As the soldiers closed in around us, Dog and I searched for an out. We were born to evade and escape. Had it just been the soldiers, we’d have made it. We could have bitten and clawed and slid between two of them and lost them in the crowd, even if I didn’t have Claw with me, my sharp sliver of metal. But the soldiers weren’t the only ones there. Wherever we looked to slide away, the collared man and his dog found us.
With a snarl, Dog and I threw ourselves at him, being of one mind. In a flash, his features changed, teeth baring and face narrowing. His eyes, usually an amber color, shifted to golden yellow and bored into us as his claw-like hands seized each of us by the throat. With surprising strength, he lifted both of us clear from the ground. His mastiff growled at our dangling legs, its face so near we could feel the hot breath coming from its massive maw.
The collared man growled deep in his throat. “You’re not getting away this time.”
Our eyes sought out Nokomi’s as she pleaded on our behalf and pulled weakly at the man’s arms. Like a child slapping at a wave, she was nothing to his strength. No wonder, for Dog and I were helpless, too.
All I could do was tell Nokomi a name. Adish would wonder what became of us, and it was clear we’d not see him again. “Adish…” I managed to choke out.
Her terrified eyes registered confusion. “Kalb! You’re hurting them!” She screamed as we choked.
The collared man shrugged her off with a snarl and shifted us around so he held us by the scruffs of our necks, as a mother dog would carry disobedient pups. Then he began pushing his way through the crowd, and he was the sort of man that people parted way for. Many watched, but they did so from a safe distance, regarding the whole lot of us as one might eye a pack of feral dogs. Perhaps it was the yellow eyes or the snarling lips.
I kicked my legs and twisted, only to find his iron grip tighten. “Adish!” I shouted back at her.
“What?” She still didn’t understand.
“Tell Adish and Barid! Tell them about us!”
Nokomi froze, understanding crossing her features. “Kalb! Stop!” Others paused, for she had a commanding tone about her voice, but it had no effect on the man.
The collared man laughed and charged through the last few paces of the Bazaar. Strangely, my eyes finally managed to take in the full wonders of the place, as if gulping down sights I felt I’d never see again. If we were to die or be taken away, Dog and I wanted to remember this place, the place where we were once again brought to Nokomi’s side.
A jail wagon was summoned. Kalb, the collared man was apparently called, stood patiently, holding us as he waited, though he set us down so our feet could touch the ground. No amount of twisting could free of from those hands. The guards flanked around us, a protective circle that would not open to permit Nokomi, though not for lack of trying.
Nokomi tried pleading. “Please, Kalb! He’s my friend.”
“Little Miss, I’m very aware of who this is, of what he is, and your father has plans for them both.” A broad grin broke across Kalb’s bearded face.
I watched that grin from the corner of my eyes and struggled not to tremble with fear. Whatever plans Nokomi’s father envisioned for us, I strongly suspected they meant collars. Would we become like this man? What would we be without our freedom. Even in my oldest memories, we’d always been free. Life had not been easy, but it had been lived by our choices. Now, what would it be?
“Let me say goodbye, at least?” Nokomi made as if she might press between the two guards in front of us, but they did not budge.
“Say your words from there.” Kalb said coldly.
Nokomi’s brow furrowed and her mouth worked, but no words came out. I, too, had no words. Instead, I reached out, and our fingertips nearly met when she reached between the soldiers, but Kalb barked and order and the soldiers closed ranks, denying us even that.
Down the avenue, I could see a jail wagon coming. It must have shown in my eyes, because Nokomi turned and looked. She saw it, too.
“Goren…” She choked out.
“That’s not my name.” I whispered back.
Tears ran freely down her cheeks as they dragged Dog and I toward the wagon. Not one to give up, Dog twisted suddenly and bit Kalb’s into the webbing between his thumb and forefinger, latching tightly about his hand. I began tearing and snarling at him like a beast as well, fighting with every ounce of my strength to be free. How I longed to have Claw in my hands. Why had I forgotten my blade? Had my times with Adish made me so careless?
Kalb grunted, but did not release us no matter how I kicked and jerked at his grasp. I could not free myself, even standing with my feet on his chest, perpendicular to the ground, I could not pull free. Kalb just eyed the two of us with the contempt a proud predator might show for another’s cub or wounded prey. We simply weren’t a threat to him.
The giant mastiff lunged and tore into Dog’s hindquarters. He yelped and was forced to release his jaws from Kalb’s hand. Whimpering and crumpling to the ground, Dog snarled at the larger dog, but he was beaten. I collapsed to the ground, feeling Dog’s agony as sharply as if it were my own. I shielded Dog’s body with my own, no longer caring about escaping; I only wanted to protect Dog. The mastiff backed away from my snarls.
“Kalb!” Nokomi shouted, sharp little knife in hand, raised above her palm.
Kalb shook his head. “No, Little Miss, you wouldn’t.”
She hesitated, knife wavering above her skin. Then she screamed in frustration. Whatever she’d planned on doing was done, and I hardly felt being lifted into the wagon with its bars and locks.
I’d never been in a cage before, but that was not nearly as concerning as the bite on Dog’s flank. Dog and I huddled in the cage, awaiting our fate. Nokomi watched as we began to roll away, and we locked eyes, Dog and I with her.
We burned her face into our souls and watched her fade from sight, lost in the crowds of the city.
National Novel Writing Month 2019: The Emperor's Dogs