"Are you harmed?"
Sabelina shook her head slightly, barely moving her mane of raven hair. "You?"
Isolda's head shook just as slightly. "These ropes are very tight, though."
Isolda sat at the base of a tree, her ankles crossed and bound together with rough cord. With her arms bent behind her and bound forearm to forearm, she could only squirm fitfully. Sabelina wore identical bonds, as did Emeric. Emeric, however, remained clothed, while the two women sat naked.
"Emeric, are you harmed?" For a moment, the man sat motionless, his body slumped. Finally, his head shook slowly.
"Where are your men?" Emeric's answer was too soft to be heard. "Emeric where are your men?"
Sabelina's eyes widened slightly. "Are you certain?"
"Of course I am," Emeric replied, his voice rising slightly. "The fact that we sit here, captive, means my men are all dead. We would never have been taken otherwise."
"Balian is still out there," Isolda said softly. "Perhaps he can rescue us."
Emeric snorted. "And where was the brave Balian and his men when we were taken? Nowhere to be seen. No, the man obviously betrayed us to these Uthrancian dogs."
"No," Isolda replied in a soft yet firm tone. "Balian promised to see us safely to the palace. He is out there, and he will rescue us."
"Mind your tongue, wench," Emeric snarled. "Remember your place when you address your betters."
"Enough talk." Startled by the new voice, all three turned as a tall, rangy man approached. "Get some rest," he continued. "We've still got a ways to go."
"I demand that you release us," Sabelina said in a hard voice. "If you do, my father may allow you to live."
"Perhaps," the man replied with a grin, "but my lord king would not. Now, enough of demands." Reaching down, he roughly stroked one of Sabelina's breasts, laughing as she tried to twist away. "Or maybe I'll think of a demand or two of my own." With that, he turned and strode away.
"What should we do?"
"Try to sleep," Sabelina said in reply to Isolda's question. "Maybe things will be better tomorrow."
Morning, however, brought no relief. Instead, the three captives were shaken awake in the chill dark before dawn. Unfed, the three were carried to the wagon. Here, their ankles were untied, only to be rebound with the legs held together. The three were then placed roughly on the seats of the wagon, after which the door slammed shut and they once again lurched into motion.
"Where do you suppose they're taking us?"
Emeric glanced toward Sabelina, shaking his head. "Uthrance, no doubt. If this lot serves the king there, then we're probably on our way to the Threlkeld."
"Do you think anyone knows yet?"
This time, it was Isolda who answered. "We were nearly a day from the first farm," she said, glancing toward Emeric, "and if I remember correctly, that means nearly two more days to the palace. Even if one of the men managed to escape, he'd only now be reaching that farm."
Sabelina frowned. "Three days there, another three to return, plus however long it would take to organize a rescue. We'll be in Uthrance long before help arrives."
"Especially here," Isolda remarked. "I looked at the maps before we left. Where we were taken, it's less than two days to the border. What I don't understand," she added, gazing toward Emeric, "is how we were so completely taken by surprise."
"We were ambushed," Emeric replied defensively.
Isolda shook her head. "I've seen the men," she insisted. "There aren't that many of them. This was a small group, yet they defeated your men within moments."
Emeric stiffened. "Have a care," he warned. "I'll see the skin off your back for that kind of talk."
"No," Sabelina said softly, "you won't."
Emeric's eyes widened. "But Your Highness....."
"Enough. You will not touch her, and that is the end of it. Besides, she's made me curious. How is it that soldiers who have never seen defeat are bested within minutes by a smaller force. Were you perhaps less than honest with me?"
Before Emeric could reply, Isolda spoke up. "You said," she observed, "that your unit has never seen defeat. What about you? How many victorious battles have you seen?"
Emeric's face began to redden. "I will not be questioned by a lowborn slut," he said angrily, only to pause as Sabelina spoke.
"You will answer," she said, her voice hard. "How many?"
Emeric stared. "Your Highness, I...." His eyes dropped.
"None?" Isolda's eyes widened. "You've never been in a battle? What about your men? Have any of them actually been in a battle?" Still staring at the floor of the wagon, Emeric shook his head slowly. "I don't believe this," Isolda said slowly. "We were escorted by men with no idea how to protect us."
"Don't be so harsh," Sabelina said. "After all, it has been ten years since our last war. And don't forget, Balian may still be out there somewhere, and we know he does have experience."
At this, Emeric's eyes flashed. "What makes you think he'll try to rescue us?" he demanded. "Assuming, of course, that he didn't betray us to begin with."
"Because he promised," Isolda insisted. "Besides," she added, flushing slightly, "I think he likes me."
"Which only proves he's the same kind of lowborn scum you are," Emeric snarled.
"Enough." Squirming, Sabelina twisted sideways on the seat. Isolda watched, then twisted her own body. The two women wound up with their backs pressed against each other, their legs bent so that their feet rested on the ends of the seat. From her new position, Sabelina glanced over at Emeric, alone on the other seat.
"If you can do no more than hurl insults," she said softly, "I would ask that you not speak at all." With that, she closed her eyes, and both women fell silent.
For a time, silence filled the wagon, which continued its laborious progress. The continual lurching threatened time and again to throw Emeric to the floor. The women, braced against each other, fared better, though the strain soon began to show in the trembling muscles of their thighs.
After a time, the two women began murmuring to each other, their words too soft for Emeric to hear. From time to time, one or the other would glance in his direction. Finally, curiosity became too much.
"What are you two whispering about?"
"We were just wondering," Isolda replied, "how it is that you achieved such a high rank and position." She shook her head slowly. "We know you've not earned it in battle, and we've seen nothing to convince us that you deserve it."
Emeric turned his eyes on Sabelina. "Your Highness," he protested, "how is it that you continue to allow this peasant, this lowborn, worthless slut, to insult me?"
"My reasons," Sabelina replied, "are not for you to question. Besides, she raises valid questions. How did you achieve your rank and position?"
Emeric straightened as much as his bonds would allow. "My father," he said proudly, "is Thibaud, Lord of Wayholt, advisor to Her Majesty the Queen. A son of Wayholt has always commanded Her Majesty's Guard, so the position is my birthright."
"So you became an officer because your father knows the right things to say to the Queen," Isolda observed.
"Your insolence," Emeric replied, "begins to border on treason, wench."
"It also," Sabelina retorted, "lies firmly within the realm of truth. You have in no way shown yourself worthy of your position, yet that position is taken for granted." She glanced over her shoulder. "I believe," she said softly, "that this deserves our attention once we are rescued."
Isolda nodded. "Agreed." With a smile, she added, "Something tells me you'll be doing a lot of research into the matter."
Sabelina laughed. "Of course I will," she replied. "I get all the work, and you get all the fun."
Isolda echoed the laugh. "Grouch."
Emeric's eyes widened. "Your Highness, such familiarity toward a commoner is unseemly. What would your Royal parents think?"
Sabelina shrugged. "I suppose we shall find out, eventually. In the meantime, you would do well to accept rather than question, especially if you want us to free you."
"Free?" Stunned, Emeric watched as the two women swung to face him, bracing themselves with their hands. Eyes wide, he could only watch as the two women quickly untied their legs, leaving them completely free.
"Of course," Isolda retorted. "Or did you think we just enjoyed rubbing shoulders with each other? It put our hands close enough together that we could pick at each other's bonds. Now, would you like us to release you, or would you rather we added a gag to stop your whining?"
For a moment, Emeric simply stared. Then, slowly, he said, "Release me. Please."
Nodding, Sabelina grasped his shoulder, leaning him forward so she could reach his hands. At the same time, Isolda dropped to the floor and began picking at the ropes binding his ankles.
After a moment, Sabelina commented, "You should be doing his hands, you know."
Isolda gazed up, puzzled. "Oh? And why is that?"
"Because you enjoy having your breasts stared at."
"I do not!"
Sabelina laughed. "Of course you do. Look at what you were wearing when we set out."
"And who," Isolda asked, her voice stern, "selected my wardrobe for the journey?"
"Irrelevant. You wore it, and you enjoyed the looks you got." Sabelina's voice grew thoughtful. "Except," she added, "when Balian looked at you. Then, I think you would have preferred to wear somewhat less."
Instead of replying, Isolda simply glared, the look in her eyes contrasting sharply with the rapidly deepening flush on her face. "You wait," she finally said. "I will remember you said that."
"Are you," Emeric demanded, "threatening Her Highness?"
"Stop talking and hold still," Sabelina retorted. "And stop staring at my breasts."
"Your Highness, I would never...."
Isolda laughed. "Might as well, while you have the chance," she said. "That's as close as you're ever going to get to them."
"Hush," Sabelina commanded, smiling, "and concentrate on what you're doing."
"You mean waiting for you?" Isolda retorted, holding up the rope that had formerly bound Emeric's ankles. "Again?"
"About time. Grab his arm." Together, the two women yanked Emeric forward, until he found himself on his knees, bent over the opposite seat with his head pressed at an awkward angle against the back. "Feel free to stare at that for as long as you like."
As it was, it was only another moment before the last bit of rope was pulled away, freeing Emeric's arms. After pushing him back onto his own seat, the two women seated themselves.
Isolda glanced at Emeric with a grim smile. "Now," she replied, "we wait for our chance."
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story continues in Homecoming 3