Chapter 3

"How much?" He was sitting at a boxy-scaled table, his arm over the back of his chair as he leaned. He smacked his lips, ending with a click of his tongue, as he waved his hand in the air like he was brewing soup in the air. I struggled, trying to free my hands tied behind me, the rope slicing at my wrist. The man with the southern accent stomped his feet that were propelled on the table to the ground. I stopped moving, my eyes wide. My arms shook. He returned his blue eyes, freckled face to his companion on the other side of the table. "She's being a pain."

I couldn't see the other man's face, but that only made me want to cringe back and hide. The veil of darkness over his features combined with the strange designs on his muscular arm was frightening. His voice, dark and snarling, amplified the man's image. "She's supposed to be nine. She looks younger. Is she really the one? How did you get her? It's hard to pass the security."

"See her dress? Designer. Silk. Who else would be running around in a silly blue dress? See her hair?" The freckled man jeered, wiggling his thumb toward me. I sat still, my head turned down so not to meet the stranger's gaze. "Silver blond. Long. Straight. Who has the time to keep it so nice?"

"Bah, bah!" I yelled. I fell to my side and kicked my legs, finally understanding my situation. I was in a slave trade. No...worst. They took into account who I was. The men groaned.

"Yapping like a dog," the tattooed man said.

"More of a bahhhh. Sheep. Lamb," the other sighed. "Bah, bah. Bah, bah. All she says. I think she's a lil' crazy. You'd expect her to be crying to mommy and daddy."

Hiccups interrupted his speech. It came in doves, fresh tears brimming in my eyes. I knew I shouldn't have gone with him, but I hadn't seen my Lamb in such a long time. He just came back from his travels; he told me that he wanted to show me something he found when he was with his father. 'I can have you touch the rainbow,' Lamb told me. I wanted to see it. It just sounded so pretty. But when we were up in the forest, we got jumped. I couldn't remember what happened, I could only feel the hoarseness of my throat and the furry of movements while Lamb yelled my name as he tried to beat off the strangers.

Where was Lamb? Did he get stolen too?

I didn't even get the chance to touch the rainbow Lamb promised me.

Mother, for that was what Stryder's mom insisted I call her, sent me out of the room with a sigh after I had dropped a stack of dishes. With my head hung, I sat on the same chair I sat the previous night, unsure of the surroundings as Mother complained about the messy kitchen in the other room.

I wondered where Ovid slept last night. Sleeping in his bed, I kept imagining Ovid to burst through, roll me off his bed with a thump and cover himself with the blanket. In response, I'd be left on the cold ground wondering what to do as everyone slept.

I couldn't sleep with that thought in mind.

"Are you the girl Stry brought home?" The voice was high pitch, slightly whinny. "Stryder's mine. You can't have him."

I smiled, placing my hand on the hard surface in front of me. I leaned forward and rested my head on it. "Are you his girlfriend?"

There was a silence until the girl stuttered, "No, he's my older brother. My name's Sophia Stryder."

I laughed, ending it with a sigh. I purred, "Don't worry. I already have someone I like."

"You can't have Ovid either," Sophia said. I could feel her defenses up. "He already has someone."

I scrunched my nose, the thought of being with Ovid was nasty sounding. Why would I even be with him? He was rude the moment I met him. He didn't even let me feel to see what he looked like, leaving me to guess based on the sound of his voice and mannerism. But then, I do not know what anyone looked like. The only image I had was what Ovid described as Allu. I shivered with the thought. "So he has someone. I'm sure it's just a one sided relationship. He's too cruel for anything more."

"Don't be like that," the girl snapped. "He may not be kind to everyone, but you'd know just by looking at him who he has on his mind."

"She lives in this village?" Good. I could ask her to fix Ovid's rude behavior.

"No," the child said. The voice got closer. She must be sitting next to me now, the jealousy out of her voice as she talked. "He doesn't talk much about his past. It must be someone he left at his last village because when we ask if he left someone he loves behind, he had such a pained expression. One time, we saw a rainbow and he has such a soft look on his face…something we've never seen before."

Ah. I get it. I could hear it in her voice. The way she softened up when talking about him. "You must like Ovid."

"He...he's kind. He just doesn't show it to everyone," Sophia said. The chair scratched the ground; there was a bang on the table. "Especially to girls like you."

"Girls like me?" I can't imagine what a 'girl like me' would be.

"A girl that depends on everyone; you're a succubus!"

There was a moment of pause before I burst out laughing. I couldn't stop; it came out until I had to clutch my hand to my stomach. It ached and not long after, my laughter became the silent kind where I couldn't breathe. The very idea! Succubus!

"Why are you beat red?" Ovid said, confused. I wiped a tear from my eyes, trying to calm myself. When did Ovid come back? "She looks stupid. What did you say to her?"

"Nothing," Sophia said, her voice soft. I smiled, imagining her face reddening. "We were just introducing ourselves."

"Yes, she was helping me feel at home," I said. I sat up and smoothed my skirt out, the fabric rippling under my hand. "Thank you, Sophia."

The air was uncomfortable; even though it was Ovid's appearance that caused it, it felt as if my presence was the reason. My face heated up and I rubbed my arm; I turned my head away from the gaze. I stood up, my voice hesitant and soft. "I'm sorry. Thank you so much for letting me stay here. I don't want to be any trouble."

"You're no trouble at all!" Mother's voice said, making its way out of the kitchen. Her cool hands wrapped around my arms. "Hush now. Goodness, were you going to leave while I was still preparing dinner?"

I smiled, my eyes closed. Her voice was so smooth, like the sound of the stream of water underfoot, while I was making my way to this house with Stryder. Was that what was really leading me? To this coolness? I this what every mother's voice sound like?

"Mother!" Ovid said. Mother withdrew one of her hands. It felt odd, only having one hand of Mother's on my arm. "We can't be doing this with every little girl that comes by. Especially with someone with a handicap like hers!"

Mother laughed and let me go. Her voice was further away now and sounded closer to where Ovid stood. "We brought you in. Ill-tempered and all."

"It's different," Ovid said, his voice softening. Was Mother holding Ovid now? His voice sounded muffled, as if his face was pressed against something. "Why are you like this?"

Mother laughed. "Sophia, dear, help me in the kitchen. Dinner will be ready in thirty minutes."

There were a moment of protest but then the room was silent. I knew I wasn't alone. Ovid sighed. I flinched by the sound.

No...I couldn't be afraid. Ovid...haven't I stood up against him well enough? I shouldn't let his behavior ruin my day. No, I should be appreciative. Although he obviously detests me, he still helped me when I was in trouble. He saved a stranger from apparent danger. That must mean something, right?

"Well?" Ovid said. I could feel his gaze on me and I looked down again, my arms in front of me. "I thought you said you didn't want to be any trouble."

I nodded and bit my lip. The pressure of his gaze was menacing; it became worst when it came closer. A cool smell consumed me. Lavender, jasmine, oak moss, musk, and sandalwood. I took a step back and hit the chair with my calf, causing it to scratch the ground behind me. He was too close. "I don't see why everyone is so concerned about you."

Lavender, jasmine, oak moss, musk, sandalwood. Should a man smell like that? It doesn't match the image I have of Ovid...he was too close. I shuffled my feet back and forth. It didn't make sense...what does he...

Smack. His face was soft, but I could feel his cheekbones. It was high. I trailed my fingers down his face, my mouth slightly open as I whispered what I thought I was touching. His eyes were wide, perhaps in shock, surrounded by long eyelashes, his eyebrows thick, marking his high forehead. The bridge of his nose, long, nicely shaped. Not far down, his mouth. Full, somewhat chapped. There was a gap where his mouth slightly opened, his breath warm. It tickled. I bit the bottom of my lip and moved my hands upward, counting how long it took to trace my fingers from the tip of his nose to his ears. His was symmetrical. Hair? I reached for it. Soft, like the pillow I slept with the night before. I wanted to weave my fingers through his hair, trying to find words to describe it. It just felt so nice.

My hands were jerked away, my wrist hurting from the pull. "S-sorry."

It didn't seem to reach his ears though, for the pull was rough. Before I knew it, the air around me was freezing, my arms prickling. Cold droplets showered me. My feet lost feeling as soon as it sloshed through the pile of cold earth. Ovid must not know I wasn't wearing shoes.

"Where are we going?" I said, tripping over myself. Ovid didn't stop and so I continued to be pulled. It was a bad idea, then, to find out what he looked like. I didn't see why though...if anything, finding out made me think better of him – at least he was not the hairy snowball I thought he was.

After a while, when I picked up on his pace and was no longer tripping, my hand touched his back and traced across the shape of his shoulders before smashing straight into his back. I didn't realize he had stopped. "I'm sorry!"

Ovid sighed and I reached up to hide my face with the elbow of my arm. My cheeks were warm. "Look, do you recognize the area?"

I blinked and looked around. "I don't."

"Stupid," Ovid said, stressing the word. I bit the bottom of my lip. "Close your eyes. You can't see with your eyes."

Calm down. Don't yell at him. Even though he dragged me in the middle of who-knows-where without any warning...don't get mad.

I closed my eyes, my eyebrow raised. The only sound I could hear was the whistle of the trees when the wind brushed by. "Forest?"

"Yeah, this was where we found you."

"Why are we out here?"

"That's what I want to ask you," his voice got closer, his voice harsh. "How did you get here, in the middle of a forest, surrounded by Allu?" Before I could speak, he kept going. His voice bellowed, making me flinch back in shock. "Who are you?"

"I'm Alida," I whispered.

"Alida? The girl with no last name," Ovid's voice was thick with sarcasm. My face was pulled forward by two wide hands, cupping my ears. My face contorted, his hands thick and hurt. "Who are you to come here all of a sudden and take advantage of my family?"

I kicked something hard and I was let go. I spat, fed up by the interrogation. Who was he to do this to me? He doesn't know me! "And who are you, mister 'she's not my mother!' Who are you to suddenly call them family?"

Ovid didn't say anything but I couldn't stop. The heat from my cheeks went to my brain. "Ovid Vesper? Ovid Vesper," I laughed and turned toward where he was standing the click of his tongue giving me guidance. "You know what you are? What you should have been named? Nemo. Nemo, Nemo, Nemo. Because you're nobody to me."

"Playing with Latin roots?" Ovid chuckled. There was movement and I tripped, landing to the ground. The twigs pierced the palm of my hands. "And you got the name Alida because you can't use your little wings to fly on your own. Always hiding yourself under other people's wings!"

I gasped. How dare he twist the meaning of my name around? Before I could retort, he covered my mouth with his hand. It tasted like salt.

"Hush," he whispered, interrupting my struggle. The pressure disappeared and I sat up.

"What's going on?" I spat. In response, my fingers grouped together, squeezed into his hand.

"Allu," he said. I froze, reminded by the first encounters I had when stepping into the outside world for the first time. The image of the children with tattoos and talks about peeling my face off flashed through my memory. "What are you doing? Stand up!"

There was a pull and without realizing, my legs stretched long and ached from the run. Only the sound of Ovid's cursing and rude encouragements to keep up was heard, until I closed my eyes and the flurry of feet chased after. I shivered.

A pull. I jeered, my feet still going even though my arm was behind me. I spun and I landed against something warm, the fabric under my hands stiff and wet with sweat. Ovid's hard breathing matched the rising of his chest.

"Are we safe?" I whispered. Ovid moved and then his breath was on me again.

"Yeah, we're safe. They went the other way."

My breath came out slowly, my eyes closed. I put my hand on my chest and shook my head slightly. Thank God.

I owed Ovid.

I smiled, ready to say thank you, but didn't. He pushed me away and started walking off without me. I turned toward the sound of his feet but stopped. I glazed my cheeks with my fingers, the remembrance of how his chest felt against them…

I shook my head. "Wait for me!"

Like the first time I met him, he walked ahead. It felt as if I wouldn't be able to find my way back…but as soon as I felt lost, his steps were become louder and I smiled. Although he still did not stand next to me, hovering and asking if I was all right like Stryder did, he would wait until he could hear my feet making its way toward him, before continuing again.

Someone yelled out my name and there was a furry of movements. I looked up behind my tears. The black hair brushed in random strokes, and angular shape of his chin...I cried, smiling in relief. "Lamb!"

The boy looked at me from the narrow opening between the men that blocked him away from reaching where I was sitting on the ground. His face brightened, but darkened the longer he stared. His jaws clenched and before anyone could react, he punched the blue-eyed man in the face. The boy jumped out of the hold and ran toward me. The southern accent cursed on the ground, rubbing his face.

"Are you okay?" Lamb said, his eyebrows drawn together. The tight hold around my wrist and ankle loosen. "I'm so sorry. If I knew something like this would happen, I wouldn't have sneaked you out. This usually doesn't happen when I'm traveling with Father..."

I jumped, wrapping my arms around his neck. "I'm so glad you're safe." I pulled back and checked his face. He just stared at me, his eyes wide. How could he ignore the cuts on his cheeks and the pebbles of blood on his forehead? I smiled. "Thank you for coming for me."

Lamb turned his face away. I blinked, tilting my head to see his expression, but he hid it with his arm. Only the faint tint of redness painted on the tip of his ears showed.

"Come on," Lamb stuttered. "We have to get out of here. It's dangerous."

I nodded and stood up, my hands in his. Lamb hid me behind him and although I couldn't see it, from the reaction of the blue-eyes man, Lamb must have had a scary look on his face.

"Damn kids," the southern accent was thick with annoyance. "Can't stay still, can you?"

Lamb laughed. "Might as well let us go! You're partner in crime already left the area."

I looked around, trying to find the frightening presence but he was nowhere to be seen. So he fled, leaving the captor behind to deal with the consequences during the confusion.

Lamb turned around and knelt before me. He took my hands with his own and placed it over my ears. He smiled and with his fingers, he traced my face, closing my eyelids. I followed the silent request and sat. I couldn't hear or see anything for a long time, but when I was pulled from my sitting position, I knew I was safe. Lamb pulled me, looking back and asked if I was okay, that we have to keep running. I smiled.

"I think we lost him," Lamb sighed. He was hunched over, his hands on his knees. I patted his back, not sure if it helped, but I did it anyways to show my support.

"Thank you," I whispered. Lamb just turned to me, and with a cheeky grin, he tugged at my braid.

"We ran the right direction," Lamb said. I tilted my head, a confused look on my face. Lamb just continue to beam and pointed at the ground. I followed where he was pointing.

"It's the rainbow!" I gasped. There on the ground was a flat round rock, a reflection of the rainbow on it. I smiled and shook Lamb who was standing up until I turned back and looked at it, clapping my hands together as I stared at the rock. "Lamb, we found the rainbow!"

I squatted down next to it, not daring to pick it up in case the rainbow faded away. It was amazing. It was just so pretty.

Lamb sat in front of me, the rock between us.

"Do you like it?" Lamb said. I nodded, not looking at him. He reached down and picked the rock up.

"Hey!" I whined. Lamb just laughed and threw the rock in the air, catching it with both his hands as it came down. I giggled, the events with the slave traders like a distant memory.

Lamb and I stared at each other, our silly grins reflecting each other. It was silent until he said, "Give me your hand."

He grasped my hand and placed the rock in them, the rainbow still reflecting onto it. I smiled and held the rock closer, trying to see the rainbow. Lamb just watched me.

"I promised you...told you, you could touch the rainbow."