Archive for the Blood Category

Chapter 16: A promise

Posted in A Story About Blood, Blood on September 19, 2011 by jeremiah james strawhand

http://astoryaboutblChapter 16: A Promise I left the Troll’s Breath again, the midday sun again blinding me to the filth that surrounded me. With enough light even the most dismal spot in the darkest corner can seem warm and inviting. In the right light, anything can be beautiful. A bag of coins jingled at my hip. Am I a monster by necessity or choice? No…certainly not by choice. No one chooses this kind of life. And again I feel the Norns plucking at my puppets’ strings. There is no life that will not come to an end and I consider myself a soul collector, although my collection is not my own. I imagine them swirling through some ethereal soup, a mess of color swarming through the air around us. If I could just see through this veil that separates our world from theirs…if I could just reach out and touch them to know that they are still there. To let them feel the breath of life just one more time before they find their way to the other realms…to hold their hands and let them know that they are not alone. Not abandoned. Sometimes I wonder if the things that I feel are truly my own, or if they are just a learned reaction to a situation. A cause and effect. The puppy dies, the child cries. A cause and effect. Something I learned, unlearned, and learned again, this reaction, and yet it seems that those who hold on most dearly, those who kick and fight and claw, are the very same that were too terrified of life to begin with. I throw my head back and my arms out and take a deep breath of sunshine. This time I walked out with not only a bag of coins, but another job. This time I would do it perfectly. No hesitation. No second thoughts. And then I would tell Brand that there would be no more jobs without knowing why. I owed myself that. I had to know ‘why.’ There is always a reason, even if an unlikely one. There is always a cause that predates an effect. My first victim…the only reason for his death was that he resembled someone else through my child’s eyes. The only reason for his death was being at the wrong place at the wrong time but that, still, is a reason. I hurried through the gates of Old Turtannus and told the guard I had business with Edwin. Time to repay an old debt. I barely felt the metal there anymore although that’s not to say it wasn’t everpresent: I had just become accustomed to it. A hundred tiny needles jabbing at my leg with every step. How much can we learn to live with? How much can we endure before we find ourselves broken? Soon I found myself staring down the once-familiar tree-lined street. Edwin’s shop sat in the middle of the block. The roof and fence still looked good, but the yard looked like a jungle. How long had it been? A month? A year? Two? Five? It becomes difficult to keep track of time when every day begins and ends the same. So many people struggle for this familiarity…this certainty…when all it does is eat their souls away. A little bit of chaos makes every day worth living. As I walked up to the house, a blonde-haired young lady in a blue dress burst through the red door and slammed it behind her. The door opened again and Edwin yelled “Marie, please!” She turned to answer him and stumbled backwards into me. I put my hands on her shoulders to stop her from falling and she turned to push me away saying, “Take your hands off of…” and then “Oh…it’s you.” “Hi,” I said, “Can I come in?” We three sat around the dinner table for a while eating a modest meal and drinking inexpensive wine. Four years it had been since we sat here, together. Me and my replacement family. Marie, the little sister I never had and Edwin, the wise old grandfather. Four years since I ran from this place to find my own way. Four years that I had spent living in filth and poverty. And yet every star will find a way to shine. They were broke. The house was in shambles and they had no customers. They were forever stained by protecting me and even my leaving didn’t change anything. Marie was ready to run off to some other city, some other country, to find a new place, a new life. After dinner I gave Edwin the bag of coins I had gotten from Brand. Half to repay my debt, and half to continue the procedure. I wanted the armor on my neck and shoulders, and covering my heart. Soon, I said, it would be of use to me. I had three days till my next job. So that night I willingly laid on the blood-stained table there in that cold back room while that familiar lantern swung on its chain, and I felt like I was home. The cutting, the stitching, the feel of cold metal. I drank to ease the pain. I looked over at Marie, in her blue dress streaked with blood and I remembered the day, years ago, when I had knocked her to the floor. The images side by side in my mind. I could see her putting her hand to her head in the place where it had hit the shelf and I can see her now, looking at me and wondering what I’m thinking. My eyes grew tired and my vision began to fade. “He’s losing too much blood,” she said, “I can see it in his eyes. You’d better hurry.” “Just about finished, my dear. Just one….more,” and I could feel the skin in my neck and chest suddenly pull tight,”…and…done!” I glanced at Edwin who smiled at me, his hands glistening red and a long needle poking out. “Go to sleep, my friend. We’ll take care of you.” And so I did. And I dreamt I was a hero. And I dreamt I saved the girl. And I dreamt I was in love. And I dreamt happily ever after. But all dreams must come to an end and I awoke to an intense burning in my chest and neck. My head was swimming and I could barely move. Marie was by my side with a bowl of water that she was using to clean the wound. When she noticed I was awake she said, “You’ve gotten an infection. Just take it easy. Are you hungry?” “No…what day is it…what time is it?” I asked as I struggled to see if any sun shone in. “It’s Thursday…Midday,” she said as she squeezed some water out of the bowl onto my chest. Of course it was. Of course I had slept until hours before my next job only to find myself in this miserable state. “I have to leave in a few hours, and I need you to make that happen. Do whatever you have to do, but I need to be able to walk out of here.” “I’m guessing if I tell you that if you get up and move around too much any time soon, you could die won’t dissuade you, huh?” she paused and frowned. “Marie, trust me when I tell you that if I had a choice, I’d stay right here. What did you two do to me?” “Nothing different than last time…Edwin thinks that because we did more this time your body was less willing to accept it. It’s trying to force it out…but it can’t. We grafted to your bones this time. It ain’t going anywhere.” To demonstrate she grabbed her arm by the wrist and shook it. “Will you be alright for a few minutes? I’ll run to the apothecary. Master is out on business, but he should be back tomorrow.” I nodded and she slipped out the door, the lantern swung gently and I closed my eyes again… I awoke to her shaking me saying , “Kol, Kol, wake up. It’s almost dark,” and I opened my eyes to find that the world seemed somehow different. Colors were brighter and crisper; sounds, more distinct. I sat up and the sensation seemed to take a second longer to catch up with the action. I stretched and yawned and felt like I had just awoken from the most peaceful sleep ever. “I gave you the medicine already. The chemist said it should take about a half an hour and you’ll feel better than ever,” she said as she handed me a small bottle. “Drink some of this if it starts to hurt again.” I leapt to the floor and, again, it felt like my mirror image was lagging slightly behind me. This is perfect. My mission tonight was a little different. I was attacking a heavily guarded man, and there would be no way to sneak in and out. It was a frontal assault. As I threw on my shirt and walked sideways to the door I realized that I wasn’t me anymore. Just some caricature of myself, going through the motions. A puppet of a puppet of a puppet. Maybe worse. Maybe better? No controls. “Kol,” a voice said and I spun around, a kaleidoscopic display in my wake, “Be careful.” And I found Marie hugging me, and I didn’t know how to react, but it felt good. I just stood there for a minute, staring at the wall and she backed up to look at my face, saying, “Holy shit…what did I give you? Are you ok?” I nodded but I was having a hard time grasping what was going on. The walls were breathing. The floor was crawling. Everything was alive. “I have to go now,” I mumbled, and as I walked out the front door I noticed an unusual spring in my step. I was ready to take on the world and my mirror image lagged a half step behind me. I made my way to the main gate quickly and the guard let me out. They didn’t really care who left or why and I guess he was happy to see me go. I avoided eye contact and moved slowly. When I stepped out into the world outside Turtannus, I became acutely aware of the feeling that I had never been there before. The world rushed at me and the lights streaked across the sky. The moon’s chest rhythmically rose and fell. I took a deep breath of the cool night air through someone else’s lungs. I headed west towards the old road. It wasn’t far but I kept getting distracted by a flower, by a star, by a blade of grass or a rock. Around the edges of my vision the blood haze crept in in undulating waves. I had to force it away, too early. I’d be exhausted before I found my mark. I reached the burnt out house on the old road and three figures stood in the dark on the hill and the moon cast long shadows that danced in stillness. I turned onto the road and noticed that the figures followed me. Slowly at first, but quickening as I quickened. No time for you. They stuttered and mumbled behind me. I couldn’t understand their alien language. They fluttered and stumbled behind me. Their footsteps sounded like a herd of cattle or horses. They were running now about to overtake me and I turned to face them and draw my weapon…had I forgotten to take one? No worries, I threw off my cloak and I couldn’t help but notice how it twitched. The three stopped short and one of them said “Kol? What are you doing? Why are you running? You’re going the wrong way.” The blood haze had taken over while I wasn’t paying attention but it was different. All energy and no fury. I realized that standing before me were One, Another, and Another Still: the dockhands I had run into after taking care of the fool and I remembered that I had asked them to accompany me. What good is building an army if you don’t utilize it? Control yet no control. This wispy world of shadow and star streaked sky, of audible heartbeats and tangible breath. “Right,” I said, in a voice that wasn’t mine, “Lead on.” And so I followed these three for what seemed like ever, and I wondered that we had not yet found the dawn. I coughed hard and sprayed green infection from my lungs. It burned and I stumbled and fell. The First Three stopped to see if I was ok and I took the bottle out of my pocket and drank some. Such a small bottle and I drank the rest. I threw it against a rock and it lit the world up in a million shimmering fragments. We kept walking for a little while as I ground my teeth to dust and then suddenly I felt nauseous. I stopped and threw up on a passing turtle who scuttled into the underbrush. I threw up again and I could taste the bitter fluid in my throat. One more time and I wiped my mouth, feeling better. When I stood up this time, there was…there was no sense in the world. Everything was upside down or sideways…or…I couldn’t even tell you. Everything was wrong. And these men in front of me? I didn’t even know them. I don’t even know who I am…this mass of flesh and bone and hair and metal and leather. This old skin tied to this liquid skeleton, melting through the dirt, eating through the grass. I oozed over the crest of a hill and someone was putting something in my hand. A sword, I think, or maybe an axe or a broom. I leaned on it like a crutch and I could feel it too, melting into the earth. I fell over and hit my head on a rock and the blood haze flickered: red, green, red, green and then stabilized. I stood up again and picked up my oar and looked down the hill towards a mansion lit with many torches and the whole thing glowed red. Enemy, enemy, enemy, my brain screamed and I looked down at my weapon: it was a sword, and it wobbled and shook and ran like water. I looked at the First Three and they looked back at me, and they were terrified and I was fearless and I began to march across the bared teeth of the soil, liquid blade in hand.


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.