Serial Chapter 5

Here’s the next installment of my serial novel. You can find the first part here. The previous chapter is here.

Chapter Five

            A voice cried out, “Long live the king,” and Sebastian visibly relaxed as a pair of big dogs crawled through the underbrush into the clearing. Several deer followed them, picking their way delicately through the vines and undergrowth.

“We led them on a good chase,” the lead dog growled. “They’ll never track you back here. You should be safe.”

“You must be Larkin,” Sebastian said with the slightest hint of hesitation in his voice.

“Yes, and this is my mate Leila. We will guide you to the rendezvous.” Larkin turned his head toward Lucy and sniffed. “So, this is the princess?”

“Yes, this is the princess,” Sebastian said. “Melantha hadn’t harmed her yet. Thank goodness we got to her in time.”

“And now we have hope,” one of the deer said in a voice that sounded like velvet.

“Hope! Hope!” came murmurs from all the other animals gathered in the clearing. Lucy’s knees felt wobbly, and she had to sit down. The princess—Aurora or Dawn or whoever she really was—must have truly meant something to the people of this world. Boy, were they going to be disappointed that they just had plain old Lucy instead.

“The princess tires,” a doe pointed out.

“Oh! I am truly sorry, your highness,” Sebastian said. “Please forgive me for neglecting your comfort.” He dug in his saddlebags and pulled out a wineskin and a few cloth-wrapped parcels. “It is only bread and cheese and some ale, but that will sustain us for tonight. We will travel to a safe place that will be far more comfortable tomorrow.”

He opened the parcels, took a knife off his belt and cut bread and cheese into hunks, then passed a portion to Lucy. She was so hungry that bread and cheese—which were normally two of her favorite foods anyway—were the best meal she’d ever eaten. When she’d finished the food, he passed her the skin of ale. She’d never had ale before and wasn’t entirely sure what it was. As she recalled, it was something kind of like beer. Not that she’d had beer, either. She was a Baptist girl from a small town, after all, and she wasn’t nearly cool enough to be invited to the pasture parties where everyone sat around drinking beer.

She just about had to hold her nose to manage to swallow enough to get the dryness out of her mouth, and it burned all the way down her throat. It took all her self-control not to gag or cough. On the bright side, the alcohol probably killed all those amebas she was worried about.

She passed the skin back to Sebastian, who took a good, long swig of the stuff. He was probably used to it. He held the skin back toward her, but she shook her head. “No, you have the rest. You need it more than I do, with that shoulder.”

“Shoulder?” Larkin asked.

“He caught an arrow.”

“But the princess has tended my wound,” Sebastian hurried to add.

“Ah, I thought I smelled blood. If you’re wounded, you must rest.”

Sebastian gave a deep sigh, like he was finally acknowledging that they were safe and was letting himself release all the tension from the rescue. “Yes, we must rest. You’ll stand guard?”

“We will stand guard,” the dog said.

With a nod, Sebastian lay down on his uninjured side. Lucy took his cloak from around her shoulders and draped it over him, and pretty soon he was out cold.

Larkin’s mate Leila came over to Lucy. “You should sleep, as well, highness,” she said, bowing low over her front legs. The dog lay next to Lucy. “You may rest your head on my side, highness.” That was when it really hit Lucy what it must mean to be a princess—at least, in a place like this. It wasn’t about wearing a crown and a pretty dress. It was about people—and, in this place, animals—really believing she was someone special who could give them hope for a better future. She had a lot to live up to.


            Back in her bedroom, Dawn put on her sturdiest, most practical clothing: a pair of cargo pants, running shoes, and a t-shirt under a shirt with a lot of pockets. She emptied her schoolbooks out of her backpack and filled it with a couple of changes of underwear and socks, her toothbrush, and some toothpaste. She wasn’t sure what else to take, since she didn’t know what the world on the other side of the portal was like beyond the garden she’d seen. Almost as an afterthought, she clasped the bracelet Lucy had given her around her wrist.

She slipped out of the house while her aunts were still sound asleep. The songbirds in the trees outside greeted her with their usual chorus. “Please, not now!” she said, hoping she hadn’t hurt their feelings when they suddenly went quiet again. She sprinted up the street. Once she was out of sight of her home, she slowed down and walked the rest of the way to Jeremy’s street. Jeremy was an Eagle Scout, so he knew about things like camping and hiking, reading maps, and maybe even navigating by the sun, moon, and stars—all skills she thought might be handy on this mission. He was always up for an adventure. The trick would be getting him to believe her.

Thinking about what she’d have to tell him made her want to turn back. She could be going through the portal right now instead of waiting until Jeremy’s parents left for work. But, no, she couldn’t do this alone. She found a comfortable spot leaning against a tree behind some bushes and let herself doze off. She woke when the sun came up, then waited until Jeremy’s parents drove away. As soon as they were gone, she came out of her hiding place and brushed the dirt and leaves off her pants. Something must have bitten her while she slept because the tip of her right index finger was really itchy.

She was still rubbing her finger against the rough fabric of her pants when Jeremy answered her knock on his door. “What are you doing out here alone?” he asked. “Lucy got grabbed yesterday in broad daylight. I was going to come over to walk you to school.”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that,” she said, and she hadn’t, since she knew that Lucy hadn’t been taken by ordinary kidnappers. “But I need to talk to you. It’s important.”

He stepped back and gestured her inside. “I’ve got some stuff I need to get together before I leave. You can talk to me while I work. Have you had breakfast?”

She realized that she was about to head off to what seemed to be another world on an empty stomach. She wasn’t too hungry, but she let him microwave some pancakes for her, and she ate while he stuffed his backpack with marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate bars, and bags of candy. “Are you running away?” she asked.

“I don’t think I’d get far on s’mores ingredients,” he said with a laugh. “No, I’m leading a hike for one of the younger troops right after school, and at the end we’re doing a camp fire. I thought about canceling after what happened to Lucy, but it’s not like I can do anything to help her, and you try telling a bunch of nine-year-olds that something they’ve looked forward to for months won’t happen.” He shoved a bottle of water in with the food. “So, what is it you wanted to talk about?”

She almost changed her mind about telling him, since he did have plans for the day, but she didn’t think she could do this without him. “It’s about Lucy. And about me, I guess. I think what happened to her had something to do with me.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know how Lucy always said that maybe my aunts weren’t really my aunts?”

“Yeah, she even did an Internet search for missing kids who fit your description.”

“She might be right. I don’t know about kidnapping, but don’t you think I’d know something about who I was if they really were my aunts? Don’t your aunts tell you stories about your mother or father when they were kids together? Have you seen pictures of your parents when they were kids, and of the rest of your family?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“I’ve never seen any of that. If my parents are dead, wouldn’t real aunts want me to know something about them? I don’t even know my parents’ names. I don’t know where I was born. I’ve never met a relative other than my aunts. The only thing I have that has anything to do with my parents is my necklace. That’s weird, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is weird. But what does this have to do with Lucy?”

“She was wearing my necklace, and I overheard my aunts talking about it. They seemed to think that whoever took her thought they were getting me because of my necklace and were taking me back to where I’m really from. And they were almost glad about it, like it worked out better for them that way. But that’s not all. You’ve got to see what I found in the garden shed.”

“Dead bodies?”

“Ew! No! Something else. It’s hard to describe. You’ll see.”

“I don’t suppose you’ve tried talking to your aunts about this.”

“If they’ve been hiding things from me my whole life, and they’re still not telling me what’s going on even after what happened to Lucy, do you think they’d give me a straight answer now?”

“Maybe not.”

“And if I ask, they’ll get suspicious, and that will make it harder for me to learn the truth.”

“Do you have a plan for finding the truth?”

“First you have to see what’s in the garden shed.”

“Okay, you’ve got me curious, I have to admit.” He picked up his backpack and slid the straps over his shoulders. “Let’s go.”

When they got to Dawn’s house, they sneaked around to the side yard. “Now we just need to get to the back yard without them seeing us,” she said.

“This sounds awfully sinister.”

“It might be. I don’t know what to think anymore.”

“I think maybe Lucy has been a bad influence on you. You’ve picked up her paranoia.” She gave him a pleading look, and he sighed. “Maybe it’s time for a prank call,” he said, getting out his cell phone. “You don’t have caller ID, do you?”

“We barely have a phone.”

“Okay, you’re about to get in big trouble at school.”

“I don’t think I’m even supposed to be in school today. I had to sneak out during the night.”

“That makes the trouble even worse, and they’ll be more likely to come get you. Do you think all three of them will go?”

“Mariel’s already gone. She went somewhere last night, and I don’t think she’s back yet. Matilda will probably be the one to go. She’s always taken the parent role at school. That just leaves Miriam.”

“Then we’ll need to get her to look out the front windows long enough for us to get into the back yard and see whatever it is you want to show me.”

“I’m sure my friends will help,” she said, looking up at where birds were already congregating in the tree next to them.

He placed the call. When one of the aunts answered, he deepened his voice and said, “Ms. Royal? This is Principal Jade at the high school. I’m calling about your niece, Dawn. We need you to come to the school right away.” Dawn heard the anxious voice on the other end of the call and felt a stab of guilt. “Yes, she did come to school today.” Another pause, then, “No, she’s all right. But there is something we need to discuss about her behavior. I’m sure she’s just upset about her friend disappearing, but we don’t need that kind of disruption in class … Thank you. I’ll see you shortly.”

He closed the phone and put it back in his pocket. “Sounds like she bit. We’d better get ready.” They opened the gate and stepped into the back yard, staying where they couldn’t be seen from the house. From the front yard, they heard voices. “I’ll be back soon, Miriam,” Matilda shouted. “Keep an eye out for that signal or for any word from Mariel.”

“Now,” Jeremy whispered, and Dawn gave a quick whistle and gestured at the birds. They took flight all at once and made a real uproar. Dawn could hear Miriam trying to shoo them away in the front yard. Jeremy grabbed Dawn’s hand and they took off across the lawn to the garden shed.

“Now, what was it you wanted to show me?” he asked.

She unlatched the door and flung it open, hoping the portal was still there. If it wasn’t, she’d look incredibly silly.

It was most definitely there. The garden on the other side was bathed in morning light, so that the shed’s interior was strangely sunlit. The portal tugged at her even more strongly than it had the night before. That other world must be her true home, its call to her was so strong. “Whoa!” Jeremy breathed. “Is that like a window, or can you actually go through to that place?”

“I think you can go through. Mariel went into the shed last night and didn’t come out.”

“So when you said the aunts might know where Lucy was taken, and the people who took her may have thought they were taking you, back to the place you’re really from, it was the place through this portal?”

“I think so. My aunts were creating this while they were talking about taking me home. This must be how they planned to do it.” She stiffened her spine and turned to face him. “I’m going through to see if I can find Lucy and help her get back and maybe learn something about who I am. I would appreciate your help if you want to come with me.”

“Are you sure this is the right thing to do?”

“I know it is. I can feel it. Every fiber of my being is telling me that I have to go through that portal.”

“Do you think it’s safe?”

She gestured toward the tranquil setting on the other side. “It’s a garden! And it’s where my aunts set up the portal to go. I don’t think they’d send themselves into danger. It’s where they were apparently planning to take me, so I’m only going where they want me to go. I’m merely doing it on my own schedule.”

He looked at the portal and back at her, frowning. Then he got the gleam in his eyes that usually meant they were about to do something that would get them all in trouble. “Okay, I guess the kids are going to miss that hike, after all. Unless, that is, we can find Lucy, unmask your secret identity, and get back before school lets out.”

She gave him a quick hug. “Thank you so much! I didn’t want to go alone, and I knew you’d be helpful.”

He took out his pocket knife, opened it and held it ready. “Since we don’t know what’s waiting for us on the other side,” he explained.

The last thing Dawn heard before they passed through the portal was Miriam’s voice calling her name.


            The first thing Sebastian noticed when he woke the next morning was a twinge in his upper left arm. That flash of pain brought back everything that had happened the night before and made it clear that it hadn’t been a dream. Sergeant Fulk really had found him in the armory and told him he had to rescue Princess Aurora from the castle dungeon. He really had stolen the dungeon keys and walked out of the castle with the strangely dressed princess. Now, he supposed, he was an outlaw—at least until the princess took her rightful place as ruler of the land. Until then, his job wasn’t over until he delivered her safely to the Loyalists.

He sat up, suppressing a groan, and cringed when his cloak fell off his shoulders. He should have given it to the princess. What kind of knight was he—that was, almost-knight—if he let a princess sleep exposed to the elements while he slept under his cloak? He recalled that he’d fallen asleep first, at her orders, and the last thing he remembered was her tucking the cloak around him. He didn’t think that was how a rescue was supposed to go.

Then again, none of this was what he’d expected. He’d pictured a delicate princess he’d have to protect from every danger and hardship, and instead she’d been the one to tend his wound and take care of him. She was much more capable than he’d imagined a princess would be. She should be good at things like embroidery and dancing, not pulling arrows out of shoulders.

The princess was still sound asleep, curled up on her side, her head resting on Leila’s back. The stories said she’d been gifted magically at birth with great beauty, and he’d always pictured that to mean she’d be tall and willowy, with flowing golden hair and porcelain skin. But, he supposed, that was too conventional to be truly great beauty. There were so many beautiful girls who looked like that. This princess was more striking, in her own way, with her small frame and masses of curls the color of dark honey.

He went to the stream to wash his face, and when he returned, she was sitting up and yawning. “I guess it wasn’t a dream,” she said with a wry smile.

“I am afraid not, your highness.” He took the food from his saddlebag and offered her more bread. She made a face when she drank from his aleskin, but she didn’t complain.

“How’s the shoulder?” she asked between bites of bread.

“It’s sore, but I can use the arm.”

“Well, take it easy. You don’t want to strain it too much until it has a chance to heal. Popping a stitch isn’t pretty.”

He wasn’t entirely sure what she had said, but from the context, he took it to mean that he shouldn’t overtax the injured arm, lest the wound reopen. She spoke so strangely.

“So, now what?” was her next question.

“If you are ready, we should begin travel soon. I am to take you to a rendezvous point, where the Loyalist leaders will take charge of you.”

“Okay, then. Let’s get a move on.” She stood, brushed the dirt and leaves from her clothing, and put her knapsack over her shoulders.

He took his own pack from his saddlebags. With great regret, he gave his horse a swat on the rump and said, “Go home, now!” It just looked back at him with what he might have sworn was a look of hurt and betrayal in its eyes.

“We’re not taking the horse?” the princess asked.

“It would slow us down in the deep woods, and it is very hard to be stealthy with a warhorse.”

“Good point. They also eat a ton.”

He had to fight back a smile as he turned to address his horse again. He wouldn’t want the princess to think he was mocking her. With a sharp pang of regret, he said more firmly, “I said go home, you! You’ll have good food there, and you’ll like that.”

The horse took a few steps away, then hesitated. Sebastian groaned and tried to think of a way to reason with a horse when a wolf charged into the clearing. The princess squeaked, barely biting back a scream, and jumped behind Sebastian. He put his hand on his sword and called out, “Long live the king!”

“And also his queen,” the wolf said, giving the countersign.

Sebastian relaxed and asked, “What is it?”

“They’re searching the forest with dogs,” the wolf growled. The curl of his lip gave a good indication of what he thought about dogs willing to work for the witch. “You must go. My pack will distract them.”

He turned and ran back into the woods before they had a chance to thank him or ask questions. Sebastian swatted the horse again. “Go, I said!” he urged, trying not to sound desperate.

The stag said, “We’ll take care of him.” He and the doe charged at the horse, who finally took off running. The three of them disappeared into the forest. Sebastian took the princess’s hand and followed Leila and Larkin out of the clearing.

The princess’s odd clothes were well suited for travel. She wore leggings of a heavy fabric that should protect her well from the branches and brambles of the forest, and though it wasn’t seemly that she wore men’s clothing, it did mean she had more freedom of movement. Her shoes wouldn’t hold up to long travel as well as boots, but they were more substantial than the light slippers ladies wore at court. He wondered if she’d been in disguise before she was captured.

He hoped they had a good head start on their pursuers and wondered if they were using bloodhounds to track a scent or merely using hunting dogs to flush out their prey. The princess’s hand felt small and damp in his, and when he glanced at her, her face was pale, but her jaw had a stubborn, determined set to it.

Perhaps noticing his attention, she smiled and asked, “Have I thanked you yet for rescuing me?”

He straightened his back and held his head high. “No thanks are necessary. I am merely doing my duty as a loyal subject of your kingdom and my part to restore the rightful rulers to the throne.”

Her grin grew, as though she found something to be humorous, then it faded, and she frowned as she asked, “What happened to the king and queen?”

“We don’t know where they are—if they’re even alive. They disappeared just before Melantha staged her coup two years ago. We were afraid that when you returned, the witch would lie in wait to capture you. The Loyalists were ready to rescue you, though they had to adjust their plans when you came back earlier than expected.”

“Actually, she kidnapped me from my world.”

“Your world?”

She sighed. “It’s really hard to explain, since I don’t understand it all, myself. But I’ve been living in this other, well, I guess you could call it another reality, like maybe a parallel universe. Anyway, this other, far-off place where I’m guessing you can only go using magic.”

That explained her strange manner of dress and her foreign way of talking. “And she went after you in that place?”

“Not personally, but she sent her people to bring me back. That’s how I got here.”

“How did they find you? No one was supposed to know where you were hidden. Not even your parents knew. The enchantresses told no one where they were going. There was to be a signal so they would know it was safe to return to the kingdom after the curse expired, and we assumed the witch had learned how to send the signal to bring you here.”

“I have no clue,” she admitted. “All I know is, these three guys came riding through my town, saw my necklace, grabbed me, and brought me here.”

“Perhaps the enchantresses will return after your disappearance from the other world, and they will be able to help.”

“Yeah, that would be real handy, wouldn’t it?” She was smiling again, as though she’d found something he said amusing or ironic. He didn’t see the humor in the situation.

Their situation became even less amusing when he heard the sound of barking dogs in the distance. Their pursuers were gaining on them.

Continued in chapter six.

3 Responses to “Serial Chapter 5”

  1. Serial Chapter Four - Shanna Swendson

    […] Continued in chapter five. […]

  2. Heather Dryer

    Things are starting to get exciting for our characters now. Oh boy.

  3. Serial Story Part Six - Shanna Swendson

    […] ongoing serial story. In case you missed it, you can find the beginning here and the previous part here. If you’re enjoying it, please share it with […]

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