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The Smell of Cinnamon

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The scarlet rider chased the black horse through the night. There was a raging storm above him, and the figure of the rider flashed blood-red in the light of the lightning, while the whistling of the whip drowned the thunder. The horseman rode straight through the fence, through the thicket of thorns, through ditches and streams. He tore at the reins, trashed the horse into one side or the other, mercilessly struck it with his spurs, making the stallion shiny with sweat, whose sides were already open wounds … The horse whinnied frantically, bucked, reared, tried to throw off the rider – but his legs clenched tight to the side of the stallion, he was following the bends of his neck and stuck his claws deeply in. The horse bared his white teeth in a scream of pain, which was immediately lost as the thunder raged in the black sky, and it rode through the darkness and rain, blindly, with crashing hooves, further and further through the hills and fields, through creeks and swamps …

Again shot up the whip, new pain slashed through the body; the world spun around in a demonic waltz, lightning tore the darkness to shreds, thunder roared in triumph, and its voice shook the earth. The rider reined in sharply, breaking the skin of the horse's lips. It was trembling, all in a lather; in the flashes of lightning, its glossy body was steaming. The rider jumped down, took off his bridle from his horse; the man's nostrils flared in scarlet as he drew in a sharp smell of blood, and he slowly ran his hand over the wounded body of the horse, digging his fingers a little into a wound, causing the horse to shudder and roll his half-mad black eye. After he had admired him plenty, the man said:

— You can become a human now.

The horse fell on the dry grass, gasping and shuddering …

The man in scarlet, arms folded, watched along as through the guise of the black horse, the outlines of the slender boy's body appeared – soon, before him, writhing in pain, covered in blood, bruises and cuts, lay no longer a black horse, but a dark-haired young man. The man sat down next to him and lifted his head by his chin, moving away matted strands from his face with a gloved hand – the young man looked at his tormentor with pain clouded eyes and fell into unconsciousness.

Krabat woke up, but for a long time lay in silence, eyes closed, involuntarily listening to the terrible pain and aching all over his body; fiery stains floated before his eyes – blood-red as the Master's clothing. He felt that he was lying in bed, that it was warm, for some reason smelled like cinnamon, and somewhere near the soft light of the candle burned. Krabat did not know how long he lay like that, afraid to move because of the pain that stretched through his whole body like incandescent strings; but at some point, he felt that someone sat on the bed next to him. Krabat opened his eyes.
Black beams, the log walls, a red candle on the table, the hearth bursting fire, bundles of dried herbs on the walls; and then Krabat's look came across a slender figure, black against the background of the fire.

The Master touched the scratches on his neck – the touch was very light, but Krabat nearly cried out in pain.

— Does it hurt? — the Master asked, looking with interest at the tormented body.

Krabat was about to answer, but his voice did not obey him, and he just nodded.

The Master opened a metal jar and scooped out some ointment – thick and of an unpleasant gray-brown color with a pungent smell of cinnamon.

— Keep still.

He ran his hand over the scratches on Krabat's neck; the ointment was unusually hot and burned his skin, but it was even pleasant, because at the touch of the Master, the pain subsided, and heat spilled all over his body, accompanied by a strange feeling of pleasure. Krabat closed his eyes, completely worn out by his pain, and fell into a nap of recovery.

After a while, Krabat felt that his head was lifted. Opening his eyes, he saw that the Master gave him a wooden cup full to the brim.

— Drink, — he said.

Krabat took a few sips. The drink was cloying and bitter at the same time, with a strong taste of cinnamon; it burned his throat and enveloped it like cling film – so that it seemed to Krabat that a disgusting fat worm crept into it. He felt sick; he pushed the cup away with disgust.

— Drink, — the Master said impatiently.

Krabat suddenly got scared and tried to pull away, but the Master's fingers closed around his neck, and sharp pain came back, piercing his whole body, and the cup moved closer to his face. He drank to the bottom, and dropped his head on the pillow.

Krabat's thoughts mingled; fantastic shadows danced on the dark ceiling beams, the fire burned in a wild celebration of hissing and spitting sparks, the window popped open with a sudden gust of wind. Somewhere owls were laughing, and Krabat somehow laughed too, looking at the glow of the fire that distorted the face of the Master. And he smiled a strange smile, caressing the body of Krabat, which was covered by heat and no longer opposed to his touch. Weak-willed, stunned by the stupefying smell of the witch drink, he looked at the dark beams of the ceiling with a fixed stare, without feeling as the Master bit into his mouth, biting through to the blood as it rushed into his body, as he heavily leaned deeper into it, all faster, and as he was biting his neck, he was shuddering in the throes of pleasure …

Krabat woke up in the middle of the morning; the window was wide open, golden sunlight lay on the floor like a blanket, a green branch peered into the window. He lay crumpled with terrible fatigue and emptiness; he did not understand why he was so anxious to shrink into a ball, disappear, die …

— Krabat! You finally woke up. — On the floor beside his bed sat Yuro, downcast and frightened. — This is all because of me. If I had not forgotten about the bridle … What did the Master do? He punished you, huh?

Krabat shuddered painfully. Where in his memories he had been held overnight, there was darkness, blood-red spots and the sickly sugary smell of cinnamon …