They removed the restraints on her hands and feet soon enough that first day, with only a word of warning, telling Ruby not to even think of escape. She considered it, but it wasn’t likely she’d be able to get away from four men watching her constantly. They never let her leave their sight, regardless of how embarrassing it made certain actions. At night they’d stop somewhere far off the road, eat, and sleep. One man always stayed awake through the entire night, sleeping only when the other three were awake the next morning.
Ruby watched and watched, but couldn’t see any opportunities for escape. A day passed, her mind full of anxiety and fear. Once the second day rolled around she had relaxed a bit, as it seemed they weren’t yet going to harm her. She considered seeing if she could find some time to run off, but she realized it wasn’t an immediate option. There was always someone with their eye on her, no matter what. If three of them were looking elsewhere, the fourth was looking at her. If he looked away, another one of them was looking at her. She was always being watched, except for when she was asleep and the last man was tending the fire.
Ruby woke the third day with the morning sun shining brightly in her face. When they set off that morning, she noticed that the sun was behind them, as it had been the two days beforehand. She was surprised, and wondered what it meant, that they were heading west, the same direction she wanted to go in. Though she realized it was a good thing they seemed to be heading back to Rising, without knowing their intentions it was impossible for her to accept the journey back to Rising as a good thing. For all she could tell, she may be heading back as a hostage. Or worse, so she hoped that she was only a hostage for some reason or another. She made sure to never mention her name, and fortunately she had thrown her signet identifying her away, but she had a feeling that the men were escorts, rather than captors.
That feeling was broken every time they saw another traveller or came too close to a city or village. Those times they forcefully tied her up and gagged her again, sometimes even covering her with heavy cloaks while she lay helpless on the wagon bed. She struggled a few times, but it was soon obvious that she couldn’t fight back. And once she stopped fighting back, she noticed that they removed the restraints quick enough, except for the times they were still close to a city. Her captors did not risk her escape, but her escorts didn’t keep her restrained if there weren’t any nearby risks.
She also noticed the progress wasn’t all that fast. With five passengers and limited space for provisions they stopped often. Their pacing was also very leisurely, and the horses were rested often and didn’t change. They were rather good horses, four of them, so Ruby assumed they were also the personal horses of these men and thus wouldn’t be traded. It was slower than Derlik’s pace, and likely slower than her and Va’il’s prior pace.
Ruby constantly wondered what happened to Va’il. She knew from the first day that he hadn’t been harmed by her captors, but she couldn’t understand what happened to him, and who had taken him. From the initial conversation that first day she figured Va’il’s escape and apparent kidnapping as well wasn’t part of this group’s plan, but she didn’t know whether that was good or bad. She worried for his safety, but her worry was overwhelmed with questions about why she was separated from him. She had far too much free and boring time, so she imagined all sorts of different things happening to him. Some made her smile while she sat bored in the wagon, some made her cry during the times she was bound and gagged. But there was something in the back of her smart mind that reassured her, that told her he was all right. True or not, that was all she believed.
At least a week had passed since that night, by Ruby’s count. After that, Ruby stopped counting how many additional days passed. It wasn’t the kidnapping she expected. It had been a while since that first day, the last time the men had spoken about something other than food or other factual item. It was boring with no conversation and nothing to do. Even when she travelled with Va’il they didn’t talk much, but that was only because the days were already full and exhausting between the skating, hunting, and camping.
Soon it was more than a week since anyone, including Ruby, had bathed. At this point she felt awful in her clothes most of the time. And the smell on each of the men around her was awful. She had to laugh in a delusional way at one point, as one of her fantasies now had Va’il finding her from hundreds of miles away based on the overpowering odor she couldn’t hide. And then she’d get depressed, knowing she was now too far away from Va’il, that he hadn’t shown up soon enough to show that he’d been tracking her. And his reminder about how far he could smell her was a painful reminder, though it had its own twisted benefit, considering her situation.
But she wanted Va’il to come, she wished for it every day. One day, it was all she did. Then she’d plot ways to get away from the men. And then, one day, the men talked. They really talked in more than just simple words for the first time since that first day.
It was night, they had stopped after another slow day. It was still early enough in the night that all of them were still up, sitting around the fire. The three of them who were going to sleep were drinking solemnly, watching the flickering fire. One of them then remarked on a sound they all heard at that moment. A distant, far-off sound.
“I swear it’s following us,” the man said. The others all seemed a bit surprised at the sudden outburst. By this point Ruby had stopped paying attention to the men, she didn’t bother telling the difference between each of them, or who carried on the conversation, or which of them corresponded to their first-day impressions. The man who had been injured had also healed enough that he no longer had bandages or a sling, and Ruby didn’t care to tell them apart anyways, at this point. That was true of three of them, the fourth she noted for a certain reason. But this was the first time they’d spoken seriously, so she listened quietly, and a glimmer in her eyes and a curl at her lips formed as she did.