Soon my days and nights became one, only broken twice a day when the mistress of the house came to feed me. It was by chance that I discovered a small bit of mushrooms behind the doghouse. Greedily I gobbled them down. I learned to envy the days it rained, and despise the days with sun. I dug a hole to gather water, and ate grass since I couldn’t reach the food that was so close by, but just far enough away my small hands couldn’t grasp it. The mistress of the house never said anything to me, and I never said anything to her. I stopped thinking about her as my grandmother, each day the hate for her growing more and more. When I heard the iron gate open, I would either hide behind the house, or in it.
The weather changed, darkness coming earlier and earlier with each passing day. I would spend many nights curled up in the back of the house trying to stay warm with the little bit of clothing I wore. On one such night I heard my brother’s voice and that of one of the other servants.
“A dog?” Toeryn’s voice questioned.
“Aye, sir,” she said. I didn’t recognize her voice so she must have been new. “A dog. She keeps ‘im in the pen there. Feed ’em twice a day she does. Curious though that she never lets ‘im out.”
“Indeed.” Toeryn said flatly. “That is curious. Thank you, Saoirse.”
“Yer welcome, sir,” She replied and her foot steps moved back into the house.
Footsteps approached the penned area. My hearing had gotten better after being in the pen for what seemed an eternity. Listening and knowing when the mistress is coming. I heard wood clack against the stone wall and a small clicking noise being made. He was calling for a dog, my brother, my savior about to discover the mistress’ deepest secret.
“Toeryn?” I called out in a hoarse whisper. A small gasp filled the silence and a dull thump as Toeryn jumped over the wall and landed in the dirt on my side of the pen.
“Anarar’ithil?” He whispered back. Carefully I moved so that he could see me. The moon was up which made it easier. “My gods, what has she done?”
“She put me here after she dragged me away from momma’s room.” I said, shivering. The look on Toeryn’s face was one filled with anger, shock and resentment all at once.
“That was three weeks ago,” he told me. Toeryn held his arm open; I quickly scurried over to him, thankful for the warmth he gave off. “She fed and kept you here the whole time?”
“She hasn’t been feeding me,” I cried into his tunic. “She’s kept the food just out of my reach.”
“Out of reach?” He asked. I kicked my foot out so that he could see the chain that was wrapped around it. “I don’t believe this. I knew she was cold and mean, but I never thought her to be a murderer. She told us you ran off after she whipped you for disobeying her. Mother has been crying almost nightly.”
Toeryn held me close, rocking back and forth. His musky smell was comforting. Toeryn promised that he would get me out of this, that he would save me from this cruelty. I fell into a deep sleep, in his arm. The next morning when I woke, I was under a thick blanket and in the furthest part of the dog house. The creak of the iron gate alerted me that someone was in here, the clatter of the metal bowls told me it was the mistress of the house coming to feed me. I remained in the house, watching her from the shaded corner. When the gate closed again, I crawled out and looked around.
The sky was a bright winter blue; the clouds were wispy and thin. A cold wind blew around my ankles and I shivered. I looked at the food curiously for a moment. Porridge. There was a lot I would do, but eating porridge was not one of them, even if it had been in reach. I moved behind the dog house silently as I could and looked at what I had left of my meager food supply. Three withered mushroom, a few not so moldy berries and a handful of sweet grass. I picked up a small mushroom, eating it in tiny pieces to make it last longer. After breaking the ice that formed on the top of my water hole, I stuck my hands into the icy water. The chill filled my whole body as I drank. Water helped to fill my stomach, and sleep helped to fill in the gaps between meals. Back under the blanket I crawled. It would only be a matter of time before I gave in and welcomed death.
It was dark when I woke again, startled by two thuds on my side of the pen. I pulled the blanket tighter and inched my way towards the opening. It was Toeryn again, he came back! Excitedly I threw off the blanket and hurried out to greet him.
“You came back!” I exalted in a loud whisper.
“Of course I did.” he said smugly. “I promised you I would get you out of here and I that is what I intend on doing.”
My eyes fell on the cloth lump that rested at his feet. Chuckling at my curiosity, he lifted the sack on to his back before, he took my hand in his empty one, and lead me back to my shelter. Once we were inside and I wrapped up in my blanket, he opened the sack. Inside was a small amount of meat and bread. My stomach growled audibly as I eyed the food.
“Dig in, but slowly.” Toeryn told me. And I did.
The plain brown bread was wonderful. In small pieces I ate my way through a slice, and then had some of the roasted meat. My brother looked at me with sad eyes, while I ate my food. Toeryn explained the plan to me.
“You will have to wait one more night, Ana,” he said. “Can you hang on just one more night?”
“I don’t think I have much of a choice, Toeryn,” I replied with a mouth full of meat. He offered me a jug, I drank deeply. Mulled cider filled my mouth, spilling down my chin. It had been so long since I had something to drink besides dirty water. The flavor shocked my taste buds. I couldn’t get enough of the sweet liquid into my mouth.
“In this pack here,” he said as he patted the pile. “You’ll find trousers, a tunic, and boots. Put them on after Grandmother leaves your evening food. You will also find a knife in there, cut your hair to chin.”
“Cut my hair?” I said in shock. I had hair almost to my waist and he wanted me to cut it off. “I’ll look like a boy.”
“That’s the point Ana,” he said flatly. “You’ll be easier to sneak around if you hide those damnable locks.”
“Does momma know?” I continued.
“She does,” Toeryn told me. “I explained what happened and begged her to let me get you out of here and to safety. She was upset and wanted to confront our Grandmother, but I told her that would only make it worse for you. Mother agreed for me to get you out here. She’s going to give us some coin to get started and buy more supplies.”
I sighed heavily as I listened to him. It dawned on me that I would never see my mother again. Tears burned my eyes, threatening to spill over. Toeryn pulled me into his lap, holding me until I had cried myself to sleep. I must havve slept deeply since I didn’t hear the mistress of the house open the gate to my pen, or set the bowls down. Turning my head I looked towards the opening. A light dusting of snowing covered the ground and more flakes were falling. I crawled out and looked around. Even after all I had been through, the small white flakes made everything feel alright. I spun around in the snow, a smile on my face. It only took a moment before I was face down forgetting that I had the chain on my ankle.
“Blast,” I cried out. My ankle hurt but I was otherwise uninjured.
The rest of my day passed by uneventfully. Toeryn had left the bread and meat with me, along with the clothes I was to dress in. I picked up the dagger that he had left with everything and turned it in my hands, studying the small blade. It was a plain knife, but it was sharp. With a sigh of resignation, I gathered a clump of my dirty red hair, pulling the knife against it and letting the locks fall to the floor of my hut. I repeated the process until my hair was nothing more than a short jagged mess. I then pulled off the muddy wet smock I wore and tossed it into a corner. Shivering I pulled on the simple brown tunic. It was big, coming down past my knees, the pants proved to be a little trickier; I couldn’t pull them on with the chain around my ankle. I would have to wait until Toeryn returned that night.
While I waited I feasted on the bread and meat, looking through the rest of the items that Toeryn left in the sack. Within the pile I found a book and carefully held it in my hands. It was a book of fairy tales, one my mother had given me for my birthday one year. I opened the pages and quietly read until it became too dark to read. Then I was left alone with my thoughts.
That night, the iron gate did not open once. It concerned me, what if Toeryn wasn’t coming back? What would I do for food? Winter was coming and I wouldn’t survive. I started to panic, crying softly until darkness surrounded me. I don’t know how long I was asleep, but I was roughly shaken awake.
“Wake up,” Toeryn’s voice demanded. “Why aren’t you ready to go?”
“The chain,” I told him. Cursing, he pulled a small pick from his pack and within seconds I was free for the first time in three weeks.
“Hurry up and get dressed,” he said as he gathered the few belongings I had there with me. “We don’t have much time and we have a long way to go.”
“Where are we going?” I asked as I pulled the rough wool trousers on. They promptly fell to my ankles. Toeryn laughed at the comic scene while I wrinkled my nose.
“Stonebridge,” he replied. I had never been there, but it knew that it was leagues away. Toeryn took a piece of rope, cut it to length and then tied it around my ill fitting clothing.
“Why Stonebridge?” I asked as I put on the boots. Whosoever they were, they seemed to fit just fine.
“Because she won’t look for us there,” Toeryn explained. “It’s more diverse than Meadow Brook and Tel’thurian. Bigger too. But we will stop at Tel’thurian first for supplies and horses.”
“Diverse?” I questioned, unfamiliar with the term.
“It means there is more than one race there. Prominently Moon Elves, but other Elven races are there too.” he replied. “You’re full of questions.”
“Sorry,” I apologized. “Nervous I guess and scared.”
Toeryn only nodded, finally finishing the pack, he fashioned it so that I could carry it on my back. We stepped out of the stone hut, moving over to the wooden ladder that he had place on this side. It would be the first taste of freedom and like thieves in the night we stole over the wall of what had once been my prison. Once on the other side, Toeryn took my hand and we ran as fast as we could, but it was more like he was pulling me behind him.
When we were a safe distance away from the house, we paused to catch our breath. My eyes drifted to the house. There was only one lamp lit, in my mother’s room. Toeryn followed my eyes and nodded. A figure had appeared in the window, nothing more than a silhouette of a woman, but I knew it was Mother.
“Say your farewells now, Lyssa.” he said. Baffled I looked at him.
“Lyssa?” I repeated.
“That’s your new name. Everything from your past will stay there. Including your name,” Toeryn told me. “Anarar’ithil Laidekoree is dead. You are now Lyssandra Stormwater.”
“Okay,” I said. It would be easier than arguing to keep my real name. My eyes looked back to the house again. Tears filled them with the realization this was the last time I would ever see her. I saw the woman lift her hand slowly. A sad, wordless farewell as I also lifted my hand and bade her goodbye.
Toeryn lead me away with a comforting hand on my shoulder. We said nothing for the first few miles; he just let me cry my fill.
“Well Miss Stormwater, I must say that is a very interesting story,” Xavier said.
Lyssa looked out the window at the rain beating down on the window. Her expression somber as she nodded. “That’s only the start.”
“I would imagine so,” he said. “When would you like me to hear the rest?”
“Honestly?” The red hair elf asked rhetorically. “Never. It isn’t exactly something I want to talk about.”
Xavier eyed her curiously for a moment and Lyssa rolled her eyes. Obviously he wasn’t going to take that answer. She looked a the clock and sighed. He started to pack away his belongings, a laptop which he had typed the whole story, cables, cords, a portable printer once it had finished printing.
“One week,” Lyssa said firmly. Mentally, she would have to prepare for this, It was easier for her to lock her past up then discuss it and have it written for her.
“Very well,” he said standing up. Lyssa’s eyes looked up at him as he extended his hand. Firmly she shook it and went back to staring at the window. “See you then.”
The front door opened and closed as Xavier let himself out. Lyssa made her way to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of dark rum.
“Can’t wait,” Lyssa said sarcastically, taking a drink from the glass.