25. Home Sweet Home
When Bridget had been captured, I’d had my suspicions that Gary was behind the abduction. I had, after all, sent him out in search of Aurora Lopez and my captors were also searching for her. It made sense that our paths might cross eventually. The familiar sight of the tent I’d given to Gary when he’d entered my service confirmed my suspicions.
I growled under my breath as I surveyed Gary’s idea of a good camp with Aurora’s band of slave escapees. He’d arranged three tents around the command tent which I had imbued with Wards and other charms for protection. Obviously, he didn’t understand the meaning of travelling inconspicuously. Not only was one side of the camp wide open but the other three sides consisted of a heavy brush. Meaning the camp was perfectly visible for a long distance in one direction and easily circled around for an ambush from the any of the other three directions.
And, Gary was either very stupid or overconfident for there was no sign of a guard at all. However, I consoled myself, the camp wasn’t without protection. There were several magical Wards surrounding it that I had set into the fabrics of the tents that expanded to surround the perimeter of the camp when the tents were assembled.
On the other hand, the various faults the camp exhibited would make it that much easier to escape from my own captors now that I had bumped into Gary. It also meant I could gain entry to the camp with my mind without hassles. I struggled for a moment to remember the password that would let me through the Wards.
< Tuo padrone comandi tu per aprire. > I murmured in my native tongue. It meant Your master commands you to open. Like silk the magical barriers parted and let me through. I was now able to scan the minds of the people in the camp. Bridget was located in the central tent. Gary was with her.
< Gary! > I hissed. In my mind’s eye I saw him start. < Gary! It’s Francesca. >
< Milady? > he hesitated with his answer. < Do you require anything? We haven’t found the girl yet but we will in the next few days. We’re on the edge of Bedlam’s Woods right now. >
< I know fool! > I snapped. < I’ve been following you ever since you foolishly captured that Liberation girl. >
< What? > his voice sounded gruff even in his thoughts. < You’ve been following us? >
< Yes, well, I wasn’t about to trust you with such an important task after your failure to capture the girl in Saffron. > I said.
< Wha— >
< I am very disappointed that all you have managed to do is kidnap the wrong girl! > my thought was harsh and brittle. He cringed away from my mind but I pulled his consciousness back toward me. < You’d better not fail me tonight. I managed to infiltrate a group of Liberation operatives who have been following you for the past week because you and your idiot team kidnapped a member of their group! They are going to launch a raid to rescue their friend tonight. I am bound by an oath not to escape or hinder their attempts. When they attack, you are going to spirit me away. I will attempt to escape from you but only for show. Do not fail me or else… >
I released him and retreated back to my mind. Someone was snapping their fingers in front of my face. “Francesca? Hello, Francesca? Francesca! Did you hear any of what I just said?” a voice asked.
“Sorry,” I replied distractedly, and turning to Luke. “It won’t happen again.” I wasn’t allowed to try to escape; my vow dictated that much. But if I planned my kidnapping… did that count as trying to escape? No, I thought fiercely, only if I think it does.
“I was saying Rory is across the clearing and that we’re going to launch our raid as soon as it’s dark.” I glanced at the sky. We had about half an hour before it would be. I quickly conveyed this to Gary.
< I’ll let you know when we are about to strike. Remember to act surprised and pretend to protect the hostage. > I warned as I settled back to wait out the next half hour. I leant against a tree and rested.
I had almost fallen asleep when Cathy shook me awake. “We’re going to strike in a few minutes,” she whispered. I quickly conveyed the news to Gary and his force.
“Okay… Now!” Luke bellowed a minute or so later. We all crashed through the underbrush brandishing weapons. Within seconds the entire clearing was covered with fighting. My squad was greatly outnumbered and when Gary grabbed me a few seconds later I was relieved to see that they weren’t going to wait around. The compulsion to escape from Gary filled me a few minutes later. I screamed and kicked wildly, trying to get away from my ‘captors’ but desperately hoping they would manage to restrain me at the same time. When we were out of sight of the Liberation group the compulsion left me and I sprawled to the ground limply.
“Thanks,” I gasped, getting back to my feet. “We’d better get going – they’ll be coming after us in a few minutes.” I took a deep breath and started to push my way through the underbrush – away from Luke and Cathy and Rowan and everyone else. I heard Gary following.
“What were you doing with them?” he asked gruffly. For a man of very few words he was exceptionally nosy tonight.
“No reason,” I snapped briskly, warning him not to question me further. “Besides it’s none of your business.” He fell into step beside me.
“The girl?” he inquired.
“Leave her. When the time is right she’ll come to me. We’re going back to Saffron.” I replied frostily, striding steadily through the thicket to the edge of the forest and setting off across the open plains that bordered Bedlam’s woods. “Do you have horses?” I asked abruptly.
“Yes Ma’am,” he replied, “But they’re still back at the camp.”
“We’ll get horses in the next village then.”
Three days later we returned to Saffron. Gary was irritated for being taken off an assignment. I didn’t care of course, he was a part of my household and he would listen to my orders or else. He rode with me through the streets but I left him a block away from my house. “Go home,” I ordered, putting a strained smile on my face, “I’ll be fine.”
I put my steed in our stable boy’s care and cautiously went to the front door. My house had never looked so forbidding in my life. It felt like the whole house was holding its breath waiting for me to enter before exploding. The arched windows stared at me accusingly. I didn’t want to go in and face my mother’s prejudice and anger. It was ironic, but after finally arriving home it felt like the people who’d kidnapped and held me captive were more honest than the ones I’d left behind. I could understand their fight now in a way that had eluded me before. The problem was us – Magicians. We needed to change.
Finally, taking a deep breath I pushed the door open slowly and cautiously poked my head in. “Hello?” I called, “Mother? Are you home? It’s me, Francesca…” I stepped uncertainly into the foyer, allowing the door to bang shut behind me loudly. I looked around the small space in bewilderment. I didn’t know what to do now that I was home. The faint patter of someone approaching snapped me out of my confusion and I pulled myself up to my full height and adopted a haughty demeanor. Normal, I thought, You need to act normally. I tried to formulate a plan but got stuck on the first step – talking to my mother… I didn’t know what to say or do but I knew, that after disappearing without warning, seeing her would be the first thing everyone expected me to do.
A clatter of footsteps announced Marty’s approach. “M-m-ma’am?” the doorman gasped, his face reddening when he emerged from downstairs and saw me standing in the foyer.
“Yes, Marty,” I snapped, “me. Where is Mother? I need to speak with her.” I tossed my jacket at him while he tried to get his bearings. His mouth flapped as he tried to formulate an answer for me.
“I’m waiting Marty!” I snarled.
“Sh-she is down in the kitchen, ma’am,” he finally stuttered, “I believe she wanted to discuss dinner plans with Mariah…” I nodded curtly and swept out of the foyer imperiously. I quickly made my way downstairs to the kitchen, ignoring the signs of wealth and prosperity I had cherished before.
“Mother? ‘Riah?” I called as I reached the downstairs hallway. There was silence except for the sound of pots clinking. Someone was in the kitchen but I didn’t know who.
The door creaked as I pushed my way into the kitchen. “‘Oo’s there?” a familiar voice demanded. Mariah. At least that hadn’t changed. More likely, nothing had changed except me.
“It’s fine ‘Riah!” I called, “It’s just me – Francesca!”
Her face popped around the doorway to the vast kitchen. “Francesca?!” she exclaimed.ns 18.104.22.168da2