Miriamele awakens

27th October 1103

Each night she dreamed of him. A huge maned lion who stalked her every timid step. Eyes like great golden orbs, glowing from the gloom at the edges of sleep. Shaggy head tracing her furtive movements, red-tongued mouth open and panting, tasting her human terror.

Sometimes she would run, tearing through the forest, heart throbbing in her chest, branches slapping her face, scratching at her arms until they bled. She could hear him behind her, the thump as his massive paws hit the ground, muscles rippling beneath his bristling fur. She was not fast enough, he would leap upon her with a snarl, his huge weight crashing into her, pressing her face first into the ground, lying atop her as he opened his wide grinning mouth to take the first bite.

Other times she would stand, still as a statue, hoping he would lose interest in such boring prey. He would saunter up to her, and butt his huge head against her, a throaty purr erupting from his chest. Searching out her hands as though he only longed for her to stroke his maned head. When she reached out a trembling hand to tentatively caress that peaceful him would turn and lazily nip her hand. With a languid swipe he would knock her to the ground, wide jaws following, seeking to rend the very flesh from her bones. Her two small hands, reaching up, fighting that hideous mouth, struggling to hold open jaws that threatened to close over her frail body. In the morning her arms ached from the effort.

Even now he loomed over her, his body blocking out the light and she could see right down his throat into his blood red gullet.

His mouth clamped down on her shoulder, shaking her, batting at her, as though this were merely a game and he would throw pieces of her body, arms, bones, organs, toss them into their air and catch them in his open mouth. She fought that mouth with all the strength in her small body, hitting the lion with her fists, scratching at its arms.

She came awake to a new sort of a terror, a painted one struggling with her as she pumelled the woman with her fists. Horrified, Miriamele was suddenly certain that she was already dead, that N’nkasha had killed her. She opened her mouth to scream but a warm, sweaty hand clamped over it.

“Mirri, it’s me, Cordell,” a manly voice hissed in her ear, “Christ, stop hitting me!”

She stared up into the ghastly face, a mask whiter than the pallor of death, painted tears dripping from eyes that were dark and hollowed out like the leering gaze of a skull.

But within those hollows were grey eyes, kindly eyes, eyes she recognised as belonging to a man she knew. A good man that her sister Lisbet had been unable to love. A man Miriamele had always thought she would have treated more kindly had he been hers.

He was holding her close to his cloaked body, one hand still clamped over her mouth. She breathed deep the masculine scent of it, feeling the safest she had in a very long time.

Seeing the recognition in her eyes he let her go. The room was suddenly achingly cold away from the warmth of his body. Her nostrils filled once more with the smoky incense they burned in here each day, the heady perfumes they smeared on her body, the thick tonics they made her drink that dulled her mind and she ached for the honest, amiable scent of another human’s body.

She placed her hands on his chest, feeling the solid muscles beneath the cloaking, peering up at him, trying to recognise the man she knew beneath the thick paint.

“Cordell?” she murmured, “is it really you? Have you come to rescue me?”

The thought rose like a bubble through the murky haze that still clung to her body.

“No you little idiot, I’m just passing by and thought I’d stop for a visit,” he drawled, “of course I’m here to rescue you.”

He was so familiar, so Cordell. She launched herself at him, wrapping her shivering arms around his comfortingly solid body, pressing her face against his chest. She needed to feel him, to understand that he was real, that he wouldn’t suddenly disappear, like so many hallucinations had before, dissipating into the air like smoke trailing from an incense stick.

Chuckling softly he extracted himself from her embrace.

“Let me look at you,” he murmured, holding her at arms length, “goodness me Mirri, you’re all grown up!”

Miriamele supposed she was. The last time he had seen her she had still been a child, plump and giggling and jealous for his attention. Her big sister’s husband, she couldn’t really understand the childish feelings she had for him then, the shy young man who was happy to listen to her endless prattle while his sad eyes stole glances at her icy sister across the room.

Then they had gone and Miriamele had been left with her mother and eldest sister. When she had first bled they began to speak of suitors. She could have never imagined the nightmare husband they would choose for her.

“How are we going to get out?” she whispered, trying to bite back the fear that was suddenly rising up once more like gore in her throat.

She fought the urge to throw up, the remaining tonic swirling thickly in her belly.

Cordell looked uncomfortable, “Well, I’ve got a plan. But things have gotten… well… complicated.”

She gazed at him with wide eyes trying to understand his meaning.

“It looks like it won’t be just us,” he smiled awkwardly.

“We’re going to rescue Estan as well?” she squeaked.

Of course they were, Cordell would already have a plan. He would spirit the three of them out of there and nobody would be the wiser till they were far gone from this hellish place.

“They keep him in the cathedral, its not usually guarded, he can barely move anyway” she mumbled, then blushed in shame. He would have already thought of that she was sure and here she was second guessing him.

“Estan’s alive,” Cordell murmured, shocked.

Or he did not have a plan.

“Yes,” she hissed, “He’s very sick though. N’nkasha likes to torture him for fun. It’s just awful.”

She bit her lip to keep from crying at the thought of his ruined face.

“We have to save him, if it keeps up like this N’nkasha will kill him before long,” she shuddered, “he already took his eye. Cordell… he fed it to the dogs.”

Cordell looked sickened. Miriamele felt the bile churning in her stomach again, a leaden weight settling on her mind once more. With a great effort tried to shake it off, but she was growing dizzy with the effort.

She felt Cordell’s gloved hand under her chin, gently tilting her face up. He peered down at her and she was suddenly aware how she must look, eyes bleary, hair a tangled mess and her face greasy where she had sweated out the noxious substance through her pores.

“What have they given you,” he murmured, looking concerned.

She straightened, trying to shake off the lethargy that lay over her body like a stifling weight.

“I don’t know. But I’m fine, I’ll be fine,” she blinked, trying to ignore the fact that candle flames were swaying yet there was no draft.

“Anyway, if you weren’t talking about Estan, what do you mean it’s not going to be just us?”


2 responses to “Miriamele awakens”

  1. Van says:

    Miri. :( She breaks my heart every time we see her (yes, only twice so far, but still–poor girl!). How old is she, exactly? Fourteen-ish? She seems young to be married even by the standards of The Times. And even if she was of a perfectly reasonable age to be married, what a horrible monster they’ve stuck her with! Sickening, how some people can think that other people are fair game to be used as their pawns.

    I wonder what they gave her. I’m guessing they want her alive, but if it’s going to make her pass out, hopefully she can at least hold out until they’re past the guards. Then she can get some medical attention on the ship.

    I’m glad Cordell got to her okay. And while Estan does complicate things, I’m glad Cordell is aware of him now. But oh dear, this little party of theirs just keeps growing! I’m guessing it’s not uncommon to see a Painted One and her young assistant taking out two corpses at once, but what if more people join them? Any more than three or four “corpses” might look suspicious, and I’m guessing there are dozens of people who want out of that castle (and I wish they could take them all, but it’s a sad impossibility at this point; hopefully there won’t be too many innocents harmed whenever the allied forces launch their attack).

  2. verity says:

    You’re right Van, she’s only fourteen :(

    I am really enjoying writing from her perspective so far, so hopefully lots more of that to come. Her family has really thrown her to the wolves. I’m not sure if or when we will get to see her mother and sister, but they are pretty nasty characters.

    Lucky she has two other big sisters looking out for her.

    Yeah, I think if anyone knew there was a rescue going on, half the castle would want in!

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