Getting caught wasn’t in Freya’s plans.
All she wanted was to buy some starbread, a delicious chocolate-layered pastry that had fast become her favorite in this city, and now she’d been spotted.
“Look who I found,” the Kilrhinn sneered, his dark purple eyes fixed on her. “A Lhianne.” They found out what she was. She had worked to remain inconspicuous for far too long, but it looked like her luck had finally ran out.
Behind him were the imposing faces of his comrades, and on their breastbones, an insignia of a lion, two daggers, and a deep forest-green jewel. Freya didn’t recognize which family it belonged to.
She thought she hid her tracks well. It turned out there was a second enemy she hadn’t accounted for—the one that had once sought to annihilate her people, in a battle for land and power. He raised his hand, trying to grab her.
Instinct screamed at her to move—she’d learned never to question it. She pushed herself, pumping her legs faster than she could ever remember doing. She sucked in more air to fill her lungs.
Kilrhinns were deadly. They had the strength, agility, and keen eyesight that made them exceptional warriors. Large, powerfully built statures hadn’t affected their speed at all. They were dangerous enemies to make.
If it were a test of speed alone, they had her beat, but Freya had committed the layout of the streets to memory. When you needed an escape plan, you had to. Even more so in enemy territory, where you had to be familiar in navigating it to survive.
And memorize, she did. She had done so in every spare moment for the past three months. Because knowing every little nook and cranny gave you every advantage.
She saw it clearly in her mind—turn left and it was where Klein, her new friend, sold large pots outside his house. Big pots could be good for cover. Then beyond that, further ahead, were the markets. It was a good area to get lost in the crowds and make her escape. If she could escape. Her feet caught on something on the ground, nearly tripping her—small moonstones the kids outside used to play, along with the chalk they’d drawn on the ground.
She turned left, finding Klein’s house, and slipped into the small space in between two stone houses. She would have to leave soon, and she couldn’t even say goodbye to her new friends. Her heart sank to the pit of her stomach, despair turning into a deep ache. Where would she go?
She heard a loud yell from behind her, the unmistakable voice of the Kilrhinn who had first found her.
No matter. She slipped into a small opening in the bottom of a wall where the bricks had come loose and crumbled. She had tested it before, and it was perfect for someone her size.
When she saw him run past, she waited. She poked her head out, seeing him disappear at the end of the alley. She slowly stepped out of her hiding place, patting away dust and debris. Careful to check that he hadn’t hung around, she ran in the same direction. She eyed the vibrant markets as she drew closer. Here, everything was loud. People screamed for low prices, bargain deals. She smelled the alluring fragrance of flowers and ripe fruit. Peaches, sweet nectarines—they were all lined up, filling the boxes to the brim. One time, she caught a scuffle between two shop owners over “stealing” a customer. She found it all oddly entertaining.
“Rav! Other side!” she heard a Kilrhinn yell.
She nearly tripped over a box of peaches.
Run. Don’t look back.
But she had to know how far of a lead she had. She spared a look behind her. Her eyes widened in surprise. An arm’s reach away, a dark-haired tattooed man grinned at her, the dark slash of his brows menacing.
“Caught—” His grip slipped when she ducked down, twisting away from his clutches.
She kicked his legs. He swore.
She wasn’t as strong as them, but her father made sure she wasn’t helpless, either.
She rounded the corner, nearly slipping on the wet floor. A blond-haired man came at her, a little over six-feet tall and deadly calm. She saw an empty tub of water and flung it at her blond pursuer. He stared at her in shock just as she took that opportunity to make her escape. She ran over some boxes, and red apples toppled over. Guilt crept in, but she continued to run.
A hand grabbed her clothes, pulling her back. She thought she heard something rip from behind her. Unfortunately for her, her tactic to slip away only worked once. Surprise unhanding only worked so far. The apples had slowed her down.
Freya tried to pull herself free, accidentally kicking over a barrel of red liquid. Grape juice.
A cart barreled towards the aisle adjacent to her, someone pushing it fast. A woman screamed from afar. A child stood in the middle of the aisle, a small boy of around four. Freya didn’t think. Her heart leapt in her chest, but she jerked herself from her captor’s grip. She was lucky the cart distracted him, too. She ran, pushing the boy out of the way, as she narrowly escaped getting hit. The cart zoomed past them. Beside her, the boy started crying. Freya sighed in relief. He was safe.
The next thing she knew, strong arms gripped her biceps, locking her hands behind her back. She cried out, unable to twist herself free. She struggled against his vicelike grip. God, he was strong. A quick glance showed that he was the tattooed, dark-haired man. He released a triumphant cry, his voice booming. “I caught her!”
She should’ve known she could never outrun a Kilrhinn.
And again, she wondered where she would go now. She couldn’t go back home. No, she couldn’t even call it home anymore. And with those thoughts, where did she belong?
To think all she wanted was to buy some starbread.
* * *
“Will you stop moving?” her captor growled. He was getting annoyed at her. Good. She didn’t like being tied much either. Freya stopped struggling momentarily, assessing the situation. Calm. Stay calm.
“Rav, I think you’re bleeding,” the blond guy said, clearly amused. Somehow, her captor, apparently named Rav, had a small cut that ran across his forehead. She winced. She didn’t even know how he got that. It couldn’t have been her fault.
Rav glared at him. If looks could kill, the blond Kilrhinn would’ve been dead twice over. “Yeah? You looked at yourself yet?” He stepped closer to take a sniff, and his expression scrunched up in disgust. “What the hell did she throw at you?” Now that Rav mentioned it, he did smell a little fishy—literally.
The blond guy’s smile turned into a scowl. Well, she had soaked him in a bucket of… something. She was lucky she was still alive.
He only flashed his teeth at her dangerously. “I’m looking forward to interrogation.”
Oh hell. Not interrogation. She went pale, fighting against the ropes they tied her in. It had started to chafe her wrists, but panic made her stop thinking.
“You act as if the world is ending if we’d caught you.” It was the guy who had initially found her that had spoken. With his tanned skin and watchful eyes, he crouched down to meet her panicked gaze. His large boot kicked the side of her thigh. She gasped in pain. “Do you speak, Lhianne?” he asked her. She didn’t answer in stubborn protest. “Do you have a voice? Or is all you know to run?” he continued to taunt her.
“Enough, Galen,” the blond said. He eyed her with great interest. His eyes flickered to a curious pale yellow color. He isn’t pure Kilrhinn, Freya thought. “She isn’t going anywhere. Soon enough, she’ll speak.”
* * *
From the information Freya caught from the three Kilrhinns earlier, she knew she was going to be taken captive to travel with them. They spoke to her in Universal, but amongst themselves, they spoke in Kilrhinn. She could both speak and understand their language—but they didn’t need to know that.
Her father taught her to speak in Kilrhinn. She was taught their language. Their customs.
“Why do I need to know this?” she remembered asking him.
“There may come a time you need to understand our kind. Perhaps you’d live among other Kilrhinns.”
He had been teasing at the time, but for the past few months, she’d lived among them in secret.
She understood now. The more she knew, the more equipped she became at dealing with the Kilrhinns. At learning about herself. And she was grateful for the knowledge.
She wasn’t sure what she could say to them that wouldn’t dig her a deeper hole. She had gotten the job here in Maranthe because of sheer luck. Mr. Jenkins and his wife at the tailor shop were kind enough to take her in when she needed a job, and they didn’t ask questions. She didn’t know what fate awaited her. She only knew that it wouldn’t be a good one.
Her train of thought drew to a halt—the horses had finally stopped.
* * *
“Kane? What happened to you? You’re soaked.” A slim woman addressed the blond Kilrhinn. Freya studied him. His hair was tousled, with high cheekbones, and eyes that were far too sharp and observant. Right now his lips were upturned in displeasure. The woman’s confusion would have made Freya laugh, if Freya wasn’t tied up. The woman’s hair was braided all the way down her back, and she observed Freya curiously. She made no secret of it, either. Then she sniffed, looked at the blond apparently named Kane, and wrinkled her nose. “You stink.”
“Shut up,” he muttered. He walked past, dragging Freya, who followed along reluctantly. He pointed to a large tan-colored tent. “You’ll stay here.”
He pushed her a little roughly inside the flap of the tent. He left her then, but she was too busy gawking at what she saw inside. A makeshift table with some small glass bottles. Stacks of paper. Boxes. Lots of boxes. She wondered what were inside those. But then her eyes were drawn to the log, sitting near the center. She made her way there clumsily.
Someone cleared his throat from behind her. Freya froze. She thought she was alone. Of course she wouldn’t go unsupervised. She was dragged to sit at the log, and she almost wept at how the ropes chafed her wrists even more.
And not for the first time, she wondered if her day could get any worse.
* * *
“You were working on Vhenn Bradis land. Did you know that, Lhianne?” The man who had dragged her to the log wore a stern look as he questioned her. Forehead wrinkled in disapproval, he had beady eyes and dark spiked hair. She thought he wore that style to make him look taller and seem more intimidating. He didn’t seem as tall as the three who had caught her.
The name rang a bell, and it had to be one of the seven Kilrhinn Families, judging from the way they were dressed. Boots made of fine leather, armor that glinted in the sun.
She met his gaze evenly, defiant. It had been Lhianne this, Lhianne that. It was growing tiresome. “I have a name.”
“And what is your name, Lhianne?”
“You don’t have permit to work here,” he continued gruffly.
“No,” she admitted.
His eyes narrowed, suspicious. “And what would you be doing here, without a permit? Aren’t you aware Lhiannes need one?”
“I was making some clothes.” She didn’t need a permit, because she wasn’t using magic. In any other case, it wouldn’t be much of an issue—but this land was apparently considered the Vhenn Bradis Family’s. Maybe they were stricter.
He blinked. “I—I beg your pardon?” he sputtered.
Someone pulled the tent’s flap open. Her three pursuers walked in. Her captor, Rav, glared at her. Kane looked curious, but he remained quiet. Galen was a mask of calm. It was terrifying to see their tall, imposing figures, entering one after the other, as if they were about to inflict some sort of grim judgement. Was she going to die?
“We’ll take over from here, Ignas.” Galen dismissed her interrogator with a flick of his hand.
Ignas opened his mouth as if to argue further, but seeing the look on Galen’s face, he left swiftly without another word.
Galen nodded at her. “So you finally speak.”
“Is he okay?” Freya asked, remembering the boy who had nearly been hit by the cart.
Galen raised a brow. “Who?”
“The boy. From the markets.”
He frowned. “He’s fine.”
Okay. He wasn’t going to reveal anything more. She met their gazes evenly. “I wasn’t using magic. I was making clothes for people.”
“You expect us to believe you were making clothes for people,” Kane said.
She didn’t know how to make them understand, and her frustration grew. She couldn’t knit. She learned to. She couldn’t do embroideries. She learned that, too.
“Yes,” she simply said. Would they believe her?
Rav shook his head, at a loss for words. “A Lhianne, working at the tailor’s,” he spat. “Ridiculous.”
Galen went silent, crossing his arms and watching her like a hawk.
Why? Why was it ridiculous not to use any magic? And if she had, why had they always expected the worst? Her nails bit into her palm. The sins of other Lhiannes were not her own.
“You’ll tell us what you’re doing here,” he demanded.
She shook her head. “Would it matter?” Her voice turned hoarse. They didn’t seem to want to believe her. They would simply cast her out anyway, and she didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of begging. Kilrhinns were known to be ruthless.
Rav pulled her hair in his hand and she gasped in pain. “You’re right. It wouldn’t.” He narrowed his eyes. “Who are you working for?”
“No one,” she snapped. He tugged a bit harder, gauging her honesty. When she didn’t relent, he abruptly released her. He started to pace. She could tell he wasn’t satisfied with her answer.
“You caused a ruckus at the marketplace,” Galen stated.
Freya hung her head low, embarrassed. Those were people’s livelihoods. Her survival instinct had kicked in and she had been so focused on running free. Now she had to face the consequences.
He smiled grimly. “The cost for repair… Two thousand silvers.”
Her face lost all blood. Two thousand? There was no way she could pay them that much.
“But you don’t have the money to pay for that, do you?” Rav said. “Should have thought of that before you ran from us.” What she thought he meant was—you should have thought of that before you kicked my legs.
“What will you do to me?” she breathed out, almost afraid to ask. Fear made her tremble, but she was determined not to let it rule her.
“I’m glad you asked,” Kane said, his smile growing wider. His purple eyes frosted over like ice, glinting from the light. “You’ll stay with us, until you give us some real answers.” His words, softly and casually delivered, sounded ominous, sealing her fate. And that was how Freya, daughter of Kilrhinn and Lhianne, became their prisoner.