"She's pretty for a human. Such a shame that she's going to be a snack … Are you listening to me? Hello? Engel!"
Maia couldn't bare to open her eyes, fatigue and hunger clawing at her very being. Cool air surrounded her, and she knew nightfall had come again. Had they all been walking for that long that the sun had risen and set again?
Nightfall was much colder in the Woodland Court than it was in the Sun Court, the cold must have woken her up. Sweat had made her skin slack during the day, but under the moonlight it caused her body to shiver.
"You're just ignoring me because you agree with me! She's too pretty to be dinner."
The lilted voice was lovely even when she began squeaking and shouting at somebody. Maia imagined that a travelling minstrel who spun stories to drunkards owned the quirky voice, her voice coaxing and thick with an accent much different to Maia's.
"You do agree don't you?"
Forcing her eyes open, Maia was surprised to find the same violet Lowlight Sprite from the night before sat on the head of the boy in front of her. The Sprite flashed a toothy smile at her, her upturned eyes squinting when her chubby cheeks raised from the grin.
Sprites were notoriously small, often not being any larger than a woman's finger and the Sprite swinging her legs on the boy's head was no exception. They were also known to be very talkative and feasted on children's bones. Maia didn't return the smile.
"Good morning pet! Or is it good night? You missed the sun set, it was lovely but you slept right through it! Not to worry though, Engel says that-"
"Zise." The warning tone came from the Fae behind her, the interrupted Sprite flashing a deeper purple as she threw an irritated glare in his direction.
"Try not to smile too much Engel it might ruin your otherwise lovely face." Every word that spilled from Zise's lips dripped with sarcasm. The Sprite rolled her eyes, the delicate wings that grew from her back fluttering quickly as she flew from the boy's head.
Maia's eyes followed the violet hue, surprise etched onto her features. He would allow a lesser Fae to speak to him in such a way? It was unheard of; the High Fae were ruthless and unforgiving, something as harmless as sarcasm was deemed disrespectful.
She shifted her gaze to the Warrior Fae.
Engel. The Sprite had repeated the name a couple of times.
The purple glow that came from Zise cast shadows across Engel's face as she fluttered over to perch atop the hilt of his sword strapped to his back, his features harsh and unmoving.
The Sprite had been right, a smile might in fact tear his face in half. Maia hadn't seen any other expression on him other than that perpetual frown.
His eyes shone like an animal lurking in the shadows, vivid green like the glowing moss that grew in the shallow waters of the sea. Was is Fae magic? Or maybe the stories of powerful Fae turning into animals were true.
His expression didn't faulter as he lowered his gaze onto her, only a scarred brow raising when she didn't cower away.
Maia had dreamt of her death. The death she was walking towards. She would be placed inside a crowded camp for weeks, months, maybe even years waiting for the day the Fae would pick the flesh from her bones.
And she wasn't afraid because Theodore was there holding her hand.
Raising her chin, Maia glared at the Fae sat atop his horse; she would not die a coward.
The Fae turned away, a squeaky giggle coming from Zise as she fluttered from his sword to whisper in his ear. He grumbled a response and swatted her away, his eyes focussed ahead of him.
Maia felt triumphant in not being the first to look away, even if he wasn't cowering but instead just looked bored with her silent challenge.
She looked down at her worn feet and grimaced. She must have stepped on something sharp or her blisters had burst; there was crusted blood between her toes and the feeling in them had gone hours ago.
She had meant to count the hours as they passed so she could keep track of how many days away she was from home. However, sleep and her spinning thoughts ruined that plan for her.
There was no way of telling how far into The Woodland Court they had trampled through, she felt as though she had been on her feet for weeks. Were they deep within the Court now? She cursed, hating that she was never educated on the lands; Maia didn't even know how large The Woodland Court was!
Maia peeked up at the Fae again, his set jaw clenched as he intensely stared ahead into the dark wood.
She had imagined that the Warrior Fae were scarred and ugly, clumps of hair missing and torn skin from battle. The only imperfection she could see was the long scar that cut through a dark brow and stopped at his jaw.
The cold curled around her bare calves, the hairs on her arms standing as a shiver laced up her spine. She longed to snatch the hooded cloak from Engel's shoulders and curl up on the ground with it. Her feet would appreciate the break more than anything.
Engel barely glanced at her when he haltered his horse, the loud and assertive command he bellowed making her flinch.
"Set up camp here, Olkjan doesn't want dead livestock."
The order irritated her. Although she knew that the humans tied together were as good as dead, solidifying that into words made matters worse. Panicked murmurs came from further along the line, and the boy in front of her began shaking more violently than he already was.
Her heart pounded in her chest as she glowered at the Fae who had dismounted his horse and took a step towards her.
She would not die a coward.
🙤 · ┈┈┈┈┈┈ · ꕥ · ┈┈┈┈┈┈ · 🙦
Maia had exhausted herself from kicking and screaming at the Fae who tugged on the rope that bound her hands.
He had wrapped a gloved hand around the rope between her and the quaking boy, the bite of magic in the air stinging her eyes as the rope unlaced itself under his palm. Maia took the opportunity to try pull away from him and run.
All she had accomplished was straining the joints in her arms.
The Fae raised his scarred brow at her, his eyes still bright as he pulled on the rope impatiently. Maia's wrists protested at the harsh tug, her bare toes brushing against his black boots.
Engel didn't wait for Maia to regain her footing as he yanked on the rope again, leading her away from the clear path the group was walking through and towards the looming trees that surrounded them.
Maia barely registered the cries and frightened screams that came from the other humans as the Wranglers gradually separated the them and lead them into the trees.
Disgust enveloped Maia. She was being led along by a string of rope like a Fae's pet. Maia dug her feet into the damp ground and spat curses and protests at Engel.
Cold sweat beaded at her temples and down her spine at the pathetic fight she was putting up against the Fae. He didn't even strain as he closed the distance between them with a singly tug on the rope.
Falling into his arms, panic and fear clutched to her stomach as she tried to scramble out of his grasp, his hands tightening on her arms. Maia whimpered when he shoved her against a tree.
"Don't flatter yourself love." Engel's gruff voice was barely a mutter, the warmth of his hands leaving her arms as he turned from her and stalked towards a small fire the other Warrior Fae was sat by.
The familiar sting of magic brought tears to her eyes and Maia moved to rub the dampness away, but her arms were forced against her. The enchanted rope snaked around her stomach and thighs, squeezing her when she tried to move and securing her to the cool tree that pressed against her back.
Blinking the sting away, Maia squinted against the darkness of the woods.
All of the humans had been strapped to trees just like her, their faces tired and tear streaked. Some were struggling against the tightening ropes, their breaths coming quickly. They would more than likely be suffocated through the night if they didn't stop fighting the restraints.
Maia looked towards the flickering flames the two Warrior Fae were murmuring over, their large bodies selfishly keeping all of the warmth to themselves. They were far enough away that she couldn't hear what they were saying, but the dim glow that emitted from the fire luminated the wood.
"I imagined my first time being tied up a lot differently to this."
Willing her eyes to see, Maia scanned the trees in front of her, a mop of auburn hair gleaming from the glow of the fire.
From what Maia could see in the dim light, Theodore had a split lip and a brewing black eye; he had probably put up a fight against the poor Wrangler tasked to strap him against the tree.
"I bet he looks worse than you right?" Maia's voice was hoarse from her screams and crying.
"Oh yeah, I landed a few licks before I let the bastard win."
"You could have won if you tried of course."
"Definitely." He grinned at her, the smile not reaching his eyes.
Maia scoffed, resting her head against the tree to look up at the night sky. The clouds had cleared mostly, the endless darkness above her decorated with a dusting of bright stars and a crescent moon.
"She's not lost," Theodore's voice was a murmur, a gently caress to her ears, "no matter where she is you'll both always be under the same sky."
He was right. Astrid would be looking up at the same stars as she would be every night. She was probably looking up at the night sky right now, wandering the same thing as Maia.
Where was she.
"Our father used to spin tales about the stars of Xaris," She began, her throat protesting and aching, "of how they could lead any man to what they desired the most, whether it be a love or riches, anything."
Theodore and Maia were both looking up at the night sky, their eyes searching for the stars they couldn't see. She wished she could hold his hand, stand in his embrace, and let him whisper that they would be safe. She wished Astrid were sat weaving a shell trinket and scowling at Maia stomping sand through their home.
"If they were true tales, what would the stars take you to?"
Maia didn't take her eyes away from the sky, she had only ever told Astrid about what she dreamed of if the stars truly could bring them to what they desired most.
"Somewhere safe. A place where I don't have to look over my shoulder at the slightest of noises in the forest. Astrid would be there wearing the prettiest gown I had ever seen. And I wouldn't object if the stars took away her nagging." She smiled softly.
She didn't tell Theo about the night she had spent with Astrid arguing, a sack strung across her back. Maia had planned both her and Astrid's escape of the Sun Court for months before hand. Astrid had cried, naming her sister a coward just like their father for running and chasing the stars.
She should have been offended, but Maia knew it was Astrid who was a coward, hiding away in their small village barely living. Their father had dreamed of a place free of the Fae where you could live off of the land. Fear didn't exist past the stars.
"The stars wouldn't show you the way if they didn't want you to find their secrets."
Maia lowered her eyes to Theodore who was already watching her, the last words she had heard from her father ringing in her ears. Her dark gaze was caught by Theodore's blue eyes, his expression gentle and familiar.
"What would the stars bring you?"
"I already have what I desire most."