It was a nightmare. It was a nightmare. It had to be. I was a count’s daughter. Bad things didn’t happen to the daughters of counts. Slowly peeling my eyes open, I saw the irritating glow of firelight in my peripheral. I tried to move only to feel a tight pressure around my wrists and a soreness in my shoulders. My hands were bound behind my back like I was some kind of roped animal. I wriggled, testing the strength of my binds. They were tight. Tight enough to make my fingers cold during a very warm night.
I was laying on the ground, rolled onto my side. I wasn’t on a blanket or in a tent or house. I was on the dirt in front of a sloppy pile of burning branches. Letting my eyes adjust, I could see a few men across the fire chewing on dry meat. I didn’t want to imagine what they’d do if they knew I was awake. Gods, I wasn’t even sure what they might have already done. I tried to move my legs, checking for any soreness, but from what I could tell, I was yet untouched. My skirts were covering me and my body, though a little stiff, didn’t feel any different. It was supposed to feel different after that, wasn’t it?
“They didn’t touch your pretty body,” a voice said quietly.
My eyes shot wide. I slowly craned my head to see him sitting behind me, his body propped against the post of an old building that likely used to stand where we were camped. His arms were tied back around the post, his brow bloodied as well as his lip, and he’d been stripped of his weapons. Looking around as subtly as I could, I noticed his friend and Sage weren’t there and neither was Calmont. Holy heavens, I was alone with a bunch of bandits and a damn elf.
I wanted Chael. I wanted my fiancé…
I bit back a couple tears and again tried to slip my hands from my rope binds. It was night and the men sounded a little drunk. From what I’d heard, drunk men weren’t very coherent. Maybe they wouldn’t see me writhing and maybe, if we were lucky, they’d just pass out soon. Gods, I was going to pass out soon. Again. The corset was cutting into my ribs at that point and there was no telling when it would force me asleep again with all the excitement.
“This is your fault,” Taegen said in a near whisper.
I rolled onto my back, glaring daggers at the elf. “My fault?” I whispered sharply. “You robbed me. You got us into this.”
“If you’d just let me go, we’d all have been on our way.”
“No, you would have gotten away and I would have been robbed twice. You’re soot on the bottom of a fancy shoe.”
What the hell kind of insult was that?
“Soot? No one’s ever called me soot before. Say it again,” he smirked. “It makes your lips pucker. It’s cute. Like a kitten trying to growl.”
“I’m going to—”
“She’s up!” one of the men shouted, his words slurring together.
I gasped, wriggling away like a seal. Everything felt awkward. With my dress tangled around my legs and my hands behind my back, I was definitely at a disadvantage. Of course, in pants and holding a sword, I would have still been at a disadvantage against brutes like these guys.
Four men got up from the ground to move toward me, staring hungrily. I was not about to let this happen. I was going to have a beautiful wedding with flowers and wine and my body was going to be Chael’s in a bed with a canopy and vines.
“You’re doing great,” Taegen said flatly. “Keep scooting. You’ll outrun them for sure.”
“Do something!” I screamed when the first man’s hands touched my arm. They were rough and dirty and calloused.
“What do you want me to do?” Taegen said. “I’m tied up.”
I felt hot tears rushing to my eyes and saw my virginity and dignity about to get ripped to shreds by a group of smelly thugs.
Why was I asking the elf? He was a savage and would probably enjoy a little rape and barbarism.
“Ugh,” he groaned. “Fine.”
Taegen suddenly pulled his hands out from behind the post and stood with an annoyed grumble. The men stumbled to a surprised halt, looking at the elf with slow blinks and dazed stares. Taegen massaged his wrists a little before reaching for the closest bandit and grabbing the front of his vest. With a swift tug, he pulled the man in, slamming his head against his nose. The bandit slumped to the ground, face gushing blood. The others tripped about trying to find their weapons and as each one attacked, Taegen found a way to take their weapons and use them against them. In a matter of seconds, every bandit was dead or groaning in pain on the ground.
I was frozen, unsure how to feel about everything that had just happened. My captors were dead, but the elf was still there and now we were alone. He tossed his stolen blades on the ground and picked up his, which were leaning against a large stone near the fire. As soon as he buckled his items around his waist, including the pouch of valuables from my trunk, I stiffened. He turned back toward me, pulling his dagger from its sheath, and moved in my direction.
“No, please!” I said, breathing in clipped, shallow breaths.
Taegen stopped, eyes narrowed down at me. Then, relaxing, he crouched down, picked up
one of the bandit’s daggers, and slammed it into the dirt, blade down, right in front of me.
“Cut yourself out, then,” he hissed.
He stood back up and started to walk away when I realized how stupid I was being. I couldn’t cut myself out. I could barely even cut vegetables for a stew let alone maneuver myself toward a dagger to cut binds I couldn’t even see.
“Wait,” I said, finally rocking upward to sit up. “Cut me loose.”
“Is that an order, princess?” Taegen said, finding his giant stallion among the bandits’ mounts that were tethered around camp.
“No,” I said. “But if you don’t cut me free, I’ll die out here.”
“Stop being dramatic. I can see your inner wall from here. Walk to it. Find one of your perfectly nice humans for help.” He turned to me, one hand on the horn of the horse saddle, and raised a brow. “One nicer than these humans, of course.”