The others tried to use the opening to escape. But as Xianna leapt through the door, Akatar intercepted her, pinned her down, and quickly bound her arms and legs. Ignoring the kicks and blows from the other children, one by one Akatar wrapped them in blankets and subdued them. Only Padmin, who was of no interest to the troans, managed to scamper into the forest.
When Akatar had finished, he heaved the four bundles that were Kaveh, Mariah, Aydyn and Xianna into the dust. Meanwhile, Regour and Icarus were still struggling: somehow the boy had managed to fend off the battle-hardened troan dragoon. But Regour did not see Akatar approach from behind; and the jemadar quickly tackled the boy, disarmed him, and bound him in another blanket.
With all five children struggling helplessly in their makeshift sacks, Akatar extended a claw to help Icarus from the ground. Icarus winced as pain shot through his wounded shoulder; and the angry troan vigorously kicked the sack that contained Regour. Then the two jemadars sat on a fallen log while they brushed themselves off.
'Nasty little runt, that one is,' observed Icarus. He dabbed his bleeding shoulder with a dirty rag.
Akatar grunted. 'Wait until the Risaldar finds out that I had to save you from being bested by a pigwiggen.'
Regour twisted on the ground. 'Let me out of here and I'll show you who's a pigwiggen, you half-breed reptile!'
Not one to brook insults calmly, Icarus shot up and gave the defenseless Regour another solid kick.
Xianna hissed at her brother: 'Be still. You'll only make things worse.'
Icarus was annoyed as he rejoined Akatar on the log. ‘The Risaldar told us to get rid of them. Let's just be done with this and get back to Accoria.'
'Yes,' agreed Akatar. He made a lascivious smacking sound as he used a claw to dig at a piece of old meat stuck between two fangs. 'But we may as well have some fun since we're here. How should we do it?'
'Just smash their heads with rocks and throw them in a ditch,' suggested Icarus.
'Yes,' said Akatar. 'I do like the sound their heads make as they pop. That would be fun.'
'But that one,' said Icarus, indicating Regour, 'I want to pluck off his arms and legs and beat him to death with his own stumps.'
‘Alright,' agreed Akatar. 'But you can't keep any of them. There can be no traces. We can't have you walking around the Citadel carrying one of his arms as a trophy.'
Icarus snarled in frustration, even though he understood that Akatar was right.
'I have an idea,' brightened Akatar. 'We both need a bit of target practice. Let's get our longbows and shoot them first.'
'Yes,' smiled Icarus. 'You've always got good ideas. There's five of them. We'll see which one of us gets the most of five from fifty paces.'
'Huh!' challenged Akatar, 'Best of five? You think you can beat me? I'll even give you first shot.'
'Fine. And a silver chiton for each one I beat you by.'
Animated by their murderous wager, the troans heaved the sacks onto their shoulders. Icarus forgot momentarily about his injury, buckled under the pain, and then shifted the weight to his other side. The dragoons found a strong bough on one side of the clearing; and they strung up the children. The children dangled haphazardly: some head up, some head down, and each facing in a different direction. They fought furiously against their bonds, but to no avail. They wobbled, waved and bumped into each other, but the ropes held fast and the ancient bough barely nodded with their weight. The troans admired their handiwork and walked to the carriage to fetch their weapons.
Time was running out.
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