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Jayna - The Beginning:
© 2007 by Jodi Krangle
The dream always started the same way. She'd been about as sheltered a child as it was possible to be, both her father and mother gone and the war raging around them. Orphaned children weren't unusual. It was a time of war, after all. She'd been taken in by the entire tribe. Like all such arrangements, there were good points and bad points to that. But in general, she had little to complain of. There were people that loved her. In the end, that was really all that mattered, wasn't it? But in this dream ... There was a feeling of tension in the air. Barely realized menace that was just at the edge of her perception but never quite actually visible. It was dark. It was always dark. A sturdy tent with all its flaps closed, was all that created that dark. But it was stifling, nonetheless. Hot and humid with the stink of fear and excrement. A tent far removed from the rest of their settlement, to be sure that none others would hear the screams.
They'd been so very angry, those tribesmen. Many had died. And they'd managed to capture one of the marauders. They'd secured him in the tent and interrogated him until the screams reached her ears. She'd been on one of her exploring treks. She did that a lot. Maybe it was her destiny to move away from the nomads and do her exploring elsewhere... But the dream was unforgiving of her stumble. She'd heard the screams. And when the men left their prisoner bound and gagged and weak in the tent, she'd stolen a look at him. What she remembered was the blood. There was so much blood... She'd seen blood before. She'd seen injured men and women. Men and women who fought for the security and freedom of their own settlement. Men and women she knew. But she'd never seen blood that she knew her own kin had caused. It chilled her. Made her wonder what the true repercussions of this war would be. Not just loss of life ... Far more lost than that.
She didn't know what made her do it beyond the desire to lessen the suffering of a fellow sentient being. But she crept into the tent, wrinkling her nose at the stench. The man ... the marauder ... He must have had some orc in his background. It would fit with what she knew of the mercenaries fighting in the war. He had that look about him. He heard her and lifted his chin a little from where it had been lolling on his chest. His eyes were blue. She remembered that. Thought it odd for a half-orc. But perhaps his human half bred true. Those eyes widened just a touch - before he realized that there was a young woman before him rather than the men returning to finish what they'd started. Perhaps he'd expected more torture ... But she'd touched her forefinger to her lips in that universal gesture of silence, and reached out to carefully slip the gag from out of his mouth.
Thankfully, he'd decided to do as she'd requested, nor did he struggle as she removed the gag. He kept looking at her with those too blue eyes. With the gag hanging loose about his neck, she'd unhooked her water skin from her belt, unstoppered it and offered it to his lips. He'd drunk greedily. It was quite likely the men hadn't give him anything approaching sustenance since they brought him here. But too much and he'd make himself sick. And she'd have to replace that gag or risk being discovered. Anxiety very nearly made her tremble.
"I'm so sorry..." she murmured. And the mercenary had actually cracked a craggy smile. Perhaps it was slightly mocking.
"Are you now," he commented. He seemed to have recovered what dignity was remaining to him, looking especially fierce beneath the blood.
"What do they think you know?" she asked, restoppering her water skin and securing it back on her belt.
"Do they think a pretty young thing offering me water is going to make me spill my guts? Is that their strategy?" He managed a shrug against his bindings. "Not that I suppose it's a bad tactic, mind you..." He grinned at her then. She didn't think it was meant to be particularly friendly.
She frowned. "I'm going to have to gag you again," she said.Something in those eyes of his had spoken of a mild panic when she said that. Maybe it was just that she was leaving. She hadn't asked him much, after all. Maybe he'd expected more in the way of persuading.
"Girl, I'm just a mercenary. I don't know nothin', and they'll kill me for it. For fighting on the wrong side..."
He had a point. And what would happen to those men if they did kill him? Would they ever forgive themselves? Killing during a war was accepted. But not like this...
Her sleeping self tossed and whimpered softly in her bedding. Don't do it ... Don't ... But ... But what if she hadn't? Could she have lived with herself then? There was no right answer. There was only what she'd done. What she remembered night after night in her dreams.
In the dream, in the memory, tears made her eyes sting. The agony of knowing what she had to do ... and knowing what it would cost her. She remembered the way he watched her. As if he wasn't sure whether she was going to slit his throat while he was defenseless... or possibly call back her tribesmen to finish the job ... or ...
But what she did then would haunt her for the rest of her days. She took out her little knife, watching those blue eyes widen as he obviously thought she was going to end him right then. She cut his bonds instead.
He stared at her in disbelief for perhaps longer than he should have. He didn't have much time if he was going to get out of there, after all. But she just stared back at him, the knife still in her hand... just in case he decided to be uncharitable after his good fortune. Perhaps she was a soft touch, but she was no fool.
"Go," she said. "Go now and don't come back."
Did he know what she might suffer to do this for him? She hadn't asked if he knew what they were interrogating him for. Truly, she didn't care. It wasn't an excuse for this - for making a man scream and scaring him so badly that he soiled himself. She didn't think those she loved were directly involved in this ... but it wouldn't matter. They would find out what she'd done. They would not be pleased.
And then he sealed her fate by taking her head in his hands, his bloody hands... leaving prints on her cheeks. Blue eyes met those of dove gray. And when he spoke, it was soft and forcefully fierce. "I will remember you, girl." Somehow, the way he said that, she believed him. No matter that she hadn't told him her name. And it wasn't until he was that close, with herself in such a vulnerable position - aware that he could break her neck if he so chose - that she realized he was certainly strong enough to do it. "I am Barok. You remember me too."
Then he released her and was gone. She was left kneeling in the tent, staring at the bloody ropes that had once held him. She didn't even have time to wash his blood from her cheeks before the warriors responsible for the prisoner were upon her. They'd been close. They had, in fact, heard the prisoner fleeing into the woods, but Barok was lucky enough to make good his escape. Her sacrifice was not for nothing. But the warriors knew she'd been the one to release him. They didn't know why. They didn't care why.
She remembered when they exiled her. The pained expressions upon the faces of those she loved and would never see again. They hadn't blamed her. No ... The warriors and their leaders were in charge of that debacle. But she could never return. There was no going back.
Kale, her father's old friend, the one who had taken over the horse training after her father's passing, he'd made sure that his friend's daughter had a horse and was well-provisioned before she went. He'd taught her what he knew of the horses when her father was taken from them and could no longer continue his lessons. He was the closest thing she'd known to a father since. And well respected as he was within the tribe, not even he could stop that exile. She'd been fourteen.
Awakening on the cold ground in her sleeping blankets, the sputtering of a low fire nearby and the sounds of others, men and women alike, taking what rest they could before another day of traveling continued, she swiped the tears from her wet cheeks. If anyone in the mercenary troop knew that she woke silently crying sometimes, they said nothing. She was a good hand with a sword, her sword was almost as large as some of them were, and they knew she could be surly when annoyed ... which, these days, was quite often. No need to ask for it. She kept to herself and did what she was paid to do. That was good enough for them. No more questions needed to be asked. She wouldn't be the first mercenary to have a past she didn't want to talk about.
But best to get on with her day. And leave the past where it belonged. In the past.