[I am so behind with my word count, it’s insane. I’m supposed to be at 25,000 today but, sadly, I’m only at 16,787. Hopefully I can catch p this week.]
“Careful now.” He was still eating, the food in his mouth garbled his speech. “That leg wound of yours was getting nasty. You would’ve been some beast’s dinner if you let that go any more.”
Flashes of my delirious dreams made their way through the fear quickly forming inside me. I remembered my dress being lifted from my legs and hands touching me. “What did you do to me?” I whispered.
He chuckled. “I cleaned and dressed your wound. A lot better than the piece of dirty cloak you used. Did anyone ever teach you anything?” He ripped a chunk of bread from a loaf with his teeth.
My hand shanking, I slowly rolled down the blankets. Pulling my skirts out of the way, I saw that a fresh white bandage had been wrapped and tied around my thigh. I saw a small spot of red in the center, but the rest of the bandage seemed as clean as can be. Actually, my entire leg had been clean; I could find no splash of mud or speckle of dirt anywhere. What’s more, my boots had been removed and placed beside me.
A shadow obstructed both the warmth and light of the fire. I turned as the man thrust a steaming bowl at me, a spoon already within it. “Here. You need to eat.”
With the light behind him, I couldn’t see the look on his face. His words were short but the gesture was kind enough. I gladly took the bowl into my hands, loving the warmth it brought to my skin. Broth and beef overpowered my nose as I felt my stomach rumble again. I just sat there for a few moments, breathing in the smell. After a few swirls of the spoon through the broth, I brought a spoonful to my mouth to blow on before taking a bite.
Hot, savory, meaty, delicious. Before the warm broth had fully went down my throat, I gulped down another spoonful. When I first tasted the meat, I instantly knew it wasn’t beef. But whatever it was, it still tasted good.
The man laughed from his spot by the fire. “You act as though you haven’t eaten in days.”
“For all you know, I haven’t.”
When he stopped laughing, I realized too late that I had spoken my thoughts out loud.
“I know because you have food in your pack.”
I froze, the spoon filled with more broth hovering halfway between the bowl and my mouth. My gaze fell to the blanket covering my legs; the one Arven packed for me. He knew of my food, of the blanket. He must have seen the portrait, map, and dagger. Did he find the ring? The money? My jewels?
Tearing off another piece of bread with his teeth, he reached behind him and picked up another bundle of cloth and tossed it on the ground next to the fire. “You’ll be warmer over here.”
The night of the coup played over and over in my mind. Though the man calmly eating by the fire had cleaned and dressed my leg, covered me in blankets, and fed me, I felt as though he could turn and capture me at any moment. He could take me back to the castle, back to the duke and his men. Or worse. I clutched my knees into my chest at the thought of what he could do to me.
But it was chilly at the distance I sat. The blankets were keeping the chilly spring air at bay, but only just. The fire looked inviting. Red, orange, yellow, intertwining together in an eternal dance. I couldn’t tell if the man was still wearing the belt with the knives or not. He was still eating his stew, shoveling spoonful upon spoonful into his mouth. Surely he was unarmed.
My hands were shaking as I gathered a blanket and the bowl of stew into my hands. Getting to my feet proved to be less difficult than I thought it would be. Though still sore and stiff, I stood up and, after a moment of stillness as my world came back into focus, I slowly approached the fire. The man continued to eat. I felt my skin grow warmer and warmer the closer I grew to the rolled up cloth. I stopped just before it when I saw that, on the other side of the fire, the lizard from before was on top of another roll of cloth, a plate with small pieces of meat in front of him. Half of the lizard’s body was lying on the plate. It munched on the meat without a care in the world.
I sat down on the cloth the man provided for me. Dancing flames burned themselves into my eyes, but their heat thawed the ice that had been steadily growing within my body since that night. I took another bite of stew, trying to ease the trembling in my hand. My gaze flickered to the man.
He took a bite of food before offering me the loaf of bread he’d been eating. I shook my head; I couldn’t stomach the thought of eating something that had touched his mouth. At least I didn’t know what was in the soup; I could pretend it was perfectly safe to eat.
“What’s your name?” I asked him finally.
He glanced up at me before going back to his meal. “You can call me Syn.”