And so with Gallino properly bound, gagged and strapped to his saddle, you make a last check of the ropes – sturdy and secure. Meanwhile, his sword and poison dust pouch have been relocated to your horse, with assurances to the guards that you will hand them both over once Gallino is finally in thick metal chains or behind iron bars.
It would be more reassuring if your prisoner looked a bit more dejected or frustrated, but insulted glares were the only resistance he gave through the elaborate binding process.
You mount your own horse and with the reins to Gallino’s mount securely in one hand, you lead the band of borrowed guards out of the estate.
By the time you reach the path, half the sky is already colored with the dark blues and deep yellows of sunset’s approach. Cresting the hill where you turned back before, you find the Prince and Natin directing the large group of soldiers to spread out along the band of trees along the river. The men, alert and nervous, turn as you approach. They stiffen and watch for the Prince’s orders.
The Prince waves you through.
Natin stares at his older brother. “Why ever did you bring him here?”
“He claims they’ll kill your sister if he’s not with us.”
“He’s just looking for a way to escape.” Natin scowled.
You shrug. “I assume so as well, but hopefully have taken enough precautions that he won’t succeed. Meanwhile, I would think the survival of the hostage is concern enough.”
The Prince and Gallino glare at each other. After a long moment, the Prince orders ten of the men with you to stay close around Gallino and the rest to fall in.
The march through the woods proceeds in near silence, each man straining to listen through their own footsteps in the dry leaves. Fortunately, with the sunlight so slanted already, it lessens the contrast of entering the shade of the trees, but also deepens the shadows for hiding.
You scan the treetops from beneath. Two birds startle and take to the sky in a rustle of feathers, while a lone squirrel chatters at you angrily. On the ground, the dry river bed stretches across the path. Metal horseshoes scratch and clatter as the group crosses the smooth stones.
As soon as you clear the other side of the trees, you sigh in relief. Just the little house left.
The Prince’s forces approach the building in a “v”, creating a semi-surrounding pattern.
Seven men emerge from the whitewashed building. The last leads Selyna, bound at the wrists, gagged and blindfolded.
The Prince glances at his men to confirm they surrounded every exit they could, a loose, but complete circle except for the small corner of a field marked off by a stone wall that joined to the house. Then he leads the smaller group of Natin, you, Gallino and the group of guards forward. “You are surrounded and severely outnumbered. Lay down your weapons and set the girl free.”
The man holding her raised a knife to her throat.
Malor stepped out at the front of the group. “Tell ya what, we’ll give you our prisoner safe and sound if you hand over yours the same way.”
“What?” Natin scoffed. “You’re surrounded! It’s not like you could get away. Those who aren’t killed here now will be escorted to prison and pay for their crimes.”
“Then why bring him all the way out here, except to offer an exchange? If all is as you say, then we just as soon kill the girl and fight it out. Your choice.”
Encourage the Prince to go for the trade to ensure girl’s safety
Try other negotiations
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