Rówann was not having a very enjoyable morning. Whatever it was that he was tracking, he knew it was not human. Nothing human could move through a place like this and leave barely any signs of passing. He was having to go at such a slow pace so as not to lose the trail that it felt like he was hardly making any progress at all.
In the few hours, he estimated that he had barely gone a mile from his campsite. At this rate, he could be searching for weeks for the woman and still be no closer to finding her. Yet, he could not just abandon her out here to whatever had taken her. It was his fault she was here in the first place and he was honour bound to make sure she made it out.
Sighing he continued, and by noon he had managed to progress another several miles. Still, by the way, the tracks were placed, (when he could find them), he figured they had to be traveling rapidly. He scratched his head knowing there was no telling how far they had gone. Even if they had been walking at a decent pace from the time he had lost her until nightfall, it would mean they could have gotten at least ten miles away, and he was hardly three miles on their trail after half a day.
If the going started to get tougher as he expected it would, it would mean they were probably covering their tracks more carefully as they drew closer to their goal. Sighing to himself, he knew this was not going to be the quick and easy rescue he was hoping for. He could only pray that something happened that helped him locate her sooner, rather than later.
After a quick lunch of dried meat, hard bread and cheese, he continued on at a slow steady pace. He figured there was no use rushing and loosing the trail altogether. He just had to be patient and think of this as if this was one of his hunts. Smiling to himself he continued on. There was no one better than Rówann MacGreggor on a hunt.
However, by nightfall, he still had not found the girl, nor her captors. Once again, he found himself camping in the woods, this time in a small clearing. He had a feeling he was getting closer to his quarry but how close he did not know. It was frustrating, but the big man kept his feelings under control. There were a time and a place for them, and as he well knew a hunt was no place for frustration.
As he sat next to his fire preparing his dinner, he heard the sound of boughs breaking and twigs snapping. Quietly drawing his claymore, he stood up and put himself between the fire and the sounds. Suddenly a full grown she-troll walked into the clearing and stared fixedly at him. She raised her great head and sniffed deeply then seemed to crouch in upon herself before sitting down on the edge of the firelight.
Rówann was at once frightened and intrigued. Here was a being out of legend that few had ever seen. He watched her without moving, finally perceiving that the creature was not only tired but also sad. Placing his Claymore back in its sheath, he approached it carefully and stopped just out of its reach. Looking at it thoroughly, he saw that scratches and bruises covered her, yet she appeared to take no notice of them. Gathering up his courage, he coughed and then began to speak.
"You appear to be in some distress Uhhh....Madam," he began. Well his Ma had always told him to be polite. "Is there anything I can help you with?"
The troll looked at him and then shrugged. "You are polite for one of your kind... Human. Normally I would have been attacked and as tired as I am I may have been killed, instead you offer kindness. For that you have my thanks. In return I will not attack you and instead I will tell you my sad tale." She got comfortable and then sighing a great sigh she began.
"Two days ago, I went hunting, leaving my baby hidden in my den. Unfortunately, while I was out, some animal burrowed in and went after my little one. Happily, it was no match for my precious." A glint of motherly pride appeared in her eyes. "Of course he was curious and explored the tunnel it had created and wandered off. By the time I came back, he was lost, and I have spent all this time looking for him, following his faint scent." A large tear trickled down her rough-skinned cheek.
Rówann could sympathize, after all her plight was similar to his only hers was much worse. She had lost her child and there was nothing worse for a mother, after all wasn't that why he had begun these trips in the first place? He looked at her again and offered,
"Then allow me to help you. It seems we are traveling in the same direction and quite possibly your son is with the person I seek."
This idea had only just occurred to Rówann but even if she wasn't, as long as they were going in the same direction it didn't matter.
The troll thought about his suggestion for a minute, then nodded her head in acceptance. As a token of their alliance Rówann offered her food and water which she gratefully took. Before first light, they were up and moving. He found that he was surprised when she indeed seemed to be following the same trail as he was. They were able to go much faster following her nose than his eyes and made excellent time with Rówann only having to check every now and again for signs of the girl's passing.
Towards sunrise, the troll became very agitated and started to run crying out, "My son is very close, we must hurry now!” After a few minutes, she growled, “If any harm has come to him..." As they ran on, she sneezed and growled even louder. "Brownies! Brownies have my baby!"
Without notice, she set off at a dead run. Rówann quickly mounted Bryce and followed closely behind. As the sun rose and the light finally began to filter into the forest, she set up a thunderous roar. "Close now human, be ready." Roaring again she charged forward. Rowann could see a clearing in the distance.
By the time the second roar echoed through the forest, Ella had become fully awake, a bit confused but awake. Things started happening quickly now. She heard an answering small cry from the baby creature at her side. His wee head had popped up from under his moss blanket. He started to crawl away crying out, "Maaa maaa.....maaa!"
Ella noted that the Brownies seemed to become unglued as they ran around gathering pots and tools and anything they deemed of some value. Some mumbled incoherently as they hastily proceeded to hide the objects in tree hollows, behind rocks and one even dropped a tool in a depression in the soil and kicked dirt on top. She realized if the infant got in their way, he could be hurt from their frenzied activities. She reached out for him, but he had crawled too far already. Calling, “Wait for Wigit...wait!” to the little mite she tried to get up.
That's when she realized she couldn't move her left leg. Pulling the blanket off, her jaw dropped. Someone had put a chain on her ankle! Grabbing it she first tried to open the manacle, then looking at the baby again, she desperately tried to squeeze her ankle out of the thing. Still, no luck, standing up now she called to the infant as a Brownie barely missed running him over. "Come back....Wigit come back!" He stopped, sat on his bottom and looked back at her. She smiled and called again stretching her arms towards him. To her great relief, he turned around and started to crawl back to her.
Pulling on the chain, Ella moved towards the infant ready to pick him up as soon as he came within reach. As she encouraged him, she heard the sudden noise of breaking branches followed by the thudding of really heavy feet. Glancing in that direction she saw to her horror, a huge mostly green creature come into view. Ella's eyes widened in dismay. Trying to keep her fright under control, she again called, this time in a hushed voice, "Come back to me wee one, HUURRRYY!"
When the huge angry creature had made its appearance, all the Brownies had instantly disappeared, dropping whatever they had been carrying. That left only Ella and the small infant in the clearing. As the infant drew nearer, Ella grabbed him and ran around to the back of the oak trying to hide behind it. The infant started to wail since she was squeezing him too tight in her fear. The huge creature's head turned towards the wailing sounds; it started to run towards them.
Rówann had fallen behind the rapidly moving Mama troll. He was impressed at just how quickly she could move when she thought her young one was in danger. Another reason he was glad he was not going to be on the receiving end of her rage.
As he finally caught up to her, he saw that she had come upon a clearing that reminded him of an extended campsite, but in a sort of miniature form. A central campfire was still miraculously unharmed in the middle, yet he could see no permanent structures or tents. Still strewn about the clearing, he did spot loose bits of small clothing, a pot, a few small tools, even something that he was sure was a necklace.
What bothered him most was that the she-troll was making for a large oak tree at the far side of the campsite. From that area, he could hear the faint cries of what he assumed was its child. His problem with that was why hadn't it come out? If the beings that had been living here had made themselves scarce, then the baby should have come to meet its mother. The fact that it hadn't sent a chill down his spine.
He looked closer at the tree and spotted something he had been hoping he wouldn't have to deal with. Fastened around the trunk was a large chain and he had a sinking feeling he knew what was on the other end of it.
Kicking Bryce into a gallop, he swiftly moved past the she-troll and halted near the tree. What he saw confirmed his worst fears. A terrified Ella heard the pounding of horse hooves as she sat on the ground clutching the baby in her arms. Glancing up, she saw a huge man on an equally enormous horse halt a few feet from where she sat trembling. Rówann could tell she was trying to protect the young thing, but in a few seconds, she was about to become a troll's breakfast.
Rówann dismounted and started to walk towards them speaking to the Mama troll as he did so. "Forgive the Lass Madam. She is a bit slow and has never heard the tales of trolls before. She didn't know this was your child and was only trying to protect the mite."
In as calm a voice as he could muster in a situation like this, Rówann said, "Lass you need to release the wee one now. It is the Troll's baby, and she will think you are harming it. Believe me, Lass you do not want to get between a Mama Troll and her Baby. Now carefully put it down and back away slowly. You'll see no harm will come to it....I promise!" He looked at Ella gesturing for her to hurry up and release the baby.
Ella mumbled afraid but still a little confused, "This ....this creature is the baby's Mama? Are you sure?” She blinked trying to clear her thoughts before adding, “Well...OK....I'll do as you say!"
As she carefully put the cute purple baby down and was slowly backing away, a rather huge ugly green creature stuck its head around the tree. Mouth opening in a big O, Ella continued to back away as far as the chain would allow. Her heart threatened to burst out of her chest, she was so afraid. The creature had eyes only for the infant. With infinite gentleness she knelt down and picked it up. Both made loving sounds. On hearing the man's earlier words about the human, the creature nodded her head and started to walk away with her precious bundle. All her anger had drained away, as she heavily stomped out of the clearing and went back into the forest.
As Ella calmed down, she looked up at the big man a few feet away from her. He had saved her from that creature, so he must be a good man and trustworthy too. Besides she couldn't help but note that not only was he well built, but very handsome too. Feeling the cold metal of the chain on her ankle, she decided it was time to leave the Brownies. Chaining her up to labour on mending their garments was just not respectful. Actually, it wasn't acceptable either; she had to leave! First things first, she looked at the man again.Perhaps, he could get the chain off her ankle.
As Ella looked at Rówann, he heaved a great sigh of relief as the Troll turned and lumbered back into the forest. Well, that was one crisis averted now he had another to deal with. Ella had obviously been taken by another group of fantastical creatures. It seemed this forest was full of them and he better get used to that idea.
Looking around the clearing he was pretty sure it must have been Brownies, but looking at the state of her, besides the chain, it seemed that she had been treated reasonably. Still, from what he knew of her, he was expecting a tongue lashing of great magnitude even though he wouldn't understand a word of it. He glanced down at her.
She smiled and to his shock, asked in his native tongue, "Sir If you could, can you get these chains off of me I would really appreciate it." She fluttered her eyelashes at him hoping he would comply. She didn't know where she would go, but she definitely didn't want to stay here any longer. She again looked at him coquettishly while waiting for his answer.
He looked closely at her, was she flirting with him? Just what had these Brownies done to her? A spell perhaps? Still, if this was how she was going to behave, it was going to make traveling with her much easier. He grinned, perhaps he could get to know her better before whatever it was, wore off. He was going to enjoy himself getting to know her. Sighing to himself, he approached her. No matter how much he would like to take advantage of the situation if the occasion happened, he had too much honour to do so. Still perhaps after they got to know one another that might occur naturally. One could only hope.
He examined the chain and manacle and saw that it would be a simple matter of pulling a pin out of end of the thing. Ella watched the man intently, he really was a fine specimen, having broad shoulders and back leading to a narrow waist. He seemed to be all muscle with no fat that she could detect. He made her want to sigh and fling her arms around him. She licked her lips wondering, what he would taste like. She saw him draw his knife and that got her attention back on the matter at hand. She couldn't stand to watch when he slipped the point of the knife near her skin, so she looked away and closed her eyes trying to keep still as he instructed.
"Now keep still Lass, as I do not wish to slip and cut you now." She nodded her head at his words.
Slipping the blade under the pin, he used his strength to lever it up slowly until he could get a good grip on it with his fingers and then pulled hard and finally had it out. The manacle fell away in two pieces and her leg was free.
"There Lass, you are free," he stated standing up. Glancing around, he added. "Perhaps, we should leave this place. It seems that whoever held you here might not like you leaving without their leave. It might be best to be gone before they come back."
Ella was captivated by those fathomless blue eyes, all she could do was nod her head at him.
He mounted his horse and pulled her up in front of him, settling her between his warm thighs before grasping her around the waist. Like an honourable man, he introduced himself. Swallowing hard she replied,
"My name is Lass which you seem to know already, and as long as you don't want me for mending the village garments, I would very much like to come with you!" As they started to move, she saw the tree with the small sack of bread and cheese. She thought to herself, "I have earned that sack!" Pointing to it, she added, "See the tree with the sack hanging off the lower branch? I want to take it with us."
Puzzled, he did as she asked moving Bryce toward it. She leaned over and pulled it off the branch wondering where to put it. Rówann took it from her hand and hooked it onto the back of his saddle. As they left the clearing, Ella noted a few pairs of eyes peeking from around the outer trees. She smiled cheerfully and waved goodbye, as they entered the forest.
As they traveled through the forest, Ella noticed Rówann seemed preoccupied with looking for some signs. Hoping they weren't lost, she tried to sit quietly petting the horse's neck every once in a while. Her bottom started to get uncomfortable causing her to wriggle around. Her body tingled more now that she was up against his warm body. She gave into the feelings realizing she really wanted to taste him. Still having no memories, instinct took over, turning her head, she looked up into his handsome face. Slowly her hand moved up to his bearded chin, gently but firmly she pulled him downwards to her waiting lips. Licking them in anticipation, she felt his lips touch hers....