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“Show me the strongest,” the stranger said, and Gillian’s head jerked back up.

The jailor grumbled, but he ordered his men to drag the bound bodies that had been shoved to the back of the room to the forefront. The stranger bent over each one, pushing matted, filthy hair out of their eyes, as if looking for someone. Gillian didn’t watch. She concentrated everything she had on biting through the remaining mass of cloth in her mouth, her eyes on the open door behind the men.

The guards came only once a day, doling out water and a thin gruel, and she didn’t know what kind of shape she would be in by tomorrow. Even worse, she didn’t know how Elinor would be. She glanced over at the child’s huddled form, but she hadn’t moved. Not for hours now, a fact that had Gillian’s heart clenching, part in fear, part in black rage.

If those whoresons let her daughter die in here, she’d rip this place apart stone by stone. Her arms jerked convulsively against the shackles, but they were iron, not rope. If she couldn’t speak, she had no chance of breaking them.

It didn’t help that she hadn’t had water in more than a day. The guard assigned to that detail last night had been one of those she’d attacked on arrival, in an aborted escape attempt. He’d kicked her in the ribs as he passed, and waved the ladle under her nose, but not allowed her so much as a drop. If he’d followed orders, he might have noticed what she was doing, might have replaced the worn woolen gag with something sturdier.

But he hadn’t.

“That one’s dead,” the jailor said, kicking a limp body aside. He quickly checked the others, pulling out one more before lining up the remaining women at the stranger’s feet. Most were silent, watching with hollow, desperate eyes above their gags. A few struggled weakly, either smart enough to realize that this might be a way out, or too far gone to understand what was happening.

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