Steph easily scaled the ladder that rose out of the murky tunnel. Revis tried to angle his breast plate so its light would follow her up to the top but the armor only let him bend so far and eventually Matticus and Revis lost sight of their guide as the darkness claimed her.
“This has been too easy so far,” Matticus whispered to his knight.
Revis said nothing and the Jester let the silence go on for as long as he could before he asked, “Revis, did you hear me?”
The Knight nodded, slow and solemn, his eyes still trying to pierce the gloom over their heads. “We’ve still got a long road ahead of us, your Jesterness. Once we get clear of Bruges we still have to find our way to Long Beach and see if we can join up with the rebels there. Then we’ll still have to figure out how to cure everyone who has been turned over the last two months.”
“In other words, don’t second guess the calm moments?”
Matticus frowned, but he knew his Knight was right. He shouldn’t worry that things had gone smoothly for them in the tunnel. He started to thank Revis for being a voice of reason when Steph screaming cut him off.
They practically ran up the ladder. Revis made it up first. As soon as his feet hit the ground, he pulled his daggers out and scanned the area. By the time Matticus reached the top, Revis still didn’t see any clue as to where Steph was. The Jester pulled his sword out and began looking in the other direction.
Nothing happened. Both men kept searching the area. “Do you see…,” Matticus began.
“Quiet,” Revis interrupted.
Suddenly, laughter filled the area. The Knight’s face turned bright red. “You’re dead,” he muttered, shaking his head.
Steph stumbled out from behind a nearby boulder, laughing uncontrollably. Matticus grabbed Revis by the shoulder, holding him back.
“You should’ve seen the looks on your faces,” she gasped in between laughing fits.
“We’re in the middle of the forest,” Revis snarled. “We could kill her now and no one would ever know.”
Hearing Revis threaten her made Steph laugh even harder. Afraid that his Knight would follow through with his words, Matticus ordered, “Go out and scout the area.”
When Revis didn’t immediately comply, Matticus repeated the command. Revis shot Steph one last death glare before walking away. As he went, Matticus swore he heard the Knight mumble something about “being nice to the person writing the story”, but that didn’t make any sense to him.
“I don’t understand half the things he says while we are on quests,” Matticus mused before turning his attention and thoughts to Steph. “You shouldn’t joke around like that. We’ve had long days, short nights, and our nerves are close to fraying.”
Steph ceased her raucous laughter but the accompanying smile refused to fade.
“I don’t think he would actually harm you, he’s far too chivalrous, but I’m not sure it is wise to test the limits of his patience at the moment.” Matticus’ serious expression softened, and then his lips twisted into a mishevious smile, “Besides, Revis isn’t the sort of person to forget a prank, and he will get even eventually.”
Still, Steph’s smile never wavered. Matticus chuckled and shook his head from side to side. She would learn soon enough.
Revis circled back to where Steph and the Jester were gathered and reported that the area was clear, “There’s nothing out here right now except us.”
“Are you sure?” Steph teased.
Revis’ cheeks turned a dark shade of red as his temper rose again. His hands went for his daggers, but he checked their movement before the blades cleared their sheaths. His eyes bore into Steph with all the malice he could muster. “Yes. I’m sure.”
She twisted her head skyward, and pointed up, “Did you check the trees?”
Matticus and Revis followed her gaze up and saw the tips of arrows from drawn bows jutting out from the foliage. They were surrounded. Revis shrugged, “They don’t count.”
“And why not?”
“They’re not threats.”
“They’re about to skewer us,” Matticus barked incredulously. “How can you say that they’re not threats?”
“Order them to lower their weapons, Jesterness.”
“Just do it.”
“I command you all to lower your weapons at once,” he ordered, using his most official voice.
To his surprise, all of the arrows disappeared. Behind him, one of the archers dropped down from the tree. The man was wearing the armor of the Kingdom. After launching into a string of words that weren’t made up for polite company, he saluted Matticus. “I’m BrainRants, Jester. I’m leading this unit.”
Matticus saluted back. “What are you doing all the way out here?”
“The Queen dispatched us here right after you two went missing, since this was your last known location. When we couldn’t find you, we hooked up with Steph and started smuggling people out of the city.”
“You kill any sparkly vampires out here,” Revis asked.
“Uhh, ‘F yeah’?”
“I’d like to complete my thought, but this is a family blog.”
“Got what?” Matticus asked, confused again, his gaze flicking back and forth between Revis and BrainRants. “What’s a blog?”
“That’s not important right now, your Jesterness, but we should get moving,” Revis replied smoothly.
Steph and BrainRants agreed, and before Matticus could demand an answer, the whole group started making their way through the woods. The regiment of archers saluted as Matticus passed below their positions. Even knowing they were there, because of the camouflage they wore and their skill at blending in, it was difficult for Matticus to see them. He was happy that his soldiers were so well trained and equipped, but decided he would need to spend more time with them in the future so he’d be more familiar with their tactics.
“How much further to the camp?”
“Only a mile or so,” Steph responded. “We’re almost there, and then we’ll make sure you get some good food and some rest so you are ready for your journey to Long Beach.”
With another salute, BrainRants said, “By your leave, I’ll return to my post. Steph is more than capable of guiding you the rest of the way in.”
Matticus nodded his head in response. While he and Steph began their trek to the camp, Revis stayed behind, discussing something with BrainRants. He wasn’t planning on eavesdropping, but he did hear a few things….with most of them beginning with the letter F.
After sharing a laugh, Revis left BrainRants and caught up with the other two. “What was that about,” Matticus asked.
“I was leaving instructions,” the Knight answered.
“What? Why are you leaving instructions?”
Looking at Matticus as if the Jester had lost his mind, he explained, “Because I’m the First Knight of the Kingdom. That means I’m in charge of the army.”
“That doesn’t matter! I’m the Jester! I should be the one leaving instructions!”
Matticus stomped away, leaving Steph and Revis looking at each other in bewilderment. “Is he really like that,” she queried.
“Nope. His petulance is merely for comic effect.”
“That’s good,” she added as they started following him.
The rest of the trip was made in silence. When the camp was almost in view, Revis drew his daggers. He instructed Steph and Matticus to take out their weapons, too. “What’s wrong,” Matticus asked.
“Fire,” the Knight whispered.
Lowering his voice to match, the Jester continued, “It’s a camp. It’s supposed to have fires.”
Taking in a deep breath, Revis shook his head. “That’s not just wood burning. That’s oil, too. The camp is under attack.”