Archive for fear

Section Two – Part Five – Saved

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

Section Two – Part Five – Saved

Chapter Five

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 Bauska only nodded.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Oh God help me! Korina prayed.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“I am well, but I am very thirsty.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The idea of that vile creature bound made her smile.

 

“What will become of him?”

 

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

 

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

 

“Will they do nothing?” She asked.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Yes,” Korina whispered.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Thank you.” Korina reached to embrace her.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Different?” Korina reached for her daughter Emilya.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

***

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

***

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

 

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

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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 – Part Three- A New King –

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

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

Freya’s Prayer

Chapter Three

A New King

 

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

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

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

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

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

“He is well my Lord.” Korina replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niklav simply smiled politely.

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

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

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

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

***

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

“Are you well father?” Rihards asked.

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

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

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

“Father!” Rihards gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

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

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

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

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

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

“Shall I fetch the physician and Lord Rihards?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He is not here.” Mikhail replied.

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, I have loved you!”

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

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

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

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

“Yes my Lord.”

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

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

“Niklav came to you?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Our Lords body servant. Let us go.”

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

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

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

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

“But my Lord-”

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freya’s Prayer – Part Two – Loved Beauty

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

 

Enjoy Part One, Hated Beauty.

 

Two

Loved Beauty

Three Years Before, 1427

The Village Bauska, Livonia (Medieval Latvia)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You looked like boy!” Aldimar hooted.

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

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

“Yes father,” Baylor solemnly nodded his head.

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

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

“Truly! How exciting!”

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

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

“It is my plan.”

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“God help us.” Beta whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

“Go then,” Eric smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full force of his eyes made her gasp inside.

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

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

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

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

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

Without another word, Baylor stepped quickly away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“May I kiss thy lips?” he whispered.

Unable to speak, Freya simply nodded her head.

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

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

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

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

Freya blushed, too shaken to speak.

***

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

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

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

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

“Yes Father as we feared.”

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

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

“He believes they will all die?”

Rihards only nodded.

“God help us.”

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

“I have other unfortunate news my son.”

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

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

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

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

“Mikhail bed the Queen!?”

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

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

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

“War?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rihards gasped and stepped back from his enraged brother.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Ten – Lucy – The Culmination

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

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

Part Ten

Lucy – The Culmination –

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re exquisite!” Doug breathed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh,” Lucy responded.

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

“Oh, thank you.” Lucy smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sirens filled the air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They ran.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can walk,” she mewed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No!” Lucy cried.

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

“No, I can’t leave him!”

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

Lucy struggled to pull Doug toward the stairwell.

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

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

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

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

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

“Forgive me my love.”

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

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

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

The door opened and they hurriedly gathered them inside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Three months later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m terrible at this game.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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