Wisteria wondered if she ought to have blown the whistle twice rather than meekly step into this little boat. For that matter, she would have given much to know if anyone had been able to follow her this far. She did not look around, because she did not want her captors to think she expected help.
On the one hand, other than having her hands bound and an uncomfortable ride under a smelly tarp, she was fine. A jolly boat like this one could not navigate open seas, so they must be rowing for some other dock, cave, or boathouse, or a ship anchored out in the harbor. That last would have alarmed her more had the tide not been coming in and a strong wind not blowing from the northeast. No ship could attempt to sail until the tide went out this evening, and even then the harbor would be inescapable until the wind changed. If she had been followed this far, it should be easy enough for them to see where she’d been taken.
And if she wasn’t being followed any more, blowing repeatedly on the whistle would not make a difference anyway.
Moreover, she thought, there’s no sensible reason for them to go to all the trouble to kidnap me specifically if all they want is human cargo to haul to some distant corner of Paradise where slavery is legal. My parents would pay orders of magnitude more for me in ransom than any stranger would for possession.
What bothered her more – and this had not struck her until they reached the wharf – was that Lord Nikola arguably would fetch more money from some unscrupulous foreign power than from his own impoverished family. “May we talk about something?” she asked.
“Yer in no position to be askin’ any questions, sweetheart,” the burly Crit said.
“It doesn’t have to be about all of this, I just find this silence unnerving. Did you feel the Blessing of Newlant last night?” Wisteria said, more or less at random.
“Shut it, sweetheart.”
Wisteria sniffled and dabbed at her eyes, and Red said, “Give the poor girl a break, Crit. ’Course we felt it, miss.”
Wisteria wished she knew how to look grateful. Maybe I should use lavender more often. No one ever takes pity on my distress normally. “It’s my favorite part of Ascension,” she said, looking to Red. “That sense of the Savior’s presence. Lord Nikola was part of it, did you know? He was at the Palace to help with the Blessing. He looked so radiant afterwards.” She wasn’t sure what she hoped to accomplish here: perhaps to make some kind of human connection with the men, to make herself and Lord Nikola people in their eyes and not just inconveniently animate objects.
“Huh. Guess he would be,” Red said. “Being Blessed and all.”
Crit snorted. “Yeah, well, if he’d use that Blessing a li’l more we’d be done with this by now.”
Wisteria turned to him, perplexed. “Whatever do you mean? He uses his Blessing more than any other Blessed I know of. He scarcely does anything else.”
Crit didn’t answer her. The boat was silent for a moment except for the sound of the oars being pulled by the four men. At length, Red said, “What’s that about, Crit?”
“Shut it, Red.”
“Are you taking him to treat someone?” Wisteria asked. “Why not just petition?”
“Hah! I hate to break it to you, girlie, but yer sweetie ain’t as generous an’ all-givin’ as ya think he is.”
Wisteria wondered why he was responding to her and not his own fellow. She chose her next words with care. “You know that no Blessed can cure every ailment, do you not?”
Another snort. “I know that’s what they want you to think.”
“Le’s jus’ say that everyone knows yer ailment’s a lot more treatable if yer rich and talk fancy and got a ‘Lord’ afore yer name. Code or no Code.”
“I’ve heard that’s the case with some Blessed, but it’s not true of Lord Nikola,” Wisteria said.
“Got ya wrapped around his finger, does he? Jus’ cause he’s a smooth talker don’ make ’im a good man, girlie.”
“No, I mean that I’ve done statistical analysis of his caseload. His treatment rates are not affected by—” Wisteria paused to sneeze, wishing her handkerchief were less sodden at this point and not about to ask her captors for a fresh one, or even to try to exchange it for one of her others. After blowing her nose, she finished with, “the perceived ability of the injured to pay.”
A couple of men paused at their oars to look at her. Red asked, “How’s that?”
Wisteria started to explain. “I’ve had third-party observers take note of his petitioners and compared their demographics to those of the surrounding area. Their socio-economic status does not—”
Crit shifted to grab her face with one thick-fingered hand and squeezed her cheeks between thumb on one side and fingers on the other, palm over her mouth. “Which that’s enough outta ya, girlie. Keep it shut or I’ll gag you. And same for you, Red! Just row.”
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