The morning lit the forest the teens had slept in, waking them and reminding them of their newfound circumstances. They wished the previous day was just a dream, but reality wasn’t so kind.
“So what should we do for food?” Ruby asked soon after waking.
“Some hunting should be fine,” Va’il replied.
“Oh. Well, we can figure that out at the next town. We just have to hurry there and fill up.”
“Hurry, yeah,” Ruby said. She stopped walking along the road and opened the bag she had been carrying.
“Slipskates,” Va’il said, and then dropped his bag as well.
“This road is good enough. This is why we have them, right?” Ruby asked while smiling. Va’il nodded, knowing that the skates would be the only thing to save them from a terrible fate. Without them, he feared the difficultly they would face on foot.
Before they got their shoes off, they heard the sound of horses approaching.
“Let’s hide, just in case,” Va’il said. They put the skates away and we’re about to run back into the forest when the people on horses approached.
“Va’il! Ruby! Wait up!” Link yelled, surprising Va’il and Ruby.
“Link?” Ruby asked. Va’il looked on with a scowl.
“And Greta,” Link said. He and Greta rode two massive horses, and behind them were two smaller horses without riders.
“You two! You ran off in the middle of the night,” Greta said.
“Yeah. We did,” Va’il said.
“Why? Are you planning on coming back?” Greta asked.
“We can leave when we want. And no, we aren’t coming back,” Va’il said.
“So father was right, you did overhear his plotting,” Link said while shaking his head.
“You were told? You’re here to capture us!” Va’il said.
“No, we aren’t. Well, we were. Let me explain,” Link said.
“I don’t plan on listening well,” Va’il said.
“Va’il, Ruby, please. Let Link and I help. Just listen for a moment,” Greta said.
“You and Link? Why? You two don’t work together,” Va’il said.
“On the surface. But that’s an act,” Link said.
“A complete act,” Greta said while nodding. “In truth, me and Link get along perfectly. We agreed long ago to be the ones to obtain father’s inheritance. It’s the younger two we don’t get along with. So me and Link pretend to hate each other, to work against each other, to prove ourselves to our father. Once he decides on one of us, for he will if we show ourselves greedy, we’ll share. It’s the younger two that are each individual and selfish.”
“Yes, it is. Boris and Francine are younger, and each pretend to be good. Each, though, is careful and plotting. They are cunning. They have their own plans, each, but only me and Greta are working together,” Link said.
“By pretending to hate each other?” Ruby asked.
“Exactly. Father admires ambition and strength. He’s greedy, himself, if you haven’t figured that out from last night’s plotting. If it seems like Greta and I are the most ambitious and at each other’s throats, he views that as strength. And since we are at odds with each other, not with father, he thinks we trust him as well. Completely, and utterly. He thinks each of us is greedy and just as terrible as him,” Link said.
“What an awful family,” Va’il said.
“A noble family, indeed,” Ruby said, and then sighed. “I shouldn’t be surprised. But then again, how is this related to the rest, and us?”
“Father sent us after you to see if you had overheard his plans. If not, we were to persuade you to come back. If so, we’re supposed to force you to come back. And he promised us rewards and a chance of being the sole inheritor if one of us succeeded over the other. It’s a competition. That’s what he thinks. What he doesn’t know is that we pretend to obey him. In truth, we want to help you get away. Grip has complete control over Grizz, and all the nobles who own land are subjugated as well. They have been allowed to keep ruling as long as they tribute materially and with some servants from time to time. Additionally, there are rewards for capturing foreigners and delivering them to Grip. People from lands not yet conquered by Grip are used as slaves, hostages, bargaining chips, or converted into spies. And if they are noble, there are greater rewards based on their status. And, Ruby, father figured out your nobility from the very first moment. He’s been waiting to capture you since then, and was supposed to today.”
“And so, let me see, you’re going to help us get away,” Va’il said, slowly relaxing his guard.
“Exactly. Our competition with each other won’t really matter if you escape. We can make it up to father in other ways. It’s despicable, what he and Grip are doing. If we inherit the city, we can protect people,” Link said.
“Your father has no idea, you say? Are you sure?” Ruby asked.
“Yes, positive,” Greta said. “Our father may be greedy and a bit cunning, but not more than us. We made our pact long ago, at an age when our father wouldn’t have guessed our thoughts, and haven’t spoken with each other about it much since then, knowing we may be overheard. It’s an act that has required absolute confidence in each other for years, without actually confirming it. Many times, we fight for real since there is no way to confirm what the other thinks without being alone like this. To put siblings at odds like this is awful. But we did it, and well. We have his absolute confidence in our supposed goals and loyalties.”
“Supposing that’s all true, what now?” Va’il asked.
“We brought water and provisions, enough for you to survive a couple weeks on foot. Take them now. Also, here are two horses for you to take. And we shall travel with you to the next city. It’ll be a while, so our father will believe us when we say we followed as far as we could, and we can help you out at the next city. It’s a bit tough being foreign, after all. We’ll help you get stocked and show you the way to go,” Link said.
“What do you think, Va’il?” Ruby said. Va’il looked back at her and realized she believed them. Va’il nodded, believing the Laloo children as well. They took the bags and horses, and rode with the Laloo children for the rest of the day.