The question had been whispered by a girl that looked similar in age to Gillian. She looked as if she was fresh out of her family’s home, like Gillian, but she seemed more innocent for having lived the same eighteen years or so.
Reluctantly, Gillian answered. “No.”
Still tethered to the line, the girl did her best to scoot closer so she could sit near Gillian. Gillian’s eyebrows lifted. She immediately regretted having spoken to the girl and told herself that she probably would have sat next to anyone who had responded.
“Do you think anyone will come for us?”
Gillian sighed. “I hope so.”
“What are they going to do to us? Why keep us alive like this?”
Gillian’s mind responded but nothing escaped her lips. Her voice had been silenced by her fear. She thought the manner in which the beasts had handled her was evidence enough of what to expect from them, but she was not about to share her suspicions with this girl. Maybe she hasn’t been touched yet.
“I don’t know what to do.”
Gillian shook her head. “Try not to think about it.”
The girl seemed to pick up on the finality in Gillian’s tone and she remained quiet for a while. Then, seeing that no one else wanted to talk, she tried again. “My name’s Trish. What’s yours?”
Gillian took a deep breath and looked into the girls face a second time. Other than her small frame, she was Gillian’s opposite through and through. She had a light dusting of freckles across her nose, sun-kissed blond hair, and the widest blue eyes Gillian had ever seen. Gillian knew the girl would have a load of trouble in store for her, yet she seemed so hopeful in spite of her predicament. Gillian decided to take pity on her. “It’s Gillian.”
Trish smiled. Apparently comforted to have made a friend, she sat quietly next to Gillian and they shared a silence with one another like a secret all their own.
Not much later, one of the grayskins approached holding a burlap sack. When he stood near, he dropped the sack at Gillian’s feet. The savory smell of roasted bird tugged at her senses. Feeling her stomach rumble, Gillian realized she had not eaten since yesterday’s dinner in the camp.
The women eyed the orc as he made his retreat. Once he was far enough away that he could not snatch the offering back, a number of women dug into the sack and wrenched out pieces of the meat. With furtive glances toward the orcs, they consumed the food with more civility than the beasts around them.
“At least it’s cooked.”
Gillian was beginning to appreciate Trish’s optimism. Such things did not come easily to Gillian. Her previous life had taught her that optimism just left room for disappointment.
She turned her attention back to the food. Despite her hunger, Gillian could not bring herself to eat. Her stomach wrestled with her head. Some nights, after her mother had knocked her around maybe a little more than usual, Gillian did not eat for the desire would depart her. Only days later, when need finally overtook her lack of interest for the food, would she force some cold porridge down her throat. She was still struggling with her decision when she noticed that Trish had stopped eating and was sitting watching her.
“You should eat. Who knows when we’ll stop again or how much longer we’ll be walking.”
Gillian gave Trish a sort of half smile and rummaged around in the sack. It was not as if she could just recapture her desire to eat and force it back into her body. She knew from experience that it was a process for her to reclaim some modicum of emotional balance and it usually took time. Worrying her fingers at the frayed edges of the burlap sack, she looked around for a distraction.
It was then that Gillian noticed one of the grayskins was staring at her as he ate. She could not help but wonder how long he had been studying her. She returned his gaze as he chewed his meat, his eyes never leaving hers. As he took another chunk of his meal, he tore into it like a predator savoring the spoils of a fresh kill. Unease crept through Gillian once more. She watched as he rose, with the meat still clasped firmly in his hand, and approached her with determination. As he closed the gap between them, she recognized the red war paint on his face and chest, the hard muscles that seemed to flex as he grew near. His distinctive yellow eyes with their diamond-shaped pupils were unmistakable.
Gillian’s unease faded and was replaced by curiosity. When the grayskin was standing right in front of her, he stepped over the other women, kneeled at her side, and stared into her with his penetrating yellow eyes. She was not sure if it was anger she saw in them or craving. The thought sent tremors through her chest and shoulders. He chomped another bite out of his food while eyeing her up and down. Then he raised the drumstick and held it a few inches in front of her lips in offering. She knew that with each bite he had marked the meat with his saliva, but her hunger had suddenly become so heavy that it did not matter.
Gillian’s mouth watered. She could see that the meat dripped with juice and she yearned to taste all of it. Her hands still bound, her fingernails raked her left thigh; all of a sudden she could barely hold herself back. She stared at the temptation held in the grayskin’s grasp, then looked up into his wolfish eyes. He still wore the same look and Gillian realized he was daring her to take a bite—he wanted her to partake of a meal that was rightfully his. The meat was his property and he had the power to give or take it from her as he saw fit.
Her eyes on his, she accepted his challenge. She pulled her lips back and sank her teeth into the offering, letting the juice from the roast run down her chin. Breathing hard, her eyes closed and her head fell back as she chewed the meat. She felt an almost immediate alleviation of the ache that her hunger had left within her.
Pleased, the grayskin turned the drumstick to offer Gillian access to more. With each bite she took, she knew she was trading something to him in return—a promise perhaps—but she did not care. She was consumed by hunger and felt as if she could not get enough. She wildly bit down again and again until only scraps of meat hung from the bone.
A little while later Gillian realized that, in her zeal, she had finished the offering too soon. She sat back on her heels in disappointment. Then, looking around her, she felt a sudden twinge of embarrassment when she realized that she had eaten with such abandon in front of so many strangers.
Appraising Gillian with a look of satisfaction, the grayskin stood and walked back to where he had been sitting. Without taking his eyes from her, he reclined and proceeded to finish the rest of his feast.