Saturday, November 1, 2008

"Ransom? She called towards the brooding shadow on the far side of the tents. "Ransom? Ordinary! There's someone out there!" She whispered fiercly.

His shadow moved fluidly into the darkness. Although Terra tried to follow his progress, the dark skinned man blended into the night easily and she lost sight of him. Only a slight rustle in the brush alerted her to his location. He had not made it to where she had seen the disturbance.

"To the left." She said, knowing that he would pick up the soft call.

To her left the bundle of blankets that were covering Taylor moved like a mountain under seige, layers sliding off to reveal a mussed mop of dark hair and tired blue eyes.

"Mmmphf...W'as g'ing on?"

Terra raised an eyebrow at the barely intelligable query. "I heard a noise in the forest and Ransom is checking it out."


A soft snore followed the conceeding grunt a second later. Terra rolled her eyes. She could not believe his nonchalant attitude towards their poetentially dangerous situation. What if someone had discovered their camp? What if it was an enemy agent that would try to murder them in their sleep? She shuddered and wrapped her blanket closer to her body.

The darkness descended into silence and the cold became all the more evident. Terra burried her head in the blanket around her shoulders and breathed deep. The icy cold air had been an assault on her throat, but the blanket's material warmed each breath.

As time wore on without sight or sound of Ransom, Terra found the night even more ominous. Each sound presenting dangers. If it had not been for Taylor's snores she would have felt completely alone in the world. Her gaze wandered to the sword handle protruding from the discarded animal packs. She swallowed hard. Would she have the courage to take it up.

A shriek suddenly sounded through the woods and multiplied as it echoed off the surrounding hills. Terra felt her blood freeze and she imagined what monster could have made such a noise. A deep yell, she recognized it as Ransom's, followed.

Terra unfolded her legs and stood up, the blanket gripped tight in cold hands. The forest had once again grown silent. A blond bang fell over her eyes and she brushed it back behind one ear. The young woman listened for more noise. She heard something that drew her away from the circle of light.

"Where are you going, Terra?" Tyler's sleepy voice spoke up clearly.

"I think there's someone else out there." She replied in a quiet tone.

A cynical laugh made Terra start in surprise and she swung to face the sound. There was no one there only flickering shadows to meet her wide blue eyes. Terra swallowed hard.

"Taylor." She stepped backwards towards the groggy soldier. "Did you hear that just now?"

Taylor moaned and sat up. "No. What? Yes - you mean the weird laugh? Yes."

"Well, you might want to grab a weapon because I haven't heard from Ransom in over five minutes."

That had Taylor springing up, adrenaline pumping, and lunged for his sword. If Ordinary was in trouble then they all were.

"You are innocent little things, aren't you." A strange woman's voice spoke up from the darkness outside the circle of orange fire light. "Tisk, tisk. This is no place for innocence. Don't you know that this forest is haunted?" Footsteps shuffled in the underbrush on the left side of the camp. "I don't know what foolish quest you have been sent on...Perhaps you aren't even sure yourself what will be the outcome of your journey, but there are true monsters in this forest."

"Taylor!" Terra cried. He came up to her side, sword at the ready.

"Show yourself!" Taylor shouted. "Whoever you are! Come out."

"Alright." The voice said.

A shadow detached itself from the darkness and entered the camp illuminating the short, thin form of a woman. Her eyes were almond shaped and dark, her hair short, ragged and white with a yellow tint thrown from the fire. The woman wore a purple patterned robe over leather pants and a white cotton shirt.

"Who are you?" Taylor demanded.

A grin twisted up the corners of her full, pink lips. She looked the boy over and chuckled darkly. "Ah, a soldier youngling."

Terra's brow furrowed. "Who are you? And where is our friend?"

The woman took a slow step forward, every movement of her body graceful and full of purpose. Her jaw clenched lightly at the harsh questions. “Your friend is fine, but…preoccupied at the moment.” Her dark almond eyes flashed in the flickering light. “As for who I am. My name is Saffiri Lueng.”

Taylor shared a look with Terra. “Excuse me?” The boy asked in confusion.

“Soldier and stupid, I should have known. Those two go together so very often in this world.” Her fist clenched. “I just introduced myself, you might do the same.” She spat.

Terra straightened, feeling a bit embarrassed at her earlier fear. This woman had not tried to harm them so far, although Ransom’s location was still a mystery and Terra could only hope he was unharmed. Still, it made her feel useless to stand behind Taylor waiting for the other shoe to drop so she pushed past him.

“I am Terra Wright and this soldier is Taylor.” It was only at that moment that Terra realized she had never learned his full name. She blinked, surprised at the fact, and then continued. “We don’t want any trouble.”

Saffiri smirked. “Whether you want it or not, I sure found you easy enough.”

“Where is our friend?”

“Your friend is fine. A bit tied up, but alive.”


Taylor moved forward, keeping his sword pointed in Saffiri’s direction. He walked until he stood over the satchel the Text was hidden inside. He reached down and picked it up, slipping it over his head and shoulders. Terra watched with barely masked concern.

“Not so innocent after all?” Saffiri murmured knowingly. “There wouldn’t happen to be some very valuable object in that bag, would there?” She asked.

Terra swallowed hard. They could not let anyone get the Text. If they lost it the Queen would probably kill them.

“Nothing! There’s nothing in there.” She denied hastily.

Taylor nodded in agreement.

“You might as well lower the sword, youngling.” Saffiri said wearily. “I’m not going to hurt you and there’s no way that you could hurt me so it is rather pointless.”

Taylor frowned at this, but lowered his sword a fraction.

Saffiri held her hands out away from her body, palms forward and fingers spread. “If I had meant you, the girl or your large, slow friend harm I would have executed it already. I don’t play with my prey.”

“Where is Ransom?” Terra stressed every strained word. “Take us to him.”

Saffiri stared at her long and hard for a short moment before bowing her head. “Alright. Follow me, children.”

Taylor growled at the snub and Terra clenched her jaw, teeth grinding. The woman turned on her heel and walked confidently back into the darkness forcing Taylor and Terra to follow. She lead them out the left side of the camp and into some high underbrush. They skirted a prickly, red bush and on the far side and in the dim light from the camp they could just make out the hulking shadow of Ransom Ordinary. He wasn’t moving and they could see thick rope snaked around his ankles and wrists.

“Untie him, Saffiri Lueng.” Taylor ordered the woman, pointing his sword threateningly in her direction.

She cursed him under her breath, making sure that they could clearly hear the words, but knelt down next to the warrior and made quick work of untying him. There was a moan from the dark man and then he was sitting up, his thick hands around Saffiri’s neck in a strangle hold.

“Ransom!” Terra shrieked. “What are you doing? Stop it, she hasn’t hurt any of us.” The girl tried to reason with him.

Ransom stood, pulling the woman off her feet so that she dangled in the air.

“She attacked me.” Ransom’s deep voice rumbled in anger.

“Yes, but she’s also the one that untied you.” Taylor pointed out unnecessarily. “I think we should at least give her a chance to explain why she stalked us…and attacked you.”

Ransom shook Safirri roughly. “This pixie chose to attack the wrong man.”

The white haired woman grabbed at Ransom’s hands, clawing them in desperation. Gurgling, choking sounds escaped from her throat. Terra winced at the sounds and ran forward, throwing herself at Ransom. She hit his chest with closed fists receiving nothing but a glare in return.

“She’s not a pixie and you’re going to kill her if you don‘t put her down now!” She shrieked.

“Wait.” Taylor said, pulling Terra off the man. “Just wait. How do we know that she is who she says she is? I trust Ransom. If he says she’s a good-for-nothing fairy then I believe him.”

“” Saffiri gasped out between shallow breaths.

Ransom bared his teeth at the woman. “If you so much as twitch.” He warned.

She nodded frantically indicating that she understood his threat. With a sound of disgust he threw her to the ground where she lay gasping for breath in a heap of purple cloth. Ragged white hair covered her face, but the trio could see her shoulders shaking.

“Pixie it is then.” Taylor conceded. “Where are you from, why are you here and what do you want with us?” He fingered the satchel strap nervously.

“My name is Saffiri Lueng, one of the seven Lueng pixies of this forest and I was not stalking you - I only defended myself. I thought you could be an enemy.”

“You live here?” Terra asked incredulously. “In the forest?”

The pixie nodded, dragging a shaky hand across her sweat-soaked forehead. Her early self-confidence had vanished in the wake of Ransom’s threatening actions. She pushed herself up on unsteady arms until she knelt in the soft dirt. A gray glow was beginning to form and Terra realized that sunrise would be within the hour. She focused her attention on the fallen woman.

“Yes, I live here. Several thousand yards from your camp. I thought that you were one of those vile guards that the Queen sends out here. They have tried to kill me before and I planned to get the drop on them. If you do not work for the Queen then who are you?”

“How can we trust you? And who we work for has nothing to do with you.” Terra asked in confusion. As far as she knew the Queen had never sent anyone out the forest and as the Queen’s personal servant she would have heard something. “Why does she send guards into thi forest.”

“I once heard one of them talk of a scroll. Other than that I don’t know.” The pixie said.

Taylor’s grip on the satchel tightened.

Ransom stood over the woman, looking down at her with undisguised scorn. “I think you’re a liar.”

“This is ridiculous.” Saffiri spoke passionately, her eyes flashing. “I may have come into your camp unannounced and I may have caught you unawares, but I did not truly harm any of you.”

“We should tie her up and drop her off at the nearest town.” Ransom suggested.

Saffiri felt the ground digging into her knees and she winced in pain. This talking was getting her nowhere and at the very least she had learned that these people were sent by the Queen. Their reactions were enough to tell her that, and the fact that they were in possession of something valuable. The pixie did not care about earthly trinkets, her kind had power to create far better treasures, but their secrecy and the strangeness of their group called to her curious side.

“I’ll help you navigate out of the forest if you help me.”

“And how can we help you?” Terra asked suspiciously.

Saffiri stood to her feet and wiped the dirt off her print robe. A semblance of control had returned to the pixie and she worked quickly through her options. Just how much could she trust these people with, but she had little choice.

“I need to get to the Queen’s palace.”

“The same Queen you’ve already branded an enemy?” Ransom asked. “You would have us escort you there, and why? So that you can kill her in cold blood and thus end your personal problem.”

“No.” Saffiri denied. “I need to get to the palace and the reason is my own. I don’t trust you and you need not trust me. I see no reason why this should not work for both of our benefits. You will get a free guide through the most haunted forest in the kingdom and I will get a guaranteed entrance into the palace.”

“Only if we have your word that you mean no harm to the Queen.” Taylor hastily bargained.

Terra glared at him. “We will do no such thing. For all we know she is an enemy soldier.”

“Pixies don’t join sides.” Saffiri said with an arch of her eyebrow. “We are natural born fighters with no interest in human affairs. We have enough to worry about with feuding between family members. Now just agree to this and I promise to be no further problem to you.”

“Promises from a stranger, that does not make me feel any better.”

“Enough talk.” Ransom decided aloud. “You.” He pointed to Saffiri. “Come with us quietly and I might not tie you up, as for the two of you.” His gaze turned to the teenagers. “Begin a light breakfast. We’ll break camp in an hour or two, we still have a long ways to go.”

“Then you’ll let me stay with your party.”

“I’m hardly going to allow you to leave if you are indeed working with our enemies.” Ransom reasoned in a hard tone.

Saffiri knew that it was a long shot, but if she could just make it back to the palace then all of the things that she had been working so hard for the past couple of years could be finally realized. She willingly gave her wrists over to be tightly bound by the dark skinned warrior. As their conversation had progressed the daylight had begun to light the forest in pale shades of gray and brown. Leading the way back around the bushes and into their camp, Taylor sheathed his sword and re-packed it for traveling then with Terra’s help he began to cook a quick stew made of dried meat.

Ransom sat Saffiri down on a thick log set on one side of the fire while he took a low rock several feet further. He watched her closely as the hour passed by not letting any of her movements go unchecked.

“You know, this could be more trouble than it’s worth.” Taylor said quietly to Ransom while Terra was busy packing up their gear. The boy motioned in the pixie’s direction. “We could just leave her here tied up good.”

Ransom studied him for a long moment. “If she truly is headed for the palace then there would be a chance that we would meet her again down the road and at least this way we can keep her under control. I do not want to repeat our earlier meeting.”

Taylor winced. “Neither would I.” He agreed. “Alright, we’ll do things your way, but I’m not going to trust her.”



Terra dropped the armload of wood she carried where it landed on the gravel path with a definite, hollow thunk. She wiped her dirty hands on road weathered pants and started down the path. She told herself that she wouldn’t go down it very far and if there was nothing to see after the first few minutes of walking then she would just turn around and go back to camp. The sound of Taylor’s taunts seemed to fuel her on and every time that she figured it was time to start heading back she would see his gloating face in her minds eye and instead she would push onward. It was almost twenty minutes later before she finally came to her senses, but that was only because she almost ran into a company of armed, enemy soldiers.

The rhythmic sound of marching feet alerted her to their presence mere moments before the small band of soldiers came around a sharp bend in the path. She looked frantically around for some place to hide and then without hesitating jumped off the path hit the ground hard and rolled under a dead bush in a slight depression. She took a deep breath, held it and waited. The footsteps grew closer.

She felt like her heart would jump out of her chest, it was pounding so hard. If they looked over, she was dead. The enemy wouldn’t give her a chance to explain and even if they did what would she have to say? Terra huddled down and tried not to move.

The marchers passed by without so much as a pause and then their footsteps faded away. Terra waited for several seconds before letting her breath out in a big whoosh. She stood up and looked down the path after the soldiers, the last of them were just disappearing around a curve in the gravel road. She walked out and continued down in the way that they had come from in the hopes of finding the enemy camp.

Taylor had made her feel like she was useless. Gathering fire wood every day and always being talked down to during their training sessions. His comments on her inability to correctly access the Link had been the proverbial last straw. She was determined to do something that would make him see that she was just as strong and smart and resourceful as any boy.

“I’ll show him.” She said under her breath.

It took another half-an-hour of walking before she reached the edge of the forest. The path ended abruptly several feet before and she hid behind a clump of close-growing young trees. The young woman looked out and into the camp and felt all of the blood drain from her face. Her eyes widened at the sight of twenty thousand armed men.

The camp was sprawled out over two miles of open plain. Men, horses, tents and fires filled the air with smoke and noise. Terra swallowed hard. The enemy flag hung proudly in the center of the camp, next to a large, red tent that undoubtedly housed the commanding General. Terra felt a new fear now. If Ransom suspected what she and Taylor were planning then they would never reach the General and then there would be no defeating the Queen. Terra’s fears must have been sent through the Link because the next second she felt a strong calling from Taylor. She felt his concern for her safety.

With one last look at the flag, she fled back to Taylor.


“The Queen will be very unhappy if she finds out.” Terra said nervously.

Taylor shot her a grin. “Then let us hope that she doesn’t find out, shall we.” He said.

The young man was sitting on a grassy patch of ground with the scroll in his hands. He turned it over in his hands, looking at it. The scroll parchment was made of thick rawhide that had been scraped clean and then made waterproof.

“I’m going to open it.”

“No don’t!” Terra moved to stop him.

“Why?” Taylor asked, holding the scroll out of her reach. “The Queen never said that we shouldn’t read it and after all we were the ones that risked our necks getting it.”

Terra crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the boy. “I’m the one who found it so if anyone’s going to read it, it should be me.”

“I thought you didn’t want us to read it.”

Terra shrugged. She had to admit that curiosity had been tugging at her thoughts over the past day. Wondering over and over what could possibly be so important to the Queen - how the scroll could save their kingdom from ruin. She had dreamed the night before of opening it and reading it and of saving her family. She rolled her eyes and sat down on the ground next to him with a groan.

“Alright, lets see what it is.”

She held out her hand.

“But I still want to be the one to open it.”

Taylor smiled and handed it over. “Ladies first.”


Twenty minutes later Terra closed the scroll in a numb haze. She blinked, trying to make sense of what they had just read.

“Is that all true? Can it be?” Taylor asked in a low voice.

Terra shook her head, shock leaving her unable to speak.

“This changes everything.”

She nodded slowly.

They were some ways from their next camping site, with another five miles left to the day and so without another word they set out. The only sound was their soft footsteps, muffled by the soft, pine-covered deer trail. A strong wind picked up and they were forced to stop and unpack heavier clothing.

“The Queen must know what the text says.” Terra reasoned sadly. If she was right then the loving, kind, caring Queen she had served for 13 years would have betrayed everything their kingdom stood for - everything Terra stood for. Only a very evil person could use the information used in the text for personal gain. “We should destroy it.”


Terra glanced over at Taylor. “What do you mean, no? It can only be used for evil.”

“In the hands of one person, yes.” He pulled his leather jerkin over his shirt and tied the front tightly. “But if we could make copies and send it out to others. This could mean freedom and understanding for any Chosen like us.” His eyes searched hers. “We could help others like us to understand the Link.”

“We don’t even understand it.”

“Not yet, but we will soon. If we use the information in the text to learn more.”

“Together.” Terra warned. “We must learn together.”

Taylor nodded in complete agreement. “Never alone. This could be dangerous if used alone so we must always be together when we read it.”

Terra swung her pack back over her shoulder and continued down the path with Taylor close by her side. They had a lot of planning to do before sundown. If Ransom were to come into camp that night and hear them talking about the Sacred Text Terra was unsure of what he would do. It was obvious that his allegiance was to the Queen - after all that she had done for him and his family it was understandable - but they could not trust him with the information that they had learned.

“Do you think he knows?” Terra asked, meaning Ransom.

Taylor studied the ground thoughtfully. “I don’t know, but he seems honest enough.”

“So did the Queen.” Terra said, her words layered in anger at being so completely deceived. “She had me convinced that the Text would save us all. My family and friends.” Terra’s fists clenched. “And all the time she was planning to use something like this.”

“There was no way for you to have known.”

“I should have suspected something after the King’s mysterious illness. There were rumors, but I never thought the Queen capable…” Her words trailed off into silence.

Taylor shifted the pack on his back. He looked sideways at her feeling sympathy for the betrayal that he could feel slipping from her through the Link. He reached over and touched her shoulder lightly.

“You did the best that you could. What you thought was the right thing.”

Tears welled in her eyes and she wiped at them in disgust at her weakness. “If the Queen gets the Text then the kingdom will fall. It will have been all my fault.”

Taylor took a deep breath. “Then we won’t let that happen.”

She looked over at him. “How can we stop it, Taylor? Ransom will make sure that we bring the Text back to the castle.”

“This forest is right on the edge of the enemy territories, is it not?” Taylor suggested.

“So? What does that matter?”

“Which would be the better - to let the Queen destroy our kingdom without mercy or to help our enemies to capture it without thousands dying. With our help and the help of the Text they can capture the palace and defeat the Queen without killing any of the serfs. They have no desire to kill our people only to win the war. Once the war is over the killing will stop.”

“You are suggesting that we become traitors against our own people?”

“No, against our Queen.”

Terra scrubbed her face with her hands. “This is so wrong.”

Taylor snorted. “I thought that with this quest for the crown I would find glory for myself and my family name and now I will probably be branded a traitor…but it is the right thing to do and you know it.”

Terra felt the scroll weighing heavily in her bag. She could not believe where they had come to after all of the traveling and all of the danger this was where they stood. She decide to give it a few minutes thought and so turned her eyes to the sky and the beautiful forest scenery. This was a hard choice to make. If she followed Taylor’s advice then there was no telling what would happen. The enemy could kill them without letting them explain, the Queen could prevail in the end or Ransom could jeopardize everything.

“What will we do about Ransom.” She asked finally.

Taylor kicked a stone off the path. “I don’t think it wise to entrust this information with him. If he truly is the Queen’s man then there will be no reasoning with him and he is stronger than either of us can handle. We will have to keep what we have found out a secret.”

“I agree with your plan. Not happily, I might add.” She said with a frown. “But I see no other way.”

“We need to figure out a way to contact the enemy. A message or signal. Something.” Taylor said. “Once Ransom comes back we cannot talk of this openly.”

“I understand.” Terra nodded.

They walked for another five miles through the quiet forest each deep in thought. The Text had changed everything dramatically. They had to assume that what it said was the truth and if that was indeed the case then they should try and learn as much of the abilities as possible.


Terra ducked cautiously into the cave and was surprised a faint light glow visible in the far end. She walked towards it and found a small opening leading through to a low corridor between the stones. Light trickled down from fissures in the ceiling. Terra started forward slowly, wishing that she had brought some kind of weapon with her - even the wooden practice sword would have been a comfort. Every sharp corner in the rock left her fearful of some monster just beyond. She took slow steps.

A sound clinked some ways ahead of her and the sound echoed strangely off the rocks. Terra shrunk back at the sound and paused, waiting for more. Nothing happened for several long seconds and so she went forward again listening carefully for anything else to indicate that she was not alone in the cave.

Ransom had spoke of a monster and she did not look forward to meeting it alone and unarmed. Taylor would not be back to camp for another hour - it always took him a long time to find and retrieve water so Terra knew that it would be at least that long before she was missed.

Another sound brought her to a complete stop and this time she reached down to pick up a large, loose stone from the floor. She held it above her head ready to throw it at anything that showed itself. An rumbling echo startled her, she flung herself into the cave wall. Silence descended again. Her breathing was harsh and coming fast as the fear pumped blood through her veins. She took a small step forward.

“Is someone there?” She whispered into the gray light of the cave hall.

The only response was another low growl. She looked back the way she had come and wondered if returning for Taylor would be the best thing to do instead of going forward to face alone whatever horror was out there waiting. Deciding to go three more steps forward, just far enough to see past the next turn in the cave, she shuffled towards it.

The sight that met her eyes was a large, empty room with sand instead of solid rock on the floor. A large hole in the ceiling lit the center of the room, but left the corners in deeper shadow.

“Who are you?”

Terra felt every bone in her body freeze as the air whooshed out of her body. As if under it’s own control, her head turned and she looked up. A troll stood directly behind her, his calloused head scraping the low ceiling. She ran her tongue over dry lips and tried to speak, but at first the words came out only as a dry, raspy gargle. She cleared her throat and lowered the rock, knowing that it would do her no good against the thick skinned animal.

“My name is Terra Wright.” She answered it’s query in a shaky voice.

“Why are you here?” It asked slowly.

“I’m looking for something.” She answered cautiously. “A special scroll.”

The troll moved forward a tiny, lumbering step and looked her in the eye. “You are trespassing. This cave is mine and all of the things in it are mine.”

Terra swallowed hard. “Okay.” She squeaked.

Chapter Next

Taylor walked into the camp and collapsed next to the smoldering remains of their fire. He tiredly kicked off his boots and lay back on the soft grass.

“Terra, everything go okay while I was gone?” He called towards her tent.

He waited several seconds and when there was no reply he turned over, resting his head on his arm.

“Terra? You in there?”

The silence drew out and a spark of worry grew within the young soldier. He sat up, his weight resting on his palms. He could not see any sign of her on the outskirts of the camp and there was no sounds coming from the tents.


His brow furrowed in concern. She had promised not to go off alone, but he knew that she had a hard time following through with her promises. The boy sighed and pushed himself off the ground. He slipped his boots back on quickly and snatched up his sword. If she was just out looking for more berries or mushrooms he would kill her, but a knot of worry grew in him. She may be reckless, but she was still just a girl.

It did not take long for him to search the forest around their camp. All he found was a set of Terra-sized footprints heading towards a rock face. He swore under his breath and picked up the pace. Who knew what kinds of dangers lurked in the caves that were just visible in distance mountain. It took twenty minutes of running to finally reach the edge of the hill leading up to the cave entrances. There were five of them, all varying in size. He paused in a brief moment of indecision before finally entering the nearest one.

Terra heard a rustling at the far end of the cave, towards the entrance and closed her eyes. This could not be happening! There were more trolls. She opened her eyes again and took a calming breath. She would take this one problem at a time.

“What if I traded something for it?” She asked the troll, her gaze fixed on the cavern hall where she could hear steady footsteps. “If I have something that you want…will you be willing to trade for what I want?”

“I don’t know.” The troll rubbed it’s chin thoughtfully.

The footsteps slowed just around a bend in the corridor and then they stopped. Terra felt her breaths come quicker as her heartbeat sped up. If there was another troll then she might not get out of there alive. She took a slow step backwards into the large cavern room, her eyes searching frantically for another exit or someplace to hide. There was nothing.

“I guess I could trade. What do you have.”

Taylor heard the question echo off the ceiling and he stopped, his sword heavy in his hands.

“I have food.”

He heard Terra’s frightened voice and his fist clenched around the sword handle. He wanted to storm forward and rescue his friend, but he decide to wait and get a better view of the situation first. Inching forward, pressed against the hard, stone wall, he glimpsed around the corner.

Terra stood under the heavy gaze of a large, green troll. Taylor felt the blood rush from his face. He needed to signal to her that she was not alone. Kneeling down he picked up a loose stone and tossed it forward. At the impact, she turned in his direction. He waved at her and she nodded to inform him that she had seen.

Terra felt relief flood through her and she relaxed a fraction. Her gaze remained fixed on the troll looming ominously above where she stood just inside the cavern. The creature seemed to be thinking very hard over her offer of food and she could only hope that he wouldn’t mind berries and mushrooms as that was the only food that they had left. It had never occurred to her that they might have to give something up in order to acquire the Sacred Texts. She had still seen no sign of them although she was convinced they were hidden in the back, shadowed portion of the great room.

The troll took a cautious step forward, being sure not to step on the girl. “I don’t need food, but I would like….” It hesitated.

Terra raised an eyebrow. “Yes? What is it that you want?”

“A friend.”

Terra’s mouth opened and closed a few times as she tried to come up with a response for that demand. How could she find this creature a friend? The only living things in the forest that she had seen besides birds and chipmunks had been her traveling companions.

“What kind of friend?” She ventured cautiously.

“A good friend. One that is nice to me.” The troll replied with a longing glint in it’s yellow eyes. “I’ve never had a friend before, but my Mom said they were good. I always wanted a friend.”

Taylor, who had been inching his way forward, listened to the exchange. If Terra could continue to distract the monster then maybe he could sneak up behind and stab it. The young soldier stepped carefully forward, making sure not to make a sound in the soft dirt floor. As he got further into the room sand replaced the dirt and he had to be even more careful not to make a sound. Terra saw his progress and tried to keep the troll’s attention focused on her.

“What about a plant?” She suggested nervously. “They’re easy to take care of and they’re always nice. You can talk to them and everything.”

The troll shook his head. “There are lots of plants outside and none of them are nice.”

“Well, how about a dog then?”

“Yum, dog.” The troll licked it’s lips.

Terra coughed to hide a groan. “Definitely not a dog then.” She muttered to herself and then said louder. “What about a horse?”

“Horse? Is a horse fun and nice?” The troll asked curiously.

Terra nodded vigorously.

“Oh, yes. Horses are very nice and they’re especially nice to trolls. You see, horses really like trolls and they are ever so much fun to play with.”

Taylor was now less than three yards from the troll. Terra held her breath and tried not to keep glancing behind the troll so that she would not give away Taylor’s position. The girl cleared her throat and kept talking.

“But I can’t promise to trade anything with you unless I know that you have what I’m looking for.”

“What are you looking for?” The troll asked slowly.

“A scroll. It’s got lettering on it and it is very, very old. Do you know of anything like that?” She asked.

The troll reached into it’s dirty, ragged shirt and pulled out a pouch made out of faded gold velvet. “Scroll.” The troll said, holding the bag up in the air.

Terra’s eyes widened. She could clearly make out the shape of a large scroll inside of the bag. This was it, what they had set out to find for the Queen. This was the answer to her Grampa’s prayers. She gazed at it hungrily.

“Yes, that’s the one.” She said, reaching forward.

“Horse first.” The troll said stubbornly.

Terra nodded, her wide eyes starring at the velvet bag in awe. “Of course, of course. Just let me outside and I’ll bring the horse to you.” She promised. “Then you can give me the scroll.”

The troll nodded and stepped to the side so that she could pass, in doing so it caught sight of Taylor who dove for cover behind a large rock on the floor. He pushed himself into a small recess under the rock and waited.

“The horse is this way!” Terra said loudly, trying to draw back the troll’s attention. “Follow me.” And then she lead the way out of the cave.

The troll hesitated, it’s head turning this way and that as it tried to spot Taylor, but after a moment it shook it’s head and followed the girl outside into the bright evening light. The sun was getting closer to the horizon and Terra knew that it would not be a good idea to get caught in the forbidden forest at night, alone, with a troll on the loose so running away wasn’t an option. Besides, now she knew where the scroll was and she just had to find a way to get it. From a two thousand pound mountain troll. The odds were not on her side and she knew it, after all, there was no way that she could give up one of the horses. That would leave either Taylor or her walking. The palace was a very long ways to walk. She sigh and brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes.

“This way.” She told the troll, leading it down the steep trail towards the forest a few hundred yards away.

Taylor watched them go and then unfolded himself from the cramped space. He gripped his sword, just incase there was another troll hiding in the vicinity. He started towards the cave entrance slowly, not wanting to catch up too quickly. He needed them in the forest before he could try and outpace them. If he made it to the camp first maybe he could devise some kind of ambush for the troll.

Terra walked as slowly as she dared, leading a zigzag path through the forest. She knew that eventually she would need to lead the troll to their campsite, but she wanted to give Taylor enough time to come up with a plan. Terra could only pray that it was a good plan.

“I will give you the scroll when you give me the horse.” The troll stated.

The ground shook with every step the large creature took. Leaves rained down on them from the tree limbs as it brushed through the lower branches.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get you a horse. A big, pretty, nice horse.” Terra promised and then added under her breath. “With golden wings and silver giggles.”

Birds sung in the trees. A blue robin flitted down low enough to fly between the troll’s legs. Terra glimpsed the sun through a break in the trees and knew she had to be getting to the camp. If Taylor hadn’t come up with some sort of plan by then he never would. She motioned forward with one arm

“We’re almost there!” She said loud enough for the troll to hear, as his head was lost somewhere up in the boughs of the trees.

Taylor sat in waiting on the upper branches of a short evergreen tree. His sword was safely hidden away in one of the saddle bags by the horses. He had tied them some ways off so that they wouldn’t be frightened of the troll. The teenage boy hoped that his plan worked, he was confident that the troll would be taken out, but he needed to be sure that nothing happen to the Sacred Text that they had risked so much to find.

The fact that it was so close by made his heart race. Everything that his country needed to be free from the oppressive enemy was hidden inside the pages of that Text. A low rumble and the rhythmic thump he could feel coming up through the tree let him know that the troll was getting closer. He looked down and checked to make sure that his trap was truly ready. Satisfied he leaned back into the trunk and waited.

Terra entered the camp cautiously, her gaze sweeping the site for any sign of her friend. He was nowhere to be seen and neither were any of the horses. She swallowed hard. This could get tricky fast. The troll entered the camp a few seconds behind her, it came to a stop in the very center of the circled tents. It looked around, blinking it’s golden eyes frequently because of the bright light that shone into the open space. It was only then that Terra remembered learning that trolls could not see very well in the sunlight. She could remember the stories that her Gampa used to tell her on his knee beside the fireplace. A vein of homesickness shot through her and for a moment she wished she had never agreed to take the mission.

Taylor felt her homesickness like it was his own, the strong emotion coming clearly through the Link. He felt sadness for her well up inside of him, but he stopped it before it could be transported into her consciousness.

“Where is horse?” The troll asked in confusion. It continued to look around itself as if the horse would spring from thin air.

Terra scrambled for an excuse. “We-ell, you see. . .”

“Duck!” Taylor’s shout drove her to the ground in a second.

There was a rush of air above her and a whistle noise followed by a loud thud. She turned her head just in time to see the troll fall backward, a small tree impaled through it‘s shoulder. The entire camp shook at the impact of the large body when the troll landed in a green heap. Terra pushed herself to her knees and looked around for Taylor.

“Up here!” Taylor waved from his position in the tree.

Terra glared at him. “You could have given me some kind of warning.”

“I did.” He said with a smirk. “Besides, I didn’t want to alert the troll now did I?”

Terra muttered under her breath about stupid boys, but did not argue the point. She heard Taylor climb down the tree behind her as she came up to the troll’s right hand, where it still clutched the golden velvet bag. It took some work to get it out of the unconscious grip of the monster, but finally she was able to pull it free. Taylor watched over her shoulder as she reached inside the bag and slid a rolled up schroll into view.

The Text was not much larger than normal scrolls, but it was the pages that set it apart. They were made out of rough rawhide. Terra ran a finger lightly over the outside, awe spilling from her to the Link. Taylor tried to take it, but she kept it out of his reach. Holding it out from him she frowned over at the boy.

“What do you think that you’re doing?” She asked.

“Reading it, of course.” He replied snidely.

‘We aren’t going to read it. The Queen never said that we were to read it.” Terra said decidedly. “We’re not going to and that is that.”

“Uh-huh.” Taylor murmured.

“I’m serious.”

“Yeah. I can see that, Terra.” The teenage boy waved a hand in the direction of the scroll. “But why shouldn’t we? We’re the ones who risked our lives to find it…shouldn’t we get a chance to see what was so important.” His eyes shone with curiosity. “This is what will save the kingdom. I for one am not giving it back without some idea of what it will do.”

Terra chewed her bottom lip. He did have a good point, she thought uncertainly. They did have a right, but not in the eyes of the Queen - of that she was certain. Having lived with the woman for over five years she knew that this would be a gross breach of trust between them and the royal throne. Still, what the Queen did not know could not hurt anyone. She nodded hesitantly.

“Alright. I guess you’re right.”

Taylor grinned. “Sure I am.”

Terra rolled her eyes in disgust at the egotistical response. “Men!” She complained, holding the scroll out to him. “We read this together.”


“So, what are we going to do with this troll anyway?” Terra asked as she skirted around the prone figure.

Taylor shrugged. “What can we do? It’s too heavy for us to move.”

“Did you really have to kill it? I don’t think he would have hurt us.”

“Unless it didn’t get that ‘nice horse’ you promised.” Taylor stated dryly.

Terra had to agree. “Well, I still think there could have been a better way.”

“Hmm. You’re welcome. I’m so glad that I saved your life.” Taylor mocked from his position by the camp fire where he was still poring over the scroll.

The night had fallen upon them quickly. A few minutes earlier they had enjoyed a monotonous meal of fresh mushrooms and sun-dried berries. Terra missed the smoked meat her Gampa used to send with her on the trips to the palace. She licked her lips at the memory, unknowingly sending her feelings through the Link.

“You’re making me hungry.” Taylor told her with a chuckle. “Maybe if we followed these instructions it would help us to control this Link thing. Then we wouldn’t always be sharing our emotions. At least then I could get some peace and quite in here.” He tapped the side of his head. “Besides, if the Queen is a Chosen then we don’t want her to know what we’ve found out.”

“True. We should look at it again tonight.”

“Finally, we’ve got a plan.” Taylor commented with a smile.