Emer says it’s been five weeks since the Lord lashed me. I guess I believe him because I’ve lost count of the days washed in pain. I don’t want to recall it, it only makes me sick.
I’ve healed my wounds as best I can, using all my energy each night to get them closer to being scars. Now my back is a map of pink lines crisscrossing each other. Moving is still a challenge. My muscles are stiff, both from the scars and from not using it for weeks, so I’ve been given simple tasks that don’t require much lifting or bending.
I doubt this treatment will last long though, our Lord does not have sympathy for us; he is above us. I’ve remained in the stables with the boys, unsure if my lumpy straw bed would be any softer on my back than the straw bed we have in the stables. I’ll probably be forced to return to my own bed soon unless it’s been given away.
I step out into the morning light and head for the kitchens to get some food. It’s barely past sunrise but already the workers are hustling about their chores. I enter the kitchen lit brightly with many candles and a large open window in the wall. It’s warm in here, from the baking oven having been lit earlier in the morning. A plate of buns lays out for us to take next to a pitcher of milk.
As I reach for a bun I have to sidestep out of the way as a tall, muscular man with short red hair walks past me with a large sack of flour over his shoulder. He looks new, I don’t remember him from before. Our eyes meet and I find myself staring. He flashes me a wide grin as he passes.
I’m startled by his outward demeanor and I think beneath all my grim I might be blushing. I look to the floor with embarrassment.
He sets the sack of flour down and I see he’s got an apron on, covered in flour dust. His arms are layered with muscle, which is likely why the flour looked like it weighed nothing to him. He straightens, dusting off his hands and smiles at me. I’ve forgotten about the bun, entranced by this man’s appearance.
“You must be Ceph! I’ve heard a lot about you from the others,” he says.
I don’t know what to say. I hate to know what the others say about me when I’m not around. It can’t be good. I study him a moment longer before I answer. “Yeah. That’s right,” my voice seems so much lower compared to his.
The red-haired man approaches me, hand extended. “Elias Flynn. Nice to meet you! I’ll be working here for a few weeks,” he says warmly.
I look at his hand questioningly. No one shakes the hands of a slave. I look back up at him and give him a nod. “Sure,” is all I say. I don’t feel like talking. I reach for the bun and pour myself a cup of milk from the pitcher, turning to go. I don’t know what he’s heard about me, but if any of it’s true, he’d know I don’t talk much, to anyone.
Looks like the Lords gone and hired a kitchen worker. He must have come by some money to afford paid labour. It’s not usually his style. It matters little to me. This Elias Flynn won’t be here long. A few weeks and he’ll realize how bad a job it really is.
I leave the kitchen and the new worker behind and head to my tasks. I make sure to take my time so as not to irritate my still sore back.
Over the next few days my mood turns sour, not from the work, but from the overzealous, happy go lucky attitude the new kitchen worker seems to have. He calls everyone by name and is always smiling. Every time I go in for a meal, Elias is there, working on kitchen tasks, smiling and asking questions, and each time I leave, barely saying a thing.
And it’s not even that I don’t have anything to say, which is normally the case. No, it’s I find myself too shy to even say the things that come to mind. So I stay silent. Even though I don’t say a thing, I find it brings a little light to each of my bleak days though, and this only reminds that he’ll be gone soon.
On the ninth day since getting back to work I find myself awake surprisingly early. There’s a thunderstorm outside and the thunder has startled the horses from their sleep, and in turn, this has woken me. I crawl out of the straw and stretch lightly before going to each of the horses and calming them. Now that I’m up, I find that I’m hungry, so I head back to the kitchens.
When I arrive, I notice the room is still dark and I’m about to turn around and head back, as I realize it’s much too early for anything to be out to eat, but something draws my attention. Crouched by the baking oven is Elias. He’s hovering by the opening, reaching a hand inside. I peer at him from the window, curious as he lights the fire without flint. In his hand rests a small dancing flame. He seems to smile at it and whispers something to it before he places it into the cold coals of the oven.
The fire springs to life and he removes his arm slowly, face glowing in the light burning within. I stare at his arm… Why is he not burnt? Before he has time to turn around I turn away and slink back to the stables.
Did I really just see that? He had fire in his hand and he spoke to it, and then … My heart pounds. I mean, it’s not that I’m so shocked that he had magic, but if the Lord finds out, this will be bad. I am lost in my thoughts as I slip back into the stables, nearly trampling Four-Fingered-Fren.
“Oi! Morning Ceph! You’re up early, aren’t ya?” he smiles, rubbing his eyes.
“Yeah…” I say, startled to find him there.
“Is them buns ready yet?” he asks.
I can’t let him go to the kitchens. What if he sees something, and tells the Lord? I shake my head no. “Not yet. He just started the oven,” I tell him. it’s not really a lie.
Fren yawns and turns around. “Aww boy. But I’m hungry. Guess I’ll wait and feed the horses,” he says, stumbling to the troughs and checking the grain.
I sigh with relief. I’m still not sure if what I saw was real… but I know what the lord would do if any of his slaves had magic. He detests it. He’d likely lash them… I can’t let anyone ruin another’s life for that. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
As each day passes I find myself hanging back, sneaking around, trying to confirm what I saw that stormy morning. I’m not a very stealthy person. My height is a dead giveaway, but I try anyway. Unlucky for me, I can’t seem to catch him doing anything more with the fire. I begin to doubt what I saw that morning; maybe I was just tired and thought I saw him make the fire. I guess I’ll never know.
The day finally comes when the Lord orders me back to my regular duties, out in the fields. I dread the work but I must comply. Other than the newfound interest in the kitchen workers supposed fire, my life is dull as a slave. The only things that keep me sane are my trips to the past.
I head out early only to find I am the first one on the field. I begin my work, feeling the strain in my back. I just know this is going to hurt later. I feel the hum of my pent up magic, but I resist. I don’t want to miss a chance to see Elias make fire again, so I gotta stick around.
It has been nearly two months since I last jumped. I used most of that energy to heal, preventing it from giving me a headache earlier, but now that that’s done with, I feel it. I try to channel it into my work, but it doesn’t help much.
At the mid-morning break I walk over to a tree and set my tools down, wiping my brow with my hand. I should head in and get some food. I haven’t had any breakfast yet and I wouldn’t want to miss out on getting anything before noon.
I know a shortcut from the field, so I push through the tall grass and head that way, hoping to reach the kitchens faster. I pass by a patch of wild hedges which then turns to a small field of grass which used to be a garden at some point, when the kitchen workers were larger in number and had the manpower to maintain a garden.
As I pass through the grass I spot a flash of red duck out if sight. I freeze on the spot as I recognize the bright red hair and white apron. Is that Elias? Did he see me? Why is he out here?
His head pops out of the grass, eyes wide with fear. He seems to be hiding his arm behind him, out of sight. I glance down and see the fire, flickering in his hand, just like the time I thought I saw in the kitchens. My mouth drops open, not of my own accord. He’s gonna get us all in trouble, playing with fire like this. I don’t know what to do, but I forget my hunger, spinning around and running back to the fields. I don’t want to be around when he gets caught. I should jump now, that way I can’t be there to see it.
I stop, huffing as I reach the field. I lean against the tree with my tools, trying to catch my breath. I don’t know why I’ve been so obsessed with finding this out, hanging around and actually getting to know him. I should just stay out of trouble. I’ve got enough at stake on my own without the help of a troublemaker with fire magic.
I hear a yell from behind me just as I start to summon the energy to jump and I spin around to see him running up to me.
“Hey! Wait!” he shouts.
My hands tremble with the built up magic in them as I strain to hold it back. Why did he follow me? Doesn’t he realize what I’ve seen? I back up into the tree, knocking over my tools. I cringe as my back hits the trunk. It’s still sensitive.
He stops in front of me, bending over, hands in his knees as he catches his breath. “You’re fast!” he finally says.
“Yeah, I can be,” I say, shifting my eyes away nervously. I used to be much faster. My hands still shaking with the magic. I gotta hold it back. I can’t jump now. I didn’t expect him to follow me. I can’t let him see it.
He stands up, rubbing the back of his head with his hand. “Uhh, about that thing back there… I hope I didn’t scare you. It’s harmless, really,” he explains casually.
“Harmless?” I catch myself saying. I don’t know why I said that aloud. “You have magic!” I whisper hoarsely. “If the Lord finds out he’ll lash you for sure!” I continue.
He just laughs carelessly. “I’d like to see him try,” he gloats.
I freeze. “No, you don’t,” I say, gripping the trunk of the tree behind me to keep from myself from shaking.
His smile fades as he looks at me, concerned. “Are you alright? I know magic is kind of taboo, but if you don’t tell anyone, it’ll just be our secret,” he winks as if to cheer me up. I find myself blushing from his comment and gesture.
It’s strange, having another man try to tell you something that you know to be wrong is fine if you keep it a secret. I know just how hard secrets are to keep, and I don’t know if I’m the best choice to hold back such a secret as this. Not that I would tell, but I’m afraid of what will happen to me if it’s discovered that I knew all along.
“The Lord hates magic. He hates everything. You risk all of our safety,” I say.
Elias frowns, thinking about it for a moment. He turns to look up at the manor house. “If it comes to that… I’ll handle it,” he says with confidence.
I worry about what he means. I look at him, keeping my eyes trained on his deep brown ones. “I’ll keep your secret. But I can’t promise the others will. If they know, it’s already too late.”
Elias grins innocently. “Don’t worry about them,” I have to wonder where he gets all his confidence from.
“I should get back to work. And you should too,” I say, releasing the tree and reaching for the dropped tools. I wince a little with the effort.
Elias leans over, reaching for them before I can grab it. He passes me the tool as we straighten. “What’s wrong? Hurt your back?” he asks.
I take the tool in my hand. “Yeah, a while ago. It’s not your problem,” I answer, hoping he’ll drop it.
He looks hurt at my response and I’m puzzled by this. “Can’t I be concerned for a fellow worker?” he asks.
“You misunderstand. You are a worker. I’m a slave. There’s a big difference,” I say, stepping away from the tree and walking into the field.
“I see no difference,” Elias muses, loud enough for me to hear.
I stick the tool into the ground but I can’t bring myself to pull it out. He can’t see the difference? A slave and a worker are different in a million ways. I’ve seen it everywhere I go, and I always come back here to live it all for myself. How can he say such an outright lie?
I glance over my shoulder, a boiling feeling in my stomach to say what I think, but I resist. What good would my words be to someone who’s already set in that kind of delusion? I chew my lip as I gain my composure and yank the tool from the ground, loosening the dirt.
I flinch as something touches my back and I feel a brief tingling sensation. I twist around in surprise to see him standing at my back. His hand glows as I pull away, tripping over the tool still in the ground and falling with a thump. “What did you do?” I ask, gritting my teeth as I try to stand. It’s weird, part of my back doesn’t hurt, whereas the other part still does.
He laughs. “Healed you, of course. Well, at least a little. If you’d hold still…”
“Why would you do that?” I say, twisting my head to see if anyone else saw. Fortunately, we are alone. “You risk too much.”
“Risk?” he looks confused.
“Yes. You risk your life, all to heal a slave. Why?” I ask. He’s so strange, but I find that I want to understand. I want to know why. I want to hope that there are good people out there that would help a slave.
He chuckles. “You worry too much. Let me help you.”
“I have cause to worry, as do you. I don’t think you worry enough.”
Elias purses his lips mischievously. “Perhaps you should let me worry for the both of us.”
I cock my eyebrow. This sounds strange. “Why?” I ask, narrowing my eyes. I admit I am intrigued by this man’s thoughts and not just his looks. I shouldn’t find myself so interested. But he’s so… carefree. I wish I could bring myself to care less.
His eyes sparkle with excitement. “You have not seen everything I can do.”
I stare at him. “I haven’t?” I don’t think he’s good at keeping a secret. I decide I will definitely not share mine with him unless I really do want to bring about my own death.
Elias just stands there with his hand up, the other placed firmly on his hip. “Well? You should let me heal you before someone else comes along.”
I glance around then nod. “Fine… But I don’t owe you anything for this. I have nothing,” I grumble my agreement.
He shakes his head. “Your gratitude is enough.”
I turn around, waiting for him to do whatever it is he does. I feel him lift up my shirt and I flinch, not really wanting him to see the scars. I hear him breathe in through his teeth. After a moment of awkward silence, he asks me, “Did the Lord do this?”
I look at the ground, not really sure how to answer that. “Yeah,” is all I can come up with.
“I see,” his tone darkens. He remains silent as he touches his hand to my back and starts the healing. I’m kind of glad for the silence. I would hate to have to tell him about it. I’d rather forget.
By Kayla West