Echoes of Midnight

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Twelve

Greta thought death was upon her.

Stale breath wafted through as the thug pressed a sharp metal to her neck. “Don’t move, lady,” he whispered. “Or I will be forced to use this dagger on your beautiful neck.”

Greta did not bother with the man’s threats. She stomped her leather shoes and the man howled in pain.

“You wench!” he cried.

“That’s enough, Jonfrit,” another voice commanded. He seemed to lead the group as Greta could gauge from the weapons decorating his clothes. One sword strapped behind his linen tunic and knives in each pocket of his tawny trousers.

Amidst the chaos, Greta remained hopeful. She craned her head for the High Lord but she only saw how the thugs threatened the patrons and searched their pockets for coins.

“Hey, knock it off. I’m a guest to the High Lord,” Greta reasoned, her temples glistening with sweat.

“Worry not, witch,” the thug named Jonfrit snickered, amused with his taunts. “You’re in good hands once Ribald sold you to the slavers.”

“What? This is trafficking. I refuse to be sold to a stranger.”

She flailed her arms but failed to dominate the strength of a thug. Her attempts were futile. Sensing that her reluctance meant nothing, she gave in when they went through the back door of the tavern.

A large wagon stood before them. Driven by two well-built horses, they both neighed when the leader, Ribald, took one saddle and said, “Bring her to the back, Jonfrit. She could rest there with the hay.”

The thug nodded as he carried Greta and led her to the back of the wagon. Jonfrit threw her with a thud and jeered, “Sleep tight, my lady.”

“I am not a witch! Please! Let me out!” Greta wailed in pleas.

She did not hear anything from a High Lord nor a worried patron. Greta could not help but wonder that she was lost. Remarkably so.

She travelled to another Bellevedere - one that was not her intended destination.

Stolen and bound to be sold. She was never weak and in need of help. Strong and courageous at heart, Hans would always compliment her.

Would he have said the same if he can see her now?

Before she could bask on the hay’s warmth, a wooden panel opened above her head. The thug’s face greeted her with a sneer and said, “Glad to be of acquaintance to you, lady. We have two morrows before we reach Allafech.”

With the mention of the castle, Greta rejoiced inwardly. Then, she heard the voices. The wagon halted to a stop, throwing Greta’s body to the wall.

“You said the High Lords were at their castles, Jonfrit. Not at the Owl’s Cauldron. Who told you this piece of information?” Ribald’s gravel voice urged Greta to sat upright. She pressed an ear to the wooden panels and listened.

“The pompous runner outsmarted me. He offered to help me find a witch in exchange for a few coins,” Jonfrit replied, scared and quivering as the wagon swayed and the nicker of horses got louder.

Greta remained still. If only someone outside the wagon could be of help to her. Yet, there was no other sound except for the thud of boots, signaling her of a struggle between Ribald and Jonfrit.

The latter groaned and pleaded, “It is not my fault, Ribald. He was bribing me for coins!”

Greta grew expectant with what she heard next. Hairs on her arms rose as Ribald offered no reply.

A swish of blade and a body slumped to the ground.

It was clear that Ribald offered no mercy. He would kill if he had to. The wagon swayed again for a moment before Ribald whipped the horses to a run.

Survival had been imprinted on Greta’s mind since she met Hans. He always swore that it was his duty to protect her at all costs.

Greta never wondered about it but now she realized something. Hans lied to her and his persuasion of going to Bellevedere meant he wanted to share the truth with Greta.

Tears suddenly fell along her cheeks. She was still mourning. For the man she lost and for the trust she gave away.

When thoughts threatened to overpower her, she stayed still and laid down with the hay. Warm and earthy. Things that made her want to go home.

To Hans and to herself.
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