Now, please enjoy the next episode:
Rina pulled the last of the rope across the border of the camp.
Camp. It was more like a village than a camp. Refugees from the villages gathered at Margaret’s house to be ushered to the safety of the forest whenever Rina or Troy came in for supplies.
Those trips were becoming more sparse, however. The villages had fewer supplies, especially to provide for the ever-increasing population in the forest, and the more refugees they snuck from the city, the greater the risk of detection. Rina had killed three sorcerers just in the last month because she saw tehm lurking near Margaret’s house and the tavern where she worked.
Her thoughts drifted to the one she’d seen in the tavern that day. The way his gaze pierced her, the feeling of the world falling away around them as they stood there, staring at one another. His dark eyes haunted her, invading her dreams and her thoughts.
She shook the memory away. There was work to be done, here and now. The forest had not been tainted by William’s tyranny. Where the kingdom lay in ruins, crops withering and people trudging through muck just to harvest the barest amount of food needed to survive, the forest thrived. Except for the monsters that lurked just beyond the border, awaiting any who might stray beyond the trail of Rina’s blood that marked the safe zone, the forest made an ideal habitat. Plants grew thickly in the untainted soil, and now, with all the extra hands, gardens were being cultivated and shelters were being erected.
Rina had begged Margaret to come, but she refused. “Your place is to lead those people, to begin taking this land back for them. My place is here, collecting information to help you so you can do your job, and leading the people to safety.” One day she’d convince Margaret to come, but she would wait until it was a little safer.
She returned to her shelter at the center of the camp and bandaged her arm. The scars on her hands had been reopened so many times she’d been forced to start cutting other areas to retrieve blood. Her arms were crisscrossed with angry red lines, but it was the only way to keep the ever-growing colony safe.
When she finished, she lay down to rest. Troy brought her soup, bread, and water. His presence beside her filled her with comfort. He was the only one she dared tell her thoughts to. “I can’t keep doing this.”
“You have to.”
She took his hand and squeezed. “You have helped me and supported me and been a better friend than I ever could’ve hoped for, but I can’t keep on like this. I’m killing myself. And for what? A camp of weary people with no other home.”
“This isn’t just a community of outcasts. We’re not here just to provide a haven for people trying to escape from William. This is an army. These are the people who will help you defeat the king.”
“Why me? Why do I have to lead them? Why do I have to destroy the king? Surely there’s a general or a sorcerer or…someone more suited to leading an uprising. Someone who doesn’t have to bleed herself just to stay safe.”
“Don’t you see?” He stroked her face with his fingers. “There’s a reason only you can keep the monsters away, a reason these people are willing to follow you.”
She smiled weakly. “Margaret said the same thing.”
“Mistress Rina, pardon me,” a voice at the entrance interrupted.
Rina sat up. “What is it?”
“Colin will not take his turn cleaning the latrines. He claims that is woman’s work, and his duty is to help guard the camp.”
Rina sighed. She gripped Troy’s hand. “Help me up.”
Leaning on Troy for support, she made her way to the source of the dispute. “What is the meaning of this?” she asked Colin, a man who boasted a few more years than she but wore the surly disposition of a spoiled child. He had come with the most recent group of refugees.
“I am not a servant or a woman. I was part of the king’s royal guard. I will not do tasks that are beneath me.”
“You were. You are not any more. Now you are here, and you will do as I say. If you choose not to follow the rules of my camp, you’re welcome to leave. Give my regards to the creatures on the other side of my borders.”
Colin gulped. Without another word, he took the shovel from the woman who’d reported him and trudged toward the latrine.
Troy pulled Rina close. “You’re a good leader.”
“It doesn’t take a particularly wise or powerful general to yell at an unruly little boy.”
Troy snorted. “True. But there’s more to you than that.”
“You say that like you know something I don’t.”
A frown crossed his face.
“Troy? What is it? What do you know?”
“Nothing. But I know there’s more I don’t know.”
“Stop speaking in riddles. What are you talking about?”
“We should go see Margaret.”
Under the cover of darkness, Rina and Troy made their way to Margaret’s cottage.
“Stay here,” Troy whispered. He left Rina by the tree out back and went to the door. He returned a moment later and gave her the all-clear signal.
Margaret embraced her as soon as she was inside. “This is a pleasant surprise. What brings you here?”
Rina sat at the table and took the cup of ale Margaret offered. “Troy said I needed to talk to you.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“I told him I didn’t want to lead an army.”
“I see.”A crease furrowed Margaret’s brow.
“Mother, please. Tell me.”
Margaret took her hand. “You know I’ve always loved you as my own child.”
“Of course. I never questioned that.”
Margaret nodded. “I also never pretended you were mine. I let people make whatever assumptions they wanted. I thought it the best way to keep you safe, if they thought you were and illegitimate waif, but I always told you the truth. Your mother died shortly after you were born and your care was entrusted to me. What I never told you, though, was who your parents really were.”
Rina gulped. “What do you mean?”
“What do you know of the Revolution? The night the king took the throne?”
“King William believed the throne was rightfully his, so he made a pact with the sorcerers to help him claim it from his brother. In order to ensure the throne could never revert to his brother’s line, he killed his brother and his newborn nephew.”
Margaret nodded. “Yes. But something else happened that night, something only two people still living know. The baby boy King William killed was not the first born. The queen gave birth to another baby that night. A baby girl.”
Rina sucked in her breath. “No.”
“Yes, my daughter. You are the true king’s child, the rightful heir to the throne. That is why you are the only one who can defeat the monsters the king created. People flock to follow you because, even though they don’t realize it, they are your people. And that is why only you can lead them. Only you can overthrow the king and restore the kingdom. This is your destiny.”
What is to come: