Brother Stephen and Sister Ruth shared a concerned glance, then hurried off to fetch what I had asked for. I dropped to the floor beside Rider, my hands trembling with nerves. I never thought I would ever see him in the flesh, face to face like this. My eyes tracked over his body. He was large: tall and extremely broad. He dwarfed my petite size. I did not know why, but I liked that he was bigger than me. He looked like a fallen warrior—strong and brave.
I leaned forward, gently pushing back the matted, dirt-ridden hair from his face. All I saw was bloodied skin, bruised and harmed. “Rider,” I whispered, stroking a finger along his cheek. “I am sorry they have done this to you.”
He did not stir. I was sure he had not even heard me.
Sister Ruth and Brother Stephen came rushing into the room. They placed the rags, towels and soap I had asked for on the floor beside me. Sister Ruth had brought a comb and scissors too.
“Good Lord,” Sister Ruth said as she drank in Rider’s injuries. “What have they done to him? He looks awful.”
I did not want to answer her. I feared I would break if I did. I made quick work of wiping down his arms and chest. His legs were covered with what looked like filthy tunic pants—I guessed they were once white, now they were anything but. I would not touch them though. I would never violate him in that way.
As I wiped at his arms, I frowned, seeing colored pictures peeking out from the coating of dried blood. My stomach lurched as I looked closer. Pictures of devils and evil beings were scattered over his skin.
“How did he get them?” Brother Stephen asked. I shook my head. I glanced up at Rider’s face, but it was once again shielded by his unwashed hair.
Too busy washing Rider, I failed to hear someone arrive at his door. I heard an anguished cry, and turned to see a woman standing in the doorway, holding a basin of water in her hands. She stared at Rider on the ground, her face paling at the sight. She looked at me, and her blue eyes widened further.
My heart thudded. Jumping to my feet, I said, “I am being kept in the cell next door. I saw that he was injured and came to help.” I pointed to Brother Stephen and Sister Ruth. “I pushed past them to run in here when I saw the guards had left the building. The fault lies with me.”
The woman listened but did not respond. She looked behind her, then entered the room. “Who are you?” she asked curiously.
“My name is Harmony.”
The woman swallowed. “Are you . . . are you a Cursed woman of Eve?”
Straightening my spine, I said, “Yes. I have been declared so.”
“The prophet has you hidden away from us?”
“Yes,” I replied truthfully. I had been caught; there was no reason to lie now.
I expected the woman to run out of the cellblock and fetch the guards. I did not expect her to step further into the room and place the basin on the ground. Her eyes fell upon Rider, and she shook her head, tears brimming in her eyes. I noticed bruises and marks on her skin too. A sudden jolt of fury settled in my chest. Is everyone here getting hurt? What is happening to our people?
The woman crouched down next to Rider. “This man attacked the prophet.” Cold infused my senses and my eyes widened in shock. “He was called to meet with Prophet Cain, to repent his sins. Instead he attacked him.”
“What?” I said in a disbelieving whisper.
The woman nodded her head. “I heard the guards boasting about their beating of him. The prophet ordered them to truly make him pay.” She sighed. “This man was only trying to protect his people, I know he was. He was trying to keep us safe . . . and the prophet did this to him.”
The woman’s voice trembled. I bent down and placed a hand on her arm. She looked at me, staring at my veil. Confident that I could bare my face to her, I reached up and unclasped it. I drew back my headdress too, allowing my long blond hair to tumble down my back.
The woman did not look away. Her bottom lip quivered and she said quietly, “You are certainly a Cursed. You are so very beautiful.”
I frowned. “You are not afraid of me? Repulsed by my evil nature?” The people in our faith were meant to fear me. No Cursed was ever embraced with open arms.
“No,” the woman said and turned back to face Rider. “I do not fear you. I know that Curseds are not truly cursed after all.” I could hear the pain in her voice. I searched the woman’s face. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her if she had ever met any other Cursed, but I did not do it. I did not dare push her tolerance further.
“You care about him?” the woman asked.
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