The Wish Cycle (19)

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"I splashed into a puddle that had not yet frozen, and felt something warm and liquid drip down my upper lip. Blood."

A single man, swathed in black, stood in the center of the road. He held a bow, an arrow pointed our direction.

The Falye had found us.

We were within bowshot, but he didn't let the arrow fly. He barked in a language I didn't understand, and moments later two more black-clothed men stepped from the trees. They conversed for a few moments, the archer never looking away from us. And then, one of the men started walking toward us.

“Run,” Merwent said. “I'll distract them.”

“But-”

“Don't argue with me, just do it,” he said.

I turned to run.

“Run and we shoot!” a voice rang out, heavily accented but still understandable. I froze. “Give us book,” the voice said. “And maybe we let you live.”

“No,” Merwent said at once.

Perhaps I was a coward. I flinched at his words. The Falye, however, laughed. I turned back to face them. The man continued to walk toward us as his companions watched, arrow ready to fly. A yard or two away, he stopped.

“You have book,” he said.

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Merwent said.

“Too late for that,” the man said with a smile. “We know you have it, or you would not have refused to give it to us.”

Under normal circumstances I would have rolled my eyes.

“Why didn't you just shoot us?” I asked, and wished immediately that I hadn't spoken. The Falye turned his eyes on me for the first time, glittering and black.

“Tried before,” he said. “You escaped. Now give us book, we let you live.”

I doubted that. “You killed my father,” I said.

The man stared at us for a long moment. Why hadn't they attacked us? Surely they had the skill to do it. They'd gotten rid of my father easily enough. They were trying to convince us to hand it over, rather than taking it from us by force. Why?

“You come with us,” the Falye said at last.

“And if we refuse?” Merwent asked.

“We kill you,” the Falye said, as if it was the most reasonable thing in the world. When we didn't try to escape, he waved the third man over. The first Falye, the one that had spoken, approached me, pulling a length of rope from a fold in his clothing. He bound my hands together in front of me as his companion restrained Merwent. Each kept one end of the rope, and tugged us along behind them. They didn't attempt to take our packs from us, or even search us for weapons, and I assumed that they either didn't think we'd try anything stupid, or that they could handle it easily if we did.

Rope chafed my already damaged wrists as more snow flurried down from the sky, and the light continued to fade. The Falye bowman followed us, prepared to shoot if we tried to escape as we were led back the way we had come. The trek was uphill, and we skidded and slipped on patches of ice and snow that formed as the temperature cooled. Everything was painted in shades of black and gray, and the clouds hung over us like a ceiling.

We had been walking for perhaps half an hour when I decided that, since I was likely to be killed anyway, I might as well do something.

“How far are we going?” I asked.

“Quiet,” my guard said. Merwent, who was being led beside me, shot me a glance. I ignored him.

I had thought that giving up the book might be a good idea; I had suggested it to Merwent earlier that morning, after all. But, now that they were demanding it of me, I found that I didn't really want to do it. Probably some kind of latent rebellion. Deciding to hand it over was something I would have done on my own, if Merwent hadn't been with me. But the ordering tone in the Falye's voice made me want to resist.

I decided I wasn't going to hand it over. He was going to have to make me.

“Real polite,” I said to the Falye's back. “How can you expect me to hand over something you want if you're going to be rude?” The Falye spun in one fluid motion, and the side of my face exploded in pain. I flew sideways, barely catching my balance as I was tugged back upright by the ropes around my wrists.

“Quiet,” the Falye repeated.

“Why?” I demanded.

“Mizna,” Merwent warned in a whisper. “It might be better if you didn't provoke them.”

“Why should I care?” I asked.

“Because we might be able to survive this if you shut up,” he replied.

“Why should I care about surviving?” I asked. “I'm an Artist. I'm going to die anyway. Why are you so determined to live?”

The Falye spun around again, but this time I was ready for him, and I ducked. His miss spun him off balance, but he regained it almost at once, and swung his arm back. I wasn't expecting this, and caught another stinging slap to the other side of my face.

“Quiet,” he hissed.

“Maybe you should kill me,” I said.

“Mizna!” Merwent said. “Shut up.

“No,” I said stubbornly.

This time the Falye moved so quickly I didn't see him coming. I figured out later that he must have spun and lashed out with his elbow, because something very hard smashed into my nose. The impact threw me off balance again, but this time the Falye let me crumple to the ground. I splashed into a puddle that had not yet frozen, and felt something warm and liquid drip down my upper lip. Blood.

Before I could react, the Falye had bent over me, grasped me firmly around my middle, and tossed me over his shoulder. My bruised belly folded over his shoulder, and I inhaled sharply. He ignored my gasp of pain and marched forward, one hand clenched tightly around my calf.He dug his fingers into my flesh whenever I moved, and I was forced to watch blood drip from my nose onto the ground below, scarlet against a patchwork of brown, green, and white.

"Silence," the Falye warned.

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