warning for the depiction of a traumatized child
Something was wrong with the Warden of Slags Deep.
Hart was afraid; he was afraid for himself, and he was afraid for Ruari. He looked at the Warden's expressions, and he listened to what the man said. The more he looked and listened, the more Hart saw whatever it was that was wrong with the Warden.
Hart said, but the man wouldn't listen to him. "Warden, I beg you, listen to me."
But the man was gone, and Hart was in the
by himself. There was the drip- drip- dripping of water, and that was all the sound there was. Hart listened to the dripping water, and he was afraid.
"But there's really nothing for you to rush to,"
Hart had thought to Vega. "Not because you're pregnant, but because this is something I need to do." "They said to come alone."
Hart laughed quietly. He laughed at himself.
There was the drip- drip- dripping of water, and the ransom note had said to come alone; and so Hart had come alone. The ransom note had said the Warden was watching; and so Hart had given in, and he hadn't informed anyone about the ransom except Vega, who was looking after Wren so that Hart could be here. The ransom note had made him afraid; and so he'd given into the Warden's demands.
But the Warden didn't have Ru, the Warden's daughter did. And Hart laughed at himself.
There was the drip- drip- dripping of water, and Ru was kidnapped. And Hart didn't laugh.
he said, and walked to the door. Ru was kidnapped and Hart was in this room. Every moment he was here was a moment his daughter was sad and afraid.
Hart said louder. The door didn't seem to be locked; it didn't seem to have a locking mechanism. But the door was stone, and more like a wall than a door. Hart placed both hands on the door and pushed, his boots sliding back against the stone ground. He wouldn't be able to move it.
he screamed, and pushed with all his
. But the door didn't move.
There was drip- drip- dripping of water, and that was all the sound there was. And then, distantly. Maybe because he'd screamed the Warden's name,
there was the sound of a small girl crying.
That wasn't possible,
Hart thought. The Warden and the Warden's daughter; they wouldn't have left Ruari here with Hart, would they? But there was a small girl crying, and Hart turned away from the door in the direction of the sound. "Ruari?"
Hart said, and the sound of crying became louder.
The crying was not from the other side of the door, and Hart
. He went in the direction of the sound, to the end, lengthwise, of the strange room. There was a river running through the end of the room, or maybe it was a lake, and Hart went to the water. But there was no small girl.
She wasn't in the strange room.
Hart said, turning, and saw that part of the stone wall this side of the lake was crumbling.
The sound was coming from somewhere on the other side of the wall, and Hart was going to get through the wall. The crumbling part of the wall had collapsed; it was nothing but debris. If Hart was able to climb up, he'd be able to get through.
Hart began to
the collapsed wall.
At first he moved quickly. But debris slid under him, and his boots slipped. Hart slid down to the ground. The debris was stone, all stone. He banged his left knee against a stone block when he slipped, and that hurt. Hart's knee hurting, he dropped to his other knee when he was back on the ground. From that position, he looked up at the debris, wincing. He needed to climb the collapsed wall, but he wouldn't be able to move quickly. The debris would slip, and he'd just slide and hurt himself. Or the blocks would slide and hurt him.
"Just, just a moment, Ru,"
He looked at the wall for a while from his position on the ground. Then he went to the debris pile and pushed at a number of the stone blocks, testing them. One groaned when he pushed it; smaller bits of crumbled stone moved when it groaned, falling to the ground. But the other stone blocks remained where they were when he pushed them. Hart was only able to test the stones up to a point. He'd need to be very cautious when he climbed higher up.
Again, Hart began to climb the collapsed wall. This time, he moved slowly and cautiously. He climbed the stone blocks he'd tested, and he didn't slide. Above them was untested territory, and Hart moved very slowly, placing a hand or foot on a block and slowly adding weight to it before he placed his full weight on it. If there was any sound, the grinding of stone, he looked for another block.
Like that, Hart climbed.
There was a gap in the debris near the stone ceiling, and Hart slowly began to climb through it. The debris on the other side of the gap moved, and there was the sound of groaning. "Ruari, get back!"
Hart said, not knowing where she was, if she was near to the debris. "Get back!"
he said again, and the debris began to slip.
Hart began to slide down the debris on the other side of the collapsed wall. He hadn't been able to test the stones on this side, and he grabbed at the stone blocks. One groaned, moving, but he was able to get a foot on it. He pushed up with his leg, and grabbed a second block with a hand. The second block didn't move and Hart got his legs out of the way of the first.
The first block moved, tumbling ponderously down the debris a number of feet before grinding to a halt. More stones tumbled when it did, the debris moving, collapsing. The block Hart had grabbed groaned with the collapse, and he reached for a third block. The third block didn't move, and Hart clung to it, his legs curled up.
Slowly, the debris stopped collapsing. There was dust in the air, getting in his eyes and mouth, and Hart coughed.
The moment the debris stopped moving, Hart slowly began climbing down. He moved like he had on the other side of the collapsed wall, slowly testing his weight block to block. Like that, he managed to get to the ground.
Hart limped away from the pile, his knee hurting. Dust had got in his mouth and throat and he coughed. When he was a safe distance away, he dropped down, slowly, to his knees. Coughing, he said, "Ruari?"
Hart listened, but it was quiet. Distantly, there was the drip- drip- dripping of water. Hart was in a
new, huge room
. It was light in the room, though Hart didn't know where the light was coming from. He didn't see Ruari.
Hart said. Nothing. "Ru, could you say "I'm here," for me?"
Hart asked. Nothing. Hart's eyes were gritted with dust, and that hurt as bad as his knee. Tears fell down his face and he rubbed the dust from his eyes. "Please answer,"
A small girl's voice answered, distant. " 'm here,"
Hart said. "Ruari say, "I'm here." "
" 'm here,"
Hart walked, limping, in the direction of his daughter's voice. "I'm here,"
" 'm here,"
The new room Hart was in was huge. Part of the ground had collapsed in, and Hart remained well back from the collapsed part. He walked, limping, until he got to the end of the room, lengthwise. There was debris here, and it looked like,
it looked like people's belongings.
There were a lot of stone objects here, a set of stone tools that Hart didn't recognize, and then numerous plates and bowls and cups. There was a small wooden carving, masterfully made, and Hart saw it was a wooden woman, maybe as long as Hart's hand. There was debris, collapsed in from the walls or the ceiling; and there were stone bricks against the wall, neatly stacked. And, there; the glint of something mostly covered in dust. A shattered mirror.
There were people here,
Hart thought. He looked at the belongings a moment, and then awfully, he understood. People had lived here.
But he looked only for a moment; he needed to get to Ru.
" 'm here,"
Ruari said from the other side of the wall, and Hart looked at the wall, placing most of his weight on his right leg.
The wall at the end of the new room wasn't collapsed, and like the door in the entrance, Hart wouldn't be able to move it no matter how he pushed. But there was one part of the wall, he saw, near the stone bricks, where someone had removed some of the bricks from the wall. The opening in the wall was high up, but not so high that Hart wouldn't be able to get to it.
Limping, Hart climbed up the stone bricks. He got his hands in the opening of the wall and pulled himself up. One boot slipped against the smooth brick of the wall, and he nearly banged his chin on the stone.
From the other side of the wall, Ruari began again to cry.
"It's, it's me, Ru,"
Hart said, pulling himself up to the small ledge formed in the wall. He looked down into the room and saw that the opening was the only way in. The room wasn't crumbling and it wasn't collapsing; rather, there was a small bed and a couple of old toys.
And hiding near the bed, her eyes squeezed shut and tears falling down her cheeks, was Ruari.
Hart hadn't seen Ruari in a long time. He hadn't held her since she was a small baby; and though she was a baby still, she wasn't small. The image he had of Ru in his mind was of that small baby, of him holding her gently in his arms, singing to her.
He loved her, he knew; loved her because of who she was, without even knowing who she would be.
That image he had of Ru was gone in a moment, when he saw her hiding by the bed.
Two years of his baby's life had gone by without him, and she was crying, and she was afraid. Hart climbed the rest of the way through the opening in the wall, carefully. He carefully lowered himself down the other side, and into
When he did, Ru began to cry harder, her little fists by her eyes.
. He was covered sweat and grime from climbing the debris, and he hurt. She didn't know him; and he would be more scary to her, grimy and hurt, than he would have been clean and well. Wincing, he kneeled down. "Ru,"
Hart said gently. "I'm here."
When he said "I'm here," she opened her eyes and looked at him. Tears fell down her face, and Hart saw that her eyes were a bright golden green. She had biqaj eyes, and he wished he knew what the color meant. Fear, maybe. Sadness.
Hart said again. She didn't move; she squeezed her eyes shut again. "I'm Hart,"
he said. "Hart. I'm not going to hurt you, Ru. I'm going to get you home."
"My go home,"
Ru cried, and she rubbed her fists on her eyes.
"I'm going to get you home,"
Hart promised her.
Ruari moved, no longer hiding by the bed, and looked at him, though only for a moment. Hart was trying to make eye contact with her, but she wouldn't look him in the eyes. She looked at him, but she always looked away and never at his face. He didn't know why she wouldn't look at his eyes, but he said, "Is it alright if I hold you, Ruari?"
"My go home,"
Ru said, and Hart gently touched her arm.
The moment he touched her, Ruari's eyes went white. She screamed, and Hart knew that the golden-green eyes he'd seen before didn't mean fear. The white eyes meant fear. She began crying, huge awful sobs. Hart wasn't touching her anymore, but she didn't stop sobbing.
Hart said gently. He was scaring her. "Ru, I'm... I'm going to hold you, alright?"
he said. He touched her just as gently as before. She didn't scream this time, though her eyes were squeezed shut.
She remained where she was a moment. And then she leaned into him, sobbing, and Hart held her in his arms. "I'm here,"
he said, and she leaned into him more. Her small hand touched his arm, looking for his hand with her eyes shut, and he put her small hand in his. "I'm here,"
he said again, gently.
she cried, "Hat."
She was saying his name. And then, " 'm want mama. My go home."