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The queen looked up at the newcomer like a wounded wolf. “You? What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same question,” the newcomer said, dismounting from a chocolate-brown stag.
It wasn’t Jo- Ivaan had already made that out from the voice. He strained his neck and looked. A tall man, not more than twenty-five, with powerful muscular arms showing through his sleeveless green jacket was walking smartly towards the altar.
“Guards…” The queen began, but the man shushed her. “I come in peace, mom,” he said, placing his bow at the foot of the altar. “Just keep your part of the bargain and I’ll keep mine.” His intense green eyes darted towards Ivaan. “Let the boy go.”
The queen actually gulped. “You know I can’t…”
“I won’t say it again, mommy dearest. Let the boy go. You know what I can do.”
The queen grabbed the man’s wrist and looked at him with pleading eyes. “Freyden, you won’t-”
“Don’t say my name!” He thundered. The queen closed her hand tighter. He opened his mouth to speak again, but no sound came out. He tried again, with the same result. The queen let go of the man’s hand. She smiled at him. “There, Freyden, your weapon’s gone. What will you do now?”
While this drama had been going on before him, Ivaan was feeling the chains on his arms and legs loosen. Finally, they loosened enough for him to slide them off and someone pulled him behind the altar. That someone, Ivaan saw with delight, was Jo. He grinned. “You-”
Jo shushed him and motioned for him to be quiet and follow her. Ivaan was only too happy to, and this time he was actually going to follow her. Jo took him to the stag, hiding behind trees and ducking into the shadows. “Let’s go,” she whispered.
“What? And leave the nice man behind?”
“He’ll come after us. Hurry, now.”
“How stupid do you think I am, Jo? I’m not gonna repeat the same mistake twice.” Ivaan stood, defiant. “Who is the nice man anyway?”
Jo gritted her teeth and ignored him. She picked up a spare bow from a sack tied at the stag’s back and nocked an arrow in it, aiming it at one of the guards holding Freyden. Ivaan looked at her, at the bow in her hand and at the guard in turn. His eyes widened as he understood what she was doing.
She let go of the arrow. It sprouted from the unlucky sentry’s neck and he fell down, dead as a doornail. As if on cue, Freyden kicked the other guard in the crotch, picked up his bow and ran towards his ride.
“Climb the stag! Hurry!” Jo said, helping Ivaan up on the animal. Hurrying was precisely what he was doing, thought Ivaan, but he kept that thought to himself. Jo mounted herself just as Freyden reached his ride. He got on with almost no effort at all, pushing himself up with the stag’s body as a support and swinging his leg over its torso. Patting its neck, he whispered something in its ear that it seemed to understand and they sped off.
In the garden, Queen Auttaminen screamed at her soldiers to not let them get away.