Tag Archives: original

Wolves of Sorrow

 

The chalice rested on the stone plinth between them. She took a sip first. Once she’d placed it back down he picked it up and sipped. Some of it dribbled down his chin. As he caught the droplets on his newly smooth skin she caught the drop rolling down the side of the hammered pewter.

“Thanks,” he said, watching her check none had been spilled. She only nodded. She hadn’t spoken since they had entered. He wasn’t sure if it was some sort of reverence. There was no rule saying they couldn’t speak, he had asked. That had raised, well, it couldn’t raise eyebrows. The monks had none to raise. As supplicants neither did they anymore. His legs felt strange without any hair. Like his wife’s on their wedding night. Sweat beaded on his head. He knew it was going to roll into his eyes. He looked down at the long muslin tunic he had on.

“If you want to wipe your head with it you can.” He flinched when she spoke. “I’m sure the monks have seen much worse than sweat stains.” He pushed aside where that comment took his imagination and used the hem.

“I was more concerned with how you would feel.” She shrugged. He glanced at the entrance to their cavern. The byre was just inside, keeping them warm and able to see. He wondered if it was replenished during their vigil or if it was left to burn out. He checked the ceiling to see if any small creatures lived up there. She stood up and began to stroll around, stretching her arms out and rolling her shoulders. He sucked in a breath and glanced at the entrance again.

“Shouldn’t you sit down?”

“Hmmm?” She placed her hands on the wall, sliding them with fingers splayed, across the surface. She moved along the wall around the front of the cavern then came back towards him, her eyes closed.

“You’re going to trip over something. What if you hurt yourself? Will you have to start again? I don’t know the way out of here to get you help.” She smiled but continued back and forth.

“The only thing I could trip over is you.” He crossed his arms and shifted on his seat. A painful tingling began in his toes then moved to his heels, up to his ankle. Looking down he couldn’t see anything but would have sworn that it felt like insects biting him. He brushed his hands over his bare feet and winced as the pain was momentarily stronger. She opened her eyes at some noise he must have made and came to him, hands outstretched.

“Come over here.” He shook his head, hands holding the stone plinth rigidly.

“It’s better over here, I promise.” She prised the fingers of one hand off, then the other, slowly pulling him to his feet. He hissed at the pain in his legs and wondered if there were tiny insects they hadn’t been warned about. She pulled him closer to the byre. She twirled around like when she had danced as a young girl. The hem of her tunic swept closer to the byre. He reached for the hem, grabbing her to hold her still as he looked for flames catching the material. When he found no sparks, he checked for smoke marks.

“You shouldn’t dance so close to the fire.” He knelt, still checking. She stopped trying to dance and laid herself across his back.

“You always look out for me.”

“I have to,” he grunted. She was heavy on his back, he could feel the strain on his knees.

“That’s not true.” She sighed and it felt like she became heavier. “You didn’t have a very good example either.” As he tried to push her up movement from the entrance caught his attention. He was half grateful for some help and half expecting a reprimand, but it wasn’t one of the monks. It was a large grey wolf. It looked between the two of them. He couldn’t breathe. She whispered a soft “oh” and the wolf looked at her.

“Don’t move,” he replied but she was shifting and suddenly sliding off his back. As she landed she didn’t appear to try and break her fall. One hand was stretching out towards the wolf. The wolf dipped its head and stepped closer.

“No, no.” He grabbed her arm and dragged her up off the floor. She ended up kneeling but sank into a sitting position. He went to grab her under her arms and stumbled. He couldn’t feel his legs. The wolf was stepping closer. Another had entered the cavern behind the first. He put his arms around her, pulling her back and flipping them over. He realised as he did so that he couldn’t feel his fingers anymore. She was limp in his arms. He tried to drag his legs over hers and covered as much of her body with his own as possible.

The soft scuff of paws on the sandy floor came up on either side of them. He watched as the lead wolf snuffled at his face. It licked him with a tongue that was more rough and dry than he had expected. He felt pressure on his back. One had climbed on top of them. It kneaded his back, testing its weight. He sensed another behind his head, investigating them. The one at his face crouched down and shuffled closer to his sister. A noise erupted from his lips. It was meant to be a shout but he couldn’t move his mouth. The wolf pricked up its ears and flicked a glance at him. But it showed no more concern and its attention was soon back on her. The wolf on his back clambered down to join the lead wolf. Then he felt something on his waist. A nudging, then a scrape of something sharp. The belt around his tunic tightened. The last wolf was pulling him off his sister. He tried and failed to move, another noise coming from his throat. A fourth wolf had joined the group and was laying down along his sister’s side. Once he was several feet away the wolf who had removed him stepped over him, returning to the others. He screamed as best he could, a breathy noise that soon died as he lost control of himself. The wolves all glanced at him. The lead wolf snorted and as one they reached for her with their mouths open. His sight was dim, purple around the edges, getting tighter every second until nothing. The last sound he heard was a wet noise.

 

The next thing he heard was the rustle of material and soft murmuring. His body felt tired but his mind was suddenly clear. He tried to listen for his sister’s morning singing. She usually did it when she thought no-one was listening, so he always stayed in bed a little longer, so he wouldn’t disturb her. But this morning she wasn’t singing. The wolves!

He shot up in bed, gasping. He was in a white tent, the sides billowing gently in and out. He was on a cot high up off the ground. His sister was sitting on a similar cot next to him, feet hanging over the edge, a mug in her hand.

“Hello,” she said brightly. He leapt off his cot and aimed to embrace her but his knees couldn’t support him so instead he grabbed her upper arms and looked her all over. Then he shook her gently.

“Are you hurt?”

“Only from where you dropped me. The sand was only thin on the ground so now I have a bruise the size of a house on my hip.” She held up the mug. “Sweet tea. You need to drink.” Slowly he took it, continually glancing at her trying to see if there were any cuts or nicks on her skin. She was back in her travel clothes. They had been cleaned. “Sorry the tea’s cold. You didn’t wake up as soon as I thought you would.” He barely tasted the tea. Giving her back the empty mug he moved to sit back on his cot. She grabbed his hand and guided him to sit next to her. He realised he was still in his tunic. At his neck was a leather tie with a small remembrance on it of a polished stone wolf. He looked at her. She had a leather tie with two remembrances, one a polished stone wolf too. “They were a gift. I didn’t buy them.”

“Did you know about the wolves?” She shook her head.

“They aren’t what usually appear to help those grieving. The monks said they came for something else.” She gave a small smile. “We’re very lucky to have seen them.” He made a noise that disagreed but weighed the remembrance in his hand. He went to ruffle her hair but patted her instead. His arm draped around her shoulders.

“Would you have come if you had known?” She was playing with the other remembrance. It was some grey fur tied with a thin piece of leather. After a moment, he nodded.

“Yes. Did you get what you needed?” She gazed up at him.

“Yes.” They smiled at each other and it was like seeing her after a long absence. He had missed his older sister. He took her hand and pressed it to his heart.

“Good. Can we please go home now?”

 

 

This was written for the Flash Fiction chllenge Ten More Titles Round Two over on terribleminds.com. The picture is by Sandra Petersen and from Pixabay.com, used under Creative Commons Licence.

Advertisements

The Priceless Cabin Beyond The Water (part 2)

The provost marshal on duty checked the two women out of the Registration building and opened the private entrance. Despite the warning bell getting louder now they were outside, Alessia smiled when she saw Mas waiting. His yellow Lightmans cloak was blackened on one sleeve.

“Set yourself on fire?” He patted the smudge.

“Put one out.” He gave a warm smile for Bailey but Alessia had to take a moment to gather herself. The bells had only started a few minutes before she left. The damage to his sleeve was from something that hadn’t reached the main authorities. Mas caught her staring and shook his head almost imperceptibly over Baileys head. He kept up light amusing conversation for the girl as he and Alessia escorted her home. Bailey lived on the outskirts of town and it was almost dark by the time they watched her enter her home. Even in the twilight Alessia could see plumes of smoke dissipating.

The bell finally stopped. It didn’t relieve her because she knew it would ring again tomorrow or even tonight. It was the fifteenth bell this week and they were becoming more frequent. Mas held out his hand to steady her on a loose rock but didn’t let go once she took it. Alessia squeezed so hard she was convinced it must hurt. He made no comment.

As they reached her house she heard raised voices inside. She stopped at the gate and took a moment to look at the sky.

“I’ll say goodnight here,” Mas murmured. Giving him a tired smile she leant into him, his arms wrapping around her. Glass shattered inside. She turned her face into his chest and sighed. Mas rubbed her shoulder.

“I’ll see you in the morning,” she said. He opened his mouth to speak but a shout from inside drew her attention. Letting go she walked to the door. Just before she opened it she watched Mas walk to the end of her street. At the corner he stopped, turning to make sure she had gone in. She still remembered the way her face had heated when she noticed he did that. Now, as well as making sure she went in, he blew her a kiss. She waved and entered the house just as another door in the house slammed. Her Father was at the table holding himself up.

“Is he still here?” she asked. Her Father jumped at her voice and spun away but it was too late to hide the wetness on his face. Moving to him she held his arms to steady him. His bowed spine meant he was now shorter than her. His hand covered hers and tried to push her away.

“You haven’t forgotten what today is?” he asked.

“No, Father.”

“I don’t understand why it must be dragged out so. The boat arrives the same time every day. Why could I not have gone-”

“It’s for your own safety, Father. Once it’s past curfew…” she guided him to a chair by the fire. She heard a sniffle and pushed a handkerchief into his clenched fist.

“I know my darling.” He sighed. “It’s just so hard on you and Isaac.”

“No, Father. It’s not hard on me.” She made him a cup of tea and tried not to linger while she made it. “I can’t speak for Isaac. But don’t travel beyond the water thinking I struggled with it.” She sat at his feet with her own tea as he blew on his. After a moment, she put a hand on his knee.

“Tell me a story of Mother.” With a weak smile, and a sigh, he did. She leant her head on him and listened to his voice.

A soft knock on the door eventually interrupted them. The Lightmen she let in were wearing dark cloaks over their ochre ceremonial robes. She helped get her Father ready for the cold as their lead man ran through the order of events. They asked him some questions to make sure he understood as Alessia checked the house for Isaac. When she returned alone her Father nodded.

Past curfew they had to walk in silence so they attracted less attention. Alessia saw lit candles in darkened windows of some of the houses, the only well wishes that could be made. Her Fathers hand clutched her arm. His grip was weak, his pace slow but steady. She covered his hand with her own and felt the slight tremble of thin muscle under his papery skin. She caught him looking at her from under his hood and tried to give him a reassuring smile. The closer they got to the dock the stronger the smell of smoke. They heard voices and one of their escort motioned them to wait. He went ahead to investigate. She looked around. All the houses were dark here. One had thick black smoke marks rising from empty doors and windows.

Soon they were moving onto the shore and the docks came into view. A line of Lightmen guarded it, their robes bleached white by the moon. The gentle lapping of the water was matched by the sound of wood bumping against wood. The boat was moored. Her Father stumbled on the uneven ground. She went to catch him but one of their Lightmen held him up. The sleeve of his ceremonial robe peeked out from his cloak and she saw a familiar smoke mark on it.

“Mas?”

“You didn’t think I’d miss your Fathers departure.”

She tried to smile but her face was so cold it barely moved so squeezed his arm too. Mas took her Fathers weight allowing her to hold his hand. The sound of a wave rushing towards them had her looking over the water. A warning cry came from a Lightman as she realised it was the sound of people running down the beach. The line of Lightmen raised their arms, bows in hand and pointed over her head. She and Mas dragged her Father forward as he cried out in alarm. She stumbled on the sand and pitched towards the line. Hands grabbed her and forced her the rest of the way. Behind the line, she turned to see a crowd closing on the dock, some carrying torches.

“Alessia!” she recognized her Fathers voice and moved. She felt slow and useless, like running through water. Mas was heading onto the pier but her Fathers hand was outstretched towards her. She reached for him. His grip was so tight it was like he was a younger man again. She soothed him and whispered in his ear, reminding him of the cabin and that she would meet him there one day. With Mas helping to carry him, they headed along the pier.

She could hear orders being shouted, the thrum of bow strings releasing. Another Lightman ahead of them held the boat steady and they helped her Father in. Alessia lay herself down on the pier so she could keep hold of his hands. The warning bell rang out drowning out everything else. Her Father looked up at her, not out to the water as she would have expected. His face looked ghostly in the moonlight.

“What if your brother is right?” he cried.

“He’s not,” she replied and gripped his hand harder. His was just as strong. She felt his fear through their hands and knew it was up to her to let go. She clambered forward with her elbows so her Father could hear over the noise.

“Do you remember when Isaac was little? He asked you to write us a letter telling us what the cabin is like when you get there?” He nodded. “You will need both hands to write.” His smile quivered but he nodded again. They let go at the same time and she was sure he mouthed that he loved her. She watched until he turned to look into the fog.

The same moment the sounds on the beach broke through to her. Yelling had turned to screaming and acrid smoke smothered her. Mas dragged her up. The pier was on fire, their exit blocked. The other choice was deep black water. Mas took her hand and with a nod from her they jumped.

Her skin stung everywhere the water touched and her lungs felt like they were burning. For a moment, she thought she was on fire anyway. The current was strong and dragged her. Terrified she would be carried away from shore she thrashed. It took her a few moments to realise it was Mas pulling her through the water. He was heading further out and away from the riot. She needed air and tried to swim to the surface. He pulled her down again but she yanked her hand out of his and broke free. She could see muted light and headed for it. Her face broke the surface and she gasped in air. Water landed in her open mouth and she choked. She tried to cough it out but couldn’t find the surface again. Her sight was blurring and she knew it was tears as well. Kicking hard she breached the surface and swiped at her face. She was out of the water and sucked carefully through her lips but this time it was only air. Hands grabbed her from behind. She shrieked and beat her fists against her attacker. Her hands became tangled in clothing and they wrapped their arms around her. Their heads pressed together as she struggled Alessia finally heard Mas’ voice.

“It’s me! It’s me.” It was his cloak she was battling with. Balling her hands around what material she could find she pulled him closer. He pulled her back until she was lying on his chest, her face uplifted to the sky. It was easier to breath without the water crushing her chest. There was a flickering light. Turning to look she could see the entire dock was on fire. She knew Mas was watching too. She could see people running away and black clad bodies lying on the gold sand.

“Do you think the current will take us to the cabin?” she asked,

“It’s not that strong,” Mas answered and began to swim them to the shore.

 

 

Alessia dried her hair in front of the fire as Mas made tea. She had given him some of her Fathers clothes to change into and she couldn’t watch him like she usually did. Isaac was still not home. Despite being out of the water for a while her hands were still cold. She held them closer to the fire. She was startled when Mas covered her hands with his own and drew them back.

“You’ll get chilblains.”

“I know,” she sighed and took a cup from him. He settled on the floor next to her and took the blanket she offered. “I just can’t get warm.” Putting his cup down, Mas put her free hand between his and rubbed gently. There were occasional shouts in the distance. She tensed at every one. A board creaked outside and her head went up, looking at the front door expectantly. When it didn’t open, she turned back to the fire.

“I’m sure Isaac is safe.” Mas leaned loser with a smile of encouragement. She didn’t look up. “He’s a smart boy.” Alessia drew her hand back and wrapped the blanket closer.

“He’s not a boy. And he is smart. Which is why I’m so worried.”

“It’s a fad. Many of the youngest ones go through it.”

“In Botown’s history there has never been so much violence. And it’s not like there are missing records. I know. I checked. There’s no cover up, no conspiracy…” She sighed and slumped over. “I just wanted my Father safe.” Mas placed an arm round her shoulders and pulled her closer. She turned her face into his chest and let herself breath him in. The clothes smelled of her Father and of Mas. She had never felt so comforted.

A creak of a board and a stern knock had the pair of them leaping away from each other. When Mas opened the door for her several Lightmen were outside. They were carrying a stretcher, a cloak covering the head and shoulders. As a Lightman read her the charges against Isaac, and the punishment they had meted out, she stepped closer to the body. Her Fathers ring was on his finger. She removed it and looked at the blood speckled hand. The Lightman finished. In the silence the stretcher bearers swayed from foot to foot. Pale grey light was moving across them as dawn broke.

“Are there any charges being brought against myself? As his sister?”

“No, milady. It was clear that you were not mixed up with him and his…cohorts.”

“Then you can take him away and bury him with the other criminals.”

“Alessia-” Mas stepped forward and reached for her. She moved away from his outstretched hand and went inside. She returned with his still damp cloak and uniform, handing it over without meeting his gaze.

“I want all of you gone before my neighbour’s wake. I have no family now.” With that she turned and closed the door.

 

 

Picture used under Creative Commons Licence from Pixabay.com.

https://pixabay.com/en/inferno-bonfire-burn-flames-light-423408/