Found – Part Sixteen
Parts One through Fifteen can be found on my author’s page
***Trigger Warning: Mentions of torture and murder***
A soft knock interrupted my musing.
“Nox,” came her teary voice. “I have your food.” I waited for her to open the door. A few moments ticked by, and she made no movements or sounds. What is she waiting for?
“Can I come in?” she squeaked. She was asking for my permission. She wasn’t going to slide the heavy door open and throw moldy food at me. She wasn’t going to force her way in and drag me by my hair off to a malevolent man that was going to use me for his sick amusement and twisted agenda.
“Nox? Are you sleeping?”
I was shaken out of my shock.
“No, I mean yes—I mean, come in.”
The door creaked, and Mara shuffled her way through a tight opening. She set a tray with steamy food and tea down on a small table by the window.
“I thought you’d like to eat with a view. Do you like the room?” She arranged a chair, so it faced outside.
“Yes, it’s nice,” I said, my mind not at all thinking about the room.
“Are you all right?” Mara asked, not looking all right herself.
“Yes, sorry. This is all just new for me.”
“I can understand that. Do you need anything else, any questions I can answer for you?”
Oh, I had questions. But I feared that she could not answer many of them. Her dejected smile accompanied her solemn gaze. I was consumed by her sadness and found myself needing to know where it came from. What kept those unshed tears sparkling in her eyes?
“Why are you so sad?” I blurted. My hands flew to my mouth as soon as the words slipped from my lips. Mara turned her face to the floor, and her body shuddered as she released a heavy sigh.
“I do my best to hide that,” she said, her eyes to the floor. “It would seem that I’m not doing as well as I believed.”
“Please forgive me,” I pleaded.
“No, it’s all right. I, uh, should talk about it more. I suspect that holding it in the way I have hasn’t done me much good.” She looked up at me, and the tears that were glistening in her eyes were now flowing freely.
“Mara…” My hand went to reach for her, but she held her hand up to stop me.
“Please, let me.” She sat on the chair she had set out for me. I froze in place, waiting for her to tell her story. She took a few shaky breaths.
“I lived in one of the big towns on the outskirts of the center of the Kingdom. My husband was head of town security, and he rallied some of the other men in the village to revolt against the King’s raids. His knights had been to our town several times and taken many of our young men to train in the castle, and our young women for whatever vile reasons the King wanted them. He’d murdered our Healer and Seer, and my husband had said that was the last straw. His plan was that the next time the guard came through, he and the other men would fight them. I begged him not to. We were expecting our first child, and nothing good ever came from fighting the King. Well, the day came, and the town’s men fought off the guard, and won the battle. I was relieved, and the town celebrated. But our joy was short-lived.
A mere two days later, the King himself came and demanded that the men who challenged him come forward. He said that if no one stepped forward, he’d slaughter all the men in town. My husband stepped forward and said he was responsible, and as head of town security, he offered himself in exchange that no one else was to be harmed. The King accepted. My husband was taken and thrown in a jailer’s carriage. I protested. ‘Don’t take him,’ I called out, and one of the King’s guard struck me across the face with his sword sheath.” She ran her finger along the scar across her cheek.
“My husband screamed out for them not to hurt me—that it was not along with the terms of his surrender. ‘I am not in the business of making deals with traitors,’ the King said. Then he ordered his guard to teach me a lesson for speaking to him directly. As I was beaten, they carted my husband away. I heard his voice screaming, calling my name before I lost consciousness.
I awoke several days later. I…I lost our baby. And I received a package from the castle. It was my husband’s severed head,” her voice cracked. “And a few days after that, the guard came back and attacked the town. You can imagine what happened after that.” Her skin was stained with thick tears.” She wiped her tears away and took a deep breath.
“It was some time ago, but the weight of it still lingers in my heart. I lost everything that day.”
“Mara, I—” I started to say but found that I didn’t have words for her.
“You don’t need to share in my sorrow. I’m sure you’ve seen true horrors in your life. Just as all of us in Haven’s End have—some of us are better with coping than others. Warrick would be proud of me for making it here and helping to take care of the newcomers. It’s what he would do.” She stood up and gestured for me to sit. “Why don’t you sit and eat before your food gets cold? I’ll see you in the morning. You deserve a nice, long rest today. Good night, Nox.”
I awoke to the sound of heavy metal doors, but they weren’t mine.
“Another prisoner?” I said.
“Come,” grunted one of the guards. “It’s time to meet your fate.”
“My fate does not belong to you,” answered a man’s voice. His statement was followed by the sound of metal hitting flesh, a groan, and a thump.
“Silence. Your fate belongs to the King—as does everyone’s. And he has already decided yours.”
I listened as the guard dragged the other prisoner away. And even though I hoped they wouldn’t, I knew they’d come for me next.
“Wake up,” called a voice outside my cell. “The King is sending for you.”
“Of course, he is,” I whispered. I stood and waited. I was not in the mood to be dragged away again.
The dense door opened; the guard poised to bring me by force. He was stunned to find me standing and waiting.
“This is a surprise. And may I add, a bit of a disappointment. I had looked forward to our regular interaction.” His face broke into a smug smile. He wanted to bait me into being disobedient so that he had a reason to hit me. I wouldn’t give him that satisfaction today.
“The King will grow angry if we dawdle much longer.” He sneered at me and grabbed me by the arm.
“Let’s go,” he grumbled. He half pulled, half led me through the castle. His grip around my arm was tight, and I could feel the bruises begin to form. We arrived at the Courtyard, where the King was waiting. The air smelled of pain and torment. In the center, there was a man on his knees. His arms were held out with ropes tied to the posts on either side of him. His head was hung low, and I could see a puddle of blood forming beneath him. His breathing was labored as he clung to life.
“I’ve brought him, Sire,” the guard declared.
The King turned to face us. His body was splashed with splatters of blood — just the way he liked it.
“Good. You can leave us,” he dismissed the guard. The guard bowed and retreated.
“On your own two feet?” He laughed. “How amusing. Let’s see if you leave that way.” He gestured towards the man. “This is your training for today. This man is a traitor, and we need to ensure the kingdom knows what happens to traitors. What happens to traitors, Nox?” He always said my name with a scornful tone.
“Examples are made of them,” I replied, my body stiff with anticipation of what he was going to ask of me.
“Correct. But this one,” he grabbed the man’s chin and pulled his face up, “needs to be taught an extra special lesson.”
“Curse you,” the man squeaked. He mustered his strength and spat in the King’s face.
“And your people will pay for that,” he responded. “Nox, kill him.”
My heart stopped. No. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I looked at the man, and our eyes locked. His battered face held as much shock as mine.
“That is a child,” he stated. “You would have a child commit murder? You are wicked!”
“I can’t,” I whispered. But the King heard me. He turned his eyes to me, and the wrath simmering in them did not bode well for me.
“This is not murder. This is an execution of a criminal. You can do that, can’t you?” he growled. But the only response my body had was tears.
“I had anticipated this. So, I offer you a choice. Guards!” The guards appeared at his call, and they held a young woman who thrashed against them.
“Please let me go! Please! I’ve done nothing against the King! I have young children! My husband works in the fields outside the castle! Please!”
“Silence!” yelled the King.
“Please, Your Highness. I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve done my best to serve loyally. Whatever crimes I’ve committed, I did so in ignorance. I beg your forgiveness!”
“Oh, my dear. Your only crime this evening is that you are unlucky. Here is your choice.” He turned to face me, smiling with disgusting pleasure. “You can execute the criminal, or murder this innocent woman.”
“I won’t touch her,” I said through gritted teeth. Her cries pierced my skin and fed my anger. He was playing with innocent lives, but I should have expected this from him.
“You won’t. But if you don’t kill this man, I will touch her.” He snatched the flailing woman from the guards’ clutches. Her sobs intensified. I was heavy with anger, dread, and fear. “The choice is yours. Either one dies, or they both do.”
“Please save me!” The woman cried. She wrenched herself from King Maynard’s grip and threw herself at my feet. I flinched away from her, but she grabbed at my clothes. The blood left her fingers from the rigidity of her grasp.“I have young children. My daughter, Ginette, has only seen four springs. My son, Thomas, is just a baby. Don’t let them become orphaned. Please!” Her violent sobs reverberated through my body.
“Save her!” cried the doomed man. I turned to face him, unable to call myself to action.
“Hear their pleas, Nox. Make a decision.”
“Make a decision!”
Their voices whirled around my head, a cacophony of noises hellbent on undoing me. There was a pressure building in my chest, a vice grip around my heart. I struggled to breathe. Each breath was a slice cut through me and left hot trails of searing pain in their wake.
“I shall make a decision for you.” Maynard ripped the woman from the ground and poised his sword by her throat.
“NO!” The pressure in my chest broke through, and the power crackled and fizzed inside me. I channeled it into my hands and pushed Maynard off of her.
“That’s right! Use your power! And save her!” Maynard cackled.
I turned towards the man. He smiled and nodded at me.
“It’s okay,” he whispered. “Please make it quick.”
“You’re running out of time. I will kill her, and it will be painful. Do it!”
I walked up to him, magic sizzling in my hands, tears flowing down my face.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. I lifted my hand. “Any…any last…words?” I sobbed.
“I love you, Mara,” he whispered. I sliced my hand through the air, feeling when the Magic cut through his flesh. His head rolled off his shoulders. His dead eyes looked at me, all the light fading from them, and his last proclamation of love hanging from his lips.
I jumped from the bed, my body covered in sweat. The memory flooded my mind without welcome, and my eyes stung with tears. No matter where I went, evidence of my darkness was there to greet me. How could I ever face her? How could I ever face Mara again knowing it was me who had killed her husband?