Well, that was interesting.
It’s—honestly, I don’t know where to begin, so much has happened in the last two days. Except that’s stupid, of course I should just begin at the beginning, when I walked into the village yesterday morning.
I’d debated whether to enter early, when there would be fewer people around to be suspicious of the stranger, versus mid-morning, when business would be in full swing and I’d have more options for selling the hair clips and therefore might get a better price. I decided on mid-morning, because the village was big enough I figured they’d be accustomed to visitors and I wouldn’t attract as much attention.
I attracted all sorts of attention when I came strolling down the main street—unfriendly, fearful attention. The sort of attention where you can tell people are nerving themselves to accost you. By the time I realized how universal this attention was, I was a good way into town and trying to decide what I should do, other than pretend I wasn’t aware of the whispering.
No one had actually attacked me, so I casually veered over to inspect some apples in a bin outside a store, making the owner take a few steps back over the threshold and shut the door in my face, then sauntered back the way I’d come.
Or tried to. I’d only gone a few paces when I saw people moving in on both sides of me, trying to act casual, but they were really so tense I started to feel afraid. It’s true I can turn the walk-through-walls pouvra on other people now, but only one at a time, and after what happened at my nearly-disastrous “wedding” to Aselfos, I was more than ever convinced that trying to walk through a person could be seriously fatal. And there were a lot of people moving in on me, maybe fifteen or twenty, some of them much bigger than me.
I stopped walking and surveyed the crowd, looking for a place I could summon fire that might get me out of this. The group of men encircling me stopped about ten feet away, close enough that I had to keep myself from panicking. Other villagers were coming up behind them, watching to see what might happen, making me feel more panicky because they represented one more obstacle I had to get through.
So I held my hands away from my body, my hands spread wide to show I wasn’t holding anything, and I said, “I don’t want any trouble,” which is sort of clichéd, but getting eloquent in a situation like that is the sort of thing that gets people dead.
Then the strangest thing happened, and even now, knowing why they reacted that way, it still strikes me as odd: the crowd backed away, the way you do when you’re surprised; this sound like wind rushing over ripe corn rose up as everyone one of them took in a startled breath; and then they grabbed me.
I fought and shrieked and kicked, and I know I hurt at least a few of them, but there were too many for me to escape—so many that they could carry me away rather than dragging me, and now I can be grateful for not being dragged, but at the time I was just terrified. I kept shouting at them to put me down, but that only made them move faster, and in no time they’d wrestled me into a shed, where three of them held me still while others searched my pockets and took the hair clips and the books, at which point I lashed out with fire because the thought of losing those books terrified me more than the thought of what they might do to me.
This made them all start shouting, and one of them hit me hard in the side of my head, which made me lose control of the fire so it went out. I don’t remember much after that, but when I finally regained my senses, I was alone in the shed, my hands and feet were tied, and my things were gone.
I just lay there for a while, trying to become calm and figure out what to do. My first instinct was to burn my way out of there and run, but that would mean leaving the books behind, and that wasn’t going to happen. On the other hand, they now knew I could do magic, so it was possible they were out there planning my death, and staying in the shed might be a bad idea.
On a third hand, though, they hadn’t killed me outright, which meant…what? That they weren’t sure what to do with me? True, there aren’t any actual laws requiring mages to be put to death, but the fear of them is so widespread, particularly in small towns like these, that no one in authority so much as blinks if somebody executes vigilante justice on someone proven to be a mage. Assuming anyone in authority ever finds out. So it was strange they’d locked me up instead.
I decided to untie myself, at least, because the floor of the shed was mucky and smelled bad, and I didn’t feel like lying on it any longer than I had to. Manipulating the ropes with the mind-moving pouvra wasn’t too hard, though it did take time because the ropes were thin and the knots were tight. Then I got up and explored my cage.
It was about ten feet square, with a roof of wooden shingles about six feet high, no windows, just an old door hanging on leather hinges. I could see three ways of escaping that didn’t even require magic; they were probably as panicked as I was, to resort to confining me here. I sat down, thought better of it, and stood and leaned against the back wall and stared at the door and made a list. I don’t remember exactly what it included, but this is my best guess:
- I can either leave now, or wait for them to get me.
- If I leave now, I get away clean, but I leave my things behind, which is unacceptable.
- If I wait for them to come for me, I might not be able to escape again.
- If I leave now, I can search the village for my things…which could take forever, and I can only stay concealed for so long.
- If I wait, I might be able to find out why they attacked me and why they didn’t just kill me when they saw I could do magic.
Much as I wanted to run away, I decided I would have to take a chance on staying. It was reckless and dangerous, but I think I’ve said before that I hate not knowing things, and in ten years of traveling through tiny, hostile villages, I’ve never once been attacked simply for walking into town. It was strange, and it bore investigating. So I stood there and waited.
to be continued…