Layla felt an almost dull calm settle over her as Ceri stared in to her eyes. Yes he was brisque and yes he was almost rude, but she knew he was doing it to be strong and care for those who followed him. That made her feel more safe than she had since the first memories she had of her mother holding her, and stroking her hair.
"I don't know about the compound. We were only digging underneath the city, and we hardly ever got to go in to the fresh air. We slept where we worked."
"And the compound? What is it exactly?"
"The wall that surrounds the fortress. The sorcerer built it with magic. Anyone who went in from our group never came out again."
Ceri barely paused to take in any information. Layla glanced at Zane who rolled his eyes at her. She felt the ghost of a smile trying to lift her lips, even though it failed in it's task.
"We're put in to groups to dig. It means we search a wider area."
"And you have no idea what it is you're searching for?"
"No. I just know he wants it bad."
"How what?" Layla asked, confused by the speed with which he interrogated.
"How do you know he wants it bad?"
"Because anyone who stops before they're allowed gets hurt, badly. Or killed."
"You ever stop?" He asked. Layla had been speaking to the floor, but at this question she drew the line and glared at him defiantly. Straight in to his dark eyes. He held her gaze intently, then his pupils flicked to Zane. "She's good. You can take her to her room. Layla." His eyes returned to her face. "I'm sorry for what you've been through. I hope you know that you're safe now."
Layla nodded and followed Zane out of the room. As soon as they were away from the guards Zane chuckled.
"I have never seen anyone give Ceri that look before. He completely backed down! That was brilliant!" His excitement was rather endearing, but tiring. Layla wasn't used to it and so followed him, saying nothing in response. "Seriously you have to teach me how to do that."
"I don't know what I did. I didn't mean to do anything."
"Huh, shame. Wait till I tell everyone... well maybe I shouldn't. He probably wouldn't be too happy if everyone knew a woman made him back down, especially when it wasn't Sonja."
"You'll meet her at some point I expect. She heals people. She's got a little bit of magic in her, but nothing big. Just enough to make herbs do what she wants in a wound; that sort of thing."
Layla drank it all in; what Zane was saying, the places she was seeing... it finally hit her that she was free. Free from the pain and the hate and the evil. She was among good people.
"What's so surprising about a woman making men back down Zane? Your mum does it all the time to you."
Erik had appeared out of one of the side tunnels, carrying a sword.
"Shut up Erik. That's different; you have to respect your own mum." Zane punched at him playfully. "Where you going?"
"Got a new sword for Ceri. His last one was beyond repair."
"Oh yeah, after the attack. Alright well we're going to Layla's room. See you later."
Erik nodded once at Zane, and then at Layla before disappearing in the direction they had just come from. Zane gestured for Layla to follow him and led her through the maze of caves to the area he had described as the sleeping quarters.
"Most of these are made by us. You'd be surprised how much of this mountain was naturally like this though. The only things we did was make the sleeping quarters and make a few more rooms. The place was built to house a mad amount of people. It's almost like it was built for us."
Zane stopped and pointed towards a small set of caves.
"We thought you'd be more comfortable on your own for now. You can move in with people when you have a better feel of the place, maybe made a few friends. This one is yours." He led her in to one of the small caves, where there was a bed made of straw and heather and a set of clothes on a chair. Layla glanced down at the ragged clothes she wore. They were simple; just some worn trousers and a loose top. They had been her fathers, taken in by her mother to provide her daughter with something to wear. The women who wore hardly anything in the pits were the ones that the guards took advantage of. Layla had at least been saved from this horror. Not that the guards hadn't tried. She winced and shoved the thought from her mind. She concentrated instead on the clothes. It was a skirt and blouse, with a leather bodice.
"I- Could I..." She turned to Zane, not sure whether to ask the question or not. "Could I have trousers instead? I'd feel more comfortable."
Zane hesitated but then smiled.
"I'll try and find some. Anything else you need?"
Layla shook her head so Zane smiled and went to find some trousers. Layla sat on the bed. She was here, safe. And now, she had to make herself useful. Because she would bring that evil son of a bitch down if it was the last thing she did.
Over the next few days Layla found her place in the ccommunity of the resistance. She learned that there were a few things you should never do, things you should always do, and what time everything was. Most people bathed in natural pools near the sleeping quarters, that had been formed naturally but changed by skilled craftsmen. The water came in from the mountain streams and collected in the pools, and people heated them by warming the stone around them with fire. Women generally washed in the morning, before breakfast, and men in the evening, before dinner. Layla hadn't washed with them. She'd slipped away during the day to wash, but now she was helping to cook before meals, so she couldn't. Tonight she planned to bathe when everyone had gone to bed. That would be part of her new routine.
When she'd cleaned the pots from that evening, four days after having arrived, she slipped to her room and gathered her towel. Zane had managed to get her trousers, and although most of the women stared at her at first, they got used to her. She'd seen him, and Erik, every day since her arrival, since they waited and ate with her after she'd served people. She got along with them, and liked to listen to them joking and laughing as they drank. She rarely joined in, but enjoyed the light-heartedness that she felt she would never feel. The burden of her life was still pushing down on her, no matter how happy the people around her were. It made her think of Jasper, the one with the tortured eyes. She couldn't get that look out of her head, even though she hadn't seen him since that first day.
Silence fell as everyone went to sleep. Layla gathered her towel and slipped out and along the corridor to the baths. Only a few night watchmen passed her, but they all recognised her and saw her bath towel in her hand.
She slipped in to the cavern and hurried over to the pool. So far this was her favourite place. The walls were bathed in a bluey- green light, because the light that came through the mountain went through coloured gems that had been there before the resistance. It must have been made, Layla mused. Nothing like that could be natural.
She slipped off her clothes and climbed in to the water. The warmth of it licked over her and she sighed. Then she began to methodically wash the dirt off her body.
Once clean, she dipped her head under the water to wash her hair out. Something caught her eye; a sparkle on the floor of the pool. She reached down and picked it up, then surfaced, wiping the hair from her face. It was a ring.
There was a gasp behind her and she span her head round, gripping the side of the pool. Jasper stood there, gripping his towel. She knew he'd seen. He'd seen the raging red scars that clawed their way from her shoulder to her hip.
The ring clattered on to the floor of the cave.