Though She Be But Little, She is Fierce!
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of dispraised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Steady rain fell heavily drumming both the roof and the puddles made on the ground outside. Once calming sounds with the promise of renewal and growth turned into persistent and ominous battle drums filled with foreboding. The steady downpour had persisted since the early morning; no light would reach the earth this day. The heavens broke forth their sorrows, and there seemed no signs of dwindling or stopping.
Althea registered being awake before she had the heart to open her eyes. She didn’t know where she would be now, but unless it was far away from the castle and the cursed Hill, she knew she didn’t want to know. After a time, she did find the will to open her eyes even though it was tediously slowly. She could tell that she was back in Durai’s bedroom and on his bed. The light was a dingy grey and seemed to mirror the weight of her sorrows. The air felt heavy and thick with the moisture of the rain and the heat of the summer air. It was almost hard to breathe, or was that just her?
She awoke lying on her stomach on this bed after she passed out. She wanted to fully survey the room to make sure she was safe and hopefully alone, but she couldn’t pick herself up to do so. When she tried to draw in her arms underneath her to push herself up, she realized she could not move them. She tried again with no better luck. Looking down her outstretched arms, she realized she was bound again. Her arms were held out to either side of her and held in place by silk ropes against the bed posts.
What small range of motion she was able to have when she tried to move brought her swift and severe pain searing like molten metal from her shoulder all the way through her blood and stopped the thoughts of her brain. The pain she felt suddenly reminded her of what all happened only hours before. She could still feel his knee upon her back, hear that dreadful voice that haunted her soul, and vividly recall every bit of what he inflicted upon her. She fought hard against the tears that felt determine to escape her eyes. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of her breaking even if she couldn’t, especially in this moment, fathom how she was going to go on.
She had no choice but to lie there in the greying light. All she could sense was the smell of the rain, the oppressive heaviness of the air, the sound of the fire in the fireplace, and the pounding of her heart as it somehow managed to keep beating despite being broken. But in all that she sensed in that room, she could tell that she was alone. She could not sense him in that room. Even as devious, graceful, and surreptitiously silent as he could be, she always could manage to tell when he was near her. In the beginning, she thought it was because he was so beautiful to her that her love could feel when he was with her. Later, she felt that it was because of how masterfully manipulative he had become that she could tell when her master was close and ready to pull her strings. Now she wasn’t sure what the reason was, survival instinct or a foreboding sense of evil, but she felt him whenever he was close.
The longer she was awake, the more even the air started to cause her wound on her back to spread like hot fire. Soon she started to writhe in agony. No matter what she could do, and she could do nothing, she was begging silently for the pain to at least cease its increasing intensity. It moved from stinging to throbbing to warm, red ache to the finally blaze of hot misery that kept growing and growing. She thought surely that this amount of pain would start to fall away into numbness, but it kept on without any leniency.
She clenched the satin sheets she lied face down upon into her fists and finally started to let out some small sound in desperation. She tried to draw upon the songs to heal herself, but she couldn’t manage the concentration needed for such a task. Tears began to roll down her face. She begged for some mercy. In the end, she even begged for Durai.
Just when she thought she might scream with the pain she felt or pass out from not being able to bear the rising swells any more, she heard the door open, and she could sense it was him. She didn’t care. She even let out something like a grateful sob when she heard him walking towards her. Whatever hoops he’d have her go through, no matter what words he’d force her to say or what tricks he’d have her perform, she’d do them happily for even a small sign of hope that the pain would end.
He sat near her on the bed gracefully and very carefully. He didn’t say a word. She could hardly hear him breathe. She couldn’t even see his face, or much of him for that matter, as she was still lying on her stomach with limited range of motion with her neck. Without much hesitation, he put his hands near the site of the burn on her shoulder, and at the cold sensation of his hands, she dropped her head down so grateful for the cooling touch. Even if he hadn’t touched the branding directly, the skin around it was still incredibly red and irritated. The tears of relief came silently then, and she didn’t care if he knew.
She felt his hand stroke her hair once before she heard the sound of a jar being opened. Immediately she recognized the smell of Aloe, the sap like smell of Calendula, and strong lavender to mask the more unpleasant odor of Comfrey. Surely this was a burn salve that she had made that he either got from her pack or left behind in her old suite of rooms. She didn’t care where; she was just utterly grateful that it was here and being used.
However, she noticed the agonizing seconds go by without the soothing sensation of the medication on her shoulder. She turned her head towards him for what little good that did. She was desperate for what she could see he held in his hands. She was so anxious for the relief that she almost willing try and grab at the jar with her teeth.
Durai recoiled his hand holding the salve slightly. He bent down and kissed the top of her head. Even doing so, he could feel on his cheek the heat radiating off the skin of her shoulder. He knew very well she had to be in pure agony. With his lips close to her, his deep voice slithered into ears like a venomous serpent. “Say please,” his words might have been the tone of seduction if the situation were different or if he were anyone else.
The thought of being proud, being stalwart, or making a statement occupied her mind for maybe the smallest fraction of a second before the sounds of her broken spirit broke free from her throat as she sobbed a breathless, “Please. Please, Durai.”
Though she couldn’t see it with her eyes, she knew he had a smug smile on his face as he bent again to kiss her hair. “That’s my good girl.”
She wanted so much to vomit to hear him refer to her like that.
Then, as promised, she felt the thick, sap-like salve be put incredibly gingerly onto her marred skin. A pitiful sound escaped her lips as the relief of her slave was almost instant. The sensation felt like tiny streams of water brought from the river to the sun-dried fields bringing blessings to the thirsty crops. The cooling sensation on her seared skin was so deeply contrasted she almost thought it would sizzle or steam.
As she started to think clearer with her relief washing over her, she was able to notice more and more the motions of his fingers, the pressure, and the rhythm of his application. He could have been harsh, he could have used this moment to remind her of his dominance, but he did not. In this moment, he was handling her with such care and warm devotion that she couldn’t rationally believe that it was him. The same man that forced himself upon her, scarred her permanently, who broke her over and over again was now a tender and caring attendant to her needs.
The jar was closed then, and he got up from the bed and moved away. She turned her head from side to side to find where he had gone. She did not want to remain the day this way and in this debased pose like some imprisoned whore. She refused to continue to be at such a disadvantage. Every small sympathy she ever had, every small appreciation towards him including his applying her salve now, she pushed aside. People relying on her to bring this sickening game to an end. This marionette would no longer suffer strings.
“Durai, these bonds are unseemly and quite unnecessary. Release me, or I will do whatever it takes to release myself. Even if I have to break my own arms.” The determination in her own voice even surprised herself. But she didn’t feel like she had anything to celebrate about. Even if she found some way to fly from this place right this moment, find her Magic to save the world, and never lay eyes on this monster again; she wasn’t strong enough to fight him off last night. And she would carry his mark on her for the rest of her life. In the end, she would never truly be free from him. Not ever.
To her surprise, he didn’t argue, he didn’t taunt, and he didn’t demand tricks or favors. The light from his hands extended forth and broke her bonds. She felt the pressure of her arms go slack and she slowly brought them under her chest. Even with the salve, she could feel the pain of her motion. Perhaps he had her in that position to keep her from further injury. Though she strongly doubted that was the only reason. The sickening pose was horribly base and had filled her with shame, and she had no doubt that this was part of his intention
With admittedly admirable determination, she managed her pick herself up slowly to sitting as she held one hand to keep her torn dress covering her chest. Durai then looked at her as she did her best to carry herself with pride even now. She was like a broken doll ragged, torn, and damaged by a careless child. The satisfaction of his actions, claiming her in this way, seemed to dissolve slightly. He had felt her injury with his own fingers, and he saw now how it looked now when she bore it. In just this short time, he was seeing the damages surface and her fire diminish somewhat. Though her determination was unabated, the strength she had was already starting to waver. He wasn’t sure about himself for a moment.
Althea then raised her head still covering her vulnerabilities with her hands, and she said with steady determination, “If we keep going on this road you are set to travel and drag me down, I will undoubtedly be no use against this plague you’ve unleashed.” She got up then and took one labored step towards him. She did not show fear, though she was horribly afraid. “You have what you want, you have me back here and at your miserable mercy. You have made sure I have nowhere to go even if I somehow find the strength to run.” She put out a hand towards him then, her eyes holding a truth begging to be understood. “Please,” she said with a change in her voice, no longer proud but strong enough to beg, “let me try my best to help this world before you continue. I won’t fight you, I won’t run, but please let me have this chance before I lose the strength to try.”
Durai felt the muscles of his face furrow in confusion. What was she trying to manipulate? What was her tactic? He attacked her, he hurt her, and he struck and burned her with a brand of his making, and yet she said that she would not run. She had to be lying; he had no doubt of it then. He knew women just as precious who would break their word at less than this. He couldn’t possibly give her what she asked. He couldn’t possibly give her the one thing that would keep her here.
“Please,” she pleaded again more desperately, “people are suffering. I have to try to bring this to an end. Please.” With her final words, she took even another step to him. And to his surprise, he instinctually took a step back from her.
That step back shocked them both. They stood in silence as if the next move by either one of them would bring their undoing.
The sound of rain kept steadily on as each passing second ticked forward as surely as each drop from the clouds. The heaviness of the air swirled around them like thick liquid adding to the anxiety and tension. Althea felt for the first time that she might have gained some leverage, and she was afraid of that that might mean. Durai felt for the first time that he may have lost some leverage, and he was afraid of what that might mean. The earth and time pivoted around a single point that was created in the space between them then.
Possessed by an inner impulse that even surprised herself, Althea closed the distance between them in two steps as she pleaded with him one last time for mercy for the world. “Please, Durai,” she said more forcefully but with the same compassion.
In that moment that they stood face to face only inches apart, she placed her free hand on his chest. She didn’t even notice the golden glow from her hands. She didn’t even really consciously register that she was drawing from Magic within herself then. As she thought back on that moment later, she wasn’t be able to explain how her body did what it did. It was just like the river.
In the instant that her hand made contact with Durai’s chest, oddly enough close to his heart, her eyes lost all color and turned a blinding white. Images flashed before her eyes that were vivid but confusing to her. Feelings surged through her that were full of anguish, despair, and tremendous power. She saw a small boy, a woman pass from vitality in life to a bruised and battered remains, a powerful man looming like a mountain, and a hurricane of a boy’s transformation through terrible potential.
Though it felt like what she experienced lasted hours, it was over in less than a second. She staggered back slightly dazed from the experience, but she somehow she managed to stay standing.
The same could not be said for Durai. The moment he felt her touch, he saw her eyes glow white and registered the warm sensation from her touch. The light from her hand burst forth like an explosion, and the sensation that followed felt like an electrical surge through every vein of his body filled with heat and pity. The same images and the same emotional feelings swirled through him as it did with Althea; only for him the images were not confusing, the emotions familiar instead of foreign. All of what he saw and felt was pulled from his own past, his own life, and his own experiences. He felt as though this touch and this light pulled forth deeply buried feelings from the base of a mountain he had built over them, and the shock of that experience dropped him to the floor.
He looked up at her from the ground. He was filled with fear, disorientation, fury, and even reverence. This demonstration of power, which neither of them understood, made her appear to Durai then that she glowed with an awesome, radiant aura. He didn’t know whether to be impressed, infuriated, or terrified.
Althea looked down at her hand which no longer had the light coming from it. She looked at Durai with great apprehension. She could tell that, at least in some way, that a few images she saw were of Durai. There was so much that she couldn’t quantify, and the parts that eluded her were a mystery both compelling and frightening.
Durai finally picked himself up and took an aggressive step towards her. “What did you do to me?” he demanded. He wasn’t shouting, but his tone was no less daunting. All Althea could do was look at him not knowing whether to be more afraid of him or herself.
Overcome with the sight of those haunting, repressed images and embarrassment at his loss of composure, Durai quickly turned around and hurriedly left the room like a wind through a canyon.
Leaving the door open.