Plagued

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The Unexpected Attack

Mordekah dragged Noddie back to his quarters in the treetops where she watched in misery as he placed the pouch containing Isca’s bottle into his own little bag and locked it away in the trunk. Then he shoved Noddie into an adjacent room containing nothing but a pile of smashed crates and a tarp.

Noddie cowered against the wall and listened as Mordekah rampaged through the first room, throwing over furniture and spewing profanities that would have made anyone from the Lazren house faint. After he had gone to sleep she felt along the walls and corners for a weak board or sharp object that might give her a chance to break out, but it was all in vain. Admitting defeat, Noddie curled up on the old tarp and fell into a restless sleep.

It was late afternoon before she heard Mordekah stir again. She didn’t bother getting up, and hardly noticed when her stomach protested in hunger as she continued her staring match with the opposite wall. She was so useless! She couldn’t save her uncle. She couldn’t even save herself! And now she had lost the bottle Mesha had instructed her to keep safe. His disappointment would be nothing compared to how much she disapproved of herself. She tried to be brave, and failed.

Mordekah yanked the door open and gestured for her to come out. There was still a shadow of anger beneath his brow, but his mouth was set with fierce determination. The table was laden with the remains of Mordekah’s dinner and he gestured to it with a gruff, “Eat something,” before turning to sort through some of the jars on one of the shelves.

Noddie did as instructed, but her eyes kept drifting towards the trunk in which Isca’s bottle was locked.

“Give it up, girl.” Mordekah’s voice made her jump. “That trunk can only be opened by one key and it’s right here.” He held up the thick key ring with its collection of ancient keys. “Looks like we both need keys we can’t get.” Snarling, he shifted through a box of old vials. “But I’ll find them. I’ll find them, and I don’t care who I need to rip apart to do so. It’s about time I got some answers.”

The threatening poisons and acids stared down at Noddie from the shelves and her mind flew into a panic as she realized that Mordekah was going to torture her for information about Lazren or Isca. Information she could not give.

Time slowed down as her eyes darted from the king of robbers to the bottles on the shelf beside her. His back was turned. Dare she defend herself? She wouldn’t be able to take him down, but a good shock might give her enough time to make a run for it. Her mind reeled as her heart pumped faster. If she didn’t do something soon she would miss her chance.

A failure would result in brutal consequences, but what could be worse than what he was planning on doing anyway? Pretend to be brave! Her hand closed around the neck of the first bottle to her right. Eyes scrunched shut, she swung it forward with all her might.

The bottle caught the side of Mordekah’s face, as he turned. There was an ear-splitting crash as glass and the dark-blue liquid within the bottle flew everywhere. The unexpected blow forced Mordekah to his knees, spitting and wiping away the toxin soaking his face and hair. With a clang, the keys landed at her feet.

Half horrified by what she had just done Noddie dropped what was left of the glass. Mordekah remained on all fours, unfocused eyes blinking rapidly. With every other breath he shook his head violently as though trying to shake off an irksome fly.

Noddie swiped the keys with shaking hands. Then using a coil of rope nearby, she tied Mordekah’s wrist to the leg of the desk with the toughest knot she knew. Drugged by the effects of the strange liquid, the man didn’t even realize she was there.

Fumbling with the keys, Noddie knelt next to the trunk. She discarded the black key, which she guessed went to a black lock as well as the two rusted ones that didn’t seem to match. She grabbed a small gold one and jammed it into the lock.

Nothing.

She tried another with the same result.

Behind her, Mordekah groaned and rubbed his face. His eyes cleared and he stared at his wet hand, shocked to find himself bleeding. Memory and realization struck him at the same time. He lunged to attack her, but was restrained by the rope. He swore. Then he swore even louder when he realized that the closest weapon was several feet out of reach.

“YOU LITTLE—WHEN I GET MY HANDS ON YOU—GOING TO WISH YOU WERE NEVER BORN!—KILL YOU! I’LL KILL YOU!”

His threats were not dampened by his struggle to string two words together. On the contrary, with bulging eyes, blood and blue liquid running down the side of his face, and a vein throbbing in his neck, he was more frightening than ever.

The sixth key produced a strained snap and the lid popped open.

“STOP!”

Noddie bolted up, keys in hand, and grabbed the black bag from inside. She tore from the hut and ran across the swinging bridge. Mordekah’s yells carried after her like a swarm of pursuing bees, “STOP HER, STOP HER! SHE HAS THE BOOK!”

Noddie took the stairs three at a time and dashed into the undergrowth the moment her feet hit the ground. She tore blindly through leaves and vines, stepping in puddles, tripping over roots, and not caring in the least.

She ran blindly for nearly five minutes without slowing. As the light began to fade she came upon a degraded wall of stone and leaned up against it to catch her breath.

Her heart raced and her throat ached. She had attacked Mordekah! The most dangerous man in Grendar. And she had gotten away!

The adrenaline left her all at once and Noddie sunk to the ground fatigued. Darkness fell and fearful feelings were rising from the land around her. She needed to find a place to hide. The robbers would be looking for her and she had left a fairly obvious trail.

Legs shaking, Noddie arose and picked her way through piles of crumbling stone. When a shadow fell over her, Noddie looked up with a jolt, only to be faced with a towering structure of blackened stone. She had run straight to the sad remains of the old fortress. She stumbled back several steps.

There was a door leading into the fortress, but she had no desire to enter.

The choice was made for her when men’s voices and the crunch of breaking twigs reached her from behind. Noddie rubbed her chest in a circular motion with her palm and tugged the door open.

She entered a dirty room with high thin windows. Ahead of her a doorway lead into an empty hallway. Noddie made her way down the grimy corridors peering into rooms that were, for the most part, caved in or burnt out. The further she went the worse they became.

Turning a corner she arrived in a new hallway with rooms still intact. The last room opened up to a large cavern, with a fire pit in one corner and a heavy straight-backed chair at its center. Rusted chains and irons decorated the walls and floor. Two long tables were littered with crude objects and devices that Noddie did not want to touch.

Feeling nauseous and surrounded by a horror hidden by history, Noddie backed from the room, turning instead to the heavy door at the end of the corridor.

Then noise erupted from above. It swept down every passage, bouncing off the walls. Booms, shouts, and running footsteps.

Finding the biggest, rustiest key Noddie unlocked the door and pulled it open. Beyond it a narrow stairway spiraled downward. Pulling the door shut behind her, she descended the stairs, emerging into a long underground room.

The walls and ceiling were all made of giant slabs of heavy uneven stone. Many of their surfaces were chipped or scarred and slimy moss clung to the lower portions of walls. Against the left wall there was a steep, wide gutter, three feet deep where a grungy river trudged by, so dark and dank that it could have been a river of ink. Cold iron bars separated her from a long line of dark, forbidding cells. To the side of every other cell hung a rusty lamp to give light to those fortunate enough to be free of the cages. The room reeked of grimy iron and caked dirt, and Noddie felt the filth and despair of the place as she made her way across the room to where another doorway was visible.

“Noddie May!”

Without thinking, Noddie stopped and looked to her right. Jethrow had jumped up and gripped the rough cell door in which he was imprisoned. The light from the lantern sent bars of shadow across his face.

“Noddie, free me!”

It wasn’t a suggestion, and it wasn’t a plea. It was a command. But his eyes were desperate.

Noddie gripped the keys with a sweaty hand. Holding them against her left side where he couldn’t see them.

“RELEASE ME!”

“No.”

“Don’t be stupid. You’ll never get away on your own.”

“I’ll take my chances,” Noddie replied, sounding a lot more confident then she was.

“Noddie, I can help you. I know their ways. I know this island. You’ll never be able to get off Terrason without me. They’ll hunt you down and this rock with become your prison and grave.”

Noddie glared at the man before her. She had not forgotten that it was Jethrow who had kept her prisoner. Jethrow’s eyes that watched her night and day as she tried to sleep. It was this man who had sliced another man’s face with the sting of his knife. He was a Mordekah robber.

“I don’t trust you.”

“I know.”

She turned and started making her way to the other side of the dungeon.

“Wait! Noddie May!”

With three fingers Jethrow touched his forehead, heart and abdomen, “Release me and by life’s honor I vow that I will get you off of this island and will never lift a finger against you. You will have my protection until you are safely out of evil’s path.”

Noddie hesitated. She did not want to be near this robber, but he was right. She would never find a way to Triwater alone, nor would she be able to keep from being captured again. If she kept blindly running like this she would be caught.

And then he had made the Life’s Sake Vow. The deepest most dangerous vow a person could make. A vow so serious that she had never known anyone dare make it. As the Mordekah robber’s existence rested on secret oaths and vows could she trust a robber to keep it?

Making up her mind, Noddie dashed forward and thrust the key into the matching lock. A dull clunk of the lock kicking back echoed throughout the dungeon.

The second the door unlatched, Jethrow dashed out quick as lightning, grabbing Noddie’s arm with his right hand as he raced across the room. He was running so fast Noddie could hardly keep her feet underneath her. His face was set as he dashed through the opposite door and along a maze of corridors without slowing, turning corners so fast that several times Noddie was almost flung into a wall. Obviously he knew this place well enough to find his way in the dark.

They descended a flight of stairs and turned an abrupt left. Jethrow pulled on a rope hidden in the shadows of a cracked wall . The wall before them shifted, then opened to reveal a narrow, dilapidated passageway.

Noddie barely had time to gawk before Jethrow grabbed her arm again and entered the hidden route, the wall sliding back into place of its own accord.

Dodging extruding boulders and jumping over fallen beams, they followed the winding passage.

“Where does this lead?” Noddie panted.

“This path will take us away from the island. It opens up just above the water on the southern tip of the island.”

Without faltering in his step, Jethrow looked critically back at her. “Can you swim?”

Noddie stumbled as she stubbed her toe on a protruding rock in the floor. “Yes. I mean, I’m not bad.”

“Good.”

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