sâmbătă, 20 septembrie 2014

Endless Ambition

“But you’ve slipped under my skin, invaded my blood and seized my heart.”

Her father sent for her two months after the first attack, on an icy winter morning and in only a couple of hours, she threw away the fancy stitching her stepmother insisted her to work on and prepared herself a travelling chest. She had been expecting this moment ever since her father's departure. Nobody dared to ask why the Duke wasn't summoning his heir, instead of asking for his middle daughter, because while his sister was getting ready to fulfill his role in front of their father, her older brother, her father's heir, was kept to his bed, struck down by high fever, half conscious of the events that were taking place around him.
She was very much aware that if her father won this war, she may never become the crowned head, but she was determined to take over and rule from behind her unqualified brother's back. Her father practically raised her for to do exactly that.

Her arrival turned the scale in her father's favour and determined the war's outcome.
She still spent almost four years there, alongside her father and his men, acting as his advisor and his main ally.

She didn't hesitate any second when it came to giving up her beautiful, embroidered dresses for men's clothes and parting from her chambermaids, nor when she had to learn to pass quietly during chilly nights in order to clean herself of many days' grime.

Two years and a half after her arrival and exactly one year before her father's triumph, she carried on the first one of her many acts of defiance.
It was during a formal dinner in her father's pavilion, when she was introduced to a young and very promising Captain in the Duke's army, already very much admired by her father. And also very betrothed to her older sister, Maria. She recalled hearing his name casually mentioned among her family, but it wasn't until that evening that she decided to put to the test her personal charm. It certainly wasn't the first time she was flirting with someone, because what other guilt-free pastime could a noble young lady enjoy if not an innocent tease of charming courtiers? But she certainly never dared to foresee the outcome of her actions.

In only a few weeks, she was secretly leaving her tent in the middle of the winter nights only to meet him, far from prying eyes. And from there on, things could only move in one direction, even if she kept trying to convince herself that it was nothing more than harmless play.

"No, Albrecht ... It has to be the last time ..."
"You keep saying that. Every night. Yet you keep coming to me. Just one more night, right, Agnes?"
"That's Your Grace, for you, not Agnes..."
"I apologise for my recklessness, Your Grace ... Should I try to prove to you just how sorry I am ...?"
As their armies won more battles and the end of her father's campaign was closer, she came to the conclusion that there was only one way to settle the things between them, for having to put an end to whatever name they referred to this endless banter between them was simply not something she was ready to face.
"We could run away and get married, you know? The war is almost over and your father doesn't need your help anymore... "
"I'm not going to give up on everything that I have built up until now, Albrecht ... It is my birthright."
"Then I will simply go and marry Maria. That's what your father wants, right?"
He never got tired of provoking her in every possible way. Even if it always ended with her slaping him.
"Don't even dare mention her name in front of me!"
"As you wish, Your Grace ..."

"Don't you feel guilty sometime?"
"What should I feel guilty for?"
"Depriving your brother of his power? Hiding from your father? Stealing your sister's betrothed ...?"
"As if that would only be my accomplishment? I'm certain you might have had something to do with it too..."
The morning when her father informed her of their victory was marked by the first day of spring.
"What now, Agnes? You know that we will have to part, sooner or later. And the next time we will meet will probably be at your sister's wedding."
"Give me just one more day. I'll talk to my father."

vineri, 29 august 2014

Death is the only god who comes when you call

“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”

When has breathing become so agonizing? Living and breathing and just surviving until the next day was simply too excruciating.
"I am sorry ... Please forgive me..."
Her words are barely a whisper and her only companion is just an infant, so he doesn't react. He's just sitting there, left hand half in his mouth, because he is probably still teething and he has his own pain to occupy his thoughts with. Her two oldest daughters left early the same morning, probably to search for something to eat.
None of them has eaten in two days and her milk has dried up or maybe she just never had it in the first place, so the baby is squeamish and hasn't stopped crying since she gave birth, three days ago. She's small and pink and wrinkly and nothing like her other children and she simply can't make herself take that strange creature in her arms and feed it. She's spent the last two days watching her, almost begging every God whose name she could remember to take its life so she wouldn't have to do it with her own hands. And, with every breath the fragile creature takes, she becomes even more convinced that the gods must hate her.
It all began when her husband left to fight in that damned war and abandoned with two small children to care for and another baby on the way. Life had been difficult with him too, but without him she was just another forgotten woman. Why did men crave foolish dreams of greatness and bravery? It was nothing but an illusion. What difference does it make to the widows, the orphans left behind and the homeless if some men depart this life covered in glory while others have no honour but survive?
Theirs was one of the villages that held well until the third year of war. Everyone was running low on supplies but somehow they managed and survived. Until that morning when the Duke's men stormed in.
Because their house was out of the way they heard the screams when it was already too late. Some of the neighbouring houses were already on fire and she can still recall seeing one of her friend's younger children flying out through the window and falling directly in a spear. The smell of burnt fluesh was the worse though. And the screams. She hears them every single night. High pitched shouts of small children whose chests were mercilessly pierced by the soldiers' swords and the muffled wails of women.
She doesn't have nightmares about how it happened, but she remembers his face and his sharp features. His scar and his hard lined jaw. And, more than anything, the pure hatred in his eyes.
Later, when he got tired of her, she was left behind in the snow, the throb in her entire body a painful reminder of what took place in her own courtyard.
Her daughters emerged later from behind the barn, carrying their younger brother with them. Her children survived, yet she felt like she lost everything.
Five months later, the evidence was there and the signs impossible to ignore. Three days ago she birthed that strange creature that hasn't stopped crying and now she is exhausted and tired of life.
The rope feels rough around her neck and the trembling in her limbs is slowing her down, but her movements are almost mechanical, so she doesn’t need to concentrate, which is pleasant. She takes one single step forward and in a couple of minutes it is over.  

marți, 1 aprilie 2014

The other side

The world was collapsing, and the only thing that really mattered to me was that he was alive.”

I was 23 when I knew lust and desire. And more than everything, infatuation. My only fault was that I mistook it for love. It was with someone else but my husband, a man that I could not have, someone that I should not have loved, because it was against everything that I took pride in: morality, loyalty and integrity. But who are we to lay down the law to our hearts?
It was the same war that I despised and loathed so much that brought us together and maybe, under different circumstance, things would not have been the same for us and we would have been merely acquaintances.
This war had taken its toll on all of us, for I have seen more blood and death and suffering in those past 10 months since the first attack than I have in my entire life. After the onslaught on the small village, things only grew worse in a matter of days. We thought that we had time and that everything was just a limited strife and so we waited for the things to amend. We couldn't have been more wrong.

As I was still caring for the wounded villagers, another raid took us by surprise. They came out of nowhere and I barely managed to alert the people, while everyone took a run, crippled old men and mothers with babies in their arms. I was stunned and an old woman almost had to push me out of the merciless soldiers' way. We ran in the nearby forest, where we took cover, waiting for the men's madness to burn down. I was too scared to even take a look in the village's direction and all I could hear were other people's screams. In my bewildered state, I wasn't even aware of what was happening around me.
"Unless your purpose is to roll up your skirt and go divert those men's attention from their slaughtering, I suggest you pull yourself together and change into these clothes, because I see no other way for you to get away from this with your reputation unblemished."
She must have been a well-read woman, but her words and her tone made me blush. At least she managed to turn my attention to our more critical problems.
As I was changing my dress for a pair of trousers and a man's shirt, I noticed that all the women who managed to escape along with us were doing the same with their daughters, dressing the younger girls in various clothing they took with them before they ran.
After that first night spent in the woods, I took the road all by myself, following the army's trails of destruction. Everywhere I looked I could only see ravage and grief. Innocent men crippled, guiltless children killed without the slightest sign of remorse, wives and young girls ravished all together. I never imagined so much deviltry could exist in our world. And then, the battlefields were flooded with more and more dead bodies. My only solace was that my father and brother were not among them. And neither was Gregory, thank goodness, because I wasn't ready to become widowed so soon and raise five children by myself.
The war kept going like this for almost a year and a half. I received occasional news from my mother about my family, but I never heard a word of my husband. I suspected he wasn't aware of me wandering around the realm, probably expecting to find his wife at her parents' house, safe from everything.

There were days when I actually considered fleeing there, away from the horrors that I had to face every day. But with Teacher no longer among the living ... I knew that was not an option.

That autumn, after months of poor nourishment, sleepless nights and countless miles, I fell ill with pneumonia and I had to take refuge to a nearby military camp. I would remain there almost two years, prior to the end of the war.

It was not the first time we came across each other, but the circumstances were everything but the same. He was a high-aimed man, driven by hatred and ambition against his brother. He knew that if he won this war that his brother initiated, he and his descendants would rule this land. I had none of his ambition, nor his idealism and I still remained by his side.

Those two years of my life were nothing but a blur of pure sensations. Skin sliding against skin, lips and hands exploring, caressing, until our senses were completely overwhelmed and there was nothing left but the two of us, together. Fear was our daily drug, the only thing that fueled our desire and drove us to seek comfort in each other's arms.

At the end of those two years, we knew that we were approaching the end of the war. And we were on the wrong side. He was prepared to lose everything, even his life, but I was not. We bade adieu with the last snow, two months before his brother's victory, and as he gently kissed my forehead, I knew I would never see him again.

vineri, 14 martie 2014

“Veni, vidi, vici. (I came, I saw, I conquered.)”

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

I've never imagined how much a woman's decisions can change the course of history, nor what an impact one person's folly can influence other people's lives. And although no one recalls her name anymore, I don't think there is a person in the realm, peasant or noble who could question her role in this war.
It all began that fateful December night, the night when the first snow fell over the realm.

The air was cold and tiny snowflakes began descending from the sky as the night settled. It was quiet in the village. Almost too quiet, but no one suspected a thing and everyone went to bed early that evening. By midnight nothing would ever be the same.

They thread their way through the woods like wild beasts, masking their footing, so the moment when they reached the dormant village they took everyone by surprise. The poor people never stood a chance, for they were farmers, not warriors. Most of the men died that night, trying to stand for their wives and daughters and those who survived were mutilated for life. They killed babies in their cradles and profaned wives and young girls in their own beds, because that's the unwritten law of war. That's how the awaited war between the Duke and the Marquess began.

Dear Mother,
I lost the count on how many weeks have passed since I haven't seen my children and I barely managed to find a moment to take breath and write you a few lines.
First of all, I wanted to say how relieved I was when I found that father's soldiery wasn't among the ones that invaded the Marquess' domains last week. I know that our family serves the Duke and I even heard rumours about a possible promise from the Duke that he would marry his oldest daughter to Albrecht, as a way to express his gratification for father's loyal service, yet I can't help but feel disquiet about the events that took place this winter.
After the attack, the Marquess called his people and assembled an army to return like for like and, from what I've heard, they're preparing an onslaught. I can't tell you more, for I fear that this letter might get intercepted on its way to you, so I will end it here, by entreating you to be careful and take earth for yourself. I know that father and even Albrecht will be summoned by the Duke and will probably have to go join in his army, so I can only hope that we won't find ourselves on different sides of the barricade.
Yours truly,
Alleken Marie

I knew that the last lines would probably confuse Mother, but I couldn't risk telling her more. After my marriage to Gregory, I have lived on the opposite side of the realm, the territories under the Marquess' trusteeship and although  I don't plan to take part with someone on this fight, I know very well that such a desire is probably pointless, because my husband will likely end up fighting my brother and father.
For now, all I can do is try to alleviate the misery on those poor, pitiable people that are caught in the middle of this 'brotherly' conflict, while trying to ignore the fact that I might actually be among them.

I haven't seen my family since I was called to assist the injured, and that must have been more than two weeks ago, but I know that there is no need for me to worry, because my children are back home with my mother and they are well taken care of. For now. Our town is far from the actual battlefield and I still hope that this conflict will come to a standstill in the next weeks, before more people will lose their lives in vain.