*Chapter Ten*

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We walked mostly in silence through the trees; on foot this time, leading the horses by their reins. My friends were subdued; I think they were starting to realise that they'd gotten themselves into something very serious and that they didn't have a full understanding of. Aryn led the way quietly; nimble and cat-like, she barely made a sound as her feet ghosted over the forest floor, and Loki, while always alert, seemed distracted as well, his eyes down, all out of witticisms.

It took almost an hour, the moonlight breaking occasionally through the canopy of leaves overhead, illuminating our features in bright white light before we became obscured in shadow once again, until eventually I spotted tents in the distance and we reached the edge of the camp.

'Keep your head down,' Loki muttered to me, breaking the silence; most of the camp was asleep but there were guards on duty.

'Identify yourself.' A couple of guards began to draw their swords from their sheaths but Aryn removed her hood and waved them away without a word. They muttered words of apology and she led us confidently through the makeshift village, pausing eventually near the larger tents.

'I can't guarantee his safety,' she said to me, her eyes flickering to Loki for a brief moment. 'They will at least want to arrest him.'

'They will do nothing I don't order,' I said dismissively, and she looked back at me for a moment, defiant, all-knowing, before turning on her heel to approach the guards at the mouth of one of the larger tents, muttering to them for a moment. One went inside to wake Lord Trorent and tell him that she requested an audience with him; minutes later he reappeared and she gestured to us.

I'd washed the dried mud from my face in the river water before we'd set off, but Loki had pressed his cloak into my hands and I had his hood pulled low over my eyes, determined not to be recognised until I chose to be. We followed Aryn into the tent, which was warm and dry, the floor covered in rich, thick carpets of animal fur while tapestries hung on the makeshift walls to keep in the heat.

Lord Trorent was sitting in a chair by his map table, a fur coat over his sleeping clothes, but he stood when Aryn led us inside and bowed his head to her. She waved him off and he sat back down, gesturing to the other chair for her to use. She remained standing.

'Your Grace,' he began. 'What's so urgent that brought you here in the middle of the night?'

'I have a captor,' she told him, unable to stop a smile from breaking over her face, and Lord Trorent glanced behind her to us, jumping back to his feet when he recognised Loki.

He opened his mouth to shout for his guards, but I stepped forward and lowered my hood, effectively silencing him.

'I am Aryn's prisoner,' I told him, falling in on the joke. 'But Loki is mine and I will be responsible for him.'

'Your Grace,' he said again, dropping to his knee. I heard Adrian snort from behind me but chose to ignore it. 'How did you...?'

'With difficulty,' I said.

'I sent men...' he went on, getting back to his feet.

'I know. They fought bravely. May I?' I gestured to the remaining chair and he nodded, so I sat. 'Tell me everything,' I said, looking over the maps. Aryn and the others came to stand behind me as Lord Trorent leaned over the bench, looking warily at Loki before beginning.

'Your Grace, forgive me, but are you sure...?' he trailed off.

'Loki is doing everything he can to win back ownership of his head,' I told him flatly. 'He won't betray us again.'

Not seeming too confident in my trust of him, Lord Trorent wisely opted not to question me further and began pointing to various places on the maps, explaining the battles that had been fought, won, and lost thus far, and what moves he planned on making next. I nodded along silently, keeping my thoughts to myself until he finished.

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