Alora watched them as she wiped away blood and snot in a continuous motion. The more she wiped, the more there was. Her mouth was steeped with a briny taste. She felt nauseous. She leaned over. Hawked. Spat. Her one good eye fell on Islinn.
Islinn jumped at the sound.
"Up here. Now." Alora held out one blood-encrusted gauntlet. She'd give a priest a helping hand up if it would get her out of there any quicker.
Islinn looked at Alora's outstretched hand, the fingers dark with blood, and didn't know what to do. She'd reached a place where all words, thoughts, questions, and justifications no longer existed. She was at the end of everything she knew.
Her faith had always served her well. It had stood by her, strong and comforting, in the past. It had guided her while all her life had beckoned to her from the opposite shore but now, she stood alone. She was shocked and saddened by this revelation.
The faith she was born with was a biological force and not one formed by doing penance on pebbles or reciting endless cant. She'd nurtured this faith, a strange surety, and protected it like a mother would a child because she'd always thought if she reached a day, time, place, or moment like the one she was in now it would be there for her. And it would cradle her like she had cradled it all those years. But the child she'd raised was an ungrateful one. Her faith had left her when she needed it the most.
"I can't." Islinn whispered.
"What a freakshow this must be for her." Alora thought. She took in the skinned knees, the rope burn,the lost puppy look, and struggled to find some compassion.
(you own what you buy)
"You can." Alora insisted. "Islinn...please."
Alora's voice broke and this fragility, this unexpected crack in the glass that Islinn knew she wasn't supposed to see, was her deciding factor. She took the hand and allowed herself to be pulled up.
Behrin got to his feet and stood, swaying, his fists clenched against his sides. The final insult was to watch Islinn climb on that horse. It was above and beyond all the other indignities he'd suffered. The skirmish, though short,had turned out exactly the way he'd expected it to.
He knew The Twiceborn to be quicker than quick when it came time to play games. Those assholes who'd gone up against her lacked the ability to understand. They'd paid the price and he'd enjoyed watching them pick up the tab.
He had then settled back to watch the real show, the one that should have followed the head being tossed into the crowd. The flying head had cheered him immensely. The rubes had dived for cover (heads up!) and he'd burst into laughter.
But he wasn't laughing now.
He'd expected some type of standoff between Islinn and The Twiceborn which would end with Islinn looking for him, her brown eyes pleading for him to take her back. But no. She had climbed right up there, blood and all. Like he wasn't there. Like he no longer existed. Nothing but a lily-white peckerwood. And that wouldn't do.
The wheels of his mind began to turn. He didn't know how yet but this game was going to play through. His eyes took on a calm relentlessness as he watched Alora retrieve the dagger from the dead man's throat. She looked up and locked eyes with him.
"That black bastard sure smacked the shit out of her." He mused as he watched her head towards the platform.
"He doesn't give up does he?" Alora muttered. The slack mask Behrin wore spoke his thoughts more plainly than his mind and she figured she needed to put an end to whatever he was cooking up.
She was on borrowed time. Everything around her was fuzzy and blood still ran stubbornly off her chin. If she had to judge from the wide berth everyone gave her as she rode up to the platform and the loud hum of prayers, she'd guess she looked like a losing contestant in a hatchet fight.
Loki was dripping blood too and left a trail of his own. She was anxious to see how badly he was hurt. Her head throbbed like there was a blade being whip-sawed across her cheekbone. She regretted pulling the girl up behind her, just as she knew she would.
Islinn wasn't afraid; she was terrified. It was an emotion shot through with horror and revulsion by everything that had just happened. All of this wrapped around Alora and she didn't know how much more she could stand. On top of this,Islinn kept fidgeting in an attempt not to brush up against her, which suited Alora just fine but, knowing Loki, he was apt to give a buck. There was no doubt in her mind if that happened, she'd hit the ground.
"Can I give you some advice?" Alora leaned over and spat out a large gob of blood.
"If you don't stop fidgeting around back there, you're going to slide off Loki's ass and when you do he'll probably give you a good kick to boot. Then your face will look like mine. You don't want that to happen do you?"
Alora heard a quick intake of breath and all movement ceased.
"What the fuck am I going to do with her??" She thought. She was staggered by the realization of what she'd done.
She could drop her off at the next crossroads,and give her some coins. Wish her a nice life. Islinn could then spend the rest of her days coming to terms with being saved from slavery by The Twiceborn. Alora found this paradox had its own peculiar charm.
She reached the platform and pulled Loki up. She peered at Behrin. She watched his eyes flick over Islinn then settle on her.
"Understand me when I say this Behrin. This matter is over with."
Alora struggled not to smile as the thought appeared and,just as quickly,disappeared. She couldn't have thought of a better way to describe him. Behrin ignored her.
"Is this what you want,Islinn?" He asked,his voice gentle.
Islinn stared at him. He spoke as thought she'd been surrounded by endless opportunities and, after careful consideration, had made a glaringly stupid choice.
You sold me, remember?"
"Nothing's final. If you want to come back, all you have to do is ask."
A shadow settled over Behrin's features. His concern was a calculated one and predatory in its need to hear of her need for him. Islinn looked into his intent eyes and finally saw and understood what had been there all along. If she went back now, he would kill her.
"And would that be so bad?" She thought.
"No." She replied and turned away. A well of loss and grief threatened to overtake any sense of control she had and she knew she'd accept that loss of control...welcome it...if she could trade it for assurance. For the confidence that she'd made the best decision even though all her choices had been cruel.