"In the name of Enchantress!" Dray sputtered, breaking through the tension like a camp fire breaking through cold night air. He scratched his head.
Heather subtly clucked her tongue. What's wrong with him, she thought, rushing to the tip of the branch to get a better view of what was happening. Shut up.
"All this tension simply irks me." He continued, seemingly oblivious to the staggering amount of death glares upon him. He strode forward with his eyes fixed on the dagger that Heather had just tossed. Then, with a little digging and jiggling here and there, he plucked it from the wet ground, the pluck sound distinct and unfitting to the situation.
Some idiot gasped; and the bandit leader growled at his own man, before putting the point of his dagger to the back of Dray's head.
Heather hated this. This wasn't how her plan was meant to go. Of course, she could simply leave Dray all alone, but hey, he did save her life. Therefore it is only fair that she stays. That's all.
Even if he's Ravon.
"Hey there, I'm Dray." He smiled, giving a off friendly aura. "Hey man," he tried nodding in acknowledgment to the burly man behind the bandit leader, but was stopped by the point of the dagger. "I'm just passing through the forest."
"I'm Gustav." Gustav, the bandit leader pronounced his name with pride. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Dray. Are you acquainted with the woman named Heather who sits on the tree?"
Gustav raised his hand to point his finger over Dray's head, pointing towards a clearing in the mist above.
There Heather sat comfortably; swinging her legs from the branch she was sitting on. When she saw that she was spotted she put down her hood and waved, releasing her tendrils of golden hair. She wouldn't show just how scared she was. Whatever Dray said next was crucial. It would reveal whether their acquaintance of the past three hours had meant anything to him. He could turn on her to save his own skin. And kill her. She's seen his precision with that silver bow of his.
"What? That Hatholian maiden over there?" Dray scoffed with disbelief. "She's only a stranger. An enemy. I was just waiting for the right moment to steal her weapons." He said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Deep within her chest, Heather felt her heart drop. She berated herself for having hopes in a Ravonion. How could she be so stupid? Instead she shook off whatever emotion was passing through her and pretended to wave cheekily to Gustav, saying, "I thought you would know better than that, gramps."
"I am not stupid," exclaimed Gustav, all of a sudden feeling a need to prove himself to Dray. "But Heather and I have had a previous encounter. We thought she was our friend. But then she... then she...!"
Dray felt the knife behind him slacken, and jumped at the chance to freedom.
"Brother," Dray said easily, "That woman has an eternal hate of Ravon blood. The forest-born like you or city-born like me are the same to her. You know what I think ..." He took an exaggerated glance towards Heather, then turned back, gesturing the Gustav come closer for his 'secret'.
"You," Gustav pointed to one of his men, "watch Heather. Make sure she doesn't run away like last time. Or it'll be on your head!" And then he turned to Dray, apparently his new favourite friend.
"It's at least sixteen against one." Dray said with suave, speaking with charisma. "Me with my bow, you guys with your awesome swords. We could gang up against her. Take revenge. Steal her ... weapons!"
"Aye, she doesn't stand a chance against all my men." The men cheered in unison at Gustav's words.
Heather didn't even have to listen to know exactly what was going on. She understood what type of warrior Dray was. The type of warrior that would steal another's weapons and lie to give himself glory and save his own skin. It doesn't matter.
They were strangers.
The best she could do right now was swallowing her fear and lose the man watching her so that she could escape in peace.
How about she just kill the guy and scram?
No, she needed a distraction. Killing the burly man below her tree trunk would cause chaos and therefore bring attention—it wouldn't work. What else could she do?
A nightingale fluttered by her, momentarily distracting her from her thoughts. The birds here were the same ones from home, she thought with a sigh.
"What are you sighing about?" The overgrown man growled from below.
She realised right then that she wasn't completely abandoned. She looked all around herself. How could she not have noticed before? They were so loud.
"Can't a young maiden have her little sighs here and there?" He growled again. "Easy there, tiger." But she swallowed the laugh tickling her throat. Oh, I'm brilliant, she thought to herself and she waved goofily at her oversized guard.
She began whistling a happy tune. Then she stopped to listen. The nightingale nearby mimicked her tune.
She wolf-whistled at a curious blackbird. He wolf-whistled back right at her. She grinned. Yep, she felt excited, these birds are exactly like the ones in the city.
Before she knew it, she had quietly attracted many birds around her. This should be fun, she thought, suppressing a giggle.
Within minutes, a whole flock of nightingales, blackbirds, sparrows, woodpeckers and jays had come to surround her and the nearest trees.
The burly man was picking at his nails when a bird-dropping landed on his right boot. Surprised, he finally sensed something out of place. He turned around to grab the attention of a laughing Gustav. Dray had the whole gang in roars of laughter.
"Gustav!" He called out in an almost frantic voice. He felt something tingle at the bottom if his heart and he refused to believe that it was jealousy. He wondered how his gang could act to carefree when he felt something bad was stirring. When his calls were altogether unheard as Gustav gave a bellowing jolly laugh, he ran over to his gang himself.
He wasn't sure what to explain to his leader; only that he felt that something wasn't right.
Heather took this opportunity to put her plan into action.
Hatholians weren't only famous for their talent to tame beasts. They could get along with any animal, of any size. Birds were Heather's personal favourite.
There was something even more amazing that isn't even known among all Hatholians.
If they really tried, they could learn how to communicate to their favourite animals!
The flock of birds charged at the robbers coming in scores. Some were so tiny but together they created a huge annoying mass of pecking. They aimed at the men's eyes, at their hands, flew underneath their open legs, screamed in their faces, and pecked some more, leaving them on the forest floor. Their actions reminded Heather of a hive of bees seeking revenge.
"BLOODY HATHOLIAN!" Shouted Gustav as his men began scramming for their lives.
Heather laughed at this. "And proud!" She shouted before making her escape on foot.
Fifty metres away she was still able to hear the whistling of nightingales and the shrieks of grown men.
One nightingale had followed her. It was the same one which first copied her tune. She whistled a pitch and blew the bird a kiss. It sang back, acknowledging her thank you song.
How did she not notice the beauty and wonder of the Enchanted forest before?
She wandered off to what she believed was north, towards the City of Ravona where her mission awaited her.
There was new hope in this enchanting forest.
A passing blackbird wolf-whistled at her. She wolf-whistled right back at it.
Things were definitely looking up.
When Heather was a little girl her father used to tell her stories of the forest. At this instant, she remembered the story of the elves. The Thousand Years of Victory.
Elves were a proud race. They prophesied to live for one thousand years in undisturbed peace because of a great favour that they had accomplished to the Enchantress, provided that they remain in forest mountain ranges, away from human civilisation.
No one knows what this favour was, but many believed that it was in expense of a friendship with another tribe of beings; the Dwarves, or the ground-dwellers.
Choosing to slumber in a tree was the wisest option to Heather. The ground, by all means, was not a choice; what with all the goblins and dwarves just waiting to mess with her. Not to mention oversized rodents and bugs waiting to nibble at her skin.
Her circumstance was an unusual one. She was hanging in a net, with her hands and feet tied together. Her muscles ached, and she yearned to complain to her captors, but rope leaves held fast her mouth. With what she could make out with her eyes, with arching her neck, she could see that her net was attached to the waist of an elf. Oh yes, an elf.
They were known for being surprisingly good climbers, even having the ability to carry anything on their backs. It seems that included people.
She strained her eyes to look through the tightly knitted net that carried her. It was a male elf. Clad in shades of green, the male elf—surely a woman couldn't hold her weight?—had settled in the thick branch of the tree, leaving her hanging upside-down countless feet above the air.
Why did they have to be situated in such high places? Why must they live in the mountains?
That only made it harder to escape. Her frustration was really getting to her. She had just lived through two life-threatening situations only to be brought into another.
Whatever made her believe that this forest was beautiful? It was a jungle of hell.
It was only then that she noticed that she wasn't the only one captured. She used the muscles of her jaw and tongue to push away the material that held fast her mouth. This took a lot of squirming.
"Dray?" She hissed in question.
Dray, already free from his bonds, motioned to be quiet without even looking at her.
"Have you got a plan?"
This time, Dray turned to smirk. "No," he winked, "But you do, don't you?"
She was still upside down. She could feel bruises all over her body.
She squirmed out of her wrist bonds with great difficulty. She could see her hands turning purple as she tried to force it though the rough vines. She felt her eyes water. Oh, it hurt, and yet she refused to give up.
When she was finally free she used her stomach muscles to pull herself up to her knees. Then she reached into her boot and quietly pulled out a small dagger. "Not a plan exactly," she replied, eyeing the ground and suddenly feeling very dizzy. "Long way down."
"Don't you dare drop that knife," he said in all seriousness.
Heather rolled her eyes, offended. "I don't know about you but I have no intention of throwing away my plan of escape."
"Good." He smiled handsomely. "Wait, what? You're not going to help me!"
"Why should I? Aren't we strangers?" She said indifferently, while putting her energy into cutting through the rope—back forth back forth back forth
"But I saved your life!"
"Save my life?" Heather turned to him with a gaping mouth. "The only thing you've done is kill! That feline, that beautiful monster. She was a mother, you know."
"Oh, in the name if Magic, you're an Hatholian! Why don't you just call your birds again?"
She did a double take at Dray's appearance. His lip was split open and his right ear was swollen. She swallowed a laugh and said darkly instead, "You have no idea what I'm capable of."
"So you are my enemy!" He may as well have pointed his finger.
"Well, you've already established that earlier, with Gustav."
"No, bird-lady," Heather flinched at this endearment, "When I get out of here I'm going to capture you and make you my slave!"
Heather gasped in utter disbelief. Had she been not using her knife to free herself, she would have darted it at Dray's direction. "A slave? A slave? Me?" Me, a princess, she thought to herself, a slave for a Ravona? "I won't ever let anyone enslave me. Here, my net is free now, I can escape and I'll leave you here to rot, just as you tried to do earlier."
"Good luck with that." Dray muttered. But, upon seeing that Heather would seriously leave him to rot, Dray suddenly burst out, "Say, do you even know what they're planning to do to us?"
"Well, whatever it is; it doesn't concern me. I'm leaving. Goodbye, stranger." And she climbed out of her net, using both arms to hold onto the branch and alleviating her weight by standing on the branch underneath her. She felt determined to escape from this predicament alone.
"They want to hear a prophecy." Dray quickly mentioned, "About the Hatholian princess."
Heather unwillingly started on the word prophecy, and then almost stopped breathing at the mention of her title. Dray's tone made her shiver with dread. "This might be worth listening to. Go on with your make-up story."
"It's the truth." He said with a formidable calmness. "I'm Ravon, you know. I can wield magic. It's in my blood. They detected that in me, so they took me because they wanted to know where to find the princess."
"How do you know this?"
Dray looked into Heather's eyes, trying to read her unfathomable expression. "Because I heard them speaking."
Heather pursed her lips. She didn't hear any voices; she wasn't even sure if Elves could speak her language. Then she gasped in understanding: "You didn't hear them speaking! They never spoke, you read their minds!"
Dray sighed and rolled his eyes. "No, you're sadly mistaken and a little mixed up. I can't read minds, bird-lady, but, unlike you, I wasn't drugged and out cold so while you were taking your prolonged nap, I actually listened on to every conversation. And I'm telling you—"
"Just like how we're listening to your conversations right now?"
Dray and Heather both stared at each other; eyes wide. None of them had just spoken.
There were at least ten other visible male elves hanging off the trees, just as she was. All had pale, smooth, marble skin, pointy ears and slick black hair. All had dark eyes; eyes that only glared at her.
Heather, although free from her net, felt very vulnerable under the direct glare of the elves. She felt as if she should crawl back into the net and hide; but she squashed these feelings of cowardice and instead squared her shoulders.
However, Dray decided to take matters into his own hands, again.
"Hello, there, good friend." Dray began, comically speaking from his net-trap. "Glad to see that you've finally remembered how to talk."
"Dray," the elf surprisingly replied with a much smoother voice than before, "My good Ravonian friend, I apologise for earlier, I didn't mean to eavesdrop." Even his eyes looked much more amiable than before.
"Apology accepted," Dray said, still cross-legged inside his net.
"Hatholians," The elf continued, "They're so slow these days. Would you please, Dray?"
"Of course." Dray said happily, ignoring Heather's scoff. "Heather, as I saying before, the Elves are looking for the Hatholian princess. The elves only take Ravons in the hopes that their mutual hatred for Hatholians would be enough to help plot against the princess."
"I don't understand," Heather reluctantly admitted, to which the elf grunted as if saying I-told-you-so, "Why is the Hatholian princess a threat to the Elves?"
"That," Dray said with a side look to the unperturbed elf, "is something that I shouldn't be talking about in the presence of the elves."
"I see." Heather remained calm and attempted to appear nonchalant. It was essential that she did not give herself away. How ironic was it that the elves were searching for her, and yet she was in their hands? She needed to play her part. "Why did they capture me, though?"
"Beats me." Dray said, so Heather figured that he had said all that he knew. Which actually wasn't very helpful.
"Well," Heather said, turning to the elf, "why is it, good elf, that you have captured and drugged me?"
The masculine elf shrugged, "Because I need your help."
"But I'm Hatholian." She said almost condescendingly, "It is shown with my light hair and eyes. Surely you would have realised that? Besides, you have his help," Heather shot back, pointing in Dray's direction.
"I want to ransom your swords." The elf said matter-of-factly, as if ransoming swords were not such a big deal.
"Elves are materialistic," Dray humoured to himself, "who knew?"
Swords were somewhat of a treasure within the culture of Hatholians and Ravons alike. Weapons were highly valued, and a person's skills with their weapons were highly respected. Hatholians also loved intricately decorated their weapons to show off. Being brought up by royalty, Heather's weapons were naturally ornamented with precious jewels.
Heather's personalised close-combat weapons were double swords. Such weapons were suitable for agile and nimble warriors. They fitted her perfectly, and she valued her weapons almost next to her dragon.
Heather, however, had already thought of the possibility that they captured her to steal her costly weapons, but dismissed it. They hadn't stripped her of her leather pack or weapons, which she secured and hid underneath her velvet cloak.
"You're lying to me, elf." She deadpanned. "What is it that you want from me?"
"Heather," the Elf said her name as if testing the sound of it, "Heather, I'm a lot smarter than you realise." And he smiled, but it was the type of smile that did not quite reach the eyes and felt more like a threat.
She then understood. Somehow, this elf knew her real identity.
So then Heather did what seemed like the only appropriate action to do in her situation.
She freaked out and screamed.
Well, not a scream exactly, a ... signal.
Heather's scream was not a short-lived pitched shriek invoked by fear, but rather carried a loud, lung-squeezing note, which was in fact a signal she had learnt to use when in danger.
A distant sound of booming winds sounded from the distance, and before the elf could scream "dragon!" Heather had landed on said dragon.
Before the adrenaline rush would cease she drove her beast away.
Lilith, for that was the name of Heather's dragon, was a beautiful golden creature, and sparkled like jewels where sunlight was able to seep through the canopies of the forest. Her wingspan stretched out as long as the twice the height of a full grown man, and had menacing black claws sharpened like the tip of a sword. The majestic beast would be the most magnificent creature a Ravon would ever behold, and yet Dray was strangely calm in the short duration of its presence. The elves, however, suitably disappeared.
Heather, now safely on the back of her dragon, showed every sign of distraught. An elf had managed to kidnap the princess of Hatholia. She could have been tortured and killed. And then who would rule the kingdom? Hatholia had no other direct heir, as of yet. And why was it that the Elves were in want for her in particular anyway?
"Lilith", Heather whispered to her dragon's sensitive ears, "Let's turn around, I left some baggage behind."
Lilith could not speak, but it was evident that the majestic creature was confused as to what baggage her master had left behind.
"It was in the net. And no, I'm sorry, but this man is not your meal."
Fearsome but docile, the mighty dragon gracefully curved towards the direction she came from, once again rustling every leaf of every tree nearby with her powerful wings.
Lilith then snatched the net with her mouth, tree branch and all, and backtracked again, towards Heather's home.
Typically, the first thing Dray said in response to this rescue was, "As must as I deeply appreciate this rescue, bird-lady, I think you ought to know that your dragon's drooling on me."
"Anytime." Heather said flippantly.
A silence of five minutes ensued before Dray decided to speak another thought, "I thought we were strangers?"
To this, Heather smirked. "Nope, you said we were enemies."
"Why did you save me, Heather?"
The sudden use of her first name came as a shock to Heather, and for a while she sat trying to conjure up the most honest response. In the end she said, "I honestly don't know," but Lilith chose at that time to delve into the sky, drowning out Heather's soft voice.