Blood and Bandages
Dorothy had come and greeted her that morning, bringing her out to breakfast and fulfilling the role of host which Benjamin had so faithfully executed at prior times. Now, she sat in her bed, reading Benjamin's green covered book and thinking it much later in the day than she had expected him returning. In fact, everyone seemed to have expected him sooner, and breakfast had held an unspoken tension which caused her to feel slightly out of place. She thought of Benjamin, considering his continued absence, and becoming concerned.
'The day is half over, and Dorothy said his meeting was at dawn... no wonder they were all so tense, they probably don't know what's happened to him, either.'
At last, there was a knock at the door, followed by the sound of a familiar voice which caused her some relief.
"Avera, are you there?" Benjamin asked politely.
"Yes, come in please," she replied sweetly.
"Good morning, or... afternoon, I suppose," he greeted cheerfully, though somewhat bashfully. His face wore a friendly smile as he entered through the door, and her heart sunk as she saw his arm wrapped in bandages. The cuff of his bright white tunic was spattered with bloody crimson, as was the left hand side of it.
"Benjamin, you're hurt!" she exclaimed, her face stained with unwanted surprise and fearful horror.
"Ah, yes..." he said awkwardly, "the bandages."
"Yes, Ben!" she said, thoroughly disturbed by it. "Blood and bandages!"
"Well, it's... all right, now," he told her, assuring her of his wellness. "It's been attended. I am... sorry that I was delayed in my returning. I didn't wish to concern you."
"Concern..?" she replied in dramatic disbelief.
'Does he think this is normal?'
"Ben, what happened?" she asked, suddenly noting the dried blood trapped around the edge of his fingernails.
He leaned back against the door, pushing it closed with a sigh. "We had a correspondent, a ranking official in the army. He had helped us gather necessary information and countless resources. He was also a go-between to pass messages between us and our contact in the capital. It went several days, then weeks, almost a month, and we hadn't heard from him. There was no communication at all. We were all very concerned. Then, we received a message, but... something seemed wrong about it. Still, I believed it necessary to go to this meeting and see for myself what had happened. I thought, perhaps, he was in some sort of danger or under suspicion. This morning, I followed the letter. When I went to meet him, I found myself in the midst of an ambush. Whether you might say by fortune or providence, I escaped with only the loss of some blood, and for that, I am very grateful. Still, I am sorry you must be witness to this. I would have spared you from it all."
Avera looked away, but it was difficult for her to keep herself from staring. The blood stains on the pristine gold and white of the shirt sleeve captured her view. She couldn't say why, but the blood terrified her. Then a voice came back to her, the voice from a dream. No, a terrifying nightmare. There was blood and terror. Shouts were heard in the streets. People were dying, and she was left, totally incapable of escaping the horror as the buildings burned around her and the people were devoured by darkness.
'Yes, what was that...'
There had been nothing but darkness when the voice said, 'Run. Run away. If you stay, it's more of the same... blood and horror and pain.' She remembered the voice whisper, 'They'll all leave, they'll all go. Bleed out, freak show. Avera Ibori, go home. Run away... but not too late. You'll find yourself an awful fate. You look away, and then... you're trapped!'
The memories of the words echoed in her mind, leaving her with an increasing discomfort, and anxiety began to overtake her.
'It doesn't mean anything. Get that out of your head. Dreams don't mean anything, anyway.'
"Why are they trying to hurt you, Ben?" she asked, her voice breaking as she tried to keep her mind calm.
He smiled, giving her an apologetic look, and said, "It wouldn't be fair of me to answer that."
"I see," she said hesitantly.
The voice came again. 'Run away.'
"Avera," he said, his eyes watching her, "are you alright?"
This took Avera somewhat by surprise. "Yes, fine. I'm fine. Thank you," she said, quickly dismissing the question.
"Are you certain?" he said again, pressing the issue. "You slept alright? Nothing unusual happened?"
'No... that dream, but... how does he know?'
'Run away,' the voice came echoing from the depths.
"No... nothing," she said, desperately trying to keep her cool.
"You're quite certain?" he persisted.
"Nothing," she said after some hesitation. "Nothing happened. I told you, I'm fine," she answered quickly, becoming flustered. "Look, Ben..." she went on, turning to face the wall, unwilling to look at him, "I've been thinking, I should go. You've got your thing, and I have mine. So, if you don't mind-"
"W-what?" he said, entirely taken off guard by her sudden coldness.
"I told you, Ben. I've had enough of this," she said coldly, keeping her eyes fixed on the wall.
"Avera, I..." he began before hesitating.
"Look, Ben, I don't know who you are, I don't know what you do, and I don't know what your plan is, but I do know that I don't want any part of it," she told him, feigning agitation. "I just... want to go home."
He stood in disbelief, his fingertips gently touching the wooden door behind him. He watched her carefully, unsure of the response and searching for an answer. She glanced over at him, catching the sight of his contemplative eyes. His lips were moving, but no words came. She looked quickly back away, not willing for him to see the pain in her frightened eyes.
'I'm sorry, Ben. I've... lost too much. I can't... risk it anymore.'
"You said I could leave as I wished," Avera reminded him, her voice softening as her eyes welled with tears.
There was a vast gulf between them, and a pronounced silence which deafened her.
"You know I wouldn't keep you," Benjamin muttered softly, breaking through the thickness of the air. "If you wish to depart, may I offer any accommodations?"
She looked at him, his eyes as kind and caring, as ever they had been.
'Ben... please stop. You're making this harder.'
"Thank you, but... I have what I need," she replied, her tone softening further, and she turned to face him here again.
"Will you eat?" he asked her, offering her more of his kindness.
"No, not today," she said, carefully maintaining her composure.
"Very well, then," he said. "Let me show you out."
The walk to the door was long and painfully quiet with the constant presence of the silence between them. Any attempt at conversion would have proven to be awkward and uncomfortable, so it was pleasantly agreed to be ignored, and that without words. As they arrived at the main door of the library once again and Avera recovered her bicycle, Benjamin again broke the silence.
"Avera," he said, addressing her with careful tact, "do you... know where your father is?"
She was surprised by the question and returned it with a perplexed look and puzzled glance. "No, he's... missing," she said, unsure of what emotions should have come as a response to the bizarrely poignant personal question. "Disappeared. They don't know what has happened to him," she told him, her head vaguely bobbing as her body trembled and her eyes fell away. "So... there you have it. That's all there is. They don't know." She let out a breath, holding her eyes open wide as she could, and fighting back the tears which sought to drown her in waves of familiar sorrow.
Benjamin was watching her. She felt it. His compassionate stare was piercing, but she wouldn't let it take hold of her heart again. She would find strength on her own.
"Avera, I... I'm sorry," he told her, his words a heartfelt expression of care. "I am so incredibly sorry."
"Well, Ben..." she said, her voice cracking, "it's not important. Besides, it's not your fault. How could you have known... not to ask?"
Tears began to drop from her eyes as tiny silver droplets against the grassy field below her, and she turned her head up, tilting her face back and allowing the sorrows of her heart to roll gently down her dusty brown cheeks.
"Do you know how to get back from here?" he asked her, his eyes a considerate light.
"I should," she said, not entirely certain.
"It's that way," he said, stretching his arm out and pointing past the front of the library to her right, which was his left. "Due west," he told her, smiling. "That will take you to the Eastern Gate. Then, of course, you can follow the city wall to gain entry through the Main Gate to the west, but..." he added with his quiet, almost apologetic confidence, "I'm sure of that you're well aware. Ensure you've entered by nightfall or you may encounter some difficulties."
She smiled, blinking away the remaining tears. "Yes, thank you," she said. "I'll be sure to take your advice on that."
"Avera..." he addressed kindly with some hesitance, "you are welcome to come back and see us, if ever you would like."
She watched his face, his eyes soft and caring, and the kindhearted invitation warmed her.
"Thank you, Benjamin," she said with a quick nod and a determined smile. "For everything."
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