His name was Rubin, and he hated love. ---Prequel to Free---


4. Odmar

Ruby. The colour stained his nightmares, refusing to leave him as he watched it spill, again and again, the image clinging to his mind. Three times, he managed to sleep despite the relentless cold, and three times, he woke screaming, cold sweat dripping from his face.

Eventually, he gave up on sleep, and smothered the few embers he had managed to keep alive. A shaky breath of the freezing air, and then he was moving again, forcing one foot down at a time.

It was dark, cold and lonely, and he didn't know where he was going. It didn't matter at the time, because all Oben could do was walk, trembling, whimpering, crying - and even doing that was a difficulty.

When the first tendrils of dawn flickered at the sky, he looked up at the spectral light, and stood there. The light was too pale and distant - an ill, ghostly illumination of the trees around him.

He preferred the dark. At night, everything had been black. There was no way to see the shadows within the trees, and not being able to see them made everything better. Now, Oben caught himself glancing at the shadows within the trees, every sound startling him.

But that wasn't the most terrifying thing. No: the most daunting thing was the slow realisation that he hated Odmar. It had been his fault Mother and Father had gone back, after all. If he hadn't been there, then Mother and Father would still be here.

Oben hated Odmar, but he didn't want to. Odmar was his own brother, and he was dead, and all Oben could do was hate him. What else could he do? How could he love the brother who had forced him into solitude?



By nightfall, Oben's only solution was to adopt Odmar's name. If he hated him, then at least he could remember him by his name, Oben reasoned, striking the flint arrowhead against his steel knife once more. Sparks finally lit the bracken, and Oben - no, Odmar - set the smoking bracken on the pile of kindling.

As the flames emerged, he took another deep breath. Shuddering, Odmar moved closer to the fire.

"Odmar." He rolled the word across his tongue, and his new name ended with a snarl of disgust.

What was he supposed to do now? He couldn't hunt alone, not really. Why couldn't his parents have listened?

Hatefully, he spat into the flames. Nobody had ever listened. Mother and Father had said that they were proud, that he'd done well, but where could that ever get him when they'd simply ignored him? They'd discarded him just to return for Odmar.

Now, Oben - Odmar, he told himself of his name again - was doomed. He couldn't hunt. He felt as though he'd freeze if he stopped, but what choice did he have?

Gritting his teeth, Odmar succumbed to exhaustion.



He woke screaming once more.

Odmar scrambled to his feet, turning, gasping, eyes wide. 

Noises. Oh, gods, there were so many sounds, so many hisses and snarls and snaps that could be the monsters...

He made it only three steps before collapsing. He retched, but he'd eaten no food to throw up.

"Mother..." he croaked, voice empty. Water. He needed water, not fear or sorrow or horror.-

Something near him moved, and a whimper escaped his lips. A monster! Scrambling away, he tried to escape it, but when he risked a glance over his shoulder, he realised it was only a fox. For a long moment, the two stared at one another, before the fox turned swiftly, fleeing. Filled with a sudden desire to have something else to do but sit and wait for death, Odmar followed the flashes of rusty fur through the dark. Soon, he'd lost all sign of the animal, but there was another sound.


Odmar stumbled greedily to the sound of the water, the very notion of it transforming his mind into a place of only one thought: drink.

He found the silvery reflection of moonlight from the river, and collapsed to his knees before it, plunging his head into the water and gulping it down. It was cool and refreshing as it ran down his throat; as it washed the sweat from his forehead; as it revitalised him with every gulp.

Finally, Odmar raised his head, panting.

He could survive. He could be clever, like the fox that had led him here, not like Odmar, not like Mother or Father when they went back.

Fox. That name would do, for q while. Until he found one that was stronger, reminded him less of struggle and more of his own survival.

Fox watched the water run away, and bid his past to flow away with it.

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