Rickety Carts and Madmen
The first thing she felt when she woke up was a dull, throbbing pain in her head. And then, she felt the bouncing and jolting of a rickety cart riding along the road.
It wasn’t going terribly quickly, just a light, casual pace. Her back was sore, and she could feel something pointy pressing into her arm. When she tried to shift positions, she saw that it was the tip of a piece of hay, and it had left a tiny red mark where it had been pressing in. There were a few more marks, though, presumably from other pieces.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t even brush the hay off her arms, because the next thing she discovered was her shackled wrists. Bound together by a firm chunk of metal with a small keyhole, she suddenly became aware that she was not supposed to be in this cart. She was a captive, being held against her will by someone as of yet unknown to her.
The air was filled with the sickening stench of rot, which she hadn’t noticed until just now, when it hit her stomach and she immediately found herself retching from the smell. She closed her eyes, doubling over from her sitting position and gagging somewhat, and when she lifted her head, she found herself face to face with a young woman. The woman was dressed in crude leathers and furs, with messy brown hair and a maniacal grin on her lips as she crouched at her side.
“Wh-” she started to say, but the woman let out a dramatic cackle, interrupting her.
“Eric,” chimed the young woman, still staring wide-eyed at the other woman. “Eriiiic… ERIC!” she exclaimed, spinning in a circle somehow in her crouched position before looking over her shoulder.
Following the brown-haired woman’s gaze, she could see a few men sitting around at what she assumed was the front of the cart. One of them, with gingery-brown hair, a beard, and a vest on, glanced up as the woman called out. A smirk began to come to his lips, and he got up, walking over to the two women and kneeling down.
“Looks like you’re awake, huh?” he asked, his voice deep and gravelly. His tone sounded as though he might gargle rocks for the fun of it.
“Where am I? What’s going on?” she asked him, and he gave a shrug of his shoulders.
“You’re here. What more do you need to know?”
“Who are you and why am I chained up?” she asked. “Where are you taking me?”
“So many questions,” he said, shaking his head slightly. “Alright, we’ll take this slowly. My name’s Eric. This is Nikki,” he gestured towards the woman beside him, “and these are Alexander and Killian.” He gestured towards the men at the front - Alexander was pale with red hair, and Killian was huge and hairy. He probably had some giant blood in him, somewhere.
“And why am I here?” she asked, irritated that he seemed more concerned with introductions. Here she was, afraid for her life, and instead of telling her what was going on, this man was introducing her to his crew. At least she’d know their names and faces if she was ever able to escape and reach the royal guard.
“Eh, we’re not really sure yet,” he said with another shrug. “I’m sure we’ll find some use for you. We’re headed west, have a few more pickups to make along the way.”
“Pickups?” she asked.
“Yeah. More people to snatch, y’know. Least you’ll be in good company.”
“Snatch?” she asked, a little more bewildered this time.
“Well yeah - what’d you think, you hopped on board and forgot that you agreed to this?”
“So…you’re just admitting that you’ve kidnapped me?” she asked, and he let out a deep, rumbling laugh.
“Kidnapped? Sounds a little…infantile, don’t you think?” he asked, grinning. “I like you, lady. You don’t seem as panicked as people usually get. There’s usually lots of thrashing around, foul language - we spend a lot of time restraining people in our line of business, but aside from the cuffs, we don’t have to do anything to you.”
She went quiet for a moment. She hated to admit it, but he was right. She was much calmer than she should have been, given her circumstances. Then again, she’d always lacked the adrenaline gene, always been a very calm and rational person, so maybe it was just who she was as a person.
“You know,” he said, interrupting her train of thought, “we might be able to find something a bit…better…for you.”
“Better?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “We have a ton of clientele, and our pickups don’t usually go places they want to be. Some end up working in the brothel in Three Isle Kingdom, some end up sacrificed to the Beast, some get turned into sheeple for King Bray’s little army of crazy - but for you…I feel like you deserve more. A better ending.”
“I’d really much rather just go home,” she said, and he chuckled.
“That’s not really an option any more,” he said. “But look, if you’re willing to make a deal with us, we’ll make a deal with you. Anything - anything you want. Anything but your freedom. Tell us your deepest desire, and we’ll make it come true.”
Again, she was silent. She couldn’t believe that she was actually considering the deal, but their operation seemed airtight. They knew what they were doing - professional human traffickers, if that was a thing. And she was a captive, yet they were offering her an opportunity here. They didn’t have to do that. One last question, and if escape was impossible, she’d take his deal.
“If I screamed right now,” she said calmly, “would anybody hear me?”
“Nope,” said Eric. “Cart is enchanted. Damn expensive magic and you have to renew it every month or so, but no sound gets out of this cart.”
That settled it. “Well then,” she said, “I’d like to make a deal.”