They grab me from my bed in the sharehouse, ripping away my blanket.
Two of them restrain me with forked tree limbs, pinning me against the thin bedroll. The forks bind my arms, so that I cannot grasp my assailants. Muddled with sleep, I stare up at them. Alone in the sharehouse room, I’m not sure what I could do against three of them, even were I wide awake. Each is bigger, stronger, and at least five years beyond my own fifteen.
The tallest commands, “On your stomach, cursling. Hands behind you. Wrists together.” His gruff voice suggests he takes pleasure in his duties this evening.
And now I know for sure why they’re here. Sleepy confusion gives way to silent fear. I am to be exiled into the unprotected night. It is a death sentence. Not for what I’ve done, but for who I am. And what I might do.
“Release my arms,” I say. I do not give in to my terror, though my stomach fills with bile, my throat with acid. I will not give them the pleasure of seeing me fall apart.
“You know I can’t do that,” the troop leader snarls. Does his voice hold just the slightest hint of fear? Probably not, but it feels good to imagine it.
“Then I can’t do what you ask.” I’m being purely reasonable. It’s either that, or yield to panic.
He raises a fist. One of the other guardians turns to him and says quietly, “Sir?”