A/N: Graphic chapter warning…depictions of rape. Please do not flame or kill me because of this chapter—I assure you that it is necessary to the plot.
The feeling of cold, hard hands on my body jerked me from my fitful sleep. In my ear, I could feel his ragged breath.
"He wastes your potential," my visitor rasped, clearly drunk, "he should take you every single night…"
I felt my shirt sliding up and was thankful that the blindfold disguised my tears. Though I knew what was coming and would be forever haunted by it, I did not fight him. I couldn't fight him. As long as Luthias and Heinrich were safe, it did not matter what happened to me.
"Have you given up?" the alcohol-soaked breath hissed, "Or do you like this?"
I again said nothing. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of intimidating me. I wouldn't say anything. I would be as silent and as hard as a stone until the very last. My heart was thundering in my ears and I remembered my thoughts on the night I had first come to Luthias.
A hungry person has no pride.
The officer who had captured me was loosening my bonds so that he could shift me around. I was somewhat grateful that I wouldn't see his ugly face.
"I want a turn!" Someone yelled from the other side of the tent.
"Get the Hell out of here if you know what's good for you!" the man holding me spat. I heard a shuffle as the offending man left, muttering something about how he never got to have any fun. My attacker tugged my trousers off and spread my legs. I swallowed down the bile that rose in my throat.
Please, God, let it be over soon…I prayed just as the searing pain shot through my body.
I have been told on several occasions that if a woman doesn't lay with a man regularly that it will hurt because she isn't stretched. I don't know how true that is, but there was some part of me that never wanted to go through his again. I gritted my teeth against the scream that threatened to escape my throat. With one rough hand, my attacker gripped my cheek and kissed me forcefully. The strong alcohol residue ensured me that I never wanted to taste it again.
This process was repeated several times that night and I'm sure there were different men. At some point, I felt my mind tear itself away and I tried to think of other times and other places where I had been safe and happy. For some odd reason, my mind kept drifting back to the tent I'd shared with Luthias. Despite the constant nightmares, I'd never felt threatened for long as long as I'd woken up to see him in the other cot. The shock of being invaded and treated roughly numbed until I'd gotten quite good at blocking it out. It took me several moments to even notice that I was no longer being touched.
Shakily, I sat up. The soldiers had all been drunk enough that they hadn't realized how loosely my bonds were tied. After I'd struggled for several minutes, I'd wrenched one hand loose from the ropes and was able to rid myself of the bonds. I tossed my blindfold away and looked at the scene around me.
There seemed to be no one else present for the moment. Blood and spilled seed stained the floor. I pressed a hand to my mouth in disgust and shakily stood. More spilled down my legs.
With a resigned sigh, I retrieved a cloth and cleaned myself up as best as I could. I felt dirty and tainted. My lower half ached horribly and I wondered exactly how much damage had been done. I didn't want to know.
With some difficulty, I stepped into my trousers and put my shirt on. It was torn, but it was more cover than I currently had. My boots were laying some distance away.
I heard someone coming and my heart began to pound. I willed my abused body to move, but it seemed to have frozen.
It was not, however, the men who were coming to satisfy their lust. It was a little girl in a pink dress.
"Well…I thought they'd never leave," she said, voice loaded with disdain, "bunch of stupid, drunken louts, all of them!"
It was not Tabitha, I knew. It was Mary. But somehow, my cold fear had dissolved again into resignation.
"Nobody tells me to go away and gets away with it," she said icily, "they're first on my list."
I wondered what was keeping her from doing whatever it was she was going to do. Surely she could not possibly hurt me worse than I had just been hurt.
"Anyway…leaving so soon? I had hoped the hospitality would be better, but you just can't trust men to behave themselves."
I crossed my arms.
"What do you want with us, Mary? What did we ever do to you? Why can't you just leave us be?"
She crossed the tent to stand in front of me.
"I almost had everything I wanted. Then you took it away. So you have to give it back, Ruth."
She stared into my eyes. They were the coldest eyes I've ever seen on a little girl.
"I came here to make you a deal," she said with the air of someone who has won and knew it, "because it's only going to get worse."
"What do you mean?"
She giggled. It was an eerily malicious sound.
"They're going to kill you. And then…they'll go after all the Germans. They'll kill Heinrich and Klaus and Aldolf and …." she listed several more names, "…and they'll save Luthias for last. They're going to lie to him and say you came willingly to make babies with them. And he'll believe it."
"Surely not…" I said, trembling.
"He will. He'll believe it. He'll curse your name. He'll curse your God. He'll say he'd rather go straight to Hell than share a Heaven with you. And then he'll burn there for the rest of eternity. There's just too much blackness in his heart…there's no hope for him."
The only thing worse than Luthias being killed was the idea of him being condemned because of me. If he lived, he could at least have a sporting chance to turn his life around.
"What's the deal?" I asked, resigned.
"My deal for you is that I won't let them be touched. The bastards that hurt you will perish instead…and your Luthias will be the one to avenge your death."
It didn't take a scholar to realize where she was going with this.
"But I must die in his stead," I thought out loud.
"Yes. And you shall be my slave for eternity," she clapped her hands together, "we'll have great fun getting back at them all! It's even better because you're a girl, too! Nobody would suspect you!"
I bowed my head. For a woman of such strong faith previously, I knew I wasn't getting out of this one.
Please, God, forgive me…forgive me for what I'm about to do. Please watch over all of them. And please let Luthias forgive me.
"Will I at least get to say goodbye?" I asked, my knees shaking.
"Maybe…it depends on what kind of mood I'm in, but you aren't helping my patience. Do you or don't you accept? The time is growing short!"
"Very well…I accept."
It was very late, only a few hours until dawn. I woke with a start when someone touched my face.
She smiled sadly. She was badly bruised up and bleeding. Her clothes were torn.
"What happened to you?" I asked angrily.
"You don't want to know," she objected, "nor do I want to tell you. I just want to forget about it…"
I pulled her into my arms. I didn't give a damn who might walk in on us. These last several hours had been absolute Hell. I wondered why no one had reported her return…surely someone must have seen her come back?
"Luthias, I can't stay very long," she told me, "these soldiers are vicious and they will realize soon that I'm gone. They'll come after all of you and kill you if you don't do something…"
"Do not worry about that. How did you escape?"
Fresh tears shone in her eyes.
"I didn't, Luthias."
"What?" I was confused now.
"By morning, I will be dead. The witch…she has found me. I belong to her now…"
She silenced me by resting her fingers on my lips as disbelief and outrage flooded my spirit.
"It was only a matter of time anyway," she said, uncharacteristically calm, "they were going to kill me once they tired of me. You wouldn't have wanted me after I've been handled by so many others' hands…"
"That is not true. I would only want to have stopped them! You are mine no matter what they have told you!" I snapped.
Again, that eerily sad smile returned.
"I am about to ask a lot of you," she said quietly, "before I return to service of the forest witch forever…"
"Anything," I promised as it sank in that she was telling the truth.
"Make me forget what they have done to me…give me memories to part with so that I can battle my despair…"
Her eyes slid closed when I kissed her. I was much more careful with her this time. I loved her with a gentleness that I ordinarily did not possess. I kissed at the bruises and cuts that the others had left behind, desperately wishing I could make them go away. She winced a little at first when we joined, but not for long. Before long, she was crying, not with sadness, but with joy.
"Thank you, my love…I shall never forget you. Or the others…they were like the brothers I never had."
A faint, thin voice called on the wind. It sounded much too misty to be real, as if I'd only imagined it.
"I must go now," Ruth sighed, "but know that you will always be in my heart."
My arms tightened around her.
"You belong with me. I will not let you go," I said firmly.
Ruth pried herself out of my embrace.
"I must," she insisted, "I gave my word. I shed my blood so that she would not drink yours. If you don't release me, I will have died in vain."
I insisted on walking with her. Mary, the little witch, waited at the edge of the woods.
"If you want to avenge her, you shall find your prey in a drunken stupor in the tent at the front," she said coldly, "I would get started if I were you…I can only keep them knocked out for so long."
It was stunning to hear a little girl talk about killing so casually. Bitterness filled my heart, not only for those men, but for her. I couldn't believe that this little thing had caused so much trouble.
"Come, Ruth, there is work to be done."
Even as I stood there, I could see Ruth's body becoming more transparent, the injuries beginning to heal. She turned to look at me one last time before she dissolved completely. The little girl was gone soon after, vanished without a trace. Even her feet had not left tracks in the snow.
I raised my eyes to the sky, which was just beginning to brighten.
How could you do this to her? You were her God! You were supposed to protect her! She was not supposed to be the one to die! I was!
A solitary tear clung to my cheek before falling to the snow. My hands shook as the sadness I had not known since my father died drew itself up with a vengeance. Then, the rage took over.
Her death would not be in vain. I would make sure of that.