Memories, bitter and frenzied, washed over him like salt in a fresh cut. When Paign had first learned of his father’s death in the War of Dominance, it was as if someone had, at that very moment, poured smoldering ash into his soul, melting it into slag. He’d felt all burnt inside, purged of all that was good. He’d felt only raw, cloaked in shrieking loneliness. Unlike a severe sunburn, there was no salve that Paign could have applied to his broken heart. But like the way a sunburn throbs until the skin is twisted—at which point the pain magnifies itself, almost as a most bitter punishment for having skin—Paign’s heartache and grief at the loss of his father had throbbed without respite. When by himself, the ache of it became so habitual that he had become mostly numbed to it. But when with others—who always seemed compelled to make some kind, sympathetic remark—Paign’s heart was again twisted into fresh agony. Their comments never helped. Never.
Arguing with Anders had been a reflex action and surprised Paign. It left him unsettled, confused and very agitated. After his bitter departure from Anders, Paign hiked for many hours, mindless of weather and totally unaware of his location. When he stopped, it was only to seize a fallen branch to shatter across the nearest tree or to hurl a rock at a nearby innocent, unsuspecting—and then very frightened—animal. Haunted, Paign muttered terrible things, hateful and vile things, at his cousin, at his friends, at his mother, even at his dead father. By the time he had utterly vented his rage, Paign’s hands were bruised and bloodied from the bark of a particularly rough, sessile oak branch twisting in his hands as he slammed it into a boulder. Dirt from the hurled rocks had wedged into the wounds caused by the coarse bark. His voice had become raw and hoarse by the time he finally sat on an outcrop not far from the high cave on Ruar’s Ridge that Freida had discovered the year before.
Finally, Paign saw that the sun would be down within the hour. He didn’t care. He was exhausted physically, more from the violence he’d perpetrated on the forest than from the rage-filled hike. The great weariness in his soul felt as cold as the snow-chilled draft falling down from the ridge top.
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