I'm still trying to figure out exactly what happened with Pete's chapter...in the future, it may be easier if we don't try to turn the time back a jot to work someone else in, it only compromises what happened after that point that's already written down. As it is, I'll just post this chapter since I wrote it out already and then we can figure out what's happening.
PS. How many major plot currents are we injecting here? If Pete's people are coming to appease to the king to curry favor for a foreign country, it could work in well with my plot that I'm beginning to add here.
"Step out, miss, I swear to you I will do you no harm," the man pleaded.
"Oh, no," Leda said quickly and apologetically. "I trust you." She stepped from the trees, taking in the clearing. The canvas tent was large enough for several people to be comfortable. An open trunk was right outside the doorway, as well as several swords in sheaths and a pair of longbows with quivers. A fire pit, used recently but cold for the moment, was dug in the center of the clearing. A stack of collected twigs and branches sat nearby for fuel.
Leda took this all in in a glance. She looked back to the green-eyed man, who was catching his breath again, and the unicorn who came to stand next to him. On closer look, the unicorn was also breathing rather hard, his coat looking a bit damp as well.
"Does this unicorn belong to you, sir?" she asked. She would hate to have been enjoying someone else's creature. But the man just laughed.
"Nobody could own Praan. He would never stand for it--ouch," for the unicorn had just given him a smack in the ribs with his horn.
"He's been visiting our village," Leda replied apologetically. "He's quite tame, and lovely to ride." She wondered why the green-eyed man laughed so, and why the unicorn struck him again.
"My apologies, miss--but if you knew--how I know--Praan's--Praan, just do it already, she doesn't know."
Confused, she watched. Her confusion turned to awe as Praan stepped back and flowed suddenly into human shape. A man stood in his place, who smiled a bit shyly at Leda.
"I ought to introduce us, I suppose," said the tall, lanky green-eyed man, wiping his face with his sleeve. "I'm North, and this is Praan. We're soldiers-for-hire by trade, but lately we just do whatever work needs to be done as it's a bit slow this spring."
Leda blinked. This was all too extraordinary.
"Praan's a shapeshifter, by the way. His gift is the form of a unicorn. So I suppose you see now, why riding him would be...rather a double entendre."
Leda blushed maidenly. But North spoke as though he were more than a mere mercenary...
"Have you any work for us, perhaps?"
"I...you'd have to ask the elders," Leda replied absently, her brain working fast. She had a sheltered life in the forest, true, but Elder Bryan had taught her much. Perhaps he should speak with them.
"Come to the village tomorrow morning," she told the pair. "We'll help you in any way that we can."
Leda was working in the vegetable plot behind the house when her elder brother Liam came out the back door.
"Those two workers are staying in the common house for a fortnight," he told her, referring to the meeting house and guest quarters in the rare occassion that the village recieved visitors. "But they are not just looking for work. I gather from listening to their speech that they're for some other purpose than shelter and food."
Leda rose, slopping water from the bucket over a growing tomato plant.
"I noticed as well. They're not good at hiding what they're about. Not with all the weapons they carry."
"Exactly. Be wary of them." Liam turned and headed back into the house. Leda paused thoughtfully, looking absently out towards the trees. She had been keen on speaking with North and Praan again, hungry for news of the outside world. But not if the whole village would be watching.
A fire crackled merrily in the hearth of the guesthouse. North poked at it, sending the chunks of firewood to a stronger blaze.
"Easy there, North," said Praan from the corner, where he daintily fitted a steel head to an arrow shaft. The steel, honed to a deadly point, betrayed that this was no hunting arrow but designed for war. "Don't want to burn this place down. It's plently warm."
"A real fire," breathed North, enchanted by the leaping flame. Praan gathered that, as usual, North had heard little of what he had been saying. The head firmly attached to that shaft, he laid a thin strip of glue onto the tail and dipped his hand into a burlap sack of feathers.
Praan, though a year North's junior, appeared to have a more mature wisdom. Both were quick and gifted thinkers, though North tended to be more dedicated and haphazard. A good six inches shorter than the green-eyed North, Praan had blue eyes and nearly black dark brown hair, constantly tousled and hanging in his eyes. A slight beard framed his face, giving him a rather unkempt look when seen next to neat North than was nonetheless equally attractive. Both men, just upon the threshold of manhood, really, had not achieved the age of twenty.
There was a tap on the shuttered window. North leapt up from the fire and opened it to reveal a steel-gray hawk, who watched North beadily from a yellow eyes.
"Hello, my pretty," North said, running a finger over the hawk's downy chest. She slashed across his hand with her talons, sending him yelping and snatching the parchment coiled around one leg.
"Don't tease magic hawks," Praan murmured from the corner without looking up. North shut the window in the hawk's face, closing it out to the night. Ignoring the blood welling up in the three parallel cuts on the back of his hand, North unrolled the tiny sxcroll and read it aloud.
"'Lette Village elders convinced. Young men listened. Will be moving on soon after more parley.'" North flipped the parchment into the fire. "It's from Farrow."
"Good. Once Ellay and that crowd come though with their 'news,' things will be growing ripe."
North made a note on a scroll beneath a cloak in the open trunk and rose with a grin. "How soon, d'you think?"
Praan looked up. "Soon enough. We don't want to rush things now. The plan will work if we take it slowly and carefully." He set a completed arrow onto the stack at his feet, nearly a dozen steel heads gleaming coldly in the light from the dancing fire.