Hey guys, sorry it's taken so long to update. I'm trying to wiggle around some story issues. This should be the last boring(ish) chapter so heads up!
Lianne sat against the wall, furious with her captors and herself. They had chosen to stay the night in the dingy little inn, but had insisted on sharing one room so the pallet had been taken by the man who they called Fakhar.
The floor in the inn was cold and slightly damp from the night air coming through the window, and Li thought longingly of the nights she spent curled up in her bed with the shutters open, staring at the moon over the forest that butted up against the castle. She missed her room, her bed, her parents, and her life as she knew it.
Even if she could escape she would be marred, known as the girl who was taken. The rumors would fly and make her life miserable. Who knew who the court gossips would choose to be the father responsible for her non-existent child? Perhaps a dirty highway-man, or even a traveling bard if they were feeling generous. Then when she turned out to be without child there would be talk of disposing of an unwanted pregnancy through family magic.
The court gossip was never cruel within her parent's earshot and never kind outside of it. Many men and women had been known to have been ruined by scandal, whether it had been true or not.
Lianne pressed her face into her bound wrists and rubbed at her eyes, trying not to make any noise that would wake her captors. It had already been a tense day among the men and she didn't want to make it worse and ruin any chance she might have to exploit their trust or good-feelings towards her.
Fynn stared down at the girl from his chair in the corner, careful to keep the hood pulled around his face. She was an interesting creature, this girl. Not like any of the other women he knew, this one was sturdy and sharp on the outside, but inside she was a mess of thoughts and feelings and life. He could not place her story either. She had told them she was a commoner, but her mannerisms and vocabulary told him otherwise. She was important to someone. Taking her had been a risk he was unwilling to take at first, but the Life inside him pulled him to her until he had bent to its will and snatched her away from the life she had once known.
He bent forward as she slumped back over against the wall, finally falling back asleep. He sighed in relief and closed his eyes, allowing himself to drift off as well. They had a long way to go the next morning and he didn't want to take the trip on little sleep. The girl and her problems could wait until morning.
"Up and at 'em Princess," Emil beamed down at her and waved a wooden bowl in front of her face. "Its breakfast time. My specialty," He sat the bowl in her hands and swooped back towards the wooden rack that had served as a shelf for their packs.
Li blinked down at her wrists, amused to see that they were already free from their restraints and picked up the spoon and popped it in her mouth before she realized what she had done.
"Mithros," She stuck her tongue out, letting the goopy mush fall back into the bowl. "What is this?"
"Porridge." He told her, picking up a sword that was almost as long as she was and belting it across his waist. "And I suggest you eat it. No royal treatment for anyone on this trip."
She winced as his jab at her came so close to the truth about her life in Tortall and picked the spoon back up. "I didn't mean you any disrespect."
"Of course you did, otherwise you wouldn't have said anything." He smiled cheerfully and began rolling up the sleeping mat he had used the night before.
Lianne ignored his comment and shoveled down the porridge, watching him with a careful eye. For someone as large as he was he made no noise when he moved and his muscles bulged under the shirt he wore. His chest was broad and his hands and arms showed signs of hard work. The sword at his hip would be a swift deterrent for anyone foolish enough to mess with him, but Lianne felt he would be just as dangerous without it.
"Emil is she awake yet?" The nasally voice floated through the door and Fakhar appeared shortly after, his permanent scowl pasted on his face. "Oh, there she is."
"Where else would she be? I've been keepin' a close watch on our girl." Emil stood, carrying all three packs with ease.
Fakhar snorted and spun around taking his bag from the other man and strode out of the room.
"I get the feeling he doesn't like me so much." Li mumbled around a mouthful of porridge.
Emil snorted and motioned for her to put the bowl by the hearth. "He doesn't like much of anyone, Princess. Don' let him get to you, though. These Bazhir folk need time to adjust to things. They aren't all there." He tapped on his head solemnly as Fynn entered the room.
"Thank you for slandering the name of my people." Fynn murmured, quirking one eyebrow at the grinning man before turning to Li. "Mae, if you're ready we have a long way to go."
"How long?" She asked, trying to choke back the panic within. She would be going even further into the desert and away from her home.
"You'll see." Fynn took his own pack from Emil and motioned for her to stand and go through the door.
Li stood carefully and slowly, not wanting to fall on her shaky legs. She had decided during the night to be as cooperative as possible and try to stay on their good side. She had no idea why they had taken her or where she was going. She only hoped that one of her father's spies would locate her before it was too late. Her hopes of them speaking to the Voice had already been dashed when they settled down immediately after supper and seemingly fell asleep. Rescue would not come through that channel of contact.
"Quietly now," Fynn whispered to her, carefully directing her toward the stair and to the stable without touching her.
Lianne nodded, being as quiet as she possibly could. She knew if she screamed that they would only drag her from the inn and possibly kill her and whoever was unlucky enough to see what the commotion was about.
Fynn padded behind her, swiftly getting them from the building to the waiting horses the stood with Fakhar. Lianne jumped when she heard his soft voice in her ear.
"We didn't get a chance to find you a horse. For now you will ride with one of us and switch off when the horse gets tired of carrying two riders. I can't imagine you weigh that much but even a few pounds becomes heavy after so many hours." Fynn tied his pack onto the dust-colored horse and offered her his hand.
Lianne balked, feeling the terror rise up inside her throat and her knees began to shake. "I can't," She whispered, shaking her head.
"Of course you can, give me your foot and ill boost you up. Quall is a strong horse; he will have no trouble carrying us both."
"No, I just… can't." Lianne stepped back, only to knock into Emil's chest.
"Get on the horse."
When she didn't move, Emil sighed and shook his head at Fynn, who jumped onto the horse easily. "I'm sorry." He put his hands around her waist and with little effort threw her into the saddle in front of Fynn, who caught her wiggling form and placed a cool hand on her shoulder.
"Calm down," He commanded. "You're making my horse nervous, and when he gets nervous he'll throw us."
Lianne stopped thrashing and sat perfectly still in the saddle, trying not to brush against Fynn or annoy Quall too much. A sense of relief came over her and she almost forgot where she was.
"Good, now let's move before it gets too light." Fynn pressed his knees into the horse's sides and they took off at a fast walk, quiet but eager to be back on the road.
Emil settled onto a bay mare, bigger than the one Fynn was riding by far, but still bony looking compared to the war horses Li was used to seeing knight's ride. Fakhar was on a chestnut mare on Fynn's left, carefully scanning the dark road in front of them.
They made their way out of the city at a decent pace. Li watched the sky getting lighter as their horses moved away from civilization and into the untamed, endless desert in front of them.
Yes, Lianne shuddered as the voice that had tormented her purred into her ear. Yes, you finally get it.
At first Li was uncomfortable, sitting so stiffly in the saddle that she felt every bump in the road, but then relaxed into Quall's gait and wrapped her hands in the horse's mane to anchor herself. She was happy that they used little more than padded blankets as a saddle or else the ride would have been an incredibly uncomfortable one.
"We'll ride until noon," Fynn said into her ear, causing her to start and Quall to dance to the side. "Then you'll ride with Fakhar."
Lianne rolled her eyes at the idea. Out of the three men Fakhar hated her most, that was obvious. She didn't trust any of them, but she felt that in Emil or Fynn's hands they would try to protect her. Fakhar would feed her to the wolves. She hadn't forgotten how he had wanted to leave her on the side of the road.
"Where are we going?" She asked quietly as the horses picked their way across the desert.
"Camp," Fynn said, seeming to think that simple answers were the best.
"Fine," Li murmured, winding her hands into Quall's mane even tighter. Her future laid in front of her life the desert, open and uncertain, without any road before her.
When the sun peaked in the middle of the sky, Fynn barely moved, but stopped the entire group with less than a hand motion. It was if they all shared the same thoughts. They had been traveling all morning without stop and Lianne was hungry, sore, and in need of a latrine.
"I have to go to the bathroom." She announced as they dismounted and Emil had grabbed her around the waist and plucked her off of the horse.
"And where would you like to go?" Emil asked bringing his arms up and waving them around.
Li peered around the area, feeling herself go red. Where would she go? There was nothing but flat land for miles.
"Just turn around and I'll walk that way." She declared and set off in the direction she had indicated.
"Wait," Fakhar grabbed for her but she dodged away.
"Where am I going to go? You have the horses and even if I did escape I have no doubt that I would die out here. Just give me a little time and turn about. I am still a lady and I have needs."
"Some lady," Fakhar snorted and busied himself with his saddle bags.
Fynn raised an eyebrow and stared at her, causing her to shiver. His sivler-greyeyes still unnerved her. It was much easier to be around him when she was riding in front of them.
"Fine, but don't stray." He turned away from her and began pulling food from his pack.
Li waited until all three men were busy before going to relieve herself. On her way back to the group she noticed how they moved in sync with one another, as if they had been companions for years. None of them spoke to one another, but they moved in a fluid line, unpacking food, cutting into cheese and bread, and giving the horses water.
Lianne shivered again and pulled the hood down further to shield her eyes from the sun. Something about the way that they would lock eyes briefly, then continue what they were doing before. It was almost as if they were communicating without speaking.
Emil handed her a hunk of break with cheese and a few strips of jerky with a grin. "Only the finest for a lady like yourself." He joked, squinting down at her from under his own hood.
Li accepted the food with a small smile of her own and chewed on one of the jerky strips thoughtfully.
"Oi, something on your mind?" Emil asked, popping a piece of cheese into his mouth.
"Just wondering why you're here." She answered honestly through the side of her mouth.
"Me? Well I'm needed here, as are these two." He jabbed a finger at his companions, who were standing together, whispering quietly.
"You're not Bazhir, though. You don't belong to the desert, do you? But here you are, dressed like a tribesman and riding a horse that obviously came from these hills."
"Huh, I guess you could find that quite interestin'." He swallowed his last bite of bread and dusted his hands on his pants. "But strange, isn't it, that you be doin' the same?"
Lianne reeled back. "But you aren't a captive, are you?"
"Not in the sense you're thinking of."
"Oh, well," She was about to ask him where he was from when Fynn's voice cut her off.
"Ready to go?" Fynn swept over, the horses following him like dogs that follow their master. "Mount up," He motioned to the horse that Fakhar was leading, who looking less than cheerful.
Emil sighed and threw her onto the horse when he saw she wasn't going to go willingly before the men jumped onto their own horses. Fakhar settled behind her with a sigh, letting her know he wasn't happy with this arrangement.
Lianne ignored the man and adjusted herself, tangling her hands in his mounts mane and feeling the horse shift under her. Thankfully this mare seemed to be much calmer than Quall had been.
"What is her name?" She asked feeling brave.
"Dart," Fakhar said, not giving her anything else.
She nodded and found a comfortable place that she wouldn't fall off and set her head towards the direction they had been going.
The ride to what the three men kept referring to as "camp" was long and grueling. In the mornings she would ride with Fynn, who would teach her new words from the tribe language and in the afternoons she would ride in silence with Fakhar. He still did not want her on this journey, but he had stopped suggesting that they leave her behind.
Lianne never saw the chance to make her escape. One of them was always watching her and at night she slept between Fynn and Emil when the all huddled together. The desert nights were nothing to joke about, and even if she left during that time she knew her chance to survive was slim. Her best chance was to stick with these men, even though she knew nothing of their destination.
Two weeks into their journey just after sunrise they crested the top of the hill, causing Lianne to gasp and Emil and Fakhar to sigh in relief.
"This is camp?" She asked quickly, her eyes searching the grounds wildly.
"It is," He replied, nudging his horse down the slope. "Teesha,"
"Pardon?" Lianne glanced back quickly before returning to the sight in front of her.
"Oh, of course. Teesha." She repeated, glancing around the site.
Quall picked his way down the slope, followed by Fakhar's Dart and Emil's Scully. In front of them were at least forty sand-colored tents without any adornment and pickets that tethered horses outside each one. Judging by the number of horses on each picket, it looked as if each tent held four people and their belongings, which probably consisted of very little considering their living arrangements.
"What is this?" Lianne turned in the saddle to look at Fynn but his eyes were staring ahead, nodding to the men coming out of the tents. She realized with a slight chill that there wasn't one woman among the masses and tried to shove the panic down inside her.
Without answering her, Fynn swiftly dismounted and strode towards a group of men, leaving Lianne to fend for herself.
"This is Mae," Emil nodded up at her and held out his hand so she could slide down the big horse. "He's Fynn's new serving boy. I'd advise you to stay away. You know how he hates it when we break his things." He grinned wolfishly and sauntered towards one of the tents, motioning for her to follow.
Li slithered off the horse ungracefully and ran to catch up with Emil. "You told them I'm a boy!" She hissed, ducking her head and following like any servant would.
"You look like a boy. Have you not seen yourself? 'Sides, it's much better for you to be a man here than a woman. Loyal as they come most of these men are, but there happens to be one or two I wouldn't trust with my life, let alone yours, Princess."
"If I'm to be a boy you should stop calling me that. And don't they know Mae is a girl's name?"
"No, most of them barely speak anything other than Hillfolk language. For all they know Mae is a man's name." Fakhar had come up behind them and dropped in on their conversation.
"Oh," Li murmured, turning over this new information in her mind. "And of course I haven't seen myself. When has there been a mirror near? There's not even any water around." She shook her head, remembering Fynn pulling water from the air for them to fill their flasks. She had been raised in a city among a family full of gifted mages, but she had ever seen anything like that.
"Then we shall find you a mirror, young lad!" Emil crowed and led the way to what Li assumed was their tent.
The tent inside was larger than it looked and partitioned into two parts with a hanging cloth curtain. The one side held a low table surrounded by cushions and a large wash basin in the corner. The other side had sleeping mats laid in it.
"Mirror is by the tub," Emil motioned to the curtain and flopped down on one of the mats, stretching himself to his full length and closing his eyes. Fakhar followed him, but set himself down more gracefully than the giant had.
Lianne was tired, but sleep could wait in order to see herself. She pushed back the curtain and stepped through, ignoring the noise outside. She knelt next to the washtub and picked up the mirror that was leaning against it and drew it towards her. Staring back at her was a young boy with her light skin and black hair, cut around her ears as a page might wear it.
Lianne set the mirror down gently and pulled her legs up to her chest, rocking back on her heels. She did look like a boy, even to her own eyes.
Don't worry, The voice popped into her ear. This is just how everything is supposed to happen. You'll see soon enough.