Scene: night, brightly lit. Three travelers concealed safely within a brushy bramble patch.
One head lifts, turns, a hand draws aside the edge of the no-color cloak.
A whisper on the air, “Hssst!”
Softly still, ”hsssssst”.
A breath, “shhhh“.
“Listen“ barely voiced.
“Ahhh, good ears, you.“
The shadows strain forward in the dark, heads turning, eyes seeking. Moonlight visible through the concealing brambles.
Scuffle, leather against the roadway, dragging, a smack lands on flesh, a muffled galumph. Moon bleached lumps heave and kick at the pallid misshapen figure on the road. “Faughh, nah fight in ‘im,“ complained the first lump. “Where’s the fun in that? If’n you hadn’t spent all that time lookin’ for places ta’ stick yer dick, there might be some wiggle left for me! Piggy bastid!“
“Was my turn to ha’ firsties!“ Whined the second lump. “An’ we drew straws. Las’ time you pulled all the nice bits orf.“
“Ahhhh, les ‘jus’ stake it out, and get our coin. ‘Mind me not to get crosswise the Corbullo, not healthy-like.“
The travelers had turtled down into their cloaks, not wishing for their eyes to give them away.
‘Peace, let it find peace.’
Opposite the thicket the two thugs dragged their victim off the road and toward an east facing cliff, pausing longer than necessary to snap some branches from a deadfall. Bent over, hands on knees, puffing, blowing and pulling faces in dismay at the talus slope that awaited them.
“Jes gotta get it up to a spot where they’ll be a nice view of the sunrise an’ we’re done!“
“We don’ havta get ‘im up real far, jes pas t’first bit. Eh? Git t’job done!“
Ignoring the clink and chink of the rocks as they scrambled upward, they roughly hauled the figure and sticks behind them. It was probably fortunate that their boot soles were worn to pliability since it afforded a better grip on the rocks. The branches weren’t doing their fellow traveler any favors either. As they hauled the burden over the boulders the watchers gagged to see what was left of the creature. Attenuated limbs flopped, not one had been left complete, its mother could not have recognized what was left of the face. No wonder it was so pale, there was probably no blood left to drip.
Holding as still as possible, they swallowed roughly and let their tears flow as what was left hung, head down, suspended from branches thrust between leg bones and wedged into crevices.
The thugs swayed as they surveyed their work without satisfaction. Something was missing. Instinct provided the answer, as one man, they pawed at their tunics, fumbled a moment and pissed. Ahhh! Perfect!
With a sense of fulfillment goons 1 and 2 slid down the slope and wandered off down the road, hopefully never to be seen again.
The small gray eyed boy was happy to toddle up the mountain meadow trailing his aunt under the early summer sun. A basket, meant to carry flowers for his mother, swung from his hand. His Mother was not well and his aunt had suggested they search for something sweet smelling to help her feel better.
In particular she was looking for Frigg’s grass, or lady’s bedstraw to ease the travail of childbirth.
besides in this instance fresh would be better.
She had already helped the boy pick some still blooming sweet woodruff in the damp shade of the
woods; it wouldn’t matter if it wilted a bit, since that just released the fragrance. Needs must they
could use that for a tisane for her sister.
Standing in the last bit of shade afforded by the trees she squinted into the bright meadow.
“Kit, can you see any yellow butterflies?”
Kit mimicked her squint – “See stripy milk colored? Like that?”
“Maybe; do you see
yellow flowers?” She asked, still scanning for the tell tale sulfur wisps.
“Look aunty, by the big rock!”
“It’s all rocks up here, Kit. Show me.”
Kit’s little legs struggled determinedly across the rocky ground and closer to the flowers he had spied.
His aunt followed slowly, she was still weak from the hard winter, it was a wonder that Kit had made it at all. Her sister had favored him greatly and insisted on nursing him almost until the equinox when her milk had dried up. Favor one, lose the other. It was better to nurture the living child, than the one not yet born. It was hard though. She feared she would lose her sister too; they had all been weakened by the skimpy harvest and harsh winter. Little Kit had picked up rapidly once the cow had calved and there was new milk to be had. His mother had fed him soft cheese and green herbs until his little hands were plump and his cheeks were rosy again. Great Mother willing they wouldn’t lose any more people.
He felt the rough stone digging into his back, a niggling sensation, trivial really, but at this moment it turned into the focal point for the screaming snarl of pain his existence had become. Somewhere in the past there had been peace and sunshine and yellow flowers dancing in the breeze. Recalling the feeling of his mother spooning fresh cheese into his mouth he flinched as his jaw’s muscle-memory twitched, reawakening wounds. The chafing of the stone was preferable.
- Cattle die,
- kinsmen die
- you yourself die;
- I know one thing
- which never dies:
- the fate of the honored dead
Something would change, the sun would rise or the scavengers would find him. He was grateful. Unlike Prometheus he was not doomed to have his liver torn out by a raptor every day, only for it to mend each night. He had gone beyond his ability to heal. He was grateful. His journey through Hades would be finished, he would be finished, this three part death would be complete. He was grateful.
Mama wasn’t there any more, neither was the baby. She hadn’t been able to look at the flowers he had brought her, not even the pretty blue gentian, or drink the tisane aunty had fixed. She was still, the baby hadn’t even made it out of her tummy, her woman place aunty said. That’s why men did the fighting, because the danger had to be shared and it was dangerous to make babies. It was right that they all worked together to get the food.
Father had honored her in burial, all her favorite things had been buried with her. Aunty had cried a lot and poured ashes on her head, but he was a big boy and he hadn’t cried. Until later.
Father’s sister had come from over-the-pass to help. His cousins were all grown and could do without their mother for a while, but after the solstice she would have to go back to her family.
So, there he sat, poking the dirt with a twig; a knee baby with no knee to lean on.2 Waiting for his father to come back. Occasionally one of the servant girls would roughly wash his face and he learned to scramble to get enough to eat. His father had promised him a new mother. In his mind’s eye a mother had wide gray eyes and soft partridge feather hair. She would feed him bits of warm buttered barley cake as she cooked. He was bigger now, he could help his new mother, not let her work too hard so she would stay with them.
After Corbulo’s lumpy minions had stumbled off in search of their promised coin and wine, the watchers backed carefully out of the brambles, softly cursing and hissing as sharp rocks dug into knees and palms. Huddled at the base of the tumult of rocks, they argued.
Slight male: “It would be safer if it were closer to dawn.”
Female: “It is wrong to wait, even if he seems to be out of it. Besides, we have to find a place for him to heal.”
Broad male: “Look, I’ll carry him, you figure out where.”
Slight male, dithering: “How do you want to do this?”
Female: “Let’s just get our asses up there, we’ve got rugs and blankets, we’ll manage.”
Broad male: “Lemme give you a boost, you get him off there and pass him down to me.”
Female: “Yuck, poor bastard. OK, let’s go – you first, songbird. I’ll pass you a blanket.”
Broad male: “Idiot” (brushing stone chips out of his hair). “Watch what you are doing!”
Female: “Told you to wear a hat. Here’s the blanket, Birdie. Now give me a hand. Horse, don’t throw me this time!”
Horse: “Honey, you’re so bossy. Makes me want to throw you.”
“Puuuuf! Bird spat, Argggh, got a mouthful of that damn dust crawling up here. Let’s see if we can get the skewers out of this poor wight.” Honey and Bird sidled carefully along the boulder toward the inverted figure, watching for any sign of movement. No matter how brutalized and drained, he could still be lethal.
Honey muttered repetitively, son-of-a-bitch, son-of-a-bitch, son-of-a-bitch, what pigs. Bird, who knew all the laws by heart, focused on certain chapters and verses, trying to remember what crime would merit this punishment, and wondering why it had been meekly endured. Surely one such as the figure before them could have fought to the last drop of blood. He was so far into the laws that he almost missed his next step. Honey snagged his arm at the last moment but his foot sent another dusty shower down on Horse’s upturned face as he swung full on into the battered torso.
Horse took over the litany of curses. “Watch what you’re fucking doing! Cloud brain!”
Honey grabbed at Bird again to steady him. ‘Well, if that didn’t get us drained, he must be near gone!’
She bent to examine him. “Foot’s gone, those branches were shoved right between the long bones of his leg and arms. Brutal! That beating would have been enough. What’d they use silver? Sure ripped him right up.” Honey straightened her back and retied her head cloth.
Bird distracted himself with reciting the applicable laws so he wouldn’t have to look too closely. If he pressed his lips tightly together maybe he wouldn’t puke.
“Mothers! They pulled his fangs! Even if he got loose, he couldn’t feed and heal. Only another vampire would know to do this. She roughly scrubbed at the tears blurring her eyes. Spiteful, vicious, hell-spawn. I hope he’ll be a good one and we don’t have to end him.”
“Why did First have to go and get herself staked! Damn! What a mess.”
“OK, Bird, I’ll support him and you pull the stakes out. Start with the arms, I think, so he doesn’t flop over on us. Why’d they hang him upside down, anyway? What kind of offense did he commit?’ ‘Blasphemy?”
“Nah, Honey, just standard punishment for a Roman slave.”
Bird grabbed one of the lower stakes, praying he wouldn’t get a splinter, he hated splinters. “Eww, I’m going to have to wiggle it loose from between the rocks. Mothers, which way would be worse – if we pulled on him or pulled on the stake?”
“Look let’s just try getting the branches loose first, if that doesn’t work we’ll try the other. We are running out of time. He is running out of time, sunrise isn’t that far off.”
Bird bent over to get ahold of the stick with both hands. Fortunately it had been wedged in at an upwards angle so that when he pulled it was less likely that he would tumble off the ledge. Nasty business, dark blood oozed sluggishly as he jiggled the stick loose. As the first stake came free the vampire whimpered and spasmed. Shit, shit, shit. He felt it! With more fear and more haste, Bird reached across and extracted the second stake more easily.
2 The main sense seems to be ‘a child just old enough to stand unaided; a toddler’. A weanling, as opposed to a nursling or lap baby.