Written for the most recent challenge (Town Life) at the fe_contest LiveJournal community.
Despite the late hour, the local inn was brightly lit and noisy. She walked by as fast as possible without drawing attention, tugging the hood of her cloak over her face, even though the stifling wool felt sticky in the summer heat.
Her feet ached by the time she reached the outskirts of town. She hesitated for a moment, her closed fist hovering over a weathered door. It creaked open to reveal a sliver of candlelight, and a cautious eye.
"Sylvie?" Frail fingers shielded tired eyes from the flame. "What's-"
She let the hood fall to her shoulders, and watched the elder's face fold in familiar disappointment.
"Oh, child. Come in."
More candles were lit, and a cup of tea she felt too overheated to drink was pushed into her hands.
"Does he know-"
"No-" She hissed as a soaked rag was pressed to her temple, at the sting of pungent antiseptic. "I snuck out once he fell asleep."
The old woman switched the cloth for a worn staff, while hesitant silence gave way to oft-repeated words.
"You know you can stay here."
"Don't be ridiculous!" She thought of the possibilities that stopped her from giving in – more late-night banging at the door, more broken ceramic, more bloodstained rags. "It's bad enough I'm here now."
In the past she would have been met with protests. Now it was merely pursed lips.
"Keep still, dear." The cool glow near her face penetrated her shut eyelids, but they flickered at the sound of the elder's voice. "It's all right, you can look now."
When she blinked, the old woman had already turned away, tidying the supplies.
"I know why you won't stay, child. But this can't-"
"You needn't worry much longer," she bit back, gingerly tracing her newly sealed cut. "I'm leaving soon, you know."
It was enough to get the old woman's attention. "You don't mean here though."
She shook her head. "I'm not even sure where yet."
"Is that any safer, going off by yourself?" The elder frowned deeply, and unexpected guilt made her look away. "With all the talk of war-"
"I know that! I'm not dumb." She scowled too, but her voice softened. "I met someone. I thi- I know he'll help me."
She thought of a green-eyed boy who had smiled at her, who had said she was too cute for such a boring town in his light accent. She liked to think that he meant it.
"As long as he's good to you, m'dear." The assured words didn't quite mask an uneasy expression.
"He is," she insisted.
She didn't mention not knowing him well enough to be certain, or the lies she used to placate his effortless concern when his fingertips brushed a black bruise, or flinching beneath his casual curiosity, because his good intentions felt too much like the touch that marked her in the first place.
She stared into her teacup, and wondered if it would always be that way.