Wounds That Never Heal
No young child doubts the word of an adult, and every older child knows better. Disillusionment must be nourished by years of disappointment, but Saffron's adopted father, Drogen, had yet to fail her. Thus, when he promised "one day you'll remember your past", she accepted it as a destined event and waited eagerly for it.
One night, after a year had passed, she woke to the tap-tap-tap of rain falling on the thatch roof above her. She lay wide-awake against her Mama's side. There was a firelight coming from beyond the foot of the bed and, fearing she'd left the fire pit uncovered, she sat up and nudged her Mama.
"Mama," she whispered. Then she remembered that her Mama had dosed on three cups of Sleeping Root earlier.
With a heavy sigh, Saffron crawled out from under the fur blankets and placed her bare feet on the cold floorboards, warped by years of footsteps. Padding over to the curtain, she peeked around and saw the fire pit open and her Papa seated before its circular opening.
The low-burning fire threw his shadow far to the wall and silhouetted him. His left leg was flat and extended on the floor while his right was bent to his chest, his whole body hunched over it. Strewn around him were objects: Mama's pincushion of needles, one of her spools of thread, a long strip of cloth, Papa's flask of mead, and more. And the air reeked of blood and alcohol.
Tiptoeing closer, she realized he was sewing shut a vertical gash on his shin. Without looking at her, he asked in his deep, brassy voice, "What're you doing up, little hero?"
"You heard me?" she pouted, stamping a foot, "But I was so quiet!"
"Your mother is sleeping," he reminded.
"Ah, she won't wake," Saffron said, waving a hand as if to dismiss a silly notion, "She drank a lot of Sleeping Root so she wouldn't have nightmares." Saffron came over and squatted next to him, watching with fascination as he pushed the needle through his skin. "Can I help?"
He shook his head, blocky jaw tensed and sweat rolling down his slanted brow, either to trickle into his brown beard or drip off the sloping tip of his straight-bridged nose.
"I know sewing," Saffron continued, adding, "Mama taught me. And last time, I didn't sew the pattern to my clothing. She says I'm getting better."
"I'm fine," he said, his voice hoarse.
Saffron sighed, hugging her legs to her chest, she rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet. "Will I have breasts one day?"
He let out a sharp hiss, having jabbed himself, and, after regaining his composure, looked at her and asked, "Wh-what?"
"Mama said I would," Saffron said, "When I was older. I don't want them."
"Why not?" He turned back to stitching up his wound.
"They'll get in the way. And I won't need them. I'll never marry."
"You never know."
Saffron chuckled and, pointing at him, said, "You sound just like Mama. She said the same thing."
"Because it's true. No one knows their fate."
"Seers do," When he didn't respond to that, Saffron asked, "Why won't Mama tell me about her bad dreams?"
"I did!" Saffron replied, "And then she told me, 'No one likes someone poking in their wounds' as if I was. And I wasn't. I just think she'll feel better if she shares."
"That's for her to decide," he reminded.
"But sharing always makes me feel better." Saffron glanced up at the smoke hole in the ceiling. A little ledge over it allowed the smoke out, but kept the rain from falling in. "What happened to your leg?"
"It got injured."
When he didn't elaborate, she pressed, "What kind of accident?"
"A careless one."
He sighed. "I triggered one of my traps by mistake."
She started to laugh and then trailed off. "Truly? You?"
"Is that so surprising?"
"Yes! Your Papa! You can't make mistakes," she explained.
He raised one of his thick eyebrows. "I can't?"
"Yes, because foolish people make mistakes and you're not foolish."
He let out a soft laugh, lips curving into a faint smile. "Anyone can be foolish, little hero, even I." He bit the thread in two with his teeth and tied off the remaining end. As he wound a strip of woolen cloth around his calf, he added, "Mistakes don't make you a fool as long as you learn from them."
"Then why does Mama keep making the mistake of bringing me to Debonsher?"
He chuckled at that. "I heard you visited today. How was it?"
He looked over in concern. "But your mother said it went well."
"It didn't. But I didn't tell her that," Saffron admitted, "The other children won't play with me. They call me, 'Forest Child' and say I'm a monster."
"You should've told your mother," he said in a sad tone.
"Why? She'll just tell me I have to try harder. And why should I share with her?" She never shares with me.
"You can't give up," he said after a pause, "Not yet."
"That's like what Mama says, but how can I when they run away from me? They avoid me. Am I a monster?" Her voice held a plea.
"Of course not."
"Then why?" she demanded, her voice shaking with hurt, "Why do they hate me? Is something wrong with me?"
"Saffron," he said, calling her by her name for once. He placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently. "Look at me." Her eyes slowly rose to meet his grey ones. "You are as Samer intended. Nothing is wrong with you."
"But I am different," she said, tears welling in her eyes, "I can lift things they can't. You and Mama said I can't ever show them how strong I am. Why not?"
"They wouldn't understand."
"Why? Because I'm magical?" she asked.
He gave her a sharp look. "You aren't magical. There is no magic anymore. It all disappeared when the gods abandoned this world a thousand years ago. Dragons. Fairies. All are gone. All turned to stone."
"But then why?" She stared down at her hands. "Why am I like this?"
"Be patient. The answers will come in time." He patted her shoulder once before withdrawing his hand.
"You said that before. What if they don't? What if you're wrong and I never remember? What if I am a monster?"
"You're not a monster," he said sternly and she could feel his penetrating gaze upon her, "Real monsters don't care who they hurt or what they are. They only care about getting what they want."
Wiping away tears, Saffron sniffled, "I saw Berworld."
"Master Bartos' son?"
"Aye," she said with a nod, "He had his ancestor's sword."
"Spellbreaker?" Her Papa asked with surprise, "His father let him carry that?"
"I don't think so. He told the others he borrowed it," she explained, "They didn't know I was listening. I was up in a tree and they didn't notice me. But I heard them. He bragged that his ancestors stole it from a mage in the Age of Magic. Then he talked about his scars and everyone showed theirs. And I realized...I don't have any."
Silence fell between them as she gaze into the blushing red coals of the pit.
"Do you want scars?" he asked, breaking the hush.
"I don't want to heal as I do. I want to be like you and Berwold. I want my history written on my body."
"They tell only the painful parts."
"But they show your past," she trailed off, glancing around at the walls and the floor. Thick shadows slithered over them, devouring the room with darkness. Jumping to her feet, she cried, "Papa, what is this?"
"The real wounds," he said, fading from sight. She reached to hold onto him, but her hand went through. "Are those in here," he tapped a forefinger against his chest, "And those are inflicted by those whom we love most."
"Papa!" she yelled as he vanished and the shadows swallowed her surroundings.
Is this a dream?
Then cold water splashed onto her head.
When her eyes opened, she saw black. Spluttering and coughing, she felt cold and wet from the neck up. Rivulets of water rolled down her cheeks and dripped from her rounded chin. Goosebumps stuck up on her nape around the soaked collar of her tunic. Her short, auburn hair was plastered to her skin.
Confused, she squirmed frantically, pain bursting in every joint, her heart raced, blood pounded in her ears, and her tongue pressed against the back of her teeth. Her gums, throat, and the passages of her nose burned. Her breasts, flattened by clothing bindings, throbbed with pain.
A blindfold covering her eyes allowed some grey light in at the corners of her vision. Saffron could hear rain falling outside and smell it in the dank air.
She sat in a metal chair, wrists manacles to the arm rests and ankles to the legs, her back aching from the stiff posture it forced on her, and pieced together hazy memories, trying to remember how she got here. One thing was clear: that inn owner Balmos had drugged her. Rage shot through her and she wanted to kick herself for trusting him so foolishly.
Now more than anything she needed her strength, just one last time, but it would not come. Judging from the feel of the flagstones and the echo of sound in the room, she was in a cellar of some sort.
Or a dungeon.
A boot squeaked on the floor and she stilled. "Is that you, Balmos?" she demanded, cocking her head to the right, "Did you dump water on me?"
"I needed you to wake," answered a silky voice that caressed her ears with its lyrical cadence.
"Do you work for Balmos?"
The man laughed; the sound reverberated throughout the room. "That street trash," he sneered, "is lucky to still have his head."
He sounds young. And he had an slight accent.
"Release me," she said, continuing to test her cuffs.
"It's useless. No one gets out of the Iron Chair unless they're let out." She frowned, sure she had heard his voice somewhere before.
"I want no part of whatever you're scheming."
"Not even if I can you help find the man you seek?" he said with bemusement. She stilled and tried to hide her anger when his fingers cupped her chin and forced her oval face toward a weak light. "The likeness is remarkable."
She rolled her eyes. Not this again. "I'm not him."
"I know. But everyone will think you are and, if you help me pull it off, I'll deliver that man to you. Head on a platter if you like."
"Who are you?" she asked, stiffening as his fingers reached up and touched her temples, sliding under the blindfold.
"Relax," he said and pulled it off.
The glare of pale light from the tiny, barred window above made her squint and obscured him until he stepped back, then she saw him. Her mouth went dry.
It can't be.
"Prince Tyroth?" she breathed, queasiness settling into the pit of her stomach as the man she'd hoped never to meet now stood before her.
This was her first time to view him so close. Strands of his raven-black hair, escaped from his braid, hung around his handsome face, emphasizing its soft angles and strong jawline. His hooded eyelids gave him a sleepy look.
"See something you like?" He asked, smirking. Small, silver hoops glinted in his earlobes as he moved.
Her face heated and she almost lowered her gaze out of embarrassment; however, defiance welled in her and kept their eyes locked on his purple-colored ones, the same shade as the petal of a saffron flower.
"Nothing," she answered, lifting her chin.
"So you're from Liberan?" he said in a bored tone. She tried to mask her alarm. How did he know? "Balmos told me." Saffron wished she could remember how much she told Balmos that night. Most of the memories remained in a fog. "And he told me of the butcher who destroyed your family."
She grew quiet, pressing her lips together. His smirk widened into a smile as he dragged a chair around from somewhere behind her and sat down in front of her. Nothing in his eyes looked truly happy.
"Tell me what happened. I want more than the scraps Balmos gave. I want the real story."
She remained silent.
"What's the matter? Don't want to talk about it? How he killed them? How he slit h-"
"Stop," she said, breathe quickening. Her hands curled into fists as those memories came back, fresh and unwanted. The wound in her back throbbed, and though it hurt, it was the one in her heart that was unbearable. The one he left.
A single tear slid down her cheek as the events of that terrible day returned.