Survival of Me
We had been riding for twelve uneventful days when the guards finally told me we were only a day away from Castle Cagney. I sighed in relief; for nine days we had been riding through rain and mud and fog. The guards smiled sympathetically at me, they too were not enjoying this trip.
Just as we were about to crest a hill, I heard a startled shout and a thud. I turned in my saddle to see one of my rear guards motionless on the ground, a crossbow bolt embedded in his
Whoever held me pulled my hands behind my back and bound me quickly. I was gagged and thrown back over Midnight’s saddle. “Don’t worry about your worthless mutt, he’s only drugged so he wouldn’t kill us,” a harsh voice hissed in my ear. I turned my head to look at him and was rewarded with a sharp cuff over my ear. I fought my binds, and then went limp. Midnight was forced forward by a combination of dragging on her reins, whips on her rump, and finally being tied to a pair of huge workhorses. They dragged her forward and kept her moving as my captors spoke above me in harsh Jocko.
They must have thought I was uneducated in Jocko, for I understood them perfectly, as if they spoke Common. “Now that we have her, what are we supposed to do with her?” one asked. He had the highest voice of all of them, and later I would learn was the result of a throat injury.
“The Overlord said to bring her back to him,” the voice of the leader answered. His voice was rough and sounded almost smoke damaged.
“Overlord?” I asked myself. The only overlord I knew of was that of Jak. They were taking me to Jak! “Why?”
“Why does he need her anyway?” a new voice asked.
“For the Matches. Overlord Rumani wants to punish King Charles and his son Jason for turning down his proposal of marriage between the little prince and our Princess Rulessa,” the leader replied.
“Who could blame the King? Or the Prince? After what Rumani has done, I wouldn’t want my son to marry his daughter,” a fourth spoke up. I liked this voice the most. Though I was inclined to hate my captors, this man sounded almost kind.
“We should let the girl ride. She’ll black out if we leave her this way for long,” someone said in the deepest voice so far.
“You go ahead and untie her then,” the first offered.
“She’ll kill you before you could blink,” the leader told him.
“Her? She looks harmless,” one scoffed.
“She caught Vander, Cape, and Toro by herself. And she was the one to see Caen and Fontana. She put an arrow through Fontana’s leg, and put knives in Vander and Cape’s,” a seventh told them.
“What if she tries to escape?” the kind voice asked.
“I’ll drug her at night so she can’t do anything. We’ll leave her tied for now. If she tries to escape, put an arrow through her horse. That’ll stop her and prevent any other attempts,” the leader responded gruffly. I swallowed with difficulty, as I was upside down.
“We should at least sit her up. We don’t have to untie her,” the deepest voice protested. I heard no argument, and Midnight was forced to a stop. I was pulled from the saddle again, and then multiple hands grabbed me and threw me back up. Instinctively, I threw my leg over her back and sat straight. I heard murmurs and mutters as I did this and looked around.
My captors were a ragged group of Jakan sea wolves. Jakans were big and rough to begin with, but their warriors were renowned for a wild, brutish strength, fierce some tempers, massive battle axes and broadswords, and a likeness to wolves. They were sea raiders, the menaces of the kingdoms. They were called sea wolves not only because they were sea raiders and looked like wolves, but because they called their ships wolfships. I had never fought sea wolves and looking at them now, doubted I could ever win against one. I met the eyes of every one of them, looking them over as I did.
Most had dark brown or black hair worn in either two matted pig tails or one ponytail. Only one had light hair, and it was simply light brown. They all had cold dark eyes that had seen the darkness of war. They were all over six feet tall, most closer to seven, with massive builds. Their hands were like hams, their fingers sausages. They wore black or brown breeches with dark shirts in brown, black, gray, or green. Some wore vests of sheepskin wool or seal skin leather. All wore sealskin leather boots.
But it was their weapons I noticed the most. Nine carried enormous double bladed battle axes. Two had massive broadswords. The last, the one that stood by my foot, had an unusually large crossbow on his shoulder. As I glared daggers at the men, the one standing between Midnight and the workhorse to my right grabbed my braid and yanked. Hard.
I screamed through the gag as my head went back. The sea wolf pulled my hair until I lay flat on Midnight’s back. I stared up at the leader of the men, pain making my eyes water. He let go and I started to sit up, slowly, fearful of another assault on my hair. He flipped my hood up as it began to rain again and I turned to look at him. He cuffed me, hard, and I faced the front again, my ears ringing.
“She’s not fighting back?” the light haired one asked.
“She can see our weapons, you dunderhead,” the one beside me sneered. He drew a dagger and held it up in front of me, touching the flat of the blade to my nose. I stared ahead, my eyes blank. He couldn’t kill me; his Overlord wanted me alive. He sliced through the gag and it fell to my lap. As it fell, I spat on him, hitting his cheek. “Stinking bitch,” he snarled at me in Common, slapping me. I took it and my head snapped sideways.
“There! The Shortblades have her!” a furious voice screamed in Jocko.
“Get down,” the leader ordered me in Common as another group of sea wolves swarmed my captors. My captors, now protectors, lined up in front of me in a wall of flesh and metal. The other group charged forward, slamming into them. One man, a skinny weasel like thing, slipped around them and ran towards me. He had a crossbow aimed at me as he lunged, trying to pull me from the saddle.
I ducked and rolled backwards off Midnight, landing neatly on my feet. I cocked my head and glared at him defiantly. When he reached out to grab me, I danced away, light on my feet. Midnight kicked him when he got in range, and he turned to her furiously. She reared, breaking the weak tie I had done on her girth. The saddle slid off, and with it went the ties to the workhorses. She lunged backwards and would have slammed into the weasel had he not thrown himself sideways.
She spun to face me and I did one of my rare no handed leaping mounts. I stared at my stunned assailant in pure defiance, and then wriggled my wrist until my dagger slid free. I sliced through my bonds and raised my hands in front of me. I threw the dagger at the crossbow and hit the main trigger cables. The cords snapped and the bow was useless. I grinned in savage satisfaction and pulled two more daggers from sheaths on my back. Midnight reared, lashing out with her forelegs as the man threw the bow aside and pulled out a long knife.
He inched closer, darting in, coming at me from the side. I yanked my feet up under me, and then flung myself over him. Midnight rammed her shoulder into him, sending him sprawling. “Kill him!” the leader of my group yelled to me in Common. I nodded and circled the man as he turned to follow me. I felt like the wolf that circles its prey as I pinned my eyes on weasel-man. He lunged forwards, knife out. Side-stepping, I spun and drove my elbow into his bicep and danced away. His knife clattered to the dirt road as his arm went limp and useless.
He drew another knife, this one balanced for throwing. I dodged it as he flung it at me, ducking and leaping in from the side to slash him across the thigh with one knife. Driving the other up under his ribs, I felt both blades cut deep into muscle and important stuff. I propelled myself away, rolling to my feet as he fell. I stood over him as he bled out and died before my eyes.
I turned to the battle raging behind me and looked for a weak link. I noticed that the attacking group wore red and black, the colors of the Royal Jak seal. Sheathing my knives, I grabbed my bow from Midnight’s saddle and strung it. I launched myself onto her back and knocked an arrow. Blanking my mind, I shot the leader of the attacking group. The other Jakans turned to watch, some stunned, some horrified, some jubilant with victory. He fell, almost in slow motion, my arrow protruding from his chest. In the pause, I took out six more, dropping them like stones. Instantly, the others turned and scrambled for the trees. The leader of the so called Shortblades motioned for me to hold my fire as I picked off three more.
I lowered my bow and watched the four remaining men flee into the woods. The bow was taken from my hand and the Jakans gathered around me. “You didn’t shoot any of us, yet we kidnapped you,” the leader said in Common.
“You’d just shoot my horse,” I replied, smirking.
“You speak Jocko,” he realized, seeming to deflate.
“Almost perfectly,” I replied, switching to Jocko.
“Where did you learn?” he asked, also switching to Jocko.
“My father was the ambassador to Jak. I lived there until I was almost eight,” I told him.
“And you know exactly what we said,” he sighed, nodding.
“What we gonna do now, boss?” someone asked.
“Stick to the plan. We’ll take her to the Overlord like we were told,” he replied. I huffed and slid off Midnight. Stalking over to the dead men, I searched them with no success.