My body bolted upright the moment I heard him wake. The soft squeak of his cot signaled that I was no longer safe in a vulnerable sleeping position, and although my desire to continue sleeping was nearly stronger, I forced myself to be alert, and stood up. His elbows rested on his knees, and he rubbed his face, groaning as he moved his hands to ruffle his hair. When he looked over at me his forearms rested on his thighs, and he blinked in sleepy surprise. “My Fates, you’re still standing there.” His voice sounded husky with sleep.
I didn’t trust my own, not having had water in several hours. When I didn’t say anything, he sighed and stood. “My lady, that ring allows you several hundred paces of freedom, and I cannot have you here while I prepare for the day. The stream is straight to the east on the other side of the camp and I have no doubt that several of the men will be more than eager to help you with…whatever it is you need. I will come find you.” The last sentence didn’t sound as much like a threat as it did a promise.
As if I wanted him to come find me. I started forward, intending to march from the tent with dignity, but my ankles nearly gave out and sent me on my face. I caught myself on the edge of the table and the captain rushed forward to help me stand. “That tree was tall,” he remarked, taking hold of my forearms.
I pulled my arms from his grasp and glared up at his dark brown eyes, less intimidating in the glow of the sun. “Release me.”
The corner of his mouth twitched up. “Make me.”
Outraged, I stormed past him, limping slightly on my right ankle. I was going to go as far from this camp as I could before the ring choked me to death. I might even let it, at that. Outside it appeared that most of the men were already awake, even though the sun had just barely risen. I shivered in the chill, not realizing how warm the enclosure had been before. Frost crunched under my shoes, and I tried to look as inconspicuous as possible as I made my way around the tents. In one area of the camp I saw crudely-shaped human figures made of wooden beams mounted for training, and each was confronted by a burly man, attacking the dummy with all the intensity of a real battle. There were very few who sat eating breakfast, for most of the men were working, chopping wood, carrying supplies, training, and even washing clothing in large wooden tubs. I didn’t see any women in the camp, but that didn’t surprise me.
When I reached the other side, not stopped by any of the men, I marched straight through the gap in the tents and went directly east as the captain had instructed. I felt like I had swallowed handfuls of dirt all night, so dry was my mouth and throat. As I made my way through the forest, I encountered the boy whom the captain had sent to retrieve the search party. His hair dripped with water and his clothing stuck to him like he had just taken a bath without bothering to dry off. He stopped when he saw me. “My lady, is there something I can assist you with?”
I wanted to scowl at him, but he was so endearing. It might have been because he was the only gangly male in the camp, and possibly the youngest as well. I stopped and shook my head. “No, I thank you. I am just looking for a drink.”
“Oh, don’t drink that water. We have a well, my lady. If you follow me I can show you.” He ran his hand through his dark brown hair, showering the air with droplets of water.
A well? Just how long had this Dristolian army been here? “Thank you,” I conceded. When he led me through the forest and, thank the Fates, not through the camp, I felt brave enough to ask, “Are you from Dristol?”
He walked beside me, and I saw his eyes flit to me and then straight ahead in nervousness. “Uhm…well Fates, if you’re our prisoner you aren’t going to tell anyone, are you? Yes, we’re Dristolians.”
I didn’t like the idea of never leaving this camp. Once they found that box and knew I would return to Queen Alexandria eventually, they would never let me go. Whatever it was they were doing here, it wasn’t with the queen’s blessing. “You will lose, you know,” I said.
The boy shrugged, smiling. “Maybe.”
Clearly there was something more happening here, but I knew no one would tell me outright what it was.
“My name is Gavin.” The boy, a full head taller than me, gave me a warm smile.
“Wynn,” I smiled back tentatively. I wrestled with the idea of spelling him, but if it was too obvious, the warlock captain would know who I was. “And I am not a spy,” I clarified.
He considered me for a few moments as we walked. “Maybe,” he said again. After a moment he seemed to almost blurt out, “But you don’t look like one.”
I gave him a smile. “That would be the point, though, wouldn’t it?”
“You aren’t helping yourself.” He grinned.
“I don’t know that it matters at this point.”
“Maybe,” he said once more.