A/N: Awaking Kills the Dream beta'd. All remaining mistakes are still my fault.
I dragged my heels as I was hauled down the long, dark hallway. The stones of the walls were blackened by the smoky torches, generally adding to the feeling of doom- or maybe it was just my imagination. My captors tightened their grip on my elbow. One poked me in the back with his blade warningly, but he needn't have worried- like I was going to try anything. I was in that sort of numb state where all you can really do is vaguely hope that you won't be conscious when they start to rape and torture you and it was not a very happy place.
Maybe I should back up a bit to explain how I found myself in such a god-awful predicament. I live in Solea, a smallish country whose main exports are wool and wool-based products. There are a lot of good things about my country- relative peace, good wine, mild winters, but it does have its problems. Or at least if you ask me, it does. It you ask King Verres and his cronies he'll tell you Solea is perfect. But you're not talking to him- you're talking to me, sort of. Women here are chattel; nothing more than our husbands' or fathers' property. We aren't allowed to read, own property, go outside without an escort, that sort of thing. It's hell. Thankfully my father wasn't as tyrannical as some. He even secretly taught me to read. I was luckier than most. But it wasn't enough for me- I wanted to help my sisters everywhere, improve the world- that sort of thing. God, I was an idiot. But that's why I did what I did. And even if I am punished for it in the underworld, as the priests maintain, I would do it again. I'm definitely going to be punished for it in this mortal coil.
So, you understand my reluctance to get where I was being taken. The ropes cut deeply into the skin of my tightly-bound wrists as they barreled me along through the dark underbelly of Verres's castle. It was not unlike the bowels of hell. The occasional scream of agony and the sound of the lash rent the air.
We finally came to the end of the corridor, to a spiraling staircase which they immediately started up.
Do you know how hard it is to drag an unwilling body up a steep, narrow, tightly spiraled staircase? Especially one dressed in the heavy skirts and bodice of a (formerly) well-respected maid? I have to admit I took some joy in their struggle- until one of them jabbed me hard enough to make me bleed and ordered me to walk. Which I did- as slowly as I could without risking another jab. They were panting and wheezing up the steep stairs, so they weren't pressing the issue.
there were a lot of stairs. I lost count after thirteen
flights. On and on it went. My captors were panting and
extremely red in the face. I would have felt sorry for them, but
they were evil bastards who deserved to die, so I didn't.
Finally we stopped on a flight with a heavy oak door recessed into the wall. Heavy iron filigree reinforced it. Two more guards were stationed outside. They shifted nervously, almost fearfully. Come to think of it, my own guards suddenly seemed uneasy. Somehow I doubted that all this fear was on account of me.
"The girl's going in," the one who'd poked my said roughly.
"Little early for it," said one of the stationed guards.
"Its orders!" the first said angrily.
"I was just saying," said the second placatingly, getting out a heavy key.
They all drew their swords and looked at the door, prepared for, for- well, I sure as hell didn't know what, but I didn't think I was going to like it. I felt hands pushing me forward toward the ominous door. In a quick, practiced gesture thebolt was thrownand the door flung open. I was shoved hard, forcing me to stumble inside the darkened room. I fell heavily to my knees and just barely saved my face from smashing into the floor. I heard the door slam behind me with a thud and the lock click with a depressing sort of finality.
I took in my new surroundings with considerable apprehension, all right- stark terror, which turned quickly to surprise. I had been forced into an elegantly furnished apartment. Several large windows allowed a generous amount of light to spill into the room. The thick bars across them only detracted from them a little. Rich tapestries covered the walls. There was a large poster bed against the far wall, a wardrobe, and a writing desk. Everythingwas the epitome of good taste and fashion. At the desk sat a young man with pen in hand, looking at me in a very resigned sort of way. His black hair was gathered loosely at the nape of his neck and his skin was duskier thanmost people from Solea's. That and his wide, dark brown eyes suggested he might be foreign. He may have been a few years older than me. (Note: I'm twenty-two. And unmarried. You can imagine my father's horror.)
I was rather taken aback by all this, you understand. Since the moment of my capture I had imagined this moment. And reality had completely floored me.
"Hello," I said after a moment or two. I wasn't really at my wittiest.
"Hello," he said calmly, setting down his quill, as if he were accustomed to having bound criminals thrust through his door everyday. Maybe he was…
I struggled none too gracefully to my feet.
He watched me carefully, and then asked, "Are you hurt?"
I wasn't sure were this was going. "Not really," I said shortly, trying to look tough enough to take him on. Which was laughable, really. I was bound and the room kept swimming a little around the edges of my vision. I had been held for three days without food. I've always considered myself tough, but it had taken a serious toll on me. Bravado was really all I had left.
"You should sit down," he rose fluidly, nodding toward the wide bed.
Oh, no- he was not going to get me near that bed willingly.
"I'm fine, thanks." Of course that was the moment my body decided to quit. We'd always been at odds, my body and I. The room started swimming more violently and my hearing went fuzzy, as though I had cotton in my ears. I must have passed out.
When I came to, I found myself unbound and laid carefully on the bed. I couldn't decide on a proper course of action, so I just laid there. He was sitting on the edge of the bed regarding me and holding- this got my attention- a bowl of soup.
"Are you hungry?" he asked.
It occurred to me that the soup might be poisoned or otherwise tampered with, but I didn't care.
"Yes," I said sitting up as quickly as I could to demonstrate that I was capable of feeding myself. When I had situated myself, he handed me the soup. I was hungry enough that boot leather was beginning to look good, so the soup was utter bliss. I tried to eat slowly, and I was partially successful.
"I am called Andarian," he said a little formally.
I looked at him over the rim of the bowl- I'd abandoned the spoon.
"I'm Mirielle," I said wiping my mouth on my sleeve. I'd had manners once, but not recently. "Who are you?" I demanded.
"Just another prisoner," he said looking away, his voice wistful.
"Honey, 'just another prisoner' wouldn't get their own apartment. Who are you really?" Any other man would have struck me for my impertinence, but he just gave me a half smile.
"It doesn't matter."
I shrugged off my intense curiosity with a little difficulty and handed him back the empty bowl. "Thanks."
"What about you? Why are you here?"
I was going to be terse and stoic- why should I tell him about me, when I knew nothing about him? But in the few conscious minutes I'd known him, I already liked him. A lot. He seemed trustworthy. And besides, I wanted to tell my story. My mother always said I talked too much.
"Corrupting the youth and promoting fornication."
He looked at me, reactionless, which annoyed me- he should have at least looked surprised or alarmed or something. People were hanged for less in Solea.
Maybe he didn't understand, "I was distributing contraceptives and informational pamphlets." He looked completely unfazed, which just confirmed his foreignness- no native Solean would take such a heinous crime lightly. I sighed, "And now I'm going to die for it."
"Is it worth it?"
"Yes, somebody's got to do it," I started my familiar rant vehemently. "Women here are desperate, if you haven't noticed. Men get their wives pregnant again and again until they die of it and then call them weak. Mothers are unable to keep their children fed because they have too many," I bristled, ready for him to start in on me about the evils of fornication and its tools. It was a reaction developed from years of lectures and punishment. Girls in Solea were punished if they so much looked as if they were having impure thoughts. Oddly, the boys got much more lenient treatment.
But all he said to this was, "Tell me." Now, even I know better than to just spill the tale to anyone who asks- if he were an inquisitor it would be taken as a confession, and I would be immediately executed. But somehow I didn't think he was- I innately trusted him; something my cynical self almost never did.
That was all it took to get me started. I basically told him my life story. Everything- there was nothing this man did not hear. I won't write it all here, because he was a captive audience, no pun intended, and you're not. My rambling story took the better part of three hours to relate. I don't know how he sat through it, but he did, rapt, taking in my every word. I told him about my childhood as the daughter of a cloth merchant. I told him about my education at the college. Hell, I even told him about the boy I was sweet on when I was eight, and how he broke my heart.
Telling him about my little sister's excommunication and exile after an unwed pregnancy was painful. She was the reason I first decided that I had to act. It was after that I started collecting information. My father is the chief librarian- getting into the restricted section of the king's library was tricky but not impossible. I started discreetly dropping hints at sewing circles and other small gatherings; it didn't take long for the women to come to me. Soon I was distributing contraceptives smuggled into the country by a merchant brother of a friend. I'm not sure who betrayed me, I don't really care, either; she was probably being beaten when she told. All I know is that last week the moral enforcers came knocking on my father's door in the middle of the night and I was taken for 'questioning.'
Finally my story came to the present.
"And here I am," I concluded, "Such a cut and dried case of subversion should go straight to the gallows." My voice caught, "At least my father won't have to watch me hang. Why would they bring me here? Do you know what they intend to do with me? Don't get me wrong- this is better than hanging, but it's a little inexplicable. Shouldn't I be sentenced to death? How long have you been here?"
"I beg your pardon?" I said, unsure if he was joking. His tone was dead serious, but he looked like he couldn't be a day over twenty-seven, thirty at most. I reexamined him, but came to the same conclusion. His hair was naturally dark- I could spot dyed roots a mile off;theskin of his face and hands was smooth and unwrinkled.
"I'm not human," he said by way of explanation.
I just looked at him incredulously.
"I'm a vampire," he continued.
My expression must not have improved.
"You were, in fact, sentenced to death- and I'm your executioner."
"You're going to kill me?" I asked a little skeptically- he looked too sweet to be a killer, but I guess you never knew.
"Yes," he said regretfully.
"I'd rather be hanged," I sighed.