After Damen escaped, he made it three days before Laurent caught him.
His first day had been spent in Arles, hiding much of the day through a hunt of the Prince's Guard, and then making his way out of town towards sundown, just before the closing of the gates, following behind a miller's wagon. He walked close enough to the wagon so as to appear one of the miller's apprentices as the gatekeeper gave the miller a cursory nod, and then further from the wagon so as not to attract undue attention from the miller himself.
The second day he headed north. He needed to go south ultimately, as his destination was Akielos and he had no desire to see Kempt, but his efforts to avoid the search parties the Prince’s Guard was sending out of Arles sent him in the opposite direction of his destination in an attempt to avoid detection. He found a blacksmith who was willing to remove the cuffs and collar and provide him with supplies in exchange for the gold that fell off his his neck, and once freed, he made camp in a grove of willow trees near the river.
The third day he slept the morning in an empty barn, populated only by a fat tomcat who eyed Damen suspiciously. And the third afternoon he searched for an opportunity to find a horse, heading south in a semi-circle around Arles, aiming for Chastillon.
When Laurent finally caught up to Damen, Laurent had a significant advantage. Damen was alone. He was armed only with a short knife. He had been traveling without a warm meal for half a week. Laurent was surrounded by five of his own men and five of the Regent's. They had presumably eaten and slept well at Chastillon before heading out for a pleasant morning ride to encircle their missing prisoner. Damen was on foot and Laurent and his men were on horseback, armed with swords and wearing armor.
Damen prepared to fight anyway. He had been a slave for only a few weeks, but it had been long enough to determine that it was better to fight and die cleanly fighting than to return to the crooked politics of Arles. Veretians did not know how to treat their prizes; Veretians did not know how to treat each other. They smiled and embraced their enemies before they stabbed them in the back.
Damen thought that he knew that the Veretians were treacherous, and yet he was still surprised when, amidst his own fight to disarm another of Laurent's men, they were all attacked by Vaskian raiders.
The melee was chaotic.
Half of Laurent's men seemed focused on subduing Damen still, the half wearing the Regent's colors seemed confused about what they should be doing with their weapons and loitered. The Vaskians rode into the fight with a volley of arrows shot from horseback while riding at full tilt into their scramble. Their aim while moving so fast was not very precise, but it was an effective distraction.
Damen ducked to pick up a sword he had managed to disarm from one of the Prince's Guard only to see one of the men wearing the Regent's livery hit Laurent over the head with a mace.
Laurent crumpled and fell from his horse slowly. The man who hit him had his attention split between one of the Prince's Guard and the rearing of Laurent's horse.
It became clear to Damen that the melee, which had started with Laurent and his men against Damen, was now a fight in which the Prince's Guard was fighting both the Regent's men and the Vaskian raiders.
He wasn’t sure, even later, what motivated him to block the blow that would have separated Laurent’s head from his body. It wasn’t as though Laurent had shown him any particular kindness in his days in Arles, or that the prince seemed to possess any admirable traits in his character that merited the consideration. Perhaps it was sympathy, having been attacked in his own house by his own men, to defend Laurent from a blow from a man who was ostensibly at Laurent’s own command. Perhaps it was a natural instinct to defend a man who was laying unconscious on the ground from a death blow.
It was sheer good fortune that he managed to get Laurent away from the field. He grabbed the reins of one of the fallen men, hoisted Laurent into the saddle, and retreated from the last pair of fighting men and several fleeing raiders in a separate direction.
He was not sure, as he rode, that Laurent was not already dead, not being able to stop and check his head or his pulse. A man might die from such a blow to the head, or even from a bad fall off his horse. But when Damen finally found a small cave that seemed adequate to the task of sheltering two men and a horse, he settled Laurent on to the ground and found his yellow hair matted with blood, but his pulse still strong.
Damen was not a physician nor a battle surgeon. He knew the same basic first aid as any man in the Akielon army; his knowledge was completely inadequate to the type of wound that Laurent had.
He examined the cave to ensure that there were no dangerous animals nesting in the crevices, and then he left Laurent there and scouted the area more broadly, filling the horse’s water bags at a small spring.
Laurent remained unconscious for most of the rest of the day while Damen set a snare, watered the horse, and then attempted to clean Laurent’s wound, with very little success.
That night Laurent woke briefly, long enough for Damen to hold his head up and help him to drink some water and to eat a few bites of the rabbit Damen had caught from Damen’s fingers. Laurent seemed to have trouble focusing his eyes and could not keep them open for more than a few seconds at a time, even as he chewed and swallowed with his head propped in Damen’s hands.
Damen kept watch as Laurent slept fitfully and restlessly, and then Damen slept himself, lightly. He tried even as he rested to remain alert to any approach or to Laurent rousing yet again.
Laurent was still asleep in the morning. With his hair darkened with matted blood he did not resemble the same prince who had overseen Damen’s arrival in Vere, the cold figure who had featured in Damen’s mind as he had taken advantage of the opportunity to escape the palace and make his way slowly back to the Akielon border.
The air became hotter as midday approached. Damen had been watching the entrance to the cave, but when the sun rose high in the sky he retreated into the shadows and found Laurent motionless but awake. His eyes were open and tracking; he followed Damen from the bright area at the front of the cave and focused on him as Damen moved toward Laurent’s position near the rear.
“You’re awake,” said Damen, thinking that it had been wise to have patted Laurent down checking for weapons the night before. He had removed two knives from the prince’s person, and now that Laurent was awake it felt safer than wondering if Laurent had one of them in his hand where it was placed behind his leg.
“Who are you?” said Laurent, clearing his throat. “Where are we?” There was a pause. “Who am I?”