Short Story Sunday: Guest Writer Edgar Allen Poe – The Tell Tale Heart

I find myself somewhat out of words… without a Sunday Short Story – so I’m honored to feature a story of terror from dear Eddie Poe. My brother used to read this to me and we would scare ourselves silly!  This story is best when read out loud! So please READ IT ALOUD to your friends and family and anyone you want to totally and completely creep out! 

For more great gothic, horror and romantic fiction with a twist stories go to the bottom of the page for links.

heart

The Tell-Tale Heart

by Edgar Allan Poe
(first published 1850)

poe

TRUE! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees — very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded –with what caution –with what foresight –with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it –oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly –very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! –would a madman have been so wise as this? And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously –oh, so cautiously –cautiously (for the hinges creaked) –I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights –every night just at midnight –but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers –of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back –but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out –“Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening; –just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief –oh, no! –it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself –“It is nothing but the wind in the chimney –it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel –although he neither saw nor heard –to feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little –a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it –you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily –until, at length a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open –wide, wide open –and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness –all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses? –now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! –do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me –the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once –once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye — not even his –could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out –no stain of any kind –no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all –ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock –still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, –for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbor during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled, –for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search –search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: –it continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness –until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale; –but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased –and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound –much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath — and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly –more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent   but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men — but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed –I raved –I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder –louder –louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! –they suspected! –they knew! –they were making a mockery of my horror! –this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! –and now –again! –hark! louder! louder! louder! louder! —

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! –here, here! –it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

______________________________________________________________________________

More from Short Story Sunday

Click on the title to go to the story.

And if you get a chance read or listen to the audio version of The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl (it is one of my favorite books). A fun, romantic, smart book that will transport you back to the 19th century (but without Vampires.) It takes you back to a young man’s search for the real truth behind Poe’s death and on a journey with unique characters you won’t forget. Matthew Pearl is did his research with this one. The guy is brilliant. The guy rocks at historic fiction.

And because I couldn’t resist…

tumblr_mhz226aWMj1rj6c50o1_500

jxi0Xs1

Love of a parent never wavers or dies – a story of a father and son

A story about a father and son as told to my children and me by my husband.

My Father

“I know your mother was surprised when she arrived in Heaven and found only two of her three deceased children waiting for her.” My father gave me a wink and his familiar smile.

“I’m sure someone filled her in on what happened to me,” I answered.

The old man just smiled. I saw my dad one last time in 1913. He was 89 years old and fragile. He’d been born in 1824, come to California in 1849 with a wife and two small children in tow. I’d been born on the way out in Panama. After they arrived in Sacramento  six more children were added to the family.

They’d come out with your parents, your grandparents, who were their closest friends. The men were business partners. Both of the wives were pregnant. My mother with me and your mother with your brother Maxwell. Max and I grew up together and were best friends. More children came for both families. Business thrived. The families thrived. All was good.

My father looked into my eyes and smiled sadly. “When you became ill it was different. They were different. There all the time. Max never left your side. He was in such grief. His father was so serious. He had been my closest friend for 30 years and I’d never seen him so angry and frustrated or concerned. I should have known they were different. They never aged. They never became ill. Their injuries healed five times faster than others. The two they called the Elders looked like they were barely adults. But I just thought it was their happiness and luck to stay so young. You don’t look a day over 26 and you’re 62. People die of old age when they’re 62.”

My heart broke when he said that to me. “Dad, I didn’t choose to go away. I thought I would go mad I missed you so much.”

Dad smiled trying to avoid anything too emotional. “You know that girl of yours got married 6 months after you died. She couldn’t wait to get hitched.”

“So I hear. She has had a joyful life without me.” She did indeed and I was glad for her.

“You’re better off with someone else Teddy. She would have bored you to death. How about Juliette? Is she still around.”

“On and off.” Well we were on and off. I wished it had been more on but you know how it was back then.

My dad gave me a grave look. “Make it on sooner or later or she’ll be gone. Give me your hand. You’re cold.”

“I’m alive, in my own way.”

“I read a story about a machine that could go through time. That is you, only you don’t have a machine and you can only go forward.”

“You know what I am.” I had to bring up the subject. I had to get it out in the open.

“You’re no Dracula. I’ve read that one too. Completely unlike the Vampires I know. Son, it was clear that my friends were not like me. They never aged. The avoidance of sun and other daylight activities. Their children grew up and took on an air about them. Finally one day I cornered them and asked. I suspected they’d been cursed or blessed or something in between, but then again that could describe most of us.”

He gave my hand a squeeze. “But you have to realize that at first I was in disbelief. I was horrified that my friends survived on the blood of others until I understood the complexities of their biology and culture.”

He continued to hold my hand as we sat for a few moments and watched the sun set over the oaks.

“That is a beautiful sight Teddy. I love those trees. Promise me Teddy that you’ll do good. Make a difference. You’re in good graces with the community of Vampires. I can’t see you as evil because my friends are the best people I’ve ever known. They’d do anything for my family. They kept you out of harms way. Those who changed you were evil and it still breaks my heart but you’re not a man of shadows.”

We saw each other for the following three weeks until one night the old man fell asleep peacefully in his sleep and went to be with my mother.

No matter what befalls a child the love of a parent never wavers or dies. The love of a child for his father will last longer than any lifetime. For all that is good in the world comes from the generations of love that lingers and lives on long after we are all gone.

butterfly

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

At First Sight

At First Sight

Northern England   1323 AD

It started to rain, a few drops at first then sheets of freezing water almost horizontal across the sky.  That’s all Aleyn needed, to be not only cold but wet as well. To add to the nasty weather and bad mood, he was late.  The wind whipped his long wet hair around and slapped him in the face. He swore and quickly tied it back.

Predawn morning was too early and too cold to be up for any woman, no matter how beautiful or persuasive or helpless she was.  Then again, this wasn’t just any woman.  It was his best friend’s sister. He still wondered how let himself be recruited to bring her to the gathering. “Oh right. I was available.” He thought in disgust. “That’s the story of my life. Ask Aleyn, he’s always available. Like I don’t have anything better to do than travel in the dead of winter to find a woman who doesn’t need my help.”

 

Despite years of living like a warrior, he still had to fight off the desire to be passive, both physically and emotionally.  He’d heard that this woman, Nathaira, was passive to the point of being dangerous.  “Wonderful, a match made in heaven. On the up side, maybe she won’t be as demanding and hard headed as the rest of her family.”

 

As much as he disliked it, Aleyn had a talent for the down and dirty raw violence of physical combat. He’d mastered every weapon he could, learning strategy and cunning. With his tall muscular build, broad shoulders, wild dark hair and piercing ice blue eyes, he made a striking figure.  His true gift was his voice; the kind of voice that made people listen, the voice of a leader. Too bad he didn’t have anything to say.

His men followed him on their horses across the fields to the castle of Dexter of Blackwoods. Five men, hand picked for their bravery and steady temperament. All were smart, true and loyal. They were his guards, and in turn he was their teacher. He loved his men and their families with a fierce protective passion. They knew he was different, but they never questioned why. Nobody ever questioned anything in this place. It drove him crazy.

Aleyn’s thoughts wandered back to the gathering he would escort Lady Nathaira to. For the first time, more than 40 of his clan were gathering together. The letter he’d received stated that finally they would be organizing and banding together for solidarity and support. “Support my ass. We’re nothing but outcasts and no amount of support will change that.” he thought.  They were stranded to live among a population so different from themselves and there was nothing he or any of his kind could do to change the fact.

This was a place where people still believed their world was the center of the universe.  The unknown was to be feared, rather than embraced for the possibilities.

Every time he thought about his situation he could feel the scars on his back and shoulders pull.  He had tried to block out his memories of his former self.  Home, family, community, his entire world were now dead to him.  He’d made a new life in this primitive place.  Hope for this world and its people drew him away from his own home and trapped him forever in exile.

Rubbing his temple to fight off a brain splitting headache, he almost lost his balance. “I’ll never get used to this body of mine.” he thought.

His man Garth turned to him with a grim look of concern.  “I’m fine” Aleyn silently mouthed.

Years earlier, Garth had guessed what Aleyn really was. In turn, Aleyn never acknowledged it.  If he did he’d risk death for himself and everyone he now loved. Despite the problems and frustrations, he’d made a place for himself and found a small measure of happiness.

As a beloved spiritual teacher and healer, the woman Nathaira had also found a place for herself, practically alone, without her family or a husband to protect her. Everything about her had pointed to failure, but she never failed. In fact, she thrived.  Nathaira was the only one in this region of the world, aside from himself, who could teach real hope to these miserable people.

As Aleyn and his men approached the great hall of Lord Dexter’s castle they could hear screaming and the wailing of women. ”Can’t these people ever just shut up?”  Aleyn said aloud to himself.

The stone structure was cold and damp.

Not only are they stupid in there, but they have no concept of comfort” Aleyn thought. Knowledge of the great ages of the past had eluded them. In was one more in a long list of frustrating items he didn’t need to think about, but couldn’t get out of his head.

One of his men pounded on the main door. It was slowly opened by a scruffy, timid man wearing ill-fitting dirt colored tunic, obviously a servant. Maybe not. You never could be sure with these people.

“Is your master within?”

The man started to shake. His voice was nothing but an animal like whimper. It sounded like he was saying no, but it could have been anything.

Aleyn pushed his way through. “I am here for Lady Nathaira. Let me pass.”

He scanned the hall. Half a dozen women huddled on benches in the corner, with as many children clinging to their skirts. A few scruffy looking boys of around 8 or 9 stood by the fire, now staring with fascination at the six well dressed, well armed knights and their leader.

Some sort of massacre had taken place. Benches were overturned.  Broken pottery lay where it had fallen. Shards of fabric, what looked to have been sumptuous clothing were thrown across the hall. Clumps of long brown hair, still partially braided scattered the floor. A gold necklace with green stones lay twisted and broken. He put his finger to something splattered on the floor. Blood.

He called to his men to check the hall and doorways. They found two badly injured men in the hallway. Long gashes covered their arms and torsos. Aleyn put his hands on their necks looking for a pulse. They’d obviously been taken down by the lord of the castle, trying to protect themselves and perhaps someone else.

“May the healing powers of our Lord be with you.” He muttered, then turning to a weeping woman he barked out orders “Get these men by the fire. Warm them up and dress their wounds. Don’t stand there gawking like a frog. Do it.”

The woman ran off for help. These people had been reduced to being perpetual children through fear. In disgust he continued his search for Nathaira, fearing it would be in vain.

A scared looking, sumptuously dressed woman approached him. “The lord of the house took her last night. He says she’s a witch. He says she cast a spell on him.”

“What do you say about it?” he asked. “Well? Tell me?”

“When he invited her here he expected a crone. She showed up looking like a waiting bride. A virginal beauty with glittering eyes of want.”

“Shut up now.” A second woman, unusually beautiful with long blond braids, slipped next to him and grabbed his arm. “My Lord, Lady Nathaira is a saint. Do not blame her or judge her for what my brother has done.  Come, I will provide you with comfort, then…”

Aleyn lost all patience.  “Where is Lady Nathaira?” He growled at the women.

“There is no helping her. She is damned with no hope of ever being in the light again.”

Why didn’t these people ever just come out and say the truth. Everything was a riddle to him.

“I don’t have time for this madam.” Then again, time meant nothing to them as well.

“Come, let me make you comfortable my lord. I can please you until my brother, the master of this castle returns.”

He took her by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. They were almost empty. Her soul was almost gone. Like with so many others it had atrophied into the darkness of her mind. It was a way to survive as comfortably as possible and damn the consequences.

“Come out of your darkness madam. I command you to do so.”

She looked at his face in shock, tears in her eyes. “Up there.” She whispered, backing away from him and pointing to the stairs. “My brother is here, in the chapel…but not himself.” she trailed off in tears.

Aleyn went up a dark stair well into a tower.  At the top of the stairs a door was bolted from the outside.

Aleyn unbolted the door. “Where are the men she was traveling with? Where is her serving lady?”  He motioned his men to stay back. Drawing his dagger he walked into the freezing room.

“Put the weapon away. I won’t hurt you.” A quiet, but slightly annoyed voice said from the other end of the chamber. The diffused morning light came through the long crack of a window and illuminated the speaker in a weird perverse halo.

He closed the door behind him. His heart sank as he walked closer to the woman on a wide bench. She sat alone, a clutching a rough blanket over her knees to her chest. Her brown hair was a short uneven mess, chopped off at her jaw line. The left side of her face was covered with a mass of ugly bruises and scrapes. Rope burns were on her wrists. Her nose had been bleeding and was now crusted with blood.  Her eyes had started to blacken and swell.  He knew by ugly scars down her back, scars matching his own, that she was the one he had been looking for.

“Nathaira?”

Her pale blue eyes looked up in calm greeting “You must be Aleyn. So glad you could finally make it” she said calmly with an ever so slight touch of sarcasm in her voice. She held out her hand palm up. He gently touched the tips of his fingers with hers, in the custom of their kind, then took her hand and gently kissed it. She closed her eyes and gave his hand a squeeze before letting go.

Aleyn sat next to her and carefully touched the burses on her face.

“How bad are your injuries?” he asked as she winced and turned away.

She pulled the blanket around her shoulders and swung her bare feet over the edge of the bed. “I’m fine. Let’s get out of here.”

The lady wasn’t fine. He noticed more black and blue marks on her arms. “Nobody taught you how to fight did they?”

Nathaira took a deep breath. “It’s not in my nature to fight.”

“It’s not in my nature either, but I’ve forced myself to do it. You have to fight if you want to survive.”

“Fine, next time I’ll make sure I kill someone.” She snapped back.

“Tell me what happened here?” he took her icy hands and held them between his in an attempt to calm her down. It seemed to work.  She leaned a little into him trying to keep warm. He could feel her starting to shiver from the cold.

She spoke calmly, with little emotion. “My first two days here were filled with fellowship and healing. I actually made these people smile and realize that maybe they didn’t have to live in fear.  Then last night Dexter shows up ready for a fight. He locks up my people then comes after me. I tried, but I couldn’t get through to him.  He has no interest in anything spiritual. If I didn’t know any better I’d swear the man has no soul.”

“Of course he has a soul. Don’t talk that way. Someone will hear you” he whispered.

“Listen to yourself. You’re as bad as the locals. Nobody will hear me except you.” She scolded him, slightly raising her voice.

“I hope you’re right.” Aleyn answered quietly.

“I am right. Do you want to know what happened or not?”

“Of course, please continue.”

She was still shivering. Aleyn took off his own fur-lined cape and draped it around her, trying to warm her up.  For a brief second, Nathaira attempted a weak smile in appreciation then continued. “Needless to say, Dexter only wanted my body. I told him he couldn’t have me.  The next thing I knew he had knocked me to the ground and was shouting that I was a whore.  Then the stupid ignorant bastard tied my wrists together and hacked off my hair. Son of a bitch almost broke my nose too. Slammed my face right into the floor. He and his brother took my clothes. Cut them right off of me in front of the entire household. Then he dragged me up here for a night of carnal pleasures.”

“He raped you”. Aleyn said quietly almost to himself. He felt sick.

“He didn’t rape me. He tried but I wouldn’t let him.”

“So you did fight.”

She took a deep breath and paused for a few seconds. “Sort of. I tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn’t listen. I asked him if he believed in hell.  He told me to shut up and spread my legs.  By then I’d had enough of his abuse, so I put a vision of hell in his mind he’ll never forget. By the time he got to the chapel he’d shit his own pants.”

Aleyn couldn’t believe what she’d told him. “You gave him a vision of hell?”

She rolled her eyes at him in disgust. “Yes. Do you need me to spell it out? You can spell can’t you? I’d be surprised if you could, considering most of the population around here is completely illiterate. They can’t even…”

He gently put a finger to her lips. “Nathaira, please. You’re a healer, you’re not supposed to do things like that.”

She pulled his hand away from her face. “He was going to force me to…he was going to…” she turned her head away in disgust.

He spoke calmly and quietly in hopes of quieting her down. “You know it’s against the rules, to put visions of fear in the hearts of men.”

“Against the rules? Excuse me, Mister tall dark and handsome, sent here to rescue my ass about 12 hours too late, since when have we had rules?”

“Tall dark and handsome? Rescue my ass? What a mouth” She really is just like her brother. You could beat the last breath out of him and he’d still get in the last word. He could be drowning and he’d still throw out a sarcastic remark.

“There are rules to ensure our survival.” He told her, firmly, trying to sound in charge.

She gave him the you-clueless-asshole-look that he knew so well from her siblings, then wiped her nose on the blanket.  “That little visit-to-hell trick ensured my survival.” She glared at him then looked him up and down. “Would you rather have come here to find that he had raped and killed me? Imagine how my brothers would have reacted to that.”

“I can’t…” he stammered.

She cut him off “Listen, I don’t have the strong persuasive powers that the rest of my family has. The only real gifts I still have are the ability to comfort and heal.  Comfort and healing aren’t going to protect me against a predator like Dexter.”  She ran her hand through her hair. “Can you believe this mess? It will take me years to get it half way normal looking again. Damn that ugly piece of shit and his stupid ass brother. I was supposed to be safe here.” Her voice cracked but she didn’t cry. She took a deep breath and paused, fighting back the tears. “Be glad I didn’t kill Dexter. Believe me, I wanted to.”

He shrugged. He couldn’t begrudge her for feeling the way she did.

Aleyn found clothes for her. A soft under dress and a long over dress of green with ivory colored embroidery. Long sleeves almost reached the ground.  Out of her bag she pulled a long embroidered scarf to cover her hair.  He helped her get dressed. She didn’t seem to care if he saw her naked or touched her while he helped. He noticed burses on her sides and legs. Every movement gave her pain but she never complained.  She took jeweled bracelets from her bag and used them to carefully secure the sleeves at her wrists, then slipped a few silver rings on her fingers. Her fingernails looked ragged and recently broken, Aleyn assumed from the confrontation with Dexter.

Nathaira wasn’t young or breathtakingly beautiful, but she was still an attractive woman with the delicate prettiness of a young girl still in her face. Despite the current bruising and swelling, her skin was smooth and unblemished aside for a generous dusting of freckles. Her figure was sensuous and inviting. Given another time and place it would have given him pleasure to gaze upon her. Today it just made him sad.

Taking her hand he steadied her with an arm around her waist. “Your brothers and Lord Mal will be furious.”

She snapped. “Screw my fucking brothers and that asshole Mal.  I’m tired of everyone telling everything I do is wrong.”

He was shocked by her language and defensiveness. “It’s not you they’ll be mad at. I was supposed to protect you. I was supposed to prevent this from happening.”

Nathaira started to cry, big heart breaking sobs. He put his arms around her and held her.  He stroked her back and kissed the tears from her eyes.

“Cry it all out. I promise you, I’ll never let anyone hurt you again.”  Every sob made his heart break She molded herself next to him. It felt so right, even in this God forsaken place.

He glanced up and saw his right hand man, Garth, in the doorway. He looked stoic but Aleyn knew Garth was glad to see his wifeless leader in the embrace of the woman.

“We found her maid servant and men. Let’s go.” Garth said, trying not to smile.

Aleyn gave a nod. He gently dried Nathaira’s tears and helped her up.

When they went back to great hall the transformation he saw next was no surprise.  Gone was the injured, defensive woman he’d comforted. Small and battered she stood in the room, not as a fragile woman, but as an angel of hope, a healer of hopelessly broken hearts and bruised souls. The women gathered around Nathaira and touched her.  She embraced them. A few men joined them.  She spoke to them in a clear beautiful voice, in their own language. Her tone was calm but her words projected through the hall.

“Keep your faith not in fear and ignorance, but with hope and a pure open heart. Remember God’s love transcends the ignorant and selfish laws of men.  Let that love bind your spirit together and keep you strong. Be healed by your faith and the love for your Lord and with your love for each other.” Her words were that of the true teacher. It was a message that had been long forgotten by the ignorant priests that preached fear and distrust.

Tears filled her eyes again as she embraced the women and touched the hands of the men. The morning light filled the chamber. Aleyn knew they could feel Nathaira’s warm healing powers. The children hugged her legs and she held their little faces in her hands and kissed them.  She spoke quietly to each of them, giving them strength and comfort. Aleyn knew that they would never forget her, even the few who would survive to old age.

Draping her heavy wool cloak over her shoulders he led her outside to where his men were waiting with the horses. He noticed her eyes dart to their faces and weapons.

Nathaira glanced back at the castle. “These people were so spiritually drained. It broke my heart. They listen to the priest 7 days a week telling them that they are wicked lost souls. They’re drawn to the violence and superstitions of biblical stories, not the messages of love and hope. There is no semblance of any grace or understanding in their lives. Ignorance and sheer stupidity rule the land. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand it at all.  At least that ugly piece of shit Dexter won’t hurt them anymore.  I wish I could do more, but you know how it is. “

He didn’t respond except for a slight shake of his head. Experience had showed him how it was, to be practically useless in a hopeless situation. He noticed how gentle her tone was with the people of the house. How different she was with him, one of her own kind.

She said as she hooked her arm in his as they walked, as if she’d known him for years.

He had to smile at her familiarity. “Nathaira, your name means snake doesn’t it?”

“Snakes are creatures of God, just like swans, hawks or horses. Each has a beauty and purity of it’s own that is lost on most people. Besides, I don’t see it as meaning snake, I see it as meaning that I’m flexible.”

He almost laughed out loud. She was a character. Lovely, charming, spirited and completely obnoxious, all at the same time.

Aleyn tried to keep a serious tone. “It will take us another fortnight to get to the others. You’ll travel as my obedient and dutiful wife. It will be safer that way.”

She gave him a shy smile. “Do we get to sleep under the same blanket?”

He stopped walking and looked at her. “Excuse me?”

She mocked a serious look. “Don’t worry Aleyn, your virtue is safe with me.” Then she chuckled at herself, amused by her own joke.

Aleyn shook his head and smiled. They continued to walk in silence. Glancing over at Nathaira. He knew she was in pain, physically and mentally.

Noticing his look, she squeezed his arm. “Thanks again for coming. Oh, I forgot to tell you, Dexter’s stupid ass brother Niall and the local priest are planning on killing me tonight at sunset. They said it would be slow and painful.”

“Then I suggest we gather up your people and get out of here.”

She smiled and winked at him. “Lead the way, brave and true husband of mine.”

For the first time in years he was at a loss for words, especially with a woman. Aleyn knew then and there he was falling in love with his best friend’s sister and there was no turning back.

 

_______________________

Note from the author: This is a work of fiction I’m working on – part of a much larger piece (surprise, I’m writing a novel, or three) of fantasy/romance.  And it will be under my other name if I ever finish it…maybe in a few months.

 

images-7