Every muscle in Caidan’s body screamed. He had been training for hours. His body wanted to sit down and his head wanted to lie down. Still, the king insisted that Caidan attend the dinner that he had planned.
“You said that men who want to kill me will be at your dinner,” Caidan reminded the king. “Is it a good idea to take them on now? You think that I can defeat your enemies after one training session?”
“This is not about defeating them, Caidan. By coming to the dinner, we show our enemies that we are not afraid.”
“We are enemies. I’m not going to stay here. You’re holding me against my will. Why would I want you as an allie at all?” Caidan wanted to stomp off but he saw Braudin and knew that he would not be able to get far.
“You want to ally yourself with an honorable man, is that it?” The king barely waited for Caidan’s nod before continuing, “You are still young and do not know much of life. An honorable man is predictable. They will aways do what is right. The enemy knows what they will do before they do it. It is foolish to ally yourself to such men.”
“Relying on honest men is not foolish,” Caidan objected. Then, he stopped to think of a moment. “If you’re not an honest man how can I trust your word?”
“I’m on your side, Caidan. Helping you is in my best interest.” The king moved his hands when he spoke. If Caidan did not know any better he would say that the older man was pleading. “My goal is for the Dark Elves to survive for generations to come. The only way to accomplish that is for me to have you at my side.”
“You’ll find yourself alone,” Caidan told him. “I already told you, I’m not staying here!”
“I’m your father and you’ll do as I say!”
“Donal Tallon is my father!”
“Braudin, make the boy see since!” The king ordered.
Caidan found himself wrapped in layers of air. The air felt as solid as chains. He could not move an inch. Still, he twisted and turned, searching for a way out. Braudin did not seem to notice Caidan’s struggles. He ignored Caidan as the king did.
Eventually, Caidan’s tired muscles won out and Caidan slumped over in the bindings of air. “You cannot honestly think that I will help you,” Caidan said, still out of breath from his struggles.
“You are an honest man, my son. That is what Donal Tallon raised you to be.”
“You’re going to return the favor by destroying his home and everything he holds dear! No good deed goes unpunished, eh?” Caidan’s words dripped with sarcasm.
“Not everything that is dear to him. I’m sure that your life means something to the man who rasied you. He will take comfort in knowing that you live on. Your memory of him will help him live on as well.”
“You already destroyed Winding!” Caidan accussed in anger. “Is there not enough blood on your hands already?”
The king turned on Caidan with a fire blazing in his eyes. “You will rule a great race and you will make hard choices. When that time comes, you will learn that the only way to save the many is to sacrifice the few.”
“Those kinds of choices should be made as a last resort, not as the only choice,” Caidan said angrilly.
“It is easy to judge when you’re young. I don’t need to hear any more of your wisdom.” The king waved to Braudin. Caidan found that he could no longer open his mouth. He tried to talk but could only grunt.
Braudin was careful not to let Caidan have a chance to talk during dinner either. He was forced to bow and act courtly but his mouth was only released when courses of food were brought. Braudin only allowed his mouth to open wide enough for a small piece of food to go in. Caidan tried to clear his throat or make any noise but Braudin made sure that it was no louder than a whisper.
Caidan felt hopelessness and uselessness well up in him. He had sworn to find a way home but he was stuck. He could only move when Braudin allowed him to. Caidan felt anger well up in him but anger was not enough to brake the spell. The Dark Elves were doing something to Caidan’s magic to prevent him from using it. He still felt the spell around him shatter when a flash of light filled the room.
Raederle was in the middle of that flash of light! Caidan’s shock allowed him to slice Braudin’s spell in two and run to her. He ignored the light and the heat radiating off of it. He ignored the room around him and ran to the center of that light.
“Raederle!” He exclaimed, holding her in his arms. “How in the world did you get here?”
“Braudin!” the king barked. “This girl is truspassing. She may well be a spy. Fire when ready!”
“No!” Caidan screamed. “She’s not a spy. I know her!”
“You take responcibility for this girl?” The king asked with a dangerous light in his eyes. “You give your word that this girl will not endanger our race or use anything she learns here against us?”
“I give you my word,” Caidan promised, feeling a net close around him.
Sargento was amazed at the illusion of freedom the Eratian empress allowed them. The wing that was set aside gave each of them their own room. The doors to their rooms could be opened and closed as they wanted. The entrances to the wing itself was kept guarded but they could go anywhere in the wing.
Sargento, Will, Alona, Annesta and Master Tallon all gathered in the common room of their wing. It was the only room without a bed in it but it looked very plain. There was only one window in the wing and a guard stood in front of that. No one felt like talking infront of him. The common room was private enough...
“I’m sorry, lad,” Master Tallon said as soon as the villagers were alone.
“You have nothing to apologise for,” Will told him.
“The Eratians have us right were they want us. We have to get away from here,” Sargento told the others.
“I’m all for leaving,” Will agreed. “The problem is figuring out how to leave. I doubt that the empress will make it easy.”
“She’s guarding this place quite thoroughly,” Master Tallon commented looking left and right.
“She’ll have us leave to do more of her chores,” Annesta reminded the others. “The empire wants to use us, not have us over as guests.”
“We might be bait,” Alona said with a shiver. “Caidan, Raederle and Pete are still out there. The empress wants to use them too. This could all be a trap.”
“Either way, we need to get out,” Will reminded them, willing them to focus.
“We need a plan first,” Master Tallon told them. “We all need to keep our eyes open. The first thing to do is to make a map.”
“The guards escorte us all over this place. We just have to remember how they lead us,” Sargento thought aloud.
“I can already chart the path from this wing to the throne room,” Annesta said excitedly.
“Do you have paper and pen? I doubt the guards will give us anything,” Donal Tallon pointed out.
“Wet ashes make a passible ink,” Alona said.
“When did you ever try to make ink out of ashes?” Will asked in wonder, looking at his sister as if he were seeing her for the first time.
“You don’t know everything, Will,” Alona said with a fond smile.
“We still need paper,” Master Tallon said, trying to keep the ragtag group focused.
“I’ve got five shirts in my wardrobe. You can use those as paper,” Sargento said. “I’ve been making do with no more than three shirts my whole life,” Sargento explained when the women gave him shocked looks.
“A piece of cloth will do as well as paper,” Master Tallon approved.
“We can all meet here before going to bed to add to the map,” Will declared. “We just need to find a good hiding place.”
“I think I know one,” Sargento said. “I almost tripped on a loose stone on the fireplace mantle. The map can be hiden under that.”
“We have our plan, then,” Master Tallon said proudly. “Do you all know your parts?”
Everyone nodded. A swell of hope almost filled the room. They could each see it in the others’ eyes: they were getting out of here!
Evan ran his shoulder into the door again and again. The shadows had locked him in but he doubted that any of them bothered to watch the door. The large shadow thought that Evan was hopelessly trapped but Evan knew better than that.
Evan braced himslef to run at the door but he had to stop suddenly. The largest shadow stood in front of the door. Evan rolled back on his heels to stop. He gave the shadow his best glare and waited. The shadow only seemed to glare back.
“Your noise could wake the dead!” The shadow growled, not softening his glare in the least.
“It’s so kind of you to answer my call,” Evan said with a smirk. “I thought you’d come here before now. You did say that you wanted me to watch the world burn. You’re not having trouble making your plan work, are you?”
The shadow turned his head, clearly listening to every word Evan said. “What do you know?”
“I have allies out there,” Evan said errilly.
As impossible as it seemed, the shadow’s face darkened. “Your allies will be the first to die! My shadows and I will not stand for your antics!”
Shadows swarmed from corners and even from under the door. More shadows fell in from more sources than Evan could count. The shadows closed in around him and merged as one. “I can see that you will only abuse the little freedom I have given you.”
“You haven’t given me anything. The freedom I have is from the Creator, not from you!” Evan declared, pulling at his arms, trying to shake off his captors.
“Bring him to a cell,” the leading shadow ordered.
Two guards held Evan’s arms while another pushed him along with a hand on the back of his neck. There were two other guards watching him. One stood behind and other in front. They were taking no changes with him.
He felt their eyes on him like burining coals. It was almost a releif to be pushed into a cell and locked it. At least their eyes were no longer on him. Evan tried to breath deeply and push down the fear that raged inside him. One thing allowed him to stay calm: the shadows were afraid too.
Evan needed to get in contact with his freinds and he knew how to do that... he would go to the dream world and he would find the wolves! The wolves could warn the others and tell him what was really happening on earth. Evan did not trust these shadows!
He forced himself to sleep. He relaxed every muscle in this body. He breathed deep and slow, willing himelf into the dream world. Evan could feel himself falling into nothingness. He felt the swirl of the world around him change and knew that he was in the dream world.
The sky was full of rolling clouds and a vibrant sun. The clouds changed colors from orange to purple. The sky and land was constantly changing. Wheat blew in waves and blue flowers bloomed in the grass. The dream world looked like paradise. Evan lnew that he was in the right place.
He called out for wolves with his mind.
“Wolves,” he thought with all his concentration. “They run and hunt. Wolves travel in packs and follow the Creator. They know that Fate guides them.” Evan repeated the thoughts over and over, concentraiting as hard as he could on visualizing wolves, until real wolves appeared.
“Welcome, brother Nemph,” a struffy gray wolf greeted. “I am Longtooth and I have roamed these lands for any moons.”
“I greet you, Longtooth and thank you for your warm welcome,” Evan began. “I am looking for the pack of a friend, the pack of Snow.”
“I have never heared of Snow,” Longtooth said.
“Dancer used to run the pack but he fell fighting bravely,” Evan remembered.
“Dancer’s pack runs near here. They hunt the elk. I will guide you to them but you must hunt with me.”
“We Nemph are not know for our skill with hunting. Our talents lie in growing things and in knowledge,” Evan explained.
“To study knowledge you must always learn new things,” the wolf said. “Hunting will be a fine skill to learn. I am the best hunter of my pack. You will do well to learn from the best!” Longtooth gave a wolfish laugh.
Evan smiled back and agreed. “If I am to learn new things it would be best to learn from someone who knows what he is doing.” Evan turned serious before asking, “You are sure that Dancer’s back hunts near here?”
“Yes. I have seen them many times,” Longtooth assured him. “They hunt by the lake each evening. I have promised to take you to them and I will but first we must hunt.”
The wolf loped towards him until they stood side by side. “Let your first lesson begin: raise your nose to the air and sniff.” The Nemph did as he was told. “What do you smell?”
“Evergreens, oaks and falling leaves,” Evan answered.
“Do you smell a musty, earthy scent?” Evrich nodded in answer to Longtooth’s question. “That is the deer, the deer we are hunting.”
Evan breathed deep and filled himself with the scent. “Let’s go hunting.”
The two of them wove through the trees towards that musty scent. The wolf dove at his prey Evan fell back, giving Loingtooth room. The wolf snarled and gragged his kill away. Evan came to the wolf after he had eaten his fill.
“I’m sure that you’re tired but we still need to find Dancer’s pack,” Evan reminded the wolf.
“I promised you that I would bring you to them and we will go now. Get ready to run!”
The wolf practically danced back into the trees and Evan had to rush to keep up. They ran deeper and deeper into the forests and over into the next valley. A lake stood in the middle of the valley. This was Juniper’s valley. Plum and Snow were talking with him on the lakeside.
“I greet you,” Longtooth barked out. “I bring a friend and alley from the Nemph.” Longtooth nodded to Evan and loped away, giving the friends their space.
“I am pleased to finally meet you. Pete and Will both have nothing but good things to say about you. I fear that they are in trouble.” Evan took a deep breath. “Would it be possible for you to get a message to them?”
“They are missing,” Snow explained.
“Will enters the dream world but he cannot hear us,” Plum added.
“Our troubles are deeper than I feared,” Evick said with a shudder that seemed to shake the very earth.
Pete fell to his knees in the mist. He fought down the howl as it erupted from his throat but nothing could stop it. Pete felt energy leave him. He was exhausted but he could not allow himself to sleep. He needed to get to wolves and warn them!
He wanted to run away but he did not have to energy to stand. Pete tried to crawl away but the mist just got thicker and thicker. He could not see where he was going but he kept moving.
“Stop or I’ll fire!” A voice shouted from the mist.
Pete knew that the voice did not belong to Ornree. These people could help him. “I can’t stop. I’m being chased!” Pete could only hope that he was understood and believed.
Pete needn’t have worried. A group of people ran to him and half-carried him from the mist and into a swampy valley. Pete could see people all around him. He could sware that no one was in those mists but clearly he was wrong. There were more people here than there were in his village. They all had pale skin and reddish hair. Their clothes were all very similar too. They looked like an army!
“You are the wolf brother? The one who howled?” A young woman with red hair asked in wonder.
“Ornree... he’s a monster. He made me howl,” Pete tried to explained. He shuddered before continuing. “He used magic to force me to call the wolves. Ornree wants to kill them!”
“We are the Kitsune tribe and we owe the wolves,” the red haired girl said.
“Can you warn the wolves? Please, you have to keep them from coming!” Pete could not hide the desperation in his voice.
“They are safe, brother,” the red haired woman assured him. “You can rest easy now.”
The red haired woman turned to the crowd and shouted, “Send fot Sky. The wolf brother is hurt. Get a cart ready for him. We need to move before the black magician finds us!”
The massive crowd ran to do as the woman ordered. Pete could not take his eyes off the red haired woman. He could not decide if he was amazed by her charisma or by the shear audacity of the woman. How can one small woman command such a large group?
A doctor who must have been Sky put his hand on Pete’s head. Pete ignored him, keeping his eyes on the red haired woman. The woman turned to see to other things but Pete could not let her go... at least not yet.
“What’s your name? What do they call you?” Her eyes dug into him like daggers but he held her arm and did not let go.
“They call me Annie,” the woman said with a small smile.
Pete returned her smile and allowed Sky to lead him to the cart. Sky gently pushed Pete into the cart and ordered him, “Lie still. You need rest.”
Pete tried to argue with him. He tried to explain that there was too much to do. He tried to say that a cart would only slow them all down. Sky rubbed his stiff muscles and wrapped salves around wounds. Pete no longet faught the exhaustion now that he felt safe. The exhaustion took took hold and pulled him under.
Pete opened his eyes and expected to be blinded with pain. He was pleasantly surprised to find that the healer’s medicines had worked. He felt like he had had a month of good food and rest! Pete sat up in the chart and bent to get out of it.
Annie was by his side as soon as he poked his head out of the cart. Her arm wrapped around him and gently helped him down. “Be careful, brother. You still have a big job to do. We need you whole.”