“We should eat them now, before they die and go bad,” a gruff voice said.
Richard was only distantly aware of the low buzz of voices. Still only half conscious, he wasn’t able to figure out who was talking, much less make sense of what they were talking about, but he was aware enough to be disturbed by their predatory tone.
“I think we should trade them,” a second man said as he tightened the knot in the rope he had looped around Richard’s ankles.
“Trade them?” the first asked in a heated voice. “Look at the bloody blankets they were wrapped in and the blood all over the floor of the wagon. They’d likely die before we could ever trade them, and then they’d go to waste. Besides, how could we carry them both? The horses for their soldiers and the wagon are all gone, along with anything else of value.”
The second man let out an unhappy sigh. “Then we should eat the big one before anyone else shows up. We could carry the smaller one easier and then trade her.”
“Or save her and eat her later.”
“We’d be better off trading her. When else would we ever get a chance like this to get as much as she would fetch?”
As the two men argued, Richard tried to reach out to the side to touch Kahlan lying close up against him, but he couldn’t. He realized that his wrists were bound tightly together with a coarse rope. He instead pushed at her with his elbow. She didn’t respond.
Richard knew that he needed to do something, but he also knew that he would first need to summon not just his senses, but his strength, or he would have no chance. He felt worse than weak. He felt feverish with an inner sickness that had not only drained his strength but left his mind in a numb fog.
He lifted his head a little and squinted in the dim light, trying to see, trying to get his bearings, but he couldn’t really make out much of anything. When his head pushed up against something, he realized that he and Kahlan were covered with a stiff tarp. Out under the bottom edge he could see a pair of vague, dark silhouettes at the end of the wagon beyond his feet. One man stepped closer and lifted the bottom of the tarp while the other looped a rope around Kahlan’s ankles and tied it tight, the way they had done with Richard.
Through that opening Richard could see that it was night. The full moon was up, but its light had a muted quality to it that told him the sky was overcast. A slow drizzle drifted through the still air. Beyond the two figures a murky wall of spruce trees rose up out of sight.
Kahlan didn’t move when Richard pushed his elbow a little more forcefully against her ribs. Her hands, like his, lay nested at her belt line. His worry about what might be wrong with her had him struggling to gather his senses. He could see that she was at least breathing, although each slow breath was shallow.
As he gradually regained consciousness, Richard realized that besides feeling weak with fever of some sort, he hurt all over from hundreds of small wounds. Some of them still oozed blood. He could see that Kahlan was covered with the same kinds of cuts and puncture wounds. Her clothes were soaked in blood.
But it was not only the blood on the two of them that worried him. Damp air rolling in under the tarp carried an even heavier smell of blood from out beyon
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