Chapter 9: A Friendly Face

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"You're the queen's missin' lady-in-waitin'."

My eyes opened wide. "Y—You've heard of me?"

He nodded. "Who hasn't? There's a price on your head, you know."

"What?"

"Aye. I've seen the missive myself. The district received word this mornin' about your unexpected escape from the queen's dungeons. No one is to give you a hand in anythin'. If seen, you're to be taken into custody."

I took a step back, unwilling to follow him any further.

Eothaine held up a hand. "You've nothin' to fear from me, I assure you. Personally, you don't look like the type of person who would try to kill the queen of Vespa Vale."

Relief filled me. The trepidation roiling within me refused to dissipate, however.

"I'm not. But I do know the person who tried to do just that."

"You do?"

I nodded. "Yes. She used to be my best friend, you see."

"Bummer. What are you doin' all the way out here?"

I released a pent-up breath. "It's a long story."

A light of interest lurked in the depths of his eyes. "I'd love to hear it."

"No, you wouldn't."

"I would," he said. "Look around you. We've all the time in the world."

I glanced about at the surrounding darkness. "You want me to tell you my story? Here? While we're out in the middle of nowhere?"

He laughed. "No, silly. Once we get to the cave."

My face grew warm once more. "Oh."

"Yeah."

Without utttering another word, Eothaine turned and zig-zagged through the trees. Every now and then, he'd stop and collect random pieces of wood. He glanced behind him on occasion, making sure I followed in his wake.

I struggled to keep up with his rapid pace. It wasn't long before we arrived at the cave's entrance.

Clutching the torch tight between his fingers, Eothaine led us deeper into our temporary shelter. Our footsteps echoed all around us.

To my surprise, there were no animals of any kind inside the cave itself.

"We're safe here," Eothaine said.

He dropped the satchel and the stack of wood he'd been carrying in front of his feet before dropping to his knees. With deft hands, he set about in making a campfire to keep us warm throughout the night.

"I'm sure we are."

Once done with setting the fire, he grabbed his satchel and rummaged through the pack's depths. "Are you hungry?"

My stomach rumbled.

Eothaine chortled. "I take it that's a yes."

Embarrassed, I nodded.

He withdrew a small brown paper bag and plucked it open, revealing two cheesecloth-covered sandwiches. "This isn't much, but it'll take care of your hunger. I swiped some ham and cheese from the baker's before I left this morning. I've a flask of ale, too, if you'd like some."

I accepted the sandwich and drew the cloth aside, biting into it with gusto.

Eothaine nodded and sat down. He, too, dug into his own sandwich.

Once done, we shared the flask of ale amongst ourselves.

"You don't look like a traitor," he said, moments later.

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