Ch. 26.2 - The road home

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Cooper came over to Lacey’s cot carrying a steaming bowl of stew. Lacey suddenly missed bread—the smell of yeasty dough—crust turning golden in the oven. 

“Do you believe me, Cooper?” she whispered, staring at the rafters while the raccoon completed her spoon ritual.

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

“What do we do?”

“Try not to get on Goeden’s bad side. That’s all you can do.”

“So, I should stop saying that he killed Niva? I should let him get away with it?”

“She is gone now, there is nothing to be done to help her, you have to think of yourself now, and the rest of us.”

“I am thinking of me—and the rest of you—under a tree!”

“Don’t give Goeden any reason to do it.”

“What reason did Niva give?” Lacey suspected there was none. Niva was not supposed to be there, it was Lacey’s section of the trapline.

         Cooper didn’t answer. The spoon hung in the air between them. Lacey turned away from the mystery meat and broth. “I’m not hungry.”

Cooper sighed and set the bowl on the table. “The others are already blaming the trees.”

“Oh, that’s convenient. It isn’t the trees they should be afraid of.” Lacey rolled her back toward her, and Cooper took the hint. Soft padding steps exited the hut and the door closed gently. As soon as the raccoon-woman was gone, Lacey sat up and threw the blanket off, swinging her legs over the side and putting on her boots.

She had to do something. Ezerelle had ordered them all to sleep and recover. The look she had given Lacey had sent a chill down her spine. This was not the light-hearted Ezerelle anymore. She was tall and commanding, not to be questioned. The unconscious Devan was sent somewhere on the Herd side to be dealt with.  Humans were a threat, but not Goeden?

She was not going to sit by and let something happen to Devan. He was in this mess because of her. This was her last chance to help him. Nobody had really figured out what to do about him yet, Goeden and the day-hunters were still missing.

She slipped out of the door and crouched low; she took to the narrow spaces between the huts instead of the well-worn lanes. She made her way carefully to the Herd side and spied on the activities there. Where is he?

Her first thought was Ezerelle’s hut, but as she watched the Wished, deer, rabbit, squirrel, goat, their prey instincts betrayed them. She saw nervous glances, twitching noses, and wide paths taken to avoid one particular hut.

The wide berth they were giving the hut made it all the more easy for her make her way unseen. A swift kick opened up a hole in the shoddily slapped together walls at the rear of the structure.

Devan was awake. Bound and gagged. His eyes widened at the sight of her. There was a walnut-sized lump on his head. It accounted for his unconsciousness when Blayd brought him in. She wondered if Blayd had given him that bump to get him to come along quietly, or if Devan had just run into a tree in the dark. The first night she met Blayd—been chased by him--she had run face first into a few trees herself.

Devan was trying to speak through the gag. She hushed him and knelt down to slip it off.

“Lacey, there is a huge slathering wolf-beast out there. Those cat people were like kittens compared to him.” His eyes were wild. His head tossed this way and that, as he struggled against the ropes.

“I know.” She picked at the knots. They weren’t very complicated, more like childish bows than the array of knot types she had learned from Riley. It was a mystery as to how Devan had not already freed himself. The Herd were not especially skilled captors. “He is my friend, I sent him to get you.”

Devan stopped his fidgeting and stared at her as she loosened and yanked away the ropes at his ankles. “What?”

“Devan I don’t have time for this. I don’t care about your single-minded need to find the well, and wish for whatever trivial thing you want so badly. Dangerous things are happening. You cannot be in the Wish Wood right now!”

Tears welled in his eyes.

Lacey was shocked. She had never seen him cry. Not even when he first came to Pine Ridge—after he had lost his mother.

He wiped his eyes before the tears could leak out. “Fine. Whatever.”

She nodded. Finally, she had gotten through to him. “Good. Now, come on. I am getting you out of here and taking you home.”

She motioned for him to follow her, creeping out the way she had come in. It was ridiculously easy to avoid getting noticed. She couldn’t really fault them. It’s not like they were used to guarding against escaping prisoners. She didn’t go back to the Hunter side, though. They skirted around until they reached the edge of the Wood and then she led him through the trees.

Her instincts told her exactly where to go even though this was not the usual way she left the camp. They made good time--although she was still cautious—Goeden and his hunters were out there somewhere.

Something rustled behind them and she looked back to find Meemu following. His tail was low and twitching, his shoulders hunched, like a lion on the prowl. Lacey smiled. She hadn’t seen him since before the storm and she had been worried about the timing with Goeden’s disappearance. Meemu was a clever cat though. No mere rat could interfere with him, and by the looks of him he was ready for Goeden to try.

Devan didn’t argue or even say a word the whole way. She brought him to the road, and could have left him to make his way from there, but she wasn’t exactly sure she could trust his new cooperativeness. So, she walked with him on the road until the pines gave way to cottonwoods and she could see the branches thinning ahead to let through specks of bright sky—the sky over the Village. She thought she could even smell bread.

Lacey stopped.

Devan walked a few feet before he realized she was not with him any more. His forehead crinkled. “You aren’t coming.” It was a statement, not a question.

Lacey sucked in her lower lip and then drew it out, scraping it with her fangs. She shook her head.

“You can’t go back to those things. They are monsters. You aren’t one of them.”

Her heart clenched in her chest. “They aren’t monsters, most of them at least.”

“So what? This is your home. You have a mother and a sister.”

Lacey breathed in the smell of bread. It warmed her all over. Not even the comforting presence of Ezerelle could compare. Could she just go home? Could it be that easy? Meemu blinked at her, but did not provide any answers. Devan was nodding, as if he could read her thoughts.

Suddenly, she heard a shout of alarm from the Village. And more shouts. Angry. Someone had spotted her. She was foolish to think they would forgive her or accept her back.

“Wait,” Devan called.

But it was too late. She was running.

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