Fae came up with Vedix the hunter—Greta’s former prison guard—and Cecil of the Eagles. Vilam led them quickly out the back door and straight to the river.
As they shoved off, Greta heard the shouting. Chobar and his followers were going to lock them up until the council decided what to do with them. Gowan, though having a slight majority, still did not have enough solid support to stop them.
Once on the raft, Greta felt they were safe, but when they were still only part way across, Chobar and his followers came to the bank. Someone even fired an arrow. It fell short, but it felt symbolic, and there were other rafts along the shore.
“Lady?” Fae looked at Greta. They all looked at her except Hans, who could not tear his eyes away from Berry. Greta felt that was hardly fair.
“Ugh!” She voiced her protest but stood up at the back of the raft. She called to her armor and weapons simply for the feeling of confidence they would give her, and they came without fail, and fit her perfectly. She should have warned the others. Cecil nearly dropped his pole and Vedix nearly jumped from the raft, but Greta simply lifted her arms in a kind of invocation. There were little spirits everywhere in the world. Most of the spirits of the water, the air, the fires, and even of the earth rarely manifested, if ever, in the natural world of matter and energy. She liked these, because she so rarely had to worry about them. Even so, these pure spirits could sometimes be invited into the solid world. Greta knew that in this case, the little Sylvan River was full of water sprites. She called to them, and they responded.
“Water babies.” Berry shouted and clapped her hands in delight.
The river began to foam while they received a gentle push toward the shore. Across the way, the rafts that had started after them got tipped, tumbled and torn to fragments of wood. Greta asked that none of the men be drowned, and she felt sure that none were, but it would be a while, now, before they could follow.
“Thank you,” Greta said. There came a discernable wave in the river which rose up and vanished around the river bend. Vilam held out his hand and helped Greta to shore.
“They will build new rafts and be after us soon enough.” he said.
“Count on it.” Fae agreed.
“Berry.” Greta did not hesitate. “I know there are short cuts through the woods, real short cuts that Vilam and Vedix know nothing about. Who can guide us in the way to go?”
“Grandfather?” she asked.
Both Fae and Greta shook their heads. “He already has a job,” Fae reminded her sister.
“Oh, yes. I must think,” Berry said, and she scrunched up her face and tapped her finger against her temple. “Think, think,” she said, and Greta watched Hans melt, poor boy. “Oh, I know.” Berry jumped. “Hobknot. He knows everything.”
Greta stepped over and placed her hand in front of Vedix’ eyes which made Vilam and Cecil snicker. “Hobknot,” she called with just the right compulsion in her voice and a little, three-foot tall man appeared before her.
“Hey! What? Who?” The man protested until he caught sight of Berry. “Silly girl. Where’s the goddess?” Berry pointed and he turned on Greta. “What do you mean getting a gob up out of his tree at all hours of the morning?”
“I need you to guide us by the shortest and most secret way to the forest’s edge at Ravenshold,” she said. “If you would be so kind.”
“What?” Hobknot cocked his eyebrow. “If I would be so kind, then I would be the first creature on this green earth to be that way.” He looked around the group and Vedix stood his ground. “So, who is the mature woman? She looks like the only one with a brain and ought to know better than to get mixed up with a bunch of clods and minibrains, er, no offense Traveler.”
“That’s my twin sister.” Berry jumped up which confused poor Hans to no end.
“Fae,” Fae said. “And I’ll thank you to speak more graciously to Lady Greta. And Berry is not a minibrain. She is actually quite bright and will surprise you if you give her a chance.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Hobknot said. “Must be all that human blood in her. Makes her think in straight lines instead of circles the way a good flyer should.” He turned again to Greta. “By the way, Traveler Lady, that was a very nice thing you did for Thissle and Thornbottom, but, you see, it is this way. If I take you all the way to Ravenshold these old feet of mine and these old hands of mine won’t have enough strength left to fetch my means. I might starve before long.”
A complete lie. Hobknot was certainly in no danger of starving, but he seemed determined to bargain in the old fashioned way, and Greta felt willing. She even grinned a little. “I will pay you one cup of milk and a handful of grain for your services.”
“Lady!” Berry objected, and made it sound as if Greta was giving away the store.
“What did he mean human blood?” Hans just caught up in the conversation.
“That would be good.” Hobknot said, and rubbed his chin.
“Lady Greta.” Vilam interrupted. “They’ve done some quick work across the way. They will have two rafts in a minute out of the pieces they collected. They will probably fall apart when they get here, but that won’t help us any.”
“No need for milk, though,” Hobknot said, ignoring the human. “Got no little ones. Never met a female who could think her way out from under an oak leaf.”
“Probably no female would have you, you old goat,” Fae said, and Greta cast a glance at Berry, but Berry had her own problems.
“I like you, too, Miss Fae,” Hobknot said. “Tell you what, Traveler. I’ll do it for two handfuls of grain and not a smidgen less.”
“Lady.” Cecil spoke. Vedix and Vilam had their bows out and ready. “They are almost within bowshot. It must be now or never.”
“Done,” Greta said with a smile
“This way,” Hobknot said, and they started out immediately, going between two trees, over one bush and beneath a log, though Greta was not sure how the humans fit beneath the log. The river fell completely out of sight and the shouts of the pursuing men also ended. Each mile after that fell away in a matter of minutes, but it remained a long way to Ravenshold.
Early on, Hans asked so kindly and Berry pleaded so earnestly, Greta finally relented and let Berry get little to ride on Hans’ shoulder. He started doing better by then and could move at least as fast as Fae. Hans held his breath as Berry alighted, but she hardly weighed anything at all.
“But when we get to Ravenshold you will have to get big again and stay that way,” Greta said. Berry seemed agreeable. Greta could not tell what Hans thought.