Jelena

Booted footsteps outside her cell brought her staggering to her feet and her head held up high. They wouldn’t see her grovelling on the floor like a frightened peasant. Ignoring the pain in her head she thrust her hair off her face. Her braid was mostly undone, and the locks that fell in her eyes stank of the cell floor.

The key turned in the lock. Her heart thudded despite her determination to show only disdain for her jailers. Mali got away. I must remember that. We did not fail. Daegal’s death was not in vain. Her lip trembled and she clenched her jaw, blinking rapidly as her eyes welled with tears and her heart gave a painful pulse. The light of the lamp carried in by her jailer was mercifully dim and she did not have to squint. She had expected Malchor and the sight of the man who had killed Daegal filled her with such fury that she felt it vibrate through her. She had to force herself to stand there, to not launch herself at him. Arrik placed the lamp on a hook on the side of the door which closed with a loud thud. He regarded her, again with that quizzical tilt of his head.

“I wasn’t allowed to touch the other one, but you’re different. No-one cares what happens to you.”

Her heart raced and she felt sweat break out in the centre of her back. She might have been able to reason with Malchor, or at least convince him that as a hostage she had negotiation value through virtue of her rank, but this sorcerer was insane. His eyes, a deep brown shot through with red, held a focused intensity that reminded her suddenly and vividly of a house in her childhood, a dark tiny closet, and lots of pain. Her hand trembled and the walls of the room seemed to close in but she kept her head high. I survived that monster, I will survive this one. And then I will kill him.

He whipped his coat back, exposing a belt full of knives. Her eyes widened but she made herself stand still. The knives were varied in length and width. He drew one that was needle thin and her breath sounded raspy to her own ears as he slowly stalked over to her, the blade flickering in his fingers. She made to push him off but her caught her throat in a grip of iron and squeezed. Struggling to breathe she stared wildly as the rapier drew closer to her eyes. Her heart was pounding but she would not beg. He paused with the blade right in front of her eyeball. Trying not to move she forced herself to draw breath in through her nose rather than the instinctive drive to drag lungfuls of air in through her mouth. He smiled and scored the blade down her cheek. It burned and she cried out as the flare of something vile seared itself deep into her face. His hand left her throat and he patted her face approvingly. “That’s right. Just like that”. Throwing her to the floor he fetched a bucket from near the door. She looked at it wide eyed.

“You see, people realise that blood carries life so they understand how it can carry power, but they don’t realise that it can’t be used for power unless it’s obtained through pain.” He set the bucket down next to her and pulled her to her knees. Her face burned and her throat was swollen, making it hard to breathe. “In the old times, sorcerers used to make the sacrifice of their own blood, their own pain. It took someone like me to realise that the power increases ten fold when the pain comes from someone else.” His teeth gleamed in the flickering light. “And it tastes better”

She had thought she knew fear, she had faced many enemies and many dark things, but this was something different. A scream was sitting just under her tongue and she realised the whimpering sound was coming from her own throat. He stroked a finger down her arm.

“But you should be pleased. This makes you important”

With that he pulled her left arm out and with a jagged blade began cutting and ripping her forearm. The pain made her heart skip a beat and her vision blur and the scream escaped her mouth. But anger rose too; he could get blood without this much tearing, he was enjoying her agony. That thought helped her to press her lips together. She couldn’t stop a moan escaping through them but she wouldn’t scream again. He lifted her chin and watched her face as her blood dripped down her arm into the bucket. He pulled her arm straighter and her eyes rolled back. The blood that had been pooling in her elbow crease now slid down to join the rest of the bright red liquid, the smell of wet metal wrapping around her like fog. His hand slid up her cheek and she tried to pull her head back. He gripped her nape and leaned down to whisper in her ear.

“It is surprising how long a person can last if you only bleed them a bit at a time.”

She was dimly aware that he was binding a rough dressing over the mess that was her arm. He tucked in the ends with a little pat.

“This is enough blood for today but we need a few more screams for your friend, to soften him up. So be a good girl and it will be over soon. For today at least.” He gripped her neck more tightly, then threw her head against the wall. A loud cry was surprised out of her on impact but she gritted her teeth on the pain. I am no-one’s good girl. I am a soldier. Time blurred as he bashed and kicked but she kept her mouth shut. When he finally cast her down in disgust, her vision blurred and her breath came shallow and rapid. Without another word, he took the bucket and left.

The blackness that came with the departure of the lamp was comforting. She tried to breathe deep but the scent of iron was in her nostrils and she gagged.

At least I know Anton is alive.

 

__________

From Redemption, completed first draft, revisions in progress.

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