After a nice supper in the Suds and Steer in The Collector Witch, Rose and Lukus find themselves on a dark road in the woods…
Before them lay the border of Loxmere, beyond which lay the Jut of Niarg, a southern arm of their own country, filled with a dense forest known as the Jutwoods. They crossed the border in the broad moonlight by leaving the road in order to avoid the guard houses. When they had found their way back onto the road, they were nearly three leagues beyond Loxmere in very dense woods. Suddenly Rose halted Mystique so abruptly that Lukus ran his knee into the skirt of her saddle. “Hey! Rose, call your shot next time.”
“Hush!” she said. “We’re being watched.”
“How do you know?”
“I swear I saw movement.”
“It must be the robbers from the inn. I told you they were up to no good.”
“Can you see them, Lukus?”
“It’s ‘way too dark. I can’t see anything. They could hide anywhere. They could be right there in the rocks along the cliff, for all I can tell. I think they’re rocks. Maybe they’re pacing us through the woods, just off the road.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Run or hide. We’d better choose one right quick, ’cause I just heard something. We can make out the road by the gap in the trees.”
“Then let’s ride like the wind. They’ll not have mounts even close to ours.”
At once three figures stepped into the roadway.
“Lukus!” she cried, wheeling square about and frantically digging her heels into Mystique’s flanks to charge back the way they’d come. Lukus tried to follow, but Starfire reared and bolted off the road and through the brush to throw him sprawling in the briars. Two hooded figures rushed out of nowhere and grabbed Starfire’s reins. Lukus scrambled to his feet and fell in time to be pounced on and rolled up in a blanket.
Rose was too far away by now to hear him over Mystique’s pounding hooves, but she looked over her shoulder to see if he was behind her. “Lukus!” she cried. The moment she turned about, three hooded figures stepped into her way, spooking Mystique off the road to go crashing through a thicket while she hung onto her neck for dear life. As they raced under the limb of an oak, somebody dropped onto Mystique’s back to grab her as she lost her grip. She gave out a throat shredding scream.
“Hush!” cried the somebody, clapping his hand over her mouth. “You’ll scare lean air out of Lukus, and cac too, Princess!”
Directly, she was helped off Mystique by the one who had caught her and by two other hooded men who set to work at once, unwrapping Lukus. “Good for you!” she shouted. “You have us! Now what are you going to do to us? And just how did you know Lukus’s name?”
The three calmed the unicorns and stood quietly before them, faceless as wraiths.
“You’re not from the inn,” she said as they pushed back their hoods.
The middle one smiled at her.
“You’re Elves!” she gasped at their pointed ears. “But you don’t exist. You must be an enchantment.”
“Nope,” said the middle one with a bow. “We’re as real as you are. And enchantment would be beyond you, I’m afraid. I’m Danneth and these are my brothers, Strom and Jarund, and we most certainly mean you no harm in the least. In fact, we’re here at your service.”
“Yea?” said Lukus. “And how is stamping on us and rolling us in the blackberry briars the same as serving us?”
“Yes, that was awkward,” said Danneth. “You have lots of energy. It took quite a bit to get you to hold still.”
“Just how many of you are there? Nine? Twelve?” said Rose.
“We are three only,” said Danneth.
“Now you’re playing us for fools,” she said.
“Not at all,” said Jerund. “We merely move quickly when we must.”
“Rose, they don’t have to let us find out. It’s pointless,” said Lukus, turning to Danneth. “Though it would only be fair if you all at least told us what you stopped us for and just what you are.”
“But Rose saw at once that we are Elves,” said Danneth.
Danneth looked like his brothers to Rose, but where his hair was silvery, Strom’s was metallic golden and Jarund’s was iridescent and black as pitch, far blacker than any black hair she had seen in her life. “They have to be what they claim, Lukus,” she said, turning to the Elves. “I’m convinced that you’re Elves, but telling us that you’re at our service is no explanation at all for your waylaying us.”
Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps