Broga dipped his head. “Morena’s skill has been tested numerous times. If that is what she witnessed, then that is what happened.”
“Then get your people into motion.” Nolan gestured to the leaders of his detachment to prepare to leave. He then reached out and grabbed Broga’s arm. “Have you discovered anything else?”
Broga shook his head. “Morrena’s sight is blocked.” he then strode off to complete his own preparations.
Nolan felt a small bit of relief. If the Dead Hunters’ Seer had indeed been telling the truth, than Erinael was still alive. He could only hope that they could reach her in time. As for the break in the communication chain of the Dead Hunters, they still had not determined the cause.
Idriss is dead. The thought reverberated through her mind over and over again. He’s dead!
In her grief, she cried, the blindfold soaking up her tears. She could only assume that she was inside of a tent, muffled sounds coming from around her. Erinael had regained consciousness, her head aching from where they had hit her. Along with the blindfold, her mouth was gagged, and her hands and feet were bound. She lay on her side, struggling against the bonds only to discover that they were linked by a short length of cord.
Panic and despair began to fill her then. No one knew where she was, and her only hope of rescue was dead. She was sure that she was lost.
Voices came past the tent then, and the flap was roughly brushed aside. “I think that we should try to ransom this one.” A voice said, Erinael recognizing the voice as the drunk who had accosted her at the inn back in Tuce.
“Yes, I see what you mean.” The second voice said, stepping over to her. She could feel him touching the material of her tunic. “Elvish cloth. Only the High Families would trade for that. Of course, it would take time to find out which one she was from.” He sounded as if he had turned away from her then. “As pretty as she is, it would be faster to just sell her and be done with it.”
The man from the inn grunted in assent. “Let me work on her tonight, see if I can’t get any information. It will be two days before we can leave for the markets anyhow.”
“Very well then. But make sure you are leaving something worth selling this time. Shredded meat gets us nothing.” Then came the sounds of tent flaps parting as the leader left.
Her soon to be interrogator circled her wolfishly, no doubt trying to decide how to start. Erinael fought to remain calm. Had he been the one who had killed Idriss?Had he enjoyed it? That thought made her angry.
She was then roughly pulled upright and made to rest on her knees. The fact that her hands were tied to her feet forced her to slouch, and painfully so. “Alright girlie, you and me are going to have a little talk.” he said, pulling the gag from her mouth.
Erinael licked her dry lips with a sticky tongue. The gag had been of rough cloth and had chafed the corners of her mouth. It also left her thirsty. “Just kill me, like you did Idriss.” she said, attempting to wet her mouth.
She heard the blow before she felt it strike her face, knocking her back onto her side. He grabbed her and sat her up, only to hit her again. “Do not speak unless spoken to.” Even though the blows were delivered with an open hand, he had hit her already hard enough to draw blood. “Now, I want to know what family you belong to.”
“I don’t have any family. Not anymore.” she said quietly. “Your kind killed them.”
He grabbed her by the collar and slapped her again. “Where do you come from?” he growled.
Erinael let her head roll back, and showing more bravado than what she felt, spit in his face. Enraged, he hit her again, the closed fist knocking her unconscious.
He was waiting for her to come around, hitting her each time she refused to answer his questions. Her face felt like it had been smashed to a pulp. Her cheeks stung, her lips were split and bleeding, and she was sure that she had two black eyes. But she still refused to tell him.
She could not see him, but she could hear him well enough. He would circle her, demanding answers to the same questions over and over. Every so long he would grab her by the collar and get into her face, spittle flying with every syllable he uttered. Still, she held resolute. Even when he grabbed her by the hair, hitting her and even kicking her. All she had to do was to remind herself of Idriss’ still body in that clearing, laying crumpled and forgotten.
* * *
The next time she regained consciousness, she knew that several hours had passed. Every bit of her hurt from the slaps, punches, and kicks that she had received. Her ears rang from the amount of blows she had suffered, which is why couldn’t hear him approach her.
He grabbed her by the collar again, she could feel his breath and spittle on her face as he demanded to know about her origins. Erinael offered up a colorful remark about the man and his mother – something Idriss had not meant to teach her during their drills. He hit her again, and again she fell heavily to her side.
The blow only disoriented her, but it was enough for him to leap upon her, his knife drawn. She could feel the edge of the blade against the skin of her under-jaw. “Perhaps I have not been persuasive enough.” he hissed in her ear.
The knife left her jaw, traveling down her neck to the collar of her tunic. He then began to cut the buttons off one by one. Erinael turned her face away, still trying to be resilient. She hoped that she would be dead by the time he was finished.
The buttons only opened her tunic halfway, but he used the knife to cut it the rest of the way. She scrunched her eyes shut and bit her split lip as he put his hands on her. This was not supposed to be like this. It was not how I had imagined… Just as he was working to get his own pants open, shouts started to ring out from the camp outside.
He cursed as he was forced to stop, lifting himself off of her. Erinael heard him fumble with his clothes and weapons before he exited the tent. By then, the shouting through the camp had grown louder. Erinael could only lie there, sobbing into her blindfold as the commotion continued.
Several minutes had passed before the tent flaps were forced open. Erinael stiffened, expecting horrible things. But instead, a hand went to her mouth before the blindfold was pulled free.
When her eyes focused, Erinael found a young Elven woman looking down at her. Erinael immediately took her for a Dead Hunter because of her dark clothes and hair. She turned to enable the woman better access to the binding. As soon as her hands were free, Erinael threw her arms around her rescuer. The Dead Hunter squeezed her tight for just a moment before urging Erinael to hurry. She helped Erinael to wrap her cloak about herself before they left the tent and entered into the night.
It was all but absolute chaos in the camp. Men hurried here and there while others were engaged in battling the attackers. Other Dead Hunters were there, Erinael discovered. Using guerrilla tactics, they kept the slavers busy while the Elven woman got Erinael to safety.
The young woman emitted a shrill whistle and a horse came barreling into camp. Lithely, she jumped on its back, reaching down for Erinael’s hand to pull her up behind. As soon as Erinael was aboard and her arms gripped tightly to the Elven woman, the horse surged forward, carrying them away.
Erinael was mentally and emotionally exhausted and could barely cling to the woman as they rode through the darkness. She was safe. They couldn’t hurt her anymore.
She quickly lost sense of time and direction, her hold loosening. “Stay with me.” the woman insisted, fingers painfully gouging into Erinael’s arm. “We’re almost there.”
Other riders came up then, dark figures on black horses. The other Dead Hunters. Two kept Erinael and the woman between them while one pulled ahead, the rest ranging out behind. A protective vanguard in the dark night.
Erinael lost all awareness then, only vaguely coming to once they had stopped. “She’s in shock. Help me with her!” the woman cried, barely keeping Erinael from toppling to the ground.
Arms lifted her then, carrying her across the rocky ground. Her eyes lolled open enough to see the growing sliver of the waxing moon between the thinning trees. And then she could see it no more.