Fire Ch. 01byEnithermon©
Hi there! Totally new to this, so all comments good and bad, but especially constructive are very much appreciated. Either way, I hope you enjoy. :)
The night was cold and was growing long. Thea fought to keep her eyes from falling closed. It didn't help that the bonfire, her only source of light, made her face burn and eyes ache with its dry heat. She wished desperately that she could turn from it, and cool her over-heated flesh, but the best she could manage was to move her head slowly from side to side, evening the flames invisible lick like one would a spitted roast. The image sent her into a dry hacking cough of a laugh.
She'd fallen ill in the last two days, she guessed from the strain of not knowing what was to happen to her, and from sitting alone in the cold and dark. Now the chill that swept down the cliff face, off the granite rocks made her back seize and tense worsening the cough, and made her arms ache all the more as they hung suspended above her head. The bound wrists chaffed red and raw with her attempts to escape the strange sensation of being charred on one side and frozen on the other. Well perhaps that is an exaggeration she mused to herself...but she was just close enough to the fire on one side and the stone on the other to feel the effects of both most uncomfortably.
You'd think if they were going to dispose of someone as a sacrifice they would at least have the decency to make them comfortable, especially if they didn't have the guts to make a quick death of it. "You'd think so wouldn't you" she whispered softly into the night. She had few friends in the little town however. Few meaning none. As an unmarried woman past some magical age that was neither here nor there, and with no family to speak for her, she fell into a dangerous category. Better to throw her to the invisible powers that be than take the chance that she might be a witch or some other stupid made up monster of nightmares and childish tales.
She sighed heavily. Did she just stand here then? Tied to a post and wait till the fire burnt down and the cold claimed her, or hunger, or animals drawn by the scent of illness and decay? Since she'd moved here as a girl with her grandparents, both of whom had passed on long ago, she'd never seen a sacrifice. She didn't know what to expect, or what was meant to happen to her. She'd heard that they were practiced, every so often, when great need arose. But she knew of no great need that would necessitate this. A little drought maybe, a couple rough winters, but that was the risk of living off the land. There was no scourge, no pestilence. Bitter thoughts plagued her mind. Poor excuses made to rid themselves of an inconvenience. "Bastards."
Her anger woke her and she tried her bonds again, hoping they'd somehow loosened on their own. A foolish thought, but what else was she to do? She succeeded only in rubbing her wrists even rawer as she tugged against the knots trying desperately to wriggle her hands through the rope. The ropes that bound her feet kept her from even trying her strength and gaining slack. Not that she had much strength left. They cleverly brought her out here in the early morning hours so that her chances of starving to death increased. No need to bloody their hands completely. They built their fire and proceeded to make all sorts of impotent gestures at ceremony and religion, strange words in old languages, words that held power. Why? She wondered then, simply because they were old? Simply because they sounded exotic and strange on a modern tongue? It was a lot of superstitious nonsense.
Because they'd brought her out so early to begin their foolishness she'd been tied to the post and left, a silent spectator. They'd not fed her or let her relieve herself. She twisted uncomfortably at that thought. She'd been holding her bladder for hours now, and very soon she'd have to face the shame of soiling herself when she could control it no longer. She silently hoped she'd have lost consciousness by then. Then she need not feel the gnawing of her gut or the brittle parched throat and mouth, made more unbearable by the heat of the fire. It was, she noted, slowly ebbing.
It was a relief, but also terrifying, knowing that soon she'd be blind in the darkness and there were still so many hours to go before the morning. Her light, her defense against the cold, against the animals she knew must be out there, was gradually dying away. The fire burned too hot, but still, she needed it. She sighed heavily and slumped. All she could do now was gaze into the licking flames, the mesmerizing throb of the embers slowly devouring themselves and wait. "And what exactly is it that I'm waiting for?"
She'd spoken into the fire, into the darkness beyond and expected no answer, but she had one anyway.
She blinked the sparkles of light from her eyes and peered into the darkness, expecting a villager, or official, but she saw nothing. Had she imagined the voice?
Gradually a face materialized in the shadows, behind the flames. He stood on the other side of the great fire, somewhere between the ceremonial ring and the blackness of the forest's boarder. They were far enough from the village that no lights or torches could be seen. She squinted at him, trying to place his face, but she couldn't.
As he drew nearer she saw his face clearly across the circle. His body was darkly clothed and from what she could see, cloaked, and formless. His face was clear, with sharp angles made sharper as the fire flickered over his features, casting deep shadows over his pale skin. His eyes seemed to glow eerily in the uneven light like the throbbing embers, black with hearts of pulsing blood red. She knew it was a trick of the light, but it caused her to shiver nonetheless.
"Who are you?" Her voice came out in a dry whisper.
"Just a passer-by" his voice was also a whisper, but his was smooth, almost melodic, deep and rich.
She shivered again.
"Please" she whimpered, her voice cracking with desperation and hope. She wet her lips as best she could. "Please, cut me down." Her voice failed her and she pleaded with her eyes. She blinked and he was gone. She let out a cry of despair and whipped her head searching for the figure. He was there, his hands already at her wrists, the knot already sliding loose. How? Was she delusional already? Her arms were heavy, too heavy to hold up and her legs buckled.
"Strange choice of words poppet" he whispered softly in one ear as he guided her fall. She couldn't see him, but she could feel him, around her, behind her perhaps. "How long have you been dangling?"
"All day", she choked, pulling her hands into her lap and trying to rub some small feeling back into them.
"I imagine I should find you a comfortable stump somewhere then?"
Normally that would have embarrassed her, but need always trumped shame. She nodded loosely and felt arms lift her easily. What thought she could spare for this stranger told her he was very strong and very fast, as no more than a brief moment passed before he set her down on her feet wrapping one vice like arm around her waist and lifting her skirt with the other. He wrapped her skirts carefully around her and set her down on a log, helping her shift as she needed. He released her except for one hand which he kept at her back and turned politely away. It was an unnecessary gesture, she was in too much pain and too dizzy and sick to care, but she noted and appreciated it anyway.
She tried to speak to tell him she was done but found no voice for it, so weakly lifted one hand to tug on his cloak. He looked down at her, with his pale serious face. She couldn't quite make out his expression in the darkness, and his eyes had become dark pools. Before she saw him move she was once again in his arms and again before she could orient herself he had set her down, this time by a little creek. She didn't wonder long at his intentions because as soon as she realized where they were she felt the cold water against her lips. She drank greedily. He fed her the water in small handfuls until she was gasping with satisfaction and leaned away. She was sitting on her own now, that was a good thing. She sat there and stared at him, and he stared back from those dark pools, on bent knee. Neither moved.
"May I ask what that was all about?"
"I was a sacrifice." She said softly, her voice sounding stronger, more her own. He arched an eyebrow.
"Perhaps I should put you back then."
A sick fear overwhelmed her. She was so close to salvation.
"No please" she begged coming forward on her knees about to grab his cloak. He stopped her with a hand, gently gripping her shoulder.
"Calm yourself little one. It was a joke." He looked deadly serious. She angled her head suspiciously at him. He returned her look with the ghost of a smile that just barely tugged the corners of his mouth. It made him look ghoulish.
"What was it they were sacrificing you too?"
"Who knows." She said sitting back with a sigh.
"Probably some idiotic fertility god, they've already forgotten the name of." She rubbed her aching arms absently and let out a little whimper when she encountered a sensitive spot. It was sticky to the touch.
She looked down to see smears of blood and raw flesh. She whimpered again at the sight. Thankfully she was still too numb to feel too much of it.
He leaned in, slowly taking her wrists and drawing her towards him. His face was still darkened by shadows, but his eyes seemed to glow again, as if they'd captured the light of the fire and reflected it belatedly. She watched him cautiously, but again reminded herself he'd only helped her, she had no reason to fear him...yet.
Something in her screamed to tear away from him, but she shushed it. He was her only hope she reminded herself, she'd never make it out of these woods alone. He paused and she realized he was gazing into her eyes. He cocked his head curiously and she looked away from the strange scrutiny, feeling her face burn. She watched with trepidation as he lifted her wrists, and looked down at her arms. They two must have made a strange tableau she thought absently.
He winced and she frowned then jerked away in surprise as he suddenly laved her wrist with his tongue leaving a swath of fresh blood, his blood, across the torn skin. She cried out, but he held her still.
"Stop that" he admonished calmly, as if she were a jittery colt. "You'll hurt yourself"
He pulled the other wrist to his mouth and she watched in silent horror as he bit down on his tongue again and coated her wrist in a thin sheen of blood, turning her hand and meticulously covering every inch of bruised flesh. He moved back to the other wrist again and continued to lap until she wore grotesque bracelets of bright red.
She trembled in his grip. She knew she was weak, but she could feel that he held her with no effort, and that no amount of pulling, regardless of her strength would free her. This was wrong. This man was mad. Her stomach twisted in terror.
He released one wrist which she pulled away and tucked safely behind her back and he dipped the edge of his cloak into the stream and wiped away his blood from the other. She winced preemptively, expecting pain, but there was none.
"There. All better." She looked at her wrist that he held aloft for her inspection, and the blood was gone. And so were the scratches, the bruises, or any sign that she'd spent the last 18 or more hours hung by her wrists. She thrust her other arm into the stream and pulled it out. He released her and stood. She could only gaze at her arms in wonderment.
"How is this possible?" she frowned and looked up at the cloaked figure looming above her, his eyes once again deep shadows. "What are you?" Fear crept up her spine in twisting tendrils, replacing amazement once again.
His head bent down until she could see his eyes.
"It would seem that I am your alternative." He held out a hand to her, and once again her body screamed at her to tear away, to fly as fast and far as she could. She clenched her jaw and forced herself to take the proffered hand. It was cold. Very cold. She shuddered again.
If he felt the shudder he didn't acknowledge it and pulled her to her feet. She staggered, but managed to find her footing. Her legs were still week and they trembled with the effort of keeping her upright.
"I'm not sure I can walk" she admitted, instinctively reaching out as her legs began to waver once more. He caught her arm and pulled her against him, so that they stood toe to toe, his arm looped about her waist. Her heart missed a beat and she forgot how to breathe. The flames in his eyes flashed momentarily and he swung her into his arms in one smooth motion.
"Hold on to me", he ordered sternly, but with that same calm smoothness as before. She wrapped her arms around his neck tentatively and cringed.
And then they were moving. She thought she must still be light headed because everything seemed blurred, disoriented, until she realized that the wind had picked up and was pelting her face. She turned her head into his shoulder and peaked over it. She realized then that she couldn't focus not because she was dizzy, but because they were moving exceptionally fast. The forest, the village, the fields tore past them faster than the swiftest of horses. In fear she looked to him, hoping for answers. All she saw there was the same calm serious expression that was always on his uncanny face, though perhaps his eyes were a bit more focused. She shut her eyes and clung to him, praying to no one in particular that she might see the dawn alive.
She didn't remember falling asleep, or losing consciousness, but when she awoke she knew with a certainty that it was much later and that wherever she was it was far away from anything familiar. She knew this because as she lay frozen in fear and confusion she was gazing at a high stone ceiling. The sort of thing you find in castles, or great manor houses, or at least in cities...and as far as she knew there were none of those where she was from, or anywhere near them. She turned her head slowly and saw that she was on a large bed, lying on top of the covers, in a large, but sparsely furnished room.
There were a few hangings, a wardrobe and a fireplace with two chairs within her field of vision. She lent up a little and her head swam and ached. The foot of the bed faced a massive wooden door and the other side of the room had a desk.
Her heart leapt in her chest. She wasn't alone. The man, her ghostly savior, was lying right next to her.
She slipped off the bed and backed away. Her instinct to run, bolstered by fragmented memories of inhuman strength and speed and his strange blood trick, were all countered by a sudden and intense curiosity. He looked much less eerie in this light than in the darkness of the forest.
There was only the fire and a number of candles, but he looked far less ghastly, and though he was still a touch pale, it was with an olive undertone. His features were indeed sharp, but in the light were more striking than macabre; he had high cheekbones and temples with a straight aquiline nose and a defined jaw. She admitted taking a tentative step closer that he was darkly handsome in a way, and she also noted with a blush that he had a definitely sensuous curve to his unusually red mouth. She remembered again the strange occurrence with his blood and looked away.
Her gaze traveled the rest of his body instead. He was fully dressed but his cloak had been tossed onto a nearby stool, other than that, even his boots remained on. His clothing was plain, belying the simple but elegant nature of the room. He wore high dark brown boots, over similarly coloured breeches. She flicked her eyes quickly over the tight bulge where his dark leather jerkin and fitted shirt met his hips, refusing to let herself blush at the self conscious pang over her own primness.
She continued up his body noting that he was in fact quite tall, not having been lucid enough last night to notice it then. He was also rather well built. His straight hips and waist expanded into broad shoulders and chest. The sleeves of his shirt were not tight, but closely fitted enough that she could see the outline of his upper arms against the fabric and that they were anything but flabby. His hands were folded over one another on his stomach which rose and fell slowly in his sleep. They were large, long fingered and elegantly tapered. Her eyes moved slowly upwards, drawn again by the alluring red mouth. She wondered at herself for being so intrigued by it. She'd never remembered staring at a man's mouth before. Then again she'd never encountered a man quite like this one before.
She watched the lips fascinated as the straight corners crept slowly up. He was smiling.
She gasped with realization and stepped back again, her eyes snapping up to his. She expected those dark flames again, but they were still closed. He did not move. Was he still asleep she wondered?
She watched him cautiously before slowly looking around again. She moved finally after a time and tried the handle to the huge heavy looking door, finding it closed tight. She noticed there was a key hole below the handle and sighed.
"Don't worry I have the key." She jumped and turned. He was already sitting at the edge of the bed, his arms resting on his knees. She hadn't heard him move.
She wasn't sure how to respond to that either. Whether or not he had the key was not her primary concern right now.
"Unless that's what worries you." He caught her eyes with his and held them as he rose.
"Can you see my thoughts?" she whispered softly, wondering what other strange powers he had. Was HE a sorcerer, like the villagers feared she might be?
"No. You just have very expressive eyes."
She blushed and broke his gaze, smoothing her skirts and missing his smile at her shyness. She cleared her throat.
"So, what now? Am I your prisoner?" she was careful to keep the accusation out of her voice. Regardless of whom or what he was, he'd saved her she reminded herself again.
"No. The locked door was just to keep you from wandering while I slept. I have three servants, and only one knows you are here. You seemed like the type to go wandering off." He straightened his jerkin and smoothed back his hair. It was a dark brown like his clothes and cropped close to his head. He glanced at her as he moved past to unlock the door. His eyes were a deep molasses coloured brown, many shades darker than her light brown ones, it was no wonder they looked black in the darkness. A key appeared in his hand and the door made a loud clunking sound. "You'll wait here a moment?"
She nodded and stood back as he slipped through the door, closing, but not locking it behind him. He returned less than a minute later with a tray. She saw a water jug and bread and something steaming. He placed it on the little table in front of the fire.
You should eat." He gestured to the food and left without another word.
"Not very talkative are you?" she muttered as the door clicked shut, and set about her breakfast, or supper, or whatever it was with ravenous intent. It wasn't long before she'd devoured every scrap and nearly emptied the water carafe. She assumed she was meant to stay where she was and sat in the large high backed chair staring into the fire. She didn't notice the door creak open.
"Hello there?" a strong yet feminine voice called out. Thea blinked and got to her feet. She was faced by an older woman, at least in her fifties, wearing a simple homespun dress, much like the one Thea herself wore, and the woman smiled. "Don't you look a sight then. Where ever did master find you, you look like you've been dragged through the dirt."