Layla and Jasper did not speak. They hadn't all day, not since the night before when Jasper had found her washing. She did not know whether she could do that again; wash when he obviously went to do so. She knew she would have to talk to him about it, but the memory of his face after he'd seen her scars convinced her of something she already feared: her scars made her repulsive and Jasper knew now. No doubt everyone would know soon enough that she had this angry reminder of her time as a slave firmly embedded in to her skin.
And yet here he was, sitting across from her at dinner. He didn't speak, didn't even look at her, but she knew he was here for her. Maybe he wanted to talk about what he had seen. She looked down at the ring and suddenly felt that silence was her friend. She did not want to talk about it.
Minutes after Zane left she realised that the silence hung there, too ever present to not be noticed. Jasper shifted.
"Are you going to the sparring?" His voice came out as if he'd been thinking hard about what to say. He obviously wanted to avoid the topic of last night too.
"I might do." Layla replied quietly. "Will you?"
"I might do." He replied, a ghost of a smile on his face. "You're still wearing the ring?"
She nodded and looked down at it; she had meant to ask Erik about it but had decided not to in front of people. She would find him after the duel.
"I'll give it back if I find out whose it is." She whispered. It did feel wrong to her to keep it.
Jasper looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. Then he nodded and stood up.
"I'll see you at the sparring." He walked off briskly.
The match was impressive; Erik and Zane were well matched. Layla had been watching in interest, but when Ceri interrupted she realised that Jasper was there. She had to pluck up the courage to ask him about the pools.
"Jasper?" She muttered as people began to leave. He glanced at her curiously, and then came closer to listen. "About... well..."
"You don't have to talk about it." He interrupted hurriedly, and she knew he was talking about her scars. He looked quite unsettled. She had not realised the extent of the effect it had on him.
"No... not about that... the pools. Do you go at a certain time... I just; I don't want us to have to be awkward with each other again."
He stared at her as though the thought had not crossed his mind.
"I just go when everyone is asleep. In the future we could leave something outside when we're washing, so the other knows?"
Layla nodded, relieved at this simple solution.
"That is a good idea." She saw Erik going passed and knew she should go after him. "Excuse me." She hurried away, after Erik's figure among those who had watched the match.
"My father made it I believe. I think I recognise it. If I'm not mistaken, that ring is Sonja's; Ceri's wife."
"Oh. Thank you; I shall return it to her. Do you know where I could find her?"
"At this time, she'll be in the medicine area. Off the dining hall to the left and along the tunnel till you reach the third exit."
"Thank you." Layla gave Erik a tentative smile, and hurried off in the direction he had pointed her.
She had mixed feelings about meeting Sonja. She was anxious to find someone else to talk to, someone who would understand what Zane, Erik and Jasper did not. And yet she was terrified of this unknown woman. She had magic, and that was something that Layla had grown up hating and fearing. But it could not be all that bad if she was with the resistance.
Her heart beating fast, she arrived at the medical cave. A woman was leaning over a table, grinding something furiously. Layla cleared her throat. The woman span round.
Describing Sonja was difficult, because Layla had never seen anyone so radiant. She had an incredibly beautiful face, with almond shaped eyes in a deep amber colour, and rich caramel skin that seemed to reflect light in a bronze glow. Her lips were dark around clean white teeth, and her body curved as an hourglass does. But something distorted her beauty, something which bonded Layla to this woman before they'd even greeted each other. One long scar cut across this beautiful woman's face, from just above her left eyebrow to meet at the corner of her mouth. As she grew conscious of the mark, the woman smiled, making it more obvious.
"You must be Layla." She spoke with a honey coated voice, that brought warmth to Layla's tired body. "My husband described you well. What can I do for you?"
"You are Sonja?" Layla asked, in case she was wrong. Sonja nodded. "I found this, and I believe it is yours." She held out the ring so Sonja could see. The woman stepped forward and took the ring from her, looking at it.
"I wondered where it had gone. Where did you find it?"
"In the baths."
"Hmm, I'm not surprised. It's so busy there. Thank you Layla, but I have already had another made. Perhaps you would like to keep this one?"
"I- I couldn't." Layla wasn't used to this kindness, or to having such a beautiful thing.
"Consider it a gift. I know what you must have been through to get here; it's about time you had something beautiful in your life." Sonja slipped the ring in to Layla's hand. "There. Wear it well."
"Thank you." Layla murmured, trying not to stare at Sonja's scar.
"You see you're not the only one here who escaped from the sorcerer. Although I can only imagine what pains you went through. My skills made me comfortable at least, while I planned my escape." Layla paled, not sure whether Sonja was angry at her staring and at the same time filled with memories of her time in the caverns.
"You have magic." She muttered.
"Yes. Not much, but enough to help those who he has hurt. Do not worry; I am used to the stares."
"I... I didn't mean to I just... How did you get it to heal so well?"
"Part of my gift. It healed well when I put a few herbs on it. Why do you ask?"
"I wondered... if you could help me. I have a scar... well a few. And they still hurt; I don't think they ever got to heal because I was always moving. I wonder if you could help."
"Let me see."
Layla fidgeted. She wasn't comfortable with removing her clothes in front of people, even other women. But this woman knew about scars... Eventually she undid her bodice and slowly pulled her shirt over her head. She clutched it to her to cover her breasts and turned around, grimacing. She heard Sonja tutting and then her cool fingers on her back.
"They're bad. But I could do something for them I think. They'll never go away, but I could at least make them less... vivid. Close them properly. You were whipped?"
Layla nodded, wincing.
"I am sorry." Sonja placed her hand comfortingly on Layla's shoulder before she went over to the table. Layla watched her moulding a paste together and then let her smooth it over her scars. It stung a little, but not too badly. "You can stay here while it dries. It will seep in to your skin so you don't have to worry about it sticking to anything. Come back for some more tomorrow, and every day after that for a week, and by then it should have healed properly."
"Thank you." Layla whispered, sitting on the stool, her shirt still wrapped around as much of her as she could cover.
"It is my gift Layla. I only wish I could make them go away completely, or at least be like mine. But they are too far ruined. If you ever feel you want to talk though... that I can help with." Layla nodded and Sonja smoothed her hair away from her face kindly.
It reminded Layla of her mother.