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       Slumber, p.20

         Part #1 of The Fade series by Samantha Young
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  “Then I’m glad they’ve left you alone.”

  “Me too, son. I pity the buggers who they be botherin’ now though.”

  I grunted. I would be one of those buggers.

  I shook off my memories and smiled, looking around me. “The mountains aren’t anything like I was told they’d be. Everyone is so friendly and nice.” Once again, Brint’s lips thinned and he leaned in close to me. “In Hil o’ Hope we are. We be good people. But don’t ye be gettin’ al mistaken, son, there are folks in these here mountains who’ve gone crazy with the isolation. Ye watch yerself in this journey o’ yers. Stick to the trails. There’s a place one Hil from here caled Shadow Hil. Ye be bypassin’ around the outskirts o’ Shadow, ye here. No nothing there for strangers but a world o’ suspicion and sorrow. And the closer to the pool ye reach, be warier. There be dogs in packs up that way, hungry and feral as any an animal starvin’ and uncontroled.” I gulped. The fear came back again. I should have known it couldn’t be as easy as I’d begun to hope. Hah, I snorted inwardly. Hil o’ Hope. It was realy caled so because it gave hope that the mountains were as kind and easy going as the people here. But according to Brint, I’d be foolish to think that. And I was going to take his advice.

  “Thank you,” I replied softly. He nodded at me grimly, as if seeing past my deception and into the truth of me. He seemed concerned for me.

  “Come.” He stood to his feet. “Let us get ye home and to some sleep.”

  It was even colder out now. I thought about the nights ahead. I wouldn’t have a home to sleep in, a roof to shelter me, to give at least the pretence of safety. I thought of Brint’s warning. The thought of sleeping under the stars was nothing compared to the thought of facing the horror he had not spoken of… but had been there in his eyes nonetheless.

  Chapter Twenty Three

  Brint’s wife Anna was just as friendly and caring as her husband. She laid out blankets by the fire for me and stoked the fire to life to keep me warm. She insisted that in the morning I stay for breakfast, but I explained I had to leave extremely early. I was afraid of Wolfe and the Guard catching up to me. Anna ignored my protests, insisting she and Brint were early risers. But I knew I couldn’t stay. However, I told them I would, and made sure I thanked them enough so they’d know, when they found me gone in the morning, that I had been tremendously grateful to them.

  I slept a little, but I was so nervous for the day ahead that I was up before the sun broke the horizon, and was slipping through Hil o’ Hope before the couple of roosters they had woke everyone up. I held on to my magic like a child holding a parent’s hand tightly in the marketplace, terrified of being lost to the wildness of the mountains.

  The morning air was chily, but as the sun rose and began filtering through the trees, I grew warm in the humid environment of the forest. I had to take off my jacket sure, with no one around, the fact that the trousers were beyond indecent on me wouldn’t matter. Stopping at midday for a quick snack and some water, I muled over Brint’s words of warning. He’d told me the next town (Hil) up from theirs was ful of good people, the Hil o’ Hope’s close neighbours. But I decided I wasn’t taking any chances like I had last night. I’d been lucky with Brint and his people. Remembering how badly things had gone in the past, I wasn’t going to press that luck.

  Instead, I took the outskirts of the town, keeping to the trees and treading slowly and quietly so as not to draw any attention. Through the trees a town, smaler than Hil o’ Hope, flashed in and out of view. Children helped their parent’s milk cows, sort out wool that was being clipped from the few sheep they had, colecting eggs from hens. They worked together in tandem, a machine of teamwork, just like Hil o’ Hope.

  By late afternoon I was exhausted. My shirt was soaked with sweat underneath the waistcoat I wore and my feet were screaming in pain from the ever growing blisters populating my soles, toes and heels. If I kept walking I didn’t feel it so much. But then I’d make the mistake of stopping for water, and when I moved off to walk again the screaming pain would start over tenfold.

  I pushed on through the night until my eyes began to droop. At the sight of a tree with a large root curling around the soil like an arm, I took off my pack and slumped down behind it, hidden from view from anyone beyond it. Every muscle in my body screamed at me. The pain in my feet made me whimper. I shook my head in disgust. When had I become this soft, genteel creature who couldn’t withstand a little exertion? I felt miserable and incompetent. When I lived on the farm I could run for miles without stopping; I could climb trees like a trapeze artist; walk and climb and walk some more and never want to stop. Life outdoors had been second nature to me. Now I was pampered and useless, and everything my parents had abhorred. I thought of Wolfe and had to hold back frustrated tears. I just kept betraying them over and over again.

  Even more angry at myself for being pitiful and maudlin, I exhaled and looked around me at the little bed I’d made for the night. A large spider with spindly brown legs crawled slowly up from the soil onto my leg. I felt the tickle of it through the fabric of my trousers. Gently, I leaned over and scooped up the spider, putting it down on the ground behind me so it could scuttle off and not get squashed beneath me as I slept. Watching it, I was reminded of my little brother. He had hated spiders, terrified of them; said he didn’t trust their fast little legs. It was the only thing he ever squealed at, and I knew to come running to rescue not only him, but the poor spider, from his fear. Despite the spider, he would have loved this, I thought, gazing up through the thick branches of the Arans above me, hardly able to see even a drop of sky. He would have thought this was quite the adventure.

  I dug through my pack and puled my dagger out, clutching it in comfort as I waited for exhaustion to give into the inevitable. Somehow I did drop off to sleep, fatigue tugging me under despite my nervousness about being alone in the mountains.

  My neck tingled, the feeling turning to something sharp enough to pul me out of semi-consciousness. I groaned and slapped my hand to the spot and puled away a huge centipede, its legs clambering franticaly as it dangled between my fingers. I squealed under my breath and threw it away, shuddering as I touched my neck to make sure there was nothing else there. I winced. The damn thing had bitten me!

  I jumped to my feet, flinching at the forgotten blisters, and shook myself out. Not sure I was safe from the insects, who obviously liked the Aran root as much as I, I curled into a bal in the open soil, glancing around to make sure there was nothing else near me.

  Oh haven I hated this!

  Thankfuly, I must have drifted back to sleep, for I woke up lying flat out on my back; the ceiling of the forest above me, now giving way to the blue of the sky.

  The blue of the sky! What time was it? I cried out and lunged sleepily for my things. It was definitely past sunrise. Probably mid-morning. I’d missed a good few hours of light for walking. Grumbling at myself, I chewed on a biscuit and sipped from my canteen as I hurried upwards, remembering to hold back the whimpers from the pain in my feet and body. Those first few steps were agonising, the breath whooshing out of me. I sucked in air and took a few more tentative steps, building momentum and chanting Haydyn’s name like a mantra to get me through. At the thought of Shadow Hil I began chanting inwardly; sure I was close to the Hil by now. I didn’t want to be heard.

  By afternoon, the sun was stronger than ever and wearing me down. But my feet. My feet were unbearable. At the constant sound of the stream to my right, I gave in. It didn’t deviate from the direction of my magic, only from the worn track that kept me from the thick of the woods and al the plants and twigs that would trip me. The thought of cold water against my sore feet was too terrible a temptation to ignore. I headed off, taking my steps carefuly, until I found the wide stream rushing past at a refreshing pace that made my dry mouth ache. I could almost feel its soothing nature on me. I smiled wearily and sat down, puling off my boots hesitantly.

  “Aaahh mmm…” I whimpered as the boots knocked agai
nst sores. I pouted like a little girl as I peeled my stockings off, a garbled shout of pain escaping before I could stop it, as the stocking, stuck with sweat, ripped open a blister. I glared at the boots. Perhaps taking them off hadn’t been such a good idea. They might not go back on without a fight. Slumping at my losing battle with my feet I slid them into the stream, wincing at the stings here and there. And then the cold water did what I had hoped it would, numbing my swolen appendages until I didn’t feel a thing. When they’d had enough, I kneeled over on my knees, ripping off the jacket and waistcoat and scooping water up to clean my neck and behind my ears as best I could. Feeling sweat along my hairline, I tugged the cap off and uncoiled my hair, sighing in satisfaction as my scalp drew breath.

  The crack of a branch made me flinch and stiffen. I was terrified to look behind me. I heard the heavy breathing and my heart spluttered in absolute horror. A smel drifted upwind. Stale. Dirty. Human.

  “What be here then?” He growled in my ear.

  Chapter Twenty Four

  There was no chance for me dart out of his grasp and escape him. Huge arms encircled my waist, dragging me back from the stream as if I weighed nothing more than a sack of flour. I shrieked and reached behind me, clawing at skin and puling at hair. The stranger merely grunted until I was shunted up on to his shoulders, high, high, off the ground. He was huge. I wriggled and screamed and fought and pummeled, and was merely slapped at for my troubles, as if I were as insignificant as a flea. My heart raced so fast it hurt, bile threatened to rise in my throat, and I was shaking so hard my teeth chattered together. Frustrated tears weled in my eyes. I was so stupid. Brint had warned me about the Shadow people. Had I listened? No. I’d wandered off the path because my feet hurt!! Not only that, I’d unbound my hair.

  I beat at the man’s back once more with fury. “Put me down!” I cried out, exhaustion making my voice weak.

  How was I to escape these people? My feet hurt, I had no energy. I was useless. Once again kidnapped and taken. I could only hope the people showed me mercy.

  The stranger’s hand slid around to my buttocks and he squeezed me painfuly, making me shiver in revulsion. “Good,” he commented gruffly. “Very good.” What the haven did that mean?!

  The more we trekked, the more I felt my magic wailing at me to turn back. He was deviating from my path! Just as I was about to yel at him again, he slowed, walking up a few stone steps before I heard the creak of a door. I swung, looking around us. We were stil in the woods! As we entered the dimness of a tiny shack, an awful realisation dawned on me. He wasn’t one of the Shadow Hil people. And we were al alone.

  As he set me on my battered feet, I ignored the pain and tried to dart away from him. His huge sweaty hands wrapped around my waist and he puled me back forcefuly against him. I shuddered at the feel of his wet lips against my neck, fighting the urge to be sick. I yeled in outrage and raked my fingernails along the skin of his hands. The stranger growled and burled me around. I caught a glimpse of a rough face, drooping eyes and a toothless mouth surrounded by a beard, before his meaty hand waloped me across the face. Ringing burst into song in my ear as I crumpled to the ground, dazed, my left cheek blazing with heat and throbbing with pain.

  Disorientated, darkness fel over my eyes.

  A few minutes later, as I came to, I felt a tugging at my feet and looked over to see the huge Mountain Man tying my ankles together with rope. Disbelief cleared my head and I pushed out my legs, trying to get away from him. With horror, I realised he’d already tied my wrists so tight with rope that the slightest movement chafed them painfuly against the scratchy material. Distantly aware of his hands sliding along my leg, I searched the room, looking for anything, a weapon, some way out. I lay on a soggy palet in the far corner. And there was nothing. Nothing else in the room but a large hunting knife, a pail and a door. There was one window. Tiny. Not nearly big enough to climb out. No. No.

  My eyes widened as I felt his hand crawl up the inside of my thigh. I snarled at him and shook his hand off of me. Mountain Man did nothing but smile and crawl alongside me, the stench of his body odour making me gag.

  “Now, now,” he admonished and I shrunk back at the bright lust in his eyes. My stomach roiled and my lips trembled. Tears splashed down my cheeks. I knew why I was here. I choked on a sob and he grinned wider. “No tears, wife.” He shook his head, and his hand was back on me, touching me where no one had touched me before. I roared like an animal in his face and he flinched back in surprise. Then he gave a huff of laughter. “Good wife.”

  “I’m not your wife!” I screamed through tears and snot. “Let me go, I’m not your wife!” I was rewarded for my rebuttal with another heavy slap, across my right cheek this time. My teeth pierced through my lip at the impact and blood trickled slowly down my chin. I glared under my lashes at the Mountain Man, and watched incredulously as his eyes folowed the blood. My heart stopped at the brightness in his gaze.

  The lust had deepened. I swalowed back a rush of vomit.

  Mountain Man reached out and touched the blood wonderingly. “Yer ma wife,” he growled, pushing his face in mine. I closed my eyes, holding in my breath so I didn’t have to inhale the stink off him. “I find ye. Ye be ma wife.”

  Brint had warned me, I shook. Brint had told me there were people out here gone crazy with the isolation.

  “I’m goin’ huntin’. But I be back. I be gone a while. But I be back, wife. I be back and feed ye wife. And then ye be seeing to my husbandly needs.” He stroked himself and I turned away sharply, biting back screams and denials. Little whimpers escaped between my pinched lips.

  I shuddered at the feel of his fingers soft on my face. Then they gripped hard, jerking my head around to face him. I didn’t have to open my eyes to know his face was inches from mine. His lips came down wet and hard on my mouth, his beard scratching my face as I struggled against him, my lips tightly closed. A large hand encircled my neck and squeezed. I gasped, giving him the opening he needed. His tongue forced its way into my mouth. I gagged on the foul taste of him, his rancid stench clogging my senses. No matter how much I jerked my head this way and that, he folowed, his lips drinking me in like a fish gulping for air. The skin around my mouth was raw from his beard and wet from his fetid saliva. I was running out of air, close to hyperventilating when I felt his hand squeeze my breast.

  Fury. Fury at myself and my stupidity. At this man, this Mountain Man who thought he could just take me like I was a deer in the woods. It coursed through me in an unthinking rush. Instinctively, I brought my tied hands up, suffusing as much strength and force into the upswing as I could, and nailed him between his legs.

  He broke away from me with a strangled shout and fel back, clutching where only minutes before he’d been stroking. I immediately vomited on the crude wooden floors beside the palet. The room now reeked with the vilest of human stench, and I emptied what was left in my stomach.

  I struggled to draw breath, the room spinning around me. I had to get out of here. I had to.

  I thought of my kidnapping by the Iavi people. Of Kir’s rookery gang. None of it had been so bad as this. Nothing this horrific had happened to me in a long time. I didn’t think anything could match watching my parents and brother die. But if I stayed here. If this man used me and broke me…

  I sobbed, tears blinding me as I drew my tied hands down onto the floor and used my upper body to drag myself along the wood. The door was just there. I could get to it.

  A below echoed around the shack and I was jerked back like a rag dol, thrown against the back wal of the hut, a sickening vibration shooting through my body as my head made impact. I slumped back on the palet and watched through blurry eyes as the Mountain Man approached me, his face blazing with hatred, lechery and anger. I became a little more alert at the sight of the large hunting knife in his hand.

  “Bad wife,” he growled, brandishing the knife at me. “Teach ye a lesson I wil.”

  I beat at him uselessly with my tied hands as h
e grabbed me by my shirt front to hold me. And then he tore the shirt open, revealing the curve of my breasts.

  “No!” I cried out and swung my hands back up, catching his jaw. The Mountain Man barely blinked.

  “Yer goin’ to behave.” He pointed the knife right in my face and I glared back at him, ignoring the hot tears roling down my cheek. I took deep breaths as he smiled at me. I let a shaky calm envelop me. If this was to be my end, then I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of enjoying my fear. I jutted my chin out defiantly.

  The Mountain Man tut-tutted and gently placed the tip of the blade at the bottom of my throat. I shivered at the menacing cold touch as he gently drew it down my skin, scratching me, until he came to the rising curve of my left breast. The blade pressed deeper and I muffled a cry of shocked pain. He scored a shalow cut along the top of my breast, watching my expression the whole time. I felt blood trickle from my wound and clenched my jaw to keep from looking at what he’d done to me.

  Mountain Man puled the blade back, grinning the entire time, his eyes alight with excitement. The knife disappeared into a pouch on his hip and he stood up. He was huge. Massive. His entire shadow cast me into darkness in the shade of the shack.

  He tugged at his trousers and licked his lips. “I like red on ye, wife. It’s good. When I get back, I be bedding ye ma wife. Bedding ye with a little more red.” At that he abruptly turned and left, picking up some crude hunting gear I hadn’t seen before. It lay near the door. The door opened and I searched it greedily for a lock. It slammed shut behind him and I heard his footsteps disappear. Struggling to draw breath I heaved a sigh of relief, not only to be alone, but because… there was no lock on the door!

  At his sudden departure, the realisation of what had just happened to me and was going to happen to me if I didn’t get out here, came rushing in like a storm against the cliffs in Silvera. Terrified sobs broke out of me in rib-cracking force, and I shook and shivered, damning my stupid pride and fear that had made me come up the mountains without Wolfe.

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