The people around him began murmuring. He strained to hear. He found, despite their strange pronunciation, that he could recognize most of their words if he listened closely.
"Ho! Here comes Denai. Why does Flint bring her over here?"
"She does not want to come,"observed a woman. "See, he pulls her along."
"She is a mouse, a dull mouse," added another woman. "She creeps around our camp. When she is not watching the children, she hides in her hut all day. Ever since—"
"Hush Rabbit Woman," interrupted another feminine voice. "You know her brothers are very protective of her. Trout would not like to hear you speak against her."
"I only speak the trust," insisted Rabbit Woman in a sullen tone.
Blade glanced around. Two of his captors stood near him; the other was guiding a woman in Blade's direction.
I have to get out of here, he thought. But no opportunity to escape had yet presented itself under the watchful eyes of his three strong captors.
Muscles aching, Blade drew his legs up. A plan formed quickly in his brain. While the crowd's attention was upon the man and the woman coming toward them, he would escape. He got to his knees; no one heeded his movements, since they were all watching the woman. He pushed himself halfway up. Then a foot tripped him and he fell back down in the dust.
"You stay there." His thickly set young captor laughed. Blade glared at him. The man grinned, his brown eyes gleaming in amusement.
Blade shook his head. Ever since his capture he'd studied three captors, determined to learn something about them that would aid his escape. All he'd learned thus far, he realized in disgust, was their names and that this particular captor, Trout, liked to joke and laugh.
The people clustered around Blade guffawed.
He gritted his teeth. He would escape these fools!
His tall, thin captor, named Dirk, stood watchfully silent, as always, his arms across his bare chest. Blade followed his glance.
"We went to much trouble to catch him," Flint explained to the woman. A thick-shouldered man, his long hair was turning gray at the temples of his wide, brown face. He appeared to be the eldest of Blade's three captors, and, as they bore a family resemblance to each other, Blade guessed them to be brothers.
"He put up a good fight," said Trout. He said it so proudly that Blade glanced up at him. "He is very strong, Denai."
Blade eyed the woman. Her body was slim and she wore a woven sagebark skirt and short tunic of brown rabbitskin. Her dainty feet were shod in woven sagebark sandals that tied crisscross on her shines. Her black hair was tied back in a loose horsetail style. Her face was turned away from him as she spoke to the eldest. "Who?" she asked softly. "Who is he? Why did you bring him here?"
"He is to be your husband," answered Flint.
The woman jerked her head and turned to face Blade, her jaw dropping. Then someone's legs blocked her view. "Husband?" The woman's astonishment was no match for Blade's.
Trout laughed delightedly. Dirk grinned slowly, his eyes on the woman.