He looks at me...knowing it has been too long...
My fingers are ready but scared to dive back in...
The words are so few, such tiny scraps of paper...
So terrifying with their unknown letters...
I inhale and release the breath, accepting I must return to the habit...
to the sanctuary of the words...
This cannot be happening! Air! I need air...p-pllleeease...air!
The whimper escapes before I can stop it. Inhaling burns my lungs and I wait for the pain to ease before running my hands along the rough wall, frantically searching for an opening. I pound against the wood, ignoring the pain, wanting only to be heard by someone. It has been at least four days since I was placed in the first box and hours since the second.
Splinters pull at my skin with every inch I cover. The wood's tiny spikes scratch my bare legs and back. The cold has long since left body, replaced by the warmth of my own blood scattered across my skin. The journey was rough over the last days and the box had been thrown around. But none of the pain of travel compared to before.
My jaw aches from the lashes. Even if I wanted to speak it would be difficult. My teeth chattered for so long when they first loaded my crate that I bit the edges of my tongue, my cheek and my lips.
Wooden walls encase me; walls so tight that I cannot turn around. Every movement has my body aching. It has been hours since I last heard voices and now it seems they have placed me in another box; only this one appears to be airtight.
Please, God, please if you can hear me...please don't let me die...please...I don't understand.
My hands rest on my knees and I feel a splinter dig into my index finger - the pain is dull, no longer so sharp. Breathing hurts. Every inhale is peppered with a quiet rasp that has begun to grow louder with every passing minute.
Tears flow freely down my cheeks. Sweet salty drops fall against my lips and I taste my own fear. Hope is a fickle mystery that lingers in my mind, skirting along a thin line of sanity. My soul seems to remind me to relax, to wait...so I sit back against the coarse boards.
Closing my eyes I sit still and listen to the crackling rasp of my own breath.
My thoughts are of before, when once I knew the feeling of the safety. I had not known that things could change so quickly. They had come before I could learn the ways of the lost and taken me, stripped me of my belongings and handed me over... to him.
He hates me. I disgust him.
In my heart I believe he fears me but I do not know why. What could a girl of eighteen do to a man of such power? A man who ruled so many.
I anger him. His power tore at my face and hands but I did not weep. He wanted me to cry out, to beg and my soul would not let me. It told me to be patient and to be strong.
Why did I not cry?
It hurt so badly, yet tears would not come. Now they run freely and there is no one here to see them.
A noise in the distance has me jumping, my shoulder scrapes against the wall. Biting my lip from the pain I listen.
Footsteps. I pull my knees close to my chest, the rasps are faster now and the sound coming from my mouth cannot be silenced.
"Which one is she in?" A voice hard and gritty fills my ears.
"The one with the mark - the mark of the stone." The words are spoken in a whisper with a reverence that startles me. "They said she would arrive within the week."
The odd shaped mark on my ankle has always resembled a jewel. I have no idea if I was born with it, only that it had been of interest to him.
The footsteps are closer now, I can hear their breathing.
Loud creaking fills my ears as they open the outer box. Light peeks through the slats of wood and I fight the urge to weep.
"I can hear her breathing! She's alive. The Gelders will be so happy!"
The words have me cowering. Who are the Gelders? Dear God, please don't let it be like before. Please.
"How has she survived?" The whispering voice speaks so soft that I almost do not hear it.
The wood shakes as they try to open the box that has surrounded me for days. The panel beside me begins to loosen from the corners and I lean away from it.
Light spills over me as it is removed. I duck my head from the stark white brightness.
"Oh my...what did he - " the question dies on his lips as I slowly try to move. My limbs are sore and cut, my skin is covered in patches of blood. At first I do not think that I can even unfold myself, but I look to see his hand outstretched toward me.
Slowly I reach out for the large hand, feeling the callouses on his upturned palm as our skin meets and sensing the strength within it. I should be scared but a feeling of comfort washes over me at the human touch.
I allow them to pull me out and help me to stand. My nakedness has them blushing but I have learned in a short time that modesty is the least of my worries. The two men look me over as I adjust to the air and the light. Their cheeks are pink as their gaze travels my body but I see the light in their eyes when they find the mark on my ankle. The one who held my hand reaches for a cloak and covers me as his companion hits his knees.
Then he also kneels and bows his head.
In unison they speak and I begin to tremble.
"We bow to you, and promise to serve you. You bear the mark and we are blessed to have been chosen to be your guides."
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