Khraga, part two

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It was still dark when he woke. For a moment Arthur wondered if he'd slept an entire day, but then he could see white spots on a wall where window slits let daylight in. He remembered he was indoors, more than remembered. The stinging cold that had become an unpleasant companion was no longer present, nor was the cutting wind. Arthur rose on aching legs and started to examine his surroundings while dressing in his damp clothes.

"Awake at last," Gring commented from somewhere.

He searched and found her sitting with her back to a wall, black fur less tidy than he remembered from their days with the caravan. It was still fur, probably warmer than his clothes.

Or Chaijrild's, the little demon of responsibility in his head added accusingly. How do you think she feels?

"The child is still sleeping. She'll be fine," Gring continued as if reading his thoughts.

Arthur relaxed a little, but guilt still clung to him. They were together then, but where? "How?"

"They jumped us here."

Arthur blinked away the last of his sleepiness. "Who did what?"

"Human mages. Of the same kind as mage Escha. We met them late yesterday. The halfmen riders didn't follow of course."

"Why are we here?" Arthur asked, too dizzy to understand what mages from Khanati were doing here, wherever here was. Aw, hell, human mages mean monkey mages.

"I stand accused of betraying my own," Gring answered never showing if she'd guessed his last thought.

Arthur stared at her. "In what way?"

"I don't know. Kharg accused me before we were led away. There is a questioning ahead. I'll know then."

"But that's ridiculous!"

"To know?"

"No, to go to these lengths for capturing one person, unless you're more important to them than you've told me."

Gring studied him. A dangerous glint in her eyes told him she was getting angry. "You dare call me honor less like an oath breaker?"

"What's honor got to do with anything? They attacked the caravan with God knows how many men. Either they're insane or you're indeed that valuable to them."

She stared at him. "I don't know why they'd want to capture me. The attack on the caravan was probably payment to the halfmen riders. They are still nomadic and live off their own relatives who have settled down. Little more than brigands."

Arthur sat down in the straw covering part of the floor. He'd never fully understand the ways of the people living here.

"No, I don't accuse you of lying to me, but I still wonder why they'd use so much resources to capture you. It makes me suspicious and I hope you can understand that," he added in way of consolation.

"Your suspicion is an attempt to stain my honor."

"That was never my intention." Arthur sighed with dejection. Gring had her priorities wrong. He steeled himself for a verbal trashing. "You don't understand. Honor can't be important enough to rule out everything else."

"Now it's you who don't understand. What is life without honor?"

"Honor can't be everything. Yes, it's important, but so is decency and caring. Without them, how could we help those in need, and why should we? I've seen honor become arrogance and self-importance too many times to trust it fully. It's a notion far too easy to abuse."

Gring grunted but at least she didn't argue. Arthur turned away sullenly. He was still cold, and the damp air didn't help.

He wondered when they'd be fed. At least they'd been given water, but quenching his thirst only reminded him how hungry he was. How long since their last meal? A week? No it must be less than that, but he was feeling dull enough to know it had been too long. The headache tormenting him at first was gone as well. Another bad sign. Pain was a sensation forcing him to think. How long would it be before he was too weak to care? Surely they didn't mean to starve them to death. That made no sense, unless of course the real reason was to weaken Gring so whatever plight they were to endure would be more than she could handle. Incoherent thoughts wandered through his mind until he heard Chaijrild groan. She must have been disturbed by the angry conversation earlier. She looked worn.

Arthur waited until she was fully awake, and dressed, before trying to catch her attention. "How are you?"

"Where are we?" Her voice was weak from fatigue.

She looked dirtier than he remembered, but then he probably wasn't looking his best either. A mirror would be good to have. He thought of it again and suddenly the idea didn't seem as alluring any longer. Better not to know what he looked like when he wanted to at least pretend to be strong.

"We are with my people," Gring answered instead of him. "We were jumped here."

"Where is here?" Chaijrild's voice was still weak, but this time a hint of fear was mixed into it as well.

"Further east from where we were. Not much. We could have made the distance in three or four eightdays, including the boat trip of course," Gring answered flatly.

"Boat trip?" Arthur asked, paying no heed to his protesting stomach.

"Yes, the sea cuts in all the way to Braka."

"You mean like the Narrow Sea?" Chaijrild asked.

Gring grinned and licked her tusks. "Yes, I suppose."

The two women continued to discuss geography Arthur already was vaguely familiar with from satellite maps. Of course those maps didn't come with any of the names or borders the people here took for granted. At the moment he didn't care. The smalltalk was a distraction from their situation. After a while the conversation turned to differences in names, and then it became too abstract for him with uncertain guesswork from both Gring and Chaijrild as they tried to explain the reasons for different names.

Arthur sighed, silently so Chaijrild wouldn't hear. They were caught by people more distant to them than a mere measure of relative distance would ever explain, and Chaijrild was more a frightened child than a woman. It wasn't enough that Gring always seemed solid like a mountain. Chaijrild would expect nothing else from someone looking like one. Hell, he wouldn't expect anything else. Privately he wondered though. There had to be weaknesses Gring didn't show. She was human after all, even if her concept of human differed very much from Chaijrild's. Did it differ less from his own? He hoped so.

Arthur leaned back in the dirty straw. Maybe he could shoot their way out of here. He fumbled after his holster. Empty. Of course. They wouldn't have been allowed to keep their weapons. If they only had some food! He needed something to eat to think more clearly. Hell, they all did. Nothing much he could do about their situation now. They were locked in and would probably be called for whenever their captors wanted. If Gring didn't seem more worried than she was there was no reason for him to add to their misgivings. At least he could pretend to be calm. Again random thoughts came and went on their own volition, and tiredness called on Arthur.

At least I'm not afraid of the night any longer. Guess living the nightmare sets your priorities right.

He curled up in a ball to keep warm. If he could do nothing else then at least he could try to make himself as comfortable as their surroundings allowed. He listened absently to the chatter between Chaijrild and Gring. It was nothing important, but it kept them occupied, and he was glad for Chaijrild's sake. She needed the diversion. At least he wasn't afraid of sleeping any longer. He drifted into an uneasy sleep but was never truly sleeping, and from time to time he could hear the voices of the two women. They had changed topics which made it clear to him he had dozed off after all, and the last time he looked at the window slits before he fell asleep for real they offered nothing but the night.

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