*The first part of this story can be found here*
Ignoring the burning pain, she faced the wavering shadows as they neared. Her nails dug into the rock as she fought to steady her panting.
Will death come quickly for her? Or, will they take their time as they torture her?
She tried to swallow but discovered that her mouth had become parched as she licked her chapped lips, and tasted blood.
The canopy of trees closed in as the roaring filled her head. With her other hand, she pressed it against her temple.
She can’t pass out now!
The sound of a horse’s neigh roused her back to full consciousness as she turned towards the source, and sucked in her breath.
The high stature of the animal clopped towards her. Its brown coat shiny with sweat and rain water. A figure sat on it, draped in a long, black coat. Her eyes moved up the muddied black boots, black pants, and finally to the face which stayed hidden behind the hood.
“State your name.” A deep male voice spoke.
Her body began to tremble, but she forced herself to stand tall and steady.
“I’m called Traviata.” Her words barely came out in a hoarse. Her hand gripped the rock tighter.
The hooded figure turned its head towards the smoke-laden sky above her. “State your crime.”
“Crime?” Vivid memories of her past life filled her mind. “The only crime I’ve committed is by being born!”
She couldn’t hold the pain and rage back any longer as she threw the rock and it smashed against the back of the black figure. The explosive movement caused her to fall forward as she landed hard on her knees and hands. There she stayed as she allowed the tears to flow freely down her face.
Unmoved, the low voice asked again. “Your crime?”
Without raising her head, Traviata answered. “For being me. That’s my crime.”
“You were forced out of your home?”
“Yes, by my own family!” Her chest heaved. “A-abandoned. They burned the house and my cats!” She needed to get it all out. “Why? For what? For not being like them, normal? For choosing my own path and not theirs?” She shook her head. “Why? I don’t know why–they couldn’t accept me as me. And somehow that became my crime.”
Several moments of silence passed as she continued to stare down at the gray earth. She expected pain to come at any time. She prayed that the end would be swift.
The leather from the saddle creaked, and then a loud thud sounded when a pair of boots hit the hard ground.
“Traviata.” The tone now soft, kinder.
She hesitated before glancing up. The figure now stood before her, exposed. The golden brown eyes that adorn a youthful face squinted as a smile spread across his lips. He held out a hand to her.
Traviata exhaled and then reached for the hand. The man pulled her gently up.
“You are a jewel. Rare and precious.” His face radiated behind the smile as he continued to hold her hand. “Come with me and leave your old life behind.”
She blinked at him, and then smiled back.