Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Draven's Nightmare

Draven sat propped up against the thick base of an elm tree, his legs folded and The Diplomat resting in his lap like a favorite cat. He snuggled deeper into the dark blue cloak Eva had had made for him, the heavy wool warm and comforting as though it was Eva who was wrapped around him, and he sighed contentedly as his fingers caressed the embroidered words along the edge: It’s an adventure.

His eyelids felt heavy and each blink lasted longer and longer until he finally lost the battle with sleep. It was Soviel’s turn to stand watch so it wasn’t that kind of fear that made him fight the Sandman so hard; it was the risk that his recurring nightmare would plague him. It wasn’t a nightly event, which is what made it so difficult; Draven didn’t know when to expect the horrifying images that his mind conjured up to torment him.

At first his mind was blissfully blank, only the curtain of sleep separating him from the waking world as was his preference, but in one quick moment that curtain was ripped aside and he stared at the same scene he’d seen dozens of time over the last year.

Eva and her father stood arguing with each other on the precipice of a high cliff that loomed over a turbulent sea, fingers pointing and voices shouting. They wielded their words like weapons, sharp, pointed and with each verbal lash cuts opened all over their bodies, bleeding their clothes red. Draven stood and watched helplessly, having tried time and again in the past to intervene, to protect Eva, to save their child but in this scene he was a ghost.

Draven’s blue eyes watched through a searing haze of red rage as Lord Townsend grabbed Eva by the throat, his long fingers squeezing until her flesh bulged between his fingers like warm dough. Her face turned pink and then red and then purple as she clawed at his hands, wrists and arms in an unsuccessful attempt to gain her freedom.

Eva’s feet dangled just above the ground and she took advantage of her position, drawing one leg back as far as she could before swinging it forward with all her might, the tip of her booted foot connecting solidly with her father’s groin and he dropped her as he doubled over and took his turn to fight for breath. Eva continued to scream down at him, her hands protectively covering her swollen belly as tears of blood streamed down her face, staining the alabaster perfection of her skin.

Lord Townsend drew himself up onto his hands and knees, lifting his head and pinning his daughter with a poison stare and quick as a snake strike he thrust his hands into Eva’s abdomen, pulling her to the ground as his fingers ripped and tore her flesh to reach the half-breed child she carried. Eva’s screams were ones of pain, loss and hatred and despite the wash of blood that stained the ground and the spill of her insides across her own lap she continued to fight.

With all she had left Eva wrenched their child from her father’s murderous grasp before hammering both feet into his chest and sending him over the edge of the cliff to the sharp rocks below. Draven moved to kneel beside his love where she lay gutted and dying, their child dead in her arms, its cord still connecting mother to child and as usual he awoke when she died.

Draven's Love

Draven sat on a smooth granite boulder that was more than half buried in the earth, leaning back against the fencepost that butted against the stone and taking a rare break from his chores. Since his brothers had left more of the work had fallen to him and he had much less time to goof off, but he knew his family wouldn’t begrudge him a few stolen moments. His thick fingers were surprisingly nimble as he braided sections of his beard idly, twisting the thick hairs to bind the ends of the braids.

His mind drifted into a stream of consciousness that led him from one memory of Eva to another, her laugh and her smile. Her warm whiskey colored eyes, her honey and strawberry scent, the feel of her in his arms. She was his first love, a human noble who had stopped at the Darius farm to have her sister’s mare re-shod and their first encounter had ended with her pinning him to the ground under her knee.

In spite of the training she’d already obviously had, Eva had asked him to teach her how to fight, she didn’t like relying on others to protect her and Draven was only too happy to teach her what he knew. She’d taken to dual wielding short swords like a duck to water, which suited her petite frame, barely an inch taller than him, and she was a quick study in hand to hand as well. Draven closed his eyes and recalled their sparring matches, a smile quirking the corners of his mouth at the thought of how many of those matches ended in a hot and sweaty tumble in their secret meadow.

They were an unusual pair, human and dwarf, noble and farmer, and yet they complimented each other as rain did spring. Neither of their families knew about their relationship, they’d surely frown on it for any number of reasons, but the idea of being without Eva caused them both physical pain so they held their secret close.

Draven heard footsteps and his eyes opened to find Lord Townsend looming over him, Eva’s father, and his heart lurched into his throat. The human was very tall, towering over Draven at six foot four and staring down his narrow nose at him, his gray eyes cold and menacing.

“Dwarf,” he began in a low voice that was just as cold as his eyes. “You shame my house with your low and shabby self. You dare to lay your hands on my daughter, to violate her and steal her maidenhead, making her useless to me.”

With every poisonous word Lord Townsend spoke Draven found his frame vibrating more and more with fury, his hands fisted at his sides.

“And now, to add insult to injury, your filthy seed has taken root inside her traitorous belly.”

Draven felt the blood drain from his face. “Eva is pregnant?” Hearing the word out loud didn’t make it feel any more real, he had to see her, had to get her away from her toxic father and without waiting for Lord Townsend to utter another word Draven hopped up onto the boulder and launched himself at the man, swinging one meaty fist and landing a solid blow that laid the human out.

Running the five paces to Lord Townsend’s horse he pulled himself into the saddle and dug his heels into the animal’s sides, sending the stallion lurching forward. The 20 minute run into town felt like an hour, scenery passing in what felt like slow motion until finally Draven pulled the horse to a sliding halt in front of Eva’s house, leaping from the saddle and running through the front door.

“Eva! Eva!” Draven called out to her and was only met with the screams of scared servants. Bolting up the stairs he looked up and down the long second floor hallway, his blue eyes locking on a matronly figure blocking the farthest door. Turning to his right he ran at her and with a shriek she pressed herself to the wall, allowing Draven to throw the door open where he found… nothing.

It was clear that this was Eva’s room; her clothes lay scattered across the floor, spilling from an open armoire and her scent still hung in the air, as familiar to him as his own, but the room was empty. It was when he noticed the toppled furniture that his heart rate doubled, she’d been taken by force, but to where? Spinning on his heel he marched to the woman cowering in the hall, clutching her dress in an iron grip and she raised her hands in a feeble attempt to ward him off.

“Where is she?!” His voice was like thunder, loud and demanding her attention but she seemed incapable of speaking instead of wailing and Draven pushed her away in frustration, storming out of the house and making his way home on foot.

That evening he told his family over dinner that he was leaving, he told them of his love for Eva and his need to find her and their child and the support he’d hoped for, that he’d counted on, was there in abundance.

Dawn found him on the road, The Diplomat strapped to his back and a small satchel of food and clothes slung over one shoulder. In spite of his worry and his fears about Eva there was a spring in his step, and memories of her touch and her easy laughter kept his spirit light and hopeful, after all as she always said: It’s an adventure.

Karic Asani

The moon was full, hanging heavy and pregnant against the star speckled sky of the October night, its eerie silver light glancing across the landscape like a skipped stone. The winter air was crisp, freezing any water it could find and turning fields of grass into glittering carpets of blue white crystals by dawn. Evergreen needles donned thin robes of ice and the banks of the river had started to fan outward with thin icy fingers, one side reaching for the other like long separated lovers.

Karic huddled inside his heavy woolen cloak, the deep hood pulled up to shield his face from the biting wind and his azure eyes stared intently from the dark recess at the two shadowed figures in the distance. A milky fog was struggling its way into existence, wafting upward in thin tendrils that wrapped around his legs and Karic didn’t know whether to blame the fog or what he was seeing for keeping him rooted to the spot.

He and Winter had been recruited into the Althinians at the same time but hadn’t actually met until eight years into their training, finding themselves assigned the same target, and the assignment instantly became a contest. Their methods were both similar and different, having received the same training; however they each had their own preferences. Karic liked his bullets to only stun his targets, enabling him to move in for a close up kill while Winter preferred the quick and clean from a distance approach.

Another two years passed in friendship and camaraderie, yet with each passing day Karic noticed more and more that he was looking at his friend with different eyes, was seeing him in a new light. Fear gripped him at the thought of being rejected, of being brushed off or completely losing Winter and that fear lodged in his throat like a fist. Karic could recall in perfect detail the moment that fear was proven to be unnecessary, the moment when in his rash, impulsive way Winter had pulled him under the sheltering arms of a willow and pressed a kiss to his lips.

Karic let two years’ worth of memories play through his mind while he watched Winter now, two years of passion and laughter and quiet intimate moments. And now Winter held a woman in his arms, his cloak encasing their bodies as they kissed passionately, the sounds of their desire and hunger for each other being carried on the wind to Karic’s ears and he flinched as though wounded. The wind brought him her name, whispered in Winter’s velvety voice, and with that name was born in Karic a burning sense of betrayal. Lyna. Another Althinian.

He didn’t want to see any more. Didn’t want to hear any more. Turning on his heel Karic made his way into the night, his heart hammering in his chest, the broken pieces beating against his sternum like trapped birds with each step he took toward the Althinian compound.

Their confrontation was ugly; aren’t they always? Blame and guilt, pain and sadness, anger and loss. Winter tried to explain, to make Karic understand, but he wouldn’t hear it. Karic couldn’t bear the thought of Winter loving someone else, and with each word from his lover’s lips he felt his pain and hurt turn to anger and hate.

Days later Karic was promoted in the wake of their leader’s death, taking up the mantel of ruling the Althinians and under the fa├žade of a finely woven lie his first official order was to kill Winter and Lyna.

They ran.

For two years Karic’s agents tracked them, trailed them and hounded them across continents; always a step behind until at last they were found hiding in a small unassuming village a month’s travel from home. The report was finally delivered in person by those who had killed Winter; they shared every detail of the final chase, of the beating they had meted out on him and of the killing blow. They described the sound of breaking bones and the smell of his blood. They explained that the woman had escaped but they would continue to hunt her.

Karic waved them away.

Standing at his window he stared out across the icy landscape beyond the glass, his mind trying to process all that he’d been told and presenting him with an image of Winter’s gruesomely beaten, broken and bloodied body lying abandoned in some far away foreign land. With a sudden wave of nausea he pushed the window open and retched onto the lower roof, his eyes watering and his knees going weak as he lay doubled over the windowsill.

Never again would he allow anyone get that close; in that moment, with the knowledge that Winter was dead, he refused to feel this kind of pain ever again. The betrayal he’d harbored for two years, that he’d nurtured and fed with the memory of his lover’s lips on someone else’s flesh, hardened into a protective skin that no one would ever get under.