By the second day of captivity, Wynefrede Aumberden had the routine down pat. First a light would appear: a door opening at the far end of the underground vault where they were kept. Then the food would arrive, an overcooked bean soup accompanied by some dry bread and a cup of water. Then a walk to the facilities, one prisoner at a time. She tried tried to stretch this part out as long as she could, but if she dawdled too much she got hit. Then darkness again for a few hours.
It’s amazing what a person could adapt to, she thought.
There were several other prisoners. Raphe Faryndon was there with her, which provided some comfort. He was furiously making plans and devising strategies to escape. And there were three other men, one of whom didn’t say anything at all, just sat in a corner and rocked.
She didn’t know how exactly how long they’d been there, or where they were kept. She guessed it was underground because the walls were damp and the darkness between meals was absolutely. She guessed it was the second day because they’d had three meals.
Nobody else knew anything, either.
Tibost had been brought in shortly after they got there. He was loud and aggressive and the guards hit him until he screamed when he tried to break free the first day.
“Shut up and sit down,” one of the guards told him after punching him in the kidneys. “We get your ransom, we’ll let you go. If you’re going to be a pain in the ass, we’ll double the ransom. And if you keep being a nuisance, you’ll end up like him.” The guard pointed at one of the other prisoners in the room. “That’s Barnaby. Barnaby was annoying. Barnaby tried to fight. Then Barnaby tried to hurt himself. Now Barnaby is a potato.”
“Vegetable,” said the other guard.
“Right, right,” said the first guard. “No potatoes on Krim. I forgot.”
Wynefrede stared at Barnaby silently until the guards left and the light was gone with them. Barnaby continued to rock back and forth in his corner, a line of drool down the side of his mouth.
“There are potatoes on Krim,” said another prisoner. “They just haven’t been discovered yet. There are plenty of area of Krim that haven’t been explored yet.”
“Shut up, Pompas,” said Tibost. “We’ve got more important things to think about. Like how we’re going to escape. Anybody have any ideas?”
“We need to overpower the guards,” said Raphe. “We can get loose from these ropes, pry some rocks from the walls, get to the door when we hear them unlocking it, then hit them, take their weapons, and escape.”
“That’s probably what happened to Barnaby,” said Pompas.
“That just means that if we attack, we have to be sure we succeed the first time out,” said Raphe.
“Or we could die,” said Wynefrede.
“I know you’re scared,” said Raphe.
“No, I mean, we could die and that would be a good thing,” said Wynefrede. “We’d just be sent back to the Krim welcome area, right? We’d get new avatars. We’d be free.” Her hands were manacled and chained about a foot part, enough slack for her to feed herself or do her business. She’d already cracked a tooth trying to pry open one of the iron cuffs around her wrists. There was another chain around her ankles. A third chain anchored her to one of the central posts in the room. The only one not chained to a post was Barnaby, the vegetable.
“Do you have a hair pin?” Raphe asked. “Maybe you can pick the lock and get free that way.”
“You already asked me that,” said Wynefrede. “I don’t have any pins. Have you found any rocks yet?”
“No.” Raphe’s plan was to dig around in the dirt floor until he found a rock that he could use to pry open a link of the chain, or wear down the metal somehow. Or use as a weapon against a guard, or, worst case, to knock himself on the head hard enough and die.
“I heard of prisoners biting their own tongues off and chocking on them,” said Wynefrede. She tried doing that. It hurt. “Maybe if everything else fails,” she said.
“And if it doesn’t work?” asked Pompas. “You’d be stuck here for ever without your tongue.”
“They’re not going to keep us forever,” said Tibost. “You heard them, they’re waiting for a ransom.”
“I’ve been here for years,” said Pompas. “They’re never going to let me go. One of you should fight the guards, get killed, then come back here with a rescue team.”
“Come back where?” asked Wynefrede. “Do you know where we are?”
“No,” said Pompas.
“Aren’t you Andriu Pompas, the expedition guy?” asked Tibost.
“Didn’t you hold an evening for investors last month? I didn’t go, but I saw the signs everywhere.”
“Yes, that was me,” said Pompas.
“So you haven’t been here for years,” said Tibost.
“Well, it feels like years.”
“I’m sure the Royal Season will get us out soon,” said Raphe. “It’s not like money is going to be an issue.”
“Well, I’m not waiting,” said Tibost. And the next time the guards came, he fought and struggled and got knocked out. Then one of the guards left and came back with a bottle and poured a thick liquid down Tibost’s throat.
“What was that?” Raphe asked.
“Is that poison?” asked Wynefrede. “Did you kill him?”
“Now why would we waste perfectly good poison on something like that?” The guard laughed. “No, it’s just a little something our lord had made up. Turns you into a tomato.”
“Vegetable,” said the other guard.
“Right, right, no tomatoes on Krim, either.”
The guards dragged Tibost out.
“They’re wrong,” said Pompas. “There are tomatoes on Krim. You guys have money, right? I mean, they kidnapped you for money, so you must be well set. Well, there’s a fantastic investment opportunity…”
Later, when the guards took Wynefrede for her walk down the hall, they made a detour first and opened the door to another chamber. One of the guards leaned in with his lamp and shone a light onto a row of bodies.
“That’s what happens if you don’t behave.”
“You kill us?”
“No, we just keep you longer and jack up the ransom,” said the guard, and kicked one of the bodies. It jerked. “How much would people pay if you were gone for years? Like we said. Vegetables.”