At age sixteen, Moira Irazzi, snapped the neck of her younger sister's best friend. Nebellyn or "Nebe" as her family affectionately called her, had been playing quietly with Yaruz, by the river, feet dangling in the river, arms stretched back as they tried to catch the last warming rays of the sun. Yaruz got up, and started rolling down the hem of his breeches, when sounds of a ferocious struggle sounded in the woods behind him.
Yaruz ran to the noise, Nebe cursing and following him. Feet wet, they thrashed through the first trees together, until they came to the source. Moira, red-haired, robed and classically ethereal, looked suitably dishevelled than when they last saw her. Her robe was half-ripped, and she was lowering down the limp body of Yaruz's brother. Saying a soft prayer, she licked two fingers and closed the unseeing eyes.
"Moira! What did you do?" Nebe said, aghast whilst Yaruz let out an inhumane howl and rushed to Toby's side.
"He attacked me," Moira softly said.
"You killed him!" Yaruz twirled in his crouch and shouted at Moira. "Bring him back! For the love of Shaurngun, bring him back!"
"What did he do?" Nebe shakily asked.
Looking serene, Moira gestured at her ripped clothes. "He wanted to bed me."
"You lie!" Yaruz shouted, springing to his feet. Trembling in his buckled boots, cowlick sticking to his forehead, he rushed forward, a knife in hand. About two meters from Moira, he hit an invisible wall and his hand went up, face straining as he choked. The knife fell from his grip, and he started rising in the air, like a rope had wrapped around his waist and started winching him into the air.
"Moira, stop!" Nebe cried.
She let him go, and Yaruz fell to the ground to the sound of his neck snapping.
Shell-shocked, Nebe stared at the two bodies and then at her sister. Moira was the only mage in their family. She had exhibited low-level magic ever since birth, and until today had never used it against anyone. She made carnations blossom to make Nebe laugh. Picked up leaves carefully from the path, so their father wouldn't have to clean their land. At once all the serenity fled out of her sister, and Moira turned to Nebe, cheeks red and tears in her eyes. She looked aghast. Nebe involuntarily took a step back, seeing it was her sister but not recognizing the monster who stood before her. Moira fell to her knees and let out bit gulping, sobs.
"Don't back away, Nebe! Toby tried to drag me to the ground so he could hurt me. I was so scared..."
Nebe's feet stopped.
"And Yaruz tried to kill me! After what I did to his brother! Why did he run out like that...?" Moira clenched her stomach, and fell sideways, crying loudly. Her sister's distress punched Nebe in the gut, and suddenly it wasn't a monster standing before her anymore. It was her sister. Curled up on the ground, because Toby couldn't take rejection for an answer and tried to force Moira. There were rumors in the village, that he'd done this to other girls and one had even suffered a stillborn out of it.
Nebe ran to her sister's side, and covered her with her body, eyes turning to her best friend. He'd defended his brother to the death. Toby didn't deserve that kind of loyalty from a boy so pure and good.
Her voice was waterlogged. "Oh, Moira..."
A hand reached out, and gripped hers. "Don't tell papa, please..."
Six years later
"Nebe. Take water to the prisoner."
She no longer cried or threw any tantrums. She never asked, "Why me?" The fact her father occasionally took prisoners, and put them in the dungeon no longer alarmed her. The latest one came on the eve of a brisk snowstorm, black rider hunched over a horse, driving hard. He'd been intercepted as he swung a leg over the flank, heels clicking together, as he strode towards the house bold as brass. Moira had bound him, from where she stood. He fell over, face down, hat lost and didn't move until papa hobbled over, and flipped him with a stick. Nebe had been tasked with untying the mask. Blue eyes caught hers, as she went about tying rope around his ankles and hands. The lack of emotion unnerved her. He just lay there, watching as she secured him and then leaned back on her haunches, facing papa.
"I've tied him."
He grunted, "Good. I'll get one of the stable boys to lift him."
That had been two days ago. Holding the cup down to the platter with one hand, and holding the platter itself with the other, she let go of the cup temporarily as she hadn't wanted it to spill as she came down the stairs, and fished in her pocket for the iron cast key. She inserted it in the lock, chains jangling and left it there as she went in.
The prisoner was tied to a wooden colonnade that supported the breadth of their house. He was alive. And breathing.
The last thing she expected as she crossed over to him, was a sarcastic, high-pitched chuckle. "They sent the girl."
He threw back his head and stared at the entablature.
"Do you have a problem with that?" Nebe asked, with half a mind to dump the water on top of his head and walk out. But part of her was curious too. He looked young. Perhaps closer to Moira's age, or even older, than Nebe. But he'd allowed himself to be caught. Normally prisoners who came in here weren't nearly as accommodating. They screamed and then, they yelled. Thrashed about a bit. Not this one. Blue eyes, with a scar that ran from his jaw to his ear, like someone had tried to slit his throat and missed, was as calm as a man about to take a stroll through a lovely sun-dappled garden.
Nebe crouched down, skinny and dirty-haired as she was, and stared at him in fascination.
"Were you expecting someone else?"
A self-deprecating smile crossed his face. "The other girl would've been nice."
"Moira?" Nebe asked sharply, then wanted to slap herself for the silly mistake. She'd just told him Moira's name, and names in this world of magic and mist, had a lot of power. At least it wasn't her true, Shaurngun name. "What do you want with her?"
"Oh, is that her name?" he asked with some interest. "Pretty. I could get used to it."
"Why would you want to get used to it?"
"Na-uh." Blue eyes shook his head. "You don't get to ask, young one, unless you want to share."
"Do I really look that young to you?" Nebe asked sarcastically, and self-consciously clutched her knees, as Blue eyes stopped staring at the cup she'd placed by her feet, and started at her feet, so he could make the short journey up her knees, her arms protectively clutching them, and then a muddied face, with brown hair coiled around and around her scalp.
"What are you, twelve?" he dismissed her.
Nebe opened her mouth, outraged, and then thought about giving him a whiplash. Most men mistook her for being young, and often it worked in her advantage. They were more candid around a street urchin. Didn't feel as threatened by the child that carried them water, and maybe even their soiled things. Clearly no child of Irazzi would be sent to such dirty depths, and she was as trapped as they were. Only in her case, they thought it was servitude.
"You are funny," Nebe said, pushing the platter over.
Blue eyes reacted quickly. He snatched the cup of water, downed it so ferociously, nearly half of it spilled on his open tunic, then slammed it down again with obvious male satisfaction. "Ah, that felt good, young one. Any chance of more where that came from?"
"You shouldn't have drunk so quickly," Nebe said with some resentment. "You wasted a lot of it."
"I'm not in the mood for conservation, child," Blue eyes said, reclining back as much as he could, with one wrist tied to the column. "Conservation is for travelling light; or long voyages. As you can tell" -he gestured at himself- "I'm doing neither at this moment, and so total indulgence is my company."
"Oh?" Nebe asked with the same sarcasm. "Is there anything else you need?"
What she didn't expect was the next answer. It made Nebe nearly fall over.
"Yes," he said, as confidently as a man tied to a wooden colonnade could do whilst in another man's territory. "I want your sister."
Nebe warily drew the platter with the empty cup back to herself. "Why?" she asked warily.
Blue eyes cocked his head, looking at her as if she was a simpleton. "We've sent various men throughout the years to seek an attendance with your sister, but those men simply disappear and are never heard of again. Over time, it felt like a pointless expenditure and it simply built up a lore - dashing young men" -he glared as Nebe snorted, because that simply wasn't true. Most of the men were rotund and in their greying years- "sent out to fetch a fair maiden, but then they were heeded in their path and cruelly slayed by a mighty dragon, who picked his teeth with their bones and sharpened his claws on their daggers."
Nebe stared at him with grey amusement.
"What?" Blue eyes asked, not liking the way she looked at him.
"No, go on," she encouraged. "At what point did you volunteer yourself to slay the mighty dragon?"
Blue eyes darkly muttered, "I didn't volunteer, I was picked."
"Picked?" Nebe was enjoying herself. "Out of the many knights assembled before the Shaurngun Court? That's simply noble indeed! How did they wave you off? Did your mother cry and wave a handkerchief, whilst the other knights dropped to one knee and clenched a fist over their breast?" Nebe sighed to herself, reflecting inward. "That sounds so wonderful!"
"It's not," Blue eyes snapped. "Which part of wonderful entertains a man being knocked clean off his horse" -Nebe opened her mouth to contradict him, because he'd been walking towards the house when he'd been knocked to the floor- "and be trussed up like a turkey in the underbelly of a large household, where rats scurry and fleas bite" -Blue eyes slapped his neck- "whilst hearing pots and pans clang overhead, imagining delicious food, as an insolent child asks questions?"
"All of it," Nebe cheekily suggested.
The mirth died, and Nebe regarded him with new eyes. "We don't kill them, you know," Nebe suggested softly. "Who would want to swear a lifetime allegiance to the Shaurngun Court? Those poor men are puppets. We just set them free."
"Set them free how?"
"We make them drink spelled water" -Nebe's eyes cut to the cup sitting by her feet-"it makes them forget. They no longer have to serve with total obedience with little reward. They are free men. Most of them find a new wife, bear children and put up market-stalls. We're regular customers at one of them."
Blue eyes pulled at his binding with a sudden yell, anger on his handsome, scarred face. "Those men already have children and wives! How dare you temper with their memories? It would be enough to put you to death! Come here, you little brat and untie me, because I'll wring your sorry neck! You tricked me!"
Nebe gave a startled noise as he lunged, and fell backwards, hands flying out to catch her. Blue eyes stretched and caught her foot, and dragged her towards him, causing her skirts to bunch around her hips. The only thing covering her modesty, was the white pantaloons she had on underneath. She beat at his chest, no magic to save her and truly fearful for her life. He grabbed hold of one wrist as it flailed, but couldn't prevent the other from beating against his face and chest. At once point, she placed a hand on his shoulder and heaved, straining to wriggle out from under him.
Blue eyes buried his face into her neck and bit into the flesh with his mad teeth.
She grabbed the hair on the back of his head, black and coarse, and tried to rip it from her person. To her surprise, the tension in his neck gave, and his head was yanked back, and Blue eyes became Blue eyes no more, as those bright, clear irises rolled and he passed into unconsciousness.
She couldn't wait to get rid of this one.
A/N: Back in 2009, I entered the fictionpress universe, by writing fantasy.
It's good to be writing it again. Like old shoes that fit.