Soldiers tied Ned’s hands together and he was forced to the ground. What felt like a long time passed while the soldiers whispered irritably amongst themselves. Ned was brought to his feet in the late summer sun with hands bound to his front. He looked at the rough soldiers around him and nervousness set in. The man who wanted him dead stepped forward and pulled out a dagger. Ned looked down and held his breath. The blade hacked at the rope, which fell to the ground. Another soldier kicked the rope aside. The dagger was sheathed and the soldier walked over to Kroll. Turning their backs, the two men spoke in whispers.
“We need to secure him somehow. The kid can’t just run like that,” he said.
“Use the irons but… so long as he’s given a fair chance, I think he might just make it back to Malaxia,” Kroll said.
“With due respect Sir, I don’t think so,” the man with a big, hooked nose replied.
Kroll gave Ned a quizzical look. He could tell there was a wildness in the boy’s blood. “How about this? I say the boy will make it back with us. If he can’t keep up, you choose how he dies. But if he can, I sell him. Deal?”
“We are elite soldiers, Sir. Chosen because we can move quickly for a long time and then fight in battle without rest. Few Malaxians pass into our ranks. When he fails to keep up… and he will. I’ll tie the boy to a tree and leave him for the wolves,” the soldier replied, scratching his big nose.
The man smiled and grabbed Kroll’s forearm. They shook and the wager was on. He walked over to Ned and strapped an iron clamp around the boy’s neck. The end of the chain was attached to the soldier’s wrist. Kroll pointed the way ahead and began to run. Anxiety etched across Ned’s face as the chain pulled on his neck. He broke into a run. It was fast at first, but they soon settled into a manageable pace. Ned found it better to hold the metal around his neck with one hand and use the other to move by his side. He focussed on the ground, which was uneven and hilly. The men did not rest often, but slowed down to keep going. Ned struggled on that first day, trying to keep the chain mostly slack. When the time came to make camp, the chain was removed from the soldier’s wrist and Ned was secured to a tree.