To Ensnare A Queen

By: Peter Meredith

The Hidden Land Novel 3

Chapter 1

No trumpets blared, no drums beat out a cadence for the marching feet, and no orders were bellowed. Even the whips lay like silent snakes curled at the belts of the hobgoblins. They had their orders: absolute silence. Any infraction wasn't going to be punished by a whipping this time. Death was the punishment, and it would be instantaneous.

The bodies strewn along the streets of the Demorlaik bore witness to this and their presence kept the rest of the goblins in line as they marched with their bellies shrunken by continual hunger and their eyes squinting against even the slightest light.

Their numbers seemed endless.

Out of the great black maze of the Underworld, the land beneath the Demorlaik, they came in ordered lines of tens and ordered squares of a hundred, and this in itself was unusual. Goblins didn't normally form armies so much as they formed hordes that swept everything before them. This time it was different. Where before straggling and mewling complaints were the norm, now iron discipline ruled. A discipline enforced by the harshest measures.

That discipline sent the goblins marching at the quick step, and it wasn't just the goblins either. All sorts of dreadful beasts formed the Master's army: long armed, jackal-headed gnolls, stinking ogres, tremendous trolls, and wolves by the thousands.

Even the wolves were silent, for they were not what one would find slinking through a forest. These were red-eyed and black-tongued beasts bred to serve the Master and they were altogether pitiless. They roamed up and down the goblin ranks waiting on the least word, ready to tear apart any who broke the Master's law.

For three hours the tremendous army marched up out of the black hole in the middle of the Demorlaik. They came rank upon rank, square upon square and when they had finally passed through to the Hidden Lands there was a perfect silence in the Underworld. The Master had completely emptied it, for he had bent all of his will upon the destruction of the Den, and his power was such that none knew of his coming.

His army went unseen and unheard, and the Den carried on with their lives thinking they were safe.

Chapter 2


Among the greens and browns and vibrant yellows of the forest, the unicorn should've stood out. Yet despite its white flanks, golden mane, and hocks of midnight blue, it somehow blended in with its surroundings and Ella, even with her elf eyes, could not discern it.

She had come upon it quite by accident during that morning's hike out of the town. Every day she left Hildeoven to explore, or so she told herself, but every day she found it harder and harder to come back. She felt a little like a comet circling the sun, only each of her orbits sent her further away, instead of closer, and she knew that one day she would stray too far. She would find the path that led to somewhere else; somewhere with a brighter future.

The unicorn seemed to portend such a day.

It ensnared Ella with its beauty in the first second her eyes beheld it and she had foolishly thought that she could ease up to it, whispering gently as she would with a normal horse. How wrong she was. The unicorn seemed to snort in laughter and then it sprinted off, not in a thundering of hooves, but rather in a rush of wind among the trees.

Ella gave immediate chase, running lightly through the forest with surprising speed, leaping logs and low bushes like a gazelle. Using her natural agility coupled with her magic, she kept first. Then the unicorn showed her what true speed was.

In midstride it seemed to gather itself and burst forth. It was a breathtaking sight. How superb the muscles of the creature! Its great legs seemed composed of velvet over steel and in seconds Ella stood alone, panting, but happy. A unicorn! It had been real!

Wearing a grin, she reached out with her tired mind in an effort to track it, only the unicorn had mastered all aspects of the art of magical camouflage. Despite its size, Ella couldn't seem to be able to lay her mind on it. She likened it to trying to grasp a hold of a soap bubble with a set of salad tongs. It was a useless exercise, yet she kept at it until her head pounded with the effort.

And just when she gave up hope of ever finding it again, she saw its sleek body cantering along a path not far down the slope of a valley that she hadn't yet explored. Without hesitating she ran to it, and never felt more human. Her legs were like lead and her breath was a loud gasping sound that secretly embarrassed her, and she could only thank goodness that she was alone in the woods without any fey nearby to raise an eyebrow.

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