*This is a work of fiction, mostly unedited as well, so I apologize in advance for any grammatical and/or spelling errors. Sections are separated with a series of “* “s.
The Chronicles of Jane Windall
Jane pushed through the knee-deep drifts of snow. Her dark cloak snapped in the aggressive wind.
“They are not going to catch me, not today anyway.”
Jane forced herself to talk aloud, gritting her teeth together to prevent them from chattering. The dark forest encroached with the exception of a few patches of light which reflected the moon in the absence of trees. Those areas were few and far between.
“I’m pretty sure I am heading in the right direction.”
Jane glanced behind her, eyeing the visible remnants of her trek through the woods.
She turned and kept walking, hoping the wind could do more than bluster in her face like an aggravated commander. If it could at least cover her tracks, she would think the wind minutely useful. She drew the ends of her cloak closer together, trying to shut out the frigid air.
“I need to walk faster, before my feet freeze and fall off.”
Jane was relieved no one else was within hearing distance yet. Talking to herself had been a bad habit from her childhood. It brought much ridicule over the years, but she had still never managed to break the habit. She picked up her pace, trying to stay in a straight line as much as possible despite stubborn immovable trees.
“If I were a firewielder, I would be fine.”
She noticed a patch of light in the darkness and sighed in relief. She could at least check her direction by the position of the moons. Once she reached the clearing she tilted her head to the sky.
“Hm, only a slight adjustment. It cannot be much longer now.”
Jane paused a bit, trying to hear over the shrieks of the wind. Her eyes, even with the superior vision, could not penetrate the darkness surrounding the clearing. She walked in a circle around the clearing to pack down the snow. When she was satisfied, she knelt down, pressed her hands to the snow for balance and put her ear to the ground. She waited for the connection. there was a feeling of oneness with nature and land. She could not hear distinct sounds, but an essence. It was a feeling transmitted through particular sound rhythms through the earth. She held her breath, trying to pick out and feel the different essences between each heartbeat.
Jane jumped, whirled around and took off through the forest once again. She tried to move quickly, but knew she would soon tire. They were too close, she had to put some distance between herself and those who were so desperately searching for her. She felt the adrenaline coursing through her body and knew her eyes would be glowing. If they found her now, it would be more than obvious that she was not human. They could just follow her trail, but she had to believe that someone at the safe-house could help her. She pressed through the snow, her legs aching and reluctant. Each new step felt like she was suctioned to the ground.
Jane slowed, using the vapor from her breathing to focus and calm herself. She was not given to panic, but reality was pressing down with nearly tangible force. A tear slid down her cheek. The darkness of the forest was ebbing in the coming dawn. She did not notice a slope, stepped down wrong, and tumbled all the way down. A mouthful of snow greeted her at the bottom of the slope.
It was still dark, there actually was no approaching dawn, but the light had been a sign that she was at the edge of the forest. She could see the safe-house on a wide expanse, shadowed on one side. Jane’s muscles felt like uncontrollable jelly but she stumbled towards the house. The door of the house opened, though she was still quite a ways away, and cast a bright golden light across the pristine snow into the shadows. Jane stopped and stifled her scream. The light revealed mounted soldiers who had been hidden in the shadows. They were waiting for her, knew she was there. A dark target against a pure white background was impossible for them to miss. Jane felt the world around her tilting slowly and she stumbled to keep up with it. The ground hit the side of her head, darkness closing in from the corners of her vision. She could make out a soldier riding towards her and a sound like thunder erupting everywhere before her vision turned completely black.
* * * * * * *
The smell of roasting meat tickled Jane’s nose and caused her stomach to rumble in appreciation. She flexed different muscle groups, making sure all her appendages were intact. Two or three people stood around her, shuffling and speaking in muted whispers. Finally she tried to open her eyes. It felt as though boulders were hanging off her eyelids; it took an incredible force of will to open them.
Jane could tell the speaker was male. His voice was rich, deep and contained a hint of accent which was unknown to her. He was also standing outside her line of vision; she was unsure how he knew she was awake. A slightly hunched elderly woman approached her.
Wisps of white hair on the lady’s head quivered and darted about of their own accord with each jerk of her head. Her skin sagged into a few deep creases, her eyes were slanted and her skin was a soft, light brown like some of the beautiful silks she had seen in the windows of fancy shops. The woman smiled at Jane, her eyes radiant with happiness.
“What do you want with me?”
“Oh, we have been waiting for you a very long time.”
“All in good time, my dear.”
“I do not know anything, torture will be useless.”
The woman’s eyes grew bigger than Jane thought possible, a look of disgust twisting her mouth into a frown.
“Good heavens dear! Haven’t you learned anything?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
The old woman rubbed her temples with closed eyes, sighing deeply. An equally old man appeared by her side. The woman requested lots of tea before turning her attention back to Jane. Roger bobbed his head silently and scuttled into what must have been a kitchen. I wonder if he is a mute? Perhaps the tea is poisoned. The old woman gazed at her and gently took her hand.
“We have much to discuss. We can talk over dinner.”
“Yes, I am sure you have heard of it?”
It was more a question, than a statement. The woman grinned, patted Jane’s hand and chuckled.
Jane shook her head in confusion, trying desperately to assemble her thoughts. Her hair had been taken out of the braids she had been wearing and her black tresses flowed to the middle of her back in ripples. She clenched her jaw tight to keep her temper from escaping. She had never liked her hair. It always got in the way so she wore it in braids. She decided must be a dream. The elderly woman remained quiet, leading Jane to an empty spot at the dinner table. She placed a heaping plate of food and a bowl of soup in front of Jane. The bench at the table was rough and splintered, but her grumbling stomach convinced her to sit and eat. The white-haired woman sat also, keeping her head bent over her plate. Jane could feel the woman’s gaze flicking towards her frequently. Jane refused to touch the tea until she saw the woman drink it first. Finally a pie was brought out for desert and the woman began talking.
“Now that you are probably feeling better, we will explain what is going on.”
Jane gripped her fork tightly, her knuckles turning whiter than normal. Her shoulders stiffened and the food she had consumed sat like a leaden boulder in her stomach. Why did I eat? They are just fattening up the lamb before the slaughter! She thought the food might make a hasty exit of its own accord. She focused on a trick her mother had taught her for a churning stomach. Breathe in through the nose; out through the mouth. The woman noticed Jane’s discomfiture.
“You must relax, you are safe.”
The woman grinned again.
“That is why we call it a safe-house.”
Jane glanced at her surroundings. There did not appear to be anything special about the house. It was constructed of wood; rough planks were lined up to form the walls, and it appeared to be sealed with a normal mud and clay mixture. A quilt hung on one wall to brighten the interior and other rough pieces of furniture dotted the main room. Candles of various sizes adorned the furniture.
“This is the safe house?”
Jane’s gaze rested on a shelf which contained about ten leather-bound books. Books were luxurious items, purchased only by those of higher rank or noble blood. Jane had never even been in the same room with one. The books must have been stolen, because the house did not reflect such wealth. The old woman’s gaze followed Jane’s, the corner of her mouth twitched into a grin. Jane’s grip on the fork tightened again. She despised being laughed at. No one ever took her seriously. What, on Tormola, could ever make the woman think this situation is humorous?!
“Yes, you are in the safe-house.”
The woman continued, unfazed by Jane’s obvious irritation.
“Roger and I have been waiting, or rather, generations of us have been waiting for you.”
The fork Jane had been holding clattered to the table. The noise startled her, setting the gears of her brain back to work. She decided to watch the woman carefully and wait for her to tell the entire story. If this woman was an enemy, she would be well-trained in extracting information. She did not seem very threatening, but looks could be deceiving. Her mother had always told her not to trust anyone; it was the best advice she had ever received. Jane focused on relaxing her muscles, and shoved a forkful of pie into her mouth. She eyed the old woman suspiciously while chewing, her thoughts tumbling over themselves one after another, but she kept silent.
“It is said that there would be one who could traverse the forest, against all odds, to stand against the most evil King in Tormola’s history. You are the first person to come out of the forest in over two hundred years.”
The itch to respond caused Jane to toss her previous resolution of silence out the window.
“That does not mean anything.”
The old woman’s eyes narrowed only slightly at Jane’s combative tone, then relaxed a second later. She seemed to think for a while before continuing.
“True, it may not mean you are the one from the prophecy. Your mother did send you though, didn’t she?”
Jane’s involuntary gasp brought a nod from the old woman.
“How did you know that? Do you know my mother?”
Hope blossomed in her chest while a tear pricked at the corner of her right eye.
“No, I am sorry. I have never met her.”
Anger overtook Jane, she repeated her breathing mantra to remain calm.
“Why did you mention my mother then?”
“The prophecy mentions a woman with eyes like the glowing moon who would send her daughter as a gift, to rid the world of an evil King’s rule.”
Stunned, Jane’s mouth dropped open and her eyes flicked back and forth between the woman and Roger. Could she deny knowledge, or had they seen her eyes? The look of compassion in the old woman’s face told her everything she needed to know. It would be pointless to deny that she was a girl with glowing eyes. Jane’s shoulders slumped, her head bowed as though already feeling the pressure of expectations she could not hope to fulfill. She grasped for anything to keep moving along and retain her sanity. She thought of the King.
“So, you think King Nordon is the evil king in the prophecy? Couldn’t it be some other king?”
“There has never been a king as ruthless, depraved and repulsive as King Nordon.”
Jane picked at the pie crust on her plate with thin, pale fingers. She watched the crust slowly crumbling under the pressure she exerted. When the irony of the situation struck her, she quickly dusted the crumbs off her fingertips and refused to glance at the pile of destructed crust. She was not that pie crust. She was stronger than that. She felt exhausted though, and as tiredness washed over her like a heavy blanket, she wondered if she indeed was strong enough to rout a King. She willed herself to stay awake longer, to hear answers to her most important questions. The woman continued talking though, without Jane’s prompting, for which she was grateful.
“Roger and I, through magic we possess, knew you would be coming as long as you were able to make it through the forest. We could also see that you were being pursued, which made the final outcome unclear. We gathered forces of the resistance to combat the King’s men who were pursuing you.”
This was too much for Jane, her lethargic mind reeled with the information.
“The King’s men? I didn’t know, I mean why would they have been hunting me?”
“The girl is tired, Lilith.”
Jane jumped slightly at the unexpected input from Roger. His voice was soft, yet gravelly like the purring of a large cat. It was not an unpleasant sound, but different. She had made up her mind that he was mute, and now had to readjust her thinking. It seems I am doing a lot of readjusting tonight.
“You are right Roger, as usual. She needs to know a few more things though.”
Lilith waited for Roger’s nod before returning one of her own and gazing back at Jane.
“Yes, it was the King’s men. The reason they hunt you, is the same one that brought you here. They must know of the prophecy.”
Jane could feel her sleepy eyes widen with the information and what it entailed.
“I’m sorry child.”
Jane stood, accidentally knocking her bench to the floor with a resounding crash. She whirled as though she could escape and just as she found the entrance, it opened. A medium-height man rushed in, garbed in black with silver patches of armor reflecting the glow of the candles, sword drawn and readied for attack. He paused inside the door, unsure how to proceed, sword still poised but his body in a more relaxed stance. At a nod from Lilith he sheathed his sword and pulled off his helmet.
“My apologies, Lilith and Roger. I did not mean to intrude. I thought there was trouble.”
“Do not worry about it Commander Griefstone.”
Jane wondered if the soldier would help her.
“My mother is still in the village. She was sick and sent me here, but the King’s men were after me. They will find my mother. She isn’t safe! Please, can you help me bring her here?”
Commander Griefstone’s mouth opened slightly, but no sound came out. He shut it again, looking to Lilith and Roger. They nodded to him again. He gazed at Jane, so youthful and beautiful. His heart thundered in his chest as he thought of what life she would have now. She was but a child still, one who should be worrying about finding a lifemate, not leading a poorly-organized rebellion. His brain told him to refuse the girl; time and resources would be wasted. He feared the girl’s mother was already dead, but he knew too well what it was like to lose someone. He cleared his throat to hold back the memories and emotions.
“I would be happy to help, miss. It is not advisable for you to travel, but I will send a contingent of my men to your village to seek your mother. If she is alive, we will bring her back here.”
Jane’s lip trembled, tears that had been stemmed for so long during this night came out like a flood.
Without thinking she hugged Commander Griefstone until the cold, unyielding armor reminded her that it was unladylike to hug a soldier. Especially a soldier in battle garb, regardless of how grateful she might be. She flushed scarlet and stepped back, keeping her gaze to the floor.
She wiped her moistened cheeks, sniffed a little and tried to compose herself. The Commander cleared his throat again.
“It is perfectly fine, miss.”
Commander Griefstone hastily exited, saying he would send a contingent at once. It was only after he had left that she realized his voice was the first one she had heard upon waking. She also realized that he was a most compassionate person, a rare trait in a commander from what she had heard. Lilith approached unnoticed and Jane jumped when she felt a light brush on her arm.
“They will do their best to help your mother, but you must understand that the King’s men most likely went to your mother before they began hunting you. Your mother knew what must be done, which is why she sent you here. She wanted you to be safe.”
“How could she know? She would not have kept that a secret!”
Would she? What about my father? Does she know who my father is and simply refuse to tell me the truth? How does this King know about the prophecy? Does everyone know except for me?
Lilith, reading the conflict in Jane’s eyes, patted her hand and spoke quietly.
“Sometimes, there is no choice. Some secrets need to be kept until the right time. I am sure she taught you the most important things you need to know. We will check the books tomorrow.”
Roger spoke from a few paces away, as though he were afraid to be nearer.
“I’ve put out some cushions that are more comfortable. We didn’t have time to put out cushions before, I hope you are not too sore.”
Jane nearly laughed. With everything that was happening, it seemed superficial to worry about soreness. A hint of smile flashed onto her face before skipping away.
“I am fine, thank you.”
Roger nodded his goodnight to her, and Lilith drew a blanket over her.
“Get some sleep, my dear.”
Jane suddenly remembered that she had never introduced herself, and mumbled to Lilith.
“I’m Jane, Jane Windall.”
“Goodnight Jane, sleep well my child.”
The reference to her age did not irritate her as it normally would. Instead, she pretended it was her mother caring for her and fell asleep with a half-smile. The madness of the night faded into the background as though it had all been a strange dream.
* * * * * * * * *
“Commander, it is a fortnight’s ride to skirt the forest.”
“Thank you, Mercer.”
Commander Griefstone turned away, deep in thought. He peered, unseeing, at the ground as he walked. Mercer waited for dismissal or acknowledgement, but hearing non, cleared his throat. The Commander turned, eyebrow raised at Mercer’s presumptuousness.
“Sir, would it not be better to travel straight through the forest? The King’s men were able to make it, and I see no reason that we could not.”
Commander Griefstone’s brow pulled down, shadowing his grey eyes and giving him the air of an angry warhorse. Mercer fidgeted and barely prevented himself from taking a step back. The Commander glowered at him a moment before answering with a steady cadence, his anger barely restrained.
“Mercer, there is nothing to say we would be successful unless we had the girl with us. We cannot take the girl out of the safe house. She must stay there until she has learned to use her powers. If we go into the forest, we risk losing men. The resistance cannot afford to lose men, Mercer.”
The Commander’s brow relaxed and he straightened his shoulders into a familiar rigidity.
“Ready the supplies and saddle my horse. I will take five others with me, leave two of your best men to help guard the safe house.”
Commander Griefstone pivoted on his heel to face Mercer whose words died in his open mouth. The Commander watched as Mercer’s mouth moved silently for a little while until the rest of the sentence came out.
“The safe house is already protected by powerful spells. Surely we are not of much help.”
The Commander respected Mercer for his courage. The man, despite his fear, would speak his mind. It was a quality that the Commander admired most of the time, but he occasionally wished that Mercer would do as instructed without needing details or giving feedback. He pulled off his gloves, one finger at a time, to allow himself time to reign in his temper. He was not really agitated with Mercer, just irritated with himself.
“Mercer, I sincerely hope that the spells are adequate, but you should know that I always have a contingency plan. I would feel better knowing that there is physical protection for those who need it most.”
The Commander’s tone, though quiet, had a ring of finality. He knew Mercer had more to say, so he drew his brows together in a forbidding expression, glared at Mercer, nodded then walked away. Escaping into his tent, he massaged his temples, eyes closed. Finally he let out a deep sigh and ran his hands through his hair again before packing. He disliked separating his force, they were few in number to begin with and breaking forces would mean greater vulnerability for everyone. He wondered again why he was making such a potentially disastrous decision, about telling the girl he would not do it, but knew he had already given his word. He felt an urge to accompany his men. The mission made no logical sense, but he could not shake the feeling of foreboding.
They rode at a quick, steady pace in the effort to try and make up the additional distance it took to go around the forest. They traveled the main road, opting for speed rather than secrecy. When they broke camp that night, lighting small fires to cook some roots, Mercer sat by Commander Griefstone. He held a bowl of mushy roots, but paid it little attention. He gazed into the darkness, tilting his head to catch any stray night sounds.
“Something is not right.”
The Commander had noticed it as well, but he knew what was causing the eerie feeling. He let Mercer continue uninterrupted.
“We met no travelers along the main road. Even though it is winter, this is prime trading season for pelts and carpets. We should have seen at least one wagon or perhaps a caravan.”
The Commander chewed a root thoughtfully, also listening. His brow drew down while he chewed.
“Mercer, tell me what you hear.”
Mercer stopped chewing in order to listen.
“I don’t hear a thing.”
The Commander warmed his hands over the fire and spoke more quietly to Mercer.
“We are close to the forest. We should be hearing the calls of the night animals, but we hear nothing. It is as still as death. We will keep someone on guard, two if necessary and rotate at the four hour mark. I want the fires extinguished. We will keep together for warmth.”
Mercer nodded, moving quietly around the camp speaking to the groups of men clustered around flickering points of light which were quickly extinguished as Mercer moved through the camp. The crunching of snow beneath booted feet broke the stillness as the men rearranged the campsite to prevent the freezing sickness. Sometimes skin would turn black and people had even died, frozen through as though little more than another plant on the vast terrain of Tormola’s windblown plains. The rest of the days passed in the same manner although it seemed they made better time after that night. They received proof of their efforts after reaching their destination two days before schedule. The town seemed nearly deserted. Gazing at the destruction, the Commander’s jaw hardened, flexing into an unyielding line. He advanced on the town slowly, taking time to peer at the burned homes, toppled wells and broken wagons. The street was littered with parts which had belonged to wagons or homes. No one walked the street and the shrill cry of a baby was quickly stifled.
Commander Griefstone dismounted and signaled his men to follow suit. Small amounts of smoke still wafted from thatched rooftops and the Commander estimated that they had only missed the ravaging of the town by a matter of hours, or depending on the extent of the fires by a day. The Commander spoke with a voice that carried through the still, silent town.
“Is there anyone who can tell me what happened here?”
He waited, knowing that it would take the townspeople a while to control their fear and approach him. He was surprised when after just a few moments, one of the doors to a cottage swung open, barely hanging onto a single hinge. A stooped old woman with long white hair down to her feet made her way towards them. She could hardly peer up at the Commander due to her hunched back, and walked only with the aid of a stick which gave her support. She came close to him, craning her neck sideways in order to peer at the Commander. She said nothing but after a minute of scrutiny nodded her head and spoke.
“Come, I will speak with you inside.”
“Thank you, my lady.”
The old woman snorted.
“I am no lady, do not pretend you are blind.”
“I meant no offense ma’am.”
“I know, you must watch your words though, lest they be your undoing.”
The Commander’s right eyebrow lifted. The woman laughed, a thin wispy sound, at his expression. The skin around her eyes crinkled in merriment and she waved him into her home. The Commander could not help but smile, though he was not sure why the woman’s statement would be anything but serious. The woman settled herself in an old wooden rocker and motioned for him to take a stool across from her. He resisted the impulse to dust it off first and sat. The old woman smirked at him.
“I can see that you are not the King’s men.”
“No, we are not.”
The Commander’s hand on his knee tightened. If she knew they were the resistance, everyone’s futures could hang precariously in her fragile hands. The woman’s sharp eyes followed his slight movement.
“Do not worry. I am glad to hear you are not. It is the only reason I speak to you now.”
“I thank you, ma’am.”
“The King’s men came to town seeking a woman and a girl.”
The Commander unconsciously leaned closer, as if proximity could prevent him from misunderstanding. The woman continued, the smile slipping from her creased face.
“They wanted to know about the one whose eyes glow like the light of the moon. They burned the village and tortured people. Those villagers did not know who the men wanted, they died in vain. Luckily the King’s men thought an old crone like me was beneath their notice. In the end, they did take the woman, the right one, by sheer luck. They did not find the girl.”
“So the woman is not dead?”
“Not yet, it seems the King has plans for her.”
The Commander felt his skin go clammy and knew that he would be three shades paler than normal. He could guess what the King’s idea would be. He would use the girl’s mother as a way to manipulate the girl. He recalled the girl’s emotional pleas for his assistance and knew the girl would do whatever was asked of her if it meant her mother’s safety.
“The girl is the key and no one seems to know where she is.”
The old woman raised her eyebrows at the Commander, but he remained silent, merely nodding at her.
“I hope she reaches safety before the King’s men find her. I heard one of the men talking about an experiment on breaching magical wards, ones that might be used for a safe house.”
Commander Griefstone fixed the woman with steely eyes, searching for intent or deception. His jaw flexed, back rigid with suspicion. He narrowly avoided glaring at the poor old woman.
“How do you know about safe houses, ma’am?”
“I helped create them.”
The Commander regarded the woman silently. The story was unbelievable, but he had long ago learned that things were not always as they seemed. He was one of the few people who knew when the safe houses had been created.
“How old are you ma’am?”
“If you must know, I am two hundred and nineteen years old.”
The Commander leaned forward, the muscle in his jaw ticking as he puzzled through the dilemma before him. Trust was a precarious thing in these times, but he had little hope of finding out more from someone else. He let out a sigh. The woman’s age, if it was true, would have put her at nineteen during the creation of the safe houses. Without prompting the old lady gave him more information.
“I was nineteen when the safe houses were created. I had only studied the magics for a few years beforehand. My teacher believed me to be gifted, so when she received a request to participate in the creation of the safe houses, she brought me along.”
The Commander listened, careful not to give away his thoughts by expression or movements.
“I don’t know how much help I really was, although she maintained that I had helped a great deal during the creation process. It has been a very long time, but I do remember some of the spells that were used. The process was an arduous one, requiring one of the sisters to imbue the safe house with her own magic, separated forever from her corporeal body. I thought the sisters were dying, it took me a long time to understand that they existed within the deep magic, a sort of reinforced barrier for the safe house. It was the same thing at each safe house we created and our numbers dwindled.”
The old woman seemed to hunch more with the recollection. She clutched her hands together, the gnarled bones preventing any quick movements. She rubbed a knuckle absently.
“I realized that we may not have enough teachers to create all the safe houses that were needed, that I would probably die as my sisters in the magics had. I was afraid, but they would not allow me to sacrifice. They said my purpose had not been fulfilled.”
The woman pierced the Commander with a confident gaze borne from years of patience, experience and trials. The Commander felt her age in the depth of her eyes. He was still leery, but his instincts told him the woman spoke truth. Everything matched the confidential information he had been given years ago. The woman spoke again.
“Today, I realize that this must be my purpose.”
“What? Telling me that you are over two hundred years old when you look as though you have not yet reached the mark of eighty?”
The woman rolled her eyes and clucked her tongue at him, but one side of mouth lifted in a smile. She was grateful for the Commander’s ability to lighten the moment.
“Do not be a fool. My purpose is to warn you that the King’s men may have a way to breach the safe houses. I trust I do not need to explain the risk if that happens?”
The Commander paused, but nodded eventually, an acknowledgement of the truth as well as his choice to trust her.
“What is your name ma’am, if I may ask?”
“I have never believed in the importance of names, however, I am Hilda Montenal.”
The Commander rose swiftly from his stool, nearly knocking it over in his haste, and clasped his fist over his heart. He bowed deeply from the waist.
“My apologies ma’am.”
She glared at him, then waved him to take his seat again.
“That is exactly why I do not like the business of names.”
“It is proper that you receive the respect you deserve, High Mother Montenal.”
Hilda rolled her eyes again and huffed irritably.
“Would you please come with us? I have a feeling that we may need your assistance. I believe you may have an additional purpose.”
Hilda tapped a bony finger gently on the arm of her rocking chair, lips pursed.
“I never make any decisions without a cup of tea.”
“Tea, High Mother?”
“Yes, Commander. Tea.”
The Commander rose as if to make the tea.
“Sit down Commander. Your tea with be useless.”
Hilda huffed, shuffled off to the kitchen and returned after a while with a cup of tea. The Commander watched her movements, amazed that she did not trip on her long hair, or even become tangled in it. She quickly drained the contents, swirling the cup in a circular motion, while quietly whispering, eyes closed. When she opened her eyes, she gazed directly into the teacup. Her mouth pulled down into a lopsided frown, her brown furrowed in a way that made her look as if she were more disgruntled than upset.
Hilda slammed the teacup onto the already-chipped saucer before hefting herself out of her chair.
“Give me a few moments to pack my things. It looks like I will be traveling with you after all. A woman’s work is never done.”
Hilda continued her grumblings in a voice closer to a growl. The Commander bowed again to her before exiting, smiling at the way the woman pretended to be irritated. He could see her eyes light up with excitement and decided that he enjoyed the childlike qualities she still possessed, even after her many years of life and the sadness she had borne. She undoubtedly had led a very difficult life, but had chosen to keep her sense of humor and goodwill. He could see why she had been elected High Mother and stayed as such through the years. Her name was legendary and though people believed her to be dead, she was still famous for her superior abilities with the magics. No one had ever been elected as High Mother to replace her. He was pleased, but not altogether surprised, to find her alive. It was said that those who were well-versed in the magics could live forever. That was a notion he did not believe, but such notions sometimes held a grain of truth.
Commander Griefstone was pleased to see that during his absence and conversation with the High Mother, his men had been busy helping the people in the city try to restore a bit of order. The most important sections had been cleared of debris and the villagers were congregating by the well, relief showing in their tentative smiles as they took turns drinking the water.
“Men, water the horses and fill the skins. We will ride out tonight.”
An irritated murmur rose from the men, and he knew it was a difficult journey to make. They were good men, but he felt he owed them an explanation.
“I have learned that the woman we seek as been taken by the King’s men. We will not be able to overtake them, but we need to return as quickly as possible. The King’s men may have found a way to breach the spells.”
He dared not mention the safe house specifically, but his men understood what he meant. The men shifted in their unease, glancing at each other to read the same emotion mirrored in all their faces. Fear. The prophecy did not mention what might occur if the girl was killed or captured. The Commander could guess that it would mean war at the very least.
“We will have a guest on the return trip and I expect you to be on your best behavior, and to protect her with your own lives if necessary.”
He knew that it did not need to be said, but it never hurt to remind the men of their calling. He felt a bit relieved to see the fear turn into confusion and curiosity. He smiled at them in encouragement, but left them without further explanation. He would reveal the name of their guest once they had left the village. He did not think the village inhabitants were aware of their famous dweller. He grinned at the thought of the High Mother’s irritation once he revealed her name to his men, then allowed himself a chuckle.