The Captive Pt. 01byJaynaVixen©
I had to give Raven a little time to rest before the final few chapters of RW. I want to design a fitting conclusion, and it's just not coming to me. So, to appease you, here is a little something I have been working on when I get writer's block with my other projects. Let me know how you like it!
Ryder wasn't the kind of man who did favors for the likes of Lord Blackhawk. The man was reputed to be cruel, and the sorry state of his servants stood in sharp contrast to the opulence of the Lord Blackhawk's clothing and estate. The boy who had delivered the missive a fortnight past had been so poorly-clothed and underfed that he hadn't even a layer of fat to protect him from the icy winter chill. Ryder had bristled at seeing this. He harbored a special hatred for those who abused or neglected children. He had given the grateful young boy food, coin, and the cloak from his own shoulders, and had hoped the child made it back without freezing.
Yes, men like Blackhawk were scum, in Ryder's opinion. The last thing he desired was to do the man a good turn. But, the royal family supported the union that Lord Blackhawk pursued. And King Devon was a close personal friend of Ryder's; a close personal friend who was calling in a long-owed favor. It seemed that the girl Blackhawk desired to wed was unwilling, and had refused to accompany Blackhawk's men when they had arrived to collect her.
Unwilling was an understatement. Ryder smiled as he recalled the tale his informants had recounted. The girl could apparently take quite good care of herself. One of Blackhawk's men had returned with one of his testicles stuffed right back up into his belly. The other had a long gash running the side of his face. Both men had sworn to kill the girl if they ever laid eyes upon her again. Ryder shook his head. How a mere slip of a girl had bested two of the most cutthroat ruffians in the region was beyond him. She must have had help, he surmised.
Ryder had looked into the girl's history extensively and had learned that her parents had died when she was hardly more than a child. Her mother had perished from a bout of the fever when the girl was just a babe. Ryder knew how hard it was to grow up without a mother. He assumed things were certainly worse for a young girl to lack a female parent. Perhaps the girl had been allowed to run about, acting the tomboy. Whatever the case, she was of marriageable age, and Blackhawk desired her lands. Certainly, the girl's mother had been a renowned beauty, but rumors about Seacliff's daughter had less to do with her appearance and more to do with her stubborn nature.
Ryder's men had glimpsed the young mistress of Seacliff riding in her orchards, and had confirmed that she didn't seem to be much to look at. In fact, until closer inspection, they had thought the small figure they had seen riding at breakneck speed across the land was a young stable boy. Even if her appearance left something to be desired, the girl's home was a veritable stronghold, situated upon a high bluff overlooking the sea. The keep boasted panoramic views of the mountains and valley. A well-traveled trading route bordered the backwoods. Any man would covet a union just to have access to such valuable lands.
Ryder had been surprised that the girl was not already promised to another, more influential man. But, according to Blackhawk, a union between Blackhawk and Seacliff had been forged just before the Lord of Seacliff had been killed in a hunting accident several years ago. Blackhawk had the paperwork to prove his claim, and he had every right to collect what was due him.
The girl was to wed Blackhawk's eldest son, and King Devon supported this union, probably because Devon aimed to strip Blackhawk of his lands and title once he had enough evidence to prove that the man was unsavory and unworthy. If Devon helped Blackhawk secure his bride, Blackhawk might believe he had Devon's support, and he might just let his guard down. So, the girl was likely to be caught in the crossfire, however this was often the plight of high-status, unwed females who had no protectors.
Ryder sighed as he waited at the seedy inn. The girl's predicament was none of his concern. He would complete the task as it had been delegated to him by his king. He was no babysitter, and he certainly did not go about collecting errant brides. But, Ryder had gotten himself into a bit of trouble a few years back, and getting out of it had required that he return Devon's favor when he called it in. Just this one little transaction, and he would no longer be in the king's debt.
Two men approached his table, and Ryder's hand went silently to his dagger. One man was quite large, but there was something rather off about his demeanor. The shorter man cleared his throat.
"You be Lord Ryder, then?"
Ryder drew himself up to his full height, feeling a familiar satisfaction as the man shrank back. He dwarfed the first man, but was surprised that the larger man stood a few inches taller than he. Ryder was quite tall, and well-muscled. It was rare that another man could meet him eye to eye. Too, Ryder had found that his direct, assessing gaze caused the few that did stare at him with challenge to back down swiftly. As he assessed the larger man, he could see that there was definitely something strange about him. He had an almost child-like grin on his face. He moved clumsily, bumping into the table, and nearly setting it on its side.
Ryder steadied the table and motioned for the two men to sit. These were two of Blackhawk's men, sent to accompany him to the girl's keep. Looking at the two unwashed cretins, Ryder was reminded again why he always worked alone. He would have to establish some ground rules. He alone would coordinate the retrieval and delivery of the girl to Blackhawk's estate. The other two would serve as lookout and backup only.
The shorter man, Lukas, did not appear happy with Ryder's plan, but he knew better than to argue with a man who was feared by most. The Mercenary of Moreland's reputation certainly preceded him. The larger man, who was called Milos, nodded happily at the conversation, his eyes drifting frequently to the large breasts of the serving girl who waited on them. Ryder rolled his eyes. This would be a grueling assignment indeed.
At long last, Ryder told the two men that he would meet them at the dawn's first light, by the stable. Perhaps they would not show, and he could claim they ahd simply He could not wait to rid himself of their presence. It would do him good to collect and deliver the girl to her betrothed, and be done with the whole blasted deal. Ignoring the seductive glances that came his way from several serving girls and female patrons in the bar, Ryder retired to his chamber, alone.
Johanna couldn't sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, frightening images assaulted her. The men would come for her again, she knew. Shivering, she tried unsuccessfully to block out the memories. She could still feel their grimy hands on her, pulling at her clothes. Foul hot breath in her face, and a low mean voice whispering disgusting things in her ear...
Muffling a screech, Johanna leapt from her bed and headed to the window seat, which had become the only place she was able to drift into a fitful rest. Something about sitting upright, and keeping a candle burning throughout the night, seemed more secure than lying prone and vulnerable in her bed, as she had been a fortnight ago. The creaky floorboards roused her maid, Lisel, who had taken to sleeping in Johanna's chamber to make her feel safer, and also to shake Johanna awake when she suffered another one of her nightmares.
"Another bad one?" Lisel asked softly.
"Nay, friend." Johanna whispered. "I am not tired. I will just sit here by the window and read for a bit."
Lisel knew the truth. The poor girl was exhausted. But, night after night of terrified screams that had awakened half the castle illustrated that Johanna had not forgotten the terror of that night, although she might claim to be just fine. Lisel had known Johanna since she was just a babe, and she had never seen the girl in such a state. Her normally rosy cheeks were pale, and her eyes lacked the sparkle they usually had. But, Johanna was strong. She would get herself out of this mess, she would! Yes, Johanna could take care of herself; Rolf had seen to that!
The burly overseer was quite handsome, Lisel decided. He was a good man, too. He had taught Johanna to defend herself from a young age. Having no mother that she remembered, Johanna had idolized her father, a warrior in his own right. As a child, she had made a sword from two sticks and had run about, pretending to fight. Rolf, noticing her natural skill, had begun to teach her, with the lord's permission.
She was an apt pupil, and had proven herself an excellent horsewoman as well. It was a good thing Johanna had learned to defend herself. She had fought off her kidnappers long enough for Rolf to step in and give each of them a good beating of his own before sending them on their way. There was just no way the lord would have promised his only daughter to a stranger, without her consent!
Lisel sighed in the dark, watching the girl fight sleep. Perhaps a good draught would relax her. It would do no good if Johanna became ill. Lisel snuggled under the covers on her small trundle. She would speak to Rolf in the morning about procuring something to help her mistress rest.