First Came Trust is the, well, first, in a trilogy about three siblings surviving and rebuilding among strange people in a strange land.
Lilah knew ey was dead the moment ey met the creature in the woods. Ey never expected eir doom to overtake eir siblings as well. A stranger on the road may offer salvation, but is it worth the price?
Story Content Notes: Story Content Notes: suicidal character, dubious consent (nonsexual situation)
Lilah had expected the guards to come. Had been expecting them for over a day, in fact. But ey hadn’t expected how the guard had come. No quiet knock to escort em away. No apologies or sympathy for what must be.
The door burst open, broken down by a battering ram, though it had not been latched or locked. Guards poured into the small home Lilah shared with their siblings. They swarmed over Lilah, knocking em to the floor. Lilah didn’t resist, didn’t protest. Not until ey heard Sherzod and Dalma, saw eir siblings thrown down on the floor beside em. Then Lilah protested. But eir protests were short-lived. The beast within em, the beast that had been growing stronger ever since that night in the woods, nearly slipped eir control.
Almost, ey let it. Almost ey let the beast rip through em and seize control, tear through the guards who had betrayed em. Who ey had gone to for help.
But ey was afraid. Afraid that the beast would turn on Sherzod and Dalma. That the beast would kill and kill and not stop, as the stories all said. So ey didn’t fight back. Ey let the guards bind em, followed them silently, and turned all eir will to fighting the beast within em.
The guards loaded them in a cart and drove out of the village along the shore road. Dalma and Sherzod fought and cursed the guards, frantic not just with fear but with ignorance. They had no idea why the guards had broken down their doors and dragged them from bed. No more than they knew why their sibling had been so secretive, so anxious, the past few days.
It wasn’t until they had been in the cart several minutes that fear overwhelmed ignorant anger. That they noticed Lilah looked sick and road in silence, realized ey had not once fought back. Then Dalma and Sherzod moved as one, bracketing their sibling, standing between em and the guard, offering em what little protection they could.
A few miles down the coast road, the guards stopped and pulled them out of the cart. The sun was peeking over the horizon when the guards forced them down onto the stand and staked them out spread-eagle above the high tide line.
All the siblings knew what would come. Not because they had ever heard of the guard doing such a thing, but because they lived in a seaside town. Every few years, a boat’s mast broke or a child was lost, and, sooner or later, they died from the sun and sea. The salt spray would suck the water from their bodies, the sun heat them to delirium, and in a day or three, it would be over.
Sherzod and Dalma were surprised when the guards all left, not one on watch to be sure they did not find some way to escape. But Lilah understood, and ey started laughing. Laughing and laughing, hysterical now, tears seeping down eir face.
Ey could escape in an instant, release the beast, and it would snap the ropes that bound em. But only if ey was willing to kill eir siblings. The guards did not dare kill Lilah themselves, though ey had begged them to. Afraid of what ey could become, they had left em to die in a prison made of love.
Dalma yelled at Lilah, begging em to settle, to explain. Sherzod tried to soothe, to calm. Both fought the ropes, hoping for enough slack, enough leverage, to fight themselves free.
Lilah was snapped out of her hysteria not by eir siblings but by the beast within em, lunging for freedom. It knew it could snap these ropes in a moment. Snap them, and then…
No. They may be doomed, and Lilah may be damned, but Lilah would hold off the beast until eir last breath. While Dalma and Sherzod lived there was a chance they could survive this.
“I’m sorry,” was all Lilah could spare a breath to say. Ey threw emself into the most important battle of eir life.
By the time the sun started creeping west, Lilah and the beast had both given up the fight, too exhausted and worn out to continue. Lilah’s skin prickled and burned from the sun, and eir mouth was parched. Sometimes Dalma’s voice would float over them, or Sherzod’s. But the words had long ago stopped making sense.
A sudden coolness washed over em, and ey blinked, trying to make eir dry eyes focus. A dark shape stood over em, blocking the sun. Though Lilah did not yet know it, salvation had come in a most unlikely form.
Bethania, the noble of Aelland in the royalty of Balule, had been returning home from a trade mission. Eir travels were interrupted when an outrider had brought word of the three siblings trapped on the beach, one of them a new cub. Not being from this barbarous land, Bethania immediately ordered a halt to give aid to the trio. Ey thought wryly, that had ey been foolish enough to try to ride by, the half of eir guards and a handful of servants who were Pack would have rebelled the moment ey gave the order.
Now Bethania crouched over the barely conscious cub. “Why are you here?” Ey asked. Bethania thought ey knew — the locals’ hatred of Pack had been a thorn in their people’s side the entire time they’d been at court. But Bethania had to hear the cub’s answer for emself, to know if the stranger had given into the madness. Without the support of a pack, new cubs could lose themselves to their second nature and its fear.
The cub blinked at her a moment, then ey said, “My fault, nobility.” Ey coughed, and the two staked out next to them stirred, realizing they were no longer alone. Bethania waved eir people forward to help the two humans. “Save my siblings, please. They don’t… they don’t…”
Bethania sighed with relief. The cub was still emself — whoever that had been.
“Why didn’t you free yourself?”
If Lilah hadn’t been near delirious from sun poisoning and exhaustion, the question would likely have terrified em. But ey was too mind-fogged to recognize that Bethania knew of ‘the beast’ and simply answered with the truth. “Would have killed… them… please save them… from me.”
The effort to speak was too much. Lilah realized that eir siblings were already on their feet, freed by the strange noble’s people, then darkness closed in.
Bethania stepped back to allow eir people to work. They wet down the three sufferers with seawater to cool them. The siblings were able to walk with support and were led to sit in the shade of a wagon, brought honey water, and urged to drink slowly. The cub was carried to a quickly erected shelter, Bethania’s pavilion — it was larger than needed but easiest to get out of the wagons. A servant stayed with the now unconscious cub, dripping water into eir mouth.
Satisfied the strangers were getting the needed care, Bethania gave orders for a longer halt and increased security. Whoever had tortured and tried to kill the three might be near. They needed to stay at least a short time. Best be prepared.
First Came Trust (E2)