Two minutes after midnight. @_@ So close. Also, if you’d like to catch up on the rest of LfBH, you can read parts 1 – 9.5 right here.
~ ~ ~ ~
Broken and filthy, Tully leaned heavily on the outer wall of the barracks. People milled about, walking in aimless circles, shells of the living, ghosts of who they might have been before Blackford Hill. For some, that was an improvement, of course; rapists, child molesters, the vicious and violent. Tully didn’t mourn those losses, but here it was sometimes hard to distinguish the innocent from the evil. Here, they were all savages on the edge of survival.
“No matter how long you stand there, you won’t get any further away.”
Tully snapped back to herself, the man now standing beside her was very suddenly a part of her reality. “Excuse me?”
“You stand here and watch them, hoping the longer you stare, the easier it will be to imagine yourself elsewhere. Maybe there’s some grass over there,” he gestured vaguely toward the mud pit. “Maybe a pub where the overseer’s office is.”
She stared at him, unblinking, the dark circles under her eyes giving her a pained, hollow look. “I’m Tully,” she spoke after several moments, her eyes returning to the wandering people.
“Felix.” He gave a weak snort of laughter, and adjusted his makeshift sling. “I’m a Count, you know. Could you believe that?”
“Not in here, you’re not,” she stated flatly, unfazed by the claim.
“No,” his eyes fell, and he nudged a pebble with his foot. “Not out there, either, I expect. Not anymore. What did you do to get in here?”
“Nothing. I shared an inn room with a woman.” She paused. “As it happens, I am in love with her, but at the time, we hadn’t done anything wrong.”
“She’s here too?”
“Yes, so if you’re thinking of doing anyth—.”
“No! No, it’s nothing like that. I’m here for the same reason.” Felix made a face, and glanced to Tully, swaying a bit on his feet. “If you don’t count the temple full of Satrean priests I burned alive, I suppose. They had it coming.”
Tully’s flat gaze turned to him, a mild question into his sanity behind her eyes. “You are quite the charmer, Count Felix.”
“I just… meant that I was in love with the wrong person. ‘Wrong’ according to them, anyway. The priests killed him. I punished them for murder and for Dacian’s memory. My father though he was being merciful, denying me a hanging and dumping me off here like one more dirty secret.”
“Are you a lonely man, Count?”
Felix’s gaze faltered a little, and he paused. “I suppose I am. Why?”
“I just can’t fathom why you’re telling me all of this.” Again, she turned to the muddy grounds of Blackford Hill, pulling her bottom lip into her mouth, biting idly.
Heaving a sigh, the former Count nodded and gave his good arm a small shrug. “You looked as lonely as I am, standing over here. Where’s your lady friend?”
The silence that rested between them was heavy, but Tully fought not to sag beneath the weight of her uncertainty. “She was taken to the overseer house ago.” She drew a quaking breath. “I haven’t seen her since, though… others… say she was dragged out… alive and cursing.” Her eyes clamped shut, and her arms folded across her chest, hugging herself tightly. “No one has seen her since then.”
Felix let his eyes look over the beaten down blond beside him, and he shook his head. The guards here didn’t appear to be treating the women with any special gentleness. She was covered in scuffs and bruises, and he could have sworn there was a faint redness around her neck… like a fabric burn. It was a crime, the things they did to people.
“My friend is missing too. He has been since this morning.” Felix confided quietly, having tried so desperately to keep from facing that he cared for Silas. The other man had been taken for treatment, and hadn’t returned; that always meant he’d come back needing at least a day in bed before he could even move. The bruises, the lashings, the scrapes—it killed Felix to see him like that. Silas was a crass man, but he was also warm and caring…. it was a combination one didn’t see in the upper class.
Taking a deep breath, Tully steadied herself, and glanced to him. “I hope they return him soon, then,” she noted, trying to be cordial, though she wasn’t exactly in the best state of mind for pleasantries.
Once again in a deep, awkward silence, Felix fidgeted a little, and turned with a start as he came face to face with a guard. The man was huge, but… most of them were, and he took a few steps back. “Excuse me.” he said.
“What’s going on here?” asked the guard, big bushy brows furrowed, his eyes centered on Felix.
“Nothing. We were talking.” Tully stated, and looked to Felix, and back to the guard. “Your sort aren’t exactly quality conversation, if you don’t mind me saying.”
The bull of a man brought the back of his hand across Tully’s mouth, and her head jerked to the side. In seconds, blood welled in the split, and trickled down her chin. Felix’s eyes were wide, and took her by the shoulders, looking at the cut.
“What the hell did you do that for?” he snapped at the guard, spinning around to face him, seething. “You can’t make it in the world? Can’t read or write? Can’t follow simple commands? So what? Get a job slapping around girls half your size? It’s lumbering morons like you that belong in here, not us!” He shouted, but instead of striking… the guard only laughed.
That was unsettling.
Tully stood behind Felix, shaking a bit, not giving her ground.
“You wait, boy. Tomorrow’s your day.” The guard said, laughing as he turned and walked away.
Tully stared after him a moment before touching Felix’s arm. “What did he mean by that? What’s tomorrow?”
“Another scheduled treatment. I’m willing to bet he plans on paying me back for this then….” He drew a breath. “We’re not waiting that long. We’re leaving tonight, and you’re coming with us.”
“What?” Tully’s jaw dropped and she tugged on Felix’s un-wrapped arm. “You don’t even know me. Why would you—.”
“Shh! We’re all victims here. Do you want in or not?”
Pausing, she drew a breath and gave a stout nod. “I’m taking Phae with me.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to come without her.” Felix patted Tully’s hand, and smiled. “Good. I’ll come back here at dusk. Be ready.” And with that, he walked away, leaving Tully, wide-eyed, staring after him.