Part 10

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Silver slowly opened her eyes and looked around. She was in a dark room with no windows, so she wasn’t sure if it was day or night. She stood up groggily and then fell as she remembered the tight ropes that bound her wrists and ankles. Her mind was a bit fogged—how did she get here? She turned around and bumped into a small figure. Shreen!

It all started to come back to her. She was on the front steps when she heard a cry in the woods. It was a bird—yes, a nightingale. She found him sorely wounded beneath a hollow tree trunk. Its beautiful song was now choked and strangled under a helpless cry of pain. Its left wing hung imp under its fragile body. Siver approached the bird with caution and carefully picked it up.

“What happened?” she asked.

The bird offered a strangled smile. “I was out minding my own business when a Styfler flew up behind me and decided to have me for lunch. I flew my hardest, but he clawed me. Luckily, I fell into this hollow tree and waited until he was gone.”

“Well,” Silver said. “You’ve had quite an adventure. Let’s get you in the house and see what we can do for that wing.”

“That won’t be necessary,” a deep, scratchy voice remarked.

Silver turned. She was surrounded by Strife warriors! They had already captured two other prisoners, who she later recognized as Shreen and Sign.

The overgrown boar picked her up, and that’s when she saw him. He was leading the Strifes, his face covered by a black mask. He rode tall on his thick-legged horse and reeked with evil power. She had heard about this man in bards’ stories.

Varr was back, but how?

The tall stone door slid slowly open and two Strifes walked in. Silver went limp, appearing to still be unconscious.

They picked up Shreen and Sign and grunted. “Where do we bring these two?” one growled.

“North tower, with the others. Leave the girl here. She’ll want her. Go now.”

The door rumbled into place and locked. Silver sat up against the wall and struggled against her bonds. They just got tighter. She tried until her wrists and ankles were raw. How was she ever going to get out of this awful place?

*

“I refuse to let that beast in my dining hall!” Airik’s face turned red as he stared furiously at Cricket. “I refuse to share the same room, not to mention the same food, with such a mangy beast. Have you no respect for the High Lord of Golendria?”

Cricket glared at him. “Quite frankly, no.”

A wave of suppressed giggles washed over the hall. Cricket moved her chair over to make room for Torshak. She tactfully placed him between herself and Airik. She smiled sickeningly sweet at Airik and put her napkin in her lap.

Airik was furious to have been showed up by a woman, even if she was the Chosen One. He tensed his jaw furiously and regally sat down, angrily calling for the food to be served.

Soon the conversation drifted to other matters, and Airik felt it was time to bring up the search party. Everyone silences as Airik stood. “I’m going to have to divide everyone up into three main groups, to fully surround the castle once we get there. We will travel together for a while, but then we’ll have to separate and meet at the castle. It’s going to take about a week to travel to Miremar; the Strifes have the benefit of Avelin’s transport spells. Golyn needs to save his energy.

“Gorthon and Luxwor will lead the group to the east, and with them will go the men on the right of my table. The men on the left will travel with Shrivak and Zraken. Packs will be stocked well with food; go by Luktar and see to weapons. All the other tables will stay in Golendria and see that the city is not left unguarded.

“Remember, we are all fighting against Avelin in the hopes that we will free our prisoners unharmed. Lead Golendria to victory!”

This was answered  with a resounding cheer.

“I carefully chose the group that will come with me. Even thought it contains the fewest men, the path we must take will be by far the most dangerous. With me will go Golyn, Luktar, Solon, Siglyph, and Tesser. Remember, Avelin is not one to be trifled with.”

Cricket had listened carefully for her own name. She was furious when she wasn’t called to go on the northern group. As soon as most of the hall had been cleared, Cricket confronted Airik.

“What’s the matter? Am I not good enough to go with your group?”

“You? A girl? On a warrior’s mission? Surely you jest. Not only are you not going in my group, you are not going at all.”

Cricket looked at him coldly. “I have made no jest. I am just as important as any warrior, and I’m sure ten times smarter!”

But Airik was not about to be defeated by an impudent girl. “Look,” he said. “You are not going. Think then, if you’re so smart. It’s not a girl’s place to go.”

“I don’t care, I’m going.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Then I’ll have to set a guard on you. I don’t even know how this idea formed in that thick head of yours. Think, really try. Girls are afraid of tons of things; they shriek at every little thing. Like mice.

Please cooperate. It’s for your own good.”

“I will not cooperate,” she said through her teeth. “This is not some silly idea. I will not go away, I will not forget about this search party, and I am not ‘afraid of every little thing.’”

“Cricket, people are staring.”

“Let them! Let them know what a dimwit you are! I used to have a pet rat that I loved dearly and my mother detested! So you forget about your little lady ideas. I’m going!”

Airik held his breath. “Bwor!”

A large, burly man appeared behind him. “Yes, Highness?”

“Keep an eye on this scatterbrained girl. She has a crazy idea that she’s going on this search party. Can you imagine? I fear she may be ill. Take her to her quarters.”

Cricket protested as Bwor picked her up. Torshak growled as she kicked wildly about.

“Oh, Cricket, how unladylike of you! Forget the idea, and that’s an order. You are not going.”

Cricket glared at Airik and muttered under her breath. “We’ll see, High Lord. We’ll just see.”

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