Chapter 4 - Struggle

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My heart slammed against my chest. If I could break his grasp, I could still loose an arrow and hit one of the men on the road. I bit the hand across my mouth.

The man behind me sucked in a breath but kept his hand across my mouth. "I said, don't. If they see you, they'll try to take you too." He spoke low and quiet, emphasizing his words with a painful squeeze on my hand and jerk of my head. "Drop your bow."

I did as told, and he slipped his arm, the one still holding my hand, across my abdomen. Then he pulled me away from the road, away from Eluena.

Was this man with the others? If he was, then why try to hide me from them? But he could be trying to fool me, leading me like a cow to the slaughter.

I couldn't chance it. Split decision made, I rammed back with my elbow, satisfied when I heard an "oof." His arms, though, didn't release me. I struggled against his grasp, a new panic setting in.

I bit down hard again on the hand over my mouth. His fingers were browned and rough with dirt in the creases, but I didn't care. He yanked his hand away and my head jerked with the force of his pull. One hand down, one more to go. Before I knew what was happening, I could feel rough tree bark digging into my shoulder. My quiver protecting me from having my whole back massacred, I was now captured between man and tree.

He gripped my upper arms as he gave me a shake. "I'm not here to hurt you, but if you don't calm down, I'll tie you to this tree and gag you." He took a quick look over his shoulder back towards where the men had been. "Noise will bring them over here, especially if they hear a woman," he whispered. The road held his attention now, allowing me a chance to reach into my satchel and hide my knife behind my leg.

He turned back towards me, and I searched in vain to see his face, a hooded cloak preventing me from knowing my adversary.

My chest heaved in panic, but otherwise, I remained still. I gulped at the cooling air as I tried to calm myself. Even though I couldn't see him, I knew he was watching me. What he had said about noise made sense. Though whether I could trust him or not was still undecided.

"Please. Let me go," I said in between gasps. Those men took Eluena further and further from me with every passing minute.

"My camp is nearby. Come with me. I promise I am not here to hurt you."

I shook my head, my hair catching in the bark and the back of my head abrading against the rough surface. "Just let me go. I need to go find my friend." I nodded my head towards the road.

"I can't let you do that."

I whimpered in desperation. The man with Eluena had disappeared. "She's my best friend, I need to go help her."

So far, I hadn't struggled against him since he had flipped me around to face him, but I could feel his grasp on my arms slackening. My chance to break his grasp could be soon. I dropped my head, chin to chest in what I hoped might be a sign of surrender.

His forearms were bare. The skin tanned and taut. Without seeing his face, I couldn't be sure of his age, but those were not the arms of an older man, not like the others. Even knowing that, I still needed to distract him. Maybe I could get him to remove one of his hands.

I lifted my head, staring into the shadows of his cloak. "Show me your face. You want me to trust someone I can't see?" I put as much gumption behind my words as I could. A strand of my hair was in my eyes, so I blew it away. As I had hoped, he released one of my arms, so he could reach towards his head and push back the cloak. Lucky me, it was also the same arm that held my knife. My hands knew the blade well and held it ready. But I wasn't prepared for his counter-distraction.

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