Archive for the Nightmare Category

The Omega Cypher – Chapter One – I Am

Posted in Anthology, Because I love to write, New writing, Nightmare, Works in Progress with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2011 by cjirwin

The Omega Cypher

Chapter One

I Am 

 

I am Omegana, the youngest child of Consul Markus Arbela of the Lake District. My name, born from my being the last of my parent’s nine children, took on greater meaning for me as I grew and became aware of the world around me. I am part of an Omega group, an endangered people, I am human.

 

I have dedicated my life to the preservation of my kind, taking on the burden of my father and his father before him as Consul of the Lake District. Extending my Childbearing mandate that requires every female of Merterra must bear at least two children by age thirty-five, I have delved into our history in search of an answer. A way to save us.

 

Ancient texts hint at our origins; only vague descriptions though of another place, another time, another people from which we all on this planet of Arachosia came. Though my stomach turns at the thought that they too came from those great ancient forefathers that I study, I can find no proof to refute it. We were the same once but no more. One became two, then two became three to save themselves. The Great Ancient Ones made a way for survival in the face of extermination.

 

To the best of our understanding we were planted here on this young planet; our new home a massive continent, a Pangaea bursting with life. We can only guess at the dates; but we know the planet was just starting to settle after centuries of eruptions and shifts. The dispersion of people was gradual as was the change.

 

The Southern half of the Pangaea, now known as Pyropus, was marred by extensive mountain ranges blanketing nearly an entire third of the land area. Settlers, attracted by the wealth of minerals in these mountains could not have known the danger they faced, or the gradual mutation that would devour the human core within them. Aluminum, gold, silver, bronze, all mined in ancient times brought great wealth, but it was the copper and the Tegium that began the process.

 

Our Scientists today understand now what they could not then. The immense amount of copper and Tegium in the soil, water, and even the air began to poison them. Their bodies, unable to rid themselves of the toxic levels of the substances began to wane. A slow death that took generations, but then nature, or The Darkness, or The Ancient Ones, who knows what, stepped in. They found a way to adapt. Though, at the time, they couldn’t possibly have understood the science of it.

 

The fat that coats the cells of living animals and protects the muscle, the myelin that wraps the nerves within was the answer. That meat fat bound to the heavy toxins and carried enough out that their bodies could adapt, and the Venator were birthed onto my planet. They hunted; deer, bison, fowl, even carnivores, any meat, they sought, they craved. A warrior society was born, a proud, fierce, cunning, and highly intelligent race of human carnivores that took on the elements of their own land. I may have considered their bronze colored, almost metallic looking skin erotic or even beautiful had I seen the Venator in the beginning. The red of their eyes may have enthralled me, fascinated me in the ancient times, but not now. Their auburn hair, laced with the silvery color of the Tegium, may have been unique to me and interesting instead of frightening.

 

The vast fertile lands of the North evolved quit differently. With far more arable land, we began to cultivate, agriculture becoming the focal point of our lives. The poisonously high levels of minerals, especially the Tegium, were not present north of the equator in the flat plains, plateaus and river basins that comprised Illyria. War, famine, disease, all these things came and went in our history just as it did for the Venator. We grew as they grew but into two very distinct people.

 

I have read the Amicitia Stele erected in the great city bearing its name hundreds of times.  It tells a story of two great civilizations and the first contact between them. It speaks of hands clasped in peace, of treaties signed, of bread broken. Difficult to imagine, my brain struggles with the mere idea of a Venatorian coming in peace, but that was before they knew.

 

I often wonder how it happened. How the first blood was spilt, the first flesh tasted. Within a half a century of the erection of the Amicitia Stele declaring eternal peace between humans and Venatorians rumors, carried on the silenced voices of our missing, spoke of war. We were thankful for the vast system of mountains then. Illyria, as the North was by then known, was protected for nearly two-thirds the length of the continent. The Tarus Gap in the east, the only access between our lands, became a battle ground to span the ages. We fought to keep them out. They hunted us.

 

The Stele at Amicitia is of paramount importance to our race, it is a constant reminder that they are conniving monsters that whisper words like rose petals but seek only one thing, to devour us. The city of Amicitia, burned and rebuilt, captured and recaptured has changed hands countless times, but that Stele has stood the ages. It is the one thing we all respect. They covet it as a symbol of their cunning and prowess, and we as a reminder of what they truly are. It is so central to our lives that we mark our time by it, BC, before contact and AC, after contact.

 

The date is AC 2120 and we now stand on a foundation of peace with the Venatorians, but that foundation is crumbling beneath us. You ask how that can be. Well the Venatorians aren’t the only ones that can adapt. Documents suggest it started shortly after King Notus’s War of AC 850. It was like the milk started to sour. The blood of humans began to make antibodies that were undesirable to the Venatorians, even a poison. But the mutation was slow, too slow. In the beginning of the change the Venatorians could not identify the new ones, or Novoan’s as they called them, and for the first time they feared for their lives. The longest stretch of peace in our shared history since the Amicitia Stele followed. For nearly three hundred years no major war was fought, of course there were always the missing, but in seeking us out they were taking a chance.

Novoans prospered, grew. The children they begat had the same antibodies and a new race, that could be safe, was born. We humans hid in their mist, trying desperately to salvage our massacred race. We hoped to become immune as well, but found any human female, whither she coupled with a human or a Novoan, bore only humans. After the change was complete, we don’t know why it stopped, humans birthed humans and Novoans birthed Novoans. It seemed Nature had forgotten us. What was worse was the Venatorians solved the cypher. Novoans have more plasma then humans; plasma helps to regulate the body’s temperature, moving heat from deep within the body to the skin, head, arms and legs. They are hotter; running a constant temperature nearly four degrees above our own. It was as if we had been thrust out into the open.

 

A series of small wars followed between AC 1150 and AC 1321 as the Venatorians tried to determine whither the Novoans would protect us, they did not, at least not in the beginning. By the 1500’s we had dwindled to a mere five thousand in number, running, hiding in the vast jungles of the Aurelius Basin and the Talea Coast. Venatorians hate rain and don’t need water.

 

Hiding seemed to be the best choice we ever made, two hundred years of hide and seek pushed the Venatorians to break their treaties with the Novoans. The Venatorians began routing through the Novoan cities and awoke a giant, a protector. Again, our small planet was thrust into war. The Pyropian wars, as they were fought mostly in the South on Pyropian soil, took a great toll. Beaten down, both sides signed an armistice on AC 1876, The Human Preservation Act. The Pact established humanity as an endangered species and gave it complete protection from being hunted or killed for any reason by the Venatorians. It set up the large island of Merterra in the North as a secure location for us to establish ourselves. Venatorians had no legal right to be in or near the island. Humans were not allowed within Venetoian borders. In return The Novoans opened their vast grasslands of the North to the Venetorians for the hunting of wild game and agreed to an open border and free trade agreement.

 

Humanity thought it was surly too good to be true, and we waited for the day when they would come for us. The never did.

 

In the 1950’s the Venatorians began what they called The Humanus Project, cloning. Growing and Breeding what they considered human cattle. They would grow a fetus, introduce chemicals while in utero that would essentially wipe the mind, alive but not aware they were chattel to be raised and eaten. The Venatorians argued in the Arachosian League of Nations that their creations were not human and thus the Venatorians were violating no laws. And how were we or the Novoans to argue, if it removed any reason for them to hunt us; we should rejoice.

 

And so we are here, this brief history only the beginning of my story. I am Omegana. I am human.     

 

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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.

 

 

 

Section Two – Part Five – Saved

Posted in Anthology, Because I love to write, New Novel, New writing, Nightmare, Works in Progress with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2011 by cjirwin

Section Two – Part Five – Saved

Chapter Five

 

“Greetings Lord of Bauska in the name of the Great One,” Rokus began, his resonant voice easily crossing the distance between the two groups. “I am Lord Rokus Yefrem of the village Rokus to the south.”  His voice did not reveal any of the uncertainty his people felt. When Bauska Mikhail failed to answer, Rokus continued…perfect. Rokus would have an opportunity to tell the village of Bauska his people’s plight without the filter of their warped leader.  “Tragedy has befallen us; a great horde of Huns, monsters from the East with weapons unlike any known to man, fell upon us, killing, burning, and enslaving our people.”

 

There were gasps from the people who had gathered around Bauska Mikhail. Mikhail’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.

 

Rokus went on, “They destroyed our homes, drove us from our land, and pursued us, eager to capture more!”

 

 “Have you led them to our doorstep, that they may do the same to us?” Mikhail’s calm façade faltered.

 

“We would never do something so foolish,” Rokus said, his voice still calm. “I beg of thee, allow me to explain.”

 

 Bauska only nodded.

 

“Most of us escaped to a pre-designated hiding place. Some of us returned to our village, or what was left of it, three weeks later. We found then that they had sent a scouting party back to find us. No doubt they had failed to capture as many of us as they had wanted the first time. But they were careless and lazy scouts, so we found them first. My son organized an ambush and destroyed the miscreants before they could report back to their master.” Rokus finished with a proud look at his oldest son.

 

Rihards laid his hand gently on Mikhail’s shoulder and whispered something in his ear.

 

“Please forgive my outburst,” Bauska said through clenched teeth. “I only feared for my people.”

 

“Of course. I, as a leader myself, understand the pressure you are under. We are equal in our concerns.”

 

 Bauska Mikhail walked toward them, no doubt to escape the ears of his own people. Niklav’s hard body stiffened and Ivan moved closer to his father, his green eyes narrowed beneath his red brow.  

 

“Forgive me,” Bauska said, his voice dripping with disdain, “in the name of the Great One and the people of Bauska, welcome.”

 

“Thank you, we receive your welcome and hope we may somehow repay the hospitality we know we will receive. We will speak to all of your extraordinary kindness to our people in our time of need,” Rokus replied the implications clear. “This is my son Ivan, my right hand, and I believe you know Niklav.”

 

“Yes, I remember you, Rokus. It is good to meet your heir, and of course I remember you Niklav. It is good to see you, old friend,” Mikhail smiled smugly. “I see you have finally produced children Niklav. It is a pitiful thing to see a man with no children.  I was beginning to wonder if you were virile enough to plant them in your beautiful woman.” Niklav did not answer, afraid if he moved he would simply kill Mikhail.

 

Mikhail saw his anger, smiled, and continued. “Korina,” he directed his words to Niklavs beautiful blonde wife he had tried to coax into his bed, “you look well.”

 

As he said the words his mossy, green eyes slithered from her face to her feet and up again. “I knew your body would hold up well through childbearing. You know, that offer I made years ago still stands.”

 

That was the final straw, all Niklav could take. He took one step and planted his fist squarely in Mikhail’s face. The man to the right of Mikhail moved quickly, catching the side of Niklav’s face he sent him to the ground.  Ivan stepped protectively between his father and Mikhail’s advancing men.

 

“Stop!” Bauska Mikhail instructed from where he lay on the ground. He smiled and wiped the blood from his thin lipped mouth. Having gotten the rise he wanted, he stood.

 

“Friends, let us not resort to hostilities,” he spewed the words like vomit. His men took a step back, and Niklav jumped to his feet, unconvinced the fight was over. “I was only jesting, old friend.” He spoke to Niklav; his words were sharp and smug, befitting his thick, square face.

 

Niklav knew he needed to calm the situation, though he desperately wanted to pound Mikhail into the ground. A short distance away, Freya smiled uncontrollably as the blood continued to drip from the corner of Mikhail’s mouth.

 

“Of course. I pray thee, forgive the misunderstanding,” Niklav’s voice was smooth and cold.

 

“Aye, forgive the misunderstanding,” Rokus said in the same cold tone. Rokus decided a change of the subject was in order. “I am sorry to see that your father has passed. He was a great leader and a dear friend.”

 

“I pray your pardon! He trained me well and left this people in capable hands!” Bauska barked.

 

“I did not mean to imply otherwise,” Rokus said soothingly. “I was simply mourning our mutual loss of a great man.”

 

Rihards laid his hand on Mikhail again and spoke to us. His gentle smile was calming, and his dark tan eyes exuded peace.

 

“Thank you for your compassion, my brother and I appreciate it. Brother,”  Rihards turned toward Mikhail as he spoke, “our guests,” he gestured toward us, “must be tired and hungry. We should allow them to set up their camp while we prepare a feast in honor of their safety.”

 

Who is this man, and why is he not the leader? Rokus wondered.

 

Fury frosted Mikhail’s features; grinding his teeth together, he simply nodded.

 

“Good, it is settled then,” Rihards said. “If you would like, you may set up camp on the edge of the lake. Please leave our paths clear, so we also have access to the water.”

 

“We certainly will, and thank you.” Rokus used much more respect when addressing this man.

 

“When you are settled, we would love for you to join us in our main lodge’s courtyard to feast, right, brother?”

 

“Yes, yes, if it please you to accept our hospitality,” Bauska regained his smug look.

 

“We will come, many thanks,” Rokus said warily.

 

The light was dancing and sparkling on the rippling water in one of the most phenomenal sunsets made by God when they finally finished setting up camp. The wind whipped across the beautiful ox-bow lake making tents billow and tree limbs sway. Toward the middle of the rows of tents, rocks were placed for a large, temporary, central hearth. The beauty on the horizon was surreal. What an amazing location for a community, Korina thought as Niklav walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. They stood in silence, taking in the sunset on the lake, and turned when Ivan called.

 

“They approach. It looks to be Bauska’s brother and his wife. Come, and bring Korina.”
Niklav and Korina walked toward Rihards, Ivan leading the group with his parents on his heels.

 

“Good day, forgive me for not introducing myself earlier, I am Rihards, second son of the former Bauska Niklav, and this is my wife, Danya.”

 

“Apologies are not necessary,” Ivan said. “I am Ivan, first son of Rokus Yefrem, and this is my wife Stepka. This is my father and our leader,” he gestured for Rokus to take over.

 

“I am Rokus Yefrem and this is my other half, Ona.” Ona smiled at Rokus’ loving explanation of her. “This is my son by marriage, Niklav, and his wife Korina, my granddaughter.”

 

“It is wonderful to meet all of you. I pray you forgive my brother’s rash behavior earlier.” He had come with only his wife, so he could apologize for the offense caused by his brother. “We want you to know you are truly welcomed by this people,” Rihards said, conviction evident in his voice. “Please extend your grace over our people.” His kind, charming features begged forgiveness.

 

“We give our grace freely. I pray thee, know we hold no ill will toward you or any of your people,” Rokus replied respectfully. “You have the heart and grace of a great leader,” Rokus complimented.

 

“Thank you, good sir. You honor me with your flattery. The Great One gives all men what they have, so any honor given me is due Him.” Though Rihards common features and body would make him easy to overlook, his voice and mannerisms captured you immediately. He embodied integrity.

 

“Yes, so true,” Rokus marveled that he could respect Rihards more than he had a few minutes before, but he did.

 

“We have come to invite your people to dine with us. We have prepared a celebration in your honor,” Rihards wife Danya spoke. Her face was warm and pink, complimenting her brunette hair and sweet smile.

 

Rokus nudged Ona, causing her grey-streaked auburn hair to fall in her face, and she responded.

 

“We would be pleased to join you,” her smile lifted her full cheeks. “Many of the women have prepared food to add to your feast. It is not much, only dried fruits and vegetables we have gathered on our journey, but we wanted to contribute something.”

 

“You did not need to do that; we are most honored to feed you,” Danya said. The two ladies smiled as they connected.

 

“I know, but we want to bless your people in any way we can,” Ona responded.

 

“Then we accept your gift humbly, and we will see you for the celebration,” Danya said, revealing her slightly crooked teeth when she smiled.  Ona’s hazel eyes sparkled pleased to make a new friend.

 

Niklav’s and Korina’s people walked past the main village lodge toward the square. An enormous fire lit the sky, sending sparks flying high, shimmering like fairies dancing on the wind. Over the edge of the fire, two large carcasses sizzled and popped, sending a pleasant aroma throughout the air, one a beef haunch, the other a pig. Tables stood on the north side of the square with torches burning above them.  All manner of mouthwatering dishes lay upon them. Hot, fresh, wheat bread with caraway seed paste, sautéed garlic and onions, stuffed goose with white mustard, and honey cakes.

 

Rihards walked to great Rokus’s people with a smile. Two young ladies followed behind him, one with cups and the other with a jug.

 

“Would you be interested in some beer? Our man who makes it is quite good! He is experimenting with barley this year, and it is the finest brew I have ever tasted!”

 

Cups were passed out, and beer poured.  It was a strong, smooth, and robust stout that bit a little at the end, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Freya watched as they devoured the meal as if food had been denied them for months. The pouts on the children’s faces made her heart yearn as she watched their mothers send them to bed. Shame squirmed a little inside her as she contemplated what they had been through. I fuss and cry while little children are murdered and driven from their homes.  As people began to gather in groups talking, playing dice, and gambling, Freya felt hope and faith spring inside her for the foreign people.

 

Full mug of beer in hand, Korina sat comfortably with Niklav in the group while Rokus and Rihards spoke. She was paying little attention to their conversation and instead was people watching. Knowing it was rude, Korina was discreet. She found people enthralling; how fascinating to watch the way they moved, their facial expressions and body language. Mikhail caught her as she looked around, and much to her surprise, he smiled genuinely, tipping his beer and his head toward her.

 

Worrying for her children, Korina whispered into Niklav’s ear that she would check on them; he kissed her, and she rose to leave. Slightly intoxicated, she sauntered back toward the village and Niklav, thinking of his warm skin and callused hands caressing her body. She was almost to the lodge when she noticed someone standing in the shadow of the building.

 

“How now, is someone there?” Shaking her head, Korina tried to dispel the strange feeling and kept walking. Just as she passed the peak of the lodge, he reached out and grabbed her arm.

 

“Oh,” Korina gasped. “Bauska Mikhail, you startled me! What can I do for you?” her voice shook, her fear radiating.  

 

He stumbled a bit as he moved forward. He was thoroughly drunk, and his eyes burned insanely. “Yes, my love,” he started, slurring his words together; “there is something you can do for me.”

 

He still held her hand firmly; she jerked against his grip. Korina tried to scream, but his hand landed firmly on her mouth. Turning her, he slammed Korina up against the side of the lodge, robbing her of breath. With his hand still firmly pressed to her lips, he began tearing at the collar of her dress. It gave way at the seams. His mouth and teeth set hard upon exposed flesh, rubbing and gnashing.

 

Korina’s fist came up and hit the side of his face with a thud, but did little except get him to drop his hand long enough for her to scream. Hand hard across her face. Back driven into the logs of the lodge, Korina cried out. Excited, Mikhail hit her again knocking to her the ground. His massive hand wrapped around her face like iron bent on an anvil. Sharp rocks cut her back, his weight forcing her down. Korina could hardly breathe, let alone scream. His knees were between her legs, pushing them apart, and all her kicking and flailing only seemed to arouse him further.

 

Oh Great One, please do not let this happen to me! Niklav, I need you! Korina prayed frantically.

 

He pulled her dress up. The dried leather of his boots scraped against the bare inside of her leg. Korina wanted to vomit, thinking of what was sure to come next.  Frantically, she thrashed.

 

Oh God help me! Korina prayed.

 

Niklav hit Mikhail; Korina heard the clash of bone and muscle and watched as they flew to the ground. In an instant Niklav laid into Mikhail’s face, breaking his nose. It was a beautiful sound. Half-crazed, Mikhail looked up at Niklav. Adrenalin coursed through Mikhail’s veins along with the liquor. Throwing his fist upwards, Mikhail caught Niklav square in the chin and the force of the blow sent Niklav to the dirt. Niklav righted himself, but before they could clash again, there were men between them. Niklav fought their arms for a moment, but then allowed himself to be restrained. Mikhail was throwing punches at anyone that got close enough for him to hit. He was raving.

 

“She is mine, she belongs to me!” he screamed repeatedly, sweat dripping from his brow, and blood from his nose.

 

Shaking with fear, Korina cried, powerful sobs racking her chest. Her mind reeled, and she could feel blood seeping from the corner of her throbbing eye. People tried to talk to her, but she only wanted Niklav. There were so many people, so many voices.

 

Where is Niklav? She wondered, the question running laps in her head.

 

“Let me loose. I am calm, and my wife needs me!” Niklav said through clenched teeth, and after a moment’s deliberation, the men restraining him released. He ran straight to my side.

 

“My love,” he said through angry tears. “I am so sorry! I love you! I will kill that lying bastard!” He stopped talking because he was unable to control his fury.

 

Others were there, asking how they could help.  Continuous apologies poured from Rihards and Danya. Niklav tried to pull Korina’s tattered dress back over her bruised and bleeding flesh, but gave up and just laid it over my exposed breasts.

 

So many people have seen me this way! So many have seen my disgrace, seen me torn and exposed on the ground! How can I ever face them again? Korina cried inside.

 

“So many,” she whispered once before she passed out.

 

Jerking awake, Korina sat up trying to get her bearings. Her skin recoiled against the heat, and both her body and head ached. The air was thick, making it hard to breathe. The room was extremely stuffy, and Korina could not open either of her eyes. Niklav’s arms encircled her gently, calming. He whispered softly in her ear, his sweet words aligning senses, making her aware of the tent and safety with him.

 

Breathing a sigh of relief, Korina painfully forced her eyes to open. He is so beautiful, Korina thought, like the sound of a voice you thought you had lost.

 

“Are you well? You seemed to be having a nightmare. I almost woke you up,” Niklav said, his eyes full of worry.

 

“I am well, but I am very thirsty.”

 

He was up in a second, fetching water. Feeling helpless but loved unconditionally, Korina watched as he poured the drink and then held the cup to her lips. After he finished, she looked down at her arms to find them spotted with large purple welts.

 

It all flooded back; the image of Mikhail’s hands assaulted her mind, his mouth and teeth searching and devouring! As she examined herself, big fat tears slipped over the black bulges under her eyes, tears of pain and remembrance. Tears in his eyes, Niklav took her in his arms again, and she cried until she could cry no more.  

 

“Many of the women are outside. They want to see you, but I wanted you to sleep, so I made them wait. I do not know how much longer I can hold them off,” he said, feigning a serious look. “Caterna especially wants to see you. She has been outside the tent all night long.”

 

“She has?” Korina said and began to cry again…ugh! “She is so wonderful. Tell them to come in.”

 

Aija, Korina’s sister, was the first one in the tent, and right on her heels was Caterna. Aija sat on the bed, her eyes were red. She had no words; she simply wrapped her arms around Korina. Caterna sat silently on Korina’s other side and laid her hand on her knee. Many women came in, loved on her, and left over the next few hours. Aija left just before noon to prepare a meal and care for the children. She found she did not have to cook. The village women sent more food than they could eat. Caterna never left Korina’s side, and Ludis, the village physician, came regularly. Korina knew she was loved.

 

“May I go to the river and wash?” Korina asked.

 

“I do not know if you should be trying to move around yet,” Ludis said, looking at Niklav to back him up.

 

“I can bring water from the lake, love. You could wash here,” Niklav said hoping to dissuade Korina.

 

“I pray thee, let me go, I urgently need to.” Korina pleaded.

 

“Niklav, may I speak with you outside?” It was the first time Caterna had spoken in hours. He nodded, and they walked outside.

 

“Let us get you down to that lake,” Niklav said when he walked back into the tent.

 

Korina did not know what Caterna had said to him, but she was thankful for it. Standing waist deep in the water, Korina scrubbed viciously, leaving the skin red in an effort to cleanse. Wishing for something to wash thoughts away, tears began once more to burn her chapped cheeks. There was little left of the bar of soap when she finished.

 

Sitting on the shore, clean and wrapped in a blanket, Korina felt worlds better. Caterna picked through her long, straight, blonde hair as Niklav reminded her of their first journey to Riga.

 

“Where is he?” Korina asked, interrupting Niklav’s story.  

 

“He is in the Bauska lodge, bound to the center beam,” Niklav’s teeth ground loudly.

 

The idea of that vile creature bound made her smile.

 

“What will become of him?”

 

“I do not know. I would like to hold him under water until his lungs explode!”  Niklav was not jesting.

 

Smiling, Korina imagined Niklav killing him. The image was thrilling except that she saw Mikhail’s face.

 

“Will they do nothing?” She asked.

 

“Rihards and the Bauska elders are good people. I cannot imagine they will let him go unpunished. I doubt his punishment will be severe enough, but they will punish him.”

 

“I would love to see Emilya. Will you bring her to me? I am not ready to go back to that stuffy tent,” Korina said.

 

“Of course, my love, I will return shortly. Will you stay?” Niklav asked Caterna.

 

Korina felt badly; Caterna had been with her all day, but her presence was salve on her wounds. She smiled in agreement.

 

“You feel ashamed,” Caterna said. She was not asking; she was stating, and it surprised Korina that she had guessed her true feelings.

 

“Yes,” Korina whispered.

 

“If you let him take your dignity and self-respect, he wins,” Caterna said, her voice silky.

 

“But I did not stop him,” Korina moaned. “I should have seen it coming, or screamed sooner. I don’t know. I should have done more. I’m so weak. Our whole village will suffer the consequences of my weakness,” she lamented.

 

“You were unbelievable!” Caterna was suddenly in her face. “You held him off long enough for Niklav to get to you. You are a strong, beautiful woman, and you need to give yourself more credit. Mikhail would love to see your spirit broken. Will you give that maggot the satisfaction of knowing he destroyed you? Or will you stand, straighten your shoulders, lift your head, and condemn him for the filth he is?”

 

Korina gaped, awed at the outstanding woman before her. Even after all she had gone through, she was there, encouraging Korina.

 

“You’re right,” Korina said. “I will not give that beast more than he has already taken.”

 

“Good. Remember that you are a stronger and better person than he will ever be. You deserve happiness; do not allow him to take that from you,” Caterna commanded, and Korina knew she would never respect another woman more.

 

“Thank you.” Korina reached to embrace her.

 

Niklav returned with Emilya in his arms, and as he sat on the ground at my Korina’s, Caterna rose to leave.

 

“Remember what I said.” Caterna smiled as she looked down at Korina. “I love you.”

 

“I will. I love you and thank you again.”

 

“You look different,” Niklav said after she had gone.

 

“Different?” Korina reached for her daughter Emilya.

 

“Yes, you look different. The sadness has dispelled. May I ask what it has been replaced by?” Worry still marred his handsome face, but relief softened the harsh lines when he found Korina unsoiled by more tears.

 

“Determination,” Korina affirmed. “I will do whatever is in my power to make sure he never hurts another soul.”

 

“Good, I will be by your side every step of the way,” Niklav wrapped his arm around Korina, and they silently watched the sun set over the lake.

 

***

 

It was time. Mikhail was to be publicly judged. There had been a private trial. All the leaders and elders had heard second-hand accounts from various people who had witnessed the crime. They had tried to allow Mikhail to defend his actions, but when asked to give his own account, he simply stated: “I am the Great One’s appointed leader of this people. You have no authority by which to judge me.”

 

They then called upon Korina. She gathered her strength and went to meet them; Niklav held her hand the entire time.

 

“Korina, of the village Rokus, you have been called upon to recount the crime committed against you by this man, Mikhail of Bauska.” The elders motioned toward Mikhail who sat to their right.

 

To look upon his face was like being punched in the gut. He saw Korina’s immediate reaction and smiled. Damn, she thought, I will not give him the pleasure of seeing me flinch again. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin, meeting the heat of his glare. Glaring back, showing no fear, infuriating him, hah, she thought, take that you weasel. Standing before the elders of both villages, she gave a detailed account of the evening in question, sparing nothing. They heard everything, even her thoughts as he violated her. She only let a few tears escape her eyes. The elders and leaders sat dumbstruck. They had not realized the full extent of the crime; they listened horrified and ashamed.

 

When Korina finished, the silence was deafening, and she could feel Mikhail’s glare burning the side of her face, but refused to look. Squeezing Niklav’s hand, she swallowed hard.

 

The following day, they heard the verdict. Embarrassed, Korina did not want to stand in front of all the people, but Ivan said it would make the punishment more valid in their eyes. Niklav stood with her on the small, raised platform that butted up against the rear of the Bauska village lodge. All were gathered, and the elders rose to begin.

 

“We are gathered here today to pass judgment upon this man, Mikhail of Bauska, first son of the former Bauska Niklav. He stands accused of beating and attempting to rape Korina, of the village Rokus, granddaughter of their leader Rokus Yefrem and guest of this people. Before we pass judgment upon the accused, we would like to allow him one more opportunity to defend his actions.”

 

“What? Why? Have they not already decided?” Korina whispered in Niklav’s ear.

 

“They have decided, but they want people to see that he cannot defend his actions. They need the support of the people to carry out judgment,” Niklav whispered back.

 

Mikhail said just what they wanted him to say. “I am the leader of this people,” Mikhail began. “You have not the authority to judge me. I have been anointed holy leader, and all that I do is holy. Any who pass judgment upon me will suffer the wrath of the Great One!”

 

There were a few huffs and puffs from the crowd, and Korina smiled to find that many of them looked offended by his words.

 

“So be it,” the elders said, and continued. “We here, under the eyes of the Great One of Heaven, find you, Bauska Mikhail, guilty.” Mikhail’s jaw clamped firmly, and his hands curled into fists. “You are hereby stripped of your office of Bauska, leader of this people. You will never again enjoy any position of power among us. You will henceforth be a servant to this people, filling whatever role best serves the group as a whole. You shall move from the village lodge to one of the dwellings on the outskirts of the community. Your family will not move with you unless they so choose. Your wife may stay on as sister to our new Bauska Rihards and her children as nieces and nephews. This is the judgment of this council.”

 

The veins in Mikhail’s forehead bulged, and his face burned brightly with fury; it was too much. He hit the man to his right, knocking him off the platform. Fueled by anger, he struck like a snake, stealing the sword of the startled man to his left. Mikhail pulled the blade across the man’s middle, spilling blood and intestines across the wooden planks. The man doubled over and fell. Lurching forward, Mikhail darted for Niklav and Korina. Unarmed,  Niklav pushed Korina back. She fell to the floor. Niklav tried to spin away from Mikhail’s attack, but the blade caught his upper arm cutting deeply, staining his shirt crimson.

 

Korina was frantic; she looked around for help, but most were still in shock. A weapon hanging from Rihards belt, Korina grabbed it and threw. Niklav caught it and raised it in front of himself. Mikhail’s blade did not find flesh as he had hoped; instead they heard the terrible shriek of iron on iron. Niklav was on fire. He had hoped and prayed for an opportunity, or excuse, to kill the bastard that had dared violate his woman. Mikhail’s blade met Niklav’s and sparks flew. Natural muscle moved earthen minerals forged into sword, as the two men struggled against each other. Mikhail’s blade landed on Niklav’s shoulder and quivered to rip across his chest.

 

“No!” I screamed, flying toward them and distracting Mikhail for a split second. Niklav pounced in that second, his blade singing as it flew through the air. It found the side of Mikhail’s neck and a second later Mikhail’s head fell to the wooden platform, eyes still open in shock. Gasps came from all around us. It had happened so quickly people were still frozen in shock.

 

Niklav, allowing his sword to drop, moved quickly toward Korina and wrapped her in his arms. Tears of relief spilled from Korina’s eyes as the shock wore off. Niklav cupped her face in his hands and leaned back so he could look in her eyes.

 

“Why did you do that? You could have been killed!” Niklav said, terror shaping his features.

 

“He was going to kill you. I had to do something. I could not let you die!”

 

“Throwing yourself at an armed and insane man is never acceptable behavior, you beautiful, silly woman!” He shook his head, and Korina saw the hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth.

 

“I will try to avoid doing that again,” Korina said, smiling through tears.

 

They both laughed with relief, and Korina fell into his firm embrace again.

 

“You are injured,” Rihards said as he removed his shirt and pressed it to Niklav’s arm.

 

It was true. Niklav’s arm and shoulder had stained Korinas clothes with blood. The healers pushed their way through the mayhem of people. Ludis and his apprentice Roburt set to work on Niklav, trying to staunch the flow of blood. Bauska’s healers had a greater task. The man Mikhail had robbed and cut lay dying. In agonizing pain, he struggled for breath to moan; he was cut from side to side, bleeding to death. They gently lifted him and wrapped him tightly around the center. Two women stood off to their right, wailing; hearts ached for them. They lifted him and carried him into the village lodge. Korina and Freya said a prayer to the Great One, begging for his life.

***

They were ready to go; Rokus had instructed the people to be ready to leave at dawn on the third day following the sentencing. Niklav and Korina wanted to go pay their respects to Alexa and Zhorah. They were the wives of the man that died on Mikhail’s day of sentencing. Korina knew his death was not truly her fault, but she could not shake the guilt. They carried a gift of salt. It was not much, but it was highly prized.

 

“Excuse me,” Freya said, stopping in their path, her silky, black hair falling around her bowed head. “I just wanted to say,” she mumbled, looking up timidly, her sky-blue eyes visible and breathtaking, “I just wanted to thank you. You will never know how greatly you have helped this people.” She smiled slightly, and the wind blew her hair away from her neck revealing deep bruises. She quickly pulled her hair back around her neck and hurried toward Robert and his brilliant smile.

Freya’s Prayer – Section Two – Part Four & Section One – Part Five – Saved

Posted in Anthology, Because I love to write, New writing, Nightmare, Uncategorized, Works in Progress with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2011 by cjirwin

Anxiety had nearly stretched Freya’s muscles and mind to the brink by the time she watched Mikhail walk from her home. And though battered she felt in body that pain did not compare to the throbbing of her heart. From her father’s side, Freya looked on as Mikhail, a king she had hardly known that morning, rode away as a man she loathed with all of her will.

Freya’s Prayer

 Section Two – Part Four – God Save Our Souls

 

The following two days Freya felt as if her heart were boiling, being cooked over searing flames. Soaked in despair, she thought of Robert, the way his hands had felt, his lips, his soul. Her ears strained to hear the quiet late-night conversations of her parents.

“It is not us the King has taken an interest in,” Beta whispered in the dark hours.

“You think I do not realize that?” Eric replied. “What am I to do?”

“We cannot give her to him! He is a pig that dishonors the wife he already has! And what of Robert?”

“He may be a pig, but he is our King Beta. As yet he has not asked for her, and Robert is the cause of the problem in the first place. Had he not had my daughter nearly naked in the forest Bauska Mikhail may not have even noticed her! He has done this to them not I!”

“She does not love the King. She will not love the king.” Beta said hopelessly. “My poor girl, what have you done?” The last words were a quiet despair that mother and daughter shared.

***

 

I used to love this dress. Freya thought as she looked down at the lovely yellow garment. The way it hugged her curves, her body, had pleased her before this night but no more. Robert loves this dress, she thought dismally. Freya thought back to the first time she had worn it, and the way his eyes had caressed her. The way they had filled with adoration and longing, nearly bursting. Freya’s stomach twisted at the idea of Mikhail’s eyes feasting on her form, soiling what she would save for her love. Mother is right, Freya resolved. I will never love that pig. God save me from his vile touch! God save my soul for I must pray and evil prayer, please steal the breath from his lungs. Do not give me into his hands.  

Freya prayed the prayer repeatedly as they walked to the Coronation feast.  The music and lively atmosphere did not lift her spirits. They sat quietly, the whole family feeling the weight of what could be except little Aldimar who gorged on the honey cakes unaware. Their attention was drawn to the dais as the music stopped and the king’s steward called out.

“We come, this night to pay homage to our new king, Lord Bauska Mikhail!” His voice resonated across the large hall evoking cheers and applause. “Let every lord come kiss the ring upon his finger in turn and bring gifts to honor his greatness.” As he spoke the different lords and dignitaries began to arrange themselves.

Cattle, Freya thought. We are as chattel to him, worth only what we can provide! Look at them! Scurrying for the closed position they can grab, the biggest scrap they can get.

 

Mikhail’s smirk grew larger and larger as each man, men from his own lands and lords of neighboring allies, bowed before him.

“Next may I present to your lordship Representative of the people of Tallin, Sven of the house of Pele.”

Word had spread of Mikhail’s recent activities in the city Tallin. All eyes focused, and all ear tuned in anticipation.

“So, Sir Pele, what gift has your Lord sent to welcome me into the ranks of Kings as his equal?” Mikhail sneered.

“He has sent the gift of forgiveness.” Sven replied keeping his head high.

“Forgiveness!” Mikhail boomed jerking up from his throne. Rihards rushed to his side and placed his hand on his shoulder. Mikhail’s chest heaved as Rihards’ words slipped into his ear.

When Mikhail remained quiet Sven continued. “Lord Tallin says that our people have worked together many years, and he hopes that we can continue to do so. He has one simple request.”

“And what would that be?” Mikhail asked through grinding teeth.

Sven swallowed hard, “an apology my Lord.”

Mikhail’s hands fisted, and his body shook. “Now is not the time brother, patience is rewarded.” Rihards whispered.

It was frightening how quickly Mikhail’s expression shifted, brilliant anger slithering to smug conniving’s. “Very well,” Mikhail sang. “I apologize for grieving your Master, and I intend to make right the relationship between us.”

Freya frowned at the falseness in his voice, at the lies dancing from his lips.

Things calmed as Mikhail sat and Sven retreated.

“Music!” Mikhail barked as he lifted his goblet, beer sloshing onto his hand. “Steward.”

“Yes, your Grace?”

“The young mistress Keller, find her bring her to my table. Oh, and tell my wife that she may retire to her children and chambers.”

“Right away Your Majesty.” The steward scurried away.

“Perhaps he has forgotten about me.” Freya hoped, but was quickly disappointed.

“His Majesty the king desires the company of Mistress Keller.” The steward spoke directly to Eric.

“She would be honored.” Eric’s words, cut and dry, hardly made it seem so.

Freya took a deep breath and every heart at the table sank as she squared her shoulders and strode away.

Freya did not speak. Stomach turning, she watched as he inhaled dark, roasted turkey, the grease dripping from his chin. Her fear mounted as his beer sloshed and gurgled down his throat. He was drunk. Her plan to bore him with silence was shattered when he smiled and said.

“You’re so gorgeous you need not even speak to entertain.” The words were slurred, dirty. His eyes burned with lust. “I simply must have you.” He smirked. “Would you love the hand of your king to bring you pleasure?”

Freya swallowed hard. “My heart belongs to the boy from the forest my Lord.”

Anger skewered his hard features. “I am your king wench! You would spurn me for a farmer boy!”

“I mean you no disrespect your Grace,” Freya whispered. “I cannot love you or belong to you, for I am his.”

Mikhail leaned across the table. “I did not ask for your love; but I will have your body.”

“No my Lord you will not.”

“Is that so? Who owns that land your farmer boy works? Wouldn’t it be tragic if he and his family were to lose everything?”

“You wouldn’t.” Freya stuttered.

“I would. It’s your choice my dear. I’d hate for your father’s taxes to go up. He is a good citizen.”

Tears welled in her eyes. “You would give me no choice.”

“I’m glad we understand each other my dear.” Mikhail said licking his lips.  “Steward, inform Sir Keller that Freya will be staying in my care this night.”

Eric’s heart broke as he watched Bauska Mikhail lead his beautiful daughter from the great hall. Any fealty, loyalty or love he had borne the king or his country evaporated as he saw the tears on his baby girls cheeks.

Section One  – Part Five – Saved

Chapter Five

 

That was how it began. Freya thought. A simple mistake. That day in the forest with Robert changed my life. Not in the way I had hoped. Mikhail snored loudly at her side, luckily they still smelled of roses and lye soap. Two years, Freya despaired, and his touch has only grown more vile, his lips only more sickening. It seems so long ago that I was happy.

 

“Oh Robert,” she mouthed the words as she remembered his touch.

Baylor says he still waits. Why? He should marry. The thought was a dry sucking wind on her already brittle heart. I will never be free of this monster Mikhail! The knowing of Roberts love gave her strength, and gave her the faith to hope, but it also broke her to know he lingered in loneliness.

Freya prayed. “Give me the strength to rid this people of our unholy king.” Freya could not help the images the scattered across her mind as he mumbled in his sleep. She imagined thrusting a dagger deep in his fetid flesh, watching him choke on poison, strangling him with his own whip!

“Let me take his life father, or take it Yourself. Save me Holy God.”

***

 

The sun drooped toward the horizon, impregnating light bringing the earth to life. Freya smiled one of  her rare and exquisite smiles, the blue of her eyes brought to life for a moment, her brother and closest friend had come to see her.

“Baylor, you bring me my only happiness.” She said as they sauntered just outside the city.

“I miss you. Has it gotten any better?” Baylor didn’t know why he asked that same question every week the answer was always the same. “I’m sorry love.”

Freya simply held his arm tighter. “What about you brother,  how is Brea and your little one?”

Baylor’s chest constricted at the simple mention of his beautiful wife and child. “There doing well. You know I owe you my happiness.” Baylor whispered. “I pray every day that God brings you the same. If it weren’t for you I would be miserable without her.”

“Well it’s the one good thing Mikhail ever did for me or anyone for that matter; and he was only doing to get something in return.”

“I’m sorry for what it cost you. I wouldn’t have asked you for it.”

“Don’t think on it brother. If I must endure him I should at least try to get something of value. And you and your family are of great value to me.”

“Do you see that?” Baylor asked.

“Hmm, see what?” Freya asked looking up.

“There, in the distance. Are those people?”

“A lot of people,” Freya said eyes wide. They then heard the guard call from the barbican.

“People approach. Fetch Lord Rihards and the king.” The guard yelled to the other men below.

“Who do you think they are?” Freya asked. “They seem weary even from a distance.”

Freya’s Prayer – Section One of Part Four – God Save Our Souls

Posted in Anthology, Because I love to write, New Novel, New writing, Nightmare, rape, Works in Progress with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2011 by cjirwin

Chapter Four – Section One –

God Save Our Souls

The muddy hem of Freya’s brown work dress jerked and swayed as she yanked at a piece of bleached timber near the edge of the river. The tangled mass of wood had been gathered by the raging waters of the spring and cast aside as it settled into its calmer summer flow. Freya cursed when the firewood finally loosed and sent her sprawling backward onto the ground. Huffing and thanking God she had walked up river saving her from the embarrassment of anyone seeing her clumsiness, Freya stood and brushed the dirt from her backside.

Mortification filled her and she spun around at a familiar voice. “If you’re not careful my dear that firewood will kick your ass,” Robert said through a bright smile, the words skipping from his lips.

Unable to reply Freya only grew redder.

“You’re exquisite all the time, but I do enjoy a good blush on your skin.” Robert sang as he drew closer.

“Are you saying you enjoy embarrassing me Robert?” Freya asked raising an eyebrow and smiling.

“And if I do? What would the fair beauty before me be able to do about it?” Robert’s eyes bubbled with delight as he circled Freya and wrapped his arms around her shoulders from behind.

Freya sighed, leaning into his embrace and reaching up to put her hands in his.  “I would hate to have to withhold my lips from such a striking man’s reach, but punishment must be doled out for such grievous actions.” Despite her efforts, Freya could not contain the amusement that frosted her threat.

“Such extreme chastisement!” Robert laughed and spun Freya in his arms to face him. “Well my lady, I must surely be more cautious. For without your lips my lips would cease to speak, eat, or yearn! I most certainly would become nothing more than a husk of a man.”

“You mock me,” Freya retorted and tried to put on a frown.

“No my love,” Robert said more seriously. “I think of you night and day. Please ease my troubled heart and say yours yearns as mine.”

As hummingbird’s wings, Freya’s heard flew within her chest. Blood pounding loudly in her ears, she tried to respond. “I want nothing more than to find myself within your arms. I dream of your lips and think on the joy in your eyes. My heart yearns as yours.”

As the last word hummed from her mouth Robert’s lips sailed toward hers, and his arms acted in tandem securing her to his chest. Freya opened to his kiss, her lips embracing his taste and warmth. His arms seemed to make her worries fade to some distant place, her feelings and desires rising to fill the void left. Everything in her ached for his touch as his kiss reached to the very depths of her soul.  Freya rejoiced in the unfamiliar feelings that coursed through her body as Robert’s fingers skimmed down the soft skin of her throat and along the contours of her shoulders. That surge of sensation that sped through her peaked, exploding on a new plateau she had not known stood within her.

The gasp that escaped Freya’s lips set Roberts form to shuddering, his body reacting to her beauty, and his mind thrilling in the love that pounded inside him. The newness of her beauty, as a flower budding for the first time made his mind reel with want that he struggled to reign in. His charm and good looks had earned him a great many encounters, but none that had ever stirred his soul as Freya.

“Freya,” Robert whispered through the kiss as she tangled her hands in his hair. “Freya,” he sang as he lifted her into his arms and walked away from the water.

Their lips did not cease as he glided toward and ancient oak with a lovely blanket of green beneath it. The breeze, gentle and warm, dragged strands of his golden hair from its moorings and tangled them in Freya’s hands. Robert’s body above her, his lips on her lips, his hands slowly traveling down her dress to traverse her waist, her hip, emboldened her. Letting her inhibitions dwindle, she drew her hands from his head to the hard muscles of his chest. The movement of her hands was as heavily fire breathing along his skin.

He jerked away throwing himself by her side. “Ah,” he groaned and covered his face.

Freya swallowed hard as the red returned to her face. “I’m sorry,” Freya breathed. “What is wrong?” Tears threatened. “Do you not want me?”

“Oh god Freya!” Robert heaved as he rolled toward her. “Of course I want you!” He pulled her to her side. “That’s just it, I want you too much. I fight to control the immense desire in me now that would take you this instant beneath this tree.”

Freya smiled, one embarrassment merging into another. “I would love nothing more than to give myself to you.”

Robert traced his finger along her throat, tugging slightly at the string pulling tight the top of her shirt. “You deserve better than me.” His smile was irresistible. “You deserve a home, and your father deserves a bride price.”

“I want you.” Freya countered. “You deserve far more than you think.”

“I would earn your love, your trust and your fathers, and earn your touch.” Robert said as he playfully tugged loose the string loosening her shirt. It fell away from her neck and shoulders revealing the top of her cleavage pulled tightly together by her corset. “God help me,” Robert breathed.  

“You have already done everything you need to do to earn my love.” Freya replied distracted by the look in his eyes as he examined her.

“How could I ever merit such beauty of mind and body?” As he spoke Freya reached to loosen her corset. Robert sucked in a breath. “No Freya,” he pleaded with a tortured smile on his lips. “I cannot lose myself.”

“I would have you lose yourself and me with you.” Freya said as she pulled the corset away, her shirt hanging free, revealing.

“You would drive me mad woman!” Robert laughed as he reached for her. Freya playfully evaded his hand and smiled broadly as she lifted her shirt over her head. “God help me,” Robert whispered again as he saw her.

“Hey, you there!” A deep voice barked.

Robert jerked toward the sound as Freya scrambled for her shirt.

“What do we have here?” Mikhail asked from atop his horse. “My goodness,” he breathed as he watched Freya struggled to pull her shirt over her head.

“King Mikhail!” Robert burst and fell to one knee. “My lord, how may I serve you?” Robert asked his voice quivering like leaves in a spring storm.

“Who is he?” Mikhail asked the man to his left.

“I believe that is Robert Bauer, son of Robert Bauer the elder. He plants and harvests the Northern fields.”

“Robert Bauer son of Robert the elder, farmer of the Northern Fields?” Mikhail asked tearing his eyes from Freya who was still trying to replace her corset and fixing his eyes on Robert.

“Yes Your Majesty.”

“Who is the exquisite lady behind you, and does she belong to you?”

“Um,” Robert swallowed the bile rising in his throat. “This is Freya Keller. First daughter of Eric of the house of Keller, and no, she is still under the covering of her father.”

“Keller,” Mikhail said turning to the man beside him again.

“Yes my Lord. He owns the local pub and inn.”

“So, Robert of the house of Bauer, I have caught you endeavoring to take the virginity of a woman not your own and above your station, or has she already lost that gift to you.” Mikhail accused.

“No My King, I have not, and I would not rob her of such a gift.”

“Wouldn’t you? It looks very much like you would have had we not interrupted. Tell me, Robert Bauer, does Eric know his daughter is with a farmer’s son?”

“Um, he does not know I am with her now, but my father has begun negotiating a bride price with hers and, I love her and intend to marry her when I am able to earn the sum.”

“You do? They have?” Freya said, her face lighting, but then remembering their company she dropped her eyes back to the ground.

“Hum, are you very sure Eric of the house of Keller will want to entrust his lovely daughter to a boy who sneaks her off into the woods?” Mikhail demanded.

Robert paled. “Forgive me my Lord. I did not intend to soil her virtue; I became carried away by her beauty. I will exercise more control.”

“Well, I can certainly see why you were carried away.” Robert’s stomach twisted as he watched his King examine the woman he loved. “She is most lovely. Freya is it?”

“Yes My Lord.” Freya answered looking up.

“Come here,” Mikhail ordered.  Robert fought the urge to stop her as she moved toward the Kings horse. Taking Freya’s face roughly into his hand, Mikhail examined her sapphire eyes with thick dark lashes, her fine nose set on perfect pastel skin, her rosy full lips accented by a sharp jaw. “You are lovely.” Mikhail said his body still stirred at her frantically searching for her shirt.

“You are too kind my King,” Freya said as she took a step back toward Robert.

“Have you been hunting Your Majesty?” Robert asked wanting to change the subject.

“That I have.”

“Please, do not let us keep you. We beg forgiveness for our interruption.” Robert pleaded.

“I will escort Mistress Keller home.” Mikhail said, a wicked smile spreading as he saw Robert’s body jerk.

“You need not worry My Lord.” Robert hurried. “No need for you to burden yourself, I can see her safely home, so you may enjoy the rest of your hunt.”

“Tis no burden my young friend. I actually quit look forward to honoring her father’s house with a visit.”

Freya swallowed hard and looked back to Roberts’s anxious face.

“Come my dear,” Mikhail called. “The hour grows late.”

“Shall I give her my horse?” The man to Mikhail’s right asked.

“No, she will ride with me. Help her up in front of me.”

Robert’s teeth ground together, and the breath in Freya’s chest began to heave. She looked to Robert, and though it was the last thing he wanted to see he tipped his head toward the king. “What an honor Freya,” Robert said through thin lips. “The King wishes to see you safely home. I will be right behind you my love.”

Freya simply nodded and was helped into Mikhail’s lap. She bulked inside at how tightly the King held her, and the heat of his breath on her ear as they rode back toward the village. Heart pressed by fear, Freya stood at Mikhail’s side as his steward announced his presence at her father’s house.

“My Great King!” Eric called out, falling to one knee as the Lord Bauska Mikhail entered. “To what does my humble house owe the honor of your presence?”

“To your daughter my good servant,” Mikhail said indicating Freya coming in the door.

“My daughter?”

“Aye, tell me good sir, are you in the habit of allowing the maidens of your house to run around in the forest with boys that would spoil their honor?”

Freya blanched.

“No my Lord!” Eric replied shooting Freya a look of fire. “I knew of no such thing.”

“I found her, for the better part unclothed,” Mikhail said and smiled as Eric’s jaw tightened. “Under the seeking hands of a young farmer’s boy; do you know of him?”

Eric swallowed hard, his teeth grinding audibly. “That would be Robert Bauer, I thought him to me an honorable young man.”

“No father,” Freya blurted. “He is, it was me!”

“Freya! Still your tongue in the presence of our Lordship,” Eric scolded then turned to Mikhail. “I beg your forgiveness my King.”

“No forgiveness is required my good servant, the lovely young lady is simply trying to defend the boy. It is he that is at fault, he that has lured her to folly.” Mikhail reasoned, his eyes resting heavily upon Freya.

Freya shook her head.

“I am indebted to you my King for returning her to my house.”

“It was an honor good sir. My steward tells me you own and run the Keller Inn.”

“That I do My Lord.”

“It does well for you?” Mikhail asked having trouble keeping his eyes from Freya.

“It does well, provides for me and mine.” Eric said with a proud smile.

“My steward also tells me you are always faithful with your dues to the crown. I am grateful for such men in my city.”

“It is my honor and duty, my Lord. I am but your servant.”

“A most pleasing one,” Mikhail sang. “You must let me honor you and your family! Come to my table to feast, all of your family. It would bring me much joy to see your family again.”

Eric swallowed against the knots forming in his stomach and forced a smile to his lips. “I would be greatly pleased to accept such an invitation. I do not feel equal to it!”

“I will be the judge of such things my friend,” Mikhail teased, but Eric sensed much more than was said. “Two nights hence, we will feast in your honor.”

Anxiety had nearly stretched Freya’s muscles and mind to the brink by the time she watched Mikhail walk from her home. And thought battered she felt in body that pain did not compare to the throbbing of her heart. From her father’s side, Freya looked on as Mikhail, a king she had hardly known that morning, rode away as a man she loathed with all of her will.

Freya’s Prayer – Part One – Hated Beauty

Posted in Anthology, Because I love to write, New writing, Nightmare, Works in Progress with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2011 by cjirwin

Freya’s Prayer

Part One

Hated Beauty

 

“Oh God, take my beauty from me. Holy One of the Hebrews, make me as a thorn in his side.” Freya prayed, tears cutting groves in the dirt and soot on her face. “Please don’t let him come to me this night. Give me a new life, take me from this.”

Freya’s dirty hands turned white at the knuckles as she begged God. Even the soil and fire dust that covered her face could not hide her exquisite beauty. Her sixteen years had molded a goddess out of human clay. Full lips parted in her plea, violet eyes raining, feed by storm clouds devastating her soul, thick, raven hair dangling dirty, oily, in an effort to dissuade his desire. Knees against the wood floor she prayed at her bedside. The shapeless, oversized and filthy dress only muted the shine of her body, her full breasts, flat stomach, firm, bruised legs and butt.

Mikhail had instructed her to bathe, and Freya knew more bruises would come for her disobedience. The fire crackled in the stone hearth casting shadows in the large room. Freya despised it. The rich, warm furs that Mikhail said all women would die for, she hated. The large, polished wooden chairs, a luxury she never used. Painted stone walls that boasted of Kingly wealth, and brightly dyed fabrics traded for hundreds of miles to the East only made her wish for her wool blankets and floor mat in her parents’ home. Mikhail said he wasted his great treasures on her, an ungrateful whore. Yet he continued to plague her heart, mind and body. Freya never slept in the ornate and soft bed he had given her; the only time she lay in it was when he forced his sordid desires on her.

“Please, please, please,” Freya begged. “Holy One, Holy God of Israel, please strike him down. May You repay him in kind all that he has done to others, to me, to his own people. Make me undesirable. Extinguish the fire that burns in Mikhail for me.” Freya’s body shook, trembled as she heard Mikhail’s heavy footsteps outside her door. Tears turning to sobs, she heard his callused skin rest upon the handle, he pushed, and Freya smelled his fetid breath and body as the door opened.

I was happy once, Freya though as Mikhail approached her. He strode, hulking chest jutting forward, a braggart, a tyrant of stolen power. Flicking his muddy, brown hair back, his thin lips smirked. His green eyes, like scum floating on a pond, danced with desire. Freya had disobeyed; Mikhail liked it when she disobeyed.

“I instructed you to bathe!” Mikhail roared and wrapped his fist around Freya’s loose dress jerking her up from prayer.

Freya only had tears.

“You will learn to obey!” Mikhail threw her to the floor, his eyes afire, and his desire raising.

As he kicked her, Freya prayed he would knock her unconscious before he ravaged her body. Almost welcoming the pain, she tried to keep from crying out as he dragged her toward the water basin by her hair.

Dumping her, he demanded, “wash!”

Freya’s swallowed hard, “no.”

“Now whore!” His hand stung as it landed firmly on her cheek.

Freya smiled as her head spun and her eyes went dark for a moment. The ringing in her ears was a blessed warning that one more hit, and she could sink into oblivion.

Mikhail sucked in a deep breath, his nose flaring, his teeth grinding, but wait, Freya saw something change, and fear filled her as his anger shifted. “So my dear,” he side as a wicked smile slithered across his bulging features. “How is your little sister Astrid? You know she nearly as lovely as you are. Now that I am King of Bauska I could support many wives. Wouldn’t you love to have her here in the lodge with us?”

Freya’s breathing hurdled from her chest, and her body quaked. “No!”

“What? I thought you would like to have her around. I only wish to make you happy my love. Would you not like that?” Mikhail’s eyes shone triumphantly.

Freya swallowed against the bile rising in her throat. “No my love,” she answered demurely. “I would not wish to share you with any more than I do now.” Freya began to rise. “It is enough that I must endure your first wife Beta, do not take on another.” Every cell in Freya’s body rebelled as she pushed herself toward Mikhail. “Enough of this game let me wash your royal body.” Freya wanted to smile, to be more convincing, but all her effort was covering the revulsion burgeoning in her center.

“Um, that is better my beauty.” Mikhail said and ran his greasy tongue along his lips. “But I would watch you bathe yourself first. Fetch me a chair.”

After Freya dragged the heavy chair across the rough cut, wooden floor she began to undress.

“Mm, yes,” Mikhail groaned as her dirty dress fell to the floor.

Freya, naked, shaking, reached into the basin and retrieved the cloth. Roses and lye soap scented the room as she began to wash away the shield of grime. Her pale, soft skin glowed in the firelight, as she dunked her head in the tube. Bubbles floated about as she scrubbed her hair.

Mikhail reached gathering suds from her head and smeared them across her ample chest, down her midriff.

“Let me wash you my Lord.” Freya said as she pulled away thinking. If I must bear him on me again at least I can save myself from the stench.

 As she washed his filthy body Freya cursed its every part. Unable to dwell on him, she escaped to a happier place, a happier time.

Heart Eaters – Part Ten – Lucy – The Culmination

Posted in Because I love to write, New Novel, New writing, Nightmare, Works in Progress with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 29, 2010 by cjirwin

(Please note: This post contains graphic violence and adult content.) 

Part Ten

Lucy – The Culmination –

 

“Come on Susan, are you sure it’s not too soon for this?” Lucy asked her sister as Susan pushed her out the door.

“It’s not too soon. You and Doug have been together for five months right?”

“Well, yes, if you count from the first time we made love in November, but I mean for the kids. Isn’t it too soon for me to be going away with him like this? I don’t even know where he’s taking me.” Lucy reasoned.

“Listen Luce, it’s not too soon. Stop worrying. It’s romantic that he has a surprise plan for you this weekend, and its damn lucky so quit complaining and quit making him wait outside in the car. I’ve got the kids. Don’t worry, just go!” Susan said and gave Lucy a hard shove out the door.

Lucy walked toward Doug’s car, toward the gorgeous, dark-haired, green-eyed god in the front seat. He is simply fantastic looking, Lucy thought. Doug’s eyes followed her every move. He couldn’t see enough of her, feel enough of her, drink enough of the sound of her voice. Insatiable, was his need for the lovely woman who walked toward him.

Lucy continued to worry over her children and her salvation, as she open the door, but she wanted Doug, wanted to be with him, the heat of her thoughts for him almost too much.

“Is this ok?” Doug asked, worry creasing his brow. “Is it too much, too soon? We don’t have to go away for the weekend. I don’t care where I am as long as I can be with you.” He dragged a finger along her jaw line, across her lips.

Breathing deeply, Lucy resolved herself to keep that crease off his brow all weekend, he deserved that. “No Doug, I want to go. I’m excited. Really. It’s been a long time since I’ve been surprised, and I love surprises. So, let’s go.” Lucy shoved all her worries aside, letting a smile and anticipation take their place.

Overjoyed, Doug simply set his lips on hers. Tasting her, warm, soft, tender lips was like being wrapped in spring.

Saturday morning traffic was minimal as they drove out-of-town. Hand in hand, they enjoyed the warm spring air that moved through the car.

“Scott State Park and Wildlife reserve,” Lucy read as they slowed and turned. “Wonderful!”

“Well, I know you love hiking, and animals, and sunsets over water so I thought this would be ideal, and Susan said you’ve never been here.”

“You seem to know a great deal about me my dear,” Lucy smiled.

“I want to know it all.” Doug said as he pulled up to the Parks main office. “I just have to run in here quickly. I’ll be right back.” He leaned in, pecked her on the mouth.

Lucy admired his long muscles and strong pace as he hurried in and out. “Wow that was quick!” Lucy laughed as he jumped back into the car, a school-boy grin on his face.

They moved away from the highway and cabin office the asphalt merging into a brown gravel road that wound fetching through lush, wooded forest. Lucy senses feasted on the beauty of the bright, fresh, green leaves, the brilliant colors and scents of periwinkle’s and wild roses, the sound of water tumbling over smooth rocks before in seeped into the beautiful lake in the distance. Her breath caught as they pulled up to quaint log cabin, grey, weathered, natural, it was simply perfect in Lucy’s mind. Lucy didn’t think she could be any more charmed, but as they opened the door she discovered she was wrong. Golden, superbly finished pine blanketed the walls and floors, small darker colored knots in the wood adding rustic character. Deep green curtains dressed the large windows singing of new life and bright, freshly cut daffodils grace the round kitchen table. The brown leather sofa was plush and inviting, making Lucy want to fall into its waiting arms.

“Doug! This is beautiful!” Lucy sang as she spun around.

Doug set two brown paper bags on the counter and began unloading them into the icebox. “I’m so glad you like it.” 

“Well, you’ve thought of everything.” Lucy said as she watched him put fruit, chocolate, wine, a whole chicken in.

“I tried. Are you hungry? It’s just after noon. I could throw something together real quick, but I am going to make you my famous roast chicken for dinner.” Smiling, he turned to her.

“I don’t want food.” Lucy said with a smirk.

“Mm, what is it your after my dear?” Doug asked as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

Lucy pushed his arms back and yanked on his collar with a mischievous grin. Doug’s breathing hastened when she slammed her lips against his, primal needs blazing through them. He reached for her, but she pushed his arms away again and began to pull him from the kitchen. Surprise mixed with pleasure, lighted his face as she backed him up to the couch and pushed. Sitting, struggling for breath, he watched as Lucy slowly unbuttoned her silky, white blouse and threw it in his lap. His teeth ground together as her tan pencil skirt piled on the floor at her feet.

“You’re exquisite!” Doug breathed.

They spoke softly as they snuggled on the couch; little things like her favorite bird or flower. Relaxed and unbelievably happy, she drifted into dreamless sleep.

Lucy woke to the rich scent of roasting chicken, and it made her aware of her aching, empty stomach. Wrapped in a warm blanket and nestled on the couch she had recently made love on, Lucy smiled as she watched Doug move expertly around the kitchen.

“You’re spoiling me.” Lucy said as she sat up.

Doug turned. “Mm, it seems to me that I was the one getting spoiled earlier.” He walked toward her naked body, leaned to kiss her then her.

“Mm,” Lucy purred. “It was as much for me as it was for you my dear.”

As he walked back toward the kitchen, she noticed he had the table set, champagne sparkling in the tall wine glasses he had remembered to bring, and two white candles lit, glowing softly. “It seems I’ve slept the afternoon away. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Doug called as he walked into the bedroom and retrieved a terry bathrobe. Sitting, he wrapped it around her shoulders. “That’s what I want. You relaxing and making mad love to me all weekend. I’m not surprised you slept so long after the ride you gave me this afternoon.” Lucy blushed. “Come eat my love.” Doug stopped. He hadn’t meant to call her that. Knowing how deeply Lucy had loved Robert had made Doug very careful with that word. He knew, without a doubt that he loved her, but he didn’t want to say it for fear she would feel pushed. It was undeniable that he knew she had strong feelings for him, but he could wait, forever if he needed to for her to realize that she loved him back.

It was like a quick twist in her heart. Love, I am his love. Why is it that the parasite guilt is most fond of love as a host? Lucy squirmed. Am I ready? Can I say it?

 

“Come eat with me,” Doug said relieving her of the decision right then.

***

By the time they drove away from the cabin on Sunday evening dark, heavy clouds bruised the sky. Wind tossed leaves and branches on the road as they were pounded by spring rain.

The children squealed with delight as they ran through the rain and piled into the back of Doug’s car. They dragged him into Lucy’s house when they arrived, and had him sitting in front of the television watching a whistling Mickey Mouse. Lucy smiled at the way they jumped into his lap, pulled at his tie and jabbered relentlessly in his ear. Patiently, he answered, played and held.

***

Lucy lay on her side in her bed reading. The white whale, Moby Dick and his nemesis, Captain Ahab had always fascinated her. Literary genius!  Lucy thought. The sound of chirping made her role, and she was surprised to find a small black bird singing on her bed-side-stand.

“Hey little one,” Lucy crooned as she reached. “What are you doing in here?”

Still singing, the small bird settled onto Lucy’s finger, and she stared in wonderment.

As it sang its beak opened wider and wider until the skin at the edges began to tear and bleed. Lucy gasped as the little bird was rent in two, blood covering her hands and dripping to the floor. In shock, Lucy threw the pieces to the carpet. They began to boil, feathers, bone, innards becoming a gross soup. Birds, loud, squawking, creatures began pouring from the remains. They pecked at Lucy drawing blood, screeched as they wound themselves in her hair. Through the cloud of frantic feathered creatures, Lucy bolted for her bedroom door. Lucy fell into the darkness, but it was not the pine hardwood floor of her hall at her nose. Soil, rancid rotting dirt, covered her lips, her face, filling her with the smell of blood and death. Frantically, she searched for anything other than mud, dirt and blood. In the distance she saw a lights exploding in the air, the earth shook, her ears ached at the tumult of sound crashing upon her. She ran. Without direction, she thrust herself further into the mayhem of whistling bullets and falling bombs. She cried out as she fell into a trench, small glowing lanterns littered the bottom casting light on broken, gutted soldiers. Even as Lucy screamed, she recognized the faces of the men at her sides. Robert, body splayed open, intestines green and rotting smiled up at her.

“Hey Love,” he said, blood on his teeth.

Throwing her hand over her mouth Lucy turned away, but found no relief. Doug’s head lay against her leg only feet from his amputated arm, leg, and torso. Lucy vomited.

“Hey Love,” Doug’s head sang. “Are you ill?”

“Momma, momma!” Violet shook her screaming mother, tears beginning to slip from her little blue eyes. “Wake up!”

Lucy jerked awake. In one quick sweep, she scanned the room, halting abruptly at Violets red, teary eyes.

“Momma, are you ok?” Violet cried. “That’s worse than I’ve ever seen you. I thought the dreams had stopped.”

“Oh baby, I’m sorry.” Eyes wet with tears and body shaking, Lucy gathered Violet to her, drawing strength.

As the coffee brewed, filling the air with a warm scent of a new day, Lucy called Susan. “No sis, you don’t have to come over.” Lucy answered after she told Susan she had dreamed again, and it had been one of the worst. “Really,” she tried to reason. “What kind of shrink makes house calls at seven in the morning?”

“The sister kind,” Susan replied. “I’ll see you in thirty, the kids are up anyway and want to see their cousins.”

Lucy paced the kitchen cradling a hot cup of coffee with one sugar and two creams.

“What does it mean?” Lucy pleaded of Susan. “I can’t bear to lose them both!” She cried.

“Oh, honey your dreams are just screwed up.”

“Is that your professional opinion?” Lucy asked and couldn’t help but to smile.

“Lucy you can’t be afraid to love because you’re afraid to lose.”

“I know. Feeling alive again has made that clear.”

“Then don’t worry about it. Now don’t you have to work?”

“Damn, yes, I was distracted. I’ve got to get moving.” Lucy said as she jumped up and set her dirty mug in the sink.

“Just go. I can get the kids ready and take them to school.” Susan said standing a kissing her sisters cheek. “I love you. You love him, don’t be afraid of that, embrace it.”

“I do don’t I?” Lucy said a smile spreading across her face. “I do.”

Lucy was still smiling as she grabbed her umbrella and walked out the door. Merrily, her heart circled in her chest as she rode the transit distracting her from the storm that ragged.

“Your umbrella Miss,” the driver said as she stepped up to the door.

“Huh,” Lucy responded.

“Your umbrella, you’ve forgotten it.” He said pointing to the seat she had warmed.

“Oh, thank you.” Lucy smiled.

“You’re welcome,” he responded his haggard, old face lighting. “You’re gonna need it!”

She skipped through the rain toward the double doors, surprised at her own lightness of heart. Doug, bright and striking, stood by her locker in the break room.

“Lucy, thank god!” Doug said smiling, the lines on his face smoothing. “You’re late, with the storm I was worried.”

With breezy like steps, she moved to him, laid her lips on him and eased his mind. “You worry too much my love.”

Breath hitched in his chest. Did she just say that? Doug wondered. She did, she called me her love. It’s not exactly, ‘I love you’, but you haven’t actually said that yet either. He pulled her into his arms. “You have made my life worth living my love.” His forehead fell against hers.

“And you have brought me back to life, my heart now beats because of you.” Lucy whispered.

Doug squeezed her tighter, breathing in the scent of her. “How am I supposed to do my rounds with you on my brain?”

“Maybe we’ll have to sneak off to the supply closet for lunch.” Lucy couldn’t stop the giggle.

“We could sneak off now.” He nuzzled her neck. Taking one glance around, Doug grasped Lucy’s hand and pulled her toward the closet. With a quiet click the door opened and shut. Lucy had her legs around his waist within seconds, her lips pressed hard to his. He held her, cradled her around him, relishing her warmth, her eager touch. They bumped against the shelves knocking things to the floor. Hands moved, caressed, set afire emotion and desire. Frantic for her, and insane with yearning, Doug moved across the small room and set her on the counter. His breath heaved in and out like the storm that raged outside as he pushed up her nurses dress revealing her white guarder, and thigh-high hose. Her panties, simply soft and white, did more for him than any lace he had ever felt in his life.

Lucy loved the look on his face, the school-boy adoration. The knowing she was so desperately wanted sent shivers down her spine. She kissed his lips, his neck, his collar and whispered in his ear. They moved, loved, explored each other hearts and souls.

Gasping and shaking, they held each other.  Doug pulled his face from her shoulder seeking her eyes. After running his hands through her hair her took her face in his hands and gently kissed her lips.

He pushed against her smiling at her warmth. “Lucy,” Doug said tracing his finger along her jaw, “I have to tell you, I know it soon for you. But I have to say-.”

“No, Doug.” Lucy interrupted. Doug swallowed hard; worrying it was as he feared, too soon for her to be in love with him as he was with her. “Doug, you’ve saved my life,” Lucy began running the tip of her finger over his brow. “Made me want and feel pleasure again.” Lucy saw the ache in his eyes as he wondered if that could be enough for him. “But more than that Doug,” her heart fluttered in fear and excitement, “I have found that I can love again.” Doug exhaled the breath he’d been holding. “Doug, I’m in love with you. I love you.”

“Oh god, Lucy,” he tightened his hold. “I love you. I have loved you from the first moment I saw you. I have dreamed of holding you, of loving you, but mostly of you loving me.” He took her mouth fiercely in a greedy kiss that brought tears to Lucy’s eyes.

They smiled, teased, and couldn’t keep their hands to themselves as they tried to make themselves presentable. Hand in hand they walked from the little room.

Sirens filled the air.

“What’s going on?” Lucy asked. “Where is everyone?”

“That’s the hospitals storm warning system,” Doug said looking around then stopping, focusing on the hail that pounded against the window. They felt a tremor move through the floor. “Tornado! We need to get to the shelter!” Doug pulled her as he hurried out of the room. The lights flickered as the wind and hail beat against the building. “Oh, my god!” Doug heaved and halted. Lightening flashed in the distance as they watched the clouds circle in the heavens. Wind sucked downward and soil raised from the ground as the first cyclone formed. It was small, but as it spun it dragged earth and sky to it. It mounted on, feed on, and massacred the world around.

“Come on Lucy!” Doug called as they ran through the halls.

A loud whirling sound overpowered the alarm, and Doug and Lucy fell as the building jerked, heaved and settled, a large portion being torn away on the opposite end.

“What’s the fasted way to get there?” Doug asked Lucy. “I’ve never actually done a drill, you’ve been here longer.”

“There’s a stairwell at the end of the C.I. Wing that goes straight to the east storm cellar.”

They ran.

“Oh my god!” Doug halted in front of the C.I. doors. “What is that?”

Blood seeped under the door, running in bright rivers along the wall.

“Someone must be hurt!” Lucy cried and pushed through the door.

“Lucy no!” Doug screamed and reached for her.

Lucy froze. Donald lay dead on the floor, blood pumping from his crushed skull. Heath stood above Donald’s body a smile tearing at his features. “Stupid bastard thought he would save us!”

Lucy’s stomach turned. “You monster!” She screamed and without thinking lunged for him.

“No!” Doug jumped, knocked Lucy out of the way and tackled Heath.

Landing hard on her butt, Lucy scrambled to reach Doug as he fought with Heath. Insanity burned in Heath’s eyes as he swung wildly at Doug. Doug cried out as Heath’s fist connected with his jaw.

“Bastard!” Doug cursed and threw his knuckles with everything in him. Blood dripped from Heath’s eye, his lips, but he felt no pain, morphine pumping through him. With a cackle, Heath slammed Doug against the wall, breaking the glass case with a fire hose and ax in it. The broken glass cut into Doug side. Lucy screamed as she watched red stain his bright white coat. Without thought, she jumped for Heath knocking him back and Doug fell to the floor.

Heath turned on her, lust burning his insides. “I told you I’d have you.” He cried as he punched Lucy square in the face. Her head rang as she hit the floor. Struggling to stay conscious, she focused on the flickering lights on the ceiling. Heath forced the air from her chest as he fell on her, hitting her face again. Lucy coughed, tried to scramble from beneath him as he ripped at her dress.

“How dare you touch her!” Doug shouted as he jumped on Heath’s back and wrapped his left arm around the psychopath’s throat. Heath felt his windpipe crush and jerked against Doug as he squeezed. A small strangled sound escaped Heaths lips a he took his last breath. Doug dropped him to the floor.

“Lucy!” Doug reached, took her into his arms. “Oh god,” he wiped the blood from the corner of her mouth. “We have to get out of here!” The floor trembled, they could hear glass shattering down the hall, wind sucking at the life in the building. Lucy felt his tense muscles as he lifted her into his arms.

“I can walk,” she mewed.

“No you can’t.” He said as he kissed her cheek and began to get up from his knees. Lucy gasped as he jerked and cried out, a sudden jolt of pain coursing through him.

“Doug?” She called his name as she watched his features twist in agony. He faltered; fell to his knees, still cradling Lucy tightly in his arms.

“Lucy,” he breathed, coughed, spraying blood in her face. They fell.

“No! Doug!” Lucy screamed, and then she saw her, saw the metal ax in her hands, dripping with the blood of the man she loved. “Helen!” Lucy cried shock, pain and rage filling her. Blood pumped from the hole in Doug’s back. “No! No!” Lucy cried, Doug still laying on her. She wrapped her arms around him as Helen raised the ax again.

“Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the LORD, O my soul. Praise ye the LORD.” Helen sang as she watched Lucy pulled Doug closer.

Lucy closed her eyes. At least we’ll die together. God, keep my children.

A shot rang in the air. Lucy’s eyes jumped open just soon enough to see the bullet pierce the back of Helen skull and rip a hole in its front. With a shudder Helen fell lifelessly to the floor. Lucy’s wide eyes found Benedict’s shaking hands wrapped around the hilt of Donald’s Colt revolver. Quivering, he dropped it to the floor and ran to Lucy.

“Ruby May!” Benedict cried. “We have to go! We have to go love!” Benedict grabbed Lucy’s arm and pulled.

“No!” Lucy cried.

“Leave the damn grocery boy! The building is falling down! We have to go!”

“No, I can’t leave him!”

“David doesn’t deserve you! Don’t die for him, please Ruby!” Benedict screamed as the building shook, the floor heaved.

Lucy struggled to pull Doug toward the stairwell.

“God damn it!” Benedict cursed then bent and put his arms under Doug. Doug groaned weekly as Benedict adjusted under the weight. Lucy thought Benedict would break, but somehow he moved forward, toward the door.

Wood groaned against wood and metal against metal as the hospital was pulled every direction. As windows shattered, ceilings fell in, the foundation cracked, Lucy, Benedict with Doug dyeing in his arms ran down the steps. Lucy felt a sudden and strong sucking and screamed as the roof above their head was ripped away and the walls began to fall in.

“No!” she screamed as timber and cement fell toward Benedict. He fell. Doug cried out at he was thrown forward and landed hard. Both of Benedict legs were crushed when the beam landed, shards of bone cutting him a thousand times. When the second beam land on his chest he rejoiced in the knowing he would not have to suffer the pain in his bottom half much longer.

“Ruby May!” he cried and reached for Lucy. “Ruby May!”

“Yes,” Lucy answered tears pouring from her eyes knowing there was no help for him.

“Forgive me my love.”

“You’re forgiven Benedict.” Lucy wept. “You’re forgiven, I love you!”

Benedict smiled as his heart stopped and his grip on Lucy failed.

 Lucy turned to Doug. “Hold on baby,” she whispered as she began to beat on the cellar door. “Help! Let us in!”

The door opened and they hurriedly gathered them inside.

“Doug! Doug!” Lucy sobbed taking him into her arms. “Help him!”

Nurses and doctors hovered around them. He coughed, spurting blood. “Lucy, Lucy!”

“I’m here,” she cried he reached for her face.

“Promise me,” he coughed, cried out in pain.

“Anything Doug,” Lucy wailed, “just don’t leave me. Don’t leave me! I love you! God damn it, Doug, I love you!”

“Live, promise me you’ll live. Promise me you truly live!” His hands shook, his body failing, he struggled to hold on.

“We’ll live together! Don’t leave me.”

“Lucy, I love you more than I ever dreamed I could love anyone. Now promise, for me, for our love, promise!”

Lucy’s heart burned, twisted, wanted to die. “I promise.” Tears gushed from her eyes falling on his lovely bloody face. “I promise and I love you. I will always love you.”

He smiled, “forever I will love you.” His eyes closed and his hand fell from Lucy’s face.

***

Three months later.

Red, white and blue covered the long picnic table and hung in bunches along the front porch. Chicken wings, cole slaw, potatoes salad, chips, hotdogs, root beer, lemonade and a large cake decorated with strawberries, blueberries and vanilla icing excited and enticed the many people filling Lucy’s back yard.  

Bobby ran, laughter bubbling out, as he chased Sandra with a sparkler. “Bobby,” Lucy called with a smile. “Leave your sister alone!” then went back to her conversation with Susan and her new boyfriend. “So you and your crew are still very busy?”

“Yes, and I have jobs booked for months. It’s been three months since the tornado and already my crew, and I have fixed or replaced fifteen roofs.”

“ I am so thankful mine was one of them, and that you didn’t have to replace my whole house like so many others.”

“Me too,” Susan agreed, stars in her eyes.

“My crew has also been helping with the cleanup down at the Hospital. You worked there right?” John asked.

“Yes,” Lucy answered with a smile, but felt a twist in her heart. It was like a punch in the gut to think of him.

“Do you plan to work at the new hospital their putting up over on the North side of town?”

“No, I don’t think so. Um, excuse me,” Lucy said and hurried away from the table. Leaning over her sink, Lucy fought the tears. “God, it just isn’t fair!” She took a deep breath. “I promised, I promised,” she remembered as she watched the people in her back yard.

“Are you all right?” Susan asked laying her hand on her sisters back.

“I promised him I’d live, so I will.” Lucy said and wiped away the tears.

“Good,” Susan said and pulled Lucy back outside, “look there playing horseshoes, let’s go!”

“I’m terrible at this game.”

“Oh come on Lucy you just throw the thing.” Susan said as they approached the group. “Lucy wants to play!”

“Not really,” Lucy said but took the horseshoe that was offered. She went to throw, but stopped suddenly at the sounds of Violet screaming. “Violet!” Lucy called and began to run toward the house. Lucy gasped, swallowed hard, and halted. She struggled to keep from fainting as the blood drained from her head.

Her three children, screaming and jumping, dragged their father out the back door and to the edge of the porch. “Momma look! I told you! Daddy’s home!” Violet hung on his side, his arm tightly around her.

Unnoticed tears poured from Lucy’s eyes. “Robert,” she whispered afraid she would wake to find she was suffering another nightmare.

“Lucy,” his thin handsome face shone brightly as he spoke her name. “My Lucy.” The children helped him as he limped down the steps.

Still frozen and weeping, Lucy breathed his name again. “Robert, Robert your alive!”

Leaving the children at the bottom step, he moved to her, and gathered her into his arms. “Oh, god, I’m home! I can’t believe it! I thought I would die in that vile German prison camp, but no! I hold my love in my arms!” He laughed and she wrapped her arms around his neck and laid her lips on his. They laughed and cried though what the children thought was the longest kiss in the history of the world.

“Robert,” she sang, “Robert, God, I love you. Never leave me again!”

Violet, Sandra and Bobby wrapped themselves around their parent legs, and they all, for the first time in years felt whole.