Chapter 4: New Allies
Jack ran through the woods, following the strange green man. His companion never spoke a word but stopped occasionally to check that Jack was keeping up. He led them to a rising hill and they scrambled up a rock face.
The man pointed out a taut rope hidden in the bushes. Jack looked up to see a sharpened log suspended above them—a trap, to keep enemies out.
After a while, Jack smelt smoke. Ahead, a small trail of smoke rose into the air, just like he’d seen in the painting. The pair rounded a corner, coming to a clearing before a large cave in the rock face. Standing there, staring at them, was a figure, with a hooded cloak. Its face was hidden but Jack knew it was staring at him.
As they approached the figure lifted back the hood and crossed its arms. Jack saw that it was a girl. She had silvery blonde hair and fair skin, and was probably the same age as Jack. She stared at him with cold eyes.
She took a step forwards, one hand on the hilt of a sword half hidden by the cloak. Her movements were fast and graceful, and reminded Jack of how a cat moved.
“Who have you brought here, Evooku?” she asked. Her voice was clear and bright with an accent that made Jack imagine she would fit right in at a tea party at a royal court.
The green man made some signing movements with his hands. The girl shifted her weight onto one leg, frowning at whatever Evooku was telling her. Glancing suspiciously at Jack, she responded with some hand movements of her own. Evooku bowed his head and spread long-fingered hands wide.
The girl drew the sword from her belt. It was short, with a sharp edge that sparkled in the light.
“Where have you come from?” she asked.
“I’m not sure how I got here,” said Jack. ”I mean, I was at my Aunt Alberta’s house and fell out of her top-floor window, I think. I sort of ended up here.”
The girl circled Jack, the sharp edge of her sword held only a few inches from him.
Gulping, Jack continued. “What is this forest? How far are we from the city?”
“There’s no city for a hundred miles!” she said. “This is the Great Forest of Karandur. And I don’t believe your story. Are you a spy sent by the Demon Emperor?”
Jack took a step back and looked to Evooku, hoping he might step in. But the man stood there, head bowed, letting the girl do all the talking.
“Answer me,” she said.
Jack’s heart thumped, blood rushing in his ears. This was not working out well at all. He wished Aunt Alberta would appear and take him home.
“You know what happens to spies?” she said, pressing the tip of the sword against his throat. “They get… dealt with. Are you a spy?”
“No, no, I’m not a spy,” Jack said, desperately wondering how he could convince her. She didn’t look convinced.
Before she could respond, a howling noise echoed around them. Jack turned and watched Evooku draw an arrow from his quiver. The greenskin leapt onto a rock and looked around.
“That wolf,” said Jack.
The girl looked around, then paused. The howls came again and she swapped a glance with Evooku.
“Two. No, three,” she replied, finally.
A cawing sound answered the howling, and dark birds soared up from the trees in the distance.
“Seems you might have led the Wood Wolves to us,” said the girl, sliding her sword back into its scabbard. “We’re going to have to defend ourselves. I don’t suppose you’re much of an archer?”
“Uhm, no. I skipped archery,” said Jack. For the first time, he wished he hadn’t picked shot putt for school sports.
The girl removed her cloak and strapped a quiver of red-feathered arrows to her back.
“See up there?” she asked Jack. ”On the rocks above the cave? Climb up and you’ll be able to see the wolves when they come. If you want to live, shout out when you see them coming and tell us where they are.”
Jack nodded. He couldn’t use a bow, but he could definitely climb.
“Take this,” the girl said, handing him a small sword, sheathed in a leather scabbard.
“Oh. Cool, yes. A sword. Thanks. I’m Jack, by the way.”
She stared coolly at him.
“I didn’t ask your name. I asked you to make yourself useful.”