To inventrix‘s commissioned prompt in my Call for Prompts: Rescue of a prisoner with severe Stockholm syndrome!
Planners-‘verse, in the same loose era as the Anthropologist stuff.
The Aramob had not been expecting resistance when they went against the Village. Town people were soft, and folded easily. That was the wisdom of the elders, that was what the young warriors preached. Especially water-towns, where their food came easy and they could waste their time in games.
They had gone in soft, snuck in through the side streets, slide over the wall, ready to take what they needed and leave again. They didn’t plan on leaving any bodies behind if they didn’t have to. They were not the nasty tribes, who slaughtered when they could leave alive. The Aramob knew that if they left the villagers alive, there would be more to harvest next year.
In a moment of contemplation, Inosati thought that was what had saved their lives. The villagers had been waiting for them, the people of Johnsonport, waiting with spears and guns and, most humiliating of all, nets. Many Aramob had limped off, injured. Two had died – one on the spear of another Aramob, the other from an accidental headshot.
Seven had been taken captive, among them Inosati. The villagers, their elders had told them, did not do the civilized thing and trade captives. They could not be expected to trade prisoners, or to sell their prisoners to another tribe, from which they might later be redeemed. The captured warriors had spent the first three days of their imprisonment waiting to be roasted and eaten, for they could think of no other option, if they weren’t going to be traded. They had refused all food an water, fearing poison, and had prayed and meditated quietly on their fate.
When the sun set on the third day, the weakest of their number collapsed, and the villagers took him away. By noon on the fourth, three more had been taken. Wondering what her fate was to be, Inosati had stared at the slat wall of her prison, and recited the history litanies with a cracked and parched throat.
They had taken the other two before they took her. Jalar collapsed, and Huna gave in and drank the water, and both of them were taken. Inosati was left, delirious and awake-dreaming of wintertime.
It had been dark when Revan had come for her. She hadn’t known him, or his language, but he had lifted her up and carried her into his home, spooned broth down her unresisting throat, and tied her to the bed, the softest thing she’d ever slept on, with soft ropes.
They had nothing in common but a few gestures and even fewer words, but they were both clever, and they learned each other’s languages. Inosati had little else to do with her time, chained as she was in the back room of Revan’s parents’ house. She sipped his broth, and ate the food he provided, and he and his little brothers taught her their language.
When she learned enough words, they had told her of her fellow warriors. All but one, they said, had been traded to other tribes for the release of villagers captures. When she told them, indignant, that house-people didn’t do such things, they laughed at her. “House people aren’t prepared when the wild tribes come, either,” they reminded her.
The only question they did not answer was “what will you do with me?”
In time, and with Revan’s gentle and constant attention, the answer to that became clear anyway. Winter came, and the warmth of a body next to her was welcome, even if he was a weak town-person, a lazy wall-farmer (town-people didn’t capture warriors. Wall-farmers didn’t sell those warriors back to their kin). He was warm, and his hand on her were strong, almost as strong as her own.
He kept her in chains. That part bothered Inosati long after everything else had faded, after his warmth in bed was a comfortable presence and not a strangeness, after she learned to farm inside walls like the town-people, how to break the dirt and make it submit. He kept her hobbled, and her hands chained, with their wall-farmer metals, never letting her forget that she was a prisoner.
She asked him about it, as the spring bled into summer. “Why?” Words still came hard to her, but ‘why’ was easy enough.
“The chains?” He stroked her wrists, where the shackles had left callouses. “You’re a wild thing, love. It helps you to remember to stay.”
“I see.” She did not ask him, because she wasn’t certain of the answer within herself, if he thought he’d stay without them, or run.
Her people spent the summers in the area near this town; in the hottest nights, she could hear their singing, taste their sweet smokes on the air. She sat up in bed, wishing for the moonlight, wishing for Revan to understand the song with her, to dance with her to the drums of her sisters.
The Aramob had learned their lessons, it seemed; this year, none of the town-people heard them coming. No one was there to raise the alarm when the warriors slunk in, and none to warn Revan when they tackled him to the floor.
“We are here,” hissed Inosati’s youngest sister. “Will you slit his throat?”
She looked down at the man who had been her captor for so long, who stared wide-eyed back at her. She could not kill him, not the one who had nursed her back to health and held her in her sleep.
“Take him with us,” she said instead, adding, as an afterthought, “He has brothers.”
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