Teaser Tuesday | 5/13

Oh giggidy! So, just to jump into things, here are three teasers for the projects I’m currently working on. The catch: roughly two-thousand words and its at the point I’m currently working on– so you’ll be dropped in the middle of my imagination. Heh, adventures!

 

First up, there’s my take on vampire and their lore. Right now, I’m in the middle of a pivotal chapter but I’m willing to let ya take a peek at my current status regarding the project.

Bring you up to speed: Lisbet is considered cursed. Her parents dead, her grandmother facilitated a marriage between Lisbet and a traveling peddler named Rowan, who besides having a treasure trove of goods horded in his wagon, possessed secrets he’s kept from his new wife. On their way to his home in war-torn France, they become aware that they are not alone in the forest…

 

nine  

Adventure is not how I would choose to describe the voyage from England to France.  I stayed in the foul cabin, upon a mildewed bunk, and tried not retch my innards out from the mal de mer. Tincture of Mint did not work.  Rowan would leave periodically to empty the bucket I kept refilling with the contents of my stomach and to tend the horses, escaping the stink.

We landed in Hareflot just before dusk. The streets were still busy with people attending their business. Women with trays of long loaves of bread upon their heads called out, selling their wares.  The smell of salty air, various victuals and the stench of unwashed bodies, refuse strewn in the street, animals and contents of slop jars tossed out windows above beat my senses to putty. I felt incredibly ill once we set foot upon land, that it was with a measure of relief when I climbed atop Jubal once again. The horse’s motion gently echoed the rolling sea.

Rowan spoke as we hitched the horses to the wagon and rolled past the docks toward the town center. “It’s always hardest to find one’s land legs after their first sail. I know that was my own experience.”

Rowan and I navigated through congested streets to the countryside on our way south. My mind, when not trying to quell nausea, pondered what Lonbec would be like. Would I love my new home? Would the French people who serve my husband  accept an Englishwoman as their chatelaine?

We stopped long enough to pick up two skins of wine, a loaf of bread and large wedge of cheese. As an afterthought, Rowan bought a long, skinny sausage and a small basket of apples. Then we headed south and reached an inn. I thought we would stop for the night, yet Rowan rode on, into the darkening forest.

“When do we rest?”

Rowan answered, “We will make camp up here a ways. I have no desire to bed down in a den of thieves. That inn is notorious as a place spies frequent to exchange information. They would steal any knowledge available, and sell it to the highest bidder. Have your blade handy? Two-legged wolves have been known to live in the woods here”

“Will I need it?” Fright rippled through me at the thought of men attacking us.

“I do not know, but it cannot hurt to be ready should something arise.” He turned the horses off the road and toward the trees.  Deep into the woods, we went. Rowan must have camped here before, because he led us to a small meadow. I heard the sound of trickling water before spotting the small creek tumbling over stone.

Rowan unhitched the horses from the wagon and brushed them down. I gathered wood to make a fire, only to be stopped by my husband’s words of warning. “Do not light a fire, it will call the critters from yonder forest.” He nodded in the direction of the inn. “No hot meals until we reach Lonbec, I’m afraid.”

I frowned. A crackling fire, roasted sausages, and toasted cheese on bread, then a crisp apple… Alas, not tonight. “As you will.”

He unlatched the back of his wagon and dug around the inside in search of something. Rowan pulled out a bundle of fur and material, unfolding it in the air before he settled it on the ground near the wagon’s back wheels. “Here, sit on something that does not move.” Darkness now fully engulfed us as night settled down to stay.

We were about to eat when Rowan turned his head to the side, as if in search of something lurking in the forest. Then, a finger to his lips, warning me to silence.

My heart pounded in my chest and up to my throat. A wolf? A man? Bear? Something neared, I knew it did because Rowan gestured for me to get under the wagon while he stood up, a sentinel against the interloper. I lay on my belly and scooted backward, hoping whatever lurked out there saw not my movements.

He stood for a minute or two before taking off at a sprint. A moment later, a very human-sounding yelp. Then a thud. My hand went for the blade at my side and I unsheathed it. The horses danced in nervousness, neighing and snorting. Another yelp and thud. I could hear footsteps coming my way. Tried seeing who it was, but with no light, it was impossible.

“Rowan?”

“Aye.”

“What was that?” I began to climb from beneath the wagon. As I stood, I asked him, “Are you hurt?”

“Two-legged wolf and no. I am fine.”

I could see Rowan’s silhouette if I squinted hard enough. My knife not yet sheathed, felt warm in my hand. I readied myself with a deep breath. Then I threw the blade as hard as I could.

It flew over Rowan’s shoulder and buried itself into the chest of a red-eyed beast which stood behind my husband. I thought no one could be so fast, but Rowan whirled and watched the blade fly past. As the steel embedded itself into the beast, Rowan pounced. He used a ferocity I never witnessed before and pulled the knife out then used it to decapitate the beast in one fell swoop. In that moment, a flash of fire and smoke enveloped the dead body. As soon as it flared, it disappeared. No ashes, even. Just a stench of rotted eggs and spoiled meat. The heat from the brief flash felt immense, as if I stood next to a roaring fire.

Although what I just witnessed frightened me, it was no match for the disembodied voice floating through the trees.

Elazaaaar.….. You destroyed my meal and my mate, oh ye of Kition.” Harsh and low, the voice made all the hair on my body stand on end.

“Be gone! Tell your mistress to seek me no longer.” Rowan spoke clearly and evenly.

A chuckle rumbled around us. “My mistress sends a message. She says to stay in your bower. Hunt not, lest ye be hunted.”

“Tell your mistress I accept her orders, provided she follows them herself with the addendum of creating no more followers. Hypocrisy cannot be allowed.”

“Tis your death, Eleazar.”

“Death scares me not. Worms nor fire nor carrion birds will touch my flesh. Be gone.”

Laughter, the likes I never heard, circled around us like a whirlwind. “I will take her your words, ye of Kition. I will suckle the blood from your companion and bathe in her entrails. That is a promise.”

The whirlwind stopped and the night quieted.

My heart beat so fast I thought I would lose consciousness and faint. Instead, I slowly backed up to the wagon and slid down the side. I looked up at Rowan’s outline and said, “I think I am due some answers, husband.”

I heard footsteps near. Rowan sank beside me. “Aye, I think you are. And after I tell you all, we head to Lonbec. We won’t stop.”

“But the horses? That will kill them!”

“Nay, they have heart. I have faith in my horseflesh. I would not risk the animals if I didn’t think they could do it.”

 I heaved a deep sigh and asked, “Who is Zamora?”

“She is a nightmare made flesh.”

Sharply, I turned my head to look at Rowan. “A nightmare? Things suddenly bursting into flame instead of bleeding to death is nightmare, husband.”

“If you wish me to explain it all, I cannot start by discussing Zamora.  There is much more to it than her part.” Rowan heaved a deep sigh. “Do you recall the gift I said I would bestow upon you?”

“Aye, of course.” My curiosity burned brighter now that he mentioned the gift.

“You have two choices my dear. Take the gift and then the explanation, or I divulge all and you think me mad until I prove otherwise. Please be predictable, and save your salve and healing touch for others.”

“I want to know what the gift is. Now.”

Rowan paused a moment before saying, “Immortally and a relationship closer to God than you could ever conceive.”

Frustration seemed to seep up from the ground and infuse me with a biting tongue. “What exactly is the gift? No prose, no poetry. Just spit it out.”

That brought him up short, as if he actually thought I understood the full context of his statement and expected me to be his definition of predictable, whatever that was.

“Very well,” he said. “The main points would include some bloodletting and then a possibly objectionable act with said blood.” He snapped his mouth shut and nodded. “Yes, that about covers it.”

“Whose blood?” I tried to modulate my shriek, hoping it wasn’t my blood to be spilled. There is no problem when it came to dealing with others blood and gore, but when it came to my own, such as a cut, well, that makes me light headed and utterly useless. But to staunch a wound is different as day is to night when it comes to a possibly objectionable act.

“First yours, then mine.”

“I am not understanding, at all, Rowan.” Why did he need blood, let alone blood from both of us? I liked not the idea of bleeding. Most especially if it involves copious amounts of said blood.

“Can I show you something? It will illustrate what this gift can do.”

“I suppose…” Curiosity coursed around inside my mind. Finally, some answers!

Rowan pulled out his own dagger and asked for my hand. “I need but a single drop of your blood, Lisbet. Can you cut? Or prick your fingertip?”

“I can do better. Sheath your blade.” I raised my hand up and picked at the scab on my thumb. It still had yet to fully heal, for I did terrible damage to it when I caught it in the gate the night Rowan’s life entwined with mine. Blood welled up and I could feel it sliding down my hand. I closed my eyes and tried not to think of my wee wound. Could already feel the wooziness wrap around me.

Rowan swiped a finger over the mess and then put that finger into his mouth.  His breathing changed, quickened. I cannot ever forget his next words.

“You fear that you will be an outcast in your new home. You wish your half-sisters could have been true sisters to you, instead of disdaining your presence. When you were five, you saw your father futtering a woman– not your mother, when you went to see him in the forge. And come your next birthday, we will dance before the fire like years past, to celebrate as your parents did.”

My heart stopped, I’m sure it did. I rolled away from this man who knew too much. “What is this witchcraft you work? How do you know all that?”

“Tis the gift. The gift of truth. Zemora received the gift, but had not the strength of character to withstand its power. She became corrupted. She passed her corruption on to her followers. They taint the truth, preferring power and greed.”

“It is magic you speak of, witchcraft and the Devil.” I didn’t fear the man, but the consequences of what he spoke could not be ignored.

“Magic of a sort, but I assure you, it comes not from Satan.” He tried using his eyes in that way which captures my complete obedience. My upset staunched that avenue.

“Matters not! Do you not fear being burned at the stake for witchcraft?”

“I cannot burn. I am protected. As long as I fulfill my obligations, I am untouchable.”

Still, I was wary. Witchcraft doesn’t have to involve the Devil to be considered unchristian. After leaving my hometown lest I be accused and killed, the thought of marrying a man who indulged in such practices did not sit well. “How do I know you are telling the truth?”

“If you would allow me to give you the gift, you could taste the truth in my blood, as I have done of you.”

My mind whirled. Did I wish to know such things? “What if the gift taints me as it did Zamora?”

“It will not taint you, for you have not the ambition nor inclination to rampage as she. When disappointed, you do not seek to hurt those responsible. You choose a different path. I was foolish, and did not taste the truth in her blood before giving her something she neither earned nor deserved. The price I must pay is to right my wrong.”

I wanted to think longer about receiving the gift, needed to buy some time. “Rowan, will you please tell me who you are? How you came about getting the gift? I must know more. You say it doesn’t involve Satan, but such things… I am scared. ”Tis worse than treason against King and Country.”

Rowan heaved a deep sigh and patted the fur beside him. “Come wife, listen to my tale which I admit is better suited for daytime telling.”

It took a long minute before I crawled toward him and reached his side. “You will not lie to me.” I sat down and crossed my legs.

“Nay. Lies build false foundations, and I have no want of those. I know my secrets are safe with you. Here, lay your head in my lap and cover up. The night has a chill to it. You need rest, still.”

“Will you not be cold?”

“Nay, my cloak is warm enough. When I am done speaking, I would like for you to sleep. T’will be the best rest you will get for the next few nights.”

I did as he asked and rested my head on his leg, while he drew the furs around my form. He smelled of horse and cedar wood. I liked the scent.

“Rowan, if after your tale I choose not to receive the gift, will you hold it against me?”

“Not at all, but I suspect after I have spoken, you will want the gift and what it represents.”

So sure of himself, Rowan’s voice was soft and lulling. I eagerly awaited his tale, for although I married the man to escape my past, I knew whatever the future would hold for me is due to Rowan and his invisible magic.

ten

The Story Of He,

Once Called Eleazar

With Lisbet using my lap as a pillow, my mind began to piece together the story she needed to know. Although she closed her eyes, the wariness in her frame belied the peaceful expression upon her lovely face. Each breath she drew seemed to make the stream of candlefire dance in her veins.

I feared this day the moment I chose her. But it was time she knew just whom she wed.

Had she not seen the encounter earlier with the Ben’Zorah, she would not believe a word. But she saw and invited the answers. Would it beggar belief when I finished? Clearing my throat I began surrendering my sense of self preservation.  “You will not believe me, not right away. But before I give you this holy gift, I will tell you how it came to be.” Lisbet didn’t stiffen in shock as I anticipated. An auspicious beginning, I hope.

“I am older than I look, much older. I have seen the rise and decimation of great civilizations. Even now, the Byzantines wobble on a broken ankle, and as soon it falls, another will take its place, for that is the nature of the world and such is the fate of nations that grow so much they collapse upon their own weight. I say it not in jest, but to make a point. Though you see the visage of a man of thirty-two, I have breathed the air and walked the earth for over a thousand years.” Now she stiffened, but said nothing.

“Rowan is not the name given to me by my mother. Eleazar is. In your tongue, the name is Lazarus. I am the man our lord Christ bestowed a second life upon, as is recalled in the Holy Bible. My sisters Marta and Mariamne, whom you’d recognize with the names Martha and Mary, sent for the Christ when I fell ill with a fever and runny bowels. I could consume no broth or wine. Even boiled water could not stay down. Denied the liquid nourishment my body craved, I died.  My shrouded body was placed in my family’s tomb. In that cave, a shelf awaited for bodies to lie upon and turn to dust, so that the bones could be placed in an ossuary and laid next to kin. Four days my body lay there, while my soul traveled. When I died, an angel had taken me by the hand. Man, woman, neither. Bright of skin, looking at an angel is like looking at the sun and to touch one is like touching sunlight. First, I was shown Heaven. Its beauty I cannot describe.

“The angel then took me to the bowels of Hell. Never had I seen so many souls burning and writhing. The smell of charring flesh and the sound of skin sloughing off, even when there was no skin, there was still muscle. And beneath that, bone, which burns the longest. A bone deep agony that never ceases until all is rendered to ash. I wept with the terrible sight, sound and smell. I wept for mankind.

“I was then taken to Purgatory, a grim place of purification, of cleansing the spirit so it can proceed to God’s Garden. More sparsely populated than Hell, there was still no shortage of souls. At least they would one day surmount the pain they were in to gain Glory at the throne of God. The angel showed me it all, so I could understand how my devotion to Christ saved me from pain and purification.

On the second day, the angel took me back to Heaven, and there I waited shortly until I heard Jesus of Nazareth called my name. I followed the sound of his voice as I passed from one realm to another. Out of Heaven, into Purgatory and then through Hell. The flames did not touch me, the immense heat did not burn my flesh. Souls in agony wailed and moaned and the stench of burned skin… it was so much to take in, but I followed His voice as he prayed for me. And his voice led me back to my family’s tomb in Bethany, where I could hear the Christ much louder. ‘Eleazar, come to me. Come back.’ And so I did as I was bid.

“I had not the strength to return, for the journey through Hell ate at my soul, to see such misery. And the thirst chokes. Hell is much hotter than Palestine. I craved a drink, anything to slake the thirst. I had no drink for over a week, since I consumed nothing during my illness. I needed a liquid, anything, to give me strength to continue. If I had thought that sand would quench my want, I would have drunk my fill. I told Jesus such. His reply shocked me.

“I could see the Christ’s soul, as it waited with mine in the dark limestone tomb. His soul held out an open hand, palm up, from which the wrist was bleeding. I went to staunch the wound with my hand, but he stopped me. ‘No, Eleazar. If you thirst, quench it with this. God’s blood will flow through you, and the strength will be yours again. Drink, my friend and see your sisters. Marta shamed me for not coming sooner and Mariamne has wept inconsolably since your death. How could I deny my love her brother? Drink and join us, for we miss you dearly.’

“And so I drank. Being Jewish, blood is an unclean thing. But when one’s thirst is so much that licking sand sounds appealing, then consuming the spiritual blood of the divine isn’t such a far-fetched thought, most especially when one’s master had instructed his followers about his blood and body to consume. It tasted like coppery wine, of water, of fruit juice mixed with snow from a mountain top. It quenched my thirst as he promised and gave me the strength I needed. I could return to my body, and the divine blood healed the rotting flesh and made it anew. The shroud was still wrapped around me when I left my tomb and found my family awaiting outside.  My sisters thanked Jesus, who then walked off with Mariamne as Marta unwrapped the shroud from my face. I felt blessed that was I alive again.

“I could see much better than I could before. My ears caught all manner of sounds from across Bethany as word spread like wildfire of my exit from the grave. Skin tingled in the sunlight and still on my tongue was the taste of the Divine Wine. My ears caught the sound of Roman authorities hearing of Jesus’ miracle and the anger they throbbed into the air. I could feel it all. When I looked into faces of people I could see their true self, a ghosted veil over their face. Those of a mean spirit had withered souls, and those of generous dispositions were pleasant to look upon.

“But like sand in a windstorm, word flew of my resurrection, and the disbelief of those not present at the miracle was numbed by the excitement of those who did witness it and by the anger of the temple priests. What Jesus did for his most ardent follower was blasphemy. Jewish authorities liked not that Jesus played the rebel at the temple mount. They looked for a way to condemn him, to stop him from challenging authority and the Romans.

“Resurrecting me guaranteed his death. The ruling class could not stomach someone who raised the dead and professed to be the son of God. Blasphemy!

“Jesus was crucified, fulfilling prophesies mentioned in the Book of Daniel, and I fled the holy land for Cyprus. Before long, Paul and Barnabas decreed I was a bishop. For thirty years, I stayed on that island. It was there, I discovered what made me different from man.

“I could eat food, but it had no taste. Nothing could compare to the blood of Christ. The finest wines from Rome nor melted snow could sate my thirst. For years I existed, a shell of my former self. I could not smile for my observation of doomed humanity in the darkest pits of Hell and to know that a man I loved like a father and brother sacrificed himself for me wore all humor from my soul. I withered away and died. My body buried.

There I lay asleep for a very long time, until the thirst became so pervasive, that I needed to fulfill the urge to drink not wine nor water.

“I craved blood.

“I do not believe in murder. I could not kill one to drink their blood, nor could I easily find someone to allow me to feed upon them. I could not ask someone to give up their life for mine.

“It was during a siege, when the Turks came a-raiding, when I discovered to both my horror and delight the cure to my affliction, for although I was thought dead, I yet lived.  The smell of blood wafting through the streets called to me, bade me to escape my tomb and feed for the first time in decades. So I did.

The weight of a tomb of stone seemed that of a feather. When I made my way from the catacomb beneath the cathedral, dusk fell upon the island of Cyprus. The smell of blood, the smell of fire, the stink of death, screams of the raped and little boys being castrated before they were sold into a lifetime of slavery… It all wrapped around me. While I stood in the doorway of the cathedral, the sound of heartbeats filled my ears by the thousands. I listened for the weak and failing hearts. I sought out those who were going to die momentarily.

“I hid in the shadows, clad in a burial shroud. Clothing of the times, that is what I needed. What I sought was found in an alley way behind the cathedral. Bodies, some with heads, some without, waited dumping in the sea. Murmurs from the guards high on the wall, filled my ears. Near the shadows, I found a body roughly my size, and relieved it of its clothing, sans armor. I wrapped the man’s body in my shroud and placed it in my crypt. He, a nameless soldier, would lie in a bishop’s tomb.

“After dressing, I sought a meal. From the top of Larnaca’s cathedral, I closed my eyes and focused my thoughts. Across the city, a hospital. And only down the road, a man lay dying. It’s difficult to block out the constant drumming of healthy hearts, to hear only the feeble. But it can be done.

“I discovered a power I didn’t know I possessed. Those blessed with the Gift have strength, agility, and determination when their hunger is fierce. I could jump from rooftop to rooftop. Halfway to the man I could now see, passed out in a puddle of blood, and things changed for me.

“How can I explain it? The pull to sate my thirst directed me with a speed I never knew, forced me to the dying man’s side. There was no choice on my part. Feed or die, and as this man lay in a pool of his viscera, mindless with pain, I could see every vein, lit up as though sunshine ran through his body. Intense and beckoning, I did as my new nature demand.

“Before I could do the deed, I prayed over the man, apologized for taking his soon-to-be ended life to feed my own.

“I fed for the first time on human blood. It is like wine. Potent wine that seeps into the bones and makes one feel delightfully warm and alive, yet completely languorous. But that is before the Truth hits. Took me by surprise, to know the man intimately, to remember his thoughts and know his fears, even when he could not give them voice.

“The soldier had a daughter, soon to be wed and sent to Constantinople. That was his last thought.

“He died in my arms. I wept when his heart stopped beating, and I can admit, my tears fell because his heart beat no more, that the beauty of his love for his child now gone. I could feed no more on his heady wine of life.

“I learned an important lesson. The first few hours after feeding, its much like stumbling around drunk. One cannot think straight, although the power one has is immense. But it fades and reason takes over. One still has great strength, but it becomes tempered with coherent thought.

“Before I left Cyprus, I fed twice more on mortally wounded men. But none touched me more than the first and the love he had for his daughter. I knew where he lived, for the memory of his blood branded it to my mind. I wanted to find her.

“Why? To this day I am not sure. It may have been the fact that I had nothing now. Who I was, dead, gone, naught but a dusty memory. When I tasted the Truth of the first soldier, I discovered how much time had passed. Not decades, as I thought. But centuries.

“Six hundred years, I lay in my tomb. One night of glutting myself on blood, and I had the strength of a dozen men. I could run faster than the wind, lift a siege machine and toss it like a rag. I felt amazing, alive, and now I had a mission to fulfill.

“I was still too drunk from the blood to think of taking a ship. In that inebriated moment, I jumped as high as I could– higher than I thought I could. I kept rising into the nighttime sky, until the city beneath me became smaller. I could fly! Such an exhilarating feeling, to have the same freedom as a bird. As long as I concentrated, I stayed aloft. An Icarus without wax and feathers.”

“Northeast I flew, high in the clouds where moonlight bathed me for the first time in hundreds of years. Never did I feel so alive. In my mind I had my quest set; I would find the soldier’s daughter and inform her that he perished in battle, and not mention the mercy I gave. I felt no guilt about drinking his blood, as death awaited him regardless of my actions. I did not inflict the mortal blow. While he and I shared not the same name for God, we both worshiped the same deity. It was my duty to give comfort where I could. So I did.

“It was his life force which provided the fuel for my mission. I got as far as Edessa before reason settled back into my mind. Why was I on the way to foist myself into a stranger’s life? I knew not her name, nor the name of her father, as they were forgotten in my blood intoxication. My guiding star ceased to exist, and I found myself wandering the land aimlessly. When I came upon a city, I felt renewed. It was Edessa where caravans of goods pass through on their way from west to east, south to north. The crossroads of the known world, it was also a Christian stronghold.

“Zamora stood on a platform in the slave market. Hair the color of a raven, eyes as blue as the sea and skin as white as milk. Her master wanted her sold for daring to strike his wife. Not all captives adapt to slavery, and she was a Grecian girl. A large group of men bid on her, seeking a beautiful concubine.

“Other girls would have trembled if they heard the words of the men as the auctioneer stripped her of the clothes she wore to increase the fever-pitched bidding. Zamora was like a statue.

“I had no money to purchase her, or any idea what I would do with her should I gain her freedom somehow. I walked off, intent on finding direction in my life. Night crept, and still, I wandered the streets, giddy from the notion that so much time had passed, yet the teachings of my rabboni were still taught. Some twisted and unrecognizable, the leavings of other’s dogma, yet still, I could hear my master’s voice in the words spoken by others.

It was in a dark alley that I saw the girl from the slave market, surrounded by men as what I assume was a brothel keeper, pushed her fully into the alley. The anger from them all seethed, and their ghosted faces were ghastly to look upon. They had malice in their hearts for the girl fighting them.

The fat man holding her wrist said, “I can’t have a whore who attacks men. For silver, each of these men gets you. When done, you are no longer my problem. Gutter or whorehouse, none will want you.” She was flung to the men. At her scream, I interceded. The men knew naught what happened, other than one moment, they were ripping the clothes from the poor girl’s back, and the next moment she was gone.

Terrified, she clung to me, and I felt stirrings I thought long dead.

**************************************************************************************************************************

Whoot! Now, onto my second submission for your delectation: a snippet from A KNIGHT IN SMOKING ARMOR, a medieval snarky romance.

Bring you up to speed: Edmund left England eight years ago to seek his glory in the Crusade. He was betrothed as a child to a convent-raised heiress, Lysendaria. Now that the war is over, he rides home to seek his bride and do his duty. Only thing is, his dear bride to be is a proficient hellion who demands respect before any hanky-panky.

THREE

 

“Must I marry her, Mother?” Edmund came back to the solar for a word with Lady Mirian before heading to the burial grounds. He sat next to his mother as she plied her embroidery needle.

Mirian hit Edmund on his head with her embroidery hoop. “Aye, you must marry her. How dare you ask such a thing of me, Edmund! Especially when she has saved us all time and again! Daria is more of Thoxily than you have been of late. I mean that not in reproach, but in fact.”

“She will kill me before I can give you grandchildren. I am sure of it.”

“Change frightens her, though she would never confess such a thing. And she will give you children; you just need to endear yourself to her first.”

“Why is she here, why is she not in a convent?”

“A plague killed all but she and one nun at Saint Anne’s. The nun wrote to D’Monfort, but he himself died from the Sweating Sickness. D’Monfort’s bailiff reported it to the king; the king offered your father wardship of Daria in exchange for use of Hulgravis’ garrison.”

“So she arrived before Father died? How did he teach archery to her if he was bedridden?”

Lady Mirian smiled with the memory. “He had targets brought into the hall and would sit in his chair at the high board. Daria would stand behind him and watch as he would hit the bull’s-eye time and again. She asked to learn, he taught her. Edgar had Fulk make a bow especially for Daria. It was her favorite natal day gift. She’s a natural when it comes to archery, truly blessed. When she brought down her first stag just a few weeks later, your father had Sir Turlough teach Daria about battle. She proved a most eager and adept student.”

“She has strange notions of chivalry.”

“That would be Father Stephan’s doing. He taught her to read and reason.”

“Oh. That is unfortunate.”

Unfortunate, you ungrateful clod? All those years parading in chain mail amidst the desert must have softened your head, child of mine. There are far worse things in this world than an educated woman! Get you gone from my sight! Your disparaging remarks wound me. I will see you at the high board for supper and no sooner.”

“Your pardon, Mother.”

“Go. And send Daria to me.”

“Aye, Mother.”

Edmund left the solar and searched out this paragon of womanly virtue. Daria seemed much more complex than he assumed his bride would be, not that he gave much thought to the subject prior the long march home.

That woman irritated him—beyond any other irritant Edmund ever experienced. But at the same time, Daria fascinated him, like the enticement of gold for an alchemist. The Cold Water incident gave him pause for thought. Acting the cock-sure man would get him nowhere with her, well, unless it involved getting skewered by an arrow or dagger. Being as Edmund hoped to sire children, he needed a way to gain her trust, since annulment of the betrothal was not an option. Endear himself to her, said his mother. How does one please a woman who cares not for jewels or the stories of chivalry?

Edmund did not believe in hitting women to get his way, a man easily angered is a man easily defeated. Daria is no servant, and thus not accessible for a tumble in the hay as he first presumed. He would have to wait for his wedding night to delve betwixt her thighs.

When the wagons arrived, there would be a treasure Edmund thought Daria would enjoy. Well, a few treasures, but one particular one especially.

A Saracen trader gave it to him—a book. But being that Edmund could not read, let alone read Latin, there was no way for him to decipher the formula for a type of steel unseen by most. Better than castle-forged steel, better than anything an English blacksmith could smite. Legendary steel known only to Saracens and people of Cathay, it was light and flexible, strong and beautiful. If Daria could transcribe the formula, Edmund would have his blacksmith attempt the forging of crucible steel to make a blade for the new Countess of Thoxily. That, Edmund was sure, would be a gift treasured far more than pearls or ribbons by his bride.

With his battle plan to win Daria’s tolerance set, Edmund now focused on his duty. Out that castle by postern gate, up to Thoxily Hill. There, his ancestors resided. There, where his father and brother had been buried.

Graves grassed over, now with autumn’s kiss, browned and dry. A rose bush sat sentinel over each grave, so that this place of death was also a place of life. It was a tradition springing forth from the first Thoxily to die in this castle and his wife’s desire to always touch her husband.

The small bushes over two graves marked where Lord Edgar and Robert were buried. Come spring, the flowers would bloom.

Edmund stood at the foot of those two graves, silent; as he pondered the fate he was given. He was never taught to run an Earldom. His education was in combat and war. With Lady Mirian’s help, he could gain knowledge about the office, but, Edmund noted, it would not be a mistake he would make with his sons. They all would be educated in numbers, letters, fife and the tabor, as well as sword and horse.

Even his daughters too, would receive an education. That would please Lysandaria.

That thought fresh in his mind, Edmund returned to the castle. He found Daria walking down the stairs on her way to the great hall.

“Lady Daria, walk with me, will you?”

She pursed her lips and muttered, “Very well.”

Edmund offered her his elbow. She ignored it.

“I need to know what of the bailiff, and the affairs of this castle.”

“You believe a mere woman would know such things belonging to the realm of man?”

“I know you would know of such things.”

“As it happens to be, I do know what you wish to learn. Can you accept learning from me? You mocked me once already. I will not tolerate it again.”

“You have kept my home intact and my mother safe. I will listen to your words.”

A shrewd look poured from Daria’s green eyes. “The bailiff died during the siege. They came during Lent, the heathenish bastards.”

“How?”

“Arrow in the back. I shot his attacker in the eye—he pulled out the arrow, dropped his bow and I shot him in the heart.”

“You’ve killed a man?”

“I’ve killed many. By arrow, by sword, by rock and dagger.”

“Dagger?”

“Tied to the end of a broken pike. Stuck the soldier in the face as he tried scaling gatehouse. His ladder tipped over, they went down. A few fire arrows ruined their ladder.”

“You are a one-person siege machine?”

“Nay,” Daria smiled. “But I did devise one.”

Curious, Edmund asked to see it. She led him up to the battlements overlooking the portcullis. There, a wondrous contraption met his eyes. At every notch in the battlements, two crossbows were mounted to a wooden board held in place with piles of stone. The very center notch had no crossbow, just a tall basket full of arrows. Two ropes, one from each side of the center notch, ended where the center archer would be.

“This is my one-shot army.”

“I see. Impressive.”

“Sir Turlough helped me build it, but they came and raided, killing him before it worked.”

Edmund could see each crossbow was drawn and had a bolt ready for flight. “You had this trained on us?”

“Yes. Had anyone made an aggressive move, I would have pulled on that rope and let the rain fall.”

“It’s a good idea, but you don’t want to keep them all drawn back without firing. The sting will become loose and your bolts will lose power. They wouldn’t even pierce leather.”

“That is good to know and I should have realized that.” A sly smile emerged from Daria’s lips. “Want to try it?”

“It? It is vague. Do you mean your invisible archers, or kissing you? Because I’d like to try that if you are game.”

The smile disappeared. “I meant the archers. Save the string and whatnot.”

“Aye, I’d like to try. I do one side, you do the other?”

“Aye.”

“Ready?”

Daria pulled on her rope in answer and with a series of thaps! the two dozen crossbows assembled threw bolts towards the ground. Edmund followed suit and admired the invention once more.

“That is marvelous! Had we several of these in Jerusalem, the siege would have ended much quicker. Marvelous.”

“I am glad you appreciate a woman’s wisdom.”

“I am glad you didn’t make it rain earlier.”

“So is your mother.”

“Why is she so frail?”

“The same malady which laid Lords Edgar and Robert low also took a toll on Lady Mirian. She rallied, then again, became ill. The healer suggested bed rest, although it tries your mother’s nerves.”

“What of this illness?”

“I know not what it could be. If it were tainted food, all would have fallen ill. I’ve only noticed one pattern, but your mother thinks it is a coincidence.”

“What is this pattern?”

“Shortly before anyone got ill, a troubadour would come and stay for a night, entertainment in exchange for shelter and food.”

“You think the wandering minstrel has something to do with this?”

“I cannot say. All I can say for certain is that within a week after the troubadour leaves, some people get ill and some die.”

“Well, should this troubadour come a calling, we will permit him shelter in the stables.”

Daria wore a half-frown.

“Anything else about the defenses I should know?”

Daria looked to Edmund. “Aye. I’m glad you are handling them from now on. I prefer hunting red deer to stupid men.”

“If you weren’t so temperamental, I think we would get along brilliantly.”

“Do you?”

“Yes. I can envision us riding through yonder forest, seeking our prey. I know of a meadow with a pond, we would eat there, rest and then go back on the hunt. I think we both would enjoy such an outing.”

With every ounce of Daria’s willpower, she kept from biting her lower lip. What he suggested excited her, thrilled her. That he would suggest it meant he began to see her as an equal. Not until he realized her worth would she permit him to be a husband in all ways. Slowly she nodded. “Aye, I would enjoy that.”

“Are you the gaming sort?”

“How do you mean? Throw dice? Sometimes, although Lady Mirian would have me work on alter cloths as punishment.”

“As my wife, I can spare you the punishments—well those sorts of punishments. If I were to make you pay, I’d want you to enjoy it as much as you like hunting.”

That took Daria aback. “Why would you seek to please me? You know me not.”

“Because you will one day be my wife and the mother of my children. If I wanted spitfire girls and wild boys, I could do no better than you.”

“Is that to say one child will not be reserved for the Church?”

“I did not say that. If one has such a disposition, then I see no foul. Besides, a bishop or abbess can’t be bad for the family.”

“May I ask a frank question, my lord?”

“I will have you never hold your tongue to me, Lady Lysandaria. As I said before, I would have no misunderstandings betwixt us.”

“What are your plans now that you are home?”

“I had given some thought to raising and training destriers.”

Daria’s eyes lit up, brighter than Edmund had seen in their short acquaintance. “War horses? They would be in high demand among the king’s knights, if you have good strains of horseflesh.”

“I do. Bloodlines from France and beyond. Mares to breed with my stallion. The foals will be nimble, strong, intelligent and fast.”

“Sounds like a perfect horse, my lord.”

“That is what I strive for. But you haven’t fully answered my first question. Are you the gaming sort, now that you have no fear of embroidery silks?”

A smile hedged from her lips. “Aye, with no fear of needle or thread, I consider myself the gaming sort.”

“Care to make a wager regarding the hunt I proposed to you?”

“It depends on what you are betting, my lord Earl.”

“Best hunter claims a prize of the other.”

“What would you have from me?” Daria asked, not sure of Edmund’s intentions.

“A kiss if I win.”

“And if I win, we celebrate the wedding night when I choose.” Daria tilted her face proudly upward; sure she played a winning hand.

Edmund thought about what she wagered. It was a double-edged sword. If he could gain her favor, her affection even, then he could celebrate the wedding early. If he displeased her, she wouldn’t warm his bed for a long while. He needed to do his duty to Thoxily, and to be quite frank, Edmund was tired of fighting. Blood and guts, shit and puke—it’s a sight and smell one can easily tire of being around. He wanted Lysandaria in his bed by the next raid, whenever that would be—and he wanted her writhing against him in pleasure.

“I accept your wager, Lady Lysandaria.”

She turned around and smiled to him over her shoulder. “In the short time I’ve known you, I’ve noticed you are quite the glutton for punishment. Hope you have a favorite hound to keep you warm come winter, my lord.” And with that, Daria skipped down the stone stairs in delight of what she thought was a sure victory.

 

FOUR

 

A shrill feminine screech echoed down the stairs to fill the great hall. Edmund dropped the bow he was stringing and reached for his sword. Too many times, screams like that heralded an attack and time was of the essence. He then released the hilt of his sword before it cleared the scabbard when he realized the shriek came from Lysandaria. Her voice filled Edmund’s head as he made for the second-story solar.

“Dressing in a gown will not make him change his mind about me, Lady Mirian, I am sure of that. A gown will not soften my ways nor make me appealing to him. If he cared enough for harmony in his house, then he will accept me as I am, not as he thinks I should be.”

“For too long I let you run wild, my girl, and I can’t help but wonder what my son must think of his bride. I have failed you both.”

“Nonsense you speak, lady. How have you failed us both if I have managed to thwart invaders time and again? That you allowed me to learn and practice martial arts has kept this castle in your son’s name. Perhaps next time I shall sit here in the solar with you, embroidering the cuffs of my lord’s chemise while raiders attempt to pillage. Mayhap I should have done that before, when Lord Edmund had yet to come home. Think we could have gotten an alter cloth done in that time?”

Edmund chuckled. Perhaps it was the joy of being back in England and hearing his mother’s voice once again, that made Lysandaria’s peccadillos seem amusing rather than irritating to him. He knew for certain, that Lysandaria’s antics would have infuriated other men. To wear breeches and throw a knight into the mud—those acts were enough to warrant a beating. Edmund had no desire to strike his bride to be for her impetuous ways. Rather, he liked the unpredictable yet grounded personality she had shown so far. While he may not agree with her flagrant disregard for tradition and station, he understood the thoughts behind her reasoning.

Edmund had enough with gore and violence—and provided his bride didn’t try to stick him with a knife come the wedding night, he would leave her be. Already he had found a few weak links in her armor; he would exploit them as needed to win her affection. Lysandaria’s desire to see her childhood home, that would be easy to fulfill, and she would be grateful. How grateful? That remained to be seen.

As she appreciated fine steel, she would enjoy having a hand in creating her own blade. She wouldn’t work the alchemist magic of the forge, tis true, but she would be the mother to the metal. Without Lysandaria’s ability to read the book, there would be no magic steel.

She was a double-edged sword, this scholarly warrior woman. Lady Lysandaria knew of duty, but would she know of a wife’s duty? Would she embrace married life with the same fervor she grasped a knife’s hilt? He wanted to find out, and soon. Already his loins ached with wanting to tame this hellcat his father betrothed him to as a lad. She held no interest back then, but now, she was a castle to be sieged and conquered in as subtle a way he could manage.

“Hush, you! Sarcasm does not befit a lady of your standing, Daria. Tut-tut-tut! No rolling eyes, either, young lady. You will mind your tongue tonight. You will show my son your softer side. You will do this because your family’s honor is at stake. What will happen if my son repudiates you in favor of a more biddable lass?”

“I would congratulate them both and wish Lord Edmund a happy marriage.” Lysandaria’s dry words brought a smile to Edmund’s face. He could see her doing just what she said, with a beatific smile upon her face.

“You silly chit! You would not be allowed Hulgravis. That would go to the king, and you would be his ward. He’d marry you off to some prissy lordling he wishes to favor with no care to you. If you wish that fate for yourself, very well, my girl. Just you remember this: Edmund could have beaten you time and again for how you acted toward him today. He has not. You cannot guarantee such a thing with a man selected by the king to be your husband. Now go to your chamber and change into something appropriate as I have requested. Then return here and I shall plait your hair.”

“Weaving ribbons into my hair like I am a prized horse won’t fool my Lord Edmund, Lady Mirian. ‘Tis true your son has not struck me in anger. But there are other torments one can heap atop a soul to make them wish for death. Perhaps he will while away his time thinking of punishments for me. I know not the man, nor the boy he once was. I know only of an arrogant knight who boldly tells me how much I will want him.”

“Methinks he wants children, Daria. You are of an age, and no matter the husband, children are expected of you. If you want time to know him, then tell him. I’m sure he won’t be completely unreasonable.”

Edmund heard a deep sigh. “He and I made wager. I win; we celebrate the wedding night when I choose. Which will be when he can respect me and I don’t anticipate that happening anytime soon, not when he struts his naked self before me and crow how I’ll handle him like I do my sword.”

“Truly now? He would make such a bargain? What does he gain if he wins? Your maidenhead?” A frown etched itself when Daria said naked, and Miriam’s eyes narrowed.

“Nay! A kiss, he said.”

“A kiss. I see. My son’s behavior is not that of a chivalrous knight, being that he is making wagers with maidens.” Lady Miriam sighed. “It is what it is. I do not condone either of your behavior, but I will let you both work it out, however it must be.”

“He will not raise a hand to me, lady. For if he does, it will be the last time he uses that hand.”

“I pray for both your souls to find peace in this arrangement. What future do you have, my dear girl, when an honor-bound knight refuses to wed his betrothed? I have no desire for you to be shunted off to court and married to suit the king’s needs.”

“I have no desire to be trapped in marriage to stranger.”

“Then get to know him, silly girl. It’s him, the King or a nunnery. Choose wisely.”

Thus dismissed, Daria mimicked a curtsy, and then strode to her own chamber. Her sense of duty and obligation warred with her irritation.

 

*****************************************************************************************************************************

Last but not least, my exploration into thrillers. Dark, brutal, Fifty Shades of Grey meets Silence of the Lambs. In part based off Cameron Hooker, but loosely at that. Aiming for way into the realm of Fucked Up.

Bring you up to speed: Rory doesn’t like his mother. Or women. He’s got odd ideas of what makes a hero. And he’s a collector of sorts, mostly drunk college girls. His idea of a committed relationship involves odd notions. Scary notions involving tools.

ONE

 

Albert Fish stared down from his position of exaltation on the wall. It seemed like stone-grey eyes never stopped peering into Rory Haine’s soul, and that sensation of having no secrets hidden from Mr. Fish fed Rory’s excitement. From his bed, Rory smiled at the poster of his fascination, and then turned his attention back to the photos strewn on the worn duvet. From the beaten nightstand, he grabbed his cell phone and began laying out the Polaroid pictures as a mosaic to capture with the cell’s camera. When the bevy of beauties he once dated looked up from their celluloid homes, once more he captured the looks of wonder, but this time all his girls were more travel-friendly. Perfect.

The banshee’s voice entered Rory’s bedroom with the same ferocity of a glass of cold water dumped down one’s front resulting in one’s nerves on red alert. “Rory, will you take me to work?” Nasally with a hint of whine, Lucy Haine’s voice was the verbal equivalent of a cheese grater on ears. Years of cigarette smoking left a husky timbre to Lucy’s croons, but she saved those for her flavor of the month boy toys.

Rory turned his head and addressed the voice echoing down the basement steps. “Yeah. Give me five minutes to get dressed, Mom.” The door at the top of the stairs slammed shut and Rory rolled his eyes as he gathered his precious pictures and put them away in a cigar box. A deep sigh escaped his mouth as he slipped his feet into sandals, put his wallet in his jean short’s pocket and palmed his car keys. He didn’t take the stairs; that door was kept mostly closed via a chain lock on the basement side of the portal, thus barring Lucy from physically entering Rory’s space via the house. The second exit led to the back yard, where a small concrete staircase let up to a land of never-ending landscaping projects.

Rory waited in his car for his mother to meander out to the Eldorado in the sky-high stilettos she favored. Being the majestic height of five-three, the four inch heels gave her enough height to look most in the eye. Today, a suitcase wheeled behind her, which got thrown in the back of the car before she got in and buckled up. “Second office, today.” That’s Lucy-lingo for Sacramento Airport. It would also explain the beige pants suit. Skirts are for the main office.

He started the car and backed out of the driveway before asking, “How long this time?”

“Oh, about four days. If I’m any longer, I’ll give you a call.”

“Hawaii again?”

“No, Bali. Being a travel agent has its perks. If you ever get tired being on your feet all day, consider a change of career.” The fact her son worked in retail was a point of contention. For as intelligent as she thought her son was, grander things were expected of him. That he wasn’t even an assistant manager fueled her hatred for his career choice.

Indeed her worklife had its perks, Rory mused. There’s nothing worse than having a girl over and then hear the banshee’s wail, spoiling the mood. Living in a basement is one thing. Living in your mom’s basement is something different altogether. Lucy’s work-related trips, well, those were magical times for Rory. Enchanting times of experimental gourmet cooking and making moves on the ladies.

Oldies poured forth from the tinny-sounding car speakers as they made the two-hour journey to Sacramento’s airport. No one minded the quiet since it was less awkward than stilted conversation between two people who could barely stand each other. As orchards and fields whizzed by, Rory drove with absentmindedness, having made the trip countless times before. Terminal B housed Alaskan Airlines, Lucy’s preferred carrier. As soon as she spoke to the air captain, Rory peeled out and made for home.

Rory’s plans were formed on the way to the airport. Now, with single-minded intent and a small smile to his narrow lips, home seemed to call his name. What to wear, where to go? Rory already knew what she would look like, this girl he hoped to pick up from a bar. Chico has a bar for every kind of college kid. Some bordered skeezy. Skeezy bars are usually frequented by barflies- not his type. His type consisted of brunette with green eyes. Bouncy. He liked them giggly, giddy, and so drunk they can’t say no, even if they wanted. Drunk and easy, it’s the best combo for a college chick.

Gotta shit, shower, and shave. Gotta do a load of laundry, the black guayabera and jeans. Gotta find her tonight, while I have time. By the time he got home, a fire of excitement burned in his stomach. She’s gotta let me take pictures… I need more pictures.

Every intention of playing the hunter coursed through Rory’s being. It’s been two months but felt like five years since he found a chick who’d go home with him. With full faith in the magic elixir of ethanol, Rory would find her. Beer, Slippery Nipples, or Sex on the Beach, they were all his allies.

Oh yes, Rory’s plans were set in stone. All he needed was her.

 

 

 

TWO

 

FELONIES  1-4

 

As soon as Rory reached the house, he bounded his way into the basement, lock and barred the door, then put his attention to the bed. Reaching under the mattress to the secret catch, he gave it a pull. From the homemade platform bed’s foot slid open a box, three foot wide and six foot long. Within the box, his treasure.

“Get up.”

The brunette inside the box blinked her eyes in the light. “Yes, sir.” Raspy, her voice belied her need for hydration. Weakened by hunger, she struggled to her feet and stepped from her prison. Nothing covered her body, but for the bruises shaped like a bra over her chest. The spirit beaten out of her, she kept her head bent and submissive.

“You’ll be freed today. The Consortium doesn’t want your services anymore.” With interest, Rory looked for micro-expressions that would tell him far more about his captive than her words.

The light still blinding her, she squinted to look at his chin—never the eyes—and asked, “Free, sir?” No joy, no hope at the prospect. It seemed a foreign concept.

With a magnanimous smile, he replied “Yes. Freed. No longer live in the box.”

“I get to go home?” She moved her eyes to the floor. “That kind of freed?”

The grin on his face faded away. “Oh, I didn’t say that.

She knew he wanted a reaction. That is what glorified his existence, made his day, and tickled him pink. To deprive him of a reaction was as good a blow she could deliver.

Rory tilted his head down to look her in the eye. “Do you want to know what The Consortium defines as freedom to a slave?”

“I am not sure, sir.”

That brought a wide smile to his face. She was wary. Good. “It means you do not ever get back in the box. You are no longer required to wear a ball gag, nor engage in any sexual congress with me, or any other representative of The Consortium. You will no longer be considered property. Do you understand what I am saying?”

His captive gave tiny nod of her greasy head, softly spoke, “Yes sir,” but no facial tics to reveal what she truly felt.

“You will be released. This afternoon.” Again, he waited for some sort of joy to emerge from his slave’s face. “You don’t seem happy about that.”

She swallowed the hard lump growing in her throat. This was a trap, just another game to him. “I don’t know how I feel about it, sir.” Would he punish her for honesty?

“Do you like being a part of The Consortium’s assets?” The words slithered from his mouth to her ear. Finally, a reaction from her as the chapped and peeling lips tightened.

“No, sir.”

“The be a little more happy about it, will you? Dues have been paid, time for you to get on with your life.”

She knew better than to trust him, knew better than to take anything from him as face value. “Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

He smiled. “Go take a shower. You have earned one.”

At that, she truly smiled with joy, and one could almost see the beauty that her face once held. The broken and missing teeth marred her face. Turning, she made her way to the tiny bathroom located under the stairs leading to the kitchen upstairs. As soon as her back was turned, Rory lifted the framing hammer high and brought it down with a grunt. It sank into lank hair, skin and into the skull.

She dropped like a rock at his tingling feet, twitching in death. After licking her blood from his fingers, Rory faced Albert Fish on the wall and saluted before dropping the hammer, sinking to his knees and rolling the slave over.

This is what he liked most; the utter compliance and no rejection whatsoever. Plus, she was still warm. With a huge smirk on his face, Rory Haines stripped off his clothing, only to spread the legs of the bleeding corpse on his cement floor and sink himself into his definition of a slice of heaven.

******************************************************************************************************************************

There you have it, that’s what I’ve been working on. How about yourself, got any projects that make you all squirrelly?

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