Chapter 40 - Emmalyn
Emmalyn used the sleeve of her dress to wipe the sweat from her brow. The afternoon sun was warm, and the black dress she wore wasn’t helping. With the amount of people crammed into the courtyard around the castle, not even a tiny breeze could penetrate the air. Tents were set up as far as the eye could see, and most were filled to capacity. People stood nearby, and some even sat on the ground, desperate to get off their feet for even a minute. Emmalyn felt immensely guilty for sitting on the small fold up stool one of the men had provided her. Several times she attempted to give it up, but a stern look from Oryn had her resuming her seat.
“You need to be comfortable,” he insisted. “You are working hard and it is hot. And I promise you, no villager would accept it. Even if they do not know you, they recognize you are royalty. If you give it away, they will only give it back.”
Emmalyn huffed but understood he was right. The children all watched her with a look of awe on their tiny faces. They vied for her attention, and they lit up when they received it. The adults were extremely respectful, and many tried to give her gifts. Mothers offered hair ribbons once she had cleaned their children, and fathers offered coins. She accepted nothing, simply smiling and waving them away.
Thane sat right next to her the entire time, and his presence was comforting. He told her stories of his and Kell’s childhood and kept her entertained. It made the work easier and put a smile on her tired face. Oryn, on the other hand, forced cups of water into her and pushed dried fruit and bread on her. He explained the food and water would keep her refreshed and energized, and she had to admit it helped.
Seeing the villagers so sad and broken was wearing on her. And knowing this was all she could do to help was a hard pill to swallow. Emmalyn wished to do more. She even wished to take on the pain herself, but it wasn’t possible. So she put on a brave face and did what she could.
Hours passed, and still there was no sign of Kell. She didn’t want to admit she was worried, but she didn’t like being away from him. Her head ached and she was more tired than usual. She understood it was part of the effects of their separation. There was a good chance he felt the same. If he didn’t come back soon, it would get worse, and physical pain would most likely set in. She assumed it wasn’t bad because Kell had told her he had to leave for a bit, and she knew what he was doing.
Thane, Oryn and a few of Kell’s men stayed dutifully by her side. When they noticed she was getting tired, they took over and let her rest. The fatigue was getting worse, and it was unnerving. The afternoon turned into evening, and the sun slowly began to set. The villagers were dispersing. Some were curling up in their tents, others were huddling around barrels that had been filled with wood and lit. Oryn explained the fires were there to keep the villagers warm during the night.
Two more hours passed, and then things suddenly took a terrifying turn. Emmalyn could do no more, and Oryn had finally convinced her to move inside the castle. With him and Thane on either side of her, and the rest of the warriors Kell left behind guarding her front and back, their procession started forward. They were halfway to their destination when a bolt of lightning lit up the sky and had the villagers screaming and running for safety. Streak after streak of jagged iridescent light flashed across the sky as steel grey coloured clouds rolled in to block the last of the fading sun.
“Kell,” Emmalyn shouted to be heard over the chaos, knowing immediately something was wrong. “He’s elemental, it’s either him doing this or it’s the element itself. Something is seriously wrong.”
Oryn stopped momentarily and stared at the sky. “There’s no thunder, no wind, and no rain. I’d definitely say Emmalyn’s right.”
“So what do we do?” Thane questioned as he glanced towards the castle.
“We find him,” Emmalyn declared.
“What if he’s fine and he’s simply sending us a warning?” Thane pushed.
“I don’t think so,” Emmalyn denied as her head throbbed and her stomach started to roll. “I don’t feel so good. I really think he needs help.”
“Can you continue on?” Oryn inquired, nothing but concern for her in his voice.
“I can,” Emmalyn assured him. “A little pain and nausea will not stop me from getting to my husband.”
Oryn grinned at her. “A true queen,” he declared, as he grabbed her arm in support and began pushing his way through the terrified villagers.
Then more piercing screams ripped through the grounds, but this time it was screams of pain. Their entire group stopped as the warriors with them surrounded them in a protective circle.
“What’s happening?” Emmalyn cried as she tried to peer around Oryn’s arm.
“Men are attacking the villagers,” Thane shouted in horror. “It looks like they’re being herded somewhere. Our warriors are protecting them, but they’re outnumbered. Many are falling.”
“We need to get out of here. If we stay we’ll be captured or slaughtered as well,” Oryn shouted.
“Who’s attacking?” Emmalyn pushed. “Can you see who it is?”
“They’re all dressed in black,” Thane told her. Then he was yanked into the protective circle with her by Oryn.
“Keep your head down. Both of you,” Oryn ordered. “I’d bet dollars they know you’re here and are looking for you. It’s a planned attack.”
“Kell,” Emmalyn cried, fearing finding him was imperative.
“We’re no help to him dead,” Oryn frowned. “We get out first, then we find him.”
All the men had their swords drawn, and the group moved slowly but cautiously away from the castle. Their best bet was the trees, so that’s the direction they headed. Each black clad man that stepped into their path was cut down before they alerted the rest of their location.
“Cut up one of the tents,” Emmalyn shouted as they walked between a couple. “We can use them to cover your clothing. You stand out too much dressed as you are. They are looking for Kell’s warriors.”
Without a word or a hint of argument, the men did as she asked. They sliced the tents on either side of them up and fastened into crude robes. They tied each robe with a bit of rope. The tents were dirty, and smelled slightly disgusting, but the outfits were effective.
They continued on until coming to a group of enemies that were effectively blocking their way. They hadn’t been noticed yet, but to get around them they’d have to go back through the grounds.
“We’re done,” Thane grumbled. “We’ll be caught for sure if we try to go around.”
“We have no choice,” Oryn declared. “We must fight our way out.”
“The fight will gain everyone’s attention. We’ll end up fighting an army,” Thane sighed, defeat showing clearly on his face.
“Emmalyn,” someone called from the shadows to their right. No one moved, and all eyes turned in the direction of the voice they heard. It was a girl’s voice, and not one Emmalyn knew.
“I don’t see anybody,” Oryn frowned as he peered into the darkness. Another bolt of lightning streaked across the sky, but still they all saw nothing.
“I’m here,” the girl called again, and then a head appeared from behind one of the tent flaps. “Hurry before they see you.”
Emmalyn had no idea who the girl was, but she understood it was their only chance. She made a move to head for her, but Oryn’s iron grip on her arm stopped her.
“We don’t know her,” Oryn warned. “It could be a trap.”
“We don’t have a choice,” Emmalyn pointed out.
Oryn growled something unintelligible, but he eventually let her go. She didn’t waste any time, sprinting to the tent and ducking inside. When she turned, all the men were crowded into the small space behind her. If things weren’t so dire, the sight would have made her laugh. Instead, she turned to the girl and studied her.
“Who are you?” Emmalyn questioned when still she didn’t know her.
“Abrielle,” the girl replied, smiling at her.
“Who?” Oryn pushed, still looking unsure.
But Emmalyn knew exactly who the girl was. She had been told the girls name before, and she remembered it. She grinned back, then pulled the girl in for a hug. The girl returned it immediately and Emmalyn relaxed slightly. She trusted the girl.
“This is Darrow’s bride,” Emmalyn imparted, as she let the girl go and turned back to the men.
“Where is he?” Oryn impatiently inquired, causing the girl to lose her smile.
“He’s safe. He and a few other men got out in the commotion. He wanted to come straight back for you, but it was too risky. They positioned you in the middle of everything. I begged him to let me come instead. No one would question me if I was caught. He reluctantly agreed,” Abrielle sighed.
“And now you’re trapped with us,” Oryn frowned, obviously frustrated.
“No, I’m not,” she grinned. Then she pulled a small knife from the pocket of her dress. “I’ve cut all the ties holding the tents down from here all the way to the trees. Lift the tent slowly using the centre rope and shift it slightly ahead. When you hit the next tent, climb under the bottom into it, then do the same thing. Simple as that.”
Emmalyn grinned. “Simple as that,” she repeated. “But we move in two groups. You men are massive. As soon as you lift, the entire tent will shake.”
Oryn didn’t seem impressed, but he nodded. “Abrielle, you and Emmalyn are in the first group with me. Thane, you move with the rest of the warriors.”
The men easily divided into two equal groups. While Emmalyn got to her knees with the first group, the second were practically hugging each other to give them room.
“You tell anyone about this, you’re dead to me,” Thane grumbled as he tried to put some space between himself and the man he was plastered against.
Emmalyn stared at him a minute to gage how serious he was, but when he broke into a grin a small giggle escaped her. He was simply trying to lighten the mood.
“Thank you,” she whispered with feeling. “Be safe.”
Emmalyn didn’t wait for a response. She turned away and crawled under the tent after Oryn. The quicker they got to safety, the quicker she could get to Kell.