The ground is safe and secure. I press myself against it for comfort and savor its cool, thick reliability. I can always depend on the ground to break my fall, if painfully. It is the one thing in the world of which I can be certain. Sometimes I wish I were a snake; that way I could go about my day with as little distance between myself and the ground as possible. Legs are treacherous objects.
I lie there, pretending that I am unconscious, trying to put my mind back in sequence. I am vaguely aware that someone male is shouting at me. Is it my father? No, wrong pitch, wrong timbre, wrong accent, wrong everything. Who could it be, then? And why is he yelling? His words land in a mangled jumble in my backlogged information processing center. Perhaps if I am still for long enough a time, he will think I’m dead and leave me alone.
Yeah, that plan ought to work just magnificently.
My brain feels slow and incredibly, stupendously stupid. I devote all of my attention to deciphering the incessant squawking. Is he even speaking a language I know? But yes, some of the peculiar sounds are beginning to form themselves into recognizable patterns…
“Rezyn damn you, you bloody freak! I’m on a schedule here, do you hear me, you little bastard? Get up before I gut you!”
Ah, it is the Vulture. Perhaps the good, kind ground will do me one more favor and absorb me. I think I’m going to be sick.
I feel a boot in my ribs and my lungs deflate abruptly. Convulsively, I jerk upward, choking for breath, my eyes flickering open against my will.
“I said, get up and move your sorry little girlie corpse, Spazfairy!”
If I could speak, I would tell him to screw himself and his precious schedule. Fortunately for my health, the pathway between my brain and my mouth seems to be obstructed at the moment. I groan inarticulately, still gasping for air, and raise myself onto my hands and knees. There is blood in my mouth and my limbs feel bruised. My arms and legs make for precarious supports. I don’t think I can stand up, let alone walk. The Vulture snarls wordlessly and shifts his weight to his left foot, my cue to brace myself for another kick.
“Don’t.” The voice is so steady and dangerous that it takes me a moment to realize it belongs to Simon.
Apparently, the inconsistency startles the guard too, for surprise registers on his face momentarily and he stops his foot halfway to my abdomen. “What did you say to me, madboy?”
“I said ‘don’t,’” he replies, his eyes icy.
“And why shouldn’t I?”
“In two months, my brother shall become the Lord of Carvil. I’ll make certain to advise him to hang you.”
The Vulture howls with laughter. “You, from a noble bloodline? In your dreams, ugly little sewer rat!”
I find my voice and speak before I realize it. “He isn’t ugly.”
“Is that so?” the guard sneers, hauling me up by the back of my tunic. “You fancy him, you little freak?”
“What is it then?” Still gripping me by my tunic, he lifts me a few inches off of the ground. “What is it?”
“He isn’t ugly,” I mutter, unable to come up with anything further at the moment. I know the perfect response will come to me as soon as the opportunity for using it is past.
The Vulture snorts, replaces me abruptly on my feet, and resumes dragging Simon and me down the corridor toward the exhibition area. I mentally restage the exchange, trying out different comebacks and eventually settling upon:
“Is that so? You fancy him, you little freak?”
“What is it then? What is it?”
“I said it merely out of respect to you.”
“Well, if he’s ugly, you would be absolutely, nauseatingly hideous. If he isn’t ugly, you would only be repulsive. I was just being fair to you.”
It is probably a good thing I did not come up with that when I wanted it. I don’t want any more cuts and bruises today.