Ian was practically hopping with fury as we struggled up the sheer bank of the creek. When we pulled ourselves over the top he exploded, hissing at my guard.
"What the hell possessed you to do that? Jump of the fucking log? Next time you can't handle a job I give you, speak up! I'll get someone competent to do it, you useless fucking idiot! Save us all some damn time."
He huffed, then looked at me. "Well, she has no idea where she is. No point in blindfolding her now, is there, Frankie?" Frankie kept his mouth shut and Ian turned away, but I spoke up.
"You know that's cutting corners. Sloppy guard work. No point in me knowing how to get back here; it would only give me somewhere to go to if I were to escape. And there's no point in letting me figure out where this stream is in relation to the City, which I may just do if you don't put that blindfold back on me now." It was a bid to plant the seeds of trust. This I knew would come in handy, as there was no way they'd let me just walk on out once I'd seen where their camp was and had met this "Joel", whoever he was. Plus, there was no way I'd be leaving without Dree, and she looked as at home as I'd ever seen her when she was with these men.
In any event, it looked like my gamble was both working and pissing Ian off, which was fine by me. As he laid into me too, the other men exchanged both fearful and amused glances.
"Who the fuck do you think you are? You think you know more about my damn job than I do?" He looked close to popping a vein, but he couldn't deny my logic. "Go to hell, you little dyke! Frankie! Put that fucking blindfold back on the bitch, and if it slips, I'll dock your damn rations."
Frankie looked nonplussed. As Ian turned away, I mouthed "Overcompensating" to him. As he dissolved into gales of silent laughter, I glanced back the way we'd come. As far as I could tell by the moss on the tress, we'd been headed north since we left the city.
"Spin her." commanded Ian once I'd been blindfolded. "Spin her, like at a party. So she won't know which direction we're moving in." I neglected to point out that I'd be able to tell that but the direction and intensity of the sound from the stream anyways, and let Frankie turn me a half dozen times. We staggered off eastwards.
My sense of direction was scattered again as we wound through rocks, back and forth up steep hills, and down the other side of them. I could only assume we were somewhere in the steep hills northeast of the City. Very inspecific.
After several more minutes of this, we were hailed by a male voice on our left, somewhat above us. "Stop! Identify!"
Ian bellowed up at the guard: "Party 745! Ian Red and company with two hostages to be brought to Joel!"
There was some quiet, hurried conference above us. After a moment of silence, the other voice called down, "Proceed! Take the hostages by way 947 to Joel, and do not remove the blindfold from the threat until she is indoors!"
Great. I was a threat. Expected, but irritating all the same. We continued through what appeared to be the steep V of a pass single file. Stumbling down into a valley, we continued in a circuitous route on flat trails through what sounded like a large village. Coming to a stop, we ducked our heads under a lintel and stepped indoors. continuing down a straight hallway, we turned left into a room, ducking again into a small doorway.
The kerchief fell away from my eyes as the door slammed behind us and the smell of burning fat assaulted my nose. I couldn't tell whether it came from the roasting animal in the hearth or the hanging oil lamps dimly shining in the haze.
Before me was a black-haired lean man, maybe in his mid-forties. He lounged in a stuffed armchair, just the way they do in the movies. This was curious, his lounging in an armchair, because everything else in the room appeared to have been made there in the woods. He was surveying me with catlike curiosity, and looked like he was about to say something.