Home > Magic Study (Study #2)(16)

Magic Study (Study #2)(16)
Author: Maria V. Snyder

A guard came toward me from the campfire. He was an older man with short gray hairs bristling from his scalp. He held a cup in his hand, which he handed to me. “Drink this,” he ordered.

The warm scent of ginger floated from the liquid. “What is it?” My voice rasped.

“It doesn’t matter.” My guard took a step closer to me, raising his fist. “You do what Captain Marrok says.”

“Easy, Goel, she has to be able to walk tomorrow,” Captain Marrok said. Then to me, “Your brother made it from some leaves he had in his pack.”

Leif was alive. My relief surprised me.

“It’s to make your head feel better,” the Captain said when my lips hesitated on the rim of the cup. A hint of kindness touched his blue-gray eyes, but he didn’t let the feeling alter his stern expression.

Why poison me now when they could have killed me before? Perhaps Leif wanted me dead?

“Drink it or I’ll force it down your throat,” Goel said.

I believed Goel, so I took a small sip, testing for poisons. It tasted like sweet ginger mixed with lemon juice. Feeling a little better from the one taste, I gulped the rest.

“Cahil said to move her closer to the fire. It’s too dark back here. I’ve assigned four-hour buddy shifts for tonight,” Captain Marrok said.

Goel grabbed me under the arms and pulled me to my feet. Preparing for another round of nausea, I braced myself, but nothing happened. My stomach settled, and my head cleared enough for me to wonder how I was supposed to walk with such a short chain between my manacled ankles. At least my wrists and ankles weren’t connected together.

The problem was solved when Goel lifted me over his shoulder. When he dropped me near the fire, the other men ceased their conversation. One man glared at me above the bloody bandage that he held to his nose.

Marrok gave me a plate of food. “Eat. You’ll need your strength.”

The guards all laughed. It was a humorless, frightening sound.

I debated whether or not to eat the meat and cheese bread. It had been only a few minutes since I had emptied my stomach on the ground, but the inviting smell of grilled meat made the decision for me. After tasting for poisons, I gobbled the meal.

With my headache gone, and my body somewhat revived from the food, I contemplated my situation. My biggest question was why had Leif and I been captured, and by whom. Goel still hovered nearby so I asked him.

He backhanded me across my face. “No talking,” he ordered.

My cheek stung as unbidden tears welled. I hated this Goel.

I spent the next hours in silence, using the time to search for a way to escape. My backpack wasn’t anywhere in sight, but, across the fire, a heavyset man tried to spar another guard with my bow. Sweating with profusion, the big man inexpertly hacked at the other’s practice sword and was beaten with ease.

After watching the bout, I decided that these men had to be soldiers even though they wore plain homespun civilian clothes. Their ages ranged from mid-twenties to late-forties, maybe even fifty. Mercenaries, perhaps? Captain Marrok’s command of these men was obvious.

So why had they attacked us? If they needed money, they could have taken what they wanted and been on their way. If they were killers, I would be dead by now. That left kidnapping. For a ransom? Or for something worse?

A shudder shook my shoulders when I thought of my parents receiving word that I had disappeared again and I promised myself that I wouldn’t let it go that far. Somehow, I would escape, but I knew it wouldn’t be under Goel’s zealous watch.

I rubbed my neck. My hand came away sticky with blood. Exploring with my fingertips, I found a deep gash at the base of my skull and a smaller cut above my left temple. I tapped my bun and moved my hand away with what I hoped was a casual motion. My lock picks were still holding up some of my hair, and I prayed Goel didn’t see them.

A possible means of escape was within reach. I just needed some time unguarded. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like that would happen any time soon; two men came out of the tent and headed straight toward me.

“He wants to see her,” one man said as they hauled me to my feet.

They dragged me toward the tent. Goel followed. I was pulled inside and dumped on the floor. When my eyes adjusted to the dim candlelight, I saw the young horseman sitting at a canvas table. Leif, unchained and unharmed, sat beside him. My backpack was on the table, and my possessions had been spread out.

With effort, I stood. “Friends of yours?” I asked Leif.

Something hard connected with the side of my head, slamming me back to the ground. Leif half rose from his seat, but settled when the horseman touched his sleeve.

“That was unnecessary, Goel,” the horseman said. “Wait outside.”

“She spoke without permission.”

“If she fails to show the proper respect, you may teach her some manners. Now go,” ordered the horseman.

I struggled to my feet again. Goel left, but the other two guards remained by the door. By now my patience was gone. If I were quick enough, I might be able to wrap the foot of chain hanging between my wrists around the horseman’s neck.

As I was gauging the distance, the horseman said, “I wouldn’t try anything stupid.” He lifted a long, broad sword from his lap.

“Who the hell are you and what do you want?” I demanded.

“Watch your language or I’ll call Goel back,” he replied with a smile.

“Go ahead, call him back. Take my manacles off and let us have a fair fight.” When he didn’t reply, I added, “Guess you’re afraid I’d win. Typical ambusher mentality.”

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