Intrigue, secrets, drained corpses. A wild night awaits Sophie and company as they traverse the woods around Wolf Lake on their quest to defeat Blackwood. They meet new allies and old enemies as they search for answers to Blackwood’s plans to rule the lake. Their searches turn up some old skeletons and witches’ brews as Erik is faced with a surprising truth and Sophie nearly gets turned into a roasted marshmallow.
The mood in the boat was quiet and tense. The sun was obscured by the ever-present fog. I sat beside Erik in the center of the boat with Greg at the bow and Marge at the stern. She sat beside the engine and pursed her lips. We’d just finished our tale of escape to them.
“So that damn fool had to race back to his boat. . .” she murmured.
“I’m sure he will have made it. We gave him ample distraction,” Erik commented.
Marge leaned back and scowled. “I suppose he did. He was never a good sprinter, but he’d do most anything for that damned crew of his.”
“What is the plan now, Master?” Greg spoke up.
“The same as before,” Erik replied. He shifted around to face the bow and nodded at the fog ahead of us. “We may find the root of Blackwood’s trump card in those woods. If we do then that will be solid proof against him, and his plans will be ruined.”
“So what exactly do we know about his plans?” I wondered.
“That he intends to control the islands, and with the assistance of someone on the shore he will possibly expand the fog,” Erik summarized for me.
“That sounds insane,” I commented.
“It is certainly dangerous,” Erik agreed with a nod. “The fog provides us with a sanctuary here. Any expansion on its part might reveal us to the outside world.”
I tilted my head to one side and furrowed my brow. “So if we do find a witch what exactly can we do to her? I mean, she’s a witch. If she doesn’t like what we’re saying can’t she just turn us into frogs or something?”
“Less blubber and more quiet. We’re just about to shore,” Marge spoke up.
She nodded at the bow, and all eyes turned to the fog ahead of us. Dark shapes rose from the thick white soup, and the familiar tree line came into view. Marge steered her little boat onto the same beach as before and we dragged our vessel to shore.
“We should cover the boat to hide it from pursuers,” Erik advised us.
We unpacked the few bags of provisions and dragged the ship into the brush. A few strategically placed branches, rocks, and driftwood, and you couldn’t tell whether it was a rock or a large clump of brambles. The men hefted the heavy bags over their shoulders and we turned to our destination: the mysterious forest path. My only consolation for this dangerous mission was that I wasn’t dead yet, and also that the path would lead us out of the fog.
The mid-morning sun shone on us as we made our way down the shoreline to the path. Everything was much as it was the first time we found the secret landing point and trail. Erik led the way into the thick mess of old woods and down the uneven path.
That short boat ride from the islands made my land legs out of practice. I tripped and stumbled over every root and rock. Every low tree branch was my mortal enemy, and every thorned bush twig was out to cut me to ribbons.
I stumbled over another root that I didn’t see. It was then I realized I couldn’t see much of anything. We were in a fog bank that was getting thicker by the moment. I stopped and looked around at the white-gray mist that covered everything in its blanketed arms.
“I thought the fog was only on the lake,” I commented.
Erik stopped and frowned. He turned to Marge. “How far did your ‘friend’ follow the men?”
“As far as here,” she told him.
“And do you remember the fog reaching this far?” he asked her.
Marge closed her eyes and shook her head. “Nope.”
Erik pursed his lips. “I can’t understand how it could have traveled this far. We must be a half mile from the lake.”
“Maybe the fog’s lost,” I quipped.
My mate shook his head. “The fog is not alive. It was put in place by the will of a spell, and only a spell can change its design.”
“So what you’re trying to say is maybe our ‘dear cousin’ is putting his plan into action?” I guessed.
“I’m afraid so.”
I clapped my hands together. “Well then, let’s get going. I’m not getting any younger and this trail isn’t getting any shorter.” I squinted into the fog to see the end of the path. All I saw was fog. “How far do you think it goes, anyway?”
“The men didn’t come back for a few days, at the least,” Marge informed us.
“Then we should hurry,” Erik insisted.
We traveled through the darkness of the fog for many miles. The path was winding, but the only one. Well, until we reached the fork. The trail split off into two branches. The fog covered the depths of the trails so well that we wouldn’t have been able to tell if one path led to Paradise and the other led Hell.
Erik lifted his nose and sniffed. I mimicked him and got a nose-full of pine scent and our body odors. “There is no scent of a trail.”
“And there’s never been a scent trail to follow,” Marge spoke up. “These fellows hide their scent somehow.”
Greg tilted his head up and his eyes swept over the dim canopy of trees above us. “Or perhaps the woods perform the deed for them,” he mused.
Erik raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
“Perhaps it is the witchcraft,” Greg answered.
Erik pursed his lips. “Perhaps, but whatever the reason we are at an impasse.” He looked from one path to the other, and his gaze fell on a tree between the paths. Erik furrowed his brow and walked over to the trunk.
He raised his hand and brushed his fingers over a symbol cut into the tree. It was a stick man with his arms spread out on either side of him. His head was in the shape of triangle with his nose pointed to the right.
“I don’t know this symbol,” Erik commented.
“That makes two of us,” Marge quipped.
“Three,” I chimed in.
Erik followed the direction the stick man faced and looked down the right path. He nodded to it. “We’ll head this way for a short while and see what comes of it.”
He stepped forward, but Greg came up behind Erik and grabbed his arm.
“Not that way, Master. The other path would be better suited to us,” he suggested.
Erik turned to him with a frown. “Why?”
Greg nodded at the marking. “This symbol is a map of sorts. It tells friends to take the left path, and enemies to take the right.”
“How do you know this?” he asked his servant.
Greg didn’t meet Erik’s accusing eyes. “There was a book in the library of the Old Den that spoke of such things.”
Erik studied Greg for a moment longer before he looked to the left path. “Then we will head in that direction, and you will lead us,” he ordered Greg.
Greg bowed his head and took the lead. I admit I wasn’t too comfortable with this change of plans, or with the suspicious glares Erik kept giving the back of Greg’s head.
We marched onward for a few more hours until we reached a widening in the trail. Greg and Erik stopped, and we all looked around. The fog was less thick than before. We could see five yards in front of us. The path itself was still the same size, but there was a patch of green grass to our left. A few logs sat around a pile of rocks, and in the center of the rocks was a hole with ash that showed it was a fire pit. By the time we reached this opening the sun was going down and the shadows of the trees leaned over us.
I shivered and wrapped my arms around myself.
“Why can’t old forests be cheerful like in the fairy tales. . .” I muttered.
Greg tilted his head back and his eyes swept over the canopy of trees around us. “The fairy tales of old were filled with these forests,” he murmured.
“Well, I prefer the Disney versions,” I quipped.
“We will encamp here for the night,” Erik spoke up.
“What about your cousin and his Guard goons?” Marge reminded us. “We don’t want the likes of them finding us here.”
Erik shook his head. “Blackwood’s greatest concern will be Captain Black’s ships. If our allies rule the lake than his plan is futile. He may also suspect we gave a message to Black to alert my father to his treachery, and he will focus most of his manpower to overwhelming Black’s ships.”
“And if he does?” I spoke up.
“Then perhaps we will turn his trump card hidden in these woods against him, but not when we are exhausted,” Erik mused. He walked over to one of the logs and plopped first his backpack and then himself on the wood. “We will rest here with one of us being on guard at all times. That will ensure we’re not caught completely unawares.”
“I will take the first watch,” Greg offered.
“What good is a lookout if we’re outnumbered. . .” Marge mumbled as she coveted another of the logs. She lay down on the ground in front of the dead fire pit and leaned her back against the log. “I’m not going to sleep a wink tonight. . .” she muttered as she nestled herself into her coat.
I took a seat beside Erik and nodded at the pit. “Any chance we can get some heat going?”
Erik shook his head. “The risk we would be seen before seeing our enemies is too great.”
I sighed and snuggled against his side. “Just thought I’d try.”
Erik wrapped his arms around me and slid us to the ground. We had each other and the log and backpack for our backs and heads to lean against. I leaned into Erik, but he felt stiff. I tilted my head up and looked into Erik’s face. His eyes were on Greg. The servant sat on a stump close to the path where he had a good view of where we came from and where we were headed.
I glanced from one to the other. “Something wrong?” I whispered.
Erik snapped himself from his thoughts and shook his head, but his lips were still pursed. “Everything is fine.”
I snorted. “You’re a terrible liar, now ‘fess up.”
Erik nestled into his spot on the hard ground and closed his eyes. “We should sleep. There is no telling how far this path will lead us.” I reached up and knocked my fist lightly against his forehead. His eyes snapped open and I stretched my face towards his.
“What’s wrong?” I persisted.
Erik’s eyes flickered to Greg. “I’m not sure.”
I sighed and settled myself to my hard, cold, hard, dirty-did I mention hard?-bed. “Fine, don’t tell me now, but you’d better tell me when you’re ready.”
“I will,” he promised.
I closed my eyes and settled in for a restless sleep.
Marge’s prediction about her winks proved to be wrong. In a half hour there was the sounds of some very unladylike snores coming from her direction.
I was just about to join her in Slumberland when I felt Erik shift beside me. He set me against the log and stood. I peeked open an eye and watched him walk over to Greg. Erik paused to jerk his head down the path, and then he continued to walk in that direction. Greg stood and followed him, and the pair stopped a couple yards down the trail.
Their whispered voices floated over to me. I strained my wolf ears and was just barely able to pick up on the words.
“Why have you lied to me?” Erik questioned Greg.
“Lied about what?” Greg returned.
“We both know the library very well, and we know the books are watched over very carefully,” Erik reminded him. “No such book on witchcraft has ever been stored on those shelves.”
“I’m sorry. I must be mistaken,” Greg replied.
“Then where did you learn to read witch signs?” Erik persisted.
“I must have procured the information from another person,” the servant evasively answered.
Erik leaned down and searched Greg’s eyes. “From whom did you learn this information?”
Greg pursed his lips and matched Erik’s gaze. “I was sworn to secrecy and I cannot break my oath, even for your request.”
Erik frowned. “You are a servant to my family and are bound only to us.”
Greg closed his eyes and bowed his head. “That is true.”
“And you still refuse to answer my question?” Erik questioned him.
Erik studied Greg for a moment. The servant kept his head down. “If you remain loyal to my family then your oath must be to my parents. Am I correct?” Greg reluctantly nodded his head. “Then is the oath to my father?” I didn’t notice a reaction from Greg. “Is the oath to my mother?” I didn’t see anything, but Erik stiffened. “And yet you still refuse to tell me?”
“I must keep my oath, Master,” Greg replied.
“Will this harm our journey?” Erik asked him.
Greg shook his head. “I cannot think how.”
Erik half-turned away from Greg, but paused and his eyes flickered to his bowed servant. My mate’s tone was low and dangerous. “Pray to the wolf god that it does not. If you endanger my mate then there will be hell to pay.” I would have been flattered if I hadn’t been so terrified by Erik’s voice.
“Yes, my Master,” Greg answered.
Erik walked away from Greg, and I shut my eyes and pretended I was dead to the world. My mate slid down beside me and lay his head back. I don’t know if he slept. I know I didn’t get much sleep. My mind swirled with questions about the heart of the conversation: Greg’s mysterious oath to Lady Greenwood. My curiosity ate at me, and what was worse was I knew Greg would never reveal the secret to me, not when he’d refused Erik. Hell would freeze over before he broke his oath.
A cold breeze swept over us. I shivered and cuddled closer to Erik’s warm body. I only hoped I wouldn’t freeze before this adventure was over.
The backpack at my head was hard, but softer than the ground and log. I leaned my head against that.
And that’s when it squirmed.