Wynefrede Aumberden didn’t even look at Raphe Faryndon when she lay down on her cot.
The day after her thwarted escape attempt had been miserable. Rambo and his squad kept a close eye on her and she wasn’t allowed near the bridge construction. Instead, she was forced to watch from a distance as Raphe and the Armstrong Guild made design mistake after design mistake. She’d tried to offer advice, but nobody trusted her anymore. Even Raphe refused to consider her suggestions, which stung a bit.
She’d even considered bashing her head against a rock but Rambo had seen where she was looking and tightened her chains.
She stared up at the tent’s ceiling, where the canvas fabric was draped over a trimmed branch of a tree. Could she turn her pants or blanket into a rope to hang herself with? She doubted the tent roof was anchored well enough to support her weight, even if there was enough length in her chain for her to stand up all the way.
She glanced towards the entrance, where two of the guards were playing cards by oil lamp. The tent door was open, and the rest of the guards were by the campfire, discussing the next day’s plans. The attack was scheduled for early in the morning. The bridge was as done as it was going to be and set up in place just behind the tree line. All the guide ropes were in place so that the bridge could be pushed out and positioned quickly.
The rest of the Armforge Guild soldiers had arrived earlier in the evening, and were resting up in the surrounding woods.
If she was lucky, they might be killed in the attack. She doubted that the kidnappers would let them go, no matter what they promised. If the attack went off as planned, they’d just find another excuse to keep them. Worst case scenario? They’d be back in a dungeon again. No sunlight, no fresh air, waiting for who knows how long for something to change.
It was all Raphe’s fault.
“This isn’t my fault,” Raphe whispered from his cot. “They’ll let us go once the bridge is done. I did it for your own good.”
She rolled over on her side, away from Raphe.
“Remember Barnaby? Who knows how long they kept him prisoner,” said Raphe. “And how much longer they’ll be holding on to him. He’s probably got friends, family looking for him. They might not even know he’s on the grid. Or maybe they think he’s off having a good time somewhere and doesn’t want to be bothered. That could be us.”
She tried to ignore him.
“We shouldn’t do anything to annoy them,” he continued. “I promise, they’ll let us go. We just have to be patient and do what they tell us. And it’s not so bad, is it? We got to help build a bridge. That was pretty cool. Maybe we’ll get a chance to see it in action. All we have to do is keep our heads down.”
The Royal Season was a total waste of money, Wynefrede thought. Raphe was the only promising Singleton there, and he turned out to be a total dud. The only other guy even vaguely interesting was the grid admin from the ball. But he wasn’t even part of the program. What was his name? Walter? William? Dave?
It felt like she’d barely closed her eyes when she was kicked awake. It was pitch black.
“The sentries have spotted enemy forces coming up from the south.” Rambo’s voice was low and threatening in her ear. “Get up now. We don’t want to be here if fighting breaks out. If you scream, we’ll knock you out and carry you out of here. Or you can walk. Your choice.”
She sat up and felt around for her boots.
“Are we going to be able to see if the bridge holds?” Raphe was already awake and up on his feet. “I’d like to watch. You might need me. Maybe something needs fixing. I could help.”
“Shut up,” said Rambo.
“Sure, sure, I’ll be quiet,” said Raphe. “Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it. No trouble from me.”
“Shut up shutting up,” said Rambo and Wynefrede heard a slight gasp. Maybe Rambo punched Raphe to shut him up. It would serve him right.
She wrapped her feet by feel. It wasn’t a good fit and she still had blisters from the hike two days ago.
“Maybe,” Rambo told Raphe, then led them both out. There was a little more light outside. The fire had been tamped down but the stars were out, so Wynefrede bent down and finished tying her shoes.
One of the Armforge Guild men came over to talk to Rambo.
“You guys finally heading out for good?” he asked. Wynefrede didn’t recognize his voice.
“No, Sewell, we’re going to fight your battle for you,” said Rambo. “Yeah, we’re heading out. But we’re not going far. Just out of the direct fighting.”
“It’s your battle, too,” said Sewell.
“Yeah, how do you figure?”
“I finally got my instructions from Bannister,” said Sewell. “Your crate is down in the crypts.” He pointed through the forest in the direction of Sangeries Castle. “And it’s the only one that you’re going to get now that the rest of the shipment has been intercepted.”
“That’s assuming we get to it before the cult finds the entrance to the crypt and takes everything,” Sewell added.
“How about this,” said Rambo. “We’ll position ourselves a little to the north. If any of them try to get past us, we’ll take them out. Same if they’ve got reinforcements coming down from that side.”
“Better gag the prisoners then,” said Sewell. “And keep them safe. Bannister doesn’t want anyone to find their dead bodies anywhere around here.”
Rambo spit on the ground. “I heard you the first three times.”
“You don’t have to gag me,” said Raphe. “I promise I’ll stay quiet.”
Rambo slapped him. “Shut up.”
The kidnappers led them north out of the camp, past the meadow scattered with the detritus of the bridge construction effort, and into the woods beyond. They’d walked for about a quarter of an hour before Rambo decided they were far enough and took them off the path and behind a dense thicket of thorny bushes.
Wynefrede was nestled down between the roots of a tree and chained up tight a few feet away from Raphe, then both were gagged, tied again with ropes so they couldn’t move at all, then covered with burlap sacking.
Before they left, Wynefrede could feel the kidnappers piling loosing branches around her and she had a vision of herself sitting alone in the woods slowly dying of dehydration. It took days, didn’t it? Would she start to hallucinate first? She’d probably be traumatized for life.
She’d sue, but terminal dehydration was probably in the Krim terms of service.
She tried moving her legs. They’d tied her up sitting in a cross-legged position, so that she couldn’t kick. The most she could do was wriggle her knees up and down a little bit, not enough to dislodge the burlap and branches covering her.
Her arms were tied tied behind her. She could feel them slowly going to sleep. Maybe she’d lose circulation to her arms and die of gangrene before she died of dehydration. She couldn’t decide which was worse.
She tried biting through her gag and felt some give.
She was chewing her way through, one thread at a time, when she heard sounds of battle from the south.