Brianne Beaten

Introduction

This scene is far and away my favorite of the ones cut from the book, my poor deleted darling. It is a Leesha scene from her second story arc, which took place in Chapter 13 of The Painted/Warded Man, the chapter entitled “There Must Be More” (which, btw, was an homage to Belle’s opening song in Disney’s Beauty & the Beast).

The scene happens directly after the confrontation between Gared and Marick in the Cutter’s Hollow marketplace, and the purpose of it was to force Leesha to confront Brianne, who had been one of her best friends until the events of her first story arc, which had destroyed her reputation and all her friendships. It was also meant to illustrate how confident and powerful Leesha had become during her tutelage under Bruna.

Why It Was Cut

I take full responsibility for cutting this scene. No editor or agent or test reader suggested it. It was wholly my decision. I needed to reduce the overall word count of the book, and much as I loved this scene, it was over 3,000 words, and lifted out so cleanly that no one would ever miss it but me. That Leesha had grown too big for Cutter’s Hollow was already apparent, and nothing else happened that affected the rest of the story at all. It was the price I paid for adding 15 pages of Rojer introduction to the first section of an already oversized first novel. A high price, perhaps, but a fair one all the same.

Even now, though, I don’t regret the decision. The final draft of the book is lean and mean and every scene moves the story forward. This scene doesn’t; it’s just a tangent. It also helps balance out the Leesha/Rojer air time, which was (and still is) skewed somewhat in Leesha’s favor.

Still, I love this little side-story, and am really happy I finally get to share it with people who might enjoy reading it.

Scene

“There’s need for your skills,” Mairy said.

“You feel unwell?” Leesha asked, concerned. She laid the back of her hand against Mairy’s forehead, but Mairy shook her head, pulling away. “No, it’s not for me,” she said.

“One of the children?” Leesha asked, her eyes quickly scanning each for a sign of ill health. “Or Benn?”

Mairy shook her head again. “It’s Brianne,” she said. “She’s been having stomach pains. She tries to hide it, but I see her wincing. Something is wrong. We hoped you might take the request for aid better from me.”

“Why me?” Leesha asked. “Darsy is her Herb Gatherer.”

“You’ve said yourself that Darsy guesses at her cures more oft than not,” Mairy said. “And she lost Dug and Merrem’s child last winter.”

“I never said that was Darsy’s fault,” Leesha pointed out.

“You didn’t have to,” Mairy said. “Half the town is whispering it whenever she passes by. Brianne is just too proud to ask for your help.”

“Even if she did,” Leesha asked, “why should I give it?”

“Because she’s sick and you’re an Herb Gatherer,” Mairy replied.

“She’s spoken nothing but ill words on me for nearly seven years,” Leesha said angrily. “And don’t forget that she did her best to destroy my life.” She turned away, but guilt ate at her. There were oaths Herb Gatherers took, to help all in need.

“She cried for you,” Mairy said at her back. “We all did.”

Leesha turned. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“That morning, when your mum came to town saying you ent come home before dark,” Mairy said. “She had the whole town out looking for you or…” she looked away, “your body”.

“We were sure you were dead,” Mairy went on after a moment, when Leesha did not reply. “Brianne said it was her fault, and fell into tears. We tried to tell her it wan’t like that, but she was inconsolable.” She touched Leesha’s shoulder, “She knew she hurt you, Leesha.”

“I never heard a word of contrition,” Leesha said. “In fact, she’s said worse about me since. Don’t think I haven’t heard.”

“She meant to apologize,” Mairy said. “Saira, too.”

“But you were the only one that actually did,” Leesha said.

“Hurting with words is easy,” Mairy replied, echoing Leesha’s earlier statement, “it’s healing with them what’s hard. Don’t forget it was you what hurt her first.”

Leesha felt as if she had been slapped in the face. What if Brianne was really sick and needed her help? Would she deny her? Deny her child? Had Bruna ever denied anyone?

“You’re right,” she told Mairy. “Of course I’ll come help her.”

“There’s one other thing,” Mairy said.

Leesha looked up.

“She’s pregnant.”

* * * * *

Mairy sent her little ones scurrying off home, and they headed for the small house the townsfolk had built when Brianne and Evan wed.

“How long has she known?” Leesha asked, walking so fast that Mairy had to scurry to keep pace. Fear for Brianne’s child gripped her.

“Her stomach told her a few weeks ago,” Mairy said. “She might be as far as two months, now. She only told Evin this week.”

“Were there any complications with her first pregnancy?” Leesha asked.

“Apart from being forced to marry Evin?” Mairy asked. Leesha frowned at her.

“It’s not funny, I know,” Mairy said. “Callen’s birth was easy. In fact, you might say it was the only easy thing about Callen.”

“Because Evin didn’t want him,” Leesha said.

“That’s putting it light,” Mairy agreed. “Neither one was expecting the child. Brianne used to go to Bruna for pomm tea, but with you around… she said she couldn’t bear the shame.”

“She was one of the first to turn to Darsy,” Leesha said.

“Only Darsy won’t make the tea,” Mairy said. “She says it’s sinful, and told the Tender on the wives who’d been taking it. He gave a big sermon about our duty to procreate.”

“I remember,” Leesha said. Tender Michel had railed against Pomm tea, but he had been careful not to say an ill word towards Bruna, lest the town learn how personally he took his duty.

“Well, that explains why Darsy is so busy as a midwife,” Leesha said. “Those that go to her are a lot more apt to need it.”

“Its just as well,” Mairy said. “There’s few enough of us in Cutter’s Hollow as is.”

“Just as well, so long as she lets no more be born still,” Leesha said.

“Brianne blames you, sometimes,” Mairy blurted.

“Me?” Leesha asked. “What did I do?”

“Made her feel too shamed to get her pomm tea,” Mairy said. “Made Evin have to marry her against his will. Made every day what’s been bad since then.”

“That isn’t fair,” Leesha said. “I was the one publicly humiliated because of her.”

“Because of Gared,” Mairy corrected.

“And Brianne got pregnant because of Evin, not me!” Leesha retorted.

Mairy nodded. “So maybe its time to stop taking it out on each other,” she said.

Leesha was quiet a long while. “I will if she will,” she conceded at last.

“One of you has to be first,” Mairy said.

Leesha stopped short. “Brianne doesn’t know I’m coming,” she said. When Mairy made no reply, she grinned. “Aren’t you quite the little manipulator these days?” she accused.

“I get it from being a mum,” Mairy confided with a giggle.

* * * * *

Mairy took a deep breath, and knocked on the door. There was noise from inside, but no one answered. Mairy knocked again.

“Who’s that?” Evin cried.

“Mairy!” Mairy shouted.

There was a some shouting inside. “Get it, yurself!” they heard Evin bark.

“Just come in!” Brianne called. “It ent barred!”

Mairy opened the door to reveal a squalid cabin. Two wolfhounds ran freely about the main room, and much of the furniture was gnawed upon. Evin sat with his muddy boots up on the supper table, whittling. The floor around him was covered in curls of wood. Brianne had her back to the door, chopping vegetables on the counter by the fire that served as her kitchen. Callen, six years old and tousle-haired, clung to her skirt with one hand. With the other, he rooted about one of his nostrils for some elusive prey.

“Sorry for the door, Mair,” Brianne said without turning. “Creator forbid Evin fall behind at whittling useless sticks.”

“Maybe a walk to the door once in a while would sweat off a few pounds,” Evin muttered. “Whattaya want, anyway?” he asked, looking up and seeing Leesha enter.

“Well, well,” he said, devouring Leesha with his eyes as he stood up suddenly, brushing the wood shavings from his clothes, “welcome to our humble home.”

Brianne turned and saw her husband leering. She saw Leesha, and her face darkened.

“What is SHE doing here?!” Brianne demanded angrily, coming over with the chopping knife still in her hand.

“I thought she might be able to help with your pain,” Mairy said.

“I didn’t ask for any help,” Brianne snarled. “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”

“I can see you’re not,” Leesha said. “Your coloring is off, you’re breathing’s out of rhythm, and you grit your teeth when you walk.”

“She said its nothing,” Evin said.

“Please,” Mairy said. “Let her take a look. If not for you, think of the little one.”

“The baby is fine,” Evin said.

“Leave,” Brianne said.

“Brianne…” Leesha began.

“Are you deaf?” Evin asked. “She said…”

“No,” Brianne cut him off. “You. Leave.”

“This is my house…!” Evin sputtered, storming towards them, but Leesha put a hand in the pocket of her apron, and he noted the move, pulling up short.

“GET OUT!” Brianne screamed, throwing the knife at him. Evin ducked the missile and scowled, but he eyed Leesha’s hand in her pocket, and headed for the door. Callen began to cry.

“And take those damn dogs with ya!” Brianne cried. “I’m tired of cleaning their shit off the floor!” Evin clicked his tongue, and both animals followed him out of the cabin.

Brianne seemed to deflate as he left. She knelt in front of Callen, but grimaced in pain as she did. She lifted a corner of her apron to dry his tears.

“There, there, baby,” she said. “It’s all right. Run along and play with yur logs.” She hugged him, and the boy ran over to the far corner of the room, where a pile of tiny sticks had been laid to form a crude miniature cabin.

Brianne stood, wincing again. Her face was ashen. “I suppose it makes ya feel good to see me like this,” she told Leesha, “fat and miserable, while ya walk through town singing to the birds on yur shoulder and turning every man’s head as ya go.”

Leesha killed an angry retort before it reached her lips. “No one’s suffering makes me feel good,” she said. “Take a seat and let me have a look at you.”
Brianne didn’t argue, pain flashing across her face again as she sat. Leesha looked in her eyes and mouth, feeling her forehead for a fever and checking the pulse in her wrist.

“Let me know if anything I touch hurts,” she said, and Brianne nodded. Leesha began to probe with sensitive fingers, watching Brianne’s eyes the whole time. She already had her suspicions as to the cause of Brianne’s pain.

“Aaah!” Brianne cried as Leesha pressed at her ribs.

“Take off your blouse,” Leesha said.

“Is that really necessary?” Brianne asked.

“You were never shy about being naked back when we were friends,” Leesha said.

“I was pretty then,” Brianne shot back.

“Off with it,” Leesha ordered. “Mairy, help me.”

Brianne did not resist as the two pulled the blouse over her head. Mairy gasped at the yellowed bruises that covered Brianne’s arms and back, and the black one, about as big as a palm-sized stone, on her ribs.

“It’s just as I thought,” Leesha said. “Two of your ribs are broken. You’re lucky you didn’t pop your lung.”

“Can ya fix them?” Brianne asked.

Leesha shook her head. “There’s not much to do for ribs but let them heal. I’ll bind them so they heal straight and don’t grind when you move, but you’ll have to limit yourself for some time. Best altogether if you stay abed.”

“Some time?” Brianne asked.

“Weeks,” Leesha said, and she caught Brianne’s look. “No arguing,” she snapped. “We’ll send someone to help you with Callen and around the house. You’re lucky it’s not worse.”

“Creator!” Mairy said. “What happened, Bri?”

“I was standing on the woodpile, holding the paint can while Evin touched up the wards on the roof,” Brianne said. “I slipped, and half the pile came down on me.”

“Night!” Mairy exclaimed. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“I thought I was fine,” Brianne said.

“Look, I’ve got things here, Mair,” Leesha said. “Why don’t you get on home before the little ones get themselves into trouble?”

Mairy glanced at Brianne, who nodded her assent, and left.

“Demonshit,” Leesha said when they were alone. “That son of a coreling beat you, and don’t you think me stupid enough to believe any other tampweed tale you pull from your arse.”

Brianne looked at her in shock. “Living with Bruna taught ya to curse,” she said with a pained laugh. “Proper li’l Leesha I knew wun’t have known what them words meant.”

“Don’t try to change the subject, either,” Leesha said.

Brianne looked at her in fear. “What‘re ya gonna do?”

“Bind these ribs, to start,” Leesha said. She took a roll of white cloth from her basket, and began wrapping it around Brianne’s midsection, just below her breasts.

“Ahhh! Night, that stings!” Brianne gasped.

“Not half so much as the breaking itself, I’ll wager,” Leesha said. “Brianne, you have to tell someone. This can’t go on.”

“It was just the once,” Brianne said.

Leesha snorted. “I don’t believe that anymore than the woodpile tale,” she said. “A man who’ll hit a pregnant woman isn’t new to the deed. Does Darsy know?”

Brianne shook her head. “No one knows. I never needed a Gatherer before.”

“We have to put a stop to this before you need a Tender and a gravedigger,” Leesha said.

“What would ya have me do?” Brianne demanded. “Tell my da? He and my brothers would kill Evin for this. They’d kill him for real, and be put out of the village at night for it. Callen would lose every man in his life over it, and where would I be?”

“Then tell Smitt,” Leesha said. “Let the council handle it.”

Brianne shook her head. “Da would still find out,” she said, “and that would be that.”

“So what?” Leesha demanded. “You let this go on until he does permanent harm to you or your unborn? Or Callen?”

“It won’t happen again, Leesh,” Brianne said, squeezing her hand, “he promised. Ya have to swear not to tell.”

“Brianne…” Leesha began.

“Swear!” Brianne demanded, cutting her off. “Remember yur oath!”

Leesha’s eyes narrowed, but she was trapped, and she knew it. Images flashed in her mind of Elona’s belt, and how the pain had always seemed less than the shame of telling. “I swear,” she said at last, grinding her teeth as she did.

She finished binding Brianne’s ribs, and selected a handful of roots, holding them out. “Chew these for the pain,” she said. “Only one a day, and no more, or the little one,” she stroked Brianne’s belly, “will make you regret it.”

“Will the baby be all right?” Brianne asked, near tears.

“This time,” Leesha said. “But if this happens again, who knows?”

“It won’t, I swear,” Brianne said.

“I don’t think it’s up to you,” Leesha said.

* * * * *

Evin was in the yard when Leesha left. His eyes stroked her body, but he was wary, too. On impulse, Leesha went to him, putting an extra snap to the natural sway of her round hips.

“She’s going to be fine,” Leesha said. “That fall from the woodpile broke a couple of ribs, but they’ll heal if she gets enough rest.”

“The… woodpile,” Evin began slowly, quickly gaining confidence as he caught on, “right. Awful spill. I told her to fetch a Gatherer, but ya know Brianne.”

Leesha flashed him a bright smile. “I do at that,” she said.

Evin returned the smile. “Yur looking good these days, Leesh,” he breathed.

Leesha looked around. Seeing they were alone, she moved closer, standing on tiptoe so her lips practically touched his ear. “Come around the side of the house,” she whispered. “I want to show you something.”

Evin’s grin split his face, and he grabbed her hand, practically dragging her along.

When they were alone, he was on her in an instant, kissing her hard and pawing her breasts. He didn’t notice the needle in Leesha’s hand until she stuck it in his neck.

“What the…!” Evin exclaimed, pulling away and slapping at the puncture. Already, he was starting to sway.

“The poison works fast,” Leesha told him, straightening her blouse.

“Pois..?” Evin started to ask, but then his feet went from under him, and he collapsed to the dirt, spasming erratically on his stomach.

“You feel that?” Leesha asked, kneeling beside him as his seizure began in earnest. “The horrid cramps and pain? Your limbs just twitching despite your commands for them to move?”

“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” she said, patting his back. “The poison will leave your muscles soon.” She bent close, caressing his hair, and whispered, “It moves next into your gut.”

Evin let out a low moan into the dirt.

“I promised Brianne I’d keep quiet about this,” she said. “Herb Gatherers have an oath to hold secrets, and I’ll not break that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t act on my own.”

She gripped his hair tightly, forcing his head to turn towards her. “Look at me,” she commanded. He tried weakly to pull away, but she held tight, pushing up his chin with her free hand to make him meet her eyes.

“You think hard,” she said, “when you’re screaming in the outhouse tomorrow. Think about how the next time I have to treat Brianne or one of the children because of you, you’ll think of today as nothing. I’ll make your bones scream, and your pathetic little dangle shrivel up like a raisin. I’ll leave you hobbling on a cane before you see your thirtieth summer.”

Evin looked at her, his eyes wide with terror. A lather of spit foamed out of his mouth, and a tear ran down his cheek.

She let go and stood. His head fell back to the dirt, flopping oddly.

“You think hard,” she said again. Turning, she found herself face to face with Brianne.

She froze as Brianne looked down at her husband convulsing on the ground, and then back to Leesha. Their eyes met for what seemed like forever. Finally, Brianne nodded once. Leesha nodded in return, and Brianne turned and went back into the cabin.

* * * * *

“Brianne is at least seven weeks pregnant,” Leesha said. “She told Evin a week ago, and some time not long after, he beat her. The child is fine, but I treated two broken ribs and a number of bruises.”

Bruna nodded as if Leesha had said nothing more than it looked like rain. “She begged you not to tell, I assume,” she said.

“How did you know?” Leesha asked. Bruna raised an eyebrow at her, but didn’t bother to reply.

“What did you do about it?” the crone asked.

“I stuck him with a needle dipped in slipsnake venom and told him I’d do worse the next time,” Leesha said.

Bruna cackled and slapped her knee. “Couldn’t have done better myself!” she howled. “Boy won’t touch her again, and I wager he’ll squirt his breeches the next time he sees you!”

“That was the idea,” Leesha said, reddening.

“My children will be in good hands with you one day,” Bruna said.

“No day soon, I hope,” Leesha replied.

“Not for a while yet, at least,” Bruna agreed, with a hint of sadness.