Chapter Four: Actions speak louder

The tears had ran out long ago. There was nothing left for Olivia to cry, and the creatures wouldn't let her curl up and sleep. The poked and tormented her almost constantly. And now it was getting dark; in as much as it can get darker in the shadows of the great trees that formed the forest. She was cold, she was hungry. She was lost, and alone.

"Stop it!" she shrieked at the brown spryte that was rattling the bars. "Leave me alone-! I want- I want- I want to go home. Let me go!"

"What the small wants don't matter. What we wants matters. Take what we want, oh yes. We wants small. We have small. We keep small. Small no make noise. Small quiet. Now."

Olivia didn't understand it. Under the pure black eyes of the creature, she curled up on herself, and began to sob wordlessly again.

***

"...Take her to a wash room. Keep her there till I send for her."

It took Carmen a few seconds to realise she was being talked about. She looked about her with sudden, jerky head movements. A few things were clear: the horse had stopped. She was still in Afedi's lap. They were in a small stabling block. A lad in grey and black livery was holding the horse, and the man that had met them on the hill was waiting patiently as his Master relayed instructions.

And Cecelia was absent.

"Where is she! What have you done with her? Ceci!"

Afedi grinned crookedly downwards. "Don't worry. She is safe, I had her taken for a small meal."

Carmen began to squirm.

"Ooh. I wouldn't move like that, Miss Lilywhite, unless you promise to finish what you start."

She made a disgusted face, and stopped wriggling immediately. "Pig," she snarled.

"Oh, the wit, how it stings." Afedi reached his arms down with a snake like speed, and Carmen was in his arms before she could protest. Of course, by the time she could protest, he had already slipped off the horse, and was walking towards the door to the Hall.

Carmen composed herself briefly, then yelled in his ear. "What is it with you and not letting me walk?!" But he just chuckled mildly, then passed her off to the the waiting man.

"Captain, do as I have bid you. See that she bothers no one else, understood? Oh, and don't listen to anything that she says either, for she is a mite bit foolish and often makes bad use of her quick tongue," Afedi began to stride away, and threw the last of his words over his shoulder with a challenging raise of the eyebrows.

"Yes milord." The captain stood with an amazing amount of dignity for a man with a black haired harpy suddenly in his arms. Carmen seethed unintelligibly at Afedi's retreating figure, and the captain just ignored it with a steady expression. He was about six feet tall, with slicked down brown hair, and absolutely no sign of facial hair. All his buttons looked like they had been polished at least twice, and his boots shone painfully bright.

"Are you done, Miss?" he asked emotionlessly.

A sigh. It looked like she was stuck with Captain monotone now, as opposed to Milord ass-hat ; amused, Carmen tried to reason who was more or less bearable. Some fun could be had here...

She wrapped her arms lightly around his neck, and squeezed herself a little closer. A slow enchanting smile, and a little flutter of the eyelashes; "Quite done, actually, Captain- oh, what was it again?" she asked over-innocently.

"Captain Aldaren," he said, moving his head an inch or two away from Carmen's, and trying very hard to keep looking ahead.

"Well, Captain Aldaren. Don't you have somewhere to," Carmen gave a simpering laugh, "take me?"

The Captain did a goldfish impression for a few moments, before cautiously lowering her to the ground. To his horror, Carmen didn't take her hands away from his neck, instead she clung like a limpet, and batted her lashes coquettishly.

"Miss, I think you should- Umm, please Miss. Someone might see-"

Carmen smiled slyly. "See what, Captain? Is there anything to see?" She started to slowly push him backwards, "You'll tell me if there is, won't you?"

They hit the wall. Captain Aldaren was now on his tip toes, but that didn't stop Carmen reaching up to whisper against his neck; "Why Captain, you look nervous. I hope nothing is the matter..."

The sound he made in response had never before been heard in the natural world. Carmen resisted the urge to cackle.

Steadily, and as Aldaren's eyes flew to the ceiling, Carmen inched her hands around his waist, and turned the door handle on the wall behind them. It clicked once.

"What was that?" he asked, suddenly alert and monotone again.

She giggled, turned the door handle, dragged him forwards, kissed him largely on the mouth. "What was what?"

Carmen then shoved him through the now open door, and locked it tightly behind him. There was a few moments silence, then steady staccato of hammering fists began on the wood.

After allowing herself one cackle, Carmen set off down the nearest corridor to find Cecelia.

***

Servants bustled endlessly around the latest, and possibly smallest, arrival.

"Do you want custard with that?"

"A biscuit?"

"Juice?"

"Sweet tea?"

"Jam?"

"A Cushion?"

"A toy?"

"Anything?"

It was safe to say that the female kitchen staff were having a field day; and Cecelia quite enjoyed the attention too.

"Can I has the- the- the- the jam?"

Mrs Adwen Talymae beamed at the tiny redhead, "Which flavour, poppet?"

Cecelia frowned, her little forehead puckering softly. Raina, the scullery maid, squealed at this, and was subsequently scolded by Mrs Talymae- the head cook. "Get back to your work, girl. That fire won't light itself."

"Redcurrant?" Ceci asked hopefully.

"Redcurrant it is, sweeting," the large woman bustled off to find the jam, and a spoon, while Raina cooed in Cecelia's face; the beginnings of a good game of peek-a-boo.

It was just as the spoon full of sweet, sticky, deep red jam was touching Cecelia's lips, that Carmen burst through the kitchen door, all out of breath.

And it was as a handful of guard burst through the door, that Carmen scuttled around the large table in the middle of the room, shot a grin at Ceci, frightened Raina half to death, vaulted over a large pot of cooling sauce, and subsequently shot out of the far door.

The guards milled around in confusion for a moment before running after her. The kitchen women all shrugged their shoulders and returned to work, while Ceci raised the spoon again, and took a satisfying lick of the redcurrant preserve. It tasted excellent. She giggled and swung her feet from the chair.

"Awww!"

"Raina-!"

"Sorry Mrs Talymae!"

***

"Alright, where's Olivia?"

Afedi looked up from his desk to see Carmen locking his door. "Who?"

"Olivia! Cecelia's older sister..."

There was a nervous knocking on the door to Afedi's office.

"Sir! Sir, are you alright? She- we couldn't stop her, milord!"

Afedi sighed, "It doesn't matter, Garion, is it?"

"Yessir!"

"And where is Captain Aldaren?"

"Ahem. Umm, he is a little detained, milord..."

Carmen stifled a giggle. The blue haired man frowned at her, and she switched to a poker face. But her lips still twitched at the very corners.

"Is he, indeed?" Afedi raised an eyebrow, looking at Carmen's sudden composure. She winked.

"Do you want us to help, Lord Eotas?"

He grinned in a leering manner, looking Carmen over, who consequently gulped and turned her face away. "Oh no, I don't think I will be requiring your services tonight, Garion."

The sound of retreating feet. "Miss Lilywhite, how pleased I am to see you so soon, especially after I told Captain Aldaren to only bring you when I bid."

The black haired girl shrugged nonchalantly, "Oh, you know how it is. Just couldn't keep away... must be your ever so charming personality."

Afedi chuckled. Picking up a bottle of wine, and the two waiting cups, he left his chair, and went to stand next to where Carmen was concentrating on the paintwork. "Must be," he said huskily at the back of her head.

She didn't look up.

"Carmen?"

The reply was hardly audible."What?"

Lord Eotas was suddenly struck with a rare flash of concern for this girl. It was disconcerting, "Err. I hope you are feeling well."

There, he thought. That's casual, I can do casual concern. Casual concern is allowed.

"Of course I'm not feeling well, you utter idiot." Carmen turned on him with watery eyes, "I'm stuck in some mysterious made up land, and I can't even get away to start finding Olivia!"

Afedi mumbled a question, too disarmed by her sudden tears to be fully coherent, "Olivia?"

"Cecelia's sister. I just said! She's only five-!" To Afedi's horror, Carmen's head sunk into her hands, and she leaned against the wall taking deep hitching breaths.

He raised a hand, and patted her shoulder tentatively. "Umm. There, there?"

A choked laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. Carmen looked up into his eyes, as if she was seeing something new. Afedi felt disconcerted, so he decided to switch back into condescending Lord Eotas mode:

"And you lost this Olivia, where exactly?"

"I didn't lose her! She wandered into this damn land of yours!" yelled Carmen, suddenly indignant.

Indignant was much better than tears in Afedi's book. But then he processed her words. "She wandered-" Afedi stopped midsentence, and looked down at the desk. "Into the forest? She was in the forest?"

"Well she must have been, yes... But I don't see-"

"No, no. You wouldn't. Then again, you wouldn't know how many of our children have been taken by the sprytes."

Carmen couldn't talk. Eventually, she managed to speak, but only to repeat the one word that stuck poisonously in her mind, "Taken. Taken? Taken for what?"

But Carmen already knew the answer.

And, in a decrepit, stinking cage miles away, a small blonde haired child cried out at the dark, winged demons that hungered for her flesh...