Chapter 50 - Dangerous
The men were awake when they came back. It was almost as if they never before seen a girl, but she was no longer a blood-smeared, half-clad, dirty animal. She was just a painfully thin and slightly hostile girl.
“Sit,” Priest ordered her to a stump, and he put the peg in. She sat down but kept sniffing at herself. It was probably the first time in her life she was completely clean. Catherine gave her a hard piece of cheese, and she sniffed that too.
“You eat it, love. Like you eat rabbit,” Robert urged with some amusement, and she bit into it and frowned. She ate some more, then polished the whole thing off and looked at Catherine expectantly.
“That is a treat love, just a little piece at a time,” Catherine tried to hide her smile and her pity, Robert clucked.
“Treat my ass, I was seven when I ate my first wedge. My ma forgot to put it away, of course, I ate too much, and I was sick for a week.
Ma quickly learned there was no hole deep enough to hide the cheese, so she bought a goat and made her own,” Robert laughed at himself, but there was a sad longing in him for the woman who raised him.
He brought over a piece of cheese but handed it to Catherine to give to the girl. The halfling grabbed with her teeth instead of her hand, probably out of greed and nipped Catherine hard enough that it bled.
Before Catherine could think of an appropriate reaction, Robert took a piece of wood, about three inches wide and one and a half foot long, put the halfling over his knees and thrashed her soundly. The girl was so shocked she went absolutely still.
“You never bite the hand that feeds your worthless arse,” Robert rapped out with each blow. Before he dumped her on the ground and took the cheese out of her reach.
She turned and sat holding her butt. It was probably the first real beating she’d had in her life. No Easterner would have dared get that physically close to her. Shock and anger warred on her face and yet she looked pretty near crying.
“Now let’s try this again. If you nip me or take anything with your teeth, I will be the one thrashing your butt. More will hurt than your ego,” Catherine ordered and the girl stubbornly refused to move for a few seconds, but the smell brought her skittering back.
She took slowly with her hand, clearly, she expected to be slapped. When nothing happened, she glanced at Catherine as if to see if she was angry.
“Robert that was an unnecessary risk. She could have hurt you or mauled you. She is not like Priest and me, she is dangerous,” the words from Catherine stilled the girl. She didn’t like them, and Catherine stared the child down.
“She thinks you are like the Easterners because you’re human. I can’t take the chance that you get hurt because she is the same age as your daughter would be.
She is not as innocent as she looks,” the warning hurt and it was more for the girl than Robert. The girl blinked and frowned at Robert as if seeing him for the first time.
“No one bites my mistress, not some snot-nosed little halfling, no one. If she’s staying, she’s going to be taught manners,” Robert sounded like a father scolding an unruly child. The girl growled gently.
“Are you scolding me, Human?” Catherine tried hard not to sound amused.
“No... Yes. You are important, you are our only hope. If she amuses you, fine, but if I have to choose between your safety and hers, I will choose you and any one of my men, above her,” Robert spoke with such quiet vehemence that the truth of those words shone from them.
The murmur from the men affirmed it. The girl looked at them, then at Catherine. She frowned, confused and just a little hurt and afraid.