Squirrel watched the candle gutter out. It was now approximately four hours after midnight. In two hours, the maids would come and find the evidence of her escape, but for now, her surroundings were utterly quiet. Squirrel slid out of bed and began putting on her exercise clothes, keeping her hearing trained on the door. there was a man stationed on the other side, but he’d been taking naps from two in the morning until woken by the sound of Squirrel’s attendant.
Dressed, Squirrel crept across the wood floor, carefully spreading her weight as she advanced toward the door. The door had been locked to prevent escape, but her room had never been meant to be a prison. Squirrel knelt beside the door and inserted the polished brass hair pin into the hole she’d drilled into the wooden door.
Squirrel’s heart hammered louder than the quiet scrapes of the hairpin retracting the bolt as she strained her ears for any sound of her guard moving. Finally, the lock clicked open, and Squirrel swallowed a sigh of relief. Peeking through the cracked open door, Squirrel spotted the guard sitting in a chair across from the door, his arms tucked under each other, his head tilted down, asleep where he sat.
First order of business was the horses. Squirrel opened the door and slipped through, closing it behind her silently. Squirrel passed through the hall like an errant wind, the only sign of her passing was a flicker in a nearby torch. Squirrel made her way to the stable, following her nose and her incomplete knowledge of the castle’s layout.
The smell of horse dung filled her nose as she crept into the stable. Squirrel didn’t believe the horses deserved this, but she had to get out. Squirrel pulled the box of tanzier powder from her sack of supplies, dropping a handful of the vermin poison into each of the horse’s feed bags. Horses outweighed a human by roughly ten times, so she doubted it was enough to kill them, just make them unable to run for a few days. And if it did kill them, so be it. Squirrel squared her jaw as she stirred the horse feed into the powder before leaving the stable.
It was almost five after midnight, in another hour the sun would begin to peak over the horizon. Squirrel stole a glance at the sky, still twinkling with stars. To the east, the light of the sun was beginning to warm the black of night. in another hour, the castle would begin to bustle with life.
Next stop was the kitchen. If Squirrel could steal a couple loaves of bread, and a wineskin of water, she’d have enough to get to the nearest town. The perfumes snagged from the bath and wrapped in her sack would get her out of the kingdom.
Squirrel entered the kitchen, and scoured it for edibles, because the maid in charge was particularly overbearing, and there was no food simply lying out. In the oven, Squirrel found a loaf of bread kept warm through the night. Under the counter was a small barrel of salted pork set aside for today’s breakfast.
Squirrel drained the pork and wrapped the bread and meat together, snagging a wineskin on the way out. It wasn’t water, but she didn’t have the time to go draw her own. With the bag slung over her shoulder starting to grow heavy, Squirrel stepped into the pre-dawn light, intending to slip through the bars of the front gate.
“That’s far enough, kid.” Firelle Reinbahm’s cold voice rang through the empty courtyard. Squirrel turned to find him standing in the dirt, flanked by half a dozen men and Jon. Squirrel’s eyes narrowed. She could probably take all of them, the portly lord of the castle included, but Jon was going to be a problem.
“You disappoint me,” Firelle said gravely. “I had hoped you were as good as your word, but I suppose you’ve been stained by a lifetime spent with scum.”
Squirrel scanned the situation, taking in every piece of information, just as Jon had taught her. “Tall words from a man who kidnaps women and threatens to rape them,” she said, eyeing the exits. There were two doors leading deeper into the castle, and one leading to the gateroom. If she made it there, she might be able to jump out the window, bypassing the gate entirely.
“You’ll find I’m true to my word,” Firelle said, glancing to his side and nodding to Jon. Jon shrugged his shoulders and stepped forward.
“Sorry about this,” he said, lightly approaching her. Squirrel scoffed, reaching for the box of Tanzier powder in her pocket as she began to sprint towards him.
Squirrel flung the box at him as she approached, and Jon dodged the box, squinting his eyes against the white cloud trailing it. Squirrel took the opportunity to jump over him, tumbling to the ground in front of Firelle and his men.
Squirrel leapt to her feet, bouncing away from the onlookers like a child’s ball. As she did, a familiar ring of steel sounded through the air as one of the guardsmen’s swords seemed to fly from his sheath, following the lithe form through the air as she swooped down on Jon.
Blinking the stinging powder from his eyes, Jon heard the sword and the crunch of dirt underfoot behind him, and he swept low with his legs, sliding blindly toward the sound. Jon’s knee caught Squirrel’s leg as she swung the sword through the tanzier filled air where he used to be.
Squirrel flipped forward as the impact hit her leg, and a lifetime of similar stunts saved her from breaking a leg or impaling herself as she hit the ground sword first, sliding to a halt in the dirt of the courtyard.
Jon came to his feet, coughing. “Sword,” he said, his eyes watering as Squirrel scrambled to her feet. Firelle was the first to act. Pulling a sword from the sheath of one of his slack jawed men-at-arms, he delivered it to Jon, handle first.
“We’re going to have a serious discussion about indulging your advice,” Firelle growled into Jon’s ear as he handed him the blade. A small smile floated onto the surface of Jon’s usual expressionless mask.
Jon turned to face Squirrel, who was slowly backing away. “That’s Tanzier powder, you know?” she said, watching Jon closely. “Are you sure you shouldn’t get some antidote?”
“Not enough to kill me,” Jon said. “Just give me the shits and a fever.” He said, approaching.
“Ah,” Squirrel said with a fearless grin. “But can you still beat me?”
Jon squinted at Squirrel, his vision blurry, and the lightheadedness of the fever already beginning. In half an hour, he would probably be shitting his guts out, but for now, he was confident he could capture the untested youth.
“Yep,” Jon said, approaching.
“Well then,” Squirrell said, before flinging the sword at Jon with all her might, and sprinting away toward the gatehouse. There should be a window on the second story she could climb down from. The last thing she saw was the blade of her sword being flicked out of the air, its tip scoring a cut along Jon’s shoulder.
Jon might be able to outfight her while he was poisoned, but outrunning her was an entirely different matter. Squirrel ducked her head as she ran to the open door of the gatehouse. The room appeared to be unlit inside, so she’d only have an instant to locate the stairs before she slammed the door shut, plunging the room into darkness.
The doorway loomed in front of her, and she could hear the steps of Jon and all of Firelle’s lackeys close behind her. Squirrel jumped through the air, aiming for the open door, intending to land in the gatehouse and make her way to the second floor immediately.
At the doorway, something slammed into Squirrel across her entire body, driving all the breath from her lungs, and stinging her eyes from the pain. Squirrel reeled back, landing in the dirt of the courtyard, unable to breathe as she felt a trickle of blood run down over her upper lip.
Squirrel raised her head, unable to hear beyond a muffled ringing. She weakly inspected her throbbing hand as the Baron’s men came to stand around her. small splinters covered her leading hand, as though she had been beating on a length of rough wood.
No, Squirrel thought as her eyes barely focused on the doorway, which no longer stood open. The door was rough, thick wood, and it was most definitely closed.
“Really, you boys,” Marie Reinbahm said as she came to stand beside the men gawking at the girl who’d inexplicably jumped into a closed door. “You always do everything the hard way, fighting for every little thing. You really should have just left getting her to come around to me.”
Firelle patted his wife on the head as the greying woman pouted. “Next time we kidnap a princess, we’ll leave it to you,” he said. “She just didn’t seem… your type.”
Squirrel’s vision swam and her head lolled on her neck as rough hands hauled her to her feet. “Follow me,” Firelle snarled, leading the men who dragged her away. Behind them, she saw Jon staring after her, his face grim as Marie fretted about him, wiping sweat away from his flushed brow.
Squirrel’s feet dragged along the stone floor as Firelle marched ahead of them, catching on every crack in the stone. “I’ve tried to be accommodating,” Firelle said, the back of his neck red with fury. “But you’re worse than a wild animal.” Firelle glanced over his shoulder at Squirrel.
“But that ends here,” Firelle said, leading them down the hallway toward her room. “My father raised dogs, the bastard. And when his prized hounds began to reach adulthood, they would push him, stop heeding his words. Do you know what he did? He’d put on some leathers and wrestle those dogs to the ground until they whined for mercy, and he never had any trouble again.”
Firelle’s left hand tightened into a fist as he opened the door, waiting for the soldiers to drag her into the room before following. “He made me do it too,” he said, coming to stand in front of Squirrel. “I never thought that experience would help me with being a lord, but here we are, with me standing in front of a bitch who doesn’t know who her owner is.”
Squirrel spat a mouthful of bloody spit at him, but the glob landed just short of the baron’s feet.
“Get Gerald,” Firelle said to a soldier standing idly nearby. The man rushed away as Firelle’s gaze returned to Squirrel. Firelle stood there, silently appraising her as she glared at him. The sound of running feet scraping across the stone floor sounded outside the door, and the thin young man entered.
“You called for me, Father?” Gerald said, his shirt awkwardly tucked into his pants as a result of the rush from his bedroom.
“Your fiancee here tried to escape again,” Firelle said without preamble, his gaze still fixed on Squirrel, whose fog was staring to clear as a throbbing headache began drumming at her temples. “She needs to be taught a lesson. Obedience. What was it you were saying the other night about what you would have done if you had another chance?”
“Show her her place,” Gerald said with a sneer.
“Right, we both know you couldn’t handle her on your own,” Firelle said, stretching his shoulders. “So I brought some helping hands.” A chuckle swept through the assembled guards, but Firelle silenced them with a look.
Gerald looked displeased, but Firelle continued. “Pay her back everything you wanted to then,” he said, finally glancing at his son. “Make her understand she’s yours.”
“Just don’t touch that,” Firelle said, taking a step forward and pointing at Squirrel’s face. “Or that.” he shifted his finger down to her womb. Squirrel thrashed and tried to kick the older man, but the guards dragged her backward.
“Alright then,” Gerald said, a cruel smile blooming on his face as he stepped forward, taking Firelle’s place. “Put her on the bed.” Squirrel struggled as the four men holding her lifted her and slammed her down roughly on the soft covers. Like a small animal caught in the hands of a hunter, her struggling did little but jostle the men’s arms.
Gerald leered down at her, then glanced over his shoulder. “Are you going to stay there?” he asked his father.
“I have three sons,” Firelle said, folding his hands in front of him. “And only one key to the kingdom. I’m going to stay here and protect my investment.”
“Any rules?” Gerald asked.
“Why are you asking me?” Firelle demanded. “I already told you what you need to know, life doesn’t have rules, you prick.”
Gerald looked back down at Squirrel, and his face twisted into a malicious smile. “Turn her over.”
“I’ll cut your fucking nuts off you-“ Squirells word were interrupted as rough hands jammed a pillowcase into her mouth, nearly gagging her on the dry fabric sliding against her tongue. Squirrel was lifted and flipped over, pinned to the matress, her face nearly buried in the sheets.
She felt a tugging at her hips, and the practice leathers she wore popped at the seams and peeled away, exposing her backside to the room. Gerald let out a whoop of delight as Squirrel screamed into the bed, trying to kick her legs against the hands holding her ankles.
A knock came at the door, and a harried guardsman rushed in, zeroing in on Firelle. Gerald and the men holding Squirrel froze, watching the exchange with the man, who leaned to whisper into the Baron’s ear.
“What!” Firelle shouted, glaring at the cringing guardsman. He tromped to the door, and paused for a moment with his hand on the door. “You two, come with me.” He pointed out the two holding Squirrel’s ankles.
“Keep this as quiet as you can,” Firelle said, eyeing Gerald, who straddled Squirrel’s legs. “And practice moderation, boy, you’re going to have to live with her for a long time.” Firelle stormed out, the messenger and the two soldiers following him.
“I’ll show him moderation,” Gerald muttered, and Squirrel head the sound of Gerald unbuckling his pants. Squirrel felt a weight atop her, and Gerald’s voice filled her ear, sending shivers down her spine. “Let’s see how he likes having some princeling heirs.”
Heart pounding, Squirrel kicked upward with everything she could muster, unbalancing Gerald from atop her. “Oops,” he said with a chuckle. “It’ll take more than that-“
Squirrel felt her entire back cramp up as she hauled on her right arm, pulling the guardsman’s hand close enough to nip at his fingers. She barely got her teeth around one when the man pulled his hand away with a yip.
“What do you think you’re doing precious,” Gerald said with a laugh, kneading his hands into her buttocks. Squirrel tucked her right hand under her chest, and Gerald leaned forward, reaching for her arm.
Feeling his weight shift again, Squirrel screamed into the sheets and swung her arm behind her, hyperextending her shoulder backwards as the silver table knife hidden in her blouse flashed through the air.
She felt a shock in her arm, and the knife was pulled from her hand. For a desperate instant, Squirrel thought Gerald had caught her hand and disarmed her, but the guards jumped away from the bed, shouting in tongues.
Squirrel turned over to see Gerald scrambling away from her, his back pressing against the wall as he mindlessly tried to put distance between himself and the dull silver knife lodged in his throat.