Kaveri woke sharply, dry-retching and disoriented.
Her head throbbed, not a localized pain as if she’d been struck, but a hazier feeling that her mind connected to a vague memory of arms seizing her from behind and a sickly-sweet scent.
She’d been gagged with some kind of rough fabric that simply absorbed all the saliva from her mouth and felt like it was going to choke her; her arms were bound behind her, wrists together and then elbows forced as close together as they’d go, and she could feel thin bands of rope or leather painfully tight around her torso to secure it; her ankles were bound, and just above her knees, and her ankles seemed to be connected to her wrists and also to further bands around her upper thighs, keeping her legs so tightly flexed her knees ached as much as her shoulders did. There was nothing between her skin and her restraints, no sensation of clothing—although that was a blessing, overall. She concluded after a moment that she couldn’t see simply because there was absolutely no light in the cramped space, barely large enough to accommodate her even in her bound position. There was a very little fresh air from somewhere, she thought it was below her, but she couldn’t change position to track it.
The surfaces around her, she decided, were wood—so smooth she thought they’d been oiled as well as polished. Since there was no trace of fish scent, it hadn’t been done with the cheaper fish oil.
Judging by the swaying and the rumbling vibration, she was inside a wagon or carriage of some sort. Given the oiled wood, it was probably something expensive and upper-class.
Exactly the kind of vehicle Tyrel and the rest of the Watch had been unable to search on standard checkpoints.
Looks like the plan worked. Made enough of a nuisance of myself, refusing to change my story so it could be swept under the rug, that they decided to make me vanish.
Good. Now maybe we can figure out how they’re doing it without getting caught.
Some kind of inhaled drug. That makes sense. But no fancy carriage could be down by our shop. How did I get from there to here? There were two men fighting in the back alley, they must have been meant to distract Kieran so they could get me. But how? It was past the morning rush but there were still enough people on the street that someone would have seen something.
She couldn’t think of anything unusual she’d seen, but then, her role behind the counter didn’t allow for much observation of the outside world. With any luck, Tyrel would be able to pick up something.
Speaking of picking up something… she had to make sure that he could track her. And there was one way that would leave a trail that might as well be glowing to a canid nose.
She relaxed her bladder muscles and allowed enough urine to trickle out that she felt it pool briefly against her thigh. When the amount decreased she concluded that it had found ventilation and possibly drainage holes, and tensed the muscles again. If she paid attention, she should be able to feel any corners or any pauses, and mark which way they’d gone.
Having something to concentrate on helped, but it was still a journey she wouldn’t have wanted to repeat.
The carriage came to a stop, and she heard, so faintly that purely human senses probably wouldn’t have caught it at all, voices. One of them, she was sure, was Ander. She must have been unconscious for a while and Kieran had stirred the Watch to try to find his missing wife, and the Watch had set up the gate checkpoints. The carriage started moving again, proving just how badly the search restrictions were hampering the Watch in their job.
She made sure to mark the road just outside the gate.
The carriage went straight for a long time, almost lulling her back into unconsciousness again as an escape from the increasing physical discomfort. How much worse would this be for a woman who lacked the certain knowledge that she had a way out of anything and this was only a brief unpleasant experience for a good cause? For a woman terrified and helpless and torn away from everything she counted on?
These men are going to be stopped. Tyrel and Madoc’s father and his kind are bad, but they don’t know any better. These ones are using structures meant to protect to do this to women. This is going to stop.
The carriage finally slowed—suddenly alert, she emptied whatever remained in her bladder, figuring this must be their destination—and turned and then, almost immediately, came to a stop. She felt it rock as bodies stepped out, felt it rock again a moment later, and then there was fresh air to breathe as, with a tripled click from some lock mechanism, someone raised the top of her prison.
“This one pissed herself,” a male voice said scornfully, while her eyes struggled to adapt to sudden direct sunlight. “We’re going to have to scrub out the carriage.”
“Thoughtless bitch,” a different voice said from outside the carriage. “Toss her out here. Hope the other one didn’t.”
The man in the carriage heaved Kaveri out of her small prison with no more concern than he’d show a sack of grain, and bound as she was, Kaveri could do nothing to affect her own balance. She couldn’t stop her instinctive struggle to do so, though, which only drew the laughter of at least three men nearby. She was dropped to the ground, a hard wooden floor that abraded her bare skin, with a carelessness that knocked the wind out of her in a grunt.
A second man cut the bindings keeping her legs tightly flexed and her knees together, though he left the ones on her ankles; Kaveri whimpered as he simply unfolded her legs with no concern for the abused joints. He tossed her over his shoulder, all her weight on her compressed abdomen, which made her already-laboured breathing an ongoing struggle—although four years of wearing an extremely tightly-laced bodice actually helped a bit, she’d gotten used to managing with shallow breaths when necessary.
She got fractured impressions of a building of some sort that had wide openings allowing a lot of light in, definitely not a house, more like some kind of outbuilding. Mostly all she could see was the high-quality woven linen of her handler’s tunic. Midnight blue with shiny gold edging. Midnight and gold. That had to be someone’s livery, a uniform, and probably an extremely high-end one, but she had no idea whose. She made a note of it, anyway. Probably Tyrel would know, and if not, he could find out.
He dumped her on her side in a small poorly-lit room; just behind him was a man who tossed a second body beside Kaveri. A knife sliced through the brutally tight restraints, left her entirely free, and the gag was yanked unceremoniously away. Both men left, and Kaveri heard the door lock with a solid-sounding metallic clunk.
Not that being untied meant she could move with any freedom. Joints and muscles, after the extended period in an unnatural position, screamed in protest at every twitch.
The woman beside her was half-sobbing, huddled in a tight awkward ball as best she could despite what must have been similar pain, but Kaveri recognized that honey-coloured hair that had escaped its braid even worse than usual, the tall strong build. And who else would manage to get herself into trouble like this?
“Mirren,” Kaveri said gently, wincing a little at the hoarseness of her own voice. “I know you are not all right. I will not ask that. But try not to fear. Tyrel will track us.”
“They haven’t been able to track anyone else,” Mirren retorted, but it was muffled.
“He will track us,” Kaveri repeated. How much should she tell? Were there eavesdroppers? That seemed unlikely. She wriggled herself to a sitting position, wishing for the moonlight or at least a mouthful of water, and looked around.
The room was just a little too short in any direction to allow one to lie down flat; the walls were more polished oiled wood, something very dark that absorbed what little light reached them from above. The walls continued absolutely flat and straight and smooth up to a ceiling she estimated she wouldn’t be able to touch even if she could move properly, and just below it, a single window too small for a human body to fit through allowed in a limited amount of air and light. More than enough of that latter for her to see with perfect clarity, but she doubted it was more than dim gloom to human eyes. The floor was similarly smooth, tightly-joined oiled wood, sloping slightly towards the centre of the floor; at the lowest point was a small round hole that was covered by a cross of wood, though even a slender hand couldn’t have fit down it, let alone a person.
No way to escape, no ready way to injure themselves.
(chapter continued next post!)