She came to when a bucket of icy water was poured over her.
She sputtered and opened her eyes, gasping. “What—?” She tried to move, to grab her sword, to sit up, anything really, but realized her hands and feet were still tied. Everything came back to her in a rush: the prince, the attack, Greyson.
She blinked rapidly, letting her eyes adjust to the waning sunlight. It appeared to be evening; she was lying awkwardly on the deck of the Hodarian ship, a dozen of the Hodarian warriors gathered around her. One said something in his language to another, and the second man prodded her with a broomstick.
“Can I help you?” she snarled. Her words came out in a puff of white in the winter air.
He prodded her again.
“I don’t speak Hodarian,” she said through gritted teeth.
The circle of men parted, and another handful of Hodarians came toward her, pulling a man behind them: Greyson. His feet hadn’t been tied, though his hands were tightly bound before him. Was this part of the charade? Or was he really a prisoner? They shoved him down next to her and grunted something at him.
He leaned toward her. “They want to know your name.” Up close, she could see a number of bruises and cuts on his face and arms.
She glared at him but didn’t respond. The man with the broom prodded her again.
Greyson turned and said something to the man. Ayalah wished she could understand what he was saying. She shivered.
One of the men raised his arm and slammed it into Greyson’s cheek. If this was an act, Ayalah thought, they were putting on an impressive show. Greyson allowed himself a moment to recover before righting himself and repeating whatever he’d said.
A couple of men reluctantly left and returned with a small jug, which they handed to Greyson. “It’s just water,” he told her. He could only tip it toward her awkwardly while his hands were bound, but he dribbled some onto her lips nonetheless. “They won’t touch you.”
She swallowed. “What?” Her mouth felt clammy and tasted like sewage. She was a bit disappointed to find that the water wasn’t poisoned: death would have been a pleasant alternative to the humiliation of being held captive. Why hadn’t they just killed her like they’d killed everyone else?
The men still hovering around them began to shout angrily. Greyson held up a hand and turned back to her.
“They want a name. I already told them mine.”
What was Greyson playing at? He knew her name and could have given it to the men at any time. Her mind raced. He must be holding back for a reason. “Crissa. Crissa Montesteed. Personal bodyguard for Prince Roran.” The name had to be a believable Naralian name; it wasn’t terribly original, but she could feel their eyes on her, and she’d never been a creative person.
Greyson looked up at the men and repeated what she’d said.
The men began to mutter amongst themselves. One of them, a giant whose shoulders were twice as wide as the other men’s and whose arms were each easily the width of her torso, looked skeptical. He eyed Ayalah up and down, scratching his cheek. He and Greyson exchanged a few words, and Ayalah held her breath. The man spoke slowly in a deep, ponderous voice, one that might have been soothing had Ayalah not been afraid of him discovering her true identity.
She could feel the cold seeping into her skin, down to her bones. The men all wore their complicated red garments that looked to be made of a heavy, insulating fabric, and even Greyson still wore his coat. She’d been taken prisoner in nothing but her Naralian uniform, which was now drenched in ice water. She could feel her teeth chattering in an embarrassing admission of weakness.
The giant and Greyson argued while the other men looked on, some with smirks and others with confusion clearly outlined on their faces. One or two of them chimed in, but the rest remained silent. Finally, the big man shrugged. He barked at the men around him, and they began to disperse around the ship.
“They’re going to keep you below and sell you as a slave.” His brows came together, but he maintained eye contact, as always. “It was the best I could do.”
She didn’t respond as the men carried her below.
They were wise to carry her and leave her feet tied; she recognized this, but still it irritated her to have to be carried around when her legs would have worked just fine. The men were rough with her, gripping her arms harder than necessary. They deposited her in the dank hold once more, threw some stale bread at her, and shut the door, sealing her in darkness.
The bread was hard as a rock, but she found that she was ravenous. She attacked it with zeal, thankful she was alone in the hold with no one to watch her eat off the floor. The effort of chewing it served to warm her slightly, but a constant tremor had crept into her bones, making her long for the heat from a fire, the embrace of a blanket.
She wasn’t sure what to think about Greyson. Clearly he’d lied to her, kept secrets from her, and purposely misled her. But he also appeared to be looking out for her; at least, he’d lied to these Hodarian warriors for her. Yet there was no shame in being a master swordsman, so why would he have hidden it from her?
At least, for now, she could content herself with the knowledge that they were both headed to the same place. When she escaped, she intended to ask quite a lot of questions of the so-called smithy.