Chapter Three

Innocence Uncovered


As a child, Jenni had an adventurous heart, but it was also a very gentle heart

Daffodil: A Most Remarkable Flower – Evana Jepson


Jenni sighed. She yawned, vaguely irritated, and then rested her hands on the mane of her brown and white pony and used them as a pillow for her head. She was wearing a beautiful dress that her mother had insisted she wear if she was going to ‘visit a friend’ as she had claimed. The dress had forced her to ride side-saddle, and since she never felt as comfortable riding side-saddle as she did riding normally, the dress only served to heighten her irritation.

Jenni couldn’t help but wonder if her mother had guessed where she was really going. Her mother had had a funny look on her face, and Jenni herself had been so excited about the day that she must’ve been bubbling over with enthusiasm. Jenni wasn’t feeling very excited about the day anymore.

Nearby, in the harpy village, the sounds of fighting were so loud that they could be heard even here, but that was it. The foliage that stood between Jenni and the village of the harpies was so thick that all she could see was the backs of men as they readied themselves to charge into the melee. What was even worse was that the soldiers had set fire to many of the huts in the village and the resultant black smoke was being blown towards her by the wind, obscuring her vision even more.

‘I’m bored!’ Jenni protested, almost throwing a tantrum. ‘Father said I could watch!’

‘Father told me to watch you,’ Tir replied, feeling no sympathy for her. His eyes flickered to her for a mere second, and then he looked back towards the village, waiting for the signal that the reserves were needed.

‘Hmmph,’ she commented. Other than herself and Tir, there were only about twenty others on horseback. Mangloss, the venerable castle mage, was mounted on a black horse just on the other side of Tir from her pony. Then there were the soldiers of Tir’s own bodyguard. Finally, sitting behind her were two soldiers of her very own, a personal bodyguard. Should the reserves be called into battle, it would be the job of her bodyguards to ensure that she stayed put. Basically they were there to babysit her. She remembered her father had introduced them by their surnames only, Solby and Grimm. She couldn’t remember which was which.

For the merest of moments she felt sorry for her brother. Had this battle taken place two years hence, Tir, being the son of a duke, would have automatically held the rank of knight and would have been allowed into the thick of battle. As it was, he was stuck back here with the reserves and her.

Then again, things were worse for her. She might be the daughter of a duke, but she would never be knighted.

She looked at the column as it stretched out behind her. The army waited on the narrow wooden bridge that spanned the river Tenver, the rear of the column disappearing from sight somewhere to the rear. These reserves consisted of more than three-quarters of the army the Duke had brought. There were nearly two thousand men here, waiting, just in case they were needed. Jenni wondered how many of them were as bored as she was.

She glanced quickly at her brother and then back to the village and the few soldiers whose backs she could still see through the foliage. Her father had taken his knights, a few men at arms, and virtually all of his archers into the village with him. For the rest of them this was pretty much a wasted trip.

‘I’m bored,’ she intoned.

‘You’re a pest!’ Tir commented.

She looked at him sharply.

‘Pest, pest, pest, pest, pest, pest,’ Tir repeated quickly.

‘Oh, grow up,’ Jenni muttered.

Tir almost laughed, ‘I’m almost six years your senior. If I have to grow up, what does that make you?’

Jenni sighed. The last of the soldiers disappeared from sight. ‘I’m bored,’ she repeated.

‘Pest,’ Tir replied with a grin. ‘You know, a lady like yourself ought to have more poise; she ought to act more ladylike. Show a good example in front of the men.’

‘I’m bored,’ Jenni insisted.

‘Well, you wanted to come,’ Tir replied unhelpfully.

Jenni gave up. It wasn’t any good talking to Tir, not that she knew what she wanted of him. She decided to look about her. Maybe something would catch her eye, something that would take the edge off her boredom.

The River Tenver was a small river hardly any wider than a stream. It ran to the east of the reserve column. It ran almost parallel with the harpy village, and by the look of it there were some areas of forest a short way along the river’s bank that might allow a much clearer view of the battle.

‘I thought I might go for a walk,’ Jenni suggested to her brother.

‘Oh?’ he replied. ‘Into the harpy village, I suppose?’

‘No, no,’ she replied, acting horrified at such a suggestion. ‘I just thought a short walk along the bank of the river might help to relieve my boredom a little.’

‘I don’t know,’ Tir replied. He looked at the area she had mentioned.

‘Obviously I’d have my bodyguards with me,’ she assured him.

‘I don’t like it,’ Tir told her. ‘I mean, at least here if the harpies attack we have a force large enough to deal with them. You’d be virtually on your own over there. And we are very close to the enemy.’

Jenni wasn’t ready to give up yet. There were always alternatives, and one such alternative was magic. Naturally she would have to be careful; Mangloss mustn’t notice what she was doing. Mangloss knew the spell; after all, he had taught it to her in the first place. Even if he didn’t see her cast the spell, he might be able to sense the presence of magic. It was a simple spell, intended to make her brother a little bit more malleable to her will. It wouldn’t allow her to suggest something outrageous to him, but so long as she kept her request reasonable he would be more likely to go along with her. Oddly enough, she had considered using the same spell on her father in order for him to allow her to come along. As it was, though, she hadn’t needed it.

She cast the spell, uttering the words under her breath while waving her fingers as subtly as she could in order to obey the requirements of her incantation.

Unsure whether or not the magic had actually taken hold of her brother, she then suggested, ‘How about if I promise to stay in sight of you? Then you can ride to the rescue if I need help!’

‘I said no!’ Tir rebuffed her, looking towards where she had pointed. He seemed to hesitate for a moment and then said, ‘Actually, that probably wouldn’t be too terrible. Make sure you do stay in sight of me, though.’

‘I will,’ she said as she began to dismount. ‘I promise.’

Tir turned to face Jenni’s two bodyguards. ‘You two know your orders. Call for help if you get into trouble.’

Jenni handed the reins of her pony to one of the nearby foot soldiers and then sent a smile of thanks to her brother. She couldn’t help noticing that Mangloss had a funny expression on his face. It was almost as if he was holding back laughter. Jenni had a nasty feeling that despite how careful she had been, he knew what she had done. She was grateful that he had decided to keep it to himself.

This was bad terrain for the dress she was wearing; more than once she caught it on one of the trees and it was all she could do to disentangle it. Her mother was probably going to have some serious words with her once she got home. It didn’t help that she was beginning to have pangs of guilt about having used magic on her own brother.

There were some trees that grew right up to the edge of the water. They proved to be awkward to navigate in a dress, and then when she moved back onto her intended path alongside the river, these trees blocked her from view from her brother.

After she passed the second such tree she could no longer be seen from the head of the column. ‘Don’t forget to stay in sight!’ Tir’s insistent voice came through the trees.

Jenni stepped into the river, peeked around the last tree blocking the way, and waved. This soaked the bottom of her dress, but there wasn’t a lot she could do to save it now.

‘Perhaps you should come back,’ Tir shouted.

Jenni looked around herself. Just a little further along the river bank the trees started to thin out. That looked like an ideal place to try and reach. Maybe she would be able to get a clear view of the village and the battle if she went just that far. ‘I’m just going to check a little further along!’

‘Stay in sight of the column!’ Tir shouted insistently. ’I can’t see you!’

Jenni stuck her head round one of the larger trees and shouted back, ‘I can still see you!’

‘Pest,’ Tir shouted at her.

‘Perhaps we should go back,’ Solby suggested.

‘Just a little further,’ Jenni replied. Having ruined her pretty dress, it would be awful to return empty-handed. ‘We can head back once I’ve seen what I came here to see.’

Jenni continued maybe fifty more feet along the bank of the river. Slowly she was getting the feeling that this wasn’t getting her anywhere. The foliage might be lighter here, but she still couldn’t see into the harpy village. For a moment she thought about heading into the forest to get a better look. She decided that that really would be against what she had agreed with her brother.

‘Jenni,’ Tir shouted frantically, ‘I can’t see you! Stay in sight of the column!’

‘We’re coming back,’ Jenni shouted back.

‘Good!’ was Tir’s loud reply.

Solby and Grimm were both very well trained. They were soldiers with many years’ experience behind them. They were among the best soldiers in the Duke’s army, and it was because of this that they had been hand selected to serve as Jenni’s bodyguard.

As Jenni turned to head back to her brother, there was a rustle among the trees just beside her. Then suddenly a harpy emerged from the foliage, her claws glistening sharply in the early morning sunlight.

Solby moved first. He deftly stepped between the harpy and Jenni and then moved to unsheathe his blade.

The harpy smashed right into him. Her claws thudded through his breastplate as if it was made of paper, and a moment later Solby fell to the ground, fatally wounded.

Jenni screamed. For a moment she was frozen to the spot, an easy target for the harpy. Then she began to stagger backwards, her mind panicking so much that she couldn’t think clearly enough to even run.

‘What’s happening?’ Tir shouted. His shout was shortly followed by the distant thud of approaching hooves.

Less than a full second had passed since Solby had dropped to the ground. Grimm stepped to protect his ward, his sword already poised to strike. Harpies could be very fast; a fraction of a second was usually all they needed to swap from one target to the next. This harpy moved a little slower; she looked very tired. Someone seeing her might have assumed she had been injured in the battle in the village. Few would have guessed she was tired because she had just given birth.

Grimm struck quickly, not giving the harpy the time she needed to recover. With an upward slice of his blade, he cut the harpy’s belly open. A second blow with the sword and Grimm neatly removed her head.

‘Are you okay, my lady?’ Grimm asked as he cleaned his blade.

Jenni looked at him thankfully, but she didn’t answer. She could barely offer him a smile. She was on the verge of tears.

Then Tir emerged through the foliage. He had brought all the other mounted soldiers with him, with the exception of Mangloss the mage. Knowing Tir, even though the battle was as good as over, Mangloss had been left to keep an eye out in case the Duke still wanted help from the reserves.

‘What happened?’ Tir said.

‘A harpy, sir,’ Grimm reported, ‘must have been trying to escape the slaughter in the village. I’m afraid Solby is dead, sir.’

Tir looked at Jenni and asked, ‘Are you all right?’

Jenni looked up at Tir, trying to hold back the tears. The shock of what had happened was really beginning to get to her. Someone sent to look after her had been killed. It had been her fault. If she hadn’t insisted on going for a walk in the forest, that soldier would still be alive. She tried to speak. ‘I-I-I’ll be fine. I just need to sit down for a minute.’

Tir breathed a sigh of relief. ‘If anything had happened to you, I don’t think Father would ever have forgiven me.’

Jenni was openly crying now. She had been looking for comfort from her brother, and all he seemed to care about was how their father was going to react. She walked slowly over to the trunk of a fallen tree and sat down on it, her head deep in her hands.

Tir dismounted from his horse, handed the reins to Grimm, and then followed her. ‘Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it quite that way. It’s just that I was so worried about you. I shouldn’t have let you wander off like that.’

‘It’s okay,’ Jenni replied. She considered telling him the truth. She had bewitched him, and he hadn’t really had much of a choice in the matter. She decided it was best not to. No doubt she was already in terrible trouble.

Tir decided to try and comfort her more personally. There was no room to actually sit on the stump with her, so he leaned over to rest a comforting hand on her shoulder. Evidently he saw something that shook him, because a moment later he was unsheathing his dagger.

Jenni looked around, startled. The sudden excitement of her brother preparing a weapon made her forget her tears for a moment.

‘It’s a harpy,’ Tir informed her. ‘Looks as if he was born within the last hour. I’d better kill it.’

‘What’s he doing here?’ Jenni asked. She looked around at the child and reached up to stay her brother’s hand.

‘I don’t know,’ Tir replied. ‘Perhaps he had been left here to die of exposure.  You know what harpies are like about their male offspring. Whatever the reason, I’ll deal with this future threat now.’ He pulled his hand free of her.

‘No, don’t,’ Jenni urged. She tried to block his dagger arm again.

‘Jenni?’ Tir asked. ‘He’s a harpy; he’s evil. We should kill him before he has a chance to grow up and become a real threat.’

‘Until he’s had a chance to grow up, he’s nothing more than an innocent baby,’ Jenni insisted. ‘You can’t just kill a baby on the assumption that he’d grow up to be evil.’

‘He’s a harpy, Jenni! They are inherently evil. Besides, the alternative is to just leave him here. If we do that the weather will get him in a day or two, assuming that wild animals don’t. It’ll be more merciful my way.’

‘Then we must take him with us,’ Jenni insisted.

‘Take him with us?’ Tir questioned. ‘Are you mad? What would Father say?’

Jenni took hold of Tir’s dagger arm and helped guide the dagger back into the safety of its sheath. She then reached down and picked up the baby. The baby reacted to having been picked up. He wriggled a little and tried to get closer to the body heat that Jenni was supplying.

‘Poor thing,’ Jenni said to the child and to Tir, ‘left out here to die of exposure. The poor thing is freezing.’

‘Jenni,’ Tir pressed, ‘what about Father?’

‘Oh,’ Jenni replied calmly, ‘just leave Father to me.’ She held the baby tight to her as if the child was her own. She even tried to wrap the child in part of the dress she was wearing to keep him warm. ‘Poor little boy. It’s hard to believe that you could grow to become the scourge of humanity.’

Tir shook his head as if he couldn’t believe what was happening. ‘Look, we better get back to the rest of the column. That’s where Father will expect us to be when he returns from the battle. Then we’ll see what he has to say about this little monster.’



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