His eyebrows lifted in mild amusement at her attempt to bluff him. “A misconception, then?” he asked.
Erinael scowled at his re-use of phrase. “I must go, I am expected. Now let go.” she said, attempting to pull the reigns from his hand. “Please.”
The corners of his mouth twitched as he tried not to laugh. “Come with me.” he commanded, taking her by the wrist.
“I demand that you let me go.” Erinael struggled to free herself from his grasp, his grip like iron.
He pulled her along after him, leaving her the option to either follow or be dragged. She beat at his arm with her free hand until he turned and took her by her other wrist. “Stop it.” he growled, giving her a shake.
Erinael had never before been treated in such a manner that her eyes went wide with surprise, then they narrowed in anger. Instinctively, her knee came up and smashed into his groin. He exhaled sharply, dropping her wrists. Then she ran.
She darted through the woods, ducking under tree limbs and leaping over fallen branches. She could hear his heavy steps as he stormed after her, and she ran even faster. Having no weapons, and realizing that she could never outrun him, she knew that she would have to hide and hope to wait him out.
Erinael found a likely hiding place – a large bush next to a tree. She then crawled between the two, back to the tree, wrapping her cloak around herself. Then, as she heard him approach, she went still and held her breath.
He passed so close to her that Erinael could have reached out and touched him if she had wanted. She heard him swear as he moved away, but didn’t move until she heard him no more. Then she crept out from her hiding place cautiously, trying to rustle the leaves as little as possible.
She stood up, glancing about her, almost expecting for him to leap out from behind a nearby tree. But he was nowhere to be seen. She promptly headed back the way that she had come, hoping to get to Dasa and ride away. She didn’t think that he had a horse nearby.
Tracking back, Erinael could just make out the form of Dasa through the trees and of the road beyond. The horse whinnied to her as she caught Erinael’s scent on the breeze. Relief flooded through her that she had not seen the man anywhere, and that he presumably had not seen her. Eagerly, she hurried toward the mare. He leaped out at her from behind a tree as she moved past him. Arms locked around her, pinning hers to her sides as he lifted her from the ground.
“Let me go!” she screamed as she struggled. She kicked back at his shins, and even threw her head back into his face, catching him in the chin. He still did not let go, squeezing her even tighter the more she struggled.
Dasa, who normally would have come to her mistress’ aid, remained implacable, staying right where she had been left.
“You stubborn git!” he growled, breathing hard against the pain as she kicked him again in the shins. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
He only threw her down to the ground when she slammed her head back into his nose. Almost immediately she tried crawling away as an aspect of her dream came rushing back into memory. Before she could get very far away, he had grabbed her by the ankle and then by her cloak. She fumbled with the clasp as she kicked at him. Once the cloak had fallen away, she twisted her body and kicked him solidly in the chest. His grip loosened and she squirmed away again.
He lunged at her then, tackling her and pinning her to the ground. “No!” Erinael screamed, the sound clawing its way from her throat. “No!” she screamed again as he held down with all of his body weight while fighting to catch her by the wrists. Tears streamed down her face in panicked expectation for what she thought was to happen next.
Instead, he rose up, one hand at the back of her neck, keeping her pressed the ground while a knee pressed into the small of her back. “Give me your hands.” he hissed, pulling a length of cord from his belt.
“Okay, just please, don’t hurt me.” she begged, bringing her hands out from beneath her. He tied them behind her back before then hauling her to her feet.
He brushed her hair from her face, picking out a few dead leaves as he did so, then promptly took her chin in his hand and turned her face this way and that. She glowered at him as he checked her over for cuts or bruises. He, however, had blood running from his nose and a split in his lip. “None the worse…” he muttered, taking her by the arm and leading her back toward the horse.
“I’m going to help you up. No kicking!” he insisted, pointing at her. “Now, put your foot in the stirrup.”
Erinael glared and grit her teeth, but did as he said. He held her pressed against Dasa as she swung her other leg over, then helped her stay balanced as she shifted to a comfortable position in the saddle. He then led Dasa into the trees, first to retrieve Erinael’s cloak, which he draped back around her shoulders, and then deeper into the woods.
* * *
“Where are you taking me?” Erinael asked after a few hours had passed. Her stomach gnawed at her, and her bladder had become uncomfortably full.
“She speaks.” the man chuckled. He glanced back at her, as he had periodically done throughout the morning. They still traveled through the woods, using a well-worn deer track. He had said next to nothing to her, allowing her to pout in silence.
“I asked you a question. Now answer me.”
He stopped Dasa then, turning to face her head on. “Why don’t you try being a little nicer.” he smirked, knowing that he had only served to anger her. “Otherwise, go back to not speaking. I enjoyed the quiet.”
Erinael glared at the back of his head as he started off again. Dasa plodded along behind, as if she were an old pack-horse. That concerned Erinael. Dasa was generally much more spirited, and didn’t take to someone she was not familiar with. She allowed the sell-sword to touch her and lead her about. Very much not of typical behavior.
“I’m hungry.” Erinael said, sounding very cross.
He glanced back over his shoulder. “What do you want me to do about it?”
“So you would have me starve?”
“The thought has crossed my mind.”
Erinael regarded him for a moment. “I also need to…” She trailed off, immediately embarrassed to have brought it up, but would need his help to get down. Unless he had no qualms about allowing her to wet herself.
He stopped Dasa again as a deep belly laugh erupted from him. “You need to what, Princess?”
She cleared her throat. “Please, I need to stop.” She spoke quietly, and wasn’t sure if he had even heard her.
“That’s better.” he said, coming over. He then lifted her down with seemingly little effort, setting her lightly to the ground. The smug look on his face was enough to make her wish that she could slap it away. He even untied her, but tied one end of a long cord to her wrist. “If you want privacy, this is as far as you go.” he said, holding the coil of line and pointing to a nearby tree just off of the deer track.
Erinael chafed at the makeshift leash until he gave it a tug. “I thought you needed a stop.” he reminded her. She gave him a contemptuous glare before stalking off to the indicated tree.
She leaned back against the tree to brace herself as she tried to will her body to do one of the most basic functions, but it was not to be so. Even if he was not standing right over her, just the knowing that he was nearby and could potentially hear even something was enough to disturb her. She resorted to closing her eyes and sticking her fingers in her ears while breathing slowly in and out, and finally she relaxed just enough. When she came out from behind the tree, she summoned as much grace and dignity that a captive princess could possess after having been forced to relieve herself in the woods by her captor.
He grinned broadly as she came out. “Feel better now? Not so ill-tempered?” He was winding the cord around his forearm as she was forced to come closer.
“My father will have your head.” She drew herself up, to make herself as tall as she could yet still not reaching his shoulders. He was as tall as Nolan, if not almost as tall as Andraes.
He laughed. “What, never had to pee in the woods before?”
Erinael could only glare at him as her cheeks turned pink. Of course she had done so before. She went out into the Royal Forest, numerous times in the search of herbs of plants. It was just that he made light of a very personal and private function.
“Such crude talk for a sell-sword.” She spat the word as if it left a sour taste on the tongue.
He ignored her disdain and swept into a low bow. “I am Idriss, Elf-Friend to the River Clans.”
* * *
Lord-King Andraes paced the corridors. Nolan had sent messengers back to say that he was going out into the wilderness to search for Erinael, and then to report that there was still no sign. Andraes had petitioned others in the Mountain Clans to aid in the search, and the Lady Marisandra had also promised to have the Northern Clans render aid.
It disturbed Andraes to involve Dead Hunters in his search of Erinael. They had been the most uncomfortable with Andraes adopting the girl, having been the most superstitions of the three Clans. However, Andraes reasoned that being tasked to seek out and stop any use of Necromancer magic rightfully made for weary hearts and minds. Their knowledge of the terrain and their magic that enabled them to communicate with each other over long distances made them invaluable in the search.
Andraes had neither slept nor eaten since he had learned of Erinael’s disappearance, despite the insistence of many in his counsel. He gaged the time to be near midday, as that the Chancellor was again pestering him to eat something. The man gestured to the kitchen maid to bring the plate of fruits closer, only to have Andraes wave her away. “Until I am sure that my daughter has eaten, then I will eat.” The Chancellor murmured apologies before sending the girl on her way.
Andraes then returned to his pacing, scenarios of the worst possible things to befall a lone human girl lost in the wild running rampant in his mind.