Dan ran right into the deep-voiced man but he struggled to get away. Dan’s struggles were to no avail. The man’s arms were wrapped tightly around him. It looked like the man was hugging Dan until you got close enough to see that Dan’s face was pinched in pain. The man’s grip was too tight and Dan’s injuries made him feel every tensed muscle.
Dan opened his mouth to scream, knowing that the Elks would hear and come to help.
“I wouldn’t do that,” the man warned. “If a war starts here the Forest Spirit will be forced to get involved. How many of your people will die then?”
Dan’s mouth clicked closed with shock.
“Good.” The man grabbed Dan’s shoulders and led him down the hill on the opposite slope. A cart waited at the bottom with a smart horse to pull it. The horse looked more like a war horse than a cart horse to Dan but he was too afraid to comment on such things. “Get in the cart,” the man commanded.
Dan obeyed and sat in the small cart. The man took Dan’s uninjured arm and tied it to the rail of the cart. “I’ll pretend like none of this happened – like you didn’t run away and that you didn’t almost start a war – as long as you continue to be quiet. Just ride in the cart and keep your mouth shut.”
Dan nodded his understanding and they started off towards the mountain bridge. The travel was long and hot. Dan tried to stretch his legs out but the small cart was not long enough to allow much movement.
The man passed the time by talking. He had ordered Dan not to talk but the man did not seem to think that the rules applied to him.
“You gave me quite the chase back there, Dan. Our organization could really use someone like you.”
Dan knew that he was supposed to be quiet but the man practically asked a question. Dan answers with a question of his own: “Use me for what?”
The man glared at Dan and the boy knew that he should not have spoken. Dan opened his mouth to apologies but he never got the chance. The man lunged at Dan and punched him twice; once in the face and once in the stomached. Dan did not utter a sound through the whole ordeal.
Dan fought to keep from making a sound for the rest of the journey. He wanted to be well enough to run when they reached their destination and getting beaten would not allow that. The only option Dan saw was to keep quiet and still in his prison. He just had to bid his time. He would escape… no matter what!
The deep-voiced man had only tied one of Dan’s hands to the cart. Dan’s other arm was injured but he could still move it enough to pick at the rope’s knot anytime the man’s back was turned.
Dan tried to do as much as he could with each short burst that the man’s movement allowed. The man seemed to look back at him constantly even though Dan was sure that he was not making a sound. The man did not stop to make camp that night and Dan could not sleep in the cart but he did use the time to his fullest. The knot around Dan’s wrist was hanging on by a thread by dawn.
He picked at the knot faster now. He had to get back to the Elk tribe and warn them! Dan could practically taste freedom. He was so intent on loosening the knot that he did not notice that his captor had walked beside him. The man’s large hard latched onto Dan’s injured arm. He pulled it tightly behind the boy’s back.
“Think you can take off again, do you?”
Dan shifted and tried to twist away from the man but his grip was like iron. The man pushed Dan’s arm up higher each time he tried to move away. Soon enough, Dan could not move at all without pain shooting up his arm and back.
“You won’t be leaving anytime soon, boy. I’ll see to that.” The man yelled out some words in a strange language that would twist any tongue with its harshness. “Try and leave now!” The man challenged.
Dan could see that this was a trap and refused to move at all even when the man’s grip on his arm lessened. Dan hoped that refusing to even attempt an escape now would show the man that he was loyal. Dan did not think like the man. He only saw that Dan was disobeying an order.
He leaped foreword and yanked Dan’s untied arm out of the cart. Agony shot up his arm and the pain had nothing to do with the injury! Lightning shot up and down Dan’s arm. His body felt like it was on fire and numb at the same time. Still, pain was the primary feeling that coursed through Dan’s body. His arm was released abruptly. He clinched it to his chest with almost in-human speed. Dan did not remember screaming but the echo of his own voice reached him as the pain began to fade.
“Try anything stupid again and you will feel more pain than your mind can imagine. This is more of a cage than a cart now. There is a field of electricity around it that will shock you if you move one inch out of it. Leaving is impossible.”
Dan tried to stop himself from shivering but pain and fear still coursed through him. The man just looked at the shivering boy and laughed. They continued to travel through the night and into the next day. Dan had been in the tiny cart for days and his stiff body ached to be stretched. He had moved his foot outside of the cart once during that time. The memory of it forced Dan to pay attention to were his hands and feet fell in the small space.
He could not move most of his body for fear of the pain. The few days he spent in the cramped cart seemed to be eternality. Dan could feel the pull of a bridge getting closer and closer as they walked but it was not the familiar pull of one of the bridges that Dan had visited earlier.
This bridge left strange, almost alien visions in Dan’s head. He tried to glance beyond the visions to see where they were going but the things he saw only made him more confused. He saw deserts and mountains and animals more fanciful than any of the stories he had heard as a child. Dan’s normally inquisitive mind had been too tired to even think of questions during the majority of the journey but seeing the world set his curiosity to flame. He could not hold back his questions despite the man’s threats from earlier.
“Where are we going?”
“I already told you: we are going to the bridge. You’ll see where it leads soon enough.”
“I already see where it leads and I’m not sure you know what we are getting into.”
“I’m sure you’re just showing concern but if I hear you questioning me you will regret it.”
“Can you just tell me why we are going there?”
“I’m going there to deliver you and get paid.”
“This isn’t your plan?”
“You’ll know everything soon enough. No more questions now!” The man cuffed Dan around his ears just for good measure.
Dan knew that he had pushed his luck. He was fortunate the man let him ask a question to begin with and was even luckier that he got answers to some of the questions.