Their captors had bound Rylan and Anaya hand and foot and thrown them over their mounts like so much baggage. Rylan’s back was so stiff she could barely stand up straight when they finally hauled them off the horses. Anaya was the same. When they put her on her feet she swayed and nearly fell. She kept quiet, but Rylan could see the tears on her cheeks. The man and woman who had originally captured them had been joined by two other men. One of them took his sword and cut the bonds securing Rylan’s feet, then did the same for the Princess.
Away from the battle they had followed a small road to what looked like a waypost inn, which were relatively common near major roads. This one had no village surrounding it. The building was two stories high, the lower half being made of stone and the upper floor of wood. The front of the building had a wooden porch, raised up off the dirt of the courtyard. Several large trees loomed over the inn and a sign showing a painted picture of a fish and a wineglass creaked in the breeze. The woman pushed them towards the door. Anaya tripped on the stair leading up to the porch so the woman grabbed the girl by the collar and bodily hauled her up. Anaya whimpered as she was dropped on the porch.
“Mind your step. I’d be happy to get rough with you, but you’re worth more to us alive.” The woman said. The man with her gave an ugly grin. Rylan had the impression he didn’t say much that didn’t involve hurting someone.
“You can’t truss us up on horses and expect us to walk. What is wrong with you?” Rylan said. In response the woman punched Rylan hard in the back of the head. Rylan staggered but kept her feet.
“Get inside.” The woman snarled. Rylan’s eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim interior of the inn’s common room. Inside were half a dozen people, their mismatched armour and sour demeanor suggesting they were companions to their captors. She didn’t see anyone else, though there was a large, red stain on the floor that looked reasonably fresh. She hoped some of the innkeeper’s family had escaped. She and Anaya were brought into the room. Rylan stumbled against the woman as she was pushed along.
“Where do we put them?” one of the men asked.
“Why are there two? I thought we were just after the girl.” asked another, his leer at Rylan leaving little doubt as to his intent.
“The extra one came with her.” The woman said. “We got them both, and we can use one to keep the other in line. I’m sure neither will misbehave if we have the other one to cut on.” The woman ran one of her daggers along Rylan’s jaw, drawing blood, then down Anaya’s face. The Princess closed her eyes squeezing tears from beneath the lids. Rylan looked forward to paying the woman back in kind.
“Nallah, we can put them in the storeroom. It locks from this side.” A third man said, holding a key.
“Just what I had in mind.” Nallah, said.
“You’ll be sorry for this.” Rylan told her. Nallah smiled at her. She pulled on her braid of black hair and spun it around her finger.
“Oh no, whatever shall we do. The Queen’s maid is promising us doom! However will we survive?” she laughed, the men in the room cackling with her. “Shut up bitch. I’m not getting paid to worry about your skin. Keep quiet, mind your place and I won’t give you to Horsten over there.” The man Nallah pointed to with her knife made an obscene gesture with his hips and tongue. Rylan gave him her most intimidating stare, but he just laughed.
“Act out, and I’ll give him the Princess there. We’ve been paid good money to bring her alive. She doesn’t need to be intact.” Nallah cackled at her own joke. Rylan imagined a knife protruding from the centre of the woman’s forehead. It was a small thing, but it made her feel slightly better. Nallah leaned into Anaya’s face.
“If you misbehave, she gets cut. Since we don’t need her, we can cut deep. Understand?” Anaya nodded.
“Good. Then you shouldn’t be worried. Well, not you girlie. Your maid should be, but that’s because she’s not merchandise.” Nallah smiled at Rylan. It was the kind of smile twisted people gave the insects they’re pulling the wings off of.
“Put them in the storeroom.” she ordered. Two men grabbed Rylan’s arms and hauled her to the storeroom, her feet barely doing any of the work. She heard two more bring Anaya behind her. Rylan was thrust into the room like a ruffian being thrown out of a taproom. The storeroom was barely three strides across in any direction. She kept her footing but Anaya was not so lucky. Rylan knelt beside her.
“Are you okay?” she asked. Anaya looked up at her and nodded. The Princess had a large bruise covering the left side of her face, and her dark hair was a disheveled halo around her head. She had a black eye as well, but the dim light coming in around the door and through some of the wall planks hid the worst of it. The storeroom was musty and smelled of old fruit.
“What do we do now?” Anaya asked.
“Now we figure out a way to get out of here.” Rylan said.
“How do we do that?”
“I don’t know yet, but I’ll figure out something. With your help, and my little friends.” Rylan opened her hands and showed Anaya the two knives she had slid up her sleeves. They were long and narrow but had solid, well-kept blades. She didn’t mention the slice she had inflicted on her arm hiding them there. She hoped the owners wouldn’t notice the knives were missing for a while yet.
“Where did you get those?” Anaya asked.
“I borrowed them. I think we’re in greater need than their owners, don’t you?” said Rylan. “Come closer so I can cut you free.”
“You mean you picked their pockets?” Anaya said. Rylan chuckled as she cut the rope holding Anaya’s wrists together.
“I wasn’t always the Queen’s handmaid. I’ve had to learn a few things in my lifetime. I’m out of practice, but they weren’t paying attention. Take one. If someone comes after you, put the sharp end into them. That should give them second thoughts.” Rylan handed Anaya the smaller of the two knives. Anaya cut the ropes on Rylan’s wrists.
“Now, let’s see if we can’t loosen something and get that door opened.” Rylan moved to the door and began feeling for where the hinges or nails might be.