“Would you like to come with me?” The man asked. His voice was deep, reverberant in Rowen's chest. Around them, the storm raged, thatch blowing off of soaking roofs and water pouring from eaves and out of overfull water jars.
Rowen opened his mouth, but of course he could not speak. He shut it, blinking slowly. Was this death?
“Will you come?” The man moved farther away, hovering, and looked up. “If you don't, the storm will probably kill you.”
Rowen could not speak. But he reached out, and the man smiled.
“Come then.” He knelt down, grabbing Rowen and hoisting him like a child. Pain from the sunburns screamed across his body, but he could not cry out. If this was death, it was not what he had expected.
He didn't have the strength to hold on, but the man gripped him as they hovered higher into the air, then flew, up above the village and into the storm. Rowen did not look down, staring at the man's neck, secure in his muscular arms. The sky around them was gray-black with clouds, but here he felt none of the violence of the storm that was being wreaked below. Spots flecked through his vision, but he no longer felt like giving up.
“I'm going to take you somewhere safe.” The man's voice rumbled. “Don't worry. I will explain everything to you.”
He talked as though Rowen cared. His village had sacrificed him to die. He was not dead now, he was flying above the village he had grown up in...The world spun around him, and for a moment he thought he was falling, or flying faster. Then he passed out.
He woke to a feeling of cold, a slimy surface chill that masked deeper thrums of pain. As soon as he opened his eyes, a flask was thrust in his face.
“Don't move. Just drink.” The cool water was poured into his mouth, spilling over his chin. He couldn't quite grasp the concept of drinking for a moment, the water splashing on his dry mouth and chin, but soon he guzzled it greedily, suddenly so thirsty that he felt as though the water was merely going down his throat without being touched by his tongue or being absorbed, as though he were drinking water in a dream. When the flask was taken away he felt no relief, only more thirst, and he followed it with his eyes, obeying the order not to move.
The man who had saved him knelt beside next to his head, the flask in one tanned hand. The place Rowen lay was dark, cold stone beneath and above him.
“I know you're thirsty, but you can't drink too much too fast. Small sips.” His voice echoed slightly, and Rowen wished he knew where they were. A year without being able to speak had taught him patience, however, and he merely accepted the flask when it was given again, swallowing the precious water.
“Do you feel better?” The man asked, and Rowen inwardly cringed. This man didn't know he couldn't talk. He nodded, unsure of how to communicate the problem. He wanted to thank him, for taking him away from the village and saving his life, but there was no way to do it.
“I'm Kristoff. What's your name?” The man spoke as though to a wounded animal, and Rowen realized that's essentially what he was. He lay naked on a stone floor, covered in caked mud, which he presumed was for the burns. The man looked concerned, even more so when Rowen wouldn't answer.
“Can you understand me?” He asked, brows furrowing. Rowen nodded once, holding his gaze, hoping Kristoff would understand.
“Will you tell me your name?” Kristoff pressed.
Rowen dropped his gaze. He moved his arm, the skin shrieking with pain as it left the cold floor, and pointed to his throat, giving a small shake of his head.
“More water will help.” Kristoff didn't understand, and Rowen drank a bit more, before shaking his head again and motioning once more to his throat. He drew a small X in the air above it, his hand shaking just from that small gesture.
Kristoff's eyes widened. “You can't speak at all?”
Rowen nodded once, and then felt something, an emotion he couldn't identify. Everyone in the village had known it, discovering it days after it happened, after his parents had lain, rotting, in his house until the heat spell broke, Rowen too weak to report it their deaths and no one concerned enough to check. No one had spoken to him since except to command, or tease, or sacrifice, not until now. And now Kristoff, the man who had saved his life, who had flown in a storm, would know that speaking to him was pointless, and it would begin again. Pain blossomed in his chest. Whatever the reason was for saving him didn't matter. He was useless if he couldn't communicate. He looked away, not wanting to see the disappointment on Kristoff's face.
“Can you write?” Rowen shook his head. Only Alain and Erik had been able to write. Rowen had been destined to dig wells, as his parents had.
“Please, look at me.” He obeyed, finding a strange kindness in the other man's features. “That doesn't matter for now. I mean, I guess it does matter, your name is important, but...” He sighed, looking up as though for help. “I'm guessing you have questions that you can't ask, so I'm going to explain things to you as best I can. Bear with me. I've never had an apprentice before.” He said the last almost to himself, and Rowen realized that Kristoff was nervous. “Can you, uh, answer a few yes or no questions for me first?”