"We must get word through to the city," General Lock said, his head bowed and weary. "They must know that there are far more of the enemy than we were lead to believe."
Woodlyn didn't know why General Lock was saying this to him. He was barely conscious, the arrow that had pierced his arm having been removed only a few minutes before. Besides, he wasn't a messenger; he was a very minor mage. He wasn't --
He wasn't needed here. He understood suddenly and thought the gods must hate him for some reason. He looked at his bleeding arm with some trepidation but only because he feared it would weaken him.
"The messengers --" he began and saw the grim look on the man's face.
"Despite carrying the banners of their position, all four were killed within an hour. They were sought out on purpose. We didn't understand until the rest of the enemy troops arrived. They wanted to make certain none of the messengers were able to get through to give the news. We can't hold them back without the reserves, Woodlyn."
He nodded. "I need a sling. The arm hurts like hell and it will bleed too much -- and then I'll just be face down in the muck somewhere."
Lock gave him a nod of appreciation, though he was already looking distracted as the sounds of battle grew louder and then receded again.
"They are targeting the mages, too," Lock said. "I'd be very careful of what magic you use."
Lock gave him a sealed pouch and he carefully put it over his head the strap letting the pouch rest at his side, which turned out to make a good enough sling.
Lock hadn't told him how to get through to the city. The enemy had them almost entirely encircled with a cliff at their backs -- impossible to climb without being seen, even if he hadn't injured his arm.
He'd have to go through the enemy lines. Woodlyn couldn't do so in bright daylight, but the sun was already slipping behind the cliff and spreading dark shadows across the battlefield. The enemy was starting to light watch fires. No time to waste.
Woodlyn started to move to the right, to skirt the edges -- but no. The guards were on duty there and they were watching for people. Better to be daring. So he headed straight for the center.
He went threw their own camp with as little show as possible because he didn't want the soldiers drawing attention to him. Down the embankment, through the ditch -- but he ran headfirst into their own guards. Lucky that one knew him.
"Messenger," he explained, patting the bag with the signs of a messenger worked into the leather.
"Why you?" Captain Keat asked, though not as a challenge.
"They killed the messengers. I'm a chance," he said. He smiled. "I still have a little magic."
"Go with the gods," Keat said and stepped aside. "Maybe we can help you out by drawing some attention."
"Carefully," Woodlyn replied. "Thank you."
He hadn't expected the offer and he wished them well. Soon they shouted and made noise while he slipped over the embankment and into the enemy camp. He slithered along the dirt, ignoring the pain in his arm. He just moved and stopped when he had to, and by then he was well within the enemy lines.
Insane. Had someone cast an insane spell on him and he hadn't noticed? Woodlyn hadn't even thought twice about taking the job. Now he looked around with his heart thumping. Go back! No, go ahead. He was this far. He grabbed a cloak with the enemy colors sewn along the edges and threw it on. It was almost too long, but it helped.
By now he was in the middle of the camp and kept walking, remembering how well that had always done for him at the castle. A couple men looked his way. He nodded and kept going. The southerners had odd accents, but he understood most of what they said. Cocky bunch; they figured they would finish off the army tomorrow and take the city by sunset. Then they started talking about what they would do when they got past the gates -- and Woodlyn's fingers twitched, magic almost coming to him in the sudden rage.
No. Getting the message through would do better than taking them on. He walked on and when someone asked him what he was doing, he patted the bag. "Message," he mumbled. "Have to get through."
The man nodded. "They moved the horses off to the stream."
Nice thing to know. He gave a nod of thanks and moved in that direction. Yes, a horse would be quite handy. Before long he could hear the mounts and moved down to the stream where the horses were being watered and fed.
"Wha cha want?" one of the men demanded, his eyes narrowed.
"Messenger," Woodlyn said, patting the bag.
"No ever seen ya --"
Woodlyn brought up his hand and let the magic fly between them, quick and simple. "I want a horse. The best mount you have. Saddle him now."
The man's eyes glowered. A powerful one; he fought the compulsion. Woodlyn dared a little more magic, but he couldn't use much more or else someone would feel it and come looking for him. The southerners didn't use magic.
The man finally moved to the horses. Woodlyn didn't know if he brought out the best, but it was good enough. He saddled the animal, his shoulder's tight, no doubt expecting to be killed with his back turned. Instead, Woodlyn touched him with sleep and rolled him off into some high weeds. No one saw.
He rode away.
By noon the battle was done, the last of the southerners on the run, and Woodlyn's escapade was already mythical. He was also awarded a new position and would soon start teaching all messengers magic to help them survive.
The gods liked him.
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