Part One

Shy and Tam

 

1

Tamyn Taval looked at the dead man in front of her, his empty eyes glaring into hers. A moment ago he was alive, but now, he was like a doll, silently staring. The arrow in his throat was meant for her. It skimmed by her cheek, ripping skin.

She ducked, fell from her horse and hit the ground hard. Her shoulder disagreed with that tactic. She rolled and found cover under a fallen tree. From under the tree, she looked back and saw who the arrow had struck. It was Jenns. The big man was holding his throat, the arrow sticking out between his fingers. That was when the second arrow struck him in the chest. He fell from his horse, his neck making that sick sound of breaking bones. He fell right in front of her, his eyes looking at her. His dead doll eyes.

It was less than a breath ago, but everything moved so slowly. She saw more arrows hit the other riders. They fell, too. She heard the screams of the dying all around her. Seven men and five women. The men and women of Count Jonsen’s Courage.

She looked to the woods, trying to find her attackers, but the forest hid them from her. Her cheek began to ache. She touched it, saw blood on her fingertips, and for a moment, she was surprised. She had forgotten the arrow. She tasted something bitter on her tongue. Then, someone whispered her name.

“Tamyn,” the voice said. She looked up and away from the dead man.

“Over here!” the voice whispered.

She found it. Just beyond the body, hidden well in the green. A small man with dark hair and blue eyes who looked like he could squeeze through a beer bottle if he had to. It was Shyver.

“Shy?” she asked.

He nodded. For some reason, she marked that he had no arrows in his throat or in his chest. For years, she would remember this moment, not understanding why.

“Are you hurt?” Shy asked, keeping his voice low.

Tamyn shook her head, not saying anything.

“They were waiting for us,” he said. An arrow flew by, but he did not need to dodge. It wasn’t for him.

She nodded. “Agreed.” Tamyn took a breath. Her thoughts were coming back to her now. “We will deal with that later,” she told him. “We need to get out of here.”

“Who is left?” Shy asked.

She dared a look around. Tamyn saw many bodies, none of them moving. She looked back at him. “Just us.”

“You’re right,” he said. “We need to get out of here.”

Tamyn thought about what he said. They were waiting for us.

She looked at Shy. “Whoever gave us up is also after the count.”

Shy didn’t understand for a moment, then his eyes showed her that he did. “Pull us away from him,” he said.

She nodded. “We have to get back to the castle.”

As she spoke, three more arrows hit the tree she hid behind.

“That is going to be more difficult than it sounds,” Shy told her.

Tamyn looked around. Between her fallen tree and Shy there was only open ground. She could run, but she would be an easy target. She thought for a moment.

She looked for a horse. None within reach. Then, she looked at the dead man. She saw nothing to help her.

Tamyn shouted to Shyven. “Do you have any oil?”

He nodded, ducking back into the green. He came back with an oil pouch. “Here!” he shouted, tossing it to her. She caught it and worked off the top.

She could hear movement in the woods. They were closing in.

Keeping close to the ground, she poured the oil over the fallen tree. As she did, Tamyn thought, My mother would never forgive me for this.

Then, she took out her smoking kit. She pulled out one of the black matches and struck it against the box. Nothing.

More movement. They were closer.

She struck it again. This time, it caught. She tossed the match on the tree and the oil caught, erupting into flames.

And she ran.

She kept low, hoping the fire would cover her movement. She ran fast, pushing against time. Then, when she reached Shy’s tree, she jumped. A swarm of arrows flew by her. She heard shouting from the archers. She looked at Shy and he smiled.

“Lucky,” he told her. “As usual.”

She touched her cheek. “Close this time.”

“We are near Invir Falls,” he said. “We can get horses at the way station there.”

More arrows flew by them, but the archers were just shooting blind now. She looked back at the bodies she was leaving behind. Then, she looked at Shy. “They’re all…”

He shook his head. “We won’t do Count Jonsen any good if we join them,” he said.

She nodded and turned away from the woods. Shy ducked down, running low. She was right behind him.

A few miles down the road, they found the Invir Falls way station. The guard recognized them from when they passed earlier. His name was Reg. Tamyn remembered thinking he was too young to be a guard when she first saw him. That was barely an hour ago. Seemed like a year ago.

“You’re a sight!” Reg shouted out to them. He ran, bringing a flask of water. Tamyn took it and drank deep. Then, she gave it to Shy.

“We need your horses,” she told Reg.

He nodded. “Of course. Anything for the count’s courage!” He ran off to the stable, grabbing saddles and preparing the horses.

She looked at Shy. “I’m going to fix this,” she said, pointing at her cheek. Shy nodded and drank more water.

The way station was small and unequipped. A building with two rooms and a sorry excuse for a stable. They were lucky there were any horses at all. She walked inside, found a washing basin and a mirror. She threw off her backpack and got her sewing kit out. She looked at her face in the mirror.

She saw her father’s brown hair fall down over brown eyes, all covered in dirt and blood. Human hair, human eyes. From under that hair, she saw her mother’s features: high cheekbones and elven ears.

She washed the blood and dirt off her face. When she looked back in the mirror, she saw Shy standing behind her. He was shorter than her, but only a little. Her mother’s blood again. He smiled when their eyes met in the mirror.

“You need help with that?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yes.” Her voice made her sound relieved.

“You never were any good with blood,” he told her.

“I know.”

He took the needle and thread from her thin fingers. His were thick and strong, covered with callouses.

“So why do this?” he asked. He threaded the needle.

She sat down and braced herself. “All the years we’ve known each other,” she told him, “and you’ve never asked me that.”

Shy leaned forward and pinched her skin together. He looked her in the eyes. “You should be drunk for this,” he said.

“One or two sips would do it,” she told him, smiling.

He laughed. “Thin elven blood.”

“Half-elven,” she corrected him.

He smiled. “I know.” Then, he stopped smiling. “Hold still,” he said.

She clenched her fingers against the bench and clenched her teeth together.

He frowned. “This isn’t the first time we’ve done this.”

She sighed. “Always feels like it.”

The needle pierced her skin and she winced.

“So,” he asked again. “Why do you do this?”

“You should be asking why do we do this.”

“All right,” he said. “Why do we do this?”

“The coin,” she said.

He shook his head. “More money doing other things.”

“It’s an honest living.”

She winced again and he put more water on the wound, cleaning away the blood. “Stay still.”

“Trying,” she said.

He put the needle through her skin and pulled it back out. “You still haven’t answered me.”

“I’ve given you answers,” she said. “You just haven’t liked them.” She winced. He tied off a knot.

“Done,” he said. “As well as can be expected considering the circumstances.”

She looked in the mirror. A bloody mess.

“Not your first scar,” Shy said.

She touched it. “Are the horses ready?”

He looked out the door. “Looks like it.”

She stood up. “Then let’s go. The count needs us.”

The Courage of Tamyn Taval: Part 1, Chapter 1