She was barely breathing. The blow had taken her to her knees and she fell forward, her insides quivering as she tried to clear her vision. She refused to let the whimper escape as she slowly struggled to stand.
She felt her heartbeat in the throbbing of her cheekbone that was already bruising, but that pain was nothing compared to the feeling of being gutted when she saw the face of her attacker.
She stood and faced him, raising shaking hands to her face and felt the pain in her cheek ease as she healed.
The sorrow inside her would not be diminished.
He had come upon her in his journey home after battle some time ago and the whispers he’d heard of her healing abilities intrigued him. He sought her out in her small stone cottage and asked her for aid.
She had taken him in with a smile and cleaned every wound he presented to her and to his astonishment, her touch alone leached the pain from every injury.
His amazement changed to horror as he noticed that whatever injury she touched, she took upon herself momentarily before it faded and healed before his eyes. Every time she took his pain upon herself-his misery eased.
He’d stayed with her then, fascinated by this woman of no status with so great a power, and began to test her. Who knew what good he might gain by having a woman like this in his possession?
Wealth? Fame? Power?
So he began to entertain these fantasies while she found joy in feeding him and listening to his stories of epic battle. She looked at him in wonder and adoration at his bravery and loyalty to his cause. She gave her heart over to him, not as a lover or a mother, but that in between place very few find that is stronger and just as irreversible.
She simply claimed him, and he belonged to her.
Then his testing began. He had to know the strength of her abilities and commitment to him. It only made sense.
He would go out and bring her the sick, the injured, the dying. He watched her heal them all and recover. He would question her and mock her answers, watching carefully for the light in her eyes to dim before he would beg her pardon.
And she always forgave him, giving even more each time he asked. His satisfaction grew.
The only chink in his armor was that the longer he stayed, the more she touched him and with even the lightest touch as she passed by to bring him ale or a book or something else she thought would please him, he felt his heart ease and his mind settle just a little bit. He began to resent her for making him think of foolish things like love, compassion and gratitude.
By all the gods, he was a warrior! Was she trying to weaken him enough to gain power over him?
So now she stands before him face to face. Bruises healed, but hope damaged, and she knew of only one way to save him.
As he looked away to polish a smudge on his shield, she reached out a small hand and touched his heart. He froze, turning his head slowly to look into her eyes and see her for the first time.
Unable to move he watched her lift her other hand to her own smaller heart and as hers shredded inside her, he felt his own become whole.
Unable to sustain the damage, she dropped once again to the forest floor struggling for just enough breath to tell him what he needed to do.
He knelt beside her and he watched as the heart she’d taken for him killed her.
She had failed the last test.
But he carried her last whisper with him from that moment on.