A’Lia Seven Travelers Free At Last!

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A’Lia Seven Travelers

Free At Last!

The first day and night passed quietly for A’Lia. The weather during the day was clear and warm; the nights pleasantly cool. Her horse, Josepha, was a pleasure to ride. A’Lia spent the first night camping well off the road at a small lake fed by a sparkling river. After a small meal of cheese and bread, she bathed in the lake then crawled into her bag, enjoying the night sky. She only wished she could have convinced Cayt to come along with her. Or the stable master’s lad.

For the first time in her life she felt free! No Mum, no sisters telling her what to do. No Father eyeing every boy or girl she brought home as they weren’t good enough. No chores! And…she frowned for a moment, no more fear of what happened to her. She felt liberated!

She was on her own!

That night the Fires of A’ne was spectacular! These were gauzy laced nebulae of vivid reds, greens and blues. Some nights they seemed to stretch and crackle from horizon to horizon. The larger of Aba Nam’s two moons, Isari, was rising although low on the horizon, its blue haze dim in the early evening light. Oro, the smallest moon, pitted and barren, was just sinking over the horizon.

Night birds sang in the woods while the river tinkled over smooth stones.

A’Lia slept like rock, the first time since Arena.

The second day she entered the lows foothills at the southern end of the Great Western Mountains. There the deep green forests threw shadows across the road; wild birds sang in the

trees some with plumage so brilliant as to hurt the eye. Wispy white clouds floated far overhead. It was a breathtaking fall day.

It might have been a good day to pay more attention to those wispy high clouds.

She figured she’d be at one of her father’s wine merchant’s holding around noon and timed her arrival for the noon meal accordingly.

That was two days ago.

A’Lia Seven Travelers hunched miserably on her horse as the wind whipped the trees and sent small branches and stones stingingly against her skin. What had happened to the beautiful weather of yesterday? she wondered, jiggling the reins urging Josepha forward into the gale. She knew this wind was only the beginning. Glancing up at the sky, she saw the crest of the storm coming and coming fast. Port Zeia was still a day away while Te’Cjai, the village she’d left, was behind her a day. Her only option was to go forward and hope that she could find shelter before the rain hit. She really hated sleeping under a tree, in the rain.

The only bright spot in an increasingly ugly day was the memory of how she had spent most of the day in village of Te’Cjai fighting off Moc Shi’s clumsy advances and winning. Her Mum would be proud of her. And, oddly enough, she convinced the grabby old man to sell his wines to the Inn at a considerably lower rate. Of course, the implied threat that she would inform her father of the advances helped.

Maybe she wasn’t paying enough attention to the surrounding forest; or maybe she was too deep in thought or the sound and fury of the upcoming storm distracted her. But the fact remained that she didn’t see the two men until they were beside her.

The man on her left snatched the reins out of her hand and pulled Josepha up short. A’Lia turned and tried to shove him away. The other pulled a very sharp knife and laid it lightly against her throat. The knife convinced her that these were not men to fool with.

“Let’s not do that, missy,” the knife wielder snapped. “Off the horse! Things will go a lot easier for all of us.” Turning to his partner, he said, “Tark! Fetch up th’ wagon. I do believe we’ve got wot’ could be worth considerable talons.”

The other man, Tark, leered at her. “Yeah. Hop down Little One an’ we’ll all get along just fine.” A’Lia dropped her reins and dismounted. She did NOT like the leer on his face. This is not happening to me! she thought. With some reluctance, pulled the bag of coins she had taken from her room when she slipped out of her parent’s house and held it out to man on her right.

Tark rode off and returned in a few moments with a wagon, pulled by an old horse. The wagon was dark brown, patched on its sides although she could see where worms continued to enjoy their wooden feast. There were at least seven or eight spokes missing from the two wheels she could see. She wondered, what are they going to do with that?

“Here. Take this and leave me.” A’Lia said, giving him her bag of coins.

The man put his knife back into its sheath and grabbed the bag from her hand. A quick look at the gold and silver talons it contained made him smile. He stuffed it in his kit bag. Then he took her head in his work-hardened hand and turned her to face him. “Sorry, but that’s not what we’re after. A pretty girl like you’ll fetch a fair price from certain, ah, individuals that I know.”

Walking slowly around A’Lia he looked her up and down, as if she were a side of meat which to him, she was. “Yes, ye’ll fetch a pretty talon, indeed. Tark! Tie this wench up.” He stepped back while Tark went about his task

“At a very nice price indeed!”

After being bound hand and foot, she was shoved roughly into the back of the wagon. Here were more rotten boards. Her elbow dropped into a space between two of them, causing the first of many scrapes.

The first man, who was still nameless, yelled at Tark, his partner. “I’m going on ahead and see some people. I’ll meet y’ at the usual place in a couple of days. Take care of our merchandise ‘ere and don’t touch ‘er. I mean it this time, Tark. We don’ wan’ no repeat of last time. Got it?”

Continuing to eye the girl, Tark grinned, “Ya, mate. Y’ can count on me.”

“Ahh Tark, that’s what I’m afraid of. Okay, then. Meet you in Port Zeia in a couple o’ days.” He mounted his horse and quickly trotted away ahead of them.

Tark again leered and managed to rub her breasts while putting her in the wagon. A’Lia was very much afraid that Tark may completely disregard the other man’s warning.

For the next two days, A’Lia, driven by youth and ferocity, struggled against the rough hemp ropes that bound her. She could feel the coarse strands rubbing her wrists and ankles raw. The hard fibers dug into her skin alternately tickling and then pricking. The wagon creaked and groaned as it felt like Tark managed to find every pothole in the road. The wagon slammed into and out of every one, adding new bruises to her very tender skin.

Tark allowed her some freedom to answer nature’s call when necessary and that helped her to stretch and walk about. It was disconcerting to be watched as she tried to find privacy. He would also toss her some dry bread and cheese on the odd occasion when he thought to.

Hours passed and each was a torture to the young woman. Then she thought she could hear sea gulls. Yes! There was the sound again. Sea gulls. A’Lia fought to contain her youthful excitement in spite of her predicament. She had always enjoyed the hustle and bustle of Port Zeia whenever either of her parents went there and she looked forward to each trip.

Knowing that she in a favorite village brought renewed to hope to A’Lia. She knew that as long as she was alive, there was always the possibility of escape. These ‘creatures’ that held her captive couldn’t stay awake forever. There would come a time…a break in the concentration… and A’Lia knew she had to be ready. Besides, it had already been three days. She should have been home by tonight. Her father would mount a search party by tomorrow afternoon when she did not appear.

The time for escape came much sooner than Tark, his partner or A’Lia expected. Tark stopped the wagon beside a run down two story inn and tavern. He jumped down from the wagon and ran into the tavern. In a few moments he returned and dragged A’Lia from the back of the cart adding more scratches and splinters to her already abused young body. Like a light bag of flour, he threw her across his shoulder and carried her up a set of outside stairs to a room above the tavern.

Tark shoved a large iron key in the lockset in the side of the old hard-wood door and unlocked it. He shoved it open and carried the girl across the bare wooden floor and dropped her on a hard bed on the far side of the room. He reached down and yanked off her blindfold, glancing his hand off the front of her shirt…again. The terror of what may happen to her ran through her mind again. I have to escape, she thought. He’ll rape if he gets the chance. If he can I fight back enough to escape?

A’Lia looked around the room as well as she could with her arms bound tightly behind her back. She was appalled at the dreariness of the place. Tattered paper hung in strips from the walls and sagged from the ceiling. Other places on the ceiling were stained brown from leaking water. The only window was so dirty that it was a wonder any light at all came into the room. Her landing upon the bed had sent up a hail of dust motes that now danced across the dim beams of light fighting their way through the grimy window.

Tark came to her and pulled her up by her shoulder. He said, “Missy, I’m goin’ downstairs fer a pot ‘o ale and maybe try me luck at some dice.” Then waving an admonishing finger at her bound and gagged form, he said, “Now don’ y’ go runnin’ off nowhere. I’ll be back in a while.” Leering, he dragged a rough finger from her waste, up across her left breast to her mouth then shoved her hard against the bed and left the room. A’Lia heard him turn a key in the lock.

She managed to sit up and get a better look. Dirt and dust covered the floor. There was a rickety table and two chairs in one corner. On the table was an oil lamp with a cracked chimney. No lights. What’s with that? They’re free.

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