Chapter 45

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Defnyn led Eleri through the passageways that criss-crossed The Empty Meadows. She had thought them nothing more than natural cracks in the rock, an inconvenience, a hazard, but Defnyn had shown they were more than that to the Helwyr. They were secret paths through the Borderlands.

Not all linked up with other passageways. Some were dead ends, whilst others had walls knocked through by the Helwyr themselves to join the next one along, and thus link them. It was due to this network of roofless tunnels that Eleri and Cigfran hadn't realised that these banished men were much closer than they anticipated.

As they walked, Eleri tied a strip of cloth around her bloodied elbow. It had now started to ache, but there was nothing she could do about it. She had no way to prepare any of herbs, and no time to stop and bandage it properly.

Every now and then, Defnyn would stop, raising his right hand to indicate for Eleri to wait. He was ever watchful and ever vigilant to the sounds of movement up ahead. The priestess couldn't help but wonder at why he was so desperate to get away from his brethren. Had he done something to upset them? Had he committed a crime that was considered bad even by their standards? Such thoughts whirled through Eleri's mind. She couldn't help but be suspicious. To accept everything at face value was to embrace danger and she'd had quite enough of that.

The passages twisted and turned. Eleri had no sense of direction down there below the surface and she had no way of telling if they were getting closer to The Windswept Woods. If Defnyn was leading her back to his people, she wouldn't know until it was too late. Anxiety knotted in her stomach as she acknowledged how much she was committing to the trust of stranger. But as Cigfran had said, what choice did she have?

Footsteps echoed through the tunnel. Someone was running towards them. Defnyn stopped, his hand raised once more. Eleri swallowed hard.

'Defnyn! Where have you been? I've been looking all over.' The voice talking was gruff and mean, ten times worse than Defnyn's.

Defnyn stepped to the side, an evil smiled spread across his face as he looked from the newcomer back to Eleri.

'Look what I found roaming around our tunnels.'

'The girl,' the other growled, an evil grin of his own splitting his face in two, revealing missing and blackened teeth. 'Why didn't you call off the hunt. The others are still searching for her and that stupid bird. Oh, wait. Now I understand.' The man laughed; it was a disgusting sound. 'You wanted to have a little fun yourself before you handed her over.'

Defnyn nodded and grinned.

Eleri went cold.

'Looks like I'm going to have to share my prize,' Defnyn said, raising his eyebrows to suggest something Eleri didn't want to think about.

The newcomer stepped forward. Eleri went to step back but Defnyn grabbed her by the back of the next to stop her running off. 'No, you don't, pretty,' he smirked as his friend came closer. Moving in close so that Eleri could see right into his bright blue eyes, he whispered huskily, 'You're not going anywhere.'

Eleri shook with revulsion, closed her eyes and turned away. The next thing she knew, Defnyn had let go of her neck and there was thud on the floor. Slowly she opened her eyes to see the man on the ground, her long knife protruding from his chest and Defnyn leaning over him.

Eleri couldn't take her eyes off either of them. Whatever the look on her face, Defnyn must have taken it as a rebuke.

'What? Do you want to know what he would have done to you?'

'I...' But no words came out of her mouth. She was so stunned by the fast turn in the situation that she couldn't think straight. She couldn't think at all. One minute the danger she was in was very real, very palpable and the next, it was gone. This stranger of whom she was still suspicious of a few moments before, had killed one of his own who threatened her. Or, if she was being cynical, threatened his escape from the Borderlands.

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