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Trapped in the Woods and Betrayed from Within

Here’s chapter 12! Only a few more chapters left…and that’s a good thing because it needs some serious heavy handed editing. I planned on doing it myself but it’s getting rough enough I’m starting to believe it’s going to need a third party editor to polish this into something I can be proud of. In spite of that, I keep posting it… what the heck?! It’s my way of showing my fellow writers and readers that a story can start out ugly but, with a lot of work, turn out good.

Then again, if I were to write this today from scratch I bet the rough draft would be a hell of a lot better. That’s because I’ve learned so much since this was put together many years ago. I wonder what it would look like if I revisited it in another five or ten years?

Enough babbling on with the story!

Chapter 12

 

Cor led Teri through the village until he reached the small hut he’d been staying in. He gestured her through the entrance and followed her inside, pulling the crude door shut. She whirled to face him, suddenly afraid that he’d take her up on the offer she’d made in the forest.  Cor sighed at her obvious terror.

“I’m not going to bite your arm off, girl.” He snapped, “You will stay inside here unless I’m with you. Others in this place aren’t as able to resist your charms.” He smiled and let his eyes roam over her body to make her feel as though she was naked. Teri flushed, still afraid, yet also feeling something else, something she didn’t understand. His gaze made her feel hot and cold from the tips of her muddy toes to the top of her head. She wanted him to stop, but somewhere inside, she wanted him to continue.

Cor realized with a start that he wasn’t immune to the scruffy waif standing before him. He growled and turned to leave the room. “I’ll bring in some water so you can wash,” he muttered on his way out. He left the flimsy door swaying in the breeze.

Outside Cor made his way to a nearby spring. He, at least, felt it was nearby. He walked over a mile to it, moving with his pace that ate up the ground in record time, and filled two skins he’d fashioned. While walking he tried to figure out what it was he was going to do with the girl. He couldn’t keep her around, that much was certain. He had no need of her help nor the trouble she’d bring.

On his way back he stopped focusing on the reason why he couldn’t keep her around. He was obsessing, something he’d done too much of since he’d ended up in Briam’s Crossing. He began to wonder what it was he could suggest to her that would make her realize she could have a better life elsewhere. She could have a family. A husband, children… perhaps a farm. He shook his head and scowled. The truth of it was that without him she wouldn’t make it out of the Darkwood.

“What’s your name, girl?” Cor barked when he reentered the cabin.

She yelped and dropped the crude utensils she’d been about to clean. “T…T…Teri,” she said. Her eyes fell to the tattered remains of the standard that lay on the table. She’d seen enough of it to recognize it, and that alone filled her with terror. It was the standard of the savage barbarians from the north. Those who’d rebelled from Aradmath and made pacts with dark powers to slink away in the night, where they consorted with demons. Their souls they traded for the power to fight against the nobility of Aradmath, even pressing the hellcats they called women into battle.

“I’m Cor,” he said, then mumbled, “or once was.”

He dropped the two sealed water skins on a makeshift table he’d made out of tree limbs and bent down to pick up the standard from the table. He folded it back up without saying a word and shoved it in a pack that lay against a wall.

“You owe me nothing, I’ve no need of your services,” he explained calmly. “On the morrow I’ll take you to the edge of the wood. You’ll be safe from there.”

She stared at him, tears forming in her eyes. Here, at long last, she’d met another human. More than that, one who hadn’t tried to hurt, rape, or insult her. She stared at him, her lip quivering, and fought to control herself. She nodded, dropping her head. “Thank you,” she said in a small voice that certainly didn’t feel the gratitude she claimed to profess.

Cor grunted, wondering why her reaction bothered him. He’d be rid of her and be back to living a simple life again. One uncluttered with the concerns of women and people. Free of the responsibilities of family, friends, and kin. He stalked past her, heading into the single roomed dwelling and grabbing up some wood off the floor to shove in the hearth in spite of the flames that already leapt from wood.

After staring at the fire for long moments lost in thoughts that wouldn’t materialize, Cor realized that the girl was probably hungry. If not, he was. He kicked a stump he sometimes used as a seat off of a section of the floor he had cut out and lifted it up. The small cellar he’d dug he’d packed with roots, herbs, and other foodstuffs. He checked what remained after the winter and then headed out to check his snares.

Ever curious, Teri found herself unable to stay away from the root cellar she’d seen Cor open. Excited by what she found within it, she removed several carrots, potatoes, and even some celery. Then she looked about and found a few dented pots that looked to have served well in the past. She planned to make further use of them.

When Cor returned he could smell the simmering stew before he opened the door. His stomach growled, which in turn caused him to growl. It smelled good, he had to admit, but that only angered him to realize that his body was betraying what he really wanted. What he needed. Scowling, he entered the hut and tossed the squirrel and the rabbit his snares had yielded to the ground beside where Teri looked up at him, a hopeful but fearful expression on her face.

The look in her eyes, that of a doe surprised by a hunter, made him hesitate. She opened her mouth but a moment passed before it took a long moment until words came out of it. “I made some stew.”

“There’s no need,” Cor responded, angry at himself and at her. He clenched his fists, wishing for a simpler life.

“I’m not helpless,” Teri said, tears threatening to build in her eyes again. “I can cook, clean, sew, and…other things.”

Cor wondered just what other things she was referring to. He saw what the half-ogre had in mind for her. He smirked and said, “I bet you can,” rather darkly before turning away. “Make the stew then. And use the skins to make something to cover your feet. It will be a long walk out of here and back to civilization for you.” He turned his back on her then and moved away to the narrow platform that served as his bed and the only seat in the small hut. He sat, swinging his long legs up onto the bunk and lacing his fingers behind his head. He closed his eyes, announcing clearly to the girl that he had no intention of entertaining her while she was in his care.

Teri watched as he stretched out and closed his eyes, wondering what to do next. After a moment’s pause, she gathered the animals and made quick work of skinning them and cubing the meat. Rummaging around again, she found a flat piece of metal, using it as a frying pan to quickly brown the pieces before dropping them into the stew. Once that was done, she felt at loose ends.

Cor’s nose nearly twitched at the scent of the meat cooking, it had been some time since he’d bothered with anything that smelled that good. He wondered to himself if perhaps she was as talented as she professed. His stomach rumbled and he mentally berated his body for betraying his interest.

Still sitting by the fire, Teri jumped at the sound, her head snapping around to regard the still supine man. After a few more moments passed and he still hadn’t opened his eyes, she decided that perhaps it was safe to take him up on his offer and wash herself. The events of this day had left her travel stained, and feeling as though the stains on her skin and on her soul would take some time to scrub away.

Leaning in, she used the iron hook from the wall to pull out a second, larger cauldron from deeper in the coals. While the tall man had been checking snares, Teri had been preparing water for bathing and to wash her garments. She pulled the cauldron farther into the room, adding some of the still cold water to bring the temperature down. Casting another searching glance at the man on the bed, she turned away from him, took a deep breath and dropped her rags to her feet. She used a scrap of cloth she had found to dip into the water, scrubbing the first and heaviest of the dirt and grime from her pale skin. She had stashed a coarse chunk of lye soap in her satchel when she had left the cabin, and this she now used, struggling to bring a lather from the bitter stuff.

Cor cracked his eyes open when he heard the splashing sounds coming from the fireside. He saw his guest standing naked with her back to him, bathing. His eyes followed her curves, noting that the rags she had arrived in had certainly concealed the slender perfection of her body. When she finished with her body, she knelt before the cauldron to dip her long hair in. As she did so, Cor got an unobstructed view of her smooth skin and perfectly rounded bottom. His breath caught somewhere in his chest as heat flooded to his groin. He told himself that it was simply the months since he’d been with a woman that caused the strong reaction. She was a wisp of a woman, a girl that had most likely spent the winter pleasuring a half-ogre. Somewhere in his mind a small voice was quickly silenced from saying that it was not that at all.

With much of her head immersed in the cauldron, Teri missed the small catch of breath that would have alerted her. As far as she was aware, Cor was asleep on the rude bench. She scrubbed at her hair, despairing that it would ever be clean again, until she finally decided it would have to do for now. She wrung it into the cauldron and then stood, gathering her now sodden garments and dropping them into the pot to soak. She picked up something from beyond Cor’s line of vision and put it on, effectively canceling his show. She sat on the hearthstones, stirring the stew and then attending to her tangled hair.

Cor frowned at what he saw. She was wearing one of his shirts. He knew from his viewing of her while she cleaned herself that she wore nothing else. Somehow the knowledge that beneath his shirt she had nothing on sent greater mystery through him and made him bite his tongue. He sighed and sat up, not looking at her purposefully. Teri looked at him, her eyes wide and lips parted. When he said and did nothing she began to relax, if only a little.

Dinner, as the smell forewarned him, was excellent. Cor knew the stew wasn’t really that good, it’d just been a while since he’d bothered with putting that much work into cooking something. Regardless of the cause, it left him in a surprisingly pleasant mood. Pleasant enough that he pretended to take no notice as Teri moved about the small hut and straightened things to her liking, as well as spreading out some of her things. Before long she sat down and started to work on the pelts he’d indicated, producing a set of a needles and some thread to work them into moccasins for herself.

Cor went back outside, intent upon cutting more wood for the fire. He had plenty stacked inside and the weather was turning warmer, but he needed some fresh air and to be away from the girl. Outside he realized that the few days of warmth they had might have been an early reprieve, since the air was chilled. His trained nose could smell snow on the air.

Too confused to do much of anything about his situation, he set about chopping some firewood to keep his body busy while his mind roamed.

 

* * * *

 

Teri awoke in the night, shaking violently from the cold. She was curled up near the hearth, but only embers remained. She was wrapped in a thin blanket which Cor had tossed to her. Her eyes adjusted slowly to the blackness inside the hut, but she could see only outlines. A sound caught her attention. On the narrow bunk, the big man moaned in his sleep.

“I didn’t mean for this to happen…” he whispered, nearly inaudibly, “I’m so sorry…” He thrashed about on the bunk, obviously caught in a nightmare. Teri got up carefully from the floor, grateful to be moving to get a little warmth. She approached him. He was so much less frightening in sleep as he wrestled his demons. He almost seemed like he might be as human on the inside as he looked on the outside.

With the little light from the window, she could see that his bearded cheek was wet with tears. This unconscious display of compassion finally broke the hold that fear had on her. She was sure that before her was a man who was certainly not the evil murderer or young children she’d feared.

Moving closer, she sat gingerly on the edge of the rough boards, reaching out to touch his face with soft fingertips. “Hush now,” she murmured, “may the Lady herself ease you.” She began to hum a child’s lullaby.

Teri smiled to herself as the big man took a deep breath and relaxed into dreamless sleep. She sat for a long while, humming and watching him, until finally sleep was too hard to resist. She added fuel to the fire and blew it back to life before curling up again with the blanket.

In the morning it was apparent that the spring thaw had come too soon. Several inches of snow had fallen overnight, forcing Cor to delay Teri’s departure. With her clothing cleaned and dried, she took to wearing it again.

The cabin became a prison for them over the days that followed. In spite of Teri’s attempts to get Cor to talk to her, he seldom had anything to say. She was afraid that she upset him, but he gave her no evidence to support her fears. With Krev she could at least usually get him talking about himself. Cor seemed reluctant even to do that. Teri began to suspect some great crime in his past, something he was hiding from or perhaps even ashamed of. Teri knew her own history was nothing she would be willing to share, so she respected his privacy even if her own curiosity was eating away at her.

What Teri could not know was that a growing part of Cor yearned to talk to her. He found himself increasingly captivated by her, and looked forward to the short discussions they did have. Always she seemed to ask the wrong questions though, questions that he would not – could not – answer.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

 

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