A chance encounter in her local coffee shop brings Bella's life to a grinding halt. Who is this stranger that knows things about her, she had only dreamed of ever finding out? How do they cope when they face a common enemy?
8. Chapter 7: A Trolls' Lair
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”A Trolls’ Lair”
‘How do you prepare for goodbye?’
The thought had been hunting her mind ever since the Queen had approached her.
She knew for a fact that he wouldn’t believe her. He would probably fight her every step of the way. And honestly she expected him to do so as well.
After all he was her brother. She loved him.
How was she supposed to pretend everything would be well and orderly so long as he followed her instructions?
She couldn’t. No better yet – she wouldn’t.
The soft murmur was coming from inside her mistress’ office. She knew that tone of voice. In fact she mastered that tone to the tee. She’d often used it whenever she needed to manipulate her father or brother into seeing things her way.
But this time it was different. This time the words – the tone – was directed at her, trying to manipulate with her emotions, her mind, and she found it to be disturbing on so many levels.
Every nerve ending in her body was wired and tensed as she approached the deep mahogany door that led into her mistress’ study. Being defiant wouldn’t help her case now she realised, as she pushed open the heavy door and entered the dimly lit room.
“Yes, my Queen?” Her voice filled the silence, not wavering but strong and confident as she had been taught by her own mother.
“Oh, I thought it was you wandering about the halls at this hour…” the Queen paused. “Come, sit, share your concerns with me child, for obviously your thoughts must be important to disturb you so.” She gestured into the air in front of where she was seated in the spacious room.
But Alice knew better than to believe her soothing words. She knew that the Queen knew why she was up and out of bed this late in the evening. ‘After all it is her fault’ she thought bitterly as she sat down on the ground in front of her.
“Tell me child,” the Queen paused yet again, her eyes glaring into Alice’s blue ones, “what bothers you so?”
He had fought like crazy trying to get out of the hold the giant troll had had on him.
But his struggles had only helped to further annoy the big dummy, and before he had registered it, the troll had hit him hard on the back of his head, making all his air supply violently leave his body. His eyes had rolled into the back of his head and he had passed out.
He came to as he registered his body was flung about, hitting various rough and hard obstacles, damaging his clothes and the skin underneath them.
Every inch of his back was burning violently from the rough surface scratching past beneath him.
His hands were bound above his head, the rough texture of the robe digging violently into the skin around his wrists. His arms were aching from their awkward position above him and the dull ache momentarily diffused him.
That is, until another sharp rock scratched into the skin of his shoulder, slicing through the skin, making him jerk violently to avoid the pain.
He hissed through his teeth, his eyes clenched tightly shut as he tried stabilizing the jerky movements his body were making. When he didn’t succeed he opened them carefully trying to gauge his whereabouts.
A sigh from his left brought him fully back into the reality as one thought jumped into the forefront of his mind: Isabella.
His breathing picked up and his sight became blurry as he had forced his eyes open too fast and too violently, resulting in unwelcome tears obscuring his vision.
Another small sigh came from beside him as he travelled over yet another rough patch in the surface below.
The sound of stomping and dulcet tones filled his ears, and the unmistakable creaking of old wood groaned slightly from above him. He blinked furiously for what felt like an eternity until his vision cleared.
He was not surprised to see the green canopy above him, but he was rather disturbed by which speed the greenery above seemed to zone past.
Trying to bend his neck slightly to the side seemed impossible at first as every muscle in his upper back and arms constricted violently against the movement. He hissed once again through his teeth, ignoring the burn and lifting his head a few inches above where it had rested against his upper arm.
The pure shock and anger that filled him when he finally cast eyes on the girl lying beside him took him completely by surprise.
She was bound akin to him. Her wrist tightly wrapped together above her petite form and attached to the end of a huge ancient wheelbarrow. The robe seemed to be cutting violently into her skin as well and he felt his stomach turn as he realised she was bleeding from where the rope had cut into her skin.
Her head was resting against her upper arm, bopping slightly along whenever the dirt zapping past beneath her hit a rough or uneven patch.
With horror he realised they had been bound and attached to a moving wheelbarrow, being dragged over the rough earth of the forest.
But how where they moving? He didn’t hear any sounds indicating hooves, but only heard loud thumping along with squealing from the wheels.
In an effort to get a better view of their predicament, he stretched out his arms above him before heaving his body upwards into an almost sitting position. This allowed him to turn slightly on his side.
He stayed still for a few seconds, staring straight ahead into the soft face of Bella, as to avoid getting noticed by whoever drove or dragged the wheelbarrow. Her soft features were completely relaxed in her slumber, her peaceful image only disturbed by the soft sighing whenever her body dragged violently against the earth moving beneath them.
He let out a gust of air, as he realised no one had seemed to notice his movement.
Heaving himself slightly more upright onto his forearms, he looked up ahead to try to decipher who or what were navigating the wheelbarrow through the forest.
A giant form slumped in front of the carriage. Its broad shoulders heaved every time its arms dragged the wheelbarrow behind it.
‘Trolls’ he thought bitterly. Those creatures were almost impossible to defeat, simply because of their shear size.
Another bump in the ground rattled the carriage and Edward momentarily lost his balance, his forearms stretching above him and dumping his chest and shoulder roughly down onto the earth beneath him.
A groan startled him and his eyes snapped towards Bella.
Big brown eyes stared unseeingly back at him. Her gaze was focused solely on his face, but her stare seemed to be seeing something far away.
A shudder travelled along his spine. The uneasiness he felt from her empty stare frightened him more than any troll could.
“Isabella?” he whispered, hoping to get some reaction from her. Anything else but the blank expression, which adorned her soft features.
She startled slightly when his soft, deep voice hit her ears. Up until he called for her, she had felt like being in a trance. Her body had seemed weighed down by some unseen force and her vision had been blurry, making it impossible for her to decipher what were going on around her.
Her eyes snapped to his green ones filled with worry and trepidation.
“Isabella?” he whispered once again when she didn’t answer. Her brown eyes had focused on him and he had visibly relaxed when he saw the almost sedated look leave her features. Now it seemed it had been replaced by confusion instead. “Are you hurt?”
She tensed slightly, feeling the sore muscles of her back and arms and a stinging sensation in her wrist, but other than that she felt fine. She stated as much and asked, “what happened? Where are we?”
“What do you remember?” Edward wondered.
“I remember… Well, I remember waking up and being dragged along the ground. Then I remember screaming. Lots of screaming.” Her eyes water and she blink quickly to avoid the tears from falling.
Another rough patch passed beneath them and both groaned softly as the ground and rocks rubbed into the skin of their backs.
“I woke to your screams…” he said softly, and finished the sentence in his mind: ‘and it scared the shit out of me.’
She gazed into his bright green eyes. She saw the fear in them and another, much softer, emotion hidden beneath the layer of fear. She couldn’t truly determine what the emotion held, as she had never seen anything like it before.
“Where are we?”
He glanced slightly around and focused his gaze back to her brown eyes. They calmed him and as he had yet to find a way for them to escape from the predicament they had ended up in he found he needed the calm effect she had on him.
“We are somewhere in the northern parts of the forest. Feel the cold wind above us and the misty ground beneath us?” He asked and continued when she nodded her agreement. “My guess is we are being dragged to the trolls’ lair.”
Closing the door softly behind her, Alice strode purposefully through the dark halls and escaping through a door hidden in the wall. The cold air of the outside and the biting wind pricked the sensitive skin of her arms and shoulders as she sprinted along the high walls of the castle and heading towards the stables.
She used to escape to here whenever the air in the castle had become suffocating. ‘Oh who was I kidding… Whenever the Queen became too suffocating,’ she thought bitterly, her tears streaming down her rosy apple cheeks.
Her favourite steed in the stables was a coal black Thoroughbred named Sir Dauntless. She had known the stallion from birth. She had been wandering along the paddocks one late afternoon when the Queen once again had become too big of a burden for her to bear. One of the brightly white mares had been separated from the rest of the herd and she had been circling the same patch of grass for ten minutes when Alice approached the paddocks.
Usually Alice would only observe the beautiful animals, too afraid to actually approach or even touch one of the majestic creatures. But the mare had called desperately into Alice’s direction, and without thinking she had climbed the fence and travelled the distance between her and the mare. When she was approximately 3 yards from the huge animal, the mare sighed and laid down into the soft earth. Her breathing became ragged and Alice found herself copying the huge animal and sinking down into a kneeling position, her hand hovering above the muzzle of the mare.
She had stayed in that position for the next 40 minutes as the mare were foaling. The black lump emerging from the mare sank into the ground and Alice felt her heart drop, as the lump remained motionless in the earth behind the mare. The mare called once again desperately trying to hear her baby, but the lump remained unmoving on the earth.
Alice had been astounded by the look the mare sent her way and she had risen into a standing position, walking to the tiny foal and sinking once again into the ground. The mare had stood as well and began licking the young one. Alice had found herself helping the old steed and cleaned the young foal along with the mare. An excruciating ten minutes must have passed before the tiny foal had come to life and shook on the ground. Another ten minutes and the baby was standing up and feeding hungrily from the mare. Alice had named the little one and ever since the two had been inseparable.
The earth beneath them had long ago turned smudgy, giving away to the muddy texture. The mud stuck to every inch of their clothes and bare skin.
Bella was shivering. The cold mud sticking to every inch of her body had cooled her significantly, and it seemed they had travelled further north and rising slightly for every other yard. She had long ago deduced they were heading up some sort of incline.
Edward was struggling every few minutes trying to get free from the shackles keeping them bound to the moving wheelbarrow. Bella’s lips had long ago turned blue and her breathing sounded disturbingly ragged. He was beyond worried at this point and he was blindly fumbling for some tiny possibility to escape.
“Just-.. Keep still.” Her low voice and resolution were only rattled by her staggering speech. She tried to hide a sneeze, as she looked sternly at him. “It won’t help us any good you know… We’re stuck here until they decide to untie us.”
He was outraged at first and he couldn’t understand her calm attitude. Then he got really scared. What if she was giving up?
“Isabella – we have to try to get free. Those are trolls dragging us to God knows where.”
“I know that! I’m not completely incompetent. I just don’t see any reason for you to tire yourself completely by struggling against what seems to be pretty decently tied bounds. Why not wait it out? Save your energy and all that?” she responded.
He hated to admit it, but she was making sense. Yet he couldn’t just allow for the trolls to do whatever they saw fit for the two. That just wouldn’t do.
“Those are trolls! Do you get that?” he exclaimed. “A troll is a merciless creature, only concerned with its own needs and rather ruthless whenever they feel threatened… And since the humans in this world have not been very accommodating with the troll species, I wouldn’t blame them for feeling threatened by us.”
But she just wouldn’t see reason. Instead she huffed loudly into the air, turning her burning gaze onto him, making him shrink slightly back into the earth.
“I don’t care. You stay still until they untie us – and then we will figure something out. Together.” Her tone left no room for discussion and her stare burned into him, silently daring him to disobey her orders.
He could really only speculate of what would happen if he chose to give a rebuttal to her ridiculous notion, but somehow the threat of her wrath scared him more than the thought of what the trolls would do to them once they reached their destination.
A quiet calm settled around them as they were dragged along the earth. Bella was relieved he had stopped struggling. The rattling of the wheelbarrow and bumpy ride over the ground had made her nauseous, and Edward’s struggles had rattled the carriage even more, making the urge to vomit almost unbearable.
A light rain had started as they were dragged further north and upwards, when the wheelbarrow halted and the thumbing of the trolls’ steps stopped.
“Shh!” Edward shushed her before she could bring any unwanted attention to them. “Stay quiet!”
She ignored him, whispering: “what’s happening?”
“Would you just – for once – listen to what you’re told?!” he muttered exaggeratedly. “Keep still and stay quiet princess.”
She pouted at him as she quieted down and listened. Their vision was limited to the sky and the tops of the trees surrounding them.
The sky was coloured in purple and pink hues, giving way to the inevitable night as the sun was setting somewhere in the west.
Heavy footfalls neared the boot of the wheelbarrow and Edward tensed as he started to fear what exactly the trolls had planned to do with them.
A loud grunt from above him made Edward crane his neck as a slightly smaller troll climbed aboard the wheelbarrow and loosened the rope keeping them bound to the thing. His arms slackened as soon as the line loosened its hold and his muscles burned violently from the sudden removal of tension.
“Ugh-. Let me down!”
With horror he realised the biggest of the trolls – the one who had dragged the wheelbarrow – had grabbed Isabella beneath her knees and thrown her over his shoulders and began walking away from his spot by the wheelbarrow.
“Isabella!” he screamed. “Let her down. Let go off her!”
A loud thump right next to his head startled him as the smaller troll had jumped off the back end of the wheelbarrow and slumped past him. Its feet dragged along the earth and he kept his eyes fixed on the dragging form as it neared his legs.
A loud shriek made his blood turn cold and he fumbled on the now dark forest ground trying to catch a glimpse of Bella. She had been dragged away, out of his sight he realised with horror.
“What do you want?!” he screamed to no one in particular, not expecting an answer. “Isabella! Isa-Ungh!”
A hard thug on his lower calf made him drag a few feet along the earth, his already burning skin screaming for relief against the pain of the rough surface beneath him.
A cold, clammy hand circled his left ankle and the smaller troll huffed as it began dragging him along behind it. He kicked feasibly into the air with his free leg, trying to no avail to incapacitate the offending creature keeping him prisoner by the ankle.
“Ouch! That hurt!” he heard Bella scream as the troll dragged him further along into the darkness of the forest.
“Isabella?” he yelled just as the troll dragged him into a small clearing. He finally caught a glimpse of her as the troll stepped slightly to the left to navigate him into position right next to her.
She sat on the ground, pouting as the big troll that had thrown her over its shoulder retreated back into the dark leafs of the forest.
He sighed, relieved, as the troll that had been dragging him left them to return back towards where the wheelbarrow had stopped. Turning to Bella, he made a quick visual assessment of her trying to gauge if the troll had hurt her in any way. The mere thought that it might have made his blood boil in anger.
“Are you okay?” he whispered into the darkness, his gaze burning over every inch of visible skin his eyes could reach. She looked fine, a bit disgruntled, but fine nonetheless.
“I’m okay,” she huffed back. “You?”
Before he could give up an answer she hushed him as the troll that had been dragging him returned to their small clearing with the rope that had been holding them to the wheelbarrow.
The lumpy creature dragged its way over to them and roughly grabbed Bella by her shoulders and turning her so her back remained towards Edward. Then the troll did the same to him and bound them together by their already tied up wrists.
A few minutes had passed after the smaller troll had left them yet again before he broke the silence.
“Now what do we do?”
“Boy, come! Assist me!”
A loud voice interrupted her time with Sir Dauntless and the black stallion whinnied as she startled slightly.
She wasn’t allowed into the stables, and certainly not by her self with no chaperone to keep her company. Or rather, to keep her virtue intact.
She had long ago made a deal with the stable hand Seth. He was only fourteen, and he allowed her into the stables, unsupervised and alone for however long she needed, if she provided him with leftovers from the kitchens of the castle.
“Let the steed run off in the paddock before you untack and wash him boy.” The voice yelled, slightly more pronounced as the owner of it neared the entrance to the stables.
Sir Dauntless neared the open window in his stall and turned attentively to try and see what the commotion from outside was about. Alice pressed herself into the corner near the opening, hoping to stay hidden from view. Not only would she be in dear trouble if someone found her here, but Seth would surely be sentenced for corrupting her and allowing her this time of freedom.
Hard boots hit against the pavement, the sound getting louder and louder as they neared Sir Dauntless stall, and evidently Alice’s hiding spot.
“Well hello there,” a soft, deep voice murmured slightly above her and Alice whimpered soundlessly. “Aren’t you a beauty?”
Too late, she realised the voice was addressed to the stallion above her, and this time she whimpered loudly tucking her chin deep into her chest and squeezing her eyes shut.
“What’s this?” the voice murmured softly, peeking into the dark stall and at the small hidden form hiding in the darkness. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Although the words were meant to sound accusatory, Alice felt comforted by the soft tone they were spoken in and she peeked slightly up into the face of whoever stood above her.
Strong, masculine features adorned the face staring back at her, his wild blond curls framing his sharp jaw, making his appearance seem softer and more inviting than she would have expected. His bright blue eyes burned into hers and she found herself speechless as she looked into the unbidden depths of those blue gems.
“Hello there darling,” he muttered softly, conscious not to frighten the tiny woman still huddled in the corner of the stall. “I’m Sgt Whitlock, but you may call me Jasper,” he smiled.
Darkness had turned into the early hours of the night. Their quiet talking had ceased whenever the bushes by the edge of the clearing had rustled or they’d become suspicious if the trolls were anywhere near and could actually hear them.
He had tried to placate her many times when she’d hissed at him to keep quiet, deadly afraid of what the trolls might overhear of their planning. He had said trolls never really heard very well, at least not by legends tale, but she did not dare believe a fairy tale muttering of such serious matters. If by chance one of the trolls actually heard their quiet mutterings, what would then become of them?
So Bella had it all figured out. Edward had insisted time and again that they wait till morning time and fight the beasts whenever they came to gather them, but Bella saw no reason to wait for such measures. They had to escape.
“Edward?” she whispered and bounced her shoulders lightly against his, making both of them hiss as their sore skin rubbed against each other.
“We have to escape.”
He paused before straightening slightly. “And how do you propose we do that? Since my idea wasn’t much in your favour?” he muttered, slightly annoyed – and if he were being honest, hurt that she didn’t think much off his idea.
“I have an idea,” she muttered and fumbled slightly trying to navigate her body into a laying position.
“What? What are you doing?”
“Just shut up will you, and lie down.” She tugged roughly on the rope keeping them bound together and he feel roughly onto his side next to her.
Back to back, they lay silently for a few minutes. She was making sure the trolls hadn’t heard his groan as he hit the ground.
“Now what is your genius plan?” he muttered exasperated.
“Hush!” she shushed him. “Keep silent, will you? Now – lean forward and bent your knees…”
He did as he was told, although it took a little longer than she had thought it would, as they had to manoeuvre together to get him into the foetal position she wanted him in.
“Ugh..” he muttered as he lay curled up in the mud. “What now?”
She rustled slightly behind him, tugging once or twice on the rope against their wrist, making them both hiss quietly from the pain of the material rubbing into their skin. “Okay, now you need to arch your back as much as you can and slide your feet back towards me.”
Edward caught on to her almost immediately and grinned, feeling slightly smug by her sudden cleverness. “Oh, you genius princess!” he muttered, the smile evident in his tone as he yet again manoeuvred into the awkward position.
Bella felt an instance sense of pride fill her belly by his praising words and she tucked the happy feeling away momentarily, so she could focus on the task at hand. She had stretched out behind him arching her back and inching lower on the ground as her arms stretched behind her until her fingers felt the unmistakable smoothness of the leather of his shoes against them.
“Almost…” she muttered as she urged him to arch further, allowing her hands to seek lower and finally able to grasp the cold wooden handle of the knife he had stuffed into his boots. “Yes!”
Victorious, she grabbed the knife and straightened into a more comfortable position and forcing Edward to do the same.
Her cold fingers fumbled as she tried to manipulate the steel of the knife against the rope, not completely succeeding as she instead felt the burning pain as the knife cut deeply into her own flesh of her underarm. Hissing into the quiet night, she handed the knife over to Edward, who quickly and fluidly cut them loose.
“You okay?” he whispered as they had stood back up on the mushy ground. His gaze once again burned into every inch of her exposed skin, taking inventory of all the cuts and bruises he could find on her.
She felt almost naked as his eyes roamed every inch of her body, but surprisingly it felt like a good kind of naked. The worried look in his eyes had her stomach fluttering with warm butterflies and she sighed softly before answering him. “Yeah, I’m good. At least for now…”
“Good.” He smiled at her and turned in a half circle, his brows knitting together as he realised he didn’t recognize anything around them. “Now what?”
His smirk and smartass-attitude would have annoyed her, if it weren’t for the clear tone of desperation she heard in his voice.
“Now we run.”
She smiled shyly at him and stumbled into the opposite direction of where they had been dragged into the clearing and the trolls had disappeared to. He caught up to her easily and grinned at her almost exuberant behaviour as she felt the happiness of victory once again settle around them.
And their plan to escape would have been perfect, hadn’t it been for Bella’s uncanny ability to stumble over thin air. She lurched forward, too quickly for Edward to prevent, and landed in a bush of thorns and broken branches, crying out as they cut into the open wound of her under arm.
Her cry brought the rustle of a few leafs nearby, and the smaller troll emerged from the bushes, alarmed as it had heard her loud cry.
“Edward-” her desperate tone brought every nerve ending in his body to life and quickly he jumped in front of her still laying body to avert the trolls attention.
The lumpy creature quickly focused on Edward instead of Bella and it turned a violent sneer in his direction, trying to scare him.
Feeling bold, and desperate, Edward went up to the troll and sidestepped a few lunges before kicking it hardly in the shins.
The troll merely stumbled back a few inches, its sneer turning murderous as it became angry by his attempt to fight it off.
Momentarily confused and bewildered by Bella’s desperate shout, he looked to her taking his eyes off his opponent and assessing what made her cry out.
She felt horrible even before the troll hit him in the shoulder. He had been occupied with her call and hadn’t seen the hit before it was too late, only just managing to turn so the giant creature had hit his shoulder instead of head on.
He stumbled violently to the side, trying to gather his bearings, as Bella whimpered behind him.
The troll saw his momentary lack of steadiness and advanced towards Bella’s huddled form on the ground, grabbing her by the ankle and dragging her a few feet along the ground, just as he had done to Edward earlier by the wheelbarrow.
Her cry against the pain sprung him into action, and he managed to grab the biggest rock he could find lying on the ground by his feet. Lurching into motion he jumped onto the back off the troll as crashed the side off the rock into the soft skin right behind its right ear.
As soon as the hard rock hit the troll, its knees buckled and gave into the weight of its body as it collapsed forward into the ground.
Heaving, Edward gathered himself into a standing position before he stumbled over to Bella’s form still lying on the ground. She had crawled a few feet away from the troll and was rubbing the skin of her ankle, probably to soothe the pain slightly.
“Come,” he muttered and grabbed her under her armpits and lifted her in to a standing position, before grabbing her uninjured arm and dragging her along behind him into the forest.
She had uncurled herself from her position hiding in the corner and had petted Dauntless on the muzzle as she’d tentatively exited the stall. She’d squared her shoulders, looking him straight into his eyes and said: “Are you going to tell on me?”
He had been baffled by her accusatory tone and had immediately tried to placate her worries.
She’d learned he was a department head in one of the platoons settled just north of the castle. As she’d told him of his brother, also stationed in the army up north, they’d discovered their shared acquaintances as she’d learned Edward answered to Sgt Whitlock – Jasper – whenever they were stationed somewhere together.
They had wandered about the stable grounds for more than two hours talking about Edward, the military and the war, before Jasper, regrettably, had to leave as he had to return to his post. He had promised to deliver a message to Edward when he returned, and just before he left her by Sir Dauntless stall, he picked up her tiny hands in his and kissed the knuckles of her right hand.
His soft lips had tickled the skin and she had sighed dreamily when they had agreed to meet up again, by this exact same spot two nights later.
It had been exactly forty eight hours since she last had looked into his bright blue eyes, and her stomach was nearly bursting with the butterflies that tried to escape as she sat, waiting for him to show up.
Fifteen minutes pasted.
Another ten minutes had gone by, and still no sign of Sgt Whitlock. ‘Jasper,’ she corrected herself in her mind. ‘Although Sgt really does sound sexy,’ a tiny smile grazed her pink lips and she sighed dreamily as she petted Dauntless yet again.
Thirty-five minutes had passed before the telltale sound of boots on the pavement neared the opening of the stable. She turned expectantly towards the sound and grinned slightly when his tall frame slipped through the wooden doors.
He looked apologetic and his breath huffed from him as if he had run a marathon.
“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting Miss Alice,” he whispered as he gazed lovingly into her bright eyes. “But I brought you something…”
He stepped aside and she gasped loudly as she laid eyes on the figure standing slightly behind him in the doorway to the stables.
“Edward?” she muttered, tears forming in her eyes.
The figure sprinted forward, engulfing her in a warm, familiar embrace as his strong voice reverently muttered her name again and again into the soft texture of her hair.
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