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ValentineDavis21

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  1. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 22

    The door opened with a tremendous crash. I jerked in my chair and had to clamp my teeth together to keep from screaming. John Clare, the chauffeur who’d helped Kirby fix his car, cursed and teetered. For a moment I thought the stack of boxes he carried would topple over and there would be a large mess to clean up. I stepped forward to help, taking one of the boxes and set it on the edge of the desk. “Thanks Mr. Umstadt.” He lifted his suede cap off his head long enough to wipe the sweat from his brow before placing it firmly back in place. “I told you to let me help,” I said firmly. I made sure to smile; I didn’t want to sound like I was scolding the man. “There’s no sense in trying to break your neck.”He waved a hand at me. “Pffft. It’s nice to have a little grunt work to do y’know? Most of the times I just drive the boss or his wife around. Easy work.” “It sounds to me you like working for them. Do they treat you well?” Already I was in a working frame of mind, eager to start sifting through information, mapping the book out. I would go through the same process I did with the first one I wrote. I would read everything I could: journal entries, letters, anything I could find that would give me a sense of Agamemnon’s voice, his life. I would go through scrapbooks, ask questions, and record. “I do,” said John Clare. “They have been very kind to me, more so than I deserve. Is there anything else you need from me?” “No John, this should do. I will take it from here.” I clapped him on the back and closed the door. There were half a dozen boxes all told. Agamemnon had told me everything I might need was stored away in boxes. Now I sifted through everything. There was so much here it was flabbergasting: Scrapbooks, envelopes full of letters (some of them dated back fifty years), even grocery lists. Each item was a vehicle to the past, to a time before today, before this very moment. Already ideas were starting to poke through the soil of my mind like the heads of dandelions. I was positively shaking with excitement. I spent almost a full hour organizing everything, jotting thoughts on paper as they came to me. Much of it was quite random and irrelevant, or seemingly so, but I’d made a habit of writing everything down that came to me. I pinned photographs on a wooden board: Most of them were family photos, relatives at a gathering of some sort. I was too focused to try and guess who was who. There was, however, a photograph that caught my attention: a boy, thirteen or so perhaps, standing at the beach. He faced the camera with the ocean behind him. It was impossible to tell if he was at Adermoor Cove but I knew who he was immediately. Even then, he was a very large boy - tall and broad, big enough to make him an outcast in life. There was an annoyed look on his broad face - the look of someone who doesn’t like to be photographed. Agamemnon. I pinned the picture in the center of the board, a place of honor. I felt sentimental about it. Why, I wasn’t sure I wanted to admit to myself. I was developing a confusing attraction towards Agamemnon. I had felt the first blossoms of attraction the day I met him at my apartment but within the last week it had bloomed. I was not unfamiliar with the feeling. It had always been this way, my attraction to men and never women, a thing I tried to keep buried. But it had a habit of sneaking up on me, a thing with a mind of its own. And sometimes when I couldn’t keep it tucked away there were lapses - lapses that would have terrible consequences if they ever came to light. Of course there were other men, if only a few, who had the same struggles, the same lustful hunger I did. So lost was I in thought I didn’t realize anyone was in the room until they cleared their throat. It was Tessa. “Yes, what is it?” I snapped. I must have sounded agitated because she took a step back. “Sorry,” I said hastily. My cheeks had turned red with shame. Tessa was a very sweet girl; I didn’t want to snap at her. I smiled to show her everything was right as rain. “What is it, Tessa?” “It’s Julia. She’s getting ready to leave for Los Angeles. Just in case, you know, you might want to wish her a good trip?” “Thanks for letting me know. I will be right down.” After a moment I left the artifacts of the past behind and went down the stairs. I found Agamemnon and Julia at the front of the house. One of the cars sat beside them, idling. John Clare was no doubt sitting in the front seat, waiting to take Julia to the ferry. I watched the husband and wife embrace. How small she looked next to him, like a pretty blond doll. Though I couldn’t hear what they were saying I noticed the same casual acknowledgement , the sense they were only going through the motions. Julia turned to me and blew a kiss at my face. “Keep my husband company,” she said. “I will,” I said. “Keep him safe.” “I won’t let anything happen to him,” I vowed. She walked to the car, but before climbing inside she glanced back at the lighthouse, specifically at the top of the tower. There was such sudden sadness on her face, as if she was afraid she would never see the lighthouse again; as if it would all be sucked into oblivion the moment she turned her back. The writer in me soaked this detail up and filed it away. Then she got in the car and a minute later it was trundling way, headed for the village. I was glad she was gone. Over the next few days my life fell into a sort of rhythm; after spending the last week free falling this was a comfort. In the morning I showered and joined Agamemnon in the dining room for coffee, he sitting at one end of the table and I on the other. Most of the times we would say little to each other for he was busy with paperwork and I was busy reading through material I found in the boxes. He didn't ask about the progress on my book and I in return, out of appreciation, didn't ask questions. However it wasn't always easy, this reticence; even in the beginning stages of digging through the enigmatism that surrounded Agamemnon I had many questions. After breakfast we went our own separate ways; John Clare drove Agamemnon to the village or whichever destination he needed to go to and I went up to my room/office to work until lunch. During lunch Tessa usually joined me in the dining room. For this I was grateful. The house was large, and the silence at times made it seem all the bigger. Alive even, as odd as that might sound. It was during these meals I found out a little more about Tessa. She had been born on the island and had never once left it. She said life on the island was very uneventful - but I found the stories she told of her life to be fascinating; I have always found people fascinating, felt a need to know their history, their dreams, and understand their motivations. Tessa said she dreamed of going to the city. “Perhaps even New York,” she said with a wistful grin. She seemed just as regaled by my stories of New York. Though our lives were vastly different our level of wanderlust was mutual. After lunch sometimes I would walk around the property. Many of the times I felt tempted to climb to the top of the tower and stand before the beacon, looking out at the Pacific. I could never bring myself to do so: There was something mysterious, beautifully ominous about it and I feared its mystery would be spoiled and I would find it wasn’t all I hoped it to be. But then isn’t that how most of the things we seek to experience turn out to be? We think the grass is always greener on the other side only to find it truly isn’t. Agamemnon told me I could use the car whenever I felt the need to - there were three of them after all - and I liked to drive to the village. I would walk along the beach and then visit Adermoor Cove’s only pub, where I would take a seat at the back of the establishment. The pub doesn’t actually have a name. There are many writers who prefer to shut themselves away from the world when they’re writing but I found it reinvigorating to be around people. Even if those people watched you with icy suspicion and whispered as if you weren’t there. One day I drove into town and decided it was time I write my parents a letter. Father was probably wondering why I hadn’t attended one of his poetry meetings. As I wrote I enjoyed a shot or two of bourbon. The letter was brief: I told them I was at a small island called Adermoor Cove, which was located in the middle of Casco Bay. I explained I was working on a project for Agamemnon Apoulos (yes, the one and only!) and not to worry about me. I did not disclose however, as it was one of the rules of the contract I’d signed, what the project was. I explained this so they wouldn’t ask when they wrote back. And I suspected they would: Neither one of them could resist suspense. After I finished dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s I went up to the bar, putting on my most winning smile. The bartender, a middle-aged man with a scruffy beard regarded me with beady-eyed weariness. “Can I get an envelope please?” I asked. I slid a nickel to him. He grunted, reaching underneath the counter. I left the bar and walked down the village’s only block to the post office. After I put my letter in the slot I drove down to the beach, well away from the docks, to where there was no one else around. The day was far too beautiful to head back to the lighthouse now so I took another leisurely stroll along its banks. I had developed a sunburn that was quickly turning into a tan. As far as the contract itself, it was simple. I would write the book under Agamemnon’s name and he would oversee the project. Whatever he approved of or didn’t approve of was up to him. If he wanted something cut out of the book I had no choice but to take it out. I could not tell anyone I was writing the book or that a book was even being written. When the book was published I would get to keep sixty percent of the royalties. The contract did not constrain me to Adermoor Cove. If I wanted to go back to New York at any point I could. For a reason I couldn’t explain it only seemed right the book be born - I couldn’t think of another word for it - at Adermoor Cove. After my stroll along the beach I drove back to the lighthouse, shirt sticking to my skin. Once inside I asked Tessa if she would mind making me some tea. “It seems like you had a good day,” she observed as she poured me a glass. I took a sip from it. The tea was cool and sweet, just the way I liked it. “I did. I strolled along the beach. It’s so beautiful here.” She giggled. “Didn’t you ever go to the beach in New York?” “Yes, quite often. My parents would take me and I would make sand castles and sand angels. But here it’s different, more open. I don’t know how else to explain it.” “If you say so,” Tessa said. She yawned. “I’m so tired I think I could take a nap.” I finished my tea and went back to my room. I, myself, needed a nap. I undressed and crawled into bed. … I wasn’t surprised to find Agamemnon home in time for dinner, sitting in his usual chair at the head of the table, nursing a cocktail. There were still dark circles under his eyes; in fact they almost seemed darker than usual this morning. “Good evening,” I said, taking my seat at the other end. “Thomas.” He nodded at me, scanning my face. “You’ve developed a nice tan.” “I’ve been taking advantage of the beach. How was your day?” He shrugged. “Busy today. Shall I have Tessa fetch you a cocktail?” “I’m fine. I’ve had plenty to drink as it is today. At the rate I’m going if I drink anymore I’ll likely become an alcoholic.” “As you wish. How is my book coming along?” Something inside me bristled at his use of my. It wasn’t his book, not truly. It just had his name on it. I was reminded of just how unlikable Agamemnon could be. “You know I think I’ll have a cocktail after all.” Agamemnon tinkled his little bell and Tessa brought me an already made cocktail. I took a sip. “I’m almost finished with my outline for the first chapter. I just need a few more things from you.” “What do you need?” “Anything you might have written recently, whether it be a letter or a report. Anything that will give me an idea of how you sound.” “Why would you need those things?” he asked. “If I’m going to write this book under your name it has to sound like you, don’t you think?” He nodded. “Good point. Anything else?” “Just a few questions. Of course I can always wait another day...” “No, ask me what you need to.” I pulled out my notepad and pen and glanced down at the notes I’d written down. “Your parents immigrated to the United States in 1880 is that correct?” “Yes, they moved from Sparta to Maine. My grandparents came along as well. We all moved into a large house. Even with the move we were a wealthy family.” “Both your grandfather and father were in the fishing industry, yes?” “Correct. Even with their wealth my father and grandfather believed they were not above hard work. They wanted to show Americans they weren’t just two lazy bumpkins looking to get even richer.” “And your mother found she was pregnant with you in 1882, two years after your family moved to the United States?” “Affirmative.” I wrote carefully, making sure I wrote down everything Agamemnon said. He waited patiently for me to ask the question, never once making me feel I needed to rush. Still, I was excited, fascinated. It was a challenge to remain calm, to not rush into things. “Your family must have faced challenges, being immigrants from another country and all.” “Oh yes - we all did. People in the north are already cautious when it comes to outsiders. As the saying goes you have to live here for twenty years or so before you find any real acceptance. I would never be accepted into a public school so my mother had me home-schooled. A woman would come to the house and teach me math, reading, spelling, the usual core subjects. The woman’s name was Mrs. Dandridge I think. My father knew of her because he worked with her husband.” Agamemnon ran a hand thoughtfully over his bristly stubble. His eyes looked into the distance, into the past. My imagination filled in the details of the memory he described. Already I could picture Mrs. Dandridge, a tall wispy woman who always wear her hair up and pressed her clothes. She always wore black. Of course my imagination was taking a great many liberties. “I was not always entirely fond of Mrs. Dandridge. I resented having to be homeschooled. I wanted to go to a regular school. Both my father and grandfather were reluctant to have me homeschooled - but my mother and grandmother wanted to shield me from prejudice as much as they could. In the end they won that argument. Though my mother and grandmother did their best to explain to me how people are treated here and fill in the gaps that being home-schooled created, I still acted out in whatever way I could, mostly by being obstinate with Mrs. Dandridge. Fortunately she was very patient with me.” “It must have been interesting growing up in such a home,” I said. At that moment the doors to the kitchen opened and Barbosa came out with the first course. “It was.” Agamemnon removed the top from his platter and began to cut up his salad. “Greek families are known for being very close-knit. Often times Greek households such as my own have multiple generations living under one roof. We respect our elders especially our grandparents, and even our great grandparents if they were still around. Our family has always been warm and affectionate, even my father and grandfather. They believed in hugs and intimate contact. Me on the other hand, I’ve always been rather reticent on the matter. It’s not that I mind shaking one’s hand or giving them a hug if I know them well but I like my space and expect other people to respect it. I’ve always been that way much to the consternation of my family.” I thought back to the photograph I’d found of him as a child at the beach and felt my lips twitch into a smile, which I quickly extinguished, wiping at my mouth with my arm. For the next hour I asked questions and he answered them as we ate. By the time I closed my notepad, too tired and full from the food and drink to go on, my fingers were stiff from holding the pen for so long. I sat back in my chair and stifled a yawn. “Thank you,” I said. “I think that’s all I need for now.” He nodded. “Anytime.” … The next morning I finally gathered the courage to climb to the top of the tower. I don’t know where it came from, this sudden act of courage. Maybe it was the fact I could no longer stand the mystery. I hadn’t seen Agamemnon that morning so I suspected he was already in town, taking care of business, which meant only Tessa and Barbosa were in the house. It was the perfect opportunity. I approached the tower, taking the little path that led from the house to the tower itself. The whole time I felt as though I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to. I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure someone wasn’t peering at me from the porch or through one of the windows. It was perfectly absurd the way I was feeling, of course, for Agamemnon had given me full reign but I couldn’t shake the boyish feeling of mischief. It was a long climb time to the top. While my walks along the beach helped me get into better shape it was still an effort to climb up the stairs. By the time I reached the top of the steps I was fighting to catch my breath. To my surprise Agamemnon was standing there, at the railing, looking out at the sea. His back was turned to me. Was he so lost in thought he hadn’t heard me coming up the stairs? I turned to take leave before he could take notice of my presence. Before I could turn completely around he said, “I love to come up here when I want to be away from the rest of the world and look out at the water. There’s nothing more beautiful than the ocean.” I gripped the railing, one foot set on the landing the other hovering above the first step. “I didn’t realize you were up here. I didn’t mean to disturb you.” “You didn’t.” He turned, smiled at me. It was always such a strange sight to see him smile; he did it so rarely. “Come look. It really is a magnificent view.” I stood at his side and looked at what he was seeing. It really was a beautiful sight, the ocean stretching as far as the eye could see. At the exact second I looked, as if putting on a show just for my benefit, two dolphins leapt into the air, their rubbery skin gleaming in the sunlight. The whole time I was fully aware of Agamemnon watching me, gauging my reaction. His eyes never once left my face the entire time. “Beautiful isn’t it?” he said after a moment. “It is,” I agreed. I risked a glance at him. Our eyes connected. “I enjoy your company,” he said after a moment. “There’s not too many people I can say that about. As I told you yesterday I have never been much of a people person. I suppose being a businessman has something to do with it. My father and grandfather were businessmen as well so it only comes natural. Socially, I’m clumsy, withdrawn. I find people, especially in large crowds, to be cumbersome. Artificial. But here, at Adermoor Cove, I find myself getting lonely. Sure, I’m constantly surrounded by people, but the only interaction I get is at business meetings. And yet despite my loneliness, if one of the villagers were to invite me to dinner I would decline because small talk bores me.” “Sounds like you have a schism within you,” I said. He frowned. “A schism?” “A split. In your case a confliction.” He nodded. “Yes. Truth is I’m unhappy with my life. I don’t love my wife - I never did. My parents didn’t want me to marry an American. They wanted me to marry a Greek woman but I refused to. I wanted an American woman. But the thing is I don’t love Julia - I don’t know if I ever really did. She was so young when we met. She was seventeen and I was thirty-eight. We’ve been married for nine years. Nine years I’ve been with a woman I don’t love. She’s nothing more than an arm ornament to me and I hate myself for feeling that way about her but I can’t make myself feel any other way no matter how hard I try.” I could only stare, startled. A look of such utter misery had crossed his face; it frightened me. I didn’t like the way he looked at the water. I could see it now, a terrible inescapable image: of Agamemnon throwing himself over the ramp, falling through empty air before hitting the water. I wondered if I could hold him back. He was so much bigger than I was. What if I couldn’t pull him back in time? What if he was so heavy I too fell over the edge and we plunged to our death? He looked at me again and this time there were tears in his eyes. “Do you ever feel like you’re living a lie?” he asked, his voice threatening to break. “Like you’re just an actor only going through the motions?” I thought of all the times I’d gone to my parents’ poetry meetings, feeling like an imposter among people I’d known for most of my life. I thought of all the nights I’d spent in the secret bars, exchanging secret glances with men who were just as damned as I was, always slinking away in opposite directions with our tail between our legs, as if we’d committed the ultimate sin and there was no hope for absolution. “I do,” I said. “Every moment of every day.”
  2. ValentineDavis21

    The Flesheater

    Thank you so much for your input. It's really helpful. So far A Different World has been my own personal favorite project to work on and it's the one that's got the least attention on here so any help is appreciated. As far as your 'dream' comment a few chapters back there is a movie that heavily plays on the concept of dreams becoming nightmares called Vanilla Sky? Perhaps you've seen it. It's one of my favorites. It's not for everyone and calls for multiple viewings for it to make sense but I do recommend it.
  3. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 11: A New Mission

    Every inch of Skold’s body ached. He and the remnants of his group had been trudging through Swineshead Wood for hours. Soon, he sensed, it would be morning. He pushed aside a long gnarled branch and there, just yards away, was the stream they’d passed on the way to the orc camp. Most of it was frozen in places but there were still spots free from the ice. He knelt down in the snow and dipped his hands into the freezing water. His hands were instantly numbed but he didn’t care; his throat was so parched it was agonizing to swallow. He lowered his mouth to his cupped hands and drank greedily. Droplets of water fell from in between his fingers. Had water ever felt or tasted so good? The snapping of twigs alerted him to the presence of another. Before anyone else was alerted to the sound, Skold rose to his feet, ready to decimate any potential threat with an offensive spell. He let out a breath of relief when he saw it was only Konstantine, and behind him, Sonja and the three counselors. Althon, Alagossa, and Viktor were covered in dirt, their clothes ripped and bloodied in spots but they were not fatally injured. “I almost turned you into a pile of ash,” Skold said to Konstantine. “I’m glad to see you too,” he said. He came towards Skold, perhaps to embrace him, eyes brimming with emotion, but then stopped when he saw the piercing look Skold was giving him. Skold was not in the mood to deal with Konstantine’s constant need for validation and affection. In fact it was all but impossible to look at his third-in-command and not compare him to the necromancer. While Konstantine was certainly taller than Skold he did not have the towering stature the necromancer had, nor was he broad in chest and shoulder or thick in neck. Nor did he, or had he, ever awoken the uncontrollable lust Skold had felt in the presence of the necromancer. No being had. For years Skold had slept in the beds of men trying to find the one thing through sensual pleasure that might fill the emotional void within him. He’d yet to find it. Konstantine nodded, a silent acknowledgement. “Skold,” said Alagossa, oblivious to the tense moment that had passed between the newly appointed general and Konstantine. “You have no idea how relieved I am to see you in one piece. We are forever in your debt...” “Can we save the emotional exchanges for when we’re back at Penthorpe Keep?” Viktor cut in shrewdly. His breath misted the night. “My balls are ready to fall off.” For once Skold agreed with the counselor. It was a long journey back to Penthorpe Keep. By the time they reached the castle night had turned into day. In Skold’s absence the rest of the inhabitants in the castle had finished clearing the corpses and most of the debris. However there were still signs of war to be found: burnt patches of dead grass, boot prints in the hard dirt and a hushed silence Skold was all too familiar with. It was the hush that came over everything after battle, when everyone tried to recover and make sense of things. Skold veered off from the others without offering explanation as to where he was going or what he would be doing. I’ve more than earned a momentary reprieve from the rest of the world, he thought. He stumbled into his quarters and latched the door behind him. If anyone wanted to get in they would have to break the door down. He pulled the curtains over the windows and stripped out of his filthy robes. He winced as he eased himself under the covers. His body was covered in aches and bruises. His face smarted from where the Flesheater had hit him. Here, in the privacy of his own quarters he did not feel the need to hide his pain. Skold slept for two days. As he slept the bruises and cuts that marked his body healed. When he woke up he was ravenous. He bathed, dressed, and went down to the hall where he found Sonja sitting at the far end, in the corner. Skold filled a large plate with a meat pie, grapes, and olives, grabbed large goblet of mead, and joined his sister. “Back from the dead, are we?” Sonja asked. “War is exhausting,” said Skold. “I’ll drink to that.” She took his goblet and took a long sip from it. He scowled and snatched it back. “Go get your own.” She smirked. “Don’t like drinking after your own sister? You remember in the winter months when we only had one spoon.” “Aye,” Skold agreed. “And now that everyone has been killed off by the plague there’s plenty to go around. I suppose there’s one good thing about what Paladin’s done.” He looked around. “Where’s Konstantine?” “Being questioned by the counselors I expect. I just finished giving my testimony. They questioned me for two hours wanting to be filled in with what all happened. Maeglin’s next, I expect, then you.” “It’s not that hard to put together. Paladin’s army came, sieged the castle, killed General Cevna and kidnapped the counselors and we came and rescued them. End of story.” Sonja leaned forward to make sure no one else was listening; she spoke loud enough so only Skold could hear. “Aye, but that’s not the part they’re interested in. They want to know more about the necromancer.” Skold leaned back. He wasn’t surprised. Of course they would want to know more about the necromancer. “Rumor is you saw him,” said Sonja. “I did,” Skold said. “What did he look like?” Skold hated the look of child-like curiosity on her face; and yet a part of him wanted to relay what he saw. You can’t tell her he knew your name, a voice inside him spoke. It was not the voice of the necromancer but his own conscience. Rarely did his instincts ever lead him wrong, so Skold listened. “He was an elf, like us.” Her eyes widened with excitement. “What happened? Tell me.” “He saved us - saved me. If he hadn’t interceded when he had I wouldn’t be sitting before you.” “Why would he attract attention to himself like that? He must be the last of his kind. Most of the necromancers were exterminated centuries ago.” Skold shrugged once more. “Who can say? I got the sense he was...old. Powerful beyond words.” Sonja shuddered. “After years of fighting in a war I wish I could say there was nothing left on this earth that could scare me. But I can’t. The revenants we fought on the hill frightened me more than words can say. There were just a few of them then. What could he do if he had hundreds?” “The seer did say this war has attracted the attention of ancient beings. I would say she’s right, wouldn’t you?” “It must have been a sight to see. Up until now I almost believed them to be nothing more than bedtime stories.” Sonja's eyes turned wistful as her mind turned to the past. “Do you remember the stories Mother used to tell us before we went to bed, little brother? She'd always been such a good story teller. I imagine she got them from all the books she read. She was always reading. And her voice… she had the most beautiful voice. I always wondered how she could end up with Father, they were so different from each other, as different as night and day. She was so graceful and kind and he was so stoic…” Her words were soon lost on Skold as his own mind turned to the past. He thought not of Lea reading them stories before her bed but the deranged doppelganger that had taken her place, a vomiting, dying thing, her eyes roving around madly in their sockets as she babbled to ghosts only she could see. He thought of Maeglin riding towards Skold and his sister as they awaited news of the return of King Yaldon’s troops, the sad look on his face. I hate to tell you this but I’m afraid your father has died in battle. Skold remembered feeling of the laughter bubbling up inside him, an uncontrollable animal with a mind of its own. It was the irony of the situation for he’d told his father months ago, just before he left, he hoped Solomon died, something Sonja didn’t know about. I hope you die out there, he’d told Solomon. I hope they bring your remains home so I can shit on them. Only there hadn’t been any remains to bring home. The laughter erupted from him like lava from a volcano, tears streaming from his eyes. It seemed the spirits of Valhalla had granted him his wish. Skold didn’t bring up these thoughts to Sonja. They would only upset her so he kept them to himself. He finished his wine, and stood up, and told her he was going to get some air. “Skold,” she said. “What?” Suddenly she looked very strained, an expression he wasn’t used to seeing on her face. No, she didn’t just look strained. She looked guilty, as if she’d done some unforgivable thing. “The counselors...they...” Skold waited for his sister to finish but she only shook her head, looking somber, subdued. “Never mind, you’ll find out soon enough.” He went up to the battlements. The guards on shift saluted him respectfully and continued their watch as if the siege had never happened. Now he turned his attention to the white landscape and let the silence wash over him. Up until now it had been all but impossible to appreciate nature, what little there was. The trees were skeletons, the roads buried under snow. It wasn't just Paladin and his plague the rest of the world was at the mercy of but the elements as well. However, for Skold at least, there was a brutal, predatory beauty to it, the mountains in particular: the way they jutted from the earth like some ancient, indomitable force; the clean smell of the air; the way the sky seemed to press down. Yes, beautiful. The peace was short-lived. “Skold,” said Maeglin. Skold exhaled. There's never rest for the wicked. He studied his fellow elf and found there was no better expression. While he had slept soundly over the last two days Maeglin had not. The dark bags around his eyes had only grown darker, the lines around his mouth etched ever deeper. The only sign elves ever really aged after adulthood was when pushed to the brink of madness - and while their minds were certainly more durable and sharper than the mere humans they were susceptible to madness, especially those who’d witness the carnage that occurs in the midst of battle. Maeglin was considerably older than Skold and therefore had seen more battles, more deaths. Valyuun’s death at the hands of the orc chief must have been the final stroke. If Skold had the heart he would have felt sorry for him; the only way he could sense Maeglin’s pain was through simple assessment. “You don’t look well,” Skold said. “Yes, I imagine not?” “You need to get some sleep.” “Would if I could, but I can’t. Not without dreaming. Do you dream, Skold?” “I do.” “The seer left yesterday,” said Maeglin. “She did?” “Yes.” “Did she tell anyone where she was going or when she would be back?” “No. I don’t trust her - and no one else does either. And with good reason. After all she is a seer.” Maeglin leaned miserably against the wall and stared morosely at the snowy landscape before him. “What do you want, Maeglin?” Skold asked, suddenly annoyed. He’d come up here to be alone, to have a moment’s peace, and Maeglin was interrupting it. “The counselors are ready for you.” Skold left without a word, however before he could get more than a few steps away Maeglin grabbed his shoulder. Skold turned, unsure of what to do. Maeglin was staring back, eyes bulging from his head. “He knew you...the necromancer...he knew you by name. How did he know your name?” Skold wrenched his arm and resisted the urge to shove the elf back. “I don’t know. I don’t know how he knew my name.” He walked hurriedly away before Maeglin could hurtle anymore questions at him. The truth was the question terrified him, made him feel as though he had committed some unforgivable act of betrayal. … “We cannot thank you enough for saving our lives,” said Althon. Beside him, Alagossa nodded. “You have proven once again you are truly Solomon’s soul. When King Yaldon planned to hand you your father’s sword and armor the three of us advised against it. We were uncertain if you were capable of taking his place. Be that as it may King Yaldon saw fit to give you a chance. In doing so he proved our assumptions wrong.” The middle counselor turned to Viktor. “Wouldn’t you say, Viktor?” “Yes,” said Viktor, and no more. Skold took this all in, nodding in the right places and saying his thanks at the praise but was unmoved by it all. Sitting in their thrones once more, the counselors seemed to have regained their dignity. All signs of their captivity, at least those on the outside, were gone as if they’d never been there; the effects this week’s events had on their minds remained to be seen. “Though we were able to fend of Paladin’s forces with the help of the the late General Cevna, may the Spirits of Valhalla rest his soul, combined with your efforts the war is not over. There are other battles that must be fought,” Althon continued. “Forces converge unseen, taking advantage of our distractions. This necromancer that we’ve heard so much testimony about concerns us. We’ve just received word from King Yaldon and he is equally as concerned.” Skold straightened, his interest captured. “I’m listening.” Alagossa picked up where Althon left off. “If what we have been told about the number of forces he had with him at the camp are true then there’s no telling how many he has. Where is he getting them? What is his intent with them? In the past necromancers have always used their powers to pillage and conquer. This is why centuries ago King Yaldon had their kind exterminated and their practice of Death Magic outlawed. It was a dark time much like this one. The bedtime stories we tell our children cannot compare. While the necromancer is not a threat at the moment he could become a very serious one - and with our numbers and resources quickly dwindling while Paladin thrives, King Yaldon feels we cannot take another surprise.” Skold nodded. “I understand.” “Which is why King Yaldon feels we need your eyes and ears on him,” Althon said. “We need to know what he’s doing, anything that sheds light on this mysterious creature. That is where you come in.” “You want me to kill him?” Skold asked. “Hahhh,” Viktor said. “You could try but your chances, even someone as skilled as yourself Skold, would be none. It would be a suicide mission. No, you are not to kill him. The mission you’re being assigned is not the usual grunt work you’re used to. You are to investigate. To watch, listen, report back and nothing more. And you’re to keep yourself concealed. The necromancer cannot be aware of your presence.” He already is, Skold almost said, but stopped himself. There was the same feeling he’d had after his confrontation with Maeglin on the battlements: the feeling he was a traitor. To tell them the whole truth would only lead to greater dangers and concerns, this he knew. I am standing in an ever-growing pit of snakes. “You will not be going alone, however. We will be sending you one other to lend assistance. Konstantine.” Skold managed to suppress a groan. “With all respect, counselor I move much faster when I’m on my own...” Althon held up a hand, silencing him. “We understand your doubts. If there was someone else we feel we could send along with you we would. But Konstantine has always been loyal to you and would follow anywhere.” “And Sonja?” “She will be with us, commanding in your stead until you return.” Ahhh, so this was what she was trying to tell me but couldn’t. A tidal wave of doubt flooded Skold, unbidden and unforeseen. “I see. I will do as the king asks.” “You leave at first light,” said Althon, “so I suggest you say your goodbyes and pack adequately for your journey. As for everything else we will be sending you off with two of our best horses and enough funds for a good start. Also, there is one other thing you should know.” “Yes?” “The seer that helped you rescue us.” “What of her?” “She’s gone from the castle. And so is the medallion you found at the site of those four scouts.” … That night Skold could not sleep. Normally, under such circumstances Skold would have sought Konstantine’s company - or the company of another - but tonight he wanted to be alone as much as ever. He lay in bed, listening to the miserable moans of the wind. The room flickered in the soft glow of the fire. He suspected tonight would be the last comfortable night he would get to experience for a while. Out there Konstantine and he would have to forage through the cold. Perhaps occasionally they could stay at an inn and rent a room but the money would have to be used sparingly, for who knew how long they’d be out there, searching. Searching for the necromancer. No matter which way Skold turned, it seemed the necromancer waited, just ahead. Back at the orc camp Skold had almost given in completely to whatever power the necromancer had over him. It was only because of Maeglin’s intervention he’d managed to resist. And yet even now some machination, whether it be coincidence or Cerbyendeuyng, was leading him back to the necromancer. What awaited him there? I will find out soon enough. As soon as the first sign of the sun made itself known Skold began to pack. It didn’t take long - there wasn’t much to pack. Sonja was waiting for him out in the corridor. “You’re leaving,” she said. It wasn’t a question. She already knew. “I am.” “And you don’t know how long you’ll be gone?” “I don’t.” “It’ll be strange not having you or Konstantine around, not having to look after both of your asses.” “Before long you won’t notice. When you’re commander you’re too busy trying to keep yourself and everyone else alive.” She smiled. “I wonder if Father would be proud of me.” “We’ll never know,” he said. She nodded. “Be careful out there, won’t you?” “I can only try.” Out in the courtyard Konstantine was waiting for him, sitting atop one of the large steeds, holding the reigns of the other in a gloved hand. He was dressed in multiple layers as Skold was in preparation for the cold, long journey ahead of them. Skold mounted his horse and glanced at Konstantine. “Are you ready?” he asked. “Whenever you are.” Together they set off at a steady pace, heading towards whatever mysteries might lay ahead. … To get back to the main roads, they made their way through the bare fields and wood back to Boar’s Head. With much of the village now buried under snow it appeared more dead than ever. They didn’t have to go far inside before Skold and Konstantine both sense something was out of place: Both horses were tense, their sides heaving up and down. Skold had to keep tugging on the reign to keep his horse in place. “Do you feel that?” Konstantine asked. He had his hand on the hilt of his sword. “I do.” “It’s just like the presence we felt when we rendezvoused with Maeglin and the counselors...and again when we went to look for Maeglin’s scouts. You don’t think it could be the necromancer, do you?” “I don’t know.” Skold was only half paying attention to Konstantine. His eyes scanned the snowy ground, searching for tracks. He had an idea and jumped off his horse. “Where are you going?” Konstantine demanded. His voice was shaking. “I’ll be back in a moment. I want to check on something.” “And if there’s trouble lurking about?” “Shout and I’ll come running.” With the old church to his left, Skold began to make his way in the direction of the mass grave where he’d had all of the villagers buried. He passed through the skeletal ruins of an old hut, snow crunchlng underneath his feet. His eyes searched for signs that he was being followed but there were none. Even so, he kept his hand on the hilt of his sword at all times. It didn’t take him long to find the mass grave. For a moment he could only stand there, staring down at it, trying to make sense of what he was seeing. He called for Konstantine and waited. Moment later Konstantine came with the horses. He dismounted his own horse and cursed. “The necromancer’s been here.” “That’s obvious,” Skold said. The grave that had taken multiple shovels to dig was now completely empty. There were claw marks in dirt and snow. Skold imagined a hundred undead hands clawing at the dirt, undead muscles working as the reanimated corpses fought to dig their way out, the necromancer watching, perhaps proud of his power. Skold knelt down and scooped a handful of dirt up. He grounded it around, felt the grit brushing up against his flesh. He stared into the distance and wondered just how far ahead of them the necromancer was. A few miles? A few days? He shouldn’t be too hard to find, Skold thought. All we have to do is follow his little army of the undead. Skold stood and rubbed as much of the dirt off his hand as he could. “Let’s go. We can send a raven back to Penthorpe Keep detailing what we found here when we reach the next town...if there’s one where everyone isn’t dead.” They moved on and left Boar’s Head behind once more.
  4. I am half way finished with A Different World, Chapter Eleven. I meant to have it out before the end of the week but I have been down with a nasty bug for the last four day. It wasn't pretty or fun. :( Plus I've been bust with other things, mostly about getting back into school. I'm ready continue getting my education. Will try to get it finished in the next couple of days.

  5. I have started on A Different World, Chapter Eleven. I should have it finished sometime by next week.

  6. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 21

    I sat back on the sofa, relishing the coolness of the parlor, and the relaxing ticks of the old grandfather clock standing next to the fireplace. Julia had given me a cool rag with which to wipe the sweat off my forehead. Now she was gone, probably talking with her chauffeur. I sincerely hoped they were able to do something about Kirby. Even though I knew he was in no immediate danger I hated the idea of him being out there, alone. After a while, the splendidly dressed Julia came back into the living room, followed by a man with a suede cap on top of his head. He nodded at me in silent greeting before stepping out into the daylight. Julia set a tray down on the table with a bottle and two crystal glasses, and asked me if I would like a brandy. I told her that would be lovely. Once she poured the drinks she sat in the armchair across from me, legs crossed respectfully, appearing poised and perfectly relaxed at the same time. She studied me for a moment before saying, “The photo on the back of your book does you no justice.” “Thank you. You’re also more beautiful in person.” She arched an eyebrow. “You’ve seen my work, then?” “Yes. My mother subscribes to Vogue and Mode du Jour.” “And you read your mother’s magazines?” I stopped, trying to determine if she was teasing me or not. In the end I decided not to make an issue of it. “Sometimes.” She seemed not to take issue with it because she changed the subject. “Agamemnon all but devoured your book. He’s always been quite the reader but he’s always had to read in fits and starts due to his schedule - he’s a very busy man as I’m sure you can imagine. But your book - he read it in three days. It was as if the rest of the world ceased to exist.” Once again, I couldn’t tell if Julia was leading me on or truly being genuine. Her expression gave away nothing. In photos I’d seen of her she always appeared sultry and passionate but now...I couldn’t find the words to describe how I felt about her. For the second time in less than an hour the feeling of being somewhere I didn’t belong swept over me. I was out of my depth. “Agamemnon won’t be home until dinner,” Julia said. “At the moment he’s tied up with the village officials. You’re more than welcome to stay. He will be pleased to see you and it will be nice to have some company. Until then, you must be tired. You could bathe and rest in one of the guest rooms until it’s time.” I did feel in need of a shower and some rest. “That would be lovely.” She nodded. “I will prepare your room, then. You can follow me upstairs.” Once on the second floor, Julia grabbed me a towel and rag and a bathrobe. Everything smelled freshly washed. As she did these things, she said, “Barbosa, our cook, will have dinner done at eight. Is there anything I should have him make special for you?” The manners my parents had ingrained in me said not to make a fuss, not to make more trouble for others. “Whatever he decides to serve will be fine with me. I’m not picky.” “Good, I’ll give you your privacy,” she said. “Your room is directly across from you.” I was glad to have a closed door behind me so I could take a moment to collect my thoughts. What a strange day this is turning out to be, I thought. It was like an outrageous comedy where everything you could expect to go the way you expect, the least it does. I stripped out of my sweaty clothes and folded them on top of the sink. The bathroom was spotlessly clean and smelled of citrus; I imagined servants did the cleaning. The water was hot within seconds of turning on the faucet. I had to take a moment of turning the knob this way and that to get the temperature where I wanted it. The bar of soap smelled of lavender and honey, the shampoo of mint and tea leaves. Where such scents could be found on this island I couldn’t imagine but I enjoyed the uplifting fragrances nonetheless. Standing under the water I felt the tension in my neck and shoulder blades began to ease. Once I was done freshening up I put on the bathrobe, surprised at how well it fit me. Out in the hallway I almost ran headfirst into a young woman dressed in a maiden’s apron. “Sorry,” I said, stepping back. “No need,” she said sweetly. “I’m Tessa. You must be Thomas. Julia sent me up so I could retrieve your clothes to be washed.” I held onto them, feeling sheepish as they still felt wet. She merely smiled encouragingly so in the end I handed them over. The room Julia had prepared for me was every bit as charming as the Clam’s Pearl except for one difference: I had a perfect, unobstructed view of the ocean. On this side of the island there were no sailboats to be seen, only the blue-grey water and the brighter reflection of the sky hovering above. I looked around the room with its white walls and canopied bed. Feeling like a child snooping through someone else’s room, I peeked into the wardrobe. Empty. So Agamemnon and Julia had an extra room, but who stayed there? Did one or both of them have relatives that liked to come and visit? A favorite aunt or uncle? A cousin with children? Neither of them seemed like the children type but then I hardly knew either of them. They were strangers to me. And here I was, at their lighthouse, sitting in one of their rooms. I sat on the edge of the bed. Another bed, another bedroom. When Agamemnon had made the proposition that I come to Adermoor Cove I’d become giddy at the idea of going on an adventure, even if it was a small one, to leave New York City and experience another part of the world. But now I felt homesick, even a little depressed. I missed my father and his idiosyncratic sense of humor, my mother’s hearty laughter and the familiar smell of her perfume. I’m tired, I thought. I need to sleep, even if it’s just for a little while. And so I slept. … I awoke a few hours later feeling completely renewed. I pulled the spare clothes I’d brought out of my briefcase and dressed. Outside the sky had darkened to a navy blue. I guessed it was eight o’ clock or getting close to it at the very least. I tried to comb my hair into something a little more manageable before leaving the room. I took the stairs down to the first floor and followed the sound of voices from the living room into the dining room. Agamemnon sat at the head of the table, Julia seated on his right. Just as the first time I met him he was dressed in a suit, only this time his sleeves were rolled up to show his impressive forearms and the top button of his shirt was open. I thought I saw a few stray chest hairs. The married couple stopped talking and Agamemnon looked at me. His lip curled in that almost-smug smile of his. “Thomas,” he said in his deep voice. “I’m glad you made it.” “Not as glad as I am,” I said. He gestured at the empty chair on his right. “Please, have a seat. Would you like a brandy?” “I would.” Tessa came into the dining room with a bottle of brandy and a tray of glasses. Once poured, I sipped at mine and smacked my lips appreciatively. “Good stuff.” “Agamemnon has expensive tastes,” Julia said. “I hope you’re travels haven’t been too tiring,” Agamemnon said to me. “They haven’t. The past few days have been quite exhilarating. Just being away from the city is a treat.” “And what do you think of the village?” Julia asked. “It’s very charming.” “A very generous assessment,” she said. “When I first came here I was unsure - and more than a little intimidated. But for the most part everyone has been outwardly polite. Welcoming, even.” “But inwardly?” I asked. “The villagers talk amongst themselves when they think we don’t notice. We’re strangers standing on the outside of the circle.” “They seem to support what your husband is trying to do.” “It would seem so,” Agamemnon agreed. “Thought I suppose there are some who oppose the idea of the island expanding. Not everyone is so willing to accept change.” “What do you have planned?” I asked, taking a sip of my brandy. “Right now I’m simply trying to put Adermoor Cove on the map for everyone to see. I have a few projects going on at once. Myself and a few people on the village committee are organizing a fall festival. There will be cider and festivities. Something to bring people out into the open air. Also I have hired a contractor from Bangor. He and a team of people are building some new homes.” I was impressed. Agamemnon clearly had things mapped out. He was driven and had a vision with every intention to make it a reality. In this case I could see where he got his name: He was every bit like the Greek king, a conqueror. I still wasn’t sure if I liked him or not but I had a newfound respect for him. How could I not respect a man with such vision? More questions sprang to mind. Why had Agamemnon chosen this place, this island of all things? There was a whole world out there. When I summoned the courage to ask him this question, he merely smiled and said, “Work for me and find out.” I opened my mouth to reply. What I meant to say I don’t know, but before I could speak the doors to the kitchen sprang open and a man dressed in a white apron with a net on top of his head came out, pushing a trolley. There were several steaming bowls on top. This must be Barbosa. “First course,” he said with dramatic flourish, speaking with a French accent that was obviously fake. Tessa stepped carefully around him and passed out the silverware. Barbosa explained we were starting tonight’s festivities with cottle soup, a dish common in Ireland. I knew it well for my mother made if often. Every so often Tessa would peek back in the dining room. When our glasses were empty she would refill them and bring up fresh bottles of wine from the cellar. By the time the main course was served, a delicious lamb pie with roasted asparagus, I was positively drunk. Over the course of our meal the conversation turned more casual. Julia asked me if I enjoyed going to the cinema. I told her I did. She then suggested to Agamemnon he build a cinema. “Surely that would make the villagers happy,” she said. “You can never truly keep northerners happy.” Agamemnon quickly glanced at me. “No offense meant.” “None taken.” I was just enjoying the spectacle before me. Agamemnon had had more wine than I; the spirits had loosened his tongue considerably. After the table had been cleared off I leaned back in my seat. I had never felt so full. I would have to pay Barbosa my compliments before I left. I tried to stand. The world waved before me. “Good God, I’m drunk,” I heard myself say and laughed. “Then there’s no sense in you leaving,” said Agamemnon. “You should stay the night.” “Yes,” I agreed automatically. “I think that would be best.” “I will have Tessa help you to your room,” said Julia. Before I could object, Julia lifted a small bell and twinkled it three times. When Tessa came to her side, she said, “Will you help Thomas to his room, please? He’s had quite a bit to drink tonight.” “Yes ma’am. This way Mr. Umstadt.” She gently held my arm leading me out of the dining room. I shuffled, everything swimming before me. Every now and then Tessa encouraged me like a mother coaxing a toddler who had just learned to walk. If it wasn’t for the fact I was so tired from the drink I would have felt mortified. Once in my room, I thanked Tessa and wished her a good night. I was glad to have the room to myself so I could regain some of my dignity. That night I didn’t fall asleep right away. I listened to the sound of the ocean outside; the crash of the ocean. It was a beautiful, soothing noise. Outside the window I could see the half-crescent moon. I went over the night in my head, recounting every detail. I had actually enjoyed the dinner, the company, and the conversation. Yet there was something about it that made it all seemed like a facade put on for my benefit. One detail stuck out in my mind: Through the whole dinner, which had lasted for almost two hours, Agamemnon had not held hands or exchanged a loving glance with his wife. Not once. They’d looked like two people who couldn’t wait to get away from each other. … The next morning I went downstairs to the dining room to find Agamemnon sitting at the table with a sheaf of paper before him. Tessa was pouring him a cup of coffee from a silver pot. She smiled at me. “Would you like some coffee, Mr. Umstadt?” “Thomas, please. At thirty-four I’m too young to be referred to as Mister. And coffee would be lovely.” I sat down and took a sip of my coffee. It was good; strong but not too strong. Agamemnon looked up from his papers and studied me. He was wearing a pair of spectacles and already dressed for the day. The glasses gave him a scholarly look that was very appealing to the eye. He was quite a handsome man. Yet the glasses could not hide the dark circles under his eyes. “You look like you had a good night’s worth of sleep,” he said, looking back down at his papers. “I did. It’s really quite beautiful here.” He nodded in agreement and winced while rubbing at the back of his neck. “It is. I, on the other hand, did not sleep so well. Hardly a wink. Too much on my mind, I suppose. Would you like some breakfast? Tell Tessa what you want. Barbosa is already back in the kitchen.” “I’ll take some toast,” I told Tessa. She nodded. “I’ll let Barbosa know.” Agamemnon and I were alone for the time being. I looked around. “Where’s Julia?” “She went to the beach to start working on her tan, I expect,” he replied flippantly. “She has a photo shoot coming up in Los Angeles.” Remembering their lack of affection last night, I said, “She is an exquisite woman. You must love her immensely.” “More on some days than others,” he sniffed. Was that bitterness I heard in his voice? I decided then it was time to bring up what was on my mind. I’d spent the time it took while getting dressed weighing the decision. “I’ll do it,” I said. He looked up, eyebrow arched. “Do what?” “I’ll write your book.” He nodded as if he’d expected nothing less. “I will have a contract for you to sign before the day is done. How long are you to stay at The Clam’s Pearl?” “Until the end of the week.” “When the week is up I want you to move into the bedroom you stayed in last night. There’s no sense in paying money to stay at the inn when we have a spare bedroom.” “Alright.” He outstretched his hand, taking me utterly by surprise. “I look forward to working with you, Thomas Umstadt.” I hesitated. Did I really want to do this? Because once I signed the contract I would held to it. There would be no going back. I did want to do it. I can’t say why, I just did. There was a desire to sift through the man’s life, to tell his story, even if it was under his name and not my own. I shook his hand. One pump, two pump, three, back to center. “I look forward to working with you as well,” I said.
  7. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 20

    I didn’t tell Calvin and Vivienne everything of course - like the fact I’m supposed to ghostwrite Agamemnon’s autobiography or the strong physical attraction I felt towards him. There are just some things better left in the dark. Once finished with my breakfast I wished the beautiful couple a good day and left the kitchen to find Margaret. I knocked on her office door, which hung ajar. She was sitting at the desk with a pair of bifocals on. She looked up, smiling, and asked me if there was anything I needed. I asked her if it was possible to get to the lighthouse. “Yes,” she said, “by vehicle. But on foot...not so easy as it’s on the other side of the island. You could do it I’m sure but it would be no simple journey.” This last part she said with a teasing quirk of her mouth that only heightened my appreciation of her. Still, I felt my heart drop. “I don’t have a car. Is there anyway you could call me a cab?” “Certainly.” While Margaret made the phone call, I hurried back to my room to finish sprucing up. I wanted to look immaculate for my meeting with Agamemnon. The last time we’d met I’d been caught off guard; I was not at my best. Today I would be. Today he would see I was someone who was respectable and deserved respect. It wasn’t long before the cab arrived. The driver, an old gap toothed man with springy white hair, nodded at me as I approached the car with my briefcase. He was dressed in a dark suit that was meant to convey professionalism I suppose, but I found it irrationally unsettling. It was reminiscent of New York and only seemed alien to me in this small village. Soon, however, I found my unease misplaced as we putted along the road, the engine yee-yawwing as we climbed the hill where a church overlooked the village and the ocean beyond. The cabbie - “Call be Kirby,” he’d said, shaking my hand furiously before climbing into the driver’s seat - was amiable enough. “So you have business with Agamemnon, eh?” he said, what few strands of hair he had left flapping in the wind. I had to keep my hand on top of my hat to keep it from blowing away. The dirt road unraveling before us was bumpy and uneven. “Y-Yes,” I managed to say. “Are you a contractor?” “Pardon? No. I’m a writer.” Kirby studied me, his eye jaundiced yet sharp, as if wanting to confirm for himself if this was true. After a moment, seeming satisfied, he nodded. “Yes, ya have the look of an educated man. Worked with him long, have ya?” “No, I just met him a few day ago.” “Great man, he is. I’ve lived here since I was a boy, when this island was nothin’ more than a few shacks by the shore. He’s going to turn this place into something, he is.” “You sound like you respect him,” I said, hearing some doubt in my voice. To my relief Kirby seemed definite. “Who wouldn’t? He’s completely respectable.” I turned my attention to the passing trees and wildlife. It was strange being in a place so utterly verdant, where the vegetation grew without restraint. In New York, it wasn’t so: Everything was built on top of everything, condensed. It would be a shame to see all this primal beauty torn down for the sake of Agamemnon’s vision. I hoped he possessed the sense to see the appeal in the wildlife, that some of it would remain untouched. Furthermore I wondered what it was everyone saw in him, something I wasn’t able to see. Perhaps my judgement was clouded by my middle class upbringing. I had to earn what I obtained - not like Agamemnon who came from old money. My parents had worked hard for their life of comfort and there had been times growing up when I’d seen that life came into the crosshairs of gunfire. But the people of Adermoor Cove loved Agamemnon. So far, those I’d met within the last day only expressed awe and high praise. Was there something I wasn’t seeing - or simply refusing to see it? My thoughts were interrupted by the sudden shuddering of the engine. The sound reminded me of choking on something. Kirby cursed, popping the clutch rapidly. I stayed where I was, wishing there was something I could do, but not sure what. So I remained silent, not wanting to make the moment worse by asking useless questions. “This happens all the time,” Kirby said apologetically. He showed me his rotting teeth in a smile that was meant to comfort, but failed. “I keep fixing it and it still does this...” Then why did you bring me all the way out here? I asked silently. It was impossible to see. Exhaust fumes blinded me, smothered me with a smell not unlike burnt leather. I could not see ahead of me yet the feeling of motion alluded that we were still moving. “Stop!” I managed to cough. “For God sakes, stop! I can’t see the road-” Kirby must have hit the brakes because I was suddenly thrown forward. I managed to grab the dashboard and stop myself from slamming headfirst into it. I remained still, almost afraid to move, waiting until the fumes cleared to see what damage had been done. Slowly they did clear, like something alive. We were still facing the road. The vegetation had cleared for the most part and I could see the lighthouse in the distance, like a beacon of hope, white against a bright blue sky. I stared at it, transfixed. It was beautiful. Suddenly I just wanted to get out of the car and head toward it. It looked safe. I didn’t want to be in this car with Kirby. I didn’t realize Kirby had gotten out of the car until he threw the hood up, obscuring the bottom half of the lighthouse. More fumes rose into the air, coiling like snakes. A flurry of curses flew from his lips. Occasionally I saw flashes of his liver-spotted scalp. I fumbled for the door handle and climbed out with a grunt. My shiny dress shoes hit dirt and I walked around to the front of the car, the warmth of the sun at my back. “She’s a gonner,” said Kirby. His eyes were narrow slits. He rubbed a wrinkled hand over the white bristles that covered his face. “Are you sure?” I asked. I wasn’t really surprised. This is just my luck, I thought. Of course something like this would happen. “Positive,” he said. I turned to face the lighthouse. Though I could see it, it was still a good mile and a half away. A good walk. I hated the idea of dirtying myself up after spending a good chunk of my morning making myself look presentable but I doubted Kirby was in good enough shape to make the journey. But if I hurried, I could get there, tell Agamemnon what happened, and he could send for someone to help Kirby. Not a bad idea. When I brought the idea by Kirby, he simply nodded. “You’re spryer. Could probably get there faster without me tagging along beside ya.” “Will you be okay out here?” I felt ridiculous asking but the idea of just leaving him out here left a guilty hole in the pit of my stomach. Leaning against the smoking car, he raised his arms into the air. “Nuthin’ out here but us. I’ll be fine.” I looked around. There were no cottages in sight. There was just us, the lighthouse, and the seagulls swooping in the sky. I nodded, my mind made up. I went around the side of the cab and grabbed my briefcase. I promised Kirby I would hurry as quickly as I could and set out for the lighthouse. … It wasn’t long before I began to regret my attempt at heroism. Sweat was running down my back and soaking through the fabric of my shirt. My feet were beginning to hurt. Loafers were made for style not for walking. Twice my leg twisted and I almost stumbled, cursing, more out of embarrassment than anything else. I kept looking sheepishly over my shoulder, expecting to see Kirby laughing at me when in fact he was stretched on top of the hood of the car, hat placed over his eyes as if this was just another day at the beach. I shook my head and murmured, “Crazy old man.” The lighthouse was still just straight ahead, unmoving. In a moment when I had never felt so out of place, a stranger in a strange land, it was a comfort. Before long I could hear the sound of waves crashing against the cliff wall. Up ahead there were two cars parked in front of the lighthouse. Did one of them belong to Agamemnon? Was he even home? I hoped to God not. Not before I had a chance to freshen up...again. At long last I reached the front door. My thighs ached. I was not used to such exercise; in New York City travel was so much easier. I took a moment to catch my breath, staring at the tower which was just a few yards away, immense and impressive. A small dirt path led to it. The door opened and a woman appeared in the doorway. Before I could compose myself, she asked, “Can I help you?” I simply stood there, feeling like an intruder. I suppose I should have been relieved she wasn’t pointing a double-barrel shotgun at my chest. She was beautiful, with golden-blonde hair, high cheekbones, and a petite nose. A short, narrow-waisted woman dressed in a gold top and a matching skirt. There was only one person she could be: Julia Apoulos, Agamemnon’s beautiful wife. “I’m Thomas Umstadt,” I said, struggling not to stumble over my own words. “From New York? My husband came to see you, yes?” “He did.” She smiled. “He’s been expecting you.” He has? I felt that old helpless fury I’d felt the first time I met Agamemnon. He just thought he had everything figured out, didn’t he? Before the emotion could bleed through on my face I composed myself. “There’s a man back that way.” I turned so she could see the car and Kirby, still laying on top his car. “The cab broke down on the way here. He’s not dead...he’s just...” Watching Julia’s face, I felt the words die in my throat. She was glancing at the car, shielding her face from the sun, but there was no emotion on her face. I thought of Agamemnon, his reservation, and wondered if she’d adopted his demeanor after a time of being married to him. A feeling of uneasiness crept over me...and perhaps dread. After a time it seemed, she nodded. “I will have my chauffeur take care of it. Come in, won’t you? You must be baking in the heat.” She smiled and this time there was emotion in her face, warmth. The feeling of uneasiness ebbed away and all at once I felt silly. Very silly. I tipped my hat to her and followed her inside.
  8. ValentineDavis21

    The Flesheater

    It was difficult for Maeglin to walk: His legs were full of pins and needles and it was hard to balance himself with his arms being pinned behind his back. He winced, hating the smell of his own waste, the feeling of it brushing up against his skin. The orcs were laughing and he imagined it was at the expense of his humiliation. Once in the center of the camp they were surrounded by orcs. A massive hand shoved Maeglin roughly to the ground. He fell over with a grunt and tried to catch his breath, only to feel the palm of a hand slap hard against the back of his head. Stars burst behind his eyes. He shook himself out of his momentary daze and made himself sit up straight. The only relief there was to be had from being out of their cage was the warmth of the fire. The relief, however, was short lived. A humongous shadow loomed over him, blocking out the moon. Maeglin looked up, up, up, into the eyes of the biggest orc he’d ever seen. The Flesheater stood close to eight feet tall. His head was the size of a small boulder. Fingerbones hung from his sharp-tipped ears; Maeglin couldn’t tell if the fingerbones were human or elven. Muscles bulged underneath the chief’s thick, leathery flesh like tectonic plates. The only clothing he wore was a kilt; Maeglin realized, with horror, it was made of flesh. Strapped to the Flesheater’s broad back was a massive hammer. “Spirits of Valhalla,” Valyuun whispered from beside him. “Have mercy on us...” The orc chief laughed. The sound reverberated from the pit of his stomach; the sound was like the earth parting, mocking, full of cruelty. Valyuun sucked in a breath and flinched away from the sound. The Flesheater stooped down and wrenched Valyuun’s head back by his hair. Valyuun whimpered, eyes clenched shut like a child who tried to tell themselves it was all just a dream. “They don’t care,” the Flesheater said in the Old Tongue. “Your Spirits have turned their faces away from you.” He released Valyuun and rose to his feet. His blood-red eyes scanned the terrified faces before him before turning to the rest of the camp. “The three counselors we’ll keep and give to Paladin to do as he wishes...but the other two...” He traced a pointed nail along Maeglin’s jawline. Maeglin instinctively flinched away only to feel a boot kick him hard in the tailbone. He sucked in a breath, unable to scream. Tears sprang to his eyes. Had he ever felt so weak, so helpless? “The other two we’ll eat,” said the orc chief. Barbaric cheers from every side rattled Maeglin’s skull. This can’t be happening, he thought, surely not. He felt his resolve slipping lower and lower with each passing second. When I imagined dying for my king this was not the scenario I envisioned: to be dinner. He opened his eyes as a terrible squealing sound came from beside him. He jerked his head to see what was going on. Valyuun was being yanked to his feet. Next to the mountainous orcs he looked like a child, struggling to break free to no avail. “Maeglin!” he sobbed. “Maeglin do something!” Maeglin tried to rise to his feet only to feel hands clamp around his arms and shove him roughly back down into the dirt. He heard not the laughs of the orcs - felt not the kicks of their feet. For the moment he was deaf and numb. The only thing he was aware of was the sight of his ward being dragged - marched - away from him. The elf who had stood by his side since he was an adolescent, after his parents had been killed by, coincidentally enough, orc raiders. Maeglin could view Valyuun as nothing else but his son. Now they were dragging his son to a wooden post. An orc stood to the side, uncoiling a long hank of rope. Realizing just exactly what they meant to do only made Maeglin struggle all the harder. Somewhere deep inside his own terror and impending madness, Maeglin thought, This is what a parent must feel when they watch their children being harmed. There is no worse feeling. Orcs surrounded his adopted son, ripping at his clothes, tearing it away effortlessly until Valyuun stood completely naked. The Flesheater did not partake in the commotion but watched, chortling amusedly. Every few seconds or so he would glance at Maeglin and the other prisoners as if to gloat. He was gloating. Maeglin, now too exhausted to fight anymore, could only watch as they tied the naked Valyuun to the post. His flesh glowed in the night, in the dancing light thrown by the fire. The nose-hair burning smell of oil stung Maeglin’s nose as an orc emptied a barrel of the flammable liquid over his ward. Valyuun sputtered, tried to turn his head away, choked as the liquid entered his nose and throat. Another orc stuck a torch into the flames and approached the stake. Valyuun had stopped screaming, stopped struggling; perhaps he sensed as Maeglin sensed there was no use. The Flesheater was right. The spirits of Valhalla did not care, had turned their attention elsewhere. Valyuun now looked at Maeglin. Maeglin would never forget the look of accusation there: You failed me. I put my trust in you and you failed me. Then the burning head of the torch touched the straw. The straw immediately went up in flames. The fire itself burned with a greedy fervor, as if sensing prey. Smoke began to rise in the air as the fire spread. Maeglin felt a merciful numbness take a hold of him. He gave himself into it freely, unable to face the bitter reality of his own failures. Soon it will be your turn, he told himself. Tomorrow or the next day, whenever they’re done with Valyuun, they’ll tie you up to the stake and burn you. It was the only comfort he had now. The flames engulfed Valyuun, starting at his feet and crawling upwards. The sounds of Valyuun’s screams filled the night. There was no getting away from it. Maeglin was unable to put his hands over his ears. Not even closing his eyes provided the faintest sense of relief. Worse yet was the smell of burning meat, the way it made his belly rumble sickeningly with hunger - he hadn’t eaten since arriving at Penthorpe Keep, a night that had happened centuries ago now it seemed. A stray ember touched his cheek but he felt not the pain. Maeglin could not say how long he knelt on the ground, in his own shit, waiting for Maeglin to die. At some point it seemed all was silent - Valyuun had stopped screaming. His eyes focused on the stake and the thing he saw before him did not look like Valyuun at all. What he saw was a blackened charred thing without a face or any other defining features. The arms were still bound to the post, raised above its head. The orcs gathered around it, the chief at the front of the crowd as was their custom. The Flesheater prodded experimentally at the charred meat. “Crispy,” he said. More growling laughter. Maeglin hated them all more than he had ever hated anything in his long life. Sharpened daggers cut into Valyuun. Smoking hunks of meat fell into bowls, the meat juicy and slightly pink. The orcs were not picky, seeming not to care what part of the body they were getting - it all went down and came out the same. By the time they all hunkered around the fire, grunting greedily, Maeglin had ceased caring about his life. About any of it. What followed was a sort of oblivion in which his eyes were open but he was not awake, was not thinking, was only alive in the most artificial sense. The thing that brought him to was the sound of a bowl being dropped in front of him. He was still sitting before the fire but his arms and legs were free, no longer restrained. How long had he just sat here, doing nothing, when he could have made a run for it? He looked around, at the pale, sickened faces of Althon, Alagossa, and Viktor and saw they were just as dazed as he was. Then he saw what was in the bowl. Valyuun, he thought stupidly. That’s Valyuun they’re trying to feed me. It was impossible to tell just what part of Valyuun it was. The smell made his mouth water. He felt tempted to sweep the bowl away, to regain a shred of the dignity he’d lost. Then he saw Viktor reach into his own bowl and begin to stuff the meat into his mouth. No, you bastard! Maeglin tried to scream, that’s Valyuun you’re eating! But the words caught in his throat. Worse yet, Alagossa gave him a look full of sorrow and helplessness, silently apologizing, before doing the same. … Skold knew he was too late. Someone had died. It took him and his men a day and half to reach the camp, a day-and-a-half too long. From where he stood, hidden behind a copse of trees, he could see the dying remains of a fire and a charred corpse. Who it might be Skold could only guess. No one was visible. The orcs would no doubt be sleeping in their tents. If they’d been smart they would have kept moving instead of laying around languorously. Still, if Skold had any hope of raiding through the camp and finding the counselors and Maeglin - if they were even still alive - he would have to do so quietly and quickly. For this reason he wore black robes underneath his furs and not his armor, leaving him vulnerable to attack but allowing him to move quicker and more quietly. He glanced at Eolyn who stood yards away, a beautiful spectre pronounced only by her pale hair and glowing cat-like eyes. She nodded at him, saying many things at once: The counselors were alive and if they were going to make a rescue attempt now was the time. Skold waved his hand at Konstantine and Sonja and together, the four of them slipped stealthily through the dark. The other men would hang back, only interceding if absolutely necessary. The archers would remain at a distance, retaining the tactical advantage of higher ground. If we get caught it won’t matter, Skold thought, darting out from behind the cover of the trees. Suddenly he regretted not bringing more men with him - but if he had, and they failed anyway, then there would be no one left at Penthorpe Keep. King Yaldon’s army would have fallen in less than two days and his wayward son would win the war plain and simple. Once the counselors were free and secure, Sonja and Konstantine were to start leading the counselors back in the direction of Penthorpe Keep immediately while Skold and the rest tried to buy as much time as possible. Eolyn led them through the camp, past tents made of various animal hides. Skold scanned the darkened entryways, listening for signs of movement, willing the orcs to stay asleep. He was reassured, if only a little, by the audible snores coming from some of the tents. At the edge of the camp he spotted a cage sitting atop of a wooden cart. He counted four shadowy outlines inside, slumped over, their arms behind them. He couldn’t stop the sense of relief from flooding him. He recognized the three counselors, and Maeglin. However, there was one missing. Valyuun. Skold suspected he knew who the charred remains at the stake belonged to. With a signal of hand gestures he motioned for Sonja, Konstantine, and Eolyn to stop and keep an eye out while he worked on freeing the prisoners. There was no time to alert Maeglin and the others to his presence. Skold produced two pins from the folds of his robes and started working on the rusty lock. Within half a minute he threw the lock to the ground and opened the cage, slipping silently inside. “Skold?” Alagossa whispered, making him cringe inside. “Aye,” he whispered. Tearfully: “Oh thank the spirits of Valhalla...” “Shhh, you must be quiet. When your wrists are free and I get you all out you must follow the others to the trees. You must do it quickly and quietly, do you understand?” She nodded. He cut through her bindings and made his way to the other two counselors. Althon and Viktor said nothing, only nodding their appreciation. The three counselors climbed silently out of the wagon without a word. Skold signalled for Sonja, Konstantine, and Eolyn to start leading them away from the camp. The more of a headstart they had the better. Skold turned his attention to Maeglin. At first he thought Maeglin was dead: the elf had not moved once or showed any signs of being aware of Skold’s presence. For a moment Skold contemplated leaving Maeglin and making a run for the cover of the Swineshead Wood. He had what he’d come here for. Nothing else mattered. Still, teeth gritted, muscles tense, he found himself reaching for Maeglin’s neck, to feel his pulse. “You’ve always had impeccable timing,” Maeglin said in a slurred, sarcastic voice. His shadow head inclined towards Skold. Skold bit back a curse. “I thought you were dead.” Maeglin chuckled, a dry, weedy sign. “I’m not, thought I want to be.” “I’m sorry about Valyuun. I know you cared deeply about him.” “Oh you saw him,” Maeglin said, sounding genuinely surprised. He’s lost his mind, Skold thought. He’s lost his mind from shock. “I’m surprised there’s anything left of him. It’s nice of you to say you’re sorry though I know you don’t mean it. You’re incapable of feeling anything. I always thought your father was the cruelest bastard but you’ve got him beat, yes you do...You should’ve left me here to die once you had the counselors free.” “I thought about it.” Skold cut through the last of the rope and helped the older elf to his feet. “You smell like dung.” “I shit myself.” Maeglin sounded apologetic. And then: “Why didn’t you? Why didn’t leave me?” “I guess I was having an odd moment of compassion. Now stop your fool’s babbling and let’s go.” “Go where?” said a deep voice, in the Old Language. Skold cursed silently. He turned and faced the hulking outline of the Flesheater. Orcs lined him on both sides. Skold had been so focused on Maeglin he hadn’t heard them - any of them. The Flesheater gripped his massive warhammer with one hand. Skold saw no choice but to face the orc chief head on, come hell or high water. He helped Maeglin off the cart and leapt to the ground. “Finally we meet,” Skold said casually. “I was a little disappointed not to see you at Penthorpe Keep. Do you always let your grunts do the fighting for you?” The orc chief shrugged, unfazed by Skold’s taunt. “Battle tactics, patience, make sure your enemies can’t see you coming. There’s nothing like parting skulls with my hammer but I place equal weight on using my brain as well - a mistake many orc chiefs have made.” Skold smirked. At this point he was simply trying to stall the orc chief. Each passing second was a chance for Sonja and Konstantine to get the counselors closer to safety. “Very commendable. Now I hate to cut things short, but I need to cut and run. There are things that need to be done, I’m sure you understand.” He raised his head to the sky and shouted, “NOW!” Shadowy shapes darted out from the bare trees. Skold shoved Maeglin towards them. “Go!” he shouted. “Put as much distance between yourself and this camp as you can!” Maeglin tottered a few steps in the other direction but only stared back, looking reluctant to part with Skold. Skold scowled, frustrated with Maeglin’s slack-jawed stupidity. “Stay and die then and join your ward!” It was a low blow but it woke Maeglin from his stupor and got him moving. Skold spared another second to watch him go before turning his attention to the orc chief just in time to see the Flesheater swing his massive hammer at a passing elf. The force of the blow crushed the elf’s head into the rest of the body. Skold’s ears pricked up at the sickening wet sound of crushing bone. The orc chief wrenched his hammer free. Bits of scalp and hair clung to the hammerhead. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Skold knew his chances of winning a fight against such a large foe were futile - he could only hope to use his speed and smallness to his advantage. But Skold had never cared about his own wellbeing. If I’m going to die let it be while doing what I do best and love the most. Unsheathing two daggers with six inch blades from his robes he blew a whistle at the orc chief. The Flesheater turned, broad shoulders heaving up and down. He laughed at the elf. “You must have some balls elf, if you think you can take me one-on-one,” said the Flesheater. Now it was Skold’s turn to laugh. “Actually I don’t. My father had my genitals cut off.” For a second, just a second, the Flesheater hesitated, caught off by Skold’s comeback. Then, with a loud, thunderous bellow, he charged, the hammer raised above his head. Skold whirled around and ran in the other direction, heading for the cart where Maeglin and the counselors had been caged. An orc stepped in his way to intercept him but Skold was faster. With a slash from both daggers the orc fell to its knees, black blood spurting from its neck. Arrows whistled from the sky, digging themselves into the Flesheater’s back, and arm. Each arrow that hit their mark only seemed to make him angrier. He ripped them out, throwing them easily to the ground. Smoke rose into the air as the basilisk venom seared his flesh. However this did not stop the orc’s pursuit. It would have driven a normal orc to their knees but with an orc of the Flesheater’s stature it seemed to have little affect. Skold risked a glance over his shoulder. The orc chief was nearly on top of him, raising the hammer above his head, now bringing it down. Before the hammerhead could flatten his head into a pitted ruin Skold fell on his back and used the momentum of his body to slide underneath the cart. The hammerhead slammed into the ground hard enough to make it shake. The Flesheater let out a roar of frustration; with a sideswipe of the warhammer he sent the cart flying end over end. Knives flashing, Skold lunged forward, a blur of black and silver. Like a dancer he slashed at the orc chief, at his arms, at whatever vulnerable piece of flesh he could reach, ducking and weaving the orc’s attack. However due to the orc’s size, for every attack the chief attempted, Skold had to match it with three in order to be able to inflictany real damage. Quite suddenly the orc chief changed tactics. While he feigned a swing with one hand, he lashed out with the other. His fist connected with Skold’s face and sent the elf stumbling back. Stunned, Skold was unable to regain his balance. He fell back into a tent and sent it collapsing to the ground. Blood, hot and coppery, flooded from his nose. He could feel it trickling down the back of his throat, making him gag. Tears fell down his cheeks, mixing with the blood. For a momentarily he was blind and deaf. Vibrations from the ground were the only sign of the orc chief’s approach he was aware of. Skold tried to get to his feet; they betrayed him, crumbling out from underneath, so he crawled. The Flesheater kicked him over. Skold rolled over on his side just in time to see the Flesheater raise the hammer over his head for the fatal blow. “What, no begging for your life?” the orc chief asked in the Old Language. Skold spat blood onto the Flesheater’s flesh-made kilt. He gathered his magic, waiting for the proper moment to strike. “Whatever is left of you I will enjoy feasting on,” said the orc chief. Before Skold could unleash a defensive spell, a dark shape leapt through the air onto his back, a shrill howl emitting from its throat. Skold watched, fascinated, confused. Whatever it was that had come to his rescue, it wasn’t alone. There were more coming from all sides of the camp, coming out of the trees. They had a strange, drunken way of moving, as if their joints were all twisted and wrong. Then he smelled the rot and knew. Revenants. Corpses resurrected by death magic. By necromancy. Hands grabbed from behind and wrenched him to his feet. Skold snarled, ready to defend himself. His daggers were gone but he still had magic and his own body at his disposal. “It’s me!” Maeglin hissed. “We need to go!” Skold nodded numbly but mostly watched the commotion happening around him. The dead were not attacking his men, only the orcs. Why? Why only the orcs? Three of them were clinging to the Flesheater now, tearing at him with their jaws. He twisted and roared, throwing them off of them, crushing them with his hammer; but for every revenant he crushed one or two more would swarm him. Though he had seen them at work before and fought them, he was in awe at seeing such power, the power to animate the dead at work, to use them as a weapon. No wonder the fae had outlawed the practice of Death Magic. Such power mocked the natural laws, corrupting the wheel of life and death. Many of the orcs stood and fought, but some Skold saw, were running, deserting their chief. Assuming they were caught, just as it was with the elves, they would be executed. But unlike with the elves it would not be through simple beheading but through more agonizing means. Skold didn’t want to leave. He wanted to stay and watch. But what will happen then, he wondered, when they’re done tearing the orcs apart limb from limb? Will they turn on us like flesh hungry beasts or will they heed their master’s call first? “Elfling,” said a deep, familiar voice. But not in his head. He was hearing it, actually hearing it - and Maeglin could hear it too because he turned with Skold towards the sound. The necromancer stood just yards away, as solid and real as Skold himself. He was not as tall or broad as the orc chief but he was still impressively built: Well over six feet tall, closer to seven; broad in the chest and shoulder, displaying a muscular build, even under the robes he wore. Stubble grew along the the jawline of his face. His features were hard, unmerciful as if carved from the roughest stone, the nose long and narrow, the eyebrows bushy. The eyes, as yellow as the sun, burned into Skold with an intensity unlike anything Skold had ever felt before. His head was completely shaved, easily showing the sharp-tipped ears. The necromancer was an elf. Skold was overcome by a burning lust. Since he had no cock there was simply a burning feeling in his belly, a slackness in his face that was usually completely composed. His mouth hung slightly open, his eyes half open. He began to walk towards the necromancer. His head danced with images: the necromancer stripping him naked and fucking him right there, in the cold, in the middle of the camp while everyone slaughtered each other. There was no resistance to the emotional arousal he felt, only a yearning to give into it, to embrace it. This is what it feels like to feel, to be awake, to be a live - truly alive, he thought. The necromancer seemed to read Skold’s very thoughts for he smiled and said in his powerful, resonating voice, “Not yet, elfling. Soon - very soon. Soon we will be conjoined in body, mind, and soul. We already are.” Skold didn’t know what the necromancer meant and didn’t care. Through the smokescreen of lust he felt a strong stab of disappointment - it was not unlike the feeling he got whenever Solomon degraded him in front of his mother and sister for not being more like his father, back when Skold had known what it felt like to feel pain. The pain of rejection. No, he wanted to say, if only he could find the words. I want you now. I need you now. But the necromancer was stepping back, receding into shadow as if he hadn’t been there at all, as if only a ghost or a figment of Skold’s imagination; and now Maeglin was yanking at Skold’s arm, pulling him away, the distance between Skold and the necromancer becoming a river, an abyss that Skold feared he would never have the opportunity to cross again. The camp was now overrun with the living dead. Skold could see the Flesheater on the other side, making his way for the trees, shouting for whoever would follow him to retreat. It’s time I start doing the same thing, he thought. Skold shouted for his own men, now moving on his own, without Maeglin pulling at him; only the words sounded as if they were coming from a stranger and without the usual power. His voice sounded half-hearted, dreamy. And like someone in a dream he ran after Maeglin, weaving through the trees that towered over him like skeletons. He felt like he’d taken himself prisoner and thrown away the key. ... For a time Skold felt completely disoriented. Time had displaced itself. He spent the next few moments in his head, trying to reconstruct the last few days, put everything into order while his body worked autonomously. He was convinced it was three days ago, and it wasn’t an orc camp he was running from but the village of Boar’s Head; the siege of Penthorpe Keep hadn’t happened yet which meant Valyuun was still alive and he hadn’t encountered the necromancer and his army of the undead. The necromancer. Soon we will be conjoined in body, mind, and soul. We already are. He was so lost in his own thoughts he almost read head first into Maeglin. Maeglin had fallen to his knees, panting, chest heaving. Even in the dark Skold could see the sheen of sweat beading his forehead, the dark circles around his eyes. The older elf looked not much different from the revenants, the ones not too advanced in decay. “I need a...minute,” Maeglin panted. “Just a...minute.” “We don’t have a minute,” Skold said. Hadn’t he said something similar while fleeing from Boar’s Head? His usually eidetic was failing him. “We have to keep going.” “Quit hounding at me you heartless creature!” Maeglin snapped. There was genuine anger in his voice, something Skold couldn’t remember having heard before. Skold relented, leaning against a tree. He too, was tired. Once again he’d gone days without sleep, running from one battle and charging into the next. When I get back to Penthorpe Keep I’m giving the title of general to someone else. I don’t want it. Brittle twigs crunched underfoot. The pale faces of fellow elvesmaterialized out of the dark. Slowly more gathered. After a dozen appeared, Skold said, “Is this all?” “It would seem so,” said a female orc. There was a gash that went from the edge of her cheekbone to the edge of her nose; the wound didn’t look deep and the blood had already begun to clot. She didn’t seem to have any other injuries. “The rest must’ve perished.” She shrugged as if to say: It could be worse - we could all be dead. Skold had no feelings about it whatsoever. The rescue mission had been a success, assuming Sonja, Konstantine, and the counselors hadn’t been intercepted in some fashion. His nose burned. His face was covered in blood. Along the way to the orc’s camp they had come across a half-frozen stream, now several miles away, There he planned to stop if only to wipe the blood from his face. “Let’s get moving,” he said, ignoring the groans coming from what remained of those he’d brought with him. He walked quickly, eager to get out of the cold, eager to get back to Penthorpe Keep. It would be well into tomorrow before that happened. They hadn’t brought horses for need of silence. Now he regretted not having brought them. Maeglin jogged to catch up, his face stricken. Skold already knew what was coming and dreaded it. “What happened with you back at the orc camp?” Maeglin asked. Skold feigned ignorance. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Maeglin snorted. “Do not insult my intelligence with mockery. You know exactly what I’m talking about. What happened with the necromancer? Did he put you under some kind of spell? I’ve never seen you act that way before...not with anyone...” Act like what? Skold almost asked, but stopped himself. He didn’t like where this conversation was heading. “I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it.” He began to walk faster, wanting to put distance between himself and Maeglin. Maeglin, however, had no inclination to leave the subject alone. “Do not avoid me, Skold! Answer me...” Skold stopped and gave Maeglin a stare cold enough to stop the older elf in his tracks. What Maeglin saw in those silver eyes was the promise of murder...his murder…if he did not leave the subject alone. Though he knew he was older he did not have Skold’s skill. Skold was unusually strong for an elf his age, to the point of being unnatural, even by fae standards. Up against Skold, Maeglin knew he would lose. Plus there had always been...something wrong with Skold, something not altogether there. He remembered how Skold had not shed a single tear for Lea, his beautiful mother. How he’d laughed when Maeglin himself told Skold and Sonja their father had died; he’d laughed as if it was the funniest joke he’d ever heard, as if it was the best new in the world. With this knowledge, Maeglin felt his bowels loosen once more, threatening to betray him. Not wanting to feel the shame of humiliation once more he simply nodded and let Skold walk ahead of him. ...
  9. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 9: The Prophet

    Everyone inside the church froze, eyes agleam with anticipation. Even the children had gone quiet. It was almost unnatural, this silence. Dionysia’s heart fought to burst its way out of her chest. Here it was, the moment when she would finally get to see the Prophet in the flesh. And why not? It was the least God could do for them after all the pain and heartache her father and she had gone through. The knight was staring at something no one else could see. His face betrayed emotion. Then a boy, not much older than Dionysia herself, walked to the front of the stage. He was dressed in white robes and satin slippers. His hair was dark brown and long, nearly touching his fingers. His features were graceful, almost androgynous: narrow nose, high cheekbones, soft mouth. His slippered feet made no sound as he approached the wooden pulpit. A few heads turned to the person sitting next to them to whisper excitedly but mostly everyone was still shocked into awe. What Dionysia felt was scorn. Surely this...this boy could not be the Prophet, the leader God had sent to lead the human race to the alliance with the fae. He’s young, so young, she thought. Then she remembered the tale of David and Goliath, a tale Phil had told to Dionysia and her sisters quite often. “If you ever doubt God’s power, always remember the tale of David and Goliath,” he would say, most of the times as he was tucking them all into bed, his face swathed in candlelight. “He started out as just a shepard. Man always judges by the outward looks, but God looks at the heart. It was Daniel, through the will of God, who defeated the giant. All because God saw something within Daniel we might overlook.” Dionysia’s cheeks flushed with guilt. She pushed her doubtful thoughts away and concentrated on what was happening before her. The knight knelt down on his knees. His severe face was fixed with a naked look of exaltation. Dionysia would have found his expression rather comical if not for the severity of the moment. The Prophet smiled, stooped down, and kissed the man gently on his forehead. His movements were graceful, almost angelic. Then the boy turned and faced the crowd. The pulpit itself was tall, coming up to his chest, making him appear small, insignificant. “Welcome,” he said. His voice reverberated off the walls of the church. There was a steadiness, a confidence that belied his age. Before her very eyes, the Prophet seemed to grow. He was no longer human but something truly divine. “May God’s light shine upon you all.” “And on you,” hundreds of voices chanted back in unison. His gaze swept the faces before him, from the front to the back. When his eyes touched upon hers, Dionysia felt her heart flutter. There his eyes seemed to linger - if this was an illusion of her mind, Dionysia didn’t know. His lips spread into a smile. There was something passing between them, a sort of communication Dionysia was aware of but could not understand. This she knew she was not imagining. The moment passed within seconds but for her the time seemed to stretch on. It was a moment she didn’t think she’d ever forget. The Prophet turned his attention back to the rest of the congregation. “Many of you have traveled from great distances to be here, through the cold with nothing but the clothes on your back. I’m sure you’ve lost loved ones along the way. Don’t think God does not notice your pain or appreciate you preservation, for He sees all. Also remember it is because of Him you are here, for we are all a part of His plan. There is no greater honor. Alas, we tend to forget these things in the moment. We become angry, resentful. I imagine there are some of you who feel this way now, who doubt our Lord...who doubt me. So, I want to take this opportunity to lower our heads in prayer, to remember. Will you all follow me in the Lord’s prayer?” Dionysia closed her eyes and lowered her head. Her ears strained with longing to hear the Prophet's beautiful voice. When he spoke again his voice seemed to vibrate with power. God’s power. The power only grew as everyone church joined along, hundreds of voices combining into one: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.” She looked up, feeling a warmth, a sense of comfort she hadn’t felt in some time. It was a welcomed feeling. “We are in the midst of dark times,” the Prophet said to the congregation. “Our enemies wait for us at every turn like wolves at the door. The Black Death spreads with every exhale of the lungs, taking our loved ones away from us without warning. The fae fight amongst themselves and we are caught in the middle. It seems the world is coming to an end, that there is no hope. This is not true. God has a plan in work. Yaldon, the fae king has called for an alliance with the human race, a chance to face these dark times together. For whatever reason God has anointed me to lead those who will follow to King Yaldon’s castle in Blanchet.” For a moment the church was filled with whispers of excitement. Dionysia glanced at her father. Blanchet? Who would be mad enough to make such a journey? Dionysia was not the only one to think so. “Are you mad?” a man shouted, his voice ringing throughout the church. The church quieted once more. Heads turned in shock to see which fool had spoken such blasphemy. He stood at the front of the crowd, a ruddy faced man with curly hair and a long beard. His face was sickly pale, his eyes aglimmer with challenge. He was looking the Prophet directly in the eye. There was a huge hump in his back, leaving him stumped over. He was thin, horribly thin. Dionysia could only watch with bated breath, wondering what God’s punishment would be for him expressing such doubt. Without thinking she grabbed her father’s hand and squeezed. To her relief, he squeezed back as if to confirm he was here. For this she was ever grateful. The Prophet’s bodyguard stepped forward, handle on the handle of his sword. Dionysia could easily imagine him unsheathing his sword and cutting the foolish man in half. “Stand down!” the knight roared. To his credit, the man stood his ground. He said nothing. He only seemed to have eyes for the Prophet. What happened next might have been a miracle in of itself. The knight unsheathed his sword and rushed towards the man. Dionysia thought she would surely see blood today. It would splatter all over the altar, desecrating this beautiful church, this holy house of God. Then the Prophet was at the knight’s side, hand on his shoulder. Dionysia had been so focused on the knight and the helpless man standing before him she hadn’t seen the Prophet move. Still, surely he couldn’t move so quickly, she thought. Not without the help of a divine power. She couldn’t hear what the Prophet was saying, but he must have spoken on the man’s behalf because the knight stepped back and sheathed his sword as he gave the man a withering look. The Prophet smiled at the man and took his shoulder gently. “Do not blame this man for expressing his doubt,” he said to the congregation. “I’m sure he’s not the only one. It’s perfectly natural to doubt. Without doubt there would not be fate. Faith has always been blind.” To the man he said, “What is your name, good sir?” “E-Ermanno,” the man said in a shaky voice. “Ermanno,” the Prophet repeated. “Do not fear me Ermanno, and furthermore do not fear God for he is kind and merciful. Just like every man, woman, and child in this church he has brought you here for a reason otherwise you would not be here to stand before me.” Whatever spirit had caused Ermanno to challenge the Prophet was gone. Now he seemed as enraptured by the Prophet as the rest of the church. The Prophet moved his hand from the Ermanno’s shoulder to the hump on his back. “This disfigurement, you’ve had it since the day you were born, yes?” Ermanno nodded with a sniffle. “I imagine it has caused you great pain, both physical and mental. Even now, just by touching you, I can sense the pain. Many people have been unkind to you. You’ve been beaten and scolded because of your disfigurement for something you were born with. What if I said God knows of your pain? What if I said He loves you more than you could imagine? What if I said He can heal your pain if He so wishes?” Ermanno’s shoulders shook as he burst into tears. “Do not cry,” the Prophet set gently, almost tenderly. “Today is not a day for crying. Today is a day for rejoicing for you are about to be anointed in the name of God.” He led the sobbing man to the basin in the middle of the room. He closed his eyes and dipped his head in prayer. “Lord God, our heavenly Father, we thank you for your great goodness in calling us to know you and to put our trust in you. Increase this knowledge and strengthen our faith. Give your Holy Spirit to this person, that he may be born again and made an heir of everlasting salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” He dabbed his first two fingers into the holy water and gently made a cross shape on Ermanno’s forehead. Ermanno fell to his knees and clasped his hands before his face. Tears were flooding down his cheeks now. His face was flushed bright red with emotion. He raised his clasped hands to the heavens, muttering wildly in Italian. Never before, not even in the church back home, had Dionysia seen someone fall into such a state. Seeing it fascinated and frightened her in equal measures. The Prophet grasped the sobbing man’s hands and helped him to his feet; it touched Dionysia to see the Prophet, too, had tears rolling down his cheeks. There were gasps from all over the church. “His hump is gone!” a woman cried. “Look!” she pointed Ermanno was running his hands over his back, feeling for the hump - but it wasn’t there. It was gone as if it had never been there at all. A woman fell to her knees, raising her squealing baby into the air. “Bless him! Bless him, please, you must bless him!” Excitement rolled through the crowd. They clamored to get the Prophet's attention but did not dare rush forward after seeing how willing the knight had been to kill Ermanno. The Prophet held his hands up and the crowd calmed at once. “Do not worry my good people,” he said. “Miracles are abound. God will not abandon you.” Row by row, the Prophet summoned people to the front of the church (the knight always stood close by, ready to intervene if need be). Men, women, and children were baptized under prayer. Some simply thanked the Prophet and walked away, bright grins on their face. Others fell to their knees sobbing as Ermanno had done. As the minutes turned into an hour and then two Dionysia only became more immersed in what was happening before her. Each miracle performed eased her doubt. All the misfortune that had happened before this moment ceased to exist for the time being. When the Prophet beckoned for her to come up to be anointed she could not move. Her father had to help her get to her feet and push her gently forward to get her going. All at once she was standing in front of the whole congregation. His face was like a beacon in the shadows, the skin giving off a phosphorescence that was almost painful to behold. “Tell me your name, girl,” he said. “Dionysia,” she said. He smiled. “What a beautiful name.Tell me Dionysia, do you wish to be anointed in the name of God and his son Jesus Christ?” “I do.” He took her hands in his. The moment his skin made contact with hers, a buzzing sensation almost like electricity traveled through her body. It started at the tips of her fingers and ended at the edges of her toes. This is what it feels like to be touched by God, she thought. Her eyes were closed. The only thing she was aware of was his beautiful voice reciting the prayer of baptism. And she was floating, floating, floating. She could no longer feel the floor beneath her feet, the ache in he legs, or the hunger in her belly. “Give your Holy Spirit to this person, that she may be born again and made an heir of everlasting salvation...” Somewhere above her there was a light, and stars, thousands of stars... “...through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” Another voice spoke. It said: “You have been anointed...” By the time they returned to their room Dionysia was too exhausted to feel hungry. She was asleep as soon as she closed her eyes. When she woke up sometime the next morning, Phillip was in high spirits. “I got us a hot breakfast,” he said happily, thrusting a steaming plate of eggs and sausage links into her hand. “Father, you shouldn't have. We can't afford this kind of food. You shouldn't have.“He waved a hand at her. “God will provide a way. He always does. Besides it occurred to me I haven't been taking good care of the only daughter I have left. “ Tears burned her eyes. “You've only done the best you can.” His face softened. “You are sweet to say so, my child, but that is not the only mistake I've made. I did not comfort you on the Elan Vital when they threw that poor boy overboard. Even worse I did nothing to stop it. Since we left home I've only thought of myself and my grief. I never considered how you might be feeling. I realized this when the Prophet touched my forehead.“ Phillip's eyes became distant, dreamy. “I've never felt anything so beautiful in my life… except when I got to hold you and your sisters after your mother gave birth to you of course. “ Dionysia thought of her own transcending experience. “Nor have I.” She thought of the floating sensation she'd felt, the heavenly light above her head, the voice that had spoken. She had no doubt it was the voice of God. One day she would tell her father about it but it would not be today or tomorrow. She wanted to cherish it alone for a little while. “I love you, Father,” she said. For a moment he only looked touched. Then he smiled and said, “I love you too, Dionysia. “ At midday there was a knock at the door. Phillip looked up from the scroll of parchment he'd been writing on and frowned. “I wonder who that could be. Cleaning lady, perhaps? Get it for me, won't you, darling?” “Sure, Father.” Dionysia climbed out of bed. She'd spent the last few hours letting her body recuperate. Tomorrow she planned to see if the innkeeper might let her work to help pay for the room. She smoothed her dress out by running a hand over the front before opening the door. The smile died quickly on her lips. Standing almost a full head taller than her was the knight the Santa Barbara dei Librai. And standing next to him, not much taller than Dionysia herself but looking just as beautiful as the day before was the Prophet.
  10. ValentineDavis21

    Now or Never

    Skold stood in the middle of the court yard breathing in the smell of smoke and dead bodies. Everywhere he looked dead eyes looked up at the sky; some mouths hung open in permanent screams of terror while others were closed in grim contemplation. Many (usually those who had never been in the midst of a battle) believed people died with their eyes open but more often than not this was not the case. There was one corpse he found himself staring at in particular. General Cevna seemed to stare back with the glazed avidity of a wooden dummy. The only thing keeping his head from being fully severed from his body was a thin scrap of bloody meat. Until we can find the counselors I’m the general now, he thought. He felt an odd reluctance at the thought. The feeling was foreign to him as were most emotions. It was one thing to be commander but to be a general...that was something else all together. He’d sent a raven to King Yaldon’s castle in Blanchett, Germany with a short detail of the battle that had occurred at Penthorpe Keep. He would not wait for King Yaldon to send a raven back with orders - assuming the raven Skold himself had sent wasn’t intercepted by one of Paladin’s troops. Not when Maeglin and Yaldon’s counselors were out there. God only knew what would happen to them out there if they were even still alive. Skold had a strong hunch they were the reason why Paladin’s troops had retreated so fast. They were here for the counselors. By killing them King Yaldon would have little influence over the rest of the fae world. This could also affect the alliance Yaldon was trying to forge with the humans. Skold could not quite see the full picture; the picture was too big and he had little understanding of politics. But he knew the implications. Bodies were being piled on carts and wheeled out of the castle where several large pits had been dug. There was no time to give everyone their own individual grave and the proper burial rights. It would take days for them to clear out all the bodies. Skold had ordered the corpses of their adversaries to be burned. Let the spirits of Valhalla smell their burning flesh. “What now?” He turned to face Konstantine who stood on his left; Sonja stood on his right. He’d been so lost in thought he had forgotten they were there. “Call everyone into the Great Hall. Be quick about it.” “Aye aye, sir,” said Sonja and together they walked off to carry out his order. He waited a moment, watching the crows that had begun to circle in the air. He had the sudden feeling he was being watched. He turned and found Eolyn standing at the edge of the court yard. She looked ghostly in the midst of the gathering gloom which Skold was starting to think was permanent. She approached him slowly, gracefully, looming out of the thin vapors of mist like a wraith who has broken free from the fathomless depths of the Ferryman’s underworld. “I know where they’ve gone, Maeglin and his counselors,” she said. “I can take you to them.” “Where are they?” “They’re being held captive.” It was as Skold had suspected, the reason why Paladin’s troops had made such a hasty retreat. “What way are they heading?” “East towards Transylvania...where Paladin resides.” “Paladin is in Transylvania?” “Yes.” This was news to Skold. Up until now no one had known where Paladin was. His location had remain hidden. Skold had begun to think Paladin was nothing more than a name...or a ghost...not a real thing. “If you hurry you can save Maeglin,” said the seer, “but you must be quick.” “I will,” he said. “Take me with you. I can help you.” He sneered. “Right, because you’ve been so much of a help already, right?” The seer’s eyes glittered dangerously. “Don’t be spiteful, Skold Gileppsie.” There was no time to debate whether or not he wanted her along. Time was short. If he was going to save Maeglin and the king’s counselors then he had to act now. He sighed. “Very well.” Together they walked into the great hall. … For a moment he watched them all fight. Fight and argue, their shouts filling Penthorpe Keep’s hall, pale morning light streaming through the circular window above Skold’s head. Konstantine and Sonja were doing their best to silence them but no attempt they made was doing any good. The humans had always been treated as second class, higher than animals but lower than the fae. They were thought as barbarians, treated with derision and indifference. Up until now Skold had had no views on the subject. The humans shared the same earth the fae did and that was that. We fae are just as barbaric, he thought. Look at what Paladin’s black plague has done to us, everyone tearing at each other’s’ throat like a pack of frightened animals. Perhaps we all deserve to die, humans and fae alike, so the world can start over. He had never felt such disgust. “SILENCE!” His voice filled the hall. Everyone fell silent immediately. Hundreds of eyes turned to look at him. His eyes scanned their faces and he saw fear, fear so putrid he could almost smell it. He felt no sympathy towards them - let them be afraid. They should be afraid, he thought. With each passing day the world grows more empty. “You are all are acting like the human animals many of you claim to hate so much,” he said. He paused for the simple reason of letting his words sink in. “Who are you to say such things to us?” an elf said, stepping forward boldly. Skold turned his full gaze on him. “As of this moment I am General Skold Gileppsie and until we can find the counselors I am in command.” The elf’s upper lip peeled back into a snarl. “I will not follow a damn eunich, a cockless bastard.” There were a few nods and murmurs of agreement but a majority of the bodies in the hall were silent, watching in rapt silence, watching to see how Skold would react. His lips spread into a long, slow smile. He saw the first sparks of light catch in the elf’s eyes, a momentary spark that went out just as soon as it appeared. But Skold saw it nonetheless. “I would reconsider what you just said very carefully,” he said, his grin never leaving his face. Anyone who knew Skold well enough knew when he smiled like this it usually meant someone was going to die. The tension in the hall rose. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Konstantine wiping his fingers around his mouth, a nervous tic. Yes, Konstantine knew Skold all too well. So did Sonja. Her anxiety showed in the way her jaw was clenched and the pouty pucker of her lips. The elf foolishly puffed his chest out. “I will not follow you.” He turned to the faces surrounding him. “Anyone else with me?” Before anyone could open their mouths to answer Skold was on the move, nothing more than a blur. He came forward, sword unsheathed. Not a breath’s moment later the elf’s head rolled across the hall’s floor, the elf’s mouth gaping open in silent question, the eyes narrowed with confidence. For a moment the headless body stood, as stiff as a board, blood spurting from the clean stump of a neck before toppling to the floor. Skold turned his smile towards the crowd standing in front of them. Blood dripped the blade of his sword. “Does anyone else have any objections?” he asked. No one had any. … The war room was at the top floor of Penthorpe Keep’s west wing. It was here Skold, Sonja, Konstantine, and Eolyn gathered, poring over maps and trying to come up with a plan to save Maeglin and the counselors. The room was large, dominated by the large table in the middle. The sunlight streaming in through the large window did little to chase away the grim tension filling the warroom, and consequently, the whole castle. Skold leaned against the table, looking down at the expansive map. His eyes followed the marks: rivers, fields, and villages. Though he wasn’t looking at her, his attention was focused completely on the seer. For the last ten minutes she’d been pushing around the pegs, demonstrating the path Paladin’s troops were taking back to Romania. “They’ll be traveling through the Swineshead Wood,” she said, pointing at a sketch of trees. “This is where they’ll also be camping for the night.” “Are you sure?” Skold asked. The seer nodded. Her lips curved slightly. “They think the trees will provide them cover should you try to attempt a rescue mission. They don’t know you have a seer on your side who knows exactly what they’re going to do.” “Splendid,” said Sonja. “But you still haven’t told us who led the siege that happened this morning.” “An orc by the name of Flesheater,” said the seer. “He was newly appointed chief by Paladin.” “How come we never heard of this?” Konstantine asked. “Any time a new chief has been appointed word has traveled fast.” “Paladin wanted to keep this information hush hush I imagine,” Skold said. “Just like there were no banners or any signs of Paladin or this Flesheater. Without this information it makes it harder for us to know who we’re dealing with. Paladin loves to play with smoke and mirrors.” He glanced at Eolyn. “Without this information we would be in the dark. Do we have any chance of launching a successful rescue mission?” “They have more forces than we do,” Sonja said. “More brute force. They caught us with our pants down this last time.” “Perhaps this time you can catch them with their pants down,’ said the seer. Moving the pegs around the board she pointed at the map. “See this circle of pegs here? This is how the orcs will be forming their camp...close together in a circle. From what I saw in my visions Maeglin and the counselors will be kept somewhere on the east side of the camp.” “But you can’t tell us which tent for sure?” “My visions aren’t always so specific when it comes to details. But they will be there.” To Skold the seer said, “If I may, General Gileppsie, I would like to make a suggestion.” Skold nodded. “Alright.” “Doing this as quietly and quickly as possible might be best. Flesheater and his clan will no doubt be celebrating their victory, no doubt drunk with drink and food. I would use that to your advantage instead of planning an all out affront. Unless you want to send word to King Yaldon and wait for more reinforcements.” Skold shook his head. “There’s no time to wait. Every minute we waste is a wasted opportunity. If we’re smart about this we can do it.” To Sonja and Konstantine he said, “I need fifty men - the best fighters we have, no more. We must be able to get in and get out quickly, without being noticed.” “Don’t you think we should try and come up with a plan first?” Sonja asked. “We’ve come up with plans before. We’ve tried to preparing for every contingency. Where has that gotten us so far? General Cevna is dead and the king’s counselors are in grave danger. Either we do something now or nothing at all. I’m going to write a letter to our dear fae king and tell him what happened. Dismissed.” It took every ounce of will Maeglin had left to keep going; if they whipped him again for falling to his knees he wouldn’t be able to get back up this time. His wrists had been bound together by rope. The rope was coarse and the orcs had made the bindings so tight the rope cut into his wrists hard enough to draw blood. The wounds on his back stung horrendously from where they had whipped him. His teeth chattered and he couldn’t stop himself from shivering. But worse than the pain was the fear, not knowing what would happen next, what their fate would be. He’d never dreamed he’d be taken hostage. And the orcs themselves, their more barbaric genetic cousins, were not known for taking hostages. Usually they just killed their victims...and occasionally ate them. The fact this was not happening bothered him more than he would ever admit out loud. Counselor Yethlossa Alagossa looked no better than he did: Her dress had been ripped in several places where she too had been whipped; her hair, usually perfectly and pinned up, hung down in her face. He knew from the way she kept straightening up and resetting her shoulders she was trying to look brave and save her dignity. But Maeglin could sense her fear, almost smell it. In front of her was Viktor. If there was any courage left in him he made no effort to displaying it. His usual snappy bravado would make no appearance tonight...or possibly ever again. Valyuun was directly behind him. Maeglin kept looking over his shoulder to make sure his ward was still alive. At the end of the line was Althon. There was no sense in trying to escape. They were surrounded by orcs. At least a hundred of them. The others, the rest of Maeglin’s men and women, were dead. Maeglin could still remember everything clearly as they’d made it to the end of the secret passage. They had exited out into the night, now directly on the other side. It seemed the coast was clear. There was no one on this side of the mountain. Had Maeglin not been so eager to get everyone as far away from the occupied keep as possible, had he actually slowed down, he might have sensed danger. They came out of the woods, seeming to materialize out of the shadows. Maeglin didn’t have to count heads to know they were outnumbered. Still his men had fought valiantly, courageously, until death...until Maeglin, Valyuun and the counselors were the only ones standing. They were waiting for us, he thought. Whoever commands them must have told them who to look for. This is the reason why they were here, for the counselors. Yaldon was a bloody fool to send them here. All he did was sign their death warrant. Then there had been no choice but to drop his sword...if nothing else but to keep the counselors alive longer. To continue to fight pointlessly would have only gotten them killed. There was a chance, a very slim chance someone would notice they were not at the Keep and come looking for them. Maeglin shoved the brief glimmer of hope away. It was best not to get your hopes up. They were now in the middle of the Swineshead Wood. The trees provided perfect cover for the orcs should anyone from General Cevna’s army attempt a rescue mission. Maeglin couldn’t help but feel surprise...and a certain bitter admiration. Orcs were not known for being tactical fighters. They were more compulsive, spontaneous, driven by the need for carnage. Carnage was their religion which was why they’d joined Paladin’s cause in the first place. It was the first alliance between elves and orcs to ever occur in the vast history of the fae. If not for what Paladin’s Black Death was doing to the world it could have been considered a victory, a monumental turn in history. The sky was starting to lighten, going from pitch-black, to navy-blue, to marine. They’d been trudging through the woods, through the cold, for hours. The orcs had been silent, only speaking when there was need to punish Maeglin or one of the counselors when they tripped or were moving to slow. The rumbling shouts were followed by the sudden crack of a whip. This is how the humans must feel, victims caught in between a war they didn’t start, Maeglin thought. He felt a pang of regret at this insight. While Maeglin had never felt the same derision most of his people did, he’d always felt indifferent towards them. He’d always felt that though they were genetic cousins, physically separated by nature’s whim - just as elves were from orcs and the other species of fae - their world was further spread apart by religion and philosophy. As was the way of many species, neither camp wanted to set aside their differences. Which was why King Yaldon’s alliance with the humans was so crucial in the face of the Black Plague. What happens after? What happens after we defeat Paladin, assuming I’m around to see it? From behind him, Valyuun cursed, his foot catching up against a root. He went down in a crash of dead leaves and brambles. Almost at once the orc who’d been standing to Valyuun’s side was towering over him, the whip lashing blindingly through the air. “Get up!” the orc roared. Each word was synced with a crack of the whip. “On your feet elven scum!” Each lashing had Valyuun writhing in pain, a scream emitting from his mouth. Blinding rage enveloped Maeglin. Counselors or no counselors to think about he couldn’t stand to see his ward in torment like this. He felt Alagossa’s fingers try to grab his shoulder, heard her hiss, “No, Maeglin!” His armor had been taken, along with his sword and dignity, and his fists were bound, but he could still fight with his body such as it was. He raised both fists as one and swung them at the orc as hard as he could. His fists collided with the orc’s face and sent the brute stumbling back into a tree. Before he could reach Valyuun, several orcs were on top of Maeglin, lashing at him with their whips, kicking him with their steel boots. There was no rolling away from it, nothing to relieve the pain from their brutish attacks. His head slammed against the very root Valyuun had tripped over and he could taste blood, coppery and cloying, in his mouth. He rolled back over just in time to see a boot fly towards his face and then...nothing. At first the pain was a distant thing, something which seemed to belong to someone else. Then steadily, as he floated to the surface of consciousness, the pain grew slowly, teasingly. Maeglin tried to sit up but it was difficult to do so. His arms were bound tied to something over his head so it was impossible to use them; instead he had to use his back muscles. Doing so made the wounds on his back sting agonizingly. He gritted his teeth, forcing the stiffness of his spine to bend to his will. Tears oozed from the corner of his eyes but he refused to cry out. The smell of wet straw, piss, and dung touched his nose, followed by an all-numbing cold. For a moment he wanted nothing more than to crawl his way back into the darkness where there was nothing: no thought, no feeling, not the fear of what would happen next. But the cold and the pain wouldn’t let him; they held him in place as securely as the ropes which bound his hands together. Maeglin found himself staring at the bars of a rusty cage, and beyond it, the night sky. I’ve been out for a while, he thought. The last thing he remembered before being pummeled unconscious was seeing the morning sky. Then he remembered Valyuun and the others. In the shadows of the night he could see four other shapes in the cell with him, their arms tied above their heads just like his. Directly diagonal from him was Valyuun’s shivering form. “Valyuun,” Maeglin said. “Maeglin?” Despite his chattering teeth, Maeglin did not fail to notice and felt touched by the sound of relief in his ward’s voice. “You’re awake...I wasn’t sure if you would...” “I’m fine. Uncomfortable and cold, but I’m not dead.” Not yet anyway, he added silently. Out of the corner of his eye Maeglin saw a flickering light. Several yards to his left were several crude looking tents made out of animal skin. In the center of the camp the hulking forms of orcs. They sat around a large blazing bonfire. The light reflected off their dark, thick skin - how much they looked like demons out of a child’s nightmare. It’s hard to believe we’re so closely related, Maeglin thought. For a moment he listened to them talk in their strange way: the Old Language mixed with grunts and growls and gravelly laughter. There was no one standing guard over their prisoners. They probably felt there wasn’t any need to. Maeglin and the others had no way of escape and there was no one coming to their rescue. You don’t know that. He looked up at the sky, at the very stars. It was said each star was the soul of a fae who had moved onto the halls of Valhalla, shining for the whole world to see. If you can see us, he prayed, if you truly care, help us. He’d never been religious. He’d always been an agnostic. But now, in facing the ever growing certainty of death he was willing to set his doubt aside and believe in a miracle. “Maeglin?” It was Alagossa. Her voice was a dry croak, almost a whisper. “Counselor?” “I’m scared.” She sounded on the verge of tears. Hearing her say this hurt his heart more than he could have imagined. Between the three counselors, between Viktor and Althon, he’d always respected Alagossa the most. She was fierce when she needed to be, and like the others she demanded respect, but she also returned the sentiment. She was the most humane of the three, the most willing to listen and empathize. Yet while this display of naked emotion scared him it also made him respect her more. “Someone will come for us,” Maeglin said. His breath came out in white wisps of smoke. “The spirits of Valhalla will not leave us to die.” She let out a dry chuckle. “You’ve never put much faith in the spirits, Maeglin.” He closed his eyes; he’d never felt so much guilt in his life and he’d been alive for centuries. Looking to the future often made him feel exhausted. He’d fought in many wars, had protected the fae king before Yaldon. All he’d ever done for as long as he could remember was risk his life to protect another. But now, when he looked back, life seemed so short, like a candle being blown out by the smallest gust of wind. “I’m sorry,” he said. Her eyes were like diamond pinpoints in the dark. “Whatever for?” “I’ve failed you...I’ve failed all of you.” “No.” She shook her head, grimacing slightly; her neck was probably just as stiff and numb as his. “You’ve always done your absolute best. There’s not another soul on this crazy earth I would want watching my back. Besides we all die...and if I’m to die tonight then let it be in the name of our king.” To this last part Maeglin felt only scorn. King Yaldon was the last person he would’ve died for. And yet you’ve always served him just like you always served the king before him, he told himself, not without bitterness. Did you ever have any desire to just live for yourself or did you only want to follow in your father’s footsteps? “Shh!” Viktor hissed. “They’re coming!” Maeglin turned his head in the direction of the counselor’s nakedly frightened eyes. A group of orcs, at least a dozen of them, were walking towards their cave. It was then, since coming to, that Maeglin realized his bladder was heavy to the point of bursting. It reminded him of the smell of piss and shit. How many helpless victims had sat in these cages, in the cold, waiting for the inevitable? The orcs stopped just outside of the cage and talked in their primal dialect. Maeglin had to strain his ears to understand what they were saying. “Look at them sitting there like helpless pigs,” one said in the Old Language. “Like little bitches more like it,” said another. They all laughed, their large heads pointed towards the moon. “I think one of them has done pissed themselves. Yes, I can smell it.” The orc who had spoken walked around the cage and poked a whimpering Valyuun in the back with a long nail. “Was it you, little elfling? Yes, I think it was. You’re pretty though. I think I just might make you my little fuck toy.” Valyuun began to sob helplessly. Maeglin clenched his eyes shut and hoped this night would end. Even if it ended in death an end to this torture would be a mercy. The rusty screech of hinges made him open his eyes and he saw one of the orcs standing at the entrance of the cage. “The chief wants to see you,” he said in the Old Language. “And see him you all shall.” Maeglin felt warm liquid begin to seep through his pants as his own bladder let go.
  11. A Different World Chapter 8 is done. Just need to edit it. 

  12. Readers of A Different World I just started working on Chapter 8 and will have it out before long - don't go anywhere.

  13. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 19

    When I first saw him, standing in front of my door dressed in a fine suit and hat, I didn’t recognize him at first. I should have - I had seen his picture in the newspaper several times; even here in New York, he was a legend, an enigma. Having just climbed up six flights of stairs to reach my loft apartment I was tired physically. I’d also just attended one of my father’s poetry meetings. As I think I’ve mentioned I’m not much into poetry; but I also hate social gatherings. Something about being in a room full of pictures, even if you know the people, always makes me feel bombarded, as well as the false pretenses that comes with socializing with other people, the tap dance of it. At first I took him for a salesman or missionary; perhaps he wanted to sell me cologne or give me a pamphlet for his church. I felt the barbs of irritation, which had started setting in by the middle of the poetry meeting, dig in a little deeper. I was not in the mood. I wanted to go into my apartment, take a long, hot bath, and go to sleep. I steeled myself. What would my parents think of me if they knew I’d rudely turned away someone, salesman or missionary or not? I cleared my throat, made my voice sound as polite as I could possibly manage, and asked, “Can I help you?” He turned, briefcase in one hand, the other placed on top of his hat. He removed the hat and I took first full stock of him. What struck me first was how tall he was. He all but towered of me. Both his shoulders and chest were broad. What little neck was exposed from the collar of his shirt was very thick; his hands, the one gripping the briefcase and the other now holding the hat down at his side, were immense, like plates. His hair was dark and showed early signs of thinning. His eyes, a dark brown, focused on me with a sharpness I wouldn’t have expected from such a big man. His skin was quite tan. He almost looked like an indian. I found myself both intimidated and in awe of him. “Are you Thomas Umstadt?” he asked. His voice was deep, seeming to emanate from deep inside him. “I am. What can I do for you...sir?” For a moment he just looked at me, scanning my face. I was under the impression he was sizing me up and down just as I’d done with him. Only he seemed to be looking for something. What he was looking for I couldn’t imagine. It was an uncomfortable feeling yet I couldn’t bring myself to look away. There was something about his eyes, though there was nothing truly special about them, that held me in their grip. Since he was studying me I decided to study him further. With my writer’s intuition I was able to pick up quite a bit, mostly through his body posture: The way he kept his shoulders square and his back straight, the severeness of his face, the stoicism of it. The slight frown of his mouth, the very unyielding weight of his stare. Here was a man who took the world by charge. He demanded respect - and was used to getting it, as well as anything else he wanted. He was used to having power. This was no salesman and this man was certainly not a missionary. He was the sort of man I’d have a hard time getting along with. “My name is Agamemnon Angelopoulos.” He stepped forward, growing larger with every step he took. The closer he got the more I could feel my composure slipping out of my grasp. The hat transferred into the other hand and the free one was offered to me. For a moment I could only stare. Agamemnon Angelopoulos, the entrepreneur? What in God’s name was he doing at my doorstep? What could he possibly want with me? I managed to regain my composure and grasped his hand. It was far larger than mine and seemed to cover it. Gratefully, his grip while firm, was not painful. Most men I shake hands with try to squeeze it as hard as they can, seeming to feel the need to show off their strength, their level of masculinity. “I have traveled from Adermoor Cove to see you,” he said. “I have not heard of the place I’m afraid.” “It is a small island in the middle of Casco Bay. It took me two days to get here.” I worked to keep the surprise from showing on my face. “You traveled a long way.” “Indeed.” “I can’t imagine why you would go to such lengths to meet with me.” “I have a business proposal I would like to make.” Forgetting myself, I scoffed. “A business proposal?” “Yes. Perhaps we could discuss inside, in private.” He nodded at the door. So far, throughout this strange, strange conversation his face had never once shown a flicker of emotion. It was the instance when he nodded at my door, almost demanding access instead of asking, that I felt my first stab of dislike towards him. He was practically inviting himself into my home! Here he was, standing at my door, without sending so much as a letter or telegram, and he was demanding to come into my apartment! But of course he did it in a subtle way, perhaps thinking I wouldn’t notice. I could actually feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end, like a dog with its hackles up. It was only simple curiosity that kept me from giving him the sharp edge of my tongue. I won’t lie - I wanted to hear what he had to say. I fumbled the keys out of my pocket and unlocked the door. I led him into the one room loft, glad I’d just so happened to straighten up the place before leaving for the poetry meeting. Offering to take his coat I watched his eyes travel around the place: the living room area, the kitchen separated from the living room by a counter, the “bedroom” area on the other side of the couch, the tall windows showing the side of the brick building next door. I expected to see disgust in those muddy-brown eyes but I was surprised to see mild interest. His eyes fell on the desk, where I do my writing. Sitting neatly in the middle was the typewriter I used. My parents had bought it for me on my sixteenth birthday. “This is where you do your writing,” he said. It was a statement of almost crude certainty, not a question - I felt another throb of dislike. He’s like a bull, a bull who thinks he knows everything. “Yes,” I said, putting his jacket on a coat hanger and closing the door. I put his hat on the hat tree over by the door. “I like it here,” he said. “It’s quiet and full of character.” I did my best to ignore the feeling of satisfaction his compliment gave me. “Thank you. Would you like some tea? Coffee?” “Tea would be exquisite.” He took his seat on the sofa before I could tell him to make himself at home. I shot a glare at the back of his enormous head, wondering if he could feel the heat of my anger. I grabbed the tea kettle from under the sink, filled it with tap water, set it on the stove, and turned on the flame for it to boil. I sat down in the armchair across from him. He reached over to his briefcase and pulled out a pipe. “Mind if I smoke or shall I go over to the balcony?” he asked. Normally I would have told someone to go over to the balcony - I was very adamant about not letting someone smoke around me. I can’t stand the smell of tobacco. But for some reason I told him he was fine smoking right where he was. “Let me grab you a saucer to use as an ashtray.” By the time I sat back down he had his pipe lit. He thanked me, blowing out a perfect ring of smoke. The ring hovered in the air, floating towards me before dissipating. “Why did you come all the way here just to see me?” I asked after a silent moment of us contemplating each other. “I read your book.” “Did you?” “Yes.” “And did you like it?” “I did.” Feeling pleased I made an effort not to smile. “What did you like about it?” “I thought it to be an unusual piece of literature. I take it it was biographical.” “Mostly.” “What I like about it most was not the descriptions of brutality...but the sense I got that you put your own views on it. People these days do not take such great...risks.” His eyes never left mine. “I admired it.” As if to prove this he reached into his briefcase and pulled out a copy of the book - my book - and set it down on the coffee table between us. My eyes dipped down to it. Though I had written the book and had several hard copies of it on the bookshelf by my desk it looked alien to me sitting there on the table. It was as if a stranger had written it. Even now I can’t explain the feeling of disgust I felt towards it. On the cover was a photograph of my grandfather - everyone was always remarking how much I looked like him. “You don’t like war, Mr. Umstadt” Agamemnon said. Once again not a question. “No. Call me Thomas, please.” “Alright, Thomas. Why not?” “I find it to be pointless - something that could be easily avoided.” He raised his head in appraisal. His mouth formed a small smile, the first sign of emotion I’d seen from him since this whole strange affair had started. “You are very opinionated - a thing I find to be very rare.” I smiled at this. “I’m a writer - an artist. Artists are very opinionated, Mr. Angelopoulos. Agamemnon nodded. “Indeed. And I think if I can call you Thomas then it’s only fair you should call me by Agamemnon.”” The tea kettle had started to whistle. I got up to serve the tea, grabbing the nicest tea cups I had. Mother had given them to me as a homecoming gift when I moved into the loft. The cups were white with beautiful blue rose petals blooming along the side. I put everything on a tray and took it back to the table. “Thank you,” Agamemnon said, taking his cup with a grace I would not have expected. He took a sip. I watched him, fascinated. What a strange, strange man. “Hmmm, it’s good. Chai is it?” “Yes.” Sitting back down I found I could no longer keep my curiosity at bay. ”So what is this business proposal you wanted to make?” “I want you to write a book,” Agamemnon said. He took another sip of his tea. His eyes met mine over the lip of his cup. “A book?” Why did he have to be so vague? Why did he have to draw things out? “My book. A book about my family, my exploits, the investments I’ve made and what I’m doing with Adermoor Cove. A sort of biography. But I want you to write it under my name and write it as if I wrote it myself.” So there it was - the reason why he was here. I swallowed and tried to digest what he’d just said. “You want me to ghost write your book?” Agamemnon nodded. “Affirmative.” “Why?” “Because while I’m smart and educated I am nowhere near capable of writing a bestselling biography.” “Why me? Why not hire someone with more experience? I’ve only written one book.” “A very powerful book. A book in which you took risks with a time still controversial to this day. I respect anyone who takes such risks, who shows such blatant boldness.” Now Agamemnon was smiling. Each word dug into me, stealing my thoughts away. Agamemnon continued. “I would pay you very handsomely of course, twice as much as you’ve made on this last book. You could have even more money than what you have now. You could be rich for life.” But all the success would go to you, all the praise, I thought selfishly. Though my head said one thing my mouth said another. “Where would I get the facts?” “I have records - I never throw anything away. Journals, account information, anything you would need. And there’s Adermoor Cove itself of course. You could come out and see what it’s like - see my vision.” I’d never been outside New York City a day in my life - the idea of leaving the city immediately appealed to me. But I also thought Agamemnon was mad. What made him think he could just show up at my doorstep and make this ludicrous offer? The words weighed heavily on my tongue, on the verge of bursting out and doing damage...but I bit my tongue. I didn’t want to ruin the opportunity, assuming it was legitimate. After all this was Agamemnon Angelopoulos who sat before me. And though I was seeing him in the flesh, though I’d shaken hands with him he was still an enigma, a mystery begging to be solved. How could I resist? How could I just tell him no and turn him away? “This is a very strange offer,” I said. It was all I could say in the moment. “I imagine it is,” he said. “I imagine you must need some time to think about it.” “I do.” “How long?” “A week.” He nodded thoughtfully. “I can wait a week.” He drained the rest of his tea and set the cup back down on the tray. He swept the book back into his briefcase and stood up. Out of habit I got to my feet as well. “This has been a very pleasant meeting,” he said, fixing me with a smile that seemed truly genuine this time. “It has been a pleasure meeting you.” “You’re leaving now?” I asked, shocked. We hadn’t even finished the conversation. “Yes. I don’t mean to be rude but there are things in Adermoor Cove I must get back to.” “You haven’t even given me a way to contact you. How will I give you my answer?” “I guess if you don’t show up at the doorstep of my lighthouse by this day next week then I will have my answer,” he said. “Lighthouse?” “Yes. I have built, own, and live in the lighthouse on Adermoor Cove. The only one.” His smile widened. I think he already knew he had his hooks in me. After all he was a man who was used to getting his way. “Don’t worry about getting my coat and hat. I’ll get it myself. Good day, Mr. Umstadt.” I followed him to the door too flabbergasted to say another word. As soon as I was sure he was gone I closed the door and pressed myself against it. I closed my eyes and tried to calm the churning tide of my thoughts. Eyes still closed, I bit my lip and pictured him bringing the tea cup to his lips, the large tanned fingers of his hand wrapped carefully around the china; the way his lips puckered around the lip, those dark brown eyes which studied me so heavily. Fire from the middle of my stomach to my groin: a fire yearning to be put out. Taking a deep breath I made my way towards the bed, unzipping my fly. I already knew what my answer was. Yes, even then.
  14. ValentineDavis21

    Chapter 16

    Thanks for letting me know. I am glad to hear that I'm getting some things right. If you should see anything that doesn't seem plausible or historically accurate please let me know.
  15. ValentineDavis21

    Part Three: Thomas, 1929, Chapter One

    It was mid-March in 1929 when I came to Adermoor Cove. In those days it was nothing more than a village inhabited by fishermen, sailors, and farmers but already I could see it becoming something more. I could see what Agamemnon envisioned and felt the initial skepticism ebb away when he told me of his plans. Quite simply put, I am in awe. Coming from the obnoxious, bustling city of New York I’d dreaded coming to the small island - if Agamemnon Angelopoulos’ proposition hadn’t interested me so I wouldn’t have come at all. As I step off the ferry and onto land the nausea is completely forgotten for the moment , taken over by what I saw before me: The one and two story buildings leading away from the docks just outside the gathered groups of ships, the scrubbed up windows of what few shops there were; the church at the top of the hill overlooking the town. And of course the lighthouse in the distance, a shimmering ghostly shape. The center of it mostly blotted out by the sun; only the edges are solid, solid enough to define its shape. You have to shield your eyes to be able to see it from this angle. And yet its presence on the island is undeniable: it offers anyone who needs it a light in the dark. In the beginning I saw it as an omen of good will and safe harbor. I wish, as I’m writing this account, I felt that way now. There was nothing grand or majestic about Adermoor Cove: not like the gaudy architecture of a Catholic church or Manhattan’s developing skyline. It is a trivial sort of beauty, something only someone like myself who has never left the city might appreciate. I can actually feel myself grin. And then the nausea hits me again, bringing me back to reality. Or dragging me I suppose you might say. I feel so sick I might faint. In fact I find myself on the verge of fainting, the breath rattling in my chest, the ground wavering before me, wanting to come up to meet my face. Oh I mustn’t faint! I think. Not here! I’ll die of embarrassment! What would Agamemnon think if he heard - as I’m sure word travels around fast in a place such as this - I, a city-boy, had fainted like some damsel? And then I ask myself, rather fiercely, why I care what Agamemnon would think of the situation. After all it was he who’d shown up at my doorstep, just as gamely and sure of himself as you please. It is this thought from which I take the strength to fight through the nausea. After a while it fades away and I’m able to regain my composure. I look around at the fishermen and sailors working to and fro. Two of them stand shoulder-to-shoulder, possibly on break. They watch me with great interest. One of them, blows out a ring of smoke from his pipe and raises it into the air in greeting. Relief floods me: I’m not just a foreign ghost whose path goes unnoticed. I’m made of flesh and bone and blood and people can see me. I raise a hand in return and turn to face the docks once more as I begin to make my way towards the center of the village. I follow the cobble-stoned street, which appears new. There’s a general store, a pub called The Netted Eel, a stand with a sign reading Farmers Market, and a few other buildings which also look new. At the end of the street is the latest addition to the growing village: The Clam’s Pearl, the inn where I’ll be staying while I work on Agamemnon’s project. It looks very much like a large Victorian house. It is there I walk passing through the black wrought iron gate to the freshly painted door. Gold and a blue flower I’m not familiar with line the walkway to the cozy looking inn. A sense of comfort steals over me when I walk through its glass paned door, making sure to scrape my feet on the doormat for good measure, before I do. A simple but beautiful white drape covers the window. I feel my eyes float naturally up to the crystal chandelier hanging from the tall ceiling. With perfect timing a friendly looking middle-aged woman walks up as if she sensed my entry through some supernatural means. It was then I realized I never heard the ding of a bell when I came inside. She carried a tray with a tea pot, saucers, and tea cups on top. China from the looks of it, lovely and rather expensive I expect. She smiles warmly, sets the tray on a small table, and says, “Can I help you, sir?” I take my hat off and run a hand through my hair. “Yes, my name is Thomas Umstadt. We spoke on the phone yesterday. I called ahead and reserved a room.” Her face, momentarily misty, clears. “Yes, I remember. From New York, are you?” “Yes.” She runs her hands over her apron, a seemingly unconscious gesture. Her hands have the calloused slightly irritated look of someone who is intimately accustomed with housework. “Well welcome to Adermoor Cove and to The Clam’s Pearl. As I told you yesterday I am the head of this establishment.” “I can recall - and a fine establishment it is.” Margaret’s face brightens considerably. “Why thank you. I am quite proud of it myself if it isn’t too bold of me to say. Of course without the help of Agamemnon Angelopoulos I would never have been able to get it up and running. God bless him.” “God bless,” I agree if only for Margaret’s sake. I’m still not quite sure what I think about Agamemnon. “Let me take this tray into the Hammonds just out on the patio. They came here a week ago from California. Why they would come here out of all the exotic places in the world is beyond me. Mind you I’m not complaining. When I get back we will get you into your room for I’m sure you must be exhausted from your travels.” She lifts up the tray. Before I can offer to take it into the Hammonds lest she hurt her back she pushes the door to her left open with her hip and disappears inside, leaving me alone for the moment. I take a moment to look around the room: at the grandfather clock standing up against the wall of the fireplace, the lounge area with two sofas, an armchair, and potted plants. I take a peek at the bookshelf filled with leatherbound books, most of them poetry. I think of my father and picture him scanning the titles, running his hands lightly across the spines, a look of interest on his face. My father loves poetry. He is the head of a poetry group. A bunch of men and women who get together and share poems they’ve written. I’ve participated in a few gatherings myself but I don’t have much of an appreciation for poetry as I do for novels. Margaret comes back into the lounge area with a charming bright grin on her face, her hips swaying jauntily from side to side. “Let’s get your key, Mr. Umstadt.” “Call me Thomas please.” We enter her office, an oval room with a square desk. Nailed to the wall behind the desk is a slotted panel. She has me sign a couple of papers, mostly just stating I will take good care of the room and pay for any damage I might cause. Formalities. I pay for the first week. Then she leads me out of the office and up the flight of stairs. The second floor has six bedrooms in total. She grabs two sets of towels and washcloths and unlocks the door for me. “I hope your stay is comfortable,” she says from the doorway. “I’m sure it will be,” I tell her. “Let me know if you need anything. I’ll be leaving in a couple of hours but another girl named Charlene will take over. She’s very nice.” I tell her thank you and she closes the door. I’m alone. The room is quite nice. The wallpaper is green, with bright pink and red rose heads that sprout along the wall. There’s a window with a nice view of the town and the coast, a wooden desk and chair, a wooden wardrobe to hang one’s clothes, and an attached bathroom. There’s already a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo. Everything looks pristine, spotless. After inspecting all of this I stop in the doorway and look at the bed. Sudden exhaustion floods me and I drop my suitcase and collapse on the bed. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so tired in my life. To my surprise I sleep through the rest of the day and all through the night. I don’t get up once - not even to use the bathroom. When I wake up at eight-something in the morning my bladder feels impossibly full and my stomach hollow. After relieving myself I have to stand in the room and reassert myself. I’m not in New York anymore. I’m on the tiny island-village of Adermoor Cove. The feeling of being in a strange place persists as I dress and make my way down the stairs. I stop and listen to the sound of quiet laughter coming from in the kitchen. I follow the sound, gently pushing open a swinging door as the smell of frying bacon hits me. Immediately my stomach lets out a helpless grumble. I don’t think I’ve ever been so desperately hungry in my life. Margaret stands at the stove, a spatula in hand, looking splendid in a bright blue dress. Sitting at a breakfast nook sits a man and woman - these must be the Hammonds. Both are beautifully young. One look at them tells you they are very much in love. The woman, in the middle of laughing at something the husband must have said, turns her head to look at me. Her hair, vividly red and lustrous, is held up with pins. Her eyes, a bright and ghostly green, have a sort of twinkle to them. The dress she wears is white and printed with flowers. The man follows her gaze. His dark hair is slicked back and his eyes are a warm chocolate-brown. A slim moustache hangs over his lips. He’s dressed in a full on suite; khaki dress pants, and dress loafers. You can tell they’re rich. One glance at the both of them and I like them immediately. “Hello,” says the woman. She stands up and comes over to me with graceful and confident movements. She offers me her hand saying “I’m Vivienne.” I’m surprised by her introduction: Usually women are more reserved. To be so direct was often thought of as being unladylike and rude. Not that I myself minded. I’ve always scoffed inwardly at the ways of society, the conservatism of it. I hate how women are treated as second class, almost in the same boat as the Negroes. I still lived by the rules society has put into place of course. You have to if you want to survive in this world. However I couldn’t help but be pleased and I liked Vivienne even more than I did when I first saw her. “Nice to meet you Vivienne.” I said, shaking her hand gently. The golden bracelet on her wrist jingles pleasantly with every rise and fall of her hand. Her husband slides up gamely beside her. There are no signs that he’s bothered by her boldness. In fact when he glances at her I see only love and pride. Pure adoration. I think to myself, If only I could fall in love with someone like that, someone who would look at me in such a way. Looking at them both, standing side-by-side, opens a schism inside of me: I feel both hopeful and doubtful I will ever find such a person. “My name is Calvin,” said Vivienne’s husband as we shake hands. “And you are?” “Thomas. I just arrived yesterday.” “Well it’s a pleasure to meet you. Nice to see someone else in this place.” From the stove Margaret asks me if I would like breakfast. I tell her breakfast would be splendid. The Hammonds invite to sit at the table with them and I accept. Calvin sits at the right end of the table, Vivienne sits in the middle, and I sit at the outer edge. Margaret brings me a large plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, buttered toast, and a cup of coffee. She asks me I would like cream and sugar and I tell her some cream and sugar would be lovely. “So,” Calvin says, “what brings you to Adermoor Cove? Business or pleasure?” I smile. “Ask me something else. I’ll answer that question later.” “Alright, where are you from?” “New York City.” I set down my fork to wipe my mouth with a cloth napkin. “Margaret tells me you’re both from Los Angeles.” “Correct,” Vivienne says. “Both cities are equally grand. We stopped off at New York on the way here and stayed a few days. Tell me, did you feel as flabbergasted as we did when we came to Adermoor Cove? The smallness of it?” “Very much.” “We did too,” Calvin said. “But it’s beautiful in its smallness, in its...” His brow furrows as he searched contemplatively for the word. “Trivialness,” I offer. “Yes, that’s the word! I feel like it’s the sort of place you would see at the very edge of the world. The last bit of human civilization!” “And why did you two come here? How did you find out of its existence?” I ask. “We wouldn’t have if we hadn’t read about Agamemnon in the newspaper,” says Vivienne. “We’ve read about the wonderful things he’s done before of course. We wanted to see it and are quite enchanted. He knows how to take places no one knows about, small villages like the one on this island, and put them on the map. We met him for dinner just the other day. We found him eating at the pub. He was sitting by himself and so we took a moment to introduce ourselves. He seems like a sure enough fellow. And he’s so big.” “I’ve met him as well,” I say, smiling at the use of her word - mostly because I remember being in awe at his size when I met him. “What did you think of him?” “I found him to be pompous and rather unlikeable,” I reply immediately. I can even hear the sound of dislike in my voice. “I’ll tell you why when I get to why I’m here.” “A very candid answer,” said Calvin, not without surprise. “What do you guys do?” I ask them. “I’m a defense attorney,” says Calvin. “I just got in with a very prestigious law firm.” “And I’m a dress designer,” said Vivienne. “What about you? What do you do?” “Well until recently I wrote the horoscope section for The New York Times. But recently I wrote a book and it’s selling rather well.” “Oh really?” Vivienne’s eyes brighten. “What book?” “Through A Wartorn Wasteland.” “I’ve seen it on the shelves in bookstores! You wrote it?” “Yes. It’s a sort of roman-a-clef novel based on my grandfather. He fought for the Northerners in the Civil War. A great deal of it is based on accounts I read in the journals he wrote. There were a lot of vivid details in there about what it was like: all the killing, the starving. I tried to put as much of that in as I could.” “Yes critics are saying it’s quite detailed,” says Calvin, taking a sip from his cup of coffee. “Graphic was the word used I think.” “I also tried to intersperse my own views in there so I suppose some of it is a commentary piece.” “You’re sympathetic towards Negroes, I take it?” “Quite. One day I hope things will get better for them. After all they’re people too are they not?” “They are,” says Vivienne. “I have a feeling we’re a long way from the day when they will be treated as our equals though it saddens me to say it. But enough about that.” “Then I guess it’s time to tell you why I’m here.” Margaret came by to take my plate, which I had cleared without trouble. “Anyhow, apparently Agamemnon picked up the book, read it, and liked it so much he wants me to write a book chronicling his exploits.” “A biography?” Calvin says, fascinated. “Yes. And he’s paying me to do it. Quite handsomely I might add.” What I don’t say is I’m supposed to write it under his name, write it as if he’d written it. Ghost-write it. “And he just showed up where you lived?” Calvin looks skeptical. “Yes.” “And you agreed even though you don’t like him?” Vivienne looks mystified. “Yes.” “Well tell us what happened.” For a moment I’m unsure. I’ve only just met these two and already I feel like I’ve said too much. Why had I told them anything at all in the first place? The answer: Because even though I was here, the reality of the situation hadn’t quite set in. I don’t think it ever really will.
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