The clinking of utensils startled me. “Dad?” I whisper. I rubbed my cheek against the pillow when it dawned on me that dad isn’t here anymore; he’s gone. In fact, I wasn’t at home at all and was stuck in a tree running from the Duke. Whatever my cheek was rubbing against is so soft, so warm. It feels like the fur of an animal.
My eyes didn’t blink open slowly; they darted open was an intensity my lashes almost fell off. My back was turned to whatever was making small noises on the other side. My face stared into a rock wall; to the touch, it was cold and smooth. The light was dim, not bright in the slightest. Flames of a fire flickered my body’s shadow on the wall. Was I in a cave?
Rolling my body slowly to not be heard was a bit difficult. My ankle throbbed and, with the shift of blankets and pillows, it jostled the bandages into the wrong position. The bed was enormous, large furs covered the entire area, and I was raised high above the ground, a good three feet. These had to be bear furs because of their massive size. Some had patterns I was unfamiliar with. Petting them with my hand and finally lifting it up to look underneath, I see that I am no longer dirty or in my purple nightgown. I pushed the furs back on my body.
Someone changed me.
They saw me naked.
I shrugged my shoulders. Six months ago, I would find it downright appalling, humiliating, and degrading. It was, still is, but you must become numb to those sorts of travesties. This was just to clean me, though. At least, I hoped that is what my saviors’ intentions were. I didn’t feel anything different in my private areas. Just the bumps and bruises from running.
The large area was indeed a cave. It was one massive room with a small leather skin covering the other end of the cave. The other side, I guessed, was where we came in. A tiny bit of light highlighted one side of the cave.
A table and one single chair were opposite of me. Pitchers of water, leather straps, bandages, berries, and salves littered the table. Whoever was taking care of me was meticulous of their work area. Everything this person owned in this cave had its place.
Weapons hung close to the entryway, bags, leathers, clothes all piled nicely on top of each other in large woven baskets. The cave had a nice shelf on the opposing wall. Vegetables of potatoes, carrots, and berries lay there. My wandering eyes became comfortable only for the drop of a metal skillet on the cave floor to throw harsh sounds my way. Covering my ears and eyes for a few seconds, I opened them again.
I gulped, feeling the heated gaze of someone staring at me.
It was none other than the Viking I saw earlier when I shamelessly fell asleep by the tree trunk I crawled out of. His eyes were dark, compelling, and magnetic as he looked at me. He was holding a bowl, steaming with something inside, and my stomach automatically growled at me to reach for it. I rubbed it, mentally telling my stomach to calm down.
My ankle is broken or really sprained. If I was scared enough to flee, I wouldn’t be able to, but weirdly enough, I wasn’t. This Viking Prince Charming had brought me here and cleaned me; maybe he was being nice? Surely, he wouldn’t bring me here to kill me; then again, he might want other things.
I gulped harshly. Changed my mind. Scared now.
His steps were slow coming towards me, and he squatted to his legs on the floor beside the bed. We were now eye-level, and it made me feel a bit more equal he would think to do that. To make me feel like an equal rather than to be looked down upon. I have had way too much of feeling inferior lately. Not only that, but he was also bringing me food. Food that I really wanted and needed.
Dark eyes looked into mine; they were full of life, pain, and unquenchable warmth. Looking past his scary appearance, my mood softened.
His large hands cupped the entirely too small of a bowl for his massive hands. It was a stew with meat, potatoes, and carrots. It smelled better than anything I had eaten in the past half a year. “F-for me?” I muttered. His lips tried to smile, but all I got was a crooked line and some wrinkles around his eyes. I wanted to giggle at him; he wanted to make me feel comfortable. He didn’t make me feel scared, for now.
Taking the bowl from him, the spoon sat helplessly at the edge. Prince Charming, the name I had unofficially named him for saving me from the woods, watch me. I blew on the bowl to cool it and finally took a sip. It tasted amazing. It warmed and filled my stomach to the brim; I even drank down the entire bowl once I had finished the hunks of meat. Prince charming’s lip curled on one side of his face when he took it from me. Another bowl was poured, and he continued to move in slow, calculating moves crouching beside my bed.
“This is so good,” I smiled at him. “Aren’t you going to eat?” He shook his head, pointed to the bowl, and then to my mouth. He made this for me? I blush involuntarily, feeling a little flustered. This man saved my life, brought me to his cave, and fed me food in his bed.
And he saw me naked.
My thoughts of not being embarrassed were erased when the idea of him seeing me naked surfaced. I got used to it with the vampires, but he was different. What if he saw my scared body? “Did you, um, dress me?” Prince Charming’s tanned face turned a ruddy red as he abruptly stood up and turned his back to me.
Was he blushing? Was he afraid I was going to yell or scream at him? His back was tensed, the tattoos that adorned his body rippled over his skin. Tattoos of fighting dragons, wolves, and bears decorated his back. If you looked close enough, you could see scars underneath. He was hiding scars like I had.
“Wait,” I put my hand out, trying to reach him. “I’m not mad,” I whispered. His back turned back to me, keeping his feet in place. “T-thank you. You really patched me up well.” His mouth tried to move again for a smile, but the scar prevented him from showing me his white teeth. I wanted him to talk, but the massive spot around his neck was going to keep him from doing that. We had to find a way to communicate. I didn’t know how long he would let me stay here.
“My name is Odessa,” I pointed to myself. “What’s your name?” Obviously, he couldn’t tell me, but maybe he had it written somewhere. Who knows if we share the same alphabet, but he understood my English quite well when I asked if I was in America.
Prince charming sighed heavily and shook his head. “Can you write it down?” He shook his head again. He was in a rudimentary cave; he may not have learned how to read or write. The thought paralyzed me in fear. That was all I ever did. I wrote and read and he didn’t have any of those things.
“Well, I can’t call you big boy now, can I?” I gave a giggle which his eyes lit up in surprise, and he shook his head. “Do I come up with a name for you?” He blew some air through his nose, his brows furrowed. He didn’t like the idea, but I can’t call him, “hey you!”
I scratched my chin, thinking carefully. “I’ll call you Prince Charming, Prince for short,” I decided. He had rescued me from the tree, cleaned me, fed me, and given me a bed to sleep in. I felt like he did nothing but save the defenseless woman. He had a heart of gold; I almost felt it.
Prince’s hips bent over while he held his sides. His voice let out a cough-growl noise, and his mouth opened wide. Laughing! He was laughing. The loudness of his voice caught me off guard, it was deep and guttural, and the animal by the bed took cover under the table. The fuzzy creature didn’t like it.
My smile, watching both Prince and his pet hurt my face. I don’t remember the last time I had smiled; these muscles haven’t been used in so long. Touching my lips, I patted it, feeling the slightly chapped lips of my skin. Things were going to be alright. From here on out, they would be.
Once I was healed, I’d find a new home in this strange place. I wouldn’t be able to rely on Prince for so long.
Prince came back up to me, his hand almost shaking. His eyes were even a bit glassy. Pointing to my hand with his heavily calloused one, I nodded. I lifted it and placed it in his. Rough fingertips brushed against my palm. It was soothing, warm, and had a hint of tingle. His eyes stared, fascinated with it, but I couldn’t see what was so amazing. “I have four fingers and a thumb, same as you,” I spoke, but his thoughts were elsewhere.
He was a beast. His body was immense; he may stand close to seven feet tall. Along with his tattooed skin, it was different. It looked hard, not just with muscles; it was a thick skin, lizard-like, almost scaly, just like when you don’t put on enough lotion in the wintertime. His tattoos hugged his body; many did, in fact, cover large holes, lines, and bites. He must be a great hunter to withstand some of these wounds.
My fingers absentmindedly trailed one of his deep scars, hidden beneath the ink of his skin. Prince’s body stiffened, sucking a breath in. I should stop, but my hand had a mind of its own. It traced his pectoral muscle, going upwards around his shoulder and then to his neck. The scar was huge; he shouldn’t have survived such an attack, whatever it was. It was deep; his swallowing motions were labored while he watched me.
Prince hadn’t pushed me away while I continued to trace right to his lip. His face was bronzed with the wind and sun when he looked down at me. There were unspoken words between us. A mutual understanding. At the same time, I had traced his scars, he was touching my hand and my arm. His finger was touching each one of the vampire marks on my skin. It hurt to know they were there; I assumed Prince thought the same when I traced my finger across his chest and face.
“I think you have been through more than I have,” I whispered. “Are you alright now? Does it hurt?” He shook his head. Beginning to take my hand down, he gently took it in his and put it back to his face, cupping his cheek. The eyes that I thought to be once dark were deep rustic honey. This man was lonely; he didn’t have anyone. I knew what that felt like, but he had felt it much longer than I have.
The warmth of his hand calmed me until we heard a growl from his furry pet. Prince stood up hurriedly and clicked his tongue several times. The beast darted down the dark cave until I couldn’t hear the patter of his feet hitting the cave floor.
Prince wistfully grabbed a spear and knife; his movements were light and swift as he hung his leather bag across him.
He raced to me much faster than I anticipated and fell back into the bed. His eyes held so much emotion and worry, he gently pulled me back to sitting. Checking for anything wrong with me, he looked out the dark cave and pointed. “You’re going out?” Nodding, he put the blankets up to my chin, tucking me in like a child. I wanted to laugh, except his motions’ urgency didn’t deem that appropriate.
His hands were palm down, and he repeated the pushing down motion. “You want me to stay?” I questioned. Nodding his head, he looked back down the cave. “I’ll stay. Can’t go anywhere anyway,” I wiggled my toes. His eyes wrinkled around his eyes.
Smiling, I thought. He was smiling.
Prince Charming dashed down the hallway. Not a sound left his body, even with his spear and knife in hand. He was deathly quiet, like an animal.
How far back did this cave actually go?