The Captives

It was his way of showing off. Of hurting her.

"I said, tie him up with some vine!" Torhte snapped at her with impatience.

Instead of using rope, as was the usual tradition, Torhte liked to use vine to tie up hostages. Sure, it showed that he was cheap, but it was more his way of flaunting her vulnerability and helplessness. In other words, he was basically saying, 'I could order you to do anything I want, and you can't defy me.'

And of course, he was right.

Thorn reached into her pocket for one of her seeds. Finding the appropriate one, she slowly knelt toward the rich soil of the forest and dug a small hole in which she could place her seed. Of course, she could have just dropped the seed and let it settle into the soil by itself, but it was slower this way. And Torhte was a very impatient man. Yes, she had to follow his orders, but the way in which she followed them was her own.

From a couple feet away, Thorn heard Torhte growl, no doubt because of her sluggishness. The rest of the bandits fidgeted restlessly in response. She felt Druce tense at his place behind her back. Lathan, who stood beside her knelt from, did not visibly show his anxiety if he had any, after all, that was a sign of an amateur, and Lathan was anything but that. However, he did have his sword out by his side.

Thorn turned away from the outside distractions and focused her attention on her newly planted seed. ::Will you grow for me? Will you grow for me, little one?:: she mentally asked the seed.

As she watched the soil for any stirring, she felt the seed comply.

From within the brown dirt, a green sprout appeared. It continued to grow, reaching upward toward her. She stood up but offered it a hand, and the vine continued to grow. The vine circled her wrist and continued to grow, circling the whole of her arm. With her free hand, she pulled a knife from her belt and after a quiet apology to the plant, carefully measured and cut the vine into five even pieces. The rest of the plant reluctantly pulled away from her and slid across the ground to the nearest tree, and wrapped itself around the tree trunk.

There was an utter silence around her as the bandits watched the vine slide away from her like a snake. Several jumped out of its way, as it they were afraid the vine would somehow entwine and then attack them.

Several of the men who had jumped out of the vine's way turned to glare at her after they heard her give a derisive snort. But Lathan's glare in response to theirs was more frightening; they stayed their hands from their swords.

She stepped up to the first of the three hostages. He was the only one uninjured. During the fight with the Rider group, four of the Riders had died, and two had been seriously injured. While the others had retreated and escaped, this one had stayed behind as an effort to help the injured two. A worthless effort, since all three were captured.

She approached him warily, Druce and Lathan remaining with her at her sides as her guards. Even in the dark she was able to see the blue eyes that watched her suspiciously as she untangled one of the five strips of vine entwined around her left wrist.

"Turn around." Torhte said to the prisoner. "Put your hands together behind your back."

The prisoner complied after a moment's hesitation. Once his hands were behind his back, she laid the untangled vine across his wrists.

The man released a gasp as he felt the vine moving without any human help around his wrist. The vine stopped moving only after it tied itself firmly around the man's wrists and knotted itself.

"What do you plan to do with us?" The man spoke for the first time since the end of the battle.

Since she was turning to the second hostage, a man who lay unconscious, she did not see Torhte shrug.

"I will do whatever I please."

Thorn gave another derisive snort.

Torhte turned to give her an ugly stare. "Hurry up and bind the others before I lose my patience."

She ignored the underlying anger in his voice and retorted, "You can't lose something you never had in the first place."

It was a good thing that he was still several feet away from her. Else, he would slapped her. Druce and Lathan stood immobile beside her. They were only allowed to protect her from everyone and everything except Torhte. Torhte had assigned them to protect her from other bandits and enemies during attacks. But if they tried to protect her from Torhte, there was no telling what he would do in his rage.

Lathan put a steely arm around her elbow and guided her toward the unconscious hostage. She shrugged him off but did not turn away. She untangled two pieces of vine from around her wrist and placed one on top of the prisoner's wrists that Lathan held together. Then she put the second around the man's ankles which Druce held for her. As she straightened she silently asked the vines to tie themselves tightly together. After she was done, she turned to do the same to the second prisoner, a woman who was wide awake and staring up at Thorn with an expression akin to awe. And fear. Thorn asked her vines to be more careful with this hostage; the woman had a deep cut in her thigh which kept her from walking or even getting up. Since her hands were now free, Lathan returned her wooden staff to her.

After she was finished, the two injured prisoners were placed on to horses in front of another bandit. They lay on their stomachs, wrists and ankles tied together. Thorn knew from experience that the position was uncomfortable.

After the female prisoner was placed on a horse, the bandit who was seated behind her on the same horse smiled a toothy smile and let a fat hand settle on the woman's behind. The woman had cloth shoved into her mouth earlier and as a result, couldn't speak, but Thorn knew a cry of outrage when she heard one.

Thorn's staff was up and moving before she realized it. She swung her staff so that it struck him straight across the chest and it hit with such force that he was pushed off the horse and landed flat on his back. His head landed right next to a squat bush, and the bush, feeling some of Thorn's dark anger, shook its leaves at him crossly.

The man positively shrieked as the bush loomed threateningly above him, and he struggled to his feet. Men nearby burst into malicious laughter as they watched the bandit try to regain his dignity. However, the laughter settled when the men heard Thorn speak.

"Do not touch her again." she said as she struggled to calm herself and the irritated bush. The bush was annoyed not only because the man had angered Thorn, but because he had fallen and disturbed its rest, putting his head where it did not belong.

Thorn apologized silently to the bush, telling it that it was her fault that he had fallen and disturbed it. The bush accepted her apology and then settled down once more into its rest.

Thorn turned to settle her own anger then, which was considerably harder. She knew what it was like, receiving a man's unwanted touch. She had spent seven years of her life with the band of outlaws. During that time, many of the men had tried to force their unwanted company upon her. Fortunately, she learned to protect herself and the bandits learned to fear her anger. But seeing this bandit's hand exploring the hostage's behind had brought all the memories back.

Thorn's attention was drawn back to the bandit with the injured pride at the hissing sound of a blade getting drawn. He started toward her menacingly, but Lathan quickly stepped forward and pushed her behind him. Druce also drew his sword.

"Move out of the way, Lathan."

Lathan's tight grip around her arm kept her from moving away from him. Lathan turned his steely gaze to the bandit. "You are not going to hurt --"

"This isn't between us, Lathan." The other interrupted. "It's between me and --"

"Shut your trap!" Torhte's snapped hotly as he pushed himself into the fray. "What do you think you're doing, you dolt! What kind of ransom do you they will give us for damaged property?" Torhte looked like he wanted to smack the bandit with a staff himself. "And you." Torhte turned his gaze onto her. Lathan relaxed his grip on her arm. "Get onto your horse and stay there."

As she turned to do so, Torhte rearranged the seating arrangements. As a different bandit got up on the horse behind the female hostage, Torhte slid his sword out of his sheathe and held it against the bandit's throat.

"If you lay a hand on her, I will personally slit your throat. Is that perfectly clear?"

The bandit's eyes widened and he quickly nodded a confirmation.

The last prisoner was pushed onto another horse. He landed roughly on the horse's back with a grunt. Torhte stalked up to him and grabbed his head by the hair, forcing the man's gaze to meet his.

"I will ride on this horse behind you. If you try anything funny, your two companions will die." He words were short and had a tone of finality behind them.

For a moment, she felt a kinship with the Rider. Just as the Rider's companions were being used against him, Thorn's own sister was used against her to guarantee her obedience.

Then Torhte climbed onto the horse behind the Rider and motioned deeper into the dark forest. "Let's ride."