Archive for blood sacrifice

Your Thoughts?

Posted in Because I love to write, Works in Progress with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2012 by cjirwin

Thoughts

I am creating a world, molding a race, spawning a species in The Omega Cypher. Any input would be welcome. Read the Omega Cypher.

C.J.

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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.     

 

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.

 

 

 

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 Three- A New King –

Posted in Anthology, Because I love to write, New Novel, New writing, Works in Progress with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2011 by cjirwin

Enjoy parts One and Two of Freya’s Prayer, Hated Beauty and Loved Beauty.

Freya’s Prayer

Chapter Three

A New King

 

“My King,” Rihard’s virile voice echoed in the Great Hall. “May I present Niklav of the Village Rokus to the Southeast and his wife Princess Korina granddaughter of King Rokus Yefrem.

“You are welcome.” Niklav Bauska said though his throat ached with every word. “What business have you here?”

“We embrace your welcome Majesty and bring wishes of health and prosperity from our Lord Rokus Yefrem. We have come to trade that both our cities might be enriched.” Niklav bowed his broad back and muscled form giving respect. His sharp features lifted as he smiled and his deep blue eyes shone clear and proud. Korina’s pale green dress folded on the floor and she curtsied.

“How is your Grandfather fair Korina?” Niklav Bauska asked eyes fixated.

The midnight blue circles around the grey of Korina’s eyes mesmerized the king as she spoke, but he was not the only man who lapped at the edges of the soft skin of her face, the full roundness of her breasts, the flatness of her center, the subtle grace of her arms and legs, the glint of easy flowing, golden hair that fell to the small of her back; Mikhail stood stunned and wanting.

“He is well my Lord.” Korina replied.

“Make your trades and feast with me this night, but I would advise that you do not sleep within the city. My heart breaks even now at the loss of an entire family the demon sickness my physician claims to be the Black Plague.”

“I am sorry to hear of it,” Niklav replied. “We will offer prayers for the return of health to your city, and we would be honored to feast with you this eave.”

“My son Mikhail will show you to the markets.”

Niklav tried to hide his irritation at the persistence of the princes eyes on his wife throughout the day, and his muscles ached from the tension of the effort.

“So, Lord Mikhail have you a wife and children?” Niklav asked as they meandered through the shops.

“Aye that I do,” Mikhail answered as he filled his mouth with another gulp of dark wheat beer that dribbled down his beard. “But I am always on the lookout for something better!” Mikhail laughed. “Know what I mean,” he said slapping Niklav on the back.

Korina frowned and shook her head as she walked behind them. Disgusting pig! She thought.

Niklav simply smiled politely.

“Well my friend I will leave you to your trading.”

“Many thanks for the tour my Lord,” Niklav said inclining his head.

“Was my pleasure, I look forward to seeing you both tonight, especially you my dear.” Mikhail said lifting Korina’s hand and kissing.

Niklav’s hand fisted and his jaw tightened. “It will be our honor,” Korina said laying a hand on her husband’s shoulder. “Fare well till then.” Korina backed away pulling Niklav.

***

A lively arrangement of notes poured from the vielle as its owner pulled the horse-hair bow across the strings, and the four course guitar laid a wild rhythm filling the Great Hall. Drums and lutes completed the musical assembly that lifted the feet and hearts of the people gathered. Roasting boar and duck whetted the appetite, and dark beer and wine loosed tongues and hands. Niklav and Korina ate and laughed with Rihards and Mikhail at the Kings table.

“Are you well father?” Rihards asked.

“I am not feeling myself, but I will survive.” Niklav Bauska replied. “I do think I will retire though,” he said turning to Niklav. “Forgive an old man for his weakness.” He said with a smile.

“No forgiveness is needed your majesty.” Niklav said as he stood. “Thank you for your hospitality.”

As King Niklav Bauska rose a wave of pain and nausea swept through him; his knees buckled beneath him sending him to the floor.

“Father!” Rihards gasped.

“I am fine son,” the King replied waving Rihards hand away and getting to his feet. “Simply tired, I will find my sheets.”

“Let us help you.” Rihards said looking to Mikhail.

Mikhail simply sat back at the table. “Perhaps Niklav would enjoy the honor of helping our fine King to his chambers.”

Niklav looked from Mikhail to Rihards angry eyes. “It would be my pleasure.” Niklav answered as he moved to put his shoulder under the Kings arm.

Mikhail focused on his goblet and refilling it with beer ignoring the glares of his father and brother.  “Would you care for more beer Korina?” He asked as Rihards led Niklav and the King toward his father’s chambers.

“Many thanks but I have had my fill.” Korina replied her eyes following her husband until he was lost to the darkness of the passage.

“Tell me Princess,” Mikhail said taking her hand in his. “Do you, as granddaughter to a king, as a royal and beautiful woman, ever worry that you will one day regret marrying beneath you?”

Korina shook, desperate to pull her hand away but fearful of the consequences. “I have no such fears my Lord. Niklav is a great man, honored among our people, and the love of my life.”

“Ah, love, so that is how a simple merchant claimed such a prize as you.” Mikhail lifted her hand, pushed his lips against it. “Well, my lovely Korina, if you ever find you would have a King in your bed and at your side rather than common man know I would welcome you into my arms.”

Korina eased her hand from his grip. “That is very kind my Lord, but I doubt I would ever want anything from you. After Niklav’s  touch I can’t imagine feeling pleasure at your hands.”

The fury that twisted Mikhail’s features almost made Korina regret the boldness of her tongue, but the vile that spewed from his lips erased any hint of remorse.

“Someone has failed to teach you respect woman!” Mikhail said slamming his cup against the table. “Your tongue is as a whip now, but mark my words whore you will one day find it between my teeth and your body beneath my cock. We will see if you are so brazen then.” Mikhail stood, turned on his heel and marched from the room.

Korina’s breath heaved in and out of her chest as he strode away. Arrogant ass! She thought. God help these people when King Niklav Bauska dies.

 

***

All day Niklav Bauska had ignored the pain and discomfort, but as he removed his robes the pain in his groin, armpits and neck was almost unbearable. The slightest touch, the weight of his clothing against his skin was like a knife thrust deep in flesh. His head ached, pounding against his temples from the inside, as he eased himself into bed.

So I am to die, Niklav Bauska thought as he pulled the blankets up to his chin, over his shivering body. I must call my sons and the elders in the morning; I pray God give me the strength to establish Rihards before I pass.

Mikhail arrived at the main lodge as the sun stole over the horizon.

“My Lord, my Lord!” The servant cried as he exited the Kings chambers. “Thank heavens you are here I was about to fetch you! The King, he is extremely ill!”

“I will see to him.” Mikhail repressed a smile at he pushed against the heavy wooden doors.

“Shall I fetch the physician and Lord Rihards?”

“No, I will see to the King first. Go to the kitchen and prepare him soup.”

“You would have me cook my Lord? Should I not gather the cook from his sheets?”

“No! Do not question me!” Mikhail burst.

“Yes my Lord,” the servant said as he scurried away.

The stench of vomit blanketed the great room, the suffocating, stale aroma of death sucking. Niklav Bauska’s labored breathing was as a song to Mikhail’s ears. Standing at his father’s side, Mikhail allowed his eyes to slither greedily over the ring upon his father’s hand. Beaten gold, it boasted the ancient symbol of their people, the horse; it being the mark of the King, the ruling house. It will be mine. Mikhail thought as his father’s eyes struggled to open.

“Mikhail,” Niklav Bauska whispered. “I’m pleased you have come. Where is your brother?”

“He is not here.” Mikhail replied.

“Fetch him and the elders that I might set things to right before I depart this earth.” The King coughed, and turned to his side. “The bowl!” he commanded and spewed green bile into the wooden dish in Mikhail’s hands.

“Father, I cannot gather them.” Mikhail said as he set the bowl aside.

“Why?”

“There will be no transfer of power, not altering of your will.”

“Is your brain addled boy!” Niklav Bauska burst and was consumed by a fit of coughing.

“You will not live to see my birthright stolen from me!” Mikhail spit. “As I carried the demon from the house of Vilhelm to your cup; I will aid it in your demise!”

Niklav Bauska paled. “My son, what have you done?”

“Do not worry father your disappointment in me shall soon be at an end!” Mikhail cursed as he lifted the pillow at his father’s side.

“Mikhail! No!” Niklav Bauska’s cries were muffled as he gave what little energy he had left to struggle for air.

“Take what is mine would you? I have not suffered your dissatisfaction and scorn the entirety of my life to be cast aside and stripped of my birthright now!”

“No, I have loved you!”

The stifled plea of love only angered Mikhail further, lending strength to his purpose.

“Good bye father,” Mikhail snarled as the jerking stopped, he then reached for the bowl of vomit and poured it over his father’s face.

The servant jumped as Mikhail walked into the kitchen and called his name. “My Lord,” he said and he fell to the floor. “How may I serve you? Would you have me fetch the physician now?”

“No, his Lordship has fallen asleep and does not wish to be disturbed. I must give farewell to our guests then I will return to check on him. No one is to enter his room until I return. Is that understood?”

“Yes my Lord.”

Mikhail imagined the royal crown on his head and the throne beneath him as he walked toward the city gates. “Rihard!” Mikhail called out in surprise as his brother stepped through the towering entrance. “What brings you here?”

“Brother,” Rihards smiled. “Niklav came to thank us once again for our hospitality this morn, and I escorted him to the gates. They ride from here as even we speak.”

“Niklav came to you?”

“Yes, he feared father would not be up since he was not well last eave. He did not wish to disturb him.” Rihards explained.

“But I am the eldest and heir; why would he not come to me?” Mikhail’s teeth ground together.

“My brother, I’m sure it was not a purposeful slight against you.”

“Niklav is a common dog, and his pompous attitude is what offends!” Mikhail turned back toward the castle and continued before Rihards could object. “I have just received word that father is extremely ill. We should go to him.”

“Who brings word?” Rihard asked, worry creasing his brow.

“Our Lords body servant. Let us go.”

“My Lords,” the servant said scurrying up from the floor outside the King’s chambers and following them as they opened the doors.

“Father,” Rihards called as he entered the room. “Oh God!” He cried as he approached the bed. “Father!” He reached pulling his father’s lifeless body into his arms. Tears poured from his eyes as he examined his purple, vomit covered face.

“It is the plague! It is the plague!” The servant cried.

“Why did you not send for us sooner?!” Rihards screamed at the servant and pulled his arms from around his lifeless father.

“But my Lord-”

Mikhail cut off the servants response with a hard fist in the face. “Why?” Mikhail screamed forcing tears from his eyes. “Why did you not fetch the physician?!” The hard kick to the servant’s middle had him gasping for breath. “Why?!” Mikhail cried again and pulled his sword.

“No brother!” Rihard yelled as Mikhail swung the blade down and severed the man’s head.

“Oh God!” Mikhail cried. “Oh God!” Tears plunged from his face. “Our father, our father,” he yelled as he staggered toward Niklav Bauska’s bed and fell to his knees.

Rihards swallowed hard, and as the pain filled him he fell to his brother’s side and embraced him. In what Rihards thought was their shared agony, he forgot the servant and the blood on his brother’s sword.

***

As Rihards watched the knights and people of their city each formally pledge their loyalty to his brother, King Bauska Mikhail, in solemn ceremony the words his father had said to Mikhail the night of their return rang in his head. “You would sacrifice the lives of your own people to coddle your pride! You are selfish, and undeserving to be a leader.”

“Rihards,” Mikhail called. “Rihards!” he called again when his brother did not answer.

“Forgive me,” Rihards apologized. “I became lost is thought.” He tried to smile.

“The priest has asked you a question.” Mikhail said through thin lips.

“Do you swear loyalty to his majesty Lord Bauska Mikhail?” The priest reiterated.

Rihards hesitated and thought it was only a second he saw the anger it evoked in his brother. “I do swear fealty to my brother and this city.” Rihard bowed. Something twisted in his gut as Rihard watched the crown being placed on Mikhail’s head. God help us, he prayed.

Freya’s Prayer – Part Two – Loved Beauty

Posted in Anthology, Because I love to write, New Novel, New writing, Works in Progress with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2011 by cjirwin

 

Enjoy Part One, Hated Beauty.

 

Two

Loved Beauty

Three Years Before, 1427

The Village Bauska, Livonia (Medieval Latvia)

 

Freya could not suppress her smile as her father Eric prayed. Hands twitching in her brothers hands, she stood with her family in a circle. “Holy One, we ask that you protect Freya from dark and evil spirits on this day that we celebrate her coming to earth. Give her family and friends the strength to protect her on this, her fourteenth birthday.”

Eric opened his eyes and smiled down at his lovely daughter. Her black hair picked up light as she turned to smile at her two brothers. “We will protect you when you are most vulnerable,” her older brother Baylor boasted. Freya beamed him a lovely grin, her full lips red and soft.

She is nearly too lovely, Eric thought. “So, who wants to go first?”

“I do, oh me father!” Aldimar, Freya’s younger brother cried. His hazel eyes sparkling with hope.

“Very well then,” Eric said through a smile.

Aldimar’s brown curls bounced as he ran to his sister. Reaching out, he placed a fresh loaf of honey bread in her palms. “For health,” Aldimar declared and turned his little body toward his father for approval. Eric nodded at his handsome nine-year-old son.

“Baylor,” Eric said and tipped his head toward Freya.

With much more dignity, Baylor stepped to his sister and placed a single copper coin in her extended hand. With gentleness, and a deep affection lighting his eyes, he wrapped his sister’s hand around the piece of metal. “For wealth and prosperity,” leaning in he whispered. “I love you little sister.”

Freya kissed him on the cheek and thought she could never love a boy as much as she loved and adored her big brother. “Thank you Baylor. I love thee too.”

“Let’s go hang the flag! Let’s go hang the flag!” Aldimar cried as he jumped and tugged on his father’s tunic.

“Calm down,” Eric and Beta, Freya’s mother, said nearly in unison but chuckling.

Freya led the way to the front door and was pleased to receive nods and wishes of protection from people of her community already out. Her entire body shook with joy; this was her day she thought as her father hoisted their family flag over the door in honor of her birthday.

They enjoyed white cake for breakfast with charms baked into the batter for protection, while remembering things that Freya had done.

“Do you remember the time you and Ionia cut your hair and tried to run away?” Baylor asked, laughter bubbling from his chest.

“You looked like boy!” Aldimar hooted.

“Hey! These are supposed to be nice stories!” Freya complained, but couldn’t help but to laugh along with her family.

“Alright, you children can run along,” Eric said to Freya, Baylor and Aldimar. “Boys don’t forget to say the protection prayers over your sister, and don’t leave her. And stay away from the house of Vilhelm they have the Sickness.”

“Yes father,” Baylor solemnly nodded his head.

“So where are we going?” Freya asked as they walked away from their home.

“I heard that Lord Bauska -Niklav expects travelers soon. It could be today.”

“Truly! How exciting!”

“If we wait near the gates we may see them.” Baylor smiled.

“We may also see your Brea.” Freya grinned at the hope that grew on her older brother’s face.

“It is my plan.”

They tossed dice near the wide, wooden gates attached to walls of menacingly pointed pillars. Baylor regularly glanced toward Brea’s house located near the front gates of their village. It was near the main lodge. Brea was the granddaughter of Lord Bauska- Niklav, daughter of his second son Rihards, but Baylor could not help the love that welled inside him for her. His breath hitched in his throat as she stepped out her door. Her fine golden hair, pulled back in a braid, cast the sunlight back toward the sky, her grey eyes lighting as soon as she saw his face.

With pretenses of going to wish Freya safety on her birthday, Brea lightly walked toward the boy who filled her heart.  “Freya,” she called, her voice smooth, honey. “Blessed day to you. Has your family hung their flag to honor your day of birth?” She spoke to Freya but looked at Baylor.

“Yes they have. Your day of celebration is soon right?” Freya asked.

“Yes,” Brea smiled at the thought and turned, for a moment, to Freya. “My sixteenth is coming. My Father will announce who my betrothed is at the celebration. I have great hopes it will be your brother.” Brea stopped, red rising under her peach skin, “excuse me,” she said looking to Baylor. “I had not intended to say so much.”

“Do not worry my love,” Baylor whispered. “It is my prayer as well.” Smiling, he reached for her hand. Brea glanced toward her house and seeing no parent or adults slid her hand into his.

***

“Please Father,” Freya pleaded. “Baylor will be with me. All the youth are going; I am now fourteen.”

“Baylor you plan to attend the bonfire this eave?” Eric asked as he ladled another spoonful of rabbit stew into his mouth.

“I had hoped to Father. That is, of course, if you approve.”

“Will Rihard’s daughter be there?” Beta asked as she set a loaf of steaming bread on the dinner table.

“I believe so.” Baylor said filling his mouth with bread.

“Son,” Eric said looking at his Baylor. “I have done all in my power to put your name in her father’s ear, but she is above your station. Despite the fact our holdings are greater than most here, we are not royalty. Rihard waits even now for word from the village to the east on word of a royal marriage between the houses.”    

“I am aware father.” Baylor said taking a deep breath. “But I must try. My heart is hers, I am powerless.”

Sympathy filled Eric’s eyes, and he said a little prayer to the Great One for his son’s happiness. “Go then, both of you.”

Freya’s smile filled the room. Baylor’s mind was too burdened to think to lift his lips.

“But if any of the Vilhelm children are there you are to leave.”

“I believe the whole house is too ill to be out.” Freya said. “The baby died in the night last eave.”

“God help us.” Beta whispered.

“It is the Black Death then?” Eric asked turning to Beta.

“It seems to be. The babe’s throat was black.”

“You went to that house!?” Eric’s voice rose in fear.

“No my husband, that is by word of Danya’s mouth.”  Beta defended.

“Um,” Freya ventured. “The fire is to be lit at sunset.”

“Go then,” Eric smiled.

Freya’s heart thumped loudly against her ribs as they approached the North field. Young people moved to toss limbs and branches onto the large pile left from clearing the field.

“Baylor!” A thick, virile voice called out. “Tis about time you arrived. We thought we would have to give light to the pile without you!”

“I couldn’t let you that, now could I Richard. Simply wouldn’t be right since I have done most of the work to clear this field.” Baylor smiled and slapped his friend on the back.

“You!” Richard crowed. “I am twice the man my friend, and thus did twice the work.”

Freya smiled at the two young men. Richard had always been there with Baylor, they had been inseparable as long as she could remember. Richards eyes frothed with delight, like a boiling blue sea, Freya could not rip her gaze from him. His full angled lips, always lifted, made something inside her sing. His long golden hair, always braided back, tidy, clean, not like the other boys, made her fingers itch to feel. His hearty, carefree laugh made her forget even the death that loomed at their cities door.

“I see you have brought your lovely sister.” Richard said as he turned to Freya.

The full force of his eyes made her gasp inside.

“Aye, that I have. Would you keep an eye on her for me for a moment? Have you seen Brea?” Baylor said as he looked around.

“I am not a baby to be coddled.” Freya complained scowling at her brother.

“I would be most pleased to keep my eyes on your sister.” Richard said with a shrewd smile.

Freya smiled forgetting her objection, and Baylor raised an eyebrow at his friends tone.

“What?” Richard asked beaming him a smile. “Oh look,” he said pointing. “Is that Brea?”

Without another word, Baylor stepped quickly away.

“Richard!” A young boy called holding a torch. “If you do not light this I will.”

“Go ahead brother!” Richard called back. “I have more pressing matters.” Richard smiled at Freya, and his brother shrugged his shoulders and tossed the flame onto the pile of wood. With crackles and sparks it came to life evoking cheers and smiles from the young people around.

“Now who has the brew?” Someone called making Richard smile.

“I have something for you.” Richard said reaching for Freya’s hand. “Come on.” He led her to a log near the growing bonfire, and reached beside it after they sat.

“Oh!” Freya gasped as he pulled out a bouquet of daisies. “They’re beautiful!” She lifted the white pedals to her nose and drew in a deep breath.

“Not nearly as lovely as you,” Richard ran the tip of his finger along her jaw. “I wanted to give you something in honor of your day of birth and decide you were much too beautiful for bread. So then I thought I would give you a coin, but they are so cold. When I saw these flowers I wondered if I had seen anything more divine? The first thing that came to mind was your face.”

Freya wanted to cry. “You are too kind.” She swallowed hard.

“No, I am not nearly kind enough.” Richard smiled. “May I also give you another gift?”

“Another!” Freya grinned. “You would make me the envy of all the girls.”

“May I then, do you trust me?” Richards’s voice was so light, so fun.

“That I do.” Freya smiled, and was shocked when he laid his hands on either side of her face.

“May I kiss thy lips?” he whispered.

Unable to speak, Freya simply nodded her head.

Richards’s lips were soft, warm, against hers. His breath was sweet wine against her skin. Insides humming, she reacted to him, pushed toward him invitingly. He sucked in a breath, and drew her warmth against him as the kiss built. Everything faded for Freya except his heat, lips and form against her. In that instant everything changed, never to be the same.

Shouts and cheers from the people around the fire interrupted the kiss. They drew apart still lost in each other’s eyes.

“Richard you lucky bastard!” A male voice called out.

Richard chuckled. “It Seems I am to be the envy of all my friends.”

Freya blushed, too shaken to speak.

***

“Welcome home Father,” Rihards called as he stepped through the heavy wooden door to King Niklav-Bauska’s chamber.

“Rihard! My boy! I have missed you.” Niklav-Bauska called out. “Where have you been?”

“Many apologies My Lord, I had to attend to the house of Vilhelm. Last eve they lost their youngest daughter, and this very day Sir Vilhelm lost both his sons.”

“God forbid! Then it is the Black Death!” Niklav-Bauska replied all traces of humor gone.

“Yes Father as we feared.”

Niklav-Bauska ran his wrinkled hand over his thick grey beard. “And we are helpless against it?”

“Aye,” Rihard said as he filled a goblet with wine from his father’s table. “The physician says the entire family has the demon in them.”

“He believes they will all die?”

Rihards only nodded.

“God help us.”

“Yes, I fear many more will meet Him before we are through this.”

“I have other unfortunate news my son.”

Rihards took a deep breath. “Were your trading efforts not successful with Lord Tallinn? What of the suitor for my daughter?”

“I failed on all accounts.” Niklav-Bauska shook his head. “Your brother has disappointed again.”

“Are you surprised Father? What has Mikhail done this time?”

“He gave Tallinn’s wife the horn in his own house!” Though disgusted, Niklav-Bauska couldn’t help the smile.

“Mikhail bed the Queen!?”

“Aye, apparently that old bastard wasn’t giving his young queen the time she deserved so your brother took it upon himself to fulfill her every desire. The stupid braggart got caught though, and we scarcely escaped with our heads!”

“So there shan’t be an alliance in the near future between our people.” Rihards commented rubbing his knuckles along his chin.

“I’d venture to say nay, and pray that we don’t end up with a war on our hands over the whole ordeal!”

“War?”

“Aye, never have I seen a man more angry. Their people suffer the demon disease, and though I hate to think it, that may save us. There is more I want to discuss Rihard, but I hear your brother.” Bauska turned to the knock at the door. “Come!”

Mikhail marched into the room, his thick jaw, covered with dark hair already firmly set in a scowl.

“Big Brother,” Rihards called. Mikhail turned to him, his face softening slightly. “Welcome home.”

“Rihards,” Mikhail’s gruff voice returned as they embraced.

Rihards is the only person Mikhail has ever truly loved. Niklav-Bauska thought as he watched his sons embrace.

“You wanted to see me father?” Mikhail asked.

“Yes, I feel I have calmed enough to speak to you on what happened at Tallinn. What do you have to say?”

“Must I explain myself? I bedded a whore!”

“Must you explain yourself?” Niklav-Bauska burst! “You bedded the damn Queen of a neighboring village! You cost us a valuable trading partner and a husband for your niece Brea! God damn Mikhail! Tallinn has iron we need; what are we to do now!? You may have just caused a blasted war!”

“Good!” Mikhail yelled back. “You would suck King Tallinn’s cock! He over charges us, speaks to us as if we were common slaves, and you wish to make alliance! We should take the iron. We should take the land! We do not need that spineless, old, rat! His people are sick, now is the time to move!”

“You would sacrifice the lives of your own people to coddle your pride! You are selfish, and undeserving to be a leader!” Niklav- Bauska’s face burned brightly the veins bulging.

“You doubt my ability to lead!?” Mikhail cursed, Rihards reached for his shoulder, reached to calm him. Mikhail hit his hand away.

“Aye, I do! I have given it great thought and not only do I doubt your ability, I am also ashamed to call you my son! As of this moment you are no longer my heir!”

Rihards gasped and stepped back from his enraged brother.

“Rihards is far more capable to lead.” Niklav-Bauska said more calmly.

Mikhail’s body shook as he turned and walked from the room. We will see old man, Mikhail thought. I’ll watch the life eke from your body before I let you take my birthright!

 

As Mikhail stormed from the building he interrupted a servant’s conversation. “They say that the demon sickness gets in the blood. Oh, Lord Mikhail.”

“What are you doing standing around!” Mikhail screamed and knocked the man down.

“Forgive me My Lord.” The servant begged and cowered.

Mikhail kicked the man in the stomach. “Get back to work you worthless scum!”

The two servants scurried away before Mikhail could unleash any more fury.

“Blood, huh,” Mikhail said with a wicked smile and stepped into the night.

Mikhail took a deep breath, rallying his courage and knocked on the door of Sir Vilhelm’s home. When no one answered, he let himself in and was assaulted by the stench of death. Wailing carried through the house as a mother grieved over the dead child in her arms. Vomit caked around her purple little lips, Vilhelm’s last child had bled to death after the gruesome looking swelling and bruising in her neck had ruptured. Lost in their grief and suffering the sickness themselves, the couple did not even notice Mikhail slip into the room where there other children lay dead in rows on the floor. Mikhail’s stomach turned, and he held his shirt to his mouth and nose. Yanking the cover off one of one of the children, Mikhail drew his dagger, gagged, regained himself, then simply laid the metal on the pus, blood and maggots that moved on the child’s neck. He bolted from the house, doubling over gasping for air as he exited.

It was rare for Mikhail to want to bathe, but as he entered the Main Lodge’s kitchen, he yearned for a tub of hot water and lye soap. Perfect!  Mikhail thought as he watched his father’s servant prepare his tray.

“Lord Mikhail!” The servant cried out startled and dropped prostrate to the floor.

“I will take that to the King.” Mikhail said harshly.

“Yes my lord, of course.” The servant said face on the dusty wood.

Mikhail sneered as he stirred his father’s beer with his bloody knife. “On second thought,” Mikhail said nudging the servant with his foot. “You go ahead. Don’t doddle; you know how his Lordship hates to be hungry.”

“As you wish Lord Mikhail,” The servant stood, gathered the tray and hurried away from Mikhail.