A/N: Plot, characters, dialogue, all mine. But please enjoy.
A/N, pt II: Well I've been reworking the last three chapters of story, starting with this chapter the fifth and eventually the sixth and seventh. I've taking down the original ones that were up and they will be reposted with awesome corrections long with the eight chapter soon, hopefully. So even if you've already ready this, reread it and check out my cool changes.
Speak Like a Child
A knock at her door brought her from a light sleep. Around her the darkness hung thick and hot. As the knock rattled at the door again she rose from her bed, shrugging off blankets. "I'm coming," she called, her voice throaty as she pulled a soft cotton tunic over her bare skin. Igniting a candle, she padded to the door and opened it to a bleary eyed man. "Its late, Lex. You better have a good purpose for waking me."
The thick, muscular man before her seemed not to hear the soft chuckle in the threat as he stood with a stature of a sad, broken looking man. "The mistress wishes to see you."
"What's wrong?" she demanded, her mind finally waking. "Is she alright? The baby?" She pulled on a pair of heavy boots that lay by the door.
"She's fine." He looked like he wanted to say something more, his eyes falling to the ground before returning to her face. His mouth opened, but closed quickly and he turned, expecting her to follow. She paused and then shut the door to follow him.
"Then what?" Lex didn't answer her question, nor did he speak at all and she just followed in silence as he led her to the main house. As he led her to the mistress' drawing room, he turned sympathetic eyes on her before leaving her to the mistress' door.
"Enter," echoed from deep inside after she knocked and she entered to find the master and his wife. "Yana," the lady master greeted.
Yana bowed and made a point not to meet their eyes though a tug of defiance still pulled at her insides. She had learned to ignore it, allowing a little "It is late mistress. You should be resting." Eyes downcast, she gave a tired smile, "A mother needs all the rest she can get before her child arrives." The master stood rigid by the window, while the mistress sat in a rocking chair. They both were dressed for bed. "What did you need from me, ma'am?"
"Come in, Yana and shut the door, child. I need to speak of something very grave with you." She did as she was told. "We received a messenger a bit ago. He brought word of your husband." Air halted in her lungs. "He is dead, child. I am sorry."
She stopped breathing all together, but didn't speak. Neither the master nor mistress spoke and for a moment she raised her eyes to meet the mistress'. "Tell me your joking." No reply. "The messenger was wrong, call him back. Please." Neither said anything. "
"He wasn't wrong, Yana." The mistress held out a sharp and jeweled dagger and with trembling hands, Yana took it. It was the one Derrick had given her before she was sold. She had given it to Rei before he had left for the war and he had prized it like nothing else. He would not have just lost it.
"Yana," the master's voice broke her thoughts as she sheathed the knife. "Your husband agreed to go to war and in return you and he would receive your freedom, plus some money to help you start a life." She gripped the knife, listening to these words. "Your husband died a free man." Her chest ached even harder and she closed her eyes, clutching the knife to her heart. "I would like to keep my word. We entered into a business arrangement and I intend to keep it. You are free, Yana."
The words struck her hard and again she couldn't breathe. She raised her eyes to meet the master's, as if daring to be punished. No strike came and he held her gaze. She stared into eyes she had never seen before and she had no words to reply to him.
The master held out a leather pack out to her. "This was also his. I gave it to him before he left. Now it contains both yours and Rei's papers and some money." They fell into silence and she accepted the dusty pack and tried to remain in composure.
"Yana," the mistress spoke again. "You can remain here if you like. You will be paid. But you don't have to."
Her mind still couldn't function, but she knew without thinking she couldn't remain there. She wasn't a slave and she wanted nothing more to be rid of the life. "Rei has a sister who lives two days from here. I would like to go see her."
The master nodded. "Very well. Stay the night, leave tomorrow."
She nodded. "Yes sir. Thank you."
"You may go, Yana."
She left, focusing on keeping herself steady. She passed Lex, who had waited for her, but she left him without a word. She returned to her dark house and shut the door, still clutching the bag and the sheathed knife to her chest. The bed was empty. Laying down, she curled on her side, around the bag. Rei was gone, her Rei was dead. The words sat burning in her throat.
"Oh, Rei," she whispered closing her eyes and pushing her face into the sack, feeling dirty cloth against her face. "You stupid man, I begged you not to go. Oh lords, Rei…" she whispered in a sob.
She had planned to leave early, but a long night of sobbing had kept her inside her home, curled inside her empty bed, dreading to face the day. By now everyone would know, gossip was a slave's favorite past time, a voice being the only thing left for them to own and everyone would have heard about Rei's death. And against all her strength she couldn't gather enough to face the condolences and pity. She hated pity. She didn't want any of that. She wanted Rei, her Rei.
There was a knock on her door at midmorning and with a stiffness in her joints, she climbed from the stuffy bed and opened the door. The master appeared at the foot of the two wood steps that led up to the entry of her home. "Hello Yana," his voice was grave as he stared up at her.
She stared at him, right in his pale green eyes as if daring him to strike at her. "Morning, sir. Is there something you need from me?"
"May I come in, Yana?" She stepped away from the doorway and he entered. An odd air settled over her hot home, the master had never entered her residence and he stood in the center of the dark room, she wondered how he kept an air of superiority away from clouding him. "I was hoping on catching you before you left," he started as she shut the door. The sun lit the room warmly and she gestured to a chair at a small round table for him to sit in. "Thank you," he replied, sitting down as she took a seat opposite him, staring at him, feeling defiant. "You have declined assistance in getting to Rei's sisters and that is fine. But Yana, I must warn you. It is not a safe time to travel alone. There is war and nothing is secure."
Yana felt her insides boil at the thought of the war. For years, through news and rumor she had heard of Valen's moves. First that he had ascended to the throne, though it was unclear why her father had stepped down. Then how his armies were beginning to move, his forces edging his land, pushing bit by bit into other lands. She listened with disgust at how he had turned a once respected and friendly nation into a killer. The Silwa name smeared in blood.
"I thought the war is to the west of here," she spoke with a shaky voice, trying to remain steady, but not succeeding.
"It is, but Valen's," she recoiled at the sound of her half-brother's name, but the master didn't notice, "men are getting more ruthless and moving in faster then we can resist." He sounded defeated, like he was admitting something he didn't want her to know. "You can't travel the countryside alone and it scares me to think of anyone riding, even in groups. They are ruthless and despicable and they wouldn't hesitate to…" He stopped himself. "Not safe, it isn't safe."
"There is a party traveling to East Gabriel tonight at seven. I want you to ride with them, I have already spoken to the driver, he has secured a place for you."
"Thank you sir."
There was silence for a moment. "Your husband fought because I couldn't, Yana. They are drafting because there are not enough arms against Valen's forces. He has taken too many lands and enticed too many armies' good men." Her master stood to leave. "Good day, child. I wish you well."
He left and she was alone with nothing to do until six, when she'd leave for the village. She buried herself into her hands, not looking forward of a day alone.
She left before six, needing to be gone and out of the one room home that housed her life. She never had visited the village, she had always stayed on the master's estate. Ex-master, she reminded herself. But she couldn't bring herself to enjoy the town, despite having been kept on the same land for the past eight years. She had gone to the inn where they were supposed to meet and leave from. People arrived around her, toting bags as she sat clutching Rei's pack in her lap. This was all too new for her. The first time in sixteen years she was traveling without chains or under the threat of the lash.
"Are you Yana, the girl Jared told me about?" She raised her eyes from a pair of boots to a face darken by a five o'clock shadow.
"Alright, come on girl. I haven't got all day. I've got a seat waiting for you." She slung the bag over her shoulder and followed him and some other worried looking travelers out of the inn. A man stood outside with a group of horses attached to an empty hay cart.
Slowly people climbed into the cart. The woman in front of Yana seemed apprehensive about the trip, as many she followed. Yana found herself sitting between a clean and giggling young man and woman on one side and an older woman clutching a squirming child on her other. Majority of the travelers appeared weary and fearful. Yana just remained quiet, once again Rei's bag tightened in her grasp.
They bumped and rattled along. The cart creaked underneath her, but aside from that the ride was silent and she felt easier about it as they got further away from the village. The sun disappeared behind the trees as the forest began to thicken around the road and darkness started to descend. Her eyes began to itch as sleep started to pull at her. It had been a long day and she had been crying and aching for too long to feel well.
The cart jerked to a stop and Yana was sent slamming into the young girl beside her and the older woman hit her. Her son whined as the toy horse he held was knocked from his hands. "Halt." Five armor clad soldiers and a thin young page sat atop black haired horses, blocking the road. Their faces were hidden behind dark helmets with two stars, one larger than the other engraved in green on their chest plates. They were Valen's men.
Fear sank in her gut, but anger bubbled up in her throat. Yana felt her heart slam into her chest. Everyone around her seemed to freeze and stare at the men in the road. The driver tensed, but kept a calm yet defiant gaze on the knights. "Can I help you sirs?"
One of the men kicked at his horse and took a step forward. "You are trespassing on restricted land," he announced, voice oddly loud, despite the helmet.
The driver still looked unafraid. "There aren't Valen's lands," the driver growled. "His damn war is miles from here."
"You see us standing here, don't you?" the man, their leader, spoke again.
"You're thieves. Your war fights while you raid for our money and our women," the driver snapped. "You're cowardly-" With a sickening crunch, an arrow appeared in his shoulder. He doubled over gasping and fell from atop the cart.. The soldier beside the leader held a crossbow.
The leader jumped off of his horse and unsheathed his sword. "Get out," he demanded of the cart occupants as another followed him and the rest raised crossbows. "Form a line. Ignore me and join your driver."
As she followed the other passengers, Yana felt bile rise in her throat. At arrow and sword point she was being forced to stand hostage for her brother's men. It disgusted her. They stood in a line, tensed and staring in fear at the soldiers. The young woman clutched to her new husband and the little boy tugged at his mother's hand, trying to investigate the soldiers. The driver still clutched to his arm, in pain.
"Empty your pockets," the leader yelled. "Make a pile, on the ground."
Slowly they did. Coins jingled into the dust followed by jewelry, daggers, and knives. The young woman sobbed as she threw her wedding ring down. Yana trailed behind her and as the young woman stepped away, the dagger weighed down heavily on her ankle, hidden inside her boot as she stepped up. With shaky hands, she dumped the money she had received into the pile. As she turned to leave, one of the soldiers grabbed her arm and yanked her back into place. Her heart doubled in speed, but she fought to slow her breathing and she turned on him, attempting to find a break in the helmet where she could see a human face. She found none. "What's your name?" he demanded. His voice sounded familiar, but the pounding in her ears forced the thought from her mind.
The armored grip on her arm tensed before releasing it. She tried to step back, but was forced to a halt as dirty, hot metal grabbed her chin. Instinct told her to fight, but she remained still as a face hidden behind a helmet stared into hers. The hot metal fingers tightened on her face and she strained to keep from calling out. He threw her backwards into another soldier. She grunted as she hit the metal armor. His hands wrapped around her arms, securing her in a vice grip. "Hold her," he ordered. "The rest of you get on with emptying your pockets." The rest of the passengers gave up their possessions as they eyed Yana with fear, trapped behind a line of soldiers
The soldier who had grabbed her turned to the one who had spoke first. "Get them out of here and let's go."
"You there," the one who seemed to be the leader gestured to two of the passengers. "Get him," he motioned to the driver, "and leave."
One of the men turned to the bleeding driver, while the other just looked at Yana. "The girl?"
"She is no concern of yours," growled the soldier who had grabbed her. The young man gave Yana one last look before going to attend to the driver. No heroes among peasants, she scoffed internally as they loaded him into the cart as the others scrambled to climb in.
Panic rose in the back of her mind. "Let me go!" She tried to pull away from the knight, but he held her tight. Metal dug into her arms and she knew there would be bruises. To her horror, the cart was beginning to leave. They're taking me. I won't go with them, not Valen's men…I can't be a slave again.
The other soldiers were preoccupied. Two watched the cart speed off, crossbows cocked and trained on the retreating party. The leader and the knight who had grabbed her were talking in whispers while the page was at their feet, gathering their earnings into a bag. The one holding her kept tight to her arms, but his head was turned, directed on the pile of loot on the ground.
I won't be a slave!
Without warning, she threw herself backwards into him, knocking the man holding her off balance and onto the ground. The four other dark knights turned on them as Yana rolled off the downed knight, pulling his sword from the sheath at his hip. She rose, holding the weapon in front of her. It had been years since she had formal training with a sword and it weighed heavily in her hands. Was she really preparing to fight four trained soldiers on blurred memories?
"Put it down, you stupid girl," ordered the soldier who had grabbed her. He pulled his own sword and she took a step back, heart pounding. His voice was venomous. Everyone seemed to freeze around her as she held the sword up with some struggle. Dust settled around her feet, clinging to her clothes that already felt gritty with dirt. Everyone watched her and she couldn't breathe.
I don't want to die here.
"Drop it and get on the ground."
Steadying herself, she didn't move. "Like hell I will."
He growled. "Get her," he snapped at the soldier at his side.
The soldier pulled his sword and jumped at her, swinging the glinting metal at her without restraint. She blocked the swing and fell back at the force. She could never overpower him, he was stronger. And he was covered in sheets of metal, while she stood naked of protection in her gritty clothes. But on the other hand, she was smaller, enabling her to move easier and faster. As he took another swing, she dove under his arm and took off for the trees.
"You idiot, get her. If she isn't found and brought back here, you will all be in chains."
She ran. The forest was dark, perfect for hiding, but her sight was limited and as she ran she stumbled through bushes and branches that clawed at her body. She ran deeper, needing to losing her dark pursuers. She wasn't going to be anyone's captive, not again. Especially not to her bastard brother's men. Her pounding heart raged in her chest and she breathed in short gasps as fear gripped her.
"Go on, you idiots. We can't go back until she's found," someone growled in close proximity. Scrambling, she dove out of sight into a large bush. "Quit shooting off your mouth." Footsteps came crashing past where she crouched and she froze, refusing to breathe, move or blink. Within seconds the feet were gone and she breathed out.
She waited and when it seemed like they were long gone from the spot, she move to crawl out. Pain seared through her face and the sword went flying from her hands as she was thrown from the bush. The thin page boy stood over her, holding a tree branch in her hand. Thin lines of blood wet her fingertips as she touched her throbbing cheek, unable to focus her mind from the force of his swing. "I've found her! I've found her!" he called out.
Swallowing back pain, Yana took his distraction to go for the sword which had slid into the brush a few feet away. He saw her attempt to rise to her feet and kicked her down. Clutching her ribs, she wheezed out a groan. Her body was protesting, jaw and ribs aching from pain. The boy discarded his branch for sharp metal and went for the sword instead. She grabbed his foot and he belly-flopped into the dust. He attempted to wrestle away from her, pulling at his foot, but only finding success as his foot connected with her jaw. She reeled back and he hefted the sword with both hands before pointing it at her awkwardly. It was too heavy for him and too long, but she wasn't going to debate the fact as he held it positioned at her midsection.
"I found her!" he screamed again.
No, no, no, no, no, I can't be property. She lay in the dirt and waited, planning, watching him as he struggled to hold the sword up. Finally he made his mistake as he looked away, ready to call out again and she kicked the sword from his hands. It fell easily and for a moment he stared at her, unsure before lunging back for the weapon. She kicked his legs from under him and he hit the ground hard, stunning him and sending the wind shooting out of his lungs. With one quick motion, she was on top of him and the dagger from her boot was at his throat. "Shut up," she demanded, a murderous ferocity in her voice. "Open your mouth and you're dead." He nodded.
Slipping the knife back to her ankle, she climbed off of him and turned to run, but stopped as a sharp pain ran across her stomach. She fell backwards, tripping over the body of the page, inhaling a cloud of dust as she stared up at a dark armored knight with a bloodied dagger in her hand. Her shirt was ripped and stunned, she dropped them to look at the painful, bloody mess that formed on her stomach. She couldn't think, only stared as her mind clouded with panic. One large metal hand clamped onto her arm and hauled her to her feet and she could do nothing except call out in pain. The soldier grunted a sound of approval at the boy who beamed as he climbed to his feet. "Go get the others, we will meet at the road." The boy ran off.
Yana struggled, trying to pull out of the iron grip that held her, but she was having trouble staying steady. His grip didn't lessen, instead his other hand clamped around her throat and as his fingers tightened threateningly, she stopped struggling. Laboring to breathe, her hands flew up to try to pry his fingers away. His hand released her throat and for a small moment relief flooded her senses before his hand struck her face. It was like an explosion of pain across her face. She fell from the force with stars dancing in front of her eyes. Her edges of her vision darkened.
She was on her hands and knees as she heard someone else walk through the trees toward them. "Our lord want her alive, you know?" the new voice spoke as twigs snapped under his boots.
"She tried to attack me. I put her back into her place." He yanked her to her feet and all she could do was hold her pounding head. As he grabbed her hands and tied them together, she tried to stand, but couldn't focus strength into her legs. Her hands felt sticky with blood and instead of her mind clearing, it seemed to be floating further away. He gave her a hard push. "Walk girl." Stumbling, one knee hit the dirt and she fell forward, unable to upright herself. With one last choking gasp, everything went black.
So that's the fifth chapter rewrite. Look forward to the chapter six-eight soon. Please review.