As the carriage pulled away and gathered speed, a dark figure appeared at the side of the road up ahead. Kira drove on, apparently unconcerned by the sudden apparition, and the carriage did not slow at all as the dark figure half-vaulted, half-scrambled up to sit next to Kira, who did not so much as bat an eyelash as the carriage was boarded.
The new passenger was a young woman with a round face, bright smile, and dark glossy hair which was cut short after the fashion of a page. She stared at Kira with a very pleased expression on her cherubic features, blue eyes brimming with pride. “There was an enemy scout,” she said. “There isn’t one any more.”
“Good,” Kira nodded, keeping her eyes on the road, scanning the path and bushes ahead for any signs of danger. One she was satisfied that they were safe for the moment, she risked a glance over at the young lady, letting her dark gaze run over her agile form. The young lady was clad in very light armor, black leather from head to toe, every bit of it sleekly oiled.
“Are you wounded?”
There was a nervous silence and a distinct aversion of those bright eyes before an answer came. “…No.”
Kira’s brow dipped. “Hope…”
“Well, it’s not really wounded. It’s just a scratch.”
“Climb into the back and have Ayla tend it,” Kira said, jerking her head back over her shoulder.
“It’s not worth it, I want to stay…”
“Hope!” Kira half snapped, half growled the young lady’s name in low tones which were not to be disobeyed. “Get in the back this instant! I am not having a repeat of the last time you told me you weren’t wounded and we almost had to amputate your leg.”
As the horses hauled the carriage along, Hope dutifully climbed up over the driver’s seat and pulled open the hatch at the top of the carriage. At that moment the wheels went over a hole in the road, making the whole vehicle sway. Hope tumbled down into the interior, narrowly missing the bound princess who was tucked neatly away in the corner scowling at Ayla. Hope half-fell, half-landed in a sitting position on Ayla’s lap, the witch’s hands guiding her until Hope’s blue gaze met Ayla’s green warmth.
“Wounded again, Hope?”
“It’s a scratch, it really is,” Hope protested. “Kira’s overprotective, that’s her problem.”
Ayla’s features assumed an expression of fond amusement. “Mhm, where is it?”
“You can’t even see it, that’s how little it is.”
“That armor hides injuries well,” Ayla replied. “Where are you hurt?”
“Nowhere, because it doesn’t hurt,” Hope smirked. “I’m fine.”
A witchly brow rose. “Do I need to strip you, young lady?”
A playful brow rose back, accompanied with a grin. “Do you want to?”
“You are utterly incorrigible,” Ayla sighed. “Where did you get hurt?”
“Underneath my right arm,” Hope finally admitted. “Nothing more than a lucky strike.”
“Lift the arm.”
Hope did so reluctantly, in doing so revealing a five inch gash which travelled along the line of her ribs.
“That was a hair away from piercing your lung,” Ayla noted, her brow furrowing. “You’ve sustained damage to the rib bone. This must hurt a great deal.”
“Don’t tell Kira! She’ll put me through a thousand drills again,” Hope begged. “She always overreacts and calls me wound prone. I’m not wound prone.”
“Well, you are wounded,” Ayla said. “Let me help you take that jerkin off. Perhaps you should consider mail if you’re going to engage in this much combat. You’re supposed to be a scout.”
“I am a scout,” Hope said as Ayla’s long fingers began unbuttoning her jerkin. It soon fell open to reveal pale skin dotted here and there with dark freckles. Her breasts were revealed next, neatly shaped and just on the verge of being ample. As the leather fell from Hope’s shoulders, Ayla reached into a satchel and retrieved a soft circular bandage which she pressed against the wound.
“Hold that there,” she said. “I’ll bandage you now, when we return home, you will need to see Madame Leonore. She’ll tend it properly.”
“Leonore always lectures me,” Hope complained.
“Maybe you need lecturing.” Ayla wrapped a long bandage around Hope’s ribcage, looping it around to hold the first bandage in place
“Maybe everyone needs to stop worrying about me quite so much. I’m very capable,” Hope said, her face screwing up as she winced with the pain she could no longer properly hide.
“It’s not about being capable, it’s about being headstrong and foolish and cursed with an absence of fear.”
“I’m not absent of fear,” Hope argued quickly. “I’m afraid of Kira.”
“You are not afraid of her,” Ayla smiled, pinning the bandage in place. She gently helped Hope slide her jerkin back on, covering the wound. “You’re in l…”
“Don’t say it!” Hope pressed her finger to Ayla’s lips. Her blue eyes danced with all the joy and pain of unrequited desire. “It’s not true unless you say it.”
Ayla laughed, took Hope’s hand in her own and pressed a light kiss to the finger which sought to silence her. “Very well,” she agreed kindly. “It will remain our secret.”