Night Roads (con’t 4)

4)

 

Amia was in the garden when I walked up.

“What are you doing back here, Haskell?” She hadn’t turned around.

“Using your witchy skills, huh?”

She turned to face me then, smiling a little.

“Never you mind.”

“We need to talk. I need you to change my face, and I need to hire Alazne.”

“Yes to the first, no to the second.”

Amia stood, smoothed the dirt off her apron. She’d tied her hair back, and looked like a perfect housewife. The last thing I’d expect her to do was blow me apart with a bolt of light from her hands, but she could.

I would’ve smiled in amusement if she couldn’t.

“Alazne? She’s vulnerable, and that makes her volatile. I’m just getting her to where I can trust her. Leaving her alone in my house was the turning point. I half expected to return to find her gone and my place looted, if not a pile of ashes.”

“Maybe she is, but she has advanced stalking skills for her age, and she looks like a beggar child. I could use both to help me further your efforts in stopping the council.”

She paused to consider it.

“Come on, then. Tell me what you’re thinking, while I work on making your face be what I’ve always wanted.”

I felt my face do something between blush and blanch, which set her chiming laughter pealing.

 

***************

“How would you like to look?”

I told her.

“Close your eyes,” she said.    I did.

The blackness that my lids created began to lighten to a deep blue, the color of the sky when a full moon shines, and I felt the light scrape of her nails and the pads of her fingertips begin to caress my face.

My skin tightened, and there was some pain, but it was bearable; caught off guard by its suddenness though, I gasped.

“It’s all right,” she whispered, sending a relaxing wave across my body. “Trust me, Haskell.”

“I do.”

The light began to darken, and I was once more in natural darkness, but then I felt a slight change taking place through my body as well. I had what I would call an average build, but it seemed to be getting thicker.

She was making me more muscular, a bit wider, but not preposterously so.

“Is this all right with you?”

My laugh was sardonic.

“Did you leave me a choice?”

“No.” I could hear the smile in her voice.

Oh, Amia. What might have been…

A few moments of silence passed, and then:

“I’m done. Rest a moment. I’ll find a glass for you to see.”

I took a few deep breaths, feeling the increase of the expanse of my chest; it felt good, solid.

She’d gotten a lot stronger; her powers had increased. I should’ve been concerned then, but I wasn’t.

“You can get up now.”

I took my time, getting used to maneuvering with the larger frame.

She left me nude, and the glass showed everything.

“Madam, please,” I said with false modesty, covering myself with my hands.

She laughed again.

“What do you think?”

I took my hands away.

“This isn’t what I told you, but I’m not sure.” I looked like a pirate: curly black ringlets of hair down to my neck, swarthier than I was, and for added effect, a pale scar along the right cheek.

“How am I supposed to fit in with a face like this?”

“You don’t like it?”

“I said I wasn’t sure…”

“Close your eyes, and picture the face you want.”

“What? Amia…” my voice took a warning note, but she just gave me her ‘innocent’ look.

I closed my eyes, pictured the face I wanted, and felt the slight pull on my skin and the elongation and shortening of bones. It was a creepy feeling.

The sensations stopped, and I opened my eyes again.

More average features looked back at me, with no scar. I could be a servant or a merchant.

Just for kicks, I closed my eyes again, pictured the face of a nobleman I met once, and once again the magic crackled across my face.

Bearded, regal, with piercing eyes that struck fear in the hearts of men and made women weak in the knees, or so I hoped.

I looked back at Amia and smiled.    She returned it, pleased.

“I didn’t know you could do that, Amia. You’ve gotten stronger.”

“A woman shouldn’t be defenseless, Haskell. You know that as well as anyone.”

I did, and I was glad she was among those who could do it.

She came up behind me, and put her hands where I had mine moments ago, and put her lips by my ear.

“Let’s try this new body out, and see how it works for you.”

“Shall I keep this face?”

“No, Haskell. I like you for you.”

Changing my face back, I turned toward her, kissed her long and deep, my own hands busy before I picked her up and carried her to her bed, the place she’d denied me the night before, a deed which I promised her she was going to pay for, and she rose to the challenge..

As it turned out, the new body worked just fine.

 

5)

 

It was evening when we were done with each other.

“Where’s Alazne?”

“Out, hunting dinner.”

“She’s a scary girl.”

“I agree. One step up from feral, really. Even I haven’t gotten all of her story from her yet.”

“Do you want it?”

She laughed. “Not sure.”

We finished dressing in silence, and Amia poured some of that wine from Inkara.

The clothes were a bit tighter, but would cover me enough for now.

“I need her, Amia.”

“Why? After the power I gave you, you can fit in anywhere.”

“I need a scout though, a spy, if you will. She’d be able to get into places unnoticed.”

“I don’t know, Haskell. Ragamuffins aren’t welcome in most places; they’re the kids who get watched in the marketplaces, the ones cast out into the street. People do see them.”

“They do,” I agreed, “but only when they get careless. Alazne doesn’t strike me as careless, and she’s got a whole host of skills we don’t know.”

“How do you know?”

“She gave me the lantern, and found her way back to you in a dark forest.”

“By now she’s familiar with the path, the direction; it’s no great feat, Haskell.”

“I’m telling you, even with all that, for one of her age to go skulking about as she does, it is. I need her eyes, and I need her to gain access to places where I won’t fit in.”

“I’ll do it,” said a voice from the doorway.

“How long have you been standing there?” said Amia.

“For most of it.”

I turned to Amia, grinning, and just managed to dodge the empty wine cup she threw at my head.

 

***************

As I told Alazne of my plan, and she cooked a late night rabbit, we spent another couple of hours ironing out the details.

She helped with the logistics of where she’d be able to go, and we both agreed that Jonas provided the only real threat.

“Kill him first, or last?” I asked her.

“Let me think about it.”

“All right.”

“Haskell?”

I turned to see Amia in the doorway of her room.

“Are you spending the night?”

Alazne rolled her eyes.

“Actually, no. I need to get back to the inn, make sure everything’s intact, and where I left it.”

The door slammed so fast and hard that Alazne and I both jumped.

Alazne looked up at me.

“You’re a stupid man, aren’t you Haskell?”

I sighed, looking at the door where just seconds ago, I’d seen a vision of erotic loveliness.

“Yes, Alazne. Yes I am.”

Night Roads (con’t 3)

3)

 

Alazne led me back to the road where she met me, again in the lead, using that unerring, unnerving, confident stride she used at the start of the night, as if the sun was shining and she could see every tangled root underfoot.

 

“The inn’s about a mile that way; you’re going to need this.”

She handed me the lantern.

“And you won’t?”

She just smiled, and slipped back into the forest, the dark swallowing her up.

 

********************

The windows of the inn were dark, but the moon was beginning to set; I was loathe to knock, but I was tired, cold, and hungry, and thanks to Amia’s generosity, I would be able to afford to alleviate all three.

My knock was answered by a grizzled old man made of whipcord muscles and whiskers.

His eyes were small and mean, and he only opened the door a crack.

“I’m of a mind to leave you outside, ‘cept the missus would have m’ hide. Yer not runnin’ from the law, are ya?”

I tried a smile. “Not at the moment.”

He didn’t see the humor, and reluctantly let me inside.

“We keep a room prepared for such emergencies. Ain’t much to look at, but it will serve for the rest of the night.”

He took my lantern and led the way.

The room was as he said it would be, functional with not much in the way of luxury.

“I’ll take yer coin now, in case yer of a mind to leave earlier than we get up.”

I felt bad for his wife; left to his own devices, there’d be no inn.

His unnecessary surliness was also starting to annoy me; while it was true I woke him up, I was no beggar looking for scraps.

I paid him, and he left without another word.

Stripping down to what I would be comfortable leaving on in case of running outside in an emergency, I gave myself over to the exhaustion that had already seeped into my bones.

 

**************

In the morning, bathed, shaved, fed, and feeling relatively like a part of the human race again, I was back out on the road.

Finding a shady spot by mid-morning, I stopped and took a look at the list of council members.

Turns out I knew the first name: Jonas Noll.

He’d been a hunter of some renown in this area for quite some time; it was safe to assume that the game he once hunted was now faster and smarter, and he decided to stop before the law of averages worked against him.

Smart hunter, but dumb if he thought Amia was going to let him run roughshod over her opportunity to advance. He’d had some experiences with her as well, and probably decided there’d be safety in numbers.

He was wrong, and I would be the one to tell him so by ending his life, or die trying: older hunters grew craftier with the years. I would really have to plan where to move, and it had to be out of his sphere of influence, with no witnesses.

I scanned through the rest; some I knew casually, others were strangers. Out of all of them, Jonas probably posed the biggest threat.

It would best to work through the strangers first; there were five of them. Two lived some distance away, and while I didn’t really see why they’d get caught up in local politics in this place, it was a safe bet money was involved, probably in matters of voting or breaking bones, or both.

This would have to be a one day event; to spread it out would mean mounting suspicion, and while I was careful, if the right person was in the right place at the wrong time, it could mean the difference between life and death.

To hit them at a meeting would be the most practical; there’d be anonymity in the crowd, but it wouldn’t be a real test of my skills.

What Amia said about my taunting came back to mind; it was a cautionary tease: don’t mess this up.

I sighed, wanting to draw it out against my better judgment and Amia’s wishes.

All right. A one shot deal. I could use Alazne’s stalking skills to good advantage.

I put the parchment back in the back; the gold was secure under a floorboard in the room, and I got up slower than I remembered getting up before, to go get the layout of the town, a bit of trepidation in my step, because this place attracted a lot of travelers

Hopefully, no one would recognize me from a past adventure in a distant land; if they did, the assignment would stop before it began.

I decided I couldn’t take the chance.

Amia was going to have to help me. My face needed to change, but not drastically. It was the small changes in details that threw off eyewitnesses: a moustache where there wasn’t one, a scar, an eye patch, or just growing longer hair, could make all the difference in escaping bounty hunters leafing a town with Wanted posters.

Unfortunately, I’d learned through experience.

With everything in me thrumming with resistance, I began walking the path back up to her place. She wouldn’t be happy to see me, but she might help me, and I really did need to speak with her about utilizing her mysterious protégé.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr

The Mark of Cane

The children were crying, wrapped in chains and manacles, covered in scars from when they’d first resisted.

They didn’t resist now. They couldn’t if they wanted to; they were hungry and tired from their long journey.

The slavers let them sleep, but didn’t feed them for a few nights, though they kept them in drugged water. In days they were gaunt, bedraggled, and dejected.

After five days, they gave them scraps, and watched them pummel, kick, and bite each other for an extra piece, laughing and betting.

After ten days, when they began nearing the city, they fattened the kids who survived the fighting up with full meals to make a decent presentation at auction, and peace reigned in the camp once more, for a time.

A day’s ride out from the city gates, the slavers woke to find their sentries dead, and the children gone. A dark figure in a broad brimmed hat stood among them as they approached him in a circle, their leader stepping forward, his own knife drawn, to confront the silent intruder, who had his head down inside the hood that hid his face.

“You have until a minute ago to bring those brats back, or tell me where they are.”

The figure, his eyes hidden by the brim, gave an enigmatic smile, and then he lifted his eyes, and looked at the slaver.

The slaver’s skin sloughed off his body in a red, wet heap, and his flesh and bones sagged like sludge, collapsing in red, gory mound, spreading out in a pool of meat and guts and bone.

He heard the sound of men crying out, vomiting, shouting, cursing, praying, and finally, running.

In less than a minute the camp stood abandoned.

The figure turned to go, when the curtain on the leader’s tent parted, and a dark-haired young girl of some twelve or fourteen summers emerged. She looked at the pile of flesh that had only last night claimed her maidenhead, and left her crying and bruised, then she looked at the figure.

“Who are you, mister?”

“My name,” he said, as he removed his hat and bowed to her, “is Cane. Come with me, and I’ll take you to the others.”

Having nowhere to go now, she put out the last of the campfire, and walked toward him, stopping to spit on the red, stinking rubble of her rapist, gave her hand to Cane, and the two of them left the camp without looking back.

 

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

In the Temple of Her Heart (Chapter 1)

The day came, bright and clear, though snow remained in the mountain passes.

Arlun had to admit that he was nervous, but he dared not let it show. His parents and siblings were counting on him, and he needed to concentrate. He still wasn’t quite sure how it all happened, but it had, and he was to be wed by the end of the month.

The travel would take a week, the preparations the remaining two; his family would be sent for and conveyed with the utmost care and reverence due their new station.

He shook his head. It had all come about so suddenly….

  The soldiers had pushed the crowds to the sides with the weapons and the large flanks of angry stallions. As the people scrambled aside to avoid the royal procession, a dog, feral, rabid, and scrounging in the alleys had somehow found its way to the merchants’ district. 

In the air, it caught the high scent of fresh meat, and foam pattered in droplets from its mouth as it ran, snarling with anticipation and starvation. It burst out of the alley and snapped at the legs of the people standing aside, who began to jump and scream at the new threat that came suddenly behind them.

   Unheeding of the forest of human legs that sought to entangle it, it broke through just as one of the smaller horses, a pearl colored mare, was passing by; leaping onto a haunch, the dog savaged the flesh, a spout of red staining the white haired beast with calico spatters of blood before the animal reared and wheeled, screaming at the sudden flash of pain, tossing its rider, a slender girl, from its back to sprawl in an undignified heap on the cobblestone street.

Arlun reacted without thought, and rushed forward to pull the young girl to her feet and take her out of harm’s way as her guard’s dealt with the more immediate threat of the dog. 

Her personal guard, however, had seen Arlun, and gave pursuit, now thinking this was a kidnapping ploy. She ran hard into him and sent him sprawling; in a flash she’d straddled him and punched him in the gut twice as his face reddened and his breath fled. With him immobilized for the moment, she got up and let him roll around on the ground to catch his breath, and turned to the girl.

“Are you well, Nahaia?”

“I am, Zarai, thanks to this young man.”

“He was not taking you?”

“Only out of the path of the horses. You did well; you did not know.”

Zarai nodded.

“Help him up.”

Zarai went over, brought Arlun to his feet, still looking him over suspiciously.

By now a crowd had gathered about them, and some of the guards bustled through.

The mangled dog corpse was burning in the middle of the street, and the procession stopped.

“Come, Nahaia.”

“In a moment, Najiu; I have not properly thanked this young merchant boy for saving my life.”

The guard stepped back, and Nahaia went over to Arlun, took off one of her gold armbands, a single ruby in its center, and gave it to him.

“Your Highness,” Arlun said, stunned at the gift, his parents and siblings looking wide eyed over his shoulder. He was going to say he couldn’t take it, but realized that would be an insult, so he knelt, and looked at the ground, as did his family.

“You do me too much honor.”

“Perhaps,” Nahaia said, with a mischievous grin, “but consider it an invite to the palace; my father will want to show his gratitude, as do I. This is neither the time nor place. Tell me your name.”

“Arlun.”

“I will expect you within the month, Arlun. This bauble will only be good until then. If you do not come, I will send Zarai back to extract it from you; the journey to this part of my father’s kingdom is long, if not unpleasant, but still, she may not be polite about it since she will be traveling far.”

“I will be there, your Highness.” His eyes remained on the ground.

To his surprise, she lifted his chin with her finger and favored him with a smile; her eyes were big and brown and beautiful, and his heart quickened as his cheeks flamed.

“I will be most disappointed if you are not, Arlun.”

They turned to go, and Zarai shot him a look of cool disdain, her lips in a mocking, knowing sneer, but knowing what, Arlun couldn’t say.

He swallowed.

This wasn’t going to be easy.

   

Tilting at the Windmills of My Mind

Clusters of Butterflies

Torrents of Bats

Clear Pretty Blue Skies

Swarming of Gnats

Murdering Dogs

Laugh-n-Play Kids

Wallowing Hogs

Warm Coffee Lids

Friends who’ve forgiven me

Friends who’ve betrayed

Friends who’ve abandoned me

Friends who have stayed

Women who swing their hips

Women who don’t

Women who’ll lay with me

Women who won’t

Enemies  Frenemies

Besties and spouses

Living in tenements

Dreaming of houses

The Creak of  Old Windmills

The Flower that Wilts

The Strength of my Youth fades

The Jousting Lance Tilts

The Windmills keep turning

I don’t quite know how

I fought them all Bravely

But I’m

Leaving

Now.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

December 29th, 2014

Tilting at the Windmills of My Mind

All rights reserved

War Cries (first draft).

Hey readers! Just trying this out. Let me know your thoughts…

1:

A single torch lit the entrance to the private chamber, and as the widows approached, the light revealed their many hues of skin and dress, their jewels sparkled like crystal, rippled like dark red wine, shimmered with the green of a tranquil ocean.

Their collective expressions were somber, sad.

He would be leaving them once again; they never knew for how long, only that they must wake him to go. In their hearts, they grieved, for he would add to their number when he returned.

One of the widows stepped forward, her lithe form whispering against the fabric of her gown; she took the torch in a slender hand, and went into the chamber.

The light almost made it to the high ceiling, and fought bravely against the shadows, but was really little match for the formidable darkness.

“Duilius?” her dulcet voice called, a slight echo bouncing back to her ears.

She waited, knowing he’d heard; as she did, she looked about at the armory surrounding her, weapons he’d inspired in the minds of men. When the carnage was over, he brought them home to show, then to cast aside, as he had all of them, the widows of men.

She smiled at the thought: We, too, are now unused weapons.

She listened as the armored steps reverberated, a measured tread, slow, steady, and ominous. The sound of metal on metal rang out into the chamber, and he emerged from the semi-darkness into the semi-light, his visage scarred and terrible.

The scents of blood and smoke, waste and corrupted death surrounded him in a nimbus of pungent, horrific odors. It took everything for her not to retch.

Rounding the corner, he looked at her. His red eyes, flaring in the torch light, held her in a freezing grip of fear. He gazed at her a time, lust in his eyes; she saw him wrestling with his desire, and prayed that he would not take her.

Turning aside, he came to himself, and she breathed a sigh of relief.

“Vinya,” he greeted her, the rumble of his voice felt in the tips of her toes. “Where are the others?”

“Outside the chamber.” She managed to keep her voice steady.

“And why are you here?”

“Why do we ever come here, lord?”

He moved closer to her, and she stepped back, but held his gaze, moved the torch a little closer to his face.

His red eyes smoldered like embers, and he smiled; it was lascivious and cruel, mirthless and merciless, but she lifted her chin in defiance.

He reached out to take it between his fingers, his touch burning her cheeks like a high summer sun.

Her lips pulled back in a silent snarl, and her own eyes flared with their own heat.

“Ah, Vinya. You are fiery still. I thought once to break it out of you. I don’t know that I want to, but you should know that I can.”

Against the pressure of his fingers, she formed her words carefully, her hatred for him a rising tide that would one day sweep him away without a single regret.

“I am aware of your powers, Duilius. They frightened me once. Your devil eyes frighten me still, but you’ve done your worst, and yet I’m here. You should know, we are not done, not by any stretch of the imagination.”

He released her face, and she wiped away the crimson ashes his touch always left behind with the back of her free hand. He was blood and fire, indeed, but so was she, in her own way.

He nodded once in acquiescence to her standing up to him, but his patience was thinning; she would persist in her insolence, and he would ruin her beauty for it.

With a pompous air, he seated himself on a stout, high-backed chair, his attention no longer directly on her as a servant scurried to prostrate himself, and Duilius put his feet on a human ottoman, the full weight of his boot heels resting on the servant’s spine.

“Tell me, then. Where am I needed?”

She told him.

The torch sizzled and spit in the ensuing silence.

“Shall I help you prepare?” Vinya asked.

He looked up again, as if she’d just arrived and found him already seated.

There was something on his mind when he was hesitant, but she held her peace.

With a wave of his hand, he dismissed her.

“No. I will leave on the morrow.”

He rose, spared her yet another glance, and she hurled him another haughty look, and turned her back on him, leaving him alone in the darkness, with only his terrible eyes to light his way.

She felt those eyes as if they were hands.The heat from the torch was not enough to keep her from shivering under the weight of his stare between her shoulders, sliding down to her backside.

2:

 Back in his own tower, he took off the armor he’d made and tested in the underworld.

It bore the brunt of bites and claws well enough, and his newly sharpened blades had proven true, but he was running out of test subjects.

His dungeons were almost empty; he would need to remedy that soon.

The silent servants drew his bath, left his supplies and food, and lots of plum wine, and he was soon done with all of it, his eyes heavy, despite his desire not to sleep. It was happening more and more lately, as he got called more infrequently; peace was never kind to a soldier, whom having violently established it, now had to live in it with no further thought to what he’d done.

The thoughts of those men who killed flitted through his mind, as did the thoughts of those killed. The voices never stopped, and they weren’t always men. The higher voices of women and children carried over the lower frequencies of men, their screams of rage, their shocked questions of why, their desperate appeals for mercy, and then their snapping bones, their final moments before the arrows, the swords, the knives, the bolos, the spears, the stones, the molten metal…

He pushed it all back, and lay down, letting the candles gutter.

His sleep, though sound, was never silent, never fully dark. The deepness of it waxed and waned on the grand scales of wheeling stars, changing seasons, shifting tides, the tilt of planetary axis, and on the minutiae of an impulse of animal rage, the calculated, surreptitious slithering of snakes, the vicious, irreversible clamp of creatures with large fangs and evil intentions, the small dramas of life and death between predator and prey always played out before him.

Before he slipped into whatever level of unconsciousness he’d be able to achieve before his journey, the most unlikely thought flashed through his mind:

I no longer wish to be the god of war.

 

(To be continued)

 

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

December 16th, 2014

War Cries

All rights reserved

Sleep, children. ( dedicated to the innocent victims of madmen)

Sleep, children.
The cowards who’ve stolen your childhood will pay.

Sleep, children.
For now with your friends you will no longer play.

Sleep, children.
Your parents must carry your bodies away.

Sleep, children.
Tomorrow for you will not be a new day.

Sleep, children.
And know that you will always

be loved.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.
December 17th, 2014
Sleep, children.
All rights reserved

A Thread of Human-ness

We all have

Uniqueness

in

Common

And

Conform

in

our striving to

be

Individual

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

November 28th, 2014

A Thread of Human-ness

All rights reserved

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