"This is unfortunate," Sir Russell exhaled which soon turned into a wheezing cough. In the dim light the whites of his beard looked more pronounced, aging him significantly.
"Very much so," Shah agreed.
"Going into their cave shall not be an easy task. It is fraught with danger. Will we even survive this?" Lord Fanning's strong jaw was tense as he eyed his companions, nervously.
"We would not be in this mess if you would have kept to the boundaries," Clyde Chester pointed at Cecilia with his long soot covered fingers.
"You would have a good man die?" The redhead tried to keep anger from bubbling to the surface but did a poor job.
"I would have," The man's thin lips disappeared with the grim expression on his face. The hatred in his narrow eyes shone vividly to the group of people.
"Cease this bickering! We need to find a way to get our flower back," Sir Russell sat on tree stump with an audible thud.
"Either we attack them in their cave or we lure them out," Cecilia paced on the dew covered ground, wetting the ends of her velvet gown.
"We must do both," Lord Fanning announced.
"Is it wise to split up?" Sir Russell asked with a resigned look.
"What choice to we have?"
"Two of our able bodied men are bound together. They will not be useful unless we separate their feet," Cecilia gestured towards the iron banding.
"You shall sit this through," Shah suddenly proclaimed. From the look on everyone's faces it seemed no one trusted the girl not to jump into the mess.
"Why do you think I would insert myself into men's work?" Cecilia blinked sweetly. Her saccharine smile fooled no one. With a huff the girl crossed her arms.
"Mind her. I can already see she will be a nuisance," Clyde stood abruptly leaving Lord Fanning flailing.
"You cannot be in two places at once. It's unfortunate but Mr. Shah is the only one with the necessary skills to complete this mission. Are you up to the task? Will you help us?" Sir Russell asked the taller man with a hint of desperation lacing his dark eyes.
"Of course. I cannot forget I am alive because of the efforts of this group," Shah answered formally. He gave a little bow at the end of his speech.
"Who will go up to the cave?" Lord Fanning asked, "And who will call the attackers upon us."
"I am a researcher, not a fighter," Clyde hissed into his fingers but did not verbalise his complaints any further. He pressed his hands to his eyes as if fighting off sleep.
"I will stay here with Mr. Shah. We will fight off the attackers," Lord Fanning nodded as if it was decided. He stood and started packing the meagre belongings around them.
"I shall take to the cave," Sir Russell stood firm as if he wasn't about to face death. He took a bite from the sandwiche Beth had conjured from her basket. Cecilia wouldn't be surprised if her maid had stuffed the kitchen sink in her ugly basket.
"What about me?" Clyde Chester complained.
"You shall take care of the women?" Sir Russell gave him a confused look, "Simon will be accompanying me."
"That's nice..." The highborn Lady muttered into her velvet sleeve.
"I should lead you to the cave," The pointy nosed man uttered grudgingly, "Besides Fanning, only I know the way to the cave."
"How would we bring them down?" Cecilia asked the pressing question running through her mind. The plan was so poorly fleshed out she could not see it succeeding.
"A big enough flame will attract them down I believe," Shah shook his matches indicating he was ready to start the plan whenever they wished.
"Beth and I will take cover right here. The ruins are enough of a cover for both weather and the attackers. They shan't see us..." The girl almost prayed out aloud. In a span of one night her reasons for boredom had disappeared completely. Now she wasn't sure she wanted this type of adventure which could maim and kill all of her companions. Behind her further plans were made among the group. Cecilia waited in silence, her jaw clenched in frustration. She was predictably redenered useless but she could not discern if she even wanted to be part of the plan. Mr. Russell was correct. She was important to their Kingdom's future and it would not do to end up dead.
"I'll get the blacksmith up," Simon pointed at the connected men. He raced down the path that led to the town while the three men followed behind with a steadier pace. In the glowing new day's light she could see the smoke emitting from the town's chimneys. She wondered what they thought of last night's explosion. Shah gave them a grave look of consternation.
"I should stay?" The man exhaled as if steadying himself for the momentous task ahead.
"Whatever for? We are ultimately to be left alone, are we not? Follow them to freedom at the blacksmith and onto your task," Cecilia gave him an indulgent smile, "You as well as I know without you this plan is lost."
Shah bit his lower lip as he mulled over her words. With a solemn bow he gave her his most winning smile and walked away. He briefly turned one last time before swiftly catching up with the other men. The girls tittered as they saw the bound men fall over the uneven landscape.
"He's ever so pretty," Beth sighed and then shook her head as if a wild dog had possessed her.
"Hush, what would Simon say if he heard you?" Cecilia teased.
"He would agree with me," The maid replied back tartly. The two women settled down into an uncomfortable silence. They knew not what the outcome of the plan would be. Would it the last time they met any of their companions. The older girl took to pacing on the half rock, half green surface while Beth fiddled with her odious, oversized basket.
"Must you carry that basket everywhere," The Lady asked her maid in a pinching tone.
"My Lady, it has everything we need..." The maid stubbornly clung to it.
"Oh, very well. Let's pack up this mess. Wouldn't want to leave behind any clues!" Cecilia knelt down and started looking through the blanket covered with plants lying in disarray on the floor all forgotten. She poked and prodded a couple trying to understand what they were when one in particular caught her eye. She picked it up to ensure she was correct in her estimate.
"Sir Russell can be such a dunderhead sometimes-" She uttered to herself when Beth cut her off.
"Is there someone there?" Beth gently whispered. She swung the heavy basket with a grunt and ventured towards the outer corner of the ruin.
"What?" Her mistress looked up from the plants in her hands.
"There's someone at the periphery," The young maid pointed towards the gates of the ruins. It was at that moment a man jumped out of the pine tree. He was masked and clothed just like his villainous counterparts. Beth screamed hysterically but before she could make more noise the man had his gloved hand on her mouth. The poor girl clenched onto her basket as if it were her last remaining lifeline.
"Dog's Tail," Cecilia growled at him in his language. She frantically looked around hoping to see something she could defend herself with but the weapons had been scarce and the people supposed to do the real fighting had taken them along.
"You are woman folk. I do not wish to be violent. Come with me," The man beckoned her forward with the gloved hand that did not have a grip the back of Beth's neck. The young girl watched her mistress with unshed tears adorning her pale eyes.
"Do not harm her. We shall cooperate," Cecilia had learnt her lesson from the last time her neck had been grabbed. She wouldn't wish that on anyone. Her neck was still stiff and sore.
"Good," The man nodded in his particular accent and started their journey away from the safety of the shelter. He arranged the party in such a way that the two girls walked in front of him as they marched towards the majestic, rocky peak that jutted out behind the town.
"They just sent one man? Do they not believe in the witch's arts?" Cecilia tilted her head towards their captor as she spoke, unable to help her own cursed tongue. Her self control eluded her at the worst of times.
The man's eyes lost their lustre as they traveled over the girl's hair. It did not help that the sun was now shining from behind the peaks they were heading towards making the locks look extra fiery.
"What have you done to my companions? Why do you capture us?" Cecilia continued her conversational tone. Her hands rolled over the flowers still in her hands. Her limbs would pay the price in the future but she could not let go off it now.
"They thought to take what was ours and we shall take what is theirs. It is a simple trade," The man replied with a triumphant tone.
"Lovely," The girl replied blandly, "If we're talking about our belongings could you please tell me if you've retrieved the knife from your master's eye. It was a special gift and I'd like it back."
"Start moving! And no trickery, witch!" The assailant barked with a hint of panic that Cecilia knew was going to be helpful. It didn't matter if she was a witch or not. The only important thing was that they believed.
"Would you like to taste death?" Cecilia hid her incredulous expression at her own daring. It was a line she had practiced often in front of the mirror pretending to be her favourite heroine. She had never expected to use it in real life. Even Beth raised her brows at the ridiculousness. She paused to watch what her mistress was upto.
"What do you have in your hand?" The man asked with an unattractive squeak in his voice.
"Just a little something a witch might have. Which body part do you feel is unnecessary?" Cecilia rounded up on the man. She watched in trepidation as he reached for a weapon in his pocket. She had no idea what to do next.
Beth suddenly slammed the picnic basket in the man's head from behind. The force of the attack knocked him forward although his reflexes were well honed that his knees merely touched the ground for a second or two.
The maid shrieked as the man scrambled behind her and Cecilia raced after the duo. She grabbed onto the man from behind and rubbed the contents of her hands into his eyes. Their uniform's design was quite poor if they couldn't even keep their eyes safe from a party girl from the capitol.
As soon as Cecilia released him Beth smashed her heavy basket back into his head once again from the from. The man went down.
"Run!" The older girl shrieked but Beth bashed the basket back into her victim who went down without a fight. Three pieces of cutlery flew out of her precious hoarde which was the only thing that distracted her from her goal. Her mistress grabbed her hand and pulled her along.
"Beth, I must say, you've outdone yourself," Cecilia panted as they rushed away from the prone man hand in hand.