Archive for the My first Novel Category

Asmodeus – Chapter One – Burned

Posted in Because I love to write, My first Novel, Nightmare with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2011 by cjirwin

ASMODEUS

 

 

 

By

 

C. J. Irwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

               

 

 

 

Having eyes full of deceitfulness and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: a heart exercised with covetous practices; Cursed Children.

2 Peter 2:14

 

 

 

 

One

Burned

 

Livonia, 1430 (Present Day Latvia)

 

“Korina, Korina! Wake, my love, you must wake! They have come…they have come!” Niklav, my husband, shook my long, slender form gently, but upon opening my eyes, I saw the urgency in his. As he gazed intently into my sleepy, blue eyes, the meaning of what he said hit me, and I gasped, sucking laboriously for air as if a boulder lay upon my chest!

 

Will we all die? Could it be? Will the horrors Niklav has fought so tirelessly against claim us? Thoughts flew frantically through my mind as I pulled my long, golden hair up with a leather cord. I looked into Niklav’s sharply defined, but worry-creased features, and the fears began to mount and crowd. Niklav’s closely cut, blonde hair glowed in the fire light, and his compact, muscular body moved tensely to help me from our bed. I stood stunned, afraid. My eyes explored the man I loved, his broad back, his muscular forearms, his chiseled face, and my heart sickened at the thought of losing him.

 

“Korina!” Niklav yelled. “We must go! Gather our things, wake your sister, and I will get Emilya.”

 

 Niklav slung one of our already packed and exceptionally large bags onto his back in a single fluid motion. Even then, under those rushed circumstances, I could not help but to take a moment and marvel at his strength. Dressing quickly in my woolen dress and tunic, and slipping on my leather boots, I bolted from the small room. Aija was already up and gathering the things Niklav had instructed us to collect.

 

“Sister, do we have everything?” I asked, looking at Aija. Her full lips pouted in her lovely, round face, her soft features were marred with anxiety.

 

“Aye,” Aija answered, her voice soft. Aija tossed her dark caramel braid over her shoulder and heaved the leather bag onto her back, grunting at the weight.

 

Frightened but ready, we waited. It was not difficult. We had prepared ourselves. In recent weeks, Niklav had tried to reason with the council and the village but to no avail. My thoughts rushed three weeks into the past to the gathering as if it had only happened the day before.

 

*****

 

“They will come!” My husband Niklav tried to warn the people of our village who had gathered in our massive lodge. “Their thirst for blood and power knows no bounds. Their need to conquer, to destroy, to pillage, burns inside them as the sun at noonday! I have seen these men, these demons, in action. Our humble farming community cannot stand against them. We must go!”        

 

“Go… go? Are you saying we must leave our homes, our land, everything?” Niklav turned from the council to face a tall, brawny man with angry eyes and a smug look that pulled at his blunt, round features. Though Niklav was easily six inches shorter than Juris, he would have no trouble matching his strength.

 

“In faith, Juris, if it means saving my family, then, yes,” Niklav responded, looking at me with pain in his eyes. Not pain caused by the thought of leaving his life-long home, but pain caused by the idea of not leaving and suffering at the cruel hands of Huns. Niklav knew his fate would be better than mine. The Huns were notorious for their love of women.

 

“Coward, you piss and moan like a child, Niklav! They will not come here. It is too far for them to come. We are safe, and you are a coward!” Venom dripped off Juris’ tongue, and he smiled smugly, pushing greasy, muddy, brown hair back from his face.

 

The glare painting my face could not be avoided, and Juris smiled in response. He was always looking for a way to illustrate what he thought was his remarkable value to the elders. He felt decidedly confident we had no reason to fear the Huns in Livonia so far removed from their base of power. He did not think they could reach us. I was sure his animosity toward my husband had something to do with me. Juris had wanted me as a second wife when I came of age, but I had turned him away in favor of my Niklav. He went to the elders and told them he did more for the community than Niklav, and so he deserved me. The elders had allowed me to choose.

 

“Juris, as messenger for this people, I have been as far as the Great Blue River, Dan’s River, as many call it, where live the Slavs. They thought they were safe. They thought they were safe! Due to that arrogance, they were forced to watch as those demons raped their wives and daughters! They watched their sons chained like cattle and taken from them! The only honor given to them was the opportunity to fight to their deaths, their last thoughts being that they had completely failed to protect the most important things in their lives, their family!” No one doubted Niklav’s words. Tales of the vast misfortunes of their neighbors had traveled like wildfire.

 

Silence fell in the room like a heavy cloak. The first to speak was one of the eldest and wisest men in the village.

 

“Niklav has a point,” Ludis said, causing Juris to scowl. “We should not assume that we are safe. Distance is no ally when it comes to dealing with the ambition, resolve, and resourcefulness of the Huns. They are fast and cunning and have weapons unlike my old eyes have ever seen. They are a massive army led by Batu and his Golden Horde. Some have wondered if he is even human! We should indeed fear him!”

 

At Ludis’ words I saw my husband’s shoulders relax. Niklav had worried he would be unable to convince our people of the danger they were facing. He put his head down and sighed with relief.

 

“But,” Ludis continued. Niklav’s head snapped back up, and the smile returned to Juris’ arrogant face. “I believe it unnecessary to leave our homes.”

 

“Ludis, with all due respect, will we do nothing and just wait for them to come?” Niklav pleaded, his sharp nose flaring.

 

“I did not say we would do nothing, Niklav,” Ludis responded in a calming voice.

 

“We need not do anything! This is ridiculous!” Juris was shouting and moving toward the elders as he spoke. “It is the time of the harvest. All our energy should be focused on gathering our crops and preparing for next year, not cowering, running, and hiding like dogs!” Juris spit the words out, glancing back to Niklav.

 

People began to shout, adding their voices and opinions to the debate, some in favor of Juris and some in favor of Niklav. Division tore through the small room, and with a quick glance, I could see many tense muscles and clenched fists.

 

“Peace!” The word was not a request, but a command as it thundered from our leader; his round, sagging face as stone. His voice was booming and powerful. All mouths closed in an instant.

 

“There will be order!” that booming voice reiterated. People’s fists dropped, and most took a step back. “We will not leave, but we shall prepare for their coming. Every man is to ready his house in the event that we must make a hurried retreat. We will post a scout about a mile from the village so that we may have some warning.” Everyone was still for a long moment. Rokus was a true leader, and his mere presence commanded respect.

 

“If anyone has anything else to add, and can do it in an orderly fashion, he may speak now,” Rokus sat and waited, his thick gray-streaked, hair falling across his brow.

 

“Sir,” Juris was, of course, the first to speak, and his “sir” sounded more antagonizing than respectful, “I have too much to do to be playing guard duty when there is no need for it.”

 

“Very well, Juris, you need not worry yourself with it then,” Rokus said, cocking a bushy eyebrow at him. Juris smiled his arrogant smile.

 

“Thank you, my lord,” the words rolled mockingly off Juris’ tongue.

 

“I do not want anyone who does not want to watch my back watching it, for fear that I may find a knife in it,” there was humor in Rokus’ voice. He smiled and looked at the other elders, receiving nods of approval. Juris did not appreciate being the butt of the joke.

 

“I would give my life for you, Rokus,” Juris said indignantly. “I was only trying to say that I… I mean… we just have so much to do,” he stammered. “If you feel it is necessary to have a guard, then I will fulfill my duty to this people, as I always do,” Juris said, his attempt to be more sincere falling flat.              

 

“I do feel it is necessary,” Rokus said, all traces of humor gone from his voice. Juris stood down.

 

I thought that Niklav would speak again, try once more to convince the elders that we must go, but he held his peace. Juris turned to leave and, in passing, knocked Niklav’s shoulder firmly and glared triumphantly. I saw my husband’s jaw clench, and his hands form fists. Laying my hands on his neck, I whispered in his ear to calm him. Niklav stood rigid, his features statuesque, until Juris had left the sanctuary. He turned to me and said that he was sorry. I saw the defeat in his eyes and wished for some way to console him. It was not easy to convince Niklav of anything. Somehow, I knew I would not be able to convince him everything would be all right.

 

“Let us prepare; we will be ready,” I said.

 

“I have to protect you. I cannot lose you. I cannot fail our family!” he said fervently.

 

“You will not fail us, Niklav. You never have; you never will!” The torment in his eyes burned brightly as he pulled me tightly to his firm, compact body. He held me so tightly it was hard to breath, but I relished his touch and could have stayed crushed to him forever.

 

Niklav whispered in my ear, “I would give my life to see you and Emilya safe.”

 

“You will not be giving your life for that,” I said, hearing the tone in his voice. “We will make it together!”

 

He only nodded at my statement and locked his hand in mine as he led me from the room.

 

*****

 

I was snapped back to reality by a smack on the back of the head.

 

“Korina, what are you doing? We must hurry!” Aija said.

 

“Of course, forgive, I pray thee.”

 

It was rare for my sister to be the one urging me. Usually, I was so focused and Aija so flighty. Sometimes, I wondered if she lived in some alternate universe. Aija was never slothful, but often distracted. She was a dreamer, a thinker. Too intelligent, some had said, but to me she was perfect, my twin born two years late. We looked remarkably alike. I stood tall, and she only two inches shorter; my hair was sunny; hers only a few shades darker, like amber; my eyes were like the sky on a clear day; hers like the sky before a storm. Though similar in appearance, we had extremely different personalities, yet remained perfectly compatible. Aija was my dearest friend aside from Niklav.

 

At that moment Niklav came from the adjacent room holding our little Emilya, still in peaceful slumber. She was almost two and would be heavy to carry so far, but Niklav was able. After throwing one of the three packs onto my back, I grabbed a sack of bread and meat. All that we would need was on our backs.

 

We did not know if we would ever be back. Torn, I stole one last longing glance at my little home on the way out the door. I knew I would miss its thatched walls and dirt floor, not because of what they were, but because of what they had held.

 

We made love inside these walls, gave birth to our little girl inside these walls, built our life inside these walls, I thought with a pang of fear, will we find another home?

 

My younger sister Aija had joined me there after the loss of our parents. The sickness that had ravaged our village three years prior had stolen them. I knew I would grieve leaving there graves.

 

Stepping out into the predawn light, we felt the earth trembling. Lifting my head at the sound of hooves clawing the soil, I saw the Huns cutting a path toward our village, toward us! Niklav led us around to the back of the house. Our house was on the far right side of the village and two houses down from our leader Rokus’ lodge. Rokus’ lodge bordered the fields to which we headed.

 

In my husband’s many travels, he had seen a new form of communal living. People were building stone or wood walls around their villages. Many had stone buildings in the center of the village, castles, for the lords and leaders to live in. These stone buildings would be a fortress for the people in times of trial. Until that moment, I had always been content with our ordinary lives; with our farming community. However, I was no longer satisfied. I longed for those stone walls, for that safe fortress. It had been unnecessary, we thought, but without them, we were forced to run. What else could we do?

 

We saw others running for the fields not quite as cautiously as we.

 

“I have to get my mother,” I heard Caterna cry. Vladik’s strong voice was calm but stern when he answered Caterna causing me to realize again the similarities between Vladik and his brother Niklav. They even sounded the same.

 

“Your father will already have your mother out; please, we must go,” Vladik begged, as he tugged on his new wife and the love of his existence.

 

“Please, my love,” Caterna pleaded, her chestnut hair framing her face, tousled and irresistible. Her blue eyes drilled into his soul, and he ached with love for his radiant woman.

 

“All right, but quickly and quietly; you should stay here. No,” he immediately changed his mind. “I do not want to leave you alone; stay close to me.”

 

Vladik turned back toward the village. His senses were so alert they caused him pain. Caterna’s mother’s house was at the center. Vladik lived next to us, wanting to be close to his brother. He hastened his pace when he saw Caterna’s old home. Bursting through the door, they found nothing.

 

“See my darling,” Vladik whispered, pulling Caterna away from the village, “your father has already saved her.” Just as the words left his mouth, he heard a cry of pain.

 

“Vladik,” Caterna’s mother called, “oh God! Help us, Vladik!”

 

Running to them, Caterna began to cry. Her father lay in a fetal position with an arrow in his back. Smoke filled the air, colliding with Hunnish shrieks and cries of pain, creating a concoction of terror.

 

“Oh Great One, help us!” Caterna prayed as Vladik broke the arrow in her father’s back, causing him to cry out. Vladik tried desperately to be gentle as he lifted his father-in-law, but the cries of agony came again.

 

“We must move,” Vladik said, under the weight of another man but moving quickly. “Caterna stay close.”

 

The muscles in Vladik’s broad back protruded as he moved, and his strong arms reddened, veins bulging. Vladik’s short legs set a fast, steady pace, and his deep blue eyes shone with determination. Again they headed for the edge of the village. Vladik silently rejoiced when he saw the sheds at the edge of the fields and turned to look at his beautiful wife. Caterna’s mother cried out just as Vladik turned back.

 

“No, Caterna!” she screamed.

 

“There is a child!” Caterna began to run toward the child huddled at the corner of a house, sure she could save the little one.

 

“Caterna!” Vladik called, wanting to rush after her, but still holding her father.

 

She was almost to the child. Her arms were reaching when she heard the hoof beats. She felt the giant hooves vibrating the earth under her feet. Caterna was helpless. The Hun and his enormous horse came swiftly toward her. Vladik set Caterna’s father down and rushed toward her, pushing every ounce of strength into his muscles, but the Hun’s horse was faster. The devilish looking man, silky black hair flying, dark, slanted eyes afire with blood lust, astride his chestnut steed, snatched Caterna up. With one arm he threw her on the front of his horse, smiling broadly at his prize. Caterna screamed for Vladik. The Hun laughed and spit at Vladik as he turned and sped away from him. Vladik kept running and would have run into the midst of the Huns’ nest if Ivan had not stopped him. Luckily it was Ivan; few others would have been able to stop him. Ivan was the son of the lord of the village and second in command, so Vladik’s impulses were to follow his instruction.     

 

“Vladik, you will simply die if you go after her now!” Ivan warned. “Wait, and you will have a better chance of saving her.”

 

“No, you know what they will do to her!” Vladik screamed as Ivan’s big arms restrained him.

 

“I know, Vladik, and I cry for thee, but we are severely outnumbered. All you will do is die in front of her if you go now!” Ivan said, trying frantically to stop him.

 

“I do not care!” Vladik cried. “I would rather die than live without her, and the knowing that I failed her!”

 

“Your father-in-law needs you; he will die unless you remove him from this place,” Ivan felt a little guilty for putting that on Vladik, but he knew it was the only way to save his life. “You know it is what Caterna would want.”                       

 

“Damn you,” Vladik cried, knowing Ivan was right. Without another word, Vladik turned, ran to his father-in-law, lifted him, and almost incoherent with grief, moved into the fields. Ivan ran his rough hand through his curly, black hair and his green eyes misted as he watched Vladik retreat.

 

Grieving silently for Vladik, we slowly moved along the west side of the houses until we could see the work sheds on the edge of the field.

 

“Now, move!” Niklav urged quietly.

 

We ran quickly, vulnerable and exposed. My heart nearly exploded in my chest as Niklav bolted from behind the last house. Watching our child still sleeping in his arms as we moved, I became lost in the need to save her. We stopped and ducked inside the work shed. Looking the short distance back to the village we saw them as they emerged from the mist, the famed Golden Horde! The first wave had only been scouting. They had become a host, marching as a wall of armor and bone. Their wild fur hats forced back by the wind as they rode, and their mounts, huge horses, were breathing hard and squealing. Their arrows flew, burning the cool air of the dawn.

 

How did their arrows fly so far? I wondered. Catching a glimpse of one of their bows, I realized they were white. Are not bows made from wood? They look so strange, I thought. They looked as if they were bent backward. They used them effortlessly from the backs of their steeds. They must have been exceptionally strong. The ability to accurately shoot a bow and arrow takes great strength. I was intrigued though I should have been afraid. They were so exotic looking, with their slanted eyes and black silk hair. I had heard they looked different from us, but I had never seen them. They seemed a strange perversion of nature.

 

The screaming became ear piercing, and we watched in horror as Juris ran back toward his house carrying his long sword. He stood protectively at his door. The Hunnish leader seemed amused by him, and instead of shooting him down, he hopped from his horse and drew his sword. Our eyes fixated. We watched, knowing we should go, but transfixed, as many others were. Huns were shooting people down while others put flames to our homes. Yet still, we watched. Two men came to stand with their Hunnish leader as he eyed Juris with a smile. The Hunnish leader seemed impressed by Juris’ bravery, relishing the idea of a good fight. To assure Juris would fight, he nodded toward the house and his men quickly obeyed. Four men pushed passed Juris into the house despite his efforts to stop them. They came out dragging Juris’ wife by her long, dark-blonde hair as she kicked and screamed. Her two sons and daughter followed, prodded by sharp points. Juris’ eyes bulged, turning hard.

 

“No, leave them. You will deal with me.” Juris said, trying to keep his voice from cracking.

 

The Hunnish leader did not speak our language, but he seemed to understand. Juris’ request only seemed to add to his pleasure. He said something to the man holding Juris’ screaming wife, and the man proceeded to tear her clothes from her body adding to the pitch of her shrieks. Juris’ eyes flared. He charged toward her in his fury but met the Hun first. Their blades suffered one another, the sound of metal on metal ripped through the air. They pushed away from each other, Juris’ blade scratching the Hun’s hand. The Hunnish leader looked down at his hand, lifted it to his mouth and licked. He was enjoying himself. So many just ran, robbing him of his fun. Juris looked toward his children, remorse filling his eyes. The Hun grunted toward the man holding the young girl, and slowly the man took his knife and cut her dress from hem to collar. Juris, in blinding rage, flew toward the Hun. Their blades met again, but the Hun’s superior strength won out. He pulled his blade across Juris’ chest, tearing his flesh open.

 

“I have to help them.”

 

The sound startled me. It was Niklav. “No,” I breathed. “They are too many. They will kill you!” My whisper turned into a shriek as I shook my head vigorously!

 

“I must!” Niklavs’ eyes pleaded with mine, and I knew he was right. “You must run, escape,” Niklav said to me. “Do you remember how to get to the rendezvous point?”

 

“Yes,” I whispered, a bit unsure. “But, please, I cannot without you.”

“You can do it. Do not stop!” Niklav thrust Emilya into my arms, laid his lips fiercely on mine, then pushed us toward the field. We set off quickly, leaving the cries of our people behind. “Remember the holes!” Niklav called after me.

 

The weight of Emilya did not seem to bother me. Adrenalin pumped through me, heightening my senses and giving me strength. We ran. Our muscles burned, and the air rasped from our chests. The safety of my baby was the catalyst that moved me. The urgency of our situation kept the horrors in my mind at bay.

 

My Niklav, I wondered, will I see him again? I knew then that thinking of him would hinder my abilities to save my baby. All I could do was run.

 

*****

 

Slowly Niklav crept toward the village. Glancing around, he sought for anything that might aid him, knowing that with no advantage or way of escape, he would die. Niklav’s eyes stopped, and his hope bloomed. The Huns, intrigued by the fight between their leader and Juris, had let their horses wander. As the fight continued between Juris and the Hunnish leader, Niklav slowly grabbed the reigns of a lone horse, whispering to soothe it. Agilely, he leaped onto the horse’s back; thinking even as he did it that he must be crazy. Kicking the horse’s flank, Niklav sent it flying into the center of the mayhem. Niklav reached the Hunnish leader first. He pulled the horse into a rear and let it land. Driven into frenzy, the powerful horse crushed the Hun’s ribs. Blood spewed from his mouth; the Hun heaved one final breath and died with a gurgle. Realizing his leader’s fate, the slanted eyes of an especially dark looking Hun narrowed, and he thrust his blade through Juris’s wife, letting her slump to the ground in a dark pool of her own blood. He pulled his blade from her back and ran toward his superior.

 

Juris, roared in pain and anger, and like a mad bull, he began to charge toward the circle of men surrounding their fallen leader.

 

Niklav yelled, “No Juris! You cannot save her now!” Juris continued to charge.

 

“Your children need you!” Niklav yelled again, willing him to stop.                         

 

 Juris slowed, stopped, then turned. His gaze fixed on the men holding his children. Niklav rode to the children, slinging his blade downward at their captors, slicing through hair, skin, and bone. The man holding the young girl fell dead, speckling her naked body with blood. Juris’ strength waned, his lifeblood drained. He killed the man restraining his boys. Niklav dismounted, threw the young girl onto the back of his horse, and put the two younger boys in front of her. They looked down at their bloody father, tears staining their cheeks, too shocked to speak.

 

“Ride, find the others!” Juris yelled, immeasurable agony painting his features. He slammed his hand on the flank of the horse, and it leaped forward. “I love you,” Juris screamed as they rode away from him.

 

Niklav and Juris turned to see a horde of fierce, slanted eyes focused on them. Their leader lay dead, trampled by a horse. It was not the glorious and fiery end that most Mongolians desired. To the Huns, their leader had been robbed of his honor in the next world. Blood poured from Juris. His arm clutching his chest did little to staunch the flow.

 

He turned to Niklav, “Go!”

 

“No, I will not leave you to die,” Niklav said sternly.

 

“Go now! I am going to die no matter what you do. Your family needs you. My family needs you; please help my children! You have to survive for them, for your Emilya!”

 

Niklav could not bear to think of losing his little girl. Juris was right. After a second of indecision, Niklav turned and ran, fighting the primal urge in him that bade him stand and fight. The last thing he heard was Juris yelling, “Take care of my babies!”

 

Tears rolled down Niklav’s face as he ran. Juris’ last action was the most honorable of his life. He held them back as long as he had breath, praying his children would find honor in his sacrifice and forgive him for his arrogance. Niklav hit the cornfield and could hear the hooves behind him. The Huns saw him. They would ride him down quickly. The closest man pulled an arrow from his quiver and aimed. Letting loose, he was sure the arrow would find its mark, but the mark was gone, vanished!

 

*****

 

Our refuge lay tucked into the side of a hill. The small mountain met a winding river on the west and on the east flowed into a grassy plain approximately ten miles from our village. It had been a long, miserable trek, but it was necessary to get far from that which we were leaving. The Livonian countryside we had covered was beautiful, rolling hills that merged with open meadows, but no one had eyes for it. All I could think of was getting my child to safety. Desperately, I wanted to think of Niklav, to go to him, but I had to focus on Emilya’s and Aija’s safe arrival to our prearranged refuge.

 

 Moving all day, with little to eat, we stopped only for me to nurse Emilya. Finally, we arrived, not to the peaceful meadow I had scouted with Niklav, but instead to a bustling, chaotic camp. We were overjoyed to see that so many had escaped!

 

Niklav’s exit strategy had been successful for the most part. Shortly after the village meeting concerning the threat of Batu the Hun and his Golden Horde, the elders asked Niklav to prepare an escape plan. Most villagers appreciated and approved of his effort, most. He picked a secluded location, made sure each villager a mental map of the way, and encouraged every family to stock the refuge with what their family would need. Again, most did.

 

We saw tents raised, people gathering firewood (though unsure of when it would be safe to light a fire), and others caring for the few injured. We greeted our friends and family with smiles of relief. However, there were few smiles otherwise. Ana, our older sister, ran to us and threw her arms around Aija and I. Ana cried.

 

“Ana, Ana, I love you! You and your family, are you well?” I asked, also crying.

 

“We are well now. What took you so long to get here? What happened? Have you seen Mikal’s family?” The questions continued so quickly I was unable to answer. “Did they burn everything? I can see the smoke from here. I hope they have not set fire to the fields!” As always, Ana worried endlessly though at that point she had a compelling reason.

 

She broke off suddenly with a gasp, “Where is Nik?” she asked.

 

When I heard his name, it felt as if a dagger were thrust under my ribs. I had been so focused on saving my daughter I had not allowed myself to think of the possibilities.

 

“I know not,” I whispered. It was all I could manage.

 

Suddenly the horror of the last twelve hours wrapped itself around me, gripping like iron. He will come back to me I know it! He must! There are so many of them, so many; but he is strong, resourceful! I need him! I need him! I cannot live without him! My thoughts were frantic. I could feel the frenzy rising, threatening to consume me fully.

 

“Breathe! Breathe!” I tried to gather my composure at Aija’s urging. Then, looking into her worried face, I failed and gave in altogether, crumpling to the ground and crying hysterically. I had no control, none.

 

Oblivious to everything else, I knew not how much time passed before I composed myself. All I knew was that it was after dark when Aija brought Emilya to me to nurse. I felt a little ashamed for losing control so completely and for neglecting my little girl. As my beautiful daughter lay in my arms, full moon lighting her face, my mind delighted in the sight of her, thinking of how she looked so much like her father. Her features were sharp, chiseled by angles. Her hair was too light to be called blonde, and her eyes looked like the sea after a storm. The thought of Niklav threatened to bring a new torrent of tears, so I closed my eyes tightly until I was sure I had control. Aija laid her hand gently on my arm. Her presence was comforting. We had always been able to feel each other’s need, to understand each other.

 

“Someone approaches!” I heard one of the men on guard yell. On my feet in an instant, I watched anxiously as the men ran to the perimeter of our camp to join the man on watch. Everyone waited apprehensively as a single horse came into the firelight.

 

“It’s only one horse!” the guard called, the tone in his voice relaxing.

 

Pushing through the crowd, I hoped and prayed, but it was not him. My heart dropped in despair. There were three small figures slumped on the back of the horse.

 

“Juris’ children,” I called out. “They are Juris’ children!” All heard me and the camp calmed.

 

Men hurried to the children, catching them as they fell into their waiting arms. They were what Niklav had gone back for, and I was pleased to see they were safe. Still, I wondered. Where is he? Where is Juris and his wife? Maybe the children can tell me? I was going to ask, but one look at their dirty, tear-streaked faces made me hold my tongue. They were in complete shock. What must they have been through? What had they seen? We took them to the main campfire, which burned in a hidden alcove, and offered them food and as much comfort as they would accept. Eating in silence, they hardly moved or looked around. Zuza shuffled uncomfortably in the large tunic one of the men had given to me for her. She had hardly even noticed when I put it on her.

 

Moving back to where others were speaking, I realized they were talking about the children. They were trying to decide where they would stay and who would care for them. No one wanted to say it, but we all knew their parents would not be coming.

 

“I have seven in my tent. I would be happy to care for them, but I have nowhere for them to sleep,” one of the women said, glancing back at them.

 

“I guess they could sleep with us,” another woman said.

 

“We have plenty of room in our tents; and with some help from everyone, we could care for them.” Aija had spoken that time, and I looked at her, puzzled.

 

“You put up the tent?” I asked.

 

“Yes, just before dinner,” Aija said. “Are you agreeable to having them with us?” she asked tentatively, probably thinking that she should have consulted me before offering.

 

“Of course,” I answered quickly. I fully respected my sister’s judgment and wanted to help the children any way I could. From the look of it, their day had surpassed all of ours in horror; and thinking of it, I became even more ashamed of my emotional melt down. Aija had done everything. Though I could not control the pain I felt inside, I would not allow it to cause me to shirk my duties again.

 

“Then it is settled. They will stay with you for the time being. We will all help you,” Rokus said, a deep, sad breath filling his round, barrel chest. I cannot express the relief I felt knowing our leader was with us. He held us together.

 

Aija and I left the circle and headed for the children, urging them gently to our tent. Luckily, Aija had set up near the main fire, it glowed only faintly as we had to keep it small. The children were afraid, and being near the small amount of light seemed to ease their fear slightly.

 

Exhaustion pulled at me, relentless and powerful. After helping Aija tuck the children in, I lay down on my blanket and curled up around my baby. Her warm, steady breathing lured me toward sleep quickly. Waking early, with Emilya looking to nurse, I watched as the sky began to change from black to blue, and I knew dawn would come soon.

 

“Where is he?” I moaned, letting my head fall back to the ground with a thud. “No, I cannot do this, I must be strong,” I scolded aloud, hoping to give the words more validity.

 

Rolling my head to the side, I could see Juris’ children, Zuza, Kristap and Hanal. Zuza, who was ten that year, lay between her two brothers and cradled them protectively; and here I am worrying about being strong. She got herself and her brothers to safety. She saved them. Now she lays holding them, the only things she has  left, I thought. All my self-pity vanished at that moment. I realized that I admired her. What extraordinary strength she possessed!

 

Getting up as quietly as possible, I donned my woolen tunic and leather boots. It was the beginning of the harvest season, so the mornings were chilly. Shaking my head, I tried not to think about the cold winter coming. The morning air was refreshing outside the tent. The fire was almost out, but that was easily remedied. When it was well established, I began heating water for our morning meal: milled wheat cereal and mint tea. I took considerable care every year to see that I gathered as much mint as possible. Niklav and I loved a hot drink in the morning. Loneliness hovered in his place that morning, dispelled only when Aija lifted the tent flap and joined me.

 

The day moved slowly. We ate, bathed the blood from Zuza, Kristap and Hanal, gathered wood, and waited. Emilya on my hip, I walked to the river, and we bathed together. Her pudgy cheeks and beautiful smiles made the wait more bearable. Many had not come from the village, and we waited for them also, not wanting to believe the truth. Rokus said it would be wise to wait at least two days before sending scouting parties back to the village. Smoke still rose in the distance, and we all wondered what would be left for us when we returned. It seemed every minute we waited my mind slipped closer to the mouth of hell!

 

*****

 

Despite the darkness, the cramped space, and the difficulty breathing, Niklav waited. He shifted uncomfortably as the smoke seeped into the small hole, almost suffocating him.

 

I escaped the Huns, but their fire may kill me yet, he chuckled humorlessly to himself. Are they gone? he wondered. Even once they had gone, he knew they would forever terrorize his thoughts. As far as he could tell, it was nearing noon of the second day since he had scurried into the hidden hole in the field. He decided he would wait. “When the sun begins to set,” he said, only mouthing the words.

 

Having a goal seemed to cause the time to pass more quickly. The dirt on the thatch covering was heavy, but he lifted it slowly, one inch at a time. His eyes cautiously climbed, scanning the landscape. They were gone. Everything was gone. Every house, every fence, every stalk of corn had been burned! Wisps of smoke and fire still rose occasionally from the scorched earth, singeing Niklav’s soul. Niklav’s eyes filled with tears that escaped in streams down his cheeks as he looked upon Juris’ burned, mangled body hung from the one post they left standing. A warning. He knew he must head for camp, and that it was unsafe to linger, but he could not leave Juris so. He moved slowly, watching, looking, praying. Reaching Juris, or what was left of the man he had known, he wished that they could have had a better relationship.

 

“No use for that now,” he scolded himself.

 

Untying the bindings, Niklav lowered Juris reverently, his stomach churning at the smell of charred human flesh. When Niklav tried to lift him, Juris’ body fell to the ground hard, leaving skin and ash all over Niklav. Bright red bands of muscle lay exposed and oozing. At that, Niklav could no longer contain his bile. After recovering, Niklav removed his tunic, rent it, and wrapped it around Juris’ body. After dragging Juris’ body to the hole that had saved his life, he covered it and prayed for Juris.

 

“I am not He who can judge; I only have the right to petition to the Great One,” Niklav whispered with closed eyes. “So I ask now that the Great One embraces you, Juris of the village Rokus, for all time. For in my eyes, in just your final act, you earned my respect and the respect of all things below and above.”

 

Squinting into the setting sun, Niklav’s felt his stomach tightened. He would not make it to the camp before dark. Sitting in his hole for two days with constant, painful questions tormenting him had almost been unbearable. Were Korina and Emilya safe? Had they made it? Those very questions had almost driven him to expose himself.

 

“My love,” Niklav whispered the words and closed his eyes. Setting off at a run, he left the charred remains of his village behind.

 

*****

 

While preparing the evening meal, my mouth watering at the smell of roasting venison, I kept an eye on the horizon.

 

My love.”  I heard his sweet voice in my mind. I felt him.

 

“He is alive!” I shrieked with joy. Aija’s head popped up from her task to look, but she saw nothing. She looked at me, confused. “I feel him Aija, I feel him!” She smiled, not questioning.

 

Going to sleep was difficult, but I knew I must. Though my mind was racing, my body collapsed, drained. The night was overwhelming, but sleep was elusive, mocking me, just out of my reach. The night stimulated my thoughts and pricked at my imagination, creating horrible scenarios that skipped across my mind’s eye as I lay powerless against them. I heard Niklav’s name whispered in dreamlike tones as the gentle, night breeze pushed at our tent. Somehow, despite the engulfing darkness, I felt him, my Niklav, and his voice on the wind lulled me toward sleep.

 

*****

 

Niklav could see the firelight in the distance. The guard had fallen asleep at his post, and Niklav chuckled to himself at the sight. He debated whether to wake him or not. The Huns are gone. There is no immediate danger, so I should let him sleep, Niklav thought, passing him by. Walking into the camp, he quickly recognized our tent, and looking around, he sighed happily. Delight bloomed in his heart, as a spring flower through the  melting snow, when he realized so many of his people lived.

 

Even in the dark, the beauty of the region was evident. Oh, how he wished he had taken the time to enjoy it before his life was thrust into the storm. Everything seemed beautiful to him. He could hear the stream nearby, and it made him realize he was filthy, but he could not prolong his reunion with his girls any longer. Ducking into the tent, he smiled as he looked around.                 

 

 “My Korina, my Emilya,” he whispered to himself.

 

Good, Juris’ children are here. How did Korina know? He wondered. His eyes settled on me and Emilya lying nearby. After kissing his little girl, he slowly lifted the wool blanket covering me, his wife. He lay beside my warm body and wrapped his arms tightly around me. My eyes opened, as quickly as the heart of a hummingbird beats! I felt his arms around me, pulling me closer to him.

 

“Niklav,” I breathed, burying my head in his chest. Tears poured from my eyes, wetting the blanket. He gently lifted my face and kissed the tears on my cheeks.

 

“My love, my love,” he crooned. His voice was like water in the desert. His blue eyes spilled tears on top of my head as he pulled me close again. He held me fiercely.

 

“You came back to me,” I whispered. My voice almost broke as I struggled to hold off the uncontrollable sobbing that was close at hand.

 

“I said I would, did I not? I will be with thee always!” Urgency, as a storm on the sea, pushed the words from his trembling lips.

 

We were only an inch from each other, but it was not close enough. Laying his lips on mine, he sought desperately to become even closer to me. Pushing back in our tug-of-war, I reached for his short hair, entwining my fingers.

 Our bodies collided as we unconditionally gave in to the urgency that had driven us to miraculous heights of pleasure. With the culmination of our blissful reunion, all the tension of the past four days faded, and we relaxed into one another’s arms. We had each other.

 

 

 

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“Even Exquisite Beauty Cannot Hide The Demon Within”

Posted in My first Novel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2010 by cjirwin

Asmodeus

My First Novel

Even exquisite beauty cannot  hide the demon within!

Imagine you are thrust in to a world of malevolent spirits, a world of demons, the world of the Fallen Angels? Envision a being of deceiving beauty seeking to devour your soul and destroy your life, the life of your lover, your family, your people? Its lust for power reaching further still causing the rivers of humanity to run red. Its need for vengeance driving it to destroy the sons of Adam that usurped its place within Gods heart. What if this tormented spirit chose you to possess? What if it chose your daughter?

What if?

ASMODEUS

“Continue with life,” Asmodeus said. “Work hard to make our city prosper,” it instructed. “We will find a new, better way of life,” the demon encouraged as it boarded up the doors of our church. “We will become strong and powerful!” Asmodeus declared as it sent our women and girls to the fields, and drilled our men and boys in merciless and gruesome training hour after dangerous hour.

How could we continue with life, our beguiled hearts and souls sacrificed upon the altar of all our hopes? How could we work to better our city when it lay in the covetous hands of a hellish creature? How could we find a new and better way with our freedom to worship our Great Father ripped away and our children cursed by the quintessence of evil?