As the days passed, Dian made a point of avoiding Sheila, turning away whenever she saw her, pretending to be very busy whenever Sheila happened to come near,
Well, that’s just fine with me, thought Sheila.
Still, she couldn’t help but wonder if this truce meant that Dian was plotting some sort of weird revenge.
Never mind, Sheila decided. I’m not going to worry about it!
After all, things were getting far too interesting for her to waste time thinking about a silly spoiled brat. Now that the warrior-women had finally accepted Sheila as one of their group-though they were still wary of her magic-she was learning a lot of fascinating stuff. Pelu was teaching her the names of the proper herbs to heal a sword cut or a sprained ankle. Myno was showing her all sorts of tricks: like how to toss a dagger into the air and catch it neatly by the hilt. And even haughty Nanine was unbending enough to tell Sheila some of the exotic tales of gods and heroes from her homeland far to the south.
The land had gotten more interesting, too. They had finally left the last of the grassy plains behind and were climbing through a maze of thickly wooded hills and meadows so lush with grass that those unicorns who weren’t being ridden frolicked, tails in the air, like a bunch of colts, trying to decide what to eat first, Sheila giggled.
“They look so silly!”
Illyria smiled. “They certainly do.” She glanced at Sheila, who was sitting easily on Morning Star’s back, one leg hooked comfortably over the pommel of the saddle as though she was riding sidesaddle. “Be careful. Don’t forget she’s a living animal, not some overstuffed chair.”
Sheila patted the unicorn’s silky neck. “Oh, she wouldn’t even think of bucking me off. Would you, girl?”
Morning Star flicked an ear back to listen to her, and snorted as though in agreement.
“You miss the point, Sheila. This is the sort of terrain snakes and bears love, but that unicorns, like horses, don’t like,”
“Smart unicorns!” said Sheila, patting Morning Star again. She didn’t notice Dian watching her. If she had she might have seen the girl’s eyes brighten at the mention of snakes. But Sheila had no warning at all for what was to come next,
They were climbing a steep, rocky stretch, a tangled forest of bushes on their tight, the land falling away on their left, down to a wooded ravine through which a wild river roared its way.
It was Pelu’s turn to act as advance scout. “Come on,” she called down. “We’re almost at the top. And things level out nicely up here.”
“Fine,” said Illyria. “We’ll be able to give the unicorns a chance to catch their breath.”
It got a little confusing, as those who reached the plateau first hurriedly dismounted, trying to leave enough room for the rest of the troop. Sheila, nearly last because she had let Morning Star stop for a quick bit of a tasty shrub, was still sitting the unicorn when she saw Dian spring to the around ahead of her and snatch something out of a bush. A snake, Sheila realized in horror.
And Dian flung it right in front of Morning Star! With a squeal of terror, the unicorn shied away in one violent leap. Sheila lost her balance completely and went flying!
The cliff! I’ll fall all the way to the river-I’ll die!
But strong arms caught her just in time, pulling her away from danger.
The arms belonged to Darian. “Are-are you all right?” he stammered.
nodded, too dazed to do more than look up at Darian, whose eyes were warm with concern, and realized that it wasn’t at all unpleasant to be held by such a handsome boy.
Then her senses returned, and Sheila scrambled to her feet. “You-you saved me. I don’t know how to thank you.
He reddened. “I didn’t do it for a reward.”
“I know, but . . . ah! Here. I want you to have this.”
Quickly she unfastened her watch and handed it over to him.
Darian’s eyes lit up. “I will cherish this magic gift forever!”
“Oh, Darian, it isn’t magic, really it’s-“
But by now they were the center of the whole worried troop of warriors, all of them asking at the same time: “Are you hurt?” “Is everything all right?” “Did you break anything?”
“I’m fine, really,” Sheila began, “thanks to Darian. I-“ But then she saw a white-faced Dian standing to one side and shouted at her, “You! What sort of a stupid-“
“I-I didn’t mean any harm!” the girl stammered. “I only-“
“Didn’t mean any harm!” echoed Illyria grimly. “You could have killed her! If she had fallen just a little farther to the left, or if Darian had been just a Little slower to react ...”
Dian’s eyes widened in honor. “I never thought . . . I only wanted Her voice rose hysterically. “Don’t you see? It’s all her fault! Everything was fine until she joined us! You think she’s so sweet, so innocent-ha! She’s bewitched you all with her magic! Well, I’m going to put a stop to it, right now!”
Sheila’s backpack had slipped off in her fall. Dian snatched it up and went racing madly down the steep, wooded slope toward the rushing water.
She’s going to throw my pack into the river! thought Sheila.
She hurried after Dian, scrambling down the steep embankment. Slipping and sliding down the crumbling earth, getting scratched and snagging her clothes on thorns and branches, stubbing her toes on rocks. Once she tripped over a root and nearly tumbled all the way down.
The roar of the river drowned her out. Dian was all set to hurl the backpack into it, so Sheila lunged at her, grabbing for the pack. The two girls struggled fiercely there on the river’s edge. Sheila tore her pack out of Dian’s hands. But the other girl, kicking and hitting, wasn’t giving up. Part of the bank crumbled under her feet and splashed into the river during the fight, and Sheila gasped.
“Dian, stop it! There isn’t room-“
“Sorceress! I don’t care!”
She swung wildly at Sheila-and the earth gave way completely! With a scream of terror, Dian plunged into the raging river!
“Dian!” Sheila threw herself down on the bank, reaching out as far as she could over the water. “Give me your hand!”
“I can’t! The-the current’s too strong!”
Struggling desperately, Dian was swept downstream, white water breaking over her head again and again.
She’s going to drown! Sheila looked frantically up the embankment, but the others were just beginning to make their way down to her. They would never get down in time! I’ve got to save her! But how? If I go in there, I’ll drown, too!
She wouldn’t panic. She refused to panic. Heart pounding painfully, Sheila stared downstream. That tree-it hung way out over the river. If only it was sturdy enough!
There wasn’t time to worry about it. Sheila raced to the tree and shinnied out onto a branch. Ugh, it was slimy, and slippery from waves hitting it. Sheila gasped as the cold water struck her, too, and held on with all her strength. She would have only one shot at this. Here came Dian . . . a little farther…
Clinging to the branch with one arm and both legs, Sheila grabbed wildly for the girl. Her hand snagged something-Dian’s tunic! In the next moment Dian’s hand had closed about her wrist, and Sheila began to carefully work her way back down the slippery branch. It was creaking-it was going to break!
Not yet! she pleaded with it. Oh, please, not yet!
But suddenly arms were reaching for her, drawing Sheila and Dian to safety.
“It’s all right,” said Illyria quietly. “It’s over.
Dian, gasping for breath, stared at Sheila. “You . saved my life.”
“I guess I did.”
“You’re kidding, right? I wasn’t going to let you die over a-a backpack! Which reminds me . .
She scrambled back along the bank to where the pack had fallen and gladly slipped it into place once more, then rejoined the others. Dian was still staring.
“Thank you,” she said grudgingly.
“Gee, I’m thrilled by your enthusiasm.”
“I said thank you. What more do you want?”
Sheila sighed. “I was kind of thinking of friendship. But forget it. I’ll just settle for a truce.”
“Good enough,” said Illyria. “Come, let’s get you into some dry clothes.”
But as they climbed wearily back up, a shadow crossed Sheila’s face, She craned her head back and gave a little cry of surprise.
“The eagles! The giant eagles! They’re back!”
Illyria nodded curtly. “They’ve been following us ever since-ever since we started this mission. They almost seem to be trying to protect us. And who are we to argue with them?”
She smiled. But for a bewildering instant Sheila saw sorrow, sheer heartbreaking sorrow, on the woman’s face.
And she wondered.
Back To Chapter Listings!
Chapter 1: Swept Away
Chapter 2: Arrival
Chapter 3: Captured!
Chapter 5: The Quest
Chapter 6: Sheila Enlists
Chapter 7: Warrior-In-Training
Chapter 8: Rivalries
Chapter 10: Illyria's Story
Chapter 11: Campora at Last
Chapter 12: Trapped!
Chapter 13: The Ghost
Chapter 14: Outnumbered
Chapter 15: The Battle
Chapter 16: Sailing Away