Lesson 17

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Grielle sat by the fire

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Grielle sat by the fire. She was poking its coals with a long stick when Berne rushed into camp.

"Benedikt is gone," he said in his deep rasping voice.

"That idiot of a prince." Grielle jumped up along with the others. "Do you know where he went?"

Berne placed his hands on his knees to catch his breath before he replied, "We were walking the perimeter in opposite directions, but I made a full circle without seeing him. He didn't have anything but his sword on him, so I don't think he was planning on heading off on his own."

Grielle turned to Reyn, her voice uneasy. "Do you think you can find his trail?"

"Of course," Reyn replied. She began to make a torch for herself to see in the woods.

"Arm yourselves, everyone," Grielle commanded, drawing her sword. "We have a prince to find."

Grielle followed a few steps behind Reyn, who carefully scanned the perimeter Benedikt had traveled. She paused occasionally to walk off the path and examine broken branches and check patches of bare dirt for footprints.

"Here!" she shouted back to them. "His footprints lead away from the perimeter."

Reyn didn't move fast, but her well-trained eyes saw things in the night that the others missed. A snapped twig. A torn leaf. A thread of Benedikt's tunic that had been carelessly snagged on some briars.

"He was running; he went through here." Reyn took off through the narrow and winding path that led through a briar patch. Grielle and the others followed at a hurried pace, but the thorns caught on their clothes, forcing them to stop periodically to free themselves.

A fluttering panic rose in Grielle's throat as she wondered what had possessed Benedikt to run off on his own. He certainly wasn't dumb enough to take off into the woods alone without any supplies. They reached the other side of the briars and continued to follow Benedikt's trail until a silver glow ahead of them stopped them short. Grielle ran to the front to get a better view.

There was a wide clearing up ahead, drenched in uninhibited moonlight. As she continued towards the light, Grielle saw a figure moving ahead. Through the trees she spotted their missing prince walking towards the small lake that occupied the center of this clearing. "Benedikt!" Grielle called out, but he didn't turn around.

~

Benedikt's head was filled with the maiden's laughter and the pleasing curve of her smile. His feet followed after her, but he couldn't seem to catch up. She remained always just out of arm's reach. And yet she beckoned him onward and no obstacle would keep him from her because...he loved her.

Yes, he loved her!

She reached the edge of a lake that sparkled in the moonlight with an inviting coolness. His beloved waded into the water, her silver gown mingling in the reflection of the moon. Benedikt took a step, but then paused as three swans disturbed the glasslike surface of the lake. Their long necks curved like wilting flowers and their feathers were made whiter in the moonlight. The swans dived headfirst into the water but when they resurfaced with a splash, they were no longer swans but giggling maidens as well.

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