It’s time again for Blogophilia. This week (and next’s) will be a little different, with more prompts than usual. First of all, we get a point for meet and greet, so:
Greetings! My name is Joleene (though really, I go by Jo most of the time. I like it better. Joleene sounds very stiff and formal. Jo sounds a bit tougher and good natured.) What to say about me? I live in Iowa…um…I’m married…um…yeah that’s all pretty boring. This makes me think of Babylon 5 when the Vorlons ask “Who are you?” Everyone answers with the mundane things like that, but that’s not what they’re looking for. I don’t think they ever make it clear what they ARE looking for in an answer. But summing one’s self up is hard. If I have to do it in one sentence it would be: I’ll say I’m an artist who writes because I’m too lazy to draw.
Wasn’t that fun?
- Name something you do at 11 AM – ordered an early lunch
- Name something used in planning a casino heist – secret meetings
- Integrate a line from the movie “Ocean’s Eleven” – Been practicing that speech, haven’t you
- Incorporate a song title from the group Eleventyseven – inside out
- Use a quote from The Bard’s 11th Play – Woe, destruction, ruin, and decay; the worst is death, and death will have his day
- Incorporate the “Ides of March” in your blog
Krill wiped the blood from his eyes and surveyed the damage. Dead and injured were scattered up and down the corridor. The alarm bells, that had screamed for so long, clanged to a stop, dropping the citadel into silence.
“You’re still alive.”
Krill turned to see Migina wipe a gory blade on her pants before she jammed it into its sheath. Her dark hair was pulled back in a long braid, but a few wisps escaped, flecked in the blood of her enemies. Or maybe her allies.
“I see you survived as well,” Krill replied grimly. Though he was glad to see she was all right, the bodies sapped his would-be joy. Among the dead were friends and acquaintances who’d been on both sides of the revolt.
The word felt wrong; impossible. That his fellows could do such a thing…
“Did you see her?” Migina asked.
The emphasis she put on the word could mean only one vampiress: Kateesha. She was the one who’d led the revolt, who had manipulated fellow guards into fighting against The Guild. Krill had heard the whispers for weeks, rumors that something was coming, that Kateesha had big plans, but he hadn’t believed them. If they were true, then Malick would know. As the oldest vampire in the citadel, the head of the High Council, and the most powerful, he would sense such a revolt and stop it before it could begin. Malick could never be taken by surprise.
Or so Krill had thought. Now, he wasn’t so sure.
He nodded his head. “I watched her kill Douglas. Hopefully someone got her.”
“They didn’t. She, and many of her followers, escaped.” Migina glared at nothing, as if Kateesha could feel her fury through the miles.
Krill wiped his bloody hands on his trousers, then regretted it immediately. The stain would be impossible to get out. The attack had come before dawn. There hadn’t been time to change into his uniform, so it was his personal clothing he’d just ruined. “How did they get away?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see it, only heard that that was why it ended.” She motioned to a group of guards gathering further down the hall, at the foot of the stairs. “Those who were on the upper level may know more.”
He nodded and made his way to the group. Their conversation was agitated, angry, excited, so many emotions mixed together. Krill was momentarily glad that his dream stealer abilities were limited in favor of other talents. He couldn’t imagine being forced to rifle through so much at once.
“…Malick let them go,” one of the guards said. “I swear! I saw it.”
“But why would he?” Another asked. They fell to taking over one another, but Krill knew the answer: because it was Kateesha, and Kateesha was Malick’s favorite. Apparently so much so that butchering her own kind wasn’t enough for her to fall from favor.
He didn’t stay for the conversation, instead headed upstairs in search of an Executioner. The upper corridor was similar to the one below; scattered bodies, damaged furniture. In the entryway the chandelier had been knocked to the floor and lay in field of shattered crystals and broken candles.
Beldren stood next to the mess, poking it with the toe of his boot. The medallion around his neck was the badge of his station; one of the vampires Krill was looking for.
“Excuse me, sir.” Krill saluted as Beldren looked up. “What are our orders?”
“Hell if I know.” The Executioner sent a crystal bouncing across the floor where it landed in a puddle of congealing blood. He sighed then snapped straight. “Do you have anything to report?”
“Report?” Krill hesitated uncertainly. “I don’t…”
“During the battle,” Beldren snapped. “Did you see or hear anything unusual?”
“Excuse me, sir, but the incident itself was unusual. Kateesha and her followers attacked-”
“I’m well aware of that. What I meant was…never mind. I doubt Malick will want to pursue them, anyway. You can go.”
“Yes, sir.” Krill saluted and hurried away before Beldren could change his mind. He wasn’t sure what the Executioner had been fishing for, maybe some hint about where Kateesha and her rebels had gone, or perhaps some clue as to their motives. If it was the latter, that was easy to guess. Everyone knew about Kateesha’s ambition, her desire to be queen of the chaos.
Krill looked for Migina on the lower floor, but didn’t see her. Let her find out her orders on her own. He needed a drink, to change and bathe, and try to make sense of the carnage he’d witnessed.
The battle had started before sundown, but now night had spread outside, and vampires were moving in the lower levels, starting their day despite the ruckus. He stopped off at the next to bottom floor where the vampire’s equivalent of a restaurant was just opening. The waiter took one look at him and balked. “What’s going on? I heard the alarms.”
Krill didn’t feel like explaining it, instead he ordered an early lunch, drank it in two gulps, and left for his own floor. Half finished, this would one day be the second story from the bottom, but for now it was the bottom most and housed living quarters for the guards, the Executioners, and even the high council members. Krill could feel their presence, the heaviness of their years and power, and happily turned the other direction. He wound down corridors, some not yet wallpapered, to his own door. Inside was a single room with a box, a desk, and a wardrobe. He bypassed those to grab his uniform from the chair, and then hurried back to the corridor to the shared bathroom. The indoor plumbing was relatively new. Collection tanks sat above ground, disguised as part of the grain elevators many outbuildings, and water ran down the pipes, pulled by gravity. It was a fascinating system, but it meant there was only so much water to be had, and he intended to make sure he got some of it.
The shared bathroom was only six doors down and had a sink, tub, and stool inside. He quickly locked the door and turned the water on, watching as it flowed out. Though the tub was large, there was a painted line only a few inches from the bottom that marked the maximum water level they were allowed. Though there was no one to enforce it, there was always the threat that guards might be posted if the rules were disobeyed, and being surrounded by mind readers, someone would know if you did.
The water reached the line. Krill shut it off, then stripped, looking sadly at the crimson stains. He’d turn it over to the laundry, but they had a no guarantee policy when it came to blood. Of course, even if the stain didn’t come out, they’d still expect to be paid.
He climbed into the tub and leaned back against the cold porcelain. Behind closed eyelids, he saw the battle again, saw Kateesha storm down the corridor, blades swinging, dark eyes wild with excitement as they peered out from her crimson splattered face. He could almost feel her joy as she zinged past, and then she was gone, moving deeper into the fray, shouting commands to her followers.
He’d heard the rumors rumbling under the surface for some time, whispers of secret meetings, of nefarious plots. He’d ignored the stories. In a citadel rife with mind readers, how could it be true? Unless the mind readers were allowing those not-so-secret meetings to take place. Unless Malick, the head of the Guild and the most powerful of all had known and let it continue.
He did let them go, Krill thought uncomfortably. At the end of the fight, Malick had appeared, his white hair gleaming, and ordered a stop to it all. But instead of demanding the rebel’s capture, he let them go, his laughter rolling down the hallway like an ocean’s eleven waves. Perhaps Malick had known. Perhaps he hadn’t thought she’d really go through with it.
Or perhaps he knew she would.
The last thought was the worst. That he would sacrifice them willingly, and for what? Amusement? It was a chilling thought.
It wasn’t as if Kateesha’s predilections weren’t well known. She’d left The Guild once, twenty-five years ago, wasn’t it? Yes, the figures seemed correct. She’d stayed gone for only two years, with a death sentence hanging over her head, then returned. Krill had been guarding the audience chamber that day. Kateesha had thrown open the double doors and sauntered down the red carpet towards the High Council’s thrones. Celandine, one of the council, had stood, her pale face taut with fury. She raised a hand and opened her mouth, no doubt to order Kateesha’s arrest and murder. Before the words could find her lips, Malick had also stood, his arms outstretched.
“So you return, my daughter! And what contrite words do you bring with you?”
Kateesha had dropped at his feet, her head bowed. “I beg your forgiveness father. I disobeyed your orders with my overindulgence and have seen the error of my ways.” She turned long lashed eyes up to him. “The last two years have been lonely and dark, cast from your presence. The world has been inside out, and I wish to make it right, to return to you; to serve you as I used to.”
Celandine shook with rage, but Malick only chuckled. “You have been practicing that speech, haven’t you, my child? Yes, I can see that you have. As for your contrition, I sense that, too, though not for the reason you name. Perhaps if I told you that your brother Jorick is no longer one of us, your penance would dissolve?”
Kateesha didn’t so much as flinch. “I have heard he’s gone into hiding after the death of his wife.”
“SO he has,” Malick agreed. “Do you still wish to rejoin us?”
Celandine had cut in, her hands balled into fists. “I cannot condone this! Kateesha was given a sentence of death for repeatedly disobeying orders! That she is alive is an impending disaster. To allow her to return to her position would be a catastrophe!”
“And should we hand out death, even to the contrite? She has seen the error of her ways, dear Celandine. If we are not willing to forgive, how can we expect to last the weary ages of immortality? Will not the burden of our bitterness overwhelm and destroy us? No, forgiveness is necessary for all, and even more so for us. As the head of the council, I extend that forgiveness to this child who has lost her way. Perhaps without the distraction of her brother, she will better be able to contain herself this time.”
Contain. A million and one things had proven that assumption wrong, none more powerfully than tonight’s rebellion.
Pounding at the bathroom door forced Krill away from memories. Reluctantly, he finished scrubbing, then dried and dressed. He let himself out past the que at the door and headed back to his room to drop off his clothes. Oddly, the door was ajar. He entered cautiously, but there was no one there. Unless… he lunged at his sleeping box, but there was no one inside. Only a folded piece of paper.
He opened it to find beautiful, slanting writing that said only:
Woe, destruction, ruin, and decay; the worst is death, and death will have his day. Be wary always.
Krill blinked at the missive. He recognized the first line. Wasn’t it from a Shakespeare play? The one about the Ides of March and the Roman? No. Not that one, but it was from one of the plays. He was sure of that much. What he wasn’t sure of, was why someone had written it to him. Was it a threat? From who? And most importantly, why?
- waves (in blog) 2. stormy seas 3. adventure 4. high seas 5. Ocean voyage 6. impending disaster (in blog) 7. on the rocks 8. crashing waves 9. storm tossed 10. shipwreck
Picture contributor: Linda
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.
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:
And we’re starting Jorick this week. I know it’s not the story everyone wanted, but it is the story that the collection needs as it is an event that is pivotal to the Executioners. I also need to work on his origin story for an anthology, but I don’t need that until May, and I’m nothing if not a procrastinator.
On to the story:
Jorick pulled his horse to a stop in front of the small farm house. Though he wasn’t a tracker, he had enough experience hunting fellow vampires that he could parody the skill, especially where Kateesha was concerned. How many years had he known her for? He didn’t want to figure it up, but instinctively knew it was more than two hundred. In that time, he’d grown to understand how she worked, even if he couldn’t read her mind.
He swung down to the ground and paused to straighten his coat, his shirt, the silver medallion that hung around his neck. The mark of the Executioner, this would be the last time he had to wear it, the last time he had to follow Malick’s orders. His master had sworn on his own blood that if he carried this task out, just as he was ordered, than he could finally be free.
It was a pretty word, nay a beautiful word. It meant quiet and peace. It meant warm evenings with his wife. It meant no more fighting, no more worry that he might leave her a widow. No more worried letters.
He touched his pocket absently and thought of the missive inside. Velnya’s hand was erratic; slanting neatly in some paragraphs and then turning almost unreadable in others. She was afraid; the locals called her a witch – a witch of all things! Had such superstitions not died already? How long had it been since he’d heard the whisper of that antiquated word? It was hard to take seriously, even when he saw her fearful writing.
“Perhaps I should go, my love? Would we not be as happy somewhere else – perhaps happier? You say you will return soon, but could you not as well return somewhere else? Nan could help me to pack, and we could leave quite quickly. My sister and her husband would welcome us, though I would hope our stay with them would be a short one. If not them, then perhaps your fledgling? As you say, you will soon be free of your master, and, as such, we can go anywhere we wish. This place holds nothing for either of us, no memory or family. Would it not be better to leave?
I know you say not to fear them, and know also that you are right. They are weak, and feeble. Nan has suggested that we should make an example; show them what we are capable of, but I fear that would only make things worse. To fight back, to reveal our strength, it will only fuel their terror. I remember what it was to be weak, to be afraid of death from every side, knowing that a chill wind, or ill-timed accident, even a misstep in the dark could be the end of me. It is no wonder that, in their fear, they cling to old superstitions. Such things strengthen them, draw them together, and though you are right, and they can do us no permanent harm, still their day-to-day scorn is worrisome. We woke last night to find the window broken by a rock. The missile also caused some damage inside; the sideboard is dented and the vase my sister gave me shattered. It was the pink one with the roses painted on it. Nan tried to purchase glue, but the shopkeeper refused to sell to her. I understand that we do not need things from them; we look to ourselves for our meals, but there is a convenience in being able to make purchases. No doubt once you are home you will be able to smooth this over, to make them see reason, but until then, perhaps Nan and I should visit my sister? Yes, you could call there for us, and together we could go back to Nebraska Territory, if that is your desire?
As I reread my words, I can see the silliness in them and know you must find my ramblings to be foolish. I have acknowledged their weakness, their inability to do me harm, yet press to run away from them. I cannot help it. The conflict is most grievous to my spirit, and the hard looks most depressing. I do not encounter it often- I have followed your instructions and keep mostly to myself – but when I do come across it, it is most disheartening. You must find it silly that I, the wife of such a strong and powerful man would worry for the scorn of petty mortals. Perhaps it is the foolishness of a woman…”
The letter went on, back and forth in the same vein. He’d written her back, told her that a month would see him home again, and an end to everything. It had taken him two weeks to find Kateesha, and two weeks more would see him having made his report and riding into their homestead. He had only to finish this quickly.
With his back straight, he marched to the door and knocked. He could smell Kateesha inside, and Daniel, her partner. Mortal blood was also present, no doubt the remnants of their meal. Who or what it came from mattered not to him. He had only one job to do.
The door opened, revealing Kateesha. Her cocoa skin was a warm contrast against her white chemise and petticoats. Ample breasts threatened to spill out of an unfastened corset, and her full lips were tinted red; red like blood. In her eyes were a thousand promises of pleasure. There was a time he might have taken her up on it, if for no other reason than he could, but not now.
“You know why I’m here.”
“No, Jorick,” she said innocently. “I have no idea.”
“Malick sent me.”
“Did he?” he felt her gaze run over him as she licked her lips. “I thought perhaps you’d come to see me.”
For a moment he was tempted, but the memory of Velnya, of her large violet eyes pushed the thoughts away. “I’m married now.”
Kateesha leaned against the door frame and pouted. “Yes, I know, and to such a plain, timid little thing. Can you truly be happy with her? Oren’s sister would suit you better. Even that little girl in Texas would have been a more suitable choice. Sarita, wasn’t it?”
His nose curled with disdain. “You know I have no love for Spaniards.”
“She wasn’t a Spaniard, but a Mexican and she filled your bed easily enough.”
That she would bring such a thing up now…No. he knew she was trying to irritate him, and he wouldn’t fall for it. “There is a difference between sharing love and a bed.”
“And do you love this new woman, this Velnya? Can you really?” Kateesha was suddenly on him, her hands on his shoulders, her lips brushing his neck. “Can she really give you all the things I can?”
And with that, the last of his temptation disappeared. Kateesha was the same as always, ready to use her body to gain an advantage. There was a time when those tricks worked on him, but not now. “Enough.” He pushed her away harder than he meant and she stumbled, landing on the floor inside in a heap of petticoats.
Kateesha jerked to her feet, tugging her clothing straight. “Don’t do that again!”
“I’ll do it as many times as necessary. Malick ordered me to spare you, so get out of my way!”
He shoved past her and into the house. He only half expected her to come after him, to try to stop him. Daniel was her lover. “She won’t let him be taken easily,” Jamie had advised, but Jorick suspected she would. Empty is the heart of one who cares only for herself.
Seems I was right.
He found Daniel in a back bedroom, half naked and covered in human blood. The dead body of a child lay nearby; the remnant of their earlier meal.
Jorick didn’t bother to introduce himself, he and Daniel were well acquainted. Neither did he explain his presence. Daniel would know. To be sure, Jorick pushed past his panic, into the folds of his mind. His memories parted, and Jorick saw the rogues Kateesha and Daniel had been sent to bring in, heard the rude comments, saw the fight, the chase, the way Kateesha and Daniel had succumbed to blood lust in a frenzy that was half violence and half sex. He saw the mangled bodies of the rogues, Daniel’s terror as they had to go back to The Guild to report, saw Malick’s fury that he had been disobeyed, and the council’s dismissal, telling them to go while their fate was decided.
As if disobeying earned any other fate but death.
But it wasn’t Jorick’s problem. Daniel had made his choice to follow Kateesha, to break the rules for a taste of her, and now he had to pay. Without warning, he charged the half-naked vampire. Daniel grabbed a chair and waved it, but Jorick knocked it aside with a splintering crash. Daniel bounced back, scrambling for a weapon. A ceramic dish flew past Jorick’s head a moment before he caught Daniel by the throat. He slammed his opponent into the wall. Daniel kicked Jorick’s knee, and he fell back in surprise. Free, Daniel bounced towards the pile of his clothes where he no doubt had a blade of some kind.
With a quick pounce, Jorick tackled Daniel to the floor before he could reach his goal. But the vampire was close enough to the fling aside the clothing and grab a long serrated dagger. He swiped it at Jorick, who hopped back to miss the stroke. With a snarl, Daniel pulled to his knees, brandishing the blade.
Jorick didn’t have the patience to deal with a protracted fight. Reaching into his coat, he pulled free his own dagger. Daniel moved to stand, but Jorick shoved him to the floor and in a single swing slammed his blade through the vampire’s chest. Daniel screamed, and Jorick dispassionately ripped it out again, only to stab again and again, to be sure the heart was destroyed.
Daniel fell still, and Jorick swept to his feet. He stopped to wipe blood droplets from his hand and sleeve, then marched for the door. Kateesha was still there, leaning against the doorframe. He hesitated, looking into her eyes for some sign of emotion, some proof that she could actually feel. Instead of sorrow, he saw only lust as she used her petticoat to wipe blood from his face; lust for the man who had just killed her lover.
Jorick jerked away from her. “I don’t have time for this.”
“Don’t you? Velnya will keep for a night.” She caught his hand and tugged him towards her. “I’ve missed you, and I know you’ve missed me. Come, for one night it will be like it was. Do you remember that night under the stars, after we’d defeated the rogues?” She pressed against him again and looped an arm around his waist. “Do you remember the way they tasted? The way I tasted?” Her lips hovered over his throat. “I remember your flavor-”
He did. He remembered it. The thousand pinpoints of stars shining above them, the wild full moon, the way her black hair had tumbled around her, her dark taut nipples painted with the blood of their quarry. The way she’d howled as she ripped them apart, moaning as she ground against him.
Just as she did with Daniel, then allowed him to be killed.
Her hand brushed his pocket, where Velnya’s letter rode. He pictured his wife, waiting at home for him, innocent, kind, trusting; everything that Kateesha was not.
He wrenched free from the temptress. “No!” As though to be sure he didn’t succumb, he stepped farther away and repeated, “No.”
“But, Jorick, I love you.”
She clutched the air, trying to grab him, but he caught her wrists and held her back. “No, Kateesha, you don’t. You love a shadow. I’m not that man anymore and now that Malick has released me, I am free, and I won’t be that man ever again. I don’t want to be.” He dropped her hands and turned for the door. Despite what she was, despite everything she’d done, he felt a moment of pity for her. “If you value your life, I suggest you give the council at least a year to forgive you before you stage a return.”
He stalked out the door before she could reply, before she could try to lure him again. he had one foot on the stirrup when she rushed out the door behind him. “Dammit Jorick! You are who you are! You can’t run from your nature simply because you wish it to be something different! You cannot take shelter in a falsehood!”
His nature? No. “That was never my nature, Kateesha, only yours and Malick’s. It is the falsehood I’m running away from.”
He swung into the saddle and nudged the horse. As he trotted forward, Kateesha shrieked, “You can’t hide, Jorick! You love me, and you know it! I was made to be with you! You belong to me! I will have you! One day you will beg me for mercy on your knees! Do you hear me?”
He didn’t look back, only tossed back a flippant wave before he spurred his horse and thee raced away in the darkness. He could hear her shouting after him, but he left the words behind, just as he eft her behind.
Never again, Kateesha. Never again.
As he put miles between them, he relaxed. It was almost over. He had only to report to Malick and then he was done. Then he would never need to see Malick again, either.
It was that promise that had led him there tonight. When Kateesha and Daniel had slaughtered the rogue vampires, the council had sentenced them to death: both of them. Despite his history with her, the council decided that Jorick was the only one strong enough to defeat the pair, the only one who would not fall for Kateesha’s tricks.
Afterwards, Malick had pulled him aside. “You will ignore the High Council’s orders. What are they to you? Leave Kateesha alive, but destroy her partner. He is weak, expendable, out of control.”
“And risk punishment by the council?” Jorick had snapped back. “I am weary of such games. My freedom-”
“Ah yes, your freedom.” Malick had smiled, slow and knowing. “You wish to leave me to play house with your pretty little wife, yes? A weak child that you can take care of for a time.” He’d studied him silently, and Jorick could feel the ancient master rifling through his mind, picking through his memories, showing him flashes of their time together, like painted daguerreotypes. That Jorick had once felt affection for his master, he could not deny, but that love had long since faded, leaving only a darkness and the desire to be free.
“Then you shall have your freedom,” Malick purred. “Do as I say, my son, this last task, and you will be released to fly to your little song bird.”
And so Jorick had written to Venlya, then ridden away, seeking Kateesha and her partner. Now, it was done.
I have only to make a report and it is all over. I will be home soon, my sweet angel.
The Guild’s citadel lurked in the Iowa darkness. An underground fortress, the building above was little more than a brick shed with a trapdoor. Though Jorick knew Malick had grand plans, clever plans, plans that no longer concerned him.
Jorick left his horse at the stable and passed to the small building. A guard stood at the door, looking stiff and terrified. Jorick could feel the cause of his fear, Malick’s presence. The ancient master was not buried deep in his chambers, as he should be, but close, perhaps just inside.
With a grunt of impatience, Jorick jerked open the door on an empty space, and then down stairs that swept into a lavish entryway, complete with flickering chandelier. The firelight threw rainbows and shadows on the walls, and across the bearded face of Jorick’s master.
Malick stepped forward, arms open in a welcoming gesture. “I sensed you were drawing near, my son. How fared your journey?”
Jorick held his ground at the foot of the stairs. “It is done.”
“Is it?” Malick chuckled. “Ah, but you do not appreciate the humor in my question. Never mind. You have kept your end of the bargain, and so I shall keep mine. Come, rest, and tomorrow evening-”
“No. I will leave now.”
“Is your need so great to be quit of me?” When Jorick didn’t answer, Malick chuckled. “As you wish, my son. Should you desire to return, we shall be here. I will be here.”
Jorick turned back for the stairs. “I doubt that we shall ever cross paths again.”
As he reached the top of the stairs, Malick’s voice whispered in his head, “And what if you are wrong?”
To be continued next week.
And now for guesses:
- phone home 2.alien 3. ET 4. anyone need a light? 5. hot touch 6. the 1980s 7. it’s a classic 8. handy flashlight 9. heck of a muppet 10. red hot 11. I remember when ET was plastered on everything 12. long long ago, in a galaxy far, far away 13. he needs a calling card 14. or a cellphone 15. wonder if he could light a cigarette with that finger? 16. reach out and touch someone 17. let your fingers do the walking 18. I don’t know. 19. I wish “I don’t know” would one day be the secret phrase. I’d get one right then. 20. extra terrestrial
It’s time again for blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their blog. This week’s prompts are:
And this week we finish Jamie vs 2 – which turned out much superior to version 1. Hoping to get it edited this week and get the cover and such done and get it uploaded to Smashwords by Friday so Griselda can follow the next week. We’ll see. I think Jorick will be the next story I write – I took a poll but I think I am going to ignore the results as, having gone back over the other stories, I think it needs to be the story of when he quit the Executioners. As it is, most of the stories kind of interweave, with Beldren, Jamie, and Lisiantha being the exceptions, and so they all end up kind of creating a longer story form different points of view. Since Jorick’s revolt gets mentioned in more than one of them, I think it needs to be the story we see. However, people want his origin story,, so I think I’ll try to do it for an anthology that will be released in June or July.
Anyway, on to Jamie!
Though Jamie had to stay, he didn’t have to see his sister, or her traitorous husband. In the evening he reached the kitchen before they did to find four carafes waiting. He took his back to his room, and left it outside the door where someone retrieved it, though he had no idea who. Just as he had no idea who took care of any of the day to day things, or how they were done. He’d never been too involved; the steward handled the other servants and oversaw the menial tasks, and the steward reported to the laird, which had always been his father. Now, of course, it was Androu.
His name tasted bitter on Jamie’s tongue, still he spoke it aloud to the darkness. The shadows gave no reproach for the curses, but neither did they agree, only clung to the corners of the rooms in silence.
Jamie had forsaken his bedchambers for new rooms. The memory of Margarete hung in every stone, every brick. The warmth of her laugh, the light in her eyes, the way she languidly brushed her long red hair. In future, he told himself, he’d want to revisit such ghosts, but now they were too painful, like salt on an open wound.
And so he hid away, blocked off in the upper rooms of the east wing, watching nights crawl past. Eagan visited him ocassionally, to try to tempt him from his self-imposed isolation. After six months had passed, he tried a new tactic.
“Ya may not wish ta see yer sister, but yer nephews wish ta see ya, lad. Would ya deny them? Ya cannae have children of yer own any longer, save for passing on yer blood ta another as has been done to ye. Those bairns are the only lineage yer or yer father will have. And they love ya.”
“They don’t know me,” Jamie muttered darkly. Though even he knew it was a lie. “Fine. They may come now an’ again.”
Eagan brought them the very next night, a game board under his arm, as if it was playtime. Now and again became a monthly visit, and by early spring had turned weekly. The boys learned quickly not to mention their parents, for one word about either, and Jamie would send them out immediately. Instead their conversation turned to their lessons, to their old memories, and a longing to relive some.
“Will ya take us riding again?”
“No,” Jamie said gruffly. He’d visited the stables once, to find Margarete’s horse missing. That his own was gone, he knew keenly, but his wife’s…Had it died of a mysterious fever as well?
Simon, the younger child, frowned. “Why won’t ya leave the castle anymore? Mum says that ya are wallowin’, and ‘tis not good for ya. She says ya mourn them but haven’ even seen ta their graves. ‘Tis been six months.”
His older brother clapped a hand over his mouth, but it was too late. The reminder of their lineage was there, and Jamie ordered them out for the night. Alone, Jamie watched the candle melt and realized that they were right. Caitrin was right. He’d never once visited their graves, never asked for their forgiveness.
If only I’d been here, I’d have slipped a knife between Androu’s ribs at the first sign of his cowardice.
He tugged on his cloak and made his silent way through the castle and out into the night. Like a ghost drifting down once accustomed paths, the way to the kirkyard felt not quite familiar, but not quite changed.
Late snowflakes fell around him and made the grass slick. Alone, save the moan of the wind, he wound between the stones, looking for Margarete’s resting place, for his father’s.
He found neither.
Though he did not hear her approach, he sensed the presence of his sister a moment before she spoke. “Margarete was buried on our grounds.”
Jamie looked to her sharply. “Why? Would the church not have her?”
Caitrin walked to him, her cloak billowing behind her in the wind. “I thought ya’d like to have her near. She’s under the tree, in the middle of my garden. Ya know how she liked to sit there in the spring.”
“Aye, she did, but would not the kirkyard be better? Near her kin?” Though Jamie couldn’t explain it, he sensed the lie. There was more to it than her excuse. Still, something held him back from pushing it, as if he knew the answer would take what sanity he had left. “And our father?”
Caitrin sucked air between her teeth. “They took his body.”
Jamie clenched his fists and tried to hold back his fury. “An’ they were allowed to? Did no one try to stop them?”
“Androu couldn’t, lest they lose their sympathy for him and Eagan…his opinion meant little to them.”
Jamie stiffened. “He was here then? When…” he couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence.
“Aye. But there was naught he could do. He was a visitor, and one who could not be seen in sunlight.”
“And could he not have done something else? Killed those who came? Eagan’s strength is that of ten men!”
“Aye, it is, but he could not risk giving himself away.”
Jamie spun on her, “Giving himself away to whom? Ta you? Androu? Everyone in the castle? But he did! He changed you both, and does not everyone know what ya are now? What we are? Who did he need to keep the secret from?”
She wrung her hands. “Jamie-”
“Was he here when Margarete died?” His sister looked at the ground, refusing to meet his eyes and he demanded again, “Was he?”
“Jamie, what has passed, has passed.”
“’Tis not an answer, Caitrin. Tell me also, how long after Margarete died did they come for Da? I was gone for six months, April ta September. When did they die? What month? What day? When did Eagan come ta ya? When?” He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her with his words, as if he could force the answer out.
“’Twas the difference of three weeks!” she cried and pulled away. “Margarete died the first of June and by the end o’ the month Father…”
“June!” Jamie roared. “She died o’fever in June? What fever took her, besides the one called Androu’s knife. That’s it, isn’t it? Three weeks afore they hung our father, means his plan was already in action, the inquisitors from England may have even been here.” He stopped when he saw her face flicker. “They were, weren’t they? They were already here, perchance had already made their charges, and Margarete- she refused to go along with the farce, didn’t she? So Androu killed her in her sleep and blamed it on a fever! Tell me different!”
“I’ve already told you different! She was sick, she died of fever. There is no more to it, no conspiracy. You seek for a way to avenge it, to make restitution for her death, and so you need someone to blame that you may take your revenge against, but it was not Androu’s doing!”
“Can you say the same for father?”
“Yes!” she shouted. “If anythin’ it was yer fault, yers and father’s. Yer chose to rebel, to meddle in things better left to greater men, ter cause problems when yer shoulda been home with yer wife! Did ya learn nothin’ from Ma? She died alone! Waitin’ fer Da’ to come home!”
“I was gone fightin’ fer her, and fer you! Fer yer freedom!”
“Yer were fightin’ fer yerself, and now yer angry that yer cause took som’in from ya! But all causes must. Our lives, our faith, have to cost us something; otherwise we’re left to question its value. I say as I did, what has passed, has passed. Ya can no more bring back the dead, than ya can change what has happened.” She took his arm and gazed into his face, eyes pleading. “All there is ta do is put it behind us, ta move forward with what we have now.”
“And what is that? Servitude to a man we barely know? A cold bed, and colder days, devoid of sunlight or warmth?”
“’Tis yer own fault ya barely know Eagan. And can ya say the yoke ya wear is so harsh as ta make ya a servant? Ya do not wait upon ‘im, nor cater ta his whims. Ya do as ya please, except-”
“I’m forced to stay here!”
“Aye, as I was sayin’, except ya cannae leave. Is that so terrible a thing?”
He held her gaze. “Aye.”
With a sigh she let him go and stepped back. “I’m sorry that ya feel that way still. I had hoped that time would heal ya some. Perhaps in a year.”
He turned away, eyes on the heavy sky and the falling flakes. “All the years in the world will not be enough, Caitrin.”
Her answer was nearly lost to the wind. “I hope yer wrong.”
But he wasn’t. As each year passed, it became clearer and clearer that he was right. Not that Caitrin had been completely wrong. The yoke they wore was less of servitude and more of companionship, as if their debt was to keep the old man company.
“Is that so bad, lad?” Eagan would ask, a twinkle in his eyes.
Jamie’s answer was always the same. “’Tis the company that makes it so.”
During those years, he was not always idle. He spoke to Caitrin more than once, grilled her on what had happened and how. He even pressed questions on Androu and Eagan, though their answers were confusing. Rechert and the human servants had foggy memories, and as Jamie learned to practice his own magic, he could slip into their minds and see the missing parts, the stolen details, as if someone had snuck in and hid it away on purpose.
The children, meanwhile, grew to men. When they were old enough they’d had the situation explained to them, and given the choice they’d one day face. The eldest chose to remain mortal, took a wife, and gave the family a new generation of children, while the youngest, Simon, insisted he wished to be as they were.
Jamie leaned back in his chair and surveyed the young man. “Are a so sure that is what you want? To be like this, forever?”
“Why not? You and Ma, and Da, and Eagan, you’ve never aged, yer never sick.”
“Nor can we venture out in daylight. Such a curse makes living among others difficult.”
“But it hasn’t,” Simon objected.
“Aye, it has. Or it would if not for Eagan’s magic. He can make the mortals think and remember what he wishes them too, a skill he has handed down. Without that, the humans would notice we do not age, that we do not leave the safety of shadows.”
“Would not such a gift pass down to me as well?”
“I know not, only that once ya do this, ya cannae take it back.”
“Why would I wish to? What could be better than living here forever with ya, and Ma’ and Da’ and-”
Jamie jabbed the poker into the fire. “Nay, lad. This place is cursed, and we are cursed. Touched by the fae, ‘tis true, but stained with the blood of betrayal. The flagons are slick with it, though ya cannae see it. If ya are smart ya will get the gone, and start a wholesome life somewhere else. Besides.” He sat the poker aside. “If you do this, you will owe a debt that lasts many years.”
The boy dropped to his knees. “I know all of that, uncle, and would choose ya to owe such a debt to. Please. Make me as you are.”
Jamie reached for him, then caught himself. “Nay, lad. I cannot. For until the debt is paid, all that we pass the magic to owe the debt to Eagan; that is how I came to be in his servitude. Ya must wait until he releases us.”
As luck would have it, he did not have to wait long. It was Hogmanay, 1668, when Eagan called them all together. They sat around the table before the fire, an imitation of their mortal days when they’d eaten great meals and drank stout by the mugful. Jamie’s eyes wandered to Androu, seated in the chair his father had once occupied. At the thought, he felt the anger rise, and murderous thoughts played through his mind. It was in the middle of one such fantasy that Eagan had stood up.
“Though in some ways I hate ter say it, ’tis been a long enough haul for ye, and yer debt has been paid now. Ya can stay or go as ya please. For myself, I plan to head further afield. I have enjoyed my time here, and though I know yer might be willin’ ter shelter me indefinitely, I feel the call of my ancestral home and plan ter spend some time there afore venturing out again.”
Caitrin and Androu did the polite thing and asked Eagan to stay, but he declined. When the pleasantries were over, Jamie stood, hand on his dirk. “And with the end of our blood debt is the end of my patience, Androu. I have tolerated your taking father’s place because, as the slave of another, I had no choice. With that yoke lifted, I am free to hate you as I choose.”
Caitrin stood, eyes wide, mouth open to interject, but he waved her to silence.
“I have done as I swore I would, my honor is satisfied. I promised once I would leave Androu alive fer ya, Caitrin, an’ I hold to that, though he deserves to be torn apart by wild dogs for both the sake of Father and Margaret. I will keep in his company no longer, nor in yers. Fer father’s sake, may the blessings of the new year be upon ya, though I know not if ya deserve it either.”
Then he swept from the room to his chambers. He tugged out his old bag and had it half-filled when footsteps came outside his door. He turned, expecting Caitrin or Eagan, but instead it was his nephew.
“What do ya want, Simon.”
“Ya cannae leave, Uncle.” The young man laid his hands on the traveling bag, as if to stop Jamie filling it. “Ya promised ta make me as you are.”
“I donnae know how. Ask yer Ma ta do it. She is the one who gave the magic ta me.”
“Nay. I asked ya once before and yer promised ya would, when ya were released by Eagan.”
Jamie didn’t remember promising, only saying the lad had to wait.
“I know how ‘tis done,” Simon added. “I asked Eagan before, and Ma’ as well. Ya must drink my blood first, then when I am all but empty, ya must give me yer blood, ta drink. When I have had enough, I will be one of the fae, too.”
Jamie gently moved his nephew and went back to packing the bag. “Nay. Have yer ma do it. I donnae have the time fer ya to pay a debt ta me.”
“Then take me with ya. Once ya get settled-”
Jamie sighed and closed his eyes.”Nay. I donnae know where I be goin’ or what’ll happen. I donnae need ta worry about a bairn.”
“I’m not a bairn anymore! I’m a man now, and ya know it as well as I. I’m not worried about where ya goin’, be it ta England or Ireland, or beyond. Whether ya be in or out of money, I promise ta serve ya and-”
Simon went on and for a moment – just a moment – Jamie was tempted. In him he saw all the goodness he’d once seen in Caitrin, and in himself. All the possibility and innocence. But just as that made him want to take the lad, it was also the reason he knew he couldn’t.
“Enough!” he snapped. “I will not take ya with me, and that’s the end of it! Go now, afore I have ter beat ya senseless fer aggravating me!”
The boy hesitated, then fled, hurt on his face. Jamie hated to do it that way, but if the lad kept talking, he might have given in. Who knew but that having a human with him might be helpful, and it would be company.
No. Better ta leave clean. No reason ta return.
He stopped at the foot of the large tree, where Margarete was buried. Gently he opened the pouch that hung at his side and tugged lose the lock of red hair.
He knelt, the memory gripped tightly in his hand. “I’m sorry, love. I’m sorry that I wasn’t here, that I couldn’t protect ya from Androu and his machinations. Even more, I’m sorry that I didn’t kill the bastard when I had the chance. Ta leave him alive makes me no better; to fail ta get ya the revenge ya deserve makes me as guilty as him. But I cannae leave Caitlin alone, not unless I want to accept the burden of her care, and I cannot.”
He touched the dirt with fingertips, a gentle caress, the way he’d once traced her cheek. “And I neither can I take ya with me, love. Just as I’m leavin’ Simon, I must leave ya too. I’m sorry.”
He dropped the lock of hair to the ground. For a moment the sight of it; of the red strands mingled with the dusting of snow, made his chest catch, but he stood and turned away before he could change his mind. He’d planned this a hundred times – nay a thousand – and he must let nothing stop him.
Not even Eagan.
The older vampire met him in the stables, sucking on a pipe and looking as jovial as ever. “Ya made yer mind up, then?”
“Aye.” Jamie saddled his newest horse. “Donnae ya try ta talk em out of it either.”
“Nay, I wouldn’t dream of it, lad. Ya must go where ya must go. But donnae forget yer sister. She loves ya.”
“As she loved our father?” Jamie asked dryly. “Would she ‘a let me swing ta save her husband an’ her children?”
Eagan shrugged. “Who can say? Ya should thank the Gods that ya won’t have ta find out.”
Jamie scoffed and swung up on the steed. Eagan stepped back, but caught the horse’s reigns. “Where ye be goin’?”
“I donnae know, but anyplace is better than here, away from the memories and the curse of betrayal that hangs over these stones. Since I woke, healed and confused, I have borne the black mark of the traitor. Though I did not betray my father nor my wife with my own hands, by failing ta get revenge when I had the chance, I am no better. It’s as if I did the deeds myself.”
“Do ya still hold on ta the past?”
“Aye, up ta now ‘tis all I had, but as I leave here, I shed it all. I leave the ghosts behind, and hope ta outrun the curse. ‘Tis only hatred I’ll take with me, because I cannae find a way ta kill it.”
Eagan looked sad for a moment. “I hope for your sake ya learn how ta one day.”
“Aye, so do I.”
And with those final words, Jamie set off into the night, leaving everything he had ever known behind him, bound for anywhere.
Anywhere has to be better than here.
- play time (in blog) 2. playmates 3. tuckered out 4. nap time 5. lazy afternoon 6. toys 7. childhood 8. innocence (in blog) 9. what’s that? 10. eavesdropping 11. is the cat babysitting him? 12. go play 13. This is a hard one. 14. I’m not gonna get it. 15. listening for daddy 16. bored 17. rainy day games 18. waiting 19. I can’t think of any more. 20. I blame Jonathan for not loaning me the voodoo doll.
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:
And so Jamie vs 2 rolls on, much better than version 1. I might actually end it here, or I may fast forward to when he is released. Not sure which. I was hoping to get it finished to release it between Zuri and Griselda because they both take place in The Guild, so this would break it up.
I guess we’ll see.
on with the story:
Jamie looked up through teary eyes to see Rechert returned. His vision throbbed, and the scent of dinner rolled through the room; roast suckling, apples, pork pie, and a thousand other delights. His body moved on its own, knocking the servant to the wall, pinning him, despite his struggles, and then biting, sharp, quick. The feel of flesh between his teeth, the rush of blood, the relief as the thirst was quenched, as the fire dissipated.
But it does nothing for the pain.
Suddenly the fount was ripped away. Jamie landed on the bed, his head swirling. He blinked to see his sister, one hand over her nose and mouth, the other pushing Rechert out the door. Jamie struggled up to his feet, but Caitrin knocked him back again.
“Hold, brother. Yer meal will come to ya.”
Meal. As his heartbeat slowed, and his breathing evened, Jamie began to realize what had happened; what he’d done. He touched his lips and brought back fingers red with blood. Rechert’s blood. As if the discovery wasn’t gruesome enough, a second touch found something wrong with his own teeth. His canines were longer, sharper, like an animal’s.
“In the name of God, what-”
Caitrin took his shoulders. “Peace, Jamie. All things will be explained in time. Eagan will tell-”
Jamie jerked free, looking from his bloody hand to her. “Who is Eagan? I know not the name.”
She hesitated, then stepped back and clasped her hands. “He is our master.”
“Master? What do ya mean? Like a laird? Or do ya mean a master to a slave? What does father say to such things?”
Her fingers convulsed; tightening, loosening, tightening. “’Tis not quiet either of those. Ya should rest now. Yer’ve had some mighty revelations thrown at ya, an’ have only just recovered form a frightful state. Take the night ta mourn Margaret and tomorrow-”
Jamie swept to his feet, his voice heavy with the threat of storm. “No, lass. I won’t rest and mourn until ya have explained this ta me!” He waved the bloody hand. “I bit the man, Caitrin, I bit him and I drank his blood, like a demon!” At the word, a horrible idea began to form. “Is that it? Am I demon now? Is this hell? Is that how I was able to heal so quickly? Tell me!”
With each word he’d stepped forward, and Caitrin had retreated, until she was pressed against the wall. “Aye, aye, I’ll try ta explain it to ya, but know ye full well that ya’d be better to wait fer Eagan.”
Satisfied, Jamie gave her some room and waited as she tugged her gown straight. “Ta answer who Eagan is, be better to explain what ya are now – what I am now , and Androu, too. We are… we are like the baobhan sith but-”
“The baobhan sith? How can that be? They are women all, and fairy kind!”
“Yes, I said like, but not like. As they do, we drink blood, but we do not need to scratch and claw to get at it, instead we have our teeth to bite, as the pine marten do. And we are not only women, but men as well. Like them, though, we must avoid the sunlight, and we will remain young forever.”
Jamie’s head swam at such notions. “How could this come to pass? How could we be cursed into such creatures? And what of father? Has he been made one as well?”
“Nay, not father. As to how, ‘twas Eagan who did the deed. He came to us as one of them, already a creature of fae and darkness, and said that he could make us as he is. How can one refuse such offer, brother, in times such as these. Androu and I accepted. Then ya returned, sick with fever and little chance to survive the night. I marked how Eagan did it, he emptied us of our blood first, then gave us his, and so I did the same to ya. Now you are a creature of fae and darkness too.”
“And this Eagan? Where did he come from?”
“He came as a traveler in the night, seeking shelter. I don’a think he meant to make us as himself then, only meant ta stay and sleep in safety, but then his mind changed. Now he is our master, because he is the one who changed us, and he is yours as well, because I still belong ta him, so all I change belong ta him as well.”
Jamie cradled his head in his hand. It seemed fantastic, unreal even. That he believed in the fae and magic and the secret things that lived in the earth and the shadows was not in question, for he did. But to believe in them and believe in them was something different. This tale was something wild, some strange fancy. Or would be if not for the proof he saw before his own eyes. That his teeth had changed, that he had drank Rechert’s blood like wine, those were not to be disputed. That he was magically healed…
Healed. Had Eagan but been there before Margaret took ill. Had he shared such with her, saved her…If only.
“I will speak with this Eagan, and I would see father and hear what he thinks of these things.”
“Aye, but on the ‘morrow. “Tis nearly dawn, and sunlight will harm ya now.”
She went on, explaining that some windows had been bricked over, to protect them. His had not, only been covered in furs and the like, so he should sleep somewhere safer, where the sun could not touch him. Tomorrow they’d get block up the windows.
Block up the windows. Block out the air and the light all of the things that were healthy and bright in the world.
Though her words made sense he refused to go with her, refused to bed down on the floor of her chambers. When she realized she couldn’t shift him, she surrendered, leaving him with advice to stay as far from the windows as he could, lest some light leak in and burn him.
Alone, he dropped back on the bed and closed his eyes, hands on his head as if to force sanity back into it. Perhaps ‘twas all a dream, a horrible nightmare, and when he woke he’d find Margaret bending over him, a smile on her lips and her soft eyes shining with joy to see him home.
Yes, that must be it.
When Jamie woke to the twilight gloom of his room, the firat thing he was cognizant of was the emptiness; despite his hope, Margaret was not there, smiling or otherwise. He sat up, rubbing at his burning throat, and cast about he room. The previous night’s rubble lay everywhere; broken furniture, smashed possessions, even the shattered pitcher. It was ass as it had been in his nightmare.
He touched his teeth to find the same sharp points. What if it’s not a nightmare? What if this is truth?
It was too horrible to think about.
Still, he climbed from the bed and got dressed, glancing often at the heavily covered windows. No light leaked around them, no hint of sun or shine. When he was clothed, he approached them slowly, as though they were an enemy waiting to attack, and carefully lifted the corner of the coverings. He tensed, waiting for light to burn him as his sister had warned, but nothing happened. He lifted it further to find the cause: there was no sun. The world outside was cloaked in the soft mantle of late evening. Stars were already blinking against the dark velvet, and the horizon was deep purple. He had slept the entirety of the day.
He dropped the make-shift drapes and left his room in search of his father. In the corridor, the warm smell of dinner floating to him, and he followed it. His father had waited this long, what would a few minutes matter?
But it was not feast he found, rather his father’s Steward. The man looked upon him with alarm and jumped back, hands raised.
“And so they have done it to you as well, young laird.”
The smell of the man was overwhelming – no not the man, his blood – but Jamie struggled to pull back. “Done what?”
“Made you one of them. Don’a seem so surprised, as the steward of this place there is no secret hidden from me.”
“Then tell me where I may find…” though he meant to say many different things, the only word that his tongue would form was, “sustenance.”
“The kitchen, young laird. There are arrangements there for this peculiar diet.”
“Aye.” Jamie nodded his thanks and practically ran, before he did to the steward as he had to Rechert the night before.
Though the hearth fire was lit in the kitchen, it gave little comfort. Gone was the bustle and activity Jamie had always observed there, replaced with shadowy corners and a heavy emptiness. There was no sign of food, save three carafes of something crimson on the table, next to a trio of goblets.
Jamie recognized the smell immediately, and found himself not bothering with the goblet, but drinking straight from the pitcher in long, satisfying gulps. He stopped, only when it was empty, and stared at the drained carafe with disappointment.
“Uncle Jamie!” A pair of child voices cried from the doorway. Jamie spun, wiping at his mouth as quickly as he could, lest the bairns see the blood upon his lips.
Clouds of dark hair, pink cheeks, and bright eyes, the boys tumbled into the room. They flung themselves on him, chattering in excitement, one over the other, so he could scarce make out their tales. He could smell their blood, smell the life in them, and knew instinctively that they had not been changed as he and his sister.
“Enough!” Caitrin cried as she hurried inside. “Enough! Do not pester yer uncle so!” She dragged them back, squirming. “Go wash yer faces, and find yer father.”
They groaned, but she sent them scooting with gentle swats to their backsides. She watched them go, the pride of motherhood shining in her eyes. “Nay, yer right. They were left as they are, so that they can grow to manhood.”
Jamie shot her a questioning look and she explained, “I told yer last night, we do not age. Had they been made as us, they’d have stayed as babes for eternity. Such a thing is wrong.”
He didn’t want to think about the implications, the tender in and outs or tragedies of such an act, so he merely nodded and looked away.
Footsteps came, and then a bearded man walked into the room. Jamie felt at once the difference between him and the children. This stranger was as he was now, changed, inhuman.
Caitrin straightened and quickly introduced him to Eagan, the one who had forever changed them. At the sight of his facial hair, Jamie touched his own chin to find it clean shaven.
“’I shaved ya,” his sister said, as if she’d read his thoughts. “Eagan said ‘twas part of the ritual when Androu and I…When we were changed.”
“Aye, that they say it is, lass,” Eagan said good naturedly. “Though ‘twas not so in my day, as ya can see, lad. Now let me have a look at ya.” The man stood before Jamie, surveying him. “Aye, ya look ta be a strapping specimen. No doubt brave and fierce and all the like.”
Jamie narrowed his eyes. That this man was to be his master, in any capacity…”Aye. Fierce I be.”
“Good, good. A bit o’fierce is always good in this business.”
‘Why, the business of bein’ immortal, lad. Don’a want a soft pawed dandy, now do we? No doubt ya have questions fer me? Mark, I may not be able ta answer them all, but I will do what I can, so long as ye don’a mind it over me meal.” He gave a wink as he poured a goblet from one of the carafes.
Jamie’s questions came fast and furious, True to his word, Eagan answered as he could – or as he claimed he could. That he had been traveling he affirmed, and had simply asked for lodgings. The turmoil intrigued him, and so he stayed on, not telling the castle’s occupants his secret nature. Not until he decided to offer them the same, then and only then had he explained it. As to how he’d become such, another of his kind had given the same to him, and on and on back into the mists of memory.
While they spoke, Caitrin drained two goblets herself, nodding here and there, but never interjecting. When they’d finished, she said quietly, “Though I did not ask Master Eagen’s leave ta make ya, I hope he is not too disappointed.”
The older man sighed. “Nay lass, I cannae blame ya fer what ya done. I woulda done the same in your place. ‘Tis hard to watch the suffering of a loved one. I know already that ye are a strong lass. Yer bravery in the dark deeds of late have shown that.” He squeezed her shoulder affectionately. “Now where be that husband o’yours?”
“With the bairns, or that was my order to them.”
Eagan chuckled. “Good, good. But we must finish soon, so the mortals might come back and make the babe’s dinner, eh?” Jamie’s confusion must have been on his face, for he added, “To prevent…unfortunate accidents, all are ordered to avoid the kitchen an’ sleepin’ quarters ‘til we’ve fed. Fresh fledglings have weak control, as yer’ve no doubt noticed.”
Jamie muttered a semi-agreement under his breath, the memory of Rechert bright in his mind. Too bright, in fact. Each moment of the night before hung in crystal clarity, a stark contrast to the foggy memories of all that had come before.
“Aye, that be the difference between mortal memories and immortal,” Eagan said.
Jamie looked to him sharply, and Caitrin explained, “Master Eagan can see to yer thoughts.”
“See my thought?” Jamie demanded. “What do you-”
“Aye, she means I can hear them, when I choose, or when yer fiery passions make ‘em louder than usual. It’s a talent Caitrin and Androu are developing, as will you.” He chuckled. “Speak of the devil himself, here he is.”
Androu strolled through the door, his long hair neat and his face as cleanly shaved as Jamie’s. He nodded to his brother-in-law and poured himself a goblet.
Jamie was oddly grateful that Androu didn’t speak. He’d had too much information in too short a time and needed a break from it. “I think ya for this morning conversation, but I would see father if I can, and speak ta him. Things went ill at Dunbar, and I know not what plans may be laid, only that we must be vigilant.”
Caitrin choked, a hand to her throat. “Ya cannae think ya could fight anymore, Jamie? Not like this? Ya wouldn’t survive the day without shelter. Ya must remain home now.”
Jamie scoffed. “I will see what father has to say of such things.”
Eagan set aside his empty goblet, his eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Yer father, lad? Didn’a she tell ya? He’s dead.”
Jamie’s heart throbbed, and his breath was a tight knot of fury and sorrow. First his wife, now his father? What in the hell had happened while he was away? Had they both died of sickness, weeks, or even days before an immortal fae waltzed into their castle, one who could have saved them? Such ill luck seemed laughable, if he was able to laugh without crying.
Caitrin wrung her hands. “I didn’t, not yet. It seemed too cruel a stroke, after tellin’ him of Margaret’s passin’. I thought perhaps to give him some time.”
“Time?” Jamie cried. “How did it come to pass?”
“Was the English that hung him,” Eagan said.
“The English?” Jamie slammed his fist into the table hard enough to make the goblets jump. “What have those devils to do with it?”
“They knew he was a traitor, lad, or a rebel if ya prefer that word. He died well.”
Was it the English or someone else? Someone like a strange traveler, seeking shelter in the night, touched by the fae, with a thirst for blood?
Jamie’s burning eyes bored into Eagan’s face, a face lined with years; years Jamie would take away depending on the man’s answer. “And how does it come that he alone was killed? How is it that his daughter and her husband, that his household, a household of traitors, still lives? Did the English allow such a thing? ‘Tis not in their nature!”
“Aye, ‘tis true enough. But they did not find the rest of his household ta be traitors. Androu provided his testimony, and professed his loyalty to them. In reward, he was made laird in yer father’s place. They send their agents from time ta time ta check his loyalty. O’ course-”
With a roar, Jamie upended the table, sending the contents to the floor in a shattering crash. “You snake! Betrayer! Judas!” With another cry he bound over the mess and slammed Androu into the wall, one hand around the man’s throat. “With the fae touch comes new strength, I pray only ‘tis enough ta choke the life from ya!”
Caitrin shrieked and tried to rip him away, but fully fed and fed by fury, he shook her off. Androu kicked and fought, nearly breaking free before Jamie slammed a fist into his face. Blood sprayed from a broken nose, and Androu choked.
And then Jamie was torn away and left stumbling. He straightened, ready to knock Caitrin aside but it was Eagan who stood before him, eyes hard stones. “Aye, fierce ya may be lad, but fierceness knows it’s place. ‘Tis not now.”
“If not now, then when?” Jamie roared. “He is a black heart, a traitor, a-”
Caitrin stood at her husband’s side, trying to stem the flow of blood from his nose. “He did as he must, she barked. “Father knew-”
“Father knew he had a Judas for a son-in-law and little better for a daughter!” Jamie jerked his clothes straight. “I cannae stay under the same roof as snakes. For the sake of my sister I will go and leave you alive, Androu. You can keep the lands, and the titles, all the things you wanted enough to stain yourself with my family’s blood. But know that should I ever lay eyes on you again, my sister will be left to mourn while hell opens its gates to welcome you.”
Androu didn’t flinch, only looked back with cold, steely eyes. “Aye, do as you see fit, Jamie.”
“Brother-“ Caitrin started, but Jamie didn’t wait for her to finish. He stormed away, footsteps echoing over the cold stone floors towards his chambers. His bag was nearly packed when Caitlin appeared in the doorway, hands fluttering nervously.
“Jamie, you can’t mean ta leave us.”
“I can, and do.”
She stepped closer to lay her hand on his arm. “Truly? You are the only family I have left.”
He pulled away. “Whose fault is that? Speak to your husband, not me. I wasn’t the one who betrayed him to the cursed English, who watched him hang, who-” He broke off at the hurt in her eyes but did nothing to soften it. That she could remain Androu’s wife – nay even continue to love him – after what he’d done…what did that say of her?
“You will have to have our Master’s permission.”
He scoffed. “Nay. No man owns me.”
“Not man, lad, but something more.”
Jamie turned to see Eagan standing behind them. At his motion, Caitrin hurried out the door, leaving them alone.
“You should not be so hard on yer sister, lad. The heart can forgive much when there is love in it.”
Jamie turned his back on the man to close his traveling bag. “Then she should be able to forgive me for never seeing her again.”
“Aye, she would forgive ya, fer such is love, just as ya will forgive her, when the fire of fresh pain has cooled. Then ya will see ta reason. Androu had no choice. They knew ya were a rebel, lad. Had you not tried to put Charles on the throne…but ya did, and they knew it, lad. They came to the castle, lookin’ fer you, fer your allies. Had Androu not admitted yer father’s involvement, they would have killed him as well, taken the land and given it to an English Laird they could trust. Then what would ye have returned to? You know as well as I that I speak the truth, and that yer sister and her pretty babes would have died with ‘em.”
Though Jamie didn’t wish the bairns ill, maybe that would have been better. Had Caitrin died, she wouldn’t have been there to open the door to their guest, to be touched by the fae, to pass such things on to him.
“And what of Margaret? Did she not raise her voice in this?”
“Nay, she was dead by then, taken by fever.”
That at least was a blessing, that she hadn’t lived to see…hadn’t been made to go along. As a woman, what else could she have done? And had the English truly come seeking him, then what would they have done to his wife?
Eagan sighed. “I understand yer pain, but ya cannae leave.”
Jamie wadded the bag in his fist. “You cannae stop me.”
“Aye, but I can, and I will. Yer sister told ya that to be made what we are leaves ya owin’ a debt – a blood debt they call it. Since the blood comes from me, ya owe me that debt, and until it’s paid, ya cannae go but ya have my leave, and I do not give it.”
Jamie spun to face him, hands fists at his side. “And how will ya stop me, old man?”
Eagan chuckled. “Old man, ya say. Ah, I do be older than ya, but not so old I cannae teach ya a lesson. “ Jamie’s disbelief was obvious, and Eagan’s face lit with inspiration. “I’ll make a wager with ya, lad. If ye can beat me soundly, I’ll release ya from yer debt now, unheard of among our kind, an’ you’ll be free to come an’ go as ya please. But, should I best ya, ya will acknowledge me as yer master, remain here, and pay yer debt ‘til I release ya. On your honor.”
Jamie tried to bite back a chuckle. Eagan might be fae, but was he also daft? Such a contest would have only one outcome. “Aye, on my honor. What weapon do yer choose?”
“Oh, no weapon fer me, though yer may use those ya see fit.” Eagan smiled affably and shut the door. “Seems as good a place as any fer such a fight, donn’a ya think?”
Jamie tensed, eyes shifting as he sought the advantage. “Aye, ‘tis that.”
As the last word left his lips, he grabbed the dirk from his belt and charged. Eagan dodged with the practice moves of a warrior, landing a punch to Jamie’s back, and a kick to his calf as he darted around him. Jamie stumbled from the blow, but spun around, lunging and slashing. Eagan again avoided the blade, and again his hits connected. Jamie slid on a piece of torn cloth, and righted himself in time to take an uppercut from his opponent.
Jamie stumbled back, wiping blood from his lips. He charged again, and was again rebuffed, this time knocked into the remnants of the dressing table. With fury, he pulled himself free and leapt at his opponent, only to be knocked back again, and again. Though weaponless, Eagan’s well timed blows left Jamie bleeding, while the old man remained unharmed.
“Yer can quit when ya like, lad,” he joked.
“Aye, I’ll quit, when I’ve beaten ya and won my freedom.”
“As ya say.” Eagan shifted to the left, avoiding the thrust of Jamie’s dirk. He spun around him, this time liberating a leg from the broken table. He leveraged it like bat, and as Jamie snapped around ot face him, he swung.
Jamie fell back to the floor. His ears echoed with the crunch of his nose and jaw. Pain shot through him, and his hand went automatically to his face to find his nose broken, his jaw shattered.
“Enough now,” Eagan said. “You cannae fight like-”
With a gurgling snarl, Jamie pounced. The blade caught the edge of flesh, but not enough to bite. Eagan shook his head, chuckling. “Ya are a fierce one, ya weren’t a lyin’ about that.”
As Jamie went for him again, Eagan swung his club. The blow landed in his ribs, leaving him sprawled on the floor, coughing blood, his broken ribs screaming.
Eagan broke off as Jamie forced himself to his feet. Blood dripped in his eyes and ran down his face and over his chin in rivulets. He tried to speak, but his broken jaw made the words no more than grunts. ‘Tis for my freedom, Jamie told himself. Freedom from tyranny. Aye, no different than fighting the goddamned English, no different than Dunbar. But it was. There he’d fought for the sake of Margaret, for their future bairns, for his father, even for his sister and now… now who did he fight for but himself?
“A man who fights only for himself is weaker than he who fights for something more.”
Jamie looked up sharply, just in time to see the table keg smash into his face.
“Jamie? Jamie? Come ta bed my love. ‘Tis our wedding night, and ya would leave me alone on it?”
Jamie looked up from his cup to see his pretty wife standing before him, cheeks blushing and eyes shining, waiting for a consummation they’d already practiced many times before.
His father laughed and slapped the table. “Aye lad, get ye to it. Donna leave a woman waiting!”
Jamie hadn’t realized the late hour, time lost to mead and revelry, the celebration of their union. ‘Aye, I believe I’ve had enough o’you. To bed!”
A chorus of laughter followed him, the gruff sound of drunken friends and family. Margarete chuckled herself as she led him away and towards their chambers. In the bedroom he stumbled against the bed and felt remorse.
“I’m sorry, love. ‘Tis yer wedding night and here is your husband, too sopping drunk to make use of it. I lost meself to cup and company and-”
She caught him and laid a finger to his lips. “Hush, love. Drunk ye may be, but not too drunk to be of use still. Mark.” She reached low and touched him. “See now? Come, do not apologize for your reveling. ‘Tis a night to celebrate, to drink and be merry, to sing and dance like nobody’s watching. And now, to make love to yer wife.”
Jamie reached for her, reached for her mouth with his, but he found only darkness, emptiness.
With a groan he blinked, then opened his eyes. Through a red haze he saw the ruined room, saw Eagan standing over him.
“Yer awake. Good.”
Awake. As if he would ever be awake again. He’d left behind the dreams of heaven for the nightmare of hell. Neither were real now.
Regardless, he’d made a vow, sworn on his honor. Dream, or nightmare, his honor was all he had left in it. With a grunt, he struggled to pull himself up.
Eagan chuckled. “Surely ya’ve had enough, lad? Come now, ya cannae even stand.”
Jamie ignored him and pulled up to one knee, bowing before him as he’d told himself he would never do to any except Charles, who should be their king. Slowly, he raised his head, holding his broken jaw with one hand to mutter through the mess, “Aye, enough. I swore, on my honor, and on my honor I will remain, your servant, ‘til you release me from your debt of blood.”
And then, I’ll kill Androu.
And now for guesses:
- Black cat 2. familiar 3. witchy woman 4. black magic woman 5. coffee break 6. watercooler chat 7. leaning 8. balcony. 9. “If I spit from here do you think it would knock someone out?” 10. Can cats spit? 11. I dunno why but this just makes me think of witches. 12. black cat 13. is he crossing her path or just hanging out? 14. hanging out 15. coven couture 16. evil but fashionable 17. she’s no maleficent 18. bewitched 19. Season of the Witch 20. Best friends
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:
On a side note I have my laptop and data all working now. Still some sorting to do, but I’m almost done and back to where I was before the meltdown. wOOt!
As you might know, I’ve been working, agonizingly slowly, on Jamie’s tale, but it hasn’t been flowing. Told back and forth between his “current” situation (aka 1668 when he leaves Scotland for the colonies) and his past, it was just boring, so I have started over and am doing the past story as the current event rather than in flashbacks.
Anyway, here we go. Let’s see if it’s better.
There was thirst. Hot, burning, like a flame in Jamie’s throat. He swallowed, but it only made it worse.
He adjusted to it, to the ache, and reached beyond, finding himself, his surroundings. He lay on his back, warm, not uncomfortable. No immediate pain, past his dry throat.
He opened his eyes slowly. The bright room flickered in and out of focus, and then sharpened into a scene too clear to be real. Was he dreaming?
The room looked real; and just as he remembered. The large bed, the fireplace, the pitcher near the bed, the familiar lamp, his wife’s cloak draped over a low stool. It was his bedroom at home, in the family castle, but…but how had he come to be there? And why was everything so bright?
He closed his eyes against it and the memories came back, edged in red, and distorted as if they were from long ago. Things had gone badly at Dunbar. They’d have been fine if they’d just waited, but the officers…no, they hadn’t been happy to sit. They’d ordered the attack. After two days, thousands lay dead, and many times that number were captured by Cromwell’s army.
Jamie’s hand moved unconsciously to his side, where he’d been wounded. Phantom pain stabbed through him as he pictured the ragged, maggot edged wound. Was that last night? Earlier today? He remembered that he’d cowered in a ditch and tried to redress the mess with a torn tunic, stolen from a washing line. Too sick to go further, he spent the night there, shivering with fever. Every sound became an imagined pursuer, an enemy sent to sweep up the last of the rebels. No. The sun had risen. He remembered the warmth on his fingertips, the song of the birds as he forced himself to climb out, to follow the winding road towards his father’s lands. He was so close to home…so close to Margaret.
Her image moved to the forefront of his thoughts, looking as she’d been when he last saw her. Long red hair curled around her shoulders, green eyes looked up at him, filled half with love, and half with sadness.
She’d pressed a lock of hair into his hand, tied with a soft ribbon. “Ya will return, my love. Walk unafraid on yer journey and know my heart goes with ye.”
“Aye, I will, and ya will be waitin’ to greet me when I do.”
She’d smiled, even as a tear slipped down her cheek. “Aye, that I will. A greeting you won’t soon forget.”
Jamie opened his eyes on the over bright room again. Though he didn’t remember the arrival, he’d returned, just as she said he would, just as he’d promised her. What came next, he didn’t know. He’d planned to try again to start a family, to settle down victorious, but with the loss of the battle…he might need to go back again.
He just needed to see her, try to explain it. He sat up slowly, hand still at his side, body tensed for pain. None came. His quizzical eyes moved to his side as he pulled back the blanket. On his side he found no bandage or wrapping, only a crooked scar.
A scar? How long had he been abed? For it to have healed fully it must have been weeks. And from the look of the scar, the smoothness, perhaps months. Months abed? How could such a thing be?
No wonder I’m so thirsty.
He grabbed the beside pitcher, ready to drink whatever was inside, but it was empty. Aggravated, he set it back with too much force. Shards dropped around the night table, just as the door opened.
“I didn’t mean-” he broke off at the sight of Rechert, his father’s servant. The man’s wide eyes moved from the broken pieces of pitcher, to Jamie’s face, and then to the floor.
“You are awake, sir.”
“Aye, that I am. And thirsty.” Jamie rubbed his throat. “What must a man do to get a drink here?” Though it was meant as a joke, he saw Rechert tense. “What is it? Is something amiss?”
The man didn’t look up, only murmured, “Nay.”
His demeanor didn’t match his answer, and Jamie was instantly on guard. Was it because he’d obviously been abed so long? “What day is it?”
“’tis the twelfth of September, sir.”
“The twelfth?” How could that be? He’d been wounded only twelve days ago? Unless…”What is the year?”
Jamie ran a hand through his hair, fighting confusion. It was the same year, the same month, so how could he have healed so quickly? He looked again to Rechert, but sensed there’d be no answers there. “Fetch Margaret.” She’d be able to explain things, to soothe the strange, unsettled feeling slowly settling over him. “And a drink. My throat burns.”
The man didn’t move, and Jamie snapped with more anger than he meant, “I said to fetch my wife, and a drink, man! Are ye deaf?”
When Rechert flinched, Jamie felt instant regret. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean ter’ be so cross. I just-I don’t understand. And this blasted thirst…I just need to see Margaret and get a drink before I’m consumed.” He coughed, like gargling sand. “A drink,” he muttered, tossing the blanket aside, ready to stand and find his own liquid. Any liquid.
“She’s dead, sir.”
Jamie froze, one foot on the floor. “What do ya say? Who is dead?”
Rechert flinched again. “Your wife, sir. Margaret.”
The too-bright, over-sharp world contracted, pressing in on him with a suffocating pressure that stole his breath. Dead. Margaret. Dead. But…But…
“What do ya say?”
He heard his own voice, a half-wild shout, but felt no connection to it. Rechert backed toward the door. “I’ll fetch her ladyship.”
And then he was gone. Jamie stared at the blank space he’d been in, conscious only of the burning in his throat, and the tearing agony in his chest. Rechert must be mistaken. The man was old, addled.
He conjured her again in his memory, a thousand moments pressed together, like flipping through the pages of a prayer book. He saw her laughing in the sunlight, laying on the bed on their wedding night, her fiery hair spread around her flushed face. Saw her holding their daughter, hair damp from the sweat of childbirth, then again months later, eyes wet with the tears of a mother burying her child. He saw her riding her horse, bundled in her cloak, as snowflakes drifted beneath the darkened sky.
There, in the frozen moments, her could smell her, hear her voice playing through his memory. “Ya know I love, thee, Jamie, as the songbirds love the dawn.”
Aye, as I love you.
The door opened, and Jamie was pulled back to his over-bright room to see his sister. Her dark tresses were pulled back and her face was pallid, leaving her deep brown eyes like two deep pools – deep pools that shone with her pity.
Pity for him. Pity for his loss. Pity for the wife who was no more.
“Jamie,” she whispered as she drew near the bed. “She had a fever-”
The roar sounded foreign to his ears, even as Caitrin leapt back from his fury. Without thought he grabbed the night table and flung it against the wall. Followed by the lamp, the jewelry box, and then even the sideboard. He raged as he grabbed everything in reach, dashing it against the cold stone walls as he screamed. Then among the wreckage he saw the glint of gold.
With a moan he dropped to the floor, clutching the piece of jewelry. He squeezed his eyes closed, battling the tears, the black agony that threatened to swallow him, fighting that ever present, still screaming thirst.
“Jamie.” Caitrin’s voice was soft, and the touch on his shoulder gentle. “Peace, Jamie. She rests, safe in the bosom of the lord. She-”
He refused to look, refused to see that pity again. “How?” he croaked, his voice heavy with thirst and grief. “How did it come to pass?”
“A fever, Jamie. She seemed better, and then, in the night, she just slipped away. She called for you. She…”
Jamie tensed and squeezed his eyes tighter, as if he could blot reality away if he only he couldn’t see it.
“…She didn’t blame ya, Jamie, fer not bein’ here. When she was lucid, she…she said as much, said she knew how important the cause was to ya, to…to all of us, that she knew yer were fighting’ fer your future, fer your bairn’s future. She didn’t…She tried to hold on fer ya, but the fever…we thought she was better, thought she was safe…”
Jamie held up a hand to silence her. He couldn’t hear any more, not now. Not ever. Ever. To face a world, a life without her in it…
He buried his face in his hands and bit back a cry. As he’d crawled home, bleeding, sick, desperate, his only prayer had been to let him make it home, let him see Margaret again, to hold her, to bury his face in her hair and…
No, not drink, not…
The thought flitted away as a voice said, “My lady-”
Jamie looked up through teary eyes to see Rechert returned. His vision throbbed, and the scent of dinner rolled through the room; roast suckling, apples, pork pie, and a thousand other delights. His body moved on its own, knocking the servant to the wall, pinning him, despite his struggles, and then biting, sharp, quick. The feel of flesh between his teeth, the rush of blood, the relief as the thirst was quenched, as the fire dissipated.
But it does nothing for the pain.
And now for guesses:
- a rose for a rose 2. true love 3. Romeo and Juliet 4. on the balcony 5. reaching 6. Would not a rose by any other name still smell as sweet? 7. among the clouds 8 walking on sunshine 9. high on love 10. airship 11. up, up, and away 12. a token 13. his ship is pretty low, or else her house is very tall 14. hope a strong wind doesn’t come along. 15. I’ve really got no more ideas. 16. I’m not good at these. 17. it’s well done, though. 18. I wish I could paint 19. a fair wind blows 20. I got nothing.
It’s time again for blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their weekly blog. This week’s promts are:
A quick note – I got my data back today! It is currently being copied to a new raid system (aka a hard drive that automatically duplicates its content onto a second hard drive so there is always a back up). I have no idea how much longer its going to take (it’s been at it for hours now) but either way, I have it all. wOOt!
And now on with Jamie. Not as long as I wanted, so either there will be more than 3 parts to this, or part 3 is gonna be huge. Also decided I am going to write the Jorick story where he quits the Executioners. I know the six readers who replied to the street team question wanted something else, (they didn’t actually agree) but I think for the sake of the stories going together that is the piece that needs told.
Though he’d expected her to follow, it was Eagan he’d met as he readied the horse. The vampire gave him an affable smile. “You should not be so hard on yer sister, lad. The heart can forgive much when there is love in it.”
Jamie scoffed as he swung onto his horse. “Then she should be able to forgive me for never seeing her again. Travel well.”
And he’d ridden away into the night with no clear destination in mind, only the driving need to escape the memories and the guilt.
Had I but been there, such things would never have happened. I’d have slipped a blade between Androu’s ribs as he slept and all would have been well.
Or so he told himself.
Eagen had said more than once that such thoughts were a childish fantasy, that Androu had no choice. “They knew ya were a rebel, lad. Had you not tried to put Charles on the throne…but ya did, and they knew it, lad. They came to the castle, lookin’ fer you, fer your allies. Had Androu not admitted yer father’s involvement, they would have killed him as well, taken the land and given it an English Laird they could trust. Then what would ye have returned to? You know as well as I that I speak the truth, and that yer sister and her pretty babes would have died with ‘em.”
Though Jamie didn’t wish the bairns ill, maybe that still would have been better. Had Caitrin died, instead of becoming some immortal creature, she could never have passed the burden on to him – to live for eternity to dwell on his bitterness.
He closed his eyes and saw her behind them. Her flyaway hair, soft green eyes, and smooth skin. He could almost smell her, almost feel the memory of her lips.
That was all that was left of her now. Eagan swore she’d died of fever, but if that was so why had she not been similarly transformed, made immortal, as Androu and Caitrin had? The timelines were muddled, and spoken in mumbles that purposefully confused. Had Eagan been there when she died? Had he been there when his father was hung? Why had he done nothing?
He’d asked Caitrin those questions, asked Androu, even asked Eagan, and their answers had been just as worthless as their other explanations. He’d known there was more to it – knew even now. Perhaps, freed from his debt, he should have slaughtered them all.
And been left with a pair of mortal bairns to raise.
Jamie pictured his nephews’ chubby cheeks and bright eyes, left human to grow to the proper age before they would be made into monsters. He and Margaret’s only babe had not lived to take her first steps. Though they’d planned to try again, her death had robbed them of that chance, while the immortal curse had made him barren and sealed his fate. Never to be a father, as Androu was, not to pass on his father’s legacy, or continue his family line, not to see his descendants stretch on, except through his sister.
And what traitorous creatures will they be with her influence?
Though he knew she was just a woman, and could execute little control of the situation – what could she have done except deny the charges? – still he couldn’t forgive her. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Aye, though Father would say I should.
Every January, at Hogmanay, his father would make a toast and resolve to forgive those who had wronged him that year. “Ye have ta start with a clean slate, lad.”
If only he could.
Jamie shifted again in the confined space of the box, and sniffed. He could feel the sun sinking, enough that he might be safe. He listened to be sure there was no one beyond to see him rise, then slowly lifted the lid, pausing twice to be sure. If one of the crew or passengers were to discover him in the box…he might be immortal, but he knew he could still be murdered.
With the coast clear, he climbed out and straightened his clothes. Gone were his traditional garb, replaced with unfamiliar clothes he’d purchased at the docks. He was starting over, wiping away his old life for a new one, and that meant everything had to go. Everything except the lock of her hair.
His hand went unwittingly to his pocket, as if he could feel the pouch, and the coiled tresses within, through the fabric. She’d given it to him before he’d left the last time. Her green eyes had gazed at his face, half full of love, and half sadness at his leaving.
“Ya will return, my love,” she promised as she pressed the locks into his hand. “Walk unafraid on yer journey and know my heart goes with ye.”
And he had returned. He’d crawled back half dead, bleeding and battered, it was only his memory of her that kept him moving, running, clawing his way back, dodging pursuit and praying to make it. And what had greeted him when he returned? When he woke in the cold hall of his family, restored and whole? Not even his sister had been there, only Joey, the old manservant. It was he who’d told him of Margaret’s passing, while his eyes looked everywhere but Jamie’s face, Jamie’s mouth, Jamie’s fangs.
And do I blame him? Surely I looked monstrous, begging for drink and a dead wife.
And now for guesses:
- Candy land 2. stripes 3. Santa’s helper 4. Candy magic 5. candy cane forest 6. hypnotic 7. I don’t know. 8. If that was the right guess I’d have tons of points. 9. poodle hair. 10, cotton candy hair 11. sweet treats 12. I want candy 13. incense and peppermints 14. Peppermint Twist 15. I’m just naming songs now 16. You have to wonder why the photographer took this 17. Candy cane Children. 18. Okay, I never heard that one. 19. I wasn’t a huge white stripes fan. 20. Oh. White stripes is a good guess.