"I'm going to the bog." she called softly, sitting back to push her cold feet into her boots. William replied from a small distance outside, advising her to head downhill.
Deer had worn a way down the flank of the gully, then turned it over a small dividing ridge in favour of its neighbour, her torch hunting out its lead amid the glistening litter and the thick, slippery green of fallen branches. Her thermals held the warmth of her sleeping bag against her skin; the fleet sound of water lead her on through frilled falls of milky lichen toward a dim lacuna in the trees. A stream poured from some hidden font in the head of the ravine dashed white beneath the waxing moon, whipped by the speed of its descent over weirs of tumbled wood and gurgling circuitously around small boulders. The icy light fell in a narrow aisle in both directions but she followed the descending grade, pushing her way through waist-high bracken, then pausing, rolling the elastic from her waist and sinking down amid the dripping plumes to relieve herself. The cigarette she sheltered with both hands had been flattened by its sequestration in her clothing, but still offered respite. Closing her eyes, she let the smoke curl before her, breathing it softly toward the stream.
Without the sound of her own movement to overwrite it, the spattering of falling water at some small distance turned her head and she ground the butt into the mold between her boots. The stream dropped, chute-like, over a tall face of glistening black stone, losing a portion of its volume in spray and plunging into a sunken pool overhung with weeping epiphytes and ferns. Susan stopped short when she found herself standing in tiny, snaking tributaries intent upon their own route over the drop, peering into what she could see of the dark little cirque below and pondering the likelihood of surviving any fall into its depths. The stream resumed at a cleft in the bowl, winding onward into trees and past a figure returning water to the rivulet from its dripping hair and features as they kneeled beside its broken edge. She might have hailed anyone else over the sound of the fall but Edward's solitude impressed her too darkly for any such mundane gesture. For a time he did not move, then sat back slowly, eyes still on the current rushing past his knees, the sight of her obscured as much by introversion as the slope and intervening forest. In rolling his left sleeve back he exposed skin that shared the colour caught by the broad blade of his knife. The weapon flashed as he put it to the inner face of his arm some careless distance from his naked wrist, the fluted edge catching, then biting deeply into his flesh through the length of the stroke that he drew toward his body.
She pressed a hand to her mouth, gaze full of the knife as it opened two more grinning wounds that tailed back toward his elbow. He swallowed pain like a purgative draught, containing and directing it, his blood assuming the subtle colours of the darkness crouched around him. The memory of his presence while the witches had roared over her reared up and forced Susan down onto her haunches, where she embraced herself against the grotesque and undisclosed despair, as though the greedy spirit cast from her had found ingress elsewhere. A low, bird-like whistle looped through the undergrowth toward her and William called her name; she sat still, beginning a desultory retreat on all fours when she could not trust her legs to bear her weight.
William held a stranger to the ground beside the tent, his foot on the back of the captive's shoulders while he hog-tied him with a black rope selected from the small, camouflaged pack the latter had carried. When the stranger looked up at her approach he seemed younger than Susan herself, though hard and tensely-fashioned; she had seen the cast of his features before amongst Gideon's tribe, their smooth width and cropped brown hair recalling junior Roman infantry. She passed her torch over him and looked to William for an explanation.
"Alujha scout... heard him creeping up the ridge, heading back to the houses for something." He glanced at her palpable distraction, his notice turning her gaze from him; she frowned down at the youth's preoccupation with her even as he was hauled to his knees and patted over roughly.
"What do we do with him?"
"We'll keep him, in case we run into his boys."
"Why is he looking at me like that?"
"He probably didn't know girls had legs." William muttered. Edward took a wordless measure of the lycanthrope as he returned and took charge of the rope lead while she collected her belongings.
Though they remained at a practical distance the scout glanced ceaselessly back toward Susan, earning a clout from his unsmiling warden that did little to quell his curiosity, his ruling body flashing coldly in his eyes. She did not seem to notice, stepping over fallen trees and wandering water in silence. They had descended the gully to a confluence with its riparian twin before the scout addressed some inquiry to Edward, Susan noting the exchange almost accidentally.
"He's bitching for water." her companion related. She sighed and took her bottle from her waist, and he passed it on, though the stranger rejected it in unequivocal terms, spitting over his shoulder. Snatching a length of dead wood from the ground William whipped it across the offender's head, causing him to grunt and stagger sideways. "He won't drink anything that's touched a woman's mouth." he told her. Little suggested itself in reply to so basic an objection and she digested it for the remainder of their descent. The rivulet flanking their passage into the sombre valley disturbed her with its ceaseless referral to the sight she struggled to forget, reciting tuneless songs and staring at the blank walls of the forest. She tasted nothing of the energy bars that she devoured from each hand, sitting with her eyes closed in a rift between two hillsides when they halted. The scout crouched before a fallen trunk, his hair pasted to his forehead in short spikes lending emphasis to the glare that watched her eat; it shifted from her lips to her breasts, feasting on shapes half-secluded by her clothing, moving downward over the damp cloth grasping her thighs. An erection stood in the crotch of his combat pants and he leant over it, letting the saliva pooled in the floor of his mouth spill from his lips onto the ground between them.
"Who's your boyfriend?" William smiled from his seat beside her, picking beneath his fingernail with the tip of his knife.
"Vech íthut an batcha yún In thichu... yet sika wel shumúcha lá ímr kitchu lanún." the prisoner complained, and he translated the remark for her.
"You feed this bitch while I starve. One day your cock will run off to find some balls."
"Tell him I keep your fucking balls in my handbag." Susan muttered. He chuckled to himself and replied on her behalf.
"Shata kitám íyet fíkka lanún lá sha hina-bati."
"In yet hadu lí sha ábita." the scout retorted.
"And my head is up in your ladyplace. Like it's a bad thing."
Her gaze narrowed.
"Tell him I've got a gun and I'll blow his fucking dick off if I can still see it in three seconds."
"Shata kitám at itát in shata wel ifféla yet sika utut."
"Sootcha ábita." spat the youth, referring another request to Edward. The latter lifted him to his feet and stood a foot on his tether; the scout pushed down his fly with his bound hands so that she might enjoy the spectacle of both his tumescence and the micturition he coaxed past it, turning to direct the splattering flow onto the cowl of her pack. Edward flicked up the lead and wrenched the offender sideways, though he rolled up from his fall and sprang at Susan, eyes burning white; checked hard, he hung from the rope knotted about his neck and slavered, mouth falling open to pour out his dripping tongue and a low, moaning snarl. Without looking from him she reached back into her belt for her hunting blade. William caught her wrist, arresting its trajectory.
"Christabel..." he confided. "We need him alive."
The miscreant's collar choked him tightly as Edward twisted it about his neck, dragging him through briars to a secluded remove.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce