“I do,” Utgar repeated.
There was complete silence. Guards and prisoners alike stared at him in shock. The guards were the first to recollect themselves.
“You—” one of them said. He started towards Utgar, hand on his whip.
But Utgar had no intention of submitting. Runa needed to see this. She needed to know that there was still hope.
The guard loosed his whip, and swung it at Utgar, a snarl on his face. Utgar dropped to the ground, and a moment later heard the whip slice through the air where he had been. However, he was now in a very bad situation. The soldiers were armed with small crossbows, and wouldn’t hesitate to use them if they thought he stood a chance against them. Utgar needed a shield.
Utgar got his legs under himself, and sprang towards the closest thing which would work: the advancing guard.
The guard had not expected Utgar to jump at him. He stood still, his whip still outstretched, his face registering nothing but surprise. And then Utgar collided with him, and they both went down.
As they struggled, Utgar could hear the other guards approaching, running across the hard stones of the Volcarren. He quickly wrapped one arm around the guard’s throat from behind, and with his free hand, yanked the guard’s sword from its scabbard. Then he stood, holding the gasping guard in front of him.
The advancing soldiers paused, wary. They might be immortal, but death still hurt. At least Utgar assumed as much, based on their hesitation.
He risked a glance at Runa. She hadn’t moved, but was watching him. Her eyes were dry now, her mouth slightly open.
And then everything changed. A soldier, unseen and unheard by Utgar or Runa, dropped from above on silent wings. Utgar heard him strike the ground behind him, but before he could turn around, powerful armored arms circled around his throat.
Utgar instantly felt his air supply cut off. He tried to stab behind him with the sword he held, but the soldier behind him had circled his free arm, and prevented him from moving his arm back. The next instant, the soldier leaned backwards, bringing Utgar with him, and they both fell to the ground. The sword clattered out of Utgar’s grasp.
He scrabbled at the soldier’s arms with his hands, trying to pry them off of his throat, but it was no use. They were like slabs of unyielding stone.
Utgar thought he heard Runa utter a cry and begin to move forwards, but his vision was failing too fast. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t think, except for a red panic welling up inside his head. He couldn’t—
Utgar came to a few moments later, his hands, feet, and wings bound. He was being dragged across stone, a soldier on either side of him, his feet bumping and scraping on the rough rocks.
A shape loomed up out of the darkness of the night, and a moment later Utgar recognized it as one of the tents the guards used to sleep in and store food. Soldiers were positioned at the front, their armor glinting in the light of a single lantern somewhere outside of Utgar’s vision. He was dragged between the two soldiers, into the tent.
The tent was bare except for a rough wooden table and a few chairs. Utgar was thrust into one of the chairs. The guards circled behind him, and Utgar felt the ropes around his wings loosen momentarily, and then tighten again, this time secured to the back of the chair. Then the guards left, leaving Utgar alone.
What was going on? Where was Runa? Utgar strained his neck, trying to see the whole tent. It was completely bare. There was nothing on the walls, nothing on the ground, just nothing. Not even a light. The unseen lantern shed a weak orange light through the thick walls of the tent, but it was only just enough to see by. Everything was in shadow.
Runa. He had to get back to Runa. He had raised her for twelve years on the hope that they could get out; he couldn’t let that hope fail now. Somehow, he had to free himself and reach her. Was she in a tent like he was? Surely they wouldn’t have put her back in the pit with the other prisoners?
Utgar’s thoughts were interrupted as a kyrie entered the tent. He wore armor, but his was polished and adorned with several ribbons (the cloth of which was badly frayed, likely courtesy of the Volcarren winds). Utgar guessed he must be a commander of some sort.
The commander pulled up a chair and sat opposite Utgar. For a space, the two kyrie sat in silence, watching each other. Then the commander sat back.
“What were you thinking?” he asked.
Utgar blinked in surprise. That was an odd question to ask, given the circumstances.
“You have a daughter,” the commander said. “You just saw how Orm deals with rebels. What were you thinking, defying my men like that?”
What was he thinking? He had been trying to repair some of the damage to his daughter. “Why do you care?” Utgar asked, warily.
“Never mind that,” the commander said. He watched Utgar for a minute, then appeared to change his mind. “I know what it’s like,” he said, “for a child to grow up without their father. I would never wish that on anyone, and I doubt you wish that for your daughter. So I ask you again, what were you thinking?”
Utgar was silent.
“You can’t escape,” the commander said. “You know that, right? Even if you got out, where would you go? Orm has forts surrounding this cursed Wasteland. Before you reached them, you would run out of food or water or both. The storms would tear the skin from your bones without shelter. You must know this.”
Utgar nodded slowly.
“Then why?” the commander asked. “Why resist? Why fight when you can never escape?”
Utgar leaned forward as best he could, tied to the chair as he was. “Because,” he said, looking the commander in the eye, “we can escape.”
Vara had escaped. Utgar knew it, for if she had died, the soldiers would have been sure to show her body as proof that escape was impossible. And yet they had never done so. They had made up stories that they had slain her in the Wasteland, but with no proof, Utgar didn’t believe them. No, Vara had escaped, proving that it was possible.
The commander got up. “I can see you won’t change,” he said, a hint of sorrow in his voice. “I had hoped you would though. I have no sympathy for your people, but I had wished your daughter would not have to finish her years without a father.” He then turned and exited the tent.
Utgar sighed. He hated admitting it, but the commander had a point. He never should have stood up to the guards. What had he expected? To defeat them all and somehow escape with Runa into the night? If he was ever going to escape, he needed to have a plan. But now, any chance he might have had was gone. The soldiers would likely execute him in the morning; that’s what they did with rebels. And the commander’s words would come true: Runa would grow up without a father.
Unless Utgar escaped before the night was out.