Safe

Continued from ‘Fetching Water

Arabella hands me the full bucket, taking the empty ones from my hand to offer Cly. Once more he releases it into the well.

“Come on, Arabella!” A middle-aged man grumbles. “We’ve all been waiting here longer than you!”

Her dark eyes snap to the man. “Shut it! How many parched mouths are in your household?” A darkness clutches her voice. A threat hangs in her words.

“More than you and that old witch!”

Arabella’s spine straightens. Her shoulders pull taut and she glares down the man across the well. “Not anymore. Maybe if you’d raised your son properly, he’d be the one fetching water for you rather than laying face down on the ground all the time.” Her hands tighten around the handle of the filled bucket. Her knuckles whiten.

The man glares at her. “So, the rumors are true, then?” A sneer snags the corner of his mouth.

Darkness clouds Arabella’s face. Her mouth opens to speak, but Cly cuts in.

“Why don’t you worry about your own family’s issues old man rather than gossiping all day by the watering hole?” His hands hold the rope, but he no longer tugs the bucket from the water. Rather, he stands in a defensive position. His body stands between the old man and Arabella as if cutting the two off from each other.

“Boy!” The man snaps, making it an insult.

The harshness of his tone startles me. I step back. Water sloshes out of my bucket, splashing against the hard earth.

Arabella glances back at me. The hardness of her face swipes away as if dropped into the well with the bucket. Her eyes drop to the ground, tracking back to Cly before she steps forward and whispers to him.

He nods. Once more he works to pull the bucket from the well, but the man continues to spew insults at Cly and Arabella.

“Maybe you should spend less time with that trickster. She’s messed with your head, boy!”

Cly doesn’t respond, but his shoulders tense.

Arabella stares at the rope with a guarded expression, watching it ascend from the darkness.

“She’s using you! She’s bewitched you! She’s-“

“Shut it!” Cly shouts. His arms quake. The rope shakes. Dripping water resounds from the well like the bucket’s losing its contents.

Arabella places a hand on his shoulder. “Cly. Just ignore him.”

His shoulders tense and he glares into the well.

“See!” The man shouts across the opening. His arm waves towards Arabella. “She’s doing it now! She’s filling your mind with lovely thoughts! She’s making you into her play thing, boy!”

Cly’s hands unclench, dropping the bucket back into the well. His arms shake and his fists tighten. He shoves his way through the people.

“Cly, no!” Arabella screeches. She drops the bucket, somehow not toppling it over before racing after the young man.

One muscular hand extends and yanks the old man by his collar while the other fist raises in the air.

“Cly!” Arabella wraps her arms around his raised arm, tugging him back. “Cly, stop this!”

The smug look the man held earlier is gone. He trembles in the clutches of the younger man, his hands covering his face with an empty bucket swinging from his fingers.

Cly hesitates. The moment freezes with the man afraid, Cly angry, and Arabella trying to stop the whole mess. In a frenzy, it bursts back to life.

The crowd surges in all directions, some towards Cly, some back, and some knock into me.

My eyes widen as the adults swarm in my direction. Battered people, broken bones, bleeding skulls fill my mind once more. My hands fly up in front of my face. My scream pierces the air as tears spill down my cheeks.

Suddenly, hands hold my arms.

I shy away, fear clutching me, paralyzing me.

The hands shake me. “Hey! It’s okay,” Arabella says, but I barely hear her over the echoed rumble from my memory.

Sheets of metal fly across the inside of my eyelids. My hands drip with hot, red, sticky blood. My other hand swipes across it, trying to rid it of the thick liquid, but it doesn’t let go. It doesn’t wash off. It drips down my wrist towards my elbow.

Tears stream from my eyes.

“What’s wrong with her?” Someone demands.

A hand grabs my hands from wiping the blood away. They squeeze. “There’s no blood. There’s no pain. You’re fine,” Arabella coos, her voice so close to me.

My body trembles as I cling to her voice. I suck in air. My hands squeeze back.

“That’s right. I’m here. No one’s going to hurt you. You’re safe.”

Safe. My eyes pry open. Arabella fills my vision, blocking out the clearing, the well, the people.

“Ar-” I choke.

Placing a hand on my head, she draws my head against her shoulder. “Shh.”

My hands curl into the back of her shirt, clinging to the thin material for dear life. Tears still leak from my eyes.

With another hand underneath me, she picks me up.

My legs wrap around her and I bury my head in her shoulder, my eyes pinching closed.

Standing, she holds me tight. She tips forward.

“Let me,” Cly offers, his voice soft.

Arabella’s head nudges mine as she nods and her steps shake her shoulder against my forehead, but I don’t pull away.

Next Installment: Apologies All Around

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