It was my blood or his. Which would the guards be cleaning up in the morning? One swift movement and it was all over, one swift movement and I was all over.
Freedom itched in my veins as I watched him circle me. “You scared, sweetheart? They’ve never put a girl in a place like this, you must’ve done something real bad.”
I couldn’t respond, not when fear bobbed in my throat. “Let me past,” was all I could croak out.
“I can’t do that. No one has ever gone out that way and come back,” he grumbled, closer now. “Thank of it as a… service.” My skin bristled under his slight touch on my shoulder, just next to my hairline.
The guard would come by soon on patrol, and I was running out of options. If I killed him, I could leave. If I didn’t leave, either he would take me… or the patrol would kill us both.
Footsteps echoed faintly down the hall. “Keep your hands in the cell,” the guard barked. The slap of his sword on the cell bars rattled in my ears.
“Looks like you’re coming with me,” he kissed behind my ear. “Beautiful.”
My elbow shot into his ribs, sending a wheezing breath from his lungs as he doubled over. I made for the small, round crawl tunnel carved in the dirt, disguised by the darkness at the end of the hall.
He was on me. His hand clasped over my mouth. I took in the air to scream, but I couldn’t because there was no one to answer my calls except the guard, and that would lead to a certain end.
“Gir off me,” I mumbled into his hand. The taste of dirt and sweat filled my mouth.
“Shut up, and don’t make a noise,” he whispered as he marched me toward his still-open cell.
My hands were bound by one of his behind my back. I had it down to the second the time the guard would be down this hallway, I had my whole plan ready, had practiced picking my cell’s lock for weeks. Little did I know, my practice was teaching the guy across the hall how to pick his lock.
The shuffles of heavy boots on the dirt came closer. “If you give me away, you’re dead too. I would really like to keep you alive, I’ve been watching you for the past two years.” A shiver went up my spine.
“Every time you cried when you were first shoved in that cell. The day you finally stopped crying. While you slept. I stayed up most nights making sure the guards didn’t sneak into your cell at night, and you didn’t even know because the sound of the iron creaking on your cell door never woke you up, neither did my strangling the guard until he agreed that night never happened.”
“I could’ve escaped here long ago, but I stayed because without me, you were helpless here.” My stomach caved in on itself.
“Go through here.” My mind couldn’t even keep up. I hadn’t slept in over two days, waiting for tonight.
Then we were on his wooden bed and a tear slipped down my cheek. Bu then his hands fell to my waist and hoisted me up toward the ceiling.
Before I knew it, I was on my hands and knees, crawling up into a hole carved in the dirt wall by the ceiling, hidden in that dark corner.
The guy, I hadn’t even learned his name, jumped off his bed and locked his cell once again.
His hands appeared on the edge of the tunnel and his face peaked into the tunnel, but the foothold in the wall crumbled and he fell back down. “A little help?”
I slapped my hand onto his and heaved him into the hall as those footsteps scraped in front of our cells. I had arranged my only blanket to look like my own sleeping form, but the man’s appeared empty.
We crawled and crawled. The bars of the cell rattled and when no one answered, the guard had unlocked it and inspected the cell, only to find it empty. The warning bells blared, but our tunnel was never found.
I was the first to speak. “You… you strangled a guard? He never told anyone?”
“He didn’t exactly make it out of the cell.” He killed someone. For me. In my cell. I was only feet away, asleep. My arms nearly gave out.
“Why?” I tried to keep the shaking that vibrated my body out of my voice.
“At first it was because I wanted you for myself,” he rasped. I swallowed hard. “But then there was one night, you were half naked in those tattered clothes before they gave you new ones, crying in that lonely darkness. And then you were on your knees praying to every god you knew the name of, and I heard every single word. You weren’t praying for yourself, but for your family, for your father and sister.” My throat burned as I stifled a sob, but I sniffled, giving me away. “I’m sorry about your mother.”
“It was seven years ago, during my sister’s birth,” I stammered. “Let’s not talk about it.” I didn’t like when people knew about her. She was mine, the thought of her belonged to my father and I, my sister hadn’t even met her. I was already thirteen at the time, a grown woman in my village, freshly of child-bearing age.
Silence fell over us like a blanket, unlike the cold, empty silence I’d grown used to.
And then we could see the moonlight at the end of the tunnel.
It was the first time in two years that I had seen the stars, and I fell to my knees and thanked each of those gods that I prayed to every night.
His hand fell on my hunched back, on my bony spine. I stiffened, but it wasn’t a move, the touch wasn’t asking for anything. It was comfort. I hadn’t felt comfort in seven years. My father had been empty after my mother’s death and it was I who kept our farm running. I worked by fields, hoisted barrels into the trading carts that came, did the labor that still scarred my skin.
My guts spilled out onto the cool grass, but the hand didn’t cringe away.
When my father returned to work, three years later, he had his hand cut off for stealing an apple for my sister when the farm had started to fail in the winter. Then it was I who ran the farm once more.
“What did you do?” I asked, spitting the taste from my mouth. His hair was dark brown, though from the highlights of honey in his hair, it was clear it had darkened from his time out of the sun. He was handsome, his features dark, his eyes a little sunken, the warmth in his skin, gone, but he was handsome. And his smirk never faltered.
“Well, I spend my own fair amount of time praying for my own younger sister,” he sighed as he squatted into the grass beside me. “Some of the king’s men had tried to take her, they started… touching her. By the time I got to her, she only had her under clothes left.”
I sucked in a shallow breath. “How old was she?”
“Barely nine. So you could imagine what I did.” I quirked my eyebrow at him and he continued. “I killed three of them, but the other two got away.”
I erupted in a fit of coughs as I choked on my own air. Never before had I imagined acquainting myself with a murderer.
“What about you? You seem all miss innocent-never-done-anything-wrong-in-her-life,” he chuckled.
“I killed as well,” I mumbled.
Never before had I imagined being a murderer.