Sara wanted me to believe that he wasn’t always this way, but I had a feeling that couldn’t be further from the truth. Oren had given me the impression that this was him in a good mood.
When we reached a room nearer to hers, Sara let me in. It was a smaller, more sparsely furnished version of hers, and she expressed regret for the lack of clothing. So their home wasn’t stocked the way Förening had been for me. Not that I minded. Clothing and accommodations weren’t my priority.
“You don’t really expect me to stay here, do you?” I asked. She went about my room, turning on the lights and showing me where things were. “Not when my friends are being held prisoner in the dungeon.”
“I expect that you don’t have a choice,” Sara said carefully. Her words didn’t carry the same threat as Oren’s. Rather, she was stating a fact.
“You have to help me.” I went over to her, appealing to her obvious maternal instinct. “They’re down there without food or water. I can’t let them stay that way.”
“I can assure you that they are safe and will be taken care of.” She met my eyes, impressing upon me that she told the truth. “As long as you are here, they will be fed and clothed.”
“That’s not good enough.” I shook my head. “They don’t have a bed or a bathroom.” I didn’t mention that Rhys couldn’t sit, and I had no clue how to break the spell I’d accidentally put him under.
“I am sorry,” Sara said sincerely. “I can promise you that I will check on them myself to ensure they are being properly cared for, but that’s the best I can do.”
“Can’t you put them in another room or something? Lock them in a spare bedroom.” I wasn’t thrilled about them being captive no matter what, but getting them out of the dungeon would be a step in the right direction.
“Oren would never allow it.” She shook her head. “It’d pose too great a risk. I’m sorry.” She looked helplessly at me, and I realized that was the best I could get from her. “I’ll get you some appropriate clothing to sleep in.”
I sighed and sat on the bed. Once she left, I let my body sag from exhaustion. The emotional roller coaster I’d been on had left me depleted and worn out.
But as tired as I was, I knew I couldn’t sleep. Not until I knew that Matt and Rhys were safe.
dungeons & heroes
It’s not as if I had a plan or even knew where I was going. Sara had brought me clothes—yoga pants and a tank top, both in black. I changed because sneaking around in a dress didn’t sound like much fun, and then I crept out into the hall.
I tried to remember the way Loki had led me up here, but they had dimmed the lights, making it even harder for me to recognize my unfamiliar surroundings. As I recalled, we didn’t take that many turns. It should be fairly simple.
The hardest part would be figuring out what to do once I found the dungeon. Maybe I could use persuasion on the guard. Or if it was another hobgoblin, I could overpower him and get him to open the door.
I found the winding staircase. It only led down to the main floor, so I still had to find the rest of the route to the dungeon.
When I reached the bottom of the steps, I heard voices. I froze, debating whether I should run or hide, before deciding that staying in the shadows would be the way to go. I hurried behind the staircase and crouched down, making myself as small as possible.
The voices got louder as they came closer, and they appeared to be arguing about how to make the best squash. My heart pounded so loudly I was certain they could hear it, and I held my breath. Moments later, I saw the feet of two hobgoblins walking past.
One of them appeared to be female, with long ratty hair in a braid down her back. They really were unattractive creatures, but based on the way they talked, they seemed harmless. They sounded more human and normal than some of the Trylle I’d encountered in Förening.
I waited a few minutes until I was sure that the hobgoblins had disappeared down the hall before I started breathing again. I figured I could take them, but I didn’t want to beat up random strangers. Besides that, they could make noise and alert everyone else in the palace, including Oren.
I stepped out from underneath the staircase and almost ran into Loki. He leaned casually against the stairs, his elbow resting on the railing and his legs crossed at the ankles. I nearly screamed, but I caught myself, knowing that drawing further attention would only make things worse.
“Hello, Princess.” Loki grinned at me. “Couldn’t sleep?”
He and Ludlow had been calling me “Princess” from the beginning, and I thought they were taunting me about my standing with the Trylle. But I realized I was their Princess too, and he was actually giving me some form of reverence.
Unfortunately, I knew that my title pulled no weight with him. Right now I was a prisoner too.
“Yeah, I just … I needed something to eat,” I fumbled.
“A likely story,” he said, and his expression became skeptical. “If only I could believe you.”
“I haven’t had anything to eat all day.” While that was actually the truth, my nerves had my stomach too racked to even think about eating.
“What do you plan to do?” Loki asked, ignoring my feeble excuse. “Even if you find the dungeon, how will you get them out?”
“I won’t, now. You’re gonna run and tell on me, aren’t you?” I studied his eyes, trying to get a read on him, but he looked as amused as he always did.
“Maybe.” He shrugged as if he hadn’t decided yet. “Let me hear your plan. It’s probably not even worth bothering anyone with.”
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
“You seem like a self-saboteur,” he said. I opened my mouth to protest, and he laughed at my obvious indignation. “Don’t take it personally, Princess. It happens to the best of us.”
“I’m not going to stop until I get my friends out of here.”
“Now that I believe.” He leaned in toward me. “This all goes so much easier when you’re honest.”
“Like I’m the one being devious,” I scoffed.
“I haven’t lied to you yet,” he said, sounding oddly serious.
“All right, then,” I said. “How do I break my friends out of the dungeon?”
“Just because I don’t lie doesn’t mean I’ll answer you.” Loki smiled.