20 Coloine, early (continued)
They took me down a few steps and along a short stone corridor to a room even smaller than the shed, also windowless, made of rough brick, with a heavy wooden door that was black as if it had been burned long ago. Then they cut the rope off, but before I could break away they slapped manacles on my wrists and pulled the chains they were attached to taut so I was spread-eagled against the wall, which was damp and gritty and clung to my hair.
I shouted at them some more, and Riona came forward and said, “There’s nothing to burn in here. We’ll give you some time to change your mind, but you’re not leaving this place until you agree to fight for us.” Then she and the others left the room, and I was alone in the darkness.
I was so angry all I could do at first was shout and swear and yank on the chains, which only made my wrists hurt. Then I did the see-in-dark pouvra and looked around. They’d actually left the bag of food with me! And I still had my books and the hair clips! I started to laugh, then stopped when it occurred to me someone might be listening. I slid my wrists through the manacles—this was very hard because I kept accidentally turning them insubstantial with me—and rubbed them where the edges had cut into flesh, then I gathered up the pack of food and had something to eat.
I hadn’t seen anything more of this cell than the door and the hallway that led to it, so I was reluctant to try to exit by any of the other walls, just in case it was further underground than I thought—I’ve already experienced being trapped inside a large solid object and I don’t need to repeat it. So I decided to wait a couple of hours until dark, just for extra security, then I was going to leave the village and…well, I didn’t exactly hope the Viravonians overran them, but I was angry enough that I didn’t much care if their stupidity hurt them.
Only I didn’t get that far. About an hour after I’d been thrown into the cell, while I was trying to decide where to go next, I felt a horribly familiar sensation in my left arm—the queasy, slippery feeling of flesh sliding through immaterial flesh. I squeaked and threw myself in the other direction, coming up hard against the wall and scraping my cheek against the rough brick. I got quickly to my feet and tried to make my breathing slow as I looked around for whatever had passed through me.
It was a man, taller than I am, broad in the neck and shoulders. The see-in-dark pouvra told me only that he had short dark hair and was wearing the same kind of clothing the villagers did. That, and he couldn’t see in the dark the way I could; he was sort of fumbling around with his hands outstretched, searching for something. “Who are you?” I said, which wasn’t a very good question, but it was better than all the other ones that occurred to me.
He stopped moving and felt behind him for the wall. “I’m here to get you out,” he said. “I’m a sorcerer. Like you.”
“Oh,” I said. It seemed really ungrateful to tell him I could get myself out. So I said, “You can walk through things?”
“Yes, and see inside things, but I don’t think that’s useful right now,” he said. He sounded proud, and I remembered what they’d said about mages having only one trick. And then I realized what he’d said. I grabbed his hand and said, “Can you teach me?” I didn’t care that we were both crammed into this tiny, damp, horrible cell; all I could think was that I’d finally met someone like me, and he knew a pouvra I didn’t!
“No, but I can make you immaterial long enough to get out of here,” he said, and I realized he’d misunderstood me just as he closed his hand more tightly over mine and said, “You have to hold your breath,” and then I felt the familiar sensation of my bones and muscles slipping between the wall, and it was a good thing I’d reflexively taken a breath, because the stranger dragged me through the back wall of the cell without waiting for my assent. I was annoyed, a little, but—well, he still hasn’t taught me the see-inside pouvra, so I’ve decided not to call him on his impertinence.
It wasn’t quite full dark outside, and the moon was overcast by high, thin clouds. We’d come out into an alley behind a row of buildings, all of them wooden except the cell; probably one of them was for law enforcement, because I doubt they just happened to have manacles lying around for the convenient detention of innocent women. I tried to yank my hand away from my rescuer’s, but he held on more tightly and said, “You have to follow me exactly or we’ll be seen.”
“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me your praenoma,” I said. I realize how rude it was to demand that gift of him, but he was asking me to trust him with his life, and that’s an intimate enough relationship to justify it.
“Jeddan,” he said, as casual as you please, so he must have felt the same way. “Now follow me.”
“No,” I said. “I have a better way.”
He turned to look at me, and even in the dimness I could see his mouth open to argue with me, so I worked the concealment pouvra on both of us and enjoyed how his expression went from annoyed to confused to awestruck just before the pouvra forced me to look away. “It’s not invisibility, but it will keep people from looking too closely at us,” I said, “and we’d better go on holding hands or I can’t conceal you.”
I’ve known Jeddan for a few days now, and it’s true he has some habits that irritate me, but he’s quick to grasp the essentials of a situation and he doesn’t waste time exclaiming about how wonderful or impossible something is. He took us through the back streets of the village, not that there were very many of them, and into the forest that lies to the east without raising any alarms. Once we were safely inside the trees, I released the pouvra and we both stood there rubbing the feeling back into our fingers. “Thanks,” I said, again deciding not to tell him I could have escaped on my own.
to be continued…