"Why are you taking so long?" Jana asked.
"I'm sorry, I just wanted to rest," Sylvia lied.
The woman shook her head. "And why were you resting during this time of day? You should be working!"
She nodded. “I-I’m sorry, I was just tired..."
The woman rolled her eyes. "We are all tired, but that is no excuse for slacking off!"
"I'm sorry, it won't happen again," she said nervously.
Jana met her with a cold expression. "Sylvia, understand that I will not try to spare you the master's punishments for crimes committed. If you are caught out here delaying again with laziness as an excuse, the others may say you tried to run away, and I will not defend you. That is a dangerous game, girl."
Sylvia nodded obediently, and kept her stare focused down at her feet as they walked back to town. Jana was the chief worker in charge of all the females, and one of the doctors. She was a rather harsh woman, but not an overly cruel one. She had been more sympathetic towards her than anyone else since her coming here, and was probably concerned for her right now more than anything. Sylvia did not want to get her into trouble though, so she determined to be more careful in the future, for both their sake's.
The next day when Sylvia checked the burrow, she saw that the man was wide awake and waiting for her. His face looked less pained, too, though his body and eyes remained stiff and guarded as she entered.
"I hope you are feeling better," she greeted him quietly.
He gazed at her for a good long moment, looking as if he was trying to make a decision about something. Then he shook his head and closed his eyes, turning away from her in his usual manner. Sylvia just rolled her eyes and started cleaning his bandages without a word. She worked more quickly than usual, quite anxious about getting back before anyone could notice her disappearance today. She winced at the memory of the master's past punishments for incompetence. Usually it came in the form of a beating, but sometimes it would be lashes. She already had five ugly scars on her back to remind her of the last big mistake she had made, and she did not want to add to them.
The man grunted in discomfort as she patted his side wound with a damp rag. His condition seemed to be improving slowly, as the overall pain did not seem as great as before. He still seemed barely able to move without seizing up, however, which was concerning. In time, though, his body was sure to adjust.
Once the cuts were cleaned, Sylvia re-bandaged them and moved on to the next task: giving him his food. He was now able to hold the bread and eat it himself, so she pulled out a small needle and some thread to patch up his tattered clothes in the meantime. His jacket and shirt were made of good quality leather and silks, indicating that he came money. They seemed to be quite valuable, and she assumed he would rather have them mended than replaced. Though given their appearance, he could probably just buy new ones if he had to…
Suddenly, Sylvia noticed that the man's eyes were upon her once more. Without thinking, she looked up to meet his gaze and immediately regretted it. He was looking at her strangely again, as if she were some kind of puzzle he was working to figure out. His eyes were so fiery and piercing that she simply did not have the courage to look away until he was ready to let her go. Then, without any warning, the man reached out his hand toward her face. Sylvia tried to flinch away, but he quickly grabbed her hair and yanked her close to him.
"Ouch! Let go!" she shouted anxiously.
The man ignored her and pulled her face into his hands, pulling it close to his own face, her body leaning over his. He stared even deeper into her eyes with his face just inches away from hers, causing her heart to beat wildly. His face was so serious and controlled, his probing eyes ever fierce. Sylvia wanted to scream or push herself free, but she couldn't seem to muster the strength to.
Suddenly, the man stroked her right cheek with his thumb, examining her face curiously. She sat there nervously and made no move, still entranced by his unbreakable gaze. He was so handsome up close, with his eyes ever-thoughtful and hungry for understanding. It made her cheeks turn red and her stomach flutter anxiously. After a moment, he moved his thumb up near her eyes, feeling their shape. Then he moved it down to her lips, touching them ever so lightly.
It was then that Sylvia finally found the strength needed to break herself free of his stare. She pushed herself out of his arms and away from his reach, scrambling out of the burrow to leave without another word.
"Tiah!" (Wait!) he called after her.
She ignored his shouts completely, running back to town nearly in tears. How dare he! How dare he! What in the world made this man think she would ever allow such behavior? Just who did he think he was? He was just a stranger! One she had saved from the brink of death! And this was how he repaid her? Unbelievable!
Sylvia stopped to rest against a tree, panting heavily and wiping away angry tears. Men, they really could be so selfish and cruel. She remembered all too vividly the empty promises her ex-husband had made to her at first. But he so quickly forgot his vows and devotion to her, tossing their marriage aside after just three years. Then Sylvia was betrayed by her father as well, who willingly sold his only daughter into slavery in order to pay off his drinking debts!
This world was never fair to women, a fact she had come to learn throughout her life. While she was suffering shame and abuse, her ex-husband and father had moved on with their lives, never giving her plight a second thought! She had been completely betrayed and hurt by these two men, the ones she had come to love most in life, so how could she ever allow herself to be touched by their kind again? Least of all by an ungrateful stranger she had found in the woods!