They had been traveling for a while now, and still hadn't seen any sign of her.
Cayle stopped his wagon to look at the map again. Could she have changed direction?
"Why are we stopping?" Cadman asked as he pulled his wagon up next to Cayle's.
"Needed to look at the map again." Cayle said.
"Again?" Cadman asked.
"Yes 'again'." Cayle said. "I just want to make sure we don't stray from the trail."
"Not that this is much of a trail." Alroy pointed out. "You follow slight tracks in the dirt and eyewitnesses who may just be lying to get the money you tend to promise; not exactly a solid lead."
"It's all we've got." Cayle said, slightly defensive as he put the map away. "Okay, let's get going."
They came to a four-way fork that, based on the tracks, was used frequently.
"Guess you won't be finding any tracks here." Alroy commented.
Cayle held back his reply as he climbed down to look at the tracks more closely, to see if he could pick out her tracks in the mess, but to no avail. All the tracks looked the same, although, there was a slight outline that appeared to have been swept away, to hide something. Could that have been her?
Suddenly, they all heard a panicked neigh from a nearby horse. They glanced at their own horses to see what had panicked them, but they were silent and gave no indication that they had made any noise.
If it wasn't our horses, Cayle thought, then whose was it?
Suddenly, a brown and white stallion came tearing out of the faraway woods to the north, baring down on the small group.
Cayle recognized that horse.
It was Deanna's. But why would she let her horse loose? He had seen first hand the loyalty that they shared, and knew she would not have simply left her horse to roam. No, something was wrong.
He could feel it.
* * *
The man looked at her in confusion. "You are Marianna of the Shore, are you not?"
"Never heard of her." Deanna responded.
The man looked even more confused before he turned to a man at his right shoulder and whispered something. The man looked at her closely before whispering back to the first man.
"Bring me the guards who brought this woman in." The man ordered, and three of the guards positioned around the room obeyed and left to find them. "Bring the woman forward."
The guard behind her shoved her forward, and she glared at him. "Didn't your mother ever teach you how to treat a lady?"
The two men stared at her for a moment before whispering to each other once more. It was kind of eerie.
"Look, this is obviously some misunderstanding, so I'll just go on my way." Deanna said, turning to the door to leave, but the guard blocked her way.
"You cannot leave, not yet." The man said, finally addressing her.
"And why not?" She asked.
"You cannot leave until I have formally apologized." He explained. "This has all been terribly embarrassing."
"Okay then, go ahead." She said. He laughed in response.
"You do not understand, it is not that simple." He said, speaking in a tone that one would take with a child. "I have been embarrassed, and by that right, my kingdom has been embarrassed, and that cannot be undone until we have shown you hospitality, as is the way of my people."
Deanna was more than a little confused by this.
"Please, stay a few days, it is the least we can do." He said.
Before she could answer, he clapped his hands twice and two maids appeared, their heads down. "Please take this one Lady..." He began, but faltered. "What is your name?"
"Deanna." She answered. He smiled.
"Please take this Lady Deanna to one of our empty chambers and get her cleaned up." He said. The two girls curtsied, before turning to her and leading her away after the guard had removed the shackles.
If they had thought she was this Marianna of the Shore, then that girl was in some serious trouble.
The three guards came back in, bringing with them the captain who had captured Deanna. He bowed to the man.
"You have brought me the wrong wench." He snarled, his demeanor completely different than the one he had used with Deanna.
"I am deeply sorry, my lord, but they look an awful lot alike." The captain explained, his head down.
"I don't care! You were supposed to being me that sea wench!" The man exploded. "How else am I supposed to ransom her father?!"
The captain flinched at the harsh tone. Then he heard something he didn't expect: laughter.
He looked up to see him laughing, confusing the captain even more.
"My lord?" He said quietly.
"This is brilliant!" He said through his laughter.
"How so, my lord?" The captain inquired.
"I may not be able to ransom the real wench to her father, but, if my sources are correct, then she is still inland." He explained through his glee. "And we can just pass off this woman as his daughter!"
"But, sir, wouldn't Maria-, I mean, the wench's father know his daughter from a look alike?" The captain asked. "If the ransom is paid, and when he comes to claim her, wouldn't that sour the deal?"
"Don't you see?" the man said, his excitement growing with every passing second. "He won't get the chance to leave with her! He'll pay the ransom, I'll demand he pay it in person, and when we introduce the other one, we'll kill him before he realizes what's happening! It's perfect."
"What will we do with the girl afterwards?" The captain asked. "Kill her?"
"No," The man said. "I've been getting quite lonely as of late, I think I shall take her for a bride."