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Volume 5 Issue 3 ISSN# 1708-3265
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Chapter Seven

by Jennifer Kusz

Just joined in? Haven't read the entire story? Well, if you missed it, here's a link to:
Chapter One - Chapter Two - Chapter Three
Chapter Four - Chapter Five - Chapter Six

One by one, each of the men stood, the binding roots slinking back into the shadows, intertwining with the architecture of the chairs, blending and disappearing as if they had never existed. John watched, knowing that his own bonds would hold fast. A weight of lead had settled in his belly and an iron clamp was fastened on his heart. Elsie began to stir, but appeared too weak to stand, and John watched with sadness and longing as his brother lifted her into his arms. Jack looked at the captain expectantly, waiting for him to rise from his chair.

"John?" he said, when the captain remained still.

"Go, Jack. Take her, care for her. Tell her that I will always love her."

"No, John. You're leaving with us." A pause, then, "Release him, O'Connor!"

Thomas' lips curved upward into a grimace, as though he was incapable of smiling. His gentle yet icy voice flowed into John's ears like a terrible lullaby: "But he agreed.  We mustn't break our promises."

"John, what is this? What did you agree to? I won't allow this!"

"Jack, please. Take her. Go. I command you, as your captain. Go."

"You may take all of your horses. Leave the captain's, else you will share his fate," the necromancer spoke. With a wave of his hand, the portal to the forest outside began to close, branches and leaves weaving a thick curtain over the doorway. 

"Go, now!" John shouted at the men. They stood fast, staring at him, whilst their only escape slowly shrank behind them, shutting them in.

"We will not leave you," one of them said, stepping toward the necromancer and raising his chin in defiance.

The necromancer snarled, baring his pointed teeth. Aiming his hands at the challenger, he cried out a single, unintelligible word. A brilliant white light shot out of his fingertips, blinding John and the men. John blinked, trying to regain his sight as the light dissipated. Panic and dread seeped from his pores. The men were gone. 

Unbeknownst to the captain, the now leaderless band huddled together, bewildered and confused, yet whole and alive, in the centre of the forest with all of the horses but one. The doorway, the path of mists and the cavern of root and branch had for the men vanished, no trace of it could be seen. Jack shouted for his brother, but John did not hear his cries.

"Jack!" John shouted from inside the cavern. "What have you done with them?"

"They are safe," the necromancer reassured. 

"Kill me, then. You wanted my life. Take it."

"Did you think it would be that easy?" Thomas asked, gliding toward his captive.

"What do you mean?"

Thomas caressed John's cheek, dark eyes gleaming, and softly replied, "We mean to torture you, brother."

"You are no brother of mine."

"Do you not remember? I remember. I remember clearly how you shunned me; how you tried to pretend that I did not exist. Do you pretend still?"

John replied with silence, turning his head to the side and averting his gaze.

"Magus, it seems my brother does not remember his own kin. Perhaps we should assist him."

The wizard smiled with sealed lips and floated toward the prisoner, eager eyes gleaming. Thomas grasped John's chin, wrenching it forcefully back into position so he faced forward. The necromancer placed a hand on John's forehead. John resisted, but Thomas held fast to his chin, restraining him.  A burning sensation spread from his brow to the base of the neck. Images floated before him, gathering behind closed eyelids to form a scene:  A woman with honey-coloured hair, walking hand-in-hand with her lover. His skin was pale, and twilight locks fanned his shoulders.  She smiled at him, but evaded his kisses and twisted from his grasp when he tried to pull her closer. She ran ahead, into the forest, provocative laughter flowing behind her like a cape. He strode calmly after the woman, and came upon her in a clearing. She giggled. He pounced. She wriggled, squirmed. Her laugh became nervous, and then morphed into screams when she realized it was no longer a game.  Forced to witness the violation and rape of his mother, John wept.

The image transformed. A babe, head matted with thick, dark hair, emerged from the woman's loins. No cries escaped the infant's rose-colored lips, yet he breathed. The mother, golden hair matted with sweat and tangled with struggle, cried silently and refused to acknowledge her newborn son. A nursemaid delivered him to a man outside, the man who had raped her. Without a word, he took the babe and strolled away, shoulders held back with pride.

 A new vision: two boys wrestling in the dirt, interrupted by a giggle. The strange girl captivated them with her pale skin and hair of fire.  Forgotten was the third boy, their half-brother who hid in the shadows, crouched low, watching the scene with a covetous gaze. Raised by his cruel and violent sire, the coal-headed youth longed to join his gentle mother and jovial brothers, to be loved by them and to undo his father's wrongs. He watched them, stalked them, afraid to emerge from the shadows as the two brothers befriended the redheaded girl. Occasionally one brother would look over his shoulder at the place where the boy hid, squinting, searching through the shadows as if certain they were being followed. Less often, the young stalker would reveal his presence, attempt to join in the merriment. The brothers did not tease him, did not taunt him, nor did they beat and abuse him. They did not acknowledge him at all.  

The images melted together and reformed rapidly, showering John with scene after scene, revealing and unfolding the events which transformed an unwanted infant into a misunderstood and lonely youth and ultimately into a monstrous creature of longing and hatred. He pursued the brothers into manhood, heart and loins hungry for the maiden whom they courted. Always creeping behind them, hiding in the trees. A spy in the woods, a witness among spiders and squirrels, he watched as one brother stole kisses, and sometimes more, from the young woman in the presumed solitude of the forest. Later, he eavesdropped when that same brother asked the woman's father for her hand. And then the forgotten one sprang into action.  A slow, calculated action, for he did nothing quickly. Much plotting and planning occurred. For an entire fortnight he stalked the woman's father before first murdering him, then his own wretched father under the cover of moonlight, leaving behind false evidence of an attack by rivals and spurring the village into war. The two brothers joined the resulting army, a small but effective band of men led by the boys' father. When the captain was killed, John was named successor and though the battle was won under his command, the shrunken company traveled home in grief. 

A final scene: Thomas, the forgotten one, stroking the cheek of his half-brother's lover, whispering in her ear the fated words: "John is dead." Elsie collapses against him, weeping, and allows herself to be gathered in his embrace. Abruptly, the images vanish. Tears escaped his closed eyelids as John attempted to comprehend this new truth. Opening his eyes, the room swam before him. Voice shaking, he spoke through clenched teeth.  "You told her I was dead?"

"Yes, I told her you were dead."

"You bastard!"

"Dead you were, to me. I was your brother, and you shunned me as though I didn't even exist. From the moment of my birth, I was dead to you. And in that moment, standing there with your lover in my arms, you were dead to me."

"She did not love you, Thomas." John paused, waiting for a reaction, a response. None came, and so he continued. "She only pretended to love you because she thought I was dead. She could never love someone as wicked, loathsome and repulsive as you.  I understand now the dreadful outcome of our actions. We shunned you and thus created in you a vile and hideous monster, and now you are as unlovable as your father was." John could see that the words hit his intended mark. Thomas stepped backwards, stumbling. 

"Kill him!" Thomas hissed, pointing at John. 

The necromancer raised a hand and all of John's muscles, from the expansive leg muscles to those tiny ones in the jaw and hands, knotted and twisted and tensed and shook.  Intense and agonizing pain gripped John's body and mind. A searing sensation spread throughout his limbs and an invisible blade stabbed him repeatedly in the heart and the head, causing the subjugated captain to writhe and convulse in his chair as he attempted to escape the unbearable.  He heard his own voice, begging for death, pleading for release.

Yet within the tortured man a tiny sphere of being remained untouched, pulsing in the corner of his mind. John recognized it as a source of strength, a glimmer of light in the darkness, a seed of hope in the midst of despair. It spoke to him, saying, "No, you can't die. If you die, then I will cease to exist."

The voice was calm, and distinctly female. "What are you?" he asked it.

"I am you, and you are me, and I am telling you that you cannot die. You have the strength to defeat them. Together we have an even greater power, for we have something they do not. A secret weapon."

"Weapon? What is this weapon?"

"Love." With this word, a single vision came into his mind, of a woman with alabaster skin, endless waves of fiery hair and eyes the color of the sea. 

"Elsie!" he cried out.

"For Elsie," the voice whispered, "and for Lila. Take up your sword, and slice these bonds!"

"For Elsie! I am not afraid!" John shouted, the sound echoing not only in his mind, but in the ears of the necromancer.

"You cannot defeat me," the mage replied with laughter, strengthening his grip on John's body and mind.

John stilled himself and breathed deeply, in and out, inhaling and exhaling himself into a meditative state, pushing aside the pain and struggling to focus. He thought of Elsie, and concentrated on his love for her. He saw it as a rose-coloured orb rimmed with golden light, beaming and pulsating in the centre of his being. He both watched and felt as the light spilled outward from his heart, entering his veins, inhabiting each tiny, miniscule cell in his body. He allowed it to flood his mind, and sensed the foreign being within him, the one that called out for Lila, do the same. Coupled, the two loves provided an energy unsurpassed by any John had ever felt or imagined. Slowly, he forced open his eyes and stared into the golden eagle-eyes of the dark wizard. 

"Yes… I… can," John spoke, teeth clenched, and then with a barbaric cry he rose from his chair in a single burst of strength, breaking the bonds that held him. Swiftly, he unsheathed the concealed dagger which clung to his hip and plunged it into the old man's heart. The body dematerialized, and the wizard's disembodied laughter echoed throughout the chamber.

"You cannot defeat me," the necromancer whispered, and then his presence was gone. The roots and branches retreated, dismantling the cavern, and the two rivals suddenly found themselves standing in the centre of the forest, alone. 

"I will spare you, if you promise to leave the village and never return," John said to his shocked and bewildered half-brother.

"You can't make me," Thomas replied.

"Oh, but I think I can," John said, holding up his dagger in warning. 

"John, you can't let him go, not after this," Jack said, stepping through the trees and joining the pair, sword drawn.  "

We've wronged him enough," said the captain.

"We've wronged him? John, I see no wrong here beyond what he did to us today, what he did to Elsie today. What he's done to her before today."

"John?" a woman's voice sounded. All three men turned to see Elsie, standing between two aspens, leaning against one for support.  She steadied herself and approached. She stopped before John and touched his face, her eyes glistening with tears. "John, my love," she breathed, falling into him and clutching his chest.

John sheathed his dagger and wrapped his arms around the woman, held her to him, burying his face in her tousled locks. Noticing a difference about her, a subtle swell of the abdomen pressed against his hip, he gently nudged her away, leaving enough space between their two bodies so that he could look down upon her and examine this new development. He placed a hand on her rounded belly and tried to speak, but the words were trapped behind his throat.

"John, I can explain."

"He can explain," Jack's low voice sounded. John followed his brother's piercing gaze and found that his anger was renewed and all thought of forgiveness and redemption was vanquished. He looked between Thomas and Elsie, open-mouthed, struggling for words. Rage boiled in his gut, threatened to overflow.

"He forced her. She told me," Jack said.

Tears freed themselves from the corners of the captain's eyes. He searched Elsie's face and saw hurt written in the creases and lines that had settled into her skin. Yearning to banish it, he kissed her on the brow and whispered his love into her ear. Stepping away, he unsheathed his dagger and held it in front of him. Thomas backed up, stumbling on a stone. John moved forward, one step, then a pause, then another, stalking his prey like a cat.

"B-but, we're brothers," Thomas protested.

"You are no brother of mine," John and Jack spoke in unison. Thomas turned to run. Jack loomed in from behind the captain, rushed forward and grabbed Thomas, pinning him from behind.

"Kill him," Jack urged, pushing Thomas closer to the captain's outstretched dagger.

But the captain needed no urging. Swiftly and deftly he leapt forward and pressed the dagger against throat of his enemy.

"Please," Thomas whispered.

The trembling man flinched as John moved closer and pressed the dagger into flesh with one hand, cupping Thomas' face with the other. "You don't deserve to live, brother." A flick of the hand, a quick slice, and the monster was slain. Jack relinquished his hold and the dead man tumbled onto the forest floor, his blood staining the earth.

John looked back at the pregnant woman standing in the shadows. Paled from shock and fatigue, her face glowed. She swayed and John hastened to her side lest she faint and fall. One hand between her shoulder blades and another on her heart, he held her steady.

"I'm sorry," she whispered as a tear tracked a new pattern on her already stained cheek.

"You've nothing to be sorry for, my love."

"I thought you were dead." She crumpled and collapsed against him, quietly weeping.

"I'm alive, my love. I'm here and I'm alive and I will take care of you as long as I draw breath."

"And the babe?" she murmured against his chest.

"And the babe."

"But what if…" her voice trailed off.

"Evil is created, my sweet, not borne of blood but rather of hate. Worry not, lay your fears aside. With the power of love, we cannot be defeated."

She looked up at him, eyes wide with worry and said, "Do you really believe that?"

John kneeled down before her, reached up to touch her face, and with sincerity and resolve he said, "I do."

She kissed him then, and John sighed beneath her, overcome with desire, joy and relief. Rising to his feet, John lifted her into his arms and prayed a silent prayer to the gods for returning Elsie to him, then whispered his love into her ears, showered her face with kisses and allowed his tears to run freely onto her cheeks. 

"Elsie," he murmured between kisses, "will you marry me? Will you be my wife?"

"I will," she answered. And she did.

Jenny traveled with John back to the village, a silent companion on the edge of his consciousness. He and Elsie were inseparable by day, riding together on the back of the captain's magnificent steed. Only at night were they apart, sleeping on opposite sides of the fire, waiting for marriage to unite them before sharing a bed. One night, beneath the stars, when all the others were asleep, he wandered away from the dying fire into the moonlit night, stopping to touch the rough base of an oak. Looking up at the endless display of stars, he exhaled noisily, drew in a slow and steady breath and began to speak in a low whisper.

"I don't know who or what you are, or if you truly exist. You gave me the wisdom and the strength required to best my foe, and for that I must give thanks. Whoever Lila is, if you find your way back to her, bestow upon her my gratitude as well, for it was your love for her that spurred you to action, and the force of our two loves combined created a mighty weapon no man could stand against. I offer you my reverence and a prayer. Gods, spare this creature who lives within my being. Give it freedom, so it may return to its life and love. Grant it your blessing and usher it home." He thumped a fist to his heart, bowed his head in silence and then returned to the fire to find his brother keeping watch.

Jenny longed for release, but resolved to see the marriage of Elsie and John, and thus she remained as the pack made their way back to the village. They were welcomed home with much cheer, and there was feasting for nearly a week. The week was capped with a ceremony as the pair was joined beneath the wedding oak. If Jenny could have cried, she would have done so, for although the ritual was informal and brief, the words spoken were genuine and heartfelt.

Later, when the newly married couple retreated into the home John had built for them many months before, Jenny's consciousness retreated as well, sliding back into her own life on a ribbon of love and landing in her own soft bed. Curled in the nook of her lover's body, Jenny smiled with the knowledge that this was the end to the story her grandfather had written, but only the beginning of the story which she was meant to live.

Please join us for Chapter Eight in our May 2008 issue.

Jennifer is happily married to a wonderful woman, Lisa. Theirs is a union of true, deep, respectful love… the kind we all dream about. Of course we mustn't forget… their beautiful little fur-family! Her two cats - Max and Hazel, dogs - Daisy (and Queenie, who is frolicking in puppy-heaven), rats Gloria, Fifi, Charlie, Tobey, Abby and Allie. Her hamster - Poohbear and aquatic-turtles Maximus and S.A.M.

Jennifer is embarking on a new career as a Behavioral Analyst and also works part time at a group home providing care to persons with physical and developmental disabilities.

She is also a writer and poet with a passion for the written word since childhood. Jennifer's poetry has been featured in The Prologue, an annual publication of the University of WI, River Falls, Body Mind Spirit Magazine and here at TSM.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Timeless Spirit Magazine. All articles are the copyright of the particular writers and cannot be reprinted without their expressed permission. All rights reserved. International copyright laws prohibit reproduction of or distribution of this page by any means whatsoever, electronic or otherwise, without first obtaining the written permission of the copyright holder. We retain legal counsel to protect our copyrights.

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