CHAPTER II - A tightening of ropes.
The night passed without further twists of events: Jojen managed to get a couple of hours of good sleep, mostly induced by the exhaustion from the past day, while Meera had to submit to her entanglements before managing to get some rest. Anyway, the sun rose on the horizon way too soon for both Howland Reed's sons.
The "Red Crows" camp was slowly turning into activity, when the sound of galloping horses announced the arrival, as Itani predicted, of the bandits' leader at his headquarters. The two brothers could hear the men gathering for the event, saluting and complimenting their chief, when Itani entered the tent and reached for Meera.
"What are you going to do with her?" Jojen asked, his muscles flexing in tension as to what could happen to Meera, while his sister gave out a mild grunt, trying to move away from her captor.
"Don't worry, kid. I'm going to untie her so you can both have audience with Largo in some dignity." Itani replied, Jojen sighing in relief. "But be aware that any sign of resistance or disrespect will be met with further punishment. Understood?" he pointed at Meera, the raven-haired girl giving a slight nod in reply.
As soon as the ropes and gags were off, Meera barely had the time to stretch her limbs and clear up her throat with some water Itani had provided, that another bandit, his looks way less reputable than Itani's, stepped in and demanded the prisoners to be brought into Largo's tent, for interrogation. Itani tried to take Jojen's sister by her arm, when she firmly took a sidestep away.
"I think I learned how to walk a long time ago, "Sir". Don't you try to touch me. Ever. Again." she said, looking straight into his eyes and glaring at him, her brother placing a hand on her shoulder as to suggest her to keep calm.
Itani smiled. "Careful, "Milady". You haven't seen my skill with knots, yet. But you might very soon y'know?" he replied, handling a piece of rope in his hands and playing around with one of its edges, his eyes accepting the confrontation with Meera.
"Let's not waste any more time, now. You don't want to keep Largo waiting. Follow me." he then stated, leading the way out into the open.
* * *
Jojen and Meera rarely felt that much observed in their lives as they strolled through the camp, the majority of the Red Crows staring at them as they tried to avoid any eye contact and entered the huge tent that had been assembled to host the gang's head.
Speaking of which, the heirs to Greywater soon found out why the man was called "Largo": his head was so disproportionately bigger then the rest of his body that the men serving under him would probably do in fear of being literally eaten at the first sign of disobedience. Apart from his Northern physical traits, the style of his outfit referred to a more exotic heritage, probably Dornish. Jojen immediately felt this sort of duplicity would make Largo a very unpredictible and volatile opponent.
The overall tone of the "audition" was immediately set by Largo himself, who sat in some sort of wooden throne surrounded by a handiful of his personal guards, who looked at least as shady as their boss. It all didn't look good, at all.
"Well well, who do we have here?" the man asked, stretching himself. "It's not like every day y'see kids wandering around here. That ain't no playground, y'know?".
He paused, then went straight to the point. "Alright, kids. I dunno like to waste precious time, y'know? Time is business. Tell me who are you and what were you doing out there on the hills and we'll make this quick.".
Jojen had to make up for an excuse, and fast: "My Lord" he said exhibiting some reverence, "we are nothing more than foundlings, unworthy of your attention. We've been trying to make a living out of the wilderness for many time after our parents were killed--"
His arguments was abruptly cut off by Largo and his mens' laughters, while Itani met him with a smile.
"Dis kid's thinkin' telling jokes would put 'im outta troubles, it seems." Largo replied. "Well, let's see if we can use that sneaky little cunt to make things more 'ntertainin' an' get some truth out 'o this! Bring Itani his bag 'o goodies, now!" he said sounding both amused and overexcited.
Jojen didn't like any of this. And he was praying that Meera wouldn't overreact to the ignominous comments.
One of the henchmen brought Itani the "bag of goodies", which, as the brothers soon realized, contained a number of coils of brown, thick ropes, and many white cloths. The brothers shared a quizzical expression when Largo took word again: "No gang can lack an expert ropemaster when dealing with sneaky kids as yourselves, y'know? Now, let's start wrapping that cunty cutie up for g'd reason!".
Itani held the ropes in his hand, and quickly reached for Meera from behind. "I'm sorry...", he said with a smile, as he roughly kneed the unsuspecting girl on the back of her legs bringing her face down on the ground.
Meera gave away a grunt of pain, before starting to protest: "Get off me, you freak! Don't you dare to touch me!" her screams only seemed to amuse Largo and his henchmen even more. Working the ropes around her limbs with expertise, soon the ropemaster had both her wrists and ankles firmly tied up, as Jojen could only watch.
"Alright, kid." Largo said staring at the boy. "Any more lies and her predicament'll get worse, gotcha?".
Meera tried stretching her arms and legs to loosen up her bonds, with no results other than letting the henchmen excitement grow even more.
"Don't hurt her!" Jojen said. "I'll tell you what you want...".
"No!" Meera shouted. "You don't tell him anything, Jojen! He'll dispose of us as soon as he hears the whole story!".
Jojen deliberately ignored her. "We are scouts sent by Riverrun to monitor and report any unusual troop movements north of Lord Frey's dominions. Release us and let us go our way, there is no need for us to mention this incident, but you can understand why our mission had to be held secret." he tried to sound as convincing as he could be, while thanking the gods for those seemingly boring politics lessons the House Maester gave him since he was little more than an infant.
The whole audience stood silent for a long while. Largo seemed to be thinking over the boy's words as to carefully take them into account. Then, unexpectedly enough, the man started sniffing around, taking everybody by surprise.
"Hmm. D'you recognize this smell as well, kid?" Largo said, turning to Jojen.
"W-which one, my Lord?" he reluctantly asked. If there was anything he could smell, it was troubles.
"My men reported casualties, when they ambushed you. They told me of young boys handling knives and bows and arrows pretty good for being simple scouts, not t'mention Frey's scum. So, what I'm smelling right now, 'tis more and more bullshit." Then he turned to Itani. "Tighten her up.".
The order was meet with controlled cheers by the rest of his men as the ropemaster lifted Meera onto her knees and started thoroughly harnessing her upper body with more rope. "Nnngh! Let me go, you scum! Let me out of this right now!" Meera protested as her whole upper body and legs became fully webbed in thick rope.
"You bastards! You don't know who you're messing with! You're gonna pay for this!" she screamed out, losing herself into frustration.
"Meera, stop! Don't say anything or they'll--" Jojen tried to warn her, before his expectations were fully met...
"For gods' sake, shut this little cunt up!" Largo ordered.
Promptly, Itani took one of the white cloths from his arsenal, and pulled Meera's hair to lift her head. "Ouch! No! Get off me!" she protested as looking at the cloth in shock.
"Fuck... no! Leave me alone! Not again... nnnghh!! NhnmmMMMPPPHHH!" she screamed as the cloth was forcefully crammed into her mouth and being held by Itani's hand covering her mouth, the henchmen cheering at the girl being subdued even more.
Quickly and methodically, her captor took another cloth and, despite her attempts at wiggling out of the gag, pulled it over her mouth and tied it tightly behind her head, muffling her screams almost completely.
"NNNHMMMHNN!! WHMPHHHH!!" Meera let out in rage.
"Now, little child." Largo told Jojen. "The next step will be hogtying your accomplice like an animal and dropping her in the forest as we move out, leaving her to hope of being found by rapists before wolves do. Now, you g'nna tell me the whole, simple, truth or not?". The man looked damn serious.
"MMmppphh!" she let out staring at her brother. She'd rather die than jeopardize her mission.
"Alright, here's the truth. We are Jojen and Meera of House Reed, sons of Lord Howland Reed. We were sent out to Winterfell to swear loyalty to pledge loyalty to Robb Stark upon the death of Lord Eddard Stark. We were instructed to avoid moving along the main road, that's why you intercepted us up on the hill. I'm sorry for the loss of your men, but we needed to defend ourselves and try to avoid capture. If you let us go, I'm sure he'll be willing to handsomely reward you for sparing our lives.". Revealing the whole plot was indeed a risk, but it was worth letting him understand they were much more valuable as hostages than corpses.
"Jhmjhmmph!! Nhmpphh!" Meera kept protesting through her gag and bonds.
Largo heard Jojen's words carefully, then considered his options. "Hmm. On one thing, you're right. You'll surely mean gold for all of the Red Crows. But I'm sure the Lannisters will outpay any ransom your House Reed can offer me. This is too much of an' opportunity to pass up. I'm sure they'll be more than interested in hearing the story you just told me as well.".
Jojen gulped. Going all the way down to King's Landing would put them even further away from ther initial goal...
"WHMMMPHH!" Meera disapproved under her gag.
"So, I want to move out as quickly as possible. The boy rides with me and my guard, stash the girl in the supplies wagon instead. Y'guard her, Itani. Carry on." Largo said, rising from his throne and heading out with his personal guard. One of the henchmen reached for Jojen and took him outside, while he turned to look at her sister, who was being lifted and carried away, over the shoulder, by Itani, still grunting and screaming.
As messed up as their situation had become, they still had their lives after all.