‘But you’ve got what you wanted,’ Rowena protested. ‘You have my food, my necklace, my diary, what do you want with me?’
‘I’m not sure you understand the concept of what we do. We are thieves. We take whatever we can that will make us some money and we sell it.’
‘Exactly, you have everything of value that I have.’
‘Yes but we also want you,’ Artem said. The way he was watching her made Rowena very uncomfortable, like he saw right through her.
‘What am I worth then?’
‘You’re the daughter of some rich lord,’ Erik put in. ‘I’ve seen your kind, fancy clothes, nice washed hair and pale skin. I’m sure your daddy would love to pay us handsomely for your safe return.’ There was a horrid glint in his eyes that made Rowena shudder. She didn’t like him. He was unpredictable and scary, a combination that Rowena was very wary of.
‘Thank you Erik,’ Ishak said. ‘I think Arty has got this under control.’
‘Arty?’ Rowena said, her mouth curving involuntarily into a smile. ‘You’re a hard criminal and they call you Arty?’
‘I’m not sure I like your attitude,’ Artem said, his tone suddenly a lot more dangerous as he stood as close as he could to Rowena. ‘Now we need to get going, and you are coming with us.’
Rowena crossed her arms, suddenly feeling a lot more confident. ‘Make me.’
‘Oh, so you’re still playing that game?’ He said sternly. ‘We can do this the easy way or the hard way. It’s your choice.'
‘I’m not moving,’ Rowena said, sitting on a small stone, arms crossed defiantly.
‘Well don’t say I didn’t warn you,’ Artem said, bending down and wrapping his arm around Rowena’s waist.
'What are you doing? Put me down!’ Rowena screamed as she was hoisted very inelegantly over Artem’s shoulder. She cringed as she heard the laughs of the other men as hey set off.
‘You can put me down now,’ Rowena said as she bounced up and down, her hair falling over her face and her head upside down. She was feeling a little more than humiliated for being picked up like a small child and thrown over Artem’s shoulder. ‘You said make me, so that’s what I’m doing,’ Artem said, readjusting his hold on her legs.
‘If you don’t put me down then I’ll scream.’
'Scream all you want, there’s no one around to hear you.’
Rowena smiled, took a deep breath and screamed for as long and as loudly as she could. The men screwed up their faces at the power of the noise, but kept on walking. She had to pause every so often to take in a fresh supply of air, but as soon as her lungs were filled, Rowena would start screaming again.
‘Artem,’ Ishak pleaded. ‘Shut her up for pities sake.’
‘OK then fine,’ Artem agreed, swinging Rowena off his shoulder and putting her feet first on the ground. ‘Happy now?’
‘Much better, thank you.’ Rowena said, smiling internally at her success and turning to walk away.
‘Oh no you don’t.’ Artem grabbed her arm. ‘You’re staying right here, next to me where I can keep an eye on you. I can’t afford to have you running off again.’ Rowena huffed, saying to herself that she wouldn’t speak to anyone for the rest of the journey. But Artem had other ideas. ‘So where is it you come from?’ When there was no reply he chuckled to himself. ‘So you’re going to play it that way are you? Well that’s fine by me. It’ll just be a very long day.’
Rowena told herself she wasn’t going to give in to his jibes, but after hours of silence and sitting through their midday break not saying a word, she realized that what Artem had said was true. It was going to be a very long journey if she wasn’t talking to anyone.
‘So where is it we’re going?’ Rowena asked Artem as the light began to fade and dusk was threatening to set in.
‘Ah so you’ve decided to be sociable then,’ Artem said cheerfully. ‘Well first we’re heading east to a market town on the other side of the Lyrian boarder, I have a friend there who I need to speak to. Then after that, a trip north towards Madrimar.’
‘But how do you know where we’re going. This forest is stupidly big and we have no way to know where we’re going.’
‘Believe it or not, there are hundreds of paths in this forest and Lukas,’ he pointed towards the man with light ginger hair flowing in a mane to his shoulders, ‘knows them all like the back of his hand.’
‘That’s stupid,’ Rowena replied. ‘No one can know that.’
‘Lukas grew up in these woods; he spent his childhood getting lost here. I think he’ll have learnt his way around by now.’
‘So if Lukas knows his way around then why don’t the rest of you?’
‘We didn’t all grow up here,’ Artem laughed. ‘Not many people are lucky enough to grow up among these trees and survive to adulthood.’
‘So if the rest of you aren’t Forest-born, where are you from.’
‘Well Hans and Jem are from Lyria. Luckily they both have the typical Lyria laid-back attitude towards things or we’d all kill each other. Erik is from Tiberek, which is about as far south as you can get so he’s pretty hard. And Ishak is from the Indigo Isles off the coast of Fersere.’ Rowena’s mind boggled at the thought off all these people, from all these different cultures and countries, living together.
‘So where are you from then? Somewhere very exotic?’
Artem laughed at this for a reason Rowena couldn’t understand. ‘No I’m far from exotic. I was born and bred in Madrimar.’ Rowena fell silent at this. She’d remembered her home. She should be there now, creating peace between Madrimar and Fersere by marrying her stepmother’s nephew. What would happen now Fersere’s only princess was gone? Would there still be a treaty?
‘Here’s a good place to set up camp.’ They had just walked into a clearing with enough space for the bedrolls to be put out and a fire to be lit in the centre. ‘Well done Lukas, you’ve done it again.’ Rowena looked on as the men all slapped Lukas on the back, and got ready to set up camp.
I could slip away now, she thought. I could disappear into the trees and they wouldn’t know I was gone until it was too late. But how would she get home? Lukas knew the forest better than anyone, she was sure of it now, and she wouldn’t be able to navigate her way out of it on her own. I’ll stay with them for now, she decided. I can stay with them until we reach Lyria. I’ll know where I am then and can find my way home alone.
‘Come on then my lady,’ Jem said, a smile on his face. ‘You’re going to have to help set up camp too.’