We all stared into the woods, holding our swords at the ready. Andre could have come by himself and he could have brought an army. We had no way of knowing.
At least, I had no way of knowing because I hadn`t stayed behind to see how the battle had ended and who had won. I had run – and I still didn`t feel good about that. I knew that the battle was too confusing, that I wouldn`t know which enemy I was fighting, that Tara, Jason and I were on everyone`s death list, but I still felt terrible about my cowardly behavior.
“You were about to tell us about what happened,” I whispered to Pam while keeping my eyes on the lookout for enemies.
She held a knife in her left hand, her sword hand missing most of its fingers. “Felipe is dead,” she started and when I glanced at her I noticed her fierce smile. “And Sophie Anne is hurt.”
“She lost a leg by the knee.”
I drew air in through my teeth. “Can she survive that?”
Pam shrugged. “She might survive the wound but can you imagine a queen with just one leg?”
The raw laughter that escaped from my mouth surprised me. I wasn`t usually one to gloat when other people were hurt. Maybe it was the fact that Andre had almost abducted Pam`s child that made me want to see Queen Sophie-Anne hurt. Maybe it was how she`d rejected me because of Rasul`s lies. She`d rejected me after having wanted me so much she sent Andre out to marry me – something Eric had stopped.
I thought of Queen Sophie-Anne still being a queen. The thought was ridiculous. “Sophie-Anne the One-Legged?” I whispered. “No, I can`t imagine that.” I looked at Pam`s hand. “You stopped being a warrior when you lost your fingers. Imagine losing a leg. How will she lead her armies into battle?”
Pam stared at me. “I never stopped being a warrior. I just stopped looking for battles.” She paused. “Instead it seems battle found me.”
I looked down, realizing my mistake. Of course, Pam never stopped being a warrior. Only death or cowardice stopped a true warrior from being what he or she truly was. Pam may have stopped going into battles voluntarily but if they came looking for her she would be ready with whatever weapon her hands could carry. “I`m proud of having this opportunity to fight at your side,” I said, hoping she hadn`t taken offense.
“Likewise,” she muttered and I felt a wave of pride washing over me.
Eric was the one to take charge and soon he`d ordered us to form a ring and work our way out. Quinn had taken Frannie back to the cave and I imagined he would defend her to his last tooth. Later we would celebrate his becoming a man and mourn the fact that it happened years too early. But he`d handled himself perfectly and could be proud of himself.
“Quinn did well,” I whispered to Pam before the ring opened so wide we were too far away from each other to whisper.
She turned her head in my direction and the smile she gave me was so full of pride I almost wished I had a little warrior myself I could celebrate.
But not 11, though. There was no way I would ever end up with 11 children. Actually, I couldn`t picture myself with any children. I couldn`t imagine how babies and nursing would fit in with my being a shieldmaiden. I could imagine my being on a battlefield, asking the people I was fighting for a nursing break because little Sookie junior needed to be fed.
A branch snapping ahead of me brought me out of my musings about children. I froze for a moment, trying to decide where the sound came from and then I leapt forward as quietly as I could. The forest was thick so I couldn`t see whoever was coming but I could hear him. I hid behind a tree and waited for him to walk past me, raised my sword and jumped forward, ready to separate a head from its body when I realized who the person was.
“Felicia?” I asked. “What are you doing here?” I didn`t lower my sword but I also didn`t kill her on sight.
“We want to join Pam and Eric,” a voice behind Felicia the Fair said.
“Thalia?” I smiled. I`d liked Felicia and had had an enormous amount of respect for Thalia.
“The one and only – arthritis and all.” Her voice was grumpy but her eyes were alert.
“Are you alone?”
“No, I don`t think we were the only ones to follow Pam. I thought I heard people walking in the same direction as us but we tried to stay in hiding as much as possible since we couldn`t be sure who it was. We only came forward when we heard Frannie scream.”
I looked around, not about to be ambushed by anyone sent out by Queen Sophie-Anne. The big question was whether Andre had come alone or not. I could only imagine what he`d wanted with Frannie. If he`d had Frannie he would have had both Pam and Eric, not to mention Claude, Felicia, Thalia and whoever else wanted to follow Pam and Eric more than their queen.
I took a deep breath. Eric and Pam wouldn`t have left their queen if it hadn`t been for me and Queen Sophie-Anne might have won the battle if it hadn`t been for Felipe abducting me.
It was a mess and again I couldn`t help thinking how much I loved a clean battle and how much I hated all the shady dealings between our leaders.
I called out the crows` screech signal we`d agreed upon making if one of us wanted us all to meet up back at the cave and then I led Felicia and Thalia back with me. I heard a few more crows` screeches and soon everyone came back to the area in front of the cave.
When we met in the clearing I realized I wasn`t the only one who`d brought company from the woods. Dermot the Twin was standing next to Jason, an image which always looked eerie, and Eric had brought back quite a few people and I could see from the smile on his face that they were all people he considered friends.
Eric came over to me and pulled me into his side in pure joy.
“We have ourselves a small army, Sookie,” he said.
“I can see that. But for which war? Who are we fighting?”
“Pam!” Eric shouted for his sister who came over to us. Apparently having the small army gave Eric confidence enough to shout instead of whispering. “You saw more of what happened at the battlefield than we did. What would you suggest we do now?”
Pam`s eyes got cold and her lips narrowed into that thin line I recognized from her brother. “We have to go back.”
“What?!” I asked. I had no intentions of going back. I would be killed for treason. “Queen Sophie-Anne will have me killed since Rasul has convinced her I`m a traitor.”
“Then we`ll kill Rasul,” she said, matter-of-factly. “And we kill Queen Sophie-Anne. We could have chosen to run and I would have done so if it had been just us. But it isn`t just us now. We`re enough people to kill the queen who sent out her henchman to abduct my child.”
“But won`t it create more chaos now that Felipe is dead?” I didn`t mind Pam`s plan but I wanted to know where we`d stand afterwards. With both Felipe and Sophie-Anne dead, who would take the crown? Who would lead the country? As far as I knew there was nobody left from Sophie-Anne`s bloodline.
“Yes, it will. I imagine there are enough people out there who would love to take over. Nordby is a rich city and it`s the center of trade between north and south, east and west.” Pam looked at Eric. “It`s our duty to defend Nordby after we kill the queen.”
“How do you plan on killing her?” Eric said.
“I`m not sure yet.” Pam`s smile sent a chill down my spine. “But she`s missing a leg. We could start by doing her the service of making her symmetrical.”
Apparently abducting Pam`s offspring was punishable by death. As was only natural.
Pam called everyone over. Frannie and Quinn came to stand next to her and she gave them a smile and held their hands.
“We need to get back as fast as possible,” Pam shouted so everyone could hear. “We will all rest and eat and then we will be off.” She looked into the forest. “Queen Sophie-Anne is as dead as her uncle.”
I enjoyed the part where we rested as an army, everyone knowing just what to do and sleeping in spite of all the noise. The camaraderie, the purpose, the knowledge that when we were done resting, we would soon be fighting.
I also think most of us trusted Pam – or Eric; I wasn`t sure who people trusted more as they seemed to come as a pair – to make the right decisions so the rest of us could therefore relax, knowing that if we died, it was for a good reason. Pam was that kind of leader and so was Eric.
I`d volunteered to scout and stay on watch since I`d had some sleep last night as opposed to the people who`d been walking all night. I listened carefully to all the noises coming from the forest, both with my ears and that inner sense I had. But there was nothing. Either Andre had come alone or the people he`d come with had left when he`d been killed.
It was early in the morning when we started the rest and the sun was high on the sky when everyone got up, filled their containers with water from the small creek, tied their sword belts a little tighter and started moving.
No one was talking or horsing around. We were on a mission that could cost us our lives and everyone knew that.
We walked in a different direction than the one we`d come from, which just confirmed that the battlefield Felipe had taken me to wasn`t close to Nordby.
Pam let us walk in a formation with scouts ahead that guaranteed that we wouldn`t be ambushed and that we could move fairly quickly forward. She changed the scouts every so often to make sure they stayed sharp and when the shadows grew longer and the air a little colder, Pam made signs for Eric and me to relieve the last scouts she`d appointed.
Quickly and quietly we rushed forward, found Felicia and Clancy and replaced them.
Eric and I were a perfect scout team since we seemed to somehow be each other`s eyes and ears. If one of us heard something, the other one would stop and listen in that same direction without a word having been exchanged between us.
I assumed we were getting closer to Nordby because the paths were more downtrodden and there were more of them – a sure sign of people living close by, using the forest to hunt and gather firewood. We therefore needed to be more careful, more on guard, and I stopped and listened while sniffing the air for fires.
That was when I heard it. To my left there was a noise and it wasn`t an animal. I looked at Eric who`d heard the noise as well.
We crouched down and I started moving quietly in the direction of the sound while Eric moved backwards towards Pam and the rest of the warriors to warn them so they didn`t walk into a trap.
I sneaked closer, listening for whoever was there, trying to get a feeling of what was ahead. Was it an ambush? How many were there?
Just as I`d come to the conclusion that it was just one person and that he wasn`t going to fight me, I heard a whisper. “Sookie?”
I got up and to my surprise I saw a familiar face. “Alcide?” I asked. “What are you doing here?”
He smiled. “Amelia told me you would be here.”
“How would she know?” I didn`t understand anything. Alcide was so very out of place. Yes, he was the chief of a minor area not too far from Queen Sophie-Anne`s kingdom but his men hadn`t been in the battle so there was no reason for his being here.
“She saw it in a vision. I went to her when Rasul told me you wanted to be my queen if I didn`t take Queen Sophie-Anne`s side in the battle.”
“Rasul told you what?” I asked, trying to keep my voice down. Rasul had been a busy man, spreading lies about me everywhere. “Why did you believe him?”
The lines on Alcide`s forehead got deeper. “Because of your parents, of course. They drowned on their way to help my father against Sophie-Anne`s father and now you`re helping me against Sophie-Anne. There`s some justice in that and I think your parents would be proud.”
It was as if my brain were drained of all thought. My parents were on their way to fight for Alcide`s father? Why? And why hadn`t I known? I`d always been told they were on their way to a market. That my father wanted to buy cows and that my mother had joined him to make sure he didn`t use the money on other women instead of bovine.
But I couldn`t tell Alcide that. I couldn`t ask him about my parents. I couldn`t let him know how ignorant I was about my own family. So I grabbed something else he`d said instead.
“Queen of what kingdom?”
“Well, the kingdom currently ruled by a one-legged queen, of course.” Alcide grinned.