I saw daylight in front of us and started to rush, but the little king held me back. It wasn’t long before we could see the sky. The butterfly flew out into the open and I watched it, half envious of its freedom. Little hands grasped me. Looking down at Silriend I realized that I was just one step away from a large drop.
“Follow me,” the little man said.
There was a hidden way chiseled into the stone. After a very short passage, we found ourselves at the top of a stone ladder.
Silriend went first, then me, then the prince and Merla guarded the rear.
We stopped at the bottom to regather. It didn’t take a genius to know that there would soon be Snow Demons crawling all over the land trying to find us. We had to meet up with our people, with Thworn, and leave Slore as soon as possible. But I hated to leave our little bit of shelter to search them out.
I shouldn’t have worried, for we walked for only five minutes before we saw our people.
“What did you find?” Thworn asked when he saw me enter the camp. “Did you find a safe way into the stronghold?”
Prince Branfel pushed past me before I could answer.
“Ah, Thworn, my trusted lieutenant,” the prince said. “I should have known that you would rescue me. What a brave and daring plot you had. I will make sure you are richly rewarded.”
“What is your plan now?” the prince asked.
I jumped at the chance before he could say anything. “We must find the sword. Zurlfed will be after us. The sword will be the only thing that will save our land.”
“What is your peasant blabbing about?” Prince Branfel asked Thworn. The man shrugged.
“You know where the sword King Brinwald used to defeat Zurlfed is hidden,” Merla said. “That is why he captured you alive, so he could find the secret.”
“The pretty peasant babbles a lot as well.”
“Where is the sword?” I asked.
“I cannot answer to a peasant,” the prince said. Merla gave him warning look. “But I will say that the fellow back in that mud hole Thworn rescued me from kept asking me stupid questions about a sword. I told him that on my life I could never say. I said this because I had no idea what he was talking about and he could cut me to ribbons and I still wouldn’t know.”
“A dragon took King Brinwald’s sword,” Merla said patiently. “You know where it is. Where’s the dragon?”
On hearing the word “dragon”, the prince began to shake violently.
“D-d-d-dragon…..?” he said. “Th-th-there’s n-n-n-no d-d-d-dragons. I nev-nev-nev-never saw one. I am brave. I would never r-r-r-run away from anything. If my-my-my men survived the beast, I mean the.., I mean…, if they survived, they’ll tell you. I-I-I-I w-w-would never run from any danger.”
The prince cowered and looked around as if expecting the dragon to break out of woods at any second.
“Of course not, my lord,” Thworn said. “Every man knows how brave you are. Right men?”
Thworn’s soldiers all nodded.
“See, my lord? The men are all behind you. Just these two.” Thworn pointed at us.
“OK. Well, kill the peasants and let’s go home,” the prince said. “I miss my mommy… I mean, I’m hungry. Yeah, that’s what I said, I’m hungry.”
“OK men, you heard. Break camp,” Thworn said. “We leave in ten minutes. And you,” he pointed to one of the soldiers. “Take these two away from camp and kill them.”
The soldier drew his sword and looked at us with stern eyes. “OK you two, you heard him. Let’s get moving.”
Merla and I led the way out with the soldier just behind.
“In a minute I will grab a stick and turn on him. You run,” I said.
“What type of fool plan is that?” Merla asked.
“I want you to get away and live.”
“Hey you,” the soldier said. “Stop your yapping.”
We walked for another minute before the soldier told us to stop.
We stopped and turned.
“I hate to do this, you look awfully nice, but you heard the prince.”
He lifted his sword.
Before he could react, Merla kicked him in the stomach. He bent over double and dropped the sword. Merla picked it up and flung it into the bushes.
“What’d you go and do that for?” the soldier asked. He dropped to the ground.
“I didn’t feel like being killed quite yet,” she answered.
“Why not?” the soldier seemed confused. “The prince ordered t, so I don’t understand…”
“Look,” I said. “After you’ve recovered, find the sword and go back to camp. Tell them that you killed us and left our bodies out for the wild animals to eat. OK? Nothing too difficult to understand there is there?”
Still sitting on the ground still holding his stomach, he looked up at me. “But that’d be lying, now wouldn’t it?”
“We are running back into Slore and will surely die, right?” Merla asked. The man nodded. “So it isn’t that much of a lie, is it?” He looked confused. Merla sighed. “You have a clear choice. Tell them that you killed us and be rewarded or go back and tell them that a woman beat you up and we escaped.”
“If you put it that way….”
“Fine. Don’t try to track us unless you want the Snow Demons to dine on your flesh tonight.”
The man shivered.
We turned and fled, seeking shelter from both Zurlfed’s minions and Prince Branfel’s men.
Merla pointed. I could see a large hole in a sheer wall, like an eye on the cliff, just in front of us. I looked back and noticed the tunnel we had exited on the other side of the valley, a twin of the one in front of us. We scrambled up the hillside and soon found the hidden rock ladder and climbed up into the cave.
“That went rather well, didn’t it?” Silriend had rejoined us.
“Can you turn invisible?” Merla asked.
“I never give up my secrets.” The little man winked at her.
“What do we do now?” I asked.
Merla shook her head, not saying she didn’t know, but as if I had just asked the stupidest question in the world.
“What?” I asked.
“’What’ exactly,” she said. “Tell me quick, what did we learn from Prince Brain-full of Nothing?”
I thought back to the conversation and the prince’s odd reaction.
“He saw the dragon,” I said. “It scared the you-know-what out of him.”
“A shadow would scare it out of him,” Merla said. “Go on.”
“In all likelihood, it was the dragon that killed his men, who were protecting him as he ran away.”
“We find out where he was and we should be able to find the dragon. Find the dragon and we find the sword. Oh. And also Zurlfed was asking the wrong questions. He doesn’t seem much brighter than our prince. If he asked about the dragon, he might have gotten somewhere.”
“Now what was your first question?”
“What do we do now? OK, I got it. We find the dragon.”
“Exactly. Silriend, what do we do now?”
My mouth dropped. “Wasn’t that what I asked?”
“No. Silriend knows where Prince Brain-dead was captured. He needs to tell us where to go.”
As soon as I said that, we could hear the wolves begin to howl.
“It’s day,” I said. “Why are the wolves howling?”
“They have prey trapped,” Merla said.
The howls were just below our position.
“Quick, they’ll soon be here,” Silriend said. “We need to go in deeper and find shelter.”
We scrambled into the darkness. There was no butterfly to follow. We turned down passage after passage. We hit an underground stream and ran down the middle, hopefully making it impossibly to track our scent. In a few minutes we turned back into the maze of tunnels.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” Silriend said. “But we are getting there pretty quick, aren’t we?”
I gritted my teeth and continued on deeper into the side of the mountain.
— — —
Now continued with Part 5!
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