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Vivienne Caveney

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War Stories for My Grandchildren - A Memoir in Short Stories
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Stargazer
By Vivienne Caveney
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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In a land cleaved in two by the power of light, can one slave find the Stargazer and make the world whole.

Running. Briana felt more like she was flying. Her shoeless feet barely registered the cold, yielding earth beneath them. Her senses were overwhelmed by the crisp, storm-charged air around her. The dark sky above was heavy, pregnant with rain stolen from the black fathomless ocean that heaved and crashed its perpetual torment on the cliffs beyond her master’s keep. Every step Briana took carried her further away from the buildings brooding countenance. Her lithe legs thrust her onward even though the muscles burned with fatigue. She sprinted on toward an elusive destination, air ripping from her lungs as though the very sky were jealous for its return. Every fibre of her body was screaming at her to stop but she paid it no regard. She wanted to outrun the storm, outrun the crushing captivity of her existence. While she was running, Briana was free.

Flying, it seemed, was a hazardous pass time. Briana’s foot, light and swift though it was, struck some uneven rocks. Her ankle twisted, wrenching the delicate tendons beneath her milky white skin, causing her to cry out as much in surprise as in pain. There was no grace in her fall. She crashed to the frigid earth just as the first flash of lightening flooded the darkness with purple-white light. Face down in the dirt, her hands clawed in the rich but barren soil she whispered a curse. Even with her eyes shut tight in pain, Briana could see the burning after image of the lightning flash dancing around her. Her eyes, and the eyes of all the dark dwellers, were highly affected by strong light. She resisted the urge to rub them, knowing it would make no difference. Instead she turned over and sat up straight, gently prodding her complaining ankle with tentative fingers. There were no broken bones, though the knowledge brought little comfort. Her freedom had again met an abrupt end.

From behind her, Briana could hear an approaching horse. Snide had been sent after her again. The pounding of galloping hooves gave way to a less frantic trot when he noted her circumstances. The chase was over, her capture inevitable. She waited where she sat, her head low, and her heart lower still.

“Up.” Snide growled as he swung one stubby leg over the back of the equally stubby horse he rode. He landed, heavy and graceless in front of Briana, his eyes sneering at her from his dirt streaked face, curling his lip and showing what remained of his green, rotting teeth. For someone with less knowledge of him, Snide could appear like any other weather-beaten ore miner. A short, stout man with thick arms and a thick neck, Snide's round face wore a perpetual scowl to suit his stormy temperament. Beneath his dirty streaked face was a mask of broken veins but Briana knew the ruddy complexion came more from a beatha bottle than from hard work. When she made no move to stand he kicked out at her with his hefty booted right foot. It struck her high on her already aching upper thigh and she had to fight to contain the cry of pain that clawed its way up her throat.

“Vex me no further, serf, for already my restraint is flagging. On your feet or I will drag you home by your hair.” Briana had good reason to believe Snide would carry out his threat. He needed little encouragement where punishment was involved.

She rose to her full height, diminutive though it was, squaring her shoulders and thrusting out her chin with all the defiance she could muster but it was hard to look bold as she tottered unsteadily on her one uninjured foot.

Snide approached her slowly, having taken his coiled rope from the pommel of his saddle. He deliberately walked around her, his greedy eyes racking her from head to toe, taking in her shapely figure as his meaty fingers toyed salaciously with the coarse rope. Briana was revolted by the unwanted attention. She shuddered with indescribable horror as he reached out and touched one of her exposed arms with his fleshy fingers. Feeling the sudden shiver, his huge hand closed like a vice on her delicate wrist. He sneered again, his foul breath assaulting her nostrils. He looped the end of his rope around first one slender hand, then the other, all the while mocking her with his gluttonous stare. He pulled the rope tight, drawing her reluctantly toward him. He lowered his head until his mouth was beside her ear.

“Let me take you and I will set you free.” He grunted, rubbing his thick body against her. His leathery lips touched her cheek and she pulled away from him sharply, her weight landing on her injured ankle, which collapsed under her. Only Snide stopped her from falling, he held her, dangling by the rope as he laughed. “I could take you now.” He taunted.
“You could try.” She glared at him fiercely with a fire in her eyes borne of sheer panic.
Snide jolted her back to standing, still laughing. “When we reach Biodag Keep you will beg for me.”
“I would beg for death first.” She spat back boldly.
“Careful, wench, you don’t get what you ask for.” He replied with a sly grin.

Briana knew better than to think Snide would let her ride with him. He took too much enjoyment from his petty torments to ever be so compassionate. No matter how she steeled herself against the pain, each step Briana took on her wounded ankle felt like walking on the jagged ends of shattered bone.

Though the horse merely walked, its stride meant Briana had to jog to keep up. The journey had only begun and she knew she would not make most of it on her feet she had fallen twice already.

“Not so flighty now, are you?” Snide shot back at her over his shoulder. He tugged on the rope tied to his saddle for good measure and chortled when she stumbled. His laughter sounded to Briana like rocks falling down a cliff, a harsh sound from a harsh man.

Moments later the rain came, falling so hard and fast it took only seconds to drench both the travellers. The single flash of lightening proved to be only a precursor of a much more violent storm. Lightening flashed and thunder roared continuing an age-old battle in the heavens and the celestial conflict only added to Briana’s difficult passage back to Biodag Keep.

The ground under foot was slick with black mud, which alternately sucked at Briana’s feet or slid them from under her. She tried to pay close attention to where she trod, but the flashes of lightening caused moments of light blindness that made it impossible. Briana spent most of the journey back to Biodag Keep being dragged by Snide’s oblivious horse.

When they reached the Keep proper, Briana was exhausted, battered and bleeding. Snide had seen fit to take the rockier path back to the castle.

Biodag was a viciously constructed edifice which looked like it had grown from the very cliffs that were its foundation. Every plane of the multi faceted building was ruthless and hostile. There were no pleasing angles, nothing to soften the harsh, unforgiving exterior of an equally unforgiving place. Each of its many corners were decorated by hideous, staring, rain gargoyles which seemed to leer and cackle at Briana as the lightening flashed its fury above her. She was already terrified without Biodag’s guardians adding their own brand of nightmares. Still their gaze was preferable to that of Lord Davoreen who waited inside, no doubt anticipating her return.

Snide climbed awkwardly down from his horse, grumbling loudly at the stiffness in his joints. He yanked on the rope, pulling Briana roughly toward the castles wide wooden door. She stumbled forward, her faltering steps not only due to her injury but her fear of what was waiting for her within the thick stone walls. She was deeply afraid of her master and what his punishments might be.

Snide dragged her through the cavernous entrance hall with its awkward web of stairways spiralling toward the upper reaches of the castle. The doorway to Biodag’s great hall was thick and foreboding and Briana halted before it. Snide cared nothing for her welfare and he tugged again on the rope pulling Briana through the enormous door to learn her destiny.

Lord Davoreen sat in a huge, carved, stone throne, his countenance as hard as the masonry beneath him. Briana noticed he had been in conversation with a member of the elders council when they entered and had time to wonder at the goings on before her dread engulfed all other thoughts.

“Brought it back, Lord Dav’reen.” Snide muttered as he pulled Briana across the floor. She stumbled again and fell to her knees on the smooth flagstones. The driving rain outside had drenched her from head to toe. Her hair hung in limp, dark, ringlets around her shoulders. The water adding its own weight to her already heavy head. She stared at the floor and the growing puddle around her, too fearful even to raise her eyes. Better to be struck down suddenly and without knowledge, she thought.

The thunderous look on her master’s face was enough to raise fear in the heart of a warrior. Briana was sure, this time, she faced death for her sudden flight but she was too afraid to meet her master’s eyes. Had it been her first indiscretion she might have felt bolder. But there had been several excursions, each ending in her capture and each resulting in a beating more severe than the previous. The last so vicious she spent two passings of the moon close to death. She held her breath and waited to hear her fate.

“What have you done to it?” Lord Davoreen cursed as he sprung, cat-like from this throne. Briana shrank from him like a cowed cur but his attention was elsewhere. He closed the distance between himself and Snide in three long stamping strides then cuffed the man roughly, hard enough to rock him on his feet. In front of her, Lord Davoreen stood staring fixedly at Briana’s bowed head.

Lord Davoreen was a tall, slender man with thick dark hair and dark, hooded eyes. His pale skin and gaunt cheeks were a testament to years of ill health, added to that his stooped shoulders which denied him the distinguished air he so deeply desired. He more resembled a tormented soul than a strong leader, which often served to mislead his rivals. His stature gave him the look of a man perpetually suffering from a bone deep chill, shoulders curled inward to ward of a strong wind.

“I told you to bring it back, not to kill it in the act. I wanted it unharmed." He spat at Snide, who stood, abashed, before him.

"It was like that when I found it." Snide lied, "It's clumsy, Sire." He added with a half-heartedly apologetic shrug.

"Yes, perhaps." Davoreen nodded slyly, slowly. "You have done well, Snide, go to the kitchens and have someone fix you a warm supper." The words themselves sounded like the kind regard of a caring master but the tone Lord Davoreen uttered them with gave them a less benevolent credence. Snide was purely and simply dismissed.

Briana's slim shoulders shuddered, still crouched on the floor as Lord Davoreen stepped closer to her. He stealthily knelt at her side, his bony knees cracking with the effort, and cooed with sickening sweetness in her ear.

"Wilful slave." He breathed, and gently brushed back her dripping hair with his spider-like fingers. He ran his skeletal fingers down her damp cheek and caressed her chin, pinching it between fore finger and thumb and raising it toward him in order to see into her eyes. "You knew how important you were to my plans today. I need you here for the meeting with the Lightsiders. I do not have time for your silly games." Suddenly, he snatched a handful of her hair and hauled her to her feet by it.

"I will see you craw for the rest of your miserable life for the trouble you have caused me today." He spat, releasing her and striding back to his throne. He yelled loudly for an attendant and before his voices' echo had time to dissipate, a wizened woman in plain grey robes stood in the doorway awaiting Lord Davoreen's orders.

"I want it cleaned and dressed and waiting in the hall when the lightsiders arrive. Make sure its injuries are tended. God's forbid the softhearted senators should see blood. Not on their first visit at least." Lord Davoreen swept from the room in a great flurry of dark robes and darker moods.

"It shall be done, Sire." The woman replied hastily rushing toward Briana and bringing her to her feet with surprising strength. "Come, we have no time." She hissed.

Briana was visibly trembling, due to a combination of her bone deep chill and her soul deep fear.

"There is nout to fear now, child. The Master needs your gift. He'll no harm you 'til you've done your work." The woman said kindly as she lead Briana out of the room, carrying her roughly most of the way.

"I shall be dead by 'morrows rising." Briana spoke the words with desolate certainty.

"That may be, but for now we must be quick. You are filth and grime from head to toe and the Master will have my head if you are not presentable by the time the Lightsiders arrive." The old woman ushered her down a dimly lit corridor and through a stout wooden door into a well scrubbed kitchen. She did not stop but pulled Briana through the room, passed the scowling Snide, toward another door, this one leading to the keeps enclosed courtyard.

"There's the pump, go and do the necessary." The woman ordered. "Make sure to miss nothing, for I'll be checking when you're done." She warned, handing Briana a grubby clout from her apron pocket. She shuddered from the cold then stomped back toward the kitchen. "Come back in when you're done and I'll tend your wounds." She stated with more kindness before closing the door and leaving Briana to her task.

The water from the hand pump was icy cold and by the time Briana had finished her task her hands were scarlet and her fingers numb. She stood, naked in the moonlight, her pale skin taught with cold. Her ankle was badly swollen, deep purple bruising already visible. She hobbled back toward the door, leaving her filthy dress where it had fallen.

The kitchen was blessedly warm and free of Snide when she entered. Steam was rising from numerous pots and the smell was intoxicating, making Brianna dizzy.

The old woman scuttled around her, checking she had cleaned herself thoroughly. When she was satisfied the job had been done to her satisfaction she sat Briana on a stool and produced a bowl of warm water scented with lavender to tend her numerous cuts and scrapes. Her ankle was then bound tightly and the elderly attendant warned her to walk as little as was possible until the tenderness subsided.

A length of cloth hung over the back of a chair and the woman helped Briana into it. White, and sheer enough to raise a blush to Briana's cheek they wound it twice around her then swept the remainder over her head and shoulders to cover the worst of her bruises. Clean and dressed, Briana was escorted to the long hall, which was to be the location of Lord Davoreen's long awaited meeting with the Lightsiders.

~~~~~~
This is a work in progress. There may be more if I can find time. My fingers are willing but the muse is fickle.
~~~~~~

I'm a wannabe writer. That means I'm looking for assistance, please. I am happy that you got to the end of the story but if you have the time to review I would be very grateful for any feedback.
Thanks
Vivienne x
  


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Reviewed by Charlie 11/25/2007
Way good. You sucked me in... --Charlie

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