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When the trees began to thin, I picked up on the scent. The scent of humans. When humans congregate in an area in a large group the ‘scent’ they leave is incredibly pungent and hard to ignore. Any animal that was used to living in forests that held almost no human activity would be thoroughly repulsed by the stench. However, in the months since I left my home my nose had become accustomed to the scent of human excrement.
I stopped and moved to stand behind a hill when I felt the ruble of hoof prints hitting the ground. A group of horses were about to ride straight past us, and there were more than just a few. Jasper and Theo were slightly down the hill and I didn’t know if they were watching me.
Jasper seemed to sense something because he looked up at me and nodded his head. He grabbed Theo and they ducked behind a tree. I slipped behind a fall tree as I heard a man call out.
“Move it! We have orders and I don’t have time for your lack of punctuality. Let’s go men.”
A man riding on a heavily armored horse rode straight past me with a trail of at least twenty other horses. All the horses carried a soldier, and all were dressed for a battle. From the symbol engraved onto the front of their tunics I knew it was the Queen’s soldiers. The final rider flew by and I stepped out from my hiding place.
Jasper and Theo moved over to me quickly. Jasper knelt beside me.
I said, “Is it common recently to see the queen’s men roaming these mountains in such force?”
Jasper shrugged. “Don’t pay much attention. I tend to avoid them.”
Theo dropped down. “I’ve seen those guards before.”
Jasper turned. “Where?”
“In the village, yesterday,” he said.
I looked up the hill to where they came from. Where the hill began to smooth out I could see the shape of some sort of fabric. It was standing on their own. “I think there is more of them.”
Jasper frowned at me. “What makes you say that?”
“Up the hill.”
Jasper took a few steps forward. “A tent?”
I nodded. “Let’s keep to the trees and go around the long way.”
“Good idea,” said Jasper, before telling Theo the plan.
The hill leveled out quickly as we climbed. And the longer we walked the more tents came into view. And the more tents we spotted the more soldiers appeared. All the men appeared well armed and ready for a fight. But a better question was a fight with whom.
There was a line of guards that ran along the outside of the camp. All of them alert. The rest of the camp was quiet. Some guards were standing around fires trying to keep warm, others were stumbling along like they were drunk, and there was enough a few passed out in the snow.
I left Jasper and Theo behind a fallen over tree. It would be easier if I was alone. Humans were easier to spot, and an animal would attract less attention if I were spotted. As I moved around the edge I discovered not only more guards patrolling the trees but traps, that were hidden rather poorly, all around. Some were bear traps while others were designed to catch smaller animals such as rabbits. I made sure to watch my step.
On the east side of the camp I found cages. They looked poorly made and easy to escape from, but the six guards that surrounded the cages made up for what the cages lacked in strength. Only two of the four cages were full. One held a man who was lying face first in the snow. He was breathing, so he was alive, but from his uniform he looked like a guard. Why had they locked up one of their own? In the other cage was a young woman and an older man. From the bright hair, I knew that it Tiara. I wanted to jump around and call out to her, but that would no doubt get me spotted.
I slipped closer to the cages and laid down next to a log. There guard facing in my direction wasn’t really looking too closely. His eyes seemed to be glazed over with boredom. But I still stayed low.
I reached out to Tiara. “Tiara! It’s Kara.” I peeked up to see if she had heard me.
“KARA!” she said. She was clever to remember that I could hear her thoughts. If she started talking to herself no doubt that her guards would call her witch.
“Are you and your dad alright?” I said.
“Yes,” said Tiara, “the queen’s guards kidnapped us.”
“I can see that.” I looked at the guard facing me. His eyes were now closed. This man would be easy to sneak past. “What happened?
She sighed. “We were trying to find the place where you wanted us to go. Pa thought that it is what you would want us to do when you didn’t come back. He said that you would catch up to us. Guess he was right.”
It was what I would have wanted. But I knew this would happen if we got separated. “You did the right thing. But this is the worst thing that could have happened.” The queen’s guards were rude and piggish but they didn’t just take anyone. “Why did they take you?”
“We have been accused of being poachers.”
“Poachers? You aren’t…your dad carries rifles.” While rifles are mostly used for protection by most people, rifles are a poacher’s bread and butter. Easiest and quickest way to hunt animals.
“Dammit.” I swiped at the snow.
“What are we going to do?” she asked.
I took a deep breath. “We are not going to panic. I have some friends with me, they can help break you out.”
“Okay…” she said.
Tiara was unsure, it was clear by her voice. I just needed her to trust me. “Just stay out of trouble, okay?” I said.
“Yeah, okay. You stay out of sight.”
I turned around and snuck back around the camp. Jasper and Theo were still waiting for me in the same spot. I laid down behind the fallen tree.
“What did you see?” said Theo.
“We are completely outnumbered,” I said.
Jasper repeated my statement to Theo.
Theo frowned at me. “Really? I couldn’t tell.”
“No need for sarcasm. But on a good note I found Tiara and Daniel.”
Jasper smiled. “That’s great.”
“They are locked up in the makeshift prison.”
His smile fell. “Not so great. But hey, you found them.”
Theo nudged his shoulder. “Explain.”
Jasper waved away his question. “All we have to do is break them out.”
“You make it sound like it is so easy.”
He nodded. “Just leave it to me.”
Theo grabbed his jacket. “It sounds like you are about to do something incredible stupid.”
“Maybe,” said Jasper.
“Do I need to remind you of the flower incident?”
Jasper paled and pulled away from him. “You promised to never remind me of that.”
I frowned. “The flower incident?”
Jasper shook his head. “Never you mind. Now, if you will wait here. I’m going to go on a jail break.”
I looked at Theo. I had no idea if he could understand my expression but not only was I concerned about Tiara and Daniel, but Jasper could do anything.
Theo’s expression reflected mine. He said, “I don’t know what he has got planned. But expect the worse. After growing up with him I simply expect it now.”
I nodded my head and turned to watch as Jasper disappeared into the trees. I hoped that Jasper’s plan went well. And if it did Tiara, Daniel and I could finally get on our way. And Jasper and Theo can go off and do what they really need to do. Our problem wasn’t theirs.
The only thing I could see of Jasper was the top of his hat. It stood out from the white snow, and it was a miracle that he hadn’t been spotted yet. His popped his head around a tree, looked around before stepping out. He was insane.
Theo groaned. “Oh, please don’t do what I think your about to do.”
I looked at Theo.
“He is going to get caught on purpose.”
I felt like my eyes would have popped out of my head if they could. Was Jasper a complete moron. I moved to chase after him, but Theo placed his hand on my back. I frowned and nudged at him.
He shook his head. “There is no point in trying to stop him. You both will get captured and locked up. He probably thinks that he has a better chance of helping them escape from the inside.”
I wanted to smack myself in the face. I had seen humans do it multiple times when they thought someone’s comment or idea was stupid. It would be appropriate. I settled back down and Theo removed his hand. The fact that Theo’s hand didn’t bother me was being to bother me. Before I met Tiara the thought of any human getting as close to me as Theo was seemed impossible. I had grown up believing the almost every human was out to kill and skin me. Humans, especially guards and poachers, were dangerous. Stay away from them was the one warning you got.
But now, after so little time with Tiara I had become comfortable around them. Maybe because the few humans I had gotten to know—such as Tiara, Daniel, Jasper and Theo—had been nothing but nice to me.
There was still that nagging feeling though. It sat in the back of my mind. It told me to just turn and run. Get away from all these humans and hide. It was the only way to save myself. But Great Owl’s words overpowered it. His words. Tiara and I had to save familiars and their bond mates. There was no one else who could.
I looked away from Theo and back to Jasper. He held his hands up in the air. He was surrendering. That stupid smile on his face though would give away his intention to anyone with a brain. He was too eager to get arrested. But the guards simply bound his hands and walked him off towards their prison.
This was going to go so terribly wrong. I could feel it.ns 220.127.116.11da2