Nik’s fingers were on fire while the rest of his body was cold, damp, bruised and soiled. His mouth tasted of vomit and the corners were raw from the gag. His throat ached from his muffled screaming earlier. Being alone was better than Brogan ripping off his three remaining fingernails, but not a lot better. Tied to the chair in the now-empty cabin, there was nothing to do or think about except for his pain and discomfort, and imagine what Brogan would do next. Sleep was impossible, kept at bay by the burning pain in his hands.
He didn’t believe that Brogan could capture Miss Vasilver. She wouldn’t be wandering alone outside at night, or even during the daytime: she was a gentlewoman, she’d always have an attendant.
An attendant who could be overpowered, granted, but by now someone would have noticed he was missing. Once they realized he’d been kidnapped, Miss Vasilver would take special precautions to ensure her own safety. She was a practical, sensible individual, unlike him. She’d be fine. He believed that. He had to believe that. There was nothing else he could do.
Even if I could get free, there’s no where I could go. I’m trapped on a ship in the middle of the harbor. Assuming they haven’t sailed yet. What am I going to do, steal a six-man boat and row myself back? Alone, with my hands like this? Or swim? He didn’t want to think about how salt water would feel on his hands. I’d freeze to death or drown first.
…if I could get free, I could kill myself.
He’d sworn to the Savior long ago not to kill himself. But the Savior was gone now, and Nik did not dare reach for him again. Everything in him drew back from even the thought, from that awful storm of emotion, from the horror of what he’d provoked his own god to do. I never felt him angry before. I did not think him capable of anger. What have I done?
Death would be better. An end to the torture. If he were dead, Brogan could not use him as an excuse to hurt anyone else, either. Nik tested his bonds, flexing and tugging at unyielding cords. He didn’t try to use brute strength; he had little left, and less endurance. He pulled, trying to rub them so they’d fray. He paused often to rest, panting and whimpering at the stabs of new pain just shifting his hands caused. But the cords did not wear, nor the knots give.
The chair, however—
The front joint on the right arm, where the arm joined the lower frame, creaked, just a little, under pressure. He focused on that part, pulling and rubbing the cords against the joint, trying to weaken it enough to break it apart. Time passed, a weary miserable interval. No one came to feed him or give him water, adding thirst and hunger to his list of miseries. I’ll die of dehydration eventually. That’s something. The chair teased him with its little creaks and groans, but did not yield.
It was light outside, perhaps after noon, when Brogan returned. Nik stopped moving then, stopped doing anything save shiver and sweat in terror. Brogan had a grim cheer about him as he went through the same preparations he’d done the night before; he took coals from the stove and put them in the pot, added the needles and pliers to heat, and set the whole on the table, too close to Nik. “Gotta get ready for our company.” Brogan grinned mirthlessly at Nikola. The captain dropped his gloved palm to rest over Nik’s damaged fingertips then, and ground down while Nik threw his head back and whined in helpless agony. “Just think how little Miss Vasilver will enjoy this visit.” He pressed harder, wriggling his hand, then left the cabin.
Nik screwed his eyes shut against tears of pain, a surge of anger rising against the horror and fear, and alongside it determination. I will not let this happen. After taking a few deep breaths, he renewed his work at loosening the arm of the chair.
For some minutes, Justin endured the most nerve-wracking slow-motion chase. After a couple of blocks of an initial spurt of speed, Anthser slowed to a stroll, uncertain of the exact location of the whistle (he said) and unwilling to rush to it even if he had been. “It was only one, so she doesn’t want us trying to rescue her. We have to trust her.” Then he’d hear another (single) whistle and trot in a different direction for a while before stopping and listening.
After several blocks of this, Justin convinced him to take to the rooftops where they’d have some chance of seeing what Anthser was (supposedly) hearing. “We can hang back on the rooftops. No one’s going to look up for pursuers.” Another several blocks, and Anthser was convinced the occasional whistle was coming from a covered cart. One man was pushing it and a second pulling, while a third walked alongside. They shadowed it for over a mile through the city, staying back on the rooftops. Justin caught glimpses of their target now and again with the spyglass, Anthser listening for the whistles. Whenever they lost sight of it, Justin was infuriated: “Your concern for being spotted is going to get her killed if they take her from that cart while we can’t see her, and she’s no longer able to signal us.”
As they neared the harbor, Justin had a different sickening idea: that the ruffians had taken the whistle from Wisteria when they first got to her, and stashed some complicit street urchin inside the cart while having Wisteria herself taken in a different direction. He had no idea what to do if that proved the case.
He half-expected the men to take the cart into one of the warehouses along the docks, but instead they wheeled it out onto a dock. “What are they going to do, drown her?” Justin hissed, one hand clutching at the scruff of Anthser’s neck.
“Why would they do that?” Navigating by rooftop had become difficult a few blocks earlier and they’d descended to street level, skulking along at a distance. Anthser drew out of sight behind a building for a minute when the men they were following looked around. When he risked another glimpse, the cart was abandoned on the dock and four men were rowing away in a small row boat, Wisteria’s dark-haired form seated among them. Anthser’s ears flicked back. “…crap.”
Justin tightened his grip on Anthser’s fur. “Did she whistle twice?”
“No.” He flicked his ears up again. “Once. I…uh…how do we follow that without being seen?”
Justin brought the spyglass to his eye and read the name on the stern of the small vessel: Little Lassie. If they made a run for it now – well, Anthser could swim. They could get to the boat. Not before the men could threaten Wisteria’s life. Not to mention Nikola’s. I hate this plan. Justin looked around. Like the rest of Gracehaven, or Newlant for that matter, little work was being done here on the day after Ascension, but the docks were not deserted. “We’re hiring a boat.” He pointed to a couple of men on an adjoining dock. “That way.”
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