Healing a Princess...18 (Cabin in the Woods)


Healing a Princess...18

(Cabin in the Woods)



By Tim Knight



“We’re lost, aren’t we.” Tonya muttered.

 “Not lost, my Lady, merely redirected.” Nevyre smiled.

 “What do you mean.?”

 “See how the bank of the river here is all marked up with hoof prints and the trees are scuffed with rope marks?” Nevyre pointed to them as he spoke. 

 Tonya squinted in the dark to make out the markings that he was pointing to.  “Yes.”

 “That means that this was the site for the ferry crossing, but they have moved it.”  Nevyre smirked.

 “Why would they move it?” Tonya asked.

 “Well first off, we had that flood a few days ago.  That alone would cause them to cut the lines and move to a more protected place along the river.  Second off, they move it periodically so that they don’t get caught.  People use this ferry so that they can transport goods between borders without paying taxes or tariffs.  That practice is looked down upon by the local officials.”

 “Then how are we supposed to know where they moved it to?” Tonya asked.

 “They always leave a sign.  I just have to find it.”

 “What kind of sign are we looking for, Nevyre?” Grymm asked.

 “Something out of place, or looks  to have been placed in a pattern on purpose.  Markings on trees, sticks or rocks placed in a pattern…..”

 “How about reeds all bent up stream?” Grymm asked.

 “Where?” Nevyre looked to the Cavalryman.  Grymm walked to the river bank where the churned up sand and mud disappeared into the water.  “There.” Grymm pointed.

 Nevyre looked to where he was pointing.  four reeds had been broken and bent all were pointing up stream, against the current.

 “Good job, Grymm.”  Nevyre clasped the young man across the shoulder.  The new ferry landing is down river.”

 “Down river?” Takoda questioned.  “The reeds are pointing up river.”

 “Exactly.” Nevyre smiled.  “Because people of the law would interpret it exactly as you have.  However, people in my line of work tend not to trust people in your line of work so we are occasionally misleading.”  Nevyre smiled up at the Sergeant.  “It isn’t far.  The four reeds signify that it is just half a league down stream.”  Nevyre swung back upon his horse.

 “I sure hope you are right.” Takoda grimaced.  “It is already dark.  The Pri….. The lady doesn’t do well on long horse rides and we still have a ways to go.”

 “It’ll be just fine, Sergeant.  Trust me.” Nevyre’s smile flashed in the moon light, taking the lead.

 “Yeah, Sergeant.  Trust him.” Grymm snickered.

 With only a few obstacles that they had to ride inland to avoid.  The small party spotted a few lights in the trees next to the river.

 “Let me go ahead and warn them of your coming.” Nevyre cautioned the three Riponians.  “These ferry men and traders can be a little skittish.”

 “I wonder why?” Takoda mocked a surprise.

 Tonya giggled.  “Nevyre, I could use a break, can I get down and rest my leg?”

 “My Lady, I’m afraid that this is not the moment for you to become fragile on us.  Can you stay a horse for just a little bit longer?  I think it would be safer if you took your break once we were a half league on the other side of the river.”  Nevyre bowed slightly to the Princess.

 “Fine.  Just hurry up so we can get on with this.” Tonya shifted in her saddle and rubbed at her leg.

 Nevyre slowly rode through the trees towards the lantern.

 “May I assist you with that, My Lady?” Takoda asked.

 “You can try.” Tonya sighed.

 “Grymm keep an ……”

 “An eye out for danger.  Yes Sir.” Grymm finished the request.

 Takoda, using the palm of his hand pressed in on the muscles of her leg, rubbing is slowly trying to relieve the cramping muscles.  “Is this helping?” Takoda looked up to his Princess.

 “A little.  A break would help more.”  Tonya gritted her teeth as his hand moved over a sore spot.

 “Nevyre is right.  Once we get over the river and away from the ferry a bit.  We can stop.  Perhaps even get a few hours of sleep.”

 “Where?” Tonya grunted.  “We are in the middle of the forest.” 

 “You’ll have to try a new experience,  it’s called camping.” Takoda said.  “It’s how your soldiers sleep when out in the field.  They don’t normally get to stay in inns.  They usually have to sleep where ever they find room.  Sometimes laying down in a muddy hole.”

 “How can anyone sleep in a wet muddy hole?” Tonya asked.

 “If you are tired enough, you can sleep anywhere.”

 “Nevyre’s coming back.” Grymm warned.

 Takoda stopped working on her leg and eagerly waited for Nevyre to re-join them.

 “Okay, Lady Efrata.  I’ve spoke to Dale about taking you across.  He agreed for five silver.  You can have your manservant pay him once we are aboard the ferry.”

 “Five silver?” Takoda gasped.  “We could have booked a ride on a river boat for close to that.”

 “Yes, you could have.”  Nevyre interrupted.  “And had state rooms.  But then everyone in Roberton, Bolton, and even down in Sandpoint and Cleveland rapids would know who was riding the boat and where she was going.”  Nevyre paused to allow them to digest that.  “Now Dale is very sympathetic to Lady Efrata’s plight and will not only make sure that she gets across this river safely and dry, but that no one with in twenty leagues will know that she even came this way.”

 “Five silver.” Takoda shook his head as he dug into his purse.  “This better be a damn smooth river crossing for five silver.”

 “We have to wait here a few more minutes to let a trader and his goods pass by.” Nevyre held them in place.  “People around here trust Dale because he is discreet.  He’ll give us a whistle when he is ready for us to board.”

 Takoda sighed heavily.  “Nevyre, do you know of anyplace on the other side where we might find some sleep.  Her hi…. Ah…. Lady Efrata is quite saddle sore and could use a break.”

 “I’m not too familiar with the woods on that side.” Nevyre shook his head.  “We might find a hunter’s cabin, or woodcutter’s shed.”

 “I have already informed her that we may have to cold camp tonight.”

 A whistle sounded from the river.

 “Our turn. “ Nevyre smiled.  “I’ll keep an eye out for a place for us to bed down.”  Takoda urged his horse forward.

“Oh, by the way.” Nevyre whispered out to him.  “You are Lady Efrata’s manservant and Grymm you are her page.”

 “I’ve been demoted to a page?” Grymm scowled. 

 “It was that or her fop.” Nevyre defended with a big smile.

 The group broke through the underbrush to a trail that led to the riverbank.  A large square raft with rope railings butted up against the shore where the grass had been trampled and churned into the mud.  A lantern hung from a branch in a tree.

 “Welcome.” A large greasy man greeted them.  His un kept hair was quite thin and stuck out from his head a strange angles.  His eyes were a bit yellow, showing signs of liver disease.  “I have heard of your situation, My Lady.  Be at ease, my boys will get you across quickly and safely.” He swept his meaty hands towards the raft. Where three adolescents sat on some crates, leaning against the rope railings.

 Tonya gave the man a cold, bland smile and urged her horse onto the ferry.

 “Your payment.” Takoda dropped the silver into Dale’s meaty hands.  He then followed Tonya onto the ferry.  One of the boys had gotten up and was helping to guide Tonya’s horse to stand towards the middle of the raft.

 Grymm stayed his horse just shy of the ferry awaiting the others placement.

 “You’re right, she is a bit priggish.” Dale smirked to Nevyre.

 “I think it’s in the blood.” Nevyre smiled back.  “You should have met her mother.” He rolled his eyes.  “I’m surprised she could even produce an heir.”

 Dale chuckled with the guide.  “That cold, eh?”

 “I’d rather sleep with one of the great white bears in the North.” Nevyre patted the greasy man’s back.  “Thanks for helping us out Dale.  If everything works out well in Blaire.  I’ll be back with a mule train, looking for your ferry.”

 “I’ll be here…… somewhere.” Dale grinned.  “Safe journey, friend.”

 One of the boys took Nevyre’s horse’s bit and started guiding him on to the ferry beside the others.  Once the horses were loaded and tied off in the center.  The three boys took up stations along one rail and grabbed a thick rope with gloved hands and locked across their shoulder and began walking across the ferry deck, pulling the ferry away from the riverbank. 

Tonya could feel the Raft’s bottom drag across the bottom and then suddenly become free and floating.  With two more pulls the ferry began to pick up momentum in the deeper water.  Tonya could feel the current as it tried to drag the ferry with it down stream.  She could hear the water as it churned against the edges.  A light on the opposite shore slowly started to become closer and closer as the ferry glided towards it.  Like a firefly drawn towards a flame, She thought. 

 “My Lady.”  Takoda said softly as not to startle her.  “There will be a bit of a jarring bump as we land.  I just wanted to warn you.”

 “I’m sure I will be fine, Thank you.”

 The three boys stopped pulling on the rope as they neared the riverbank, allowing the ferry to slowly glide closer and closer.  One of the boys took the rope railing down about the same time as the ferry’s momentum pushed its bulk up on to the shallow gravel bar.  Another boy jumped ashore and picked up a large plank, which he dragged to span the distance between the ferry and the riverbank. 

 “Okay, My Lady.” Takoda whispered, “It is safe to depart.”

 Tonya nudged her horse and crossed the plank and reined in under the lantern hanging in the tree upon this shore.

 “Thank you lads.” Nevyre tossed them each a copper and rode up next to the Princess.  “How far is the trail from here?” he called over to the boys on the ferry.

 “Ahead and to the North.” The older of them called out.  “You can’t miss it even in the dark.”

 The foursome quickly fell into their order with Nevyre taking the lead, Takoda following with Tonya and Grymm taking up the rear.

 “How can you see where you are going?” Tonya hissed.

 “Use your peripheral vision.” Takoda explained.  “If you look directly at an object in the dark, you won’t be able to see it, but if you look next to it, you will see it out the sides of your eyes.”

 “You can see an object by not looking at it?” Tonya asked a bit confused.

 “I’m not sure how it works, my Lady,”  Takoda  went on. “But in the dark the sides of your vision works better.”

 “Is that how Dwarves and Elves see in the dark?” Tonya inquired.

 “How it was described to me, was that in the dark,” Takoda tried to describe something he had never experienced, “Dwarves see things in shades of black and white.  The closer something is to light or giving off light the brighter it is.”  Takoda paused.  “I’m not sure how Elves see in the dark.  I’ve never befriended one to ask?”

 Takoda could hear Grymm snickering behind him.

 “Nevyre, “ Takoda called ahead.  “How far until we find a place to camp?”

 “I want to get a bit further inland, and then off this mule trail.  Say quarter to half a league.” Nevyre called over his shoulder.

 “It’s a little farther than that.” An unfamiliar voice stated from the path ahead of them.

 Nevyre swore and pulled his rapier from its sheath..  He could hear Takoda drawing his sabre as well.


 The streets of Roberton were deserted as Captain Kalhoun and his men raced through.  Not one candle flickered in a window, even though dark shapes could be made out, watching from behind curtains or peering over window sills. 

 Rikki’s mind became numb and yet as sharp as ever.  Over the clattering of his horses hooves, he could hear the claws of a dog as it skittered out of the way.  Could feel the wind blowing in from the North East,  causing the budding leaves on the trees to shiver.  His hearts beat was calm and steady, no longer the manic beat that it had while engaged within the noxious fog. 

 His two forward men slowed their mounts down and turned North up a the private street that was to lead to the Duke of Roberton’s house.  The lane was gravelled with white quarts rock .  The sound of the horses hooves changed to more of a crunching sound as they entered the lane which was lined with large maple trees, their leaves just starting to sprout after the winter’s sleep.  Rikki’s eyes scanned back and forth amongst the trees.  Archers hidden behind a few of these massive tree trunks would make for an ideal ambush.  Flickering lights as the end of the lane came into view as they neared enough to see through the towering iron gates leading to the immense estate house that had surely been handed down through many generations of Trunonians.

 Rikki’s eyes quickly scanned the tops of he stone wall surrounding the estate.  Making sure that Yeoman Bailey’s scouts had cleared any prying eyes.  The towering wrought iron gate was an incredible display of dwarven artisanship.  Scrolls and flowers, vines and even birds were shaped out of iron and woven together in a very tasteful way, showing the family to have had wealth. 

 Inside the gates the gravel lane circled a bed of what looked to be roses.  Large braziers lit the oversized staircase which led up to soaring double doors made of oak and embellished with the same scroll work as the gates.  Skot waited for him on the top step.  Captain Kalhoun quickly signalled for several of his men to circle to the back of the house from each side.  He then reigned Sefu in at the base of the steps and jumped down.

 “There has been no sign of guards or watchmen, Sir.” Skot reported in a hushed voice.  “As the scouts approached the house, we saw a few house servants scramble inside, but nothing since.”

 “No resistance?” Rikki scrubbed a hand through his hair.

 “None, Sir.” Skot replied.

 “Well lets try this the friendly way first.” Captain Kalhoun pulled on a cord just to the side of the massive doors.  Inside a large, deep, bell announced their presence.  Rikki’s ears strained to hear if anyone was approaching the door from the other side. 

His men, sabres drawn bows at the ready flanked both sides of the stairs.  A few peered into leaded glass windows, ready for any movement.  After a few moments, Rikki pulled on the cord again.  This time he motioned for several of the heavy fighters to use a large piece of wood as a battering ram  The deep bell rang again, but seemed to be background noise to the sharpness of the wood slamming into the double doors.  The doors opened with the first strike.  Archers, still mounted, pulled their bowstrings taught in anticipation as the doors swung inward.  The heavy fighters dropped the battering ram and charged into the room ready for an attack.  Several cavalrymen followed in behind them.  Captain Kalhoun walked in, the calm state still hovering about him.  The foyer that they were standing in was lit by a silver chandelier laden with lit candles, as if the owner were expecting them.  Polished marble tiles covered the floor in a herringbone pattern while large bouquets of cherry blossoms were arranged in urns around the room, welcoming the armoured men with cheer.

“What is the meaning of this intrusion!” a voice called.

Captain Kalhoun’s gaze followed a curving staircase up to see a well dressed man standing on the second from the top stair.

“Are you the Duke of Roberton?” Captain Kalhoun demanded.

“I should say not.  I’m his man servant, Lewis.”

“Lewis, could you please tell me where the Duke is at present?” Captain Kalhoun suppressed a shiver.  This man gave him the same feeling that an elf did.

“His Grace had to leave on some urgent, personal, business.” Lewis was on the edge of sneering “You still haven’t answered to why you are attacking his Grace’s Estate house.”

“I’ll have his Grace explain it to you once we have found him.” Captain Kalhoun  shot back.  He looked to his men.  “Search the place, and be careful not to destroy anything other then the quiet.  Ask anyone you find to allow you to escort them back here.”  Captain Kalhoun watched in satisfaction as his men quickly and quietly broke off into twos and began searching the house.

“What right does the Riponian army have to search his Grace’s estate!” Lewis exclaimed.  He still hadn’t moved from his location, but he seemed even more ridged than he had a moment ago.

“Under his Majesty Talison’s treaty with Riponia,  I have the right to take any and all measures I see fit to ensure the safe passage of her Royal Highness, Princess of Riponia…. That includes making sure that places that she is invited to stay at are safe.”

“His Grace, will no doubt be informing their Majesties of your heavy handed approach, Captain.” Lewis pointedly ignored the twelve cavalrymen who slid by him to search the upstairs floors.

“Lewis, how long have you been employed by his Grace?” Captain Kalhoun asked pointedly.

“I have been his Grace’s manservant for almost ten years.” Lewis stated with arrogance.

By ones and twos, servants were escorted into the main foyer by the cavalrymen, who then returned to search for more.  Captain Kalhoun kept his eyes upon the manservant.  “Lewis, could you please come down here and join these good people?” Captain Kalhoun’s voice dictated that it was not a request.  Only when Lewis began to slowly descend the stairs did the Ripoinian Captain look over the servants. 

They were all young, none older than their mid-twenties.  All looked to be underfed and worked hard.  A few had dark circles under their eyes and all looked to be quite frightened.  The Captain noticed a few glance nervously to Lewis before looking back  down at the floor in front of them. 

Captain Kalhoun walked up to a young, frightened girl, who looked to be in her late teens.  She looked especially frightened.  She almost shook as he approached her.

“What’s your name?” Captain Kalhoun asked very softly.

“Attea, Sir.” She almost whispered.

“Attea, my name is Rikki.” He practically cooed.  “Attea? Could I see your hand?” he asked.

Attea hesitated a moment.  She glanced quickly in Lewis’s direction before slowly raising her hand for the Captain.  Attea flinched as he gently took her hand into his.  It was cold, almost clammy under his calloused hands.

“You have very pretty hands.” He lied.  They were in fact dirty beyond belief  as if she hadn’t seen a bath in a month or more.  He gently pushed the sleeve of her blouse up her forearm revealing several scars on the inside of her wrist.

Attea’s lip began to tremble as the Captain gently stroked her hand.  Rikki gently slid her sleeve back down and released her hand.  “Thank you Attea.” 

Rikki looked over the growing group and selected a young boy who must be in his early twenties.

“May I see your wrist?” he asked the lad.  The young man shivered as he pulled his sleeve back and showed the Riponian Captain two dozen scars that laced and banded his arm.

“Thank you.” Rikki said trying to keep his voice calm.  One after another, he asked the servants to reveal their arms.  All were scarred, some were older.  While a few still had scabs on them.

“The Garrison is taken care of, Captain.” Sergeant Galyway declared, as he entered the foyer.  Captain Kalhoun turned to face him.  “we didn’t even get to break a sweat.”

“Sergeant, have a few of your men start hitching up all of the carriages you can find on the premises.”

“Yes Sir.” Sergeant Galyway turned and stormed back out of the house.

“You are confiscating his Grace’s carriages and horses?” Lewis questioned with a raised brow.

Captain Kalhoun spun around.  “Be quiet, Lewis.” He spat.  Several of the servants flinched.  A few blanched.  Captain Kalhoun stalked over to the man servant.

“Let me see your wrist, Lewis.”

Lewis sighed, and rolled his eyes then jerked his sleeve up and showed a wrist with two faded scars upon the wrist.

“I don’t see what this…..”

Captain Kalhoun punched the manservant in the jaw, knocking him out cold.  “I told you to be quiet.”

One of the serving women fainted and was caught by a man standing next to her.

“The person who did this to you was will be dealt with by the Trunonian law.”  The Captain announced.  “Do any of you know where the Duke of Roberton is?”  His eyes took them all in, looking for any hint of recognition, a nod of their head, or even movement of their eyes   As of right now you are all under the protection of the Riponian cavalry.  We will be temporarily relocating you to a safer place, until the person who has caused these injuries can be caught.”

Captain Kalhoun turned to one of his soldiers.  “Corporal, make sure they have cloaks and blankets.  Pull them off the beds if you have too.”

“What about the Duke?” Galyway posed, as her re-entered the foyer.

“It sounds like he fled.” Captain Kalhoun growled.  “I don’t have time to chase after him.  I need to get our caravan and these people to Bolton.”

“What do you want done with the manservant, Captain?”  Galyway adjusted his mailed gloves.

“Gag him, hog tie him, and put him in one of the carriages with a guard.” Captain  Kalhoun ordered.  He raised his voice so all those in the immediate area could hear.  “Pass it along, I want to be leaving here in 15 minutes!”


 Monyka fingered her necklace as she squinted in the dark trying to make out the faces of the people in the wagons as they passed.  The Princess had to be somewhere in here.  They had gone through a lot of effort to make the switch with the half-elf Taelah.  Captain Kalhoun wouldn’t take the chance of taking her back up into the main body, or even sneak her back into the royal carriage, would he?  Knowing that an attack was immanent, would he risk her safety, her life to put her back in the carriage?

 “Rider!” a call came from the front of their procession.  Monyka pushed her horse into a gallop to get to the front.   She arrived in time to see a cavalryman, rein in next to Kadyr. 

 “The Captain wants you to pick up the Royal Carriage up ahead and push through Roberton and on to Bolton.” Monyka heard the man report.

 “Where is the Captain, now?” Lieutenant Kollyns inquired.

 “He took the main body into Roberton on a snatch and grab, Sir.  He seemed pretty upset about the Duke’s ambush.”

 “Thank you Cavalryman.  Take your horse back and get a fresh one.  We are going to have a long night.” Kadyr instructed.

 “Yes Sir.” The Cavalryman saluted before riding off.

 Monyka dropped her necklace and spurred her horse to catch up with the Lieutenant.  “Where is she Kadyr?” She was surprised at how strong her voice sounded when she felt so scared on the inside.  Kadyr looked over at her and shook his head.

 “Where is she?” Her voice was growing louder. 

Kadyr reigned in his horse.  “I can’t tell you, my Lady.” He stated.  “I’m sorry you are upset, but I can’t tell you.”

 “I am her closest friend and Lady in Waiting.  You will tell me where she is.  I have looked up and down the wagon train and not seen her. “  People looked oddly at her as they passed driving their wagons.  “ Is the Captain so blind as to risk taking her into battle with him against this Duke?”

 “She is safe, Monyka, I swear she is.”  Hurt began to creep into his voice.

 “She cannot be safe if I am not with her, Kadyr.  Tell me where she is!”  Monyka’s fists were clenched so tight that her nails were digging into her palms.  The pain felt good compared to the pain in her heart.

 “Monyka,” Kadyr looked her in the eye then looked away.”  If I tell you, It could risk her safety.  We have been attacked once tonight.  Whose to say we won’t be attacked again. And if you were captured who knows what they would do to you to find out where she is.”

 Monyka’s hand shot out from no-where and slapped him across the face.  His jaw clenched and his ears turned red with anger.

 “How dare you insinuate that I would put her safety in danger.” Monyka spat.  “Tell me, now!”

 “I’m sorry, Monyka.” Kadyr practically whispered..  “I have sworn an oath to protect her, same as the Captain.  I will not risk her safety by telling you until I have the Captain’s permission.”  At that, he wheeled his horse around and began galloping up the road.

 “Damn you!” Monyka started to weep.  “Damn you, and your Captain!”

 She sat in her saddle, cried as the wagons passed by.

 “What is going on, Monyka?” a voice intruded upon her venting.

 Monyka looked up to see Ambassador Zareb’s head sticking out of his carriage as it rolled by.  Monyka guided her mount up to Zarebs window.  “I don’t know where Tonya is.” She almost sobbed.

 “What ever do you mean, child?” Zareb inquired.

 “The Princess, Tonya.” Monyka swallowed a sob, and wiped at her eyes.  “The Captain and Lieutenant have done something with her and they won’t tell me what.  I don’t know where she is, or if she is even alive.”

 “They’ve done what?”  Zareb’s voice was full of surprise

 “When we stopped to allow her to change, before the attack, “ Monyka dried her eyes with her sleeve.  “We made a switch.  The Captain put that half-elf woman in the royal carriage, posing as the Princess, and Tonya was supposed to be travelling back here for safety.”  Monyka’s voice didn’t shake anymore as she picked up steam in her rant.  “After we were attacked I went looking for her and haven’t been able to find her.  The Lieutenant knows where she is but won’t tell me.  He just keeps saying that she is safe.”

 As she was finishing her tirade, the procession came to a halt.

“What now?” Zareb rolled his eyes with exasperation.  “You there, soldier, come here.” He called to one of the mounted guards.

 “Yes, Ambassador?” the guard dipped his head slightly.

 “Find whoever is in charge of this….. this circus and have him come talk to me at once.”

 “Yes, Ambassador.” The guard galloped off towards the head of the convoy.
 “There, now we should get to the bottom of this.” Ambassador Zareb sniffed.  “Are you sure that the Princess isn’t in one of the wagons?”

 Monyka nodded.  “I rode up and down looking into each one as well as looking to see if she might be in disguise.  She isn’t here, Ambassador.”

 “What do you need that is so urgent, Ambassador?” Kadyr asked riding up.

 “I want to know where the Princess is, Lieutenant.”  Ambassador Zareb demanded.  “I want to make sure that she is safe and well.”

 Kadyr looked straight at Monyka.  “As I have told the Lady, here.  The Princess is currently safe.”  He looked at the Ambassador with a challenging look then directed it back to Monyka.  “I will not divulge her location until we get to Bolton.” Kadyr was almost growling.  “If I have to hog tie you and toss you in a wagon with a gag, to ensure her safety, my Lady, I will.” He looked back to the Ambassador.  “That goes for you too, Ambassador.  Every time you make an inquiry as to her where-abouts you put her into more possible danger.  So I strongly urge you to allow the Captain and myself to do our jobs and keep her safe.”

 “Bolton?  I thought we were stopping in Roberton tonight?” Ambassador Zareb looked startled.

 “The Captain has deemed Roberton to be unsafe for us to stop in.” Kadyr informed them.  A few sighs and gasps were heard from some of the nearby servants.  “We are to push on through Roberton and proceed to Bolton, where we will be able to rest in security.”  Kadyr lowered his voice for only the Ambassador and Monyka to hear.  “When we get to Bolton we can reveal Princess Tonya to you, but not before so don’t ask again.”

 “Lieutenant, we’ve got the tree cleared.” A voice called from up ahead.

 Kadyr gave the two one last hard look before turning his horse.  “Move out.  We need to get to push on through.” He called back.


 “I mean you no harm, friend.“ the young man said, he took a step forward, hands before him empty.  “The forest can be dangerous, especially at night.  And there have been a lot of rumours of Elves in these parts lately.”

 “I haven’t heard of Elves in these parts.” Nevyre looked at the stranger. 

 “You don’t live here, then?” the young man stated.  “If you did, you’d catch a glimpse of one now and again too.”  There was a pause.  “My brother, Nekk and I have a cabin not far from here.  Please allow me to share our shelter for the night…....It’s going to start raining again soon.  I would think you’d prefer a roof and dry place to sleep, over a cold, wet ground.”

 Nevyre glanced back at Takoda, who seemed to be weighing the possibilities.

 “Think of it as trade.” The stranger inserted.  “I have a stag over here that I have to carry back to the cabin.  It would be easier if I could have your help.” Another pause.  “My brother’s wife makes a great stew and would appreciate another woman to talk with.”

 “Your hospitality would be most welcomed,  ah…..” Tonya fumbled for a name.

 “Oh, ‘scuse my bad manners, Lady.  I’m Bo.”  The stranger introduced himself.

 “Pleased to meet you, Bo.”  Tonya guided her horse beside Takoda’s.  “I’m Efrata, and these are my servants, Nevyre, Takoda, and Grymm.”  Bo smiled, and nodded to each in turn.  “Where is this stag of yours that we can assist you with?”

 “Its just over there.” Bo pointed into the trees.  “My bow and axe are there as well.  When I heard someone approaching I hid along the trail.  Like I said, there are Elves lurking about.  When I over heard you looking for a camp, I thought, to myself, ‘Bo, here is an opportunity, you can’t pass up.  They can help you carry the stag, and you can provide them with a dry place to sleep.’”

 “Grymm could you please help Bo drag the stag over here to the trail.  I really don’t want to take the horses into the underbrush in this darkness, they might misstep and injure a leg.” Takoda smiled.

 “Good thinking.” Bo smiled.  “I don’t know too much about horses, we don’t have one here in the woods, but I can imagine how one bad step could ruin a good horse.”

 Once Grymm and Bo were in the woods, Takoda leaned closer to Tonya.  “Next time, Efrata, don’t use our real names when dealing with strangers.”

 “You didn’t give me any names to call you by.  How else am I supposed to call you.  Besides if what he said was true, he has already heard us call each other by our real names.”

 Takoda blinked.  She was right.  If she had introduced them to Bo by different names than what he had overheard, it could go bad, after all they were on a smuggler’s trail in the middle of the night.

 It didn’t take Grymm and Bo much time to sling the stag carcass over Grymm’s mount. 

 “I’ll lead.” Bo volunteered.  “Just up here we’ll be taking a another game trail.”  Bo silently jogged ahead of them,  as they made their way through the dark forest. 

 A third of a league later, Tonya could smell wood smoke in the air.  The trail seemed to be wider here than it had, back where they had turned off and there were more and more signs of human presence.  Axe marked stumps, and holes in the tree canopy along the trail where branches had been cleared.  

They rounded a large stump and came into view of a small wood cabin nestled amongst the tall trees.  A large pile of neatly stacked wood sat beside the cabin.  It’s almost dwarfed the cabin in size.  In front of it was a large squat stump used as a chopping block with an axe sticking out of it.  Some deer hides were nailed to the side of the house along with what looked to be wolf, and bear hides.

“Welcome to our very humble shack.” Bo smiled to them.  “I’ll go warn Nekk and Ahnni that we have visitors.  Go ahead and hobble the horses around the side of the cabin there.”  Bo directed.  “Grymm could you leave the stag to the side of that shed there?” Bo pointed to a small shed up against a massive fir tree. “Thanks.”  He quickly entered the door.  The fire and light from inside seemed to be blindingly bright compared to the dark that they had come used to since the river crossing.

Grymm deposited the stag before joining the others. 

“I’ll stay out here and take care of the horses.” Nevyre volunteered.  I would like to make a circuit of the cabin, just to ease my conscious.”

“Should we leave them saddled?” Grymm asked.  “Just in case we need to make a hasty departure?”

“If we need to leave suddenly, the horses will only help them track us.” Takoda looked out into the trees.  “Let them rest tonight.  I’ll check on them before going to bed.”

“Grymm, I’m going to need your help.” Tonya touched his shoulder.  “I don’t think I can take more than two steps.  My leg is killing me.”

 Something cool and wet hit Tonya’s face.  Followed by another and another.  Suddenly the forest sounded alive with a soft tapping of rain striking leaves, branches and the ground.  Grymm put his arm around Tonya’s waist and allowed her to lean into him.  Slowly they began to make their way to the cabin door.

 The door suddenly swung open and Bo stepped out.  “Come, get inside before you get soaked.”

 Grymm helped Tonya inside where they were met by a portly blonde woman with a large smile and caring eyes.  “Are you alright?” She asked.  “Are you hurt?  Bo you didn’t tell me that they were hurt…….”

 “I’m not hurt.  It’s an old injury that has been aggravated by a long day in the saddle.” Tonya winced as she stepped again.

 “Do you need to lay down, or would you prefer to sit by the fire?” the woman asked.

 “The fire would be soothing.” Tonya smiled.

 “Nekk, grab a one of the winter comforters out of the chest.” She called over her shoulder.  “You can sit her down in that rocker there.” Ahnni pointed.  “It isn’t much, but its had a lot of years of wear and it’s next to the fire.  Bo?  Bo get in here and bring me that bench so that we can prop the Lady’s leg up.”

 “I’m so sorry to impose upon you with out warning.” Tonya gritted her teeth as Grymm helped to ease her into the rocker.

 “Nonsense.” Ahnni waved a hand.  “These woods have been dangerous lately with those Elves and what not out there.  No one should be wandering out there, especially on a night like this.”

 “Here you are, Ahnni.” Bo placed a short bench in front of the rocker.

 “Nekk, where are you with that comforter?” Ahnni called. Then under her breath, so that only Tonya could hear. “I swear, the more urgent you need something from men, the slower they move.”

 “Is this the one?” a thin man called from the bedroom door.

 “No, no, I said to get the one from the chest.  I don’t want this Lady to use our ragged old blanket.”

 “It’s a blanket, what do she need it for anyway, she ain’t wet and she’s already next to the fire.” Nekk grumbled from the door.  He was so thin and weathered, he reminded Tonya of a dried apricot.  “Besides how do you know she is a Lady, she could be one of them succubus’s sent by them pointy ears to kill us.”

 “Nekk, that is enough nonsense from you.  Get that comforter from the chest or I’ll have you sleeping out in the smoke shack.”  Ahnni positioned the bench next to Tonya’s leg.  “As soon as he brings that comforter, We’ll put your leg up here.” She smiled to Tonya.  “Bo, put some fresh water in the kettle and put it over the fire.”  She looked back to Tonya.  I’ll make you some willow bark tea that will help with the leg.”

 Tonya smiled weakly.  She hated the taste of willow bark tea, but she just couldn’t tell this kindly woman that.

 Ahnni took the kettle of fresh water from Bo and placed it on the fire herself then stirred the contents of a black pot.  The scent of herbed stew filled the room.  Ahnni turned towards the bedroom again.  “Nekk did you find it?”

 “The blue one?” Nekk called back.

 “No, under the blue one.  It’s the white one with the red.  Bring that one out.”

 “This one?” Nekk called from the door, holding up a white and red quilt.

 “Yes.  Give it here.  I want to put her leg up, it’s awfull swollen.”

 Nekk roughly handed the quilt over to his wife and rolled his eyes before sitting down in the far corner and started punching holes in a piece of leather.

 “Don’t pay him any mind, my Lady.” Ahnni smiled  She folded the quilt on the bench, then gently lifted Tonya’s leg and scooted the bench under her calve.  “It’s not you, he don’t like.  He just don’t like people.  That’s one of the reasons we live so far out in the middle of the forest.  This way he won’t go bothering the neighbours with his grumpiness.”

 “More like they won’t go bothering me, with their yapping.” Nekk grumbled under his breath. 

 Takoda entered the door carrying an arm load of firewood.  His grey hair was plastered to his head and water dripped from his nose.

 “You didn’t need to do that.” Ahnni greeted him.

 “The least I could do, Ma’am.” Takoda strode over to the fireplace and stacked the wood atop the dwindling pile.

 “Ahnni, this is my manservant, Takoda, and this strapping young man is my page, Grymm.” Tonya introduced.

 “Oh my, where are my manners.” Ahnni gasped.  “You must think I’m as uncivilized as Nekk.  My name is Ahnni, but I guess you already figured that part out.” She took a breath.  “Bo, you said that there were four guests.  Do we need to work on your figuring again?”

 “There is one more.” Takoda answered.  “The Lady’s Groom is taking care of the horses.  He’ll be in shortly.”

 “Well, Takoda, you stand here next to the fire and try to dry out a bit.  Bo, set the table so that I can feed these poor, half-starved dears.”

 “Half starved my arse, their horses probably eat better than we do, ‘specially with your cooking.” Nekk grumbled to himself in the corner.

 Tonya looked around at her surroundings for the first time.  The small cabin was as clean as a room in the palace.  She had half expected to see cobwebs to dressing the corners, but not one hint of spider silk could be seen. 

The cabin consisted of three rooms.  The main room they were in was divided in two by the fireplace.  One side of the fire place consisted of a kitchen and dinning area the other the sitting and living area.  The wall behind her had a door cut into it which led into a small dark room.  The wall on other side of the fireplace had a door cut into it which, from the earlier exchange, was Ahnni and Nekk’s bedroom.

A large basket between the chair she was occupying and the stack of firewood contained some sewing and it looked that Ahnni had her hands full with darning socks.  In the opposite corner of the cabin, Nekk sat on a stool, and diligently avoided their company while working some leather.  All of the free space of the walls contained small shelves full with storage, or hooks laden with miscellaneous projects and tools.

“Ahnni, I’ve got to take care of that stag, and then I need to check the ah……. You know, make the rounds.” Bo put the last of the bowls on the table.

“Would you like some help?” Takoda asked.  I can’t get much wetter than I already am.”

“No, no, It won’t take me too long to do this.” Bo looked a bit nervous.  “But Ahnni, could you save me some of your wonderful stew?”

“It would taste better with more seasoning.” Nekk mumbled.

“If you would get your goods to Bolton, and sell them, maybe you could buy some more seasoning.” Ahnni snapped at him.

Bo pulled on a coat, seated a hat on his head and went out into the downpour.

“Is there anything that I could do to help you, Ahnni?” Takoda asked.

“Thank you Takoda.  In fact there is.  Could you go into that bread box.  I baked a loaf earlier today.  Could you cut it up for me?”  Ahnni directed.  “Wow, imagine what could get done if all men were as helpful.” She spoke at Nekk.

“Imagine the peace and quiet we could have if women wouldn’t talk.”  Nekk murmured to his leather work.

Ahnni pulled the steaming kettle out of the fire and poured the water into a crude earthen mug and started adding different things to it from a small cabinet full of jars. 

“Here, let this steep just a bit longer before sipping on it.  I added some honey to help with its bitterness and some Golden-spider lichen to it to help you sleep tonight.” She handed the mug to Tonya.  “Takoda, Grymm have a seat at the table and I’ll bring you some stew.”

The two men didn’t waste time in finding a place to sit.  Nekk looked up at the two, shook his head and went back to his work.

 Ahnni brought the pot of stew to the table and ladled some into a bowl, added a spoon and some bread to it.  “Help yourself to as much as you’d like.  Nekk and I already ate. Just save some for Bo and your friend.”

Ahnni brought the bowl to Tonya who put her tea down to receive the stew.  She could already start to feel its warm through the clay bowl.  She blew on a spoonful and tasted it.  Her stomach immediately started to growl.  She hadn’t realized how hungry she was, but after thinking about it, she hadn’t eaten since lunch, and that was a sandwich.

“This is very good, Ma’am.” Takoda complimented between mouthfuls.

Tonya cleaned the inside of her bowl with her bread, then sipped at her tea.  The fire, warm food, and warm drink were already starting to take it’s toll, weighing down her eyelids.

She must have drifted off, for then next thing she knew, the door to the cabin closed behind a soaking wet Bo, and Nevyre.  Bo was carrying a large earthen jug with him.  Tonya looked around and found that her tea and bowl had been removed without her knowing and were no where in sight.

“You need to try some of this.” Nevyre handed an earthen jug to Takoda.

“Shhhh, you’ll wake the Lady.” Ahnni cautioned.  She looked over and saw that Tonya was already awake.  “I’m sorry, for their waking you up, my Lady.”

Tonya waved away the intrusion as her eyelids closed again.

 <em><strong>“Oh no, Rikki!  Rikki, I’m slipping! “
 “Lay flat, Tonya, lay flat!”
 “I can’t I…. Aaaahhhh.”
 Tonya felt desperately for a hand hold as she slid down the wet slate roof.  Her hand grabbed something hard and closed around it as her body slid over the edge.  Her feet kicked wildly as they fought to grab something solid to hold on to.
 “Help!  Help me!”
 “Hold on, Tonya, I’m coming!”  Rikki called as he scrambled down the wet tiles to her.  He flattened himself out and slid head first down the roof to her aid.  His hands caught around her wrist and held on.
 “Don’t let go!” she screamed.” Don’t let me fall, Please, Rikki!”
 “I’ve got you,”
 “I can’t hang on any longer, My hand is slipping.  Rikki, Hang on!”
 “I can’t Tonya, You’re slipping…..  You’re slipping…..Toooonnnnnyyyyaaa!”
 Tonya fell backwards as Rikki’s grip slipped. 
 Air, nothingness but air enveloped her as she fell.  dark clouds whirled overhead, threatening to drop even more rain upon the Summer Estate.  Rikki’s eyes wide in horror as she fell away from him.  She turned to look at the approaching flagstones but in its place, tall grass.  
She landed at a run, as if she had leapt a stone or log.  Running.  She was running through a meadow of tall grass, sprinkled here and there with wildflowers.  Running, with no pain.  No discomfort.  Running faster than she ever dreamed possible.  The wind roared in her ears as it sped by, whipping her blonde locks behind her.  The tall grass whipped at her thighs as her legs propelled her, powerful and full of energy.  Tonya pushed harder, testing her speed.  Her breathing quickened, her arms pumped faster, her pulse beat hard in her chest as she sprinted across the meadow.
“Easy there twinkle toes.” Rikki called out to her.  Tonya ran at him, awed at how fast she was approaching him.
“I’m running Rikki, I’m running.”  She called out in breathy rasps as she sped on towards him.
Rikki reached out and caught her as she attempted to rush by.  Her speed caught him and whirled him around as his strong arms pulled her close to his chest.  Her feet flew out behind her as he used her momentum to spin her around him.  As the momentum gave out he lowered her, giggling, to the ground, keeping her firm with in his embrace.  His smile lit up his face, warming her heart.
“I can run, Rikki.” Tonya laughed.  I can run with out pain, and I can run fast.”
Rikki laughed and kissed her on the forehead and looked into her eyes.  “Is this really what you want, Tonya?” he asked.
“To be able to move without pain?  To Run?” It is all I’ve dreamed of.”
“Can you live with those legs?” he asked looking down towards her feet.
Tonya’s eyes followed his gaze and bit back as scream.  The legs she was standing on, the legs that she has just run on weren’t her legs.  They were overly muscular and covered with hair.  The feet, her feet were overly large, callused, dirty and slightly discoloured.  Tonya looked at them for a moment.  They were ugly.  They were hairy, blotchy, ugly legs.  But they were powerful, they didn’t hurt and she could run fast with them.
Tonya looked back up at Rikki.  She swallowed, and smiled.  “Yes.” She said.   “ I can live with these legs.”</strong></em>

 Tonya opened her eyes to a strange small room.  The bed she was lying in was not her own, nor was it a goose down bed of an inn.  This bed although stuffed with straw did seem comfortable  enough.  The quilt on top of her was a patchwork of green fabrics. The walls of rough hewn logs, fit together tightly held a small window which allowed dappled sunlight in.   The back of a stone fireplace radiated heat next to the bed.  Tonya wiped the sleep from her eyes and stretched.  Memory of the strange dream caught her mid stretch.  She flung the green quilt off her and examined her legs.  To see if they were her pain filled ones or the hairy, ugly, powerful legs of her dream.  She sighed deeply.  Not knowing if she was relieved or disappointed. 

 A knock came at the door.  Tonya jerked the quilt over her legs as the door opened and Ahnni  stepped in.  “Good morning, my Lady.” She smiled.  “Your servants have been very helpful around the cabin this morning.  I have some breakfast for you….. I’m afraid it isn’t much.  Some bacon and some corn cakes with honey.”

 Tonya scooted up in bed as Ahnni came in with the plate of food.  “How did I get in here?” She asked.  “I remember falling asleep next to the fire and that was all.”

 “You were pretty tired, my Lady.” Ahnni replied.  You barely finished your dinner before you were nodding off.  I had your manservant bring you in here.  I figured with your leg being as sore and you being so tired, you needed a good place to sleep.  Oh don’t be alarmed.  I scooted him out and tucked you in my self.”

 “Thank you, Ahnni.” Tony said around a bite of bacon.  “I could have slept next to the fire out there, I was comfortable.  I feel so bad, now, I kept you from your own bed.”

 “Don’t think anymore on it.” Ahnni brushed the thought away with her hand.  “Bo had to do some late night chores out in the woods and I took his bed.  Now hurry up in here.  Your servants are getting the horses ready to go and will be itching to get you on in to Bolton.  Will you need assistance in getting dressed?”

 Tonya shook her head and smiled with her mouth full of the honey dripping corn cakes.

 Nevyre and Takoda had the horses all ready saddled, packed and ready to go when she emerged from the cabin into the soft sunlight.

 “I take it, you slept well, my lady?” Nevyre smiled with a slight bow.

 Tonya ignored him and turned to Ahnni.  “Thank you so much for opening your home to us.”

 Ahnni swept her up in her arms and gave her a big hug.  “It was an honour to host you, my Lady.  It will give me something to brag about when the sewing circle gets together next month.”

 Tonya pulled back and took Ahnni’s hand.  “This isn’t much in payment for the wonderful hospitality you showed us. But I want you to have it.”  Tonya pressed something into the woman’s hand.  Ahnni opened her hand to reveal broach.  The center of the piece held a ruby the size of Ahnni’s small finger nail.  The red stone was surrounded by diamonds.  It was a simple piece, yet elegant.

 “My Lady,  I can’t take this.” Ahnni protested.  “It’s too much.”
“Use it as proof of my visit at the sewing circle and when you have a daughter, you may use it as a dowry.” Tonya smiled.  “Besides, red, really isn’t my color.”

 Tears welled up in Ahnni’s eyes.  “I don’t know what to say.”

 “I find that ‘thank you’ works well.” Tonya smiled and turned to Grymm who helped her up into her saddle.

 Tonya seated herself and found Ahnni by her foot.  “Thank you Lady Efrata.”

 “Tell Bo and Nekk goodbye for us please.” Tonya asked.

 Nevyre with the rest of the party started their horses for a small trail that led North through the trees.

 Takoda looked back at the small cabin.  Ahnni smiled and winked at him as he rounded a tree in the trail, obscuring her from view.
<em><strong><small>Thus Ends Part Eighteen</small></strong></em>

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