Zeven chapter 5 part 1

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
Riddled With Guilt ... Emotions emerge with old memories and a play for redemption is made ...

Submitted: September 07, 2009

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Submitted: September 07, 2009

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Zeven
Chapter 5
Riddled With Guilt
The dark haired boy stood at the foot of the mound, staring at the packed dirt and the many scattered newborn blades of grass, barely beginning to peek through into the light of day. His eyes lazily lifted to gaze upon the rough wood plank he had shoved into the ground, at the head of the grave, some time ago. For the thousandth time, he read the words he had etched himself. Zarra … Little sister … I’ll never forget you.
A lone drop of rain splashed off the tip of his nose, distracting him from his thoughts and freeing him from his daze as he looked up to see heavy gray clouds slowly rolling in. The sound of growling thunder murmured off in the distance as he scanned the threatening skies, when above the low rumble he heard a giggle.
The boy turned to see a girl sitting, one leg bent at the knee with the other folded under her, as she played at stick dolls on the, now somewhat, damp ground. He turned to face her, taking a step closer as he cocked his head to get a better look. She wore a pale yellow, rough spun cotton dress, which looked to be no more than an oversized shirt on her. Her long and perfectly straight black hair fell facilely down her back and over her shoulders as she leaned, looking down to the ground where she play.
The girl giggled again as she spoke. “No silly Zev, that’s a girl doll. You have to be a girl, ‘cuz they’re both girl dolls and I only have two.” She laughed louder and louder as she held the little makeshift stick doll in her tiny hands, walking it along on the ground.
“Zarra?” The boy asked as the rumbling thunder drew closer and the rain picked up, coming down now in steady, heavy beads and beginning to soak the dirty ground where the little girl played.
“He-he-he.” The girl giggled more and more. “Zev that’s silly, dolls can’t walk on their hands.”
“But I can walk on mine …” He quietly responded, as he vaguely recalled a play session with his sister from not so long ago.
“Well yea, but you’re not a doll, goofy face. Dolls ain’t real and b’sides their arms are too short.” She retorted, followed by poking her tongue out in the direction of seemingly no one.
The dark clouds were upon them now and the rain came down hard and fast as crackles of thunder echoed all around. The boy continued to watch as his sister sat in the mud, laughing and playing. Her yellow dress and off white canvas shoes showing no signs of soil, no signs of effect at all from the downpour. He watched and listened to her giggle and speak as he couldn’t help but to hope that she was truly there. “I miss you Zarra. I miss you so much.” The boy stood drenched as tears mixed with rain to cascade down his face and into his mouth as he spoke, spitting it back out along with his words. “You were all I had … my little sister … sweet and innocent … the only one who ever made me smile … you, who taught me happiness … my sister … my friend …”
“He-he-he-he, oh Zev that’s not how you do it. You’re bad at playing dolls. Let me show you.” The girl playfully scolded as she giggled some more, a smile of pure joy spread so wide across her face when she suddenly stopped. Her bright green eyes looked back over a shoulder with a concerned expression. She spoke again, this time with a hint of fear in her otherwise precious voice. “Daddy no, we’re just playing dolls …”
The boy watched as his sister’s arm jerked back with what seemed like a sharp, forceful pull. The rest of her followed as she was nearly lifted from the ground, screaming in pain before disappearing all together with a look of terror in her, now sad and pleading, green eyes.
Memories flooded the boy’s mind in an instant as he responded in alarm, screaming and picking up rocks to throw in the general direction of where his sister’s image faded. “Father! NO! … You leave her alone! … You let her go father! … You let her go!”
“Will you protect me?”
Rock in hand and arm cocked, the boy stopped in place and turned about, slinging rain from his soaked hair and clothes as he spun at the sound of the voice. Lightning flashed and he couldn’t quite make out the tiny figure before him, though the voice sounded familiar. He called out. “Zarra?”
“Will you protect me?”
The question came again in the same dulcet voice as thunder rumbled loud and strong and the sky lit up over and over. The boy squinted and peered, trying to make out his sister’s form. “Of course I’ll protect you sister, I’ll always protect you.”
Lightning shot through the dark, angry clouds and for several seconds all was revealed.
“Will you be my friend?”
A familiar looking girl, with dark brown hair outlining her slightly chubby cheeks and big brown eyes, stood before him smiling; her arm outstretched as if to shake hands.
All went black again as a deafening thunder clap exploded all around.
Zeven flinched as he woke to the sensation of a cool damp rag being placed across his forehead. His eyes opened to the slightly obscured vision of, what was definitely, a woman leaning over him. He blinked away the haze until his sight became clear and looked upon a woman with long wavy hair of ginger and eyes of the lightest shade of blue. Her comely face smiled down at him as she positioned the moistened towel so as not to slip down over his eyes. Eyes which couldn’t help but to notice her ample bosom, seeming at the ready to spring forth from her tightly cinched corset, as it hovered, mere inches from his nose.
Ever the analyst, he took note of his condition and surroundings. First and foremost he noticed he was cold and sweaty. His head ached along with his side and shoulder as he attempted to move his right arm, testing his mobility.
“Be still now darling, the wound is yet completely healed.” The buxom woman said with a cheery smile as she turned and began to pull a small table closer to the bed.
Ignoring her for now, the professional continued his assessment. Scanning the room, he saw no windows and only one solid looking, stained oak door. A large dresser sat against the left hand wall with a mirror in place above it. To the right there was a small wooden desk and chair and a good number of candles were lit about the room. None of it was extraordinary by any means until he took note of the room’s walls. Familiar gray and smooth stone surrounded him and he cracked a tiny smile when he surmised he had indeed made it to Daris’ stronghold.
“How lon—” he started to ask, halted by the unexpected tight and swollen sensation in his throat.
“Take your time. The words will come. But go easy, your throat must be dry and sore. I’ve been doing my best to get some fluids down into you, but darling you’ve proven to be as stubborn an unconscious patient as I’ve ever tended.”
Clearing his throat and shooting the, overly cheerful, woman a rather sour look he attempted to speak again. “How long?”
“Going on four days now. You’ve been under my care. As instructed by Lord Daris I’m to get you healed up good and proper and in the meantime, keep you comfortable and as pleased with your downtime as possible.” Her smile was bright, her demeanor enthusiastic as her pale blue eyes locked onto his and one of her hands began to slowly feel its way under the thin wool blanket and up the ruggedly handsome man’s thigh. “As pleased with your downtime as possible.” She repeated with a seductive purr.
“Remove your hand or I’ll have to break it.” He growled in a tone so threatening, it was not to be trifled with.
The woman sighed and rolled her eyes as she pulled her hand back. “As you say darling. I’m wagering you’ll be changing your mind once your fever breaks.”
“And stop calling me that.”
“Well Mr. Grumpy, what shall I be calling you then? Daris never did tell me your name.”
“You’ve no need for calling me anything. And I’ve no need for you … Leave me be.”
The woman laughed, her cheery disposition holding true as she reached for a bowl from the table, speaking as she stirred its contents. “I’m afraid I can’t accommodate you there ‘darling.’ Daris’ orders of course. You’re stuck with me, so you better get used to it. Oh and while your at it, you can start showing some appreciation for the one responsible for bringing you back to full strength.” She took up a spoonful of the steamy greenish liquid, tapping the utensil onto the rim of the bowl allowing the excess to drip back in, before holding the spoon out towards her patient’s lips.
He glared at her, hard and cold and full of anger. I could reach out in an instant and have my hand around her neck. She’d be dead only moments later …
“It’s broth of centaury and chamomile boiled with pheasant bone for flavoring. It will help to reduce the fever and with the pain as well.”
“Just leave it. I’ll feed myself.”
“You sure are a stubborn one. But as you say. Just be certain that you do. It’s the fever that worries us most. Many fall to it after allowing a wound to become rank and oozing puss.” She set the bowl back onto the small, bedside table and pointed to a chunk of bread resting on the plate. “Be certain to take at least a few good bites of this as well. And don’t mind the fuzzy green spots scattered about it. It’s known to have properties as a remedy for infection.”
He didn’t respond or even bother to look at the bread.
After a moment and a nod of her head, she continued with a smile. “And just so you know, and because I can only guess what it is you’d ‘like’ to be calling me, my name is Azure.”
“I care not.”
Rolling her eyes again, she bent and went about moving the small table closer to the bed and arranging the meal so her grumpy patient can easily reach it. “Yea, yea. I’ve seen all this before ya know. Tough guys like you who were wounded and feel it necessary to put up a front. As if you have no emotions to show, nothing to care for. Besides, I know better in your case. That name you call out in your sleep, as your dreaming … Zarra … You obviously care for her.”
His head whipped to the side, his black eyes meeting hers, boring into them with a seething look.
“You care enough to want to protect her it would seem—”
“You know nothing of me!” He erupted with a shout, deep and frightening, almost sitting up in his bed, leaning towards the side where his caregiver stood in shock. The smile now absent from her otherwise jovial face for the first time.
She almost couldn’t believe it. Unsure as to why and despite her fright, she finished speaking. “Did you protect her as you promised?”
“Get out!” His voice a thunderous roar as he screamed and swatted at the bedside table sending the bowl of broth, along with the plate and moldy bread, flying across the room to crash into the wall. “You know nothing!”
She watched him as she slowly backed away towards the door, his seemingly soulless eyes drilling into her. His entire body tensed, his corded muscles coiled, his chest heaved, his breathing, fast and deep and full.
“Get … out …” He demanded again in a low guttural and malevolent growl.
Reaching behind her and finding the door latch, she pulled it open before backing out of the room, never breaking eye contact with the enraged and seemingly troubled man, until she closed tight the door before her.
Zeven remained partly upright, glowering at the closed door for some time as his breathing eased and his muscles relaxed. His face softened and he found himself answering the woman’s question in a whisper riddled with guilt. “No.” He let himself fall back to lay flat on the bed once again as he stared at the ceiling with hateful eyes, but eyes no longer directed at the prying woman. “No … I didn’t … I didn’t protect her … I didn’t save her … I didn’t even remember her.”
* * * * * *
The latch turned and the door slowly opened, but stopped after only a few inches. Seemingly several moments went by and nothing happened before a long, slender blade was poked through the barely opened door with a swatch of white cloth tied to its tip. Its wielder began to move the blade up and down sending the cloth into a smooth flapping motion, much like the wave of a flag in a brisk breeze. “Hello?” Came the makeshift flag bearer’s call in a voice distorted to sound overly feminine. “I’m coming in … I promise to be nice.” The obviously male voice strained to speak in the highest pitch possible as it continued its little game. “Please don’t throw anything at me.” Daris’ head, along with his ridiculously wide smile, peeked into the room. Looking to where Zeven lay in his bed and still using the squeaky feminine voice, he asked. “Is it safe to enter?”
The assassin looked on, not at all amused he rolled his eyes and shifted them to stare off at the plain gray wall.
Unable to help himself, Daris burst into laughter as he opened wide the door and walked in, waving his rapier and little white flag around in jest. “Ha-ha-ha, oh come now my friend, I’m just having a little fun at your expense.” He spoke as he laughed while making his way to the foot of the bed and pulling the white cloth form the tip of his blade before sheathing it. “What is life, after all, without a bit of laughter?”
Zeven looked back to the charismatic leader, meeting his eyes with an expressionless gaze.
“Oh, don’t give me that look. I forget not to whom I speak.” He leaned down, planting both hands on the footboard of the bed and let out another mild fit of laughter before continuing. “I just couldn’t help myself.”
“You’ve a rat in your den.” The killer responded with the same neutral look.
Daris’ smile waned, though did not disappear entirely. “How do you mean?”
“The sell sword could not have known my location and the time I’d be there had he not been informed.”
Daris cocked his head as he pondered a moment before regaining his smile in full and waving his hand dismissingly. “Let us, or at least you, not worry on such things for now. Azure tells me you’re still slightly feverish. Concentrate on getting healthy and leave me to discover any rats we may have.”
Zeven offered naught but a concerned look in return.
“Speaking of Azure, she’s quite the doll wouldn’t you say?” Bright eyed and speaking with an excited tone, he didn’t wait for an answer. “And oh so good at what she does my friend. Not just with healing wounds, if you get my meaning.” He threw the assassin a wink which was met with a furrowed brow. “Be certain to take full advantage of your time with her, trust me.”
“Trust can be a fickle thing. It can be a weakness. It can be an illusion. It can even be your downfall in this game we play. Be mindful of this.”
Daris sighed. “Always business as usual huh?” The defeated boss threw his hands out wide in disappointment. “Very well then. I shall heed your warning. But you must do a favor for me as well.” He held a pointed finger out before him, poking it the assassin’s way with three short thrusts as he spoke the words. “Don’t kill Azure.” His smile returned and grew wider as he continued. “And allow her to tend to you. And most importantly …” He began backing away towards the door, bringing an opened hand down in front of his crotch. “Allow her to ‘tend’ to you.” With a wink and a teasing grin, he pulled open the door and quickly stepped through before the killjoy killer could find something to throw at him.
* * * * * *
The cloaked figure passed another of the tall, oil and wick lamp posts that helped to light the way down many of Timberdale’s more populated streets. With cowl pulled low and basket in hand, the figure turned the corner and came to a stop a moment later to look around before stepping into the darkness of the alley.
With short, unsure steps the figure moved along, almost needing to feel its way down the shadow blanketed alley when a hand suddenly reached out from the blackness to grab an arm.
“My Minx.” The voice called in a soft, calm tone from right next to her. Though she could not see the person to whom the hand or voice belonged, she knew well enough indeed their owner.
“Jaxis.” She responded after jumping slightly at his unexpected touch. “My goodness. How is it that you people make your way about in such darkness?” She asked in the most hushed of whispers. “I can not even see your eyes, let alone my own hand in front of my face.”
“We get used to it. The eyes learn to adjust more quickly in time when forced to do so.” He answered just as quietly as he held her by an arm so she would know for certain he was there.
“I have very little time. He thinks I am bringing freshly baked biscuits to a neighbor.”
“I can guess well enough your reason for needing to speak with me. And since you’re not exactly the ‘back alley’ sort, I was able to rule out a pleasure visit rather swiftly.”
“There is no time for your jests. Word is out all over the village. One of the sell swords has gone missing, along with his canine companion. His horse was found in the stables, just as he left it after arriving in town. Your plan seems to have failed.”
“The Ghost has proven to be most elusive indeed. And I did warn you not to underestimate him. It was a solid plan and as it happens it worked … except for the part where Tathar kills him instead of the other way around.”
“I fear he will suspect you.”
“I suppose I would be surprised if he did not. He is extremely untrusting; it is in his nature given his occupation.”
“You will need to watch your back now. Keep your eyes and ears open and get a feel for Daris. I know he trusts you, but this Ghost friend of his could possibly sway his thinking.”
“I’m not worried about Daris. And at the moment the wounded Ghost lies in a bed wrought with fever and infection. Would make for an easy target if Daris didn’t have such a close eye on him.”
“No. You have done enough. I do not want you doing anything more other than maintaining Daris’ trust, and keeping your ears peeled for information. We need a new tactic. Something less direct. Something this assassin can not fight. If we can discover a weakness or something we can exploit … well, if so just leave it to me. I will think of a way we can get to the Ghost. Now I must be getting back. Are we in agreement?”
“We are, my Minx.” Jaxis whispered, shooting his beautiful, though sometimes cold lover a most frustrated look. A look he knew to be lost on her thanks to the cover of shadow. A look he maintained as he watched her walk away without another word.
* * * * * *
Zeven stood at the side of the bed with dagger blade in hand, held out before him, when Azure entered the room. His coal black eyes shot up to meet hers and she froze in place, unsure what to do or say her hands began to tremble as she searched for her voice.
His look was one of solemn concentration when suddenly his hand flinched, sending the blade end over end into the air as he cracked a sly little grin. “Fear not. This isn’t for you.” He caught the perfectly balanced weapon by its hilt with a finger, flinging it across to his left hand only to be caught and returned in the same manner.
Breathing a sigh of relief the caregiver watched as his fingers and blade danced together with nimble precision, the razor sharp edge never drawing blood.
“I’m testing my command of my hand and fingers on my wounded arm.”
“I see.” She replied, obviously impressed.
His eyes never left hers as he twirled the blackened steel between his fingers, sending it rolling over one knuckle to the other before flinging it into the air once more, this time straight out and away from him. The dagger flew across the room and bit hard into the wood of the dresser. It “twanged” and vibrated for a moment after sinking into the oak face of the second drawer down.
“Well, it certainly appears to me you have perfect command.”
“Not so perfect. I was aiming at the top drawer.”
The once again cheerful servant chuckled in response as if he spoke in jest. “Still, it seems your wound is getting better with each passing day.”
“Better, yes. Perfect, no.” He replied as he took a seat at the edge of the bed.
Azure approached, taking note of her, if nothing else, never boring patient. She looked him over from head to toe as he sat there in naught but loosely fitted, rough spun, brown cotton trousers which were cut short, just below the knees. As her eyes perused the hardened, though pleasant features of his face and made their way down the toned and assuredly strong muscles of his chest, arms and stomach, she managed to also note something different. He was no longer sweating. She tilted her head with a curious look as she raised a hand near to his face, asking permission before she touched him. “May I?”
“You may.” He replied, with a curious look of his own.
She gently pressed her hand to his forehead and then around at his cheeks and neck as she spoke, smiling brighter than usual. “Well, well. The fever has gone.”
“I’ve always been quick to heal.”
“This is cause to be pleased, indeed. Though it doesn’t mean you’re ready to bound out of here and do … well …” Her eyes quickly glanced over to the ominous black dagger. “Whatever it is that you do.” With a raise of her brow, she continued. “A couple more days is needed to be certain you are in the clear. And those couple of days will do your wound well too.”
“Indeed.” Came his rather indifferent response as his mind began to drift off in thought.
She watched him for a moment before moving slowly to take a seat next to him on the bed. Her eyes softened as she batted her lashes. Her voice, playful and teasing. “Having said that, it doesn’t mean we can’t … celebrate, a bit.”
He looked to her. Her hair was pulled back today, revealing her, admittedly attractive neck, shoulders and heaving upper chest. A chest barely contained by the tight and richly colored, red corset she wore along with a somewhat ruffled, though perfectly white, soft cotton skirt which stopped around mid-thigh.
Despite her prowess with caring for wounds, the outfit blatantly advertised her true position here in Daris’ little underground operation. He found himself wondering how many times Daris himself had taken his pleasures out on her. Not to mention the many other men he had in his service. Then he found himself wondering why he even cared. I never cared before … Do I really care now? The hardened killer within told himself he didn’t, but it was the man sitting on the edge of the bed, staring into the eyes of the woman who nursed him back to health, who spoke up. “Why do you do this?”
Azure went from playfully batting her eyes, to blinking with a hint of confusion. “Umm … How do you mean?”
“This.” He answered, holding his hand out and lowering it in front of her as if to display her demeanor and perhaps the clothes she wore.
Again she blinked, slightly confused. Unsure what exactly he was asking and not wanting to let the moment go, she returned to her charms. Her teasing smile spread back across her face as she spoke with a look so inviting it was sure to be undeniable. “I’m just offering that maybe we have a bit of fun. You’re more than healthy enough for us to do a good number of things.”
“You can’t help but to do it.” He looked into her eyes for what seemed several moments as her smile once again faded. “Did you choose this life?”
Azure’s eyes widened in surprise at the blunt and unexpected question as her shoulders slumped and she sat blank faced, staring back at her intriguing, and often times puzzling, patient who had obviously struck a nerve. “Why do you ask this of me?”
“Honestly …” His eyes drifted off as he searched for an answer. “I know not for certain … And yet I ask.” He looked to her again. Deep, shadowy pools met with pastel, blue skies as he put forth yet another question. “How did you come to be here?”
“Uh … Umm … I … We …” She stammered as she brought her hands together, nervously rubbing them and shrugging her shoulders, unsure how to respond. “It’s quite a long story really.”
“As you instructed, I’m to be here a couple of days yet. So it would seem I’ve plenty of time.”
Taking a moment, the curious caregiver breathed a deep breath to help shed her nerves. She considered this mysterious man before her and after thinking on it for a moment, decided she liked the idea of him showing interest in her.
Relaxed, and even with a bit of a smile, she recalled memories long since forgotten. “It’s been nigh six years that we’ve been in Daris’ service. I don’t think back that often to when and how it all took place. At some point though, I suppose we just accepted it … being here simply became our lives, and as we began to fit in and find our places we became part of his family, we were treated very well then, and still are.”
“We?”
“Myself and my brother. He’s much younger than me; at the time we were taken he was just a boy of 6.”
“I’m very well aware of Daris’ practice to force those who owe him into service. I never knew he targeted ones so young.”
“By my estimations he actually prefers to take them in young. Seems they grow to be much more comfortable with whatever roles he chooses for them, and of course their loyalty grows stronger as well. The few times I actually come across my brother he’s always so proud of what he’s become and can’t praise Daris enough for giving him the opportunity to learn a trade.”
“Given the boy’s age now and having a fair understanding of Daris’ operation I’m guessing he’s become quite the pickpocket.”
“An accurate guess. It’s certainly not the life I would have wanted for him. Nor is this the life I wanted for myself. But after our father passed we weren’t exactly given a choice.”
“Daris had you’re father killed?”
“No, nothing like that. Father was ill and mother had run off with another man. As I later discovered, Daris offered father a deal to help with coin so my brother and I would have food and clothes and a few nice things. Had he recovered from his sickness father would have worked the debt off himself … but his health only declined. After he passed, we were taken as payment.”
“Naturally the boy was groomed to eventually fit into Daris’ little network of rogues. And you … well, as a girl; they really had only one good use for you.”
Azure lowered her gaze, her shame apparent. She quickly shook her head, forcing the memories away and looked back up to her patient. “I was put to use helping to cook and clean mostly at first. And one of the older women taught me to care for wounds … but yes … all girls who come to be here end up … servicing. There is no choice in the matter.”
Zeven’s expression grew suddenly curious. “What would have become of your brother, had he been a girl?”
Returning the inquisitive look, she answered as if it was obvious. “The same that became of me of course. Though because of age he … well, she, would have been used for mundane cleaning duties and the like. But once blossomed … well, as I said, all girls end up servicing.” Her patient’s eyes looked past her now, staring off into nothingness, seemingly lost in thought. A blank expression slowly spread to one of concern when she gently placed her hand on his.
Even young ones are taken in. He thought. Young ones whose departed parents left this world with debts unpaid.
“Thinking back on it now, I wish I could have done something. I was at an age where perhaps if I had taken action, I may have been able to get away. I care not so much for me, but my brother … thinking back on it now, I only wish I could have—”
“Protected him.” He spoke the words as his eyes met hers once again.
“Yes”
“I know the feeli—” Cutting himself short, the typically indifferent killer suddenly realized what he was about to say. Disguising a somewhat confused look as best he could he continued. “I … understand.”
“Zarra?” The caregiver queried, remembering her patient’s dreams.
“Zarra.” He responded.
Azure closed her hand around his, lightly but sincerely grasping it with a comforting touch. She watched as her troubled patient seemed to struggle with whatever thoughts were on his mind. His mouth opened once then twice, but quickly closed with no words to follow before he looked to her again. His face was adamant with a hint of regret and he opened his mouth to speak once more, this time with a voice. A voice different from one he’d used before. (Continue in chapter 5 part 1)


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