“Yelena, we can go.”
“What?” I looked at Rand.
“If this is upsetting you. We can go. There’s a spectacular new fire dance.”
“We can stay. I was just…reminiscing. But if you want to see the fire dance, I’ll go along.”
“Reminiscing? You must have hated being an acrobat.”
“Oh no, I loved everything about it. Flying through the air, the complete control over my body as I spun and twirled. The thrill of knowing I was going to land the perfect dismount before I even hit the ground.” I stopped. The confusion on Rand’s face made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. How could I explain to him that it wasn’t the acrobatics that upset me but the events that they had triggered? Reyad’s cruel punishment for practicing. Sneaking out to participate in the festival the following year, which had led to Reyad’s death.
I shuddered. Those memories of Reyad were like a trap in the corner of my mind, and I wasn’t ready to spring it. “Someday, Rand, I’ll explain. But for now I would like to see the fire dance.”
He hooked his arm around mine as our kitchen group left the tent and joined in the flow of people. Sammy raced ahead, shouting over his shoulder that he would save us some good seats. A drunken man bumped into me and I stumbled. He mumbled an apology and saluted me with his mug of ale. Trying to make a bow, he landed in a heap at my feet. I would have stopped to help him, but I was distracted by the appearance of blazing staffs of wood. I felt a pulsating rhythm vibrating through the soles of my feet as the fire dancers spun the flaming props around their heads and paraded into the tent. Amazed by the dancers’ intricate movements, I stepped over the drunk.
But with the excitement and press of people through the entrance, Rand’s grip was broken. I wasn’t concerned until I found myself surrounded by four immense men. Two of the men wore blacksmith’s uniforms, while the other two wore farmer’s work uniforms. Excusing myself, I tried to slip past them, but they only pressed closer, trapping me.
Terror welled in my throat; i was in trouble. i screamed for help. a gloved hand clamped over my mouth. Biting into the leather, I tasted ashes, but couldn’t reach skin. The blacksmiths grabbed my arms and pushed me forward, while the farmers walked in front, blocking me from sight. In all the commotion around the dance tent, nobody noticed my abduction.
I struggled, dragged my feet and kicked. Their pace never slowed. I was lugged farther away from the lights and safety of the festival. Craning my neck, I looked for a way to escape. The blacksmith next to me moved closer to block my meager view. His thick beard was filled with soot and half of it had been singed off.
We stopped behind a dark tent. The farmers stepped aside and I saw a shadow pull away from the fabric.
“Did anyone notice? Did anyone follow you?” the shadow asked with a woman’s voice.
“It went perfect. Everyone was focused on the dancers,” the blacksmith with the leather gloves replied.
“Good. Kill her now,” the woman ordered.
A knife flashed in Leather Gloves’s hand. I renewed my struggle, managing to break free for an instant. But the farmers pinned my arms while Singed Beard grabbed my legs. They held me suspended above the ground. Leather Gloves raised his weapon.
“No knives, you idiot! Think of the bloody mess. Use this.” She handed Leather Gloves a long thin strap. In a blink the knife disappeared. He wrapped the garrote around my neck.
“Nooo…” I screamed, but my protest was cut off along with my air supply as he tightened the strap. Intense pressure squeezed my neck. I jerked my limbs in vain. White dots swirled before my eyes. A faint buzzing sound dribbled from my lips. Too faint; the survival instinct that had saved me from Brazell’s guards and Reyad’s torture was too weak this time.
Over the roar of blood in my ears, I heard the woman say, “Hurry up! She’s starting to project.”
Ready to step off the edge of consciousness, a drunken voice said, “Excuse me, sirs, do you know where I can get a refill?”
The pressure on my neck lessened as Leather Gloves drew his knife. I let my body go limp and was rewarded by being dumped on the ground. The other three men stepped over me to face the intruder. Suppressing the urge to gasp for breath, I sucked in air with desperation. I muffled my efforts, unwilling to let anyone know I could still breathe.
From my new position, I saw Leather Gloves lunge toward the drunk. The clang of metal rang through the air as the knife stabbed into the man’s pewter beer mug instead of his chest. With a hard jerk of his wrist, the mug blurred into motion. The knife flew through the air, imbedding into the fabric of the tent. Then the drunk struck Leather Gloves on the head with the mug. Leather Gloves crumpled to the ground.
The others, mere steps away when their companion went down, rushed the intruder. The farmers grabbed his upper arms and shoulders while Singed Beard punched him twice in the face. Using the farmers to support his weight, the drunk lifted both legs off the ground and wrapped them around Singed Beard’s neck. With a loud snap, Singed Beard fell.
Still clutching his mug, the drunk swung it to the right into one farmer’s groin. As the farmer doubled over, the drunk brought the mug up, smashing it into the farmer’s face.
Then the intruder swept his beer mug to the left and slammed it into the other farmer’s nose. Blood gushing, the farmer yelped in pain and released his grip on the drunk. The drunk launched a second blow to the farmer’s temple. The farmer collapsed to the ground without a sound.