The boot stood on Elyria’s blades. It felt like the boot stomped on her heart. She tried to get up but fell back down when hands behind her put pressure on her shoulders. At least two people surrounded her.
She looked at the boot. Made of soft leather, the workmanship spoke of artistry and wealth. Her eyes traveled up the calf, noting fine wool trousers, on to the embroidered edge of a tunic, topped by a gold clasp holding a cape around the shoulders of a man with deep brown eyes. His cheeks and chin showed signs of daily shaves. His head held a mass of wavy brown hair trimmed to the base of his neck. This man’s appearance spoke of wealth. Clean from top to bottom, his clothes looked as if they had just left the seamstress’s hands.
Elyria frowned at him and he replied with a broad, white grin. She started to say something to him. He stopped her by placing two fingertips on her lips. He took his foot off of her knife. He squatted down so they were eye to eye. She couldn’t stop looking at his face. Smooth, not weather beaten; no wrinkles, no scares; his face was beautiful. His lashes framed wide, big eyes in long, sweeping fringe, which brushed his high-boned cheeks when he blinked.
She blushed. She stared openly at this stranger. She looked at his mouth; full and chiseled, slightly parted, moist and curled up at the corners. Her cheeks burned with her embarrassment. She felt heat rising in other areas of her body. The hair on her arms stood up and her belly took a tumble.
He smiled again. He brushed the hair from her face. His touch was soft. He stroked along her cheeks and down her neck. She shivered. She couldn’t seem to move. He leaned in closer to her.
“There you are.”
They both jumped and looked up. Fendor stood behind the stranger.
“What are you doing?”
“I came looking for you, murderer.” Elyria felt her rage rising as she stood up.
“I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to Vindicius.” Fendor stared at the man’s back. Fendor moved around him, stepping in front of Elyria and facing the beautiful man.
“Vindicius, this is the keeper of the cave. Stay away from her.”
Vindicius rose with slow and careful movements.
“Yes, Fendor, your wish is my command.” He performed a small bow.
Fendor’s back was to Elyria. She bent down and picked up her dagger. She thrust it at him, striking him in his side. He jerked around, grabbing her wrist. She struggled to break free of his grip. Her knife fell when her fingers lost their feeling.
“What in Hades name are you doing?” He took hold of her other hand as she attempted to claw at his face. She kicked him in the shin. He spun her around, slamming her back into his stomach, knocking the air out of her lungs in a whoosh.
“Keep still, wench and tell me what this is about.” He shook her and then held her tighter.
“Murderer!” It came out in a gush of air as Fendor lifted her off of the ground. When she looked at Vindicius, he grinned at her.
“Why do you call me that?” Fendor asked.
“I don’t think she likes you.” This from a man she couldn’t see.
“Titus, your opinion is not necessary.” Fendor gave Elyria a brief squeeze. “I do expect an answer from you, though.”
Feet dangling in the air beneath her, a god smiling in front of her, and her slaughtered puppies fresh in her mind, she screamed.
“You’re a killer. You’re a murderer.”
“I have killed many people, it is true, but, none that you would know.”
“You butchered One and Two. You slit their throats on your trek up here.”
She found herself flung into the arms of Vindicius. He caught hold of her, wrapping an arm around her ribs, his hand brushing her breast as he held her. She tried to pull away but he held on to her.
“Relax,” he whispered in her ear.
She trembled, not sure if it was from Vindicius’ touch, the look on Fendor’s face or the leer from the man who must be Titus.
“Relax,” Vindicius said again, but she didn’t relax. She pulled away from him. He let her go.
She stood in front of Fendor and forced herself to look into his face. He glared at her, looking her up and down, taking in her dirty and disheveled appearance, his mouth shut in an angry line.
“Admit you did it, you coward.” She said in a matter of fact tone. She stared him in the eye. He scowled back.
“Yes, Fendor, say something.” Titus stepped up next to Fendor and brushed his fingers on Fendor’s arm. Fendor jerked away from him. Titus smiled in a lopsided way.
Titus’ appearance distracted and disturbed Elyria. His nose looked as if it had been broken several times. The bones of his nose meandered back and forth with scares crossing the bridge and webbing out onto his pitted cheeks. His thin face gave the appearance of someone who never got enough to eat. His hair and his woolen cloak had streaks of grease on them. His fingers were long and bony, the nails chipped and jagged. His footwear consisted of cheap wooden soles laced on his feet with leather strips. He leered at her and in this nearness she could see his brown teeth, rotting nibs in his mouth. Bile rose in her throat. She could not have imagined a more incompatible group of men.
“Fendor, the lady wants you to explain yourself.” Titus’ voice wheedled, making Elyria cringe.
Vindicius stood by, a smile on his beautiful face.
“You must tell her why you killed her little wolfies.” Vindicius sounded strangely like Titus.
Fendor gave Vindicius an odd look, took hold of Elyria by her upper arm and dragged her away from the other two men.
“Don’t you touch me,” she said, as he pulled her along behind him.
“Keep your mouth shut until I tell you it’s fine to speak.”
“I don’t take orders from murderers.”
“I did not kill your ‘wolfies’, wench.” Fendor dragged her past his campsite and his horses. She struggled to keep up with him.
“Where are you taking me?”
“No. I want to know where we are going. Are you going to kill me, too?”
He tugged her arm in answer.
She could see they were headed towards the first of the caves. Once they went through the entrance, Fendor pushed her down onto the stone bench carved into the wall. She attempted to jump up, but he just shoved her back down and stood above her, blocking any upward and forward motion. He placed his hands on the wall above her head. She had to lean back to look up to see his face. She felt tears come to her eyes and hated herself for her weakness. She didn’t want to die.