October 24, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Only thirty yards stood between Corr and freedom. The tall reeds whipped at his unexposed skin as he ran towards the forest edge. He did his best to protect his face with his hands, but every step he took was more painful than the last. He knew that once he passed the edge of the Riverlands and entered the lowland forests of Endrin he would be beyond the outer edge of any patrolmen of the Rhen Alliance.
When he finally reached the forest’s edge he slowed his pace a little. Corr knew he still needed to stay on the lookout for bandits and wildlings, but compared to the torture he’d just escaped, the residents of the lowland forests didn’t worry him so much. Corr had to formulate a plan and decide where to go. The dense growth of the forest would provide him with the much-needed cover to stop and finally rest. It might even give him the chance to start a fire to stave of the chill of the night. He needed help. He needed to find someone who could help him figure out what was happening to him–someone who wouldn’t drive him from his home or lock him in a dungeon and subject him to endless torture.
As he traveled Corr reflected on the state he was in. It had been two weeks since his escape. For the first three days he just ran. He didn’t care where he was going, he just knew he needed to get away. The Riverlands weren’t safe. Too many Alliance soldiers patrolled the region. Corr believed that if he could just make it out of the Riverlands and into the lowland forests he would be out of danger. On the fourth day he found a small cave to hide in and slept for a day and a half. When he finally awoke, he briefly considered staying in the cave forever, living with a family of raccoons, but he forced himself to keep going. He rested during the day, sleeping when he could, and walked at night. His sight at night had always been good but with the promise of freedom in front of him and the threat of death behind him he found himself able to see better than any highland owl he’d ever encountered.
Suddenly he heard a low groaning noise that caused him to stop dead in his tracks. Corr listened intently for the sound, trying to gauge what it was, and where it was coming from. The sound came again, off to his left. He changed his course, and cautiously made his way towards to noise. A few paces away the trees opened into a small clearing. In the center of the clearing was a large stump–the last remnants of a long dead tree, its thick trunk likely carried away by wildlings or eaten away by wood mites. In a way, this place looked almost magical–a place suspended in time. It was silent in the clearing, except for the groaning, and the additional sound of heavy labored breathing.
He carefully moved into the clearing, and closer towards the sounds. As Corr approached the massive tree stump he saw a wild boar, its right front leg twisted and broken. A large amount of blood surrounded the boar, and as he approached, the large swine couldn’t even lift its head in acknowledgement, let alone stand to run away in fear. Corr stood for a moment, looking into the wild pigs’ eyes, sharing a strange kinship with the beast over the pain and suffering they had both recently experienced. A part of him wished that there was something he could do to heal the animal, but he also knew that the beast was far beyond any sort of help. Corr knew that at this point the best thing to do would be to end the poor beasts’ misery, and then thank the gods that he would finally have the chance at a real meal.
Corr had no weapons on him and the closest thing he had to a blade was the small shard of glass he had used to cut his bonds in his escape. Fortunately he had spent quite a bit of time as a youth helping the town butcher slaughter, gut, and strip all sorts of livestock, so he was not without experience in this matter. He knelt beside the boar and put a hand on the animals’ head. He lowered his own head, closed his eyes, and thanked the boar for giving its life so that he could live. Then Corr grabbed a large nearby rock, and made quick work of things.
The fire spit and hissed as the fat from the roasting meat dripped onto the coals. Corr cursed to himself as a stray ember singed his hand as he reached in to turn the spit. The aroma from the cooking boar alone was nearly enough to fill his stomach. It had been a painfully long time since he’d had anything of real substance to eat, and it took everything in him to give the boar time to cook properly. While Corr was in prison he never got more than stale bread and fetid water and in the time that he’d escaped he’d only managed to find grubs and berries. To say that he was hungry would to severely understate the situation. Corr’s mind began to wander.
“Everyone breaks eventually. You can resist all you want, but eventually, you will tell me what you know.” Those had been the first words that his torturer had spoken to him. He could still hear the twisted man’s croaking voice in his head. The guards called him The Keeper. He was a short man, twisted by some crippling childhood malady. The Keeper was fond of inflicting terrible pain on Corr–pain that brought him to the very brink of insanity and threatened to turn him into a mindless wretch, devoid of any consciousness besides feral instinct. But always right before he felt like he was going to get swallowed into the abyss The Keeper pulled him back. The man terrified Corr. If he hadn’t escaped when he had…
The fire cracked and popped again, drawing him back in to the moment. Finally deciding that the swine was cooked enough he pulled the spit out of the fire and ripped off a chunk. Without waiting for it to cool he tore into the flesh with everything he had.
“May I share your fire duna?”
He nearly choked as he jumped up and whirled around towards the voice. A tall figure stood about 6 paces away from him. The stranger’s voice was clearly female, but it carried a thick accent. The woman was wrapped in a long dark green cloak, with a hood that covered her face. For a moment Corr considered making a run for it, but he quickly decided that in his current state he wouldn’t make it very far, and if the strange woman was an enemy she’d overtake and kill him faster than he could blink. Besides, if the hooded figure wasn’t an enemy, Corr would be out a warm fire and a perfectly good boar.
“I am sorry duna, I meant not to frighten you. I was seeing your fire and hoped I might find someone who would be willing to show a little hospitality,” the woman said, stepping a little closer, removing her hood. “If you mean to attack me duna, I am not sure that is the most effective weapon choice” she said, gesturing towards the leg of boar the man held in his hand.
Suddenly Corr felt flush with embarrassment as he realized that he was brandishing the boar leg like a small dagger, but he quickly returned to distrust and fear.
“What are you doing in the middle of the Endrin Forests?”
“I might ask the same of you, duna. A strange ad’ononi, dressed in rags, looking like he has never bathed in his life–but I suppose since it is your fire, and your boar, I will go first.”
She crossed to the other side of the fire and sat down. The warm firelight shone off the woman’s dark skin, revealing long intricate tattoos running down the sides of her face and neck. The tattoos marked her as Crealish. Corr didn’t know much about the people from the southern lands of Creal, but everyone knew about their tattoos. Creal children received their first tattoos across their shoulders at a very young age. As they got older or moved up the social ladder they would add to the tattoos in size and complexity. Crealish people believed that their tattoos held some type of power, protecting them and giving them strength. Corr had no idea how they worked or what they really did, but the fact that this woman’s tattoos went all the way up her face must have meant she was either very old, or very important.
“I am running. Or more truthfully, I am hiding. “
“From what, exactly?”
“From life. It has not exactly been good to me.”
Corr wanted to ask her more, but her tone told him that she was not interested in discussing the matter further. He desperately needed the company, and didn’t want to risk her leaving by offending her. He changed the subject.
“What’s your name?”.
The man snorted a chuckle.
“Why do you laugh, duna?”
“Nothing,” he stifled his laughter, “it’s just, I thought that all you Crealish had names like Krrikken or Culdrutn or something. Samantha, well, that’s a Rhenen name.”
“My Crealish name is difficult for the Rhenen tongue. And for the last 30 years I’ve been living among you duoni. I got tired of you people butchering my name, so I decided to change it. Now, I think I have fulfilled my end of the bargain. I told you who I am and what I am doing here. May I share your fire now, duna?”
Again Corr wanted to press her for more information, but thought better of it. Instead, he just nodded.
“And the boar, duna?” she gestured towards the meat.
Corr nodded again.
“Thank you, duna” Samantha smiled as she took the meat. It had been so long since anyone had smiled at him that the expression seemed unnatural. As Corr looked at her smiling face, he felt his guard drop ever so slightly. He wanted to trust her. Every part of him yearned for someone to whom he could tell his story. Someone who would listen without fear or anger. Someone that might even be able to believe him. If not for the sudden pain across his back, he might have told her everything right then and there. Unable to bear the intensity of the pain, he stumbled back and sat down. The exhaustion of his ordeal crashed against his body like a giant wave.
“Are you ok, duna?” Samantha asked, concerned.
“Yes, I’m fine, I just…”
“You’re bleeding!” Samantha cried out with a start. Corr felt a warm trickle of blood make its way down his arm, around his wrist, and drip off his fingers. Samantha rushed over to him and before he could protest, started to removed his shirt.
“Let me look duna,” she said, not as a request. He didn’t bother trying to stop her.
As Samantha pulled off the tattered rags that only barely qualified as his shirt, her smiling face twisted into a mixture of shock, horror, and deep sadness. He flinched in pain as the matted cloth tore away from his skin. Samantha stared at him, dumbfounded. Across Corr’s entire back and shoulders ran long, wide, deep gashes in various stages of scabbing, festering, and oozing.
“What happened to you, duna?”
Corr grimaced at the burning pain and looked up at her. “Life… hasn’t exactly been good to me either.”