“That idiot,” I said. Lovesick loon, indeed.
“Damn him,” Druskin cursed again.
“They can’t have gotten far.” I tucked the note in my pocket and headed for Quill’s bedroll. Crouching, I shook his shoulder. “Quill. Wake up.”
His hand snaked out and caught my wrist, pulling me down as he rolled and flipped me under him. In a split second he’d pinned both my wrists and he straddled my torso, face inches from my own. My breath caught and my weapons dug into my back. His eyes were half closed still but he paused uncertainly, brow furrowed. The next move ought to be a choke or a stab. I tucked my heels close under my rear and prepared to launch Quill over my head if he didn’t snap awake, “Quill! It’s me!”
Quill’s eyes cleared and for a second we stared at one another. He was looking at me as if I were so entirely unexpected, he couldn’t be sure I was real. Releasing one wrist, he touched my cheek, his fingers cold but breathtakingly gentle. Then abruptly he rolled off into a sitting position next to me and scrubbed his hands across his face. He looked haggard. It had been a long time since I’d startled Quilleran Rhydderick. Or seen him…undone…Perhaps it was just a night for uneasy rest—I thought of Druskin’s own close call when he woke me. Or perhaps all who’d fled the Empress suffered nightmares occasionally. Even so, the memory of Quill’s touch, and the way he’d searched my face…My hammering heart wasn’t entirely due to the Countess’s disappearance as I sat up and gently touched his knee. “You alright?”
He nodded, glancing at me, then asked huskily, “What is it?”
“Adorjan Bulgar has kidnapped the Countess,” I said.
That woke him up, “What?” demanded Quill.
I looked at Druskin, who had roused Luza with much less drama, and asked, “How long ago did she leave?”
The Captain of the Guard replied, “A quarter an hour ago? Maybe longer.”
Quill was already pulling on his boots. “Make some torches, it’ll be hard to track at night but if we can find their trail, we should be able to catch them.”
I got up and started rooting in the small pile of firewood for a suitable torch. “Druskin, unless you or Luza are incredible trackers, you should go saddle the horses in case we need them.”
Druskin growled, but he turned and beckoned Luza to follow him.
“What can I do?” Galo was sitting up now, tugging on her boots.
“Light torches.” I tossed her a stick and kept rummaging.
“I have something better than torches,” said the elf, Mihalak. “I’ll wake my lord.”
Before any of us could object, or begin to rationalize a plausible reason not to, Mihalak was shaking Ilya Terr awake. I almost laughed when Ilya, too, was on his feet with a knife in hand before sleep left his eyes. Another soul all too familiar with the taste of peril. Such a company we made. Perhaps by the end of this journey all the Wuhn would wake this way, too.
“Countess Adel has been snatched in the night,” said Mihalak, putting a steadying hand on Ilya’s shoulder.
By the gleam in his eye and the tone of his voice, Mihalak had put it together.
“What?” Ilya demanded, coming fully awake, “How?”
Druskin opened his mouth and turned red with embarrassment. Heaven forbid he mention the Countess’s humble activities before another male.
I answered for him, “She left the fire to relieve herself and didn’t come back, I found this note when I went to look for her.” I held up the offending paper and felt Druskin stiffen as Ilya crossed over and plucked the truth from my fingers. If he hadn’t figured it out before, he would now.
I will preserve the purity of the moors and springs, and bring strength to the line of Wuhn again.
A muscle feathered in Ilya’s jaw as he read.
Cordially, Adorjan Bulgar
Ilya crushed the paper.
“Lady Adel…of Wunhravinwel.” Ilya raised his hard eyes to mine. “Countess Adelhied Wuhn.”
I nodded. “You…startled her…” I offered, lamely.
“I told you, Ilya!” exclaimed Mihalak.
Ilya looked to each of us, her faithful retainers, in turn, his lips a stiff line. Turning away, he walked back toward his bedroll.
“We’ll find her,” said Druskin, in a gruff attempt at diplomacy, “Don’t fear, my lord, she will be at Gar Morwen for the wedding. And the King will have Bulgar’s head for this.”
Ilya reached his pack and stopped to look back at Druskin, “He won’t get the chance.” Then he scooped up his sword and strode into the night.
Thank you to my Patrons! I’m so grateful for your support.
Patrons, don’t forget to check out Zare’s Patreon for chapter format, maps, first looks, and other cool extras. Dear Readers, if you like Zare’s adventures, consider supporting on Patreon for as little as $1/month. If you can’t do that, I still love you! Another way you can support Zare is by subscribing, liking, commenting, and sharing Zare on social media with all your friends.
Till next time!