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The Woman in White Marble

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E.J. Willis

 

 

Hello!

Thanks for stopping by! I started writing about two years ago, and what an amazing journey it has been. When I read a dedication from C. S. Lewis to his goddaughter, it made me want to craft a story for my niece and nephew. That little thought grew into a raging passion. Now I am a writer.

Sunday
Sep132015

A Short Tale from Falyncia: Refugees

An Excerpt from Battle for the Throne:

A shame I can’t harm her myself, Chaos thought. He had enjoyed terrorizing her with the nightmare, but the effect wore off too soon for his taste. Fear empowered him.

His eyes took on a sudden malicious gleam. I don’t have anyone in place to hurt her at the moment, but I can use fear to cripple her.

Chaos flew in search of a suitable target and spotted a Falyncian family making their way toward the river. They carried small bundles that contained all the possessions they owned, and they moved with caution to avoid the Yukoan patrols. Chaos grinned.

They should reach the right part of the river at the same time as Alaina. Perfect.

 

A Short Tale from Falyncia: Refugees

 

Evening had come, but it made little difference in the temperature. Perspiration continued to drip from seven-year-old William’s nose as he carried the water pail to the house. Locks of curly blonde hair clung to his forehead, and his all-too thin arms shook as he struggled to keep the bucket from bumping the ground. Sebastian, his younger brother, trailed behind. When they reached the open doorway, William heard his parents speaking in low tones. He stopped to listen.

"We don’t have enough,” his father said.

“How is it possible, Nathaniel?” The strain in his mother’s voice pulled at William’s young heart. “If we shorten our rations any further, we’ll starve to death.”

“I know, Ellie, but the overseer has raised the interest again. We have no other option. We must …”

William’s stomach rumbled louder than usual, and his parents quit talking. His father came to the entrance.

“Here, let me take that.” Nathaniel reached out and gripped the bucket’s handle.

“Daddy, what’s going on? What must we do?” William followed his father inside where a small fire burned on the hearth.

His father poured the water into a pot, set it over the flames, and headed outside. He paused at the threshold. “William, come with me while I tend to Red. Sebastian, stay with your mother.”

“I wanna go too!” Tears instantly filled the younger boy’s blue eyes.

“You can stir the porridge while it cooks.” William’s mother handed Sebastian a wooden spoon, and the tears stopped.

William hurried after his father. “I get to help with the horse?”

“He must look his best. First thing tomorrow, I’ll take him to the market and sell him.”

His father’s strides were so long that William nearly had to jog to keep up. “But won’t you need him for the harvest?”

Nathaniel stopped. He gazed across the fields. “Our family once owned this land, but the Yukoans invaded and took possession. They charge us for the use of it. This year, the drought destroyed the crops. There won’t be a harvest. Once I pay the overseer what I owe him, we must leave.”

“Where will we go?”

“I don’t know.” William’s father blew out a long breath.

***

The next morning, Nathaniel haltered the large draft horse before his family woke. “Sorry, old fellow, but I don’t have a choice.” He patted Red’s neck. A rooster crowed in the distance.

Leading the horse, Nathaniel trudged along the road. More travelers appeared as the sun climbed higher. At a point near the village, the people parted to make way for Yukoan soldiers. Nathaniel guided Red to the side, but the troops’ captain stopped in front of him.

“Nice animal you have there.” The captain rubbed his chin. “My farm could use another plow horse, so I’ll give you a bronze piece for him.”

“He’s worth five at the very least.”

“Your accent confirms you’re a Falyncian like I suspected. Have you forgotten your place?” The captain’s eyes narrowed, and he drew his sword. “You’ll take one or nothing.”

Nathaniel dropped to a knee with head bowed. “Please, I beg you, show your servant mercy and allow me to sell him for a fitting price. This horse is all I have left, and a single bronze piece won’t cover my debt.”

A coin landed in the dirt beside him.

“Hand the horse over. Consider yourself fortunate to receive that much.”

Nathaniel glared at the money, and his body shook as he stood and handed the lead rope to the captain. He waited until all the soldiers had passed before he picked up the coin.

What am I going to do? I’m ruined. His legs buckled, and he crumpled onto the road. He covered his face in an attempt to hide his sobs.

***

That afternoon, William jumped as his father burst into the house.

“We’re leaving.” Nathaniel grabbed a ragged blanket from a bed of straw. “There’s no time to lose.”

Sebastian started crying.

“Honey, you’re scaring the boys,” Ellie said. “What happened?”

“He practically stole Red.” Nathaniel’s jaw clenched, and he ripped the blanket it half.

“Who did, Daddy?” William asked.

“A Yukoan, who else?” He snapped out the words, and William flinched. His father took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. Come on, help me get packed. We must leave before Raynolf comes to collect the money, or he’ll have me taken into custody and sell the rest of you.”

William heard a horse neigh and ran to the window. “It’s Raynolf. He’s almost here with his guards.”

His father went outside, and William followed.

“Go back in with your mother, William.” His father stayed near the threshold, but he squared his shoulders and gazed steadily at the approaching armed men.

“Why?  I’m not scared of them.” William balled his hands into fists.

“Do as I say.”

William stomped into the house.

His brother ran to him. “What did you see?”

“Nothing, Seb. Father sent me in too soon.” William crossed his arms and scuffed his bare foot across the weathered floor boards. “He thinks I’m a baby.”

“William, he knows you’re not a baby.” His mother approached, but he pulled away when she reached for him. “He only wishes to protect you.”

William plopped his elbows on the windowsill and leaned forward as the men brought their horses to a stop. The overseer had grizzled hair and a thick beard, and he was so heavyset William wondered how the horse managed to carry him.

“Good day, Nathaniel,” the overseer said.

William’s father approached the man and held out a worn money pouch. “Here’s all the money I have, Raynolf, sir.”

The overseer snatched the pouch and shook three bronze coins onto his palm. “Not enough.”

“That’s all I could get.” William’s father hung his head. “If you’ll give me more time, I’ll …”

“Arrest him.” Raynolf motioned to two of the soldiers.

“No, wait, please. I’ll find a way to get you the money.” Nathaniel fell to his knees as the two soldiers dismounted, and a shudder passed through his body.

William stepped back from the window and glanced at his mother. The color had drained from her face, and she held a hand over her mouth. William darted past her and out of the house.

By the time William reached the soldiers, they were forcing his father’s hands behind his back.

“Leave my daddy alone!” William picked up a rock and threw it at a soldier. With a ping, it glanced off armor.

“I’ll teach you to show respect, boy.” The soldier grabbed his riding crop.

“Wait,” Raynolf ordered. “I have a better idea.”

The soldier moved aside as the overseer urged his horse forward until William was within arm’s reach.

William stood his ground.

Raynolf stared at him, assessing him with copper-colored eyes. “I’ll take the boy instead. The Emperor is always seeking fresh lads to be trained as gladiators. Though the boy’s scrawny, his actions demonstrate he has potential.” His gaze strayed to William’s father. “It’ll be one less mouth you have to feed, Nathaniel, and I’ll even let him cover next year’s dues as well.”

Nathaniel broke free from the soldier holding him and lunged between the overseer and William. “You can’t have my son.”

“I’ll take whatever I want.” Raynolf snapped his fingers, and the dismounted soldiers drew their swords. As they did, a man on a galloping horse appeared from a nearby line of trees. Raynolf turned his attention to the rider as he approached.

The man reined in his horse once he reached the yard. “Raynolf, sir, thank goodness I found you. There’s a group of Falyncian rabbles stirring up trouble in Brunsburg, and our men need assistance.”

The overseer looked toward the tree line and back at William’s father. “Very well. Nathaniel, I’ll return for your son tomorrow.” Raynolf spurred his horse and rode off, and the soldiers went with him.

Once they were out of sight, William’s father scooped him up and rushed into the house. There they found his mother gathering the few belongings they had onto the torn blanket segments.

“You were right, Nathaniel.” She pulled bowls off a shelf. “We must leave for Hyara at once.”

William’s father frowned as he checked their meager food supplies. “We might starve to death before we make it to the Great River. Then we’ll have to find a way to cross it in order to reach Hyara.”

“I’d rather die together as a family than watch them haul my son off and force him to serve as a traitor to our people. They’d either turn him into a ruthless killer or slaughter him. Next it will be Sebastian, or you, they seize. I can’t bear the thought.”

“Then we’ll take our chances.” Nathaniel kissed his wife’s head. He turned to his son. “William …”

“I’m sorry, Father.” William choked back a sob. “I was only trying to help.”

Nathaniel knelt and placed a hand on William’s shoulder. “I know, and you stopped them from arresting me. For that I am grateful. Now see to Sebastian while your mother and I get everything ready.”

***

Several days had passed, and there still weren’t any signs of pursuit. Nathaniel wondered about it even as he kept a sharp lookout for anything edible. The drought had taken its toll even in the woods. They hadn’t eaten for days. He felt like his heart was being ripped in half as he watched his family’s physical condition decline further. Sebastian fared the worst.

Did we make the right decision, Lord? He pictured his older son being forced to kill another Falyncian in the Emperor’s arena. I could never let that happen. We’ll get through this … somehow.

“Are we there yet?” Sebastian no longer lifted his feet but shuffled behind the others with his head down.

Nathaniel shifted his bundle to the other shoulder and scooped Sebastian up with one arm. “Almost. Only a couple more days until we reach the Great River. We’ll find food there.”

“Halt.” A deep voice ripped through the air.

Nathaniel whirled to see a muscular man with a day’s stubble on his chin. His tunic and breeches were grey, but he wore a maroon sash with the emblem of a black cobra embroidered on it. He carried a set of arrows with a well-crafted bow. A satchel hung from his shoulder. Though the Yukoans consisted of various races, few were as dark-skinned as him. Nathaniel recognized him at once, for the Yukoans had erected a statue in Brunsburg to honor him.

"General Beaumont." Nathaniel tightened his hold on Sebastian and went down on his knees. “I'm sorry if we have disturbed you, sir. We’re merely wanderers who have lost our way and run out of food.”

“More like Falyncians trying to escape, if I’m not mistaken. And you scared off the stag I was tracking.” The general’s brown eyes were hard as he scrutinized them. “What caused you to run in the first place?”

“Our overseer wanted to make me a gladiator,” William blurted.

“Did he?” The general raised an eyebrow. “You should know the gladiators are well-fed and provided for.”

"Really?" William's eyes brightened. "That doesn't sound so bad."

"Most who are selected don't survive to adulthood." Nathaniel gritted his teeth. "It's kill or be killed."

“True. It's a hard, short life." Beaumont rubbed his chin. "You willingly risked all your lives to keep the boy from such a fate?”

“My family is all I have left.” Nathaniel swallowed hard.

The general nodded as though he had come to a decision. He removed the satchel from his shoulder and held it out to Nathaniel. “Take this. You’ll find food and a special token that I discovered in the woods. I had intended to give it to my wife, but I want the boy to have it. He’s a brave lad for speaking up and telling me the truth. However, as far as I’m concerned, we never met. Do not mention me to anyone. Understood?”

“Yes, of course. Thank you, sir.” Nathaniel accepted the bag. “But why should you choose to assist us?”

Beaumont's lip quirked as he stared into the woods. "My new bride would resent me if she ever found out I acted otherwise toward Falyncians in such dire circumstances, and I also believe you made the right call. Becoming a gladiator would destroy your son. One more thing. I have a brigade encamped due north of here, so you’ll want to head east for a bit before resuming your course to the river. Watch out for patrols too.” The general disappeared into the woods as noiselessly as he had come.

“What did we get?” William stood on the tips of his toes trying to peer inside the satchel.

Nathaniel set it down and pulled out the contents. There was a loaf of bread, dried meats, and a variety of nuts. In a separate pocket, he found a medallion with an image of a howling wolf and crossed swords. It hung on a silver chain.

“The symbol of Falyncia,” Ellie whispered as she looked over Nathaniel’s shoulder. “I haven’t seen it in years.”

Nathaniel handed the medallion to William. “I suspect this is what General Beaumont wanted you to have. Keep it safe. We may need it to buy food in Hyara.”

William beamed as he placed it in his pocket.

Nathaniel divided the food among them, and they set out again after they had eaten.

***

Unseen by the humans, a demon hovered above the woods, seeking out a target. His reptilian-like head moved from side to side as he scanned the area, and then his red eyes focused on Nathaniel’s family. He flexed his clawed hands. They should reach the right part of the river at the same time as Alaina. Perfect. Now I just need to make sure the patrols see them. This is one family that mustn’t get away.

He flew off to make preparations.

***

Two days later, William and his family reached the end of the trees. The Great River stretched as far as his eyes could see. “We made it!”

His father, carrying Sebastian, soon joined him along with his mother.

“It’s beautiful,” Ellie said.

“And look!” William pointed up the bank. “There’s a boat.”

“Stay here while I check it out.” Nathaniel put Sebastian down and stepped from the tree line. He made his way to the little wooden rowboat, peered inside, and proceeded to search the area, often stooping as though inspecting the ground.

“Why’s he taking so long?” William asked.

“He wants to make sure it’s safe,” his mother replied.

When he was apparently satisfied, Nathaniel motioned for them to come. William bounded across the sand and jumped into the boat.

“Are you sure we should do this?” Ellie walked to Nathaniel. “I don’t have a good feeling about it.”

“We can’t turn back now.” Nathaniel placed Sebastian next to William. “Let’s pray.”

Ellie clasped his hand, and they bowed their heads.

“Dear Heavenly Father,” Nathaniel’s voice waivered, “we ask for Your protection as we cross the river. But if trouble should come on us, I commit our lives into Your hands. Amen.”

Ellie released her hold on him and clambered onto a seat. Nathaniel pushed them into the water and hopped over the edge.


They had made it to the middle of the current when William noticed his father’s eyes widen, and his face went deathly pale. He gripped the oars tighter and tried to row faster. William turned to see what had frightened his father and felt as though his heart jumped into his throat. A maroon vessel with a cobra figurehead had slipped from a nearby alcove. William reached into his pocket and pulled out the medallion. He clutched it tightly, wishing it would offer them protection.

His mother gasped. “Yukoan patrols. They’re gaining on us.”

 

A Note from the Author:

Thank you for reading this short tale about a Falyncian family. The ending to their story can be found in my novel, Battle for the Throne: Tales from Falyncia Book One. Available on Amazon as a paperback, Kindle, or Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read for free. Happy reading! – E. J. Willis

Copyright 2015 E.J.Willis