67. Much to Explain

Stellia’s first impulse is to dash out of her hiding place to greet Sedwin and Garroth.

But something tells her to wait, and listen. What’s the harm, after all?

Garroth’s rich baritone resounds through the cave. “What if a bear’s taken up residence here?”

“Bears don’t make campfires,” Sedwin responds. “Whoever was here has fled, into the woods or deeper into the cave. Either way, we’ve already been seen. We might as well light a torch.”

A light flickers to life in the darkness. Stellia cannot see the men themselves from where she and Tylvanor crouch behind the rock, but their shadows twitch across the wall of the cave.

“If only we had not missed this place yesterday,” Sedwin says. “We would be sleeping in Talvain tonight, at a proper inn.”

A sigh, then Garroth speaks again. “I apologize. But when I chose this place, I did so for the very reason that I deemed it hard to find.”

“Someone seems to have found it, by ill chance. And perhaps the silver, as well.”

“Then we may have to reclaim it,” Garroth says.

The two shadows begin to move along the wall. They are no more than shifting, unsteady silhouettes—but steady enough to show that the men have drawn their swords.

Stellia jumps up. Tylvanor tries to hold her back, but her sudden movement takes him by surprise.

“What are you doing?”

He manages to grasp the hem of her coat, but the cloth slips through his fingers.

The sudden brightness of the torches makes Stellia blink, but she is still able to see the expression of utter bewilderment on Sedwin and Garroth’s faces.

“Stellia!?”

“Do not strike me!”

Behind her in the cave, one of the horses snorts loudly.

Sedwin lowers his blade, but Garroth steps before him, sword still raised. His eyes narrow as they try to penetrate the darkness behind Stellia. “Are you alone? Who brought you here?”

“Garroth,” Sedwin says softly. “Don’t you see she’s frightened?”

“Indeed I do. And I wish to know of what.”

“I’m unharmed,” Stellia says. “There’s no one here save us.”

“Us?”

She turns around. “Come out, Tylvanor. I know these men.”

The horses whinny in response. But Tylvanor does not emerge from behind the rock.

“I don’t believe this,” Sedwin mutters. “How did you get here?”

“First things first.” With several long strides, Garroth moves past the rock behind which Stellia and Tylvanor were hiding. There’s a scuffle, and Garroth curses. A shower of sparks flies through the cave as he swings his torch at something. With a sharp clang, a dagger lands on the ground in front of Stellia’s feet. Sedwin swiftly picks it up. With an anguished squawk, Tylvanor tumbles into the light and lands in the same spot where the dagger fell.

“The filthy waif struck at me!” Garroth steps forward and points his sword at Tylvanor’s throat. “Are there more of you? Speak!”

Tylvanor glares back at him, grimacing in pain.

“There’s no one else,” Stellia says. “Don’t hurt him. He is a friend, and has helped me greatly.”

“Your friend has the manners of a sewer rat, biting the ankles of any who approach.” Garroth brings the tip of his blade closer to Tylvanor’s throat. “Is this the truth? Or does she speak out of fear of you?”

“Fear of me?” Tylvanor rubs his elbow, and winces. “When you have my life at your sword’s tip?”

Garroth glances at Sedwin. Sedwin nods, and Garroth withdraws the blade and sheathes it.

“Let’s see if we can rebuild your fire,” Sedwin says. He points a gauntleted finger at Stellia. “And you—oh, you have much to explain.”

He’s trying to make a very fierce face, but all she can think is that he looks even more handsome than she remembered.

NEXT: The Golden Owl

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