Wasteland Daughter ~ Sienna
Southern Kingdom of Ivere, 7369, late winter
Of course the wasteland daughter knew who she was: she was nobody. It was the type of fact that one never forgot. Life had split her open neck to navel, removed every substantial part of her, and crushed her in its whimsical fist. The truth of the matter was etched into the marrow of her bones, surgically, indefinitely.
That sort of knowledge never withered or faded. It was a conviction that drove her in all that she did, a haunting mark, an inescapable scar. She was nobody. Nothing. Worthless.
Yet as the tall man folded his arms and blinked down at her, waiting for a reply, she realized her mind was scraped clean like a gourd. She did not know who she was. Not in the sense that this stranger wanted to know. Her name. Her family. Her story.
The wasteland daughter could remember nothing of the day past or any moment before her eyes peeled open in the room of this man’s manor. She was drenched to the bone and in a dress filthier than a pair of old stockings.
She looked around the room and tried to clear her mind. There was a roaring fire in the corner and thick drapes pulled across a lone window. A woven rug covered the wood floors and table and chairs occupied the other side of the room. Linen cloths, a basin of water, and bottled medicines were scattered on the table. Candles were lit throughout the chamber and hot water boiled over the fire.
The man cast a paranoid glance at the door before crouching down to meet her at eye level. “Answer me. We don’t have much time.”
Her mouth was clamped shut to keep her teeth from chattering and she’d lost feeling in her extremities. She shook her head and shrugged. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It was light brown and of medium length falling down into his eyes every so often.
He made his voice softer, gentler. “You don’t want to say?” He swallowed. “Because of where I found you?” Invio, wasteland, and right on the border: all these terms were meant to provoke a certain reaction.
He took in her expression and sighed. “Wasteland daughter, this silence won’t do.” He stood and turned from her.
“I don’t remember,” she admitted.
He looked over his shoulder and frowned. “Not even your name then?”
She shook her head and he faced her again, his expression resigned. “Gods, I can see it all over you. Blank canvas. What am I going to do with you then, love?”
The term of endearment irritated the woman. It indicated familiarity and they shared no such thing. “Nothing.”
His mouth twitched at her sharp tone. “I’m Nile Aere.”
The girl was smart enough to understand she should recognize his name. He was a tall, well-dressed man though the sleeves of his tailored top were rolled up and his vest was removed. He had straight white teeth with trim facial hair and pretty blue eyes, but he was not familiar. “And what do you want, Nile Aere?”
He studied her like a wild critter caught in a trap. “For starters, I’d like to give you a name until you do remember.” He paused. “Sienna. For the red rocks out in Quite Monte.” He tilted his head and eyed her head to toe. “Secondly, we have to get you out of your wet clothes.”
Her chin shot up and her teeth gave way to violent chattering. She wrapped her arms around her waist. “No.”
“I’m not going to violate you.” He lifted his brow.
“You, you leave,” Sienna said. “I’ll do it with-without you.”
Nile breathed out a laugh. “Are you commanding me?” His amusement faded and he shook his head. “You won’t be able to do it. You’ll faint half way through and cause yourself further injury.” He softened his tone again. “I’m no medicine man but I know enough. We’ve got to get feeling back in your body before it’s too late.”
She gripped her dress and Nile made a face. “Enough of this. Your lips are blue and pretty soon I’ll be undressing a corpse. Or worse, you’ll be dealing with my brother.”
Sienna pulled back on the bed. “Your brother?”
“Yes.” He answered her quietly as he pulled a knife from his belt. “If I were you, I would keep your voice down.”
Sienna opened her mouth, feeling hot for the first time as his blade began to cut into the thick material of her sodden dress. She fisted her hands and held her breath.
“Stand up,” Nile ordered.
She stood and he peeled the wet material from her body, tossing it to the ground. Sheathing his knife, he walked across the room and grabbed a robe. “Put this on.”
Snatching the robe, she turned her back on him, the room tilting sideways.
“Come. Let’s get you by the fire.”
She pulled away from his arm and stumbled with icy, leaden steps onto the rug. It was the last thing she saw: the knotted woven pattern of red, yellow, and brown yarn blurring in her vision before her face made contact with the floor.
When she woke she was under a heap of blankets in a wooden chair with her feet propped up. She shifted and felt something hard in her groin and beneath her arms. Her eyes flew open and her hands tried to find their way through the mass of linens.
“Jarred hot water.” Nile stood in the corner watching her. “To bring your internal temperature up.” He walked to the door and cracked it open, whispering. “Hot tea, Francesca. Make it strong.” The door shut with a quiet click. “That was quite the fall you took.” He moved closer. “Can you feel your hands and feet yet?”
She wiggled her toes for him.
He smiled, satisfied. “Anytime you want to thank me for saving your life, feel free.”
“Thank you.” She returned his gaze. “Now what do you want with me?”
Nile leaned back, the firelight dancing across his face.
“Not willing to say, are you?”
“I have a great deal I can offer you.”
“I don’t want anything from you. Only my freedom.”
“Not possible here in the South. Not for a woman like you.”
“I was alone when you found me.”
He smiled. “And at death’s door.”
The door opened and Francesca stood in the entry, bumbling out an apology.
Nile frowned. “What is it?”
Another man walked in behind her, an irritated scowl on his face. His eyes fell on Sienna and they widened. “In the name of Remedios…of all that is sacred.” He pushed the girl holding tea out of the way. “Leave us.”
She set the tray down and crept soundlessly out the door. He had a similar look to Nile, tall with brown hair, but trimmed closer to his head with a full beard lining his mouth.
He walked over and fixed his gaze on Sienna. “Look at her.” He crouched down. “By the gods, I cannot even believe my eyes.”
Nile stood. “Connal. I was going to tell you, I just didn’t want to overwhelm the girl.”
“She’s the spitting image.” He shook his head.
Nile cut him off. “Don’t say it. It could be blasphemous.”
Connal waved his hand. “Always so superstitious.” He stood, his voice taking on a dark edge. “I am the overseer of this manor and everything that goes on within it. How dare you not tell me?”
“I wasn’t sure she’d survive,” Nile spread his hands. “I found her buried in the snow. Her pulse was almost indiscernible.”
Connal laughed. “That’s your reason?”
“Too busy trying to save her life? Yes!”
His brother grew quiet. “Hm.” He turned and eyed Sienna again. “She has the long locks of hair set afire, the full mouth, even the green haunting eyes.”
“Let’s see if she has the body of a goddess. Get up.”
“Brother, have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying? The girl is weak and needs to rest.”
He ignored Nile. “Did you hear me girl? Stand up.”
Sienna tightened her hold on the blanket and Connal’s gaze narrowed.
There was a pause. “Gods…I figured the matter out. You like her.”
Nile released a laugh of dismissal, but Connal grabbed his arm. “And here I thought you being as hard as a rock was the simple thrall of Xaria but its more than that, isn’t it brother?”
Nile pushed him and Connal grabbed him by the tunic. “What are you not telling me?”
“Stop it!” Sienna stood and let the thick bundle of blankets fall away.
Nile’s face was as red as the flames as Connal made a movement with his fingers. “Your robe then. Let’s have it love.”
“I am no whore.”
Connal barked out a laugh. “Is that what you think this is?” He turned to Nile. “Doesn’t she know who we are?” He leaned in. “You are with the Aere brothers now. One of the greatest power families in the South. Fate has favored you.”
Sienna opened her mouth but Nile shook his head.
Connal arched an eyebrow. “Do you want my help getting it off?”
“Don’t touch me,” she warned.
Connal reached out and Nile intercepted his arm. The two of them glared at each other ready to brawl and she held her hand out. Holding her breath she let the robe drop. She waited while Connal walked a circle around her before nodding for her to put the robe back on. He rubbed a hand over his bearded chin.
She looked at Nile. “I’m insisting you let me go.”
Connal’s jaw dropped. “Who is this woman?” There was a long pause. “Where did you find her?” He glared at his brother. “Nile, if you don’t tell me what’s going on, I am going to strangle you right here, right now.”
Nile ran a hand through his hair. “We will tell people she is from Quite Monte.”
“What are you saying?”
Nile sighed. “I found her in Invio. On the border.”
Connal’s face flushed with color. “Gods be damned! The wrath of Lord Darius will be on our heads!”
Desperation filled his brother’s eyes. “Look at her. She’s lost.”
Connal moved to the door. “We need to turn her in.”
Nile grabbed him by the shoulder and wrenched him around. “No!”
Sienna clutched the chair. “Who is Lord Darius?”
Connal stopped and stared, his mouth twitching.
Nile kept a hold on his shoulder. “She doesn’t remember who she is. She doesn’t remember anything.”
He pushed him off. “This is a dangerous game. A fool’s errand.” He turned to Sienna. “You’re good, aren’t you doll?”
“It is as your brother says. I don’t remember.”
He gave her a cold smile before walking out of the room. Nile chased after him securing the door.
Sienna crept over and placed her ear against the wood.
“She is a spy, Nile! All the evidence points to it.”
“No, the girl is telling the truth.”
A loud thud sounded against the door and Sienna jumped.
Connal’s voice was clear against the grain. “We are trusted by the Lord to watch for spies. While the rest of the South sleeps in blissful ignorance we stay awake and vigilant.” There was another loud thud against the door and she heard Nile grunt. “The war approaches. The North will not rest until the South is tamed, like an errant child. Yet you want to keep the girl like a toy doll?”
There was more shuffling and some words Sienna couldn’t hear. She heard one brother curse and another sigh. She pulled back from the door and returned to the fire just as it swung open.
Connal roughly turned her chair from the fire and sat in a chair a couple feet away. “Sit down,” he ordered.
She folded her arms over her chest and met Connal’s gaze. He was as handsome as his brother but there was a calculating cruelty in his eyes. They were stunning green as his brow drew into what Sienna imagined was a well-practiced scowl.
“You say you remember nothing. That’s truly your story?”
She nodded and he grunted. “I don’t believe you.”
“Then don’t. My memories are where you found me. Return me there and be done with me.”
“Why would you want us to return you to Invio? There is nothing there.”
Sienna laughed. “You think I trust you?” She looked pointedly at Nile. “Either of you?”
Connal’s eyes widened. “We are a power family.”
“Power family?” Sienna spat the words out. “What does that mean to me?” She spread her hands. “What does any of this mean to me?”
Connal stared hard at her.
“You found me in this wasteland and that is what I am. Let me go.”
“Now will you believe me?” Nile murmured.
Connal shook his head, looking back at her. “This is insane. Are you saying you know nothing of Ivere itself?”
She scowled. “Is that the town you brought me to?”
Connal laughed and then caught himself at her empty expression. A chilling silence followed.
“You are in the South, the town of Nemorum now,” Nile supplied. “Ivere is the very land and soil, the whole of the world we know.”
“Curse of Maelstoma,” Connal murmured. “I think we are truly witnessing her power to curse.”
“She is not cursed Connal. Look again at her, face of a goddess, brought to our door.” Nile moved closer. “And we can help her. If she allows us to.”
Connal looked at her. “We are in agreement. We must help her. Her ignorance will get her killed.”
“I’m right here,” Sienna snapped.
“Starting with how you speak to the men of the South. Especially men like us,” Connal reproached. “We are gentry and outside the manor you must address us as such.”
Sienna narrowed her eyes. “I’m your pet then? To tame?”
“You don’t even know the name of the man who rules the South. You have a run in with even one of his soldiers and I guarantee they will find you suspicious. Not to mention, a figure and face like yours, it might be a happy fate to be delivered into the Lord’s hands.”
Nile spoke. “You need protection.”
“She needs more than protection.” Connal folded his arms, his tone mocking. “She doesn’t even know who the ruling Lord of the South is!”
She wiped her hands over her face. “Very well. I understand.” She took a deep breath. “He watches for spies?”
The brothers paused, looking at one another.
She shrugged. “You were rather loud in the hall.”
Connal’s expression darkened and he shook his head. “It’s a bit more than that. Lord Darius will have your head for being one.”
The blood drained from her face. “Oh.”
“The North sends them,” Nile added, “and it’s not talked about. Ever.”
“It’s forbidden,” Connal murmured, “blasphemous even.”
“We will have to come up with a full story for you,” Connal said with resolve.
“You can’t simply tell the truth about me?”
“Stupid country girl.” Connal rolled his eyes. “You barely convinced me and kept your life. Think.”
Nile put his hand on his brother’s arm. “We want to keep you safe.”
“Of course you do.” Her brow shot up. “And what is it you want from me in return?”
Nile shook his head in denial but Connal only smiled.
“Smart girl,” he said. “I own a tavern. And you’re very beautiful. I’d like to have you serve my customers.”
She narrowed her eyes, remembering the way she’d been forced to strip. “What do you mean, serve?”
“Serve them food and drink.”
She stared at him, waiting.
“That is all, nothing more.” Connal went on. “We have five young women who live with us and serve in our tavern. A couple of them have talent our customers enjoy, singing and dancing. Otherwise it is simple: the men come to enjoy good food, good drink, and the company of beautiful women.”
Her eyes flickered over to Nile, testing his expression. “I’m listening.”
“Good.” Connal said, “Because we have a great deal to tell you about the South.”
“On the morrow,” Nile prompted. “We should let her rest.”
The brothers left the room, locking her inside. She pressed her eyes shut, digging her fingernails into her palms. Remember.
The cold embraced her body again, piercing her skull and flesh like a thousand needles. Perspiration beaded on her forehead and her chest ached. Her sight was obscured, black as death, a vacuum that devoured all. Remember…
Wasteland daughter. It was a fitting title, an echo of the condition of her mind. She breathed out a laugh. She would not stop trying, but she knew then: her memories were gone.