Isaac bent low over the ground, looking at the footprints left deep in the dirt around the third stream they'd come upon, studying the imprints carefully. One set he now knew by heart. They were from a large man and he'd been dragging something between him and another smaller man or woman. He knew that person had to have been Taylor because he'd found his brother's spear thrower next to where something heavy had lain; that something wasTaylor.
Sometimes the trail became near impossible to find because the people they were following would travel over dry earth or rock. The dried dirt wasn't so hard to deal with because bent blades of dried out grass were easily spotted and could be found if you looked carefully. But the rock was a different matter. Several times the group, containing only Will, Ike, and Zac, would split; one going the direction they thought the enemy camp to be travelling and the other stayed put where the last sign was. Luckily, they'd managed to find the trail every time it was lost and were well on their way to finding the lost brother.
"Hey guys, there's the remains of a camp fire up there." Zac used one of his many spears to point out the charred wood and ashes.
"Yeah, I see it. Come on." Will ordered.
As a group, they approached the area with caution, even though they were out in the open of a vast plain. Isaac reached down and held his hand a few inches from the ashes, frowned, and then touched them with his bare hand.
He sighed, "They've been gone for awhile, it's freezing." He dusted his hand off on the back of his pants.
"Well, keep looking around." Will said.
A camp had been made here obviously. A large stack of brush and kindling lay a short distance from the fire and several spots on the ground had small mounds of dried grass where a tired body had lain. Also, bones from tolas, gray backs, and other small animals were found in a refuse pile.
"Oh my god!" Zac whispered hoarsely to himself, scrambling over the ground running for what he saw.
Isaac glanced over at his little brother when he heard him mutter something to himself. He was startled when Zac ran for something laying on the ground.
"What in the heck is that?"
"Ike! Come 'er!" Zac yelled from a crouched position.
Isaac jogged over slowly and kneeled next to the small object and he let out a gasp over his own. Angela's spear thrower lay on the ground right side up. Just then Will loped over to see what was keeping his young friends.
"Who's is that?" Will pointed at the small piece of wood.
"It's Angie's, they got her too." Zac said quietly.
"We know." Isaac grit his teeth in frustration.
Zac ignored him.
"How do you know?" Will questioned.
"Duh, Angie's only obsessed with rainbows." Zac pointed out the carved design on the spear thrower.
Will scratched his head feeling stupid, "Oh yeah. Come on guys, the trail leads off that way." He pointed.
Ike and Zac stood up, with Zac pushing the small wooden implement into his knapsack while walking.
"Ok, we've been going for three days. If we don't find the camp soon the rains could wash away the signs. Plus we gotta get back and help settle the camp back down. Let's go over the plan one more time. Ike, lead us through." Will motioned to a clear patch of dirt.
Isaac drew knife from it's case at his waist and began scratching images in, explaining each as he went along.
"Come 'ere boy!" Jonathon screamed out.
Taylor came limping in the room, his ankles bound by strips of the ever durable tola hide, pain etched in his face from the burning of his ankles.
"Yes sir, how can I serve you?" Taylor gasped, out of breath from having to run to his new 'master's' bidding. He forced himself not to roll his eyes at the cheese ball line he had to say when addressing Jonathon.
"The fire's crooked, fix it." The older man pointed.
Taylor smiled sweetly, as to annoy Jonathon, and bent down to perform his duty and tightened his jaw muscles when the fire licked at his hands. The logs crumbled at his touch and he dropped his head to his chest in fear; this would certainly bring on a beating. He snapped his hands to the wood pile and stacked the lumber on top of the old ones.
"Hey, I got away with it, sweet." Taylor thought to himself.
"Hurry boy, I need to talk to you once you're done." Jonathon sneered.
Turning red from both the heat of the fire and the heat of embarrassment, he finished putting the logs up in a teepee formation and coaxed the burning hot coals into catching onto the new wood. He sat still for a moment, taking in the bright burst of the flame as it caught the dry wood and just stared at the orange and red glow.
Jonathon took out a long flimsy branch from the bench next to him having called after the boy a few times too many and lashed his bare back as hard as possible to grab his attention.
"Ahhhhhhh! Oh my god.." Taylor moaned, laying dangerously close to the flames he'd just started. He must have zoned out while watching the flame flicker before him.
"You are to pay attention at all times. Day dream again and I might just cut off fingers." Jonathon snarled, snapping the thatch across his back again. He grinned in satisfaction as Taylor's dirty cheeks were soon covered in salty tears. Then he stalked off to obtain something for his rumbling stomach, leaving his servant to writhe in pain on the ground.
Poor Taylor lay on his stomach holding his breath in order to stop the tears that seemed determined to flow down his face. His thighs were rock hard from the tension he kept in an attempt to lessen the pain. His eyes were squeezed shut and his lips pulled back in a painful grimace. He forced himself to keep his arms locked in front of him for two reasons. One being he needed them to keep himself upright and not fall in the flames and two so he wouldn't reach back and smear dirt into the new cuts layered upon old. A wise precaution to avoid infection.
Angela looked up at Taylor's first scream to locate the injured person and the second she was able to zero in on the blond young man, no on is stomach. His face showed more then pain; he was longing for the comfort of anybody, his brothers would have been nice at the moment but he knew that wouldn't happen for a long, long time. Angela was one of the five people captured, very few considering how many people were from the invading camp, so she would be easily noticed if she tried to assist Taylor, but she tried anyway.
She glanced up at her captor and took a tentative step towards the downed boy and glanced back at her owner. She hadn't noticed a thing. She looked at Tay, laying there crying and covered in dirt. One more step. Nothing. Two steps. Oblivious. Three more steps.
"I'd stop were I you missy..or you're liable to look like your friend over there. He'll get up sooner or later, for you. You got chores to do. Hop to it!" Her kind master called after her.
"Shit." Angie muttered under her breath.
Glancing at Taylor, she felt a little better seeing him on his hands and knees, pulling himself up slowly and staggering to his feet. The stream would bring relief to the burning in his back and ankles.
"Uh uh, back to work right now!" Angela felt the lash on her covered back easily enough, and went back to work.
She glanced up one more time and saw Taylor dragging himself along the stream's edge, immersing himself from the physical pain he was suffering.
"Ok, the tracks stop here on the stream bed.Ike cross over and see if they continue on the other side will you?" Will asked.
"Sure." Isaac answered lightly.
Zac watched his brother wade across the stream and he turned to Will, the man who looked like an older version of Taylor, "Do you think we'll find em?"
Will sighed deeply, he too watching Isaac, "I dunno Zac in all honesty. The trail's getting cold, the signs are getting harder to see. If it weren't for this stream we'd be in trouble."
Zac frowned, "Why'd you tell me the truth?" Half serious half joking.
"Don't ask don't tell." Will replied, "Well, anything?"
Isaac wrung his pant legs out and nodded, "Yeah, somebody laid several heavy things down over there. One of em was Tay."
"How do you know?" Zac asked.
"Cause the big guy's always carrying something and I'm guessing that something's Tay because the first time I saw the tracks next to the thing that was laid down, I found Tay's spear thrower." Isaac answered peevishly.
"Ohhhh, cool deductive reasoning." Will smiled at Zac's expression of 'why didn't I think of that?'
"So, what're we waiting for, lets go." Will said.
Zac held back and said, "No. I think we should camp here tonight so we don't get wet and have to sleep cold."
"No, cause then we'll freeze tomorrow morning instead of being able to dry our clothes off at night." Isaac snapped.
"Come on Ike, I don't wanna sleep naked and cold, I wanna sleep clothed and warm!" Zac smacked his hands together for effect.
"Fine, whatever. Will?"
"Hmm.Zac I think we should cross tonight." Will, having said that started towards the water.
"WAIT!" Zac yelled one more time.
"What?" Isaac exploded in exasperation.
"Well, we'd hafta see each other sleep in the nude right, at least for a minute right?"
"Yeah.... point being what?"
"Well, why don't we cross in the nude so we keep our clothes dry."
"What would the point of that be?" Isaac pressed.
"We'd be able to walk farther and be warmer." Zac looked at his big brother like he was the dumbest thing on earth.
"Fine, whatever. Will?" Isaac repeated himself again.
Will smiled to himself, " Why can't we have those little black censored signs to make this easier?"
Zac smiled triumphantly at Isaac and yanked his shirt off, making sure to keep his eyes away from any pasty white bodies.
"In we go." And all three immersed in the cool water.
Two hours later
"Shhh, keep down. Is that...that's not him is it? He's only been gone for like, five days!" Zac felt tears well up at the haggard appearance of Taylor.
"Oh Jesus....what'd they do to him?" Isaac gagged, feeling the bile rise up in his throat.
Will watched in sympathy as Isaac heaved up their meager lunch then turned his gaze back to Taylor.
The young man was dressed in nothing but ragged trousers that passed only to his knees and the waist being held up only by cordage made from tree bark fibers. His bare back was covered in long crimson welts that lay over each other; one on top of the other in grotesque layers. His hair was matted to his head with dried blood mixed in with dirt and mud. His face was covered in a fine layer of dirt except for small thin areas under his eyes, evidence that he'd been crying quite often. Will's eyes dropped to his ankles.
The area around the ragged strips of hide were cutting deep into the flesh around his lower legs, dried blood and fresh blood mingling as one with dirt thrown in for seasoning. His normally confident canter was reduced to a pathetic hobbling the short length of hide allowed him. Taylor turned so he was facing their direction and Will felt his heart stop, Taylor was looking right at him. Then he turned and walked away slowly.
"Did he.... did he see us?" Will questioned.
"No, he wouldn't have walked off like that."
"Well how are we gonna get to him? Cause we saw Angie too, how do we get HER and him out?" Zac asked.
Will looked at the floor for the longest time, deep in thought. He had a choice of either a young lady he barely knew who was at greater risk then the young man at being raped or killed. But then there was Taylor. His brother. His son. What was he going to do?
"Will, how're we gonna get em both out?" Zac pressed.
Will continued to stare at the dirt and he finally spoke, "We don't."
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