The hand stayed cupped over her mouth until her captor was satisfied that they were out of hearing range.
As soon as the hand went away, Alieahsha screamed as loud as she could.
There was a chuckling noise beside her. Alieahsha turned, furious that anyone would dare laugh at her.
There was a boy about her age, laughing. “Scream all you want, nobody can hear you. We are out of the city.”
Hearing this, Alieahsha screamed even louder.
“Hush! I don't want her to be scolding me!” the boy looked around anxiously, as if walls could scold people.
“Who?” Alieahsha immediately forgot about screaming.
“Who is she?”
“What, her name?”
Alieahsha gave him a look.
“Alright, alright, I'll tell yer. But only if yer promise nort to tell anyone!”
“Cause... she's important in the criminal world. Burt you just worry aboot survivin'.”
A look of panic crossed Alieahsha face. “Surviving? Is she going to kill me?”
The boy seemed to consider this for a while. “Maybe,” he said eventually. “Or maybe she'll like you, an' keep yer like me.”
“She's that dangerous? Why don't you just run away?”
The boy looked at her incredulously. “Run away? Are you out of your mind? Run away from...” his voice dropped to a whisper, “... Tildon?”
“That's her name?” Alieahsha snorted. “Oh so fear-inducing!”
“Oh, keep yer voice down! She might 'ear you! And stop usin' big words!”
“What is your name?”
“Oh, me?” the boy looked surprised. “My name is... gee, it's been long since I've said it... ah, 'ere it is! Me name is Inbus!”
“Ah, nice name.”
“And the cart driver is Nifty.”
“I suppose he must be.”
“No, his name is Nifty.”
They trundled on the cart for a bit, then Alieahsha started worrying and speculating on her fate.
After quite a few hours of speculating, they stopped at a nearby inn. It was called the Hardy Men Inn, and, true to its name, there were a lot of scary figures accommodating the place.
Nifty walked off into the inn, leaving the two standing outside.
“Well, should we go in?” Alieahsha asked, hitching up her skirts.
Alieahsha pushed open the door, and a strong burst of chatter and music burst out. Alieahsha went in first, with Inbus following her.
“Oh, quick, remove all yer jewel-ry!”
“Why?” Alieahsha asked, puzzled.
“Jes do it! Quick, before 'em big fellas spot yer.”
Alieahsha rolled her eyes, thinking it was just an odd superstition that the country people had, and started taking off her earrings.
“Hey,” a big burly man walked up to her. “Those are my jewels! Give 'em 'ere!”
“No they aren't! They're mine, so back off!” Alieahsha yelled.
Inbus looked around, panicked: Alieahsha's scream had attracted the attention of the rest of the inn, and they had fallen silent.
“Oh really? Well they're going ta be my wife's in abou' a minute!” Big Rob said.
“Oh, another one. They are so common these days. Little girls pickin' a fight wiv Big Rob.”
“Tiny little thing you are! 'ow do you think you're gonna beat Biggo, eh?” someone jeered from the crowd of onlookers.
“Quiet!” Big Rob snarled. “Everyone, look at all the precious little gemstones this girly has. Me wife's gonna be happy!”
“Everyone knows that you don't have a wife, Biggo! You just keep 'em fer yerself, then sell 'em when yer tired of them!”
Alieahsha looked around. Who was that?
Nifty shook his head. “Don't call me that!”
“Nifty, eh? That's what they call yer?” Big Rob said. “Ooh, Little Nifty!”
Nifty looked unhappy. Alieahsha felt like apologising, but whatever she said seemed to cause even more bad than good.
“Leave her alone!”
Alieahsha turned and saw Inbus stepping up to defend her. Alieahsha shook her head frantically. “Let's just go,” she whispered to him.
“What, and leave Big Rob alone?”
“What about justice?”
“Inbus!” she said quietly but menacingly.
“Alright. Nifty?” Inbus called. “We need a lift right away.”
They had had a hard time getting rid of Big Rob, but in the end, they had managed it, and now they found themselves riding on the bumpy road once again, instead of staying in a inn with a room over their heads.
“Great, now I've delayed my resting time, and I have to ride you two around until we can find another inn – and that's another day's ride ahead of us,” grumbled Nifty.
“I didn't ask to be kidnapped,” Alieahsha protested, and Inbus tried to join in too, if not rather feebly.
“And remember, you're doing this for her.”
Alieahsha's head snapped up from where she was counting pebbles on the road. “Yes, while we have time, tell me about Tildon.”
Inbus looked at her surprised. “You want to know about Tildon? Who'd want to do that?”
“Still,” Alieahsha insisted, “tell me about Tildon.”
Inbus hung in head in shame. “The truth is... I don't know much about her myself.”
“What do you know about her?”
“She's tall, and menacing. She always wears this big cloak that 'ides her features. 'er dress is nearly always a dark greenish colour.”
“And, she always obscures her features,” Nifty put in helpfully.
“So neither of you knows what she looks like?” Alieahsha asked.
“Of course not!” Nifty looked back at her. “Would a criminal mastermind go around showing 'er face? Orf course not!”
The cart nearly went astray, but Nifty quickly looked back to the road in front of them and gently lead the horse back on track.
“Why did she kidnap me?” Alieahsha tried a different question.
“Ah, that's because you're worth a lot to the land. Kidnap a heir to a fancy-pancy throne an' yers be getting a fortune outta ransoms!”
“So there was no information about my mother after all?”
“Oh, no. She was just making that up so she could lure yer in! An' anyways, yer wouldn't have been able ter gert any papers. I wars meant ter tell yer that “Yer've gort no papers! Where are yer papers? No information until yer papers are coughed up!””
“So where were the papers?”
“The maid stole 'em.”
Now that she came to think of it, Alieahsha did remember seeing a maid coming out of her father's room. Maybe that was the maid who had stolen them.
“An' I thought yer'd like ter know that I wars the maid,” Inbus pulled out a faded maid's dress from somewhere in the back of the cart. “Disguises come in handy.”
Alieahsha tried not to think of how many times she had been ignorant to maids. If maids were like Inbus, then they really didn't deserve to be maids. They should be bouncy and happy and most importantly, free. Inbus's free spirit shouldn't have been dampened by being bossed around everyday by a bossy master, so neither should the rest of the maids.
“Three days,” said Nifty from the front of the cart.
“Eh?” Alieahsha almost forgot her manners. “I'm sorry, pardon me?”
“Three days till the end orf our trip,” corrected Nifty. “We are going to reach the 'ouse of Tildon in three days.”
And so they sat, waiting ever so patiently for the time when the next inn would show up, and they could have a rich, hearty meal and have a soft bed to sleep in.