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Thorn of the Rose Ch. 2

by Kimberlain O'Driscoll, MBA, M.Ed 7 months ago in Series
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Facial pain ripped through Trish’ka, waking her. Her head throbbed and her tongue stung horribly. She was pretty certain it had been bitten through and most of her teeth were shattered or missing where she struck the…rocks? She opened her left eye slowly. The other was swollen shut. Although her vision was blurred, Trish’ka could make out the shapes of objects and realized she was in some sort of room. The damp, musty smells were mixed with various spicy scents with an underlying odor of earth and sweetness. A small lamp burned on a short square wooden table in the right corner, casting a flickering shadow against the walls. She could make out that the walls were stone with dark moss growing in the mortar seams.

There were distant voices that had a muffled quality as if listening to sounds while under water, but they were overshadowed by an annoying and constant high pitch tone that made her wish she was still passed out. She went to touch her swollen eye to see how badly she was hurt but could barely move her arm more than a few inches off the bed. It felt heavy. Her other arm was the same way. Any attempt at moving shot an intense spear of sharp pain through her skull that make her see sparks. She cried out, which hurt even more. She lay there afraid to move and quietly wept while warm blood trickled from the corner of her mouth.

Someone entered the room. She could only see the dark shape of a woman. The woman stepped to the edge of the bed and leaned over. She didn’t touch Trish’ka in any way, not even to wipe the blood.

“Hurts don’t it?” The woman said in a mocking tone. “Corporal Derry, inform Captain L’Mar that the prisoner is awake.”

From another area Trish’ka heard a different female voice acknowledge the order and step away. More shapes were now moving, they could be seen in the shadows cast on the wall but only the woman with the mocking tone was in the room near her. Trish’ka tried to sit up using her right arm so she could see more clearly; knowing it would cause pain. The clinking of metal could be heard. Iron manacles attached to heavy chains secured her to her bed. Her feet were secured in a similar way. That was why her arms were so heavy. Trish’ka tried to talk, but her shredded and swollen tongue only allowed for wet sounds.

“Can’t talk I see. That’s no matter. When you’re well enough, you’ll talk, and trust me you will. You’ll tell us all we want to know and then you’ll pay for what you’ve done, and I intend on making sure you suffer.”

Trish’ka’s vision cleared some, and with the closeness between her and her captor she could see that the other woman was a Kujatai sergeant. Her uniform was clear, and the insignia indicated she was part of the regimental commander’s elite personal guard. This meant that Commander Mernna was nearby. She had to somehow pass along the message that Commander Taren had given her. She tried to figure out in her mind why they had chained her up with plans to torture, interrogate and kill her.

Trish’ka made another more forceful effort to talk, which resulted in having her face slapped by the sergeant. The blow wasn’t hard, but it sent shock waves into Trish’ka’s brain that made her scream. In a moment, the room fell silent, as Trish’ka lost consciousness again. Fresh blood flowed freely from her shattered face. Sergeant Prestin stared down at her prisoner, spat on her, and left the room.

Captain Ram'L L'Mar arrived within minutes of being told their prisoner was awake. Sergeant Major Kadrin Nural was with her. When they arrived they found the young woman was unconscious. She noticed that the prisoner's face was bleeding.

“I thought you said she was awake.”

“She was.” Sergeant Prestin reported, "Then she passed out again."

The sergeant major went to the prisoner's bedside and inspected the bonds, then she looked at Captain L'Mar with a concerned look on her face. She reached down and slid her fingers across the prisoner’s mouth causing Trish’ka to recoil slightly and wince in pain, before again slipping to unconsciousness. Sergeant Major Nural held her fingers up showing fresh blood. The captain looked furious. The sergeant major and Captain L'Mar exchanged glances briefly, each seemed to know what the other was thinking. Sergeant Major Nural nodded and stood up.

"Sergeant Prestin, did the prisoner somehow manage to hit herself in the face while chained up?"

The sergeant stood silent. Her face took on a look of cold indifference.

Sergeant Major Nural ordered the guards out of the storage cellar where the prisoner was being kept and made them form up. Once they had done so, she paced back and forth, looking at the ground while she chose her words.

"That prisoner..." she pointed toward the cellar door entrance, "is believed to have been involved in the betrayal and massacre of an entire Kujatai brigade. She is a traitor. I don't care that you had friends up there. I had friends up there too. They are dead now. This is war. People die."

The sergeant major paced up and down the line as she spoke, pausing to making deep eye contact with each of them in turn. The assembled guards flinched slightly as her tone became more menacing.

"I am going to find out who and what that traitor knows, and... what she is. The only way I can do that is for all of you to keep her alive, let her injuries heal and keep her from escaping."

Sergeant Major Nural held up her hand with the prisoner's blood still on her fingers so everyone could see.

"Some of you it would seem are trying to keep me from finding out what she knows by knocking the bloody shit out of her every time she opens her eyes. That will stop. From now on, she will be checked every day to see if she is being abused. If I find anything that makes me think she is, all of you, not just the one who did it, but all of you will be flogged to the bone. The sergeant major waved them off in a dismissive way.

“Sergeant Prestin, dismiss the friggin’ guard."

Captain L'Mar heard every word from tiny cellar where the prisoner lay, chained, and battered. Flogging was unheard of among Kujatai in modern times, but the prisoner was useless to them if she couldn't answer questions. The sergeant major certainly knew how to get someone’s attention.

As she stared down at the prisoner, Captain L'Mar wondered so many things. This prisoner was more of a girl than a woman, yet Sergeant Major Nural who was with the 4th Lancers at the Anin, and survived the attack, identified this girl as the one who led the Ager Mohr to their encampment. Captain L'Mar and the sergeant major had known each other for years, and her word was always good enough. There was no doubt that the prisoner was something different. When they found her in the river a few days earlier, she was thought to be dead. As horrific as her injuries are now, they were far worse then. The legs were shattered with bone shards poking through her skin. The legs are mending. They are horribly bruised, but they are actually resetting themselves slowly. Outside of healing magic, this wasn’t possible. Still, despite all of the oddities and evidence of treason stacked against her, something about all of this was wrong.

Captain L'Mar emerged from the cellar entrance and walked away. Sergeant Major Nural joined her without looking back to see the impression she made. When they returned to the barn that was being used as a command post, each took a seat. The chairs were old with worn and frayed wicker that poked the occupant if they didn't know where to sit. As Captain L'Mar reached for a bottle of wine, the sergeant major blew dust from some ceramic cups. They hadn't spoken while crossing the dirt road through the town center which led to where they now sat. Some conversations aren't meant for stray ears. Captain L'Mar filled each cup and took a mouthful before getting down to business. The chairs creaked in protest.

"Kadrin, do you remember that village healer we saw earlier today?" The captain wiped some wine from the corner of her lip with her thumb.

"The old fat woman who waddles like a plump duck?"

The captain almost spit out her drink and started to cough.

"Yes." she answered, as tears ran from her eyes. "The old fat woman who waddles like a plump duck. Honestly..."

The captain shook her head in dismay, but she admitted to herself it was funny.

"I want the village healer to examine the prisoner, head to toe, front and back and record every bump, bruise and cut. I want her to go back each day and do it again to look for any new injuries."

The sergeant major nodded. "I agree, we can't have the foxes reporting on the health of the chicken."

The sergeant major finished her drink in one gulp.

"I'll have someone go find her now."

As the sergeant major got up to leave, Captain L'Mar stared at her. There was a look of concern.

"Kadrin..." The sergeant major didn't wait for her to finish.

"You want to know if I would really flog them? You bet your ass I would, without blinking an eye."

"No, it's something else, but that is also good to know. That prisoner, are you sure she is everything you say she is?"

"Ram'L, we go back to your first day in the corps. If I were you, I'd probably ask that same question. I was there. She arrived a couple of weeks before..." Her words trailed off as if she couldn't say it.

"It seemed that the Mohr knew what we planned and were ready for us after she showed up. The night of the attack in the Anin, I was sent with a message from Commander Taren; the message I told you about. She suspected that a young impersonator was leading the Fourth into a trap. I was sent to bring more soldiers. I saw her as I was riding out. That prisoner, she betrayed us. She killed women that you and I knew. The only reason I lived, was because I made it past the net before the enemy closed it.”

The captain stared into her empty cup a short while and apologized for bringing it up.

"Nothing goes unsaid between us Ram'L. You had to ask. That's how we've stayed friends all these years.” Ram'L looked up at her.

“You saw what she looked like when we plucked her from the river. She should have been dead. Anyone else would be, yet her shattered body is healing itself. I don’t know what sort of beating that prisoner took up river, but I’ll tell you this, when she gets stronger, there ain’t nothing we’ll be able to do to even slow her down. That girl ain’t natural I tell you. That’s the truth to be sure. Let’s question her and be done with this while we still can.” Ram’L nodded.

Kadrin smiled, breaking the somber mood, the same way she did in what seemed like a million years ago, before this war started.

"I'll go find that fat duck now.”

"Old fat waddling plump duck." Ram'L countered.

When the sergeant major exited the barn, Ram'L went to her foot locker and opened it. Inside was a small wood box with iron strappings. She carried it to the table, pushed aside the cups to make room and set it down. She unlocked it with a key she kept on a leather cord around her neck. Inside among personal items was a ring. She picked it up and stared at it closely, turning it in her fingers. It was a large signet ring, much like the one Commander Mernna had left her. This one however belonged to Commander Taren. It was on the finger of the prisoner when she was found. Signets worn by Kujatai commanders cannot be stolen and worn. Wards prevent that, even if the owner of the ring dies. The owner has to give it freely to another while still alive, to act on their behalf as Mernna did with her. This would mean that the girl had to be on a mission for Commander Taren. There were too many questions, and that prisoner knew the answers.

Ram'L poured another drink and sipped it as she continued to roll the ring in the fingers of her left hand. It still had the prisoner’s blood on it. This situation was very confusing, but she was certain of one thing. Her dear friend Kadrin is lying to her.

"You have answers little ring. What are they?"

Ginny Thatcher paused to catch her breath. She could see the soldiers standing guard outside of what had once been Becham Wood's root cellar. Ginny didn't like soldiers and these strange women all used the craft. Many in town would make a sign of protection for themselves if they passed one, or they wore pouches to protect from evil. Ginny made and sold those pouches and business was good lately. Still, they were killers, and they could cast nasty things. When one of them came to her home; a general she thought, Ginny was asked if she could examine and treat a prisoner. She was going to decline, but the general set three large gold coins on Ginny's table. Well, what kind of a healer would she be if she turned her back on the needs of the suffering?

Once she caught her breath, the woman finished walking the last short distance to where the soldiers stood. She was out of breath again when she got there.

"General Nural sent me. I'm here to see your prisoner." The guard called inside, and another soldier stepped out.

"This is the healer woman we were told about, the one that General Nural sent over." Corporal Derry gave the soldier a stern look and gestured toward the entrance.

"This way, we've been expecting you. I'm Corporal Derry." Ginny looked at the two, wondering if she had said something wrong, then shrugged her shoulders, gave herself the sign for protection and stepped inside. The area within smelled of body odor, human waste, and infection. There was also something else in there. It was strong. The tiny room in back was filled with dark magic. Ginny could feel it, even though she was certain the source wasn’t still in the room, she could feel the taint it left behind as if it were still there.

When Ginny first saw Trish'ka laying there she took a start. The girl was about the same age as her great grandniece who just celebrated her fifteenth spring a few months past. The girl laid out before her was chained like a wild beast on display in some travelling carnival, but the injuries to her face were like something from a nightmare. Ginny became angry.

"What have you been doing to her?" The old woman rushed to Trish'ka's bedside. Her fears of the residual dark magic were gone. She saw a patient who needed tending. She pulled back the covers and found the girl wasn't wearing any clothes. She had infected, deep cuts and massive bruises all over her legs. Her right arm was discolored and swollen, hinting of a broken bone at three separate places, and there looked to be several broken ribs. Her wrists were raw and bled from the manacles, and she had a bed sore as large as an apple on her bottom that emitted a foul, rotted smell. The worst injury however was to her face. Trish'ka's jaw was shattered into fragments. Some of her teeth were gone, and her tongue was missing a large chunk. And worst of all, the right side of her skull had a depressed fracture. When Ginny touched her head, it gave way in places. Ginny let out a sound of shock and stood up.

She looked at Corporal Derry with a mixed expression of disbelief and a plead for answers.

"This is impossible. She should be dead. Half her brain is jelly."

"Well, the other half isn't.” Came a harsh reply.

“Did you see everything you need to give your report? Oh, and its Sergeant Major Nural, not General Nural. I don't want the others to tease you about that and I'll talk with them."

"I'll tell the sergeant major what I saw. You need to wash her you know. When I come back tomorrow, I want to see her freshly bathed. She's laying in her own filth. And give the poor thing some clothes."

Ginny went closer to Trish'ka again, summoning the will to not be sick. She had seen a lot over the years, but nobody lived through this. She held Trish'ka's manacled hand in hers. It was so cold and mottled, like that of a corpse refusing to release the soul. Ginny closed her eyes and thought of a kettle of water. The kettle of her image appeared in a hearth and in that hearth, she envisioned a fire. She held this image until her kettle began to boil. As it did, she let the warmth spread through her body, down her arm and into her hands; the hands that cupped Trish'ka's hand. The heat in her image passed from her to Trish'ka. It travelled up Trish'ka's arm, filling every part of her. When she was finished, Ginny leaned forward and gave Trish'ka a kiss on the side of her face that wasn't hurt. Then she whispered to her.

"Sleep my little child. Your time in this world has already ended, you just haven't accepted it. These soldiers plan to hurt you more. I know soldiers, it's what they do. Sleep my little one and leave this place. When the light comes, go to it."

Ginny started to stand up but couldn't. Her knees and hips cracked in protest at the effort. She reached out to the nearby soldiers for help.

"I am not as young as I once was. Can you help me up?" Corporal Derry helped her to her feet with the assistance of a few others.

"What did you say to her?"

"I told her everything will be alright."

"Thank you for your help Mistress Thatcher, we'll look for you again tomorrow."

"I'll come back sooner if I'm needed. I did what I could, but I doubt she'll survive the night"


About the author

Kimberlain O'Driscoll, MBA, M.Ed

My stories come to me in the form of vivid dreams. The challenge is in putting them to words. I'm medically retired, ride a Harley, and have five ferrets who keep me very entertained.

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