Sunday, 15 June 2014

Forever Fog - The Running.


Once in deeper water, Prince Linus set his second sail which hauled the boat far from land. He couldn't explain exactly what had happened to them in the bay, but it was night one minute and day the next, magic for sure. All that was behind him now but he was shocked at how weak Gwyn was and she had been fine when he spoke with her a few hours before.

He held this amazing woman in his arms, dazzled by her fragile beauty, even when she was clearly sick. The waves began to pitch the boat and Gwyn’s eyes fluttered open. She seemed shocked to see him; had he not told her he would come for her? She said something but he didn't understand her strange words. The Prince tendered her, as a mother tends a child. He touched a dish to her lips, tipping drops of honey water on her withered tongue. Gwyn’s body so desperately needed the nourishing liquid that even a few drops worked magic. Gwyn sucked lustily at the liquid. By the hour she got stronger, taking in more of the sweetened water each time it was offered. By noon she slumbered once more and the Prince covered her with his finest silk, darned with threads of purest gold.

At the helm, a crew man had been holding the ship into the wind, ignorant of a destination, just happy to be moving once more. “My Lord,” he greeted the Prince who relieved him at the teller. Prince Linus studied the sky and the sail, judging the home of the wind. With a flick of the oar he adjusted the angle of the boat, filling the sails even more, the agile ship responded sweetly.  
“Which port shall be next, my Prince?” asked the crew man with humble respect. These men had traveled far with him, facing adventure and death as one, but always his birth-right set him apart. The Prince knew this deference was not forged out of fear, but of love.

“I have the urge to see the house of my father once more,” Linus said. A huge smile spread across the face of the sailor.

“You are as wise as you are hansom, my Prince,” laughed the man. His humour was infectious.

“You silver tongued scoundrel, no wonder husbands fear you making land,” laughed the Prince gripping the man by his shoulder.

“What course shall we set,” inquired the sailor when the mirth subsided.

“Our home lies where the sun wakes, the storm has set us far off course. I noted its position in the sky while we were at port. It had the custom of burning the top of my head as a boy, today it lies to one side,” said the Prince pointing out the sun which lay to the lee of the bow. “We should sail across the ark of the sun until it rests above our heads. Then we must turn and follow the rise of each day.” The sailor pondered on the Princes words, finding truth in his logic he simply nodded and began harrying the crew to set the ship for its new heading.

A day and a night they sailed across the wind through ocean swell. Gwyn was sick to start with, Linus kept refreshing her with water and food, even when she protested her fill. By the dawn of the second day she was eating unaided and her body had become accustomed to the movement of the ocean. Prince Linus set his crew the task of building a shelter for her. Gwyn was going to be his wife and as such her private moments were no sight for his crew. He wisely instructed the cabin be big enough for two. Midway through the second day land appeared, causing the crew to celebrate wildly believing they were home. Only Prince Linus held his cool. He studied the position of the sun and the nature of the shore before him. It was similar to Beanntrai in colour but a little dryer. This was not their homeland, not yet. The prince pointed out the position of the sun in the sky and shattered the dreams of his crew.

“We can’t sail further across the sun, my lord we shall run aground,” protested a crew member. Linus studied the wind, the water and the land. He thought of the conditions of his outward journey, the wind in his face and the storm at his back.

“Keep the land in sight, to the lee of our bow and turn her into the wind,” commanded the Prince. As the crew made good his order, Gwyn appeared at his side touching his hand with hers. Her eyes were full of questions but her language was beyond his reckoning. He touched his chest and said, “Linus.”

She smiled and touched his chest repeating his name after which she touched her own heart and said “Gwyn.”

The Prince smiled and said “Gwyn.” She frowned and grabbed his hand holding it to her chest nodding for him to repeat the word. The soft swell of her breast filled his hand with warmth, the thump of her heart, the heat of her body took the Prince by surprise. When he said her name again his voice was cracked with want. The prince tried to draw his hand away but Gwyn held it firm, smiling she moved the hand a little lower and to the right. The Linus eyes widened causing Gwyn to smile delightedly. The prince laughed at the brazenness of this woman, taking her by the hand he ran the length of the ship dragging her along with him.

 “Perhaps the rest of this lesson should be in private,” he said vanishing with a laughing Gwyn into the newly finished cabin at the bow of the ship.

***
Corri walked sadly back to the Druid's cottage. She found Fia wailing on the ground, watching the mast of the Prince’s ship vanish. She ignored the wicked girl and sought out the Druid. Once she told him what Fia had done, he was furious beyond reason. Grabbing a stout branch from the wood pile he ran to where she lay and began raining blows on her shoulders. Fia seemed to barely feel the blows such was the depths of her despair. The old Druid was soon breathless and dropped the branch from his hand. Fia’s skin wasn’t even broken.

“You wicked girl, you've betrayed me, you've betrayed us all with your treachery,” panted the Druid.

“I don’t care what you say, Linus should have been mine. I love him so much,” she snarled at him, the woman lying on the ground was more animal now than human.

“Your wicked and you’re stupid, a dangerous combination,” the Druid said dragging Fia into the house and barricaded the door until he could decide her fate. It didn’t take long for the story to spread through the village. It was evening when the Warlord, and a procession of elders, marched up the hill toward the Druid's home. Seeing them approach the wise man rose to his feet and went to meet them.

“You have never needed so many to show you the way to my door in the past,” the Druid said to the Warlord.

“There are stories of witchcraft rife through the village, your wife, Fia is at the heart of them,” said the Warlord which raised a rumble from the mob.

“She is my wife so it is me you have to deal with,” said the Druid firmly. This stopped the Warlord in his tracks. Taking on a powerful Druid was no light matter, but he was the warlord and he had to protect his people from wickedness.

“She cast a sell, I've been told, she is a witch,” the Warlord boomed for everyone to hear.

“Ha,” snorted the Druid. “You were not so quick to complain about spells when your crops came to harvest or your children were born with sturdy limbs.” The mob seemed to falter, not one among them had not visited him in the past to seek help.

“Those were mere blessings and you know it. I'm talking about spells, dark magic,” countered the Warlord. It was the Druid’s turn to be held in check. He considered what his chieftain had said and the deeds of his wife, searching his mind for the right path to take.

“Witch!” a faceless voice in the crowd called.

“Bring out the witch,” echoed another.

“She has been foolish, and even spiteful,” said the Druid powerfully. “She is not a witch.”

“Has she been using her powers for her own benefit?” asked the Warlord, causing the crowd to hush with anticipation. The Druid was trapped, if he lied, his own position would be in pearl. If he told the truth he condemned Fia to death. In the end the Druids self-interest won out.

“She did.”

“She’s a witch so,” said the Warlord.

“Bring out the witch,” several of the mob cried.

“Burn the witch,” howled a woman’s voice.

“There will be no burning today,” the Druid bellowed, stopping the mob with one sweep of his staff.

“Who knows which of us she will turn on next, she is too dangerous to let live,” the Warlord reasoned.

“Fia will be banished,” said the Druid.

“That’s not good enough,” said one villager feeling brave in the midst of the mob. “What is to stop her coming back and casting her spells in the dead of night?”

“Slavery then. I will sell my own wife into slavery with the tin miners of Croom. Will that keep you sleeping soundly in your bed, you little weasel?” the Druid said advancing on the man who questioned him. The Warlord knew the Druid was at breaking point and could well curse them all.

“Aye, that will do well enough,” he agreed. He turned and walked back down the hill. With their leader gone the mob soon scuttled away. Corri emerged from the hut, wrapping her arms about the Druid. 

“I thought they would kill her,” she sobbed on his shoulder.

“You were very nearly right, how could Fia be so foolish and spiteful. Didn’t I always treat you well, were you all so unhappy with me?” Corri realised that only a day ago the Druid was the husband to three women. Today, one was taken across the oceans by a Prince and one forced into banishment as a witch. His house had been devastated by lust and betrayal.

“What will you do?” she asked.

“I have given my word. Fia is destined for Croom. We should leave before they change their minds and burn us all in our sleep,”

The Druid bid Corri to pack a travelling bundle for the three of them. As the moon rose he bound Fia’s hands. Her eyes had grown hard and hateful. Her body was still that of a young woman but her mind was that of a crone.

“You’ll gladly make me a slave?” she hissed as he finished knotting the thong on her wrists.

“It was this or a scorching death, and it was your own actions that landed you here,” said the druid as he finished binding her.

“I would rather death than life without Linus,” she snarled and spat in his face. Without realising his actions the Druid's hand whistled through the air, rattling Fia's teeth in her head when it landed. It was not the first time Fia’s skin had felt the touch of a man’s hand, but this blow stung both her cheek and her pride.  Rubbing her face with her bound hands she let her hate filled eyes play over her shocked husbands face.

“At least in the mine there might be a real man to make me squeal, something you could never do with that withered little wand of yours,” she snarled at him. When the blow landed this time it was Corri’s hand which felt the heat of Fia’s cheek.

The journey to Croom was not easy but with the treat of death following hot on their heels the journey was speedy. The path began to climb and the Druid and Corri had to get off the cart and lead the pony by the head. Dense forest gave way to barren hillside. Countless streams washed away what thin soil lay on the stony mountain. Soon the mouth of the ‘Valley of Croom’ lay before them. Bolder strewn and desolate, the mines were a dreadful place. A stinking stream of water trickled along the valley floor, clogged with silt and human waste. Thread bare ponies grazed at wisps of grass on the end of long tethers. The Druid stopped long before he reached the huts and announced his presence. The Croom men were not kindly disposed to visitors.

“Bless all who hear my voice,” the Druid called and held his hands aloft showing his unarmed condition.

“What want you old man?” asked a voice belonging to someone out of sight.

“Simply to trade. I come in search of Tin.”

“With what will you trade?” boomed the voice around the walls of the valley making it seem like the speaker was everywhere at once. The Druid dragged Fia from the cart by her bound hands.

“I wish to trade this woman,” he said unable to keep the sadness from his voice.

“Woman?” chortled the voice. “I see you have two, why not both?”

“Only this one,” said the Druid firmly.

“What if we keep both, trade or not,” threatened a voice accustomed to violence.

“That would be a dreadful mistake indeed, do you not recognise a Druid when you see one,” he said standing tall and true. Minutes passed before a filthy beast of a man with matted hair all over his body came from behind a nearby boulder. In his hand he held a knotted root of an ash tree driven with spikes, a formidable war club.

“It is true, you are indeed a Druid but years are creeping up on you.”

“For a wizard the passing of years simply strengthens his magic.” The filthy man came closer and circled Fia, using a long nailed hand to test the solidness of her arms. He rubbed the firm skin of her shoulder, probing the mussel underneath.

“This little thing will last no time in the mine, she is too soft.”

“She is a hard worker and tough for her size.”

The miner guffawed, grabbing a fist full of breast. “The only hard work this one has done was lying on her back,” he laughed. “She will have plenty of that here, while she is remains pretty and sweet.” Fia slapped away the hand with her clench fist and flew at the man with bared teeth. With the slightest flick of his enormous arm, the minder sent her crashing to the bed of the stinking stream.

“How much do you want for this unbroken filly?”

“Two carts of ore.”

“Two! You have spent too long on the road old Druid. One and you will be lucky to get it.”

“She is easily worth three but two is what I want.”

“You can have one or begone.” This miner is a wily one. The Druid knew he was being robbed but he couldn’t do anything about it.

“Trade,” he said sadly holding out his hand.

The miner slapped the Druid’s palm, “Trade.”

While the ore was loaded by a gang of ragged slaves, Fia was dragged away by the miner. She spat at the Druid as she passed crying “I will never forgive you, pig!”

The ore couldn’t be loaded quickly enough for the Druid's tastes. It was a blessed mercy when the pony took his first stumbling steps forward. The sound of the timber wheels crunching over pebbles did nothing to mask the cries coming from the miners hut. Fia had gotten her wish it seemed. The men of Croom were more than able to make her moan. Corri shed silent tears as they passed the hut were a queue of miners waited to take their turn.

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