Evin woke with a start. He had to get away! He had to escape from...from...who? He found himself lying on his back in a frigid, utterly dark place. His head hurt as if it had cracked open. He sat up, wanting to feel for a way to escape, but nausea overcame him. He leaned to one side and threw up.
His eyes watered as he heaved. Dimly he realized that someone was helping him. As his retching settled down, a cold hand gently pressed on his shoulder and guided him to lie back. Someone cradled him and used a cloth to clean his face.
“Where...? Can’t see.”
“Shhh. It’s okay,” an unfamiliar voice said. “We’re in a cave where he can’t get you. You’re safe.”
Evin tried to remember why he wanted to escape. Why had he been afraid? But it was so hard to think.
* * *
Evin woke again, this time a little more himself. He remembered that he was in a cave with someone who took care of him. He listened in the darkness. He heard wind moving through the cave and perhaps the sound of someone else breathing.
“Are you there?” he asked.
“Yes. I kept you safe. I won’t hurt you, I swear.” It was the voice of another youth, close by.
“Who are you?”
Evin tried again. “Do I know you?”
“No. I’m a stranger, but I promise I’m not going to hurt you. I promise.”
“What happened? How did I get here?”
“Your friend, he pushed you down and you got hurt, remember?”
Something... It was true. Someone had hurt him.
“He was going to hurt you some more, and I know it was wrong but I had to stop him. I ran him off. I brought you here to be safe.”
“Tyber.” Evin’s face heated as he remembered exactly what the stranger might have seen them doing before... He touched his stomach and crotch and was relieved to find himself clothed.
“Why did he want to hurt you? You were being nice to him, and he got mad.”
Being nice to him
? “What business is it of yours? Why were you watching us?”
“I...I don’t know many people, and I wanted to see what you’re like. I don’t hurt nobody! I just watch.”
“When? When do you watch?”
In a quiet voice, the other said, “At night. Always. Whenever I can. I’m sorry!”
Oh, not another one
. Evin wanted to be outraged, but his head hurt and he just felt resigned. Easy enough to imagine what this one would want in return for keeping Evin’s secret.
. Evin struggled to understand something the stranger had said. “You just said it was wrong to run Tyber off. Why? What did you do?”
“Look, we’re both in trouble now, and I’m trying to figure out how bad it is. You have to answer my questions and tell me the truth. Do you understand? Tyber can make lots of trouble. Why was it bad to run him off?”
“Because...I’m not supposed to let nobody see me. I wasn’t supposed to help nobody. I wasn’t supposed to be seen!”
The voice choked with anguish. “Because I’m a monster
. I was born wrong, and now they’ve seen me and they’ll kill me. But I couldn’t help--”
“What do you mean, you’re a monster? You’re not making sense.”
“I was born wrong. Something’s wrong with me. Mother told me if anyone sees me... Now they’re gonna kill us all
Evin didn’t know what to say. The boy seemed honestly afraid. Why would any mother scare her son like this? What could really be so wrong with him? “Where’s your lantern? Take me out of this cave. I want to see.”
“It’s not morning yet. I can take you partway, and you’ll be able to see in the morning. Can we wait till then?”
“Look, you want to help me, right? How will it help if I stumble around blind and get hurt? Because I’m leaving.”
The boy quieted for a time. Then he said, “Please can we finish talking first? It’s better if I tell you first. Before you see.”
“Fine. Tell me now.”
“The worst part... Well, I don’t know what the worst part is.” He took a shaky breath. “I’m ugly. I’m so awful ugly. And wrong.”
“I look like a sinner’s soul, Mother says, like a monster. I’m disgusting and I’m green. Green all over, like rotten. You can see my eyes in the dark. Father says my eyes are enough to get me killed. Stuff is wrong with me! All over. Everything.”
. “I don’t see any light. Your eyes don’t shine in the dark!”
“I’m trying to keep ’em closed or look away.” The boy’s voice tightened again with emotion. “I don’t want you to--You’d be scared, but I want to help. Don’t be scared!”
“Let me see.”
Evin peered into the blackness in the voice’s direction, expecting the stranger to give up his bluff and make excuses about why he couldn’t produce any shining eye trick. Then maybe Evin could pry some truth out of him, find out how to get out of here and go home. The boy’s breathing became shallow and hitched. Evin waited a moment for the story to come spilling out, but instead there was a sound of movement. The stranger scooted closer.
A huff of breath washed over Evin’s face, and he flinched. Scant inches away, the boy whispered, “Please don’t be scared.”
Eyes like burning yellow lamps split open in the darkness.
“Lords!” Evin threw up an arm to push away whatever this thing was before him and scrabbled to try to get away from it.
The panicked motion made Evin’s head pound again. Tiny specks of light appeared and faded in his vision. He had to stop to battle nausea.
The creature’s miserable pleading continued. “I’m sorry; I’m sorry. I knew you’d be scared, but I won’t hurt you, I promise, please...”
Evin tried to get hold of himself and put the image of those unnatural eyes out of his mind. His breath came in gulps. The thing wasn’t looking at him now, thank the lords, and that made it easier to control his urge to run screaming through the darkness. Finally he calmed enough to say, “Okay. Okay. That was bad--”
“I’m sorry; I’m sorry.”
“Shut up! It’s not your fault.” He took a deep breath. “I didn’t believe you, so I got surprised. That’s all.” Then he tried to make his voice less harsh and said, “Stop sniveling and act like a man, or whatever you are, okay?”
While Evin’s nerves settled again and the creature seemed to compose itself, Evin spoke. “Okay, okay. You have to hide, I understand now. And you helped me and you’re not going to hurt me. I believe you.” He paused to let his words soothe the thing, then continued, “The reason we’re in trouble is because you scared Tyber really bad when you chased him away, right? And if he saw your eyes...well, he’s gonna have the village panicking with tales of a monster come to get us. They’ll search for me. They might use dogs to find the monster. And then they’ll kill the monster. But you didn’t hurt Tyber, did you?”
“No, not a bit.” The glowing eyes appeared again, looking to Evin for help, and Evin had to fight back another surge of panic. Lords, they were terrible!
Evin tried to concentrate on solving their problem. “So...if I can get back to the village really soon, as fast as I can, then I’ll tell another story. No monster. Tyber can’t talk about what we were up to, so who knows what kind of story he made up. If I show up without a scratch and tell a better lie, maybe they’ll stop looking.”
“But you do have a scratch! He hurt you.”
“I’ll think of something. Tyber will punish me for it, and his friends too, but--wait.” Daubrec was destroyed by a demon. Even if nobody believes Tyber, they’ll search
. “Tell me something. Do you know much about hunting? About dogs?”
“Yes, I know lots. My father teaches me.”
“Okay, we need to split up, and you have to use whatever you know to throw off the dogs. Are we close to the river?”
“I can get us there quick if I carry you.”
Evin suppressed a shudder. “Okay, that’s good. It’ll put your scent on me, then we can split up and you can use the water to fool the dogs. Does that sound good?”
“Yes.” The blazing eyes looked down at the floor. “I’m...I’m sorry you have to touch me. I didn’t mean none of this.”
Evin didn’t want to think about that. “Let’s go.”