I lay beside Tiara as we waited for Jasper and Daniel to return. Nerves shook me, what they were doing was stupid and completely dangerous. If Daniel or Jasper failed to return, then another rescue plan would need to be created to save them, and we didn’t have time for that. I need to get Tiara to my home. We had familiars to save.
I listened carefully. Daniel’s and Jasper’s footsteps were different from the soldiers. The soldier’s boots were heavy and crunched in the snow. Daniel and Jasper seemed to glide along the top. They moved quickly, and somehow managed to stay quiet.
The quiet didn’t last for long though. A loud shout from one of the guards brought attention to Daniel and Jasper.
The man yelled, “The prisoners have escaped.”
Tents flapped opened and heavy boots trampled the ground. The sound of a gun hit my ears, I flinched. The loud pitch made my ears ache. Another shot, and another. I heard Jasper call out for Daniel. And men cried in pain. The gun fire continued. Horses screamed. And the pounding of feet grew louder.
Beside me Tiara jumped to her feet, and ran. I followed behind her, wondering where she was going. We ran past Theo who looked at us confused. He picked up his bag and ran after us.
We reached the front of the camp, and Daniel came riding out with his own horse, and another one that I recongised as Tiara’s. Tiara grabbed the saddle of the horse and pulled herself up while the horse was still moving.
“Get going, I’ll catch up.” Daniel pushed at Tiara’s horse.
Tiara shook her head. “I’m not leaving you.”
I stayed at Tiara’s horse’s heels as she took off. We headed in the same direction we had come from. I could feel other horse’s hooves hitting the ground, coming after us. We didn’t stop though.
I slid to a stop when I saw the stump, and yelled to Tiara, “Jump over the stump.”
She frowned at me. “What?”
“The tree stump. It’s how we get out.”
She looked confused.
She nodded, and moved her horse to the stump. The horse flew over the stump and disappeared. I jumped over after her.
The other side of the barrier it was quiet. I couldn’t hear the gun fire, and I couldn’t feel the rumbling of horses. It was almost like we had been dreaming. I moved to continue down the mountain but Tiara stayed still.
“We need to go,” I said.
She shook her head. “No.”
“No, I’m waiting for Pa.”
I couldn’t argue with her.
We didn’t wait long. Over the stump flew two other horses. Theo came through first. Followed by Daniel, and then Jasper. Jasper turned straight back to the stump and held up his hand, threw it forward. The barrier rippled and then disappeared.
“That should hold them up for a bit,” said Jasper.
“What is it?” asked Tiara.
Jasper said, “Magical barrier. Hides their presence. I just blocked the exit, won’t last long though.”
“If we can get to my home, we will be safe,” I said.
“Then let’s go,” said Daniel.
Tiara asked, “Jasper, are you coming with us?”
“Only if you both would like me to accompany you.” Jasper bowed his head.
Tiara said, “Pa and I would both like that.”
“You can enjoy your family reunion later,” I said, “let’s get going.” I began to move down the mountain. Everyone following me.
Going down was much quicker then climbing up. It was slippery. I slid in certain places, losing my grip of icy patches. Reaching the bottom of the hill we moved into a sprint. The sooner we reached my home, the sooner we would all be safe.
It wasn’t long before we crossed the crossroads, and headed down the southern path. The southern path was designed to keep the presence of familiars hidden. Jasper had been one of the warlocks who pathed the road so that those who had impure intentions would never be able to find it. Those were mainly the queen and her men. If familiars stayed hidden within the valley between the mountains, then their presence would be kept hidden and safe.
We can to the bottom of the steep hill. It was where the barrier to the valley began. To get to the valley we had to cross a wide-open field. We would be exposed from every side, and it would be dangerous.
“This is where we ran into the guards,” said Tiara.
I frowned. “Why would they be down here?”
“They are probably trying to find the valley,” said Jasper.
“Would that be possible?” asked Tiara.
Jasper sighed. “If they have a warlock on their side then yes.”
“Which we already know that they do,” said Theo.
“We don’t know that,” said Jasper.
Theo frowned. “How else would that camp be surrounded by a concealment barrier?” Theo moved his horse to block Jasper from moving forward. “You said it yourself.”
Daniel moved up beside Jasper. “We can worry about that later, for now let’s get in the valley, and find Kara’s people.”
I watched them carefully.
Jasper looked angry, while Daniel and Theo looked at him with concern. There was something going on that I didn’t completely understand. But there wasn’t time to deal with human issues.
I moved across the open field, Tiara close behind me.
“Are we close?” she asked.
I nodded. “We will be there before midday.”
“Are you glad to be home?”
I smiled. “Yeah, I guess. It feels like I have been gone a lot longer than a few months.”
“I’m curious to see it.”
“I don’t know. I imagined some sort of woodland paradise. You, running around with all your friends, happy.”
“I wouldn’t call it a paradise.” I laughed. “But it certainty felt happy.”
“Did you ever get lonely?”
“Yeah.” It could get lonely. “Some of the animals I know are familiars who have their bond mate with them. I was a little jealous of them. I didn’t know who or where you were, and watching them being together, sometimes made me angry. There were even a few times when I ran away.”
Tiara said, “Where did you go?”
“No far. Great Owl always found me and brought me back.”
“You never left the valley?”
“Not until I was sent to find you.”
We reached the other side of the field. The trees were thicker, but standing within them I felt like I was home. Standing in a single file, we moved slowly through. The further we went the more familiar everything became. I couldn’t help but smile when I noticed the fallen tree that marked the entrance to the valley.
I moved over to it, and said, “We are here.”
“How do we get in?” asked Jasper.
“Straight through,” I said, and walked straight past the tree. I felt the familiar tingle of stepping through the barrier. On the other side, the snowy ground melted and the green grass appeared. The trees were bright and covered in leaves, the ground had flowers pushing up around every root. I could hear the animals running about, and the sound of some humans talking. I could hear the waterfall I use to lay beside. I was home.
I turned and looked at Tiara. She looked amazed.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
“It’s home,” I said.
Telling everyone to stay put, I led Tiara further in. Men on horses would only scare off everyone, and I didn’t need anyone to think that I had led their doom to them. I followed the familiar path and soon found the main opening.
Sitting in a group were familiar faces. The first one I spotted was Mariah. She was a middle-aged woman who had been around for most of my life. She had a bond with a parrot, named Patch. Both had helped Great Owl raise me. In her lap sat her eight-year-old daughter, Olivia, who I remembered fondly. But her husband was nowhere in sight.
Olivia looked up from the ground and spotted me. Her face widened in surprise and delight. She pushed herself from Mariah’s lap and dashed towards me. “Kara!” she squealed. Her arms wrapped around my neck, and I allowed her to knock me to the ground.
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Kara, I missed you.” She held me close.
I nuzzled her face, trying to tell her that I had missed her too.
Olivia released my neck and jumped up. “Mummy,” she said, “look who came back. It’s Kara!”
Mariah chuckled. “Yes, I can see that.”
Olivia ran back over and fell into her mothers lap.
Mariah smiled at me. “Welcome home, Kara.”
I bowed my head.
“And welcome to your friend,” she said.
I looked over my shoulder at Tiara.
She was standing still in the trees, almost hiding from my friends.
“Come say, ‘hi’,” I said.
She stepped forward and waved her hand, awkwardly. “Hi.”
Mariah said, “You must be Kara’s familiar.”
Tiara nodded. “How did you know?”
“Bart sent Kara to find her bond mate. It only makes sense that she would return with them. There go, you must be her bond mate.”
“I guess you have a point.”
“Mariah, is one of the smartest people I have ever met,” I said.
“Wait,” said Tiara, “whose Bart?” She looked around at us, confused.
Before I could explain a loud hoot surprised us. Great Owl was awake in the middle of the day, which was surprising. If anyone woke him up before sunset, then he would chase them from one end of the valley to the other. But then again, he knew how important Tiara was.
“Woah,” said Tiara.
I cleared my throat, as Great Owl landed on a rock before us. I said, “Tiara, this is Great Owl. Great Owl meet Tiara, my bond mate.”
Tiara looked at the owl in shock. Clearly, she was waiting for him to talk.
Great Owl shook his body and began to grow.
Tiara stumbled back, startled by the change, and managed to fall over. She watched as Great Owl changed from an owl to a man.
“It so easy to get used to living as an owl that being human again seems unnatural.”
Tiara’s mouth dropped open. “How…?”
I laughed. “Great Owl is a warlock. He is the one who keeps us all safe.”
“When Kara told you about me, you assumed that I was a real old owl, right?” Great Owl crossed his arms.
Tiara nodded. “Well, yeah.”
“Well, since Kara has told you so little about me, let me introduce myself. My name is Bartholomew James, you can call me Bart. Only odd animals like Kara call me Great Owl.” Bart looked down at me with a raised eyebrow.
“Calling you Great Owl makes you sound more mysterious and scary then Bart the warlock,” I said.
Bart looked to Mariah, who shrugged her shoulders and agreed with me. Bart simply rolled his eyes and turned back to Tiara. He held out his hand and pulled her from the ground. “Welcome, Tiara,” he said. “We have all been waiting for you for a very long time.”
“Yeah, so Kara said.”
“And I’m sure that you have many questions, but why don’t you and your friends, who you have left at the entrance, get settled and rest. We can discuss every tomorrow. Sound like a plan?”
Tiara nodded. “Sounds good. How did you know that we had other people with us?”
Bart smirked. “I know everything.”
A spare tent was set up beside my old home, for Tiara and Daniel to share. Jasper and Theo were given their own tent not far off. Seeing my old home made me happy. My home wasn’t much, it was a hole that had been dug out beneath large tree roots. Old blankets, that had been stitched together but some humans, along with grass pillows, filled it. It was warm and comfortable, and I had missed it.
I was standing just outside my home when Bart approached me. He looked at me with sadness but also pride. He sat down beside me, and said, “You did it. You found her.”
I frowned. “You sound surprised.”
He shook his head. “I knew you would do it, I just thought you would be gone for a lot longer.”
“I thought so too.” I smiled. “She ended up finding me, and saving me from a poacher’s trap before she even knew who I was.”
“Saved you out of kindness?”
“Her parents raised her well then.”
“What is troubling you?”
“She is unsure of herself. Getting her to come with me was hard. If her parents hadn’t persuaded her then I don’t think we would be sitting here right now.”
“I can understand why she would react like that. What you need to understand is that she is a young woman whose life has been turned upside down. Everything she thought about herself was a life. She isn’t an ordinary farm girl, she is a princess. She isn’t destined to take over a farm, she is destined to save a kingdom. It will take time for her to adjust to what she now knows.”
I laid my head down on my paws. “I should know that.”
“You’re still learning.” He ran his hand along my back.
“But I’m her familiar. I should be telling that to those who doubt her.”
“Your bond is still very new. It will take time for you two to become in sync with one another.”
“While you are still here, perhaps you both should speak to others with the bond. Mariah and Patch, I’m sure could help you.”
“I love Mariah, but that bird of hers is nothing but a moron.”
Bart laughed. “Be kind, Kara. He may have some helpful insight. He has been a familiar a lot longer than you.”
Bart left me sitting there. He walked towards the fire that had been lit in the middle of the opening. Mariah, and a few other women were sitting around it, preparing dinner for humans and animals alike. It was good to be home.ns 184.108.40.206da2