Dreams in the Mist Teasers


Run! Her instincts urged her farther, faster, deeper into the woods. Trees passed at record speeds in her peripheral vision, as she ran for safety. Red chanced a look behind her, the hunters quickly closing in, faces unrecognizable, and intentions unknown.

Branches snatched at her clothes and hair, as if the hands of her pursuers. Breathing heavily, her chest constricted, her lungs on fire, and still she fled. Her fast beating heart pounded in her ears. Almost there. Her home, in view, meant protection and help. Drenched in sweat, her dress clung to her frame and hindered her movements.

Faster! The sound of crunching leaves and snapping twigs told her they were right on her heels. Her gaze frantically swept the area looking for her knight in peasant clothes. Two against three were better odds. The shadows darting between the trees gave away the hunters’ position. Three men, still in pursuit a few feet away, but Woody was nowhere to be seen. Then she heard him.

“Red, run!”

Heart pounding, she stopped, turning in the direction of his voice. She could see no sign of him and she no longer heard his voice. Oh, nothey must have captured him. Gripped in fear, she turned to bolt once more, only to trip and collide with the moss-covered tree. For a split second her body stuck to the bark. Her arms wrapped around the trunk, she dropped to the ground.

Falling! Air exploded from her lungs and her muscles tightened, as her slender frame slammed onto the hard earth. Searing pain ran through her. Salty tears stung her eyes and she could feel a lump already forming where her head had struck a sharp rock.

The light of the setting sun dimmed slowly as if someone were turning down the wick of an oil lamp. The flame colored sky, olive green leaves, and bright red tree blossoms slowly drained of all their color, leaving only different shades of gray. She blinked her eyes and tried to fend off the tunnel vision closing in. Unconsciousness reached a welcoming hand her way. Non-responsive muscles made it impossible to move. Feet still trampling through the underbrush echoed in her ears.

She clenched her jaw and closed her eyes as she tried to push her body from the ground. It had no effect. Her muscles were tightly locked and stiff. She could feel her body, and the grass beneath her skin, but she couldn’t lift a finger, limbs frozen in place by an unknown force. Paralysis or something else, she didn’t know.

No color around her, Red felt a spider web of numbness spread through her limbs and she knew it was over. She had lost. If this is how it’s to end, I must see it.

Staring into the darkening sky, she viewed the scene in horror and wonder. Her world, in black and white, blurred and spun slowly. The haze of the vortex swirled above, closing in, and extinguishing what was left of the light from the sky. Stars twisting and twirling with the clouds and the moon, as if in a mixing bowl of chaos. I can’thold onmuch longer. I hope he’s close enough to hear my last words. Darkness pressed in harder and harder and she parted her lips to speak.

“Always know, even in the grip of death, your Lady Red loves you.”

She felt the cold arms of darkness engulf her and madness take over her mind. Her ears played his voice one last time as she slipped away.

“No! Fight it. Please don’t leave me. I need you, I love you!”

Chapter One A Fight for Freedom

A muffled noise sounded in her ear, a man’s voice. Her head lolled from side to side as she worked through the fog in her mind. Her eyes fluttered softly as she tried to awaken. The side of her skull throbbed with a dull pain. Placing her hand behind her ear, she found the source, a small gash. What happened? Blaze scanned her surroundings through her hazy vision. How did I get here? How did I get hurt? She felt disoriented and confused.

The voice spoke again, sounding urgent. She focused on the accent, and the haze slowly cleared. Her eyes narrowed as a distorted figure appeared. Friend or foe? He was an older man with dark eyes and a fierce expression.

“Who are you? What do you want?”

Her elbows dug into the earth and she crawled backwards quickly. Fear had her fully awake and in survival mode. Her mind blew the fog and haze away, like a swift breeze, leaving her clear headed and on alert.

“Get the ropes, boys. She’ll need to be bound for the trip.”

Ropes? Trip? I have to get out of here. Rolling onto her knees, she jumped from the ground and attempted to run. Halfway up and two steps away she dropped, face planting into the grass.

“Get off me!”

Blaze thrashed along the ground as she tried to throw him off. Firm hands grabbed her arms and jerked them behind her. She bit her lip to keep from crying out. A coarse rope burned her wrists when the man forcefully tied them together.

“Why are you doing this? Please. Pleaselet me go.”

She felt his knee in her back. Pain ran the length of her spine as the man leaned over. Her nostrils flared, her mouth watered, and her stomach churned, as the foul stench of booze and body odor filled her nose.

“No need to worry, lass. We are just going on a little trip.”

She pulled air back in her lungs as the man got up and walked away. Looking in the direction of his movements, she noticed he stopped a few feet away and spoke to two others.

“Get her into the wagon with the other prisoner.”

Tears dripped from her cheeks and she trembled in fear. She watched in horror as the pair walked in her direction, two young boys, tall and lean, sporting shaggy sand-colored hair. Medium builds covered in traveling clothes and heavy boots carried them closer. Baby faces with muddy eyes glared back at her. Two deep breaths escaped her lungs and they were upon her.

“No! No! No! Please, no.”

Blaze brought her boots up and kicked wildly at the hands reaching for her. Pinning her feet to the ground, they rolled her over and pulled her up by the arms. Pain coursed through her bound limbs, forcing her to put weight on wobbly legs. Now, standing upright, they urged her to move. Her feet stumbled slightly as she walked to the wooden farm cart. She blinked away her watery-eyed vision and spotted the wagon with the other prisoner.

Where are they taking me? What did I do to deserve this?

She jerked and pulled as she fought for freedom. Her elbow made contact and she dug into the boy’s side. She turned to run. A strong hand grabbed her firmly and whirled her around. Her eyes and the boy’s eyes met at the last second before her world spun and she crashed onto the ground.

Head throbbing in pace with the beating of her heart, facial skin and muscles on fire, she realized what happened. Tears of anguish and fury filled her already stinging eyes. She knew the pain might send her into unconsciousness, but she slightly moved her jaw and tested for breakage. Blackness threatened to suck her in. Her eyes almost viewed the back of her skull and she fought to stay awake. Not broken. Blaze shook her head slightly and tried to clear away the colorful dancing stars. Her face pressed into the side of her shoulder as she attempted to rub the sting away. That was a slap? It felt like he used his fist.

The two young men picked her up and roughly heaved her into the wagon. Pulling her knees to her side, she dropped her head in defeat. Are they going to kill me? I don’t want to die. Her body shook with uncontrollable sobs. Dirt and grass smeared the front of her tear soaked dress. Heat and electricity shot through her when a thumb caressed the side of her hand. Her body stiffened at the unexpected touch.

The other prisoner.

His soft voice sounded behind her.

“Are you okay?”

“No …” she sniffled and cleared her throat.

“What happened? Why have they captured you?”

“I don’t know.”

Her wrists, scraped and burned, felt on fire as she pulled them, this way and that, testing the strength of the ropes. Survival instincts refused to leave and optimism urged her to try. With her eyes closed, she lowered her head and mentally concentrated on her bindings. She stretched her fingers and pulled on the line as she worked to loosen the knots. Hope whispered she could do it while the dark voice of despair told her hope was a liar. The stranger sounded in her ear along with a warm touch on her hand. “Here, let me get closer. Perhaps we can help each other.”

Blaze could feel his strong back against hers. The heat radiated from him, soothing her aching muscles as though wrapped in a warm blanket. That feels nice. She opened her eyes, lifted her head, and checked on her captors. Three huddled bodies sat upon the front seat in deep conversation. Blaze heard whispered words exchanged in haste, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. Only two names, Benjamin and Bernardthe young boys. Loud yelling filled the air followed by the slapping of reins. Her shoulder banged against the wood, landing her on her side, as the wagon lurched forward. Struggling a bit, she used her elbows and worked herself back into the sitting position. Another question muttered from behind as he pressed against her once more.

“What is your name? Mine is Demarko.”

“Blaze. My name is Blaze. “

The twisting and pulling caused more burns, but it finally paid off. Yes! She pulled her arms forward to rub the fire out of them. The ropes are off, now how to get away?

“Any ideas on our next move?” She kept her voice quiet.

“I’m thinking about that. Give me a second.”

Wheels spun in her head as she sifted through worst case scenarios. Jumping from the moving wagon and making a run for it seemed a doomed from the start kind of plan. His soft voice tickled her wet skin.

“I have an idea, but I’m not sure it’s a good one.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“They are not paying attention, so that’ll give us an advantage.”

“Advantage for what?” Blaze turned in his direction. “What exactly is your plan?”

“I’m not sure it will work, but it’s worth a try. I don’t know where they are taking us, but by their actions, I know we don’t want to go.”

“And …”

“I say we push those three out of the wagon and move those horses, as well as ourselves, away from here until we figure out what’s going on.”

“Why not? It’s better than what I came up with. My plan was to jump and make a run for it. I like our chances with your idea.”

“I just hope it works.”

It was a bad plan created out of desperation. All or nothing. She checked on her abductors. They were still engrossed in their own conversation and paid attention to little else. Palms flat on the wagon, she crept onto her toes. Wonderful! No one noticed.

Blaze followed Demarko’s lead. Dear God, please let this work. Facing the front in a crouching position, she glanced at the man next to her. Silently, she counted his breaths and waited for his signal. Now! They flung themselves at the three in the front of them.

She flew through the air arms out and knocked Bernard sprawling onto the ground next to the pounding hooves of the horses. She watched his body drop. Quickly, he rolled to the side out of trampling distance. Dammit, he was quick. What a shame. Giddiness and hope set in as it looked as though this plan might work. She seemed quite pleased when she turned her head and saw Demarko in action. His frame went airborne as he positioned his hands to hit the men in the center of their backs. When he made contact, the big man fell out of the wagon and landed on the ground. Benjamin then leapt on one of the galloping horses. She and Demarko tried to regain and maintain their balance as the wagon raced onward. Benjamin kept a death grip on the horse’s neck. Smiling, she watched as the boy fashioned a look of horror on his face.

Bernard and the big man got off the ground intent on chasing the wagon and its escaping prisoners.

Hands on the wooden seat, Blaze worked with Demarko and reached for the reins that flapped against the dirt. She wanted to laugh aloud at the boy on the horse. He almost lost his balance, but to her surprise, Benjamin maneuvered himself onto his back. Careful not to fall, he grabbed the horse’s middle with both legs and leaned forward quickly.

“Stop!” she heard from behind her.

It was obvious by the still escaping horses that his outburst didn’t have the desired effect. A comment on her lips soon cut off as the man whistled. Her body hit the dirt path hard, followed by Demarko and Benjamin, as the horses halted abruptly. Blaze jumped from the ground and rushed to the wagon intent on escape. Another electric current pulsed beneath her skin as Demarko’s hand covered hers when they both reached for the reins. Her waist encircled in his strong arms as he hoisted her into the wagon. She scooted over quickly making room for him as he jumped in, reins in hand. She grasped the wooden seat tightly. Ouch! Splinters! Demarko slapped the reins, leaving the terrorizing trio in a cloud of dust. Squinting her eyes due to the dirt and wind, she watched the three men stop running and stare as their captives got away.

“We did it!” Her body filled with the warmth of joy and hope. She wrapped her arms around his neck. “Your plan worked.”

“I wasn’t sure it would, but it was the only chance we had.”

“Thank God it worked. I’m glad to be away from them.”

“Why did they capture you in the first place? I mean, what did you do?”

Blaze pulled away and folded her hands in her lap. “I don’t know. I have no idea who they are or why I was being taken.”

“What do you remember?”

She placed her hand on her chin and plunged into her mind for the answer. Her eyes bulged and her body stiffened. She broke out in a cold sweat. Her hand tangled in her hair and her body shook, as she looked at Demarko when he spoke.

“That’s what I thought.”

“What happened? What did they do to me?”

Ragged breaths pulled through her lungs, heart rate picked up pace, and she slowly slipped into the void of her mind. What happened? Why can’t I remember anything? My mind isblank. No, not my mindmy memories. No clues no answers just deep dark nothingness. How can this be? How’s this even possible? Tiny stinging needles, all at once, seem to stab into her brain, as she plunged deeper into her subconscious. She spiraled further into panic and Demarko’s voice sent the life preserver that kept her from completely drowning.

“Let me guessnothing?”

“Wait. How did you—”

“Know? I know because my memories are gone, too. I wondered, well, hoped, maybe you would know something. By your reactions it wasn’t hard to figure out.”

“Are you saying they have done something, not stress induced? How is that possible? How do you steal someone’s memories?”

“I don’t have any idea. As to whether or not they did something…maybe. They looked to be capable of anything.”

Sobs overtook her as the realization of what that meant sank in. I don’t know who I am. What am I to do? Where do I go? Where is my home? Can I be safe not knowing whom I can and can’t trust?

Diamond-sized tears dropped from her cheeks. She let Demarko pull her close when he reached for her. She soaked the side of his shirt as she let the events of the day pour out completely. Blaze took the pain, fear, shock, and despair, and roped them together pulling them forward. One by one, she let them go. Each emotional departure left her body and she felt a little lighter. She coaxed her breathing to even out and mentally pictured her heart rate slowing while she searched for the calm within. Relaxation finally took hold and her eyes drooped as she lost the fight to stay awake. Green grass, a light breeze, and the sun’s rays dancing like fairies along her skin, filled her dream.

Her body shook slightly followed by Demarko’s voice as he woke her from a peaceful slumber.

“Blaze, wake up.”

With her hands on his side, she pushed herself into an upright position. She wiped the drool from her mouth and the matted dust from her eyes. Swallowing past the grime in her throat, she noticed the scenery was stationary.

“Why are we stopped?”

“We need water and so do the horses. They are lathered from all the running. I think we have put enough distance between us and them to rest a minute.”

“Water sounds wonderful. I’m parched from all of this dust.”

Stiff and sore legs protested her movements as she stood. Her muscles almost groaned in relief when she forced them to stretch. Oh, that feels good. Strong arms engulfed her when her foot slid off the wagon. Heat lingered just under the surface. With his help, she righted herself and steadied her footing. The air from his lungs tickled her ear as he spoke.

“Let me help you down.”

Her eyes watched his movements. He jumped from the wagon and turned back to her in one swift motion. Extending his arm, he reached up for her. Placing her hand in his, she carefully climbed out of the wagon.

“Thank You.”

Crickets sounded off, leaves rustled in the wind, and shadows played between the trees, as moonlight blanketed the area. Chills trailed the length of her spine as an eerie feeling crept along her skin. She knew its cause. The clear open area left them exposed and at risk for being caught. Slowly she turned in a complete circle and glanced around. To her left grew tall trees with low hanging, full branches. The trunks grew wide and close together. To the right was the rough dirt road and open area. Her ears heard the most glorious sound, the tune of a soft trickling stream off in the distance. The smile slid off her face and was replaced by confusion when she glanced in Demarko’s direction.

“What are you doing? Don’t we need them attached to that wagon to get away?”

“No. We can gain ground quicker on horseback. I don’t think the wagon is going to do very well beyond those trees. We can walk the horses down to the water. Once they have rested and gotten a drink we’ll head out again. We need to keep moving.”

“Well, that makes sense.” Goosebumps all over, she tried to rub the uneasy feeling away while she watched him work.

His hands moved quickly and it didn’t take long before the horses were free of their bindings. Surprised, she noticed him walking toward her. She saw his eyes take in the features of her face. By the anger hardening the color of his pupils, she knew what he saw. Trying not to wince at the sting still upon her cheek, she closed her eyes when he caressed the handprint she felt still there. It only lasted a moment. Heat and electricity fused together and swam in her veins when he touched her. She reveled in it. Electric shock waves soared from head to toe and back. Her body felt light as air. Her knees weakened and her head threatened to float away. The feeling stopped when she felt him remove his hand and ask her a question. Opening her eyes, she looked at him.

“Are you in pain?”

She cleared her throat and answered, “I’m fine. It only stings a little now.” Do I know him? He seems familiar. Maybe he’s just a kind man, but

Her mind raced onward at lightning speed as she studied the raw emotion in his face. His eyes were full of thoughtfulness and care that equally matched the touch he left on her cheek. She never wanted him to move, but he did. However, the warmth she felt on her face, she now felt all over. Reins in one hand, his hand in the other, they walked into the woods.

Knees bent underneath her, she filled her hands with water and drank from the stream. Refreshing and revitalizing. Just the simple act of drinking water made her whole body come alive as it washed away the dirt and dust that had collected there. Her eyes focused and she took in the serene scene.

The stream looked so inviting after the dirt-filled day. It flowed gently across the moss-covered rocks as if to say come join me. Trickling downward, the stream grew bigger and deeper. The moonlight bounced and played among the soft ripples. It was magnificent. I wonder if we have enough time to enjoy this. A few minutes shouldn’t hurt. After all, we have ridden for hours and the confounded comrades are on foot.

Dress in hand, she slid her bare feet into the cool stream and delighted in the fresh feeling. She looked at Demarko as he watered the horses, paying no attention to her. She bent over, cupped her hands in the water, and sent small waves in his direction. He turned her way and gave her a coy smile. What a charming smile. He let go of the horses and bent down, splashing her back. Caught up in splashing enthusiastically and unaware of him, he suddenly appeared. It took her by surprise when he grabbed her. Stuck in his embrace, he pulled her out into deeper water. Blaze squirmed and twisted in his arms as she tried half-heartedly to get away. Laughter played in her voice when he pulled them under. She sprung up as a daisy in a field, still in his grip and wiped the liquid out of her eyes.

There’s that feeling again. It’s better than before. Heat and electricity mixed with the coolness of the water. Heaven! Her pulse was equal to the beating of a war drum against her neck, and her body felt as if it might explode from the inside out. She knew he felt it, too, from the look on his face and the feel of his body. I could get addicted to this. She let the present fill her ears.

Laughter echoed through the trees. It promised to be a new day. She giggled when she heard the horses neigh as if they were laughing also. However, freedom would be short lived if they stayed too long. She let him help her onto the bank.

“That was fun. I feel better. How about you?”

“Yes. I do feel better…and cleaner. Guess if you are going to wash dust and dirt off, that’s the best way.” She wrung the water from her dress.

“I’ll see if I can get a fire going so we can dry our clothes.”

Her eyes on his figure, she watched him until he disappeared into the woods. His precise and quick movements suggested he spent a lot of time in the wilderness. It wasn’t long before he reappeared with an armload of small branches and dropped it on the ground.

“I think I’ll go tend to the horses so we can leave soon.” Turning her back to him, she wandered over to the horses. They looked to be feeling better and were eating grass when she found them. She held both the reins and led them to a nearby tree. “Easy now.”

She fastened them to the tree and looked for a small branch among the forest debris littered about. That looks like a good one right there. Stick in hand, she moved it down the horse’s mane and continued the rest of their bodies. Her hands moved in circular motions as she removed all the dirt and grass from the animals. While her hand was between the mare’s ears, the horse nudged her back in kind.

“Doesn’t that feel better?”

Lighter than air, she felt she could live here forever. It was beautiful and peaceful. Her mind filled with images of the way he looked at her. The smile on his face held tenderness, compassion, and when they touched, it was electrifying. If only my memories would come back then I would know who I am and maybe who he is. She couldn’t explain it. Somehow, she felt she knew him, but the sensation kept fading too quickly. Blackness would surround it and cause it to slip through her delicate fingers as small grains of beach sand.

Finished with the horses and with reins redone, she noticed the glow from small flames. She double checked that the horses were secured tightly and unable to flee, then ambled over and stood by the fire. Just as the cool water felt refreshing, the warmth from the fire was just as delightful.

“I will be right back. I’m going to gather some larger logs for the fire.”

“Okay.” She turned in the direction of his voice, but he vanished once again.

* * * *

Weaving in and out of trees, arms filled with tinder, Demarko walked back toward the fire. Just beyond the trees, he spotted her and stopped. She filled his line of vision, just standing there drying her hair. She was so beautiful. Her cream-colored skin contrasted with her bright fiery red hair hanging in soft spirals. Her frame looked frail as her chest lifted with each breath. Her movements were graceful. How was it she can even move in that dress? It fits her figure like a second skin. It must be the slits up the sidethey are ripped to her hips. Look at those legs…wow! .. His eyes traced the curves of her shapely figure. That plain brown dress is torn and dirty, yet, somehow, she looks like royalty.

He marveled at her, all of her, not just her beauty. She had exhibited bravery and even toughness. She was scared and yet not afraid to fight for herself. Brave and gorgeous: a lethal combination. He knew with certainty, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Amazement grabbed hold at an odd and seemingly unfamiliar sensation. As he looked at her, his face reddened when he realized somehow—and he couldn’t figure out howbut he knew her. It seemed almost intimate. Being next to her felt like home.

His body ached for her touch and he craved that feeling of electricity when he touched her. Diving into his mind, he searched his memory for any sign of her. A lush green meadow with trees almost reaching the sky, and a large silver and gray rock formation surrounding a steaming hot spring was all his memory held. He could almost feel the heat from the steam dance across his skin when he thought about it. Demarko glanced back at her and was taken back to see her staring straight at him. Fiery red hair and sparkling dark green eyes To look into those vibrant gems seemed to somehow warm his soul. If only

* * * *

Stuck in the stare of his bright Topaz eyes, Blaze felt as if her heart might burst through her chest in delightful pleasure, and she didn’t know why. His eyes were his best feature. They dazzled brightly in the moonlight and yet pierced the soul at the same time. Beautiful and dangerous. She felt positive she knew him. She just couldn’t remember from where. Standing a few feet taller than her, he seemed of average height. He is very handsome. Just look at all those muscles stretching that shirt. His tanned skin gave his sharp features a gentle soft glow when the light moved across his face. Chocolate-colored hair played around his shoulders in soft waves. His light green button front shirt hung open slightly baiting the eye with a small peek at the firm lines on his chest. Khaki colored pants hung off his hips with only a small piece of fabric holding them in place. …my memories would return.

Her eyes caught in his captivating stare for what seemed like an eternity before he finally broke eye contact and looked away. He walked over and dropped more logs on the fire. She asked a question in hopes of moving past the awkward moment.

“What do you think we should do now?”

“Well, the sun will be up soon. I think we should keep moving. I’m hoping there is a town close by.”

“Yes, a town would be great. We could get some food and a good night’s rest.” She absent mindedly watched the flames of the fire flicker in the breeze.

“Food and a soft bed sound very nice.”

“You mentioned your mind was having complications, too?”

“Yes. It’s so strange. Knowing my own name came easy enough, but anything elseI don’t understand it.”

Sliding her hands through her hair, she tried to work out some of the tangles as they talked. “I know how you feel. I think I get close, but it just slips through my fingers. It’s so frustrating and exhausting. Makes my head feel as if it’s going to explode and stop all together. I don’t knowDid you recognize those men?”

“No. I don’t know who they are, although I spotted something about the boy named Benjamin. I can’t place it, but he is…well…different.”

“Now that you mention it, he did have an unusual sparkle to eyes. Did you happen to catch the older man’s name?”

“No, he was careful. I noticed Bernard was going to address him, but the big man gave him a stern look. I paid attention only because of how odd it was. I think he might be their father, though. He acted as if that could be the case.”

Her pulse picked up as anger filled her body. She felt restless and forlorn. She had to move, so she paced back and forth.

“That’s what I guessed as well. I just don’t understand any of this. Why the secrecy? It’s not as if we know anyone. Our memories are gone…wiped clean away. I would love to know what happened. They obviously know. Even if we did know something, who are we going to tell?”

“You want to go back and ask?”

“Yes. I think I do.” She watched his face and waited for his reaction.

“What?” he asked with surprise, giving her a strange look. “I was only joking.”

“We just got away, so, no, I don’t want to go back.” She tried to keep the smile from her face, but it just wouldn’t stay hidden. Demarko joined in and they both laughed.

Clothes dried and her spirit soaring around her, Blaze felt much better. Snuggled next to Demarko’s side, they sat and watched the sunrise. It was peaceful and quiet, but now it came time to go. She walked over, untied the horses, and took them to him while he put out the fire.

“I’m ready to get out of here. I’m starting to get an uneasy feeling.”

“Me, too. Just about got the fire put out and then we can go. I say we keep going east until we find a town or something.”

“That’s a great idea. I’m not sure how long my adrenaline can keep me going before I fall asleep. I hope the town’s close.”

“Do you need me to help you onto the horse?”

“No, there is a small stump over here I can use to stand on.”

With one foot on the stump and the other half over the horse she froze. That’s odd. What’s that sound? Before she could ponder any further, she heard his loud booming voice behind the trees. They found us!

“Get them!”

Her eyes scanning the area, she saw the father and Bernard crash into Demarko, knocking him to the ground flat on his back.

Demarko tried to push the two men away. Jumping from the log, she raced over and grabbed Bernard by his hair and collar in an attempt to pull him off. She caused him to lose his grip and he fell, landing atop of her and knocking the wind from her lungs. Knees bent to her chest, she heaved the boy onto the dirt. Bernard landed on his side and tried to get up. She kicked him in the face when his charge brought him close. Like a hunter stalking prey, she eyed him as he held his bloody face in pain. He’s down for a minute. Hard to see with blood in your eyes. She turned toward Demarko and the other man.

The big man put his hand on Demarko’s chest, pulled back and aimed, using Demarko’s face as his intended target. Demarko quickly ducked his head to the side, which caused the man to miss by mere inches. Both hands on the man’s chest, he placed his boot in the man’s gut and hurled him into the air. Both men were now on their feet and braced for anything, glaring at each other trying to anticipate the other’s next move. As Blaze stared at Demarko, she could almost taste freedom as the battle leaned in their favor.

There’s that sound again what’s that? A soft whisper echoed in her ears and sent the scene before her into bright confusion. She went from intently focused on the enemy to a burning brightness that closing her eyelids couldn’t fade. Face hidden in her hands, she cried out in stunned confusion. Her fingers twitched, itching to claw the eyes from her skull. She felt pain so intense, it seemed as if thorns were embedded in her eye sockets. Vines born of violence and rage felt as if they covered her body trapping her in a cocoon of torment. Demarko’s excruciating yell followed.

The air went still, the noise ceased, and the bright enemy vanished. Her muscles ached with the effects of the after burn. She panted, trying to catch her breath. Her body lay limp on the grass. She blinked away agonizing tears and worked to clear her vision. No sounds penetrated her ears and no hands grabbed for her. She dared a look around. Her head lifted and she took in the scene.

Her eyes scanned the area and revealed Bernard standing next to her. The big man stood glaring down at Demarko who lay flat on his back, immobile, as if dead. A small patch of blood matted his hair. Emotion took over logic. She got up and raced to him. When she reached his body, she dropped to her knees beside him as tears trailed down her cheeks. Dear God, please let him be okay. It’s all my fault. We stayed too long. Her hand cupped his face as she leaned down and pressed her ear to his chest.

“Thank God” she cried out with joy at the sound of his strong beating heart. Blaze couldn’t help but smile as she stared at him smiling back at her.

The abductors pushing her aside and took charge of the situation. Cornered and scared, she scratched and clawed wildly at the hands reaching for her. She used all of her strength and tried to break free. It was no use. Strong hands held her in a tight grip while the big man pinned Demarko by placing a boot on his throat. The reality of it hit home and she knew her freedom was gone. Fatigue and terror had her muscles trembling as she prepared for the worst. Her thoughts, running a hundred miles an hour and all over the place, stopped suddenly when the man spoke. She looked him in the face. He has an evil smile.

“Lady, you will cooperate, or I’ll crush his windpipe.”

Her gaze followed his movements as he applied pressure to emphasize his point. “Alright, fine. Please don’t hurt him.”

The sound of rustling tree limbs caught her attention. She turned to her left. Benjamin surfaced from his hiding place and rejoined the party.

“Benjamin, did you cause the confusion with these two?”

“Yes. It was the first spell that came to mind.”

“It looked and sounded very painful. Good work!”


She glared at the boys as they exchanged pats on the back and smug smiles. Unaware of what else to do, she stood and let them bind her. This time, they bound her arms as well. Secure and back in the wagon, she watched the two boys walk to the big man and the trapped Demarko. Not taking his focus off the man on the ground, the big man pulled another knife from his belt. Holding it at the ready, he instructed his captive to cooperate and let the boys bind him. Demarko stood motionless and obeyed. His arms tied as tightly as his hands, they loaded him into their rolling prison.

The big man and Bernard grabbed the horses and reattached them to the wagon while Benjamin disappeared back into the woods. He brought back with him the three extra horses they had used to catch up. Upon returning, he used a length of rope and tied the extra horses to the back of the wagon, then took a seat next to his brother up front. With both prisoners apprehended and back in the cart, the three captors once again headed out. Destination unknown.

Chapter Two Despair and Hope

She sat quietly and watched the trees pass as they rode. The rough terrain only made her already aching muscles scream for release as she continued to be jarred around. Tears dropped from her cheeks, extinguishing the flame of hope. Her future looked doomed and filled with unhappiness. Emotions crowded her mind and swirled like oil in water, making it impossible to sift through. First, confusion and anger, now hopelessness and despair added to the mix. And that was before she could count the feelings wrapped around Demarko and the confusing thoughts surrounding him. The pounding in her head didn’t help matters.

Why is this happening? I don’t understand any of this. Something isn’t right here. They must have me confused with someone else. I have done nothing wrong.

They had traveled for quite a while when Demarko’s whispered words broke the silence “Someone must want us alive.”

“What gave you that impression? They did just about kill you back there.”

“Well, that, I think, was an accident, but that’s also part of my point. They had their chance to kill us and didn’t. They have fought us only for the purpose of capture. They need us alive wherever we are going.”

That made sense. They did seem only eager enough to capture them. Maybe I can use this to my advantage. Focus returned to her mind and a plan had already formed.

“Where are we going?”

“To see the King.”

King? “To see what King?”

As if someone had told a hilarious joke, the laughter from the three up front filled her ears and reddened her face. Being baffled by that behavior would only be the beginning of the train wreck about to occur. Blaze turned her attention to Demarko and gave him a puzzling look. He seemed just as lost.

Let’s see how far I can run with this. Curiosity, the need for answers, or just plain craziness, she heard herself speak again.

“My mind is a bit fuzzy, but perhaps, if you tell me his name, I will remember.” And be in on the joke.

Benjamin’s eyes locked with hers and he let his disgusted tone fly “Madam, don’t play games with me. I’m not stupid enough to believe you don’t know your own husband.”

Talk about a slap in the face, this was definitely that moment. Pondering it, she faintly remembered she hadn’t been alone, but the thought of a husband just evaded her. Air stuck in her lungs as she plummeted into the dark oblivion residing in her head and got lost in her own mind.

King? Husband? Married? Does that mean I’m Queen? How’s this possible? Does King mean master? Am I someone’s slave? How does Demarko fit in here?

Her head throbbed and she felt as if it might burst through her skull while she tried to work it out. Nausea snaked its way up to her throat and threatened to spill bile on her already dirty dress. She swallowed hard and choked it back. The last thing I need is to lose what small amount of strength I have left by vomiting. She looked up and saw Benjamin still glaring at her. He turned to his father and pointed out what seemed clear.

“She truly doesn’t remember.”

Fools! An errant thought hit her and she decided to test it. “If I’m the Queen, I demand to be treated as such. Untie me at once and explain yourselves! I demand to know who you are.”

Her tone, strong and full of authority, surprised her as much as the others. Three faces stared at her for a split second and turned back as if she were nothing of importance. Her blood pressure rose and filled her with the scorching heat of anger. She spiraled dangerously close to panic. I won’t be ignored! I’m just going to have to try a different approach. What do I have to lose? My life? That looks gloomy at best. I have to try!

She ignored her better judgment and scooted as well as she could toward the front of the wagon, careful to keep her back facing the three imprisoners. She soon found the seat they were sitting on and gently tilted her head to test what sat behind it. She felt one of the boys. Perfect! She brought her head forward and slammed it as hard as she could into the soft muscle of the boy’s back.

“Ouch!” Sounds like Benjamin.

“I asked you a question and I demand an answer now!”

“You want a response, Queen, well here it is.”

She scrutinized him as he spoke, his hands moved in patterns in the air above her head. Now, I know why the sparkle in his eyes is different. She guessed his intent and feigned passing out.

“Nooo! Did you just kill her?”

“She sleeps, so not another word from you, or you’ll sleep, too. I grow tired of these games”

She opened her eyes and looked at Demarko to let him know she faked it. As soon as she did, she felt slapped yet again, mentally. This time it had been from the hard hand of shame. She felt very close to him. She sensed something there, some kind of connection. Her heart seemed just as jumbled as her mind. If the information is correct, she’s a married woman. Linking it all together was more than difficult.

Do I love this man I am married to? Wouldn’t that love keep me from feeling this way about a stranger? Why do I feel something for Demarko if he is not my husband? Exactly what is it I feel for Demarko? Something is wrong, very wrong!

Despair set in as the situation seemed to get worse by the minute. Additional knowledge meant added confusion. The more she tried to work it out, the more her mind just ached. Blaze hated it, but she knew what she had to do. She would just have to wing it. That was never a good plan.

Absorbed in her thoughts, she hadn’t noticed the faint orange glow off in the distance, or the numbness in her arms until the sound of Bernard’s voice followed by Demarko’s brought her back from the brink of darkness.

“Finally, we’re close. Shall I wake them?”

“No need. We were never asleep.”

Her body swayed back and forth while the wagon milled forward. As they got closer, her vision beheld the path to her demise in the form of a huge castle. The road was visible by two rows of brightly lit torches. The light bounced off the castle walls, causing the shadows to dance. Blaze stared at the enormous enclosure, trying to remember it. Rummaging her brain, she looked for anything solid to link her to this, but nothing came. No matter how hard she tried, not one spark of recognition. She felt out of place to say the least. It was beautiful. It resembled what she would imagine any castle to be. Big, beautiful, heavily guarded, and cold.


She spied the two guards standing watch at the gate. They were dressed in silver armor that shone radiantly against the light of the flickering flames. They were tall, blonde-haired, and largely built. They definitely looked the part. Their young faces didn’t give the impression of inexperience or immaturity. Rather, it helped to enhance the fierce look written across those fine features. Even though they hadn’t said much at all, their demeanor spoke volumes. They were deadly serious.

“Time to get out”

Working her way to the back of the wagon, she watched as the two brothers helped Demarko out. The big man, stink and all, walked around and reached up to help her.

“Easy now. I wouldn’t want the King to think we were mistreating his Queen.”

Fear and alertness had her searching for an exit and an escape plan. Fleeing, she knew, was just a wild hope, but she gave into it anyway. Her gut feeling urged her to stay until the ropes were off and then make a run for it. For now, she had to endure the disgusting captors.

Grubby hands held her tightly helping her out of the wagon. Her dirty feet stumbled a bit when she put weight on her already shaky legs. His foul breath turned her stomach once more as he leaned in to steady her. Stomach muscles clenched and jaw locked, she fought back the urge to vomit. The closer he got the harder it had been to control. That chuckling and smile of his is just as nasty as the rest of him. She forced herself to hold her own and walked to stand beside Demarko. She watched as the leader strode in front of everyone and addressed the guards.

“We’re here to see King Deverox. We have found the Queen and one other.”

They could only see her face, she figured, due to the fact she stood at the back of the pack. The tallest guard stared at her a long time, and finally went to his knees.

“Welcome home, My Queen.”

Soon, everyone else joined him on their knees, bowing before her. It felt odd, yet at the same time, almost familiar. She made herself stand tall as she played along, so she could have a reason to lock her legs that threatened to buckle at any moment. A few moments passed and they all straightened to full height. The big man had been the first to break the silence with his annoying voice and arrogant attitude.

“Well, now that all the formalities are over, can we get to the King. I have places to be.”

The guards gave him a hard look as if they were going to say something else, but decided on, “Yes we need to get the Queen into her quarters before she catches her death out here.”

She followed as the guards marched the party through the large door and into the castle. Once inside, they were led to the entrance hall. Three steps to the right, she moved around the parade to see the room more clearly and hoped the surroundings might ignite the emptiness that had replaced her memories.

The Entrance Hall was warm, but a bit drafty. Along the sides of each wall were rows of chairs. A long table placed at the far end showed a man looking over stacks of parchment. He was an older man, as evident from his graying hair. His shoulders were broad and slightly hunched from his tall workload. He glanced up as the party entered the room. As soon as his eyes locked with hers, he gave the warmest smile. That smile held thankfulness and joy. He stood as the guards approached the table. She eyed everyone and mentally took notes.

“Kip, Kam, thank heavens! You have found the Queen.”

Before anyone could say anything, the big man blurted out, “No! I have found the Queen, thank you. My boys and I. This is Benjamin and Bernard.” Using his hands, he pointed them out.

The old man rounded on him. “I’m Connery Shaunt, The Magistrate, and who might you be, Mr. Rude?”

“My apologies, Mr. Shaunt. My name is Marcus Harenton. My sons and I found the Queen wondering in the woods with this stranger.” Pointing at Demarko, he continued, “As soon as we recognized the Queen, we brought her back here.”

Anger filled her from head to toe. She didn’t know what her fate would be, but she wouldn’t go down alone.

“Why didn’t you tell me who you were when you found me unconscious and scared to death? All you volunteered was that I was going on a trip with you and the boys were to tie me up and put me in the wagon. What did you do to me? My mind is blank and fuzzy. All my memories are gone. I can’t remember a thing.”

Harenton soon began to back track as three angry faces glared at him.

“Kip, check the Queen. Make sure she wasn’t mistreated in any way,” Shaunt commanded

Gentle hands from the guard inspected her. “Why is she bound like some common criminal? Her clothes are covered in dirt, her hair’s in disarray, and her face is streaked with tears.”

A bit better, she unwound some. She yelled a little, but most importantly, the ropes were off. With her feet, she pushed them away as soon as they hit the floor. Her fear also seemed to ebb away. The guards and the old man seemed genuine. She still had no idea if any of this was true, but perhaps she wouldn’t have to fight for her life. Happy thoughts filled her mind. Maybe I wasn’t delivered into the hands of the enemy after all. Her body began to relax just a little at the thought of being safe. Jumping a few feet in the air and clutching her hands to her chest, she heard the guard named Kam yell at Mr. Harenton.

“You had better have a real good reason as to why she wasn’t treated with the respect befit of a Queen!”

“Please, we meant no disrespect. When we found her, she put up quite a fight and was unaware of who she was. She didn’t believe we were there to help her. I assure you, Sir, we had no other choice but to tackle her and knock her out with a sleeping drug. Since she wouldn’t cooperate, we soaked the cloth and held it over her nose and mouth until she went limp. The man over there was with her. We knocked him on the back of the head and he went down. We didn’t know who he was or why he was in her company. We tied them up so they wouldn’t get away because it was dark. They put up quite a fight.”

She watched as the guards rounded on Demarko, followed by a tirade of questions. “Who are you? Why were you with the Queen? What were your intentions and what business do you have that constitutes being caught with her without proper verification?”

She had heard enough. “Why are you yelling at him? I’m not sure why he’s here, but I can assure you, he treated me better than this terrorizing threesome. He was very kind. They never once said that they were there to help. These three were rude and uncaring. Benjamin used two different spells. One caused us to go blind and the other one put me to sleep when I demanded answers. What were we supposed to think? Of course we defended ourselves.”

Her chest heaved and her adrenaline seemed to race her heart. She inhaled deeply and tried to even out her breathing as Kam turned to Demarko to confirm her story.

“Is this true?”

“Yes, it is. My name is Anastas Demarko, but I would prefer Demarko. I admit, I didn’t know who she was until Boar and Ass here pointed it out. She was very upset, and with good reason. I was just trying to help. With both our memories goneWe just didn’t know.”

Demarko looks so defeated, but the guard seems to believe him. Maybe he is done yelli—no I was wrong. More yelling.

“Which one of you is Benjamin and why would you use magic on the Queen? You know it’s forbidden.”

“I do apologize, but they were being verydifficult to handle, Sir.”

“What spell did you use and does it have a counter spell that needs to be done?” Mr. Shaunt asked.

“I’m new, still learningII used Enemy Dilation. It doesn’t need a counter. It stopped when my concentration was broken.”

“What does it do? What was its purpose?” Kip Demanded

“As I said, they are fine with no permanent damage,” he defended. Seeing three unsatisfied faces still glaring in his direction, he continued, “The spell causes the eye pupils to dilate. When the pupils dilate, they let in more light. The spell caused their pupils to open almost completely, rendering them unable to see …” Before he could answer any further, Kam had struck him hard against the face.

At that very moment, she knew she had been right about one thing. They indeed were deadly serious. She felt proud and worried at the same time. I hope they are truly on my side and that I won’t ever have to tangle with them. If what they say is true, perhaps they have to do what I say. They said I’m their Queen. Then again, there is the matter of who really rules this place. King Deverox, it seems. I might not be a safe as I thought.

The guard didn’t shy away after striking the young man. He simply followed the boy’s body to the ground and continued to scorn him. She almost felt sorry for himalmost!

“Are you completely ignorant? That could have caused major damage, you fool. The Queen could have gone blind for real. Magic is not a game. Thank the heavens that your concentration was broken.”

Soon, the guard stood in front of her waving his hand in front of her face. “How many fingers do you see, My Queen?”


She heard a commotion to her right and noticed the boy as he got off the floor. When he stood, he looked once to his father and then back at the guards. “I assure you, she’s fine. I swear. I had no other choice …”

How can he move so fast in all that heavy armor?

“Oh, you had a choice, young man. She’s the Queen of Pedalstem and as such, is as delicate as a flower. You can’t convince me, boy, that you had no choice. Where Demarko is concerned, you can’t expect a man not to defend himself.”

The boy glanced at everyone in the room with a look of disgust on his face and pushed his luck further. “Delicate as a flower? Don’t let her size fool you. She’s fury trapped in a cracked bottle. There’s more to her than a pretty face. She put all she had into fighting us off and yet for some reason she wasI’m not sure if holding back is the right descriptionshe seemed to be giving it all, buttrust me there’s more to her—no, to both of them. There’s more to both of them,” Benjamin explained.

Hand half in the air, she almost asked the boy what he meant when Mr. Shaunt spoke and cut her off.

“Guards, untie this Demarko fellow.” He turned toward the undesirables and added, “As for you three, have a seat over there and I’ll see what should be done with you.”

Blaze laid her hand in his gentle grasp when he reached for her and softly said, “Come, My Queen. I will take you inside. Demarko, I’m certain the King would like a word with you also. Boys, make sure our guests stay here until I return.”

She glanced back at the guards and saw that they had the three men sitting in chairs. The unwanted guests each wore looks of fear. The guards were trading glances, with smirks spread across their faces. They truly liked guard duty. She really hoped she never had to cross either of them.

As she entered the throne room, it left her breathless. It was large, beautiful, and elaborately decorated. Long banquet tables lined each side, each with white Lilies as a centerpiece. Down the center of the floor ran a red carpet with intricately embroidered lilies in the middle. It led up to a granite platform and held two enormous thrones. The King’s throne was made of pure gold embellished with silver and Diamond scroll patterns. A large Ruby sat atop it. The Queen’s throne was identical except instead of a Ruby, it held an Emerald. Just as the lilies were the centerpiece of the tables, the thrones were the focal point for the entire room. Being off balance a bit caused her to fall into Shaunt and prompted his concern.

“Is something wrong, My Queen? Have you become ill? You look as though you might faint.”

Inhaling deeply, she whispered, “No, I’m fine.”

Fine isn’t the right word. Confused, on edge, and exhausted. Those words describe my feelings better. Not wanting to go into it, she dismissed it all together. She felt vaguely aware of her feet moving her forward. Shaunt led her to her throne and helped her to sit.

“Rest. I shall get the King for you. “

His face turned to Demarko. “Please have a seat over there at one of the tables and make yourself comfortable.”

Blaze felt like a small child as Shaunt gave her a once over to be sure he could leave. Her body seemed fine. It had been her mind that had gone on sabbatical. Weariness took its hold and she feared she might pass out. Willpower alone kept her eyes from closing. I need sleep. I need answers. First, I need to get out of here. I don’t know if I can really trust these people. They seem sincere, but who knows? I just need to be left alone so that I can figure this out. I feel like a misbehaving teen that has run away. Air left her lungs and she relaxed when the man moved away from her. As Shaunt headed toward the door, she heard the sound of a second door bursting open as a woman ran in.

“Thank goodness, Shaunt. I heard the Queen was returned. Is she well?”

Before she could register an answer or respond, Shaunt intervened.

“She is fine, Arabella,” he responded as he gestured in her direction. “She looks as though she might faint. I think she may need hot tea to help calm her nerves. She has had a difficult time.”

The pair left the room with their heads huddled together, whispering. She chanced a glance at Demarko and noticed he sat patiently at the tables as if he were waiting to be served. A few moments later, her attention turned to Arabella bustling back into the room.

She was a short frumpy woman. Her gray hair was pulled tightly against her scalp with the exception of the stray strands that refused to stay in place. She looked as though she worked very hard. The dress she wore was tinted a light purple color with a white apron over it. The grease, food and water stains suggested it had been a rough day in the kitchen. As quickly as the old woman moved, the folded towel perched over her shoulder stayed in place perfectly. The tray she carried held a small teapot, two cups, and some fresh muffins, Blueberry by the smell of them. The serving dish seemed to float right above her hand.

“Here, dear, have some tea.” Arabella turned to Demarko. “Please come here, young man.”

She tried not to, but she stared as he strode from the table and headed her direction. The way he walked seemed just as enticing as the rest of him. He exuded confidence, but not to the point of arrogance. With her body temperature through the roof and feeling a blush on her cheeks, she watched his muscles tighten with each movement. Where Demarko is concerned I hope this is a dream. The rest is a horrifying nightmare.

If this was a dream, that would explain her immoral attraction to Demarko and most of her memory malfunction. Pinching her left arm, she tested for pain to see if it were real or dreamed. Ouch! Defiantly real. Now, the question was, what to do about it. Infatuation with Demarko put a kink in her dreamy reality. Not only could she not forget she was a married woman, she was also a Queen. The complications this would cause if she couldn’t get it under control were overwhelming.

As Blaze drank her tea, she tried to block it out for now. Her body ached, her head throbbed, and her muscles cried out for relaxation. All she could do was to relax until she could think of a way out of it. Demarko’s voice and presence dropped her head from the clouds and brought her heavily back to her chaotic life.

“Yes, ma’am, what can I do for you?”

“No, no, nothing. Would you like some tea?” Arabella pushed the tea into his hands, gave him a warm smile, and indicated for him to have a seat on the platform.

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