Natasha wasn’t herself. I could tell there was something bothering her. What was she thinking about?
“Natasha… Are you well?” My question seemed to snap her back to reality from whatever daydream she was having. “I need you to focus.”
The glazed look in her eyes faded, and she looked normal again. “What are you worrying about? You know very well that I’m as ready as ever.”
She wasn’t. Behind the smile she struggled to keep on her face, I could sense dread. I turned back to the lookout post from our hiding spot behind the bushes.
“You’re not getting scared now, are you? This is the third lookout post we’ve come across, you should’ve gotten used to this,” I said to her jokingly, trying to lift her spirits.
She didn’t reply. Instead, she bit her lip and let her thoughts consume her again. Something was really wrong, and she gave me no clue to find out what it was. I was momentarily distracted by two guards strolling in front of us. “You ready Natasha?” I turned to her and asked.
She merely nodded, and I hoped that she really was ready. As the guards passed by, I silently rose and clasped one man’s mouth with my hand before dragging him swiftly behind our bush and stabbing him in the heart. About eight steps later, the other guard realised that his friend was missing. I looked back at our bush, hoping Natasha was gone. I let out a sigh of relief when I found that she actually was. She was functioning normally, thankfully .
The other guard swivelled around, looking for his lost partner. At that moment, Natasha materialised behind him and broke his neck ever so quietly. We quickly dragged his body to our bush too, and no one else there was any the wiser.
“Can you keep going?” I nonchalantly asked her as I studied the other guards hanging around the watchtower, keeping the mood upbeat. “Maybe you can just support me this time.”
“You wish,” came the reply. I looked at her face one last time before sneaking behind a rock closer to the tower. She hadn’t changed.
It might have been fifteen minutes, tops. We cleared the site of enemies as smoothly as we had swept the previous two. None of the guards we confronted revealed the location of their main camp, no matter how hard I threatened and tortured them, just like with the other two towers. We carried the bodies up to the cabin atop the tower and scurried into one of the tents. I peeked out the door once and found the sun to gauge the time. There were a few good hours left before the sun would even set. I closed the door and sat with Natasha.
I couldn’t believe we managed to stumble across three watchtowers in such a short amount of time; we’d only started out the previous night. The thought of allowing Natasha to lead the way came back to me, it was a good decision. What amazing luck, given the fact that all three lookouts were very well concealed in the foliage of the jungle. It was almost as if she was given their exact locations.
I decided to voice my thoughts as a joke to lighten her mood. “Where did you get the locations of these posts from?” I instantly regretted it, and I didn’t know why.
Natasha looked mortified. Her lips were quivering and her eyes were wide open in fear. Extremely concerned, I shuffled a little closer to her. In response, she crawled to the other side of the tent and observed me from a distance, waiting for my next move.
I couldn’t help but get a little irritated. How could I help her if she kept shunning me away? “Natasha, you better start getting your act together. What the hell is wrong?” It came out a little too aggressive.
Her lips stopped shaking. In fact, I sensed a little relief. “He doesn’t know…” she murmured to herself.
“Of course I don’t know!” I finally let my emotions through. After a few seconds of calming myself down, I spoke in a softer tone, “You’ve been like this ever since we left, and it’s getting worse. Whatever’s bothering you, I’m sure I can help. Come on, spill it. What’s the matter?”
She looked at me with that fake smile again. “Don’t worry, I’m just fine.”
I gave up. I threw my back to the floor to rest on the ground. Then I thought of one last thing. Tilting my head to her I said, “I know you’re worried for the Princess. You are her personal knight, she trusted in you, right? You need to save her, justify her trust. I’m merely here to help you perform your duty. Hey, whatever’s going on, just know I believe in you.” The reply was unexpected.
“Do that and you’ll be digging your own grave.”
I was stunned. Where did that come from? What could she have possibly meant? Before I could open my mouth to question her, she headed for the door.
“We’ve been through three lookout posts now. These, including the others, are probably in a circle around their main camp. We can now estimate its location. We’ve got no time, we must hurry and find it,” she said hurriedly. “Let’s go and save our Princess,” she persuaded.
I didn’t hear her last sentence properly. She just assumed the camp would be in the centre of a circle of watchtowers. How could she possibly know if they were arranged in such a way to fool us in this manner? We were lucky so far, I didn’t want to push it any further.
“Look Natasha, you’re being desperate. We have to think this through, carefully and…” I trailed off looking at Natasha’s expression. I was right about her being desperate. The look on her face was wild. She really needed me to be on the same page as her.
“Trust me,” she said through another fake smile.
Trust me. That’s what she told me when we went West instead of South where we saw the enemy troops leave. That’s what she told me when we took that completely random route through the jungle. There were a lot of suspicions building in my mind, but I let them be. I appraised her once before deciding to succumb to her wishes. “Lead the way, Natasha.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted the camp later. Atop a tree, I leaned forward on my branch, squinting at the smoke from a fire there. The sun was setting, the clouds caught fire from the slanted sunlight. A light breeze shook the branch slightly. It was a camp alright, but was it the enemy’s? It couldn’t be so obvious, weren’t they worried we’d strike back somehow? I pondered on my thought for a second before realising our remaining forces couldn’t possibly scratch a shield of theirs. No wonder they didn’t care.
I looked around the campsite. Guards were crawling all around, more than needed to ensure safety. A closer look revealed they wore the uniforms of our enemy. Sure enough, it was their camp. But there were so many guards out, it was as if they were expecting us. I climbed back down the tree to Natasha’s side. The streak in her hair shone a beautiful violet along with the setting sun’s light.
“The place is swarming with guards,” I informed her. “You sure they won’t spot your hair easily?”
She finally seemed to brighten up a bit. I guess constant teasing can work somehow. But my success was short lived as her expression became serious again.
“Forgive me,” she whispered.
“Forgive you? For what?”
She looked at me with her mouth open, but she then closed it in thought. Opening her mouth again she said softly, “I can’t let you know what I’m going through.”
That wasn’t what she wanted to say, I could tell clearly. But I let it slide and tried reassuring her, “Didn’t I tell you I believe in you, Natasha?”
The look on her face then was surprising once again. Was that… guilt? Without warning, she ran off into the bushes towards the camp. In a flash, I lost sight of her. I couldn’t even shout out after her in fear of a stray guard hearing me. Not understanding what was going on, I chased after her.
I finally found her, but things didn’t look too good. I reached a clearing and found a guard holding her at knifepoint. At that moment I was surrounded by guards. I glanced at Natasha, a tear rolled down her cheek. As the sun set deeper into the Earth, I heard a shrill and cocky voice screaming, “Oh joy! There he is!”
A guard came over to me to apprehend me. I stared at Natasha the whole while he tied my hands together. As the same man blindfolded me, the bad feeling I had at the back of my mind grew uncomfortably stronger. I wondered under the darkness of the cloth about what it could be. It couldn’t have been coincidence, they were waiting for us.
Something had gone horribly wrong.