The man who got kicked by Nod – let’s call him Toss-Pot – is going to be wondering when he wakes up as to why he is tied to a tree. He’s still groaning, unconscious.
I’d hunted down another meal and was cooking it over a blazing fire just as the sun started to set. I wrapped my wolf-skin tighter, feeling the temperature drop.
I heard bracken crunch, and called: “You know, your life would be some much easier if you didn’t make so much noise when stalking.”
“I’m not stalking,” he said quickly, not coming into the fire-light.
“Are you still hungry?”
“I’m not here.”
“Then I suppose I’ll have to eat this whole rabbit, all by myself.”
There was a pause before William stepped into my line of sight. There was a purple bruise where I had kicked him.
“You hurt me,” he said.
“You threatened to kill me,” I replied.
“But I didn’t. You actually hurt me.”
I indicated for him to sit, “You were being an idiot.”
He sat opposite me, “Is that a crime?”
“It is in my book,” I said, passing him a cooked rabbit’s leg, “Stupid people are dangerous.”
He gazed at the leg for a moment and then took a glance at Toss-Pot. He shivered slightly, “So… you’re Thomas’s wife?”
I nodded, “And you’re his little brother.”
“Half-brother,” he corrected, taking a bite, and continued with his mouth full, “Did you know he’s a pirate?”
I paused, “No,” I said slowly, “I’ve been married to him for ten years and I had absolutely no idea that he is a pirate.”
He laughed, “And you said I was an idiot.”
“Are you unreceptive to sarcasm?”
“No,” he said. I gave him a look and he realised, “Oh.”
I shook my head, and ate.
“So…” he said, chewing thoughtfully, “You’re that mercenary woman, ain’t you? The one they call Midnight.”
I nodded, “Midnight Shadownight, at your service,” I put out my hand and he shook it.
“So, William,” I said, sitting up and sharpening my pen-knife with a rock, “Why are you looking for slavers?”
I shrugged, “They took my niece. Twelve years old, about five feet tall, asks too many questions.”
“Your niece? Don’t you have any children of your own?”
“I have three daughters, but we live with my brother and his wife. They’re in good hands.”
“And where’s Tom?”
I paused, feeling a stab of sadness, “He’s…” I didn’t have the heart to tell him. Or maybe I hadn’t accepted it myself, “he’s at sea.”
“Just like him,” said William, huffing, “just like him, to disappear in crisis. He was ne’er any help.”
I resisted the urge to skewer him with my small knife, “Your turn. Why are you hunting slavers?”
“They took my son.”
“Oh, you have children now?”
He frowned, “Just the one.”
“I’m sorry, that must be very difficult for you. Where did you leave your wife?”
“She died some time ago… he’s the only family I got left.”
“I count as family, don’t I?”
“Don’t begrudge your brother so. I’m sure he’d’ve cared, if you told him.”
“Oh, please,” said William with a wave of his hand, “Anyway… any leads on where they might have taken your niece and my son?”
“I’ve been following their tracks for while, but last night’s rain has washed them clean…” I looked at Toss-Pot, “I suspect they’re going to sell them to wealthy households as servants, but I can’t be sure. Slavers operate everywhere. But I’m sure our… friend, here, would be more than willing to give a few answers when he wakes. They probably have a few days head-start. But if we can find out where they’re heading, I’m sure there’s a few short-cuts we can take.”
“Okay… so definitely Europe then?”
I sighed, “Let’s hope so.”
“Until… you know… we locate them… could I hang around you?”
“I was afraid you might ask that.”
“Oh, come on, you could do with some company!”
“I think solitude might help me survive longer.”
“We’re lookin’ for exactly the same thing, I could help. What if you get attacked?”
I wanted to say, What if you become a liability? But… I couldn’t. He wasn’t Thomas. I couldn’t be frank with him.
“Do you have a horse?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah. She’s a beauty she is, on the farm and–”
“I meant, with you.”
“You’re going to need one of those,” I said, “Fine. You can stick with me. But I have one rule: Do not touch me when I’m not looking, or I will punch you so hard your mother will turn in her grave.”
He stared at me, “Understood.”
“How does Tom live with a woman like you?”
“He got used to it. Our first meeting wasn’t dramatically different from yours and mine – except there were more people and we were at sea.”
“The first time you met him, you beat him up?”
I shrugged, “What more could a man want, eh?”
“Urgh… Where am I?”
Nod jumped at the sound of Toss-Pot’s voice.
He started, “Get that beast away from me!” trying to break free of the rope.
I calmed Nod down, patting her muzzle softly before, giving Toss-Pot some water to drink from my flask.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Your worst nightmare,” I replied.
“Really…? Can nightmares be so beautiful?” he smiled a stupid smile, before I whacked in the mouth.
“Don’t be an idiot,” I said, pulling out my pen-knife, “Now pay attention, because I’ll only say this once: You’re going to answer every question I ask you. You refuse, and I’ll cut you. You hesitate, and I’ll cut you. You lie: I’ll know, and I’ll cut you.”
“You’re very fond of cutting, aren’t y– Argh!” he bellowed as I tore his shirt and cut a shallow mark on his chest.
“Don’t try my patience.”
“Alright! Alright!” said Toss-Pot, “I’ll tell you anythin’ you want!”
“Were you part of a slaver scouting party?”
“Describe all the people they abducted.”
He stared at me, “What? I can’t do that– Argh!”
I sliced through his skin again, “Try.”
“A little girl, two little boys, an old gent and a dog.”
“They kidnapped a dog?” asked William.
I turned and gave him a hard look. His face blanched.
“Where are they going?” I resumed.
“I don’t know.”
I put my knife in his mouth, putting the blade to the corner of his lips, “Don’t make me do this.”
“I don’t know!” he pleaded.
I pulled the blade slowly, cutting into his cheek. Blood streamed down his chin.
“Alright! I’ll talk! I’ll talk!” he said, thrashing his legs wildly.
“Yes?” I said, withdrawing.
“Rome,” he said, in a high-pitched voice, “They’re going to Rome.”
I raised a brow at this, “You’re telling the truth?”
He nodded quickly.
“Because if you aren’t…”
“I swear to God, it’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!”
I passed a look to William, “Pack up your bags, mate. I think we know where we’re heading.”
“You’ll let me go?” Toss-Pot whined.
“Aye,” I said, hitting his forehead with the hilt of my knife so that he passed out. I untied the ropes and gathered them in a loop, “You can go when you wake up.”
“That was a touch cruel,” William commented.
“You have any better ideas?”
“I don’t know… seduce him with money?”
I packed up my few things and tied them to Nod’s saddle, “Money dictates a certain amount of loyalty, but not truth. That’s what threats are for.”
He paused, “Are we moving out tonight?”
“Aye. There’s a small town, not far from here. We’ll replenish some supplies and get you a horse. If they’re heading to Rome, it could mean only one thing.”
I gave him a look, wondering how he could not know, “Every year, Rome holds games.”
“Like the Olympics, yes.”
“In those games, your son and my niece,” I said, “are going to be sold as gladiators.”