So, inevitably I've stumbled across an occasion to use my author's note for Continuity Error Apologies. See, I mention in this chapter that Drake and Charisse are illiterate, which doesn't jive with the fact that in the first chapter, Charisse kept a book of poetry and Drake stole it. I wrote that before I was thinking clearly enough to realize that there's not much of a reason why either ought to be able to read and write. Sorry:-/ Also, remember to save your review to a word document. And for the record, I'm not crazy about this chapter.

It was almost morning when Drake came around.

He felt like he'd lost a wrestling match with a plough.

The memories of the invasion and the fight came flooding back to him, and he jumped to his feet, looking wildly around for the people who had attacked him. The room faded slowly into focuses as his eyes adjusted to the musty darkness of right-before-sunrise. So he was expected to be about and milking Hester within the hour. His head spun. Had he really…?

He stumbled backwards as the whole situation hit him. No, no, it couldn't be…he glanced around frantically. The club and the cutlass were still lying there, he didn't own them, the pitchfork was embedded in the wall – when had THAT happened? He felt dizzy.

His upper left arm throbbed with sudden, sharp pain. He looked down and was almost sick. His entire shirtsleeve was soaked in blood. The blood stained almost half his shirt, had dribbled down to stain his pants and wet the hay beneath him. Damn, he thought as he pulled himself weakly to his feet, all the hay I bled on is useless now, we can't feed it to anything. Thank goodness we had surplus this year, hopefully Charisse will be able to spare –

Charisse is gone. Said his reeling memory helpfully, seizing the opportunity.

He froze as it sunk in. It was real. The fight. The injury. The KIDNAPPING.

No, no, NO

After a moment's hesitant pause, he yanked the pitchfork out of the wall and bolted out the door. The early-morning air chilled him as he ran like a deer to Charisse's door.

The door was splintered. It had been broken down.

"Damn it!" He cried in anguish, half bolting, half falling through the doorway and looking around wildly, helplessly. The kitchen – ransacked. And it was all… so, so, quiet. Unreal, just a preserved monument to what had happened…that couldn't have been just last night. "Charisse!" He called out hopelessly in spite of all odds, begging for a reprieve from this cruel, this ridiculous joke. She couldn't really be…

Increasingly aware of the biting pain in his upper arm where he'd been slashed, he bounded up the stairs. The wound had clotted now, most of the blood had dried, but some of the blood soaked into his shirt was now dripping sluggishly onto the floor wherever he stood. He threw open the door to the linen closet. Right, of course. Gone, almost all of it, for that rope. He wrapped and tied a pillowcase around it as tightly as he could, the pressure slightly relieving the pain. Then he turned to her room.

Charisse's door was demolished as well. As Drake helplessly surveyed the room, with the sheets all off the bed and Charisse nowhere in sight, he felt his chest begin to tighten and a lump rise in his throat. His legs wobbled and his hands shook, he almost dropped the pitchfork. She was gone, they took her, they really took her. Charisse wasn't there anymore… His eyes dampened and stung as he looked around for any last ditch effort he could possibly make to ensure that it wasn't possible she was still here – how was he supposed to accept the fact that Charisse's home had been invaded by apparently purposeless rogues who had defeated him and whooshed Charisse away into the darkness??

It had to be Frederick. Drake would have to find him, hunt him down, he lived in Grangoria, Drake would take off as fast as he could and challenge him, challenge Frederick to fight to the death. As long as there were no tricks, long as he could get Frederick to agree to a fair fight there was no chance Drake could lose against that spindly, beady-eyed little snake.

But what were the chances of a fair fight? He would probably be ambushed at the door by these thugs. And who knew where Charisse could be, even as he was standing in her room – Frederick could have dragged her off to the judge already, most in the country were willing to marry a woman against her will if you paid them enough. Had their marriage already been consummated? – the thought gave Drake a fierce burning sensation in his chest and throat.

He had to try to save her, but what then? What if he won the fight and rescued her? Even aside from the notion that in the eyes of the law he'd have killed a man and stolen his wife. If the marriage had been consummated Charisse could be with child, if they wanted a semblance of decency after that he would have to marry her that day and somehow, somehow make it look as if they'd run off and eloped. Then it would be a marriage of necessity, a blessing and a curse – he'd have been spared the anguish of an actual proposal but still afraid to tell his wife that he loved her, and never knowing what it meant to her. Then the child would come, looking nothing like him, and people would talk but they'd just have to ignore it, and their marriage might be happy, in a companionable, thank-you-for-rescuing-me sort of way, but who would know if she loved him? Who would know if she even could love him, if Frederick had raped her, could she even trust a man again? Would she flinch whenever Drake touched her? He couldn't bear it…

Tears spilled down Drake's face at the utter enormity of the awful situation. This wasn't right, it wasn't fair, it wasn't…it wasn't RIGHT! Breaking down finally, he heaved a quiet sob and slammed his right hand as hard as he could into the wall with a loud and desperate thud.

The wardrobe shook.

With vicious, trembling hands Drake unlocked the wardrobe and yanked the door open, heart pounding in his throat.

Carl squeaked.

"WHO ARE YOU?" Drake roared, jabbing the pitchfork threateningly in the direction of the long-forgotten henchman's throat. "WHERE DID YOU TAKE HER?"

The scraggly blond henchman whimpered miserably, eyes filling with what looked like tears of terror.

"Don't hurt me!" He begged, clasping his hands together and eyeing the many points of the pitchfork with a wild look in his eyes. "My name is Carl, they took her back to Kendra's castle…"

"Kendra?" Drake demanded, blinking. "She's not with Frederick?"

"Frederick?" Carl wailed. "I don't even know who that is! We work for Kendra Gwydion and the witches!"

It was at this precise moment, right after he said it, that Carl realized how much smarter it would have been to pretend that Drake's suspicions were right. But surely he still had a chance. The man would never believe something so far-fetched, surely he'd keep interrogating him and then Carl could "really" crack minutes later and send him in the pursuit of someone named Frederick.

To Carl's horror, Drake totally bought it.

"Kendra Gwydion…" Contrary to Drake's Worldly Hero act, the name wasn't even vaguely familiar. "Witches?" His blood ran cold as he said it. "What do they want with Charisse?" He bellowed, remembering that he had to be very threatening. He brought the pitchfork closer to Carl's throat. Carl tried in vain to quickly come up with a lie that would throw Drake off track, but Carl was not terribly good under pressure and often the truth is simply easier to remember than a well-crafted lie, so to his own horror he found himself blurting out,

"They want to be beautiful! Not, of course," he babbled nervously, as if Kendra was looking over his shoulder "that she isn't already beautiful, she is tremendously and overpoweringly beautiful, if not necessarily consistently, but nevertheless she doesn't seem quite happy, women never are, you know, and – "

"What does that have to do with Charisse?" Drake shouted, but he came off more exasperated than imposing, and Carl was suddenly reminded, a bit too late, that Isadora, Kendra, and several other people on that end of things were much more intimidating than this great corn-fed oaf with a pitchfork. Granted, Carl's general survival strategy was based largely on the theory that it's best to cater to the wishes of the person who is threatening you right now and try to steer well clear of the other people you might anger in the process, but Kendra was a witch, and you never knew with those, there was always that risk that they were secretly watching you right this minute from the perspective of a fly on the wall.

Of course, if that was the case it rather served Kendra right for watching him squirm as a fly instead of coming to his damned rescue…

"I'm really not supposed to tell you that." He said helplessly, cringing backwards away from the pitchfork as Drake's face steadily increased its resemblance to a mask of rage.

"WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?" Drake roared, though a better question in the circumstances might have been "who are you?" as this had not yet been established. "MY…MY NEIGHBOR WAS KIDNAPPED AND…" He scowled. That sounded terribly unconvincing. "I LOVE HER, ALRIGHT?" Drake bellowed, face turning crimson with anger as he brandished the pitchfork at Carl, who was still backed into the wardrobe. "AND I'M GOING TO GET HER BACK NO MATTER WHAT IT TAKES! NOW YOU HAD BETTER TELL ME WHERE THEY TOOK HER AND WHAT THEY WANT WITH HER, OR…or…" He faltered. What am I going to do again?

Drake was really terrible at being the bad guy.

"OR YOU'LL REGRET IT!" He shouted, vaguely satisfied with that threat.

Unconvincing as this was, Carl nevertheless cowered in front of the spikes of the lethal farming implement before him. "B-but, b-but, b-but what if I d-d-d-do tell you," Carl whimpered, "won't I s-still reg-g-gret it?"

In spite of himself, Drake felt his desire to take the miscreant's head off replaced by a sad sense of sympathy. It wasn't that he wasn't angry anymore, of course Drake was still furious. He just…couldn't find it in him to direct all…most…well, any of his fury towards the unfortunate sniveling coward who was shrinking back into the wardrobe before his very eyes. And besides, you weren't supposed to attack an unarmed opponent, were you? It wasn't manly.

"Well…" Said Drake, softening, "well, alright, look. If you tell me everything – straight and honest, no tricks now – I'll let you go. Unharmed. There's this…there's this kind of dirt road thing, and I guess I'll…walk you out to it and let you run as fast as you can in whatever direction you please. Provided you aren't a danger to my neighbors, of course. I don't really think you are…" He looked at Carl, took Carl's failure to speak up then and indicate "actually, I am a danger to your neighbors" as a valid reason to believe that he was not, and went on, "I mean, I ought to report you to the authorities, but…well it's all kind of…secluded out here and we don't really… have… authorities… there's a police force in Grangoria but, to be honest, I don't think they really care what happens out here…" He lowered the pitchfork. "So…have we got a deal?"

"Yes." Carl blurted out without even thinking. Cowards do NOT turn down an offer of getting out unharmed. "Done, I'll take it, I'll tell you everything." He thrust his hand into Drake's and shook frantically. "It is a ritual charm, it requires a sacrifice of the fairest maiden in the land. She asked several magic mirrors, and Charisse was one of the maidens chosen – "

"There's more?" Drake started in confusion. "More women kidnapped?"

"Y-yes, sir, there are five candidates, five possible maidens, so really there's only a twenty percent chance that your friend will be sacrificed…" He said hopefully, giving Drake a vague sort of reassuring smile.

"…and if they don't use her they'll just return her home safe?" Drake inquired, legitimately baffled.

Carl spent a few moments searching for the sarcasm in this question and then realized, with a great deal of discomfort and something that was a lot like pity, that there wasn't any.

"Erm… well…it's always possible…" He said carefully.

Drake's face fell.

"Oh… that's really not good enough, is it?" He sighed, lowering his pitchfork to his side. Carl relaxed, inasmuch as Carl EVER relaxed. "Where are they? Where did they take her?"

"To Kendra's castle." Said Carl. "I…I don't know where it is…" His eyes grew wide with horror as he realized that he really had no idea where in the country the castle was located, and it was quite possible that Drake wasn't going to buy that. "I…I think it's…we travel by magic, you see, I don't really…" he stammered, panicking "I think it might be…well…maybe…that way…?" He stammered nervously. It was hardly even clear in which direction he was pointing, his hand was shaking so hard. "I…I really don't know…" he wailed, on the verge of tears again.

To Carl's surprise, he was unquestioningly believed.

"…oh." Drake's face fell. "…do you think it would be on any maps?" Drake was only kind of literate – his father had taught him, but he hadn't done it in ages and could only really remember a few letters – but if he had a map, perhaps he could…figure out which word said "Kendra's Castle", and where he was standing, and follow the line…?

There was a really long pause.

"…It's called Hex Castle, it used to belong to…well, you know. Hex. I suppose you could…"

An intense feeling of hopelessness settled upon Drake.

"Yeah…" He said uncertainly. "I guess I'll have to…look it up…" Drake faltered, the lump rising again in his throat. This is hopeless. How the…how am I going to save her? How will I ever find out where she is? How am I going to…?

Dad! He thought. He'll know what to do!

Carl eyed Drake and his pitchfork hesitantly, waiting to see how Drake would react. He looked less miserable now, but Carl didn't know if this bode good or ill for him.

"Do you have any more information for me?" Drake demanded with renewed energy and vigor, raising his blade back to Carl's throat.

"I…erm…no." He said finally. He did, of course, but Carl's chances of surviving this encounter looked relatively good at the moment and there was no reason to dig himself in unnecessarily deep with the people he was actually working for.


"You said you would let me go." Carl hastily reminded him.

"I did." Drake agreed. "And I'm a man of my word." In spite of all the darkness, a part of him smiled on the inside. He'd always wanted to have occasion to tell someone that he was a man of his word. "But first," he added for good measure "you must surrender!"

There was a bit of a pause.

"Alright." Said Carl with very little hesitation. "I surrender!"

"Good! And, um…" Drake tried to remember what one had to do when one surrendered. "Hand over your weapon!"

"It's embedded in the kitchen floor." Carl said helpfully.

"Jolly good!" Drake lowered his pitchfork and blushed. "Jolly good!" was certainly not something you were ever supposed to say to your prisoners. Drake wasn't terribly good at this. He hoped he'd get better eventually. "Go on."

Gesturing with his pitchfork for Carl to walk in front of him, Drake walked him out to the narrow dirt road in front of their farmhouses and saw him off, not moving from his spot until Carl had disappeared into the distance.

Twenty years ago, a young, gallant Sir Donald Hannesson defeated the gang of bandits from this part of the Middle of Nowhere Forest which had been terrorizing the farmers and looting their crops for ages. In reward for his noble deed, he was offered the hand of just about every local daughter from the ages of twelve to twenty-three, but he immediately chose the fair young Catherine Lenarke – partly because of her exquisite beauty and inherent purity and goodness, but mostly because she had red hair, and he had red hair, and he wanted his children to have red hair. Redheads often feel very strongly about that kind of thing. So the two were married, and they bought a fair chunk of farmland near to her parents', settled down, and had no less than nine beautiful redheaded babies.

Charisse had a private joke with Drake's mother, which went like this:

"I really did believe that Drake was the silliest man in the country until I got to know his father." Charisse would remark.

"When the two of you are married," Mrs. Hannesson would smile, as this was a prospect taken entirely for granted by Drake's family "we'll have loads to talk about."

Drake's father had never gotten used to being a farmer.

Every day, the retired Sir Hannesson awoke before dawn, dressed in a hurry, and went out – with his sword – to patrol the crops. And after every few weeks, if his children were not diligent, he would come crashing back into his house – Sir Hannesson was a large man; only now that age was beginning to shrink him had Drake, at six feet and five inches, been able to pass him in height – fling the door wide open, barrel into the loft where his older sons slept, brandish his sword, and cry out, "Boys! Awake! We are invaded!"

"Invaded?" Drake would shout in alarm, every single time, leaping to his feet and pulling his pants on in a hurry. "Hurry!" He'd cry to his brothers, yanking his shirt on and dashing for the door.

"Oh, pipe down." His brother Ron would yawn, chucking a pillow at Drake and missing. "We'll pull the weeds after breakfast, alright Dad? They're not gonna grow in the meantime."

Drake and his father alike would deflate with disappointment, the other brothers would awake and begin to dress, and Drake would be sent off to milk Hester so they'd have milk for their porridge.

The retired Sir Hannesson was even more dramatic about rabbits.

Nobody even turned over in bed when they heard the door flung open and the thundering thuds of Drake's huge feet as he dashed to his parents' room.

"Mother…" he dropped the pitchfork to the floor, realizing that he looked a bit wild with his torn, bloody clothes and unkempt appearance "Father, wake up, it's Charisse – "

His mother looked up at him and screamed at the top of her lungs.

"It's fine mother, it's just a scratch – mind, don't step on the pitchfork, there you go – look, it's alright, look, it just bled a lot."

There was general confusion and mayhem as all eight of Drake's siblings came rushing into the room at the sound of the scream, to greet the sight of Drake, flustered, clawing his bloody shirt off to show his mother that his wound was only slight, as both his parents shouted frantically.

"Call a doctor, call Goody Wickers, call for water, Elisa, get water!"

"It's nothing, it's just a scratch, look, Charisse – Mother, I'm fine – "

"Were you in a fight, did Frederick come after her, did you win, did you kick his scrawny weaseling ass, tell me what happened, son!"

"Were you scared?"

"Did you get beat up?"

"Did she wrap it up for you?"

"Did you kiss?"


"Is she gonna marry Frederick?"

"Just lie down Drake, it's going to be alright, ELISA, WHERE ARE YOU WITH THE WATER?"

"Mother I'm alright, you don't understand – "

"Let the boy speak, let him breathe, he'll be fine, he's a man, he's his father's son, this is nothing!"

"I bled worse when the horse bit me, how come you didn't – "

"Listen to me, Charisse – "

"Where is she, why isn't she here?"

"Does she know?"

"Call Charisse, have her bring water!"

"I'm coming with the water!"

"Look, Ma, I'm not thirsty, I just need – "

"Stop babying him, he's tough like his father!"

"Oooh is it bleeding, can I see it, is it infected?"



"Listen –"

"I have the water!"

"Lie down, son!"

"Stop babying him!"

"Look, there's stuff coming out!"



"But where's –"


The stricken silence was punctuated with a splash as Elisa tripped over her own feet and completely doused Drake with the water.

"Son, what are you talking about?"

"A bunch of thugs broke into her house in the middle of the night and we escaped into the hay barn and then they dragged her away and I fought them but they knocked me out and I captured one but then I let him go and he says it was the work of a bunch of witches and they're living in Hex Castle and they need a maiden for a potion and they're gonna KILL her!"

The silence was deafening.

"Oh, Drake…" His mother sighed.

"I can't believe it." Sir Hannesson grumbled.

Drake felt as if he were shrinking several inches under the sad gaze of his parents and siblings. They weren't talking so sadly out of sorrow for Charisse's loss. They were sad because they were disappointed in Drake for letting her get kidnapped.

"Look," he said finally, defensively, standing up. "I know it was…I should have… I'm going to rescue her, alright?"

And the whole room erupted into deafening noise again as his siblings shouted over one another – Are you gonna kill Frederick? Are you gonna sweep her off her feet? How long will you be gone? Will I have to do your chores? Can I come with you? – until finally his father bellowed


Sir Hannesson drew himself up to his full height, looking at Drake with a very serious expression.

"You're telling me," he said slowly, "that you mean to abandon us, abandon the farm, abandon you work for who knows how long just go to chasing off after Charisse?"

Drake thought about it.

"Yes." When this was met with uncomfortable silence, he added for emphasis (because everybody in his family was quite aware of this already), "I love her, Father."

"You're going to go out there – you've never been further than Grangoria in your life – into the Middle of Nowhere Forest, into the great unknown, risk life and limb, fight some witches –"


Sir Hannesson's eyes were filling with tears.

"Atta boy."