I awoke as the sun set, bruised and unrested. The horses were approaching a clearing with a pile of ash in the middle. It was clearly a common campsite. The men dismounted and one lifted me down with surprising gentleness. They set up blankets around the fire pit and one began collecting wood.
Very soon, the fire was burning brightly and the men began talking amongst themselves as they sat together.
"We ought to start at first light if we're to make it to Morden by nightfall. I shouldn't want to spend another night on the ground if I can help it," said the largest, with a quick glance my way. He'd been the one to sit behind me on the ride, and his burly frame was cast into sharp relief by the firelight.
Morden. I knew the name well. The eastern province was home to refugees and those who wished to avoid attention. Like my captors, I presumed.
"Have you received word from the others? Have we been discovered?" asked another, with a pointed noise and hair that would be a sandy color had it been clean.
"No, I checked in town. As of this afternoon, no one knew we had found the girl."
The girl. Me.
No one knew yet that I was gone.
"They will find out soon enough. Eventually, you know who will come looking for her."
"I suspect it will be sooner rather than later. At least we were able to get her out before then."
The men paused in their conversation as one rose to fetch one of the bags that had been tied to the horses. He tossed it to me. I caught it in surprise. Bread, fairly fresh - they must have gotten it in town earlier in the day - and dried meat. There was a generous amount, too. I hadn't been expecting fresh bread. I smiled gratefully at the men on the other side of the fire.
"Well, need that when you're done, girl. Don't go eating it all." Despite the stern words, the faces that looked out at me were soft. I tore a piece of the loaf and took several pieces of meat, then passed the bag over. Each companion took a portion as well, then turned back away from me.
"Do you think there'll be complications crossing the border?" the third man asked. He was rather small, but his surly looks made him easily the most intimidating of the three.
"If we can get into Morden by evening, I doubt the border patrol will even know they're looking for us. Once we're in, we can lay low for a while, and there shouldn't be too many problems. But of course, the best laid plans and all that... who knows?"