After the refreshing breakfast, the party continued traveling toward the distant forest in which the Swamp Queen’s kingdom lay. The girls were hoping to avoid another meeting with the queen’s rough guards, but Raynold assured them that they had little to fear.
“I really, really don’t want to kiss her hand again,” Diana said with a shudder.
“It was clean,” Alyssa pointed out.
Diana made a face. “Maybe so, but it gave me the jitters anyways.”
Raynold smiled at the girls. “We won’t be bothered again,” he promised. “The swamp warriors will still have their queen’s previous order fresh in their minds. One thing those people have in their favor is this: their undying love and loyalty to their queen. I know it seems impossible that creatures so ugly could love, but they do, and fiercely.”
They continued riding. Now that they knew how long the prairie was, it took a lot less time for them to cross, much to Alice’s relief. Even so, when they reached the woods, the shade of the forest was welcome indeed, for the sun had become uncomfortably hot on the backs of horses. Raynold’s promise turned out to be true, and though they saw glimpses of swamp creatures through the foliage, they were not detained a second time.
The party of adventurers came to the other side of the Swamp Queen’s land quite safely, with no more wounds than a few scratches from low hanging branches on the trail. Next Raynold led them over a stretch of hills and valleys. Alice began to feel her backside getting sore again. She fidgeted in the saddle of Troy, trying to get more comfortable. It didn’t work.
“When can we rest?” She finally asked after a failed attempt to stretch her cramped leg muscles while riding her horse.
“Soon,” Raynold answered.
“How soon?” Alice pleaded. “’Cause I’m getting awfully sore back here.”
Raynold chuckled. “Very soon, I promise.”
An hour later, Raynold announced that they would take a break, make camp, and spend the night.
“Is it safe?” Diana asked. “I mean, do you think the gliefs will have found that we’re not in their mountain yet?”
Eliana nodded her head. “I’m sure we’re safe. If they have searched their mountain already and found us gone, it will take them at least a day to reach where we’re camped.”
“In other words, it’s ok to take a break and stay here for the night,” Alyssa said.
Alice slipped from her horse onto the ground. Her knees buckled and she sank into the grass with a moan.
During the short pause which followed her collapse, Alyssa grinned and whispered to Diana, “wait for it…”
Then Alice gave another moan before saying the long expected, “I’m gonna die!”
Alyssa, Diana, and Raynold looked at each other and burst into laughter. Eliana smiled, but instead of joining their mirth, took pity on the hurting Alice and offered to help her move closer to where they would make the fire. Alice accepted her gentle help gratefully and soon dinner was being made on a roaring fire.
After their stomachs were full, and everyone--even Alice--was feeling as if all was right in the world, the twins got back to work on their story. Diana looked over their shoulder curiously, but Alice insisted that she shouldn’t.
“You can’t see how it ends!” She explained. “You’re a character after all.”
Diana humphed, but obeyed the authors and stayed away from their book. “How close are you to being done now?” She asked.
“Almost, almost, almost there,” Alyssa said. “We’re now in middle of chapter nineteen, and wrapping up the story as fast as we can.”
“As fast as my poor wrist allows us to go,” Alice added, rubbing the wrist in question and grimacing. “I think Bettina’s salve finally stopped working.”
Raynold raised an eyebrow in doubt. “I didn’t think that was possible!”
Eliana walked over. “Let me see your wrist,” she ordered gently. Alice held it out. “Where does it hurt exactly?”
Alice put her finger on the middle of her wrist where one might feel someone’s pulse. “Right there,” she said, “it’s been weak ever since I was a baby. This isn’t a new problem, but with all the pressure we’ve had to finish our book, I’ve been doing more writing than usual and that makes it start hurting.”
Eliana pulled a container from the recesses of her long dress and opened it. A sweet, flowery odor reached Alice’s nostrils. “This might help,” she offered. “May I?”
Alice shrugged. “It can’t possibly hurt worse than Bettina’s salve.”
Eliana took Alice’s wrist and began massaging the salve onto it. Alice gritted her teeth and scrunched her eyes tightly closed. Alyssa came over and stood next to her twin.
“Is it helping?” She asked.
“I can’t tell,” Alice answered through clenched teeth. “It hurts. That’s all I know.”
Eliana looked up at her patient sympathetically. “I’m sorry to cause you pain. It will help in the long run though, which is what you want I’m sure.”
Alice nodded shortly, but kept her eyes shut tightly until Eliana sighed and said she was done. Then she opened them warily and looked down at her wrist. “I-it’s pink!” She gasped in surprise.
“That’s a small side-effect,” Eliana explained. “The salve is made from the nectar of a Pinkdee, a rare, light pink flower found in the Swamp Queen’s lands. When you rub it on your skin it leaves a light pink residue. Harmless, but can be shocking if you don’t expect it.”
“Is it permanent?” Alice asked in dismay.
“Oh no!” Eliana replied, smiling. “It’ll last as long as it’s healing your wrist. Once it has done its work it will gradually fade into your regular skin tone.”
Alice sighed in relief. “Well I’m glad I won’t be living with a permanently light pink wrist for the rest of my life!”
Alyssa giggled. “I don’t know, it’s kinda cute.”
“Stop it.” Alice glared at her sister. “You know how much I hate that color.”
Raynold cleared his throat. “Let’s all get some sleep. We’ve got a lot of travelling to do tomorrow.”
They all unpacked their blankets and prepared to lie down. Diana and Alice fell asleep almost immediately, but Alyssa’s mind was still alive with her story. Raynold was staring into the fire absentmindedly, and Eliana was laying on her back, looking into the star-filled sky.
The author watched her characters as a spider might watch its prey. Finally, to Alyssa’s delight, Eliana slipped from her blanket restlessly and walked out into the night. Not long after, Raynold seemed to come to himself with a start and noticed Eliana was no longer there. He looked around the camp wildly, and then set out after her disappearing form. Alyssa waited until both had vanished from her view, then crept around her sleeping sister and friend to follow the unsuspecting others.
She found them, sitting together on the grass only a little ways from the campsite, but around a small hill so that they couldn’t be seen from those at the campsite. Alyssa shivered in anticipation and sneaked closer to them so she would be able to hear what passed between them.
“…have admired you ever since I met you in the glief cave,” Raynold was saying. “And I want to know if you return my affection.”
Alyssa could see Eliana’s blush in the moonlight and admitted to herself that the picture was quite pretty. “I-I really don’t know what to say,” she stuttered. “I hardly know you!”
“But will you give me a chance?” Raynold pleaded. “A chance to show you my love for you?”
Eliana dropped her head, her cheeks reddening even more. There was a short silence, then Eliana smiled shyly and nodded. Raynold broke into a huge grin and they embraced.
Alyssa, thoroughly ashamed of herself for eavesdropping on such a private conversation, crept back to the camp. But she was grinning widely on the outside, and was secretly thrilled to know that everything was working out exactly as she and her sister had planned.
Without another thought on the matter, she dropped off to sleep, only vaguely aware that sometime later Raynold and Eliana arrived back at camp together, arm in arm.