"We are lost!"
Hadley turned at the whispered hiss from her sister. "We're not lost." Hadley replied, if not a little uncertainly as she looked around. Did they just pass that rock an hour ago? "Father knows where we are going."
"Please. That man couldn't find his way out of his shirt." Emma snorted quietly.
Hadley remained quiet as she looked over her horse to see her father and his trusted friend lead them through the dense woods. They had been traveling for days and he still hadn't told his daughters where they were going. He had insisted they pack up late one night, leaving their home without explanation. All they had were their clothing and few personal things they could fit into a few bags.
"You cannot deny this is total madness!" Emma hissed again, her delicate face twisted in anger and frustration. "We've been traveling for days! Why?"
"I don't know." Hadley snapped back, her own frustration and annoyance boiling to the surface. "But he must have a reason."
"Ha! He probably owes someone money." Emma sneered.
Hadley sighed, glancing up at her father again. They've had a good life. Their father had provided for them, kept them comfortable. They weren't rich, but they were far from being a peasant. But when their mother died, barely a year ago….he had changed. Money started to disappear. Their father spent more time at the local tavern then at home. Hadley and her younger sister had been devastated by their mother's death, but the way their father had turned from them in his own grief…it crushed her heart…or what was left of it. They had needed him and he hadn't been there. "Emma. Stop."
Emma glanced over at her sister, hearing the defeated and sad note in her voice and sighed. "I'm sorry Haddie, but…"
"I know." And she did. Hadley could understand her sisters feeling because she felt the same. But while it was hard for Emma to hold her tongue Hadley was more reserved before speaking. "Just…be quiet for a moment."
"Fine. I will. But after I say we passed that same tree twice now." Emma pointed out, looking over at the twisted bark of an old oak tree.
Hadley sighed, knowing the tree. "Father!"
The girls father pulled back on his own horse to look back. "What is it?"
"Father, I fear we are going in circles." Hadley explained, noting the frown on his once handsome face. The past year had aged him, there were deep groves beside his mouth and his eyes, the same blue as his girls, were tired.
"Nonsense!" Edwin huffed, looking around. "I know where we are!"
"Are you sure?" Hadley questioned further. Glancing at the sky she could see the sun setting and didn't want to spend the night in the woods. They had been lucky to make it to villages on their travel, finding safe places to sleep for the night.
"Yes child, I am sure!" Edwin barked, but glanced at his friend. "What do you think, Robert?"
Robert looked around and at the sky. "I'm thinking we are going to spend the night in these woods if we don't make it out of here soon. I don't think this is the way. It has been many, many years since we traveled back home Edwin."
"Is that were we are going? Back to your old home?" Emma bravely asked picking up their words.
Edwin eyes his girls and then nodded. "Aye. We are going to Henwick. Robert and I's childhood home."
"Why didn't you just tell us?" Hadley asked.
"I…wasn't sure." Edwin wiped his eyes, sighing in defeat. "I'm afraid…I don't know where we are. It's been many years since we have left there."
Hadley shared a look with her sister, noting the strained look on their father's face. "Well. We have maybe an hour before dark. Let's see if we can get out of these woods at least."
Edwin cleared his throat and nodded. Turning his horse to face front he started to lead them on. Hadley pulled the hood of her cape over her head as the air started to chill. They weren't prepared to stay out in the open and prayed they could make it to some kind of shelter before night fall. The thick trees and vegetation didn't look inviting in daylight hours so she was sure they would be less so in the dark. At least they had their uncle Robert. At least that's what they had always called him. He was raised with their father after his own family feel ill and passed. They had grown up as brothers. Robert had married, but lost his wife in child birth. He had never remarried or even wanted to it seemed. He was a little more skilled in areas of survival than their father. He at least could start a fire for them if they needed it.
After a long silence and more traveling Emma sighed. "This is hopeless. We are going to spend the night out here and be food for some wild beast."
Hadley rolled her eyes at her sisters dramatics, used to them. "Emma."
"What?" Emma huffed. "I'm serious. Who do you think would be eaten first? Me, of course!"
"Why you?" Hadley laughed, looking at her.
"Look at me! I'm fair, blonde and just down right adorable." Emma smirked, her blue eyes twinkling. "I would be the first thing some wild beast would spot." Emma smiled at her sister's loud laugh. "It wouldn't be you all dark and brooding. You just look like you would tasty nasty!"
Hadley threw her head back, her laughter hitting the trees. Their father and uncle even turned to look back at her, their mouths twitching with a smile. "Emma!"
"Well, I speak the truth and you know it!" Emma grinned, happy to see the smile on her sisters' face. While their mothers' death had been hard on her too, it had seemed to make Hadley retreat into herself. Her once happy sister had turned quiet, sullen even. Emma had at times felt like she had lost her whole family. For as long as she could tease her older sister she had joked about Hadley's dark looks. Her sister was beautiful for sure, but they were night and day in their looks. Hadley had black hair that fell in curls down her back when it wasn't tied up, her skin tan. Her blue eyes were striking in contrast, getting her many second and sometime third looks from people. Her mother always said she took after her sister, one they had never met since she had died before they were born. Emma had often times been envious of her sisters unique looks since you could find a blonde hair, blue eye girl at every turn in their own village. Hadley stood out for her looks. But it also made people wary, since Hadley was quiet and hard to get to know at times.
A noise up on a small ledge had the girls gasping as they quickly turned to look. "See!" Emma whispered, her voice shaking in fear.
"Girls! Stay back." Robert told them, bringing his horse in front of them, his sword in his hand. "If I tell you to run. Run."
Hadley tightened her grip on the reigns, looking back at her sister. "It's okay, Emma." Emma swallowed, nodding her face frozen in fear. "It's probably just a rabbit." Hadley tried to assure her sister. But at the sound of more limbs cracking and leaves rustling, Hadley had to tell herself it was okay. Robert and their father stayed in front of them, their swords at the ready as they waited for whatever was headed their way to reveal itself. As men started to appear, Hadley's heart started to beat faster.
"What do we have here?" One of the men sneered, dirt smear on his face as he eyed the four of them.
"Looks to me like payday." Another man snorted, making the group cackle.
"We have nothing of value." Robert told them, gripping his sword tighter.
"I don't know about that…." The man trailed off, his eyes leering at Hadley and Emma.
"Run!" Robert yelled, kicking his horse and charging up the hill.
Hadley didn't pause, she turned her horse around and took off, and glancing behind her to make sure Emma was with her. She didn't know where she was going, but she followed the path in front of her.
"Hadley!" Emma yelled in fear.
Hadley turned to see two men on their own horse not too far behind. "Just hold on and keep up!" She yelled. Her eyes were frantic as she looked around the woods. They needed to get off the trail. "Emma! This way." Hadley took a hard right, making her horse rear up on two legs.
"Hadley!" Emma shrieked as she watched her sister fall off her horse, hitting the ground with a hard thud. "Hadley!" Emma stopped her own horse, tears falling as she heard the men getting closer. Emma ran to her sister, turning her over only to see blood streaming from her forehead. "Oh…no. Hadley…please." Emma begged, her eyes so full of tears she couldn't see. "Please…" Emma's heart stopped as she heard the cruel laughter of the men as they jumped of their horses.
"It's okay, little girl. We won't hurt you. Too much." The man cackled again, nearing them.
In a panic, Emma screamed as loud as she could making the men stop in surprise, just only for a moment. Emma hugged her sister to her, leaning down to put her face in her sisters neck, praying harder than she had ever prayed before slipping into a deep, fearful blackness.
Emma's eyes opened, her mind quickly flashing back to before. With a cry of distress, she raised up only to feel a hand on her arm. She screamed.
"Shhh. It's okay. You're safe."
With her breathing loud and harsh she turned to see the smiling face of a young woman. Her eyes flew around her, noting she was on a bed and there was an old man walking towards her with snow white hair and a gentle face. "Where….where am I?"
"You're in Camelot." She young woman smiled again, running a comforting hand down the girls arm. She was terrified. It was easy to see. "You are safe. I promise."
Emma tried to calm her breathing, closing her eyes a moment before they flew back open. "Hadley! Where is my sister?"
"She's over there. Resting." The old man gestured behind him.
Emma felt tears in her eyes as he spotted her sister laid out on a bed across the room. The large white bandage on her head made her grasp. "Is she okay?"
"She took a hard hit to the head, but I believe she will be just fine." The man gave her a gentle smile as he handed her a cup. "Water."
"Thank you." Emma whispered, taking the cup and sighing as the cool water hit her throat. "What happened?"
"A few of the kings' knights were in the woods hunting. They found you."
"You don't have to worry about them anymore." The girl quickly assured her. "They brought you both back here to see Gaius. He's the court physician."
"Th…thank you." Emma stuttered, her heart finally returning to normal. "What's your name?"
"I'm Edith. I'm a servant in the castle and help Gaius." The girl smiled at her again.
"I'm Emma. That's my sister…Hadley. You sure she'll be okay?" Emma asked again, worrying making her belly hurt.
"She will." Gaius patted Emma's arm. "You need to rest. You had quite a fright."
"I…" Emma's back went straight. "Did I pass out?!" She asked in horror.
"You did." Gaius fought a grin at the girls face. "Many people do when in such fear."
"You must never tell my sister." Emma stated, wide eyed. "I will never hear the end of it."
"You're secret is safe with us." Gaius chuckled going over to the other girl on the bed. This one had suffered a nasty hit to the head and had yet to wake up. But her heart was beating fine and her breathing was perfect. He figured it would be anytime when this one woke up. He checked the bandage, satisfied the bleeding had stopped. But the poor girl would suffer from an ugly, bruised cut for many weeks yet. Moving from the girl, he turned to the one called Emma. "The king will want to know what happened in the woods."
"Oh…king? Oh…" Emma stuttered, shaking her head. A king ruled over the land where their tiny village was, but they had never even laid eyes on him. The thought of speaking to a real, live king was…scary to say the least. "Can…we wait till Hadley wakes up? She's better at that stuff than me."
"Of course." Gaius smiled, waving to Edith. "Get the girl food, if you would. I don't know where Merlin is. Useless boy…."
Hadley woke before her eyes opened. The pain in her head was terrible and made her want to fall back in the oblivious sleep she had just woke from. But when she heard her sisters voice, she forced her eyes opened. Shelves of books and bottles surrounded her as she carefully moved her head. Across the room she spotted Emma, smiling. A rush of relief and thanks made her blink tears away. They were okay. She wasn't sure what happened, but they were okay. Emma was talking to an older man who sat next to a boy… really a man with dark hair and a kind face. Hadley braced herself on her elbows, trying to set up. The groan left her before she could swallow it back.
"Hadley!" Emma excited yell, jumping from her seat and by her sister's side in a blink. "You're awake! I've been worried."
"I'm…okay." Hadley breathed, laying back down. Her head was spinning too much to sit up. "I think."
"You've had a nasty hit." Gaius moved a chair next to the girl, taking the bandage to examine the bruise. "But you will be just fine."
"Good." Hadley looked at the new faces looking down at her before looking at her sister. "What happened?"
"I'm not totally sure other than the kings knights saved us." Emma told her, holding her hand.
"Our father? Robert?"
"There has…been no word." Emma muttered, looking away from her.
"The guards will search in the morning. It is too dark now." Gaius told her as he put a new bandage on her forehead. "Are you hungry? Merlin, get her some food."
Hadley watched the two go back across the room. "Where are we?" She whispered to Emma.
"Camelot. Where ever that is." Emma chuckled. "That's Gaius and Merlin. They've been very kind. And cute."
Hadley raised an eyebrow, knowing if she rolled her eyes it would hurt her head. "Of course you would say that."
"It's the truth." Emma smirked with a giggle her eyes following Merlin. "At least we are okay. I…was really scared."
"Me too." Hadley took her sisters hand and squeezed it. "I wish we knew what happened to Robert and father."
Emma nodded, then moved to help her sister up. "Slow. It's a good thing you hit your head or you could have been seriously hurt."
"Don't make me laugh." Hadley groaned, her head starting to pound as she got to her feet. "I still hurt."
"With a head like that I'd hurt too." Emma teased, grateful to see the smile on her sisters face. Emma helped her sister to the small table as Merlin placed a plate of fruit and cheese in front of her.
"Eat up. It will make you feel better." Merlin smiled at her as he sat across from her.
"Thank you. Very much." Hadley quietly told them, glancing at the man across from her. There was something about him…she couldn't put her finger on. But his smile was friendly and kind and she was grateful for that.
"When you feel better you have to talk to the king." Emma happily informed her.
Hadley almost choked on a bit of apple. "Do what?"
"The king wants to know what happened." Gaius filled her in, noting the look of panic on the girls face. "Don't worry. It will be okay. The king is a good king."
"Depends on what day of week it is." Merlin snorted, getting a look from Gaius.
"Merlin." Gaius warned.
"Sorry." Merlin muttered, earning a giggle from the younger sister. "We'll just make sure it's after he has eaten so he won't be tempted to take a bite out of you."
Emma laughed and Hadley managed a smile as Gaius scolded the boy. "Is he that bad?" Hadley asked, a flutter of nerves hitting her belly.
Hadley's belly filled with more nerves as they both remained quiet for a moment, but Gaius shook his head. "You have nothing to fear. You are safe here and all he wants to know is what happened so he can help. Trust me."
Hadley nodded as she took a bite of bread, the food going a long way in making her feel better. "We need to find our father and uncle."
"The king and his son will help." Gaius assured her, patting her shoulder.
"He has a son?" Emma perked up, a twinkle in her eye. "We get to meet a king and a prince."
"Ha!" Merlin snorted. "He's no prize. Trust me."
Emma giggled at the look on Merlin's face, but then sighed. "How disappointing."
Hadley finished eating what she could, rubbing her bandage gently. "Well. I guess we need to get it over with."
"You can wait till tomorrow, after you have rested more." Gaius told her.
"No. I'll never be able to sleep with this over me. I'd rather do it now. If we can." Hadley told her.
Gaius nodded at Merlin who jumped up and left the room. "Merlin will get you an audience. Through there is some water if you would like to wash off."
Hadley thanked him again and let Emma help her up and to the small room in the back. She looked down at her dress, hating there were smudges of dirt at the hem and by her hip. This was not how she wanted to meet royalty. But she had no other option. She washed her face and hands and let Emma finger comb her hair.
"I'm afraid I don't have a tie." Emma muttered as she smoothed Hadley's black curls down her back. "You'll have to leave it down."
"It's okay." No. This was not how she wanted to look when speaking to the king, but what could she do. "We'll hopefully be on our way tomorrow and put this whole nasty day behind us."
"Yes." Emma went quiet, her fingers curling around a strand of her sisters hair. "What…what if they aren't okay?"
Hadley closed her eyes as her sister voiced her biggest fear at the moment. "We just have to have faith and hope they are." Hadley heard Merlin come back in and call to them. The king was ready to see them.