The touch of a hand at my waist guides me down the hall. I know the path by heart, but still she keeps me close and uses gentle pressure to lead me in a turn down one corridor or another. “Watch your step,” she murmurs quietly in my ear, the warmth of her breath like a caress that implies the closeness of her lips.
We descend the stairs, and I count each step to ensure I don’t stumble gracelessly at the bottom. I wonder what sort of dress I’m wearing today. A tasteful, elegant thing that projects wealth and sophistication? Or something scandalous and revealing that paints me as her plaything? Of course I can feel where the fabric clings to my body and where it doesn’t, but I find the line tends to blur, and it’s hard to guess the impression I have on anyone who sees me.
When we arrive at our destination, she seats me next to her and pulls my head into her lap. To hold me and stroke my cheek like this, she must be expecting guests. Am I to be a decoration this evening, then? Or perhaps she expects hostility, and the hand stroking me is meant to imply a threat for her enemies?
It’s none of my concern, really—idle speculation to pass the time while my mind drifts and wanders, ignoring the voices that come and go.
A shout pulls my attention to the present. The hand on my head slows its gentle caress. Fingertips trace their way along my face up to the bow behind my head.
I feel a tiny whimper slip from my throat, and then her lips are at my ear again, shushing and soothing me before whispering the words I never want to hear.
“Open your eyes for me, won’t you, love?”
She tugs at the knot, and the soft silk of the blindfold falls away.
There are three of them, all armed, dashing forward to lay hands on my keeper. The one in front is almost within arms reach, face twisted in righteous fury. Determination gleams in the eyes of the young lady behind him, readying herself for a fight. The one to the left is no more than a boy, and the sadness in his eyes speaks to some great tragedy in his past.
This vision is the last anyone will ever see of them. My gaze is violence inescapable. My stare is a war crime. Their families will have nothing to bury.
I squeeze my eyes back shut, and gentle hands tie the silk around my head again, fussing with the bow until it’s as perfect as ever.
“Good girl,” she murmurs into my ear again. “You did so well.”
“I saw my dress a little bit,” I mumble, pitched low enough so only she can hear. “It’s a pretty shade of blue. Thank you.”
She acknowledges my words with a light brush of her lips on my cheek, and I feel just a little bit better.