Tag Archives: fiona

LfBH in print?

Two posts in one day, I know, I’m flooding you guys!

This is important, though, and it concerns you all, my amazing awesome readers. <3  I have a project in the works in my head, and I need your input.  I’m going to be trying a spiffy self-pubbing venture and I need to know what you think.  Should I edit and revamp LfBH and put that in print, or do you want to see a completely new piece of fiction from me?

I’ll be using IndieGoGo to raise funds to have the project completed and given decent cover art.   This is your chance to see LfBH in hard copy (or something else if you’ve all had enough of LfBH!)

Opinions, please! <3

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Filed under Life, Uncategorized, Writing

LfBH 12: Stitches – revisited

Do you guys remember Stitches?  It was the first flash fiction I wrote involving Phaedra and Tully.  A Letter from Count Malrais was the first, and together, they sparked Letters from Blackford Hill.   I had to add and alter a bit, but here’s Stitches, revisited.  Enjoy. <3

~+~+~+~

“You haven’t even flinched.”

Phaedra’s eyes flicked up to catch a dreamy smile on her friend’s lips, before glancing back down again. The gash on her forearm pinched together at the top when Tully pulled the thread taut, tying off the third in a series of stitches.

“Would you rather I were howling in pain?” asked Phaedra, her voice soft as it always was, though for once a light humor crept into her tone. The woman was always so severe, Tully couldn’t help but worry for her sometimes.

“Of course not,” replied Tully, pressing the point of the curved needle through the split flesh. Still, Phae didn’t react. “I just… admire your strength.”

She was still smiling. Phaedra gave her head a light shake. Tully baffled her sometimes. It was a long fight to get out of that colony, free from the fences and the locks, and rifles trained on them every second of every day; still, Tully smiled. Even when they were captured, bound and carted off to that awful place, Tully still managed to smile. Fiona was left at the edge of the woods, lifeless. Phae knew Tully was pushing back the pain that dwelt there; the pain that exploded from her love when Fiona took that bullet. There were tears, tantrums, fury from everyone else, dozens of others all desperate for answers….

Tully tried to stay on the bright side.

Phaedra wasn’t aware of any bright side.

Their lives had gone completely out of control, all because they had chosen to share an inn room while Phaedra helped Tully find a cure for that awful cough she’d had. Fortunately, the cough was alleviated, but they had hardly gotten their things packed to go back to work at the bakery, when the door came crashing off the hinges—

Phaedra shook her head and sighed. Going back to the bakery seemed useless now. Would they go so far as to wait for Phae and Tully where they worked?

The small town they’d stumbled across in their escape had no knowledge of the horrors of Blackford Hill. They knew only that the government had a compound there, but were left in the dark about what was held within it. The soldiers made it clear that they would shoot anyone on sight if they came snooping around. Now, huddled in yet another inn room, together, though this time accompanied by Silas and Felix—two married couples on holiday? Could they pull that off?—Phae submitted to Tully’s pleas to stitch the gash in her arm, and rub balm on the bruises and scrapes.

It killed Phae to see the blond’s arm wrapped up in blood-stained linen. Tully deserved so much better.

“Done.” Tully started packing up her first aid kit, and Phaedra lifted her arm to look over the other woman’s handy work. The stitches were clean, and the cut wasn’t even bleeding through the gaps.

“Thanks,” murmured Phaedra, and grabbed a strip of cloth that had been torn from Tully’s underskirt, starting to wrap the newly-sewn arm. Torn and used clothing was suddenly a luxury she’d never appreciated before. “Where did you learn to do that, anyway?”

A sad smile was cast over Tully’s shoulder as she tucked her things away. “I wasn’t always a baker, Phae. Somehow, I don’t expect you were, either.”

Their eyes met, and a silence passed between them, understanding and steadying. Something in that silence earned a smile from Tully, and Phaedra’s eyes fell to the fabric on her arm.

“No. Not always.”

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Filed under Letters from Blackford Hill

LfBH 11: Sacrifice

It took me a long time to write this.  I hate it.  It didn’t want to be written, and it killed me to trudge through.  This is what I came out with, so this is what the blog is getting.  Bleh.  Onward, ho.

~+~+~+~

“I don’t trust them.”

Tully glanced over her shoulder at Phaedra as they began slinking through the dark, ankle-deep in mud. She could hardly blame her companion for her doubt, but if they stayed here because of mistrust, then they’d definitely die. At least this gave them some glimmer of a chance.

Or so she hoped.

“No one wants to stay here, Phae…. If we don’t trust them, who will we trust?” she whispered, but heard no response. Phaedra’s mind was more than just in the moment. It was terrifying to see her reacting to the lunacy they put them through here. Tully could see her rash actions, but something always told her there was more to it. Where they saw Phaedra reacting in the heat of the torture, Phaedra’s mind was five steps ahead of them. Nothing was ever put to chance with her.

She was vicious.

“Fine. But if they want to escape, and wind up getting in the way—”

“Don’t suggest it. Please,” Tully hissed, and kept walking toward that rickety porch on which she’d met Felix only hours earlier. Before they even rounded the corner of their own bunk house, Tully and Phaedra lurched forward, a force from behind knocking them both forward several steps. Tully gasped, and Phae spun around and pinned the culprit to a wall.

“Nonono! I’m sorry!” Fiona wailed in a hushed tone, cringing as she struggled against her own weight, Phaedra’s fists balled in her shirt.

“Are you crazy?” Phae scolded and let her go, watching Fiona slump a bit and burst into quiet tears.

“I’m sorry, I really am!” She sniffled, hugging herself against the cold. “You can’t leave me here, please… please don’t….”

Tully sighed, and rubbed her forehead with her fingers, trembling hard. “Come on, then. Be quiet. We can’t babysit you, Fiona, you have to handle this on your own, alright? When we move, you move, and if you fall behind—”

“I won’t! I won’t fall behind, Tully, I promise,” she sniffed again, and rubbed her eyes with the back of her sleeved hand.

Phaedra shook her head, and turned away, motioning them along. She loved Tully for her compassion, but it was likely to get them killed if they weren’t careful. Fiona was a sweet girl, but she was flighty and panicked easily. ‘Babysitting’ was a very accurate word for what this would turn into, Phae was sure.

The gray, illusory feel of dusk enveloped them as they passed around the bunk houses and through the mud pits, braced against the cold. It felt like an eternity before they finally reached that tilted old porch, Tully leading the way onto the sloped platform. Felix and Silas were pressed against the wall, speaking quietly, until Silas spotted the three women and nodded in their direction. Felix turned and drew a breath.

“You made it,” he smiled a little to Tully, and opened the door behind them. It was dark, and Silas slid in on his hands and knees, setting up a few candle nubs and lighting them with a pilfered match.

“We did. We brought Fiona,” whispered Tully, and glanced back to the quaking redhead behind her.

Felix looked them all over and gave a nod. “That’s more than I expected, but I think we can compensate. Come in.”

The three women followed the pair into the shack that had, as far as Tully knew, gone unused since their arrival. When they stepped inside, dusty crates with clothing hanging out over their edges loomed in the dim twilight. Glancing down at herself, Phaedra cursed, touching the filthy bag-like dress she was wearing. It was ridiculous that they kept these things in bulk. How many more people were they expecting here?

“Look.”

Phae glanced over to see Felix on his knees in the center of the room, spreading things out amongst the stubby candles. Pages and even a pencil pilfered from the office were laid out neatly in minutes, and Felix drew a deep, steadying breath.

“We need to make this quick before someone sees the candle light through the windows.” He slid his hands over a page. “These are all parts of one map, and we managed to arrange them together. Look. This is Blackford Hill, here.” He tapped a finger against a fenced octagon on the map. “We’re right here.” His fingers slid over a little black rectangle, and gave it a little tap. “It puts us close enough to the fence to make a break for it. The mud has gotten so out of hand just behind this building that it’s made one of the fence posts sink a little. If we can dig under the fence while the ground is soft, we can make it into these woods here.” Another tap of his finger and he slid it through a patch of puffy-looking treetops.

“Fantastic plan, but what’s beyond those woods?” Phae asked, staring Felix down. “We can’t just run off blindly—”

“The river,” stated Silas, arms folded as he leaned on the wall behind his companion. “If you follow the river north, it leads to a small town—the one I was taken from. I’ve got friends there. We’ll be alright if we can make it.”

Sated, Phaedra gave a small nod, and looked over the map. “What else do we need?”

“Nothing. It’s risky, but it’s now or never,” Felix replied, gathering up the pages and folding them, stuffing them under one of the crates as Silas leaned down to blow out their candles.

Fiona’s hand slid into Tully’s and gave a squeeze, trembling a bit. Tully smiled weakly, and pulled Fiona into a gentle hug, conscious of her injuries.

“It’s going to be fine. We’re getting out of here, I promise.”

“Can… I stay with you and Phae? I don’t have anywhere to go,” Fiona whispered, tears welling in her eyes as she slid her arms around Tully.

Glancing to Phae, Tully offered a pleading look, earning a small nod from her love. “Of course you can,” she answered without missing a beat, pulling back and tucking a bit of hair behind Fiona’s ear.

“Probably shouldn’t dilly dally here, kids,” noted Silas, tugging the door open and letting Felix out ahead of him. “I expect we’ve drawn a bit of unwanted attention. You hear ‘em?”

Phae cringed. “I hear them. Come on, let’s go.” She snatched Tully’s hand, and dragged her and Fiona off the porch at an awkward jog behind her. “We’re ill-prepared. We should have found a means of getting provisions.”

“It’s an escape, not a camping trip,” muttered Silas, wading through the ankle deep mud without a moment’s hesitation. The fence post dipped where they said it would, leaving the chain-link warped and sunk beneath the mud. It was almost imperceptible, hidden behind the storage building with the rickety porch. No one would have guessed—unless they were looking for a way out.

Felix dropped to his knees by the fence and started pulling handfuls of mud away,piling it as best he could at his side. As Felix dug, Silas pulled at the fencing, tugging it back with grunts and groans, his hands bruised and bleeding as he used all of his strength. Phae stood beside him, wrapping her fingers around the links as she pulled along with him. Tully was beside Felix, digging frantically, pushing and pulling mud from under the fence, creating a gap.

“Fiona, slide under…” Tully panted, smearing some mud from her cheek with an equally filthy forearm. “If you can get under, you can push the fence while they pull and Felix and I can get through and push it so Phae and… and—”

“Silas,” Felix corrected as he caught his breath.

“Silas can slide under behind us.”

Fiona gave a faint nod, and crawled beneath the fencing, sliding through the mud with a groan. On the other side, she threw all of her weight into the woven wire, shoving Phae and Silas back a few steps. Though, once they got back to pulling, the fence lifted and Felix shoved Tully through.

“Stop!”

Sirens sounded, the five escapees stopped dead in their tracks. Men with guns were pouring in from all sides, schlucking through the mud like a stampede of horses. The night had closed in, and all they could see were the flashes of gun metal, belt buckles, and coat buttons in the moonlight like glowing eyes in the darkness—advancing.

“Felix, go,” Silas said, and shoved the count with his foot. “Go! I’ll be right behind you!”

“I’m not leaving you—”

“You’re not! I’ll be right behind you!” Silas grabbed Phae’s arm, and she swiftly disengaged him. Shocked, he stared at her. “We don’t have time for this.”

“You’re going to need all the help you can get,” stated Phae, unflinching, staring him down. The guards were closing in, and a shot rang out—still Phae didn’t move.

“Fuck! Fine! Felix, take the girls out of here!”

Felix cursed, and sprang to his feet, snatching the front of Silas’ shirt and yanking him forward, their lips crushing together in a quick, frantic kiss. “Hurry the fuck up.” He stated and ducked under the fence, grabbing both girls by the arm and dragging them along.

“Phae!” Tully shouted. “Phaedra!”

“Stop it!” Felix yanked her again, tugging them into the trees where Fiona finally collapsed and wept. “We have to keep moving.”

“We have to wait for them,” Tully snapped, arms sliding around Fiona, rocking gently with her. “I thought you had some grand plan. This was the most half-assed—”

“I did what I could with what I had!”

“And now Phae and Silas are fighting a ton of men with guns! They’re unarmed, Felix!” Tully cried out, holding Fiona a little tighter.

Felix leaned against a tree and scrubbed his face with his palms. Tully was worried for Phaedra, he knew that. He knew how she felt, though his sudden affection for Silas only irritated him a little, on top of making him sick to his stomach when he thought of what might be happening to him right now. Sliding down, he leaned back on the tree truck, and swallowed hard. “They’ll find us here.”

“They won’t. Just… be quiet and wait,” she whispered, stroking Fiona’s hair as the girl finally started settling down.

The gunshots were numbing, Tully only closed her eyes, praying that Phaedra would make it through, and would burst past the trees any moment. She didn’t mind running. She could keep running from those soldiers all night if it meant Phaedra would come through alright.

~+~+~+~

The knot of soldiers rushing them was a little alarming, but Phaedra didn’t care. They had worked too hard and come too far trying to get Tully better, then make it through this mess. This hellish place wouldn’t survive. It wouldn’t be allowed to keep doing this to people. Good, innocent people, lumping the best with the worst, corralling decent citizens and labeling them, torturing them, treating them like defective livestock.

Glancing to Silas, Phae watched him draw a breath, and take on the first of the dozen or so that were charging them. Everything slowed down. Phae looked around, she could feel her lungs heaving, her heart pounding, the rush of the air around her—and before she knew it, she was in the thick of the fight, throwing men off of Silas, dodging rifles and bayonets, trying to keep behind the men around them to avoid the bullets flying from those that weren’t.

“Phaedra!”

Her eyes darted to Silas, who had yanked up the fence, a stolen rifle in his hand. With a stout nod, she bolted for the fence, bruised and bleeding, aching in places she had no idea had been hit. Rolling under the fence, she darted up the hill as her very new acquaintance dropped the woven metal.

A shot.

Phaedra spun, eyes wide as Silas toppled forward into the mud. The fence was being lifted…. She darted forward, and hoisted him up, his arm slipping over her shoulder as she dragged him up the hill.

“Felix!” She screamed. In seconds Felix, Tully, and Fiona burst through the trees, Felix helping with Silas as Fiona and Tully held back the branches to let them through. Bullets were flying. Silas was bleeding. The woods were just so far— when they burst through the trees, Phae glanced over… everything seemed still. Too still.

“Phae… Phae!” Tully cried out, holding her arm with blood leaking through her fingers, but her eyes were on Fiona, her expression twisted in horror.

No one had heard the shot… There was no scream… Fiona was slumped against a tree, a clean hole in her neck, her eyes were wide as she choked and sputtered. Tully fell to her knees beside her—

“We have to keep moving.” Phae said reluctantly, trying not to look at the girl they’d tried so hard to save.

“No…” Tully let out a sob as she watched the light leaving Fiona’s eyes. She couldn’t speak. Blood spattered over her lips and poured out of that angry little hole as she fought not to drown. Bullets were flying through the trees again—

Fiona took one more gasp, gurgled, and fell still.

“Tully!” Phae shouted, using her free hand to yank the blond up by her sleeve. Tully screamed and sobbed, fighting even as another bullet clipped just below where the first was lodged in her arm. Phae continued dragging her with Silas under one arm, Felix still trudging ahead with the other half of their wounded friend.

And Fiona stayed by the tree, bloody and broken, a sacrifice to Blackford Hill.

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LfBH 9.5 – Trials: Phaedra

Tully had told me to keep my head about me, but it was getting harder. Every time she came back inside, in pain, cold and naked—Every time I saw that look of terror on her face when they came in for her—Every time they came for her… I was just letting it happen. The treatments they gave me were different; I couldn’t even stand beside Tully, or with the other girls, young girls who didn’t do anything to deserve this madness.

“What to they do to you when they take you?” she asked one night, curled up in my bed with me. If we were being punished for being together, then we saw no reason to do something that determined we deserved it.

“The same things they do to you, I suppose.” I wondered if she felt me cringe at the question.

“They return you with similar injuries, but they never lead you toward the places they take us. It’s always the same routine… but they lead you toward the overseers office.” Those bright blue eyes turned up to me, and I tried to ignore the way they bore into me. Questioning. Insisting. “You’re lying, Phae. Why?”

I heaved a sigh, my body tight as I tried to keep the nonchalance as apparent as possible. “We’re in a detention camp, Tully…. What do you expect they’re doing to me?”

A pause, and finally she lowered her eyes. I relaxed as her head fell back on my chest. “It just seemed odd.”

I squeezed her gently—always gently—and twirled my fingers slowly through her hair. It was left at that, and I was grateful.

###

“Phaedra!” The bark startled me, and everyone else, from sleep, and I bolted upright in bed, eyes wide.

“It’s really too early for this,” I muttered, rubbing my bruised forehead as I swung my legs over the side of the bed. Tully clutched desperately at my shirt, the fabric pulled taut as I tugged away. I heard the faintest, muffled sob, and I knew she was crying into the pillow. It had become routine at this point. No matter how many times I heard her cry, it never hurt any less to know I had to ignore it.

“Get moving,” the guard seethed, his words a growl, lips pulled back over his teeth.

“The overseer’s dogs truly are out in full force today,” I flashed him a smile, “Commendable.” The stars that flashed before my eyes were expected, the chain mail gloves he was wearing were not. I could hear Tully’s screams… somewhere muffled in the back of my head… My vision blurred and the stars cleared, and I realized I was on the floor. Forcing myself to my knees, I looked for her, searching in a disoriented sweep of the room. She was on the bed, Fiona and three other girls pinning her to the wall as she slumped against them, giving in to the restraint.

“She’ll be fine,” Fiona whispered, but Tully’s hysterical sobs didn’t cease.

Hauled to my feet by an iron grip, I felt the world spin beneath me as I fought to gain my footing. Not that I was offered much of a chance to do so before I was shoved forward by that same mitt-like hand. As soon as it released me, the floor slipped from under me, and I went to my hands and knees, hissing at the pain. My knees were already bruised, and now the heels of my hands would match them. Pushing myself up without any help, I staggered onward until my head cleared and I could walk without incident. It was a small victory.

Trudging across the boards that were laid over the muddy ground, I followed the trail to the overseer’s office, a gun muzzle pressed into my back. These games were getting old. These power struggles and taunting, the guns and knives, the screaming residents of Blackford Hill….

No. Not residents, victims.

There were those who deserved their place here, certainly. Rapists, child molesters, those sorts of people. A woman cheating on her abusive husband may have been a moral threat, but how could those who sympathized let her be imprisoned? Was she not entitled to happiness? And the men and women like Tully and me, what moral threat did we pose? We don’t breed like rabbits. There’s no “man of the house” to keep we “silly women” in line. No dutiful wife to cook and clean in a household with two men. The reasoning was asinine, and frogs would rain from the sky before I let them take Tully from me.

“Phaedra Trowden, bastard daughter of Lord Adrian Trowden of Kersa.” The overseer’s voice rippled through me, and I thought my skin might slough off. The chair turned, and a woman in her early fifties stared back at me. The day I’d met the Overseer, I was stunned that it was a woman who could commit such atrocities against good people—I had wanted a fight that day. But she didn’t say a word to me.

‘Take care of her,’ was all she said to my guards. The thought they’d break me. They thought it would be that easy. Since then, every beating and interrogation had been worse than the last. Even lying perfectly still hurt like hell at this point. Though I never let them get the better of me, and when I looked at the overseer, chin tilted up, she glared at me and stood.

“You don’t deny this?”

“Should I? Adrian Trowden has no part in my life. But I was his accident, yes. What are you getting at?” My eyes narrowed, and she met them with equal force, the hatred bubbling between our gazes had even the soldiers shifting uncomfortably.

The overseer stood stiffly and tugged the hem of her jacket to straighten the front. “Let’s not play childish games, Ms. Trowden. You and I both know that you have no claim to any titles, and yet you still carry your father’s surname. There are two reasons a bastard child retains the family name of the father: to be sacrificed as penance to the clergy, or to be sent into the guard. We both know you hardly fit the bill for a life of piety.”

My eyes rolled themselves in an involuntary criticism of her stupidity, and my hands found my hips. “You’re implying I’m an agent in the city guard? I spent a short time in the capital while I was helping my companion recover—“

“You mean your lover.”

“I mean my companion. She was ill. We live above a bakery in Shand, we work for the man who owns it. I’ve never been in the city guard.”

“The King’s guard?”

“No. Nor the local guard, the reserves, or the Holy Order.” My glare never faltered. I didn’t have to know this woman to hate everything about her. Even her eyes were hard. “Whatever reason my father had in giving me his name are unknown to me. I’ve never met the man, and I don’t particularly care to.”

The overseer drew a breath, hands tucking together at the small of her back. “Take her to her knees.”

I knew what was coming, but I didn’t fight it. The butts of two rifles struck each of the back of my knees, and I hit the floor, refusing to go to my hands. It took all of my strength to hold in the moans of pain that welled within me, but she didn’t deserve the satisfaction.

She saw that. And grinned. “You seem well trained to handle interrogation.”

“Am I? And here I thought I was acting out of spite,” I returned, my voice quaking just slightly.

“I want to know who you are, Ms. Trowden. This is your last opportunity to offer the information freely.” She began pacing slowly around me; I watched her feet taking slow methodical steps.

“Go to hell.” I closed my eyes when I spotted a soldier stalking toward me, rifle raised.

Not her head!” The blow didn’t fall. “I want her conscious for this, imbecile!”

I relaxed just slightly, and let my eyes flick open. The soldier had fallen back to his position.

“Apologies, Madam.”

A laugh burst from me, and I lifted a hand to cover my mouth. “Madam? Honestly?” She stared flatly at me, and I dropped my eyes to the floor as I snickered. “A ‘madam’ is the woman who runs a whore house, am I wrong? It does seem fitting, given the nature of this place. How many whores are here, exactly?”

My laughter was not going over well. The woman made one motion before clasping her hands behind her again. The same soldier came behind me and caught me across the back with… I glanced back, coughing, gasping, spittle coating my lower lip. The object was a short wooden club like night patrolmen carried. Outstanding. This was going to be a long session.

“You say you work in a bakery. What do you tell your employer when you have to take long absences?” She leaned close to my face, despite the fact I was still choking while my lungs tried to remember their purpose.

“For what?” I wheezed. The club hit me again, striking my side and I doubled over, clutching my ribs.

“You know.” She smiled. “You know good and well.”

“I work… in a bakery…”

“For an old man who doesn’t know which end is up most times, yes, Ms. Trowden, I know. I’ve done my research. I’ve been giving you the opportunity to be honest with me. And I also know the only reason you’re allowing these treatments—“

Beatings.”

“—is to avoid giving us motive to harm your—what did you call her? Companion?”

My stomach sank. It was only a matter of time before they would use Tully against me, I knew that. I was just hoping I could stall a little longer. They would hurt her. I knew they would. And not like they hurt me. Tully was disposable, but they had dug up enough dirt on me to make me interesting. If I was interesting to them, then I was worth torturing an innocent person over. Not that that was anything new.

“I’ll tell you everything.” My voice felt disconnected from my mouth. “But not yet. I want Tully’s injuries taken care of by a real doctor…. And I want three days to recover.”

An exasperated sigh sounded above me, but I knew she was contemplating it. “You’re in no position to be making demands, Ms. Trowden. Do you think this is a game?”

“Isn’t it? I’m not asking for much…. Full disclosure in exchange for three days and a doctor. You’re interested… because you know what I’m tied to…. you just need to hear me say it.” I shakily forced myself to stand, knees weak and wobbling, one arm protecting my ribs. When I was finally at her height again, I saw the amusement in her face, and the satisfaction that I was backed into a corner. “Kill anyone you want. I’m not saying a word without those three days and that doctor.”

She laughed. I wanted to vomit. “Fine. Take her back to her barracks and summon a doctor. Your friend will be tended. You have no right to the doctor’s services, so I hope you can recover enough in three days to speak. Once you’ve disclosed your little story… I reserve the right to beat that girl to a pulp if it doesn’t satisfy me. Understood.”

“Yes… Madam.” Still I afforded a grin…. and her smile disappeared as she gestured the soldiers to drag me out.

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LfBH 9.1 – Trials: Fiona

I was afraid when the treatment started.

They came for me in the small hours of morning, the haze of twilight still fighting against the sun. That was always my favorite time of day….

“Time for your treatment,” the guard shouted, rousing us from our sleep the moment he burst through the door, three others in tow. It felt like we had only just arrived, sleeping a shoddy excuse for a bed instead of the filthy wagon floor. “Girls, sixteen to twenty. Line up.”

My blood froze. Flicking a glance toward my new friends, I must have given away my terror; Phaedra was on her feet in a heartbeat, her finger thrust a hairsbreadth from the guard’s nose.

“I don’t know what ‘treatment’ you plan to give these girls, but so help me, if any of them return harmed, I will bury you.” there was a growl behind her words, a threat that made me quiver.

The guard leaned forward, pushing Phae’s hand aside, nose to nose with her. “We have bitches put down,” he seethed, though Phae didn’t even flinch. The hair on my neck prickled at the silence that followed, tension so thick it was visible. Phaedra didn’t move an inch, her dark eyes locked on him, glaring into that bastard’s face.

He reminded me of my husband. A shudder ran through me, and I had to look away.

“Phae!” Tully had Phaedra by the shoulders, tugging her back. Finally, she relented and went back to the bed they shared. Tully slid behind her, arms lacing around her shoulders to keep her on the bed.

“March them out.” The guard flicked the muzzle of his rifle from us to the door, and the three he’d brought with him closed around us. Myself and five other girls, quaking and crying, were led from the bunk house.

++++

It’s hard to tell what we were faced with. The doors opened into a large barn, the stalls having been converted and swept out. Restraints hung from the rafters and into each stall like tentacles made of chain and leather. Our marching stopped as we caught our first glimpse into this medieval hell, balking at any notion of entry. Who would cross this threshold?

“Move!” One of our captors shoved a pair of girls with his rifle, knocking them into the rest of us to force us inside. I held still, only to feel that same shove, toppling onto my hands and knees. One of the other girls pulled me to my feet just in time to draw my face out of the path of a guard’s boot.

I mouthed a silent ‘thank you’. She only looked away.

My wrist was the first to be seized and I screamed. It was futile. I knew no one would help me, but I screamed and screamed as the man dragged me through the barn, the soles of my shoes skidding until they caught on a floorboard and I toppled onto my face.

He lost his grip. My heart leapt, and so did I. Bolting for the door, I thought I could make it. I don’t know why I thought that….

Pain wrenched me from my optimism, and before I knew it, my feet were over my head, and I was on the floor, a meaty hand tangled in my hair, jerking me backward. Sobbing and screaming, I couldn’t hear anything but my own voice; I couldn’t feel anything but the force of the guard’s hand in my hair, soon forcing my hands over my head. I was shackled.

Shackled.

I fought… I really did. Being strung up like a side of beef leeched any fight I had left in me, and I just dangled there, sobbing, head hung… Shameful. I valued my life, and I wanted to live it. Why couldn’t I free myself? How did I even get here?

I cried as they left me there. Terrified. Alone. Five other girls in the stalls around me, all too terrified to speak. For hours we were left there, or it felt like hours. My shoulders and elbows ached as my own weight stretched them from the ceiling shackles. It hurt to cry. It hurt to breathe.

“Your new life begins now.” A booming voice silenced the sobbing as we all strained to lift our heads and see the man that was now pacing the central walkway between the stalls. “No more filth. No more blasphemy. No more willful ignorance.” He cracked a riding crop against my stall door. “We will begin with gentle coaxing. You don’t want to be the way you are. No one wants to be different. Or shunned. Or cast out. How many of you pretty ladies are married? Raise your hand?”

He laughed . Sick sense of humor…. That didn’t bode well. I suddenly found myself praying to Satreas to just let me go home. I could sneak around under my husband’s eye…. I didn’t want to be tied up anymore.

“Gentle coaxing… You’ll be here like this until morning. Tomorrow, you get a bath from where you hang. Then you go back to your barracks.” He looked into my stall and grinned. “You, though… have to be taught that escape attempts won’t put you in our good graces.”

My stomach churned, and tears welled again, leaking down my cheeks. I hoped Phae meant what she said to that guard. This was a different man, shorter, with spectacles and slicked back blond hair, but the thought of someone being punished gave me solace.

“Unbutton the back of her shirt.”

A sob slid out of me against my will, and one of the guards began to obey the command, the buttons on the back of the murky gray shirt I was issued, same as all the others, were released from their holes. As long as my front stayed covered—

He had no interest in my front. Rolling up his sleeves, that spectacled bastard came around behind me, tugging leather gloves off finger by finger. I only saw his shadow, lifting the riding crop–

My voice felt detached as it echoed through the barn in hysterical screams, as if they weren’t my own, stopping only when the pain became an inflamed and swollen numbness. I saw him come around me again, pulling his gloves back on, the crop tucked under his arm.

“Rest well, ladies,” he said as he retreated, the guards following. I heard the padlock snap shut, and let out a shuddering sigh… and began to weep.

“F-Fiona…?” one of the girls asked, a girl called Sophie, I think. “Are you alright?”

Mustering my voice, I croaked out a weak ‘no’… and silence fell over the barn.

The treatment center.

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LfBH Part 8: Common Ground

I admit, I didn’t think all the ‘getting there’ segments out very well.  I have better pieces in store, I promise.

~~~~

The wagon was full, packed wall to wall. Phaedra could make no pattern of them. A random assortment; men, women, rich, poor, it didn’t seem to make sense. Her fingers slid slowly through Tully’s hair, the blond making use of her lap as a pillow, soothing her the best she could. Her mind raced, eyes flicking from the doors to a barred window at the front, and then to the floor, littered with crying women and angry men.

“What do we do?” whispered Tully, cerulean eyes drifting open, settling on her companion in wait.

“Right now, we do nothing.” Phae’s fingers stroked gently over her cheek, Tully’s eyes slipping shut once again. “It doesn’t do us any good to jump out of a moving wagon. Besides, the door is barred from the outside.”

“But why are we here?” Tully asked, her voice breaking as she clamped her eyes shut on the tears.

“They’re taking people from all over the city,” a girl in the corner murmured, just loud enough to be heard over the dull hum of tears and whispers around her. She lifted her eyes, so dark blue they were almost violet.

“But why? What have we done?” Phaedra pressed, pulling her hand from Tully’s hair as the blond sat up.

The girl curled into herself, hugging her knees, the bonnet she wore slipping slightly to reveal a mop of ginger hair. Phae knew she couldn’t have been more than seventeen. “There have been rumors.”

Sliding off the narrow bench that lined the wagon walls, Tully settled beside her, tugging off the bonnet and stroking her hair. “What rumors?” she asked, her tone soft. “And what’s your name, dear?”

The girl glanced up at Tully and shifted her eyes to Phae. “It’s Fiona… And… Rumors… that people are getting taken right off the streets. I had never sen it until it happened to me.” She began to cry and Tully wrapped an arm around her, tugging her into a maternal huddle, wordlessly directing her to lay her head on her shoulder. “I was just buying flour,” she sobbed quietly, her face turning into Tully’s neck.

“So, what makes us all different? What do we have in common?” Phaedra looked around at everyone. Most of them seemed harmless, cowering and crying. Others looked angry, maybe dangerous, but certainly not pleasant company.

The girl lifted her head and scooted closer to Phae, pulling lightly at Tully’s sleeve to beckon her closer. Creating a tight little triangle, Phae knelt beside the pair as the girl leaned in to whisper.

“They take adulterers, rapists, and flesh-peddlers… people are always saying they take others, too.”

“Others?” Tully tucked a bit of hair from the redhead’s eyes, looping it behind her ear gently.

“Homosexuals,” Phae said resignedly.

Tully made a noise of disgust. That made sense. They were surrounded by men and women whose only crimes were being dissatisfied, poor, or just… different. For the most part, anyway.

“And what did you do?” asked Tully, glancing to Phae, their eyes meeting in mutual concern.

The girl’s head dipped a bit and that bouncy red hair tumbled back into a curtain beside her face. “I was unfaithful to my husband…” she swallowed hard, “with his daughter. We’re the same age.”

Phae shook her head a bit, puzzled. “Why isn’t she here then?”

“I think… she is the one who turned me in.”

A silence settled within their little triangle, the rocking and creaking of the wagon almost painfully loud behind it. A sob broke their pensive quiet, and the redheaded girl leaned into Tully who didn’t seem to have a choice in wrapping her arms around her. Casting a glance at Phaedra, she hushed the teen in her arms, rocking gently with her to quiet her tears.

“I feel like this is redundant, but… now what?” Tully ventured, blue eyes settled on Phae, intense and very barely containing the panic welling within.

Phaedra shook her head a little, and drew a deep, pensive breath. “I don’t know.”

“You have to know, Phae. You always know!” burst out of Tully’s mouth, breaking on tears. The blond rocked back and forth, and Phaedra slid off the bench, tucking a bit of Tully’s hair behind her ear, pressing a tender kiss to her forehead.

“You didn’t come this far to lose it now, did you? You beat that infection, and you can overcome this. We can overcome this.” Her eyes trailed down the younger girl’s face, and she leaned to brush their lips together.

Tully jerked back, pulling the girl with her. “That’s the whole reason we’re here, isn’t it?” Her glare bore into Phae so hard it almost burned to be under it.

Drawing back, she settled back on the bench, gaze fixed on her hands as she fiddled with her own fingers. It was unfathomable that she and Tully could have been so happy when the girl was all but dying, but now they were faced with imprisonment and that look—Phae closed her eyes and swallowed hard.

“You’re right.” Her voice was soft, all the strength and confidence that usually poured off of her had been stopped cold by Tully’s glare. “Of course you’re right, Tully…. I just–”

“Just? Just what?” Tully’s shoulders rose and fell in resignation and she released the girl in her arms, who scooted back, eyes wide as they flicked between the quarreling women. “I don’t even care what you ‘just’! How do we get out of this?”

Phaedra stared at her. In those few weeks they’d spent together, she had honestly thought they’d gotten to know one another and now… she didn’t even know Tully. How could the girl from the inn have possibly been the same person?

“I love you.”

Tully’s eyes snapped up yet again, and she shook her head. “Phae–”

“I’ll think of something.”

Tully let out a quaking sigh. “I certainly hope one of us does…”

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