“Well, well. Look at the Fae bitch, all cleaned up’.” The soldier drawled. He inhaled deeply through his nose. “Smells nice, too.”
“What the hell are you doing, Flynn?” Dristan asked darkly. “You’d best sheathe that weapon before I get offended.” He added.
“Well, Lieutenant... It just doesn’t seem fair to me that you get to have all the fun. You’ve been out here quite a long time, doing gods know what, and that doesn’t sit well with me.” The soldier mused, tilting his head to the side to get a better look at me. “She’s a pretty little thing, ain’t she? Be a good man and give me a turn with her, eh?”
The soldier took a step closer. He stopped dead in his tracks when Dristan pushed me further behind his back and drew his own sword.
“Give me an order again and it’ll be the last thing you ever do, private.” He growled. “Sheathe your weapon, turn around, and go back to camp. Now.”
The soldier’s eyes flashed.
“Why’re you protecting this worthless, Fae whore? All I want is five minutes with her. I won’t even hit her, I swear it. I haven’t had a piece of tail in months, Dristan, come on.” The soldier took another step.
“Last warning.” Dristan growled.
“You’d choose a Fae bitch over a soldier?” Flynn asked, cocking his head to the side.
“She is under my protection, by order of the king. Stand down now, or I will make you.”
“Oh, I don’t think you will.” The soldier smiled.
Two more figures stepped out from the trees behind him. Two more soldiers. Two more swords. They grinned at me like carnivorous beasts.
He would never be able to take on all three of them. He was outnumbered. I began backing away from the men, slowly, as far as the chains would allow. My eyes darted around the dark, forest floor, desperate for a sharp stick or a large stone. Anything to protect myself from the disgusting soldiers.
“Stand aside, Dristan.” The largest soldier hissed.
I picked up a jagged rock while they were distracted and hid it behind my back. The first of them to touch me would have a cracked skull. I would not go down quietly. Dristan turned his head and looked at me over his shoulder. His eyes were blazing pits of fury. Hesitantly, he straightened his spine.
“There’s a good lad.” Flynn said, slicing him a cruel smile. The men stepped past the Lieutenant as he turned and met my eyes again. Fury had turned to unyielding rage inside of his gaze.
I stumbled backward as Flynn approached me, his hands facing me, palms forward. He moved slowly, as if he were cornering an injured animal.
“Now, now. We can do this is easy way, or the hard way. I ain’t opposed to either one, so I’ll let you decide.” He inched closer. He lifted a hand and brushed a lock of damp hair away from my face.
I flinched away and bared my teeth at him.
“Don’t touch her.” Dristan threatened.
“Shut up.” Flynn spat over his shoulder. “She likes it. Don’t you, whore?”
“Go to hell.” I said, and spit right into his eye.
He tutted his tongue at me, wiping the spit from his face. “Hard way it is.” He smiled, and lunged.
I threw my arm around my body in an arch, aiming right for his temple. I threw every ounce of my weight into the blow. I knew exactly where to hit him. I had killed animals before and men were no different. The blow struck home. The jagged, sharp rock I had fisted slammed into his head with a sickening, wet crack.
A mist like cloud of dark blood sprayed into the air and the man fell at my feet. He did not make a sound, but twitched on the forest floor a moment before going completely still.
There was a pause of stunned silence as the two men gaped down at their friend’s limp body. My eyes snapped to Dristan’s. He stared at me with widened eyes, his lips parted in disbelief. Then, the corner of his lip twitched upward into a wicked smile.
“You little bitch!” The larger soldier bellowed. He lunged forward, his fist connecting with my jaw before I could blink.
I fell to the ground, the tang of coppery blood filling my mouth. I might have cried out in surprise, but I could not hear anything save for a sharp ringing in my ears. Flashes of color danced behind my closed eyelids as the pain registered. I had never been struck so hard in my life. I spat out a mouthful of blood. As the ringing in my ears faded, I suddenly heard a wet slicing sound followed by an agonized scream. I flipped onto my back.
Above me, Dristan had driven his sword clean through the torso of the soldier who had struck me. Drops of his blood fell onto my cheeks. Distan’s ocean eyes were ignited with rage, his teeth bared as he growled, “I warned you not to touch her!”
The third soldier stumbled backward at the sight, his eyes nearly bulging out of his skull. “You-You traitor! You gods damned traitor!” He fumbled for his sword, still sheathed in his belt. He drew his sword as Dristan went to yank his own from the dead soldier’s body.
With no thought involved, I jumped onto my heels and pulled my chains toward me. Then, I somersaulted, slamming the taught line of chain against the soldiers shins, right as he lunged for the Lieutenant.
He tripped. His sword tumbled uselessly to his side as he hit the ground, face first. I moved with hunters agility, rolling on my shoulder and scooping up the abandoned sword. Before the soldier could recover, I stood over him and plunged the sword right through the back of his neck. He grunted, blood gurgling from his lips.
The body of the soldier Dristan had killed slumped to the ground with a thud as he had finally wedged his sword out of it. He stood still as a statue, watching me. Only five seconds had passed since I’d been punched.
I knelt down, my knee digging into the dying soldiers back. “Do you know what happens to rapists in the afterlife?” He screamed as I twisted the hilt of the sword. “I’ve heard that their manhood is mutilated by demon dogs, over and over, for the rest of eternity.” I thought of how many other women this man had surely harmed. I waited to feel regret or sympathy for killing him, but none came.
I stayed there, watching him die, until his body stopped twitching and his gurgling ceased. I’d almost forgotten that the Lieutenant was there, until he tentatively touched my shoulder. I spun around, still in defense mode, and bared my teeth at him. When I realized who he was, when I came back to my senses, my face fell. He still held his sword in his hand.
“It seems I’ve underestimated you.” He said.
“And I have overestimated you. You were just going to let them rape me?” My voice broke.
“I was going to kill them once they turned their backs, once they tried to hurt you. You beat me to it.” He growled darkly.
I began to pant, panicked, as we stared into each other’s eyes. I’d just killed two of his men.
“I-I killed them...” I whispered.
He gazed down at me, his eyes like granite, his mouth set into a hard line. There were spots of blood on his face and leather armor. “Get up.” He said in a low voice.
I rose slowly, never taking my eyes off of the sword in his hands. I did not relax until he sheathed it. He pulled a cloth from his pocket and wiped the blood from his face. He handed it to me and I did the same.
“You will tell no one of this. As far as anyone else is concerned, these men tried to bind me and kill you. I killed them before they could accomplish their goal. My orders are to bring you in alive. They interfered. It had to be done.” He said, turning his back to me.
“But I... I killed two of them.” I whispered. He began to walk, tugging me along with him.
“Only we know that. Now, come.”
I pulled against the chain, confused and frustrated and still stunned by what had just happened.
“Aren’t you going to punish me for my crime?”
“Why? Why are you doing this? Why do you keep helping me?” He turned to face me, his eyes digging into mine. “Tell me why!” My voice broke as I held back the sobbing that threatened to erupt from behind my lips.
He looked to be contemplating something as he glared at me through the darkness. I waited, my panting breath the only sound.
“Now is not the time.”
“For what?” I whispered.
“You talk too much.” He growled, turning away. He tugged the chain harder this time and I fell into step behind him, confused and frustrated.
When we returned to camp, he told the Captain the story of what happened. The Captain cursed and paced for awhile, but he did not arrest Dristan. He did not make a move to hit me, or even go to investigate the scene. He trusted the Lieutenant at his word. And that was that.
As word of what Dristan had done spread through the group of soldiers, and why he had done it, the energy around the men changed. Not a single one of them sneered at me. Not a single one of them even looked in my direction. And when they looked at Dristan, fear danced behind their eyes.
It didn’t make sense. He had helped me since day one. But why? What was he hiding? Whatever the reason, I was grateful, and though I was positive that Dristan was keeping something from me, I had sense enough to keep quiet about it. He was my only ticket for survival at the moment. I hated to admit it to myself, but I trusted him.
That night, when I curled up beside him on my bedroll beneath the stars, warm in the clothes he’d kindly given me, I finally slept.