Chapter Twenty-One

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Estela's mouth opened wide with horror. Runniendal lay in a heap on the ground covered in bruises blood. At first Estela thought she was dead, until she weakly attempted to rise. A Morier yanked her up from behind and held her on her knees with a dark blade against her throat. The look on her face was one of pure terror. Estela squeezed her eyes shut, unable to bear the sight, and grabbed Faerthúl's mane to steady herself.

"So, if any of you care to keep this miserable excuse for a warrior—" (the head Morier delivered Runniendal a savage kick in the ribs, making her wince, her face contorted with pain) "—alive, or any of yourselves for that matter, you'll hand over that human girl directly."

Estela's eyes opened wide with horror, and Ohtar's voice rang out coldly beside her.

"And if we don't?"

"Well, then I suppose you'll let your friend here die, soon to be followed by the rest of you. So the choice is yours: the human girl, or all of you, starting with his pretty little maid."

Estela couldn't believe what was happening. She saw Runniendal's lips moving and a pleading look in her eyes.

"Don't do it!"

She turned desperately to Ohtar. He had to save Runniendal! His face was as hard as stone, no emotion showing in his eyes. He murmured almost inaudibly to Belegorn for a moment before replying.

"Do you take me for a fool? How am I to know you would spare our lives if we gave up the girl?"

Estela looked disbelievingly at him. What could he mean? He shot her a fleeting glance that spoke to her more than any words could. "Trust me," it said.

The head Morier chuckled.

"Why, I will give you my word of honor. No harm shall come to any of you if you surrender the girl."

Estela didn't believe a word from his vile mouth for a moment, and she was sure Ohtar didn't either. But he was not paying attention and was again murmuring in Elvish, this time for the whole company to hear. After a moment he shouted back, "We cannot do as you ask." He then whispered one last command to Gilithiel.

"Very well," the evil chieftain sneered. He stepped back, and the Morier holding Runniendal discarded his small blade to draw out a broad grisly sword.

"No."

A hoarse whisper was all Estela could muster. Runniendal squeezed her eyes shut as the Morier raised his sword for the death blow.

It was then that Ohtar seized his chance. The sword suddenly stopped in mid-air and its bearer fell to the ground with an arrow protruding from his throat. The next instant, another score of arrows leapt from Elven bows and buried themselves in the first twenty Morierea stepping forward to seize Runniendal. Before the rest of the Morierea could retaliate, Ohtar leapt upon Faerthúl's back and began charging down the hill toward Runniendal's prone figure with Belegorn close beside him. Belegorn's fearsome battle cry rang out, and the head Morier, who had dropped to the ground at the volley of arrows, scrambled unceremoniously behind the ranks of his host before his terrific onslaught. The Morierea ran forward, only to be cloven by his whirling ax and Ohtar's lightning-fast knives. Before Estela knew it, Belegorn had slung Runniendal across Faerthúl in front of Ohtar, and the three were charging back up the hill, the path cleared by a fierce rain of arrows from above.

Once at the top, Ohtar jumped off the horse, gently easing Runniendal to the ground beside Estela, and quickly threw himself into the ensuing battle. Estela immediately knelt and grabbed her friend's hand.

"Oh, Runniendal! Are you all right? That was awful!" she exclaimed, sobs rising in her throat. Runniendal was still shaking with terror.

"I didn't breathe a word, I swear! They tried to make me, but I didn't tell them anything! They tracked you on their own! I—I'm s—sorry!" and she burst into pent-up tears. Estela, tears pouring down her own cheeks, tried to wipe the blood and tears from her friend's cheek.

"It's all right, it's not your fault! Oh, Runniendal, what have they done to you?" she sobbed, heartbroken for her friend. But Runniendal, the last of her strength spent, slipped mercifully into unconsciousness before she could answer.

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