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Wandering Guardians

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter Twelve

    Emmie tried to yank her arm away, but he only tightened his grip. He pulled back, dragging her forward a few inches, and grabbed her wrist with his other hand. Ethan, bloody hand wrapped in a scrap of cloth, reached in and grabbed her forearm with both hands. She tried to resist, digging her knees and free hand into the walls of the narrow opening, but it didn't take them long to pull her free of the hole.
    "Get off! Let go of me!" she shouted as one of the men grabbed her around the middle before she could try to run. 
    The two of them only laughed. She flailed her arms and legs, trying to punch or kick the men as they tried to restrain her, screaming in panic. She knew that would bring her no help; even if they heard, none of the watchmen would venture outside the town after dark, particularly into the woods. Several times she tried to bite the one holding her, but didn't manage it. The other one had ropes he was trying to tie around her wrists and ankles, but he couldn't keep more than one of her limbs under control long enough to make any headway.
    Emmie could only struggle for so long, unfortunately. Her strength was diminished by months of going hungry, and even if it hadn't been, a thirteen year old girl wasn't a match for two grown men. Finally, the one holding her simply wrestled her to the ground face down and held her there. The other tied her ankles together, then her wrists, and finally gagged her with a rag and another piece of rope. She curled up into a ball, facing away from her captors, crying silently into the dirt in despair. 
    "That was harder than I expected," Ethan, who'd been restraining her panted. He remained kneeling on the ground beside her, winded.
    "She's feisty alright," Raoul agreed.
    Ethan grunted, still kneeling on the ground re-bandaging his stab wound. "So what now Herve?"
    They both looked around expectantly, waiting for his answer. It was only now that they realized he'd never joined them at the hole. They hadn't really expected him to help with the dirty work, so his absence had been no surprise. He would generally catch up when the child was under control, but now they saw no sign of him.
    "That's strange," Ethan said after a pause. "Where did he go?"
    "Don't know," Raoul responded, puzzled. "He was walking towards us last time I heard him say anything. Do you think he went back for the horses?"
    "I can't see why he would. Usually he'd send one of us."
    "Herve!" Raoul called, "We've got her tied up now." 
    There was no response. 
    The wounded Ethan stood and joined his older companion, peering into the dim, torch lit grove, looking for some sign of their leader. 
    Raoul called again more loudly, again getting no response.
    The two men grew worried. "He was right behind us," Ethan said emphatically. "How far could he possibly have gone, and why?"
    "I...don't know," Raoul said slowly. "I'd better go check around for him. Wait here." Emmie heard a few footfalls as he walked toward the edge of the grove, then a quiet hiss followed by the same low smacking noise she'd heard before. Raoul gave a surprised cry of pain. Emmie flipped herself over to look toward him, blinking the last of the tears out of her eyes so she could see what was happening.
    Raoul had only made it a few steps from her. He was bent over, staring at the ground, his hand clutching at an arrow protruding from his chest. His face was in shadow and she couldn't see his expression, but his partner's reaction told her enough. He yelped in fear and leapt toward his comrade to try and help him, but as soon as he moved away from Emmie there was another smack and he too had an arrow sticking out of his chest.
    Emmie noticed movement to the left of herself and the bandits; she could just make out a cloaked, hooded figure stepping out from the cover of several trees, holding a drawn bow which was pointed at the two kidnappers. They had noticed him too. Both had collapsed, and Ethan now struggled to rise. He didn't manage it, and flopped back to the ground.
    "Who are you?" he croaked, but the figure gave no answer. Emmie was torn between relief and apprehension. She was glad her kidnappers were thwarted, but she didn't know what this new stranger's intentions for her were. They could be just as bad, she thought with a shudder.
    The newcomer gently relaxed the bowstring when it became apparent that the two kidnappers were no longer any threat. He made no further movement until their labored breathing had stopped. When it did, he went not toward them, or toward Emmie, but past them toward where the third man had been searching. He stooped to examine something, which she supposed was Herve's body, and gave a disparaging snort. When he rose, he held a grimy arrow in one hand and a thin chain with something hanging from it in the other. 
    He retrieved the arrows from the other two kidnappers, then moved over to her, pulling back his hood as he walked. The torchlight was dim here, and she peered at him, trying to make out his face. Her eyes widened in surprise when she recognized him as the man she'd sat next to in Lorin's tavern earlier that night.

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