The High Queen Sorceress (complete)
Author: jessicaw

Chapter 13
chapter 13

      

Over the last few days, the trees had thinned out so much that it reminded Keara of an old man’s thinning hair. They were now few and far between. The grass that just a few days ago was green, turned to yellow, then to brown and was now completely gone. It seemed almost as if it blended in to the dirt. 

They hadn’t seen a house or another living soul for the last two days. There weren’t even any birds. She thought this must be the end of the world. But even the end of the world had something there. In the distance, a small, dark form loomed up. “Where are we?” Keara asked. “It’s called Falkin.” Said Brine. “The last time I was here, there were trees and flowers, grass as tall as my knees and so many squirrels I thought I would lose my wits. There was a stream over there.” He pointed to the left. In the distance, Keara could just make out the lip of a ditch. “We used to play there on hot days, but now it looks like no one has been here in years.”  

As they cleared the last of the trees, a large brown building emerged. Past it was a field of crops. They were all dead, the long stalks of corn lay fallen over and as brown as the earth they slept on. A broken down wagon slumped against the ground in the distance, forlorn and abandoned. It looked like it laid down in anguish and died alone. A pig pen was barely recognizable, where there once used to be mud, was now cracked and painful ground. The fence lay in pieces, a little of it still standing in the useless soil. A small house with crumbling bricks and broken roof tiles scattered around it stood in the center. 

Brine had changed back into his commander clothes early that morning, telling Keara that it would keep the people of the town from trying to steal their horse or provisions. Two faces stared out at them from the small window in the little house. Terror plastered across their faces. Brine brought the horse to a stop in front of the house, dismounting and helping Keara down.

A slow, painful moan erupted as the door to the beat up house opened. A tall, well-built man in his early to mid-forties stood in the door way. His hair and clothes matched the rest of the world around them. He even had a thin layer of brown covering his skin. He did not look happy to see them. “Gorden  Joustafix?” Brine asked in a thick, commanding tone, his hands on his hips. Gorden placed his hands on his own hips in just as threatening of a manner. Keara thought she might be sick. This must be Brine’s father. She didn’t think he looked too nice. 

The scowl on Gorden’s face grew as his cheeks burned red. “You are early this year.” He said. “I do not have your king’s taxes. Come back in one month like you are supposed to. I will pay you then, commander. Brine turned and gave Keara a childish grin. He turned back to face Gorden.

“And just what will you have to pay me with then if you have nothing now? I see no livestock and no crops. Do you even have water?” Gorden’s face grew angrier but he kept his voice calm. “I will figure something out.” He said, almost pleading with Brine.    

“I know it has been a long time father, but please don’t tell me that you do not recognize your own son?” Gorden’s face drained of all color as his hands fell to his sides. He looked Brine up and down, a look of horror crossing his face. “They have sent my own son to steal from me?” A thin, plain faced woman appeared in the door, she too had brown tinged skin and brown hair.  She caught sight of Brine’s red and purple tunic with the king’s crest emblazoned on the front of it. She froze as she stared at him.

Brine had an angry frown as he stared from his mother to his father. “I have not come to take anything from you.” He said, the playfulness gone from his voice. “Except, perhaps some of your suffering.” He looked around at the brown world and his brown family.  

“A commander in the king’s personal guard? How could you?” His mother’s face was wrought in agony. She looked like she might burst into tears. When she did not, Keara attributed it to how dry the world around them was, guessing she had no water in her body to produce the tears.       

Brine’s body slackened. “I’m sorry momma, I didn’t have a choice.” He sounded like a child scolded. “There is always a choice.” His father’s gruff voice cut through the dusty air with such a sharp sound, Keara could almost see the atmosphere as it was sliced in half. She noticed other forms behind the door, listening to the commotion.      

“I had no choice other than to run. I am not a coward.” Brine retorted. Anger creeping into his voice despite his efforts to fight it. “Look around you father. Look at my mother. You will all be dead in a week. What of my two sisters? Are you allowing them to starve? You are marked for death. You sit here telling me there is always a choice. Do you tell me then too, that you have chosen to perish in such a manor?”     

“We have no way out of where we are now, other than to beg the king his acceptance. He will take your mother and three sisters. I will be without my family and they will be slaves.” “Better to starve than put our girls through that.” His mother said, eyeing Keara’s thin, bruised arms and head.    

 “Three sisters?” Brine raised an eyebrow. “You have been gone a long time, son.” His father countered. “Yes. Too long indeed. Let me assure you though that the king does not know I am here. I need your help. I have food. Please, can we come in? I need to talk to you and I don’t want to be seen here. I don’t want to put you in any more jeopardy then you already are.” “How many women have you helped torture and kill? How many have you raped? How many have suffered at your hand?” Brine’s father placed his hands back on his hips. He had no intention of moving. His mother watched him, leaning over her husband’s shoulder, holding her breath as she waited for him to say something she did not want to hear. 

Brine looked mortally offended. “I was raised better than that. “ He said in a low growl. “How many?” his father demanded. “None!” Brine snapped. “I do what I have to. Yes, I have seen women hurt and killed. I have listened to their screams at night as they are passed around my men. I have lain in my tent staring up at the blackness, wishing I could turn into the air and disappear. Their screams and their anguish still haunts me, but I have never laid a hand on them.

Yes, I have faked it; I have placed them in my tent and talked to them. They screamed in fear as the men stood outside, listening to them beg for help or death or their Gods to save them.” He spat. “I waiedt until they screamed themselves out and passed out from fear. It rips my heart to pieces to know the hell these men put them through. To know that their Gods won’t do a damn thing to save them because they don’t exist or they just don’t care, but I swear to you, on my life, father, I have never prolonged the suffering of a woman.”

“How many have you killed?” His father seemed to grow as he drank in a long breath of air. “How many?” “two.” Brine finally admitted, hanging his head in shame. “They were doomed anyway. One I killed because they broke every bone in her body. She was lying in the mud and muck, her limbs sticking in every direction, part of her stomach spilt out on the ground. I could hear wolves in the distance, they had already picked up her sent. 

I drove my sword through her heart so that she wouldn’t suffer anymore. “ I cried myself to sleep every night for three weeks while my men danced and sang around their fire, throwing broken bottles into the flames and boasting about who raped her the most.

The other, she slipped. We were on a high up cliff and she was bound. It rained the night before and the moss had a slimy film to it. As we were edging around a tight corner, she slipped and one of the men caught her by her hair, laughing as she screamed. Her hair began ripping out of her scalp, taking some of the bits of skin with it. I pretended to slip, crashing into the man who went tumbling over the cliff, the woman still in his hands. He crushed her when they landed, she died instantly. He did not. Oh how I hope he suffered before his last.” There was a far away, sad look in his eyes.    

“This is Keara.” He said, indicating the small girl in the dark blue dress behind him.  She was accused of murdering a man for his sheep.” “Sheep?” Gorden asked. “What could such a small bit want with sheep?” “That’s what I said.” Brine replied, pausing briefly before continuing. She was taken before the king and sentenced to death. He did this to her;” He brought Keara forward and showed them the wound on her head.    

“Because of this, I was able to apply pain to her wound, making her scream in pain and writhe like a snake struck with an arrow. It killed me inside, but it saved her life. The king handed her over to me to do with what I pleased. To make her suffer, if you will. I have come to you begging you to take her in and protect her. Please father.” Brine looked into his father’s eyes, penetrating the man down to his very soul.  

Gorden thought over everything his traitor of a son just said. His eyes swept the length of Keara up and down as he took in every scratch. She was in poor condition, but looked rather relaxed in the company of his son. 

“Well quickly then, in with the both of you.” It was Brine’s mother talking. Brine pushed Keara in as he went to get their supplies off of the horse. 

Keara stepped into a small, dark room. There wasn’t much in it save for a worn wooden table and one chair. A small pallet of blankets lay in the far corner with a doll and a small girl huddled on them. She looked at Keara with big eyes. Keara looked to her and smiled warmly. The girl returned the smile, squeezing her doll against her chest.  

Gorden and Mada followed behind, shooing the two older girls away from the door as they came in. “Where is all your furniture?” Brine asked, frowning as he came in. “We sold it.” Said Gorden.

“Oh…”Brine looked thoughtfully around the house and at the one remaining chair. “Is it really you?” Came a feminine voice. Brine turned around. Marianna was standing so close, that he almost ran into her. Directly behind her, shielded slightly from view was Lucia, clutching Marianna’s hand. Brine smiled one of his biggest smiles and clutched both girls in a heartfelt hug, his purple cape resting on the dirty floor. A small jerking motion pulled at his neck where the cape was fashioned. He turned to see Pab playing with it, wrapping herself in the material and rubbing it on her cheek, her doll hanging from the corner of her arm

“Hi!” said Brine. Pab stopped in her tracks, the material slipping from her shoulders, a fist full of it still balled in her hand As her doll fell onto the dirty ground, “I’m sorry” She started. Brine laughed, softness seeping into his eyes. “It’s ok! I’m Brine!”  

Mada stepped in. Pab, this is your brother.” Pab’s eyes got big as she stared up at the man in the purple cloak with the funny looking purple shoes. He smiled at her and pulled a sweet cake from his pack. Pab’s eyes went immediately to the food as her stomach gurgled. “Here” He said, breaking it in half and giving the other half to Marianna. Pab snatched it out of his hand and ran over to her blanket. “What do you say?” Mada yelled after her, hungry eyes riveted on the other half in Marianna’s hand. “Thank you!” called Pab with a mouth full of the sweet cake. 

Seeing how hungry everyone was, Brine began pulling things out of his pack. “Tell me momma, do you still have a needle? I brought you some fabric and thread in hopes to gain your favor.” He placed the light pink material on the table. Mada’s eyes followed it as her hunger was temporarily forgotten. “ohhhhh!” Said Lucia. “It’s so pretty!” Mada fingered the material gently, emotion welling in her throat. “I think so.” She said quietly, tracing the fibers with her finger.

 Brine pulled out a large chunk of cheese and placed it under her nose. “Eat” he said. She took the cheese and began to break it down, handing each of his sisters a chunk.                                                                        

“Please father, I need your help. If they find Keara, they will kill her.” “Gorden eyed his son warily. “I’m not sure that’s the best idea.” He said, taking the sweet cake Brine was holding up. “Why not?” Brine questioned.   

“Well, strange things are going on around here, what with the cow and the grass and all.” “What cow? I didn’t see a cow. As for the grass, that’s not strange.” Gorden shifted uncomfortably. “There is no water for grass to grow, but it’s growing anyway.” Brine looked at his father incredulously. “What do you mean? Grass cannot grow without water.” Gorden got a worried look on his face. “I don’t think I should be telling you, Brine. I’m sorry, but I just cannot risk your mother and your sister’s safety. 

Brine slammed his fist down on the table, making everyone jump. Lucia dropped her piece of cheese. “I am risking my life coming here and begging you for help. I have brought you food. I have water. I have money that the queen herself has given to help us and you would deny me, your own son who gave up his life to join that forsaken man who plays king to spare you. I offer no threat, but this is an important matter. What are you rambling about father, I demand to know now!”  

Gorden winced at his son’s tone. “The old man told us not to say anything. He said if anyone found out, they would kill us.” “Old man? What old man? What did he look like? What did he tell you not to mention.”

“He had on what resembled a sheet. He was thin and had deeply leathered skin, browned by to many days in the sun. He was so thin that when he leaned over, his tunic revealed all of his ribs. He had a shiny bald head and spoke in a strange manner.” Brine sighed. He didn’t like this. “And did he tell you his name?” “Well, no” Gorden started. “He said his name was not important.”

Brine sighed in exasperation, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands, sliding them across his temples, over his ears and down his neck. He let out a small groan. “Was he carrying a small leather pouch?” “Yes!” Said Gorden. He said he was going to get help, and said not to say anything to anyone before he came back.  

Brine groaned. “His name is Datameon. He is an informant. He went to tell the King. They are going to come here and arrest you all. What happened?” Gorden’s eyes grew huge as his mouth fell open. The room went dead silent. Mada stood with food half way to her lips. Lucia stopped, food half chewed resting against her teeth. Pab looked up in fright at the sudden hush. Keara felt as though a storm just engulfed them, freezing everyone where they stood. 

“Tell him!” Mada urged. “Tell him now! Tell our son what you have done!” Gorden took in a deep breath, his eyes glancing around the house as if looking for spies within the walls. His heart was beating out of his chest and he didn’t know what he was going to do. 

Taking a deep breath to calm himself down, he started telling Brine about the tiles on the house and the red one, which he pulled out from his waist line, letting it unwrap from the window curtain and fall onto the table. The bright red of the tile on the brown table in the brown room was such a color shock, it made Keara forget about her blue dress and Brine’s purple shoes.

He told Brine about the grass and the cow. When he was finished, Brine placed his head in his hands and rubbed at his eyes. “This is a disaster.” He said. How could anyone create such an elaborate hoax?” He shook his head, trying to make sense of the story. After a few minutes, he looked up. “Show me the grass and the cow.” He said quietly. This time, Gorden didn’t argue.

Since this was the first Mada had heard of the grass or the old man, she was right on Brine and Gorden’s heels. Keara, Marianna, Lucia and Pab following in her wake. “What grass? What man? What’s going on!”

Mada was in hysterics and the idea of losing what little she had sent her over the edge. Gorden ignored her. As they came to a stop in front of the barn door, Brine turned and took his mother’s hand, lifting it to his lips. He gently kissed it, making sure to keep eye contact with the now speechless woman as he did. “It’s alright momma” He soothed. “I will get you out of this.”

As the barn door opened, the small crowd gasped. Inside, the barn looked mostly the same. The dirty brown walls still had various pieces of junk strewn about their shelves and the sack still laid where Gorden tossed it when he went looking for the shovel.  

The floor, however, was completely covered in a thick, lush layer of dark green grass and in the middle stood a fairly plump white cow with large black spots. She looked up at the new arrivals and let out a happy moo. Pieces of grass littered her back and wet dew was dripping off of her hide, making it obvious that she recently had been rolling in the grass.

Astounded, the little party watched as she laid down once more and tossed herself back and forth in the wet grass, her legs swinging to and fro. It was as if she was trying to tell them “Look what I found!” When she was satisfied with herself, she rolled back over, stared at all the still people, mooed again and got back to her feet. She trotted off a few paces and picked up a large mouthful of grass, then, turning to make sure they were all still watching her, she began to chew in a very noisy manner.                    

At last, Gorden finally looked at her. “Yes cow, we get it. You found dinner.” Satisfied with finally getting a response; the cow walked over to a small, dirty pail and nudged it, mooing as she eyed Gorden. “She needs to be milked.” He said, turning to Mada. “Then perhaps we need to milk her.” Brine suggested. His three sisters seemed to grow giddy with the suggestion; it had been a very long time since they last has milk to drink. 

Gorden walked across the grass to pick up the bucket. Mada called after him. “Now is no time to milk a cow! The king’s army is coming and they will arrest us all!” She began to rock back and forth on her heels, fanning herself with her hand and she took in several deep breaths. Brine placed his hand on her shoulder, fastening her feet firmly to the ground. “There are no men close by. It will be days yet until Datameon can find them. He is on foot. There is no hurry mamma. Don’t you want some milk for my sisters? Don’t you want some milk for yourself?”

Mada took in a ragged breath. “We must leave! The sooner the better.” “One night isn’t going to hurt us mamma. We will be alright. I’m here anyway. I’m the commander of the second rank of the king’s personal gaurd. They won’t send anything higher than the second rank to arrest you and those men will have to listen to me. If I could help Keara, I can help you. I promise.”  She relaxed a little. “Alright, but we must leave first thing in the morning.” Brine grinned. “Yes mamma.” He said, giving her a big hug. 

Lucia gasped. The family had turned their attention to Mada and Brine. No one was watching Gorden. “Where did Papa and the cow go?” she asked, fear edging her voice. Everyone’s eyes snapped back to the barn, right to where Gorden and the cow had been seconds before. There was no trace of them.

Brine looked all about; there was no way they snuck past everyone. “Papa?” He called. There was no answer. The only evidence that he or the cow were ever there was the pail Gorden placed below her teats and a very small trickling of milk in the bottom of it.

Brine drew his sword as he carefully ventured in. He walked all around the barn, but found nothing. His family and Keara watching his every move. After a fruitless search, he started walking toward the pail, but the more he walked, the further away it seemed to get. Without warning, he disappeared. Mada, Keara, Pab, Lucia, and Marianna gasped in horror and shock.     

Without thinking, Keara ran to the pail “Brine!” She called out, but there was no response. As she continued running, she realized that she wasn’t making any progress. “Brine!” She yelled again, running in to complete blackness.  

Mada Grabbed her girls and held them tight against her body. The four of them stood ridged and dead quite; blinking as they looked in at the barn. They stared at the pail and the dark green grass with the little dew drops of water hanging from the blades. It sparkled and glittered in the sun. There was nothing else there. Brine, Gorden, Keara and the cow had all disappeared. It was like- No, she spit the thought out of her head. Magic couldn’t exist in this world. Could it?

Fear gripped Mada’s heart and she ran to the barn door. “Close it!” she commanded. Marianna jumped to attention, rushing to grab the other door. The two of them flung the barn doors shut and Mada headed for the house. “Quickly girls!” She called in a panicked voice. The four of them rushed the little house, thrusting the door open as they bounded inside. The door screamed in agony and contempt, threatening to bring the roof down on all of them. The four women ignored it. “Grab everything your brother brought.” Mada ordered. “Pab, get your doll and blanket. We are not coming back.”  

Within a matter of moments the four women completely packed every last transportable thing they could find and headed out side. The old door crying out in pain and anger, yelling at them for their gruffness as they did. It was in the middle of swinging shut as Mada reached the door frame. She used the palm of her hand and forced it open as hard as she could. The door, having had all it could take made as loud of an objection as it possibly could and snapped out of the frame, jeopardizing the entire structure of the house. The women jumped out of the way as brown roof singles rained down from the sky, dancing and shattering as they hit the ground below.    

“Pack the horse and get on!” Mada ordered, dodging a broken tile as she headed for the barn to lock it. When she got to the door, she opened it up once more, checking for any sign of her husband or son, the cow or the girl. There was no sign of them, just the lush green grass and that odd, demonic pail.    

She could feel her heart beating in her chest, threatening to break her ribs. She forgot about locking the door as she chocked down her fear and ran for her girls. “Run!” She screeched.

                               

 

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