She was so scared. My eyes skimmed her bare body. We had only undressed her to find wounds or marks, but she didn’t know that. She couldn’t understand us.
The room was warm, but everyone was still dressed. Every man had on his masked hood and his weapons girded. We had completed the last mission, and the next could arrive any moment.
I knelt by her. Watching. Her face was buried in her arm and covered by her hair. I wasn’t a guard. None of us suspected that she would try to escape, but she didn’t know what I was doing or why I was watching.
I wondered what it was like to live on the run. To have nothing yet fear everything. To be hunted. Never knowing what people would hurt you or help you. No weapons. No skills.
I could see every rib and disc in her spine protruding through the pale skin.
I carefully sat down and rested my arms on my knees. Only the slight rise and fall of her side signified that she was actually alive.
I wondered if she remembered me. Maybe by my eyes.
I and two others had cornered her three times. The primary hunters had cornered her two other times, but it took all of us to catch her.
She had been hiding in some shrubs, but we’d seen her climb out the window. Our shouts and commands must’ve terrified her. Wide eyes and curled in a defensive ball. Desperation, but no escape. Dirt, ripped clothes, and dried blood her only covering. I saw her face the moment she realized there would be no slipping away this time.
I ran my fingers along her hair. It was too short to have tangles. She had chopped it all off in hopes of passing off as a boy, but that pale, nearly white color was a telltale sign of who she was.
I didn’t want it to happen, but no coaxing or bargaining could bring her out. She had looked different. There were no threats made from her foreign language. No defiance. No fighting back at all. Just very round eyes and shaking. She must’ve felt like a wild animal when we dragged her out.
I kept my hand against the nape of her neck until her muscles relaxed. The room was growing darker, and everything was quiet. I probably wasn’t even supposed to be in here, but I imagined it would be very hard to be alone. I wouldn’t want to be alone, naked in a dark room with barred windows.
I reached behind me and grabbed one of the blankets. After the fight she’d put up getting undressed, no one felt complied to redress her, but she hadn’t even touched one of the blankets. She was exactly as we had left her.
My eyes skimmed her one last time before draping the covering over her. She was very beautiful.
I continued to caress her hair and neck, and she remained motionless and silent. It made me very sad to think that she could possibly be broken. I remembered her running, how fast she was, and the fights she put up. The fire in her eyes. At first, she had no fear. Not even a little. She had been a strong girl, and I admired that. But over time, she grew smaller and weaker, and our persistence made her paranoid and afraid.
I wondered what it would be like to have my spirit slowly chipped away. To never have rest. To constantly wonder why they didn’t kill if they had the chance, or why they kept coming back. Always wondering what they wanted.
I sighed and stretched out my legs. It would have been better if we would have just wounded her at the beginning. Done something a little more dangerous to catch her right away. We weren’t supposed to hurt her at all, but this had turned into something worse. Something like torture.
I leaned very close, almost resting my head against her. She smelled nice. Like the apothecary’s soap, and her hair and skin were so soft. It was hard to imagine that there had once been a fire burning in her so bright that it threatened everything around her.
“You’ve had a rough time, haven’t you,” I whispered.
She didn’t respond, but I knew she was awake.
I imagined what it would be like to feel so alone. To not know who to trust or whether or not if someone who seemed kind actually wanted to hurt you. To just be so lonely and have no one to care for you when you were injured. No one to help you.
I took another blanket and wrapped it around her then pulled her close against me. I had to be delicate. I didn’t want to break her, and she was already so fragile.
She didn’t even struggle. There was no fight left. I could see her face pressed against me. Her eyes were closed. There were no tear streaks.
That was a good sign.
But the way she had her eyes closed. It wasn’t like she was exhausted or angry. Her eyes were closed very tight like it hurt to look at anything.
I gently touched the strained eyelids, but it only made her mouth tighten.
I wondered if she knew who had hired us.
I cradled her against me until the muscles around her eyes relaxed, and she fell asleep.
I looked closer and watched because everything was still when a person slept. Even their thoughts. I could see now. The fire inside of her wasn’t burned out. It was resting. Hibernating. Preparing for a fight. A break in the rain of spring when it would burst with buds of pure flames.
I tilted my head. She wasn’t broken. Not yet.
And with that little thought, a smile crept onto my face.
I enjoyed a good fight.