Written by Caeruleus
“This room is called an ‘aerie’,” Winnowill stated, her tone condescending. “We house the bond birds of the Chosen Eight here, as well breeding birds and any offspring.”
Strongbow stared past the elfin woman, letting her words wash over him without caring about their meaning. He watched clouds rolling through the moonlit sky through the expansive opening behind her. If he freed himself from the two guards holding him, he could escape that way, probably to his death. But where did that leave the rest of his tribemates?
They would have no reason to stay in this place…
Why did they stay? he railed silently, gritting his teeth in fresh anger. Why didn’t she listen to him? He knew the answer to those questions. They stayed for the same reasons that Wolfriders had fought humans throughout the ages when tribe folk were in danger: Wolfriders protect their own. But they put everyone is danger instead of just one!
He suddenly noticed that only the sound of wind, blowing through the cavern, touched his ears. He slid his eyes over to the black-robed elf.
“Care to join us again?” she smiled sweetly at him. He let all of his hatred pour into his gaze, knowing she still blocked his sending, but not wanting to give her the satisfaction of having forced him to use his voice again.
He hated speaking. He spoke for Dart. He spoke for his tribe mates. But he would not, could not, speak for himself. To do so showed his weakness, his loss of control. And above all, he needed self-control.
“I asked you a question, you know,” Winnowill continued, stepping closer to him. “I asked…” she leaned in enough that he could feel her breath on his face, “if you eat flesh raw like an animal, or do you cook it first?” Kureel’s hands tightened painfully on the archer’s arm, and Strongbow realized that elfin woman baited the guard almost as much as the prisoner.
Refusing to be provoked, the captive elf stayed silent as his tormentor added, “Was its meat tender? Still warm? Were you proud of your kill?” Kureel hissed near the archer’s ear. The elfin woman’s odd eyes, now the brilliant gold of a hawk after its prey, flicked up to the bird rider and she straightened, studying him over Strongbow’s shoulder.
“Kureel,” she smiled gently, “when you hunt well, do you feel pride?”
Strongbow felt him start, and he answered with a touch of confusion, “I… Yes, I do. I’ve caught meat to feed the Gliders, a task that only a few of us are chosen to take. All of Blue Mountain would starve without us.”
“Then, do you think this one would have felt pride after killing your fledging for his people, as well?”
Stiffening, the tall elf let out a snarl, “I do not care how he felt after he killed Stormfeather!”
“Oh, but you should!” The black-robed snake insisted sweetly. “You should understand that he cared for nothing but the thrill of the catch, not for feeding his tribe.” She inclined her head. “Any game would have sufficed. But that one, that huge bird challenged him, and he took it.” She turned her golden eyes back to Strongbow. “Isn’t that correct?”
That’s not how it happened! he thought, but the archer managed to stay quiet, lowering his gaze to the floor as guilt over Kureel’s pain rushed through him. Doubt nagged at him, however, as he recalled Treestump’s dare. But, I wouldn’t have shot the fledgling had I known what it was!
The Chosen yanked on his prisoner’s arm, pulling the shorter elf around to face him. Strongbow winced as the second guard maintained his grasp on the Wolfrider’s other arm, twisting it behind the archer’s back and pulling the cords around his wrists even tighter.
“You said your people were hungry!” Kureel yelled, his pale features red with anger. “But you were hunting for sport? ”
Strongbow stared up at his accuser in silence. One look in the other elf’s eyes told the archer that the Glider had already left reason behind.
“Answer me!” the bird rider exclaimed, shaking his captive roughly. “I heard you speak! I know you can!”
Winnowill’s smirking presence loomed next to them, and the archer could almost feel her daring him to speak. Evil snake, he thought with a frown. She twists everyone around her like thorny vines tightening around a flower. Just as she is doing with us right now.
“Perhaps he is afraid to tell you the truth,” she offered, with a serene smile.
“Disgusting savage!” Kureel exploded immediately. With a flash of black leather and pale skin, his fist slammed into the smaller elf’s jaw. “You will give me my answer!” Strongbow fell back against the other guard with the force the blow, dropping to the floor as the elf released him. He watched the second Glider turn to Winnowill, questioningly, but she shook her head.
“Hold him, Reevol!” Kureel ordered, stepping towards the fallen prisoner. Rolling awkwardly onto his knees, Strongbow lurched onto his feet and ran towards the wide opening. He didn’t get far, though. One of the elves slammed into his back, and an arm snaked around his neck, pulling his head backwards. He felt one of his elbows hooked into a tight grip, as well.
Kureel landed in front of him, his eyes glittering almost feverishly. “I want an answer,” he hissed. However, with his balled fists and taut facial muscles, his body language screamed that he wanted blood and not talk. Struggling fruitlessly, the archer stared at his maddened attacker and remained quiet.
“Answer me!” the tall elf yelled once more, driving his knuckles into the captive’s torso without waiting for a reply. He struck the Wolfrider again and again; each time shouting his demand for a response.
Strongbow closed his eyes against the wildly spinning room as blows rained down on him, focusing solely on maintaining his silence, his control of himself.
Whatever you do, don’t make a sound…
“Answer me!” He felt the bridge of his nose shatter, and blood running down his nose.
“Answer me!” A rib cracked from another punch.
Don’t cry out…
“Answer me!” Brilliant light burst behind his eyelids at a sharp strike to his temple, and his sensation spiraled dizzily, confusing his thoughts and memories.
Sunlight dappling the leaves…his small body pushed into the dark hollow of a dying tree…Papa’s hands gripping his shoulders tightly, his eyes bright with worry…
*Whatever you do, don’t make a sound* Papa sends, a hand touching his face. *Don’t yell. Don’t cry out. Don’t even whimper.*
Something crawls against his skin and he shudders, opening his mouth. Papa covers his lips with his hands. *You must do these things, little one,* he tells his frightened child. *Because if you do not, they will find you and hurt you, too.*
He kneels, his hands cupping the child’s face firmly but gently. *Promise me you will be quiet. Promise me.*
Tears spill from his eyes as he looks up at Papa for the very last time. *I promise.* His sending is weak and unskilled but his father smiles at the boy’s success.
*Good cub.* He presses his lips against his son’s forehead, and pulls back. *I can’t hide in here, but you can. And be safe. * He steps back, pulling out of the brush that covers the hole in the trunk, and branches fall in place hiding him from his son’s view.
*I love you, Wyl,* he sent one last time as he moved to meet their pursuers, who stood at the mouth of the small, dead end gorge Papa had pulled them into to hide. His funny walk, not so funny anymore, made him loud and the hunters shouted.
The boy started to cry but covered his mouth as he remembered his promise. He covered his ears but he could not block Papa’s cries of pain, and the shouts of the men hitting him.
But he never broke his promise, not even when silence fell. The blessed quiet…the end of suffering…
Echoes from a shout rang in his ears, but no blow fell. Confused, Strongbow opened his eyes, blinking wisps of memory from his clouded mind. Metal hissed on leather, and he pulled against the arms that held him, recognizing the sound. Pain flared brightly as a blade slammed up to the hilt into his belly.
Feeling hot breath on his cheek, he raised his eyes to meet the ones in the face next to his. Lips twisting into a sick grin, the elf pulled back and unsheathed his dagger from his prisoner’s flesh. The Wolfrider felt warm blood seep from his wound and slide down his stomach. Behind him, Reevol shuddered with some emotion but did not release his hold on the wounded captive’s arm and neck.
“Kureel!” Cloth whispered against stone, and pale, slender hands pushed the Glider backwards. He staggered and his small knife clattered to the floor. “What have you done?”
“He deserves to die!” he yelled at Winnowill.
“That was for Lord Voll to decide,” the elf woman replied smoothly. Strongbow could not see her face, but he imagined she still wore that same serene smile he’d seen earlier, as if she dealt with children. “And he did not decree death for this one. Are you questioning his decision?”
“No! I would never do that!”
“But you have!” She swept a hand towards Reevol and his captive. “If he dies, what am I to tell our leader? That one of his Chosen could not restrain his anger? That one his Chosen refused to abide by his rule?”
“I—“ Kureel looked towards Strongbow, his eyes wide. “Can’t you heal him?”
“Perhaps,” her arms slipped back in front of her. “I don’t know if there’s time.”
“Please!” the Glider grabbed her shoulders. “I beg you! Don’t let me disappoint Lord Voll! Please!”
Her head rocked gently to the side and the archer guessed that she gave the other elf a sweet but triumphant smile. “Very well. Let me see what I can do.” She turned around robes and hair sweeping along the stone. Icy blue-green eyes met his briefly as she stepped closer to Strongbow.
“Lay him down, Reevol and hold him,” she instructed, gesturing with one hand.
The guard released his hold on his captive neck and lowered the elf to the floor. Despite his rapidly blurring vision, the Wolfrider noted his captor’s confused and almost horrified expression. Then, Winnowill knelt over him, placing a hand over his wound. Gold hawk eyes glittered as she looked down him.
“You didn’t answer Kureel,” she whispered, leaning down and examining the bruises on his face, “not even to beg him to stop.” Her gaze speared him again. “Perhaps our game will be interesting, after all.” She let out a quiet laugh, and returned her attention to his wound. Fire swept over him as she worked her magic, and the pain from her healing let him know he would live to find out what she meant.