They couldn't believe it, after weeks of careful planning and just days before starting their planned journey to Ev, the Gale Force had captured them in a surprise attack. Now every Animal in the camp, which had been hidden in the forest, had been caged at gunpoint and were now being roughly loaded into a wagon to who-knows-where. Each of them wondering when – if they would ever see sunlight again and how long it would be before they lost the ability to speak completely.
"The Witch will get you for this," spat Rupbert, a Bear who had never been able to keep his mouth shut.
The guard nearest to him raised his gun, making all the Animals recoil in horror, "I'll teach you to give me cheek, furball."
"Bregens, leave it," said a man behind him, whose uniform was fancier than the others, the Captain perhaps?
"But Tiggular, he was threatening us," the guard moaned.
"It's hardly a realistic threat," the Captain reasoned, an undeterminable expression flickered on his face for a moment before changing back to his usual stony one, "anyway, if the Witch did try to get revenge we'd be a load closer to finding her then we are now. Shoot him if you want but you'll have to clean up the mess yourself – rotting Animal could make us all come down with diseases."
The soldier scowled but obeyed his captain, giving the Bear a few extra pokes with his muzzle, for once Rupbert didn't fight back – having been moments from death can do that to you. No one else tried to protest.
It was nightfall by the time all the cages were loaded. The Captain, leaving a tired looking young soldier to guard the wagon, ordered his men to set up camp out of sight in a clearing a few hundred metres away.
It was only then that the Animals dared speak.
"Rupbert are you ok?" asked Corna, a young Squirrel.
"Not really," the Bear admitted, "after all that effort we put into the escape we're trapped.
"It could be worse," chirped Talia, a small Songbird, kindly, "at least we're all still together."
"Yeah," said Rupbert darkly, " but for how long?"
"Surely Fae will be able to set us free?" asked Corna.
"Last we heard she's miles away," said a Fox in a monotone, "we'll be long gone by the time she hears about this. Anyway, I doubt even she'd dare to come with the Gale Force this near, if they're capturing us think what they'd do to her."
"Oh don't be such a pessimist Loxy," replied Corna, who had always regarded the Witch as her hero, "she'll work out a way to save us, she's got us out of loads of tight situations before."
"Nothing this bad though," Rupbert sighed.
"Look, the guard's gone to sleep," cheeped Talia from the front of her cage.
Immediately Rupbert sprung into action viciously shaking the bars of his cage, "break you stupid thing," he roared.
"Hush," said a voice they did not recognise, "do you want to wake him up again?"
The Animals watched in silence as the figure of the Captain of the Guard was revealed by the moonlight.
"What are you doing here?" snarled Rupbert, breaking the stunned silence, "have you come to torment us even more? Haven't you done enough? What did we ever do to you?"
The Captain did not look half as intimidating without his men around him, "You didn't get my warning then? I tried to send it ahead, but there's only so much I can do to slow down my army after a tip off."
For once Rupbert, clearly not expecting this answer, fell into a stunned silence.
"What warning?" Loxy asked quietly.
"To tell you all to get away," he said simply, "I…"
"I know what you're doing!" interrupted Rupbert, "you're playing mind games on us, making us think there's a chance of escaping to leave us in even worse depression."
The Captain took the key out of his pocket, "playing mind games am I?" he asked as he started unlocking the cages.
Once he had let the last Animal out and they had repeatedly offered him their thanks Talia turned to him, "But I don't understand, why?"
"Because all of this is wrong," he said softly, "the Wizard, the imprisonment of the animals, the incrimination of El… everything, I want to do something right."
"If only there were more people like you," she replied warmly.
"But how are you are going to explain this?" asked one of the Wolves – gesturing his tail towards the empty cages.
The Captain grinned, although it did not quite reach his eyes, and took out a piece of ripped black fabric and threaded it around one of the empty cages, "Remember the Witch set you free."
"That won't work," said Rupbert sceptically.
"Trust me it will," the Captain replied, "they're all so scared of her that they'll believe everything, by tomorrow he'll," he nodded towards the sleeping guard, "will be told by everyone that he was lucky for her to have only put a 'sleeping spell' on him rather than killing him."
"You have a Fox's sense of cunning," said Loxy approvingly, "thank you so much for this, is there anything we can do for you?
"Just one thing," he said wistfully, "can you tell me where Elphaba is?"
Several of the Animals bristled, "if you think we're going to let you capture the Witch in return for letting us free," Rupbert growled, "you've got another thought coming, we'd sooner be locked up than have her captured by you."
The Captain didn't look like he had been expecting any other reaction, yet somehow his face still fell, "I would never do anything to hurt her," he said softly.
"And how can we trust you?"
He sighed, "Very well, just can you pass a message on to her from me?"
"Depends what it is," Rupbert said fiercely.
He took a deep breath, "tell her this is from Fiyero – she'll know who I am – tell her I… tell her I love her."
Even Rupbert realised this was not a time to comment. Eventually Loxy stepped forward, "Don't worry we'll tell her, if we see her mind you, she's pretty busy."
He nodded, "Thank you, but you'd better be going now," his voice grew more urgent as he moved onto the practicalities "Now I don't know how long this can go unnoticed for so I suggest you escape as quickly as possible. I appreciate that you might not want to tell me where you're heading but if you head North West for a day or two, I'll make sure no one searches in that direction."
"How can we trust you?" asked Rupbert suspiciously.
"Why would I let you out if I only wanted to capture you again?" he replied, slightly frustrated, "anyway surely it would be safer to take the path where I might not send troops to find you than the others," he added at the bear's continued glare.
He grunted in approval and crawled towards the direction the Captain was pointing, the Animals followed him a few throwing a final look of thanks in the Captain's direction.
Fiyero watched the Animals until they were out of sight, then with one final look at the empty cages and the 'proof' of the Witch's involvement, he wondered back to the camp, preparing himself to act shocked when this was discovered. He blinked to get the wetness out of his eyes, these Animals had known where she was, he had been so close to finding out where she was – then he could have found her and told her all he hadn't been able to tell her that day with the Lion Cub…
Fiyero turned to see the small Squirrel bonding towards him.
"What?" he said wearily.
"Well, I just wanted to say thank you for helping us again, Elphaba would be proud of you."
The man sighed, "I hope so."
"And also I wanted to apologise for Rupbert being such a bossy boots," Corna told him, "he might not trust you, but I do," the Squirrel paused for a moment then, "last we heard she's in the North Gillikin Mountains somewhere."
For the first time the Captain's stony eyes lit up, "thank you, you don't know how much this means to me."
"You won't hurt her, will you?" asked Corna, anxiously.
Fiyero looked at the Squirrel in the eye, "I would never hurt her, I promise you."
In the following weeks the Captain of the Guard moved his troops to the south most part of Quadling Country on the basis of an anonymous but reliable tip off on the location of the Witch. It was heavily reported when they came back unsuccessful.
What was only reported in the gossip magazines was that Fiyero Tiggular and Glinda the Good visited Glinda's parents in Pertha Hills – near the North Gillikin Mountains – for Lurlinemas. And what no one heard was Fiyero spent every day of that holiday taking walks on the mountains from dawn to dusk yet returned to the Emerald City just as broken hearted.
"You got captured? However did you escape?" she asked as soon as she heard the news.
"It appears the Captain of the Guard isn't that loyal to the Wizard, he set us free and let us escape," Talia said, a smile in her voice.
Elphaba's face turned a pale green, "Fiyero?"
"So you do know him?" Asked Rupbert, slightly surprised.
"Of course I know… I mean, I knew him… a bit… years ago, at school…"
"He told us to give you a message," said Corna, practically bouncing now her hero had returned.
She did her best to not look like a blushing schoolgirl and reminded herself that he was the Captain of the Guard and she his greatest enemy, but still, a message, "What is it?"
"He said to tell you that he loves you."
"What?" she looked around the Animals' expectant faces to see the traces of a joke.
"He did," Talia confirmed, the other Animals nodded in agreement.
"Don't be ridiculous, you must have misheard," she snapped, "Now can you leave for Ev tomorrow? It's all the more urgent now."
"I know I didn't mishear Fae," insisted Corna.
"I'll hear nothing more on the matter, let's concentrate on something important," the Witch replied firmly. It can't be true, it can't be true, it can't be true, she told herself over and over, yet she could not stop herself feeling a flicker of hope.