“You don’t know what it is like to have someone take your body against your will,” Mary said without taking her eyes away from the fire. “I am changed from what I was. I will never be …” she shook here head. “… I will never be who I was.”

“You were raped?” asked El looking at her carefully.

Mary did not answer straight away.  She kept staring at the fire. She took two deep breaths and let them out raggedly as if the air escaped against her will. “No… well, not exactly. I was hungry, my mother was hungry and sick, and my younger siblings were all dependent on me… and a man offered me money… three gold pieces. It seemed like a fortune. How could I just let my mother die from hunger?  I took the damn money.  I put it in my purse and in one motion he pulled my dress up and off me.  It was like a little magic trick.  One moment I was a human and the next I was … what… I don’t know…something less than human. My instinct was to grab for my dress, but then I realized that he was now allowed … access to me. He could do what he wanted. I felt goosebumps over every inch of my body. I flinched against his every touch… which he noticed, and it seemed to excite him.”

El rested her hand on Mary’s shoulder. “You don’t have to talk about this. It is the past. That part of your life is gone.”

Mary put her hand on El’s. “Some stains can never be washed away.”

“You did what you had to.”

“For three years I made good money. The medicine and food I gave my mother allowed her to recover.  My young brothers were able to be apprenticed.  One day I came home to find the whole family and a priest waiting for me.  They confronted me about my profession and declared me to be evil. They whipped my back to shreds, shaved my hair, and evicted me, and though I barely had eighteen winters I was declared vagrant and evicted from town.”

El did not speak.  She soaked the dagger in the poison.

Mary kept her eyes on the fire. “I briefly tried to ply my trade to the incoming wagons on the south shivy road, but my torn clothes and scarred skin repulsed my prospective clients. I headed south with no plan but to find water and beg for food. My clothes were rags. I must have smelled like a corpse, and I was riddled with disease.”

“Then you met Sam.”

“Then I met Sam.”

Mary closed her eyes. “I had been alone for a year, getting weaker and sicker. I had found a small stream to drink from and was bathing the sores that had erupted on my wounds, when I heard him walk behind me. He offered me food. I offered him my body. He refused, then he raised his staff … which I thought was just a stick until I saw the orb at the top glow. I flinched from him, then felt warmth flood my body.  All my pain just left me.  My muscles were strong again. I stood up straight for the first time since my back had been flayed.”

El examined the poison drenched dagger, sheathed it and handed it to Mary.

Mary took it. “The woman that was him, gave me her cloak. They gave me three gold coins, apologized that they had an urgent matter to attend to and they left. It was an unforgiveable act of kindness… unforgiveable.”

El nodded. “I understand.”  She stood and walked to the window.  “Sam and the princess will be leaving the pauper’s hospital in about thirty minutes. He will recognize you and allow you to hug him.  That will get you within his icor shield.”

Mary examined the dagger and snarled. “He will not survive the day. I swear it.”

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