Ralph gritted his teeth as he brushed past another branch. It was hard to see where he was going. How could he? He was blindfolded and his hands were tied in front of him, Simms pulling harshly at the rope that bound his hands. He gritted his teeth yet again at the rough pull on his hands, the rope starting to bite into his flesh.

"Come on, you little mutt," mumbled Simms, pulling on the rope again, hard. Ralph stumbled a bit, but he quickly found his footing and kept going. He was determined not to let Simms get under his skin. Simms seemed to guess at his intentions and chuckled cruelly. "I'm not doing this to get under your skin, boy, I know what gets under your skin." He then whispered close to Ralph's ear. "Touching that little lady friend of yours certainly would though. You've gotten real sweet on her since we last spoke."

Ralph let out a low growl. "How I talk to my friends is none of your business."

Simms snorted. "That is not how a fellow would talk to his friends." He lowered his voice. "That's definitely how a fellow would talk to his lover."

Ralph's hands curled into fists. "I told you . . ."

A tribesman interrupted them, speaking quickly in his native language. "Alright, alright, no more talking," grumbled Simms. "Let's hurry it up. Come on, mutt." He pulled on the rope hard, and the group got moving again. But Simms did get Ralph's blood boiling. He didn't care what happened to him, if this jerk laid his hands on Rose, or anyone else, for that matter, Ralph would probably go feral. His thoughts went back to the scene they had just left.

Simms had turned his beady eyes on Rose, her own eyes looking back at him over the nozzle of a gun. She had it aimed at him. Ralph wanted to run back to her and kiss her, but he knew any sudden moves would get a few spears thrown at him and they would really be in a pickle. So he stayed put, but his gun was aimed at Simms as well.

"What did you mean by take him?" asked Rose. There was a force in her voice that Ralph had never heard before, and not only did it frighten him, it thrilled him. He just hoped it only frightened Simms and his lackeys.

Simms stepped towards Ralph and grabbed his arm. "My boss was pretty insistent that we get either Malcolm Edwards or his son. They have a lot of talking to do."

"Bet your boss wanted you to grab me first so he could persuade my father to do exactly what he says," said Ralph with a soft but fierce growl.

"He just said for one or the other." Simms's grip tightened. "But I bet he figured that if we take you, your father will no doubt come running." One of the tribesmen said something in his native tongue, he had his bow and arrow aimed at Rose. Simms answered in the native tongue. "Leave the girl alone!" he then said. "Someone has to go tell the boy's father."

"I'm not leaving without him," said Rose defiantly. "I'll take your boss's message to Mr. Edwards, but I'm not leaving without Ralph."

"Unfortunately, you can't leave with him," returned Simms. He then pointed at the other tribesmen. "And you're outnumbered, sweetheart, you don't have much of a choice." There was a moment of silence as Ralph locked eyes with Rose. Simms had a point. Even if Ralph could get back to Rose's position without getting an arrow or a dart in his back, they still didn't have much of a chance. Sure, once their guns went off in rapid succession, the others would come running. But would it be too late? And Ralph thought it was far too late for either of them to scream for help. They were faced with a decision and they needed to make it, now. Ralph was just hoping Rose would start screaming the instant she started running back to camp.

"I'll go with you."

"Ralph!"

"But you leave her alone."

"Drop your gun," ordered Simms.

"Leave her alone."

"Deal, now drop your gun." Ralph peered into Simms's eyes, looking for any sign of dishonesty. Either Simms was telling the truth, or he had one heck of a poker face. Ralph dropped his gun. Simms smiled and began pulling him away.

"Ralph no!"

"Rose get back to camp, now!"

"Ralph!"

"Go, now!" He kept his eyes on her until she finally stood and took off running. Then he heard her screaming out his father's name. Hurry, Rose, just hurry.

Simms chuckled. "Nice trick. But we came prepared."

Ralph's eyes widened. "What?"

"Oh don't worry, it doesn't involve hurting your pretty lady friend. I keep my word." Simms tied a blindfold over his eyes while a tribesman bound his wrists. "Now move." Simms yanked on the rope and Ralph lurched forward. But he quickly steadied himself, just in time for them to start running. They ran for several minutes. Ralph could hear strange noises behind him. Were the tribesmen masking their trail? His heart sank, of course they were. This was well planned out. It would give them time to get to the village way ahead of the others. He gritted his teeth. He was a fool for not even trying to fight. But he only thought of Rose's safety. They were outnumbered. And even if they were to have called for aid, it might not have arrived in time, and Ralph had no desire for Rose, much less any of the girls, to be in the presence of this man. But now that this was happening, well, for starters, there was no going back and no use second-guessing. Secondly, and most impoartantly, Ralph could assess the situation in the village and see what he could do to help Monako from the inside. If he got any chances to do so. He would have to keep his eyes and ears peeled for those chances, and possibly any information as well any chances for him to escape.

They finally slowed down, but they kept at a steady pace. Ralph was sweating profusely, even though he could tell the sun was almost down. On top of that, he was getting thirsty.

He coughed. "Can I have something to drink?"

"You'll drink when we stop," muttered Simms. "Keep moving." They kept moving alright, Ralph's wrists were being rubbed raw by the rope, his legs muscles were screaming in agony, and his lips and throat were parched. But he said nothing. He needed to focus on finding chances to escape, helping Monako, and gathering information they could use against their enemies. Maybe he could find out Wola's and Kala's weaknesses. But that was all maybe, only a hope, he could still find out nothing. But hope was all he needed to keep on going. He was sure he would see his father and their friends again. But until then, he had to deal with this lot.

The group paused for a little while so that Ralph and Simms could catch their breath. Neither one were used to travelling such long distances over land. Both panted, trying to catch their breath.

"How much . . . how much further?" asked Ralph.

"Hold your horses, you dumb brat, just a little longer," grunted Simms, "then you can have some water."

Ralph scoffed. "Sounds like you're in the same boat as I am." Simms only grunted in reply. A tribesman spoke.

"Let's go." Simms pulled on the rope. Ralph gritted his teeth, but a soft moan of pain still came through. Simms heard it and chuckled. "Serves you right." They continued on for a few minutes or an hour, Ralph couldn't tell, but the next thing he knew, he was surrounded by voices and he could hear curiosity in them. They must have entered the village. He could smell fires burning, food being cooked, and hear the crackling of sparks flying through the air while people rose and chattered in wonder. Some even began to follow the group. He was now a spectacle. "On your knees, mutt." Simms pushed him to the ground. Ralph pushed himself up onto his knees, just in time for the blindfold to be taken off. He blinked as he glanced around. It was dusk now, the last rays of the sun were just disappearing behind the horizon. But a ring of torches provided enough light for him to see his surroundings. He could see he was in a small arena that was filling up with the tribesmen. He was facing two men, one sitting on a throne, both looking upon him with a hint of malice.

"What do you want from my father?" he said in a strong voice.

The man sitting upon the throne raised his eyebrow. He seemed impressed. "If you can speak so strongly after such a hard run, you are made of strong stuff, indeed." He turned to his friend. "If he is this strong, how much stronger is the father?"

His friend scoffed. "Don't be too impressed with him, Wola, they have spoken to our enemy and consider him their friend. They are just as much an enemy of ours as Monako." This then, had to be Kala. Ralph disliked him immediately. "And do not fear this show of strength, our ally tells me they can be broken easily." Ralph clenched his jaw. Ned Blythe, no doubt. "The son will break the father, and the girl will break this boy." Ralph felt sick, so they still wanted to harm Rose.

"But there are three girls," came another voice. Ralph saw another man coming from a side door, but he knew with an even more sickening feeling who the voice belonged to. Into the light of the fire stepped Ned Blythe, his green eyes made Ralph think of a venomous snake while his smile only held a cruel enjoyment in seeing someone in pain. "Hello, Ralphy boy, you don't look too good."

"Three girls?" asked Kala. "But how will we . . ."

Ned waved his hand. "You don't have to worry about a thing. Simms here knows which one is which. Don't you Simms?"

Simms nodded. "Oh yes, I do." He licked his lips. "Pretty little things, all three of them. But the one he likes is easy to find. She's got reddish hair and quite the temper to go with it. Looks pretty handy with a gun too."

Ned gasped and glanced at Ralph. "Is it possible? Has the young Edwards found a woman much like his mother?"

Ralph was startled by the comment. "What? How do you know my mother?"

"Oh, your father didn't tell you, did he?"

"Tell me what?"

Ned simply shook his head and tsked. "That man. Don't worry Ralph, I'll make sure your father tells you before you die." His lips parted in a cruel smile.

Ralph growled. "So, this is a trap?"

Ned tilted his head. "Sort of, I do still need your father to give me his claim to the Valley of Diamonds."

"Why? You obviously got here first."

Ned sighed and tsked again. "I need your father's knowledge on maps and how to read Tom Ferris's map in particular."

"Oh, I see." Ralph glanced at Wola and Kala. "And where do they come into all of this?"

Ned blinked. "Well, don't you know? Wola's the Zuni, so he has to give it to me in a formal ceremony and all that." He glanced at Ralph. "A middle-schooler could have told you that." Wola chuckled, but Ralph's eyes flashed.

"I don't think my father will give you what you want," he said softly.

Ned grinned. "Then you don't know your father as well as I thought you would have. Because he would, oh boy, he definitely would." He got into Ralph's face. "He would do anything to protect you boy, you can bet on that." He straightened up. "And I do, every time."

Wola rolled his eyes and groaned. "Alright, alright, enough. We all know you are very smart, Mr. Blythe, but it is getting late, and I must rest before we meet our enemies tomorrow." He waved at the guards and spoke in their native tongue. One pulled Ralph to his feet.

"Until tomorrow morning, boy," said Ned with a smug smile. "When you shall see me bring your father low, very very low."

"You won't win, Blythe. Trust me, you won't win!" shouted Ralph before they dragged him away. The guards took him back through the village. Ralph could see all around him this time. The village had several huts surrounding the arena. There were fires sending smoke into the night sky. But in their soft glow, Ralph could see the villagers. They looked rather thin, and some had a sorrowful look in their eyes that they were trying to hide. So things were not that good under Wola's and Kala's rule. Would they be excited to have their rightful king back?

The guards paused in front of a hut, one Ralph figured was the prison. While one of the guards fiddled with the lock, Ralph took another quick look around, trying to figure out the best escape route. His eyes fell upon a small child, watching the whole thing over her mother's shoulder. She slowly raised her hand and waved at him. He softened by the adorableness and sweet innocence of the child and raised his hand to wave back. She smiled, and he smiled back. Suddenly, the rope was pulled, and he was thrown into the prison. They untied his hands before locking the door. One turned to stand by the door while the other walked away.

Ralph took a look around the prison. It looked like any other hut, but with none of the comforts of a home. There were a few beds, but Ralph was the only person in the entire hut. The door opened, startling him. He quickly turned around, but the door was already closing again. The guard had left a basin of water. Ralph drank his fill and surveyed the hut again. Maybe in the morning he could figure out something, but right now, there were a lot of thoughts swirling in his head, and Ned's taunts weren't helping. Heaving a heavy sigh, Ralph walked towards the far side of the hut and sank down to the ground. He wrapped his arms around his legs and thought of his mother. He let a few tears flow down his face. He missed her, he wanted his father, he wanted his friends. He thought he would never have to feel alone ever again, and yet here he was. He never felt more alone in his life. But he couldn't think like that, no, the people who loved him were coming for him, and Ned Blythe would get his comeuppance. But for now, Ralph needed to sleep, he felt utterly exhausted. He put his head on his knees, and in a minute, he was sound asleep.

(Author's Note: Hoo boy, we're getting close to the final confrontation! And we just might learn about what happened to Ralph's mother, Alice. I can't wait to finish this, and yet I can too. The second book is still giving me problems, so this series is going to have to wait a while before I can continue it. It also depends on what job I get. I am looking for one that will give me ample time to not only continue writing but also continue with my YouTube channel, which would involve reading books and playing Sims 4. I'm sure God will find me the right job at the right time, as well as the right guy at the right time. Dreamt about getting my wedding set up. Ooh, it was so exciting! But, anyways, that aside, I hate to have to leave you on such a sad note, but, I need next week off to get situated in the new rental. So, until next time, have a wonderful week! God bless!)