've been so busy with the baby....."

"So busy, you didn't have time to send a couple of people from your staff to me to learn the signs." Balian shook his head. "I should have taken care of it myself."

"But she..."

"She," Balian said, cutting Isolda off, "did what she had to do. Thanks to her, we were able to catch up with you before your abductors could take you any farther away. She also prevented their leader from escaping, or had you forgotten that part?"

Isolda's eyes fell. "No," she said softly, "I hadn't. It's just that..." She paused, then shook her head. "No," she went on, "you're right." Her eyes turned toward Ivy. "You did what you had to, and it's my fault you couldn't send someone else for help." Slowly, she stepped forward, wrapping Ivy in a soft hug that the silent women eagerly returned. "Thank you, Ivy."

Stepping back, Isolda turned to Balian. "And what of the men who took us?"

"They'll stand trial," Balian replied. "Not for treason, though. I believe, and so does your father, that they had no idea who you were. So they probably won't be put to death. Instead, they'll probably lose anything they might own, then be banished. I know you don't approve of the death penalty, so I thought you might like that judgement better."

Isolda nodded, then glanced around. "Where's Lina?"

Balian grinned. "Emeric said something about helping her recover from her ordeal," he said, "so the two of them went back to that shack. Just them, and what looked like a pack full of rope."

Laughing, Isolda lifted Arietta from her crib, handing the baby to a startled Ivy. "Yes," she said softly, gazing into the silent woman's wide eyes, "I still trust you with my baby, now more than ever. I will see you in the morning." Turning toward Balian, she once more rubbed the marks on her wrist. "After we see to my own recovery."

Watching as the two left the room, Ivy cradled the young girl in her arms. As always, her lips remained silent, but the glistening glow of her eyes left nothing that needed said.

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