Dragging her back to the small cabin below deck, the robbers forced Noddie to the floor, and proceeded to tie her ankles together with a cord. “To keep you from running again,” one of the men taunted with a smile full of holes. They struck her once before throwing her into the far corner of the room.
Her prison guard, Jethrow, sat on the edge of the bunk across from her, elbows on his knees, staring like a fox watching a rabbit hole. He never spoke. His endless gaze on her skin gave her a strong desire to hide behind something. Different men took his place for a few minutes every so often, but for hours on end it was only she and Jethrow.
Noddie didn’t bother trying to escape again. She resolved there was no chance she would be able to find land on her own and the possibility of making it off the ship alive was even bleaker. She would have to wait until they reached their destination and then plan her course of action from there. Hopefully by then it would not be too late. In the meantime there was nothing to do but wait it out and pray this nightmare would be over soon.
At first she was too frightened to sleep. The bare wooden floor was hard and filthy. Her muscles were stiff and the ropes around her ankles made her itchy and sore. Unfortunately the absence of sleep gave her thoughts free reign to torment her.
Well I hope you’re happy, her subconscious scolded. You wanted a chance to be brave and now you’ve gotten more than you’ve bargained for.
There was a difference between bravery and stupidity. She should never have climbed into that passageway. What a fine mess she had gotten herself into! And worthless to boot. Her plan to rescue her uncle was over before it had even begun. She had a chance to help her uncle and instead these men were now going to use her as bait to lead him to his death. She had made things worse.
Noddie wondered whether or not her uncle would give in to a ransom. After all, Lazren wasn’t even aware she was alive. Uncle Lazren won’t be taken in. Noddie assured herself. He’ll find a way around this. He’s beaten them before.
By the fourth day it had all become routine: Jethrow’s constant eyes, the sway of the ship, and the smell of seawater and sweaty men. The most exciting part of the day was when another robber, a heavy, balding man with a pasty-face, arrived twice a day to bring them food.
Noddie was surprised to find herself painfully bored. She wished she had one of the puzzles from the Lazren house. Something like a puzzle could demand her concentration for hours at a time. It would ease her heart to look at a completed picture, perhaps that of a peaceful garden or a shady park, and to know she had accomplished something. It would be bliss to forget her guilt and fears, if only for a moment.
The pendesha pawnds were still in her pocket. If she could hold them again she was sure she would feel braver. Never had she longed so much for Mesha’s presence. What would he have done in this situation? He would have kept his wits about him, for one thing. Mesha always had a calm self-control to match his courage. If only she had the same. Unable to help herself any longer Noddie reached into her pocket. Jethrow’s eyes narrowed and his back stiffened. Slowly, she pulled out the pawnds and held them in such a way that Jethrow would be able to see them clearly.
He visibly relaxed, deciding they would do no harm.
Noddie was pleasantly surprised. She’d half expected him to take them away from her, if not out of suspicion then out of pure spite.
The stones’ firm weight were comforting in her hand. She rubbed a smooth surface with her thumb as tears pricked her eyes. Squeezing them shut, she fought the desire to let out a howl of sorrow containing all the misery and misfortune she had encountered these last few weeks. But she would not cry. Not with Jethrow watching.
Desperate not to think anymore Noddie tossed the pawnds onto the floor.
A low point position.
She snatched them up and tried again.
A little better.
She tossed the pawnds repeatedly, mentally keeping track of her points. For the next half hour there was only the pawnds and their gentle tapping as they hit the floor.
“If you flick your wrist slightly they land better.”
Noddie startled in surprise. Then she looked up at Jethrow. It was the first time she ever heard him speak. His low voice wasn’t as harsh as she expected. His chin rested on the back of his hands as he watched at the pawnds. It never occurred to her that Jethrow might have been just as bored as she.
She rolled a pawnd nervously between her thumb and forefinger.
The robber, who usually brought their food, swayed into the room. There was a smug, mischievous air about him and a heavy, black-stone mallet was strapped to his side with a thick belt.
Jethrow and Noddie looked around curiously. Dinner wasn’t for another hour and they were not brought food until after the rest of the robbers had their fill.
“What is it, Phil?” Jethrow asked. He regarded the man as though he were a slobbering drunk who stepped into his path.
“Mordekah wants to see the girl.” He smiled his toothy grin. “You are to bring her.”
A low growl and Jethrow stood, drawing a long silver knife.
Noddie flinched as he approached, but he merely cut the cords that held her bound, revealing the swollen skin beneath, and hauled her to her feet. Noddie’s legs and feet prickled with lack of use as she stumbled toward the door. Phil gave a low chuckle and led the way with Jethrow following behind.
“Make sure you’re all polite-like to Mordekah, little miss,” Phil oozed as they made their way through the dark hallway and up the stairs. “He has a little temper and has been known to cut fingers from little girls.” He smirked back at her.
Noddie did her best to show no emotion as the image made her stomach churn.
The night sky was overcast as they crossed the main deck to the captain’s quarters. She tried not to look at the lifeboats as they passed. The gruesome image of Captain Moss haunted her dreams and she rubbed her breast with a circular motion.
About a third of the robbers were on deck. Some ignored the procession as they sharpened knives, wove rope, or argued over a game of cards, illuminated by a battered lantern, but most of them paused to stare at her with narrowed eyes, or steely smiles.
Phil gave Noddie another glance full of anticipation before knocking lightly on the cabin door
Mordekah opened it after the first knock. The light behind him cast his face in shadow, his broad shoulders filling the doorway.
“Jethrow and the girl, Sir,” Phil announced.
As Phil lumbered off, Mordekah grabbed Noddie and pulled her into the cabin. He paused to say, “Jethrow, you will wait here,” before shutting the door in the man’s snarling face.
Once inside, Mordekah let go of Noddie and sat behind the desk she had landed on before. The room was now messy and disorganized, but brightly lit. Noddie gripped her hands together behind her back to keep them from shaking. Forming fists, as Phil’s taunts spewed through her nervous mind.
I will pretend I am brave, she told herself with determination.
Mordekah leaned back in his chair. Lifting a piece of paper, he scanned over it as though bored. “Are you enjoying your stay with us, Noddie May?” he asked.
Noddie didn’t answer and the man went on. “You’re lucky. We’re usually not so hospitable to uninvited guests.” He threw the paper aside. “I thought we might clear a few things up. Have a little chat.”
“What do you want with me?” Noddie wanted to sound strong, but her voice dripped with nerves.
Mordekah leaned forward. “Are you really the niece of Martis Lazren?”
Noddie swallowed, not knowing how to answer.
Mordekah stood and walked around the desk, hands held casually behind his back. “It would be much to your favor to answer truthfully. If you are just some nameless eavesdropper then I have no use for you and might as well dispose of your burden. Though I might do so anyway, you’re a waste of provisions, I’m making no promises.” His expression was hungry, like a wolf in front of a pen of sheep.
In one stride he closed the distance between them and held his nose inches from Noddie’s.
“So I ask again, are you the niece of Martis Lazren?”
Mordekah stared deep into her wide eyes then tilted his head forward the smallest of degrees.
“Does he know you’re here?”
Noddie’s mind was as blank as a new sheet of paper, but felt a lie dry on her tongue.
His nostrils flared. “Ah, he doesn’t know then. Does anyone else know you’re here?”
“Nobody? Well, this puts you in a tight spot does it not? Trapped on a ship, lost on the sea, and no one knows. No one to help you.”
Fear choked up in Noddie’s throat. Mordekah could see through everything she said!
“Let’s try another question, shall we? What does that snipe of an uncle of yours have planned? The packages Medlock was shipping north, where are they?”
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“What has he done with them?”
When she didn’t answer a muscle in Mordekah’s cheek twitched. “Why is he traveling north?”
“I don’t know.”
“And Lewis Hemlin? What of him?”
She didn’t have an answer.
Noddie could sense the anger boiling inside Mordekah like a tea kettle about to let off steam. “Tell me what you know about your Uncle!” he nearly shouted.
Noddie pursed her lips. Mordekah wanted her to hand him weapons. Information he could use against Lazren. But she wouldn’t do it. Although helpless, she would not betray facts about her uncle to this robber, no matter how insignificant they maight seem.
Noddie shook her head.
With a roar, Mordekah lunged forward, grabbing her shoulders. His force knocked her back into the wall. It was as if someone struck a match close to her face. There was a hot flash, and in that fraction of a second she could have sworn she saw an image of Isca before her eyes. Then before she could react, it was over.
With a yell, Mordekah released her as if burned and retreated several paces away.
Silence fell. Noddie didn’t move from the wall.
In an impatient terror Mordekah carefully examined his hands where he had touched her as one would after encountering wet paint. He rubbed his palms vigorously on the side of his pants then patted himself down. A bead of sweat slid down his brow as his dilated eyes bounced around the room, sweeping the desk, the door, and the far corners of the ceiling, as though expecting the walls to collapse at any given moment.
Noddie didn’t know how to react. It was strangely unnerving to see the great Mordekah, king of robbers, looking so anxious and defenseless.
“She sent you here,” Mordekah whispered.
His eyes swung over to Noddie once more and she hid her hands behind her back as she tried to withhold his stare.
Mordekah put his face in his hands, gripping his disheveled hair while taking deep, harsh breaths. Had he been somebody else Noddie would have felt the need to place a hand on his shoulder in concern.
He snapped back to himself so quickly it was as if someone had flipped a switch. His head jerked up out of his hands; loathing scratched on every line of his face. Something hard and dark passed over his features and he snarled, “Playing games are we? Fine then. Let’s play.”
Rigid, he stomped over to Noddie, grabbing her arm so hard she couldn’t help but cry out. He pulled her towards the door and threw it open with such force that it dented the wall.
Jethrow, who had been leaning against the wall outside, jumped and his hand flew to his knife.
Mordekah took a few steps out onto the deck, dragging Noddie with him, and in a loud commanding voice announced, “Change of plans, boys. We’re going to Terrason!”