Girl in the Woods is loosely based on the old princess and the pea story, but it goes beyond a simple fairy tale. It is a story about a quest for perfection, or more the rejection of perfection the reality sets in. Because we all know there is no perfections, especially when it comes to love.
It is a fairy tale with a prince and a princess. But the main character is the President of an international technology company who just happens to be a wizard, and just happens to be enchanted.
It is mostly about a circle of friends. As adults living their own lives, they are still connected.
In 2016 I’ll post more each week, then list the links below. Click on the titles below to read. At the end I’ll put them all together.
(Part 15) Jake’s Place
(Part 17) Allegory
Below is Chapter 1, sort of a prologue to “Girl in the Woods.” A version of this first chapter was first published in the anthology “Passions Prisms” as a stand alone story.
Note: This is rough and unedited for the most part. I’ll polish it eventually.
Girl in the Woods
Chapter 1: Crystal Mountain Republic
“Do you still love her?” Crystal snarled. The vase flew across the room and shattered next to Jack’s shoulder.
Jack kept his hands on his hips, refusing to retreat from the angry woman in front of him. “Not for 40 years. What do I need to do to prove my love to you? We won a war, rebuilt a country and raised four successful children. We run a multinational corporation we’ve built from dust. We’ve built a good life.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Damn you woman. I’m not going to answer you either.”
“You’re the wizard. Read my bloody mind.”
Crystal threw a bookend making perfect aim. It crashed into his forehead and knocked him onto the floor. Jack looked up through a heavy flow of blood coming from the cut on his forehead.
“You are my heart Crystal and I will love you forever even if you kill me first.” Jack said glaring at her.
A much younger, tall handsome man with sparkling amber eyes and waist long reddish brown hair cautiously came through the door. “What the hell happened to you?” He said to Jack.
The older couple both turned to him. “Nothing” they said in unison.
Two small children tumbled into the room. “Go play downstairs” he told his kids “You’re grandparents are being a bit bad right now.” He looked at his parents with his hands on his hips and a look of disgust on his face. “When are you going to stop this behavior? You’re a bad example for the children.”
“What behavior?” asked his father with a wicked grin wiping the blood off his face with his shirt sleeve.
Crystal turned on the younger man. “Now that you’re here Justin, I want to tell you that now is not a good time to tell me to be nice and polite. Nobody knows where Robert Nightlander is. He has vanished off the face of the earth. I told you and your father that we should have killed him years ago. I don’t care who he might be related to, the man is evil.”
“We’ve located him. He is in the Northern Wastes but has moved around some. You know we can’t go up there.”
“Treaties be damned. I’ll go up there and kill him myself if I have to, before he kills your sister. He’s wearing her out Justin. He’s going to kill her if she can’t find a man with the kind of love it takes to…damn it. It was your duty, and your father’s to protect her.”
“Simon is keeping her safe. He made a promise as well as many others. Robert can’t touch her as long as she stays in the Northern Kingdom.” Justin gave Crystal a hug. She turned away and retreated.
The Northwestern Kingdom. What good was it having her beloved daughter Liv among barbarians, who sat in the sun all day and smiled like neutered sheep. Not to mention the fact their queen was a traitor to the Crystal Mountain republic – the kind of woman who got by with cunning and looks rather than courage and conviction. She knew what it was to have courage and conviction. She knew what it was like to put her life on the line for everything she loved and believed in. Sacrifice is something that bitch in the Northwestern Kingdom would never know.
“He fears Simon because Simon fears no man or wizard. But he can’t protect her all the time. He has his own wife and family to take care of. What if Robert went after Simon’s babies? It would be the blood of children on your hands Jack.”
Crystal excused herself so they wouldn’t see her tears and went alone out on the balcony, as was her habit when she needed to be by herself. She took a deep breath of the cool mountain air.
Memories of a time long ago came rushing back. On another dark night 31 years ago she’d gone out to the town pretending to be another causality of war. Another amputee, disfigured and homeless. She crawled under the fence with the plans unseen. It was a rush, a job well done. She hadn’t been caught this time. Her luck would run out sooner or later but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that she took the maps from the enemy.
As she made her way through the dark woods she tried to get the memory out of her mind of the dead woman. Even in death she was beautiful, her dark hair framing the face, the glassy dead green eyes, the blue gown torn at the neckline. Her throat had been cut. A man’s name had been carved into her chest. She’d been dumped by the side of the road. Chrystal weighed the body down and rolled her into the river and left her, only taking her jewelry and a lock of hair for the family. She had been a spy and Chrystal’s best friend. Crystal was on her way to find the man who had killed her friend.
Silently she picked the lock on the back door. Her prey was home alone, in a chair in front of the fire. Her arm went around his neck and she slammed him into the floor. She was on him, his arms snapped behind his back as she clipped on restraints. She could feel the fear in him.
His struggles were useless as she cut his skin from his chin up around his face, deep and steady. He screamed in pain. “You can dish it out but you can’t take it you pansy assed puke”. She taunted him. “Tell me where Doran Nightlander is headed or I’ll peel your face off.”
“I don’t know” he cried.
“Liar”. She said.
He was breathing hard. “Tell me.”
“Don’t hurt me. I have a family” the man begged like a child.
“We all have families. The minute you took the side of the Nightlander you sentenced yours to death. So where is Doran heading?”
“South along the Greenville Highway.”
“Liar” she said pushing her knife under the skin of his forehead and separating it from his skull. He screamed.
“North on the old road” the man gasped.
“How long ago?” She wiggled the knife under his skin again.
“They left at dawn.”
“Did they have the boy, Robert with them?”
“Liar liar liar.” She grabbed the skin on his forehead and pulled it down exposing his skull. He screamed again.
She smiled and said gently “Tell me where the plans are and I’ll leave you alone. Don’t tell me and I’ll kill your children. I know where they are tonight.”
“You don’t know anything.”
“I’m a wizard you fucking puke. I can feel the fear in you and tell that you’re telling me lies. I can sense where you hid your wife and babes. If you want I can grab the memories out of your brain and erase everything in there, so tell me where the plans are.”
“Under the bed, in the yellow box.”
“Telling the truth. Good boy.”
She looked under the bed and pulled out the box. There it was – a map of the prison. And it was real. She took the entire box in case it contained more useful information.
Walking over to him she looked around the room. It was the beautiful sitting room of a successful man. This successful man’s face was now bruised but could be fixed. It wasn’t a bad face. Nice friendly lines, sensuous lips. He had lovely golden brown eyes, now bloody red and bruised.
The sounds of horses were outside the door. He knew they were coming. He’d planned on trapping her by giving her the directions and stalling her for time. No such luck for him tonight.
She got close to his face. “You raped and marked a woman called Lauren then dumped her body in the woods. What was that about?”
“She was a traitor.”
“She was my friend.” Crystal snarled and drove her knife through the man’s eye and into his brain. Running to the back of the house she escaped into the night.
A few hours later Crystal entered the rebel compound with a shower of hugs and tears. After being almost a day late they thought they’d lost her – again. When she’d cleaned up and changed clothes she joined the crew in the main house.
Commander Crystal Fox returned to her outpost in the southern part of the Crystal Mountains. She was welcomed back as legend. Crystal Fox of the Crystal Mountains. As sparkling and sly as her namesake. A fearless, passionate and lovely young heroine, brave and true. Well, maybe not so lovely anymore. She’d been to hell and lived to tell.
Almost a year before news of her escape and that of Jack Snowhawk from the Baron’s notorious Blacktower prison camp had everyone in the country looking for her. At first there was big money for anyone taking her alive. Now they wanted her dead. It was an honor to be wanted so by her enemy. It meant she was doing her job.
Everyone at the compound talked about Jack. Was he really the wild and brilliant mind they’d all heard about? Had he really stood up to everyone? What were the children like?
She’d met the children he’d adopted or stolen considering whose side of the story you heard. Nobody could believe he had them. The boy was bright and with a personality like sunshine. The skittish girl was special in her own ways, a wizard thought to be more powerful than the Baron or any of his clan.
Crystal always had her standard answer. Yes, Jack Snowhawk was fearless and crazy but he was brilliant and a visionary. One day he’d bring their country back and into the future. Most of all, Jack was a man of honor.
After Jack always came talk of the legendary beauty Hi Shadowford. Everyone was always asking Crystal if Jack still loved her. He’d said vows to Hi and then she left him. It was a mystery why she vanished only to show up later in the newspapers of a foreign land.
Crystal heard their whispers. Was Jack over Hi Shadowford? Would he ever be over her? Poor Jack, how could any man get over having loved the most beautiful woman in the country?
“Do you believe in true love?” Asked one of the younger women as Crystal looked at the wall chart of their battle zones. “Commander Fox?”
Crystal turned weary of the small talk. “Right now I don’t have the luxury of thinking of true love and trivial stories about shallow romances.”
“Being a fighter doesn’t mean you have to be a cold unfeeling bitch.” Said Derek a spy who’d once been her lover.
Crystal fingered the dagger by her side. “Don’t you dare insinuate that I am cold and unfeeling. I have watched my friends and family die in the worst possible ways. My heart will never mend. My pain will never go away. I live for the memory of those I’ve watched die by the hands of those we’re fighting.”
Derek’s expression softened. “We’ve all watched our friends and family dies off in front of us but Crystal, we’re still alive. They wouldn’t want us to just give up and never feel love in our arms again.”
“I haven’t given up. I’ve given over my entire body and soul to the revolution” she answered.
Derek was popular with the woman but never touched Crystal after she’d returned from her imprisonment in the Blacktower. He, like so many other men was also afraid of her. He also knew it was best to leave her alone when she was like this.
She filled up her wine glass and stood by the fire, trying to forget her sickening rush she’d felt as she tortured and killed her enemy just a few hours earlier. At one time she had been a science teacher at a pretty little school with window boxes full of flowers and smart happy children. She’d imagined that one day she’d have children of her own. But then she’d seen her longtime lover buried alive because he’d had the misfortune of being born a powerful wizard. At that moment all hope failed until the next day when she’d been thrown into the tower with Jack Snowhawk. It seemed like a million years ago.
The other women continued to talk as if Crystal was fully engaged with them.
“I’m surprised you didn’t fall in love with Jack Snowhawk. God, he’s gorgeous.” Said one.
“A year with locked in a tower with him and I’d be sated for life.” Another giggled.
Jack was gorgeous but Crystal didn’t want them to forget that he was also a cunning fighter and a true friend. “I’m alive because of Jack Snowhawk and I’d give my life for his. But romance was the last thing on my mind, and his for that matter.”
The others looked at Crystal with disbelief. One spoke up. “That is hard to believe Crystal. Romance had to have crossed your mind. I know what you were like before all of this.”
All of this is what they would say to avoid the words “war” and “revolution” and “dismembered”.
“It’s been a long day. I’m heading upstairs. But get me if anything comes up.” She started out the room tired of the company.
Behind her back Crystal could hear the conversation pick up again. A pretty girl, who was also a talented code breaker, gave a snarky laugh “Commander Fox is in love with the war. We’ve all seen her practically have an orgasm over a good strategy in the map room. It’s almost obscene.”
Crystal spun around threw her dagger so fast it pinned the woman’s coat sleeve to the wall. “I’m not completely deaf or blind. If you forget that I’ll take you out so fast you won’t know what hit you.”
She yanked the dagger out of the wall and left the room. Since she’d come back she forced herself to think of nothing but the war effort. Every other dream was gone. If the war ever ended she’d deal with it then.
“After Hi Shadowford, does she really think Jack Snowhawk would settle for a disassembled freak like her?” Crystal heard one of the women whisper behind her back.
“Say it out loud” she called behind her. “Fucking cowards. Keep it up and you’ll no longer have my protection.”
Crystal climbed out to the roof and putting her coat collar tight around her neck. Jack. How could she think he’d love her the way he had loved his first partner. Hi Shadowford was so absolutely beautiful and perfect in every way possible. Crystal had involuntarily adjusted her eye patch and folded the stump of her arm in her lap, drawing her knees up close to her chest. She’d once been pretty, not beautiful like Hi but she’d been pretty enough to turn heads and make men long for her touch.
When she and Jack were prisoners in the tower together a yellowed newspaper had been brought up. It was in the common language used by the rest of the world. She could hardly read it but she could see the pictures in full color.
On the front was a picture of Hi Shadowford, her breath taking beauty almost jumping off the page. She abandoned the vows she’d made to Jack, escaped the country, gone to a new land and married a prince. She was now a Real Princess, whatever the hell that meant. Hi’s own father had started the revolution and now she had escaped and betrayed them all by turning her back on the cause. The prince she’d married was as handsome as one of the Nightlander Barons and smiling on his beautiful family. A later issue in the same bundle of pages showed Hi with a baby in her arms, a small beautiful blonde girl and a darling dark haired boy who had the green eyes of the Crystal Mountain folks sat at her feet. From what she’d read in the yellowed paper was that the mysterious new princess had adjusted to her new country and was adored by her people.
Their prison guards said, “She was your partner Jack. Now the only woman you’ve got, if you can call her a woman, is this creature here.” He said with an ugly sneer, kicking the mutilated Crystal out of her place in the shadows.
Jack was clearly disturbed by what he saw in the yellowed newspaper, but after that day he never mentioned Hi. Crystal never asked him about it.
Leaning against the side of the building the 25 year old Crystal stared into the fog and thought of her time with Jack. She missed the way he’d brush her hair with his fingers while he sang to her. She missed their long talks and star watching, huddled in the prison tower under a blanket together. She missed being curled up with him at night as they slept. She knew he kissed her hair and shoulders as she slept, or pretended to sleep in his arms. She heard him whisper the words “I love you Crystal” thinking she didn’t hear him. She missed the fire in his eyes. She missed the way he talked about the cause and the children. She missed him so much it ached. She missed the way he listened to her hopes and dreams never once telling her that it was hopeless to still dream.
After they were rescued, he’d made love to her for the first time. He told he that he loved her, his eyes glistening with tears. But Crystal told him they had to go their separate ways for the war. She was needed in the South; he had to with his children and run the intelligence operations in the North. Like a good soldier she accepted the reality of the situation knowing she’d probably never see him again.
Crystal never cried. Not when she watched as her wizard lover was buried alive. Not when they took her eye, not when they cut off her ear, not when the ax fell and severed her fingers, then chopped off her arm. Not when they cut deeply into her face and locked her in a tower for months without hope. She didn’t even cry when she watched Jack ride away to the North.
Now she sat on the roof and sobbed her heart breaking for the man who’d loved a beautiful princess. She loved Jack Snowhawk – the man every woman desired – the man she’d let go.
Years later they reunited and vowed their love forever, but sometimes the thought of everything she’d lost and might still loose hurt more than she could bear.
Her side became suddenly warm and she looked to a child snuggled up to her. She was back in the here and now, over 20 years later.
“Don’t cry Grams. Don’t think about those old dark times.” Her 12 old grandson held her hand.
“I’m sorry. Everyone thinks I’m a brave old warhorse but I’m not. Only you know my secret.”
“I love you.”
“You are my heart and soul dear child.”
“Heart and soul Grams.”
She looked up to see her own Jack standing by the door with a smile, pressing a bandage to his face. His long black curls were now flecked with gray but his green eyes still held the fire that could ignite the passion in her body and soul. He was still as handsome as he’d been 31 years ago. She still loved him more than ever.
In their own way they’d come together as a family that despite war and heartbreak would last forever.
~ end chapter one
More to come…
~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman