Veronica had been gone long enough for him to satiate his hunger and to prepare for his shower when the woman was brought to him. There was a bag over her head and she was limp in the two guard’s arms as they dragged her down the corridor and finally dumped her into his cell.
As she crumpled to the ground one of the guard’s looked at him strangely. Like he couldn’t believe what was to come next. The other guard handed him a knife and said, “If she’s the Healer, slit her throat. The Queen wants nothing left to chance.”
Tristan tucked the knife in his boot as the guards walked away, one of them looking over his shoulder in that strange, sad way. A groan and then a gasp emanated from the hooded woman and he slowly knelt to the ground, and pulled the bag from her head.
She’d already been badly beaten. No doubt the royal court had ordered her questioned. But she looked young. Her mid to late twenties at the very oldest. She began to cough and gag and gasp.
He thought of his Hope and how she’d been mistreated and it hurt him. The realization Veronica had asked him to gain this girl’s trust only to be her executioner if she were the mythical ‘Healer’ was ghastly to him. It left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Suddenly her eyes popped open and staring straight into them he could see a roiling mix of fear, anger, and disorientation. She opened her mouth to scream and instinctively he clamped his hand down over it. If he had let her scream it would have alerted the guards that maybe he had discovered what they wanted him to, and that he had just murdered her. Unwanted attention while he decided just what it was that he wanted to do was something neither he nor the girl needed.
Both her hands wrapped around his wrist and she fought for her release. He had to convince her he wasn’t going to harm her, at least not until he had a better idea of who she was beyond someone who posed a real or imagined risk to the queen and her despot father.
“I’m not going to hurt you, but you have to stop fighting me, and I know this goes against everything in you right now you’re going to have to trust me.”
Then just as suddenly as she had come to she closed her eyes and went very, very still. He lifted his hand from her mouth. She was pale and almost as fragile looking as the china that Veronica always served his victory meals on. It disturbed him as he remembered holding his wife one last time before the military had dragged him from her side. It had been agony.
The young woman began to tremble as she struggled to roll over and crawl away into the corner of his cell. She was chanting in an archaic tongue and sobbing deep wrenching sobs as she went. She was in pain in a way few people might understand. Almost as if everything she’d ever known to be true and right in this world was a lie. And those that she loved most had turned out to be the ones who she could trust the least.
As she made it to the darkened shadows of the cell where few people might notice her Tristan knew this girl as if they’d known one another all their lives. It was a weird sensation and he wasn’t sure what to do with it or where to put it.
She curled up in a ball and looked up over her knees at him with such sorrow it was enough to make him ache in his chest. She fascinated him. For the last ten years he’d had no loyalties. Not to the crown, not even to himself. He’d lived life recklessly and as gladiator he lived the life of a rock star. And as the king of the rock star he’d been privy to the queen’s more nasty plots.
And looking at this scared young woman with the long dark hair and amber colored eyes he didn’t know whether she was a Healer or not. But he knew she was scared and hurt and angry. And beautiful. Not in the way Veronica was. But pretty in the way a lot of girls were with a defiant spirit in the face of no hope at all. His wife Hope had been that way.
Tristan poured a cup of wine and tore a piece of bread off the loaf he’d been indulging in and crept towards her. “Here,” he said kneeling down next to her and holding them out, “take these you look hungry and thirsty.”
She eyes him suspiciously but reached for the wine and bread. If he had wanted to be cruel he could have asked for her name before she took them. But he didn’t want to cruel to this girl. She was different from the groupies who were paraded in and out of his cell on a daily basis. He was the answer to all the base and dark desires. In this girl’s case he was to be her mortal enemy.
As she scarfed the bread and guzzled the wine Tristan asked, “What’s your name?”
She gave him a puzzled look but said nothing. Her eyes darted around as she seemed to be trying to orientate herself to her surroundings. “My sister is a big fan. She comes to you often doesn’t she?”
His guard would usually be up, instead he sat down next to the girl and said, “Lots of women come to me. I don’t really remember them.”
“My sister is unforgettable. She’s beautiful, selfish, self serving, and deadly. I’m pretty sure she hand picked you to take care of me. Veronica leaves nothing to chance. She trust no one and thinks she can manipulate anybody if she just finds their weaknesses.”
“God knows I have plenty of those.”
“From what I can tell you really have one that might mean bad news for me.”
“Only one?” He said allowing himself a smile.
“Hmmm no wonder my sister likes you so much.”
“Your sister only likes me for what I can do for her. Just like every other fan who comes in here for my services.”
“Maybe it’s why I like you. It’s your eyes. They’re so blue and sad. Even when you smile.”
“You like the fact I’m sad?”
“No. I like the fact you’re human.”
Her words hit him delicately and pushed him to remember the man he’d been so many years ago. He’d programmed himself over the last ten years not to feel anything. Murdering other men for the mob’s enjoyment and the sadistic pleasure of a despot out of control took a certain level of coldness. If this girl was telling the truth, where had she been hiding? How had she survived if indeed was the ‘Healer’ some were counting on to lead the world out of this darkness humanity had plunged itself into.
“I’m Tristan Shane. Husband, father, gladiator.”
She touched his hand with hers and closed her eyes and started chanting in an old archaic tongue again. Her hand began to glow. Her face twisted in pain and he pulled away and rose to his feet.
She looked up at him with such empathy it was hard to look away. “I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry. My father and sister are…I…just know your wife doesn’t blame you.”
The pain and rage welling up in his chest was more than he could bare. He turned and walked away. “Of course she wouldn’t. Hope wasn’t one to blame anyone. She’s probably forgiven the soldiers too.”
Her voice hardened. “No. She blames them. For hurting your children Beth and Logan. And for taking her from you. As for Veronica…”
He turned on her like a rattlesnake. “Are you sure that’s not just a groupie’s fantasy?”
When he turned around he saw the wounded girl on her feet. Levitating and her hair flowing, her amber eyes lit up and glowing. There was a fierceness there now that hadn’t been there before.
His first instinct was to call for the guards. But really he had every weapon he needed in his cell. It took him a moment to realize his entire cell was being illuminated. “I am not a groupie. I am my sister’s greatest fear. My father’s worst enemy. And they chose you to kill me. My name is Alexandra. What they fear is far more complicated than anyone can understand. Except maybe you. But if you choose to kill me there is no one and nothing that will be able to stop you.”
Then as if her very life source were being drained from her the light flickered out plunging them back into shadow and she dropped into a heap onto the ground. He ran to her and rolled her over and lifted her body up. Tristan knew at that very moment he wasn’t meant to kill Alexandra. And that to protect her might mean certain death. But she needed a champion, in exposing her true nature to him she had made herself vulnerable to him. He couldn’t kill her. He wouldn’t kill her. He refused to kill her. And for the first time in ten years his life had a purpose again. Protect the Healer. No matter what the cost.