The Meek Valley Incident: Part 4
Yay for Saturday! Somehow this weekend ended up with two lazy days and yay! is this ever a nice change. Weekends of late have been much too busy.
This past week the days have been busy, but looking back I'm not sure what all happened. Rooms of the house have been getting cleaned up, and my hubby and I have been keeping up on groceries rather than running out of things regularly, and yard clean-up happened (as well as some use of the food dehydrator)... so I guess I actually do know where the hours of the week went lol.
It's been busy, but a good busy. I even had hours to dedicate to the editing and section rewrites for Daion Echoes through Transglass, that sci-fi novella I've been working on. There were a couple changes to smooth out the story – thanks to help from my amazing critique partner – and a few things I wanted to redo due to this year's real world changes (so the escapism of the story stays firmly over in science fiction). The edits and section rewrites are making for an even better story, and now I'm getting close enough to being done that I'm getting excited about sharing it.
4. Leaving Camp
Justin made sure his arm shackles were already on the ground when the ratchets clicked and the locks released. They didn’t clink as he slipped his wrists free and rolled his hands a few times just because he could. He curled a little tighter, as if cold, bringing his ankles closer to his hands without being obvious about it. The lock between his feet was less complex due to its duty of usually being dragged, and the ratchets in it sprang loose within seconds. The shackles on his ankles were caked with dirt and frozen over from the snow.
Justin used body heat to be able to get the pin-bar into the locks. The length of time needed to spring the half-frozen ratchets severely tried his patience as he worked at them. The only bonus was that most of the guards were sleeping by the time he was done so they didn’t notice him shifting to deal with the lock now resting on the center of his chest. This lock held the weighted chains over his shoulders (supposedly to keep him too physically tired to fight) and attached to the short lengths stopping him from extending his arms fully.
He moved slowly when he had to, keeping the clinking of the links to a minimum and only earning a few cursory glances from the two guards who were on watch over the camp. They both avoided looking his way for long, though, because he picked his sleeping place after noting where they were stationed to be certain that they would always have at least one fire in their line of sight when they looked his way. The first rule Justin had learned as a teenager of being competent at night watch was to protect your night vision by avoiding staring at fires.
The heavy lock on his chest ratcheted open. Justin slipped the chain ends off the hasp and gently lowered the lock on the ground. He held the final chains looped over him so they wouldn't slip loudly and then rolled full body to his back. Only his loose ankle shackles made any noise, and that was too quiet to draw more than a flicked glance from the nearest guard on watch – likely so the guard could say he’d been paying attention without lying when his shift ended. Justin pulled his feet clear and carefully freed his shoulder from the last of the chains, fighting to keep his lips closed as he grinned so that his teeth wouldn’t reflect if anyone looked his way.
He watched the sleeping camp with his eyes closed to slits, waiting for the next required glance from each of the guards on watch before rolling up to crouch beside his chains. He left the thin blanket – it didn’t provide any warmth, plus leaving it would give the appearance of him still lying there until daylight broke – and stepped over to the back of the wagon. The woman that the scout had been talking to sat up and stared at him. Unlike her brother, her visible trust level was hovering at a point closer to just killing Justin so that she could sleep better at night knowing he wasn’t in the world anymore, but she had shifted to the very back of the wagon by the cage door.
Justin approved of bringing her already.
Her wrist shackle clicked open after only a moment and she caught it as it fell, before it thumped to the wagon planking. The side of his lips curled in a half grin as she set the shackle onto the blanket of another prisoner so carefully that the links of her chain never made a sound. Justin clicked open the ratchets on the cage door. A hand shot out from a mass of blankets and clamped onto the wrist of the scout’s sister at the same time that her feet swung out to dangle off the end of the wagon.
“Take me with you, Tam,” the hard whisper commanded.
Justin looked at the eyes staring out from inside the blankets. Others in the wagon who were awake were watching the situation unfold, weighing their chances of escaping against what was going to happen to the one holding the woman he was helping. Tam twisted her hand and jerked her wrist out of the grip. Justin heard the deep inhalation that could only end in a scream. He slipped the loop free on the knife handle and snapped the blade locked while he was already moving to strike. He didn’t bother trying to find the throat in all the blankets, he just drove the blade up to the handle into the prisoner’s eye.
The scout’s sister gasped and shied away from him as she jumped off the wagon to land in the road, her feet already running. He caught her before she could take her second step and spun her back to lock her under his arm. He wiped the blade quickly on the blankets – no use having a knife that folded like this if blood got in its ratchets and it froze closed – and scanned to make sure that neither of the watching guards looked their way. He tucked the fabric loop back into place to hold the blade closed before dropping the knife into his pocket, and then closed the cage door and triggered the ratchets locked, grateful the noises were no louder than the usual clanks of everyone sleeping in the wagon as he ignored the plaintive stares of the other prisoners.
He pulled Tam down with him to crouch behind the wagon’s wheel and scanned over the spot where he'd bedded for the night, nodding to himself that nothing he'd left behind was out of place. Staying out of sight behind the wagon, and forcing Tam to do the same, he waited for the guard’s next cursory glance to finish before standing and hurrying down the road in the direction that the scout had gone.
They were six steps away from the wagon and still inside the area illuminated by fires when a scream ripped open the night. Justin glanced over his shoulder and saw the little girl that had screamed everyone awake when Rourke strangled himself was screaming and trying to pull her hand out of the shackle holding her in place. Her legs were kicking at the wagon planking in an attempt to get away from the one-eyed corpse Justin had recently created. Tam tried to twist to look back and Justin pulled her along harder, not slowing at all when she stumbled. The last thing he needed was for her to stare toward the fires and be trippingly useless beside him for the next few minutes. He closed the eye he’d glanced back with and kept moving forward.
The expected yells rose up. Thankfully confusion from the guards who’d been sleeping delayed their ability for organized activity, but Justin wasn’t gearblocked enough to believe these few minutes would give them the needed time to get the day ahead Tor said they should have. The guards shouted about thieves having attacked the camp, and then something about ghosts, and then someone got wise and checked under the thin blanket Justin had left lying in the snow.
Justin ignored all of it and focused on the road’s single set of footprints left in the opposite direction than the wagon had been travelling, pulling Tam beside him. The first moon was a thin silver sliver tonight and, unlike the other times he’d been free to get away, a clear sky. At least tonight he’d know immediately if he was being double crossed and led in the wrong direction.
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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!