Chapter 1A Chapter by Jenny R.
In medieval Europe, a lord takes a boy prisoner. As an unexpectedly tender relationship grows between captor and captive, distrust grows into warmth and fills two once achingly empty hearts.
Summary: In the cold, isolated forests of medieval
A/N: Chapter 1 was reworked and posted on
Down an unknown road, to embrace my fate,
On a cold December afternoon in the still of winter, Matthias was far from home. The fading light was a testament to the sun’s last gasp before dusk stole it away into the night. Just as he meant to steal the boy away and vanish with him.
He needed the boy. Matthias knew his name"Tristan"and his face, but the boy wouldn’t recognize him in turn.
They found him resting in a clearing, shrouded in the long shadows of the sun’s dying rays. Tristan had fair skin and dark hair. He was of average height for his age"15 or 16 years old"and slim. He appeared exhausted and perhaps a little defeated by the slump of his shoulders. Though his clothes were torn and dirty, Matthias knew the boy was no peasant. He was much more than that. He would be a prize to many, sure to garner a considerable ransom. But that’s not why Matthias wanted him.
Tristan was accompanied by a man, also disheveled and bedraggled, who might have been ten years older than him. A servant to the boy, Matthias guessed. He and his men quietly dismounted their horses and surrounded the two travelers. The leaves had mostly gone, leaving behind a sparse blanket on the forest floor that did not betray their presence. They were but shadows in the waning light.
As they came near, the man sprung to his feet, knife in hand. Tristan rose to his knees but stayed on the ground, watching the situation unfold. He was very alert, every muscle in his body tensed. But Matthias was surprised when he saw the boy’s eyes. He had expected to see fear, confusion, and surprise, and he did see those emotions. But he also saw something else"something that could almost be called hope"in his eyes. Tristan’s eyes drew him in, beckoned to him, asked him to come closer. Matthias was still trying to decipher the boy’s eyes when he heard the whistle of the arrow, singing as it flew past him, unleashed from behind him. Moments later he heard Tristan let out a shocked scream as his companion twisted and crumpled to the ground.
Matthias could see the glimmer of hope in the boy’s eyes flit away as it was replaced with despair and panic. Where once there had been guarded warmth now there was only coldness, as if Matthias had betrayed his trust. Tristan crawled over to his companion and touched the bubbling wound on his chest, trying to quell the flow of blood, to no avail. His fingers became drenched with blood. His companion gurgled a little and then was still.
Now the boy was alone, exactly as Matthias wanted him. He locked eyes with Tristan, knowing he was his to take. Tristan met his eyes. Matthias saw a myriad of emotions on his face"anger, fear, contempt. Fire blazed in his hazel eyes. Matthias and his men moved toward him. Tristan, still on his knees, quickly picked up his fallen companion’s knife. The lord’s men immediately trained their bows on him. Matthias raised his hand to signal them to wait for his command. They would protect their lord at any cost, but he didn’t want the boy killed or fatally wounded.
He approached the teenage boy crouched on the ground. His stance warned him to stay away; his body language was very defensive. His eyes dared him to try to touch him. It was clear that Tristan recognized that he had been pursued, that their interest in him as well as the fact that their paths had crossed was not coincidental. That they meant to capture him. Though he was surrounded, he gave the impression that he had no intention of allowing them to do that. He would not come without a fight. But looking at his dress, Matthias knew the boy was not prepared for the bitter cold that would come that night. On foot, as he was, in the heart of the unforgiving forest, he would never make it to any kind of shelter. He would likely freeze to death, and despite his brazen attitude, Matthias could tell he was weaker than he would ever admit. It was clear he was injured, and that’s why he hadn’t risen to his feet. Matthias doubted he would make it far on his own, even if they did let him go.
“I need you to come with me,” he said to the boy.
Matthias took a step closer. “Give me the knife,” he said softly. Tristan jerked back, but stayed where he was. His arms were shaking. A couple more steps and he truly would have no chance of escape. Matthias would claim him as his own.
Tristan stared at him, breathing hard, clutching the knife so hard his knuckles were bone white. Matthias said clearly but calmly, “I can put you in the ground right now, or you can drop the knife and come with me.”
The boy glanced down at his dead companion, utterly alone and unprotected. Blood continued to blossom from the dead man’s chest. He slowly looked back up into the lord’s eyes. Matthias saw him thinking, trying to weigh his options. But more than anything, he looked exhausted, as if he was nearing his breaking point. Now he was almost close enough to touch the boy. He could see the sweat slowly trickling down his dirt-stained cheeks. It surprised Matthias that he was sweating on such a cold day. He could see a blood stain down the left side of his shirt. Matthias was surprised he chose to struggle at all, given the circumstances. He was far outnumbered, but he wouldn’t give in. He wasn’t defeated just yet.
“Come here. Come with me,” Matthias said more gently. Tristan didn’t move. He remained where he was. Matthias continued in a more threatening tone: “You have nowhere to go. You know you can’t escape. Even if by some whim I let you go, you’ll freeze tonight. If you want to live, come willingly with me now. You won’t be hurt.” Matthias could see the distrust in his eyes. The boy clearly didn’t believe him or trust him to honor his word.
“I know you’re injured. I don’t want to hurt you further.”
While Tristan’s attention was focused on him, Thoran, one of Matthias’s men, came up behind the boy and grabbed him. He locked his strong arms around Tristan, pinning the boy’s arms against his body. As he dragged him to his feet, Tristan struggled violently with him, twisting his body, thrashing, jerking, and trying to wrench himself free from his grip. The other men shifted their positions to form a circle around the two of them.
Thoran had both arms across Tristan’s chest, holding the boy against him and restraining him. He had him locked against his own chest. Every time Tristan inhaled to draw breath, Thoran tightened his arm around his stomach. It was only when he ran out of breath and strength to fight that he stopped struggling and was still, though he still gripped the knife. Thoran had his arms pinned to his side so he had no leverage to use the weapon. Thoran relaxed his hold slightly so the boy could actually breathe. Matthias heard him mutter “Jesus” at his captive’s ferocious tenacity.
Tristan leaned back slightly against Thoran, trying to steady himself. This confirmed Matthias’s suspicions about why he had never risen to his feet, why he had taken up a defensive, almost aggressive stance instead of trying to run. He could hardly stand and he hadn’t wanted to reveal how weak he was. He was holding his left leg so his foot didn’t touch the ground. But even with his injury, he gave no sign of willingly submitting or surrendering. He fixed his eyes on Matthias, only feet away from him, with a disdainful expression. His belly heaved as he tried to catch his breath from his near suffocation, a result of his struggling. Clearly he didn’t appreciate the rough treatment.
Matthias stood before him and held out his hand for the knife. “Give it to me now.” When Tristan hesitated, Thoran produced a dagger from a pouch on his thigh and held it against the boy’s throat. Tristan arched away from it, pressing himself back into the man, trying to avoid the sharp blade. A bead of blood appeared on his neck and languidly trickled down to his collarbone. When Thoran pressed deep enough to increase the flow of blood running down his neck, Tristan shifted in his arms but didn’t relent. He still held onto the knife with proud obstinance.
“Enough,” Matthias told Thoran. “You could slit his throat and he would still keep fighting you.” Matthias signaled for Thoran to lower his dagger from the boy’s throat. He could envision more unnecessary blood spilled as they continued to provoke each other and struggle. To his surprise, Tristan dropped the knife on the ground after Thoran grudgingly lowered the dagger. Matthias kicked it away from the boy with his boot.
“I know you’re hurt. Let me see. I won’t hurt you further if you stay still and listen to me. Okay?” Tristan only glared at him, fire blazing in his eyes. It was clear he didn’t want sympathy. Thoran shook him a bit to try to get him to respond to the lord. The boy wobbled a little before he regained his balance, putting his weight on his right foot, his face white and twisted with pain.
Matthias reached out a hand to touch him and he jerked back.
Matthias sighed. “He can hardly stand. Have him sit on his knees.” Thoran forced Tristan to his knees.
Matthias knelt down next to Tristan so that their eyes were level. He nodded toward the blood stain on his shirt. Thoran’s arms were still locked around him. The blood started just below Thoran’s arm.
“What happened to you? Why are you bleeding?”
Tristan responded with a defiant stare, his mouth a thin line.
“How long ago were you injured?”
Again he was silent.
“Are you deaf? Or perhaps you’re mute. That’s why you can’t answer me.” He knew the boy was neither deaf nor mute.
His comment had the desired effect of provoking him. The petulant expression on Tristan’s face told Matthias that he had taken the bait.
“I am not deaf, nor am I mute! I just have nothing to say to you,” Tristan snarled.
“You have nothing to say to me? Alright. All you have to do is come with me. That’s all I ask of you.”
“No. Stay away from me. I don’t negotiate with men like you.”
“You don’t? Well, that’s fine because it seems to me that you’re in no position to negotiate. But go on. I’m interested to know: what kind of man am I?”
“I can only guess, but I have a few ideas. A murderer. An arrogant, greedy coward who would hold me hostage for money. A deplorable man who would use me to satisfy his sick desires.” Matthias heard a sliver of fear creep into his voice when he spoke the last phrase.
“I am none of those things, but you’re free to think those things about me if it makes you feel better. I understand how it makes you feel more in control of the situation.”
“You have no idea how I feel.”
“I don’t? You’ve told me what you think. Here’s what I think: You’re not sure what I am, why I’m here, or what my intentions for you are. You wonder how I know your name and how I know exactly who you are, even though you look like a filthy peasant. And that’s what scares you.”
“You don’t know my name. And I’m not scared.”
Matthias stepped toward him and Tristan flinched slightly.
“If you’re going to lie to me, at least do it with some conviction, Tristan.”
He watched the momentary shock on the boy’s face at hearing his own name.
“How do you know that name?” he demanded.
“That’s none of your concern right now.”
“What do you want with me?”
“I’ve already told you. I want you to come with me. You don’t need to know anymore right now.”
“Beyond what I just said, I have nothing to say to you. Now stay still and let me see your wound.”
Tristan clearly didn’t like having his own words thrown back at him, but he didn’t say anything more. Matthias would have liked to hear him apologize, but he knew the boy would sooner be run through with a sword than admit he had been too brash.
Matthias returned his gaze to the blood on the boy’s shirt. Inexplicably, the shirt was the only garment he was wearing on top. Matthias unbuttoned Tristan’s shirt and opened it, exposing his chest. Tristan shied away from his touch, wary, but was kept in place by Thoran. He began to shiver, and Matthias wasn’t sure if it was from the cold or because the physical contact made him uncomfortable. Matthias slipped his hands around the boy’s back to feel for any weapons. His fingertips lightly touched his shoulder blades and he pulled him a little closer to him. Then he untied the dirty, bloody cloth fastened around his middle. When he looked at his bare skin he saw a fresh spurt of blood trickling down his side, undoubtedly caused by his wild struggling. His whole side was bloody. “Get me some water,” he said. One of his men brought him a leather water skin. Matthias poured water onto the discarded cloth and rubbed as gently as he could at Tristan’s side, trying to wash away the blood so he could determine how deep the incision was.
Tristan jumped and gave a small gasp, pressing himself against Thoran’s chest in a futile attempt to distance himself from Matthias’s hand. Thoran pressed the knife against his neck at his seeming resistance, producing a thread of blood. “It’s okay,” Matthias told him. “It hurts him. He didn’t mean to.” He saw the curious expression on Tristan’s face at his comment. The boy clearly thought his sole purpose was to humiliate or hurt him. That was not his intention.
He continued his cursory examination, cleaning the dirt and blood away from the wound. Tristan recoiled from his touch and responded with flinches and sharp intakes of breath. “Be still,” he told him, more gently than before. Once he cleaned the blood away he could see the laceration. The wound was long and ragged and stretched from mid-torso to hip. It looked raw and painful and was most likely infected. Matthias’s fingers wandered just below Tristan’s ribcage, first feeling the inflamed skin around the wound without directly touching it. He put his hand on his chest to steady him and touched him lightly with the other, pressing his finger gently against the injury. He glanced at Tristan’s eyes. Tristan gritted his teeth and stiffened his body. He made it clear that his compliance was not voluntary. With his hand resting on his chest, Matthias could feel the boy’s heart hammering frantically in his chest, like a caged animal. Clearly he was not as blasé about this examination as he tried to appear.
“When I touch you, does it hurt a lot?” he asked Tristan, raising his eyes to meet the boy’s. The boy was clearly uncomfortable being this close to him. Tristan considered him for a moment, eyes narrowed with suspicion, before nodding curtly. Matthias looked at him again. His eyes were clear, but his eyelids were drooping and he was struggling to keep his eyes open. Now that he was close to him he saw that underneath the streaks of dirt his face was flushed. He was exhausted and feverish.
“You have an infection,” Matthias told him. It seemed to mean little to the boy right then. “I don’t know how you’re still standing,” he commented. “I guess you aren’t,” Matthias corrected himself.
“Get him up,” he said to Thoran. The man roughly yanked Tristan to his feet, releasing his pinned arms for a moment. As Matthias turned away, he saw the glint of metal and the movement of the boy’s arm in the corner of his vision. He knocked his arm and the concealed dagger Tristan had pulled from his trousers fell to the ground. Matthias stooped slowly and picked it up. He rose to his feet and held it out in front of Tristan. Tristan looked at the dagger and then into his eyes, reluctantly leaning back against Thoran so he would stay upright.
There was no apology in Tristan’s eyes for what he had attempted"only defiance and a fierceness that Matthias hadn’t expected. A desperation that both pierced and perplexed him. His move had been rash and panicked. Though the boy likely didn’t know who they were or what exactly they intended to do with him, he had to know that he was too valuable to kill without first attempting some kind of negotiation. But he was acting as if he was fighting for his life and if they captured him, he would be condemned. As if this was his last breath, and he couldn’t let them subdue him.
“I’m sorry you did that,” Matthias said to him quietly.
He swung his arm and hit the boy in the temple with the hilt of the dagger. Without a sound Tristan crumpled. Thoran released him and he fell forward. His face hit Matthias’s chest as the lord caught him, wrapping his arms around his back. He gripped onto Matthias’s arms, almost like he didn’t want him to let go. Tristan lifted his head to look up at Matthias and for a moment their eyes connected. Then he slumped against him. The boy was unconscious before Matthias laid him gently on the ground.
Through the darkness of the night, they carried the unconscious boy. When they arrived at the manor house Matthias had them lay Tristan’s supple form on a couch in the drawing room. Matthias instructed his men to light candles and bring blankets. He sat down beside Tristan, removing the overcoat that had been wrapped around him. He pulled the boy across his lap, supporting his head. He removed his dirtied, bloodied shirt and carefully examined the wound on his left side once again. He lightly touched the swollen, blood-streaked skin with his fingers. The laceration wasn’t deep, but it was infected and very sore. The boy had needed stitches days ago. Now he would have to re-open the wound in order to clean it.
He wrapped Tristan’s bare upper body in a blanket from the couch and carried him to the examination table in the infirmary. He could close the wound himself and then send for the doctor in the morning. He had his men bring liquor, water, soap, cloths, ointment, a needle and thread, and clean wound dressings. While he waited for the water to heat on the fire, Matthias removed the rest of the boy’s soiled clothes. His skin was streaked with dirt. He dipped a cloth in the lukewarm water and ran it gently over his face and then down his body, starting with his neck and shoulders and ending with his legs, removing the sweat and dirt. He knew the boy wouldn’t appreciate him cleaning him while he wasn’t conscious to protest, but he didn’t care. He wouldn’t put him to bed unless he was fairly clean. After Matthias was finished cleaning him he covered his lower body with the blanket that had rested around his shoulders.
After the water heated he held a warm cloth against Tristan’s side, applying light pressure. He soaked the wound and then worked soap into the abscess, cleaning gently with his fingers. He carefully washed around the laceration, removing the fresh, gelled blood as well as the dried blood. He rinsed the soap off by dribbling water over his side and then dried him with a cloth.
Now he prepared to close the wound. He dabbed a bit of liquor on it and held the needle over the fire for a few seconds. He pierced the skin with the needle and began sewing. Soon his hands were stained and glutinous scarlet blood was smeared across the boy’s torso, dribbling down his side and collecting at his waist. After some concentration Matthias tightened the stitches and tied them off. The white thread was stained a crimson color, as was the edge of the blanket around Tristan’s waist. He washed the tender, swollen area with warm water once more and dried it with a cloth.
Matthias thoroughly coated his fingers with ointment and carefully rubbed them over the closed wound. He moved his fingers slowly and delicately, not wanting to rupture the fresh stitches. When he had finished coating Tristan’s laceration he dressed it with clean cloths. Matthias moved down his body to examine his other injury. The boy’s ankle, heavily swollen and bruised, was dislocated. With a sharp, forceful movement, Matthias repositioned his ankle, popping the joint back into the socket. In that moment he figured he had done the boy a favor by knocking him out"the procedure would have been very painful if he had been conscious.
He wrapped a clean blanket around Tristan’s hips and lifted him off the table, holding him gently in his arms. He carried him upstairs to a guest bedroom and laid him on the bed. After rummaging in the bureau he produced nightclothes that the boy could wear. He dressed him and laid him on his back, head on the pillow, before pulling the covers over his body. Then he sat on the bed next to his limp form.
There was a soft knock at the open door and Thoran entered the room. As he approached the bed Matthias rested a protective hand on Tristan’s side.
“How is he?”
“He’ll be okay. Physically, at least.”
“You should have waited until he was awake again to sew him up. I think he actually enjoys fighting.”
“No, I don’t think he does. But I think he hasn’t known anything else for a long time.”
“Yes, I’m sure he’s had ample practice playing the part of ‘spoiled brat.’”
“I don’t agree. I think there’s much more than that behind that mask he wears. And it doesn’t matter whether you like him or not. He’ll be gone soon enough.”
“Do you think Barrett is still over there?”
“I hope not.”
“I thought you gave him permission to go there.”
“I did. And I know he’s worried about his son, but I don’t think his presence there helps the situation. He should come home. He knows that I very much value his advice.” He nodded toward the comatose boy. “And now that we have him, we can negotiate with them.”
“How do you intend to treat the boy? He’s not exactly a prisoner, but surely he can’t be considered a guest in this house.”
“It depends on how he behaves. He has the opportunity to gain privileges, purely dependent on his compliance. If not, he can spend his days and nights shackled to the bedpost. I don’t mind keeping him in this room all day, but I don’t think he’ll enjoy being tied up like an animal.”
“I wouldn’t bet on him gaining privileges anytime soon"or being unshackled from that bedpost. You know he’ll try anything to escape, however foolish.”
“We’ll see. Hopefully he’ll realize that it’s not so bad here; that it could be much worse. I might be able to talk some sense into him.”
“I’ll smack some sense into him right now, if you’ll allow me. I mean, when he wakes up.” Thoran spoke in a joking tone, but the intent was there.
“No. Just leave him alone. And before you ask"yes, that’s an order.”
“Okay, understood. Goodnight, Matthias.”
Matthias nodded as Thoran exited the room. When the other man was gone he leaned over and whispered to the unconscious boy: “Please be good. I don’t want to hurt you. You are mine, and you can’t go home, but I’ll take care of you if you’ll let me.”
He looked down at Tristan. His face was relaxed and peaceful now. He thought back to their confrontation earlier that evening. Tristan had been so angry, so defiant. He had a wounded quality about him. Even when Matthias had told him he wouldn’t hurt him if he obeyed, the boy clearly hadn’t believed him. He had been fiercely suspicious and aggressive, like he had been hurt before. Like he had been hurt badly. That surprised Matthias. With his status, he couldn’t have wanted for anything, at least anything material in nature. He couldn’t have experienced the same hardships commoners did. He had no reason to be so guarded and distrustful. Matthias had considered reassuring him that no harm would come to him by his hand. But after the boy’s audacity, he took some kind of satisfaction in making him wonder what he planned to do with him.
But there had been something else in the boy’s eyes, something besides coldness or insolence. Matthias had seen hope, almost like Tristan wanted to trust him but didn’t have faith in his own judgment. In the way that the boy had held onto him before he lost consciousness, he detected warmth struggling to emerge from the icy depths that guarded his heart. There was something about the way he had held onto his arms that made it seem like he didn’t want him to let go. Matthias had seen the change in his eyes when he looked up at him, realizing that he was being held in someone’s arms rather than unceremoniously dropped to the ground. He had felt it in the way Tristan had leaned into him in those brief moments before he slipped away into darkness. Even as the boy clung to consciousness, he had clung to him.
Matthias touched his cheek lightly with his hand. He felt the steady pulse on his neck, no longer frantic. His skin was still flushed but not as feverish as it had been. He slipped his fingers underneath the boy’s shirt for a moment. His skin was soft and warm.
He knew Tristan would be confused when he learned soon enough that this was no routine kidnapping. He knew he wouldn’t understand why he was doing this. He probably thought he had been taken prisoner so that a ransom would be paid and then he would be returned. But there was no ransom, and Matthias had no intention of giving him back.
He probably thought that he would see his home again. But he could never go back.
The boy was captive, bound to him forever. Only death would break their bond and thereby release him. But he would protect Tristan and keep him safe. Only then could he be forgiven for what he had done; only then could he attain redemption. And then he would finally be free.
© 2010 Jenny R.