Lotye hadn’t even really noticed how she had gotten ahead of the group. She had just drifted along with her thoughts, half worried about the Prince, half wondering about what problems would lay in ahead of them. She didn’t know that those problems had already found them. Tiny, shapeshifting problems with a penchant for mischievous jokes played on unwitting travellers.
Being smaller, lighter and carrying less equipment than most of the train of sailors behind her, who, additionally, didn’t seem to be all that used to solid ground under their feet, much less a narrow forest path, Lotye had kept a higher pace in this environment than the men. Still, she was only a few steps ahead, not even out of viewing range, even though the underbrush of the forest was thick and dark. It only would have taken her one or tow short hops to join Jeneyeru back at his side. Which was her intention to do when she heard Captain Lafitte’s yell echo through the woods.
But as she turned around and jumped back over one especially thick root she had just crossed, Lotye noticed a movement at her side. Slightly irritated by the small, brown shadow that seemed to have come out of nowhere, she stopped in the middle of the movement. Still with one food up on the root, she stared back at where she had stood just a moment ago. So that’s what a Brownie really looks like. The Brownie stared back at her with an expression she decided to interpret as an amused excitement, a mischievous challenge. Than it ran off. Lotye would have sworn to have heard a low cackle as the tiny figure disappeared between the bushes.
At first, she just stood there for another moment, looking after the Brownie, trying to understand what had just happened. It could not have been any longer than a second. The she realised. Hastily, her hand wandered to her Bag of Holding. Inside it, she could feel the hard wood of the Box of Nothing and all those small trinkets she carried. Everything still seemed to be where it belonged. But with those tricks the Brownies where said to play on their victims, who really knew?
Without losing further time and without losing much of a thought on the sparrow-like whooping she heard from the position of the group, Lotye entered the bushes right where the little thief had disappeared. One thief chasing another …The thought never got much further in her head or she probably would have realised the irony of her situation. She ran after the Brownie who had tried to steal from her, shielding her face with her arms against the low-hanging branches of the old trees. In theory, her pursuit was quite hopeless, as the Brownie had quite a head start, a body made for the forest and probably a much better idea of the terrain. But either because of some odd stroke of luck, or maybe just because she had longer legs, Lotye spotted the culprit not all that far away and was able to catch up. Or maybe the Faerie just had its fair share of fun with the big girl trampling through the forest behind him.
In any way, Lotye caught up with the Brownie just when the little guy wanted to run right into a thorny thicket, where Lotye would have had problems following him without scratching every bit of skin on her body or without poking out an eye on some twine. So she did what she always seemed to do in such situations: She lunged forward, planting her chin in the dirt of the forest ground, and tried to grab the Brownie by its waist.
It was like taking hold of one of those stick puppets, the children of her village had built out of sticks, acorn, fir cones, leafs and everything they could find under the trees. Just that this puppets was trying to wrestle free of her hold with all of its power. Which was surprisingly much in comparison to its size. The Brownie struggled, scratching at her hands and readying to bite her fingers. But for a moment just long enough for her to utter “I got you!”, Lotye felt that she had caught the small thief. Then she felt how it slipped away again. The salve Jeneyeru had put on her hands didn’t help either, making them only more greasy and slippery.
Lotye took a short moment to look around. A little longer and the Brownie would get away. She barely held it by its knee know, and the small guy was making sure to continue working on her hands and arms. She needed something to help her holding it down. Or better yet, someone to help her. A sweeping glance around showed her only trees, tress and more trees. None of them looking very inclined to help her. Only now Lotye realised that she couldn’t even see the group anymore. She couldn’t be too far away from the others though, she thought. Right in that moment, she heard the Lord Magus shout her name. And then the Captain saying something about a servant girl, which, even in her current situation, she still took umbrage to. But at least she could hear them. So they’d be able to hear her, too.
“Over here!”, Lotye shouted exasperated, while the Brownie threw a small hand of dirt into her face, “Pfft .. Here! I could need some help!”