The fight in the jungle had started ugly, with unfair odds of a dozen to one. When the druid arrived the odds were down to eight to one. The survivors were more wary now and, most importantly, closer. The four arrow-ridden bodies told the old man that the young elf girl, at the center of a closing blade circle, was skilled with a bow. She held two short swords now, her bow at her feet. Though she appeared quite familiar with the weapons, here face betrayed her lack of confidence.

He could smell the hatred and lust from the others carefully advancing toward her. He decided to help the girl. Summoning the winds he pointed his staff at the largest swordsman. The heavily muscled man was immediately pummeled by the swirling winds, which held him lightly, impeding his movements. The girl seized the momentary advantage and dealt a vicious slash across his torso. The man stumbled back and the swirling winds immediately swept out as their circle was breached, knocking him and his fellows to the ground. The elf girl stabbed the nearest in the chest with both her blades and vaulted over her swords in a elegant flip that took her out of the deadly circle and next to the druid.

“Valeria,” the girl panted as introduction to the old man at her side.

The druid nodded acknowledgement and sent thorny vines from his staff to wrap around the throat of an attacker as he struggled to rise. The staff was then pulled back stiffly, the thorns making a bloody mess as they yanked the dying man forward several steps and ripped free. Valeria had meanwhile kicked a rising thug in the groin and stabbed him while using her other blade to parry an incoming slash.

Six to two was better, but still not good as the surviving bandits regrouped and gathered themselves. The old man was preparing to shift into his favorite alternate form, a panther, when he heard the thunder of approaching hooves. He spun to one side instead, snapping his staff toward the closest attacker in a feint. The girl instinctively followed, ending up near the edge of the clearing, back to a large tree.

Again the druid sent vines shooting from his staff and pulled one of the attackers toward them, the thorns making bloody scratches across his arms and chest. Valeria deflected the reflexive attack and slashed the bandit across the throat, dropping him. The others spread out further and both the defenders knew that the trick wouldn’t likely succeed again. The druid suspected it wouldn’t have to as the sound of a horse crashing through the underbrush alerted everyone to the arrival of someone new.

“Put up your swords knaves!” thundered the voice of the new arrival as he pulled his horse to a stop in the middle of the clearing. The young lad was well-muscled, well-armored, and armed with shining sword and a brilliantly enameled shield.

The bandits predictably didn’t listen and lunged for the newcomer. He slid from his horse, sending it with a slap toward the clearing edge. The first thrusts and swings were neatly blocked or parried and the armored knight laughed.

“In the name of the Lady, I’ve not seen such incompetence in the field since my earliest training.” As he spoke and defended he backed toward the druid and elf girl.

The druid sent another vine toward the attackers as the girl slid around to one side. With the too-pretty knight as the anvil, the druid and girl funneled their attacks into a three-way vice. When the lone survivor realized his plight he dropped his sword and ran. The old man gestured again with his staff and vines reached out to snap the runner’s neck.

“Sister mine, tell me thou didst take no wound!” the knight said sheathing his sword and moving toward the elf with concern. The girl winced.

“Sister?” the druid asked, speaking for the first time.

“Half,” the girl snapped.

“In blood perhaps, but all of mine heart is hers,” the knight said. “And you good sir,” he said turning to the old man. “I thank you for your timely aid of mine beloved sister.” He abruptly leaned in and kissed the druid on each cheek.

The old man growled in warning, but the knight was oblivious and turned back to his sister.

“What ever were you doing in the jungle alone sister mine?” he asked, seeming anguish filling his voice.

“Half-sister,” she reminded him. “And I was hunting. What are you doing out here Valerian?”

“Why protecting you of course,” he said earnestly. He turned back to the druid. “Again I thank you for acting in aid of my dear kin. True friends are scarce in these parts.”

The druid looked at the elf girl who’s pained expression spoke of long suffering.

“Yes,” she answered the unspoken question. “He’s always like this.”

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