Cally had no concept of how long they walked through the trees, and she didn’t have a clue where in the forest they were traveling. The woods within the limits of her binding spell didn’t contain much more than just plants, which made her wonder where Galena thought they would end up. She thought perhaps she intended to get as far into the thick as they could and let the snowy weather and shadows of the environment conceal them. They put all of their concentration in navigating through the roots and brush, so no one spoke. The only sound she heard came from their feet. Cally felt relieved that their ploy kept Reisseck busy for a while, but she wondered how long it would last.
They couldn’t see too far ahead, but they were able to discern what laid in their path in the near distance. They got to a point where the space looked empty, and Cally felt like they would end up stopping in this clearing. To her surprise, they hadn’t come to an actual clearing but the lake she often visited! It looked different to her as she she watched the sun set on the icy banks, and it just didn’t give her the same comfort it had before. It used to be a refuge for her to go where she could be herself fully without judgment, and now Reisseck had violated the safety it once provided. She couldn’t enjoy it knowing at any moment he could ambush them! After a long period of making little to no noise, Derrick finally broke the quiet by noting, “We didn’t get any rope.”
“I can produce a spell to bind him,” Galena informed them. “However, I don’t know how long it will hold, and Reisseck could feign its hold to attack us at an opportunity he finds us off guard.”
Cally suggested, “We could take his wand away, but if the spell lifts, he would still pose a threat from his massive physicality.”
Derrick responded, “I don’t think we have much of a choice. We’ll have to take the chance unless we can come up with a new idea before he catches up to us.”
“We’ll have to remain as silent as possible so we can hear him coming,” Galena instructed. “After I do my magic, start reading and keep going until we see the slightest movement coming from him.”
Cally commented, “We need a way to defend ourselves in case he escapes from the effects of the hex. It’s not as though I couldn’t punch and kick if I needed to, but he’s an enormous brute, so I think we would need more than that to fend him off.”
Galena relented, “I’m willing to give up my powers to take him down if it comes down to it.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary.” Derrick pulled out his dagger. “I can do the deed if I have to. I don’t like the idea, but I will do what I have to in order to protect you two.”
Cally proposed, “Okay, after you…” she indicated to Galena, “magically bind him, I’ll read off the list of names while you…” she indicated to Derrick, “stand behind him with your dagger ready in case we don’t guess his name by the time the spell lifts.” She paused and then remarked, “It all sounds so simple!”
Derrick glanced at the sunset and inquired, “Do you think he’ll keep hunting us down after dark?”
Cally shook her head and shrugged. “Everything I thought I knew about him has gone out the window. I’d like to think he would grow weary pretty quickly and break until morning, but I just don’t know anymore.”
Derrck folded his arms and hunched over a bit in reaction to the cold wind taking over the area, so Galena offered, “I can create a small fire to keep us warm while we wait. If we huddle together, we can shield it from view on the path.” Derrick and Cally agreed to it and sat down on the frosted grass. Cally and Derrick gathered a bit of twigs that were nearby, and Galena pointed her tail at the kindling. The fire she created wasn’t very large, but the small flame did keep them toasty enough to camp out there comfortably. They didn’t speak much after that as they listened for Reisseck in the distance. Though no one said it out loud, they all wondered just how much time they had.
Nobody slept that night, but none of them even felt tempted to do so. Cally thought that under normal circumstances, she would have enjoyed laying in Derrick’s arms all night. While she found his presence comforting, she couldn’t relax. She didn’t want to let her guard down for a second! She wanted to be fully ready for when Reisseck showed up because if any of them slipped in their duties for this plan, then Reisseck’s victory would be guaranteed. The snow had stopped falling, and the Oreads forest had stood eerily still. Time seemed to pass so slowly, and yet as she saw the first light of dawn on the horizon, she felt as though time had passed insanely fast. After hours of silence, Galena whispered, “Does anyone want breakfast?”
“Breakfast?” Cally softly replied. “I can’t remember the last time I wanted food! I wonder if I ever will!”
“We can’t eat until we can leave this spot,” Derrick quietly remarked. “We can’t keep running from him. There’s only so far we can go, so eventually he’ll find us here, it’s only a matter of time. I didn’t think it would take this long, but we can’t let ourselves get distracted. Let’s stay here and finish this!”
Galena, in a hushed tone, informed them, “There’s some berries near us if you want some food.”
Cally, who grew tired of thumbing through the history book, decided to try one. She dusted off some snowflakes, and after she popped it into her mouth, Derrick whispered, “How is it?”
“It’s fine, not as good as a warm meal.” Cally sighed, “I wish we could visit Elif’s bakery one more time! I’m not suggesting we do that though. You’re right, we need to finish this! We have to stay here because there really isn’t any other way out of this situation.”
Derrick mulled it over for a moment and suddenly got struck with an idea, “What if I married you?”
“What?” Cally heard him, but it just didn’t seem real that a man she greatly admired would actually ask her that.
“Think about it,” Derrick quietly explained, “if I marry you, then you won’t be available to marry Duke Ferrin.”
Cally got a little disappointed to hear he wanted marry her just for the purpose of saving the kingdom from Reisseck’s interference. She considered the notion nonetheless, really pondering what Reisseck would do if he found out she got married, and she concluded, “If I defied him, he purposefully wouldn’t tell us his name as punishment. We would have to spend the rest of our lives staying within the boundaries of the binding spell.”
“I can handle that,” Derrick avowed.
Before Cally could give the idea further thought, Galena pointed out, “You’re assuming he would let you live. His magic would weaken, but he could still kill you in order to maintain power. If Cally became a widow, she would be free to marry Duke Ferrin.”
“She’s right,” Cally concurred. “We can’t spend the rest of our lives avoiding Reisseck in the far corner of Lacoria. You’re not close enough to Andor to rule that land from here, and they’re going to need their future king! Besides, I wouldn’t forgive myself if you got killed just because of me!”
Derrick quietly but passionately exclaimed, “So what? Cally, I’ll die for you!”
His proclamation absolutely stunned her. No one had ever cared about her enough to put their life one the on the line like that! She had always felt so insignificant to the world, and now she a prince who was willing to put her needs before his own! It never occurred to her that a man, especially one as smart, kind, and handsome as him would actually feel anything deeper than friendship, and it surprised her to think that he may have developed romantic feelings for her! The intense look in his eyes told her that he was serious, and when she thought about the possibility of Reisseck murdering him, her heart ached, and she realized that she had fallen for him too! She had only read about love, so she didn’t know what these feelings were until now. She couldn’t bear to have him suffer, so, in a hushed tone, she responded, “Please don’t!”
They were both near tears, but before anyone could say anything else, they felt Galena’s body stiffen. With a very alert look on her face, she whispered, “He’s here!”
She got off their laps, and they stood at the ready. Derrick asked, “What direction is he coming from?”
“The path,” Galena answered. They stood behind a nearby bush and watched for him to emerge from that area. Galena had her wand pointed and ready to go, and Cally wished she didn’t feel so uneasy about this process. Logically, she didn’t think that Reisseck could see them, and Galena could hex him before he even tried to attack, but she still had an inkling that something was off. She attributed this to her nerves, which were on fire at the moment. They had plenty of time to mentally prepare themselves for this happening, but she could feel the tension blaring off of all of their bodies. Her heart pounded wildly, and she had to keep her finger open to the first page of the book to remember that she was supposed to immediately begin as soon as he got subdued. They could hear the crunch of his footsteps approaching, and Cally had to focus all of her energy on what she had to do. She couldn’t let herself fail, not when it was this important! Her life, Derrick’s life, and even the future of her country were all at stake, and that thought pumped up her determination enough to give her the stamina to do this. She let her revulsion of all of the wicked deeds he did and all he intended to do in the future to fuel her adrenaline. She didn’t know if she truly felt ready, but she felt as prepared as she possibly could at that moment.
Suddenly, the footsteps stopped. Cally’s instincts didn’t fool her into thinking he gave up and left. Something was wrong! Before she could take a wild guess as to what the issue could possibly be, her body went numb! Her muscles stiffened up so much that she fell to the ground. Galena and Derrick followed suit. They couldn’t move their lips to communicate to the others, they couldn’t even move their eyes to check on one another. Cally’s heart shattered, and she inwardly panicked. She was helpless to do anything, none of them could stop him! Reisseck strolled over to them with an extremely smug grin on his face, and without saying a word to any of them, he grabbed Cally by the ankles and dragged her out of the woods!