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It was a hot midsummer morning, but inside the forest it was cool and dark, tinged soft green by the sunlight filtering through the leaves like stained glass. Flowers of every color grew bountiful amid the mosses and underbrush. Bees droned lazily from flower to flower, and small birds perched and sang wherever a twig would hold their weight. A small chuckling stream flowed through, rushing on its course from the mountains to the sea. A tribe of otters dwelt happily in a series of caves along the streambank, living off the bounty of the surrounding land. They lazed around on the banks and frolicked in the water. Some of the adults fished, and some mothers were cooking or washing while young ones ran up and down the banks or slid down the slippery parts into the water.
Linwood was a healer and mother of two. Her mate had died when a fever had swept through the tribe eight seasons ago, decimating the otters before Linwood and the elders had found a cure. The sickness still cast a shadow over the tribe, but the otters acted as a close-knit family and every creature was more than willing to help any creature in need, so the widows and orphans were well cared for. Being the best healer in the tribe, Linwood was often called on to help care for the sick and injured. She kept a well-stocked supply of herbs and various plants in her cave and checked it often to ensure she would never be out of a vital ingredient should a sudden cure be needed. In this way she intended to prevent any horrible incident like the fever from ever happening in her tribe again.
The ottermum checked her store one more time before heading out to join the other mothers on the bank, muttering to herself, “Sweet cicely, thyme, basil…hmmm, I’m running low on sage…”
She took a stem with a few leaves and flowers attached and went outside, calling, “Tullgrew!”
A pretty young ottermaid wearing a long yellowish dress and red cap came bounding out of the water and onto the bank. Tullgrew was the older of Linwood’s daughters by several seasons. “Yes, mum?”
Linwood gave the plant to her daughter. “I’m almost out of sage. Could you get some more for me, please? Take Teagan – I think she knows where to find some.”
Tullgrew nodded and trotted off down the bank. She found her younger sister sitting in the shade of a weeping willow tree, apart from the other otters. Her eyes were closed and her face was lifted to a warm ray of sunlight that had slipped between the leaves. She wore a dark red hood and a long yellowish-brown tunic. A small barkcloth pouch hung from her cord belt. She opened her pale grayish-blue eyes and turned her face towards Tullgrew as her older sister approached. Teagan had been a perfectly normal ottermaid for the first few seasons of her life. She had been one of the last of the tribe to get the fever before Linwood and the elders discovered the cure. The cure came in time to save the ottermaid’s life, but the fever left her totally blind. Over the next few seasons, she learned to see with her paws, ears, and nose, becoming quite adept at functioning without her eyes. Before she lost her sight, she has studied under her mother to become a healer, but she did not let her blindness hinder her. She learned by touch and smell and proved to be an excellent student. Her memory aided her greatly – she had the uncanny ability to remember nearly everything she heard, felt, or smelled. Her finely tuned ears picked up her sister’s approaching pawsteps, and her sensitive nose detected the plant she carried. “Hello, Tullgrew. Is that sage you’ve got?”
“Aye,” Tullgrew replied. “Mum’s almost out, and she told us t’ go get more.”
Teagan picked up the stick laying next to her, which she referred to as her “seeing stick”. It was about three-quarters of her height and made of sturdy, polished oak wood. The creature who had given it to her was a skilled craftsbeast. Ornate details graced the upper portion of the stick, turning a simple piece of wood into a masterpiece. Above the part where Teagan held it, flowering vines carved into the wood twined around and up, ending in a beautifully carved otter’s head with very lifelike features. Teagan carried the stick everywhere with pride and used it to feel around in front of her so she would not trip, although she had fairly memorized every stick and stone in the area. The ottermaid stood up. “I know where the best stuff grows, but it’s a good half-day’s walk.”
Tullgrew took her sister by the paw. “We can pack a lunch an’ have a picnic!”
A short while later the sisters were leaving the forest, heading East across the surrounding meadows. Teagan tipped her head back and closed her eyes, breathing in the sweet summer air. “Mmm, smell those flowers, Tullgrew! And the warm grass! And hear the birds sing!”
Her sister shifted the bulging haversack of food higher up on her shoulders and smiled. “Aye, it’s a beautiful day. I hope we aren’t anywhere near that spot yet. I could walk forever!”
Midafternoon found the sisters sitting in the grass at the foot of a knoll, enjoying a lunch of soft white cheese speckled with herbs and nuts, hearty brown bread, a few pawfulls of fresh blackberries, and a flagon of dandelion and burdock cordial. It was a simple meal, but delicious and filling. Tullgrew split her half of the loaf in half and packed blackberries and cheese in it. Teagan wrinkled her nose. “Blackberries on bread’n’cheese?”
Tullgrew bit into it, spraying berry juice, and replied with her mouth full. “Mmmm, mmm-hmmm, ‘s vrry gnn!”
Teagan wiped blackberry juice from her cheek. “Very good, eh? Well, try an’ keep it to yourself. You just gave me a bath of blackberry juice.”
Her sister swallowed and scoffed. “Tcha, you got a drop or two on you. That’s a far cry from a bath!”
Teagan took a sip of cordial and leaned back against the knoll. “Ahh, this is the life, isn’t it? Good food, a beautiful day…how could anybeast ask for more?”
Tullgrew swiped a few of Teagan’s blackberries and chewed them reflectively, agreeing after swallowing. “You’re right. It doesn’t get any better than this!”
She reached for more blackberries. Teagan rapped her paw with the end of her stick. “Stoppit, you had your own berries and you chose to spray me with ‘em. Those are mine!”
Tullgrew had long ago given up being surprised by her sister’s keen senses. She sniffed with mock indignance. “Selfish!”
Teagan threw a berry at her. “Robber!”
The berry bounced off Tullgrew’s nose. She promptly picked it up and ate it. “Mmm, good shot!”
Her sister settled back down. “Thank y –”
Suddenly she sat bolt upright. “Did you hear that?”
Tullgrew froze, startled by the urgency in her sister’s face and voice. “No. What is it?”
Teagan gripped her stick and sat up. “Somebeast’s coming from the other side of the hill!”
“I’ll go see who it is,” Tullgrew said, jumping up.
Teagan listened to her sister’s pawsteps as she climbed the knoll. Suddenly she heard Tullgrew gasp, followed by harsh laughter. Vermin!
Teagan charged over the knoll, swinging her stick wildly. She was rewarded with a dull whunk as her stick struck what she guessed was somebeast’s arm. A male voice grunted in pain. The ottermaid heard her sister struggling and the foebeasts turning around in surprise. She held her stick like a club, ready to lash out again as she listened to the vermin circling her, their leader calling out, “Get her!”
She swung out again, but one of the vermin grabbed her stick as another jumped on her from behind, pinning her arms to her sides as he squeezed her, forcing her to let go of the stick. Teagan promptly tried to bite him, only to find he was wearing thick gloves. He shook her, snarling in a nasally voice, “Yew liddle snake! She bit me!”
Teagan kicked and struggled. “Snake yourself! Let us go!”
One of the vermin struck the ottermaid sharply over her head with her stick, just hard enough to make it sting. “Stop squirmin’ if ye know what’s good for ye!”
The vermin leader swaggered up. He had the haughty, sneering voice of one accustomed to bullying others into obedience. “What d’ we got here? Hold ‘em next to each other so I can get a good look at ‘em.”
Teagan heard Tullgrew squirming as another vermin half-dragged, half-carried the older ottermaid over to stand beside her and her captor. Tullgrew glared at the leader, a big red weasel in a green tartan kilt, as he looked her up and down. “Ho ho! Won’t Lord Badrang be pleased when ‘is patrol returns with plenny o’ vittles an’ a couple o’ strong young otters t’ serve ‘im!”
He swaggered over to Teagan. She stared straight ahead. The weasel followed her gaze and saw nothing. “What’s wrong with this one?”
Tullgrew drew in a nervous breath as the weasel waved a paw in front of her sister’s sightless eyes. Getting no response, he snorted disgustedly. “She’s blind, stone blind!”
The weasel holding Teagan moved slightly. The ottermaid felt something lightly bump the back of her head and heard the dull thud as it bumped against her captor’s chest. She guessed it was some sort of charm or talisman. The weasel sniffed, then spoke. “What do we do with ‘er?”
The leader waved a paw dismissively. “Lord Badrang has no use for blind slaves. Kill ‘er.”
Teagan let out a soft cry of fear. Tullgrew struggled hard against her captor’s unyielding grip. “Wait! She can still do most things! She sees with her paws! A-and she’s a healer!”
The weasel holding Teagan tightened his grip on her and sniffed nervously. “It’s bad luck to kill a healer!”
Tullgrew watched the weasel leader. He stroked his chin reflectively. “Lord Badrang doesn’t have a healer…”
Tullgrew interrupted. “He might not be too happy if he finds out you slew a good healer.”
The vermin leader glared at her. “Silence! We can always kill ‘er later. Tie ‘em up, and let’s get ‘em back to Marshank.”
The two otters’ paws were bound painfully behind them as the weasel leader barked more orders. “Rotnose, you take the blind one. Bluehide, take the other one. Come on, double time! Move it, move it!”
Teagan felt a heavy gloved paw on her shoulder. So, the one with the gloves, talisman, and nasally voice was called Rotnose. He pushed her roughly. “Come on, otter, you heard ‘im! Move it!”
The two young otters were forced to march Northeast doubletime, only stopping at night and receiving little food or water and no bandages for their raw, bleeding footpaws. Teagan tripped often, whereupon Rotnose would yank her upright, cursing and upraiding her sharply. Whenever Tullgrew tried to speak to her sister, her captor, Bluehide, a ferret with a dusty blue coat, would cuff her sharply and tell her to keep quiet. Finally, on the afternoon of the third day, Tullgrew lifted her head wearily to see a fortress on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The ocean had been visible since the previous evening, but this was the first time they’d been able to see the fortress. Bluehide saw her staring and chuckled wickedly. “Isn’t it grand? That’s the fortress Marshank, where you’ll live out the rest of your days!’
The sun was setting when they arrived at the fortress gates. Marshank was huge and solid, built of stone and wood. Vermin guards patrolled the walltops, armed with spears and swords. Teagan felt her heart sink into her footpaws. The whole place had a dark and foreboding air, as if the very stones were evil. Over the ocean waves and calling seabirds, she could hear the cruel laughter of vermin, the cracking of the whips and the groaning of slaves. Over the past seasons, the ottermaid had learned to distinguish between a few different species by scent. Now the scents of the blood and sweat of hedgehogs, squirrels, voles, and mice nearly choked her. She could sense Tullgrew’s fear and dismay. Teagan began to tremble violently as the vermin leader, who she’d heard the others call Fleabane, bellowed up to the guards on the walltop. “Open up! Patrol returnin’!”
The huge wooden doors creaked slowly open. The two otters dug their paws in as the vermin hauled them through, one last desperate attempt to remain free. But the vermin were far stronger and their efforts proved futile. Tullgrew’s spirit sank even further as she looked around. Vermin soldiers were everywhere, all with gleaming weapons and cruel features. Slaves were everywhere too, carrying out various labors under the rods of the vermin guards. A tall, thin weasel with reddish fur and a patch over his left eye swaggered around, cracking a long leather whip across the backs of the helpless slaves at every opportunity. A few slaves looked up as the otters were dragged past, expressing pity with their eyes, then returning to their work before the guards saw them.
A fox with a yellow cloak came up to Fleabane. “Took you long enough. Lord Badrang is waiting for you.”
He has a sniveling, almost whining voice that churned Tullgrew’s stomach to hear it. She immediately hated him. The fox led the way to a longhouse in the center of the fortress. It had no door, just a tattered curtain hanging in the doorframe. The vermin entered the longhouse, dragging the otters with them. A huge male stoat sat on an ornate chair at the far end. He had dark grey fur, almost black, with jet-black points. He wore a slate-colored tunic, a dark blue cloak, and brown leather strips wrapped around his wrists. His narrowed eyes were yellow with red irises, full of evil and scheming and yielding no pity. The fox bowed fawningly to him. “Patrol returnin’ to report, Lord Badrang, sire.”
Fleabane saluted the stoat with his spear. “We patrolled the area as ordered, sire. Brought back a couple o’ slaves, but nothin’ else to report.”
Badrang looked down his nose at the two captives. “Otters, eh. Good. Otters are good workers, strong ‘n’ hardy. We don’t have many, either, an’ these two look young ‘n’ fit.”
Fleabane smiled smugly as Badrang stood. Tullgrew turned her head to glare defiance at him as he circled the pair, looking them up and down. She glanced out of the corner of her eye at Teagan. The younger otter faced straight ahead, listening to their captor’s footsteps, whiskers quivering either in fear or at the strange smells inside the longhouse. Tullgrew watched Badrang until he came to a halt in front of her sister. Teagan grunted and squeezed her eyes shut as the stoat grabbed her by the throat of her hood, hauling her up on tip-paw and growling, “Look at me!”
Teagan’s eyes opened wide, and she began to tremble violently. Badrang peered closely at her. He snarled suddenly and shoved her back. Rotnose grabbed her shoulder to steady her as Badrang rounded on Fleabane. “Idiot! You brought me a blind slave! What good is a blind slave?”
Fleabane cowered as he hastily explained. “L-Lord, the other one said she was a healer. Besides, she can still haul rocks with the others!”
Badrang glared at the blind ottermaid. She could sense his eyes boring into her and began to shake even harder. Tullgrew held her breath. Finally the stoat turned back to Fleabane. “We do have need for a healer. But if she turns out to be worthless you will both die, a long slow death. Understand?”
Fleabane nodded fearfully, swallowing hard. Badrang whirled about, cloak swirling as he returned to his chair. “Good! Throw ‘em in the slave pens, but don’t give ‘em anything to eat or drink until they’ve earned it with a hard day’s work.” Fleabane saluted, and the group exited the longhouse. Immediately Fleabane turned to Rotnose. “You take ‘em to the pens.” Rotnose argued. “Me? Lord Badrang told you to do it!”
Fleabane drew himself up to his full height. “I’ve got better things to do. Now go!”
Rotnose was shorter, less muscular, and less imposing than Fleabane. Glaring at his superior officer, the smaller weasel grabbed the two otters and led them off.
The slave pens consisted of a small building and a sheltered area inside a wooden enclosure. Bunk beds three deep lined the walls of the sheltered area, and makeshift mattresses covered the dirt floor. The one-eyed weasel was letting the slaves in for the night when Rotnose and the two captives approached. “Here’s two more for ye, Hisk.”
The weasel Hisk nodded approvingly. “Good. We could use more otters. ‘ey, what’s wrong with that one’s eyes?”
Rotnose explained. “She’s blind, but she’s a healer and can still haul rocks. These two aren’t to have food or water ‘til tomorrow night.”
Hisk nodded curtly, as if the whole thing had been his idea. “Right.”
He turned his attention to the slaves shuffling into the compound. Teagan and Tullgrew flinched as he cracked his whip menacingly. “Come on, you sluggardly lot, move it! I ain’t standin’ out ‘ere all night!”
The weasels shoved the two otters into the pen after the last slave was through. Hisk shut the door and locked it, then he and Rotnose left. A hedgehog, his spikes graying with age, immediately came over and untied the ottermaids’ bonds. “Poor young creatures, caught by Cap’n Fleabane’s patrol, I take it. I’m Hillgorse. What do they call you?”
Tullgrew rubbed her paws, which had gone numb. “I’m Tullgrew. This is my sister Teagan.”
The blind ottermaid was still quivering slightly. Tullgrew put her arms around her comfortingly. Just then a few rats came up to the doors of the compound with baskets of food. The smallest rat, a dark brown male with a dark blue tunic and cap, unlocked the doors, and they set the baskets inside. The small rat pointed his spear at the two ottermaids. “If anybeast gets caught sharin’ with these two, none of ye will get any tomorrow. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Captain,” the slaves replied en masse.
Tullgrew knelt on the compound floor with Teagan, watching the slaves bringing the food into the little building. All the slaves were thin, battered, scarred, and poorly clad. Many had tattered wraps around their paws, some around their tails. They were gaunt-faced and dull-eyed, young and old alike.
Teagan hadn’t spoken since their capture. She now began unrolling a wrap from her pouch, which Rotnose had insisted she be allowed to keep after it had been searched for weapons. “Hold still so I can tend to your footpaws.”
Tullgrew obeyed. Her sister felt around on the ground until she found two smooth, paw-sized stones. She took some herbs from her pouch and bruised them by rubbing them between the stones, then put them on Tullgrew’s raw, bleeding footpaws. Tullgrew winced and ground her teeth, drawing in her breath sharply. “Ahhhhhh, that hurts!”
Teagan sat back on her heels, paws folded in front of her. Her sightless eyes, though gazing off into space, were full of concern. “Sorry.” Her older sister patted her paw, managing a small brave smile, which she knew was detectable in her voice. “S’ allright, it feels better now than it did before. Aren’t you going to do yours?”
Teagan shook her head. “No. I don’t have any more wraps.”
A moment later a young male mouse came up to them. He had a strong presence, and there was a determined gleam in his hard brown eyes. He wore a simple, long-sleeved blue tunic and a red necktie. Crouching down in front of Teagan, he held out a rolled-up wrap. “Here. I heard you needed this.”
He waited patiently, holding stock-still as Teagan cautiously reached out in the direction of his voice and accepted the proffered object. “Thank you, friend. I’m Teagan. This is Tullgrew, my older sister.”
The mouse watched as she began dressing her wounded footpaws. “My name’s Martin. You’re a healer, eh? The others will welcome you with open paws, then. There are many here who are sick or injured. I’m sorry I can’t get you any food – I’m afraid there are many here who would rather get what they can than risk going hungry for a pair of newcomers.” Martin smiled briefly. “You will be held to that.”
Teagan turned her face towards the door to the pen. “A guard is coming. I don’t want you to get in trouble for helping us, friend.”
Martin nodded. “Thanks.”
Jumping up, he dogtrotted back into the little building. A moment later Rotnose marched past. He glanced at the sisters before continuing on his way. Tullgrew squeezed Teagan’s paw. “I think your hearing will prove useful.”
Teagan sighed. “I wish I’d heard those vermin coming sooner. Then we wouldn’t be in this terrible place.”
Tullgrew hugged the blind otter. “It’s not your fault. We’ll be allright, you’ll see.”
Martin returned a moment later. “Thanks for the warning. Come, I’ll show you where you’ll sleep.”
The ottermaids followed him over to one of the mattresses. Like the others, it had straw poking out the side, and a worn and patched blanket was draped over it. “This is the only empty one. For now,” Martin informed them grimly.
Tullgrew felt her sister shudder. A chill ran down her own spine as well. Martin’s face was tight with anger. “I’ve seen slaves die of sickness and exhaustion. Some have even been beaten to death. Nobeast gets any pity from the slaverdrivers. All you can do is exactly what you’re told, and hope someday somebeast will somehow escape and return to free the rest of us.”
Tullgrew nodded, her eyes welling up with tears as realization of the fate she and her sister were bound to began to sink in. Martin sighed. “I’m sorry. I’ll try to help in any way I can. We all stick together for the most part. For now, try to get some sleep if you can. The first few days are always the hardest.”
One by one the other slaves began to fill the bunks and straw mat beds around them. Exhausted from their three-day march, Tullgrew and Teagan curled up in their bed together, huddling close for comfort. They lay there in silence, tears streaming down their faces, listening to the breathing of the other captives and the distant laughter of vermin, until they slipped into deep, merciful sleep, hungry and hopeless and far from home.
The next morning they awoke to a loud clashing. Tullgrew groggily opened her eyes and lifted her head. The small rat Captain was banging a spear against the bars of the slave pen. “Come on, you lazy lot! Stir yore stumps, you worthless slime!” Tullgrew staggered upright, pulling her sister, who was mostly still asleep, with her. The other slaves were heading into the little building to make breakfast. The small rat pointed his spear at the two ottermaids. “If I see one drop or crumb pass your lips, I’ll flay the hide off your bones, slit your gullet, an’ take it back out! Am I makin’ myself clear?”
Tullgrew remembered what Martin had said and nodded miserably. The rat Captain was not satisfied. “I didn’t ‘ear you! You say, ‘Yes, Cap’n Gurrad, sir’!”
Tullgrew and Teagan felt their empty stomachs churning with revulsion, but they forced themselves to spit out the words. “Yes, Cap’n Gurrad, sir.”
Finally satisfied, Gurrad swaggered off. Teagan’s stomach growled loudly in protest. She laid a paw on it to silence it, turning her face up towards Tullgrew with a piteous look. Tullgrew sighed deeply.
The two sisters sat with their arms around each other whilst the other slaves ate. As the sun began to rise, Hisk, Gurrad, and a dozen guards came to the pens. Hisk unlocked the door and opened it, cracking his long whip threateningly. “Get out, scum! You know what your duties are!”
Tullgrew held Teagan’s paw tightly as they followed the other slaves out the door. The older ottermaid’s heart nearly stopped as she saw the guards leading groups of slaves in different directions. What would happen to Teagan if they were separated?
Teagan could hear what was going on and held tighter to her sister’s paw as she began to tremble slightly. She felt the whip prod her chest and heard Hisk’s voice, harsh and grating. “’old up there, you two.”
The two ottermaids stopped. Tullgrew gathered her sister into her arms, watching nervously as the one-eyed weasel looked them up and down. Gurrad watched as well. “Well, what are we gonna do with ‘em?”
The slave Captain pointed at Teagan with his whip. “I’ll take this one with the hauling slaves. The other one can go to the quarry.”
Teagan felt heavy paws on her shoulders, tearing her and Tullgrew apart, and cried out fearfully, “No! Tullgrew!”
She fought for all she was worth to break free of their grip, but the vermin were far too strong. The blind otter could hear her sister struggling like a mad thing, her voice shrill with distress as she screamed, “No! No, don’t separate us! She’s blind, she needs me! No, please, no!”
Her pleas receded into the distance as they were dragged off in separate directions. Shocked, Teagan stopped struggling. She could not remember the last time she and Tullgrew had been separated for more than an hour or two, nor could she remember any time when there had been nobeast to care for her, or at least keep an eye on her. Numbly she allowed them to drag her until abruptly she was released, or rather pushed, from her captor’s grip. She stumbled, and as she came up a rope was looped loosely over her head. She defiantly slipped it off. Suddenly a sharp stinging blow across her shoulders caused her to arch her back and scream in pain and shock. She heard Hisk bellowing from somewhere above and behind her. “Leave it, otter! You’ll haul along with the others, or I’ll use that rope to strangle ye!”
Teagan could hear and smell the other slaves around her. Some were lined up on either side of her, some behind and to the side. The blind ottermaid had never been so confused and afraid in her life. Then a paw, rough but gentle, enveloped her own. The familiar scent of otter filled her nose, and a young male voice spoke low in her ear. “Get the rope over your shoulder so there’s no slack. When Hisk shouts, haul on it as hard as you can.”
He guided her paws so she was holding the rope as he suggested, then hastily stepped back into his place somewhere to her right. Teagan braced herself for Hisk’s command. It came punctuated by the cracking of his whip as he mercilessly spurred the slaves into motion. “Pull, you worthless slime! Bend your backs! Pick your paws up! Pull! Pull, scum!”
Teagan pulled, her footpaws scrabbling at the loose, pebbly topsoil. She heard the grunting of the other slaves, the creaking of the ropes, Hisk’s shouts and curses, the cracking of the whip, and the odd gasp or cry of pain. The whip cracked around her ears as Hisk roared, “Are you deaf as well as blind? I said pull, you lazy worm!”
The young otter threw all her weight against the rope. Whatever the slaves were working to pull began to move as if rolling on something. She could feel the hot sun, which only days ago had been so welcomed, beating cruelly down on her back. She knew it would only worsen as it climbed higher in the sky. The scent of the other slaves’ sweat and blood assaulted the ottermaid’s sensitive nose, and the pounding waves and calling seabirds seemed to mock her. After what seemed an age Teagan heard the creak of opening gates and knew they were returning to Marshank. The hauling still continued for some time, then finally Hisk yelled, “Stop!”
Exhausted, Teagan dropped on all fours. Instantly the punishing whip landed on her back several times in brutally rapid succession. “I said stop, not drop, you wooden’eaded maggot!” Hisk shouted. “Get up!”
Teagan scrambled upright. She felt the rope slack, then Hisk was yelling again. “Get back to the quarry, slaves! On the double!”
The same young male otter took Teagan’s paw, murmuring quietly, “Stick with me, miss. I’ll help you best I can. My name’s Keyla.”
The slaves were marched at a fast trot back out of Marshank. They travelled farther this time. Guided by Keyla over and around rocks of varying sizes, Teagan heard the volume of the crashing waves increase and smelled the salt air more strongly. She realized they must be closer to the ocean. A short while later Keyla stopped. “We have to get back in line now, miss,” he said.
She felt his paw slip away, and instantly some of her previous panic had returned. She hadn’t realized that she had relaxed slightly once somebeast had taken her into their care. A moment later she head creatures moving around behind her, followed by Keyla’s voice. “Get the rope back over your shoulder and get ready to pull.”
Teagan heard Hisk cracking his whip again. She set the rope over her shoulder and pulled as hard as she could, but the three-day march, hunger, and the work she had already done had taken their toll. She pulled gamely on as the sun rose higher and higher in the sky, beating down harder and harder on the already overheated slaves below, more merciless even than Hisk’s lash. The hotter it got, the worse Teagan felt. Sweat poured down her face, carving tiny channels through her fur, and her stomach ached so badly from hunger she thought she might vomit. Every muscle in her body throbbed, especially those burning around the whipcuts on her back. She began to flag badly. Hisk noticed immediately and set on her hard with the whip. “Come on, otter, pull, you useless lump!”
The lash rose and fell again and again. Teagan gasped and forced herself to go on. Finally, when the sun reached its zenith, she collapsed. Her body was nearly numb – she could barely even feel the whiplashes as Hisk flogged her brutally. “Get up, you stinking lazy slug! Get up or I’ll flay your mangy ‘ide from your bones!”
Teagan pushed herself halfway up, but her strength was totally sapped and she fell back down again. She could smell blood, her own blood, oozing from the whipcuts, and realized that she was going to be beaten to death like the other slaves Martin had told them about. The whip cracking, Hisk’s shouts, the seabirds’ cries, the waves breaking on the rocks – everything faded into a dull roar, like the sound of a seashell against one’s ear, as Teagan slowly began to lose consciousness. She thought of her mother. Linwood would have realized long ago that her daughters were not returning. She must be devastated by now, wondering if she’d ever see them again…
As if from far away, Teagan heard a young male voice calling urgently, “Wait, sire! I’ll get her up!”
The sounds of the whip stopped, though the throbbing on her back remained. Hisk was bellowing, “Then get ‘er up an’ back to work, or I’ll flay both your ‘ides bare!”
Pawsteps approached her. A strong arm encircled her waist, and her rescuer pulled her arm around his shoulders to support her as he helped her stand. She recognized Keyla’s scent and voice as he murmured encouragingly, “Come on, miss, you can make it. By the fur, you’re burning up!”
Keyla raised his voice. “Sire, this creature is badly overheated. She needs water or she’ll die!”
Hisk’s voice was void of pity as he replied, “There’s enough of you slaves to haul this rock back to Marshank without ‘er, otter. Get that rope off ‘er neck, throw ‘er out o’ the way, an’ get back to pullin’! The gulls’ll take care of ‘er soon enough.”
Keyla did not miss a beat. “Right you are, sire. Though I’m glad I won’t have to be in your position when you have to explain to Lord Badrang how his only healer was worked to death the day after her arrival.”
Hisk was silent for a moment. When his reply came, it was short and irritable. “All right, give ‘er water. But not all of it! And be quick about it!”
There was a thump and a muted splash as Hisk hurled a small waterskin at the two young otters. Keyla knelt and carefully pulled her into his lap. Holding her head up, he held the waterskin to her lips and allowed a small amount of water to flow over her parched tongue and down her throat. The water was not cool but lukewarm. But as it entered her body Teagan felt her life and normal consciousness returning with it. Keyla gently bathed her brow and face with a damp piece of thick, homespun material. As he did so, he spoke to her in a low, soothing voice. “You’ll feel better soon, miss. Sorry I can’t give you more water, but I don’t want to make you sick. Can you get up now?”
Teagan did not think so, nor did she want to. But Hisk’s whip cracking around their ears gave her no choice. “Come on, otter, that’s enough! Stand ‘er up an’ get back in line! If this stone doesn’t get back to Marshank soon enough it’ll be double work for the lot of you tomorrow!”
Keyla helped Teagan up. Her legs shook, but they held her. She heard Keyla grunt as Hisk cut him with the whip. “She’s fine now. Get back to work, you slime!”
Teagan was amazed by the wonders the small amount of water and kind voice had worked on her. This, combined with the persuasive powers of Hisk’s whip, gave her enough strength to carry on.
It's kinda grim in the beginning chapters, but bear with me! Angst is FAR from my style!
I sure hope I did this right...please let me know if there's anything I can improve, either about the Wiki style or anything in my story! Constructive criticism is more than welcome!