We made it back to Minaria without seeing any grimulin. I was beginning to think that the one that attacked us in Hashna was the only one.
“Do you hear that?” asked Ethan. We all stopped and listened. There were voices coming from ahead.
“Sounds like people,” Samel said. “I was beginning to think your Minaria didn’t have anyone living in it.”
“Do you think they’re soldiers?” Rachael asked. “What do we do?”
“We could wait for them to go ahead of us,” I said.
“Unless they are setting up camp,” Faiza said. They might be. The sky was darkening.
“We should see who they are and what they’re doing,” I said.
We moved forward without speaking. The closer we got to the voices, the slower we moved. Finally, as we crested a hill, we could see a group of men unpacking their things and setting up camp. The swords at their waist and the leather armor on their chest told me they were soldiers.
We crouched low and stayed behind the trees to watch them.
There were three soldiers, and they had five children with them, tied to each other with a line of rope. They must be orphans.
We moved back a bit before speaking.
“I guess we’ll have to go around them,” I said.
“We’ll stay here until night,” Faiza said.
“We can’t camp here,” I told her. “We wouldn’t be able to light a fire without them seeing.”
“We can’t light a fire anyway,” she said. “They’ll be able to see the smoke for miles. We won’t be able to get out of range before night fall.”
“Why not go as far away from them as we can? I’d rather get to the castle on our own. Not be tied together and dragged there.”
“Do you think those children like it?”
I looked in the direction of the soldier’s camp even though I couldn’t see anything. “There’s nothing we can do about them. Right now, we need to put as much distance between them and us as we can.”
“We can do something about it,” Faiza raised her chin. “We’ll stay here until it’s dark and when the soldiers are asleep, we’ll cut the ropes and let them go.”
“What if they wake up?” Rachael asked.
“They won’t if we’re careful.”
“I’ll do it,” Samel said. Faiza gave him a look. She still hadn’t completely forgiven him for sneaking up on us a few nights ago. “They can’t see me, even if I do wake them up.”
“A knife floating in the air will scare the children so bad they’ll scream and wake them up,” Faiza said.
“What are we going to do with the children once we get them free?” Rachael asked. “We can’t leave them out here, but we can’t take them with us.”
“We’re not taking them with us,” Faiza said. “We already have too many tag-alongs.” Faiza looked at Rachael and Samel.
“So we’re going to leave them out here on their own?”
“I’ll send them to the Foxes.”
“I don’t think we should do this.”
“You’re an orphan,” Faiza snapped. “Would you like it if I left you down there for the soldiers to take you to the castle and make you a slave?”
“I don’t like what they’re doing either.” I held up my hands. “But I don’t think we should risk being caught.”
“If you really want to help them,” Rachael said, “then we should get the Hashna Stone to the castle and get Ryker off the throne. He’s the one sending soldiers to get orphans.”
Faiza’s face turned red with anger. “You have nothing to do with this. You don’t know what it’s like to live on your own or be hunted by soldiers.” She threw up her hands. “You haven’t even lived in Minaria. If you don’t like what we’re doing, go back to Hashna with your little dwarf.”
It was really quiet for a moment and I wasn’t sure if Rachael was going to cry or yell. I guess the yelling won, only she couldn’t do a full yell because the soldiers were still close.
“Maybe you only have room to love one kind of people, but I care for both. Just because I love Hashna doesn’t mean that I don’t love Minaria too. And I may still have my father, but I know what it’s like to lose a parent. I think what those soldiers are doing is awful. But it’s because of Ryker that they are doing it. The sooner we get the Hashna Stone to the castle the sooner we can stop this.”
“Who knows how long it will take to get the real King back on the throne,” Faiza said. “We don’t even know if he’s alive. Taking the stone to the castle won’t free those kids. I say we do something about this now.”
I understood what Faiza was saying, but if they caught us, it could jeopardize this whole mission. They wouldn’t be able to hurt me, I had the stone, but they could the rest of them. At best, they would tie them up with the rest of the orphans. At worst? They could kill them. Or at least Samel. Dwarves were illegal in Minaria.
“I say we vote on it,” Ethan said, speaking for the first time since we’d found the soldiers.
“Well we already know what I want,” Faiza looked at Rachael, “and what she’d vote for.” She looked back to Ethan. “So what is your vote?”
Ethan looked down, then glanced at me. “Normally I would say that we should help them, but we promised Jocov to get the stone to Rachael’s father.”
“You think we should leave them?” Faiza’s nostrils flared.
“If we went to the castle and helped get the rightful king on the throne, then we would help orphans all over Minaria.”
“I think we could pull it off,” said Samel. “We can free them and still bring the Hashna Stone to the castle.”
“At least the dwarf is on my side.” Faiza shot a look at Ethan, and he cringed. Faiza looked at me.
Rachael and Ethan voted against and Faiza and Samel voted for. It would be up to me to decide.
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