Part 5 of the south wood series.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The prince wanted me to join him in his attempt to save the magical creatures of the kingdom? Not only that, but he thinks I am some sort of mystical protector?
“So, what is your answer?” Ravi’s voice cut through my panic. His hand still extended to me lay between us, a temptation and a terror.
“Your majesty!” a gravelly voice interrupted my response. “Your feast grows cold.”
“Elder Cantu.” Prince Ravi stood up.
I recognized the man standing there as one of the men that had been on stage during Ravi’s speech. His white hair and beard flowed down over his broad frame. So this was one of the elders that didn’t bother to rub elbows with the common folk. His dark eyes darted between Ravi and I. He was obviously wondering what business I had with the prince that brought me out here.
“I hope I am not intruding.” Elder Cantu said, bowing to the prince.
“Elder Cantu.” Tyrie’s voice was sharp. “I thought I mentioned the prince was resting before the feast and was not to be disturbed. “
“It’s ok, Tyrie.” Ravi smiled, glancing at me. “We wouldn’t want the cook’s efforts to go to waste. Lexie, please think over what I said. Go on back to your kitchens.”
I didn’t object to being dismissed by the prince. I bowed to him and hurried back to the village. The past few days have just been too much. All I want is to get back to mother’s kitchen and forget all about magic, forest spirits, and the prince’s striking green eyes.
When I got back to the town halls’ kitchen, Mother was no longer there. The twins, however, were seated at one of the tables. Their arms crossed, and blue eyes locked on the floor, they were a picture of misery.
“Lex!” They echoed together as I came in, “Can we get up now?”
From the fact that they were still dressed in their finery, I assumed Mother had ordered them to stay seated in an effort to keep them clean.
“I think you should stay put until Mother comes back.” I told them, “Sorry.”
They slumped down even lower in their chairs.
I scanned the kitchen, looking for any dishes that needed last minute seasoning or prepping. The turkeys were resting, the ham was sliced thin, and everything was ready to be served to the dining hall. Satisfied, I settled in next to my siblings.
“Can I see the pretty dagger?” Maki asked, glancing around to make sure no one was around
I blinked in surprise, “How did you-... Barrie! I told you not to talk about that.”
He just looked at me, his eyes serious. “I promised to tell her everything. You knew that.”
I sighed. “Fine. But no, Maki, you can’t. It’s safe at home.”
Just then, there was a heavy knock at the door. There in the doorway were two large men suited in leather armor. “Lexie of South Wind. You are to come with us.”
I got to my feet. “Who are you? Why should I go with you?”
“No questions.” Said the older of the two, his hand on his sword. “You know what you did.”
These guys were not with the village guard. I would recognize them if they were. Were they some of the prince’s men? Did he change his mind and mean to reveal that I had been in the south woods? That I had dealings with magical creatures?
I found myself wishing for my dagger for the second time that day. Not that it would have done me any good. These were two well-armed and assumingly well-trained guards. Maybe even some of the king’s knights. There was not much that an untrained girl could do against them.
I swallowed heavily and nodded stepping forwards, as soon as I drew close to the men, one stepped behind me and quickly tied my hands behind my back. I winced as the rope pinched my flesh.
“What are you doing to my sister?!” Barrie jumped up, his small hands in fists.
The men ignored his outburst as they marched me out of the room. Both men were so tall they were almost carrying me.
From behind us, I could still hear Barrie and Maki yelling.
“I said, let her go!” Barrie had run up and stomped on the foot of the younger of the two men.
“I like your spunk, kid.” He laughed, releasing my arm and shoving Barrie down in the dirt. “But don’t push your luck.”
“Leave the kid alone, Pavis.” The older man ordered
“It’s ok, Barrie. “I was trying not to let my fear show. “You and Maki go home, ok? I’ll be there soon.”
Pavis snorted and grabbed hold of my arm again.
“What is going on here?” my friend Zachery was coming down the road. “What are you doing with Lexie?”
“She is being detained.”
“On what charges?” Zach’s gray eyes were like stone, staring at the men.
The men exchanged a glance over my head and lifted me clear off the ground. “We don’t answer to you.” Pavis sneered
“Please, Zach, just take the twins home. I’ll be alright.” I pleaded with him as they carried me towards a wagon, waiting on the other side of the road and threw me in the back. I could hear all three of them still protesting as the back of the wagon was closed, leaving me in pitch darkness.
With my hands tied behind my back, I was unable to keep my balance as the wagon set out, throwing me all sorts of directions as we hit holes and bumps that were all over the dirt roads.
Ok, Lex, keep calm. Panicking won’t be of any use. I kept repeating that in my head. I was just trying to regain some brainpower. After a bit, the wagon started to slow and came to a stop. When the back of the carriage was flung open, the bright light stung my eyes.
I felt them grabbing my arms again and pulling me out of the darkness. I blinked to clear my vision, and once I could see again, I was surprised to see Elder Cantu and Elder Kazik standing there.
The armored men set me down between the elders and stood at attention at my elbows.
“Ah, Lexie.” Elder Cantu’s voice was as gravely as ever, “So glad you could join us.”
Like I had a choice. But I kept that thought to myself. No use getting in bigger trouble than I already am. “Why am I here?” I hated the tremble in my voice.
“We need to know what you and the prince were discussing.” Elder Kazik’s beady eyes were peering over his beak-like nose. “If you tell us everything, you can go home, my dear.”
I may not be a very experienced person, but even I can recognize a bad lie. They would not have me arrested and drug out to the middle of nowhere to ask me a simple question and then let me go.
I forced a smile onto my face, “He was just apologizing to me.”
Cantu sneered, his seemingly kind face twisting in anger, “And why would the royal prince be apologizing to a worthless villager.”
My fake smile died, “He…he… had encountered me on the road into town…he didn’t tell me he was the prince…he wanted to say he was sorry for leading me to believe he was just another villager.”
“Tell the truth, girl.” Kazik slapped me hard across the face, knocking me to the ground. With my hands tied behind my back, there was no way for me to catch myself. “What did he tell you about Zarah?”
My ears were ringing, and I shook my head in an attempt to clear it. “The prince never mentioned a Zarah.”
Both elders stared down at me, their eyes unreadable.
Finally, they both nodded. And Kazik looked up at the men still standing there at attention. “You know what to do.”
With that, the elders got on their waiting horses and headed back into town.
“Pity such a pretty thing needs to die, Garvick.” Pavis lamented as he leaned down and hauled me back to my feet.
Die? I had suspected that, but hearing those words made my blood run cold. I started to struggle the best I could, stomping on the same foot that Barrie had hit just a little while before.
Pavis let out a growl from deep in his throat, and he backhanded me hard on the face, and I fell back in the dirt.
“Listen here, girl, we can make this painful if we want. So, behave.”
I was lying in the grass, trying to clear my head again. This time I noticed the flowers that were surrounding us. Flowers…that means …the gnomes. We are in the gnome’s field! But as soon as the realization and excitement hit me, it vanished. So what that there might be back up for me here. I don’t have the dagger, so I have no way to communicate with them without those magical gems embedded in its hilt. What chance could I possibly have? I am a dead woman. As I laid there, trying not to cry, I saw a tiny bumblebee resting on the flower in front of me. It almost seemed to be studying me.
*Fly away, little bee.* I thought to myself *You don’t want to get swatted too.*
Almost in response, the bee took flight and flew closer to me, landing on my hair.
*Protector.* I swear I could hear the bee. But that can’t be happening…right? I don’t have the jeweled dagger that would allow that. But...maybe I should try.
*Can...Can you hear me?* I thought again.
*Of course, my lady. You are the protector.*
I didn’t need the dagger to communicate with the creatures? Oh, thank goodness. I didn’t have the time to think about this development. I could hear the men talking about what would be the best way to…dispose of me. I had to act quickly before it was too late.
*I need help. Get me help.* The bee still rested on my hair, but just like the last time I had spoken to the bees, I could hear slight buzzes and rumbles as he communicated with his hive.
*The Warriors approach, my lady.* my little bee friend informed me. As I heard those words, I also started to hear a low hum. Craning my neck to look, I could see there was a dark cloud approaching. But considering that the cloud was humming, I don’t think it was rain.
The humming interrupted the armed men above me discussion, and they looked over at the cloud with puzzled looks on their faces*
“what the..?” Pavis murmured.
The color vanished from the other one’s face…what did they call him again? Garvick? “It’s a swarm, Pavis!”
“A swarm of what?”
“Just run, they will take care of the girl!” Garvick took off running towards where they had left the wagon, and Pavis was barely able to get on before the carriage took off. Pavis gave me a jaunty wave as they vanished behind some trees. Half of the swarm followed the wagon, while the others landed around me in a lazy circle.
*My lady.* The bee seemed satisfied with his work.
“Uh… good job.” I smiled at them. “I don’t suppose you can help get my hands untied?”
Once again, my little friend buzzed and hummed to his colony.
*Help is coming, my lady.* The bee finally said after quite some time.
What help could bees possibly get? I don’t see any sign of the gnomes. Not that they would help without some sort of reason. Well, I could at least get my face out of the dirt while I wait. I struggled up until I was seated cross-legged in the grass. I could see now that I was surrounded by what looked like thousands of bees. It was still hard to believe I was able to talk to them without the magic gems.
It seemed like a very long time before that help arrived and I started to hear voices approaching, listening carefully it almost sounded like…..the twins?
Straining my eyes, I could see the familiar approaching figures of Barrie and Maki.
“Are you sure about this?” I could hear the fear in Maki’s voice.
“ Lex has always been there and has saved me so many times lately. We have to find a way to help her. It's up to us now. This little hedgehog was in Lex’s drawer with the dagger. He seems to want to follow these bees. I am going to help him. You can go back to the village if you want,” Barrie’s voice, on the other hand, was full of determination.
“Maki! Barrie! Over here!” I called out
I heard a squeal, and then a blond blur came tearing over to me and wrapped its arms around me.
“Shhh, it's ok Maki, I’m ok,” I told my sobbing sister.
“I…I thought I was never going to see you again.”
Barrie came over at a much more relaxed pace. He had my dagger in his hand, and Thaddeus perched on his shoulder. At that moment, he didn't look like my childish baby brother anymore. He looked so grown up and brave, like a real adventurer. He saw that my hands were bound and quickly cut the ropes with the knife. Thaddeus took the opportunity to climb on my shoulder when Barrie got close.
Rubbing my wrists, I stood up for what felt like the first time in forever. Then surprise set in, how did they know I was in trouble? How did they know where to go?
“What are you guys doing here?”
They both gave me a look like I was an idiot. “We had to save you.”
I drew them both in for a tight hug. “Thank you. But that was a big risk.”
I then looked over at Thaddeus, “You led them to me?”
He nodded, “They found me in your drawer. I tried to keep them away from the dagger until I realized that you were in trouble. But we didn’t know even where to start looking for you till the bees came to lead the way.”
“Did…did you just talk to the hedgehog?” Maki asked me, her mouth hanging open.
I gave her a grin, “A lot more has happened to me since that night in the woods.” I paused and looked down at my siblings. “Thank you for bringing me my dagger. I need you to go back to the village now. It’s not safe for you.”
“No arguments.” I interrupted. “What you did was very brave, but I need you to be safe. Go on, head back.” I looked down at my little bee friend, “Can you guys make sure they get back safely?”
*Of course, my lady.* I watched as the twins and their bee escort vanished over the horizon.
“What is going on?” Thaddeus asked
“It is a long story.” I sighed. “Short version is it’s not safe for us in the village anymore.”
I would have to accept the princes’ offer to join him.
There would be no chance for me to survive on my own, even with whatever magical gifts I may or may not have. I wish I had the time to tell Mother and Father what was going on. I couldn’t risk going back to the village. Who knows who this Zarah is and what other dangers that might be lurking in my future.