I sat in my chambers. Father had his guards watching the door. Apparently, he didn’t trust me not to try and run off. He always had to be astute at the most inconvenient times. I could hear their breathing through the wood. One of them was tapping his foot against the ground. I touched my wall and sent an earnest request to Demeter for aid. I waited for a chance; eventually I closed my eyes and fell into a restless sleep.
I awoke close to midnight. A vine was nuzzling my leg. Strange. I followed the vine to my window and looked down. It had grown from the ground and reached up to the window. I tested the vine’s strength and smiled. It would be enough to hold my weight. Even if I was a little heavier it would have worked. I put on a forest green travelling cloak and placed two knives with hilts shaped like tangled vines into my belt. Then I squeezed through the small opening and used the vine to grapple down.
I placed my arms as widely as I could on Heltsger’s smooth trunk. There was no chance that I was actually going to hug her. She was far too wide. This was the best I could manage. “I’ll miss you, Heltsger, but I have to do this.” I looked up at the vine. “Thank you, Demeter.” The instant my back was turned I heard a light slurping sound. I glanced abaft. The vine was gone.
“Lynai, open this door now!” The Royal One was furious. The door to his daughter’s room seemed to be barricaded.
Lan tapped the door lightly. “Lyn, this isn’t going to help. Come out here and let’s all talk about this.”
The Royal One pushed Lan aside. “All you ever want to do is talk. Go back to your books and leave this problem to someone competent.”
Lan shrugged and walked away. He passed Luc Elivy on his way downstairs. She glanced very briefly at his retreating form as she ascended.
“Miss Elivy, you have come.”
Luc bowed. “What would you have me do, Royal One?”
“My daughter is using magic to block her doorway. I would like you to get this open, without harming Heltsger of course.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Luc sat in the Lotus position. The blackness of her pupils spread out to encompass the entirety of her eyes. After a moment they returned to normal. “Royal One, it is not your daughter’s power keeping this door closed. It is Heltsger’s.”
The Royal One’s eyes widened. “What? What could Heltsger hope to accomplish? Lynai will have to come out eventually.”
“She is hiding the fact that your daughter is gone. I am certain of it.”
“Gone?” The Royal One grabbed Luc’s shoulders. “How is that possible?”
Luc straightened up. “I don’t know, but I do know that the only life force in that room is Heltsger’s.”
“Troll blood! Guards spread out! Find my daughter and bring her back, immediately!”
The grass by the road wasn’t growing properly. The earth wasn’t to blame; I could sense that the soil was excellent. It was an ill-omen, a warning from the goddess. It probably concerned the trolls. I ignored the impulse that overtook me. I couldn’t go back. I had already turned away from my royal duties. I am a selfish being. I wanted nothing more than to live the life of an ordinary citizen without the burdens of royalty. I even knew what I wanted in a mate. I wanted someone who was intelligent, without the snobbery that too often accompanies intelligence. Someone strong, but also gentle and free of arrogance. Someone kind, but also wild. Someone outgoing and fun. Someone who would empathise with me and actually care about my feelings. Who would see past my title. I had no intention of being unreasonable either. I was willing to make concessions. A little arrogance might be okay. I thought of the priestess, Inés, who had visited Het Wald not long ago and felt my face flush.
My reverie was interrupted by a sound in front of me. There were half a dozen of them, they had the look of bandits. They stared like vultures who have sighted carrion. I clutched my knife hilts and tried to blend into my cloak. I could feel their tread, there weren’t any in hiding. They either had nothing to hide or they were arrogant. They were looking straight at me. I kept my head down and began to move past them. One reached out and pulled me back by my cloak.
“Hey there, miss, don’t be in such a hurry. Spend some time with us.”
I turned slightly. He was clean-shaven with long blond hair and bright blue eyes. I pushed his hand away. “I would rather not. Release me, I’m in a hurry.”
He whistled. “We’ve got a live one, boys.”
One of them eyed me like a ravenous lion. His scent betrayed that he disliked bathing. He had short brown hair and brown weasel eyes. “She’ll sell well, provided we don’t break her too badly.”
I had heard enough. I drew my knives and twirled about. The cold steel penetrated their leader’s throat, assuming the one who grabbed me was their leader. The rest of them drew their weapons. There was the sound of four blades being freed from sheathes.
I quickly backed up against the tree and faced them. Two of them had long swords, one had a bow, one had an axe and the final one carried a dagger.
I pressed my hand against the tree and sent my magic into it. For a brief instant my blood pulsed with the water intake of the roots. I could taste the tree’s life source. As I moved my free hand down, the tree’s branch moved with me and broke the neck of the axe-wielder.
The archer forced me to abandon my post with an arrow. It was planted into the tree where my shoulder had been a moment before. I rolled forward and shot my body upward, slashing at the neck of one of the swordsmen. He parried my blow, and his allies were on me. I dodged to the side and narrowly avoided a sword stroke. Luckily the bandit with the dagger wasn’t as skilful. He fell by his own ally’s attack.
I threw one of my knives at the archer. It became embedded in his skull. One of the swordsmen elbowed me in the chest and the other grabbed my arms. “Should we sell her or avenge the others?”
“We’ll sell her. No point wasting the profit.”
I squirmed but he held fast. “This is your own fault for struggling.” The second swordsman grabbed my cloak. I could hear hooves in the distance, but they wouldn’t get here on time. I worked my muscles as hard as I could, but I was held fast. I couldn’t get enough leverage to use my knife. A twig breaking behind the bandit interrupted him before he could do anything more than just keep me pinned. A stranger in a dark cloak was passing on the road.
“Keep moving, this doesn’t concern you.” The bandit’s voice was threatening.
The stranger turned around. I couldn’t tell if sie was a man or woman. Hir face was hidden in the shadows of hir cloak. When sie spoke hir voice was soft, even lyrical. “You will release the lady and you will leave. I have no desire to engage in battle against weaklings.”
“Weaklings?” The swordsmen glared at hir. I could tell that they were going to force hir to prove that statement and there would certainly be bloodshed. I just hoped it would be enough to allow me to free myself.