The events in this story take place after "I don't break the rules" so it's more fun to read that story first before starting on this one. However, you don't HAVE to, as it isn't necessary to know what happened in IDBTR to enjoy TBOADF. In fact, this story can stand on its own perfectly well, IMHO. The choice is always in your hands! :)
Title: The beautiful ones always die first
Chapter 1: Love put this scar across my face
The scar that runs across my face is there because of love. It starts in my hairline, slightly to the right, and goes between my eyes to run down my left cheek like a tear track. It's a raised weal, deep pink, which turns deep scarlet on hot days. My youngest brother says it looks exactly like a stretched-out earthworm. On the bridge, where the soft bone begins, a branch snakes off to go under my right eye in a curve that rides over my cheekbone to meet my right temple. And from the outer corner of my right eye, the third line goes across my cheek to end at the edge of my upper lip. This line is lighter and thinner than the others—maybe they ran out of strength at the end, or resolve—so sometimes when the light is right, you can't even see it. Maybe you would even say that I have three scars, but to me, they are the same one mark that I have borne from the age of eight.
It was my parents who put the scar on me. And now this scar is about to save my life.
There are three of them. And like a fool I fall literally at their feet. All because I was late, and I was trying to be less late, and so I was running, and not looking. Fool. You always look where you're going, and after you've looked, you look again. And if you don't…
I am lifted off the ground by brawny arms. I kick, scratch, try to gouge his eyes, but it's useless. He grabs me by the back of the neck, twisting his fingers in my hair. The other hand, large enough to encircle both my wrists, holds me fast like an iron band. I am brought down to the ground on my knees.
"Let it go," The accent is foreign, but then all the Lady's armed men are foreigners, mercenaries whose absolute loyalty to her is maintained by the generous silver that goes into their pockets. These three are the worse kind—Snatchers.
A calloused finger traces my scar roughly, making me wince. "See? Not pretty. No good. Lady not liking it."
The grip on my neck does not loosen, but the hand on my wrists removes itself and starts to grope my rear.
"Is nice... I keep for me."
That makes me start struggling frantically. He tries to grab my wrists again. Unexpectedly, I receive help from the third partner, who swats his hand away and gives him a firm slap to the side of the head. My captor rushes at him, and the second Snatcher has to pull them apart.
"Not waste time! Must find plaything for Lady before noon." He finishes off with some cursewords.
In the scuffle, I've managed to free myself. I get ready to run, but they just leave, still shoving each other. They don't even look back at me. Like the second one said, I'm not good enough for the Lady. She wants only the comeliest of youths. So the Snatchers only take the beautiful young people. Male or female, it makes no difference. If you have a pretty face, odds are the Snatchers will get you one day.
"You alright, scarface?"
I know that voice. "No thanks to you, stinky."
He pulls me to my feet. He's the refuse-cart man, real name Haylden. Tall and skinny, always in black, he looks like a child's nightmare with his one eye and wild mane of red hair. The hand he offers me has only two fingers. Most people in the village keep their distance from him. But Haylden and I have a shared story, and her name is Cresta.
Cresta. My elder sister, said to be a head-turner of a beauty. So when the Snatchers began their kidnapping, of course she had been among the first taken. Haylden was her betrothed. They say it was trying to fight off the Snatchers that cost him his eye and fingers.
Those that get Snatched are taken to the Lady in the Fortress. Nobody knows what happens to them after that. But every so often, Haylden's cart would enter the village loaded with a simple wooden box. And one more family would mourn the loss of a son or daughter.
He gives me a twisted smile. "What did you expect me to do, stink them away or dazzle them with my wondrous beauty? Or perhaps I should have tried to distract them by selling them a nice coffin?"
That's why people keep away from Haylden. He's also the village undertaker. Death walks by his side, they say in the village, along with other less polite things.
I don't bother to reply. Instead, I flex my ankle tentatively. It's rather sore from my fall earlier, but it doesn't seem to be sprained.
"You're thinner every time I see you," he remarks. "Are you trying to look like my slim self?"
"I'm late," is all I say. Then I brace myself and start sprinting.
"You'd run faster with more flesh on your bones!" he yells after me.
Father doesn't look at all pleased when I rush into the smithy at last. To his unspoken question, I offer a brief explanation. "Snatchers."
His expression changes immediately. I am enveloped in a tight hug.
I let it last for a little while before I break free, protesting that I can't breathe. "I'm fine, papa. My face was enough for them to leave me alone."
Carefully, he smooths the hair off my face and kisses the top of my scar. "If you get taken too… " He can't finish the sentence. He turns away, but I know what he's doing. He's saying Cresta's name silently.
That's why I hate my face sometimes. I am the living image of Cresta, and every day of my life I remind my parents of the daughter they will never see again. It was because of this face that I wear that they lost Cresta. That was why, as I grew older and started to resemble her more, they took the fateful decision to mark me. You might even say that it was Cresta who put this scar on my face.
Sometimes I think I hate Cresta too, even though I hardly even knew her.
Papa and I work in silence. There is a lot to do. Here in Raylletowne, most of the people are smiths and carpenters. We make the tools that the other villages need—farm implements for Laydone, needles and metal parts for the looms in Taynoneville. And to the Fortress go blunt weapons that the mercenaries will sharpen for themselves, arrowheads, armour and all the other things that men kill each other with. There is trade between the villages, but a large part of the produce and goods we produce end up in the Fortress, usually for a fraction of its real worth. What the three villages can't produce comes from outside: ore, entertainers… and armed men. The Lady doesn't take locals as soldiers. So her foreign soldiers move freely among us, always watchful, rarely friendly. Any sign of unrest, and the men involved would go missing soon after. Whether we live within or without the walls of the Fortress, we are its prisoners, captives in our own homes.
We are taking a short break for the midday meal, and who should turn up but old stinky himself. Papa is quite happy to see him, though. That's because he always has the latest news from the other villages. Who says men don't gossip?
He has a few things to be done by papa – change of shoes for the horses, a loose rim on a cartwheel, worn out spade… looks like he'll be here for some time.
"Hey Cray, c'mere. I got something for you."
He doesn't call me scarface in front of papa. A nod from papa confirms that I can leave what I'm doing for now.
"Thank you for getting me a break," I murmur as I seat myself next to him. I notice that he's put his hair in a braid and made an effort to clean up his perpetually grimy face. I find that mildly amusing somehow. Does he think he has to make a good impression on papa… or me?
With a conspiratorial wink, he puts something in my hand. He often collects things from the Fortress, little bits and bobs that aren't wanted, but not broken or damaged. Some of these he sells, some he returns to the families of those who'd owned them, some he just keeps for whatever reason, and some he gives away… like this small white tube with holes that now lies in my palm.
"It's a bone flute," he explains, noting my ignorant expression. "And this is for your family."
'This' referred to a huge loaf of bread and an oozy slab of honeycomb in a bowl.
"You got that from the rubbish heap too?"
He pretends to slap me and I duck, laughing.
"My little brother will be really happy. He loves honey," I tell him. "Thank you." After the briefest of pauses, I add, "Haylden."
He smiles me his twisted smile. "I'm sorry I couldn't help you this morning."
You couldn't save me so you buy me bread? But I don't say that out loud. I cast a meaningful look in papa's direction, and he nods in understanding.
"You get on with your work then. I'll just take a little nap here."
By the time I go to wake him, the shadows on the ground are long and watery.
He is lying on his back, propped up on some sacks of ore. How anyone can sleep with knobs poking into his back I really don't know, but he is definitely sound asleep because even my loudest effort at calling his name in a normal voice proves unfruitful.
Well, I don't want to shout and alarm papa. So I do the next best thing. I crouch down beside him and pat his cheek, none too gently.
"Hey stinky! Your cart is done!"
He stirs and blinks. And then he reaches up, and caresses my cheek. "Cresta…"
I feel the blood rushing to my face. If I were a cat, my tail would be bristling like a broom. "I'm CRAY!" I hiss, drawing back.
A flicker of hurt crosses his face. "Wouldn't you let me… pretend… just for a while?"
The wistfulness of this request is so unlike him that it douses my annoyance. I think of the bread and honey, and against my better judgment, I nod.
He smiles… a tender, sad smile that makes something lurch inside me. I am so rattled that I let him take me by the chin, and draw my face closer.
"Cresta," he says again. The yearning in his voice raises a crowd of goosebumps across my arms.
And then he kisses me on the mouth.
For one long moment, I am frozen. Then I explode out of his grasp, rubbing my lips furiously.
"You PERVERTED crazy idiot!" I shriek at him.
And then I am running blindly. I don't know where I'm going. All I know is that I need to get as far away from him as I can.
Writer: I hope you liked this first chapter. I've removed the later chapters for re-writing based on the reviews I've received and will be putting them up on an unknown schedule as of now. Well actually I have to finish rewriting Book 1 first. If you put this on your 'follow' alerts, then you'd know exactly when that happens! :P