Strength In Numbers
She poked the embers, wishing the heat would touch the icy chill that had lodged its tendrils deep in her chest.
“This is the reason I wanted to become strong,” she told the flames. “A hunting knife to cut out their murderous hearts, and a quiver of arrows to protect me.” Drawing a steadying breath, she continued, “I half-wonder if I’d been in possession of one then,Â would I have been tempted to fall on it afterward.”
Berryl smiled wryly, sensing her companion take mental note of their gear in relation to where she sat. “The knife is over there behind you, but you knew that.” She stabbed the embersÂ more viciously, watching the sparks dance like so many fireflies being offeredÂ in sacrificeÂ to the night sky.
Not speaking, Aiwendil reached over and steadied her hand with his, forcing her to still her vehement anger and meet his steady gaze. Lips twitching as she failed to effect a smile, it was all Berryl could do not to tear her hand away. She loathed herself in that moment for needing his forgiveness for something she couldn’t even forgive in herself.
She focused on his hand, instead.
“The first time I was… thirteen. Years later my mother admitted that she ‘knew something had happened’, although we never spoke of it directly.”Â Her emotionsÂ threatened to overwhelm her, so Berryl closed her eyes, focusing on the feel of his heavy grip instead. “The second time… I was fifteen. My father’s best friend. He thought to play the long game, but was impatient with my timidity. It would seem… he is worth more forgiveness than I.”
As he squeezed her hand, she let go of the breath she was holding and smiled, lookingÂ up at him, “No matter, they can keep him.” She thought she caught a returning smile flicker across his face.
“Then, when I was eighteen, ” she sighed dramatically, “When I was eighteen I would break up with a fellow that thought to win my affections back by force. No amount of protest would suffice; he grew only more emboldened by the way I lay there silent and frozen. And so the list grows, a few more times… Those that would protect me, leaving me to the wolves. Unworthy; unaided.”
Berryl curled her lip, “The wolves were much kinder.”