film, short fiction, women

Peace

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(http://dazend.deviantart.com/art/Cloudy-day-686264994)

Eilhu bore the weight of his armour with each step. He rested his hand on the hilt of his sword, the wound in his side tugging at him. He swallowed, tasting grit and the fading copper of adrenaline. It hurt to breathe, but it was a sweet pain.

He sat down, looking up at the clear blue sky, the clouds rolled in ponderous trails. It was the cleanest thing he had seen in hours and it made him smile with wonder. He loosened his sword belt with shaking fingers and put his fingers to his lips. He shut his eyes and thought of her.

Thousands dead and he had come away with a split lip, all his teeth and a small cut against his right side, where a spear head grazed against him.

‘Your highness?’

Peregrin stood there, hands by his sides, his bow slung over his right shoulder.

‘Care to join me, captain?’ Eilhu said.

Peregrin smiled and shook his head.

‘Not sure I would get up again, your highness.’

Eilhu chuckled and shook his head.

‘We’ve shed blood together, you can use my name. What do you want?’

Peregrin coughed before he spoke.

‘We found him.’

2.

Roderick had tried to escape but Peregrin’s men had cornered him at Elder’s Pass. Eilhu extended a hand and Peregrin helped him to his feet.

‘I was thinking we should plant wheat here. I want to expand our farming.’

Peregrin nodded as Eilhu tied his sword belt and rolled his shoulders.

‘An excellent idea. It’s good earth.’

Eilhu ran his tongue over his lips, tested the cut with his tongue and looked down the hill.

‘It is. Now, let’s go discuss the terms of Young King Roderick’s surrender, shall we?’

Two soldiers held him upright. Rivulets of blood had dried on his upper lip. He showed his uneven, irregular peg teeth and the inflamed gums. His hair hung in rats tails around his face, clotted with dirt and blood. He swallowed and chuckled as Eilhu approached.

‘I can’t say I enjoyed the treatment I’ve received, Eilhu.’

Eilhu tilted his head and gazed at him.

‘It shouldn’t have ended like this, Roderick.’

Roderick grinned with a bravado which bordered on mania. He struggled against the soldiers but they held him with ease.

‘It hasn’t. One of us is still alive.’ he said.

Eilhu asked his men to release Roderick. He rubbed his arms and stretched, staring into Eilhu’s eyes with a hate past reason.

‘Stop the theatre, Roderick. It’s over.’

Roderick clenched his fists and sneered.

‘Never.’ he said.

Eilhu sighed and shook his head.

‘You’re coming back in chains to face trial. I’ve had my fill of killing today.’ he said.

Roderick hissed and spat on the ground.

‘Fuck you commoner scum and fuck your cunt queen. These lands are mine by right.’ he said.

‘I demand trial by single combat. Here. Now.’

The speed with which Eilhu made the very final decision surprised him. He unsheathed his sword and stuck it into the ground between them.

‘If you insist, you sad little boy, go right ahead.’

Eilhu picked up a shield and strapped it onto his right arm. Peregrin frowned and his hand went to the hilt of his sword but Eilhu shook his head.

‘I’m going to enjoy this.’ Roderick said.

Eilhu lowered the shield and stared into Roderick’s eyes without fear or anger.

‘Remember, you chose this.’ he said.

Roderick drew the sword from the earth, turned it in his hand.

‘I’ve never killed a man with his own blade before.’ he said.

Eilhu gave a quiet, indulgent smile.

‘I doubt it.’ he said.

Roderick snarled and lunged forwards. Eilhu stepped backwards, avoiding the arc of the blade and raised his shield.

Roderick followed him, bringing the sword over his head as he screamed with fury.

Eilhu lowered his centre of gravity and slammed the shield forward into Roderick’s chest. The impact travelled through his forearms as Roderick gave a choked cry, wheezing as he fell backwards. Eilhu brought the lip of the shield upwards, catching Roderick underneath his chin and snapping his head backwards.

He fell, the sword clattering to the ground from his fingers, clutching his throat as his heels beat a tattoo against the ground. Eilhu followed him down, slipping his forearm free of the shield and putting his boots against it. He squatted and grabbed a handful of Roderick’s hair.

‘I am proud of everything I’ve done, Roderick. Except this.’ he said.

‘I pronounce you guilty.’

He took Roderick’s head between his hands and gave it a sharp, final twist.

Eilhu got to his feet. He picked up his sword, nodded to each of the soldiers and Peregrin, then returned to his spot on the hill.

The clouds, white and pure, driven by a breeze which caressed his skin. He recalled her lips against his cheek, how she would graze his chest hair with her fingers to help her sleep and the gentle rhythm of her breath.

He sent part of his soul home to her. His body would soon follow.

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beauty, fiction, short fiction, women

No Friend To The Sisters

They stumbled onto the fire. The man sat against the tree stump, eating a piece of chicken as he watched them. His hazel eyes glowed with amusement.

Jacqueline stared at him with panicked eyes. Her stomach growled at the sight of a chicken being turned on a spit over the fire. Bren tugged her sleeve and Jacqueline watched her brush a lock of hair away from her eyes.

‘Please sir, may we join you?’

He scratched the dimple in his chin and tilted his head to one side.

‘You look like you’ve been running?’ he said.

Bren nodded, and fat shiny tears welled up in her eyes. Jacqueline’s hand went to the knife on her hip and the man raised his hand.

‘Yes, sir, we have. We’ve fled the convent.’ she said.

He whistled and shook his head, gestured to the fire and grinned at them.

‘Well then, you must join me.’ he said

Bren glanced at Jacqueline, gave her a pensive nod and sat down, crossing her legs with care at the ankles.

Jacqueline joined her on the ground.

‘Sorry.’ she said.

He nodded and pulled the spit towards him. He drew a small knife, the blade no longer than his thumb and scored along the breast. A drizzle of clear juice hissed onto the fire below and he sat back.

‘You’re just in time to eat, if you’re hungry?’ he said.

They looked at one another then both nodded. He grinned and reached towards the chicken. The perfume of it made their mouths water.

It would, Jacqueline thought, make for a fine story to tell the others.

2.

He wore a leather jerkin over suede leggings, boots that went to his calf, scarred and faded from use and time. At his feet laid a pair of calfskin gloves, studded along the knuckles with small pitted marks. His head was smooth and he wore a few days’s growth of stubble. He wore fine things but used them until they bore marks.

‘So, how did you come to be running from them?’ he said.

Bren chewed and looked at Jacqueline, a cue for her to tell the story they had agreed upon. Jacqueline swallowed the piece of chicken, spiced with herbs that made her gums tingle and ran her tongue over her lips.

‘We wanted to make our own way in the world.’

Bren nodded.

‘Yes, we were in the kitchens, slipped out through the larder and then the stables.’ Bren said.

He gestured to the knife on Jacqueline’s hip.

‘You got that from the kitchens? It’s got a wicked edge on it.’ he said.

Jacqueline blushed and looked away, feigning embarrassment at the oblique compliment.

‘We were a day away from our Silencing.’ she said.

His face turned pale. The Sisters performed initiation rituals, altering the vocal chords and structures of the jaw to ensure silence and a bite that could cleave through oak. It never left a woman pretty.

‘Where will you go to?’ he said.

Jacqueline shrugged her shoulders, furrowed her forehead.

‘As far away as we can. What brings you out here?’ she said.

He was hunting. Snares because the rabbits grew fat here and the wild chickens had not lost their flavour.

Bren picked up the last drumstick and bit into it. Jacqueline looked at her and wished she could pretend not to enjoy this so much. He lifted his wineskin to his lips, took a deep swig before he offered it to them.

Jacqueline refused but Bren took a deep draught and giggled afterwards. She could not stop competing with her.

‘Spicy though, for wild chicken.’ she said.

Bren coughed and swallowed the last mouthful.

‘It’s superb.’ Bren said.

Jacqueline looked at the man across the fire. He stared back before he raised his hand and gave a slow nod

‘You don’t have to worry about me turning you in. I’m no friend to The Sisters.’ he said.

A guttural note came into his voice. Jacqueline decided not to press any further.

‘We used to keep chickens up at the convent, but they never tasted like this.’ Bren said.

She coughed and fought the urge to spit.

Jacqueline looked at her. Bren gave a slow blink and took the wine from him.

A shudder of foreboding ran through Jacqueline. She glanced at the man across from her as he sat there.

Bren stared at her and went to speak but a low, soft croak came out. She bent over at the waist and emitted a torrent of tan silken vomit onto the ground. Jacqueline’s hand went to the knife on her hip but she stopped. A deep, violent cramp ran through her, up her spine and into her head.

A dark pressure forced itself outwards from the inside of her skull and she dropped the knife from fingers gone dead and cold. She reached for her Sister-in-waiting and found her gone form her reach.

‘It was a good plan.’ he said

Jacqueline turned toward the voice before her legs gave out and she fell to the ground.

‘I chose a blend of things, so it should be quick for you. It’s not your fault.’ he said.

She tried to speak but all that came out was a bloodied plug of tissue and mucus before her eyes rolled back in their sockets and she died.

‘It’s like I said. I am no friend to the Sisters.’ he said.

3.

He dug graves for the pair of them. Asra had found the location of the convent, told him when they had last laid together. She had shown him the scars from her escape and he had traced him with his finger, slow and soft as she reassure him of her health.

He swore his own vow.

He said a prayer over their graves. He found his weapons where he had hidden them along with his armour and tools. He looked through the trees, gauged how long it would take him to make it there before dawn.

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beauty, fiction, love, poetry, sex, short fiction, women

Weekend Omnibus

Poetry and short fiction from this week, please read and share, comment so I know that I am not alone in this cruel, oblique universe. 🙂

https://mbblissett.com/2017/04/08/breakfast-2/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/04/07/spotlight/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/04/06/certain/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/04/03/the-dance-of-you/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/04/07/wet-dog/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/04/08/the-tracks-of-home/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/04/06/a-soldier-his-country/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/04/03/a-game-of-green-and-yellow/

https://mbblissett.com/2017/04/04/cycles-of-ambition/

 

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beauty, love, short fiction, women

The Tracks of Home

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(http://www.acrojou.com/the-wheel-house.html)

Peace took up more time than war. The duties that came with being Queen made every opportunity a stolen one for her. She would have found it easier to keep him by her side, to call on him at a moment’s notice and receive the gift of his attentions.

Duty had him go out as her envoy, sometimes with a blade in his hand, other times letters of treaty as she sought to crochet together a broken kingdom. He was deadly with them both, and would return to her safe although not always unscarred. She worried that her neglect and silence would add to those wounds he bore but hid it from everyone but herself. She would watch him sleep, her fingers playing through the neat curls of fur on his broad chest and ache with a want for him that made her expansive and almost violent with it.

Her patchwork knight. Born from common stock but risen to nobility by her father, and by his own actions in his service. She was a bee, needing the sweet honey of his eyes, his voice and his touch and resigned to never having it as she needed it. Duty called her name, drowned out the whispers of her heart and left her wracked with torment, unable to speak it aloud. She did her duty and she resented it for what it cost her more than what it had given her.

She had been sewing in her chambers, using the last of the daylight to allow her to finish a pattern that had proven a challenge for her focus and dexterity.A knock at her door lifted her chin. He was abroad, gone to negotiate a trade deal with Amber Home, a race that resembled insects and spoke in piping, musical voices. They made weapons and structures from a resin they farmed from grubs, light and as close to invincible as anyone had seen since the departure of the dwarves deep beneath the earth.

‘Enter.’ she said.

The door opened and a guard stepped forwards, bowing at the waist.

‘Your highness.’

She stood up, her work trailing from her fingers as she saw movement behind him.

‘What is it? I hope it is important considering the hour.’

The guard, a slight and attentive young man by the name of Percival, swallowed and his face turned pale.

‘I have news, your highness, from Amber Home.’

She flinched at his expression, a mask of duty from which upset and concern leaked through his eyes and the cast of his mouth.

2.

Amber Home was inaccessible on horseback due to the propensity for the younger drones and queens to attack such animals for their blood. This led to a quiet, lengthy exile from the other races until an enterprising young merchant, desperate to source a supply of the golden, versatile amber, sketched out a design one night, whilst unable to sleep and found a carpenter willing to do the work of translation.

The queen hid her excitement as it unsettled the air of careful dignity she wielded when presented with such solutions. Even the knight found his stoicism challenged by her, but his reasons were of a more personal nature than the device.

‘He did not tell me he rode through there in one of these. I would have insisted on going with him, had I known.’ she said.

Oscar, her chancellor, narrowed his eyes and pressed his hands together in contemplation.

‘His reaction was similar. How sweet.’ he said.

The device was two wheels connected and moving inside one another. She drove by making adjustments to the wooden pedals and two large sticks that moved in different directions. The inner wheel moved and kept the occupants stable in one position, almost comfortable, Oscar offered with a hint of the subtle disbelief that afflicted him like a stammer. The outer wheel protected the inner and also to allow for a smooth, controlled movement. She insisted on having a test drive around the courtyard, and after a few false starts, had the vehicle under her control and even pulled off a sharp stop and retreat, which made Oscar roll his eyes in paternal disdain.

The queen stepped out from the wheel.

‘Your highness, must you go? He is being well tended to. The Queen itself has gathered the finest physicians to treat his wounds.’

‘As she should.’

The assassins came to kill her and he had interceded, killing three of them in a matter of seconds. The fourth wounded him with a dagger tipped with a rare poison. Before he lapsed into unconsciousness, he had gripped the assassin by the face and twisted his head with enough force he died looking backwards. He stood there, looking over the corpses of the men and women he had killed then said two words and collapsed to the floor.

‘My queen.’

Oscar was not frightened of the queen, only the misuse of her potential. He held his own fondness for the knight, even sharing his poetry with him. This presented a terrible risk, for their enemies were watching. This act itself could have been a feint, designed to prey upon her feelings and draw her out.

Her forehead furrowed with irritation.

‘I will not be attending as a head of state, Oscar. A woman visiting a man.’

Her man, she thought. Her pupils dilated at the thought or mention of him. She was not insensible about him, which would have been awful for the kingdom, but he made her bold, daring to dream with a robustness he had not seen in her since youth. He decided that some arguments were not worth the fight, and so he bowed and wished her well.

He insisted that she travelled armed and armoured. She patted her tunic and the faint chink of mail, muted by the cloth and boiled leather, travelled to his ears. She turned her right wrist and a serrated black blade slid into her hand.

‘If you’ve anything else hidden, your highness, please spare me the trouble.’

3.

The wheels moved in perfect rhythm and once she had grown used to the devices that controlled it, the queen decided that she would have one of these built to her own needs and dimensions. She hurtled over the hills, gripping the ground thanks to a hundred small tiny fungoid growths grown into the wood that kept the ride smooth. The interior wheel moved in such a way that the driver remained stable and the passenger seat allowed for a companion to travel in similar comfort.

The hives of Amber Home laid before her and she heard the hum of industry that was the source of its power. She saw the winged guards swarm overhead and she reached for her seal of office, mounted on a chain beneath her cloak and tunic.

She raised it so it caught the sunlight and they landed before her. Their jointed limbs slid into sheaths of chitin and they stood there, chattering to themselves in a shrill buzzing language that sounded like tautened string instruments. They stood aside and pointed to a wooden longhouse at the foot of the hill.

She rode towards it.

4.

The insect queen was eight feet tall, with crystalline wings that folded behind her and shimmering eyes that took in everything with a graceful detachment.

‘He has survived, your highness.’ she said.

He laid on the bed, his eyelids closed and chest rising in easy rhythms, flushed with sweat and trembling as though he fought some terrible adversary within his dreams. Perhaps he was bargaining for his life and it would be typical that he did so without calling for aid.

The insect queen assured her he would recover. The poison had struck a blow against him. She was there with him. That mattered in the silent judgement of the gods.

The insect queen hovered away and the doors closed. She waited until she was alone and then crawled onto the bed and rested her warm hand against his cheek. He burned to the touch but did not respond.

‘I have left you too long, haven’t you?’

She brushed the stubble on his cheeks, dark brown and soft against her fingertips.

She spoke to him. Queens did not speak such things aloud, but women did and she laid there, as she said, a woman visiting her man on his sick bed.

Not a death bed, she thought, not yet.

She leaned over and kissed him. His lips were soft and warm, and his beard brushed against her face.

‘If you do not wake, I cannot say I will follow you into sleep, my love. But most of me will and whatever rules the kingdom, with my face and my voice.’

Tears streamed down her cheeks and she patted his hair away from his face.

‘It will not be this woman, I swear. She will be duty and dust shall flow in her veins.’

She sobbed and wrapped him in her arms, pulled him to her bosom and wept with a force that made the hive shake.

His hand smoothed along the length of her forearm and she drew back, gasping as his eyelids raised and he smacked his lips with thirst.

‘I thought I was dreaming.’

She planted kisses all over his face and he opened his eyes to gaze into her, not her mind but her soul. No matter the depth of her silence or the height of the walls that duty put between them, he knew the way past them. It was the knowledge and certainty he had of himself, and through how it informed his love and duty, that kept them together.

‘No, you are very much awake and when you are well, I have something to show you.’

He closed his eyes and groaned, turning his head to nestle into her bosom.

‘If it’s the wheel, I can’t wait but there was one thing more I wished to see more than anything.’

She stroked his face, kissing him over and over until she needed to breathe. She asked him what it was and he smiled before his fingers curled into the hair at the nape, cropped for the season and he drew her down into his kiss.

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fiction, short fiction, women, writing

Soul’s Fire

The floor was hard against my bare knees. My hands were cracked and reddened from the lye Mrs Peters insisted on using. My shoulders and back ached from scrubbing the same spot over and over, creating thick plumes of suds and fumes to make my eyes water.

I had been tasked with the cleaning of the kitchen. It was another of Mrs Peter’s polite cruelties disguised as request. The kitchen collected grease and dust the way a miser hoarded pennies. She took great pleasure in giving me the responsibility of bringing it to a standard since Nan took a turn and had to go back to Warwick.

Her disdain, dressed in decorum had made my month in service feel like an eternity. My references were sound. Mr Lewis was not an effusive man, but he had listed my qualities with clarity.

Mrs Geraldine Peters had set herself to the task of instructing me in misery. She had gone over to Reverend Granger’s house, such was her confidence in my obedience.

Arthur the stable hand had gone with Mr Peters to purchase a colt from auction. So I did not even have him to keep me company. The sun had risen to a great, furious height already when I heard the sound of footsteps.

‘Hello, Miss.’

I glanced upwards. I met his warm, brown eyes. Over the lye-infused steam, I caught the scent of him, his musk, leathery and with hints of sandalwood. He wore a suit of faded velvet, with a silver watch chain dangling from his waistcoat. His shirt was silken, faded to shades of autumn that changed wherever the light struck them. He had mismatched buttons of pearl that were sewn on with practiced care.

‘How may I help you, sir?’

He chuckled and scratched the stubble on his chin.

‘Oh no, Miss, it is a matter of how I may help you. I have useful wares to sell if you’ve a mind to look.’

I stopped scrubbing and sat up, rubbed the small of my back with my palms to alleviate the ache.

‘A mind to look is all the currency I have, Sir.’

He smiled and gestured outside.

‘The finest coin of all, some would say.’

I sighed with amused impatience. He had an easy smile and large, muscular hands. The thought came to me of being caught with him and it made my stomach churn.

‘You should go, sir. My mistress doesn’t take to peddlers.’

He frowned and leaned forward.

‘And you’d rather be here on your knees when you could come outside for a few minutes, find something you’d like.’

He gestured to the warm, bright day behind him. It was his accomplice.

I had worked since breakfast. A moment with him if only to see him off the grounds would be a small reward for her efforts.

I got to my feet. He flashed a grin at me over his shoulder and I followed him outside.

His pack was by the gate, awash with scarves and trinkets tied on. He reached inside and retrieved a bolt of silken material with a theatrical flourish and laid it at my feet.

‘A little theatre brings fire to the soul.’

He moved between the pack and decanted the contents onto the silk.

A handful of button that made wondrous play of the sunlight where each one caught it.

Reels of coloured cotton and needles of various sizes and configurations, gleaming steel and glistening bone.

Silk shirts with monograms stitched into the breast.

A thick shawl woven with rainbow colours and patches of different pieces of fur.

Skirts and bonnets, good but worn from previous use.

If his wares had been too fine, my suspicions would have drawn me away. Yet their quality had weathered a few seasons.

He had one more item to offer. A long necked bottle stoppered with a wax seal. An amber fluid sat at the base, heavy and thick.

‘Trust a tinker to sell a potion.’

He shrugged his shoulders.

‘Regardless of whether I am a tinker or a pedler, I offer wares of import and import. Things that a cunning woman might use.’

I pointed at the bottle.

”What might a cunning woman use that for?’

He picked it up and handed it to me. The liquid was warm through the thick glass of the bottle.

‘The buyer decides before the seller has cause to speak.’

I tilted the bottle, watched the liquid play within it.

‘Unless it’s a salve for my hands, it’s pretty but useless.’
He curved his silken lips into a smile.

‘For a bit of bread and a cup of water, it’s yours.’

Mrs Peters brooked no tradespeople or unannounced visitors, so I was already at risk so bread and water made no difference. I glanced at the bottle, wondering how the seal of wax would crack beneath my fingers.

‘What’s it called?’

Soul Fire.

I blanched and started to back away.He shook his head.

‘It’s no poison. It thwarts despondence and lends adventure.’

I blushed and looked away.

‘Do I look like I need those?’

‘Every woman does.’ he said.

‘A few glasses of ale does that, I find.’

He laughed and closed my fingers over the curve of the bottle.

‘A drop between your eyebrows before bed and you’ll be preaching its virtues.’

The silver watch chain on his waistcoat caught the sun in a sharp flash of light.

‘Or decrying its vices.’

He smiled and took a step backwards.

‘The difference between the two is a matter of opinion, Miss.’

My heart thumped a little faster at the slow curl of his voice.

‘Come, I’ll feed and water you, sir, but not more.’

He bowed from the waist and grinned at me.

‘I like your spirit, Miss, it’s a true beguilement.’

I cut him two thick slices of coarse bread, buttered it in thick layers and drew up cool water from the well. Despite his fancy words, he ate with a primal lack of self-consciousness.

Sharing this simple meal with him put me between duty and pleasure. Duty wore the grim face of Mrs Peters, smeared with dust and kitchen grease.

Pleasure sat across from me. He had a smear of butter on the cleft of his chin. The bottle sat on the table and I kept glancing at it when the caramel pools of his eyes grew too enticing.

‘Try a drop.’ he said

My hands shook at his directness.

‘What if it should render me insensible?’

He laughed and finished the last piece of bread.

‘A drop on the forehead would lend you the vigour to get this kitchen finished.’

His challenge was indirect but implicit. He held no judgements to thwart me and I cracked the seal with a thrill of greed. I decanted a single drop onto my fingertip.

I dabbed it between my eyebrows. The skin tingled and grew warm. The warmth moved downwards, gaining power on its descent. A giddiness enveloped me and the muscles in my body relaxed into a state of utter bliss.

I awoke to the sound of amused consternation. Mrs Peters stared at me in disbelief. I was still at the stool and flinched, preparing to apologise for my slovenly ways.

Until I looked around at the kitchen.

Every visible surface was scrubbed, swept and polished. A pot of stew bubbled happily on the stove and gave off a meaty aroma that made our stomachs yawn with hunger.

‘You’ve outdone yourself.’

The lack of effusiveness did not make her compliment any less surprising. The tinker had gone along with the bottle, but I was too stunned by the state of the kitchen to notice it then.

He had placed it in my effects, with a sheaf of paper wrapped around it.

You did not ask, you simply trusted to your instincts. Consider this a gift, and I give those without expectation of reward or acknowledgement. I will walk in this part of the world again soon and I will call on you.

I hid the bottle. Something of me hid alongside it, flushed and covetous by what had happened.

Three nights later, he returned.

Three nights after that, I left with him.

Mrs Peters would have offered references worthy of being mounted in a frame or adapted to the stage but I had no need of them.

He did not need a maid. Not in the places he took me to.

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