“Bodogon lusted after me.” Nevynne shudders—more likely at the memory than the because of the chill and damp of the swamp. “But it took him a while to work up the courage to act on his bestial urges.
“Once, he tried to kiss me, but that cost him a chunk of his lip. He beat me savagely for that, but it was worth hearing him mewl and whimper when his mouth started to fester. Still, one night after two or three weeks of travel, I’m no longer sure exactly—we were getting closer to the Wind Fens—he resolved to force himself on me in earnest. Perhaps he knew that the day was drawing near when he’d hand me over to the queen, and his chance would be forever gone. He’d procured some stronger than usual brew that night, I think. Perhaps it boosted his courage.”
Nevynne pauses, and though Stellia cannot see her friend’s face in the darkness, she senses that a part of her narrative has been reached that is not easy for her to relate.
“As he started fumbling with my belt buckle, I pretended to be suddenly swept up in the same passion as he. I told him that if he was to be my first, I longed to embrace him properly, with my arms untied. I learned then that no one is more eager to be lied to than a man who wants to believe that a woman desires him. Had he had more experience, perhaps he would have seen through my deception, but as it was, the rutting fool could not cut my bonds fast enough. It was all I could do not to retch as he pressed his mauled lip onto my mouth, he reeked so of wine and purulence. He nearly managed to pull down my breeches before I could reach the dagger tucked away in his belt.”
An icy finger traces Stellia’s spine.
“It was my father’s dagger,” Nevynne says. “Bodogon had taken it from me when he captured me. He squealed like a pig when I plunged it between his ribs.”
“You killed him?”
“Should I have let myself be defiled and then handed over to Ingharad, instead?”
“Of course not.” Stellia tries to imagine what she would, what she could have done in Nevynne’s place. All she can think is that she hopes never to face such a choice.
“I pushed him off me, and jumped to my feet,” Nevynne says. “I was nearly mad with horror and disgust. All I wanted was to take his horse and be gone from him, from that place. But he made such a dreadful racket, I was afraid his screams would be heard in the hamlet where he’d gone to get the wine. So I cut his throat. It still took him a while to die. I know, because I waited, to be sure. I burned with anger and hatred in that moment. And yet, if you can believe it—” Nevynne stops. When she continues, her voice trembles. “All the while as I rode away, I cried for him, fool that I was. I cried myself empty, that night.”
“I don’t think that’s foolish at all,” Stellia says. “You cried for the friend you once had, not for the man he had become.”
“Perhaps. The next morning, I chopped off my hair, and became Tylvanor. I was on my way back into Hestia, to resume my search for Prince Ansil, when you and I first met near your uncle’s village. What was it called again?”
“Godossas,” Stellia says.
“Yes. The dapple stallion I rode was Bodogon’s. I never gave it a name. I think I wanted to pretend that it was not going to be with me for long. Too many evil memories. Silly, isn’t it? Just an innocent beast. Quite unlike the man who rode it before me. But now you can see why I swore that I would never again trust anyone who once knew Nevynne of Combray in Baramond.”
“I am glad, then.” Stellia puts an arm around Nevynne. “That I did not know you in Baramond.”
At first, Nevynne is rigid, hesitant to accept the affectionate gesture. Then her muscles relax, and she leans against Stellia. They sit in silence, listening to the sounds of the forest night. Now and then they hear the creaking of a tree trunk as it sways in the wind, and the rustle of leaves stirring—minor asides, only, amidst the constant trilling and croaking of the multitudes of toads and frogs.
“It is different, though, with the Shadow,” Stellia says after a time. “Had he wished to take you prisoner, or all of us, I doubt we could have done much to resist him. But he aided us.”
“That he did, undeniably.” Nevynne sighs. “But still… I must know how his fate is linked to mine. Until then, we will keep up our guard.”
Stellia is deathly tired. The day’s exertions have taken their toll, and Nevynne’s heartbreaking tale has left her sad and weary, as though an invisible weight were dragging her to the ground. They still have to decide who is to take the first watch. Stellia hopes that Nevynne will volunteer. She is ashamed of her selfishness, but she is so fatigued that she doubts she could stay awake for long with no one to talk to. She is about to nod off where she sits, when Nevynne’s voice rouses her once more.
“Go to sleep, Stellia. I feel like sitting up for a bit.”
Grateful, Stellia stretches out on their rough bed of stone. As she sinks into an uneasy sleep, she has one last glimpse of Nevynne beside her, a dim silhouette of a girl against the all-encompassing night, staring into the darkness as though somewhere in it she might find the answers she seeks.
And perhaps it is just so.
NEXT: The Lake