Archive for death

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 One – Hated Beauty

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

Freya’s Prayer

Part One

Hated Beauty

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freya only had tears.

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

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

Dumping her, he demanded, “wash!”

Freya’s swallowed hard, “no.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Anthology – Freya’s Prayer

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

A New Anthology – Freya’s Prayer

About a year ago, I finished my first novel, Asmodeus. I hope and pray that my struggles will bear fruit, and I will find a publisher so all of my wonderful readers can enjoy it fully. In the course of writing Korina’s story in Asmodeus, I created a young character named Freya. She is only mentioned in passing, in one paragraph, in one chapter. The flow and plot of the novel wouldn’t allow for me to expound on who she was. I found myself wondering about her, and it saddened me to think her story of pain and strength in the face of despair could not be told. Young, beautiful and abused, she lived and suffered in my mind. I decided I had to give her a home, a voice, and so began a new anthology, Freya’s Prayer.

 

I hope you read of and grow to love this character as I have.

C.J. Irwin

Heart Eaters – Part Eight – Doug

Posted in Because I love to write, New writing, Nightmare with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2010 by cjirwin

Heart Eaters

Part Eight

Doug

 

The spaghetti splattered onto Doug’s plate, he speared it again with his fork, dragged it in little circles, the soggy noodles leaving trails of bland red sauce in their wake. Doug heaved a sigh. The last three days at the hospital had been miserable without her. He had thought that his job was ok, even that he liked it, but now he wondered if it was Lucy that made him happy to come to work. The idea of making her smile, even for only a second, the smell of her in the hall, just the knowing that she’s close, were these things what made him smile throughout his workday. With the way he felt he tended to believe so, and he decided that was just fine. Depressed at the prospect of two more days without seeing her face, Doug leaned back in his chair and wondered, once again, if there was anything he could have done to avoid the suspension he had dealt her.

Damn! I’m crazy about her! He thought as he remembered the way her hair had smelled of lavender and vanilla. Lavender, she must love lavender. She has certainly created a fondness in me for the scent. I wonder if I could go by and see her again? She didn’t really invite me back, he pondered. Maybe, I could go by after work? Wait, no, I have the potential buyer coming to look at mom’s house at five… dang! Maybe, I could reschedule. No, no, I can’t. I really need to sell the house.

Doug continued to maul his lunch as he went over the many changes he had made to his parents’ house since their passing nearly a year and a half ago. It took his mind back to Chicago, and the potential his career had had there before he came to be with his sick mother. The youngest of seven, he wasn’t surprised to get the call, his parents were old. She passed soon after his arrival, heart failure, and his father, his mother’s lifelong love, had passed in his sleep only two weeks later. It had been difficult for Doug, but it had also seemed so right for them to go so close together.  It had never been one plus one with them. They had always just been one.

The smashing of glass, the clinging of metal fork and spoon, and the curse of a frustrated nurse that had just lost her lunch to the cold, blue speckled tile, jolted Doug from his memories. His eyes found Lucy’s habitual lunch break seat as he rose and dumped the hospital’s poor excuse for food into the trash.

*****

 

The fragrance of apples and cinnamon danced in the air exciting and tantalizing Susan’s and Lucy’s children. Minute particles of flour hovered in the streams of late afternoon sun that poured through the kitchen windows, and Susan and Lucy chatted through lifted lips as they baked.

“Damn!” Susan cursed dropping the rolling-pin beside the pastry. “I tore it again.”

Lucy moved beside her, retrieved the rolling-pin and began smoothing and shaping, quickly repairing.

“How do you do that?” Susan said with a smile as she refilled her wine glass.

“You are too impatient with the dough.” Lucy said, turning to Susan as she wrapped the now perfectly shaped and tear-free pie crust around the rolling-pin then eased it into the pie tin.

“Well you always had me when it came to baking, but give me a rump of beef and a few potatoes and I’ll give you the Mona Lisa of main dishes.”

Lucy laughed. The sound tickled Susan’s heart.

“Luce, I have a favor to ask.” Susan said.

“Anything.”

“I want you to come look at a house with me.” Susan said, but hurried on when Lucy raised an eyebrow. “It’s on Oak Street, you know off Main.”

“Yes, I know where Oak Street is.” Lucy replied the smile growing on her face. “Susan what does this mean?”

“I miss you, I miss home. The only reason we were in Lincoln was for Jonathan’s family. Jonathan is gone,” Susan paused. “I never grew very close to his family, and I’m ready to come home. I have savings from working the past two years, and there was some life insurance. Anyway, I have more than enough-”

“So you’re staying!” Lucy threw her arms around Susan almost knocking them to the floor. “This is the most wonderful news I’ve heard in years!”

“Yes, and it’s the most wonderful news I’ve had to give in years. So you’ll look at the house with me? I have to meet the owner at five thirty.”

“Yes!”

Sheets of water pounded against the windshield as Susan struggled to get to her appointment on time. Gusts of wind tore the few remaining leaves from their limbs and tossed them against her car. Susan hated storms; tornadoes were the only thing that bothered her about moving back home.

“There,” Lucy said squinting. “That’s it, 201 Oak Street, that little blue house.”

Doug heard the car pull into the drive with relief. As he walked toward the door, he heard high-pitched cursing that  he figured was directed at the weather and smiled. “Mrs. Harmon,” he called as he opened the door then froze when he saw Susan’s face. “Susan!”

“Doug!” Susan said eyes wide. “I guess it’s Mr. Doug Harding, funny that we never exchanged first names.”

“Yes,” he said smiling. “Lucy?” He called as she jumped from the car into the rain and ran for the porch. His heart flipped in his chest making him feel twelve years old.

“Doug,” she said as she lowered her umbrella and shook it slightly. “Susan never told me you were the homeowner.”

“No, we neglected to give our first names for some reason.” Doug said unable to remove his eyes from her. She glowed, brighter than he had ever seen her; it made his mind reel with pleasure.

Doug endeavored to focus as he showed them the house. Laughter, even giggles spilled from Lucy and Susan as they examined the lovely little place. Unable to avoid it, he joined them often and made no effort to control his desire to let his eyes soak in and lick at the corners of Lucy’s bright face.

“It’s perfect!” Susan declared. “Three rooms, two bathrooms, which means, I get my own, close to Lucy’s, remodeled well,” she said looking to Doug. “Did you do the remodeling yourself?”

“Yes, I like carpentry. It gave me things to do after work, which was a distraction after my parents died.

“Oh, I’m sorry Doug. I didn’t realize.” Lucy said feeling ashamed. I worked with him and didn’t even know. How self-absorbed have I been?

“It’s ok now. That’s why I’m here actually. I moved from Chicago when my mother fell ill, and didn’t go to war for the same reason. My father couldn’t be without her and died a short time later.

Like a cannonball the guilt hit, all this time he has mourned too. He reached out, tried to lift you, and you merely brushed him aside with a polite smile. How cruel to not even notice his pain, and judge him for not going to war without even knowing the cause. Lucy berated herself.

“So,” Doug said interrupting Lucy’s internal rant. “Do you want it?”

“Yes!” Susan proclaimed and spun around taking in what would soon be hers.

“Wonderful!” Doug beamed. “I’ll get started on the paperwork. We can have you set up in a week.”

“Thank you Doug.” Susan chirped.

Lucy and Susan chattered about color schemes, rental trucks and furniture stores as they sauntered toward the front door. Doug smiled uncontrollably at the light he saw all over the two women. Happiness was banging at Lucy’s door, and he prayed with all his might that she’d let it in.

As Doug moved to open the door for them it reminded Lucy of the thoughts he had interrupted earlier. “Doug,” Lucy said thoughtfully.

“Yes?”

“Susan and I have been cooking and baking this afternoon, and I wonder if you’d like to come join us for dinner? We have more than enough.”

“That would be lovely,” he jumped.

“Great,” Lucy smiled. “It’ll be soon, if that is alright? Susan and I were just going to get some wine in town then head home.”

“Yeah,” Susan added. “Some one seems to have drunk all our wine.” They laughed.

“Why don’t you ladies allow me to pick up the wine and meet you there? Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, what is your desire?” Doug inquired.

“Merlot,” they answered in unison.

“Ok, see you in a few.”

*****

 

“Well ladies,” Doug said leaning back in his cherry wood chair, “that was probably the best roast, and pie I have ever eaten!”

“Oh, now you lie simply to make my little sister feel good.” Susan crowed as she refilled her wine glass.

“Surly your mothers were better than ours,” Lucy said, the words warm as they feel off her wine stained lips.

“No, my mother was an excellent mother, but a horrible cook.” Doug laughed. “Everything was mixture, some of this, some of that, terrible! To this day, I cannot eat casserole and enjoy it.”

Lucy watched him as he remembered his mother; his laughter was like little fingers inside her chest that pulled at the knots and cords choking her heart. The sound of her own laughter startled her and made her want to weep with joy. This is what it must have been like for Rip Van Winkle, Lucy thought. What beauty to be awake, what joy to feel more than emptiness.

For hours they talked, laughed, drank, lived. Lucy’s insides hummed like a bee on the wind, ecstatic to feel alive.

Doug was telling Susan and Lucy what is was like to grow up with six siblings. Face bright, he was recalling a time when two of his older sisters had fought.

“Oh my,” Susan interrupted. “Are you serious? She actually swung a hot frying pan at her!”

“Yes, but it was because Sarah had thrown a loaf of bread at her!”

“It sound like fun,” Susan laughed and noticed Lucy staring at Doug.

 Doug did too, his heart and body stirred. Lucy looked away, her cheeks bright red.

“Anyway, Doug, I had a lovely time. I’m tired though, and think I’m going to head off.” Susan bent, planted a kiss on his cheek.

“It was lovely. I’m so happy you’ll be staying.”

“I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed myself this much,” Lucy said as Susan walked up the stairs.

“I can’t either.” He sipped his wine, trying not to stare at her gorgeous face, he failed. “You’re so beautiful.”

Lucy smiled, surprising him. “Well, I told Susan that you were pretty attractive, but that was a lie.”

“Oh really,” Doug said leaning toward her. “Do you not think so?”

Lucy shook her head. “No, I would have to say that you’re closer to incredibly handsome.”

In one swift move, he leaned in and laid his lips against hers. She jumped but quickly relaxed into the softness of his mouth. It was tender, slow, simmering. Lucy gave into his arms as he pulled her to him. Hotter, fiercer it built; Lucy twined her fingers in his hair as his grip around her tightened. Somehow -she didn’t care by what force- Lucy found herself straddling his lap. She moaned as his hands caressed her shoulders, her back, and her ass. A year of pent-up desire beat at the edges of Doug’s control as he fought the urge to take her there, pleasure her right on the table. God, how he wanted her.

“Doug,” the word rasped out of her throat.

“Lucy,” he breathed ravaging her mouth once more.

Lucy danced inside at the immense desire she felt as she pulled at his shirt. It was so real, so overwhelming.

“Wait, wait,” he forced the words out.

Breathing hard, face flushed, she pulled her lips from his.

“I don’t want you to feel like I’m pushing you. I mean, I haven’t even taken you out on a date.” He ran his finger along her jaw, and acutely felt the warmth of her bare back against his other hand.

“You’er right,” Lucy said leaning her cheek into his hand. “I don’t know Doug. Are you sure you want me? I think I’m broken inside. Really, I’m not sure of what I am ready for.”

“You’re not broken. You’re perfect. You’re what I want. We can do this slowly, let me take you out.” He said, and just because he could he pulled her face to his again and softly kissed her.

  “Ok, I’ll give you a chance if you’re willing to take one on me.”

Like heaven, like springtime, like a fire in the night, that was what he felt as she spoke and laid  her head on his shoulder.

He lifted her and walked to the couch. Sitting, he said. “Just let me hold you, feel you near to me.”

She snuggled into his side, breathing deeply his warmth and slept without nightmares for the first time in over a year.