“Get up! Run!” The voice was distant, but there. It was soft, like fresh bread. It had an accent like cinnamon. “Always keep running, Oleander!”
His mother’s voice. But it was so faint...
He tried to call for her, but only a rasping choke came out. Something thick and warm dripped down his chin, churning his already sick stomach...
3 weeks. It had been three weeks since the large man had last swung open his rusty cell door. Since then they’d been feeding him well, making sure his wounds healed properly; they gave him a proper bed.
He thought they believed he might answer their questions if they treated him nicely.
“Where is the thieves’ guild?”
Before it had been screamed at him, but for three weeks they had spoken to him gently, like they really cared, like he was really a very important person to them...
But he didn’t know. All the roads were winding near that place, he lost track of them, and then his parents’ would cover his eyes and lead him down more winding streets until he was dizzy. They whispered gently to him, but never told him where he was going. When he was older, they said, he would be allowed to know, but at 10 he was too young...
He told them that, but they didn’t believe him. He thought that was why they were treating him nicely...
The day could have been a week or a year since the large man had stopped coming, until the creak of a rusty door was followed by a low, poisonous voice humming that it had been three weeks. That he had told them everything he knew...
But he didn’t allow himself to speak, to cheer, he didn’t even glance before the large man grabbed his shaggy hair with a white-knuckled fist and dragged him roughly to the bed, where he was made to kneel, back distorted from the angle it was being made to bend at, the back of his head pressed into the fresh sheets...
A white figure loomed over him in a crisp black gown and a friendly smile.
“You’re a smart boy.” The deceptively friendly voice he had come to fear said, the head of the man gesturing to the short blade he held in his free hand. “Aren’t you?”
And then the blade screamed
“Get up!” The cinnamon voice murmured, “Run!” Sounds started to fall away with tears off his chin as he tried to choke for the voice again, but found a rag pressed against his cheeks, cutting off sound. “Always ke-”
The warm liquid slid down his neck, and he forgot what was happening.
Dawn spilled around patchwork curtains when he woke, bleary-eyed, to a feeling of something new.
Wiping his eyes free of sleep, he glanced around the small room; it was simple and cramped, with a tiny table layered in dust, but with a large many-sided clear patch in the middle. Behind the mustard curtains he could see the silhouettes of a dozen or so tiny plants, and under the window were various sizes of plant pots and a large damp-looking sack, spilling compost on the green floor-boards. On the opposite side of the room to where he now sat up on the hard bed, there was a splintered door.
He leant drowsily on the chipped grey wall behind him and closed his heavy eyelids again.
“Oleander!” The voice made him jump, eyes wide. It was unfamiliar, but full of joy, and spoke to him like he was already a friend.
He hadn’t noticed the girl before, but his eyes settled on her now: She was small, sat in an even smaller chair, with eyes that gleamed like sunlight on damp moss and roughly cut auburn hair stroking her tiny shoulders.
Underneath a longer part of her fringe that covered one side of her face, he could just make out a scar mottling the skin around her eye and cheek; it peeked over her nose. Further down - an unsullied, childish grin.
“You are awake!” Her voice felt like warm milk, with just a hint of honey from her faded foreign accent. “Poppy said you would if I stayed here with you! Hellebore brought you in almost dead! Poppy worked a miracle!”
Every sentence spilled out of her like an amazing declaration; everything was exciting to this girl, he thought, and he could feel it trying to breach his skin. The corners of his lips almost twitched upwards.
As she spoke she clutched a terracotta plant pot in her thin olive fingers, and dropped dirt on her plain white dress as she wiggled her legs...
Not legs... Or barely... 'stubs' was a more accurate description. Her legs cut off at the knee, so that her dress met itself as it dropped off the chair she was sat on, which was itself unusual; the wood at the very bottom of each leg had been cut off in a block, and reconnected with a hinge. Each little piece was folded back and locked inside a brace. At either side, attached to the back legs, were large wheels that stretched over the length between both the front and the back of the chair. Tucked just inside and attached to the front legs were smaller wheels.
He took in the chair with avid curiosity, his mind ticking over the simple yet efficient working of it, until he noticed the girl’s steady but friendly stare, and gazed at her small face again.
After taking a deep breath in through his noise, he opened his mouth to ask her who she was, but-
“Do not!” The girl cried, “Do not! It has not healed fully!”
All that came out of his mouth was a gurgling noise, a wavering moan.
The girl continued to panic, begging him not to move it too much, because Poppy had said to make sure he didn’t since, whatever it was, it hadn’t healed.
What’s happened that I would need to heal? He wondered, and gently eased his jaws apart.
The girl was yelling and gripping her wheels as he reached two fingers carefully into his open mouth. He expected a burning sensation from a wound, or a dull throb from a tooth, but there was nothing.
Just an empty space bordered by teeth...
His tongue was gone.