I don’t know if Hardra is really going to find Tudos, but I do know that she isn’t interested in coming with me. I also know that if she goes off by herself she would be murdered or raped or murder raped immediately. And there was a part of me that thought “good, let that ungrateful bitch get what’s coming to her” but it would silly to let that happen after all the work I went to her bring her back to life. There’s no reason to let her ingratitude undo all my hard work. I went to speak to Captain Winters (it really is him, although he’s not a captain anymore) he came back from the front lines and was all messed up in the head because of all the horrors and severed limbs and the eating of rats and all that so his family had sent him here to recover. Once he was “better” they pulled some strings to get him out of the army and he decided to stay and work here to help other soldiers returning from the war. Good intentions but most soldiers don’t get sent to a fancy asylum so his mission didn’t amount to much. It wasn’t too hard to convince him to abandon his post and accompany Hardra wherever she may be going.
With that done Martialla and I headed out after having lunch with the asylum staff, which was surprisingly not terrible – once again I couldn’t help but think that I’ve stayed at inns that were worse that his institution for the mentally insane. The nice folks at the loony bin told us that if we headed northwest we should find a bridge that would take us over the river and to the road heading east out of Alleene. Once again I walk to face my destiny, or you know, whatever.
“Martialla, in the unlikely event I ever get killed and you’re still alive I want you to promise me something.”
She held up a hand “I’m way ahead of you, no problem, I wouldn’t thinking of trying to bring you back. I know that you would never want to be a broken thing like Hardra.”
“What?! No, the exact opposite. If I die I want you to do everything in your power to bring me back. And I mean everything. Under no circumstances should you let me rest in peace. Make it your live goal to bring me back. You do whatever you have to, my mission here is too important. Even if it means you need to sacrifice your own life to bring me back.”
“That last part seems like a bit much to ask.”
“Don’t worry, once I’m alive again then I’ll bring you back – it’s the perfect scam. Whoever’s in charge of all this death stuff is a real chump.”
After we traveled for a couple hours I couldn’t help but notice that there was a large body of horsemen coming our way from up ahead. Charging at us you might say. When I turned to say something to Martialla she had her sword in her hand and it took me a moment to realize that she was not ready to defend us she ready to gut me. I have my good points but it turns out that I am the stupidest woman in the world. I should know better by now than to put any amount of trust in anyone ever. Martialla had the point of her sword inches away from my stomach and I could see her off hand sparking with arcane energy.
“Don’t try anything Ela, I don’t want to have to hurt you. But I will if you make me.”
“When? This can’t have been the plan from the beginning.”
“Does it matter?”
“No, but I’d like to know.”
“When you disappeared. When I was running errands for the Baron. I really hit it off with the Duke’s cousin, we came to an arrangement.”
I nodded “Nice work, I never suspected, never thought you were acting strangely. Are you at least going to say you’re sorry that it came to this?”
“What would be the point?”
The horsemen surrounded us and I saw that it was a mixture of the Baron’s guards, Kostelos barbarians, and some other folk who I didn’t recognize. At the head of the war party was a strapping young Kostelos warrior dressed in what I’ve come to think of as renegade Kostelos chic –eighty percent normal decent Kingdom clothing but with enough barbarian bells and whistles to stand out.
“This won’t work. You know that right? I’ll escape. And then I’ll kill you Martialla.”
“You never did lack for confidence. But no, you won’t. I doubt you’re capable of being honest enough with yourself to realize it, but if you look back over everything that’s happened with a critical eye you should recognize that you’ve accomplished nothing without me. Without me to fight your battles for you, without me holding your hand, without me being your human capital, without my magic what are you? You’re nothing.”
“You seem a little resentful there old buddy, this is more than a little personal isn’t it?”
“No I did this because it was the right move for me, betraying you is just a bonus. I did get tired of your upstairs downstairs bullshit. You aren’t even a real noble – you’re literal a prostitute. You are not better than me Ela, you are a whore, absolutely the lowest rung on the social ladder.”
“You won’t suffer Martialla, I’ll just kill you – I owe you that much.”
She snorted “Aren’t you the only who’s always saying that people shouldn’t make speeches in situations like this? Besides, you’ll never lay a hand on me. You’re nothing without me backing you up.”
At this point the surrounding was complete and I turned to the lead Kostelos “I assume you’re Kartak.”
He nodded “And you’re the illustrious Ela. Tales of your beauty were not exaggerated at all. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to disrobe now.”
“Vavhaav iukn’av goaumn avo appresh conceven.”
He chuckled “Your accent is terrible. I assure you madam, this is nothing prurient, your friend has warned us all about your many bags of tricks. If you feel more comfortable we’ll all turn our backs and Martialla can make sure you change into these.” He tossed a simple pleasant dress to the ground – it looked like a burlap sack.
“Prurient huh? You’re really diving into this sophistication thing with both feet aren’t you? I remember back when I was a guest of your tribe it was all ‘cut your tits off” this and “burn your eyes out” that and various discussions about what kind of sharpened sticks would be shoved up my asshole. And now you’re throwing around fancy works like prurient.”
“Yes, the savagery of our past has made us strong, now it’s time for civilization to make us wise was well.”
“That’s quite combination for sure. Those threats were before I had them all killed of course. You remember that don’t you? When I killed your tribe? I assume your parents were in there, among the people I killed I mean, and whatever other family you had. Too bad they didn’t make it to the civilization stage huh? I bet they would have liked that.”
He smiled “If you’d like we can erect a tent for your privacy. Martialla will have to go in with you of course, but that way decency will be maintained.”
I looked him dead in the eye as I reached for the buttons on my shirt. I took off all my clothing, folding it nicely in a little pile and stood naked as a jaybird in the middle of a circle of men with swords and spears and horses. I took a deep breath and stretched, feeling a nice pop in my upper back.
“Aaah, feels good. I love the sensation of the wind on my skin.”
He pointed at the dress “Put that on.”
I made a face “That rag? I’d rather . . .”
Martialla interrupted “Just put it on Ela, there’s no need for your usual theatricality.”
I started to say something and she smashed me in the side of the head with the hilt of her rapier. I tell you this much, Martialla really knows where to hit someone. I was instantly wobbly legged – she must have done something to my inner ear because I could not regain my balance. I felt like I was on the hold of a ship. Or is it the deck of a ship? The ground felt like it was rolling was the point, even though it probably wasn’t. It’s hard to do much without your equilibrium – it doesn’t matter how heroically defiant you are, biology is biology. It was so disorienting that I almost fell on my face trying to put on the potato sack dress they gave me. I could hear some of the men chuckling about it. I suppose it was pretty funny. In the end Martialla made a disgusted noise and helped me pull it over my head.
I very much wanted to lash out at her at that moment, but it would have been pointless. You have to wait for your moment. There’s no use in struggling against the net when they have you wrapped up tight – it’s painful, but you just have to wait. Sadly I’ve been through this drill a couple times now. Martialla thinks that I’m not going to escape? That’s what they always think. And look where that got them.
They didn’t bind me, which normally I would appreciate because it sucks being lashed to a saddlehorn or thrown over the back of a horse like saddlebags – but I was so dizzy that I was having a hard time even staying mounted even though I’m an expert rider. It wasn’t a tough pace they were setting but I was struggling nonetheless. After the third time I almost fell out of the saddle I spoke up.
“Pardon me Mr. Kartak, but I’m having a minor difficulty here. Would it be possible for me to double up with someone?”
Before he could answer Martialla intervened “No, don’t let her near anyone.”
Kartak seemed amused by the whole thing “What possible harm could it do for her to ride with someone?”
Martialla’s eyes bored into mine “Maybe you should ask Lord Gatz about that. You remember him right?”
Kartak winced and adjusted himself – you know the way I mean.
“I assume the Baron or whoever’s pulling his strings wants me alive for some reason. If I fall off my horse and break my bloody neck that’s going to put a crimp in whatever plans they have.”
“You can’t talk your way out of this Ela. If you fall off you fall off.”
I was able to stay in the saddle mostly by just leaning forward and keeping my eyes focused on the back of my mount’s neck. Let the horse do the work right? Even in my hunched over state I tried to talk to people – get a little something going, starting sussing things out, maybe lay some groundwork for something in the future – but no one would talk to me. I’m sure they had all been “warned” not to speak with me, like I was going to magically entrance them or something. Like I could hypnotize them or captivate them just with the sound of my voice. Martialla should know better, being a good liar isn’t some mystic power that lets you control people. Sure, I have the sweetest voice anyone’s ever heard but that’s not magic. Since no one would talk to me I just talked. You can still plant some seeds just by having people listen – and it’s hard to not listen you know? After a while Martialla rode close and gave me a hard poke.
“Be quiet Ela or I’ll gag you.”
“Speaking of gagging, I have a funny story about Sir Quercus and his mistress.”
“I’m not joking Ela.”
Kartak’s tone was light “Oh, let her prattle on if she wants, it’s harmless.”
She looked at him imploringly “Probably My Lord, but why risk it? She’s more dangerous than you know.”
I snickered “My Lord? I never took you for an asslicker Martialla.”
A couple of the men laughed at this and her face turned to stone “I’m getting a gag.”
“Wait, wait, I won’t say anything, what if I just sing?”
Martialla may be good at whacking people on the side of the head, but she sucks at gagging – not that she was gagging, I mean putting a gag on someone, you know what I mean. Putting a strip of cloth around and in someone’s mouth doesn’t do anything. You have to wad something up, shove that in their mouth and then put the cloth over that to keep them from spitting it out. It’s like she’s never gagged anyone before, she made a total mess of it – but I decided to keep quiet anyway.
I won’t lie, when they started to make camp for the day I had a spike of fear running through me. I remember the Skin-Takers and their methods of amusing themselves. But they really are making a show of being civilized because they didn’t erect any kind of torture platform or molest me in any way. They did stake me to the ground like a dog, but I suppose that’s to be expected. Martialla was the lucky one who brought me up plate of brown slop and chipped cup of water. After she took off the useless gag she put on me she stood behind me with her sword out ready to strike.
“Good gods, you’re the one who was saying how powerless I was without you, lighten up.”
“Just eat Ela.”
“There’s no fork.”
“Use your hands.”
I shoveled some slop into my mouth “You know, this is actually better than some of the shit you brought me to eat in the past. You really are the worst at foraging. It took me a while, but I figured out that the other people in this little band of brothers have to be Satander exiles right? Which is interesting. Your new boyfriend, what’s his name again? Zeke? He was the commander of the pass that’s supposed to keep them on the other side of the mountains, and then you two hook up and now here they are mixed up with the Kostelos somehow. He must have let them through the pass, but why? What could Satander exiles and the Kostelos tribes be working together for? It’s all very exciting. Anything you want to share with me on that old pal? Any thoughts? How about you give me the inside skinny, for old times’ sake?”
Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane,
Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “ Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis, Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee, Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa, eyeless hag, Baron Saltwheel, Baron Harmenkar, Colonel Tarl Ciarán’s wizard soldier, Victor, Beharri, Cebuano, Mayor Eryn, Chimera Trading Company