clans are right now, but that doesn’t matter. Go to Grekil. It’s in the north.” It wasn’t much, but old man Kafoe had told him all those weeks before that children stolen by the slavers almost never came home. He thought the children couldn’t find their clans again. If nothing else, Yveni could help them in that. That the children might not have come home because they hadn’t survived, he didn’t want to think about. The sun grew stronger. Yveni was able to brush some of the mud from his clothes, though he was still filthy and now had welts on his face and back from the slaver’s fist and whip. Still the slavers did nothing for the comfort of their captives beyond offering a cup of water. When one of the children needed to pee, he had to go right there. No privacy, no dignity, no care. Yveni raged constantly. If he’d had a sword in his hand, he would not have scrupled to kill all these bastards. He hoped Raina had not been seriously hurt, but he knew no help would come from her clan. Jako would be grateful none of his children had been taken, and carry on his way. He might not even mention the incident to anyone at Grekil. Two hours or so after Yveni’s capture, the slavers made all the children stand and go over to the cart. Yveni only just squeezed in alongside the others, so that confirmed to him that the slavers were on their return journey. He was most likely a lucky find for them, someone they hadn’t planned to capture. Just their good luck and his bad fortune. He had to get free before they reached the Karvin border. But he would not leave if he couldn’t take the children with him.
He was a little out in his calculations, because they reached the Karvin border in just four days. The guards only cursorily examined the forged sale documents purporting to be from the parents of the captive children and waved them through. If Yveni had been anyone else but the vicont of Sardelsa, he’d have risked yelling the truth at them, but since he saw coins changing hands along with the documents, he suspected the guards already knew what went on and simply didn’t care. Three hours past the border, they arrived at a rundown farmhouse by a small river. The men evicted the children from the cart and herded them down to the river. Their chains were removed and they were told to strip. The three girls were offered no modesty, though Yveni turned his back and gave them what he could. Once the children’s shoes and belts were put to one side and their clothes in a pile, the men forced the children into the river to bathe. Three thin-faced women came out of the house and dumped bars of yellow soap on the bank, then scooped up the clothes and scurried off with them. The younger children cried with the cold and could only shiver, so it was up to Yveni and the older children to help them wash with the harsh-smelling soap and clean their hair. The slavers stood on the bank and did nothing to help, their arms folded and whips held ready to use. They’d found they could more easily control Yveni by threatening or actually beating a child like Tilin as punishment for Yveni’s misdemeanours than by punishing Yveni himself. He’d given up all thoughts of an escape attempt after he’d held a sobbing Tilin all night, trying to comfort him after the child had been whipped in his place for a minor offence. He couldn’t risk the children suffering for something he did. Once the children were clean, the men ordered them out of the water. Still dripping, they were told to put their shoes on and walk up to a barn near the farmhouse. There they found thin towels and a stove waiting for them. The barn was clearly used to house captives, since bunks were already set up and the doors had strong locks, quite out of place on a farm. Still, the barn was better than the cart, and sitting by the stove with the towels about their shoulders wasn’t too bad. The floor was clean and laid with fresh straw, much more