The curtain of eventide fell on captor and captive alike as they entered a forest of evergreen. Two campfires were started by the Alfar, and most of the group huddled close for warmth. There was a soft, yet biting wind that sent chills down Oliana’s spine, reminding her that it was winter. Keon saw this and took the opportunity to tease her.
“You’re not in the Everspring Wood anymore, dear. Welcome back to the true season, where we all damn near freeze to death.”
She denied him any kind of acknowledgement and made her way over to Ylva and Dechar, who were being tied up around the trunk of a large pine with the chains. Keon followed her to see what she was up to.
The Alfar finished their work by the time the pair had reached the prisoners, leaving them alone.
“Can’t you at least take the binds off of their mouths now?” Oliana addressed Keon.
“Perhaps the better question is ‘can I trust that wolf not to bite my hand off if I remove the rope from his snout?’” Keon said.
“You can. Now that he knows we’ve been given a chance to set him free, he’ll cooperate. It’s not as if he’s an animal and can’t be reasoned with,” Oliana scolded.
Keon reluctantly unlooped the rope from his mouth and unwrapped the cloth from Ylva’s. Immediately upon removal, Dechar posed a question.
“What about Ylva? You’ll let her free, too, right?” he looked at Keon with eyes that were both fierce and pleading.
“That, I’m afraid, was not a part of the deal,” Keon crossed his arms.
“Oli, we can’t just leave her here! There’s got to be a way to free her, too! I would be dead now if she hadn’t helped me!”
“Why do you care so much for me?” Ylva cut into the conversation. “It’s my fault we were captured; I let my guard down. It’s alright if I die. Everyone I know is missing or gone, and they think I’m dead. What’s the harm in them becoming right about that?” She paused. “You and Oliana need to go on without me.”
“Ylva! Don’t say that. We’re going to find your tribe. You’re going to see your family again!”
Tears streamed down Ylva’s face upon his words. “Stop lying to me, Dechar. Be realistic. There is no hope for me. Our escape will not be in vain if you are spared. Isn’t that good enough?”
“What’s she talking about?” Oliana asked.
“You didn’t tell her what happened? What we planned to do?” Ylva asked Dechar.
“I hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Oli had a lot that she needed to tell me. By the time she was done, we realized you might be in trouble.”
“What were you planning?” Oliana tried to be patient.
Dechar sighed. “After you had escaped from the general’s men, I was taken straight to Eirethstead’s capital city. They brought me before the king himself, and he nearly killed me.”
“You saw the king and lived to tell about it?” Ylva interjected. Then, realizing that she had interrupted, apologized and asked him to please continue. She had promised herself that she would make an effort in her last days to be more accommodating.
“I saw him. He looked just like-- he had a big scar over his jaw. He was going to stab me himself, but he let me go for some reason, and sent me to the dungeon so that he could finish the job later. That’s where I met Ylva. She helped me learn how to shapeshift, and that’s how we eventually escaped. She teleported us outside the castle--”
“Teleported?” Oliana now interrupted. “Sorry,” she added.
“Yes, the Dechi can train in magery to do a number of things. It’s a trick I’d like to learn someday from Ylva, if I get that chance. Anyway, not long after we reached the spring, she teleported back to her homeland. It had been burnt down, and no one was left. So I told Ylva we’d try to help her find her tribe. I thought you wouldn’t mind. I gave her my word, Oli.”
“I see,” Oliana said. “Well, Keon? Will you talk to Orlo for me about it?”
“I will speak to him no sooner than when-- or if-- you prove yourself helpful in the heist. Now that I know the woman is a sorceress, well, that makes her all the more dangerous, exotic, and valuable.” Keon looked at her as if she were a pile of jewels.
Oliana felt a tap on her shoulder and discovered Ghillie Dhu standing behind her, motioning that he needed to speak with her alone.
“Oh, well that’s good enough for now,” she rushed the conversation to a halt. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must relieve myself. I’ll be right back.” She jaunted off into the trees, leaving three perplexed faces in the dark.