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Musings

  • Took the week off to spend spring break with Boo.
    • So far, the weather has batted .500, so we’ve spent two days out in the sunshine going for walks and talking, and two days inside watching super hero and Disney movies.
  • I’ve been letting Boo listen to “The LawDog Files: African Adventures” lately.  If stories are so well written and narrated that both he and I are on the ground laughing, then you can definitely say it’s well done.
  • The chicks in the horse troughs at the farm store were very fluffy and cute, but I know what they grow into – miniature dinosaurs.
  • You know what you get when you take a six-year-old and a ten-year-old to the park to play and go for a hike on a pretty spring day?
    • That’s right, tired.  You get tired
  • Ford got two car payments out of me this month.  The first was to pay on my truck, the second was the amount it cost to get a serpentine belt and tensioner replaced on Irish Woman’s car.
    • I’ve gotten old enough that I look at the problem, consult the manual, and just say “Forget it.  My time’s worth more than that” before driving to the dealership.
    • Both the F-150 Raptor and the Mustang GT were whispering sultry promises to me when I took Irish Woman back to pick up her mom-mobile.
    • My suggestion to Irish Woman that she look at the new Transit van or a station wagon were answered with “The Look.”
  • There is a special feeling of satisfaction you get when you schedule the final two payments for your student loans.
  • The other night, there was a thunderstorm powerful enough to set off the motion sensors on the outside lights.  Didn’t know it could rain that hard outside the tropics.
    • By the way, if you consider calling the television station to complain (OK, chew out some poor intern on phone duty) because the weather folks interrupted televised karaoke to make sure people knew about rough weather, do us all a favor and go stand outside during said weather while carrying a long aluminum pole upright.
  • I’ve gotten so many “Sorry, but we did stupid crap with your personal information” letters lately, I’m about ready to just paint my social security number and birth date on the side of my truck and cut out the middle man.

Thought for the Day

Recipe – Lemon Seed Cake

So, Boo is re-reading The Hobbit, and wanted me to make ‘seed cake’ like Bilbo served the dwarves. I looked up a few recipes, and it looks like it’s supposed to be a scone with caraway seeds.  Knowing that my sprog wouldn’t eat that, I winged it.  This is basically a pound cake with a little something added.  It came out dense, but with a good texture and flavor.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Ingredients:

1/2 cup soft butter
1 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup cold milk
The zest and juice of 2 fresh lemons

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/4 cup poppy seeds

Cream the butter and sugar together, then stir in eggs and milk.  Add in lemon zest and juice and mix thoroughly.

Sift flour, baking powder, and baking soda together.  Add 1/3 at a time to wet ingredients.  Scrape bowl as necessary. Add in seeds, then mix just until just moistened.

Pour into greased loaf pan.  Bake on center rack of pre-heated oven for 50 to 60 minutes.  A knife inserted into the center of the loaf will come out clean when done.  Turn out onto wire rack to cool.

Escort Duty – Part 14

The trio spent the next few weeks languishing in quarantine. Food was bland, monotonous, and enough to keep them from starving, although Greta complained on occasion that her ribs were showing. Simon spent the days singing to the ladies or telling stories, and occasionally Erika would sing along in a high voice which rang like a silver bell across the yard.

They kept count of the days by watching the moon as it rose across the gorge behind the hut. They had come to the bridge the morning after the new moon, so when the moon was full again, they knew their ordeal was half over. In celebration, Simon talked one of the guards into bringing them a couple of apples, which the ladies enjoyed as if they were the finest delicacy they had ever eaten.

Several days later, as the first heat of early summer was baking them and even the breeze from the window seemed hot and steamy, their patience wore thin.

Simon sat upon the bare floor at his usual spot in front of the door. In his hand, he held a small stick, which he used to beat a rhythm on the leather of his boots as he sang.

In Nottingham there lives a jolly tanner,

With a hey down down a down down

His name is Arthur a Bland;

There is nere a squire in Nottinghamshire

Dare bid bold Arthur stand.

 

With a long pike-staff upon his shoulder,

So well he can clear his way;

By two and by three he makes them to flee,

For he hath no list to stay.

 

And as he went forth, in a summer’s morning,

Into the forrest of merry Sherwood,

To view the red deer, that range here and there,

There met he with bold Robin Hood.

 

Erika glared at the half-elf from her bedroll, where Greta was fussing at her hair. The maid had neither comb nor brush, so she used her fingers to untangle her mistress’ long hair, then braid it back together. Her own hair was as neat as she could get it, but she was continually pushing it back into place.

“Must you sing that again?” the princess said crossly, “I’ve heard that one enough that I can hear it in my sleep!”

“Is there another song you’d prefer, my lady?” Simon replied.

“I swear, I’ve heard every poem, tale, and ode ever jabbered by drunk minstrels!” Erika cried, bringing her hands to her face and rubbing her eyes.

“It’s only a few more days, mistress,” Greta said, “Then we’ll be on our way.”

“I would sacrifice either of you to the darkest gods of the wood to feel a cool breeze and have something better than bread and water to eat!”

Simon shrugged, then returned to his singing.

As soon as bold Robin Hood did him espy,

He thought some sport he would make;

Therefore out of hand he bid him to stand,

And thus to him he spake:

 

Why, what art thou, thou bold fellow,

That ranges so boldly here?

In sooth, to be brief, thou lookst like a thief,

That comes to steal our king’s deer.

 

For I am a keeper in this forrest;

The king puts me in trust

To look to his deer, that range here and there,

Therefore stay thee I must.

 

Erika made a face at Simon, then turned away from Greta and lay upon her blanket.

“Awaken me when it’s time to eat again. I’m going to sleep until then,” she said petulantly. Above them, a crow cawed from the roof’s peak. “And if that damned bird gets close enough, wring its neck and feed it to me raw!”

Greta looked at her mistress with worry in her eyes, then looked to Simon, who had stopped singing, but continued to beat a rhythm on his boots.

“It’s only a bit longer, Greta,” he said gently, “Then we’ll be on our way.”


Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

Sacrifice

The old man lifted his bundle onto his shoulder after stooping over and picking up his walking stick. Next to him, his son bent over with his own burden of food and water. He had sprouted up that spring, and had the gangly look all boys get just before they start to fill out into manhood.

“Heavy?” Abraham asked.

“No, father,” Isaac said stoically.

Abraham smiled sadly at that. Isaac had his mother’s eyes and laughter, but his stubbornness was wholly from him. He marveled at how much joy their son brought to him, even now.

Sarah, her long silver hair pulled back and covered with a linen cloth, leaned down and kissed her son, smoothing down the unruly mop of dark curls on his head. She turned and smiled at her husband.

“Be safe,” she said, “and come home quickly.”

“I will, love,” he said quietly, reaching out to touch her face, “We’ll be home by the full moon.” He turned quickly to their son, fighting back tears at his deception.

“All right, strong man, let’s get going,” he said gently, stepping off. Isaac gave his mother one final wave, then followed.

Behind him, the campsite they had occupied for a month was waking up. Ewes were bleating to their lambs, and the young boys and men started moving them to the pasture just to the west. Be’er Sheva was a beautiful place, and they had been fortunate to have lived there in peace long enough for their herds to fatten.

A hot wind blew out of the desert as they walked toward the distant hills to the north, pushing at their backs as they went. The boy started to hum as they trudged along, his feet moving in time with the tune.

~~~

The soldier kicked out at the Jew and growled, “Move, dog!”

Jesus stumbled through the Roman prison’s gate. The heavy cross-beam he carried made the whip marks on his shoulders and back burn. The soldiers had removed the purple robe they had dressed him in and given him back the tattered remains of his own clothes, but they had prevented him from removing the wreath of thorns they had forced down onto his head. Streaks of drying blood painted his cheeks as he began to trudge down the cobblestone street.

Already, people lined the narrow way. Some looked on quietly, more curious of this additional Passover spectacle than anything else. A few, with faces he had seen when he was speaking at the temple or in the streets, seemed mournful as they watched him pass. Most, though, watched him go with anger on their faces and in their voices.

At another time, he would have stopped to talk with all of them, to let them hear his words, and to listen to them. Now, any time he slowed from a steady trudge, one of the soldiers would hit him with the heavy club they all carried or strike him with his fist.

Jesus looked down at the cobblestones and continued walking. The different pains he felt as he moved built a rhythm to follow.

~~~

Abraham and Isaac walked until the heat of the day became too great, then they sheltered for a few hours under the small tent Abraham carried. While they sat there, Abraham retold the stories of how he and Sarah had come from their homeland between the rivers. Isaac had always enjoyed listening to his father speak, and he knew the stories well enough that he could pick them up and continue them when Abraham paused.

After the heat had passed somewhat, Abraham rolled the tent up and they continued their journey across the arid plain. Energized by their rest, Isaac peppered his father with questions.

“Father, will we see where cousin Lot’s wife turned to salt?” he asked, kicking at a small stone.

“No, that’s off to the east,” Abraham replied, “And it’s a wasteland now.”

“Will we go there someday?” his son asked.

“Maybe someday,” Abraham said, changing the subject and picking up the pace, “Come, let’s try to get to those hills by sunset.

~~~

Jesus picked himself up from the ground. His legs had given out as he had paused before taking the first step down a small dip in the road, breaking the rhythm he had been following. The soldiers had clustered around him then, their curses and kicks bringing only more misery. For a moment, he had considered just lying there and letting them finish the job.

But now, he was back on his feet. With a groan, he pulled the crossbeam back onto his shoulder. He took one hesitant step, then another, and then fell back into the rhythm he had followed before falling.

For a time, the noise of the crowd faded as he walked, and the bright light of the sun, beating down into the streets of Jerusalem, was all that he could see. The world around him washed out in a dazzling white, and though he could still feel every bit of the pain, it did not seem to matter as much.

Then, just as quickly, he saw the surface of the road racing up to meet him as he fell again. The beam on his shoulders struck him in the back as he hit the cobblestones, knocking the breath from him. The thorns on his head dug in as his face scraped on the road, and the wounds on his head began to bleed again.

A woman knelt down next to him, gently wiping the blood from his face with a soft cloth.

Jesus looked up at her, and through the dust in his throat, croaked out, “Thank you,” before one of the soldiers batted her across the back of the head and shouted “Move! Get out of the way!”

One of the other soldiers kicked at Jesus’ legs, yelling “Get up!” Jesus tried, but the weight of the crossbeam pinned him down. No matter how hard he strained, or how many times the soldier struck him, he could not rise with the weight of the cross on his back.

~~~

Abraham and Isaac walked through the steadily steepening hills, sometimes climbing them, and sometimes walking around their bases. When the sun was high in the sky or low on the horizon, Abraham would pitch their tent and they would rest. On the second day, Isaac spied a wild goat on the hillside, and Abraham knocked it down with a stone from his sling. Isaac clapped at the feat, then ran to finish it off with his knife.

That night, as they ate their fill of roasted goat, Isaac looked across the fire at his father and smiled.

“Thank you, father,” he said, “This is wonderful.”

“Don’t thank me, child,” Abraham answered, pointing to the stars, “Thank the Lord. He put the goat where we could see it and steadied my hand so that I could hit it with my sling.”

Isaac looked down at the fire for a moment, then asked, “Father, where are we going?”

Abraham sighed. He had been expecting this question since before they had left.

“The Lord told me to take you north to a mountain he will show me,” he said gravely, “He wants us to build him an altar there and offer a sacrifice.”

“But what will we sacrifice?” Isaac asked, “We didn’t bring anything with us.”

“Don’t worry about that, son,” Abraham answered, blinking to hold back tears in the gloom, “The Lord will provide one.” Isaac looked at him for a moment, then looked back down at the glowing coals of their fire.

Behind them, the mountains loomed up from the hills. Tomorrow, they would reach the place the Lord had shown Abraham.

~~~

The soldier finally gave up trying to get Jesus on his feet and looked around at the crowd.

“You!” he shouted, pointing at a young man, “Get over here and pick that thing up!”

“Why me?” he retorted, “I don’t know this man!”

“Get over here and pick it up, or you’ll take his place!” the soldier roared, his hand going to his sword.

The young man’s shoulders sagged. He knelt next to Jesus, putting his arms around the crossbeam.

“Thank you,” was all Jesus could gasp out. The man nodded gravely and lifted the crossbeam up onto his shoulders. Once it was balanced there, he offered his hand to the fallen prisoner, who took it and levered himself up onto his feet.

Together, they began to trudge through the streets of Jerusalem again. The crowd continued shouting at Jesus and pelting him with insults and curses. The young man was not immune to their ire, and cried out every so often that he was only doing as he was told. On several occasions, the soldiers had to beat the crowd back with their clubs so that Jesus could continue his walk toward the edge of the city.

~~~

The next morning, Abraham let Isaac sleep until after the sun peeked over the horizon. He sat alone and prayed to his God, begging him to show a different path. When he heard his son stir in the tent, he got up from his knees and walked over.

“Time to go, Isaac,” he said gently as the boy raised himself up from the blankets, “We’ll be there today.”

Isaac stretched and crawled out of the tent. After eating what was left of the goat, they packed up their things and resumed their walk up the steep foothills to the mountain. Abraham carried both packs this morning, and directed Isaac to gather firewood as they went.

“We’ll need it for the sacrifice, and it doesn’t look like much grows at the top of that mountain,” he said as they started off.

Through the morning, they made steady progress over the hills and up the side of the mountain. Just as the sun was reaching its zenith, Abraham found a gentler path leading up to the summit. By now, Isaac had gathered an entire armload of sticks and small logs, which Abraham bound up after cutting a long piece from a goatskin. Almost as an afterthought, he cut several more lengths from the skin and tied them to his belt.

After the hottest part of the day had passed, Abraham stood up from the shade of a rock, where they had been resting, and pointed up the path.

“Let’s go,” he said, his voice gruff, “I want to be done by nightfall.”

They both hefted their loads onto their shoulders and began to trudge up the path. Abraham felt each and every one of his years as the weight of his load bore down on him, but Isaac struggled as well. As strong as he was for a boy, he had been walking for days, and now carried a heavy load of wood up a steep mountain path. Soon, he was falling behind his father, who paused several times to let him catch up.

Finally, about one third of the way up the path, Abraham leaned his walking staff against a tall rock and put his hand out.

“Here, give it to me,” he said, “You’ve carried it far enough.”

Isaac reluctantly handed over his burden, and looked down at the ground.

“I’m sorry, father,” he said.

“It’s a heavy burden, Isaac,” Abraham said, “You did a good job gathering the wood, and you’ve been carrying it most of the day. I can take it the rest of the way for you.” He turned and resumed his walk up the path.

~~~

Jesus trudged through the city gates. Next to them stood a group of women, tears running freely from their eyes. At their center was his own mother, a stricken look of grief on her face. Her arms trembled as she reached out to him.

Jesus raised his hand to reach for her, and they touched for a moment before his next step drew him away from her. He heard her wail as a soldier pushed her back, and he turned and continued his journey.

The road led them to the base of a hill, its course tilting up steeply toward the summit. Jesus took a tentative step up, and felt his knee wobble underneath him. He lifted his other leg to take another step, and his leg went out from under him. Tipping toward the stone surface of the road, he stretched his arms out to cushion the fall. The soldiers must have anticipated this, because they were on him immediately, beating him savagely until he regained his feet and continued walking up the hill.

Behind him, the young man carrying his load grunted as he took the first step up the dusty path, but did not pause long enough to earn a beating. Together, they leaned into the hill and walked the final few yards to its top.

~~~

When they reached the top of the mountain, the father and son found a wide plateau strewn with rocks and thorn bushes. Around them, higher peaks created long shadows in the valleys below. Abraham set his load down with a groan and pulled out the water skin. He offered it to Isaac, who gulped down several mouthfuls before handing it back to his father.

Abraham took a drink, then put the skin away. Looking around, he nodded.

“This is the place,” he said, “Help me build an altar.”

For the next hour or so, they carefully stacked stones to make a low altar. Abraham showed Isaac how to put them together so that their weight supported each other and locked them into place. Finally, it was done.

They took the wood they had carried with them and laid it on the altar. Abraham took the long knife he carried from his belt, and lay in on the stones next to the firewood.

Isaac looked around the plateau, then turned to his father.

“Father, where is the sacrifice?” he asked, “You said the Lord would provide it.”

Abraham knelt down next to his son and held him tight to his breast. Tears welled up in his eyes as he gently ran his hand down the boy’s hair.

“He has, my son,” he said, choking on the words, “He has.”

Abraham took one of the lengths of goat skin from his belt and wrapped it around Isaac’s wrists. The boy looked up at him in shock, then tried to pull away. Abraham grabbed him by the shoulder, and finished the knot with his free hand.

“Father!” Isaac cried out, “What are you doing?” He continued to struggle.

“Isaac, stop!” Abraham said, tears streaming down his bearded face, “The Lord has demanded that I give you to him. Please, don’t fight.”

Isaac’s eyes widened, and his struggles ceased. His own tears carved streaks in the dust on his face, but he did not resist as his father bound his legs and ankles, then gently carried him to the altar.

~~~

Jesus fell to his knees as they reached the top of the hill, and the young man carrying his crossbeam collapsed next to him. Two soldiers lifted the beam from his shoulders, then lay it on the thick pole kept there for executions. Two other men lay on the ground nearby, waiting for their turn to be hoisted aloft.

A centurion, the red plume of his helmet moving in the breeze, barked an order, and soldiers tore Jesus’ tattered robes from his back. Two of them fit the crossbeam onto the pole, then lashed the two pieces together.

Jesus cried out as the soldiers roughly picked him up and dropped him on the cross. Strong hands gripped his arms and legs as they tied him down and pulled the cords tight. Above his head, a man nailed a piece of wood to the cross. Jesus heard gravel crunch under his sandals as he stepped over to the end of the crossbeam.

The centurion nodded curtly to the man, who placed a long spike against Jesus’ wrist. The Nazarene stared up at the sun as he felt its sharp point press against his skin, then cried out as the man struck it with his mallet, driving it down.

~~~

Abraham held his son to his breast as he walked to the altar. Isaac was bound tightly, but could lean his head into his father’s shoulder. He sobbed softly as Abraham closed his hand over his head and held him tight.

“Don’t cry, son,” Abraham said, “You are the Lord’s chosen, and you will be with Him soon.”

Isaac nodded, but his tears did not cease.

Abraham reached the altar and placed his son on the stack of wood. He raised his face to the sky, its edges starting to redden with the setting sun, and prayed.

“Lord, thy will be done!” he cried out, his voice breaking with pain.

~~~

Jesus hung from his cross, looking down upon Jerusalem and the temple. Around him, the soldiers either lounged in the late-day sunshine or checked on the other two men dying on their crosses.

His mother and several of his friends stood close by. The soldiers would not let them come to the top of the hill, but they had shouted to him several times, and he had replied until he no longer had the strength.

Now, his breath coming in agonized gasps, he barely had the strength to lift his head from his chest. In the city below him, the temple gleamed blood red in the light of the setting sun, and as he watched, he saw a man approaching a rough altar, a bound sacrifice in his arms.  

~~~

Abraham fell to his knees in front of the altar, lifting up handfuls of dust and rubbing them into his hair as he cried out. “My Lord, my Lord,” he wailed, “I offer you my son, as you commanded!”

He stood up shakily and took up the knife he had laid on the altar. Isaac lay there, his eyes locked on his father. A shudder ran through Abraham as he brushed the boy’s cheek with the back of his fingers, then brought his hand up to hold the knife a few inches above his son’s chest.

He paused there for a moment, staring up at the sky, then heaved the knife up, holding it over his head.

~~~

Jesus saw the man lift his arms, the glint of the sunlight bright against the blade in his hand, and pause for a moment before the final downward stroke. The pain and fatigue of his body melted as he reared his head up.

“Abraham!” he shouted, “Abraham, stop!” Below him, the soldiers and his friends all looked up at him in astonishment.

~~~

Abraham heard the thunder of a voice coming from the mountain above him, and froze.  It was the voice which had commanded him to leave his home in the east, had told him that Sarah would bear him a son, and had ordered him to bring their child to this lonely mountaintop.

“Abraham!” the voice boomed, ““Abraham, stop!”

The old man turned toward the sound, which seemed to flow from the blood-red horizon, where the sun was finishing its journey below the mountains. There, on a tall peak, he saw a man, bloodied and beaten, hanging in the air.

Abraham fell to his knees, dropping the knife on the altar with a clatter.

“Father, what is it?” Isaac cried out. He had heard the voice too, but could not turn his head enough to see the horizon.

“It is the Lord, our God!” Abraham replied. As he watched, the vision of the man faded, and in its place, he saw a ram, struggling to free its horns from a bush, a few yards from the edge of the plateau.

“Oh, my Lord, thank you!” he shouted, jumping to his feet and running to the sheep. Grabbing it by its horns, he dragged it to the altar. He took the knife and cut the thongs holding Isaac’s arms and wrists.

As Isaac climbed down from the altar, he marveled at both the ram and the tears which streamed anew down his father’s face.

“You see, my son?” Abraham said joyfully, “The Lord has provided the sacrifice for us.”

~~~

Jesus watched as Abraham and Isaac bound the ram and placed it on the altar. He slumped down in exhaustion as the vision faded. For a few minutes, he hung there, gasping. Below, he could hear his mother’s cries and the centurion barking orders.

Finally, he lifted his head one last time and whispered, “Father, it is done.” Above him, the heavens opened up with peals of thunder as his head dropped to his chest.

 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,

that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

– The Gospel of Saint John, Chapter 3, Verse 16

Musings

  • Derby is having to be reminded that the new couch is not a dog bed.
    • In related news, the amount of heartbroken moping and sad eyes in this house has reached dangerous levels.
  • We purchased our airline tickets for the family trip to North Dakota this past week.
    • I’ll come home from cub scout camp, get a shower, run a load of laundry, then get into the car and go to the airport.  If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to sleep on the flight.
    • Minneapolis seems to have drawn a twenty-five mile circle around the airport and proclaimed that all hotels within it will charge double what those not within it charge.
  • Apparently, in order to get a semi-collapsed pipe in our yard replaced, we need to cut down a fruit tree, disassemble a flower bed, have the septic tank emptied, introduce a biological warfare agent into our septic system, sacrifice a goat at the height of the new moon, and promise to marry our youngest son to the daughter of the man in charge of the plumbing company.
  • Irish Woman has been looking at new houses, and it would appear that we can either move an hour outside of town or double our mortgage payment.

Escort Duty – Part 13

Simon reined his horse to a halt when they came within shouting distance of the bridge. A squad of guards, armed with spears and bows, barred their path, and an officer in armor stood before them. On the far end of the bridge, clusters of huts lay on either side of the road, but wood from a fire only rose from the ones to the right. The bridge spanned a deep valley, a cataract of white water roaring at the bottom of its steep granite walls.  The mid-day sun glinted from the sides of wet rocks along its banks far below, and the spray from a waterfall just upstream made a rainbow halfway down the gorge.

Simon raised his hand in greeting, his leather gauntlet dusty from the road.

“Well met, good sir,” he called out, “We wish to cross to Booda.”

“Go back!” the officer replied loudly, “None may come into our lands from this accursed place!”

“We’re not from Pesht,” Simon replied calmly, using his knees to urge his horse to walk a little closer. He stopped when one of the archers lifted his bow and pulled his arrow back to fire.

“Duke Kyrali has decreed that none may come from Pesht!” the officer shot back, “Now go!”

Simon looked about the border post, then glanced down at the gorge. The sides weren’t exactly sheer cliffs, but the ancient, misused trail that ran to the bottom looked treacherous enough to claim at least one horse and rider on the way down and back up, even without the detachment of soldiers watching every step.

Simon looked back at the soldiers and called out, “Is there nothing that can be done? I am the escort of Lady Piroska of Tanahuk, and she has business in Booda.”

The officer considered the three riders for a moment. Finally, he stepped forward to within speaking distance.

“Is it just the three of you then?” he asked quietly.

“Yes.”

“Why the pony? Did you lose a child along the way?”

“The lady insisted. I have no idea why she wants the smelly thing to come along.”

The officer examined the riders again.  His mouth worked as his eyes measured their clothing and trappings, seeming to weigh the situation in his mind.

“Since you don’t seem to be rabble trying to get away from the plague, here’s what I can do for you,” he finally said, “You stay here for a month. If you don’t get sick, I’ll let you go. If any of you get sick, my men will kill all of you and I’ll have your bodies burned.”

“My mistress needs to be in the capitol as soon as possible.”

“It’s either that, or you turn around and go back the way you came.”

“That’s inconvenient, but if that’s all that can be done, there are worse fates.”

The commander met Simon’s eyes with a hard gaze, “This isn’t a free service. Everything you have is mine. If you’re good guests, I’ll let you walk out of here with the clothes on your back.”

“My mistress will not want to walk,” Simon said.

“That’s not my concern,” the officer said curtly, “Those are my terms. Agree or go back.”

“Unfortunate,” Simon replied with a sigh, “but it appears we have no choice.” Behind him, Erika looked furious, but held her tongue.

The officer signaled to his men, and they retreated across the bridge. Simon and the two women followed them over the gorge, then to the unused clutch of buildings. The trio dismounted, then were herded into one of the dilapidated huts. The officer watched as Gnarlthing was handed over, as well as the pouch of coins which Erika kept on her belt and everything else they carried.

“You’ll stay in there for a month. You will touch no-one, nor shall you speak to anyone, understand?” the officer said sternly.

“We understand, good sir,” Erika said, “But what are we to do for a month?”

“Entertain yourselves, my lady. One of my men will be by to feed you every morning and evening. Tip the slop bucket out the window in the back when you use it,” he replied, turning to leave. Erika did her best to burn a hole in the back of his tunic with her glare as he went. His men barred the door, then led their horses and the mule toward the buildings on the other side of the encampment. Simon watched them go. He noted that the officer went into the hut next to the stable, where their horses were led.

“Why didn’t you fight, and where is Hollo?” Erika demanded.

“My lady, there were five men with spears, four archers, and an officer with a sword on the bridge,” Simon replied, “There are at least twice that many on this side. As for where Hollo went, he’s about. He’s a wanted man on this side of the border, so I guess he didn’t care to chance being recognized.”

“You should have found another way across!”

“Princess, this is the only bridge for a hundred leagues in either direction, and I’m sure they’re just as rigorously guarded.”

“So we just sit here for a month?” Greta said.

“It would appear so.”

“I should have taken the damned boat,” Erika hissed in disgust, “At least then I’d have had a bed to sleep in.”

Two thin blankets lay in one corner of the hut, and a bucket sat under the window. Other than that, the place was bare of furnishings. The wattle and dob walls were dingy and damaged from want of care.

“Well, it’s going to be a long month unless we find something to keep ourselves occupied,” Simon sighed as he took a seat on the packed earth floor next to the door. He could hear the guards shuffling around in the yard outside, and the caw of a crow echoed through the gorge behind their prison. The sound brought a smile to his lips.

That evening, a soldier came to the hut and lowered two buckets through the window, one with bread in it, the other half full of water. Simon tore the dense, stale loaf and distributed it to the women. They ate in silence as the light of sundown streamed through the open window, taking turns cupping handfuls of warm, sulphurous water from the bucket. Once the sun set, the darkness inside the hut was almost absolute.

“Well, good night, my ladies,” Simon said as he lay down in front of the door, “I wonder if this counts as our first day.”

Erika shook her head and muttered to herself as she wrapped herself in one of the blankets, while Greta lay down next to her. Simon lay quietly for a few moments, listening as the women fell asleep and the guards made their rounds. The last of the spring rains pattered against the hard-packed dirt of the yard outside the door and on the hut’s thatched roof.

At least the roof doesn’t leak, Simon thought as he drifted off to sleep.


Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

Musings

  • You know, it might be that saying “I give you an inch of rope and you think you’re a cowboy” to my wife might not have been the smartest thing I’ve ever done.
    • Being married to an Irish redhead is a lot like having a large cat as a pet.  It’s all fun and games until they get that look in their eyes.
  • We’ve reached the Yo-Yo phase of weather here in Indiucky.
    • We’ve gone from beautiful spring to deep winter to ice to rain and back to sunshine.
    • If this keeps up, I expect to see fish falling from the sky any day now.
  • At the same time, every plant within 25 miles is trying to strangle me, so I’ve got that going for me.
    • “Day of the Triffids” and “Little Shop of Horrors” have nothing on “Let’s Make It Painful for Tom to Breathe!”
  • The other day, I decided to remove the Facebook app from my phone.  I just wanted to see what its absence would feel like.
    • I am not joking when I say that not being able to pull my phone out during a quiet moment and check on my feed was a lot like the times I’ve gone without coffee for several days.  It may be what it’s like the first few days someone quits smoking.
    • I still check FB from my laptop a couple times a day, but by the end of the week I wasn’t feeling like I needed to open the app several times a day.
  • Boo has begun taking lessons in jiu-jitsu, or as I call it, “Hugging it out at combat speed.”
    • He’s enjoying himself, and if nothing else, it gives him exercise a couple times a week.

Escort Duty – Part 12

Hollo placed the last stone over Soren’s grave as the early morning sun peeked over the top of the pines surrounding the meadow they had used as a camp the night before. In the valley below, a huge column of black smoke rose from where Taszar had been, but his sharp eyes no longer saw the old woman who had set it alight.

He stood and stretched as Simon led the women over. Greta had wept softly as she went about her duties.  Erika, on the other hand, kept a stony expression on her face, betraying her grief with only a stray tear or two that burned hot tracks down her cheeks. The women wore clean clothes, both because they wished to honor Soren, and because Simon had burned the clothes they had worn as they rode through the village the night before.

Erika wore the plainest dress she had, which was of a deep green velvet embroidered with silver flowers. Greta’s dress matched the one she had worn before, made of soft wool dyed the color of oak leaves in autumn.

Simon had cursed himself for not bringing along plainer clothes for the princess, but had cursed most vociferously when he found that no spare set of traveling clothes was in the bundle Hollo had spirited away from the camp. He had burned his clothing, too, and now wore the black leather breeches and armor, with two gryphons embroidered on its chest in gold thread, which he normally wore only in battle. There was no other clothing for him to wear, and the presence of the women kept him from going about naked until he could find something more suitable.

“My lady,” Hollo said solemnly, bowing low. He looked exhausted after traveling all night to retrieve his pony and catch up with the group after they had traveled up into the hills above the village. His clothes had also gone into the fire, but the guide had an identical set in his saddle bags.

“Master Guide,” the princess said simply, her eyes, brimming with tears, averted from Soren’s grave. Simon had awoken her when he found the captain dead from the wound to his head. Hollo had found them by the light of their campfire soon thereafter, and both men had labored until past sunrise to dig him a shallow grave.

Greta washed the body and dressed him in his armor before Simon and Hollo gently placed him in the hole they had dug. Hollo prayed as Simon placed Soren’s sword in his dead hands, then both men labored to cover the body with several layers of stone from the nearby creek.

“A good man,” Simon said simply.

“Yes,” Erika said, emotion cracking her voice, “I will remember his service.”

Hollo looked up at the sun. “We’d best be going, my lady,” he said, “We need to be away from here before the Lord of Pesht sends men looking for your attackers.”

Erika nodded gravely, then leaned down and lay her bandaged hand on the stones of Soren’s grave. Rising, she turned and walked to her horse.


Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

Escort Duty – Part 11

They rode down the trail until they came to a dry stream bed, which ran to the north. Simon turned there, taking them out of the hills and onto the valley floor just as the sun touched the mountains to the west. Soon, they rode in darkness, their way lit only by the stars.

Every so often, Simon would reach down to touch Soren’s breast and count his breaths. The soldier continued to breathe, but made few sounds and no movement. When Simon touched the bandages around his head, he could feel the wet of his blood seeping through them.

Simon looked up at the stars and whispered a prayer to his family’s gods for Soren.

“He can be a hard man,” he said, “but he’s loyal and a good warrior. Watch over him for me.”

The stars blinked down at him coldly, and no message of hope or comfort repaid him for his prayer.

Their horses stumbled through several fields left to fallow, but when they came upon a narrow lane of packed earth, they found their footing. After that, their progress was slow, but steady, and soon the forms of houses and barns loomed out of the darkness as they passed.

“Can’t we have a torch?” Greta asked plaintively after a tree, which she hadn’t seen, smacked her in the face with the end of a branch.

“Hush,” Erika ordered, “Simon’s trying to secret us across to the village, and that’ll give us away!”

The path turned to the west as they crossed a bridge over a small river, its water babbling through the bridges pilings as it went. The road on the other side was of stone and seemed well maintained compared to the dirt track they had been following.

“We should see the village soon,” Simon said quietly, “Hollo said it sits on that water, and it’s tucked right up against the hills.”

They rode on as a sliver of moon rose over the horizon. It was not bright enough to see details, but now they could make out farms as they came upon them. No dogs barked as they passed, nor did they see any lights or other evidence of people.

“It’s all abandoned,” Erika said.

“The bard at the tavern told me about this,” Simon replied, “He said that entire swaths of the countryside were deserted from the plague.”

“I thought that was up by the capitol?”

“Branka must have been wrong. There ought to at least have been a watchman on that bridge, and I’ve never come this close to farms at night without some cur waking up the entire household. There’s nobody here.”

The road turned to follow the river and rose to meet the hills in the distance. The only sound they heard was the water as it moved over stones in its bed and the clop of their horses’ hooves on the paving stones.

Finally, just as the moon set, Simon caught sight of a light ahead. He hissed to the women and pointed. The women started to speed their mounts toward the village ahead, but Simon raised a hand to stop them.

“Patience, ladies,” he said, “The captain needs us to be steady.”

After another half hour of riding, they came to the outskirts of the village. The buildings were dark, and by the light of the stars and the fire in the village’s central marketplace, which was what they had spied as they approached, Simon could make out doors and windows hanging open. Further in, the foundations of buildings remained where they had been pulled or burned down, leaving holes like open graves on either side of the road.

Simon gently halted his horse as they came to the center of the village, a plaza covered with the ashes of what must have been a huge fire. A smaller pyre blazed atop the ashes now. Erika could see the legs of chairs and other furniture fueling it, and the princess’ breath caught in shock when she saw the tiny body, wrapped in bedsheets, burning atop it.

The still form of an old woman kneeled next to the fire, her head bowed as if in prayer. Her face was streaked with soot, as was the plain brown and green dress she wore. A golden brooch, decorated with red and white stones to take the shape of a flying dragon, lay on her breast. Next to her, a staff of polished and engraved wood and several torches lay in a neat stack. Simon dismounted and approached her.

“Is this Taszar?” he said as he stepped closer.

“It was,” the old woman croaked, “once upon a time.”

“What happened here?” Erika called from atop her horse.

“Everyone died. Everyone,” the woman replied, standing up. Simon could almost hear her bones groan at the effort. She was stooped with old age, and she used the staff to support herself as she lifted her head and examined the strangers.

“Two weeks,” she said, “two weeks ago things were just fine here. Now, I’m all that’s left.”

“We were looking for the healer,” Simon said.

“No healer here, not anymore,” the woman said, “Old Katta is all that’s left.”

“The plague?”

“Everyone got sick, even the animals. Whole families would lay down at sunset and not rise with the sun. Now, they’re all gone.”

“Did nobody escape?” Greta asked. She clutched at the throat of her dress, looking around at the empty houses.

“Some tried. The Count’s men stopped them on the other side of the mountains and wouldn’t let them pass, so they came back here to die.”

The crone was wracked with a spasm of coughing, which doubled her over as she tried to catch her breath. Finally, the fit ceased, and she spit a gobbet of red-tinged phlegm onto the ashes at her feet.

“Won’t be long for me, either,” she said, leaning on her cane.

“When did the healer die?” Simon asked.

“Oh, I didn’t die,” Katta replied, trying to crack a smile, but failing, “I just gave out. So much death, and nothing I could do. My power faded as I watched them die.”

“We have a hurt man here,” Erika said, “Can you not help him?”

“Nay, it’s best I don’t try,” Katta said, turning toward the princess, “I’ve no power left to heal him, and I’d just spread the contagion to all of you.”

Simon nodded sadly. “Is there anything we can do for you?” he asked gently.

“There’s nothing to be done. By the time the sun rises, I will be with my children and their children in the next world. You’ll only join our fate if you come much closer.”

Simon turned and remounted his horse. He solemnly raised a hand to the old woman, who returned the gesture before falling into another coughing fit. He reined his horse back onto the road and led the women away from the pyre.

Katta watched them go, then kneeled in the ashes again. The words of a prayer returned to her lips as she lifted her head to watch the flames lick up toward the stars. After a long while, the fire burned down to a bed of coals shimmering in the dark. The old woman picked up one of the torches, lit it, and then hobbled toward one of the buildings near the plaza.


Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

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