Juniper stood in the kitchen clutching the note in her hand as the rest of the group huddled around her.
“So, what does it say?” Riffen asked.
“We need to go talk to someone. We’ve been summoned. Grab your stuff,” Juniper said, giving orders to the rest of the group.
“Is this serious?” Sigthyme asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Very,” Juniper said.
Juniper then turned and looked at Christine and Chloe.
“Christine. Thank you again for everything, but we have to go. Once we leave, lock your door. Keep your windows shut tight,” Juniper said.
“Is everything alright? Should we be worried?” Christine asked.
“I’m not sure. But they are definitely watching this house if this note found us,” Juniper said. “I will make sure you two are safe. Just stay inside for at least an hour. Maybe a few.”
“Alright,” Christine nodded as she pulled her daughter in for a hug.
“I can help. I’m brave,” Chloe said, trying to shake off her mother’s embrace.
“I know you are, Chloe,” Juniper said, leaning down to meet her eye to eye. “I need you to be brave and keep your mother safe. Think you can do that?”
“Great,” Juniper gave a small smile.
She immediately turned around and walked into the main room where the rest of the group was getting their stuff together.
“Juniper, what’s going on? Who is watching the house?” Riffen asked.
“Is this related to your brother? Sigthyme asked.
“Or those bandits in Xylon?” Grace asked.
Juniper shook her head.
“No. It’s… It’s something I should have brought up earlier. I thought everything was settled but apparently not. But these people are after me and Piakol,” Juniper said.
“Should we be expecting a fight?” Sigthyme asked.
“Fight!” Tak raised his hammer, almost hitting the ceiling.
“I don’t know for sure but we have to be ready for anything,” Juniper said.
“Maybe Riffen should stay here then,” Grace said.
“Nonsense. I’m not staying here. I can help. I can fight,” Riffen said.
His gaze met Grace’s and there was a small break in the conversation. Both of them looked like they wanted to say more, but they held their breath.
“Riffen, I want you there,” Juniper said, breaking the silence. “But please stay in the back and be careful. If a fight does break out, I want to make sure you stay safe.”
“I’ll be fine,” Riffen said again, trying to be reassuring.
“Let’s just worry about a fight if it comes to that. I’m sure Tak will be ready to keep you safe,” Juniper said.
“Protect!” Tak gave a toothy smile.
The group gathered their supplies and said their goodbyes to Chloe and Christine. They loaded up their wagon and rode out to the northern edge of town where they were told to meet.
The whole time, Juniper’s eyes darted back and forth, trying to pick out where Romair might be and if he had any other people in the town watching them. Unfortunately there were so many empty buildings and places where people could hide. She was convinced that people were watching the entire time, but she was unsure where they were coming from.
“So what’s the plan, exactly?” Sightyme asked. “What do these people even want with you?”
“The long and short of it is that they are a group of freedom fighters from Perralyth. Apparently something is going on back home and the Prince and Princess have taken over the kingdom.”
This made Riffen’s ears perk up.
“What’s going on with King and Queen Rosewood?” Riffen asked.
“I don’t know all the details. Just that these freedom fighters have left the city and they want to lead some sort of rebellion. And they think that we are heroes who will join their cause,” Juniper explained.
“And they want all of us?” Sigthyme asked.
“Well, mostly me. The man who met with me, his name is Romair. He thinks that I’d join because Perralyth is my home. Plus he knows about Piakol,” Juniper said. “He wants a dragon on his side to take down the royal family.”
“Wow. That’s a lot,” Riffen said.
“And you told this guy that we weren’t interested and that Piakol is just a small dragon, right?” Sightyme asked.
“I made it perfectly clear. I thought he’d just leave us alone. But I guess I was wrong,” Juniper said.
“Don’t worry. I’ll tell him that we’re not interested in his rebel group. If he doesn’t leave us alone, Tak will rough him up,” Sigthyme said.
“Don’t underestimate him,” Juniper said. “If he really thinks this is the only way, he’s going to fight hard to convince us. Or he might just try to take what he wants.”
Juniper reached down into her bag and placed her hand on Piakol. The small dragon stirred and let out a small yawn as he rubbed his snout against Juniper’s arm. Juniper could feel the heat that radiated off the dragon’s body.
“We won’t let some dude steal Piakol,” Grace said as she gripped the handles of her daggers.
Juniper gave a nod, looking at her friends.
“Well, we’re here I think,” Sigthyme said. “The edge of town.”
The group had passed outside the town’s outer wall and now stood near the edge of the forest. Normally being in such an environment would be soothing for Juniper, who preferred the woods to the city, but she was still on edge. There could be a whole army of freedom fighters hiding in the treeline, waiting to spring an ambush.
Juniper stepped off the cart and immediately loaded an arrow into her bow.
“Keep alert,” She said.
The rest of the group followed suit, readying their weapons and keeping an eye on the tree line. It didn’t take long until an Elven man dressed in leather armor and heavy, forest green cloak emerged from the trees. He gave Juniper a smile as he approached.
“Glad to see you got my letter,” He said.
Juniper raised her bow and aimed at Romair’s chest.
“Not one more step or I’ll fire this at your heart,” Juniper said.
“Woah. Hold on. What’s with the hostility?” Romair asked.
“Do you have people watching the house we were staying in?” Juniper asked, not lowering the bow. “Call them off, now!”
“What? No, I don’t have people watching the house. It’s just me. I followed your wagon,” Romair said. “I paid the boy to deliver the note to you. I paid quite handsomely, I might add.”
“You are here by yourself?” Sightyme asked, stepping up beside Juniper.
“Well hello. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet all of you, actually,” Romair said.
“Answer the question. Are you alone?” Juniper said.
“Well, no. I don’t travel alone. I have a group camping out in the woods.”
“Bring them out. I want to see their faces.”
“Look, Juniper. I get that you might not be comfortable meeting like this, but this isn’t some sort of ambush, ok. My people are back at camp, a mile deep into the woods. It’s just me here now. I wanted to talk to you.”
“You threatened us.”
“Threatened? No. I just made the note serious because I wanted you to come. I didn’t mean to put you all on edge,” Romair said.
Juniper had a hard time reading Romair. He seemed to deal in half-truths and good intentions. It was like he wasn’t telling the whole truth, but he put on an air of nonchalance.
She lowered the arrow as the rest of the group held tight to their weapons.
“Well then, make this quick. We have a lot of travel ahead of us and not much time for you,” Juniper said.
“Oh, alright. Straight to business,” Romair said. “Well I was hoping that you’d thought more about my proposal to join the resistance forces.”
“I thought I made it very clear that me and my friends have no interest in joining your army,” Juniper said.
“I know that you said that but I have more news from back home. Things have continued to get worse. More people are disappearing. Borders being closed. People are really scared. We need to act quickly to get some relief to the people,” Romair said.
“What is going on in Perralyth? What is going on with King and Queen Rosewood?” Riffen asked.
Romair gave Riffen a look like he recognized him from somewhere, but then just shook his head.
“I’m not quite sure about all the details, but they haven’t made public appearances in several weeks. The people are told that they are sick, but it’s possible they have been imprisoned or killed. Prince Illis and Princess Trisbella have taken over all affairs and they are ruling with iron fists. Like I said, people are very worried.”
“Go recruit them then,” Juniper said.
“Juniper. We need leaders. Heroes. We need to inspire the people. We need you,” Romair said. “Have some heart. Your people are hurting.”
Juniper looked down at her feet. This felt like an arrow through the heart.
“I’m not a military leader and Piakol is not a weapon of war,” She said. “I’m a hunter. A ranger. Nothing more.”
“I don’t believe that,” Romair said. “You are all heroes. And we could use your help.”
“Look, buddy -” Sigthyme started.
“Romair. My name is Romair.”
“Right, Romair, sorry. You seem like a great guy with a great cause. We’re no strangers to bad people holding the good people down. And I can tell that your words are really having a sway on Juniper here. Of course she wants to help her people. But right now, we can’t do it. We have our own things we are trying to deal with.”
“Plus I think you are mistaken about the dragon. He can breathe fire, sure. But he’s small. And that’s coming from me. You can’t just take him to so siege a castle or burn a throne room. Maybe once we get some things settled, we will be in a better position to help out. Until then, I think it’s best that you head back to your camp and stop following us.”
Romair looked from Sigthyme to Juniper.
“Juniper. Tell me that he does not speak for you. Tell me that you will join us and bring the dragon with you,” Romair said.
“I’m sorry. What Sigthyme said is true. I can’t go with you and neither can Piakol,” Juniper said.
Romair hung his head.
“I understand. I thought that I’d be able to convince you. Now I see that I have no choice,” Romair said.
“Oh no. Nothing good comes after that,” Sigthyme said.
Romair reached for something on his belt. A small medailaeon lit up.
“Take the dragon,” He said.
Header Photo Credit to Kimsokol on DeviantArt