Blogophilia 52.10 – Jorick Part 2
It’s time again for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blog. This week;s prompts are:
I missed last week, sadly, so I’m now a week behind. Dang it! I’m blaming Jonathan just because he blames me for stuff. What are evil twin brothers for?
When we left off, Jorick had just been released from the Executioners and was on his way home to his nervous wife, whose neighbors have been recently calling her a witch…
Jorick traveled all the next night, and most of the third. As he drew closer he imagined Velnya waiting for him. In his mind she sat behind the large window, moonlight kissing her raven hair and tracing her delicate features; her oval face, her dainty nose, her full red lips. He conjured an image of her deep violet eyes, fringed in heavy lashes, demurely looking down as a flush stole across her porcelain cheeks. She was so easy to fluster, to embarrass.
The opposite of her sister.
He wasn’t sure why Velnya’s family came to mind suddenly. Her sister, Jeda, looked similar to her sister, but harder, haughtier, stronger and colder. Both her bearing and coloring called to mind a winter queen, expecting obedience, beholden only to her king. And what a choice she’d made. Traven was…Snake like. Though his appearance was pleasing, with long, shimmering chestnut hair and fine features, there was something sneaky about him, something cowardly despite his boasts of bravado. Jorick had never been able to lay his finger on the exact cause. Though he was a mind reader, Traven and Jeda were both hard to read. He could push it, of course, and force their minds open like walnut shells, but they’d know it – they’d feel it – and that was hardly acceptable to do to your wife’s family.
Velnya, on the other hand, was easy to read. Her thoughts were loud and clear, like crystal. Logic said that since she was of the same blood as the other two, she should be able to block him, to keep her secrets to herself, but either she couldn’t, or wouldn’t. Jorick had contemplated working with her, teaching her to do what Traven and Jeda did, but it was a double edged sword. Yes, it would protect her from others, and not just her, but his own secrets as well. However, it would also protect her thoughts from him. It wasn’t that he had to know her every thought but…
But it makes it easier.
Oren’s wife had lectured him on it once. “No woman wants her thoughts invaded! If she is your wife – your equal partner – then you should afford her the same respect you would offer to any man.”
Jorick bit back a smirk. Oren. His fledgling, made because…because he’d asked for it. He still remembered the night Oren had strode through the door, demanding to be “given whatever curse you bear.”
Curse had been an interesting choice of words, but being superstitious and overtly devoted to his religion, Oren had believed the devil or a demon was involved. And maybe it is. God, if he existed at all, surely didn’t bless, nor love creatures who broke his commandments on a nightly basis, draining mortals for their sustenance.
Not that it’s so far removed from mortals slaughtering an animal for their meal.
That had been Malick’s reasoning. Just as Mortals were above animals, so they were now above mortals. “It is only natural that we should have dominion over the weaker creatures of this world. We are stronger, faster, longer-lived. We are humanity perfected. Should not the perfect have their way with the defective?”
It was an interesting notion, one Jorick had bounced back and forth with. Sometimes he believed it, and other times he wasn’t entirely sure. The doubt was strongest when he was away from Malick, away from the citadel and his brethren. When he was surrounded by mortals, privy to their thoughts, or when he was with Velnya.
He remembered the first time he’d taken her to feed. She’d followed him, hands twisting nervously, wild thoughts fluttering. “I don’t know how to hunt.”
“You must learn,” he’d explained gently. “It’s a lesson Traven should have taught you long ago.”
“There have always been servants,” she murmured. “They handled such things. Or gave of themselves.”
He saw a mesh of moments in her mind, as she and her family drank their meals from goblets and decanters.
“Such is fine for genteel company, but we will no longer be in such a world. Nebraska Territory will be-”
“Wild,” Velnya said softly. A thousand fears screamed at him from her mind; dirt, Indians, miles and miles of empty space, peppered with bizarre and terrifying creatures.
He stopped to take her hands and chuckled. “It is not so bad as that, darling. I would not take you to a place such as the one you imagine. You will have a servant, but only one, and she may not have time to find your meal for you. Or, if something happens and she is sick, or lame. You need to be able to feed yourself.”
Her eyes had dropped to the ground and her cheeks flushed. “You must find me so useless.”
“Not useless, only untrained. Come, let us find our meal.”
He’d led her through the dark streets of Springfield, Massachusetts, seeking the perfect human. He eventually found a man who was drunk and alone. Jorick lured him to an alleyway and readied to strike, when Velnya grabbed his arm.
“Jorick! Surely you do not mean to drink from this man, here, in the street?”
“Would you rather I take him home?”
The reply was in jest, but she’d taken it seriously. “Of course not! But when you sad to hunt, I imagined animals, like the rats on the ocean voyage.”
Jorick saw a glimpse of her memories, of herself and Jeda disdainfully holding rats by the tails as Traven instructed them to drink.
“You can feed from animals, of course,” Jorick explained patiently. “But humans taste better.”
“You would murder them because they please your palette more?” she demanded. “They are weaker than we, it is our job to steward them, not to prey upon them. It is akin to stealing from frightened children.”
Jorick had struggled for a coherent argument. For every quote of Malick’s, she had a rebuttal. For every logical point, she had a counter. At last he gave up, let the man go, and took her home. While she drank from her goblet, he looked for Nan, the servant who would accompany them to Nebraska. A woman in her forties with the beginning of gray hair, her plump figure gave her an air of stoutness and reliability. Her dark, no-nonsense eyes said she wasn’t one for beating around the bush, so Jorick went right to the point.
“Can you hunt? For blood.”
“For the mistress, sir?” Nan asked. “Of course.”
“You’ve done it before?”
Nan shrewdly looked him up and down, something few human servants would dare to do. “I have not needed to, sir, but I am intelligent enough to figure out such a task should it be required. However, I assumed we would have our own livestock to bleed? Is that not a more suitable situation?”
“It would mean more work.” He said bluntly. “You would have the house, Velnya, and then the addition of livestock to care for.”
She huffed it away. “A flock of chickens would be easy enough, sir, and perhaps a couple of goats, or a cow, all things that will be expected of us to have. As for the mistress, she is not much work.”
Jorick knew that was a lie, but he let it go. The woman seemed equal to the task and, besides, he was already bargaining with Malick for his freedom. He’d be home soon and then he could handle hunting for her.
Jorick shook his head. That had been thirteen years ago. Thirteen. In that time the Guild had moved from Springfield to Iowa, and he’d spilled gallons of blood in Malick’s order. But that was behind him now. Daniel was the last victim of his master’s whims, the last vampire he would ever punish under Guild orders. He was finally finished.
The familiar terrain came into view. He passed through the town, following the river, and then continued on for twenty minutes. In the distance he could see the brick house. Small, with only five rooms, it boasted a large glass window in the front parlor. Velnya had insisted on it, saying it was to keep up appearances to their mortal neighbors. Though she hadn’t spoken the rest aloud, Jorick knew it was because the window meant civilization to her, a sign of refinement, of the kind of house she was used to. And how could he begrudge her that? He had, however, refused to allow one in their bedroom.
Not having to cover over dangerous windows is one of the reasons to build your own den.
Behind the cheerful brick home was a chicken coop, a little barn that housed the horses, goats and the cow, a rabbit hutch, and Nan’s outhouse. Few trees were scattered around, but one large one stood not far from the back of the house, its heavy branches shading the yard where the fowl sometimes clucked through the grass. In the summer it would be ringed in flowers, as would the beds before the house. Their sweet scent would linger in the air, and lend a soft quality to evenings spent on the porch.
He smiled to himself as he contemplated the coming summer. It would be the first that he would spend completely at home, lingering, enjoying his wife and the peace, asking himself “is time irrelevant?” No midnight summons, no messengers with assignments, not letters with commands. No-
His thoughts broke away when he noticed there was no smoke from the chimney. Though light was not necessary for their eyes, it was for Nan’s, and the fire was needed to cook the woman’s food and do how many other tasks. That she would let the hearth go cold seemed wrong. But then, she was not a young woman anymore. Nearly sixty, perhaps she had fallen ill, leaving the care of the place to Velnya? Jorick wasn’t sure his wife knew how to keep a fire. No matter. He’d handle it when he got there.
Still, he spurred the horse to go faster. The closer they drew, the more unsettled he became. The front window was boarded over, no doubt repaired after the assault, so he could not see inside, but he should have been able to sense them; sense her and the mortal Nan. Sense –
As he came around, he saw the door, gaping wide, the inside of the house dark. Something was scattered across the lawn, bits of white that reflected the moonlight. He dug in his heels until the horse ran full tilt, and barley let it slow before he jumped off, skidding to a halt in the grass. He ran towards the house, his eyes jumping from object to object. The litter in the yard was their belongings; a smashed pitcher, broken plates, bits of clothing. The air was heavy with the smell of blood.
Jorick ran over the broken items and through the open door. Inside the house he found chaos. The sideboard was cleared off, and a stand overturned. The bookcase was broken and a pile of books had been trampled and ruined. Dried blood soaked into the rug – the absurd rug Velnya had called “genteel”.
Jorick knelt quickly, sniffing the carnage, but it was human. Nan’s, perhaps. More blood was splattered on the wall, and hole in the plaster told him a bullet was to blame. That blood was not Nan’s, but a man’s.
“Velnya!” Jorick jerked to his feet and spun in a circle. “Velnya!”
Only silence answered.
He raced through the house, each room worse than the last, until he reached their bedroom. The door had been broken, and inside the wardrobe stood open, clothes and possessions scattered. Velnya’s jewelry box, a lone shoe, a packet of letters tied with a ribbon. The bedclothes were tossed and the bed pulled away from the wall at an angle. Only the red velvet curtains remained unharmed.
He forced himself to stop, to calm. To think. A man had been here, one that had been shot – no doubt Nan’s doing. Either his wound was not life threatening, or he’d had an accomplice who’d helped him escape, because he was gone now. As are Nan and Velnya. No doubt they’d run after shooting the man, using the confusion as a distraction. But where had they gone? Into town? No, Velnya had said that the shopkeeper would not even sell to them. They would get no shelter there. The neighbors perhaps, though he doubted they would be any friendlier. Perhaps, the pair were still on the property.
He drew a deep breath and concentrated, reaching out with his senses. He could feel the chickens outside, wandering around in the early morning hours instead of bedded down in their coop. And then he felt the human life.
He hurried out the door and around to the back of the house. As he rounded the corner the scent of her blood hit him hard, coupled with something burnt. He ignored the latter and hurried to where she sat slumped against the house, a hand pressed to a bleeding wound, and the crimson smeared rifle at her side.
“Sir,” she croaked as he knelt next to her. “Oh, sir.”
Tear tracks ran through the soot on her face, leaving tell-tale rivers of misery. But even as she addressed him, she gazed beyond, at something else. Something…
His chest tightened as he turned to follow her gaze. Her eyes were pinned to the large tree, where wisps of smoke curled up into the darkness. The smell seemed to grow stronger as he acknowledged it; burnt wood, burnt grass, scorched earth, burnt flesh.
He knew that scent, had smelled it hundreds of times, perhaps thousands. The smell of death, of a burned body, of a vampire who’d been set on fire.
No. God, no.
“I…I tried,” Nan croaked. Other words followed, words that didn’t filter through the roaring in Jorick’s ears. The world narrowed, constricted, until there was only him and the smoking tree; the blackened chain wrapped around it, the pile of ashes heaped between the roots. His feet moved on their own, closer and closer, until he stood over it. The tree’s trunk was concave, a portion of it burned out, so that a good wind might topple it onto the chicken coop. The chain was loose, as if something had once been inside it, strapped against the bark, and the ashes…the ashes shifted in the breeze, revealing the smooth, charred dome of a skull.
The moments disappeared. One moment he was hovering there, uncomprehending, the next he was on his knees, hands covered in soot as he dug, desperate to prove it wasn’t her. The metal glinted among the mess and he fished it out. Still hot from the fire, the blackened cross burned his palm as he tightened his fist around it and fell back on his haunches.
Her cross. It was her cross.
He roared his fry to the darkness, breaking off only when he felt the accusing stare. His eyes dropped to a pair of empty eye sockets, pools of ash-crusted darkness that demanded answers. Why wasn’t he here sooner? Why hadn’t he stopped this? How could he let this happen?
He backed away slowly on hands and knees, trying to escape her death stare, her accusations, trying to escape the guilt splitting him into screaming pieces. How could this happen? How?
He roared the word and spun on Nan. He grabbed the front of her dress and shouted into her face. “How?”
“Men,” she murmured. “Came. Dragged us out.”
Her eyes closed. Her head lulled. He roared and shook her again. “Who? Who?”
“Ben. McGinty. And the Millers. Others.” She broke off, fading again. With a snarl he grabbed her head and dove into her mind, fighting through gray phantoms to the flash of her most recent memories. He saw seven men, mostly their neighbors, farmers. He saw them pushing through the house, fighting Nan, saw the destruction of the parlor as she fought them, throwing one into the bookcase and knocking another into the stand. Saw as she shot Ben McGinty in the stomach. Watched him crumple to the floor. Watched as they knocked Nan to the floor a final time, gutting her with a knife, then stormed down the hallway-
The memories stuttered to a stop. There was only blackness. Jorick pulled away. Nan was dead, and her mind, and thoughts, were lost to him.
Just like Velnya.
The moments drained away again, tinted red with his fury. Before he knew it, he was on his horse, galloping towards the McGinty’s house. Then he was charging across their yard, kicking through their door.
Mrs. McGinty screamed, but he threw her aside and lunged for the man on the couch. He grabbed ben McGinty by the throat, only to fling him away again with a curse. The man was already dead, his shirt soaked with blood.
The doctor hunched back against the wall, terrified eyes wide. Jorick had seen others in Nan’s mind; others who would die. He stormed out of the house and back to the horse, on to the Miller’s farm. They were in bed, but he pulled the oldest son out by the throat. The young man screamed as Jorick shoved into his mind. He saw past his terror as the boy mounted his horse, following his father through the twilight evening. They met a group – the same group he’d seen in Nan’s memories – then finished the short trip to the house. The boy hung back, watching as the men shouted in the yard, waving fists and throwing threats.
“Send out the witch!”
“We only want to speak with her!”
“Tell her to lift the curse or else!”
“Send out the witch!”
“Where is the witch?”
“Give us the witch!”
Nan stuck her head out the door, told them to go to hell. Before she could pull back inside they were there, pulling the door open, shoving inside, knocking her back. The boy still hesitated, and when he went in the fight was already underway, just as it had been in Nan’s memories. Ben was shot, and they left it to the boy to take care of him.
“Get him home, then get a doctor! Go!” His father roared.
And the boy obeyed.
Jorick jerked away from the memories and threw the boy aside. The young man fell in a sweaty heap, clutching his head and sobbing. He felt the father in the doorway, smelled the mortal blood, and the gunpowder. He had the weapon pointed at Jorick’s back. With a roar, Jorick spun, knocking the gun aside and grabbing the mad by the head. He slammed him into the wall and dove in, ignoring the shrieks.
The boy left. Mr. Miller and the others stormed through Jorick’s house, shouting for the witch, tearing open cupboards in their search. The bedroom door was bolted, and together they knocked it in. One of them ripped open the wardrobe, yanking out clothes and possessions, but Velnya wasn’t there.
“Under the bed!” Someone shouted. Together, the men grabbed the massive piece of furniture and ripped it away from the wall. Velnya squealed as one of them pulled her out by arms.
“Please,” she begged. “Please stop this. I am no witch.”
“Don’t lie, bride of Satan!” Miller shouted. “We know what you are, know how you walk only in darkness, how you’ve killed the herds.”
“And the Jones’ daughter!” another shrieked. “You made her drown in the creek.”
“Of course not! Why would I? Please! Stop! Please!” She continued to call to them as they dragged her through the house.
“Nan!” she cried as they shoved her out the door, her view obscured by the wall of men. “Where is Nan?”
“Do you worry over the servants of the devil?’ Miller demanded. “Lift the curse witch! Now!”
“There is no curse!” Velnya cried as they dragged her around the house. “Please. I’m not a witch.”
Miller’s view disappeared for a moment as they rounded the corner. When it came back, one of the men held Velnya against the house, shouting in her face. “You claim you are no witch, but look at your teeth! You have the fangs of a demon!”
“No,” Velnya begged, tears running down her cheeks. “Please. Please, I’m not a witch.”
They dragged her to the tree, demanding she lift the curse, that she be punished for what she’d done, for the murder of the cows, the death of the girl, the blight on the fields, the fire in the Miller’s barn. She stayed calm, her voice shaking with emotion, tears sparkling in her violet eyes, telling them again and again that it was a mistake, that she was not a witch. “Please. Listen.”
And then they pinned her to the tree. One of them jerked the necklace from her neck, the cross. “You defile this sacred object!”
“No!” Velnya cried. “That was my mother’s! Please!”
She struggled to reach for it and two of the men lifted the chain. It clinked, and finally her civility fled. With a snarl she lunged, breaking free long enough to pin Miller to the ground. Fangs flashed inches from his face before she was ripped away. She lashed out, biting another, and knocked a third down before they reined her in.
Writhing and screaming, she was chained to the tree.
“Lift the curse!” a man screamed in her face. “Lift the curse!”
She snarled back in French, cursing them all to hell and death for their ignorance, their stupidity.
“Pathetic mortals!” She shrieked in English again. “Worthless weaklings who cower in fear!”
“If she won’t lift the curse we must burn it away!” A man shouted. “Only fire can purify the evil!”
Miller looked away, and didn’t see who lit the fire, but when he looked back, flames licked the hem of her dress. She screamed, falling back into her native French.
“She speaks in tongues!” one of them shouted. “You heard it! You heard it!”
“I think it’s French.”
No one listened to Miller as the flames climbed higher, and Velnya shrieked. When she was engulfed, the man flung the cross into the fire at her feet. “Only the flames can purify!”
The smoke rose in great billows, blotting out the stars, and the men fell back. Jorick dropped out of Miller’s mind. The man went slack, sweaty and sobbing like his son. With a snap, Jorick broke his neck before he dropped him to the floor.
Mrs. Miller was there, screaming, crying, and in his rage he dropped her too, leaving her in a heap of nightdress to ride to the next house. They’d killed her. She hadn’t even fought back until the end, hadn’t tried to stop them and yet they’d murdered her.
They will all die.
The sun had risen by the time Jorick returned to the house. Burned, battered, covered in the blood of the men and their families, he shut himself inside and collapsed into a sleep he hoped he never woke from.
Despite his desire, he woke the next evening to the soft chirp of a lone cricket. He’d half expected the remaining neighbors to storm the house as he slept, burn it to the ground, leaving him as scattered ashes.
He rolled over and stared at the dirty floor. After the memories he’d seen, he couldn’t bring himself to sleep in the bedroom. Not now, not ever. No square inch of this house, this land, this territory would ever be habitable to him again. It was cursed land, and it all deserved to burn.
And Nebraska wasn’t the only thing he wanted to destroy. The humans had done this, and they’d paid, but they weren’t the only ones to blame. The guilt sucked at his feet like quicksand. He should have been there – would have been but for a few hours difference. Had he only ridden harder, found Kateesha sooner, not stopped to report to Malick.
Malick. For thirteen years Jorick had asked for his freedom with increasing frequency, asked to be let go so that he could be with Velnya. It was like a tragedy, like a dark comedy, that his master had released him just in time to find her dead. He was home. He was free of Malick, free to devote his life to her, and she was gone.
And it was Malick’s fault. Had he released him weeks ago, months, years, centuries even, as an honorable master would have…Had he been free, able to stay home with his wife, none of this would have happened. Determined to keep Jorick at his side, like a pet, Malick’s selfishness had cost Jorick the one thing he loved.
One way or another, master, we will both atone for our sins.
And now for guesses I never get right!
- drift away 2. like smoke 3. leap 4. a leap of faith 5. disintegrate 6. digital scatter 7. it’s all fun and games 8. might as well jump 9. falling apart 10. shattered 11 pieces (in blog) 12. blown away 13. sure is windy 14. flying 15. scattered (in blog) 16. dust in the wind 17. I’m out 18 Really 19 I’m just stubborn and want all twenty. 20 Look, I made it.