So restless. And tired of pacing. All she heard was war. War in Corstarorden, and certainly war in Clemongard, and she knew where they were now, damn Rogue and his books. She’d read that book over again in the daylight hours if she thought she wouldn’t get caught but it would be her luck she’d finally get a customer.
Soldiers in the country closest to Pavilion City meant that Pavilion City was on their list of destinations, thought Ishbel, and whores were first on a soldier’s list of priorities, before even food. All the soldiers who’d been through here over the last month had been righteous assholes, and Ishbel wasn’t afraid to say it. Not just to the whores, but the merchants as well, demanding lower prices, or even free. Violent, they were, too. One had dislocated Rosie’s shoulder. She herself had a black eye that was nearly gone. And Gobin, useless shit of a man that he was, he wasn’t about to fight back against these soldiers or he’d lose his life. Ishbel really did not want to be sold to some other whoremonger, especially the one who kept his whores chained in cages. Nor did she want to get sold as a slave again. As long as Gobin stayed alive, Ishbel stayed relatively happy.
But over the last month, business had dropped dramatically, and more so during the last week. Merchants had packed up, buyers refused to travel the roads. Ishbel couldn’t blame them. And all due to the war. The Eastern Alliance was fighting the Northern Countries now, according to the gossip she heard in the stalls, and Clemongard was being attacked by both Ambsellon and Ormon. But gossip was gossip, for she’d heard the Ambsell King and his sons were all murdered in the night and Ishbel knew that couldn’t be true.
She gave up and flopped down on the bed. She felt like a caged animal.
Just as she did, someone hissed, “Ishbel!” from the entrance to her pavilion.
Rogue strode in. Ishbel was never so glad to see anyone as she was to see him at that moment.
“You are late!” she chided.
“And it’s time for you to leave,” he returned.
Leave? Leave and go where? Her face must have registered her confusion, for Rogue explained, “There are soldiers here. In Pavilion City. Putting the torch to the place. It’s my guess they won’t treat you kindly. I’m here to take you away from here. Now here –” He threw a violet calico dress on the bed. “Put this on. You can’t be seen in public wearing – well, what you normally wear.”
“They’re burning the City?” asked Ishbel with alarm.
Rogue turned as she started to change clothes. “Just hurry up, Ishbel, before we’ve no time.” How cute, she thought as she watched him turn while she changed her clothes. She couldn’t count the amount of men who had seen her naked and this one turned his back to observe the niceties.
“And what does Gobin think of this?” she inquired as she pulled the dress over her head.
Rogue scoffed. “Let us just say that that sonofabitch whoremonger will no longer be a concern of yours, nor of anyone’s.”
Her eyes widened slightly at that, but she said nothing. She could not recall the last time she had worn a proper dress. “Very well, you can turn about now,” Ishbel said lightly as she smoothed her dress.
Rogue studied her briefly. “Violet becomes you.” Then he gestured. “Is there… anything here you want to take with you?” His voice sounded doubtful.
Ishbel thought for a moment, then lifted the mattress and pulled out the History of the Era book. In a regretful tone, she said, “I haven’t yet finished reading it.”
Rogue opened his rucksack and she placed it inside. Then she held up a finger. “Just one other thing.” She stood on her tiptoes and felt along the far ledge for the linen pouch she’d created to hold the silvers Rogue had paid her over the last six months. As she pulled them off the ledge, they clinked.
“You won’t need that where we’re going,” Rogue told her.
“Says you, who’s always had such money to dole out,” Ishbel returned, holding the linen to her as a cherished prize.
Rogue considered and allowed it.
“Does this mean, then, that I belong to you now?” asked Ishbel with curiosity. Ah. Another mark for her shoulder. But Rogue had been kind to her so far.
Rogue looked confounded. “Ishbel,” and he cupped her chin with a calloused hand. “You are a free woman. I have set you free. Now, come, come, we must leave,” and he beckoned. “Follow my lead.”
Ishbel left without even looking back at her pavilion.
Rogue led her through the City that she had called home for years. A sense of panic was beginning to fill the air amongst the merchants, and green and red-check uniformed soldiers were seen throughout the stalls. Ishbel sucked in a breath.
“Follow my lead and stay calm,” whispered Rogue.
He led her to a stable where an enormous black horse was saddled and waiting. He had paid the stable hand two silvers and a bronze for keeping the horse ready in the midst of the confusion in the City. The stable hand’s eyes widened, then he bowed with respect just before he opened the far stall door.
“Can you ride?” asked Rogue.
Ishbel had learned to ride as a girl at the farm where she was first a slave, but it had been years since she had sat a horse. She nodded mutely.
Rogue climbed up and then pulled her up behind him.
And then they rode out, leaving the burning Pavilion City behind them.
She stared behind her for part of the way, watching as Pavilion City went up in smoke. Rogue had rescued her just in time. Ishbel felt sorry for the other women she had worked with. A huge cloud could be seen for miles over the wide expanse of meadowland. The burning of Pavilion City.
Finally, Rogue stopped the horse for water. He held out a hand for her to climb down the horse.
After the horse had drunk some water and she, too had drunk from a waterskin, Ishbel finally gathered the courage to ask,
“So am I no longer to spy for you?”
“No. I told you, you are a free woman, bound by no man.”
Ishbel considered this. Not a slave? But such things always came with a price…. She moved closer.
“And… what do I owe you for this? How am I indebted to you now?”
Rogue looked angry.
“Ishbel, I set you free because slavery is wrong. Not because I wanted a servant bound to me for life. You are a free woman, free to go where you choose. In fact, if you like, you may turn and start walking away in any direction, although I don’t recommend it. These are the Free Lands, and I know where we’re going. If you stay with me, I’ll see you to safety, and people who can see that you live a life of safety and freedom, as you were meant to. In fact, I even know someone who can remove those marks of indenture from your shoulder, should you so choose. I ask for nothing in return. You are a free woman, Ishbel.”
Ishbel’s stomach was giddy at this last. She flew into Rogue’s arms and kissed him.
As a free woman – not a slave!