The sun had set by the time Karla was washing the blood off her hands and leaving Marian resting in a deep and dreamless sleep that would help her Heal and provide her with at least one night's rest without being plagued by nightmares. Karla had tried to cushion the memories of what had happened to her, push them away to relieve them of the immediacy that they would otherwise have, but anything more than that she was unwilling to do. The woman--Marian, her name is Marian, she has a name, is a person, not just a convenience!--had already undergone enough trauma for one day without violating her mind, too.
Karla had sifted through those memories, being as gentle as she could, replaying the attack to make sure that there had been no other injuries she had missed, needing to know what a Black Widow might have to treat as well as a Healer. The vision she had seen had made so little sense that she'd needed to rewind a bit, go back several minutes earlier to piece together what had happened--and it was a good thing she'd nearly been done with the Healing by the time she'd done so. She'd barely managed to protect Marian from the thick sheet of ice that had covered the work surface as she'd come back to herself and made sense of the memories she'd witnessed.
No wonder Jaenelle had needed her to handle this Healing. Too much of Marian's story had been familiar, a tragic story played out a thousand times throughout Terreille every day. No uncles this time, just a father who saw his daughter as a commodity, once whose value as a light-Jeweled hearth witch was not enough to feed her father's ambitions or enhance her family's status and so was seen as disposable.
"Hell's fire, woman," her father said, his voice rising. "It's not too much to ask. I need the errand done, and I need it done now."
"Why can't it wait until after breakfast? One of the girls--"
"No." A pause. "A Priestess-in-training and a Healer-in-training can't take valuable time away from their studies for something simple like this. Besides, Marian isn't doing anything important. She won't be missed."
Marian pressed her lips together as she looked at the biscuits ready for baking. She wouldn't allow her father's words to cut her this morning. She wouldn't. Besides, she'd been hearing that sentiment in one way ot another her whole life--more in the past few years since her younger sisters had been accepted into training. A hearth witch was a convenience--no one in her family noticed she was around unless there was a some hearth-Craft they wanted done. But there was something about the anger and desperation edging her father's wheedling voice and the strained annoyance in her mother's that made her want to draw her wings in tight to her body in a defensive gesture and play least-in-sight.
She heard her mother's exasperated "Very well, then" and went back to mixing the batter as Dorian entered the kitchen. Her mother hesitated, then moved briskly to the table where Marian was working. "You heard," Dorian said.
"Hard not to," Marian replied, keeping her attention on the mixing bowl.
With a huff, Dorian pulled the bowl and spoon out of Marian's hands. "Well, go on then. Take care of this erran that's got him so bothered and get back here as quick as you can."
"To do more things that are unimportant?" Marian asked, surprised to hear the resentment that had been building inside her for a long time actually color the words.
Dorian's face flushed with temper, but she kept her voice low. "Don't you use that tone with me, girl. I won't put up with you getting snippy and acting above yourself."
Marian swallowed the lump in her throat. Yes, this had been building for a while now. It might as well be said. "If I'm going to be treated like hired help instead of family, I should at least get a wage for the labor."
Dorian dropped the spoon on the table. Her hand swung back. "What's the delay?" Her father's voice boomed from the kitchen doorway.
"We'll finish this later," Dorian said, regaining enough control to press her hand against the table. Marian scurried out of the kitchen, ducking by her father as he raised a hand as if to cuff her, but she stayed far enough ahead of him until they were outside the eyrie. Then he caught up to her and grabbed her arm hard enough to bruise. She saw a temper in his face, but it made her think of a scared bully rather than a dangerous Eyrien Warlord. Still, a scared bully could become dangerous if he needed to convince himself that he was strong. He started to speak, then held back, clearly deciding to ignore a household squabble since it wouldn't interfere with what he wanted. Using Craft, he called in a thick envelope and handed it to her. "Messenger's waiting for that. Needs it before the day begins at Court, so don't be dawdling."
"If it's so important, why don't you deliver it?" Marian asked in a small voice, unused to being given errands of any important.
His fingers dug into her arm. "Don't sass me girl. Just do as you're told." His other hand pointed a a small wood in the valley below. "He'll be waiting for you there. You fly down, then take the path through the woods."
"And if I don't find him?"
"He'll find you." He released her arm with enough force that she staggered a couple of steps to keep her balance. "Get on with it."
There had been a few moments of precious joy while Marian flew to the woods where the messenger waited, but those moments were all too short and soon she was landing on the path. The trees grew up too tall and too close for real flying and she kept her wings tightly furled at her back. The feeling of being watched tingled her spine. She'd almost reached the other end of the small woods when an Eyrien Warlord stepped out of the trees and spread his wings to block the path. Four other Warlords stepped out of the trees behind her.
"You have a message for me?" the first Warlord asked. They were all wearing clothes that were old but of good quality. The kind of quality that only aristo families could addord. That didn't make her feel easier. "Well?" he demanded.
"Calling in the envelope," she walked toward him until she was close enough to hand it over by extending her arm the full length. He snatched it from her, tore it open, read the first page quickly, shoved some silvermarks into his pocket, then tossed it all aside. When he looked at her, his smile was amused and cruel.
"The message wasn't meant for you?" Marian asked, backing away from him.
"Oh, it was for me. You're the rest of the payment, witch."
"I--I don't understand." She felt the other men moving closer, surrounding her. "If you hurt me, my father--!"
The Warlord laughed, a vicious sound. "You really don't understand, do you? He sent you here, didn't he? He knew well enough what's going to happen. But nobody is going to miss the likes of you."
The conversation from the house echoed through her mind. Marian leapt skyward. There wasn't much room to maneuver under the trees, but she was only a few wingstrokes away from open land--and open sky. If she could get past the Warlords, she might be able to stay ahead of them long enough to catch one of the Winds. She was in the shadow of the Black Mountain, where a new Queen was said to dwell. If she could reach the Keep, she could bed for sanctuary and the Warlords couldn't hurt her.
She'd almost reached the open land when she heard the crack of the whip, felt the leather cut her skin as it wrapped around her ankle. They hauled her back under the cover of the trees--and they were on her, flying around her, letting her flail and struggle and try to fly while their knives and warblades sliced her. Blood flowed from dozens of cuts. When they sliced into her wings, she managed a rough landing, but there was nowhere to run, no way to escape.
Ripples of dark power coming closer. Closer. "Help me!" she screamed towards that power. "Please! Help me!"
Laughing, the Warlords grabbed her arms and legs and flipped her over on her back, holding her down. The first Warlord dropped to his knees between her legs and ripped her torn, bloody clothing to expose her. "No one is coming for you," he laughed, and cut her again just because he could. "We'll leave you here and no one will even care what became of you."
"Hurry up," another Warlord said. "Or the bitch will bleed out before we all have a chance to use her."
"She'll last long enough," the first replied as he opened his trousers.
No, Marian thought, though her head was swimmy and her vision blurring. The ground beneath her was turning into red mud. No.
"You want to play with a witch?" a midnight voice said quietly. "Then play with me."
The last thing Marian saw before her eyes sank closed was the fear on the face of the Warlord between her legs. Then a wave of freezing black rage washed over her, pulling her under. She thought she heard muted screams of agony and terror, then the sounds were gone. Everything was gone...
...until she felt a hand close over hers, felt power that wasn't hers flowing into her. She forced her eyes open and stared at the golden-haired, sapphire-eyed woman kneeling beside her. Stared at the Black Jewel that hung from a chain around the woman's neck. "You're the Queen," Marian said, barely able to draw enough breath to shape the words.
"Yes, I'm the Queen," the woman replied.
"I don't want to die."
"Then don't." The woman placed her other hand on Marian's forehead and the dark power closed in around her again, but it was warm now, gentle, a cocoon of soft blankets. Power not her own kept her heart beating, her lungs moving. Her last thought before she surrendered to it was, I've seen her. I've seen the Queen of Ebon Askavi....
Karla found Jaenelle in her sitting rooms, reading one of those romances that was as close as she was willing to get when it came to experiencing intimacy with a man. Considering what she'd gone through, first at Briarwood, then visiting aristos in Little Terreille, and finally in that sham of a marriage that had ended when Jaenelle had torn her so-called 'husband' into shreds so tiny only his ring finger remained to identify him, Karla couldn't much blame her. "Have I read that one yet?" she asked, sitting down in a chair near to Jaenelle, but not quite intruding in her space.
Janelle closed the book and looked at her with sapphire eyes that still held a touch of feral rage. Her friend hadn't come back yet. Not completely. She was still dealing with Witch--and her Queen--and she needed to tread lightly.
"How's the woman?" she asked quietly.
"Marian will be all right," Karla replied just as quietly.
"Marian." Karla saw Jaenelle visibly tighten the chain on her temper as she repeated the name. "Saetan came by already. The bastards hadn't known her name. Hadn't cared who she was. The debt is paid, the kill is finished. They're no more than whispers in the Darkness now."
"It's still better than they deserve," Karla said. "She lost a lot of blood, but the wounds are healing well. Her wings were sliced in several places, but they were easily repaired. Still, I'd like you to take a look at them when you can. You know Eyrien physiology better than I do." Jaenelle nodded and Karla continued her report. "A couple of days of bed rest and good food will rebuild her strength. There won't be any permanent damage."
"To her body," Jaenelle amended. Yes, she would make that distinction between body and heart. Her own body had healed from the brutal rape that had almost destroyed her when she was twelve and had sent her soul wandering in the abyss for two years, far deeper than anyone else could follow, but she still carried the emotional scars....and always would.
"To her body," Karla agreed. "Her crystal chalice is in good shape and her web intact, her Virgin Night likely years behind her. She will survive, she will recover, and she will heal. She's strong. Has strength she doesn't even know about yet." Karla's attention was snagged by a gleaming silver tray on the table between them and her stomach rumbled. "Have you eaten?"
When Jaenelle gave her a wary smile, she knew her friend was back. "I was waiting for you." Shifting her legs, Jaenelle lifted the domed lid off the tray and handed over a steaming bowl soup, several hunks of chewy bread from a basket, and a small bowl of whipped butter. Karla didn't even bother to hide her hunger, but dug into it with gusto. A day's worth of Healing left her starved, but more than that, Jaenelle always ate more if someone joined her than she ever would alone. Janelle settled into her meal with a healthy appetite that relieved Karla--and enforced the decision not to tell her why Marian had been attacked by those five Eyrien males unless she specifically asked. She knew the basics, no reason to reveal the details. Instead, Karla teased Jaenelle about the book she was reading, demanding salacious details until Jaenelle turned red and nearly choked on a mouthful of bread.
They'd finished the soup and were halfway through the prime rib that followed before Jaenelle spoke up again. "I was thinking," she said with enough hesitation to make Karla watch her sharply. "If Marian doesn't want to return to Askavi in Terreille--"
"Ugh, and why would she?"
"--she'll need a place to stay. So I was thinking she could stay with Luthvian for awhile. Help out a little with small hearth-Craft things while she regains her strength."
"Why Luthvian?" Karla didn't bother to hide her disdain. She thought as little about Lucivar's mother as the older woman did of her. Their relationship was tangled and adversarial, Luthvian being the only dissenting voice in the decision to finally promote Karla to Master Healer and Black Widow after the civil war had ended. There was nothing Karla could say that wouldn't reflect their antagonism and she didn't bother to hide it. "Trying to convince her that Terreille isn't the worst option?"
"She's the only Eyrien female in Ebon Rih," Jaenelle said with a quelling look that Karla ignored. "She could help Marian adjust to living here. And she's a Healer, so she could keep an eye on how well Marian is recovering."
"So am I," Karla pointed out. "So are you. So are tens of others I could name. And we're not all rampaging bitches like Marian is."
"You're kind of a bitch, darling," Jaenelle pointed out and Karla laughed. "Emma trained you well. But none of the Healers you mentioned are Eyrien and I'd like Marian to have someone who can understand what she came from to help her settle in. And make sure her wings are healing well, too."
"And staying with another woman would be easier for her right now, if, as you say, she'd the only Eyrien female in the valley," Karla sighed, her voice suggesting she still thought the idea was terrible.
"All the other females are Rihlanders," Jaenelle said. "Short-lived race who lived here first, but are allowing Eyriens to resettle. Luthvian's lived among them since I was a teen, acting as their Healer."
"They're probably all terrified of Healers now," Karla grumbled.
"If it doesn't work, I'll find another place for her," Jaenelle promised.
Karla still looked mulish, but she didn't have any better ideas. "Then it's settled," she agreed. "Though, in that case--you need to keep telling me about this book you're reading. It sounds all kinds of kinky. Spare me no details!"
Jaenelle evaded, Karla pursued, and they ended the evening with a delightful hour of haggling over who'd read the best and filthiest of novels most recently that helped them both step back from the blood and the fury that had started the day. As Karla rode the Coach home, a copy of the book in hand, she allowed herself to hope that sending Marian to live with Luthvian wouldn't be the unmitigated disaster she expected. The poor hearth witch had already undergone enough. Let her find some measure of peace now that she was in Kaeleer.
[WARNING: Trigger warnings for violence, abuse, and attempted sexual assault. Adapted from Chapter Three of "Prince of Ebon Rih" by Anne Bishop. NFI, NFB, OOC is always appreciated!]
- The Keep, Ebon Askavi, Evening, Friday (Fandom Time)