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Damsel

February 2, 2014

I had some high hopes for this story, and it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve worked in First Person.  The idea stems from a lot of thoughts I have about female protagonists and how we’re finally moving past the woman as a prize mode of thinking.  It came close to publication once or twice but I guess just fell a little flat at the end of the day.  I hope you all enjoy it.

No one is coming.

I realize this as the last rays of sunlight disappeared over the horizon and the last of the dim orange light receded through the bars of the lone window in my room. This is the third sunset I’ve seen since they brought me here. It was late in the night when they practically threw me inside of the small room. My hands were saved scrapes by the plush carpet that covered the rough stone floor.

It was barely large enough to pace in and the window was only just bigger than the span of my own dainty hand. Still, they had clearly made an effort to make it comfortable for me; the carpet, the thick blankets, and the soft bed were all indications of that. None of that would ever change the fact that the door was securely shut and my view of the world was marred by a set of iron bars that formed a crosswork pattern.
Such finery would do nothing to repair the remainders of my dress that I still clutched in my dirtied hands. My thin delicate fingers looked like a stranger’s to me now. Normally they were pale with a few simple rings of silver and gold and capped by perfectly polished nails. It had been more than three days and I could still see dirt and dried blood beneath them.

Somehow it was appropriate though. The dark browns and blacks matched the deep purple shades of the bruises all across my hands and forearms. The occasional scratch or scrape provided a splash of red and pink to complete the color study my bare arms had become.

I didn’t even know how most of them had happened.

A struggle was the only explanation that made sense. Not that I remembered struggling. In fact, I didn’t remember much of anything about the attack itself. One moment I had been in the carriage, thinking about… what had I been thinking about?

It didn’t matter now, I suppose. It bothered me that I couldn’t remember though. I pushed the nagging lack of memory from my brain though and focused on what must have happened that day. Even though it was barely a few days ago, it seemed like it had happened to a completely different person. A character in a story or some distant relation or ally. The kind of tale I’d hear late at night when no one thought I was listening. When they thought I was safe in my bed rather than prowling the halls out of boredom.

Had it been raining?

No. No, it had been threatening to though. That’s why I had been in the full carriage, completely covered from the elements. We had been on our way back from the market. Or had it been some kind of troupe of performers? No… several caravans had come into the village at once. It had become an impromptu fair of sorts.

There had been so many colors. Carts covered in patchwork rainbows and painted garish hues that were only sported by the landless clans. Men who considered themselves lords and ladies of the highways and thoroughfares. Yes. It had been far more than just a few bards and merchants. They had probably picked up with the clan for protection.

People were often talking about how the roads were becoming more and more dangerous. Angry veterans prowling the land, laying traps for the unsuspecting. Some fancied themselves revolutionaries, an alternative to the systems that had kept the peace for so many years. That didn’t change the fact that they were just brigands though.

My father had once said that just because a highwayman could say some flowery words didn’t change the fact that he was a highwayman. These bandits were no different. Covering up their crimes with a few angry words about injustice.

The men that had taken me weren’t angry veterans.

They just wanted me to think they were.

I remember when we stopped, the driver mentioned that there had been an overturned cart. I told them to see if there was something we could do to help. They had been counting on that. Counting on that offer of assistance.

I didn’t even know what was happening when the door to the carriage was flung open. There was no way I would have heard them cut my men’s throats. It had been too quick, too deadly. The strikes of men who were far too well trained with a blade. Then the door was open, and their hands were grabbing at me.

I must have struggled. Scratched, kicked, and bit. What little training my father had authorized was forgotten the moment a hand had grasped my ankle. I panicked, flailing like mad as they tried to grab me anyway they could. I could almost still feel the warmth of their blood against my fingers as if it was still running freely down them.

Their attacks became forceful faster than I expected. When they started tearing my dress though, I could only fight harder. My life might have been sheltered but I knew what a highwayman tearing at a dress meant. Looking down at my feet, and the rust colored stains all across my right shoe, I must have kicked someone hard in the jaw. I don’t know if it made them give up or if I had completely misinterpreted their intentions but the next thing I knew there was only darkness.

I remember coming to on the ride a few times but it was all a blur.

All I know is that they rode well, too well for veteran foot soldiers. These weren’t pikemen who turned into rebels after the last war. No, it was all far too coordinated and this cell was too nice. If I could see more of the surrounding area I might be able to determine who they were or where I was.

It didn’t make sense.

None of our neighbors were quarreling with us, and even if they were, kidnapping wouldn’t have been the way to resolve it. Complaints should have been resolved by the attendant lord, not with violence.

I took a deep breath in an attempt to steady my shaking hands.

No one is coming.

It had been long enough now for my father to send someone to find me. Not that he would have sent a single person. He would have sent every able-bodied man he could find. They would have volunteered too. I was certain of it.

Why wouldn’t they?

Countless suitors had told me of my beauty, and I had felt the wandering gaze of men in the village. Whenever I’d look to meet them their eyes would be pointed at the ground or in another direction, too afraid to be caught, but I knew they had been looking. They had to have been. I was the Count’s daughter, and my beauty was unparalleled.

I had heard the footmen talking once, about me.

I remember the taste of blood in my mouth because I had to bite my lip so hard to keep from shouting at them. If I had shouted though, I would have had to explain why I was down in the servant’s quarters to begin with. Why I was prowling the house in ways I wasn’t supposed to, listening to things that weren’t for my ears at all.

And I wouldn’t have had an explanation.

I had been doing it since I was a little girl. Night time was the only time that I was truly free to do as I pleased. I knew I was supposed to be asleep but I could never manage it as easily as everyone else seemed to. So, eventually, I had started to see what there was to see at night.

The problem was there wasn’t anything to see.

So at some point I had started looking for things to find. Conversations to hear. Things to know. I thought of myself as a rat in the walls or a spider in the rafters. Some little creature who no one knew was there.

At night, I was forgotten about.

At night, the Count’s daughter stayed in her feather bed and slept soundly while something else prowled through the house. Waiting. Watching. Listening.

They had talked of what they would do to me.

Oh the things these young men would apparently do to me if only they were allowed to. As if some mystical change of circumstance would mean that I would throw open my arms and welcome them into my bed. In their quiet conversation, not only were they sexual stallions but I would be pleasured beyond belief. A writhing mass of contented oos and ahhs that would only fuel them to even loftier heights like some erotic god of yore.

In a way, it was almost funny.

Mostly though, it had made me angry. I wasn’t a rat or a spider then but the Count’s daughter. I wasn’t theirs to talk of like that. I was not some puppet to be used for their personal fantasies, forced to dance about on strings for their amusement. Yet, there was nothing I could do about it. No way I would ever truly be able to stop them from thinking what they thought or dreaming what they dreamt.

Certainly though, at least those foul footmen would jump at the chance to be my savior.

Wasn’t that the class shattering act of heroism that their entire fantasies were predicated upon?

If only they could free me from this prison, then my heart and more, would belong to them.

I gritted my teeth.

Was I not a worthy enough prize to save?

The sun had finally descended completely behind the horizon, plunging me into the darkness I had suffered through over the past three nights. Even candles and matches were apparently too much of a danger to provide me with. Who knew what I would do with the ability to see after all? I might continue to sit here in this cell, wishing that someone would come for me.

I could feel the tears begin to well in my eyes, the same tears that had come after every sunset. Another night of darkness and misery that would stretch into eternity before I finally drifted to sleep, giving myself completely to the emptiness of the night. If only I were home, I would at least be free to move through the house, undetected and unknown by all. If only that door were unlocked, I was certain that I would be able to walk out of here with my captors being none the wiser.

If only I had never been captured in the first place.

If only I wasn’t the daughter of a Count, nothing more than a piece in the ever changing political games. If I had been born a son, like my father wanted, I would have been able to defend myself from them. I wouldn’t have even been attacked like that in the first place. They would have had to face me in honorable combat. I would know their intentions, and I could have decided something.

I can feel the tears running down my face freely, but I choke away the sobs. I don’t know if there is a guard posted outside of the room. There must be, since someone feeds me once a day through a slot in the door. They wouldn’t just leave me in here, entirely alone. If there is a guard though, I won’t give him the satisfaction of knowing that I am crying.

These tears belong to me and the night. No one else.

I hear my dress tear, my fingers unconsciously turn the fabric over and over again, tugging and pulling at it as if it will some how solve all my problems. I can’t bring myself to care anymore as as I tear off a long strip of fabric. I ball the soiled piece of skirt up and press it against my mouth. My teeth find it with ease, biting down in an attempt to rid myself of the rage that threatens to consume my world. I can hear myself softly screaming through the fabric.

If only!

I fling the saliva soaked ball across the small cell as I stand in anger. There were so many things that I wished were true, that I wished could be but I knew never could. No amount of wishing could let me escape my feminine form!

My knees buckle, protected from the hard stone floor by the plush carpet they laid here especially for me. My whole body wracks as another round of sobs overcomes me. I don’t bother to hide them this time. I want to so badly. I want to grab that dirty ball of fabric and press it against my mouth once more. To bury my head deeply in the warm blankets they had provided me with so that no one would hear me.

But no one would hear me.

My whole body shakes as it finally sinks in. My cracked lips break apart and I barely recognize my own throaty voice as the words escape my body, “No one is coming.”

I repeat them over and over again, hoping that my rage will fuel my voice causing it to grow louder but instead the opposite happens. My voice grows weaker with each repetition, the words become smaller and smaller. Eventually, I’m not even sure if I’m speaking anymore but I can feel my dry lips moving against each other while my tongue continues to twist along with my jaw.

I am nothing at this point.

Not the Count’s daughter. Not a prize to be won. Not even a prisoner trapped in a small but luxuriously decorated cell. No, I am nothing and I know that as long as I sit on the floor, sobbing freely, that is all I will remain.

There will be no moon tonight.

It had barely been a sliver last night. A small shimmering stripe of silver that seemed to be floating in a pot of ink. Tonight though, there would be only darkness. The stars didn’t come out either, most likely blocked by clouds that would bring more rain.

My hands are suddenly pushing me upward, and I shakily find my feet.

I kick away the fashionable shoes I had been wearing that day, and finally free my toes. They stretch before coming to rest against the thick warm carpet that covers the cool stone floor. As if moving of their own accord my fingers grip my dress, and begin to carefully tear out the stitching around my waist. Within minutes a heavy pile of fabric rests at my feet, leaving me dressed in only my undergarments and the soft blouse that was the upper half of my dress.

The skirt becomes ribbons in my dirtied fingers. I carefully wrap my long brown hair behind my head, where it will stay out of my eyesight, incapable of catching against something. My hands are next, the delicate fabric becoming wrappings to protect them against bruising and scratches. Finally, I wrap my feet, deafening the slapping sound of skin against stone.

I crouch down onto all fours and carefully approach the door, my movements completely muffled by the thick carpet. The slit for food is thin, not large enough for a man’s hand but mine can easily pass through it. I touch the metal plate that blocks my sight on the other side of the door and carefully dig my nails against it in search of a seam. There’s no way I’ll actually be able to dig into the metal itself, but it cannot be a perfectly secure portal.

My nails scratch and strike against the metal for what seems like hours before I finally dig one of my fashionably longer nails into a seam. I fight back the urge to grunt in pain as I use the nail as a lever to press open the small slit of metal. I can feel the nail bend and tear as torchlight begins to seep through the opening I create. I tease my fingers into the ever widening space and push the whole metal plate aside.

The hallway is empty. Somehow, I know it always has been.

I pull my dirtied hand back and tear off the bloodied nail before sliding my hand back through the hole followed by more of my arm. I hold my breath as my elbow passes through the slit before my arm is unable to go any further. It’s all I need though as I twist my arm, cutting open my flesh against the harsh edges of the slit in the process, and unlock the simple mechanism keeping the door closed. I tenderly draw my arm back through the hole, losing a little more skin in the process.

Luckily, it’s just a flesh wound.

I wrap it up tight in another piece of my skirt and open the door.

The sound of it is almost deafening to my ears, even though I only open it enough to let my body pass through. I carefully slide between the door and the wall, before dropping into a crouch and quickly moving through the hall. Being free from the room doesn’t mean that I know where I am. Either within this building or in relation to my father’s lands.

As much as I know I shouldn’t just move blind, speed is of the essence. Just because there wasn’t a guard there right now, didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be one coming. In fact, it was more likely this was just the middle of a shift change or patrol than anything else.

I round a corner and just stop myself in time from barreling directly into a guard. He’s leaning against some kind of parapet, overlooking a courtyard, and he is lost in thought. A sword hangs at his side and a crossbow rests against the wall next to him. Somehow, he hasn’t heard me stopping short behind him.

I recognize him instantly. Not from how he looks or the way he stands there, shoulders slumped, but from the smell of him; stale smoke and sweat. He was the one who tore my dress open before I kicked him in the jaw.

There is no hesitation in my body. I drop low and snag the crossbow from next to him. By the time he is turning around, I’ve brought it to my shoulder and pull the trigger. The bolt buries itself deep in his throat, cutting off his scream from being overheard.

My hand lashes out and grabs him by the belt to prevent him from landing in the courtyard below. His weight threatens to send me tumbling down with him for a moment before I throw myself down against the ground, rolling away as his corpse teeters toward me.

His body lands with a soft thud, not loud enough for anyone to hear but not quiet enough for my tastes. His sword sings as I remove it from its sheath before using the parapet to boost myself up onto the roof of the building.

I had only traversed the roof of my father’s house once, but it had been a positively magical experience. Standing high once again, my wrapped feet finding easy purchase against the tiles, I imagine this must be how birds feel.

Below I can see the faint outlines of an outer wall, a courtyard, and the stone building I now stand atop of. It’s not particularly tall, two or three stories at most, and I quickly realize that it is in serious need of repair.

The building’s lack of flourishes, and the high wall combined with its abysmal state told me where I was instantly. Fort Cold Stone is what it was officially called now, though it had certainly had a different name when it had been used centuries previously. More importantly though, it had a different name amongst the peasants.

The Ghost Fort.

Legends said that in the last days of the Ghost Fort, a great battle was fought and thousands died both inside and outside of its wall. It had been the end of a terrible war, and wretched diseases had spread through the camps of both sides. The final battle had been horrific and bloody. The restless souls of the dead still prowled its halls, fighting for the lives that were taken from them.

Peasants and villagers wouldn’t venture there for battle, and any trained man-at-arms would hesitate before making the journey. Not necessarily out of fear of the old ghost stories, but because it was a highly defensible position. The Ghost Fort sat atop a steep hill side, and its walls while bloodstained were still thick and standing. Even one or two archers could hold a small force at bay if they were firing fast enough, and the occasional crossbow bolt might even keep a well armored man from making the push.

Escaping the Ghost Fort though would be easy.

I just needed to take out the archer on duty, and then slip below the wall. In the darkness of the new moon, even my pale skin would be hard to spot as I traveled down the hill. By the time morning came, I would be long gone.

My feet moved swiftly across the rooftop, climbing the steady angle of the building till I reached the flat section at the very top. Now with no climb or fear of a fall, I practically ran across the roof, my feet barely touching the stone beneath them. The wrappings around them kept even the sound of my sprint from reaching the ears of those below me.

However, I was easily able to hear them as someone raised the alarm. I have no idea if it was because they found my cell empty or they found the man I had killed, but I didn’t care either way. I just needed to make it over the wall.

I don’t dare look down as I leap off of the roof to the wall below. The wall is tall, but it is still below me as I clear the roof and quickly fall towards it. I tuck my head forward and begin to roll before I even hit the harsh stone. Even prepared though, I hear a loud crack and it feels as if fire erupts across my left shoulder.

At least it wasn’t my sword arm.

Not that my right arm is much of one. My father had had the captain of his guard teach me the basics of sword play, enough that if push came to shove I might be able to not die against a madly swinging peasant. I knew enough though to ram it through an archer’s sternum, which was all I needed to do. Finding my feet again was easy, and soon enough I’m flying across the wall toward the front gate.

I spot the archer above the gate, wheeling about with his bow. At first he is facing the hillside, thinking that someone has seen something that he somehow missed. As the calls within the fort grow louder though, he turns to look at the courtyard and the building beyond. Cautiously, he knocks an arrow, waiting for some sign of what is happening.

He doesn’t hear me till the last second.

I rush into the torchlight of the main gate, my left arm flailing against my body, and the right pulled back as if I am about to slam my fist into his face, which is almost true. Except that instead of being empty, my hand holds hard steel.

It’s a textbook thrust.

The archer was shorter than I anticipated and the blade misses his chest. Instead it buries into the hollow of his throat, coming out the other end with a splash of blood and a disturbing squelch. I don’t even wait for his body to fall before I tumble over the other side of the wall.

I land with a loud and unmistakable crash. Stone cut into my skin and I can feel warmth spread across my back and legs. Tears begin to pour down my face, and a coppery taste feels my mouth as I bite my tongue. There are shouts behind me as I stand, my right hand gripping my left arm as I trudge down the hill.

The steepness of the hill helps build my momentum as I half-stumble and half-run down its side. Above me, I hear the gate being opened and an arrow whizzes into the darkness. The arrow completely misses me, landing far off to my right and burying into the hill high above me. I’m well beyond the torchlight as I break into a full run.

The ground begins to even out and I know that all I need to do is make a break for the tree line. Above me I can hear the sounds of a horse beating against the hard ground. My lungs are on fire as I press on. The wrappings on my feet are long gone, torn apart by the rocks beneath my feet but I keep moving. Even if I leave a trail of blood, they won’t be able to follow it at night or at least I hope they won’t.

My breathing is ragged as I reach the tree line and run through the undergrowth. I don’t know how but my feet miss every upturned root and log, my body somehow knowing they’re there before I do. I only realize that I could fall at any moment because I find myself leaping over overturned trees. Even though I feel the blood running down my skin, and my muscles scream in protest, I keep running.

The hoofbeats of the horse fall far behind me, and I keep running.

It isn’t until the forest begins to thin and the world becomes awash with the blue light of a false dawn that I start to slow. I can’t stop though, if I stop now, I know that there will be no getting up afterward. My feet continue to carry me, even as my strides shorten, and my steps become more like a controlled fall.

As the sun is starting to rise into the sky, and golden light begins to spill out across the horizon, I find the road that runs closest to the Ghost Fort. The road that the men chasing will inevitably reach when they come looking for me. The same one that any rescue effort will use to reach me.

I turn down it, marching toward my father’s house.

By the time the sun is traveling across the sky, my vision is blurring and my mouth is dry. Fatigue comes over me in waves, and darkness encroaches at the edges of my eyes. I find myself on my hands and knees, but still I press onward. Even as my hands slip against the earth, I keep moving, unable to even produce tears as I struggle to continue.

My body gives out when my face crashes into the hard packed dirt for the third time. I can’t push against the ground because my arms can no longer support my weight. I’m screaming at my body to move but the darkness comes for me once more.

 

#

 

“M’lady,” calls a distant voice.

“M’lady, are you alright?” I can’t tell if it’s a different voice or the same one because it is coming across countless leagues to reach my ear.

I only become aware of my limp form when someone shakes it. My eyes snap open, and turn away from the packed earth of the road.

Above me stand the two footman who I had overheard talking about me one night. They have relieved smiles on their faces but I can still see the lust in their eyes. Their fantasies take flight once more, bolstered by the idea that they have ‘saved’ me.

“Stand aside, lads, let her breath,” calls the rough voice of some large armored man. I’ve never seen him before but with the way he walks toward my prone form with a certain swagger, I know he’s leading this expedition with only one thought on his mind. “M’lady, I am…” he extends his hand and I can see his lips moving but I don’t hear what he says.

I ignore his hand as I push myself up onto my feet and stumble forward. One of the footmen rush to catch me but I shove him away with a bloodied hand. I continue to put one foot in front of the other as I start marching back home to my father’s house.

No one is saving me today.

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