Joseph watched the forest line. “Be on your guard,” he ordered. “They could attack at any moment.”
A young troll with a broadsword strapped across his back and a green headband approached him. “General Pinbol, my father is approaching the line.”
“General Brun? Lead him here,” Joseph said. Garet strode forward and nodded to acknowledge Joseph. “What can I do for you?”
“King Stontooth wants you to return to Gruvlick,” Garet stated. “I’m here to relieve you.”
“As the king orders, I follow,” Joseph said. “I would recommend extreme caution. The elves are certain to attack to try to prevent us from venturing into the forest.”
“Don’t worry,” Garet said. “I can handle the tree apes.”
We stopped at a fresh water stream. Michael bent down to fill his canteen. He had been quiet for days. I didn’t know his background, but I did know that he was lonely. Being the only draconian out there had to be a heavy burden. The poor guy had so much trouble expressing himself that he couldn’t come out and say it.
The water in the stream rippled. An image gradually formed. It was a young woman. She had light blond hair; her eyes were entirely white. I couldn’t see pupils or irises. She had a pretty face, pale, but pretty. I could see bits of ash on her. She didn’t show any signs of noticing.
“Michael, I got your message,” she said. I looked over at Michael he didn’t seem surprised to see her at all. I couldn’t help but wonder when he had sent a message to her, and how had he sent it? I hadn’t seen him do anything like that.
“I thank you for your prompt reply,” Michael said. “How is the meeting progressing?”
“The meeting is over, but if you hurry you should be able to get here before he leaves.”
“I will confront him when he is on the road toward Strecner,” Michael stated. “Thank you for the assistance you have always provided for me.”
The strange woman’s expression changed. Her bottom lip quivered slightly. Michael had upset her. Though, I couldn’t tell why. I looked at him; his expression was as fixed as ever. Did he even notice?
“It wasn’t a problem,” she said. “Please, be careful.” She spoke like it was a farewell. Her face vanished from the pool.
“Who was that?”
Michael looked at me like he had forgotten that I was there. “That was Illyana Fensen.”
“Who’s on the road to Strecner? What meeting were you talking about?”
“I must ask you to keep your promise,” Michael ignored my questions completely.
“Promise?” I asked. I wasn’t sure what he meant.
“It is time for you to leave,” Michael stated.
That was when I remembered. He was talking about the promise that I made back when we first met.
“Fine. It’s no wonder you’re so alone, you’re heartless!” I began moving back the way we came. I had two opposing thoughts as I went. The first was the hope that he would stop me. The second was the desire to see him continue on his way so that he wouldn’t see me cry. I got the latter.
I’d thought that we were getting to be friends. Guess I was just fooling myself.
“Father, the elves are attacking!”
Garet grabbed his pike. “Don’t worry, Gino, the two of us can handle this. I haven’t dedicated my life to Ares for nothing.”
The two mounted their horses and rode to the line. There were no elves in sight when they arrived. There were fifteen trolls dead, and seven wounded.
“Get the wounded to the cleric tent,” Garet ordered. “What happened after Gino came to get me?”
“The elves retreated into the wood. We gave pursuit, but their arrows cut us down.”
“Damn those cowards!” Garet cried. “Gino, I want you to lead a party into the wood. Let the elves see you and retreat, trick them into coming this way where we’ll be waiting. If you get into trouble use your horn and I’ll be there as quickly as I can.”
“Yes, Father! We shall triumph!” Gino picked out fourteen trolls to join his party and they moved into the forest.
“I’ve picked out the unit that will use the leech stones,” Lais said. “I thought that you’d like to look over it.”
“You know your soldiers better than I do,” Luc said. “I’m sure you’ve made the best possible decision.”
The two sisters were sitting in the garden behind Ulther. They had been preparing Het Wald’s defences feverishly, both of them were exhausted. A bobcat approached them.
“Don’t worry,” Luc said, seeing her sister’s reaction. “That’s Bastian’s familiar, Strawberry. I had him send her with me in case he needed to get in contact with me.”
Luc bent down in front of Strawberry. She put a hand on the bobcat’s forehead. Very gently, she extracted the thoughts that were on the surface of Strawberry’s mind. A moment later she pulled away.
“Are you all right?” Lais asked. “You look pale.”
“Someone attacked Illyana,” Luc said. “Her chamber was charred and she suffered some severe burns. The worst part is that I can’t help her.”
“You can go,” Lais said. “We can handle things here without you. The Royal One will understand why you had to go.”
“We both know that isn’t true,” Luc said. “Until this war ends I have to remain, no matter how much I might wish that the situation was different.”
She buried her face in her hands. “Why? She’s such a sweet girl. Who would wish to cause her harm?”
“The Wicadian authorities will find out!” Lais reassured her. “And the Academy is full of powerful mages. They won’t let anything happen to her.”
“I pray you’re right,” Luc said. “If I lost her… I don’t know what I’d do. I… I think it would break me. I know I’m not her real mother but…”
“You are!” Lais insisted. “Even if you didn’t birth her, she’s always been the daughter of your heart. And I know she feels the same. And right now, you should at least use a sending spell to talk with her. See that she’s doing okay.”
Luc nodded. “Yes, I’ll do that.”