Seven

Something was bothering Shayde that night. He had the strangest feeling that he was supposed to be remembering something, but the harder he tried to think of what it was, the further it slipped from his mind. It was already well past dead-night and still Shayde couldn't seem to rid himself of the irritating feeling of forgetfulness. He tossed and turned on his springy mattress, trying to recall all the methods his mother had taught him to help him sleep.

His mother...Shayde was struck with a sudden wave of homesickness. Being in this strange new world really drove home the fact that he was never going to see her again. He wondered if she was doing alright by herself, all alone in the Blue Valley among the other, hostile Dregh. Thoughts of his mother eventually brought up memories of his linking ceremony, of the shame and bewilderment he felt as he stood on that stump, waiting for something that would never come. It was then that he recalled his mother's words to him as he prepared to head down the Southern Pass. 'If you ever get into trouble, show it to the syndicate that rests under the full moon. They will help you.'

She couldn't possibly have meant the syndicate that Zaorin belonged to. Tash had said they were all no-good criminals. Shayde shook his head fiercely. Certainly not. There was no way his mother would tell him to seek help from a group of morally bankrupt thugs. He tossed again and turned over onto his side, facing the interior of the room. He could see Tash in the bed across from him, stirring slightly under her blankets. At least she's getting some sleep, He grumbled to himself.

Staring at her sleeping form made him tired, and soon his eyelids were growing heavy. Shayde was glad to be finally drifting off to sleep, but the more he stared at Tash, the more odd her movements seemed. She let out a small noise and turned over so quickly the sheets bunched around her legs, and her shift had crawled up as far as her knees. Shayde tried not to look and squeezed his eyes shut, listening as she tossed again and then moaned. This time Shayde was able to make out quiet words she muttered under her breath. "No...mama...mama help me..."

Was she having a nightmare? Shayde slowly sat up in his bed trying to get a better look at her anguished face. Her eyes were scrunched up in terror and she chewed on her lips as her limbs started to kick and flail more violently. In the moonlight Shayde could make out tears in her eyes. Whatever dream she was having, it was certainly causing her a lot of pain. Shayde carefully untangled himself from his sheets and crept across the floor to her bedside. Shayde didn't know why he was trying to be silent since his intentions were to wake her up. Perhaps it was the darkness, or simply habit, but he tiptoed across the room and gently tapped her shoulder. "Tash," He whispered, "Tash, wake up."

Tash moaned softly and tossed over in her sleep, shrugging his hand away. Her legs jerked again in a new bout of fear and Shayde frowned down at her. "Tash," He tried louder, grabbing her shoulder. He shook her roughly until her eyes flew open with a start. With a gasp she flung her arms around him and fell against his chest, sobbing.

"Tash?" Shayde blinked, awkwardly putting his hands on her back as he shook. He held her until her tears had subsided and the terror of her dream had passed. She trembled for a moment before she pushed back from him and forced herself to look him in the eyes. "I'm sorry, Shayde," She muttered, wiping tears from her eyes. "I guess I had a bad dream."

"That was some dream," He commented. Tash sniffled again and spun around to let her feet fall on the floor. "It was nothing," She said stubbornly.

Shayde frowned at her, but didn't know how to pursue the subject. If she said it was nothing then obviously she didn't want to talk about it. He didn't want to alienate his new friend by questioning her about dreams she didn't want to remember. "If you say so," He said finally. Tash nodded firmly and gave him a weak smile. "It was nothing, really. Just a nightmare. I don't even remember what it was about anymore." She smiled again as Shayde blinked at her, apparently confused, but with a few more encouraging nods from Tash he finally slipped back to his own bed and fell asleep.

Tash sighed as she watched him slip back into his own bed. She'd hoped he'd press her a bit more. She wanted to talk about it, thinking it might help her nightmares pass, but she didn't want to be the one to bring it up. She'd dreamt of her parents' death again. That night never seemed to want to leave her alone.

She shivered a bit in the cool room and slipped out of the bed. There was no way she'd be able to get back to sleep now. She pulled on her boots and new duster and quietly crept towards the door. Shayde was already fast asleep, his chest rising and falling with every breath. She could hear his breathing quiet clearly, but it wasn't quite loud enough to be called snoring. She smiled at him with affection, she couldn't be mad at him for being clueless. She knew he could be thoughtful when he wanted to.

Tash slipped on her warm duster, pulled on her shoes and quietly slipped out the door, thinking that some fresh air would likely clear her head a bit. The night air was chilly and she shivered as she stepped outside and crossed her arms over her chest protectively against the cold. Well this was a great idea, she thought in annoyance. She stepped outside the small inn and leaned back against the wall. She mindlessly blew into the air, watching her breath condense into clouds of mist.

After a few minutes her eyelids began to droop and she decided it was time to head in. If Shayde woke up again he would be worried. With a yawn and a good stretch she headed back to the door but stopped when a large shadow fell over her. "Heading in already?"a deep voice rumbled. Tash gulped and slowly turned around to face the person behind her. Her assailant was huge! At least a full foot taller than she was, perhaps more and as wide and thick as a brick wall. She noted with some dismay that he wore a red armband. He was a part of the syndicate. "I thought you had someplace to be tonight?" The huge man's face split into a toothy smile that made Tash shiver again, but this time not with cold.

"I...I don't know what you mean..." She insisted. "I really should be getting back. My...." She yelped as the man suddenly grabbed his wrist and tugged her away from the door.

"Now, now. Of course you do. You and Zao had a date, didn't you? It's not polite to stand him up, ya know." Tash's mind reeled. Zao sent this buffoon after her? Of all the low-down, no-good things to do! "Listen," Tash growled, something very close to anger in her voice. "You tell that Zaorin guy that I'm not interested in going anywhere with him! Least of all in the middle of the night!" She turned towards the door again but the man held fast to her wrist and jerked her back again. "If you don't want to come quietly," He snarled, "Then I'll be forced to get a little bit rough with you." He smiled again but this time there was no mistaking the undertones of a threat in it. Tash could feel the blood drained from her face as she gave one last desperate pull at her wrist. But the huge man pulled her back with such force that she nearly lost her balance. And on top of that, a muscle in her wrist pulled leaving behind a throbbing pain. Tash cried out but her voice was quickly smothered with a large, meaty hand.

The man hefted her up like a child and held her under is arm as he stomped around the inn to the stables where an equally large black stallion was waiting for him. "You just don't put up a fight and no one will hurt ya." He promised as her tossed her over the saddle like a sack of grain. "Wait just a minute!" Tash demanded as she twisted to sit up. But the man was quicker than he looked, and within seconds her hands were tied tightly behind her back with no regard to the pulled muscle he'd already inflicted on her. Now she was going to have rope burn on top of everything else! The man tied her ankles together as well, taking his time this time and being sure to push her shift halfway up her legs in the process. "You pervert!" She growled, attempting to kick him away. The man only grinned and stepped back as she thrashed on the back of his horse.

"You should be quiet, you'll wake half the town." He told her.

"There's no way in all the Four Hells I'll shut up for you, you slimy - mmph!" The man shoved a wad of foul-tasting cloth into her mouth and tied it in with a second strip of material. "I tried to tell you," He shrugged as he swung up behind her on the horse. He took the reins in one hand, using the other to keep her steady on the horse and quickly started off. No one even noticed the man with the kidnaped girl bolting away from the town.

Upstairs, Shayde was having a troubled sleep. He still couldn't seem to find a comfortable position to sleep in, and when he finally did fall asleep it was light at best. He thought he heard Tash moving around but hardly paid any attention to it. It didn't even register in his mind that she had left until he heard a muffled shout from outside.

Shayde sat up in bed and blinked the sleep out of his eyes. A quick glance around the room confirmed that Tash was, indeed, not there. Frowning, he kicked off his blankets and shuffled over to the window, where he had a clear view of the street below. It took him only a second to spot the huge man carrying a struggling girl around the corner toward the stables. And only a second longer to realize that the girl was Tash!

"Silver!" Shayde cursed, dashing about the room for his cloak and shoes. He was glad he slept almost fully dressed or he'd have gone running after them shirtless. Shayde also retrieved his twin blades and slipped them on as he pounded down the stairs, waking more than one fellow guest at the inn. He ignored their protests and threats of violence at the noise and dashed outside just in time to see the man's black horse galloping off into the distance.

Cursing everything he could think of, Shayde raced back into the stables and did something he never thought he'd do. He tacked up a horse that didn't belong to him and shot out after the man without a second thought.

"Hey, that's my horse!" Someone bellowed from their window.

"I'm sorry! I'll bring it back!" He called behind him without even slowing down. He took off in the direction he'd seen Tash and the black horse go, praying to the First Father that he would be able to find them.

Tash was not happy by the time her kidnapper had stopped galloping across the countryside. Her ribs felt like they were bruised and it would definitely be sore later on. On top of that, her wrist was still fiery red from when the man had grabbed her and would likely swell.

The horse reared to a stop, sending Tash tumbling off the horse onto the ground, where she landed on her sore wrist and hissed with pain. From her spot in the dirt she could see that she had been taken to what looked like a lake's edge. Trees sprouted up around the shore and the earth was covered in dark soil. It smelled richly of pine trees and burnt wood.

Tash blinked a few times as the man dropped down beside her and then simply ignored her as he started shouting into the distance. Tash looked back and saw a small cluster of campfires a few feet away where a group of men were sitting. "Hey Zao! I brought you something!" The large man shouted. Tash grit her teeth and started thinking of what she would say to him when he arrived. He certainly wasn't going to escape a good tongue-lashing, that was for sure. Of all the no-good, low-down, dirty rotten things to do, kidnapping a girl because she wouldn't go on date with you has got to be one of the lowest!

Tash could hear boots crunching on the dead leaves and twigs on the ground and struggled to her feet. Looking up she saw Zaorin's figure heading towards them, although the firelight made it hard to make out the details. However, when he got close enough to make her out she saw his eyes go wide and he paused. Tash steeled herself and prepared to chew him out.

"Oh Sen, Tash? Is that you!?" He cried, and then proceeded to run over to her side. Tash's anger melted away into pure confusion. Why did he sound so surprised? Wasn't he the one who'd sent the big guy to get her? Zao reached down to help her to her feet, and scowled at her sore wrist when he saw how it was swelling. "Did you do this, Boulgar?" He demanded of her kidnapper.

"Well I, uh...I mean I may have..."

"Boulgar!" Zao snapped, his eyes darkening. "What were you thinking? Not only have you injured her, but you've also brought her to our camp. Our secret camp!"

To her surprise, the man called Boulgar actually looked repentant. "I'm sorry. I just saw her in a town and I knew you like her so I just picked her up without thinking."

"Well perhaps next time you'll stop to think, won't you?" He didn't allow Boulgar time to answer. "Get out of my sight!" And to her surprise, Boulgar did just that and disappeared into the ring of campfires. Zaorin turned to her and took her hands gently. "I'm very sorry about this Tash. Are you alright?" He asked.

Tash blushed a bit and nodded. "Yeah, I'm okay."

"I'm sorry you had to go through that." He continued. "Please, come sit by the fire and have something to eat."

"Actually, Zao," She started as he pulled her towards the fires, "Shayde will be worried about me when he wakes up. I should go."

"Don't be ridiculous." Zao protested, "You're in no condition to go out riding again. I'll take you back to the inn in the morning and he'll never know you were gone."

Tash frowned and thought about that. To try and get back to town before Shayde woke up was pushing it, although her ribs were still sore and the idea of getting back on a horse again wasn't very appealing. And Zao and the rest of the syndicate members did have some delicious-looking food.

"Well...I guess I can afford to stay for a while." She agreed finally. Zaorin grinned and dropped her hands.

"I'll get you some food." He said merrily. "You wait right here." And then he was gone, lost in the crowd of leering syndicate men. Tash shifted uncomfortably on her feet and backed up to lean against a tree. How did she get herself into these things? It seemed that everywhere she went, someone was kidnaping her, robbing her, or just giving her a hard time. She glanced at the syndicate men and grimaced. Did Sen have some personal grudge against her? Or perhaps she'd used up all her good luck surviving that fire? If that was the case, then she supposed she could deal with her misfortunes. After all, it was better to be alive and always getting into trouble than it was to be dead, wasn't it?

"Tash!" A harsh whisper caused her to jump and spin around towards the trees. A shape moved within the forest and stepped into the light.

"Shayde!" Tash gasped in relief. "How did you find me out here?"

"I followed that big guy who took you. Are you alright?"

Tash smiled and nodded faintly. "I think it was all a big misunderstanding." She explained, "But maybe we should get out of here before Zaorin comes back..."

"Zaorin!" Shayde hissed, just as the man in question reappeared at Tash's side.

"Tash, I brought you some...oh, if it isn't your traveling cohort." Zaorin stopped beside Tash and grinned at the silver haired boy, looking for all the world like he had expected Shayde to appear. His feral grin, however, seemed to suggest that whatever he expected, he wasn't entirely pleased with Shayde's presence. In fact, with the way the two men were looking at each other, Tash could have easily compared them to a couple of wolves about to fight over a piece of meat. "Shayde, wasn't it?" Zaorin asked breezily. Tash could have sworn Shayde growled.

"What do you think you're doing?" Shayde demanded.

"I don't know what you mean." Zaorin replied stubbornly.

"Why did you send one of your goons to grab Tash in the middle of the night?"

"I did no such thing!" Zaorin snorted back. "That man acted on his own, and is being punished for it."

"Like I'd believe that!"

"You should. It's the truth."

"Then why aren't you taking Tash back?"

"She's free to leave whenever she wants."

"A gentleman would take her."

"Well I'm no gentleman."

"Obviously..."

"Guys!" Tash groaned. The two stopped arguing and looked at her like they really had forgotten she was there. "I'm standing right here, you know. Stop treating me like a child. I can make my own decisions."

"Sorry Tash," Shayde apologized, as Zaorin stuck his nose into the air. "Come on, let's get back to the inn." He grabbed her wrist, none too gently, and started to lead her back to where he'd left his borrowed horse but Zaorin quickly grabbed her other arm.

"Wait, wouldn't you rather stay here tonight? It's a long ride back to the village. It'll be daybreak by the time you get back. Stay here and rest a while."

"She's coming with me," Shayde snarled, tugging Tash away from him. Zaorin was quick to tug back.

"No, she should stay!"

"Tash doesn't want to have anything to do with you!" Shayde pulled her yet again, and Tash was beginning to get frustrated. They were pulling her back and forth with absolutely no regard to her at all, even though they were arguing about her.

"Just what is that supposed to mean?" Zaorin demanded of Shayde. He slipped a dagger from his sleeve, and Shayde released one of his twinblades. This was getting ridiculous. They were going to arms over a petty argument! Over her! Grinding her teeth, Tash planted her feet firmly on the ground and yanked her arms free of them.

"That is enough, both of you!" she scolded, "You're acting like children." They were no longer paying attention. Both of them were glaring ferociously at the other, just about ready to start trying to impale each other on their blades. "Zaorin, I promised myself I would sleep on a bed tonight, and I intend to." She grabbed Shayde's sleeve and pulled him away from the camp. "And you, Shayde! Stop looking for any excuse to cut him and take me back to the inn. I'm tired."

Shayde blinked and it seemed that the pair finally realized what they were doing. Zaorin tried to look nonchalant, but his face was reddening, and Shayde looked equally abashed. He followed Tash meekly into the woods, but he shot a look back at Zaorin that made sure the syndicate member knew that if they ever saw each other again, there would be trouble.

When they were out of sight of the camp, Shayde wordlessly showed Tash to where his borrowed horse was waiting and ignored her questioning glances. He didn't feel much like explaining how he'd taken it without permission. He climbed into the saddle and reached down to help her up behind him. The ride back into town was slow and quiet. By the time they saw Samara on the horizon, the sun was beginning to rise and the townsfolk were emerging from their homes and setting about their daily chores.

Tash was falling asleep in the saddle, slumped against Shayde's back carelessly. He guided the horse back to the inn where they were staying and replaced it in the stables. Sleepily, Tash slipped down from the horse and followed Shayde back inside.

"Are you sure you're alright?" Shayde asked.

"I'm just tired," Tash replied through a yawn. "I think I'll lie down for a bit longer until the innkeeper kicks us out." Shayde frowned as he watched Tash stumble over to the bed and fall over on it. Although he couldn't blame her for being tired, he found it hard to believe that she was fine after being kidnaped in the middle of the night. He felt a jolt of anger at Zaorin for subjecting her to that. If he ever saw that sneaky rogue again he would...

Thwack!

"Silver! What was that!" Shayde gasped. He dashed towards the window where the strange noise had come from and had to jump back again when he almost lost his nose to a crossbow bolt. Thwack!The bolt sunk into the wood in the back of the room. Someone was shooting at them! Shayde looked desperately over at Tash, who was fast asleep. "What do you think you're doing?" Shayde roared out the window, dodging another bolt.

"You lousy horse thief!" A man shouted at him, "I won't let you get away with this!"

"What!?" Shayde screamed. Horse thief! "I put your horse back in the stable, you old lunatic!"

"Shayde, keep it down, will ya?" Tash murmured from her bed. Shayde ignored her and continued shouting at the old man, standing in the middle of the street below, taking aim again with his crossbow.

"It was mighty stupid of you to come back here, but I'm still going to teach you a lesson!" He fired at Shayde again, and this time the bolt came uncomfortably close to Shayde's head. At least the man was a bad shot though.

"Oy, Ezira!" Another man down on the street called to him, "Stop being so crazy, will ya! You're scaring the children!"

"Be quiet!" The man with the crossbow, Ezira, shouted back. "I'm coming up there to get you!" He roared. "And I'm gonna nail you to the wall!"

"Oh...blaze!" Shayde cursed, he dashed to where his and Tash's things were piled and started to throw them together. "Tash, wake up!" He screamed.

"No," She whined, "Five more minutes..."

"No, now!" Shayde dashed to her side and shook her awake. "There's a crazy man coming up here right now trying to kill us! Or rather, me. In any case, we need to get out of here!"

"What!" Tash cried, bolting upright, now fully awake. "Why would he be trying to kill you?"

"I uh...borrowed his horse last night. He's not too happy about that." Shayde blushed.

"Shayde!" Tash admonished, scurrying out of her bed. She helped him grab their bags but they weren't fast enough. Just as Shayde was pulling Tash out the door, the crossbow-wielding man appeared, looking even crazier up close than he had from afar. "Die, vermin!" He roared, firing at them. Shayde barely escaped having a bolt in his heart because Tash yanked him out of the way.

"Now what?" Tash cried, backing away from the man as he loaded another bolt.

"Quickly, while he's distracted," Shayde hissed. He scooped up Tash's swallow from the floor and ran for the window.

"Shayde no! You'll break your legs!" Tash cried. But Shayde paid no attention to her. He bent out the window and sunk the swallow deep into the side of the inn. He grabbed Tash around the waist, ignoring her shouts of protest as he leapt out the window, grabbing on the the swallow halfway down to shorten then fall and yanked it out. They both tumbled to the ground, landing in a clumsy, pile, but they were unhurt.

"Tricky brat!" Ezira roared from upstairs. He had finally managed to load the crossbow and fired at them without taking aim. Ezira overshot the pair, but Shayde still nearly ttripped over the bolt stuck in the ground. "Run!" He shouted to Tash. The scrambled off the street and ducked behind a building as bolts continued to rain down on them.

"At least he's a bad shot," Tash panted.

"He'll come back down," Shayde reminded her.

"Let's get out of here," She agreed. They piled their bags in their arms and took off from Samara back towards the lake.

"Well, this certainly isn't how I'd planned on my trip to Karenne going." Tash panted as they ran.

"Sorry," Shayde wheezed back.

"Don't apologize now! Just run!" Tash bellowed. They could still hear the commotion in the town, mostly people shouting at Ezira for being completely mad. At least no one was helping him chase them down. They had not even been back in town thirty minutes, the sun was still rising, and already they were dashing back out again. Not only that but it looked like they were heading back towards Zaorin's camp.

"Blessed silver!" Shayde groaned when the realization hit him.He hated these southern lands already.