Capitalia Bloom (part 4)

Capitalia Bloom (part 3)

Sobs drifted into Larah’s bedroom. She put down her book and walked toward Melinda’s study. The Head Mistress sat looking out the window, her hands caressing the curled form of Passion, their sixteen-year-old cat.

Larah approached her desk. “Mother, is something wrong?”

Melinda turned and looked at her. Tear tracks glistened on her face. “Passion is dying.”

Larah had noticed her getting slower over the last few days, and that she had lost a lot of weight over the last year, yet the words still made her chest tighten. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Melinda confirmed. “She’s too weak to move; nothing more can be done.” Her hands slowly stroked its long golden fur. She stared at the floor before speaking, “Do you know how I got her?”

Larah shook her head. “No, you’ve always had her.”

“Passion was originally Anya’s cat, who came to be mine when Anya passed away. That happened on the same night you came to me, and I became Head Mistress.” She paused as her eyes became unfocused. “I gained and lost much that night.” Shaking her head, she continued. “Anya was my mentor and my best friend. Other than my memories, all I have left are Passion – and you.” She looked at Larah, lips trembling. “And I love you both so much,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Yet, it’s so painful to lose another piece of Anya, once again.”

Hurriedly wiping her eyes, Larah rushed over. Oh, how she wished to take the pain away. The older woman shook with sorrow, as Larah embraced her tightly, wishing the distance between them could disappear.

Finally, Melinda took a breath, cupped Larah’s chin and kissed on the nose. “It’s okay.” Together they looked at the cat.

Melinda scooped Passion up and laid her on the window sill. “I am going to let her watch the sunset as she often liked to do, one last time.” Leaning over, Melinda kissed the feline on the head and gave her a last petting. “Goodbye, my dear. You will always have a place in my heart.” With that, she left the study.

Larah walked over and stroked Passion’s soft fur, and felt the weak, but still noticeable purring. Sniffling back tears, she recalled Passion’s antics, and how Melinda had always appreciated the cat’s soft, quiet presence. Glancing up, she watched the sun setting over the waters of the Gulf.

Later that night, as Larah lay in bed, the image of the Thrush chick flashed into her mind. She sat up, considering it, and then raced into the study, and sat next to Passion. Gently, she touched the cat’s feeble body, and still felt a slow, hesitant pulse. She closed her eyes, placed both hands on the animal, and mouthed the words of the mending spell. A blue glow surrounded her hands, her fingertips grew cold, heat raced through her bones as a scream ripped out of her lungs.

* * *

Wringing her hands, Melinda stared at the unconscious form on the bed. Why did Larah do it? She’d been told never to try a mend spell on an animal. The infirmary nurse laid a hand on Melinda’s shoulder.

“Will she survive?” Melinda asked, holding her tears back.

“If she wakes up, I believe so,” the nurse said. “But she should be dead.”

Melinda blinked. “Why do you say that?”

The nurse fixed her with a serious expression. “No one has ever survived what she did.”

“What do you mean?” Melinda asked.

“She almost brought your cat back from death. The animal would be alive if it were able to survive being called back.”

“That is not possible,” Melinda replied as a chill raced down her spine. Such capabilities belonged only to the immortal Caretakers, or the practitioners of the darkest magic.

“Under other circumstances, I would agree. Regardless, Larah survived because she had passed out before the pull of death reached her. Otherwise, she might have died too.” A groan rose from the bed. Melinda turned from the nurse and leaned close.

The young girl opened her eyes, “Mother, what am I doing here?” She noticed Melinda’s tears. “Please don’t cry.”

Melinda smiled, “These are tears of joy, my dear.” But even as she squeezed Larah’s hand, a shudder ran through her. She had almost lost Passion and Larah on the same night.

 

Ogres with Good Intentions

The following is an excerpt of content I’m considering for inclusion in my manuscript draft.  In re-reading the manuscript, I found what I think is an unaddressed plot point should be filled to maintain coherence and consistency.  See what you think.

* * * *

Surrounded by an escort of the horsemen of King Alric’s Royal Guard, Larah and Riasean rode for an hour before she broke the silence. “So, you are an assassin?”

Riasean gripped the reins of his horse tighter. Before sending them on their way, Alric had revealed their occupations to each other, much to his annoyance. No point denying it now. “Yes,” he admitted.

“How did that happen – I mean how do you find yourself in the business of killing people?”

Where to begin? Best keep it simple, and as close to honest as he could. “One has to do whatever it takes to survive – in my case, growing up in Tamor, it was simple – kill or be killed.”

Larah remained silent.

He pursed his lips, thinking of a way to break the awkward silence. “Since the subject came up, how did you become a druid?”

“I’ve always been one. I was born in Avalon and have spent my whole childhood training to be a Druid.”

“So you had no choice?”

“I suppose I did, but for me, there was never any doubt.” She paused before looking at him. “Have you considered doing anything else?”

Does a viper ever wish to be his prey? “I never had any reason to, for I am good at what I do, and it pays well.”

She frowned, “But killing people . . .”

He turned away. She didn’t understand and could never understand what he did and why. Taking a life was nothing more than a job, one with little tolerance for failure, for it meant death.

She stared ahead and added, “I could never kill someone.”

He turned and placed a hand on her arm. “I hope you never do because you lose something you can never get back.” So what did that make him? An empty shell? But like a shooting star, the realization streaked across his mind as to why the Caretaker had paired them. He was a knife without a conscience, for whom delivering death or dying, as a result, was inconsequential. Yet in their quest, he was assurance that she could retrieve the Grail without losing her inner light in the process.

She studied him as he thought this. “Why do you stare at me so? What are you thinking?”

With a final squeeze, he let go of her arm. “I was just thinking that maybe you are rubbing off on me. You make me want to be a better person.”

Even as she turned away with reddened cheeks, a broad smile crossed her face.

He felt bad for embarrassing her – for what he said was, for the most part, accurate – but only in the sense that he didn’t want her to become less than she was. Flowers get picked and trampled upon by ogres with good intentions. He committed to the goal of protecting her as best he could from such beasts, but the thought never occurred to consider including himself.

Buried Secrets

New Mexico, 1938

Three men sat around a fire, warming their hands. Light cast by the small burning bundle of sticks produced more light than warmth.

“Ren, git s’more sticks,” growled a scruffy bearded man in jacket two sizes too small.

“Git it yerself Earl,” Ren shot back, using a long, dirty fingernail to dig at food stuck in his teeth.

“Shut up you two,” muttered Joe, his cigarette wagging as he talked. “Bad enough we had to make fire, but you two bickering gonna get us all caught.”

“Hello?” A voice echoed out of the darkness.

All three men jumped to their feet. The scuffling of their boots on the sandy, rocky soil almost drowned out the harsh clicks of the their revolvers being cocked.

“Who dat?” Earl whispered in a rough voice, scanning the darkness from where the voice came from. In a plain, a young man in worn black overcoat, buttoned to the top, and short-brimmed hat stepped into the firelight. A smile graced his features. Seeing the weapons pointed at him, his smile drained away. He raised his hands, swallowed and interjected, “I … I … mean no harm, gentlemen, I just wished to share your fire.”

Earl started to aim his weapon, but Joe pushed it down. “Hold up there, Earl.” Joe looked at the stranger for a moment and changed his attitude. “What’s your name, boy?”

“John,” the stranger stated, swallowing hard again, as sweat beaded on his brow.

“You alone?”

John nodded. “My horse went lame several miles north of here, and I’ve been walking since sundown.”

Ren glared at Joe. “I don’t like this,” he groused. “We don’t need no stranger’s around.”

Joe rubbed his chin, his thoughts spinning. “You got any food?”

John started to reach into his coat, and all three men once again raised their weapons. “Wait, give me a chance fellas!” he said rummaging around. A small loaf of unleavened bread appeared in his hand. “Here we can all — “

Earl darted forward and ripped the bread out of John’s hands, and the other two men clawed at it as well. With a mixture of disgust and aggravation painted on his face, the young man said, “Please, gentlemen. No need to act like ani . . .” After a short tussle, bits of bread and crust had fallen to the ground, as Joe, Earl and Ren stuffed bits and pieces of the manna into their mouths.

Joe smiled, just as a loud snapping sound echoed in the distance. With a thud, his revolver hit the ground, and he grabbed his midsection with both hands. Eyes wide, he fell to his knees. Bits of a half-chewed bread dribbled out of his mouth as blood snaked through his fingers, spreading down his torso. Ren pointed his revolver at John, who looked up in shock. “You tricked us!”

Earl looked past John into the dark.

Shaking his head, John stumbled backwards, as another shot rang out. Ren spun around, his gun barked, kicking up dust at his feet. “I been hit,” he wheezed, his left hand clawing at the red stain growing on his chest.

A flash of light erupted in the darkness followed by another echoing crack. Ren slammed back onto the ground and remained motionless. Joe had seen the weapon flash and now fired several shots in that general direction. He grabbed John by the collar of his coat and pushed him down next to where Ren’s gun lay on the ground. “Pick it up!” With a wavering hand, John palmed the weapon and held it in front of him, fear etched across his youthful features. Joe leaned close, “Shoot anything that moves.” He pushed away from John and crouched, casting furtive glances into the darkness.

John looked at Joe, his eyes imploring, but as he did so, another shot rang out, this time from behind him. Joe’s eyes rolled up in his head, and his brains leaked out of the hole the bullet made between his eyes.

Terrified, John whipped around and jerked the trigger of Ren’s revolver; it jumped like a wild fish in his hands. Finally, all he could hear was the clicking of the firing pin on the empty chambers. A figure appeared on the far side of the fire. Through the flames, he spied an apparition in a broad brimmed hat and bearing a long rifle. John jumped to his feet – threw down the revolver and reached into his coat. Another shot rang out sending him backwards onto the ground. Gasping for air, he pulled his hand out of the coat and saw it covered with a bright red layer of blood. Looking up, he saw a man with a rifle standing over him. “God help …,” John gurgled the rest, then slumped over as darkness closed in around him.

* * *

Stephen “Steve” Thomas stepped around the fire, looking at the four bodies. He reached down and from the dirt, picked up Joe’s still lit cigarette, taking a few puffs. Not bad for two week’s effort. Flipping one of the bodies over with the toe of his boot, he stared down into the pale face. Warren “Ren” McDunn, murderer and escaped convict, $100. Another few steps and he reached a figure splayed out, staring wide-eyed at the heavens. A bloody halo surrounded Joe McDunn, Warren’s brother and co-conspirator, $30. He looked across at the ratty clothes belonging to Earl Krump, rapist, murderer, and bank robber, $150.

Picking his way around the bloody puddles, he moved over to the last form and stared down at it. The body lay on its side, face upwards, eyes half open, palm of the right hand painted with blood. Thomas grimaced. The face was unfamiliar, simple threadbare clothes looked worn but neat and clean. He hadn’t wanted to kill this one, but the fool had reached into his coat. With the end of his rifle, he flipped the man’s jacket open. A leather bound copy of the King James Bible slid out onto the ground and flopped open. Thomas’ eyes drifted to the man’s clerical collar. Damn.

He shook his head and knelt next to the body. Most of the man’s pockets contained nothing of importance, extra buttons and a string of beads. Flipping open the cover of the Bible he found identification — Reverend John Finkle of Prescott, Arizona.

He looked down at Finkle’s blue-lipped face. “Padre, you picked the wrong men to be around.”

With a sigh, he stood up and looked around. The bodies had to be collected so he could claim the bounties. But what about Finkle? That would raise unwanted questions. His mind churned for a moment, but then he turned on his heel and walked back to his horse to grab a shovel.

A short time later, he stood over the grave. He paused a moment trying to think of something appropriate to say. Life is capricious and cruel, fleeting and without hope.

No, that wouldn’t do. Picking up Finkle’s Bible, he flipped it open, and read the first passage he could find.

“And that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is! Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.”

He looked up, shrugged and shouldered the shovel. He started to toss the Bible on top of the mound of dirt, but hesitated, and slipped it into his own coat.

He mounted up and pulled on the reins of his horse. It struggled under the weight of three bodies. There had to be a better way to make a living, he mused.

Looking over his shoulder, he glanced back at the dirt mound disappearing in the distance. Sorry John, some secrets need to stay buried.