A/N: Is anyone still reading this? I thought I had one reviewer...Oh well. Here's chapter four.
Chapter Four: A Captive Reunion
The other Shade Wolves finally seemed to notice the commotion, and ten of them came over to escort the intruders to their prison, which turned out to be a large, wheeled cage. There was a small brownish-greenish lump in the corner of it.
They threw Alanya in first, followed by the rest of them. Leeah was shoved all the way to the to the back corner, where she collided with the lump. At first she recoiled, then she gasped.
"Rya!" she cried with joy. "You're safe!"
"Shut up, runt," growled the closest Shade Wolf. Leeah fell silent.
The lump looked up. It was indeed a small girl, about ten years old, dressed in brown and green. She looked forlorn and depressed, but when she saw Leeah, her eyes lit up and she smiled. She sat up, crawled over to Leeah, and hugged her tightly.
"I thought I'd never see you again," she whispered.
"Of course not, silly," Leeah whispered back. "I'm right here, and I'll never let you get captured again. I've got friends now who can help us. I'll introduce you. This is Alanya, I met her first. She noticed me yesterday and offered to help me find you. Those three are Zuli, Narin, and Karlo." She pointed to each of the Watsies as she said their names. "We sort of invaded their camp last night, and they were nice enough to let us stay, even though they didn't know us. They're from Koruva, Rya!"
Rya sat bolt upright. "Koruva? Really? Have you asked them yet, Leeah?"
"No," Leeah said. "I haven't really gotten a chance."
Zuli frowned. "Asked us what?"
"Two years ago, our father went to Koruva on business," Leeah explained sadly. "He was only supposed to take a couple months, at the most."
"And he hasn't come back yet," Rya finished. "Have you seen him?"
"His name is Karter Smilson," Leeah added. "He was going to trade lumber."
Both Narin and Karlo replied, "I'm afraid not", but Zuli was silent.
"Well?" Leeah asked. "You know something, don't you?"
"Yes, I do," she said. "But it won't be what you want to hear."
"Just tell us," Rya insisted. "Even if it's that he's…he's…" She trailed off.
"Okay," Zuli said. "I met your father at the Trade Market almost two years ago. He was almost out of logs, and was planning on heading back to Boleon the next day. He talked of you two very fondly, and said many times how much he missed you. I did buy a few logs from him. You'll be interested to know that they're now part of the throne for the King of the Watsies. As I was leaving his stall, the Koruva City Guard went up to him and said they needed to search his stall for Exploding All-Terrain Bombs, which as you probably know are very dangerous and quite illegal. Well, they found some."
This was greeted by shrieks of protest from the girls, which produced another, louder, "SHUT UP!" from the Shade Wolf outside the cage.
"Daddy would never be carrying around anything illegal!" Rya exclaimed indignantly. "He wouldn't have had anything that could hurt anyone!"
"Calm down," Zuli said quietly. "He protested, saying that he didn't own them; that they must have been planted on him. The City Guard wouldn't have it. He was sentenced to twenty years in jail. The whole time, he was saying, 'I have two children at home! You can't do this to them!' but no one would listen. I always believed his side of the story, and vowed to find his children and protect them. That's why when we…well, that's why we were around Boleon. I tried finding out who could have planted them on him, but whoever it was covered their tracks well."
As Zuli finished her story, they heard Shade Wolves arguing outside.
"I said, when I sent you out there, MAKE SURE YOU'RE OUTSIDE THE SOUND SHIELD! How will you be able to guard against anything if you can't hear it!"
Alanya stifled a laugh. That would explain why none of the guards had noticed them. They had all been inside their own Sound Shield, which stops sound from passing through it. Unfortunately, as the Shade Wolves had discovered, they had yet to invent a one-way one. So, their own protection had almost been their undoing. If only they hadn't sent someone for water.
"Weren't my fault, boss," said another voice, sounding very guilty. "It was Talon who decided 'e'd rather be be'ind the bushes, 'steada outside the camp."
"You're all idiots!" snarled what must have been the boss's voice. "I don't know why I put up with any of you."
"You said it's 'cause ya need us," said the other voice. "Or else ya won't be able ta do that Witch's job."
"It was a rhetorical question, dimwit," said the boss. "And I could've done the Watsi Witch's job without you lumps. But now that it's been done, I guess I have no need to dump you. Go get the mules ready."
At the mention of the Watsi Witch, the three Watsies turned very pale. In the background, Alanya heard the Shade Wolf asking the boss what a rhetorical question was, but she was no longer really paying attention to the conversation. Instead, she asked them was wrong.
"You've never heard of the Watsi Witch?" Narin asked.
"No," Alanya replied. "Who is she? I'll assume she's a Watsi."
"Yes," Zuli said. "She is. But she's a blight to the name of Watsies. She used to be a trusted advisor to the Watsi Queen, but last year, she tried poisoning the Royal Family's breakfast." Zuli's eyes clouded. "It almost worked, too. We were only saved by-"
"We?!" Alanya interrupted. "You're part of the Royal Family?"
Zuli looked horrified. "Did I really say 'we'?"
"Yes, you did," Alanya replied. "Is it true?"
"I…I…oh, no." Zuli turned around. Alanya expected her to start weeping or something, but instead she lifted up her thick blonde hair. The blue headband Alanya had noticed earlier had four blue stars stitched in the back of it. She gasped in shock.
"What?" Leeah asked. "What does that mean?"
"My real name is Aziana, and I'm the Watsi Princess," Zuli said.
Leeah looked at her. "Really?"
"Why did you lie to us?"
Zuli shook her head miserably. "I had to. What if you had been working for the Watsi Witch? I couldn't just tell anyone who strolled into our camp, could I? After last night though, I was pretty sure you weren't. Otherwise you would have tied us up while we were sleeping and trundled us off to see her."
"Oh. I guess I can understand that," Leeah said. "But why didn't you tell us this morning, once you were sure?"
"Well, two reasons. One, I wasn't completely sure you weren't just trying to get on our good side. And two, because it sort of slipped my mind." Zuli laughed. "An odd reason, but no less true for it."
"You couldn't have always gone by Aziana," Leeah said. "What was your nickname?"
"My close friends and family generally called me Azi," Zuli replied. "But I've gotten so used to Zuli, I think I may just keep it. Of course, I wouldn't be able to use it if I ever went on the run again." She smiled.
"Azi," Leeah said thoughtfully. "I like it. I like Zuli too though."
"So, are you guys really Narin and Karlo?" Alanya asked.
"Yes," Narin replied. "We had no reason to change our names. The Watsi Witch has never heard of us. I was just a City Guard Archer, and Karlo was only a City Guard Captain. No one really even knew we knew the Princess."
"How do you know her?" Alanya asked. "Most City Guard Archers have never even seen the Princess."
"We were old friends," Zuli said. "We've known each other since we were six. We met in the market when I was out with my mother to get some flour, and I thought they were both very nice. When they found out they were talking with the Princess, they both got all stuttery and stiff, but I soon beat that out of them." She elbowed Narin in the ribs. "Didn't I?"
"Yeah," Narin agreed, rubbing his ribs. "You certainly did."
"So, when I had to go on the run, I asked them to come with me," Zuli continued. "My parents demanded that I be protected, and since they were both on the City Guard, I didn't need to bring formal people I didn't know." She grinned. "Besides, this is much less suspicious. They don't act like I'm part of the Royal Family, saying things like, 'No, let me do that for you. We wouldn't want you to get hurt.' Not to mention, anyone else would just have tocall me Princess, since even these two had trouble."
Alanya remembered how Karlo had introduced them. "I'm Karlo, our tiny friend is Narin, and the lady is Pr-. I mean, Zuli." She smiled. Zuli was right on that account.
"Oh, get over it," Karlo said indignantly. "It was an accident."
"Yeah, I know," Zuli said. "So, anyway, how do we get out of here? We can't get taken to the Watsi Witch. She'll recognize me immediately."
"Well, I've been trying to work that out," Alanya said.
"I'm afraid I have yet to come up with something."
"Oh, that's great!" said Leeah sarcastically. "If you can't come up with something, who's going to?"
"I'll take that as a compliment," Alanya said. "And I did say yet. I'm still thinking."
At that moment, a loud yell arose from the crowd of Shade Wolves. Alanya stood up and went over to the edge of the cage. The group had formed ring around two Wolves, both in their wolf forms, who had their hackles up and their lips drawn back, snarling at each other. She wondered what could possibly be going on. She figured it was some sort of Shade Wolf ritual of some sort, but she couldn't figure out why they'd be doing it now, when they were trying to bring their prey to the Watsi Witch.
"What's going on?" asked Zuli, coming over to stand next to Alanya. "They're making an awful racket."
"I'm not really su-"
She was interrupted by the Lead Shade Wolf, who came out of his tent and shouted, "What is going on?!!"
The rest of the pack immediately quieted down. One of the Wolves slunk over to him.
"It's those two o'er there," he said, pointing to the two that were still glaring at each other. "I b'lieve ther names are Malick 'n Jondre," he added, pointing to each in turn.
"I don't care what their names are!" shouted the Lead Wolf. "What are they doing?!"
"Ah…well, they seem to have a pro'lem with th' leadership o' th' pack," the Wolf continued hurriedly. "No offense meant t' yer Lordship, o' course," he added, seeing the look on the Lead Wolf's face. "They're battlin' t' see who would make th' bes' replacement…" He trailed off as the Lead Wolf started turning purple. He backed up quickly, disappearing into the pack.
"Replacement?!" he roared. "You fools think I need replacing?!" He stormed over to the two Wolves in the center of the ring. "Tell me," he said, in a sugary sweet voice, a dangerous expression on his face. "Why do you think I need replacing?"
The two Wolves shifted back into human form.
"Uh, well, y' see…it's jus' tha'…I mean, s' not like we…I'll jus' be goin' now," said the one that the Wolf had pointed out as Malick. He began backing away, looking quite scared.
"Oh, no you don't!" The Lead Wolf grabbed the collar of his shirt. "Answer the question! Why do I need replacing?!"
"Ya don't, yer Lordship, yer Graciousness, yer Most Extraordinary…" Malick squeaked.
"Hmm." The Lead Wolf set Malick down. "I see. Don't let this happen again, hear me? We've got a job to finish."
Malick nodded and scurried off. Jondre, however, didn't get off quite so easy. As he was turning to go, the Lead Wolf called him back.
"This is your third offense, Jondre," he said. "I warned you that if anything like this happened again, I'd have to Brand you and send you packing."
"You did say that, M'Lord," Jondre said quietly. Alanya was surprised to hear that Jondre did not have the thick accent of the lower class that the rest of the pack, save the Lead Wolf, had. He sounded more human than the rest, with less ferocity and more emotion in his voice.
"However, since this is a larger offense than the last two, I would like to send you off in a less…friendly place. The Watsi Witch will know a good place. She may even want you for one of her little experiments."
Jondre's eyes filled with terror. "No, My Lord, please. I beg you! Don't give me to her! Can't you think of something more humane?"
"Humane?" The Lead Wolf laughed. "You always were a soft one, Jondre. No, to the Watsi Witch you go. Throw him in the cage!"
Two Wolves came and began dragging him over to the cage where the already caught prisoners were.
"Aha!" Alanya said. "Here's our chance! They're going to have to open the door to throw him in, aren't they?"
"You're right!" Zuli exclaimed. "And when they do, we'll be ready."
"My thoughts exactly," Alanya agreed. "Who here is the fastest?"
"Rya's really fast," Leeah supplied. "She's faster than me, and you know how fast I am." Rya looked both sheepish and a little scared, but she got up and went over to Alanya.
"What do you want me to do?" she asked.
"When they open the cage door, I want you to get out and run over to those piles of weapons," Alanya told her. "Then grab my sword, and run back."
"What does it look like?" Rya asked.
"The sheath is black, with gold fire up it," Alanya explained. "Hard to miss."
"I'll be there and back before you can blink!" Rya promised. "If this'll get us out of here, I'll give it all my effort, plus some!"
"Thank you," Alanya said. "They're almost here. Get ready!"
The two Wolves reached the door, and one of them dropped the arm he was hanging on to and opened the door. Rya sped forward, but when she got to the open door, she bounced back. She flew across the cage and landed at the back next to Leeah.
"Silly child," the Wolf snarled. "You didn't really think we'd leave you at all unpr'tected, didya?"
He threw Jondre in and slammed the cage door shut. "Don't try any more silly escape ideas, or you'll pay fer it. Got that?"
They loped back across the clearing and rejoined the group of Wolves.
"Rya!" Leeah cried. "Oh, Rya, please say you're okay!"
Rya groaned, but sat up. "I think I'm okay…. Ow! My head hurts. What was that? Why couldn't I get out?"
Alanya frowned. "I'm just guessing, but I believe that was a one-way shield. They must have gotten it from the Watsi Witch."
"Yeah, you're right."
Alanya looked over at Jondre. She hadn't expected him to want anything to do with them, let alone actually give them any sort of information.
"Why thank you." Zuli went over to him. "But why would you give away the Shade Wolves' secrets?" Alanya could tell that Zuli suspected a trap.
"Because I'm not part of the pack anymore," he said. "And right now, I don't like them any more than you do. I may even like them less."
"Why?" asked Narin. "They're your people, aren't they?"
"They may be the same race as me," Jondre said bitterly. "But they are most certainly not my people. I'm only stuck with them because my mother had nowhere else to go, and couldn't survive on her own. When she died, I couldn't very well just leave them, or I'd be in the same position she was in, alone and unable to protect myself. I've seen some of the things they do, and they disgust me. Always picking on those weaker than them, and never helping anyone. It's not decent, and I only stood it because of the vague hope that someday I'd find a way to live on my own. Maybe that day's finally come. So, I'll help you, if you can help me make a life for myself away from these monsters."
"Of course we will!" exclaimed Zuli. "If we ever get out of this predicament, we'll find you a house in our home town of Koruva."
The look in Jondre's eyes when Zuli said that banished any last thoughts Alanya had that they were being set up. She knew Jondre really would help them, so she said, "Tell him, Zuli. Show him your secret. I think we can trust him."
Zuli looked at her. "Are you sure? It could mean very big repercussions if you're wrong."
"Do I even want to know?" asked Jondre warily. "There are some secrets it's better to stay out of. You never know who might try to beat them out of you."
"I understand," said Zuli. "But I think Alanya's right. We'd better tell you, if you're planning on helping us. It'd be better if you knew." So, she showed him the back of her headband.
Jondre gasped in surprise. "You're the…the…the Princess?" he breathed. "But what are you doing here? The Watsi Witch is looking for you! She only needs three pieces for her potion, and one of them is a piece of your hair. From what I've heard, she'll recognize you immediately!"
"I know," Zuli said, sighing. "That's why we tried to escape. If we make it all the way to the Watsi Witch, I'm done for. Do you have any ideas?"
"'Fraid not," he said miserably. "This cage is impervious to everything short of a giant stepping on it. And if that happened, well, there'd be no one left to escape. The only way is if the Watsi Witch releases the shield, and by then, there's no point in escaping. I'm sorry."
"No, it's all right," Alanya said. "I didn't expect there was much you could do. How about some introductions, then, since we have nothing else to do."
A/N: Review? Please? Somebody?