Willow had to jog to keep up with Ashalah's long strides. Though the princess wasn't much older than she, she sure was taller. A good four inches at least.
"Wait up, Shar!" she panted, hurrying until she was shoulder to shoulder with her.
"Night is falling," Asharlah stated, nodding above the gigantic trees, where the sky had turned pale purple and the sun was sinking out of sight.
"Great," muttered her guide, pulling out and inspecting her map. "Let's seeee, I think we're close enough to the Ruined Place that we can hunker down there for the night, as long as we don't run into any Shadow errand boys," she commented with a shiver.
"Shadow errand boys?" Asharlah inquired, lifting her skirts daintily as she stepped over a tiny stream running across their path.
"Yep. Last time I was there, there was some creep named Serious Blackfeather. He tried to kidnap me." Willow informed her as she splashed through the stream.
"Sirius Darkfeather?" Asharlah corrected.
"Yeah, him. He was talking to some guy he called Ketennith, but Emmeth told me that it's some sort of under-cover name you guys use here. Kind of like John Smith or John Doe back home, I guess."
Asharlah nodded. "I know."
Willow glanced back at her map. "We should be right about there." She pointed up. "See the spires?"
Asharlah nodded. "Do you think Shadow will be there? I mean, I suppose that if Sirius could get in, anyone could get in."
Willow chewed her lip. "I'll check it out. Wait here. Brb. Oh, uh, be right back."
She gave her a quick wave and darted up to a tree that had grown next to one of the windows. Stuffing the map in her pocket, she hopped up and down until she caught the lowest handing branch with her left hand. Then hand-over-hand, she clambered up the tree and swung neatly into the open window.
"Hello?" she whispered into the darkness. Nothing answered. As quietly as she could, she lifted her bow off her back and laid an arrow on its string. Gently, she tugged it into firing position. Than silently, as she'd been taught, she crept through the deserted halls. All she found was piles of dust. And then...
"Willow?" a male voice asked incredulously behind her.
She was so startled that she spun around and almost fired her arrow point-blank at the unknown person. Luckily, Betromith had fast instincts. He knocked her arm with the broad side of his sword so she fired into the ground.
"Willow!" Hyaline cried, throwing her arms around her friend.
"Sorry, Betromith, Hyaline," Willow apologized over Hyaline's shoulder as her friend squeezed her tightly.
Betromith grunted and looked irratated, but said nothing. "You should look before you leap."
"Oh, can Willow come along?" Hyaline let her friend go and now was looking hopefully at Betromith.
"Come along to where?" Willow asked, picking up her bow and slinging it over her shoulder again.
Betromith sighed, but his face softened as he gazed at Hyaline. "I suppose she couldn't hurt anything," he relented.
"Hurt wha- oh! I left Asharlah outside! I'll be right back!" Willow pranced over to the door, shoved it open, and yelled for Asharlah, who hurried up looking worried.
"Guys, this is Asharlah, Emmeth's cousin. Asharlah, this is Betromith and Hyaline."
"And I am Shemesh," a guy's voice added. Shemesh stepped out of a dark doorway, laden with rope and hooded cloaks.
Asharlah and Hyaline exchanged pleasant smiles, though Willow noted Hyaline's smile looked a bit forced. Betromith and Shemesh both bowed politely.
"I would be glad to escort Lady Asharlah to Essgarothe if you two want to bring Willow with you to the Orphanage," Shemesh offered.
Willow cocked an eyebrow at Asharlah, who nodded. "Shemesh and I already know each other," she explained.
"Okay then. But, um, orphanage?" Willow inquired. "Why are you going to an orphanage?"
Betromith nodded. "Well, when I joined the prince, I left my young siblings in the care of my aunt, for my parents are dead." He sighed deeply. Hyaline reached out and took his hand comfortingly. "But the new "king" found out about them, and has had my sister kidnapped and taken to a newly established orphanage that uses the children of political enemies for forced labor."
Hyaline sighed as well. "Brédin is safe, but Bréda is not. We fear for them both, so we are rescuing them."
Willow nodded. "Of course I'll help. When do we start?"
Shemesh cleared his throat. "If I may, we were going to start tomorrow night, for the guards are not very watchful in the late hours."
Hyaline agreed. "Yes, that seems to be the best time to slip in unnoticed."
"We decided to have Brédin help us, because he's just a child, no one will notice him."
"Does it always rain here?" Willow grunted as they trudged up the back pathway of Betromith's aunt's cottage.
"Not always," Hyaline sputtered, trying to brush the cascading water droplets off of her face, hair and hooded cloak.
"We're here," Betromith announced, rapping on the door.
"Who is it?" a young boy's voice called over the sound of the pounding rain.
"Your big brother!" Betromith called back, his face breaking into the first smile Willow had ever seen on him.
"Betro!" A young boy, about ten or so, raced out and leaped into Betromith's arms with pure happiness. The girls grinned at his enthusiasm.
"Betromith? Is that you?" A tired looking woman appeared in the doorway, carrying a stack of newly folded laundry.
"Aunt Loriana, are you well?" Betromith hitched his little brother onto his hip and carried him up the steps to greet his aunt. "It is good to see you."
"It is good to see you as well, nephew. Who are these young ladies?" Loraina indicated the girls.
"This is Hyaline of Gossgath, and this is Willow Elvish-grace," Betromith indicated each with a hand wave. Both girls nodded politely.
"Hello," Loraina greeted them warmly. "Please come in. Brédin is the only other person here right now."
"I hope we're not being a bother," Hyaline commented as they were shown into a pretty sitting room.
"Of course not! Any friends of Betro's are welcome here."
"Betro, are you gonna get Bréda back?" Brédin questioned his big brother as he leaned on his shoulder.
"Yes I am, Bréd. We're going to get her back tomorrow."
"I hope you have a plan, Betro." Willow remarked as the four of them peered through Loraina's shop window at the looming, shadowy building across the street called The Orphanage.
"It looks as though a funeral should be taking place there instead of being a children's home," Hyaline remarked, pinching her lips together sceptically.
"Poor Bréda," Brédin sighed.
Betromith nodded at them. "Ready?"
They nodded back. "Ready."
"Are you sure this is safe?" Hyaline whispered as they scaled the black metal fence and slipped around to the back of the building.
"There's five guards," Willow noted as she jogged back to the little group. "I say the roof's the easiest way in."
Betromith nodded. "I thought you could, perhaps, if you agree, climb down to get Bréda, and then we will meet you back here."
Willow nodded. "Sure. Sounds pretty easy. Well, moderately. I'm glad I don't look like me," she grinned and indicated her boys' clothing. "Let's go."
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Betromith double-checked with Willow as he tied off the rope at the top of the building as the rain drummed at the tin roof.
"I'm sure," she assured him as she double-checked the rope to make sure it was tight. "I'm smallest, and quickest, so I'll be in and outta there in no time. No problem. See you at the front door."
I sure hope this rope doesn't break, Willow thought nervously, climbing down hand over hand, using her feet to guide herself down the dark wall. Ah, the window ledge. Perfect.
She edged closer to the window, praying that the ledge wouldn't give way. Gently, she rapped on the pane with her knuckles. Rat tat tat tat. The window creaked open, and a shaggy head poked out.
"Are you an angel?" whispered the girl with shaggy light brown hair, her dirty face streaked with tears.
"No, I'm not," she replied in a whisper as she swung into the cramped room. "My name is Willow, like the tree. I'm here to get you out of here, Bréda. Will you help us? Your brother's waiting outside."
"Betro?" she asked, her eyes lighting up.
"Yes, but we need to hurry and get you out. Here, I brought you some different clothes." Willow dropped her satchel onto the dusty wood floor and retrieved an outfit of Brédin's.
"You'll need to pretend to be a boy now, Bréda. It's easier because we can wear pants, and you can do more when you wear pants. I know it'll be weird, but look at me, I'm pretending too." To emphasize her point, Willow plucked the boy's hat she was wearing and unwound a long braid from under it. "See? Piece of cake. Now hurry."
Willow hurriedly helped Bréda into the clothes, which where slightly too big for her. To finish off the look, Willow braided her hair and pinned it up, so it looked short, than plopped a worn cap over it.
"Who are you, I mean really?" the little girl asked, tugging at Willow's borrowed shirt sleeve. "You are not like us. You are not from here, so where are you from?"
Willow knelt in front of her, and her eyes grew serious. "I have many titles, Bréda. Some people call me Elvish-grace, because of this ring I wear," she explained, showing her her right hand and the golden ring on her pointer finger. "Some call me even stranger things, but please, if you want to be free, we have to leave now."
Bréda nodded, but her eyes clouded over. "I'm scared," she hissed as she grabbed hold of Willow's hand.Squeezing it comfortingly, Willow smiled. "It's all right. The Author will watch over us. Now follow me."
I know that wasn't my best chapter, but it was a long time comin' and I knew I had to post something. But the upcoming chapter should have some fun action scenes.
Announcements - D posted chapter sixteen of TWF, so you can check that out on the story Links page. Also, the character of Lila Norris - played by Evangeline Lilly - is actually my character as she points out. You can see her picture on the characters page in the Watchmen Files section.
Be a friend, not an enemy,