The Meek Valley Incident: Part 3
Well, it finally happened. The townhouse condo property we've been trying to sell for nearly two years? After a maximum-anxiety six weeks, possession and the property keys passed to the buyers this past Wednesday. We are now the very proud owners of only one address, one mortgage, and one mailbox, and are very relieved to no longer be landlords or to ever have plans of maintaining properties for other people to rent ever again.
Not going to lie, the relief had a sad undertone for me. That townhouse was the first home I owned as an adult, and I loved living there when it was my residence. I'm so, so, so happy it's now owned by people who love it, too. (How do I know they love it? The banks are awful about lending money right now and these buyers jumped through six weeks of likely what felt like flaming hoops hung above tanks of starving sharks to be allowed to have their mortgage. That screams "loving a property" to me.)
The decrease in anxiety after the sale finished has been great as it comes with the added bonus of reduced insomnia. Unfortunately for me, it also comes with increased brain fog, a forced recognition of current personal depression levels due to anxiety no longer blocking the view, and a grasping of my brain chemistry at everything which could be an anxiety trigger because why would a drop in my actual anxiety level mean I can relax a bit... I have a stupid brain. Most of my thoughts in the second half of this week have just been moments of clarity within the fog for doing any of my tasks at hand, my anxiety rapid-fire questioning if I need to be terrified of whatever the moments of clarity are about, and the rest of my brain either eye-rolling about the anxiety-interrogations or forcibly side-stepping off the spirals because clarity alone isn't a real reason to be afraid.
Ergo, I'm brain-tired this week as my executive function has been working overtime into mental exhaustion by noon every day. Writing was a write-off. Reading was a lovely reward yesterday when I could focus on a thought for long enough to read again; I finished Game of Stars (book 2 of Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond, by Sayantani Dasgupta) and, yes, for the third week in a row I'm recommending you should read the Kiranmala series. It's awesome so far.
I have plans to buy book 3 during some family-required book shopping... my oldest started reading I Am Malala in school but didn't have time in class to finish it. Looks like we need to pick up at least two excellent books today! I hope you're staying safe and well this weekend :)
Justin abruptly stopped ignoring the one-sided conversation.
“Our aunt took Tam every year since she was five years old. My sister used to help sell the rugs our aunt made. She even started making her own, plus other things. My sister sews really well,” Tor said, and then he sighed. “But our aunt died last year and my grandmother sold the wagon. She’s old and her mind slips, so she forgot about selling the rugs. Then the village’s Administrator took all the rugs for taxes. That’s why they ran out of chips and Tam ended up stealing the bread.”
The scout shifted and Justin felt something press against his hip, opposite the side the sword was on. He glanced down and saw the stolen rations and water flask.
“It’s funny; I steal water and food and get asked if I want anything else. My sister does the same and gets sentenced to labor as a slave in one of the worst gemstone mines in Opat’s mountains,” Tor said. He shrugged and again leaned against Justin’s back with a sigh. “I patrol these mountains to make sure the mine roads are safe. There are a lot of thieves and the like around, each hoping to steal gemstones, so it’s actually somewhat dangerous to be walking around alone out here. None of these guards will follow if you’re too far ahead because they’re already a day late from the other delays you’ve caused. I’ve heard them talking that you’re a sailor. My sister knows the road to the coast. The army I’m supposed to be with is moving this way for its next sweep of the passes to the mines on this side of the range, so the challenge will only be to stay ahead of them and the scouts. We can do it if we leave tonight. I can’t give you directions because I don’t know them, and Tam won’t tell you anything because I’m going to tell her not to. I’m offering to get you safely back to the coast in exchange for you ensuring her safe passage out of Opat. I had ten minutes with those rations. If you trust me, start eating when you lie down and then pretend to sleep. I’ll understand that as there being an agreement between us. If you throw away the rations then I’ll know you didn’t take the offer.”
The scout’s weight lifted off Justin’s back, but he paused before standing.
“I’ve never seen anyone carry a man that far before,” Tor added, then he stood up and his quiet steps took him back to the edge of the wagon. He whispered to his sister and her distrustful glare landed on Justin for a moment. Then they parted and, using the wagon as cover from any of the guards seeing him, the scout started away from the camp and back along the road in the opposite direction they’d been travelling.
Justin watched the young man go. The scout was smart – gearblocked beyond all belief to trust a random stranger in chains – but smart enough to do it so there wasn’t any other choice for Justin but to help him. Justin drew the same wary glances from the guards that he always got whenever he moved enough to rattle the chains, but all he did was lie down with his back to the fire like he did every night. He wasn’t close enough to get any heat from it anyway.
The ration pack had been tampered with but he couldn’t see how, just that the re-wrapping was hasty and loose. His stomach growled loudly. He’d only been allowed to eat once a day since waking up in the wagon. In every ration pack he’d been given so far, the bread was hard, the dried meat overly salty, and the vegetables were shrivelled and sour. At least now he had confirmation that the guards were eating the same terrible food they were giving the prisoners. That explained why they were so miserable.
An edge of the bread was broken, and one of the soft carrots was stiff in the middle.
Justin broke open the loaf first. A small knife handle had been shoved into it, the same black fabric wrapping it as on the scout’s sword hilt, and a stripe of steel running down one side. He set down the handle and worked at the carrot carefully, but that only produced a long, narrow pin-bar. The pin-bar was obviously only meant to be a pick for the simple locks on Justin’s chains. He ate the meat and vegetables first, testing that each thing bent easily before putting it in his mouth. There was a spot in the knife handle for the blade to lock into, and he didn’t want to find the blade by biting it.
He crumbled the bread before eating it. No blade. Unless the scout had given it to his sister… no. There hadn’t been any flash of metal and the rest of the prisoners would have already been fighting over any kind of weapon if it was in the wagon. Half of them had been awake when these conversations had been happening, and they were now watching either the road where the scout had disappeared, or the sister that he’d been talking to, and a few Justin could feel the stares of boring into his spine.
Justin picked the handle back up and looked at it again now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness better. Still just a black handle with a steel stripe running the length of one side. He turned it around and the steel stripe shifted out a fraction of a fingerside. Justin held on to the fabric and turned the handle so the stripe faced the ground. The blade slid out and dangled from an unseen hinge. Justin tipped the handle to face the steel stripe up and the blade folded away. He tipped it back and the blade fell out. He turned it to study the blade’s pocket and saw a small spring lock that would fall into place once the blade was –
He grinned at the knife. One small tug, not even enough motion to clink the shackles at his wrists, and the blade was set. He tripped the lock’s small switch with his thumb and the blade hung loose again. There was a little loop of fabric that he’d thought was just a loose winding, but it fit snugly around the end of the knife and held the tip so the blade stayed in. Justin held the knife in his left hand and picked up the little pin-bar in his right. No time like right now to get out of here.
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A weekly blog updating on Fridays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!