Tillie stared at the witch, who was lying on the ground at the warriors’ feet, bound in seaweed ropes. “Eve!” she exclaimed.
Grayden shot Tillie a sideways glance. “You know that woman?”
“A little,” Tillie admitted. “We just met this morning. She’s the person who saved me from being turned into nothingness.”
“So, she’s your friend, then?”
“I wouldn’t go that far…” Tillie said.
One of the warriors began to prod Eve with a spear while another warrior laughed.
“They won’t hurt her, will they?”
Grayden shrugged. “Depends on what she’s done, really. Like I told you, Lord Mareel distrusts outsiders. If he thinks she’s a Lapadanian, she’ll probably be dead soon.”
Tillie looked at him, surprised by the lack of feeling in his voice. The blue tattoos on his arms no longer seemed exotic and beautiful, just strange and threatening. “You sound awfully used to death.”
“It’s the way of my people,” he said, turning away from her.
Tillie pushed off the ground with one foot and glided through the water.
“Tillie, wait!” Grayden called to her in a hushed voice, grabbing at her ankle.
“Standing around and watching a whole squadron of warriors kill a helpless prisoner may be the way of your people,” Tillie said, “but it’s not my way.” She soared down from the lip of the great round valley, feeling even more graceful than she had felt during her one and only ballet lesson (and even more indignant than when her ballet teacher, Lady Ennui, had asked her to never dance again). “Leave her alone!” Tillie yelled at the warriors.
The next thing she knew, two pairs of rough hands had clamped down tightly around her arms. Two of the villagers, who were much more warrior-like than Grayden, forced her towards the bottom of the valley. They held her face down in the mud and bound her hands behind her back with seaweed ropes.
“Uncle Quentin always says that you catch more flies with molasses than with sweet-and-sour sauce,” Tillie yelled.
“What have we here?” a harsh voice demanded.
“She might be another Lapadanian spy, Lord Mareel,” said one of the warriors.
“Here now, you,” a gruff voice barked at Tillie. “Are you a spy? And, if so, just who are you spying for?”
Tillie managed to crane her neck upward enough to see Lord Mareel’s legs – or more precisely, the place where his legs should have been but weren’t. In place of legs, Lord Mareel had a shimmering red fishtail that twitched back and forth keeping him afloat. In the distance behind him, Tillie could see several other warriors dragging a battered Eve into the village.
“I’m not a spy,” Tillie insisted. “And neither is Eve.”
“How would you know if she’s a spy or not?” Lord Mareel asked. “Unless you are a spy yourself? Perhaps you’ve been sent to spy on the other spy, yes? Explain yourself, girl!”
Shaken, Tillie paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. “Let’s see,” she said under her breath. “Where do I begin? I could start all the way back with Ophelia…”
“What’s that?” Lord Mareel asked. “What are you mumbling to yourself there?”
“She’s no doubt trying to cast a spell, my lord,” said the more helpful of the two warriors.
“She’s not casting a spell,” said a familiar voice.
“Grayden,” Lord Mareel sneered. “I wondered when you’d return from your rounds on the borders. I suppose you’ve returned without laying hold of a single Lapadanian. Again.”
“You’re right,” Grayden admitted. “I didn’t catch any Lapadanians, but I did find an outlander. One of the still-giant humans, actually.”
“Oh, and where is this mysterious ‘still-giant?’”
“You’ve got two men standing on her back,” Grayden answered, a sharp edge to his voice. He knelt down and helped Tillie to her feet. “I guess standing around and watching a helpless prisoner get killed isn’t my way either,” he whispered.
“And, boy, am I glad it isn’t,” Tillie said. “Can you cut these ropes, too, please?”
“I’m afraid that’s not yet possible…” he said, looking at Lord Mareel.
Tillie took her first full look at her captor. Lord Mareel’s upper body was just as strange as his lower half. Where most people have a right arm, Lord Mareel had the orange tentacle of an octopus, its dozens of suckers opening and closing like tiny mouths in the underwater current. His left arm was normal from the shoulder past the elbow, but it ended with the sharpened hook of a harpoon in place of a hand. An ornately carved gold band decorated his left bicep. From the center of his forehead protruded the beginnings of a fin that continued over the crest of his head and down the length of his back, tapering to an end at the base of his spine. Strangest of all his features were his eyes, which gleamed solid black in the dim underwater light. Tillie could see twin reflections of herself in the mirrored black orbs.
“Grayden has no right to release you,” Lord Mareel bellowed at Tillie. “You’re my prisoner.”
“Technically, she’s my prisoner,” Grayden answered bravely, his voice cracking only a little.
Lord Mareel turned his ebony eyes from Tillie to Grayden.
“And besides,” Grayden continued, flinching a little under Lord Mareel’s gaze, “it’s not up to you to decide her fate. We must present her to the Keeper of the Flame.”
“You can’t trouble her with such a trivial matter. These two Lapadanian spies must be punished immediately.”
“Tillie’s not a Lapadanian!” Grayden insisted, leaning forward. “Have you ever seen a Lapadanian with brown hair before?”
“No,” admitted Lord Mareel. “But that could be part of a clever disguise.” Suddenly he smiled an evil smile. “Besides, the other outsider has green hair like all Lapadanians. Therefore, she must be a Lapadanian spy and will be punished immediately.”
“She’s not a Lapadanian either!” Tillie yelled. “She’s a still-giant human, like me.”
“And I’m to take your word for this?” Lord Mareel said, poking his harpoon hand at Tillie’s face.
“We will take both of the prisoners before the Keeper of the Flame and she will decide what is to be done,” Grayden said. “Otherwise, she will know what you’ve done and you will answer to her.” He looked directly into Lord Mareel’s mirrored eyes, not flinching at all this time.
Lord Mareel stretched his tentacle toward Grayden’s neck, an angry scowl on his face. “I think you’d better watch yourself, boy,” he spat. “Warriors,” Lord Mareel called over his shoulder, “put this prisoner in the cell with the other one.”
“But, my lord,” one warrior said, “you told us we’d get to….”
Lord Mareel silenced him with a wave of his harpoon hand. “If Grayden insists on dragging this matter before the Keeper of the Flame, then we’ll do just that. In the meantime, the spies are not to be harmed.” He looked again at Tillie, sending a shiver up her spine. “They’ll receive their due punishments eventually, I’m sure – with the Keeper of the Flame’s blessing.”
“You’ll be fine,” Grayden whispered. “Trust me.”
Tillie nodded to Grayden and smiled as best she could, which wasn’t very convincing. Two warriors prodded her with a spear, leading her towards a jail cell. The cell was carved directly into the face of the rock wall with a single door of crisscrossed metal bars. One of the warriors produced a key and inserted it into the rusty, moss-covered lock. With a clank, the door swung open and the warrior pointed for Tillie to enter.
“Can you free my hands now, please?” she asked, trying to sound as non-spy-like as possible.
The warrior shook his head.
“You people really are being ridiculous,” Tillie said, swimming into the darkness of the cell. “I bet the Lapadanians wouldn’t be this rude,” she said quietly; for all she knew, a person could be speared for even saying a nice thing about the Lapadanians.
The door swung shut behind Tillie. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light of the cell, she noticed another person in the back corner, lying on the ground and curled into a ball.
“Eve?” she called. “Is that you?”
The figure didn’t move or answer.
Tillie crept closer and saw long green hair sprouting from the figure’s pale white forehead. “Eve, it is you!” she yelled. “I can’t believe that I’m glad to see you – but, I am!”
Eve looked up at her, but said nothing.
“Eve, it’s me. Tillie.” Tillie turned around, letting Eve get a good look at her.
Eve still didn’t respond.
“Is something wrong, Eve? Why won’t you answer me? Did they put a silence spell on you so you couldn’t put any hexes on them?”
Eve rolled her eyes.
“Something worse?” Tillie suggested. “Those cruel warriors didn’t cut out your tongue, did they? That’s it, isn’t it?! Oh, those devils!”
“They didn’t cut out my tongue!” Eve yelled.
“Oh, Eve, you can still talk!” Tillie swam a somersault to show her excitement. She settled back to the ground and looked at Eve with a puzzled face. “So, if you can still talk, why didn’t you answer me?”
“I’m trying to concentrate,” the witch snapped.
“Concentrate on what?” Tillie asked. “A plan for our grand escape?”
Eve smiled a cold, withering smile. “I already have a plan to get me out of this jail – and to get my revenge against the inhuman savage who put me in here.”
Suddenly, Tillie was no longer so glad to have found Eve.
“What do you mean?” Tillie demanded.
“One good turn deserves another,” the witch said, a twinkle in her eye. “It was nice talking to you,” she said, turning her back to Tillie.
“Are you at least going to tell me about this plan for our escape?” Tillie asked.
Eve ignored the question. Instead, she started making sculptures in the soft mud behind her back. A few seconds later, she began to sing:
Put down your broom, your cat, your pot
And make a form from what you’ve got.
You will not need knight, lance, or steed
To fool the world with dirt and rot.
Creating ain’t so tough a task.
Just trace your shape and forge your mask.
Now when you’re done, it’s time for fun
And in the sun again you’ll bask.
If you are doing what you plan
You’ll leap from fire and from pan.
Don’t look for help amongst the kelp.
Just make your way back to dry land.
By the third stanza of Eve’s song, Tillie stopped paying attention to the nonsensical lyrics. She swam back to the front of the cell, wishing she could cover her ears.
Hours dragged by and Eve continued to sing.
Tillie looked down at her ruffled cowgirl shirt. The tiny ebony buttons had turned from shiny black to shiny green. She sighed. "At least the fringe of my chaps is still black. That means the curse hasn't affected everything yet." Then, before she could say, "I want to be free and on dry land again," she was snoring a burbling underwater snore.