9. A FRIEND OR A FOE
I groaned as I rolled to my side, it felt like I had the best sleep in a while probably because for the first time I didn’t have to worry about my safety and lingering threat nearby. I was possibly in the safest place I could be though it was a prison cell, at least nobody could hurt me here except the southerners of course. But I didn’t want to think about it right now. I wanted to focus more on the little good things in my life rather than the depressing realities I was in.
For now, these walls were my sanctuary, shielding me from the ravening rogues skulking beyond the pack borders, waiting for fresh meat to step out into the open, defenceless, to sink their fangs into the flesh.
And who knew Alpha Demetrius hadn’t already found out about my whereabouts, waiting patiently, planning, plotting to snatch me away from the little freedom I had gained and moulded me into the person he ought to see. Solely for this reason, I needed to gain their trust, let them see the actual person behind the lies and if possible reach out their hands to my aid.
I could never win the war against Alpha Demetrius alone. I needed their support to let me stay here, conceal my identity and treat me like a person, not an enemy. Whatever their issues were with Alpha Demetrius as I had witnessed how Aloïs had transformed from calm to a raging beast, I needed him to see me not as a part of Volkov wolves but as a northerner who suffered at the hands of their Alpha.
I yawned and stretched my limbs, tried to sit up when a voice spoke out from the adjacent cell, “The whole place could tell you had a good sleep. You were snoring last night. Pretty loud I might add.”
I felt embarrassed but instead of accepting the truth, I defended myself, tried to turn the situation in my favour “No, that’s not true. You must have mistaken me for someone else.” I said confidently.
Laughs erupted. Someone might have snickered and another voice joined in, “Oh yes, quite loud and obnoxious.” They crackled.
I looked at Forrest, narrowing my eyes. He might not catch my expression but I was letting him know my displeasure.
Forrest shrugged his shoulders innocently as if he didn’t have prompted this awkward situation.
I looked up to the windows, the sun had already risen, a new day had begun and here I was sleeping peacefully. But what could one do when they had been running for weeks for their lives and the thought of sleep never crossed their minds. Only a bit of rest here and there and then resumed their journey.
“What now?” I asked.
Forrest was trying to initiate conversations so I might as well get some answers.
Forrest got up, paced back and forth inside his cell for a few minutes before he flopped down on the ground, facing me. The outline of his frame was visible enough to conclude he could only have a few inches over me. He seemed young assuming from his voice and having a lean body.
How did he get here? What reasons he could have? Could he harm me? Should I stay away from him? I didn’t think it would be wise to judge him or come to a conclusion when we were in the same situation, hanging onto the mercy of the southerner. Upon coming here, he only showed me kindness and I should return the favour.
“Someone will be here soon. They will take us out and assign tasks for the day.”
“What task? What do we need to do?”
“Whatever they decide. We mostly do laborious work and sometimes we are put into the ring to fight.”
“Fight?” I gasped. I couldn’t be put into a situation where it could be easily revealed the weakness I was keeping close to my heart.
Forrest might have noticed the horror in my voice, he quickly spoke out to correct the words, “It’s for the training. They mostly practise combating with their fellow warriors but sometimes they give us a chance if we want to take part in a duel. It’s kind of fun if you win.”
I never shied away from battling with my opponent. It was what I did best and what I always wanted to become. A female warrior. Though I never got to become a Volkov warrior, still I was pretty good at fighting, mostly at my archery skills. It was what Volkov wolves were known for. Our choice of weapon.
But dominating over me and forcing me not to get shifted to my wolf took a toll upon me, on my skills, strength and agility.
“So, they would let us out,” I asked in doubt, to be made sure what I was hearing was true.
“Yeah,” He shrugged. “Don’t say no. If you refuse to do any work, you will not be provided with any food.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. I never thought they would let us out of here. Freedom is never given so easily by Alpha...” I slapped my palm over my mouth to stop myself from speaking further.
I swallowed the actual words and rambled around the truth, “Prisoners are never permitted to taste the fruit of freedom...from where I belong. They are debarred from feeling the warmth of the sun on their skins. They will rot in their cells until they are dead.”
“Then I’m glad I didn’t get caught by your pack...from where you belong.” Forrest didn’t force me to spill out the name of my pack for which I was glad. He intentionally left it blank.
“Rogues are never treated well in my pack...”
“We are not rogues.” He debated.
“No, I didn’t...”
“I’m not. Bryson and Amos aren’t. Finn is definitely not. I don’t know about..” he pointed to a cell two doors after him, “We asked him but he never said anything. We thought he was mute until one day he wasn’t when he let out a few colourful cuss words before bashing his fist to Bryson’s cheek...”
Someone grumbled, maybe the male Forrest was talking about. I didn’t ask and he continued, “And looking at you, I can tell you aren’t. No one in their right mind will capture a rogue and then let them out into the open to bring chaos. Surviving alone into the wild for years implanted madness in their minds, they will not stop attacking until either he is dead or the man unfortunate enough to run into him. We aren’t rogues. We have lived all our lives among people, belong to society until situation declares us an outcast or made us leave everything behind.”
Even still clinging to the shadow, it felt like he was looking straight at me. I couldn’t tell whether he was disclosing his situation or deciphering mine. I remained silent. Offering me his food and kindness distinguished him as a nice person but it didn’t certainly make him my friend or a trusted confidante.
Heavy boots thudded against the floor, alerting someone’s arrival. I shrank back and waited for the event to unfold. Keys jiggled. Locks turned. Doors slammed open.
Another voice yelled from the front, “Come out of your cell. Stand in a line.”
Soon, everyone stepped out of their cells and formed a line. I followed suit and stood behind a lanky boy, keeping a measurable distance between us. Noticing my presence he turned, his eyes bulged out and his mouth gaped open as he gawked at me.
I felt uneasy with his sudden assessment and took a step back and collided with something hard. I turned and came face to face with an older male. Brown, leathery skin and his arms were like trunks of trees. He plastered a smile on his face, with his missing tooth he looked scarier than a friendly face.
I backed away from him and turned around. Straightening my spine, I waited for this ordeal to be over.
“Do you mind if I squeeze in?” Forrest’s voice rang out. He didn’t wait for the reply of the man with the missing tooth behind me. He easily sandwiched himself between us and uttered thanks.
I didn’t say it out loud but I was grateful for the gesture. Though I didn’t know him, there was a feeling of similarity we shared but with others, I didn’t know them at all.
We walked back through the same way I came. But this time I was glad I didn’t have to blindly follow through the unknown territory. After taking a few twists and turns, we reached the exit.
The southerners who let us out, they put silver collars around our necks and silver cuffs on our hands and feet. Even if we tried we couldn’t release ourselves from the tightness and heaviness that came with the confinement.
The southerners who brought us out in the open kept us in their watchful gaze but they hardly paid the prisoners any attention except me. Often they would look over me, said something to another, acted bored and then gave a quick once over.
Why were they so bothered by me? Was I the seemed dangerous or unstable in any way out of all the prisoners standing in a queue. Or, they normally treated the newcomer with suspicion.
“It’s not you. I mean, of course, it’s you but...you know...why are they staring at you?”
I twisted my head but I didn’t turn to look at him, more like tilting my ear towards him to listen to what he had to say. “What are you talking about?”
“Look around. You simply stand out. No one needs to ask you to know where you came from. You are a northerner.”
“And that’s an issue, why?” It was not like they had never seen a northerner before. People from south had often ventured into the north though they were not greeted with a proper welcome. Still, I had seen a few of them dragged through the Blackridgepool, parading them through the Volkov territory, putting on a show like the northerners had won some trophy.
“We consider northerners more like a tale, never saw them before but we heard about them all. So, you can assume how people would feel when the monsters from those stories conjured before their eyes.”
“Monsters?” I snapped and turned around to glare at him.
I gasped and my words faltered.
“We are all monsters in a way. Don’t you think?”
I tried to avert my gaze because it didn’t seem respectable to stare at someone but I couldn’t. A long deep cut carved into his cheek, marring his handsome features. He could hardly be a year or two older than me but he had a boyish charm about him. And his moss-green eyes gave him a hopeful and upbeat attitude towards life.
“You didn’t expect that?”
I shifted my gaze away from him and mumbled, “Sorry.” I felt embarrassed, unashamedly gawking at his face.
“It’s okay. At first, people always stare. Later they get used to it.”
“No, I shouldn’t have...”
“Don’t trouble yourself with it. We all have stories to tell.”
I agreed. I wanted to ask him what happened but I didn’t because if I was in his position I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing my story with him nor I would’ve appreciated it when someone asked me for it.
I remained silent and gave him, possibly what he had always wanted but never got. My support and consideration towards him.