Vradin, Chapter Thirty

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Waking up sucked. For one, there was a lot of light around me, stabbing into my eyes like (dare I say it?) knitting needles (shudder). Seriously, knitting needles — especially those aluminum ones that are so cheap in the craft stores — are dangerous. They’re just blunt enough to hurt that much more when a person with sufficient strength decides to use them like a shiv to the kidneys. I have to admit, the whole learning how to find dangerous items in every day objects had not done wonders for my nerves.

Grammie is big into the whole crafting stuff, and she is just the tinsist bit sexist. She handed my boy cousins pop guns, markers, and Nerf balls, but expected my girl cousins and me to learn knitting, sewing, and jewelry making with her — hence the blingy beaded things attached to my kitchy keys. I can make a scarf, but I would really rather spin than knit. Crochet, I can do simple stuff with that, too, and there are a few places where the crochet look is okay to my eye, but most of the motifs I like have to be done very small to not look like, well, weird things.

Dad made the mistake of having one of those dangerous every day items lectures while we were at Grammie’s, and having “girls’ crafting time”. Fiona and Candida thought it just made knitting even more awesome, but they’re crafters just like Grammie. I have way too good an imagination, and it took a very long time for me to look at knitting needles and not see popped eyeballs. And, like I said, I’d rather spin yarn for my cousins to knit up than knit up something to start with.

So, waking up sucked, and the light hurt. Everything smelled wrong, too, but not in the nausea inducing wrong way, just not home, and not Tank. There was a smell that made me think of living creatures, like the smell of a cat that lives indoors all the time, faint (I guess as long as you’re not allergic to it?), but I couldn’t think of anything else to compare it to. And, no, it was not the smell of kitty marking territory or a litter box or other things like that. I mean, the smell of cat fur.

My head, despite the light sensitivity, wasn’t that bad off, though. I was hungry, like my stomach trying to eat through my spine hungry, and dizzy and thinking was hard.

And I was cold. I had on the jeans and T shirt (and under garments) that I had worn when I was abducted, but my shoes and my hoodie were missing.

I looked around, wondering for a moment why I was in a room made of stone walls — very nice stone walls, smoothed and well fitted, but still stone and mortar. It was small, maybe seven feet across square, but the ceiling was about ten feet high. There was a window, shuttered, in the wall beside me, and a door in the wall opposite it, made of heavy wood planks. I was lying on a pile of furs, nothing over me, and while the furs were warm underneath me, and probably why I smelled fur, the air in the room was chilled. There was a wooden table on the same wall as the door, and a polished yellowish metal platter hanging on the wall above it.

I frowned as the whole thing looked very strange to mine eyes. My thoughts were sluggish as I went back through what I could recall. There was Tank wanting me to live with him, and making the caramel that I hadn’t gotten to taste, and the drive. And the gas station.

I sucked in a startled breath as the memory of the abduction crashed over me. I put my hand to the spot on my side where I had felt the pokey poking poke. My shirt was stiff in a small spot, feeling kind of grainy, and there was a bruised quality to the way my skin felt underneath. I twisted to look, only to be distracted by the door opening.

The man who entered wore a kilt and a vest, both made of leather with intricate stitch work. His feet were bare. He had to be nearer six foot six than six foot even, but that much taller than me was hard to judge. He had brown hair and blue eyes. And a knife hidden in the folds of his kilt. His skin was, rather like Tank’s, somewhere between very tan Caucasian and a natural brown pigmentation.

He smiled, a kind smile, and approached me, calling out over his shoulder to someone still outside the room. I had no clue what he said. It sounded like music interrupted by growls, as if someone had made a language by smashing Spanish and German together. When he reached the pallet where I now sat, he said something to me in a soothing tone (I think it was meant to be soothing, at least) and crouched down, stretching his hand toward my head.

I put my hand up, using the flat of my palm to redirect his arm, being very careful not to grab him, and leaned back.

“Who are you? Where am I?” I asked.

The man blinked at me, but retracted his arm. He rocked back on his heels, not caring that he was showing his manly bits in that position. I kept really good eye contact.

He said something back at me, way too long a stream of sound to be a name — I hoped. When he paused, looking at me expectantly, I repeated myself. “Who are you? Where am I?”

He sucked in his bottom lip and studied me. Then he tapped his chest and said, slow and with great deliberation, “Om-ric. Key-shair.” Then he pointed at me, his fingers and thumb all together. “Tau?”

I pointed at him, mimicking the way he held his hand. “Omric Keysair?”

He nodded.

“Zoe Fergusson,” I said.

“Thoe Furgthen,” he repeated, which was close enough.

I nodded and said, “Zoe,” pointing back to myself, and then pointing to him, putting a questioning lilt to my tone, “Omric? or Omric Keysair?”

He said something again and I caught “Omric” and “Keysair” spread out apart from each other, but it did not make sense. He tried once more to reach for my face and once more I blocked his reach.

He frowned at me, and in a voice not quite a yell, called to someone outside.

An older man in a similar get up entered the room. The two men talked, Omric gesturing to me and sounding more inquiring than angry. If they were American guys, I would have sworn the older man was having fun being sarcastic, or at least sardonic, by the quirks in his expression. Omric didn’t react to it, though.

My stomach growled in the middle of their conversation, and both men fell silent, turning to look at me. I blushed and hunched into myself.

Omric frowned, and turned to yell out the door again. Another male voice sang back and footsteps on stone echoed as they grew softer.

The older man came over and sat down beside me. I started to slide away, but he put a hand on my shoulder, and tapped his neck, then moved the hand on my shoulder to push my head away from him, giving him a better look at the side of my neck where the man who kidnapped me had grabbed me. He brought his other hand up to poke and prod, and said something to me in that growling song of a language.

I hissed as he pushed down on the tendon, and suddenly the whole of that muscle cramped and spasmed, making me draw up into myself and flinch away from his touch. The older man frowned, standing up and moving his hands to the edges of my shoulders to hold me still. He, too, crouched in front of me, and he would not be deterred from making a more thorough — though more gentle — examination of my neck.

Then he raised my T shirt and poked the bruised area where I had been exploring before I had company. That was a simple bruise, nothing much to react to. But his hand moved from my side toward the middle of my belly, and I was not having that. I slapped his arm away and scrambled off the furs.

Omric caught me before I could get into a corner. The training my dad had put me through took over, and I stamped on his toes, pushing into him to get him further off balance. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, Omric was much stronger than I was, and he simply lifted me up, made a quick shift of his legs and caught my feet between his knees. He caught my hands, not just my wrists, but my hands and brought them up to cover my face. I could not kick, punch, elbow, bite, or bang my head into him.

His voice was soft in my ear, more of that soothing tone, and when nothing more happened, the fear relaxed. Omric kept up the soothing growly song for a good bit after I went limp in his hold. When he did release me, he carefully, slowly restored my feet to the ground, then, just as slowly brought my hands down from my face and released his grip on my hands.

I stayed where I was until he took a step back. Then I took a slow step away from him, too, turning so that I had a better view of the room. A third man stood in the doorway, holding a tray with bread and a ceramic bowl, looking like he wasn’t sure what else to do. The older man was still crouching in front of the pallet. He and Omric both had grim expressions on their faces, and were trying to look non-threatening.

I had seen my father wear such a look when one of the ladies in the shelter classes had a panic attack. More than anything else they could have done, that calmed me. Bad guys rarely get pissed when their victim shows fear.

“Sorry,” I said, making a self-depreciating shrug. “I really wish I could understand what you all are saying.”

Omric made more soothing phrases, and the older man rose, took the tray from the awkward man, who quickly stepped out of the doorway. The door stayed open, which made it easier to stay calm. Older man set the tray on the table and said something to Omric. Then he left the room. Omric, however, just moved until he was as far away from the table as he could get and gestured me toward it.

I kept an eye on him, taking care to move slowly, ready to stop if he so much as shifted his weight. He didn’t, but I had the feeling that my caution was deeply upsetting to him.

The bread was delish, dense and nutty tasting, and the soup was more of a broth than anything else, which was fine with me. I had to eat slowly at first to give my stomach time to adjust to food. It felt like I hadn’t eaten in days.

There was no spoon for the soup, so I tested it by dipping in a bit of the bread, again keeping an eye on my host in case I started to do something that offended. Omric remained impassive. It tasted almost as good as the bread. I carefully raised the bowl to my lips, taking small, quiet sips. The warmth of the broth felt good, but it reminded me of how cold the room was.

When I had finished eating, Omric held out his hand to me. I looked from his hand to him, not sure what he wanted. He moved toward me much as I imagine a wise man approaches an unknown and wary dog, and gestured to the door.

I moved toward the door, trying to watch the portal and the man at the same time. His lips curled in the first hint of a smile and he made another, almost sweeping gesture toward the door. I took a few more steps, which brought me to the doorway.

Outside in the hall there were two more men in leather kilts and vests, the awkward man being one of them. The hall was also made of mortared stone, and it felt about as cool as the room I was leaving.

Omric came up behind me and said something over my shoulder. The two men stepped away from the door and began walking down the hall. Omric made it clear that he wanted me to follow them.

Not really having anything better to do at this point, I did so.