Asking her to explain herself—namely why she was at her home so late at night—unleashed a gate of babbling Marietta wasn’t prepared for. She dug a knuckle into the base of her ear, the onslaught of sound annoying her to her skull. Marietta would’ve expected this level of blue-in-the-face incoherence from Ellie, not her favorite wolf, but Shreya had a penchant for the unexpected.
“You lost me. It’s late and I need sleep. Good night.” Marietta moved to shut her door.
Shreya slammed her hand over hers. Marietta grimaced, her eyes narrowing. “Get Ellie.”
“Don’t tell me you’re going through another one of your lovers’ squirrels. We literally just fixed your last one. Show some appreciation and play nice for longer.”
“Ask her what it means tomorrow. Good night!”
“Wait.” Shreya grasped the edge of the door. She held it in place, refusing to allow Marietta to get any sleep. “There is not time. My sister…they took her. I need a war group to save her. Ellie has warriors. Armies.”
Marietta tugged against Shreya’s efforts. “See, war groups, that’s where you lost me. Ellie must’ve told you that to impress you. She doesn’t have an army, and if she did, she would’ve sent them to find Freesia years ago.”
That seemed to do the trick in getting Shreya to loosen up somewhat, but it wasn’t enough. The wolf still had her paws all over the door, still competing in their tug-of-war-to-end-all-wars. Marietta wished Sunflower was around to give her the dogpower she needed. She’d avoided thinking about the adjustments she’d need to make in her absence.
Just as soon as she started getting used to having a dog to boss around, Sunflower was returned to an ungrateful Ellie. She better listen to my request and give her dog something decent to wear. And she’d better not slack on brushing her hair!
Her momentary drift-off in thinking gave Shreya an opening to fully yank open the door. The hinge released an awful creak/crunch noise. Damn Zinnia and her poor construction habits! Empty-handed now, Marietta stared at little Miss Wolf, who stared right back at her acting like she hadn’t broken the door.
What was the damage? Was the wood splintered? Marietta pursed her lips, tight and disapproving.
“Ooh, now I’m really not going to help you,” she said.
“You have to!” Shreya snarled.
“Bossy wolves won’t get anything from me.”
“Please…” She clasped her hands in front of her.
“Pathetic wolves don’t get anything from me, either.”
“My sister will die if we do not help.”
“Yeah, the one Zinnia stabbed? That was a doozy of a time,” Marietta said. “I don’t think I have any declinations to help her, sorry. Let me guess, she tried to make the wrong person into dinner and she’s paying the price. Typical wolf… Whatever mess she’s in, she’s going to have to pull herself out of. I’m not helping.”
“Then, I shall go to Stockbrunn and find Ellie,” Shreya said, blue eyes burning with foolhardiness that was more fool than hardiness. Marietta caught the minute quivering of her bottom lip and the slight shine on her cheeks.
She’s a mess. “Stockbrunn’s dogs aren’t like Sunflower. They’ll sniff you out and warn everyone. You’ll be dead within the hour, no questions asked. And what for, huh? I told you that Ellie doesn’t have an army.”
“I have to try. No one tries. Everyone at home says it is the end.” If Shreya’s tail hadn’t been bound and hidden, Marietta imagined it’d be drooping between her legs.
Curse these heartstrings of mine. I must’ve forgotten to snip some off them off. Marietta grunted. “Explain again what’s going on.”
“My sister is taken to the foxes. The Elders think…”—a break, a sniffle to fight off tears—”…they think she can stop them from attacking. Her life, traded. We can find her if we are fast. We must go!”
“I’m going to be honest with you. The odds of Stockbrunn getting involved in your fox issue are smaller than an ant. Stockbrunn doesn’t like you. You saw how Ellie acted? Imagine that attitude across thousands of people, itching for a chance to kill your friends and family,” Marietta said. “You have a lot of bad history. It’d take a miracle for Ellie to win anyone over on this.”
“Miracle, miracle,” Shreya said, like she was tasting the heady desperation of the word.
“Are you sure about this? Miracles are never a simple thing. Sometimes, you have to pay for them in blood. Things could go completely wrong, in ways you wouldn’t be able to guess. Is your sister worth it?”
The “miracle” that led Marietta to this point, to her freedom outside of a pig pen…there were times she wished she could undo it. Don’t get her wrong, the life she had now was far better than that sham she was living through, but she’d suffered a high price for it. Freesia handed her something she never thought she’d have (or knew existed—oh, how sweet that ignorance was).
“Sure, very sure,” Shreya said.
“Then, I suppose I’ll change into my favorite outfit and head into Stockbrunn for you. Wait here. I’ll bring back Ellie as soon as I can.”
Marietta Trotter’s first bout of misery came in the form of a face full of stone and a boot on her back. She pounded her fists against the ground, her growl growing in volume. They were going to pay for that. Ellie better have their heads for this indignity!
When she entered Stockbrunn, it was like everyone vanished. They dumped out the grime that was their citizenship and decided to start fresh. Her shoes clacked in the near silence. Even the dark buildings lining the road looked bereft of life. Abandoned, but for what?
Breathing in, she picked up the faint smell of smoke in the distance, and then closer, a pungent sweat. The odors oozed off of two humans who approached her, fast on their feet. Before she had the chance to fully explain her presence, they were barking at her and ordering her to get flat on the ground.
They must not have liked her appropriate-level of reluctance, because they shoved her over.
“You’ll regret this. I’m one of the heiress’ advisors,” she said through gritted teeth.
“What pen do you belong to?” the man holding her down asked.
“None, you idiot!”
“Polkadot ribbons, hm… Which family does that?”
“I thought they stopped tagging pigs that way,” his partner in humiliation said.
“Blazes if I know.” He eased his boot off of her. “As long as you cooperate I won’t have to put any cuffs on you.”
Marietta stood back up. She made a mental note that if the dirt smudged on her overalls didn’t come out, she’d hunt these men down and give them stains of their own. “Take me to Ellie this instant, and I’ll consider not telling her what you’ve done to me. I’m no farm animal.”
“Says the pig,” the blonder of the two said. His hair was so light it might as well have been white, despite his face reading as though he was around Zinnia’s age. Perhaps that was why he treated her so callously. He didn’t know about the tragedy that happened years ago, and the pig that emerged strong and tall from it.
“Yeah, that’s what this pig says, and if you lay another finger on me, I’m going to break it,” Marietta replied.
The other fool brushed his sweaty hands on the front of his black shirt. “She probably squeezed through a hole in somebody’s fence. Let’s stop wasting time and arrest her for now. We’ll drop her off at the station and deal with her tomorrow.”
“Don’t touch me!”
In all fairness, she gave them a clear warning. No one needed to get hurt. And, all things considered, the blonde boy might as well have ran his face into her fist. He did it to himself by trying to grab her. So, it was reasonable that she had to defend herself and make him back down by sending him to the ground.
“How does it feel?” Marietta yelled.
…Okay, it was probably unnecessary for her to kick him, but it felt good. Cathartic, really.
The sword lifting out of its sheath ended that moment for her. Its wielder wasn’t messing around, and she could barely blame him for it. She knew outracing him would be difficult. Her options were woefully limited, especially with that sword coming into play.
Marietta stepped back, her hands raised in surrender.
“You got me,” she said. And Shreya will never understand the depths of how much she owes me.
A/N: This miracle won’t be a spontaneous, out-of-the-blue one. Good luck, girls. Whew…I love writing as Marietta. Please, creative energies, give me more excuses to write as her.
Voting ends Sunday, October 15th at 11:59 PM EST.
We had 14 voters for Chapter 62. 11 voted for Shreya to ask for Ellie’s help, and 3 voted for her not to. Whomp, whomp. I always wonder how it feels to be in the smaller group of voters. Do you ever feel like “blegh, c’mon, people” or what?
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