Layla considered the offer Zane had made to her while she ate her meal that evening. Did she want to fight? Could she fight? She'd never had a weapon in her life, never had a chance to fight. Had the fight been beaten out of her? Her scars twinged at the thought of her wielding a weapon, causing other people the harm she had experienced. But then she thought that she could stop those people ever causing harm again and a fire rose in her belly. The decision was made right there, as she curled over her bowl. She would fight with the resistance.
The mark in the sand wasn't there when Layla went to the baths. Jasper had started leaving a triangle with a line straight through the centre on the floor outside the baths when he was inside, so Layla would wait outside until he had finished. Tonight she drew the mark with her finger, and hurried inside.
As the water washed over her, warm and comforting, she sighed. She had never completely relaxed, but these few stolen moments were the few that she felt close to being at ease with herself. Other times a battle raged inside her, filling her with emotions she didn't understand, and couldn't delve in to for fear of losing control. She drifted, thinking about her life, about her new decisions, about her new friends. She thought about her new roomate, and how she seemed so on edge. And then her mind drifted ever so sneakily to Jasper.
Damn. He'd want to bathe. She hauled herself from the bath and hurriedly dried and dressed. As she leant down to tie her shoes however, a sudden tearing pain whipped across her back and she fell to the floor, writhing and yelling in agony. White hot pain seared across her vision and she panted heavily in to the sand on the floor.
"Layla!" Jasper cried, entering and seeing her on the floor. "What happened?"
She gulped in air, unable to answer as she tried to wipe the pain from her back.
"Layla?" He said, more gently this time, his hand on her shoulder.
"My back..." His hand snapped away from her shoulder abruptly and she felt despair. He had been reminded of her scars and was repulsed... but no. Here he was, picking her up. His arms wrapped around her and hoisted her from the floor, and then he carried her some time until she felt him set her down. She lifted her head from his shoulder and found herself in the medic cave.
"I think you split one of your scars. There's blood. I'd patch it up myself, but I think it's best if I get Sonja."
"Please..." She whispered, unable to control the pain much longer. It felt like her back was on fire. Jasper paused in thought, then hurried from the room. He returned only a few minutes later with Sonja in tow. She wore a night gown and was rubbing sleep from her eyes in a business like manner.
"Layla... what happened?"
"I think her scars ripped..." Jasper muttered, staring down at Layla anxiously. She lay curled on the bed, her back straight but her knees hitched up protectively. Tears clouded her vision. Sonja gave Jasper a surprised glance at the mention of Layla's scars.
How had he known about them?
"Layla, I'm going to take a look. Jasper, give us some privacy?" Jasper flushed and hurried out. "Right Layla, let's get the shirt off."
With Sonja's help, Layla removed the loose nightshirt she had been wearing and displayed her back. Sonja sucked in her breath.
"Layla, when you were whipped, what was it for?"
"I- I injured a guard. He..." Layla gulped and did not finish the sentance. Sonja nodded and went to her work bench.
"Layla, they whipped you with a charmed hide. Your wounds will never fully heal, like I said, but it's because they're not meant to. They wanted you to remember this pain."
Layla felt hot wet tears begin to pour from her eyes once more.
"I can still heal them slightly, but I'll need to use stronger methods than what I did. A little magic. And it will hurt a little."
Layla blanched but nodded. Anything to relieve her of this pain.
Sonja picked at some herbs and began mixing. She muttered little chants in a language Layla did not understand, and began to pour other ingredients in to the bowl. A foul smell rose from it. Then she picked the bowl up and poured the contents in to a small metal pot by the fire, which she lit and began to stoke to a blaze. Soon the mixture was bubbling, and Sonja lifted it from the fire.
"This will hurt. Bite on this rag." She muttered apologetically to Layla as she passed her a relatively clean towel. Layla put the rag in between her teeth and bit. The hot liquid steamed and burned on her back and she screamed through the rag in agony. It was more painful than the scars, more painful than anything she'd experienced. And then Sonja was helping her sit and wrapping a bandage round her to cover the wound.
"It will continue to burn like this for another few days. But it will seal them, you have my word." The burn had reduced to a painful hum spreading across Layla's back like insects crawling over her skin.
"Thank you." She whispered, suddenly dead tired after all the pain that had crashed in to her so suddenly.
"Here, take this shirt," Sonja passed her a spare clean shirt and picked the bloodied one from the floor. "And I will have this cleaned for you. Now get Jasper to walk you back to your room and get a good night's sleep. I will warn the cooks that you might not be helping for the next few days."
"You are so good..." Layla whispered, clutching Sonja's caring hand.
"Don't tell anyone, else they won't be scared of me anymore." She winked, then called Jasper in after making sure Layla was decent. He appeared pensively at the mouth of the small cave. "Jasper, make sure she gets back to her cave without fainting will you? I'll clear up here."
Jasper nodded and thanked her, waiting for Layla to gingerly hug Sonja in thanks and then following her out of the cave. They walked in silence until Layla began dragging her feet, at which point Jasper slowed and regarded her as her eyelashes drooped.
"Will Sonja's medicine work?" He asked, more to himself it sounded, but Layla murmured an affirmative anyway.
"I don't want it.... to stop me... fighting." She yawned as they neared her cave.
"Fighting?" Jasper asked, concerned.
"Zane... he told me he would train me. Ceri asked him to." Layla's eyes were almost shut so that she barely caught the entrance to her cave. She stopped suddenly, almost walking past it. "Thank you..." She murmured and smiled blearily at him. "Goodnight Jasper."
"Good night Layla." He muttered back, distraction written across his face.
As soon as her head hit her pillow Layla was asleep, not even noticing that Tanya was not in her bed.