Featuring the Suggestions of Libby Reese.
a cave hidden behind a waterfall
a pile of bones
I shifted my grip on the strap that bound the limbs of the dead hare I had just bagged. It was fat and heavy with meat. Slowly, I began the climb along Rysshe Falls toward our cave. I could not think of that cave without remembering the circumstance that had brought me here. Who would have thought that the esteemed Princess of The Gloaming would be betrayed by her own race and forced to hole up in enemy territory, deep in the Verdant Forest where no mortal strayed?
I reached the mouth of the cave and paused to rinse my bloodied, dirty hands in the falling water. I set the hare down and turned to make a fire.
Suddenly, my heart stopped for a moment, then began to pound. A footfall landed behind me, and I whirled around, knife at the ready.
"Wha--Latisha! It's me, Barrin!"
I had nearly slit the throat of the man to whom I owed my life. I sighed and sheathed the knife.
Barrin smirked at me, his brown eyes twinkling. "Can I get up now?"
I stood from straddling his midriff and he climbed to his feet.
"Sorry, Bar," I told him, "It's just..."
Barrin shrugged and ran a hand through his thick brown hair. Smoothing the front of his dark-blue tunic, he replied, "It's all right, Latisha; if it had been a threat I would not want anything less from you."
I pressed my lips and fixed my eyes on the sight that had filled me with terror just a moment before.
Barrin watched me. "Something is troubling you, Highness," he noted gently. "What is it?"
I couldn't tell him what I was looking at, I couldn't even point. Barrin turned and followed my gaze.
"He's here," I whispered at last. There had been nothing else disturbed, but a pile of bleached bones set in the center of the blackened firepit: pigeon bones, his own perverse mark.
Barrin turned to me with a wrathful face. "How could he find us? I thought I trained you better than that!"
"You did!" I snapped back. "I don't know how he could have known that I stayed in Verdant! You were the one who was supposed to make sure everyone thought I was dead or had run away long ago, never to return!"
"Yes, and it would be much easier to maintain that if you didn't insist on hunting so regularly!" Barrin accused. "He probably found your trail out in the forest somewhere and searched every inch of it to find this place!"
I felt the tears climbing to my eyes, and the sob filling my throat. "And now he's here," I gasped, "taunting us--watching us..." I looked toward the waterfall, imagining any number of places he could be hiding and we would never know until it was too late.
Barrin saw the tears seeping down my cheeks, and he took my hand, gently pulling me into his arms. His hand stroked the wild brown tresses that never would behave short of binding them down with the leather straps I used for ribbons.
"We leave tonight," he told me firmly, "Right now."
"But where will we go?" I whimpered.
"Away from here, out of the forest. You said it yourself, he's here, and he's found us. This cave isn't safe any more." Barrin pulled back with a sigh so he could look me in the face. "Pack your things, Highness. I'll saddle Wenmar."
I packed what little equipment we had in the cave into saddle bags, and a pack for Barrin to carry. I slipped out of my hunting things and into a clean dress in that same shade of royal dark blue. I fastened my cloak around my shoulders and went to join Barrin in the special cavern we used as a stable for Wenmar, my father's horse.
I stroked the magnificent animal's dark sides. Wenmar whinnied and nudged my shoulder.
"Ready?" Barrin asked.
I nodded. He lifted me easily onto Wenmar's back, and led the animal out of the forest. The setting sun shone golden through the foliage overhead. From beneath the hood of my cloak, I could not tear my eyes away from the treetops, knowing for certain that my enemy was no doubt watching us, shadowing us, waiting for his chance....
The 2013 Suggestion Box Series:
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