Chapter 24 - Captured
Chapter 24 - Captured
A sharp kick in the shin jolted Noah awake. It was dark when he opened his eyes but the smell of potatoes and burlap quickly reminded him where he was.
“No more sleeping.” The gruff voice demanded.
Noah didn’t know how long he’s been tied to the post. He didn’t know anything about the man in the carriage, or his master. He also didn’t know why he had been taken.
He felt dizzy from lack of food, water, and most likely blood. His wrists were raw, and his legs were sore from where they had been bound. There were no longer any pins of light flickering through the burlap. Noah figured that it meant night had fallen.
“We’re going to be stopping soon.” The voice informed, “Our master is eager to see you.”
“What does he want with me?” It was the first time Noah had spoken with the man. His words were as coarse as sand, and his mouth felt exceedingly dry.
The man laughed, or was trying to. It sounded more like a wheeze. “So, you can speak when you’re awake.”
Noah repeated his question. “What does he want with me?”
“Are all nobles this stubborn or is it just the one’s with a sense of entitlement?” The voice shot back.
It took most of his strength just to stay cognitive. Noah knew that his head was in bad shape; and his back, though numb, was stiff from his lack of movement.
“What does he want with me?” He asked, yet again. He didn’t have the energy to come up with another question.
“You can ask him that yourself.” The man responded in an uncaring tone.
Noah wished that someone would remove the potato bag. That way they would know that he was bleeding. He could feel that the blood that dripped down his neck earlier had dried. It pulled at the hairs on the back of his neck, and crackled loudly whenever he turned his head. He hopped that the wound had dried as well.
It seemed their driver was finally getting the hang of operating the vehicle because Noah hadn’t hit the post in quiet a while.
“Have you lost your voice again?” The gruff voice asked.
Noah didn’t have the energy to respond.
He didn’t even have the energy to panic.
He barely had enough energy to listen.
“Filthy Terrafein.” The gruff man spat, distain clearly laced though his words. “Why do you all believe that bastards are worth your loyalty?
Noah wasn’t alert enough to figure out what the man’s words meant.
“We’re here.” The driver shouted. He then stopped so suddenly that Noah’s head flew back into the post.
He was unconscious again, or was he?
Noah felt a pair of ruff hands untie his wrists and legs. A slight breeze danced gratefully across the raw skin. He wanted to stretch his legs and back, but he couldn’t move.
He felt the retched potato bag yanked quickly off of his head, but the world remained dark. He couldn’t open his eyes.
And yet, he was able to catch bits and pieces of the conversation.
“You prideful...why didn’t you say you were...if you die...is ruined.”
“What happened?...Why...?” A new voice asked.
“I promise...wasn’t complaining...rarely said anything unless...asleep.”
It took Noah a while to realize that it was the gruff voiced man that had answered. He hadn’t expected such a drastic change in they way that the man talked.
“...in his sleep?” The third voice questioned.
“About...named Annabell.” Gruff voiced man informed.
The owner of the third voice asked a question, “...?” but Noah couldn’t make out what it was.
“...” Someone mumbled a reply.
“Why is he dressed like a servant?” The third voice asked.
Noah was surprised that he caught the entire question. He was able to realize that the owner of the third voice was the master of the gruff voiced man as well as the inexperienced driver.
“...not sure,” the driver answered, “...found...yesterday morning...a bakery...believe...was hiding.”
There was silence for a while, or at least, what Noah perceived as silence.
“Freddrick...clever...sent him in secret...court the Alminian Princess...” The man spat in what Noah could only guess was disgust.
His weakened state severely confused Noah. He yearned to know what exactly was going on, but he could only guess from the fragments of dialogue that he was able to catch.
“...as much of a fool as his parents...” The master claimed.
“We can’t present...with the state he’s in they’ll believe we tortured him...if...journey to Rramnon...he could die...in this state.”
Was that the driver or the gruff man’s voice?
“Jodan...two Kingdom’s west...”
“Gunther has a point Tiecus.”
It was the second full sentence that Noah was able to catch, but who was Gunther, who was Tiecus? What were they talking about? Noah could feel himself slipping in and out of consciousness.
“We’ll have to...doctor along the way...won’t make it on a ship...port in Ohrim...” Someone informed.
“What about you...can’t be seen with him?” The other cautioned.
“...meet you at the Rramnon Embassy...Jodan..” He answered.
Noah could feel himself loosing his grip on reality, but just before he completely blacked out he heard the man reply, “...September’s end.”
~~~ Three Days Later
Noah woke with sunlight hitting his face. He head was resting on something other than a wooden post, and it felt wonderful.
Had the past few days been nothing but a bad dream?
He slowly opened his eyes and saw a woman somewhere in her late forties with her back to him. She hummed softly while she stirred a simmering pot that hung the fire. Her hair was fading from light brown to grey and it poked out wildly from a bonnet.
She seemed to be enjoying her task, and her tune helped ease the pain coursing through his head.
The woman turned suddenly and caught him by surprise when her eyes instantly found his. “Good to see that you’re awake.” She said with a gap-toothed smile, in an accent he didn’t recognize. “Your friends were worried about you.”
“Friends?” Noah asked, trying to sit up but instantly regretted. His head felt like it had been split open with a mining axe, and his back howled in agony from the sudden movement.
“Careful there.” She said sternly. For the briefest of seconds she reminded him of Cook. “I won’t have you hurting yourself again.”
Noah rubbed his wrists, and was happy to see that they had nearly healed. Only the faintest band of pink skin encircled them.
He looked around the small shack, and noticed that it appeared to have two rooms. “Where am I?” He asked shielding his eyes from the glaring sun. The intense light only worsened his headache.
“Momma Zoe’s” She answered rather proudly, “Only place in Harison where you can receive medical treatment.”
Noah looked at the woman in confusion, “Harison?”
“We’re a small town at the western base of the Farfiret Mountains.” She explained.
“I don’t believe I’ve heard of it.” He confessed. He pulled his legs over the side of the table that he had been laying on, and couldn’t help the curse that escaped him from as his back protested the movement.
The woman chucked at his pain but she didn’t move from her pot to assist him.
“The western base.” He said repeating her words. “Am I in Ohrim?”
She looked at him curiously. “That head injury of yours must have knock you out for a while. Not to worry, Momma Zoe fixed you.”
Momma Zoe? Noah could only guess that it was her name.
She handed him a bowl of whatever was in the pot. It was a dark brown color, thick, and it smelled terrible.
Noah didn’t bother to ask her what was in it, before he started eating. He ate slowly, not knowing how long it was had been since he had eaten last. It didn’t matter that it smelled fowl. All that mattered was that it kept out the chill from the mountains, and it didn’t hurt to eat.
She laughed at him when he asked for another bowl. “You’re the only one, who seems to enjoy my food, other than old Oscar there.” Momma Zoe pointed to a large black bulldog, with his own bowl of food, eating happily in the corner of the hut. “In fact you’re the only one of your friends that seems comfortable here,” she laughed again, “and you’ve been injured.”
The woman looked him up and down. Her gaze told him that she knew there was more to whatever story his friends had told her.
“Momma Zoe?” He asked trending cautiously, “These friends of mine, are they currently here?”
“No,” the woman huffed, “they headed towards the harbor half an hour ago, said that they refused to eat anymore of my cooking, and that they would return for you in the morning.” “Some friends they are.” She released a frustrated grunt, “Those men didn’t even tell me about that injury on your back. It took me most of the day to fix your head, and neither one of them offered to help me. I wasn’t able to set your back until they were asleep.”
Noah slowly raised his hands, trying to test his range of motion. Momma Zoe watched him with wide eyes, and although his body still hollered at any small movement, it no longer protested. He smiled when his hands touched each other above his head.
“When did it happen?” He heard her ask intrigued, her hand pointing towards his back.
He didn’t even know what day it was.
“September 3rd.” She said answering his unasked question. “It’s a Thursday.”
He nodded in apparition and informed, “Sunday afternoon.”
Momma Zoe frowned at that knowledge. “The pain may last quiet a bit longer, but the wounds were set correctly and have healed despite whatever circumstances brought you here.”
Noah looked towards the door wondering-
“You won’t make it back the way you came.” She said, her words interrupting his thoughts.
“I won’t?” He asked, worry causing him to scowl.
“Your back may have healed, but your head was infected. If you exert yourself you will die in those mountains. It took me half a day to break your fever, and clean that wound. I will not have you leave only to see them bury you on Saturday.” She placed her hands stubbornly on her hips, “I worked too hard for that.”
“I’m not strong enough.” He realized.
She pointed her stirring spoon at him, “You’re plenty strong, and were it spring I believe you could make the journey after a week of rest.”
He frowned at her.
“But the mountain pass will closed soon.” She said, returning her spoon to the pot.
Noah looked out the window nervously He wondered about the situation he was in. The men were coming back for him in the morning. He wasn’t sure what they wanted with him but they seemed determined keep him alive. He’d have a better chance with them than trying to trek through the mountains.
Still, he couldn’t sit idly by and let his capturers succeed; surely there was something he could do. Momma Zoe wouldn’t let him leave the hut for help, but perhaps he could obtain help another way.
“Does Harison have a mail carrier?” He asked the moment the idea popped into his head.
She seemed to think for a while before she answered, “I think Mr. Simmion will be passing through sometime tomorrow. Why do you ask?”
Noah thought about his wording as hard as he was able. He needed to be cautious around her, for her own benefit. “I need to write a letter home,” he said testing the lie in his mouth, “They should know about what happened, with my head.”
“I think,” She began looking about the room hastily, “I might have paper and charcoal sticks somewhere. I use them when I need to order supplies.”
She put her spoon down and went to rummage through one of her drawers. “It’s not much, but here?”
Noah took the supplies from her. He ignored the pain as he bent over and started writing a note on the same table that he was sitting on. He wanted to tell his friends what had occurred, but he didn’t really know what had happened to him. Noah hoped that what he had managed to overhear from captures wasn’t caused by an injury-induced hallucination.
“Hold on.” She cautioned as she tried to get him to lie back down on his stomach. “You have plenty of time to write. Rest now, and heal.”
His hand stilled but he didn’t put down the piece of charcoal. Noah looked up at the woman with as much determination as he could muster. “Momma Zoe,” he cautioned, “I afraid that I must ask one more thing of you.”
She looked at him slightly puzzled by his tone, “And what would that be?”
“Please do not mention this letter to either of the men that brought me here.”
A slight look of fear crossed her eyes, but she nodded in agreement.
~~~ Change Character Focus, Friday the 11th of September
Alexandria couldn’t shake the thought that something was wrong.
She couldn’t figure out what it was, but she was plagued by it night and day. Her ladies in waiting had chided her twice that day for pacing around her room.
It had been three weeks since she had last seen Noah Jenkins, since she had kissed him.
Nightly she’d dreamed about him, but quickly her dreams turned frightful.
Every few nights she would be graced with memories of a moment that the two of them had shared. She would close her eyes and see them dancing in the ballroom, or she’d see a rainbow of colored packages falling around them as they fell to the ground. Those nights helped to calm her heart.
She couldn’t help how worried she was about him.
Where was he?
How was he?
What had happened, to him when he returned to Durseman Peak?
“Are you feeling alright, your Highness?” One of her ladies in waiting asked.
The Princess turned towards the women, “Something’s just on my mind that’s all, Bess.” She answered once she realized who had spoken. “I’m fine, not to worry.” Alexandria didn’t know whom she was trying to convince, her ladies in waiting or herself.
Thankfully they didn’t seek further explanation.
The lady in waiting named Jela held up two of her dresses and asked, “Will you be wearing the peach or the blue dress tonight, Highness?”
“The peach one please, Jela. Thank you.” Alexandria couldn’t bring herself to wear any shade of blue, even if it was seasonally acceptable. The color blue reminded her of Noah, and if she had any reminder of him, she wouldn’t be able to make it through the dinner.
“Beautiful choice, Highness.” Jela approved.
“Princess, how would you like to wear your hair tonight?”
“I don’t have a preference tonight Bess.” She admitted, “Surprise me.”
By the time the two of them were done, Alexandria had to admit that she looked like a... well like a Princess.
She would be having dinner was with the five remaining suitors and their families. It had been her parents’ idea, and they would be in attendance as well. She didn’t know the reason behind their sudden decision to see her in the company of the suitors, but she dreaded it.
It was assumed that of the five remaining suitors, the Princess would marry one. In her mind, there was the only person she could ever imagine being happy with, and he wasn’t in attendance.
The meal itself was pleasant but Alexandria found herself gritting her teeth through the whole event. Not a moment had passed without someone trying to compliment the hosts or pass off their child or themselves as a better candidate for her hand than whoever happened to be talking.
Count Iiro Wurth from the Kingdom of Etoshi constantly expressed his gratitude for the comfortable living quarters that had been given to him and his family upon arrival.
The eldest son of the Duke Buchanan of Londain, Liam Buchanan, was as proud of his collection of rare artifacts at dinner, as he was every other time she had seen him.
Lord Francis Campanelli and his family lived in Alminia; they made their living from what they caught in Lake Zesador. He had more fishing stories than Lord Ronald Montego.
The Malone’s from Ohrim were quiet during most the meal, but that was only because they did not pause for even a breath. They ate constantly during the whole dinner, and requested extra portions of everything.
She was thankful for Prince Anton’s silence during dinner. If one other person had spoken to her, she was sure that her head would have exploded before dessert.
Every one of the suitors had expressed how beautiful she was in her dress.
‘Beautiful,’ Alexandria said quietly, disliking the way it felt on her tongue. She remembered how Noah had never called her beautiful. He had said that she was stunning. Alexandria tried to get her thoughts off Noah, but she couldn’t figure out how. All night she found herself comparing the other men in the room to him.
She hardly noticed when the last person finally left the dining hall, leaving her alone with her parents.
“Lost in thought?” Her mother asked, pulling Alexandria out of her comparisons.
She lifted her eyes and noticed that her parents were watching her curiously. “It would seem so.” She answered realizing that her voice had a hint of sadness in it.
Her mother looked at her with remorse, but then a knowing smile spread across her lips. “Did Miss Tilly visit town yesterday?” She asked.
“Yes mother,” Alexandria answered flatly, “she has every Thursday free.”
“That’s right dear.” Her father reminded her mother, “Do you not remember Ms. Ferguson mentioning the letter she received.”
Her mother gasped playfully, “I do remember her saying something about a letter from a friend.”
They looked knowingly towards Alexandria, but she wasn’t listening any more; she wasn’t in the room anymore. As soon as her father said letter she had left. She rushed through the castle, not caring if someone saw.
Had Noah written to her?
There was only one way to find out.
When she slammed open the doors of her room she was surprised to see Tilly was already there. She paced nervously in front of the window. The girl seemed lost in thought, and for a while Alexandria couldn’t decide on whether to interrupt her or not.
Tilly seemed to be battling some unknown fear. The sense of dread that had been following Alexandria around for the last three weeks, amplified. She hoped beyond hope that the crumpled piece of paper in Tilly’s hand was not plagued with bad news.
Alexandria’s curiosity forced her to ask. “Tilly? What are you doing?”
The girl looked up at the Princess with contemplation in her eyes. She knew something.
Alexandria nodded towards the letter that Tilly clasped firmly in her hand. “Did he write?”
Tilly finally stopped pacing, “We weren’t sure what he was trying to tell us,” She said, her voice filled with confusion, “but he mentions you in it.”
“Can I read it?” She asked holding out a hand.
The look of contemplation returned to Tilly’s face. “I believe that would be alright, Highness.” She eventually said. It seemed to take all of the girl’s strength to hand over the crumpled letter. When she finally released it, Tilly sighed in relief, as if she had been holding her breath in anticipation.
Alexandria examined the letter. She noticed that it had been addressed to the Byrns’ Bakery. She also noticed that the letter had been stamped with the symbol of Ohrim, the horned goat.
Ohrim? What was Noah doing there?
She unfolded the page, and held her breath as his hand writing come into view.
To my friends,
Her heart stopped beating for a spit second. Tilly had been right, the letter hadn’t been directly sent for her. She calmed her wounded pride and read on.
I hope, by all that is good, that this letter was able to reach you. Much has happened since I’ve seen you all last, but it is not the time to reminisce. Forgive me for being so blunt, but I must ask a favor.
I will be arriving in Jodan, staying at the Rramnon embassy. I trust that you will be able to meet me before the end of September.
Please tell Annabell that I don’t regret anything, and I wish to one day see her again.
However, once certain things come to light, I am not certain that my ‘new friends’ will wish for me to return home. Not without an assurance of my character.
Know that I’ll miss you all deeply.
Several things about the letter caught Alexandria’s attention. The first was that Noah signed with his initials. The second was that he had three of them. Throughout the Land there was constancy about names.
Having a title meant that Alexandria had a total of four names. Servants were given two. All other citizens were given three.
Noah had three names.
He wasn’t born a servant.
Alexandria pushed the thought away; she could wonder about Noah’s past at a later date.
That made her wonder about everything else in his letter. Why was heading to Jodan? Why was he staying at the Rramnon embassy? What assurance needed to be made about his character? What did he mean by not being allowed to return home?
As she debated all of this, Alexandria’s eyes caught three words scribbled across the bottom of the letter.
ON JE OTET
Alexandria didn’t recognize the language, but it was clear someone else had written it. With the letter in hand, she rushed out of her room. She didn’t know what the words meant, but she was positive that she could find someone that did.
She opened the door and was instantly blocked by her parents.
“Mother, Father.” She acknowledged before trying to continue on her path. “Please forgive me, for my imprudent behavior.”
“Did you need something, darling?”
Alexandria stopped at her father’s words, and turned to meet him. His eyes weren’t on her, but on the letter in her hands.
“Have you read this?” She asked, confused by his actions.
Her father nodded firmly.
“He’s in trouble.” She stated.
“Yes.” He confirmed.
“How long have you known about this?” She asked.
Her mother answered, “Since Miss Tilly brought it to us this morning.”
Alexandria was outraged, “The dinner,” She accused, “You insisted on it after learning about this letter. Why?”
“We had to make certain that you cared for him.” He father said flatly.
“That phrase?” Alexandria asked, not wasting any more time, “On je otet,” she said, not caring if she mispronounced it, “what does it mean?”
Her father answered, “It’s an old mountain language used along the Ohrim border.”
When he didn’t continue Alexandria repeated her question, “What does it mean?”
“He’s been kidnapped.”
Her father’s words stilled her.
Noah had been kidnapped it didn’t make any sense, “Why?”
She hadn’t realized that she had spoken her thoughts aloud until her mother answered them.
“We are unsure why someone from Rramnon would want to take Noah Jenkins, but we don’t have time to sit about and guess. It takes two week to travel to Jodan by ship. If we take his letter seriously than we need to send a recovery team before the week is out.”
Alexandria couldn’t believe what her mother was saying. “Why are you doing this?” She asked confused.
Her parents ignored her question and instead her mother asked, “Alexandria, dear, do you think you can set this suitor business aside for about a month?”
“I beg your pardon?” She blurted.
“Our ambassador in Jodan has not contacted us in quiet some time.” The King continued, only adding to her confusion. “We were wondering if you could act as an emissary and evaluate the situation for us.”
Alexandria instantly understood what her parents were hinting at. They were allowing her to go. She wasn’t sure what their motives were, but at the moment she honestly didn’t care.
“Will you be able to do this?” Her mother inquired, seriousness coated her question.
“When do I leave?” She asked, not even second-guessing herself.
It was Tilly that responded to her question, “We embark as soon as you are changed.”
Alexandria looked back at her escort with a smile, and for the first time she noticed the luggage sitting in front of her dresser.
“Thank you.” She said to her escort, realizing what the girl would be going with her.
“No time, for pleasantries, we’re on a schedule.” Tilly’s frankness surprised Alexandria. The escort bowed to the King and Queen, “Your Majesties, please excuse us.” And pulled the Princess into the room.
She heard a small snicker from her parents before Tilly shut the door. Jela and Bess came out of hiding to help Alexandria out of her peach gown, and into her traveling outfit.
“Tilly?” She asked while her two ladies in waiting were busy unpinning her hair.
“Their Majesties ordered a ship be prepared, for us at the Kingston Harbor.” The girl managed to answer before Alexandria could even ask.
“When are we set to leave?” She asked realizing that it took several hours to get to Kingston Harbor.
“We sail in two days time.” Tilly answered easily. “Tomorrow will be spent preparing for the voyage.”
It was at that very moment that Alexandria noticed how Tilly had stopped calling her ’your Highness. She smiled to herself as Jela and Bess untied the final layer of peach petticoat.
Tilly Ferguson was no longer thinking of her as a Princess. Perhaps that meant they could be friends.