Home > Warrior of the Wild(10)

Warrior of the Wild(10)
Tricia Levenseller

His arms flail uncontrollably. A fist flies at my thigh, but I don’t move. It’s not his fault.

I don’t know what I’m doing. A group of boys is what landed me out in the wild in the first place. They can’t be trusted. I blame Irrenia for my urge to help him. It’s what she would do. I can only imagine her disappointment in me if I left him to die in the wild when I could have helped.

It must be at least another five minutes before his muscles calm. I brush a spot of dirt near his eye away.

“Are you all right?” I ask.

A pause. “No.”

Obviously. Stupid question.

“Hold on,” I say. As gently as I can, I lower his head to the ground. In the next moment, I dig into my pack for Irrenia’s salve. When the canister is in my hand, I say, “I’m going to rub this on your back.”

I pop off the lid and dip my fingers into the brown liquid.

“What is it? It reeks,” he says.

“It should help.”

“Should?”

“I haven’t actually used it before.”

He thinks a moment. “Do it.”

I start with the biggest of the bites, one near the center of his back, where a good chunk of flesh is missing.

As soon as my fingers touch the wound, he lets out a growl.

“Sorry!” But I don’t let up. I rub the ointment in faster. How much does it need? The stranger tries to throw me off, but I hold him down with my knees against his lower back, where the bites are fewer, and begin to rub more of Irrenia’s gift into the next wound.

Only a few seconds pass before he relaxes underneath me. I watch in wonder as his skin begins to reknit together, even re-form in places. It pains me to see that half the ointment is already gone, but I can’t bring myself to stop helping someone in need. It’s what Irrenia would do.

“What is your name?” he asks.

“You first,” I say as I continue rubbing the foul-smelling cure into his skin.

“Soren.”

“I’m Rasmira.”

“Thank you for saving me.”

“You should be thanking my sister. She’s the one who made this miraculous ointment.”

He lets out a labored breath as my fingers brush against another wound. “But she’s not the one who fought off a dozen beasts that tried to devour me.”

I raise a brow.

“I saw most of your fight before I passed out,” Soren explains. “You’re incredible with an ax.”

The praise makes me uncomfortable, so instead of thanking him, I say, “You must be terrible with one.”

A short laugh escapes his lips. “Not usually, but when it’s one against twelve…”

“What are you even doing out here?”

“I live out here. The wild has been my home for a year.”

“A year!” I exclaim. So that means … “You were exiled after last year’s trial.”

For some reason, he grins at me. “And you must be this year’s failure.”

I wince and withdraw my hand now that Soren’s back is mostly healed. I place my focus on returning the lid to the canister. Three-fourths of the salve is now gone. I didn’t regret helping him until his last comment, however.

“Sorry,” he says quickly. “Too soon. I’m an idiot.”

“Almost a dead idiot.” I rise and wipe my hands off on my pants.

Soren tries to get his hands underneath himself to push onto his feet. He rises maybe an inch before falling back down.

“Do you think you could help me stand?” he asks.

“Roll onto your back.”

He grimaces.

“Your skin has healed over,” I say.

“What? How? I thought you gave me something to numb the pain.”

I tell him about Irrenia’s experiments with ziken blood. When I finish, he dares to roll onto his back.

“She sounds amazing,” he says.

I swallow a lump in my throat. “She is.” I hold down my hand to him, and he takes it. Once on his feet, I let go, but he sways to one side. I throw Soren’s arm over my shoulder to ground him.

“Side effect of your magical cream?” he asks.

“I don’t think so. You lost some blood. It’s made you light-headed, and you’re likely exhausted from your ordeal.”

“And you’re not?”

Truth be told, I feel ready to sleep for a hundred years, but having someone else to take care of is giving me the strength to go on. I answer with a shrug.

“This way,” Soren says. “I have shelter.”

We walk side by side. I hadn’t realized when he was on the ground, but he’s barely an inch taller than I am. Something tells me it’s never been a problem, however. Any other girl would think him handsome with his bright blue eyes, strong jaw, and long black lashes. But not me. I will never think of a boy that way ever again.

“So, Rasmira,” he says. “Do you have a boy waiting for you back home?”

I drop him.

All the air leaves him as he crashes to the ground. I hadn’t meant to let go of him, but the question was so startling, so painful, and Torrin’s face worked its way to the front of my mind.

“Ow,” Soren moans.

I reach down to help him back up, shaking brown eyes from my thoughts. “Sorry. That was an accident.”

He clings to me with more strength this time, as though he doesn’t trust me to hold on to him. “What, did you trip?”

“Something like that.” It’s such a bland response to get around telling a lie. He probably sees right through, and I expect him to call me out on it.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Soren says instead.

This time, my tone turns harsh. “No, I didn’t.”

He may be injured, but at least he’s not stupid. Soren takes that for the dismissal it is, and only points if I start going in the wrong direction.

“Should have kept better track of the days,” he says as we veer around a large boulder a few minutes later.

“Why’s that?”

“The Payment can’t have been long ago if you’re here. Peruxolo would have traveled through with a cart heaped with meat. The ziken are following his trail. That must be why there are so many out and about. I shouldn’t have come anywhere near here.”

And I’ve been following the same trail. No wonder one of them found me early this morning.

“A whole year,” I say, thinking of Soren’s earlier comment. “So it’s possible to survive in the wild. How have you not gone mad being out on your own for so long?”

“I haven’t been alone. We’ve arrived.”

We duck some thick branches and stop in front of—

Another tree.

Only this one has a house built into its branches. It’s small, perhaps the size of my bedroom back home, and it’s made out of—

“Is that wood?”

Soren’s eyelids flutter. Must be taking him some effort to keep them open. “Our best discovery out in the wild. There are trees out here that stay strong long after they’re cut.”

His eyes close, and suddenly he’s all deadweight.

My back slams against the base of the large tree supporting Soren’s home. I try to lower him as gently as I can the rest of the way to the ground.

He plops against the rocks, and his eyes suddenly shoot back open.

“Are you all right?” I ask.

“So … tired,” he says.

I take in the tree. The branches near the base look sturdy, and they’re spaced evenly apart to make for easy handholds. But there’s no way I’m getting Soren up there on my own.

“Hello?” I venture, raising my voice. Soren said he didn’t live alone. “Anybody up there?”

Silence.

“Soren’s in bad shape, so if you’re up there, I could use some help.”

There’s a loud thump in response, like someone dropped something. In the next second, a piece of the flooring raises—a door.

A head sticks out, takes in Soren on the ground and me standing next to him. It’s another boy. He immediately starts climbing down the tree. He looks the same age as Soren. His hair is much lighter, a brown so bright it is almost blond. He’s also taller than his friend, with leaner muscles. An ax rises over his right shoulder. Another warrior.

Once he hits the ground, brown eyes lighter than mine size me up from head to toe. When he finishes his assessment—presumably coming to the conclusion I’m not an immediate threat—he leans down to check on Soren.

“What happened?” he asks.

“Ziken horde,” I explain.

The new boy lifts up the tattered remains of Soren’s shirt. Looking for bites, I realize.

“Not injured, Iric,” Soren groans out. “She … healed me.”

The boy, who must be Iric, gives me yet another once-over. I can’t imagine what exactly he must think, but his eyes land on my ax. “Can you help me get him up there?” He jerks his head toward the tree house.

“I think so.”

“I’ll be right back.”

Iric scurries up the tree. In another moment, he drops down a rope with a loop around the end. “Can you put that under his shoulders?”

Understanding what he intends, I manage to get the rope over Soren’s head and under his arms.

“What’s going on?” Soren asks.

“This might hurt a bit, but we’re going to get you up where it’s safe,” I answer.

I hoist myself onto the nearest branch. I loved climbing trees when I was little, and it would seem my body hasn’t forgotten the motions. I get myself up through the hatch in the floor and briefly take in the shared living space.

Two small feather-stuffed mattresses, a fireplace, a wooden table and chair, and a pile of what I suspect is dirty clothing by the smell of it.

I get behind Iric and grab a section of the rope. A pulley dangles from the ceiling. They must hoist things through the hatch regularly. Likely firewood to cook their meals in the fireplace. I hope the pulley is strong enough to manage a body.

“On three,” Iric says.

The two of us start heaving. Even with the pulley, we have to strain our muscles to get Soren up and over the trapdoor. Iric unhooks him from the pulley and drags him over to one of the mattresses.

“How many ziken got ahold of him?” Iric asks as he stares down at Soren.

“A dozen,” I answer. “I found him twitching on the ground. Thought he was already dead.”

“You killed a dozen of them?” he asks, a note of suspicion in his tone.

“It was easier because they were distracted by the raw flesh.” I nod at Soren.

“He doesn’t have any bite marks, but he’s covered in dried blood.”

Though I’m loathe to have another person know about Irrenia’s miracle cure, I explain about the salve. I hope these boys wouldn’t steal from me after I helped them.

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