Chapter Three

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Selene was woken by the sound of a sharpening stone over metal. It took her a minute to regain her vision. When she sat up she felt as if someone had placed her head in a vice. The pain was almost unbearable, and the noise...the noise was chiseling away at her consciousness. She felt dizzy and nearly vomited just as she heard him speak.

“Dreadfully sorry about your head, darling, but I had no choice. You were bumbling through the underbrush like a retarded sow. Gods be gracious, I should have left you there. I suppose I have a soft spot for foolish little girls, though.” The voice was calm and soothing, fatherly even.

The man was sitting across from her in the small; what was it around her, a cave? There was no light except that which crept in from the moon. She could not seem to focus very well in the darkness. He was a featureless shadow amongst shadows.

“I am no girl. I am a woman grown.”

She did not know if she could remain alert, her head felt as though she had fallen from a tower, a very tall tower.

“Well, had I known that I would have left you for the wolves and crows,” his voice had the hint of a smile on it. “Here we are though, veiling ourselves away in this fissure of the mountain. Here, drink this. I am sure your head hurts something fierce.” He handed her a small piece of dipped wood with an almost paste like substance on top of it.

Selene looked at it for a long moment.

“It is a solid.”

“Lick it then,” he said with a shrug.

She frowned and licked the paste. It tasted like nothing she had ever tried, and nearly caused her to vomit once again. She spat and rubbed her mouth with her sleeve, but the taste would not go away. The man laughed and she threw the wood down, shooting him her meanest scowl, though it was lost in the darkness for no one to see.

“It is a little mixture I came up with, dulls the pain, but tastes something horrible. Dreadfully sorry, my dear, I suppose I could have warned you, but where is the fun in that?” He clapped his hands and stood up. His head nearly scraped the top of the small cave. He moved closer and squatted down in front of her. She was finally able to look upon his face. It took her by surprise, for the man in front of her was not the least bit hideous or frightening. He had olive skin and light brown hair that hung just atop his bright blue eyes. His teeth were the whitest teeth she had ever seen, and his smile could have won the hearts of a thousand maidens. In an instant, all of her anxiety flooded away and she felt completely safe and content with this stranger sitting in front of her.

“Do you have a name, child?”

She tried to smile. “My name is Selene. I work at the Inn of Stones, and you are?” It was odd, for she knew that she should be trying to escape, that she should feel some apprehension at being in a cave with a complete stranger who had just recently rendered her unconscious.

He returned the smile. “Seros, of Ovum.” He executed a subtle bow of his head. “Now tell me, why were you blundering through the forest with a small host of men and dogs chasing you?”

This Seros seemed friendly enough, but she was not sure if she could trust him. There was nary a man in the empire that she had ever met worth a strand of honor, and this one was much too beautiful to be the exception. Still, something told her that she could trust him, something more than just his handsome face and flawless smile.

“There was a knight and… he wanted to, well he tried to –”

He cut in. “Rape you? Kill you? Plunder your bones and steal your virtue?”

“Something like that. He visited a friend of mine the night before,” her words caught in her throat. “I never saw her again,” she said with a shudder. They would have mopped me up from the floor.

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