Chapter 27

Copyright© 2021 by Charly Young

A bone jarring bounce woke Niamh. She groaned and shook her head to clear away the cobwebs of the spell that had laid her out, then lay still, trying to assess the environment before anybody discovered she was awake.

A few minutes later, she opened her eyes to find herself in a cage atop a wagon moving along a rutted dirt road. She was still naked, but at least the manacles were off.

It appeared to be late afternoon.

Laughter sounded from outside the cage off to the left from four men on horseback pacing alongside the wagon.

“Are you all right, lady?” A small boy about seven years old was squatting down and peering at her curiously. Like her, he had a silvery torc around his neck.

“Yes, I think so, just a bit woozy. Who are you?”

“My name is Jeffrey,” he said. “My sister Linda is over there.”

Niamh sat up and looked around.

The cage looked to be six feet wide and ten feet long. It stank of fear and urine.

Fourteen children, young teens to five-year-olds, sat on the floor dull eyes squinting at her in the glare of the noonday sun. A little boy in the back cried that he was thirsty. A blond-haired girl, Jeffery’s sister, Linda Nimah reminded herself, cuddled him and murmured comfort.

Jeffery sat down beside her companionably.

“How long was I sleeping, Jeffery?”

“The mean men, they came and woke us early this morning and loaded us into this wagon with bars on it. You were already laying here sleeping. How come you don’t got no clothes?”

“They took em. Did they feed you guys?”

“Not today. They gave us some soup last night in our slave kennels. All they gave us today was water. I’m pretty hungry, I hope they give us supper soon.”

Niamh got to her feet and stretched.

As he caught sight of her moving, one of the older boys, maybe thirteen, came out to the front of the group and threatened her with a fork that had all but one sharpened tine bent back.

“Don’t come any closer.”

Niamh gave him a respectful nod and called out. “Settle down protector, I will not hurt anyone. We’re all in this together.”

“That’s Steven,” Jeffery said, “he’s the boss of us.”

Niamh looked through the grates, trying to figure out where they were. A vast treeless plain stretched as far as the eye could see on three sides of them. They were just entering the forested foothills that fronted a tall white capped mountain range.

Another bone jarring bounce. The wagon was unsprung and found every rock and pothole in the road. The horses pulling were big workhorses that she thought looked a lot like the Budweiser horses.

“Steven, my name is Niamh. Why don’t you come on over here and join us? Maybe we can figure out a way to get out of this mess.”

The boy, Steven, was a gentleman, he tried his best to avoid looking at her nakedness.

“Were you able to tell what direction we took when we left town?

“Not sure,” said he said. “It was real dark.”

“What street did we travel down?”

“Market street.”

“Did you see anything you recognized?”

Steven shook his head. Then he brightened. “I think we passed by the tanner’s place. You could sure smell the stink.”

Okay now, at least she had a reasonable idea of where they were headed. North of the city was the edge of the Opari’s emergence into this world. The forest the road skirted must be Opari. That was glorious news. She doubted the torc would function this close to the Opari forest. No magic except Opari’s worked there.

Now she had her bearings, she could start planning.

“Okay, boys, let’s figure out where to go from here. How many men are there?”

Before he could answer. The wagon stopped.

Jeffery looked over Niamh’s right shoulder.

“There are ten of them and they are mean men,” he whispered. “Two coming now.”

She turned two were-hyenas with their hair done up in a dyed red Mohawk had pulled up their horses and were staring at her. One tall and one short. Mutt and Jeff. They had the muscled bodies of dedicated gym rats. The short one she named Jeff got off his horse, walked to the gate of the cage and started unlocking it.

“Watch her legs, brother,” the other one advised with a laugh. “I bet she could kick the shit outta you. She’s quick and strong even in her human form.”

The other one glared. “Hilarious asshole. I know that. You just monitor the torc controller and zap her, instead of just offering stupid advice and joking.”

“You lost the toss. Just grab her and get her out of there. The boss wants to talk to her.”

Niamh ignored their stares. She was trying to figure out what to do after she took down these two morons. She stretched and flexed, trying to loosen up.

“Go sit over by the others,” she told the boys quietly.

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