“The boggles, for sure. This way.” Malia pointed into the dark forest with her sword.
“How do you know?” Kiera adjusted her armor for the tenth time. She only walked into the woods when it became clear Malia wasn’t waiting.
Malia snapped a twig off a passing tree and dipped it in a dab of something next to the tracks they followed. “Smell this.”
Kiera leaned in close then pushed it away fast. “Uck! Smells like the stuff we use to whiten wool after the shearing.”
“Yeah, boggle blood. Nasty smell, but easy to track.” Malia walked on, pushing small branches out of her way. Kiera learned to catch them before they sprang back at her.
“Shouldn’t we… get more soldiers?” Kiera gripped her spear tight.
“No time. We’re all spread out looking for the princess. They’d never—shh!” Malia crouched behind a fallen tree, pulling Kiera with her. “They’ve made camp.”
Crawling forward with brush as cover, they peered into a part of the forest where some old growth had fallen, taking other trees with it to form a small clearing ringed with trunks and debris. The murmur of low voices drifted to them, and peering through a gap in an uprooted tangle they looked on the pale, lumpy skin of the boggles. Several built up a fire, another group raised temporary shelters, and one sat in the middle of it all with the princess. With the princess on his lap, kissing him deeply. Passionately, even. As they watched, the boggle whispered something in the princess’s ear, and she giggled and placed her head on his in the way intimates do.
“C’mon.” Malia tugged Kiera until she followed her away from the clearing. “We’ve got to keep searching if we want to sound convincing when we report not finding her.”