The Damned

Reads: 6627  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 8

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 25 (v.1)

Submitted: May 11, 2013

Reads: 102

A A A | A A A

Submitted: May 11, 2013

A A A

A A A

 

 

25

 

Glencaer, Welsh Marches, Shropshire, 18th August 1224

 

The remnants of the feast they had enjoyed had been cleared away. The wood was warm beneath Isabel’s bejewelled fingers, a silent reminder of the stifling heat of the day. They had carried the trestles outside, the oaken tops growing hot as they bathed in the sunshine. Now they were swallowed by the shadow of the looming walls, their sturdy legs as delicate as matchsticks beside the great might of Glencaer.

The pile of coins beside Isabel’s hand mounted as the Earl of Hetchell pushed her spoils towards her. “You have cleared me out, cousin” he slurred, giving Will a hearty slap on the back. The firelight danced in his silver eyes, and she saw her mother’s reflection staring out from their pale depths.

“No, Isabel has cleared you out,” her brother corrected, his shoulder nudging her.

She twisted around in his lap, smiling at him, her face smug with satisfaction.

Her brother was even more high-spirited than usual. It was two weeks since their father’s letter, and every day his smile widened. Father had written to announce that, in future, Will must correspond only in writing, and must conduct all of their business with Lord Tristan, for he was too busy to leave the castle at Pompocali to travel to Glencaer, and his son was old enough to act on his behalf. It seemed as if a weight had been lifted from her brother’s shoulders.

Within days of his brutal assault on Will, her father had joined the Fifth Crusade, journeying to the Holy Land, and though he had returned a year later, he had never again journeyed to their home in the marshes. But still they had waited, cowered, too afraid to test their freedom.

Now, Isabel and Will were caged birds, finally released to soar freely against the backdrop of a summer sky. Part of her understood that her father was seeking redemption. She knew that he was not the satanic tyrant men perceived him to be, that there was a heart capable of love, even gentleness locked away inside, but oh, how she rejoiced at his departure! No longer was she forced to be a snake in the grass, always on the brink of betraying the family of her heart.

She and Will had thrown themselves into the frivolity of Glencaer. Her brother had spent hours teaching her card games, or creating fantastical stories to amuse her. He had taken her out riding, schooling her to sit astride Riocus. Their lives were an endless parade of pageantry and entertainment.

Lord Tristan’s masques were legendary. Lady Linota would create dances for the girls to perform, and they would spend weeks perfecting them, delighting in the grace and strength of their young forms. Later, after the dancing and the feasting, there would be bear baiting and cock fights; giant bonfires, fingers reaching for the heavens, illuminated the titanic battles. The night lent a magical, dream-like quality to the deathly scenes which played out on the dark stage before them.

Afterwards, there would be drinking and gambling, which would carry on into the small hours. Lady Linota was a scandalous libertine, and would often disappear with members of her son’s retinue, leaving them to play late into the night. Will and his friends found it highly amusing to include Isabel in their card games, and she was often rewarded with victory, as most of the young nobles were so drunk that she, a child of twelve, was able to steal fortunes from right under their noses.

This eve, the feasting and entertainment had continued past midnight, the amounts increasing as the hours passed. Isabel had played on behalf of Will and Tristan, to the delight of the assembled men. But now, her cousin found his purse empty.

“Let’s play again,” Hetchell insisted, steel in his silver eyes.

“You have no money to bet,” Will reminded him, “and I would be a fool to risk losing such a fortune.” His fingers lovingly caressed the pile of coins they had amassed.

“Would you accept a different kind of currency as payment of my debt?” Hetchell enticed.

“I’m not interested,” Will said flatly.

“But if you left me with some money in my pocket we could carry on playing. You could double your fortune.”

“What do you propose?” Tristan enquired, his curiosity piqued.

“A fairy child.”

“A fairy child?”

“I brought him back from my Irish lands.”

“I’m intrigued,” her brother said drily.

Hetchell’s voice was loud and slightly slurred. “The child possesses magical powers. He can enchant any creature, turning the wildest animal into his obedient servant.”

“Magic, cousin? You must talk to your dear aunt. My mother believes that she is possessed of magic, too. I’m sure she would love to speak to someone who believes in her fantasies. Perhaps they could perform their spells together, the fairy child and the mad countess.”

But her brother was alone in his cynicism. The other men reacted with a mixture of disbelief and curiosity, their drunken state replacing their normal logic with a child-like naivety; they wanted to believe that magic existed, and that it could be found in the form of a gypsy boy.

“Show me,” Tristan commanded.

The earl summoned the boy, determined to prove his claims. He was a tall slender youth, his elven features and dark gypsy curls bewitching the assembled men. Though he possessed an angelic beauty, an air of cunning clung to him. It was easier to see in him than it was in them, not so deeply hidden. How unlike the rest of them he was. His plain clothes did not suit their company. Nor did his hair, wild and untamed. His cloak was the colour of the dirt beneath his feet, his hands void of any decoration, everything about him plain and unremarkable in comparison to the bawdy aristocrats. All their jewels, their finely embroidered clothes, their drawling tongues asking for more. But there was a beauty in that, it seemed. His perfect face appeared all the lovelier beside the plainness of his attire. There was something easy and honest and uncomplicated in those eyes. A beautiful, soft simplicity.

Tristan beckoned one of the stable boys, determined to witness the spectacle. “Bring Oberon,” he instructed, a maniacal glint in his eyes.

Oberon was Tristan’s prized warhorse, renowned for his vicious, untameable nature. The men around him gasped, the thought of blood-shed exciting them.

A large circle formed, the nobles shoving at one another as they jockeyed for position. On all sides, their large, hot forms pressed in on Isabel, so that she feared she would be crushed underfoot. But Will was beside her, his protectiveness undimmed by the liquor he had consumed. Effortlessly, he lifted her up, placing her atop his shoulders.

*

Conor was utterly terrified. He was trapped in a human cage, caught in a swirl of revelry and laughter, knowing that those around him desired nothing more than to see his blood spilt. His knees trembled as he stood there. They unnerved him, these nobles, intimidating him with their riches and their perfumes. He didn’t know their kind – or rather, wasn’t one of their kind. He was less than human to them, he could see it in their eyes. So easily they looked at him, laughed at him. So easily they risked his life.

And then he saw her - an angel, sad in the midst of all those smiling devils. But she was one of them, surely, perched on the shoulders of a dark-haired boy. Siblings, he could see. Beautiful, brilliant siblings. The boy’s eyes were guarded, wary, not gentle as hers were. The brother lifted her hand, placing a light kiss on her delicate knuckles. And there was tenderness there, in that instant. Something that marked him as better than those around him.

The girl’s gaze flickered to his. Those eyes… The firelight burnished her silken curls, turning them red. Her pretty face looked pale and wan, fear evident in her gaze. She was a small, delicate creature, who looked as if she were made of nothing more substantial than smoke and gossamer. But those eyes… Beneath the sadness, there was steel. He recognised that expression, that stubborn gaze. She looked at him from Eva’s eyes, rousing a strange, melancholy happiness. He would see her at the end then. There would be some comfort in that.

For a second, he wondered how the beautiful red-haired girl had the audacity to feel afraid when he stood in the middle of a hostile crowd, every one of them baying for his blood. The realisation hit him suddenly; she was scared for him. She was truly an angel, her face, so closely resembling his beloved Eva’s, a beacon of hope among the blackness of their hearts.

*

The boy stood in the middle of the circle which had formed around him, staring defiantly at the assembled crowd. He was a lonely stranger in the midst of them, lost in a sea of straining bodies. He looked so young and vulnerable amidst the bulk of the jostling forms. Although his stance was obstinate, Isabel detected a hint of fear in his black eyes. She wanted desperately to catch his gaze, to reassure him that he was not alone, though she was powerless to help him.

A commotion in the trees behind her diverted her attention. Shouts and the cracking of whips could be heard. Twigs snapped underfoot, as squeals and snorts reverberated through the forest. An unseen man screamed in pain. The sound of hooves echoed in her ears as the ground underfoot began to vibrate, heralding the beast’s approach. A large dark shape broke free of the trees, the firelight glinting on sable flanks. A rope swung from Oberon’s halter, snatched from the hands of his captors as he had broken free. The flames were reflected in the large, dark eyes of the stallion, providing a window into the fiery soul of the beast. The men leapt aside, frightened as over a ton of muscle and sinew galloped through their midst.

One lone figure remained in the path of the stallion, young and fragile, unmoving. The boy stood there insolently, staring into Oberon’s wild eyes. The horse galloped towards him, strong legs propelling him forwards. Isabel watched in horror, certain that the delicate boy would be crushed underfoot. She knew that to the assembled crowd it would be another form of entertainment, a good show enjoyed by all who had witnessed it. The elfin boy was as expendable as the rats that were mauled or the bears which were baited for their amusement to the beautiful, cruel young men beside her. Every man stared, transfixed, at the scene before them, lusting for the blood of the boy.

*

With every beat of the horse’s hooves on the ground, Conor felt his strength increasing. He did not fear the stallion; it was the hostility of his masters that chilled him to his core. They wanted blood, he could feel it. They hungered for it. Like a gladiator in the ring, his life was in their hands; if he didn’t perform, or displeased or embarrassed his master in some way, the earl would not think twice about slitting his throat to restore his valour. Every second brought the magnificent beast closer to him - and with him strength and safety.

He remembered the horses whose backs he had first sat on, whose legs he had grown up around. He had stood beside them so many times, skin to skin. He knew the sense of peace and tranquillity that emanated from their beautiful, graceful forms. They were not like men; they had no capacity for true evil. Nature’s creatures were innately good. They did not kill or maim for entertainment, nor mindlessly inflict pain and suffering. They were not monsters, not like these men. Not like these devils.

Conor saw a flash of white in the darkness, and recognised the horse’s dread. He reached out, pushing, pushing, and felt the stallion swallow him whole. And he saw. And he understood. The sense of menace which sprang from the young nobles who surrounded them terrified them equally. Oberon was frightened. He was alone. He needed a herd, an ally. Conor knew how to save himself. They must stand together, in a simple act of unity. With strength would come power, bravery. The stallion would be calm, quietly defiant. They would be together, and together they would save him.

As the ground vibrated under his feet, and the sound of hooves thundered in his ears, Conor saw the girl shut her eyes, her fingers catching at her cross. She wore the face of Eva, his beautiful Eva, when his best friend had been nothing more than a child. His death would hurt her, she who looked so like Eva, and he couldn’t bear to think of her being unhappy, for he could not bear to see a face so closely resembling Eva’s staring at him from eyes glazed with tears.

*

Isabel’s eyes closed involuntarily, unable to watch the boy’s delicate form being tossed into the air, or broken underfoot. But the inevitable scream never came. A net of silence trapped the assembly.

Opening her eyes, she saw that the enormous form had stopped, the slender figure of the boy stilling the black bullet. Though Oberon’s eyes still rolled wildly, and his large hooves pawed at the air, the ferocity seemed to have deserted him. As the boy placed a hand on the gleaming neck, the muscles along the horse’s body relaxed, and his ears pricked forwards. Lowering his head, he nudged the youth’s shoulder, playfully lipping at one of the dark curls which stroked his forehead. An astonished laugh escaped from Will’s lips.

*

From the moment their eyes connected, Conor felt a frisson of recognition. Their minds had been as one, and both knew it. The young stallion understood that he would help him, and that was all it took to win the horse’s trust. He calmed as Conor placed his hand on the beast’s sweating neck, and they stood together, their alliance banishing his angel’s fears and protecting him from the wrath of the beautiful brutes that surrounded them, their cruelty hidden behind a masque of valour and nobility. There was no magic; just a mutual need for friendship.

The stallion pushed back, showing Conor. His short life had already taught him that men could not be trusted. Conor understood. Conor had stood in his place. When a creature was brutalised, they became brutal. Oberon had been charged at by men with spears and swords, their barbaric weapons tearing at his tender flesh. He had learnt that the only way to escape from the pain they inflicted was to fight back, to tear their vulnerable skin and crush their delicate bones. The men who used him cared nothing for his life, this he knew – he was as expendable to them as the arrows they shot from their bows, or the swords they used to slash and harry one another; a weapon, a status symbol. Conor understood his rage. Anger was strong. Anger was better than tears, better than grief, better than guilt. Anger was a flame to be fed, a fire with which to burn. The stallion was Danior come again. They were one and the same, beast and boy, and in each other they recognised a kindred spirit.

*

The boy turned from the horse, walking away from the dark colossus. For a moment Oberon hesitated, as if uncertain, and then he began to follow him in a circle around the clearing, the giant head resting against the hollow between the youth’s slender shoulder blades.

The boy stopped before the men – before her, his strange, dark stare fixed on Isabel. And she returned his scrutiny with her own. As they stood regarding each other, she became increasingly certain that he was one of the magical creatures from Ayleth’s bedtime stories, who lived in forests and danced in the moonlight, always in their world but invisible unless they chose to show themselves. But what creature would ever choose to reveal itself to a man like Tristan?

The boy bowed low. There was a mass of clapping, cheering that sounded somewhat strained, just a bit forced, all so unsure. They had expected death, yearned for it. They had come so close that they had scented the blood, tasted it on their tongues.

“He was supposed to break him, not tame him,” Arnaud muttered.

“Make them fight to the death,” Orian suggested, a sick smile on his face.

“I want to see some blood spilt. I have a thirst for it,” Karl said. “Kill the horse. A sweet-natured stallion will be no use in a battle. What good is a mount that will not smash in the heads of your enemies?”

“Oberon’s worth is far higher than the boy’s. He can still breed, even if he will not fight. His nature can be soured again easily enough,” Francis said, his eyes glittering. “But what worth does the boy have?”

Tristan smiled, a high-pitched laugh issuing from his lips. The sound pierced a hole in Isabel’s stomach. “Kill him,” he drawled.

Isabel leant forward, her fingers in her brother’s hair, her lips against his ear. “Save him, Will” she said softly, her words a half-whispered prayer. “Please, let him live.”

*

Conor knew that they spoke of his death, yet he barely heard their words. He looked at her, focused on her. Her bejewelled fingers were in the boy’s dark curls, softly caressing. She leaned forwards, her lips against her brother’s ear, murmuring something to him. Her mouth was pleasant, he saw, not so cruel as the others’.

The brother turned his head, said something to her, and she slowly slid down from his shoulders, his strong hands supporting her, gentling her descent. She landed on the ground with a soft thud.

The brother turned from her and laid a hand on Tristan FitzAlan’s arm, his rings glittering in the firelight. “Let him live,” he said softly. “Don’t spill his blood for the thrill of it. Claim your prize, Tris. Use him.”

“Kill him,” another man urged.

“Hush now,” FitzAlan commanded, painting a sweet smile onto his face. “I do so love Lord William, and William urges that I let him live. This man will be an earl soon, he will be my peer. And whatever an earl commands cannot be wrong, can it?”

The other men fell silent, glowering at the dark-haired lord. The girl stood mutely beside him. She ran a pale hand down her wrinkled skirts, her fingers shaking, nervous.

“My sister wishes him to live,” the boy told FitzAlan. “Your bride-to-be wishes him to live, Tris. Surely you wish to please her.”

“And you, Will, what do you wish?”

“Isabel is my own self. What she wishes, I wish.”

“What would you have me do?”

“We Devereuxs do not like to be denied those things we most desire. Upset us, and you know that we are fearsome to behold. Please my sister, Tris. Let him live.”

FitzAlan turned to the girl. “You do not wish for him to die, Lady Isabel?”

She shook her head, her great earrings trembling. “He will be beautiful. We all love beauty, do we not? Would it not be a waste, my lord, to let such loveliness rot in the ground?” The merest arch of her eyebrow, and her brother laughed then.

FitzAlan took Conor’s face in his hands, thumbs rubbing across his cheekbones. He studied him with the bluest eyes he had ever seen. There was something undeniably dangerous in that loaded gaze, even as the lord smiled. “The boy is beautiful.”

The brother boomed out a laugh. His fingers twined through his sister’s, his lips allowing an affectionate brush against her hair. “And you do so admire beauty, Tris, don’t you?”

FitzAlan turned to the girl, wrapping a coil of her hair around his finger. He looked at Isabel Devereux with a great smile, strategy bursting behind his lovely eyes. “On account of you, sweet lady, the boy will live. To the victor go the spoils. We shall be one, soon enough, and we shall share in him equally. I hope he will please you.”

“He pleases me already, my lord.”

Conor looked at those Devereuxs, dark and light, the perfect pair carving out the world they wanted. And he saw that they were beautiful and brilliant and dangerous.

FitzAlan turned to his men. “The boy lives. I’ll take him, Hetchell,” he said, excitement burning in his eyes. All he could see was another treasure to add to his collection, a prize desired by others. He wanted it only because they wanted it, would envy him for his possession of it. It. Him. Conor.

A slow smile spread across the girl’s finely curved lips. She squeezed her brother’s hand, bestowing a gentle kiss upon his cheek.

*

Isabel’s dreams were different that night. She knew where she was. Pompocali. Home. She could feel the strength of it, the immense weight of the stone fortress, shielding her, protecting her. Nothing could hurt her so long as she was home.

Around her stood a dozen women, tall and beautiful and graceful, their faces pale and lovely. Their hair rippled, red and gold, like flames fanned by a gentle breeze. One stepped forward, her long scarlet skirt pooling around her as though she floated on a sea of blood. A brand flamed in her hand. Her curls were red in the firelight, loose, seeded with pearls; her eyes silver. Her face was as tender as the Madonna’s, as beautiful as Venus’. The others followed in her wake, and there was something lovely, beautiful even, about the synchronicity of their movements.

The red-haired woman laid a soft hand on Isabel’s cheek, her crimson lips placing a tender kiss on her mouth. She was enveloped by the sweet scent of her, like an over-ripe strawberry just beginning to sour; by her billowing scarlet skirts; by her long, wild curls. The woman’s hand tenderly traced the line of her cheekbone, her jaw, her neck. Her hand tightened there, her nails caressing Isabel’s throat.

She stared into Isabel’s eyes, silver meeting silver. There was something undeniably dangerous in the woman’s gaze, though it was devoid of malice. Her stare seemed to see too much.

“A terrible prophecy comes to me,

And fills me with anxiety.

Isabel, I fear so much,

The boy who has the magic touch.

Death will claim him for his own,

And take him to his monster’s abode.

Blood and blood and blood and blood,

And you resting beside him in the mud.”

Her face was heartbreakingly sad, the voice which issued from her lips hoarse and ragged, the siren call of a broken spirit.

“Who are you?” Isabel whispered.

The woman’s lips curved, a great slice across her pearl visage. “Don’t you know us? You are the sum of us, Isabel Devereux. We are blood.”

“Why am I here?”

A high-pitched shrieking laugh, at once sad and vengeful, broke from her lips. “To claim your prize. This is your place, little sister. Our place. This is your home. You belong with us.” But still the woman turned to go.

“You can’t leave me.”

Her gaze flashed sharply. “We already have.”


© Copyright 2018 Jordana J Sacks. All rights reserved.

Chapters

Booksie 2018 Poetry Contest

Booksie Popular Content

Other Content by Jordana J Sacks

Popular Tags