Torn and Healed
Davin sat on his knees in the throne room as he stared at his hands. All the while, his brow burned and tingled as the queen spoke. It felt as if the little Destine’s fingers were still on him, as cold as ice. It seemed a daily thing to go to the throne room while Sterjia tried to speak to him. And with each time, his brow tingled.
Sitting on her throne, she crossed her thin legs. There was a slit about halfway up her thigh, where the dark blue dress had ivory buttons to latch the seam closed. Her hair was in an odd fashion, bundled on the top of her head and fanning out over a gold and silver frame with hundreds of different jewels dotting it. Her red lips were in a thin line as she stared at the chained king.
Farekhahn stood behind Davin, his feet shoulder-width apart and his hands held behind his back. He watched his queen with a determined look, a look that was all too familiar to Davin.
Moistening her lips, Sterjia said, “What is your one desire, King Holloway?” She kept her eyes on him like burning, blue stones. He remained silent. “Is it to rule your kingdom? To make Mommy and Daddy proud? Or, is it, perhaps, to spend your little life with that woman? That woman who remains unobtainable?”
His eyes slowly lifted to her. A small, sympathetic smile grew on her face. “I know how we can fix that...Hm...What are two things keeping her from your grasp? Could it be...your countries? Davin, Rishana is now under Walter’s rule, and Kiaran is so busy with her own land that she doesn’t have time for you. She likely will sit in her castle for months before she can have the time to miss you. So...how can we rid her of this distraction?”
She let a long, silent pause fall over them, as if mocking him. “Hm...What if...What if Avestitia fell? Kiaran would no longer have a country to rule.” Davin glared silently at her, his jaw set. “That way, neither of you will have anything to distract you. You can live quiet, happy lives. Away from war, away from the chaos which is to settle upon the lands. If you assist me, we could work together. I will reward you greatly, and I will spare you this woman so you might have a wife and a home and live happily ever after.”
“You are a fool to believe I’d agree with you--”
Farekhahn gripped his bad shoulder tightly and growled a short curse. “You’ll not speak in such a way to the queen,” he ordered lowly.
Sterjia glared at Davin, the gold band across her forehead lowering with the creases. “You will learn that it is inevitable. Avestitia will be mine--as is my right. You may as well join me while you can. And as I said, if you promise to stay out of the way, you two can be happy.”
“You will not so easily vanquish your enemies,” Davin said with a bit of smugness. She slowly tilted her head, one brow arching. “You are a fool to find them so weak.”
“They are not weak. I know this. But they have weaknesses, dear Davin,” she replied. "And unlike a fool, I will use those weaknesses to my advantage." She watched him, challenging him to further argue her. He knew full well she were to use him as a weakness against his family and against Kiaran.
Flicking her wrist toward them, she turned and said, “That is enough for today. Take him and lash him. Might he learn some manners one day, hm?”
The two guards pulled him to his feet and dragged him down the stairs. They followed the man with the wolf pelt cape. Down several hallways, the light of the setting sun filled in through the windows.
Davin’s blood rushed as he wondered how many lashings he was about to receive. His fists flexed as they were bound together--luckily in the front, relieving a bit of pressure from his bad shoulder.
Reaching a door, they moved outside to a small area. The ground was compacted dirt without a single blade of grass. His brows lowered at the odd look. Not a single blade of grass. One of the men pulled out a knife and sliced off Davin’s shirt, tossing it aside.
Reaching a stone about waist high, the men forced Davin to his knees and stretching his hands over the rock, hooked his roped wrists to an anchor, keeping him in place. Farekhahn unbuckled his cape and one of the men took it before it fell to the dirt.
Farekhahn was handed a whip with three braided cords hanging from the handle. The ends were each attached with metal, talon-like hooks.
Davin’s heart raced as his entire body cringed. The man’s arms were large; his strength would be proven as he lashed Davin. His teeth clenched down tight as he buried his face between his arms, his crippled shoulder burning like fire.
Crack. One. Crack! Two. Crack! Three. Many more followed. With each hit, at least one of the claws would catch and when he’d yank the whip back, it’d tear small chunks of flesh from his body. Sweat and blood covered Davin, yet he made not a sound. He swallowed down each whimper and each cry, simply trying to keep his mind focused on something other than his fear of pain. He forced himself to breathe--for if he didn’t, it’d only worsen.
He shifted his attention elsewhere. He thought of the endless flowers that he searched through for near hours. The tulips of every color imaginable. He thought of Kiaran’s face as he handed her the perfect blossom. The thoughts were brief, only a few seconds between each lashing.
Flashes of white pain cut through his mind's eye, shifting instantly to his next thought. He could see Torin, learning how to use his bow. He could see his mother's smile. His father's sweaty brow as he worked.
Finally, after forty, Farekhahn stopped and handed the whip to another. Wiping his hands clean, he pulled his cape back on and ordered the men to take Davin back to his cell.
The men unhooked him and pulled him to his trembling feet. His entire body quivered and ached, his stomach weak. Tears formed in his eyes as he closed them tightly, his face flushed with pain. Blood and bits of skin clung to his back, burning worse than the brand in his shoulder. Thick trails of blood slowly ran down his back, soaking into his pants.
He was soon tossed into his cell after being unbound. Locking the door, they left him without a meal. Again. It was odd, though, he didn’t feel a stinging hunger in his gut. True, he wished for food and water, but he didn’t need it to keep alive and awake. Perhaps a blessing from the Destine.
Sitting in the dirty floor, he closed his eyes, trying to ignore the wounds across his back. They swelled and bled and ached and death would soon take him if they weren’t kept clean. Fear ran his blood hot and a sweat broke out over his body. His limbs quivered and tears formed beneath the lids of his eyes.
Suddenly, his ears perked to the barking of a woman and two bickering men. “I’ll not have this kill the poor man,” she shouted. “The queen’ll have your heads, you fools.”
“We were doing as Lord Farekhahn ordered. He said naught of your interven--”
“That’s enough, you nit,” she unlocked the door and swung it open. The poor light from the torches in the hallway gave her a ghastly silhouette. She had a thin frame and her hair was a straight as straw.
The girl carried a bowl of water and several rags and a bag of plants. Sitting the things on the table in the corner, she spoke calmly as if they weren’t standing in a cell. She spoke of the weather and the behavior of the idiotic guards. “I understand they are working on low salary, but that is no reason to be so pungently arrogant and caustic. They are idiots,” she shook her head while raising one shoulder. She poured some ground up plants into the water and stirred it with a hand.
She continued to speak, rambling on and on. Lifting her hand from the water, she flicked the dropplets back into the bowl and then submerged a towel into it. “I am Heni,” she said.
“Davin,” he answered.
“Ah, he does speak,” she smiled softly, carrying the bowl and rags to him. Setting them to the side, she sat behind him. “This...” she sighed sharply. “Barbarians,” she hissed to herself. “This will hurt, Davin. Do not fear though, I am a healer for a reason--though I may not be as skilled as others...That shouldn’t alarm you--Sorry, I word things badly. You are in good hands, Sir, do not worry. I can heal small parts with magic, the rest will heal on its own...Though I suppose the lashings would be pointless if you were healed right afterwards anyhow, eh?”
“I suppose so,” he replied.
She dabbed the damp, hot rag on his back and he suppressed a low growl. “I am sorry, Sir,” she breathed as she continued to pat. “Where are you from, Davin?”
“Many places,” he answered.
“A vague answer,” she observed. “That could mean many things.”
“Or it could simply mean I don’t wish to answer.”
“If you didn’t wish to answer you would have remained quiet,” she said. She dipped the rag in the water, blood swirling in the once clear bowl. Drizzling some of the extra water into the bowl, she went back to cleaning his back. “So you are from many places?” she said. “That must have been confusing as a lad, no?”
“No,” he answered. “More confusing as an adult.”
“I see...” He flinched as she reached one of the larger gashes. “What a pig,” she scowled as she touched a fingertip to the gaping hole. Saying a few words to herself, it healed. “There.”
“I thought you weren’t supposed to do that,” he said.
Shrugging, she said, “I do many things I am not allowed. But no one dares to tell.”
“Are others afraid of you?”
The question seemed to make her happy as she laughed. Her voice carried on like tens of little birds, a sweet melody of laughter. Once it subsided, she replied with a hint of a chuckle still on her words, “No, I am not scary at all, Sir. They simply don’t report on me because they’re afraid of the queen.”
“What does she do to you?” he asked. He grunted as she began to wrap a bandage around him. ”Lashes?”
“Oh, no,” she answered sternly. “Something much more...terrifying,” she ended with a soft voice. She tied off the bandage and patted his shoulder. Noticing the scar, she tilted her head and said, “You have many scars, Sir. And you are rather fit. You were a warrior of some sort, no?”
“Of some sort,” he smiled a bit.
Gesturing with a thin, short finger, she said, “That scar. Not from a blade. What is it from?”
“A bear,” he answered. “Nearly lost my arm.”
“Impressive,” she breathed as she sat on her knees before him. She leaned in to scrutinize the scar, her hot fingers touching the tissue. “Not a scar from the stitches. They did well. No magic?”
He shook his head. “I had many men who knew what they were doing,” he replied.
“You must have some prestige in one of those places you are from,” she said, her colorful eyes flickering to him. She flashed him a smile, leapt up and gathered her things. Rushing to the door, she faced him, saying, “I’ll see you again. If not for these wounds, than for the other wounds you will receive later.” His eyes widened a bit and she shrugged, adding, “I assume your spirit won’t be broken so easily...Thus they resort to breaking your body. I’ll see you again, Sir Davin.”
Once she left, the door was closed and locked and one of the guards tried to smart off to her. However, she retaliated with a string of words that left Davin in shock. Then, it grew silent once more.
The mixture of water that she used to clean his wounds left his skin tingling and rather numb. Though his body was weak and tired, he felt a bit better. Forcing himself to stand, he walked to his cot and lied on his side, gazing at the small square window in the top of the wall. He could see nothing as the other buildings outside blocked his view. Frowning, he closed his eyes and hoped that he could sleep until he was healed. Otherwise, he would work on his physique.
Hours drifted by and he was in and out of consciousness Again, his thoughts swarmed with ghostly voices, whispering like a confused wind. It tickled his ears and stirred him awake. He stared through the darkness of his cell, seeing no sign of anyone. The voices were just as they were on the trip. He was going mad. It was his only thought.
With a painful wince, he yanked himself upright as he heard his name called. Then, the voice strengthened, saying, “You are not a weak man, Davin Holloway.” The eerie voice sounded familiar, but distant...As if...a young girl. Could it have been Harlin? The Destine with colorful eyes?
“Do diminish yourself. It is beneath you to abide by this queen. Whatever you do--Do it out of fear for the world not your own life.”
“I won’t,” he whispered a response. The moment the sound left his lips, all the others vanished. He sat there, utterly alone in the dark. He ran a hand over his arm as his hair stood on ends. He was mad. His brows creased as his shoulders bowed, stretching the gashes along his back. His heart weakened. He was afraid that one day he'd lose his mind. He just didn't think it was going to go in such a manner.
Several nights had passed and Heni had returned each night to tend to his wounds and to speak with him. Each night, as she would leave, the whispers would return, but nothing more. No messages, no words of encouragement. Just...voices.
One evening, Heni sat on the cot with Davin, her hands in her small lap. She was stitching up a hole in Davin’s shirt as the air grew colder. Seasons were changing, and the air was becoming cold rather suddenly.
“Can’t have holes in your clothes, Sir Davin, you’ll freeze to death,” she had mused. As she patched it up, they remained quiet.
Finally, she asked, “Do you have a family?” He kept his eyes low, showing little life. “I have a little brother,” she said, “...A sickly little thing. All the magic in the world won’t heal him.” It was silent again. Then, “Do you have anyone in one of your places? Family? Friends?”
“I had many of both,” he said lowly. “My mother and father. Younger brother. And many friends, only a few were close enough that I’d consider family.”
“What are their names--”
“It doesn’t matter,” he snapped.
His forearms flexed, revealing veins and tendons. Heni narrowed her eyes on his muscles with a curious look. Slowly, she looked back to her handiwork as she finished up. “I find it distracting to think of those closest to you. It keeps the walls of this cell off of your mind and they melt away. You can be locked up, but as long as you keep your mind free, you are never a prisoner.” He remained quiet, though his muscles loosened. “Tell me about your family...Your friends.”
He inhaled slowly through his nostrils and closed his eyes. With his fingers weaved together, he pressed his thumbs to his temples, hiding his eyes away. “Milas is my father. Strong both in heart and body. He was a blacksmith for years before he crippled himself. Anille, my mother. She has the most powerful heart I’ve ever seen--her scoldings were terrorizing enough to send a bear back to its den.”
A smile touched Heni’s lips as she rested her hands on his shirt in her lap. She patiently waited.
“My brother, Torin...” He shook his head. There was too much to explain. “He’s a character...Used to be so desperate to be accepted and loved. Now, he’s a prestigious hunter. One of the most important men in his...village.” He paused and ran a hand over his hair. She handed him his shirt and helped him pull it on over his wounds. “Then,” he began, “There was this fire-haired woman who brought me across the world to fight for so many reasons I’ve lost count.”
“She sounds special,” Heni replied.
“Indeed, she was. Almost like a mother, she was. The only woman guard I’ve met in my country, and she was a general, nonetheless,” he replied. “She was important, smart, strong. Had a hardy laugh, one that was fitting for such a warrior.”
There was a long pause as he fumbled with his fingers. She could tell something else was on his mind, so she asked, “Is there...anyone else?”
“Several,” he breathed.
“Anyone in particular?” she pressed with a gentle voice.
“One,” he admitted. She leaned forward to watch his face a bit more clearly. “She was the reason I followed the fire-haired woman into the den of our enemy. With hair of black silk and scars to match the coldness of her locked heart...She was extraordinary; bold, fearless, beautiful.”
“You sound very learned," she commented. "Like a bard describing something so lost to desire. Please. Describe her to me."
“Eyes as gray as steel, hinted with the purest blue...High cheekbones...a perfect jawline...thin hands covered in scars...” He grunted and said, “It doesn’t matter if I can’t see her. I don’t want to think about it anymore.”
“No,” she nearly gasped, gripping his forearm. He shot her an odd look and she said, “You mustn’t give up on what keeps you sane--”
“She doesn’t keep me sane, Heni,” he retorted. “She drives me mad.”
With a faint smile, she said, “Than she is the one you must think of more than the others. Where you feel mad, that is what will keep your mind from breaking in these cells.”
“Why do you do this?” he shook his head.
“You are Sterjia’s...Why are you trying to encourage me? Is this some sort of mockery? Some sort of hope you’re trying to instill to me only so I may crash tomorrow? Or next week? Or whenever she feels the need to see me next?”
“You do not understand what the queen does to us,” she answered in a whisper. His expression stiffened slightly. “She is evil, and I know it first hand. My brother? His illness is born of her.”
“Yet you work for her?”
“I work for her to work against her,” she spat. “How else to work against Sterjia if not to keep her prisoners in high spirits?”
“You do this for others?”
“You are not the only prisoner in VinCar,” she smiled. “I do this all day, every day I am alive. I spend hours in here, and I will in the next cell down. You are special, yes, but as are the others in chains.” He was caught, his mouth open but unable to reply. She gently pressed a hand to his bearded chin, making him shut his mouth. “Gaping is not suiting, dear Davin.”
“I am sorry,” he said, still in surprise. “I did not expect to find any allies here...”
“Allies...That is a strong assumption,” she smiled. “But yes. An enemy of my enemy, right?”
She stood and gave him one last smile before heading for the door. “Heni?” She paused and faced him. “Thank you,” he nearly whispered.
“Do not thank me until you are free, Sir Davin,” she answered lowly. Her hand rested on the handle of the door for a moment. Then, she said, “And Davin?” He watched her silently. “Keep thinking about that woman. She will keep you sane. I promise.”
“I hope not,” he smiled.
“Attaboy,” she chuckled as she left.
After an hour or so, just as before, the voices came back. Davin lied on his side, pressing his left arm over his ear to try to block them out, though it was impossible. How do you block out what is in your own head?
The door opened rather loudly as two noisy men walked in. Farekhahn stepped inside, his gloved hand gripping the pommel of his sword on his left hip. “Up, King, the queen wishes to see you,” he said.
Davin sat up slowly, the healing wounds on his back cracking and pulling. One of the guards yanked him to his feet and Davin growled in a bit of pain and reluctance. Soon enough, they were moving down the halls once more. It was quiet between everyone as they marched.
Finally, Davin looked to Farekhahn and said, “You seem close to the queen.” He shot him a quick glare and Davin pressed his luck. “I see the way you look at her.”
“She is the most important woman,” he answered shortly. “You’ll learn one day.”
“Does she return the feelings?”
“Shut up,” one of the guards barked as he shoved Davin from behind. A snarl left Davin’s lips as his back quivered in a flooding pain. He nearly fell to one knee if not for Farekhahn catching him by the elbow. Pulling him upright, the man looked to the guard with eyes of fire. The guard instantly looked forward with a worried expression.
Reaching the throne room, they found Sterjia to be standing at the windows. She stood tall, wearing yet another extravagant dress. Opals and ivory accented the ends of her skirt as it trailed behind her. Her hair was pinned to her head with a net of diamonds. Her painted eyes lazily drifted to them and she said, “He smells awful.”
“I am sorry, your Highness,” Farekhahn bowed, the guards following suit.
“Next, clean him before he comes.”
“Of course, your Highness,” he stood back up.
“Do you know what we were left to do without your cooperation?” she asked, looking dead into Davin’s eyes. He lowered his brows and she said, “I had to take things into my own hands. Do you not understand? I need to overthrow the entire country, and to do that, it takes a lot of work, Davin. Battles. And you are not working with me, so I had to ask my new allies to work for me.”
Allies? Davin’s heart sank. “Brinn was easy,” she smiled a bit. The chains that hung from her earlobes dangled like little chandeliers, brushing across her bare shoulders. “They are in my debt. If I am to protect Brinn, he must form an alliance with us--which he did. And in doing so, I asked him to fight Avestitia. But, as I've said, if you and Kiaran agree to leave, the fighting would stop.
Davin tried his hardest to appear stoic, though it was to no avail. He looked just as angry as he felt. Farekhahn watched him from the corners of his eyes, his hand regripping the hilt of his sword.
“Many people died because of your ignorance, King Holloway,” she lifted an arched brow. “Do you still refuse to submit to my offer? You will get all you have ever wanted.” Again, his brow itched and tingled. “You’ll get your heart’s desire, and you’ll save a lot of death on Avestitia’s behalf.”
Remaining still for a moment, she frowned. “I suppose one day your men will fight Kiaran’s men and there will be much bloodshed. Do you want that? Why not side with me? Why not line yourself with me to bring Kiaran to your side? Then, I will have Avestitia, you will have your woman, and we will all be for the better. I think she would be pleased that you sacrificed your pride to keep her kingdom safe.”
“Those men’s deaths are not my doing,” he finally brought himself to say. “I feel no remorse for your actions.”
“So you say,” she shrugged, appearing to not care at all. “It is all perspective, I suppose...I feel that if my people were dying I would have to do something about it.” Her eyes lifted to Farekhahn and she said, “Order Jarrin to go forward with the plan.”
“What plan?” Davin asked instantly, seeing the color drain from Farekhahn’s face.
Sterjia’s eyes moved back to Davin and she tilted her head slightly. “Oh, so now you suddenly care?”
"What plan?” he demanded.
She smiled and said, “...Just believe that by the end of the week, you will have one third less the number of people to rule.”
He tried to leap forward, but Farekhahn slammed his forearm across Davin’s chest. As he made contact, it made his back ache and burn, a few wounds reopening. Grasping him by the nape of his neck, he held Davin in place. “You can’t do that!” Davin roared. “You are an evil woman! You disgust--” The man’s massive grip clutched down on him, causing his words to shorten.
“Take him back to his cell.”
“Your Majesty,” Farekhahn bowed his head as the guards pulled him away. “Are you certain this is how it must be--”
“When I wish to ask for tactics or ideals from you, Farekhahn, I will. As for now, I wish to hear none of it.”