Archive for July, 2011

Chapter 14: Nameless

Posted in A Story About Blood on July 31, 2011 by jeremiah james strawhand

Is there some mystical shore, some far-off place,

to save me from this murderous embrace?

I came to leave the blood behind and found it followed me.  Found it follows me.

I lied awake, watching the sun rise and for some reason I thought of my wife.  You always had so much emotion…and even though it was so often misguided, it drew me to you.  Our time together was too brief.  Cut short by the cruel hand of fate that has guided my life.  Everything you did was so purposeful.  You has so much feeling and so much to offer.   We could have been perfect together, forever.

Dark clouds and raging torrents.

I’m sorry that I pushed you away…I didn’t know what I wanted.  I didn’t know how to want you.  Your abandon attracted me.  You were freer than I had ever been.  Freer than I will ever be…

These invisible chains that bind me…this narrow path I walk…can’t I just…walk the other way?

I closed my eyes to hold back the tears that threatened to fall.  No freedom at all.  Why do I feel the need to constantly replay the worst parts of my life?  Why can’t I learn to let go?

It’s over now.   Time to move on.

This is a story about blood.

The sun shined bright in the bluest sky and I rose to face the day.  Intrepid wanderer or soulless…

Or tired soul.

I can find life.  And rip it out by the roots.  Tear it up.  Smash it up.  Burn it all.  I want to destroy.

I pushed open the door to the Troll’s Breath and as it closed behind me, my eyes had to adjust to the dismal interior.  The barmaid recognized me and nodded in my direction, so I took a seat at the bar.

“Mead, was it?” she asked.

“I don’t have any money,” I replied.

“Don’t worry about it, love.  Brand is downstairs when you’re ready.”

“…thanks,” I said as she walked over and poured me my drink.

The place was nearly deserted.  One guy I didn’t recognize sat at the bar, drinking, and two more sat at a table in the corner.  There was no fire and no music.  No conversation and no…life.

I drank my mead quickly, smiled in my grim way at the barmaid, and headed downstairs.

The same large man now sat in a chair outside the door and when he saw me coming he stood up, blocking the entrance.  I hung back while he knocked on the door and said, “That Northman with the messed up face is here.”

“Send him in,” came the reply, and I started to walk towards the door but, again, the man blocked my passage.

“Need to make sure you ain’t got any weapons,” he said as he checked me for pointy objects.  His hand came to my leg, and feeling the armor there he looked at me questioningly.  I rolled up my pant leg so he could see it and he said, “The fuck is that?  Ya know what?  I don’t even wanna know.  Looks like shit.”

“Thanks.  Am I free to go now?”

“Yeah, whatever.  Go on.”

I walked through the door and saw Brand and Caspar and one other man whom I recognized but hadn’t caught his name.

Brand grinned at me and said, “Been expecting you.  What the hell took so long?”

My stomach rumbled.

I pushed back out into the afternoon sun and again my eyes needed some time to adjust.  I started walking, sunblind, towards my usual spot to think about my new target.  Assassination mission number two, and don’t fuck it up, or we’ll fuck you up.  That’s what I’d been told.

I’m not just some simple murderer, but I guess I have to start again somewhere.

I said, “Who?” and he said, “No Name.  It doesn’t matter.”

I said “Why?” and he said, “No Reason.  Just do as you’re told.  The pay is good.”

I said “When? “ and he said, “Tonight.  He’ll go to see his mistress.  If you do it right, she won’t have to die, and we can blame her.  If you do it wrong, you’ll need to take her out and we can blame the wife.”

I said “So whether I kill her or not, I’ll still have ruined her life,” and he said, “What did I tell you?  Just do as you’re told.  I have no use for a killer with a conscience.”

I nodded and turned to walk away.

Maybe they loved each other I thought.  Maybe I can kill them while they embrace each other and they can die happy.  If they are both to be condemned then I may as well send them off in each other’s arms.  I laughed to myself as I walked down the street thinking that Brand was right.  No use for a killer with a conscience.  No use for an assassin with a soft side.  My thoughts from this morning were still fresh in my head is all…and I almost wished the plague had taken me too so that we could still be together.

How do you find vengeance against a disease?  How do you fight back against a sickness?  Do you find the source?  The first carrier?  Do you find the necromancer in his tower blighting the beauty around him?  Do you find the man that killed your mother and raped your life?  Do you find the witch that bound you to this fucking trinket, for better or for worse?

Or do you just…move on.

Night fell fast and I had changed into the clothes that Brand had given me.  The clothes of a merchant.   It was cold enough that I could wear a hood so I passed through the gates to New Turtannus and told the guards I had to meet up with Roxie for business.   The mistress lived on the corner of Arch and Market, near the park.  They said No Name passed through the park on his way there, and that would be my time to strike.

I waited there, the shadows my only friend, my only guide, behind a fountain of marble.  What a difference between New Turtannus and Old, although it comes as little surprise.  I’d imagine they think as poorly of us as we do of them.  Funny how things work.

Before long, a man approached.  He walked with a cane and wore a feathered hat.  His clothes were made of silk and he smelled like a woman.  Average height.  Overweight.  This must be him.  He walked within a few feet of me and had no idea.  I could hear his breath.

I could kill him now and quietly slip away.   He would crumple to the ground and lie in a pool of his own red, red blood and no one would see anything.  No one would know anything.  The mistress would be blamed.  He had lied to her.  She had wanted his money.  It didn’t matter how or why.  I knew Brand could make it happen.  Her life would be ruined.  She’d probably be hanged.  And in those final, failing moments of light she’d be thinking, “Why?  Why me?  My love, will I ever see you again?”

I won’t subject someone to that kind of despair.  I won’t…

No Name walks out of the park and knocks on a door.  A beautiful woman answers and she falls into his arms.  They laugh and walk inside, hand in hand.

I’ve made up my mind and tonight I must take two lives.  Two lives that could never have peace in this world can maybe find it in the next.  Why had this man been condemned?  It didn’t matter, Brand had said.  Probably sport, or politics, or money.   It didn’t matter to him but it matters to me.  I don’t even know why or when I started to care.  How many people have I killed without a second thought?  A killer with a conscience is no kind of killer at all.

I walked up to the door and turned the handle.   It wasn’t locked.

I opened the door and found two faces sitting at the table staring at me in wonder.

I closed the door behind me, threw back my hood and said, “Don’t say a word, and I’ll tell you why I’m here.”

The two sat in silence as I explained their plight and when it was over, they hugged each other tightly and I ran my sword through both of their bodies simultaneously as they embraced.

Two hearts bleeding together, and two hearts dying at once.

Beauty and love and death juxtaposed in glorious form.

And as I walked back out into the night, my conscience was free.

Chapter 13: Grave Flower

Posted in A Story About Blood, Blood on July 13, 2011 by jeremiah james strawhand

Art and love and life.

Grave flowers fed by the blood of the dead.

Out of much atrocity, much beauty can sometimes find a way to spring to life. Maybe to help us forget the horrible things we’ve done…maybe to help us remember.

I stood there watching the field of flowers blowing in the breeze.   Blood-red flowers too numerous to count.  Even the purest love can be bred from the deadliest hate and there is no cycle that cannot be broken.

They say an ancient battle was fought here and the dead were piled into mass graves.

They say at night this place is thick with the spirits of the lost.

They say you can hear them howling…

Today marks the first day of my training under the swordmaster, Ulfr Giersson.  He was renowned for his skill and had been called upon by many kings and rulers to train their sons or soldiers.

He stood in the field with his eyes closed, loose flower petals blowing in little whirlwinds around him.  He wore a plain white shirt, animal hide pants, metal boots and a gauntlet on his sword hand.

The crags of a distant shore could be seen on the horizon, jutting up like tiny gray teeth.

“Kol,” he said, as he opened his eyes to look at me.  “It is Kol, right?”

I nodded.

“From what I’ve heard, you’re pretty handy with a blade.  Yeah?”

I nodded again, although from out of nowhere a ripple passed through my body.  Starting at my toes and ended in the hairs of my scalp and arms…a ripple of doubt.

“They tell me that you fight like a berserkr…that you have no restraint.  You killed some of your own men, yeah?”

I nodded a third time, although I was starting to feel a little foolish and fidgeted a bit.  My father had woken me up early this morning and told me to come here.   As I walked out the door he had said that him and the elder had talked and decided I needed to hone my skills.  That with proper training I would be an invaluable asset on any battlefield.  That with proper guidance I could be unstoppable.

“Pay attention boy…You may think you’re some kind of badass but this is real, and I’m not a frightened unarmed slave.  Any idiot with a sword could have done what you did.  Any idiot with a sword can raid some unsuspecting villagers and usually without taking out a handful of his own people.  You know what you are?  What they told me?  A liability.  They don’t trust you, they don’t like you, and I don’t either.  There’s a chance you won’t walk out of here today, and I almost hope you don’t.  I’m too old to be dealing with crazy fucks like you, so get out of your head and get ready.  This is going to hurt.”

When he was finished, he closed his eyes again and raised his arms up to the sky, sword in one hand and shield in the other.  Some of the little red flowers that had caught in his long hair and beard were blown away by a gust of wind.  The lines in his face were deep and he had many scars.

I was exercising restraint.

This man was intentionally trying to goad me into doing something foolish, and I saw it coming.

I did nothing at all.

“You couldn’t hit me if you wanted to, you pathetic little shit.”

This is a test…refuse to act on impulse.

“You’re father told me that he hopes I’ll put you out of your misery.  He said if you can’t fend for yourself then I should just end you, here and now.”

His eyes still closed, his arms still raised, and I did nothing at all.

“Your mother was a demon-fucking whore.”

…and in that instant all I saw was red.  The world divided into the simplest of axes.  Forward and backward, left and right.  No more flowers.  No more wind.  No more distant crags.

Just me and him, still standing there with his arms in the air.

Unable to think of anything else, I raised my axe and my sword and rushed in to attack.

If my mother was a demon-fucking whore then prepare to meet her monstrous offspring.

I swung first with Thursbanr, and Ulfr brought his shield down quickly to block my blow.  Without a second’s hesitation I swung my axe which he parried with his own sword and flung from my grasp with a flick of his wrist.

That ripple again, nipping at my toes and cutting through the blood haze like an insect distorts the surface of a body of water.

I can taste the blood, I can hear it.

Again I swung with Thursbanr, a horizontal strike and he took a half a step backwards out of range.

When my swing had passed and as I prepared for another he closed again and bashed me with his shield, knocking me off balance.

I used the momentum to swing again straight down on him, a powerful crushing swing, and again he side stepped just only enough as he needed to as the blade whizzed by his body and into the ground beside him.  Before I could raise it up he kicked it with his armored boot, but this time I held on for dear life.  I was sent reeling in a semi circle and my back was exposed so I again used the momentum to spin completely around with another deathblow.  This time I connected with his shield which was splintered from the mighty swing.  As he threw it away I lunged at the place with it had been with all the fury I could muster.  He moved too fast.  He swung from the ground up, sending my sword arm up into the air and as I skidded to a halt I could feel the pommel of his sword smash me in the back of the head.

I stumbled forward and fell on my face.  I could taste the blood, only it was mine.  My heart was racing in my chest and my demon’s blood burned in my veins.

I rolled over in time to block his next swing with my sword and tripped him as he tried to recover.

We scrambled to our feet and my ears began to drone…a barely audible hum coming from the distance like the sound of an approaching storm.

My vision began to fade and again I found my eyes could only see a target.  I have no focus, you say?  This is extreme focus and I don’t need to see anything except for you.

I took a few shallow breaths and charged again.

I put all of my energy in one final swing.  The strike to end this fight and it came down, crashing like thunder onto his blade and I could feel Thor standing with me.  I came down on his sword with so much force that it was knocked from his hands.  Without hesitation he grabbed my arm and twisted it in such a way that I could no longer hold on either and Thursbanr hit the ground with a quiet thud.

He leapt back and grabbed a handful of dirt from the ground, throwing it my eyes.

I coughed for a second but my vision was already so far gone that it barely affected me.

I could feel the blood burning in my lungs, tickling at the back of my throat.  Hot in my belly and fists.

This time, he attacked.  Maybe he expected me to be blinded by the dirt, but I dodged his fist and countered with one of my own, landing squarely on his cheek.  His head snapped sideways and I punched again, this time in his stomach.  He doubled over for a second and this time I went to kick him in the face but he grabbed my foot and pushed me backwards.

I stumbled over his broken shield and fell backwards onto the ground.  From this angle, I could again see the million flowers that swayed in the gentle breeze and for some reason I thought of my beautiful mother.

Before I had time to react he was on me again and he landed a punch with his metal gauntlet above my right eye.  The flesh tore open and blood ran out, blinding me further.

I kicked up at him, hitting him in the neck and he stumbled backwards, gasping for air.

I struggled to my feet, losing blood from both the back of my head and the gash above my eye.  I ran and dove into him, tackling him into the ground.

For the tiniest, fleeting moment, I could smell the flowers as I was beating my fists into his face.

He began to block and somehow turned me over so that I was on my back and hit me one, two, three times before I saw a flash of light and felt my body go limp.

When he saw that I could no longer defend myself he stood up and spit onto the ground.

Peering through this tiny window in the fading vision of my good eye, I realized that I had lost.

Chapter 12: Creation

Posted in A Story About Blood on July 9, 2011 by jeremiah james strawhand

Chapter 12 – Creation

It had been four days since I had seen Brand and I was starving again.

I had often wondered if this would somehow be my life.  Wasting away, a little at a time, until there was simply nothing left.  A pile of bones and skin left to rot in some forgotten alley.

Next week, he had said.  It’s been barely over half of that.  I don’t want to annoy him and risk throwing my one chance out the window.

So I wait.

Creep back into my hole…this damp, dark, corner in this miserable alley, but at least hidden from the prying eyes of the other shambling cripples and beggars.

I tell myself I’ll sleep for a while.

Sleep the day away…I’ve nothing better to do.

Sleep the day away…maybe tomorrow will bring better things.

Yet exhausted as I am…heavy as my eyelids are, sleep will not come.

I toss and turn and toss and turn again.  I roll over and over.  Try my back, my stomach.  Stick my feet this way or that, and sleep will not come.

Sometimes when I close my eyes I see faces.  A million faces all blurred into one or one face split into millions.  The mouth open in silent scream.  The nostrils flared and horror in the eyes.

One face or a million, it doesn’t matter.  It’s all the same.

One fading heartbeat.

One ebbing pulse.

One failing strength…

Everyone is afraid of death- even those that claim to believe there is something better after we pass.  There is always some doubt…some uncertainty.  Maybe this is it?  Have I wasted my life?  I should have done this or I shouldn’t have done that.  I should have treated people better.  I should have treated myself better.  Sometimes, I think, you don’t have time to think about these sorts of things, and that is the best way to go.  No regrets.

I believe that I was born for a reason.  If I must first fill this fountain of blood and build this mountain of bones before I can learn to swim or climb, so be it.  Maybe if I pile them high enough I can reach the heavens.  Maybe if I fill it deep enough no one will go thirsty again…

I awoke to the sound of the alarm bells.

It was night time and my better judgement told me to stay where I was…to not give them a reason to bother me.  My belly twisted into a tight, hard, knot and I could feel my ribs poking through.

I knew I couldn’t get back to sleep.

So I crept out just enough to glance into the street.  I saw a few of the other miscreants and lowlifes doing the same.  Glowing eyes and yellow teeth peering out of the darkness.  A few guards rushed passed but none noticed me.  A man that I recognized stumbled down the street and I asked him what was going on.  He looked at me for only a second and then continued to walk faster, saying nothing.

Why would I fool myself into thinking there was any sort of fellowship here?  At least any that included me.

I felt sick for lack of eating and it occurred to me that I could use this commotion to find some food.  To steal.  A murderer, maybe, but I’ve never been a thief.  I’d never had to be.  When death is the only life you know, taking someone’s things without killing them seems so hollow.  A wasted opportunity and an unnecessary risk.   Yet…for the first time I considered the repercussions.  To be caught killing someone here would be a death sentence.  I’d be hanging in the morning.   Were I caught stealing I might spend some time in the jail…where at least I’d be fed.  With the guards on high alert it seemed the choice had been made for me.

I wandered down to the waterfront…where a lot of the vendors hung around in the day time, yelling about their fish and pies and what have you.

It was quiet down here, except for the waves lapping against the docks and the occasional bird call.  The alarm bells continued to sound but they were distant here…they didn’t seem so urgent.

I passed by a few gruff-looking men standing on a street corner who quit talking and stared at me as I walked by.  One of them laughed.

I found a warehouse immediately behind where several of the hawkers would be found in the day and smashed the lock on the door.  It was dark inside except for a sliver of silver moonlight that beamed through the windows high above.   There were crates stacked on top of each other and I started to pry some of the lids off.  Jars, candles, utensils, wagon wheels, rope, bars of iron…Nothing particularly valuable and nothing that I could eat…I stumbled backward in the darkness, knocking over a crate of ceramic dishes which crashed and shattered on the packed-dirt floor.

Weary and starving, it took me a second to regain my footing and by that time, the dockhands I had passed earlier were blocking my exit.

“Knew he was no good,” said one to another.

“Guessin’ you probly know what’n ya dun wrong, yeh?” said another to me.

“Yeah, I dragged my bloodied and beaten body through these gods-forsaken gates to begin with,” said I to another still.

“What kinda answer is that?” asked One.

“No kinda answer really,” said Another.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” I said.  And for some reason, I meant it.

“Look’n like yer kinda outnumbered boyo,” said Another Still.

“I just want some food.  Trust me when I say that the three of you’d be broken before I broke a sweat.”

“Ya can barely stand up.  Ain’t no food in here, ‘less you kin eat that kinda junk,” said Another.

“Help me find something…and you won’t ever see me again.  And if not…then at least get the hell out of my way.”

“Mebbe we’d oughta listen to ‘im,” said One.

“Mebbe so,” agreed Another Still.

The three men stood out of the way of the door and I walked out into the night only to find myself face to face with a guard.

He started to draw his sword, saying, “What’s going o…”  But I kicked him, hard, in the chest and he fell backwards against the wall.  His sword was drawn but it was pointed down, the tip resting on the ground as he used it to stabilize and regain his footing.  I took a step forward and put my heel against the flat of the sword, snapping it in two and breaking the guard’s hand in the process.  He yelled out in pain, but only for the briefest moment before I grabbed his head in my hand and twisted his neck, his body crumpling against the wall.

The three dockhands stood there watching me, shocked.

“Mebbe so,” said Another. “Holy shit, mebbe so.”

I went through the guard’s pockets and took whatever coin he had.

“Hey…uhhh…y’know,” started One.  “uhhh…we don’t know you mister but…uhh…y’ever need anything?  You got six extra hands now…Y’know?”

This was a major turning point, I thought.  And the beginnings of another run of Kol, the leader, rather than Kol, the bitch.

I nodded.

These men…idiots though they might be, had had enough sense not to challenge me, and that is the basis of loyalty.  I knew that they would follow me to the end.

Reign of blood or mountain of bone.