The symbol was tattooed starkly against the back of her wrist, and it looked like it still hurt her. Ink so fresh it looked like it could peel right off her skin were it not for the faint angry red at the edges. That wasn’t the hurt. The hurt was in the way she held her arm further away from her body and glanced at it out of the corner of her downcast eyes. The way her fingers curled in, stretching her skin taut, testing the give of her newest wound. She shifted away from the dim light of the single torch.
Despite being underground, the heat was oppressive. Sweat ran down her back, staining her thin cotton shirt. The damp cloth stuck to the fresh weals and welts crossing her flesh from nape to hip and belled out in front, empty as her belly. Her hair hung in think hanks past her shoulders. None of that scared him. What scared him was the fragile way she was breathing. In and out. Waiting for her breath to cease or for her ribs to finally burst from the beating of a breaking heart.
He shifted closer to the bars of his cell. For the first time since they’d thrown her in here, he spoke. “They’ve made a mistake.”
She looked up from her contemplation of the shadows shifting over the floor. He didn’t know what she saw when she looked at him. He hardly knew what he looked like. He was acutely aware of his unshaven jaw and the way his skin wrinkled like an empty wine skin. He ignored the urge to scratch at the beard and instead met the girl’s eyes. Her eyes were dark under her brows and the angle of her look was enough to tell him the rest. He shook back his sleeve, baring his right wrist and matching tattoo. The black lines were clear, but aged into the drape of his skin. “They think to break you with naught but a needle, you going to let them lass?”
She wrapped her arm around her knees drawing the simple skirt into folds, but she didn’t look away from him. “What would you know?” she asked her vowels an islanders, soft and fluid.
He swallowed. It had been awhile since words meant anything in this muggy excuse for a hell hole. “I know what this actually means.”
Her brow knitted, drawing a line down the center of her forehead. “It means they own us.”
“That’s what they say, lass.” He thought his cheeks would crack as they creased with an unfamiliar smile. The girl lifted her chin, at least willing to be distracted by the man in the cage across the hall.
“It’s naught but a bit of ink and a reminder of how strong you are.” He gripped the bars and hit her with a gaze so intense she could not look away. “You and I, we share a mark and that means we share a taste in enemies.”
Her eyes flared and her back straightened heedless of the welts.
“Easy to know a person by the company they keep and the enemies they make, and by my soul I’d rather be with a dozen who bear this mark than a single son of the lash who thinks a bit of ink means he owns me.” He settled back, never dropping his gaze and the clank of guards boots sounded above their heads. Silence, full and fraught filled the spaces between the bars, smothering the despair and the memory of anguished cries. A rat scurried out and back into the dark.
“Someone’s coming for you.” It wasn’t quite a question.
“They’re a bit late.”
His droll tone startled a laugh out of the girl and it cut through air unused to the sound.
“And when we get out?” She unfolded strong limbs from her crouch and stretched her legs out and away from the wall.
“We show him how wrong he was about the meaning of this mark.”
An old warrior and a young one exchanged smiles. The man leaned back and counted the stones on his cell wall. The girl looked down at the lines on the back of her wrist and memorized them. She no longer wanted to forget.
In a daring heist, I stole the first line of this piece from the Thief Lord herself! Check her blog tomorrow to see her original fiction.