June 3, 2010
Hi, it’s Vikkie again. I quite like writing these, so I decided to continue with Brigitte’s story. Hope you like it too.
The earth was heavy and wet beneath the feet of the small brown rabbit as it grazed quietly between the trees. A shadow passed behind it. Its ears twitched, suddenly alert… nothing. Silence. The rabbit relaxed again. Another shadow, this time to its left. The rabbit turned, and was, for a moment, petrified. In front of it stood a fox, bigger than most, teeth sharper than most, staring it down and salivating. The rabbit looked at the fox. The fox looked at the rabbit. The rabbit stepped back. The fox stepped forward. The rabbit ran.
Faster than it ever had before, diving through the undergrowth of the forest, heart pounding, breath in short, sharp gasps, not turning back. It just knew it should run. It ran and ran and ran…
A pale-skinned figure in a cloak and hood wandered the forest, seemingly unfazed by the warmth of the sun. The figure stooped at the base of a tall oak tree to pick up a small stone with a strange rune inked onto it. A fox, twice as large as the average, ran through the undergrowth towards the figure. It leapt into the air and glowed yellow before disappearing as the figure pocketed the stone and continued in the direction the fox or, rather, the illusion had come from. Sure enough, there was a rabbit caught in a snare not twenty yards ahead. The figure picked up the rabbit and stuffed it unceremoniously in a satchel, before continuing into the forest.
Eventually, the figure reached a cave, behind trees and thickets, lit by a roaring fire. The figure’s hood fell back, revealing a sharp crop of black hair, a pale, dainty face and two stunning, emerald green eyes. She shed her cloak, and took the rabbit out of her bag, creating a bubble of magic around it, and casting it into the fire. She sat, her dark clothes allowing her to melt with the shadows, but not denying the attractive form of a young woman. Sitting down in front of the fire, she closed her eyes and focused. Eventually, in her mind’s eye, she saw the main room of her childhood home. Her mother was sat by the fire, her auburn hair tied loosely into a bun, a dark green shawl over her shoulders.
The woman turned sharply, and looked at the incorporeal vision of her daughter, first with shock, then relief.
“Oh, Brigitte, my darling… I thought… “
“It’s been ten years, Mother. The soldiers won’t come for you.”
“It’s not the soldiers I’m worried about.”
“I know, mother. I’m doing the best I can.”
“You shouldn’t be out there at all.” Astrid shuddered slightly and drew her shawl closer around her shoulders. “Out in the wilds, being a sentry of all things… It’s not exactly pleasant for a young woman.”
“I’m doing my duty.” Brigitte snapped, before calming herself. “It’s what Dad wanted.”
They continued talking for a while, before the fire spat a warning that it would soon die, so they said their goodbyes as Brigitte returned to her physical form, donned her cloak, and went to look for firewood. She had been four years old when the war ended. She reached into her bag and pulled out the green gem her father had left her. It was on a silver chain now, the wooden cage having broken long ago. She was lost in her thoughts, remembering the day the war had finished… the day her father’s ghost had sat her down and told her that she was destined for great things. She hadn’t understood about ghosts or magic at the time, but he had visited her, and shown her how she had to remain strong, and was destined to be a hero… not a famous one, perhaps, but she and the generations that followed her would make Arcania great.
Short, sharp splats echoed round her as rain began to hit the topmost leaves of the forest and trickle down to the lower layers. Brigitte began to run through the forest, hoping to find some firewood before it got wet. It was then that a scream cut through the air. A choked, agonised scream that was wracked with sobs, so sudden that Brigitte nearly slipped and fell in shock. Without a moment’s thought, she turned and began running towards the sound. She darted between trees and rocks, leaping rapidly increasing pools of mud as the rain got heavier, eventually coming to a halt when she felt she was near enough to the noise. She pulled a dagger from inside her cloak and gripped the handle. She had to be careful. She was here to guard against those who refused to accept the war was over, or held grudges for the deaths of soldiers. The war was still fresh in people’s minds, and it was her job to make sure there were no… Re-enactments. She peeked carefully from behind a tree. There, in the middle of a muddy clearing, becoming fast swallowed by shadow as the rain clouds became bigger and darker lay a shapeless, indistinguishable form, covered in blood, mud and tears, screaming.
Brigitte rushed forward and knelt beside the figure. It was a girl, probably about her age, her long, chestnut hair clumped together with dirt and grime, her brown eyes bloodshot from crying, her face (no doubt once quite pretty) bleeding and dirty. But that was the least of her concern. Brigitte saw, the girls’ clothes being torn and stained so that they stuck fast to her skin, that she was undoubtedly pregnant and, from the sounds of it, in labour.
The girl looked up, catching Brigitte’s eyes and gasping as she did so.
“Who…” She managed to whisper.
“My name is Brigitte Morg’han. I’m a sentry. How did you get here?”
“My… father… the next village… I needed… a better… doctor…” The girl broke off, screaming again as the labour advanced. Brigitte recoiled slightly, having no experience of this kind of pain. She reached into her satchel once more and drew out a crystal cordial that had a slight bluish tint to it. She raised it to the girl’s lips and encouraged her to drink, cradling her head.
“It’ll ease some of the pain. What happened to you?”
“I was trying to get to the doctor in the next village.” The girl gasped, voice still heavy with tears, and fear emanating from every inch of her. “My father was walking me… we… some men attacked us. They… they called me a whore and then…” she began to cry again, only to have her sobs turn into fresh screams.
“Easy, easy…” Brigitte looked around. She hadn’t seen or heard anyone leaving the clearing… how long had the girl been lying there? “What happened to your father?”
“I don’t know…” The girl whispered, clutching Brigitte’s hand. “They… two of them took me away from him. I heard him cry out, I think they might have…” tears again sprung to the girl’s eyes as she gripped Brigitte’s hand tighter. “Then they attacked me…”
“It’s ok, I’m going to help you.” Brigitte was acting purely on instinct, and she hoped her instincts were right. “How long have you been like this?”
“I don’t know…” the girl shook her head, still sobbing and gasping for air. “I don’t know, I don’t know…” thunder ripped through the sky, the rain was getting harder and faster, and the sky was churning black and blue. The girl’s screams echoed the storm… or perhaps the storm was echoing her.
“What’s your name?” The girl was in pain. What if she passed out? What would happen to the baby? Brigitte couldn’t move her; that much was obvious… could she run for help?
“What’s your name?”
“Hurts so much… hurts…”
“Please… please listen to me…” Brigitte hadn’t been this scared in a long time. She could fight off groups of armed men twice as big as herself, but being alone in this clearing with a girl so delicate, so close to death… she tried to keep her mind clear and focused, but the fear was always there that there was something just out of her vision… “You need to tell me your name.”
There was a long silence, broken only by the continued padding of raindrops, and the girl’s quiet sniffs. Eventually, she whispered.
“Erika. Brilliant. Where’s the baby’s father?”
Erika began to sob afresh, gripping Brigitte’s hand to her left, and clutching the wet earth to her right.
“I don’t want this baby. I never wanted it. It was those… monsters that cursed me with carrying it and them that brought on the birth.”
Oh… oh no. This was not good. Brigitte had heard of these stories, and could feel herself wanting to recoil, wanting to crawl away, back to her mother. She wanted the warm, smooth hands to embrace her, telling her it would all be ok, and it wasn’t her concern.
“You were…” a lump in her throat. She couldn’t bring herself to say the word. It had been a year since she’d left home, but she still couldn’t face the idea of… that. It was too… “You were attacked?”
“Attacked…” the girl repeated, a grim smile momentarily dancing across her lips, before it was brushed aside by a gasp of pain. “A nicer word than what they told me they were going to do…” She gasped again, closing her eyes. “It seems right that a baby brought about like that should be brought into the world by it too, doesn’t it?”
No. No it didn’t. Brigitte couldn’t think of anything less right in the world. She had seen the victims before, but she had pretended they were just bruised and cut like any other. She gripped Erika’s hand together as she bit back tears.
“How can you smile? I…”
“You know… know what… what my father told me?” Her breathing was getting faster and faster, the cold rain slicing through the hot air and making the whole clearing feel charged. “He told me that… in the other world… everyone can see just how silly the world is… and when you die, you get a wonderful, crystal moment of clarity…”
“No… no, you’re not going to die. I’m going to take care of you. You’re not going to die out in a forest on your own…” Brigitte became desperate, panic tightening every muscle. She wiped the blood and grime from Erika’s brow and shoulders. Erika shook her head.
“When you appeared, I thought you were an angel come to save me. But now I know better…” she screamed again, gripping Brigitte’s had with both of hers, the thunder cracking and rain falling in a deafening cacophony of nature as a newer, higher scream choked the night. Brigitte tore off her cloak and wrapped the baby in it, using her dagger to cut the cord attaching mother to son.
“It’s… it’s a boy.” Brigitte smiled, slightly relieved. She looked at Erika, who was suddenly pale and drawn. Erika looked from the baby to Brigitte, and gave a long sigh, her eyes sparkling with tears.
“You weren’t sent for me. You were sent for my son…” she spoke in a whisper, her eyes rolling back in her head as she lay her head down. “Promise me you’ll look after him.”
“I don’t know about…”
“Yes… yes, I promise. Now, we need… no, Erika, no!”
Erika’s hand dropped to the ground with a thud as she passed out. Still clutching the baby to her chest, Brigitte tried to cradle Erika’s head, desperately trying to wake her, but to no response. Tears in her own eyes, her clothes muddy and her hands wet with Erika’s blood, Brigitte ran through the forest, the baby still screaming into the roaring night air. When she reached her village, it all became like a dream. She stumbled into the nearest house, and then everyone seemed to be buzzing around her, in and out, giving her towels, giving her warm drinks, trying to take the baby away, no, she couldn’t give them… he had to stay with her, she was by the fire, she was sitting down, she still gripped the baby, they gave her a bottle to feed the baby, baby went to sleep, maybe… maybe she fell asleep too, because the next thing she knew there was a pile of pillows and cushions and blankets arranged into a nest in front of her, and the baby was nestled inside, sleeping, the orange glow of the fire dappling his ruddy, pink skin. There were tracks down her cheeks where she had been crying… she didn’t remember crying… her mother was in the chair opposite, and smiled with relief as their eyes met.
“We were so worried, sweetheart. You’re not hurt, are you?”
Brigitte said nothing.
“Sweetheart, are you alright? Do you want anything to eat or drink?”
Brigitte said nothing.
“You’ve been through a lot, you really should…”
“Erika.” Her voice was hoarse and faint, but her eyes were stern enough to compensate.
It was Astrid’s turn to fall silent.
“I… I’m so sorry, sweetheart.” She looked away, not meeting Brigitte’s gaze. “We sent out search parties, but by the time they found her…”
The words registered dimly in the back of Brigitte’s brain, like a candle being lit at midnight. Her gaze fell on the sleeping baby boy. She could feel a deep, long hidden well of doubts and fears and sorrows tearing up through her chest. She bit her lip and clamped her hand over her mouth, but the unstoppable wave just diverted. She could feel her eyes sting, her face crumple, her hands shake as almighty sobs began to wrack her body. She could feel her mother hugging her tight, cooing and shhing, but it wouldn’t stop.
It could have been her. How selfish, how vain was she that her overriding concern was that it could have been her? And what would she do now? She had tried so hard to protect Erika, but she had failed. She should have run for help, or used the goddamn magical powers that had her sent out into the forest in the first place. But she had panicked, and acted like the stupid child she was.
“You mustn’t blame yourself.” Her mother whispered, holding her tight. “You did everything you could, and did a fine job at that. It couldn’t be helped.” Brigitte continued to sob. The baby’s eyelids drowsily dragged themselves open; revealing two shining limpet pools of blue, looking at Brigitte with… it was absurd. Babies didn’t know facial expressions, but she could feel his concern for her.
“She made me promise to look after him.”
“I don’t know how to look after a baby.”
“We can help you. We’ll all be here for you.”
Brigitte pulled away from her mother, reached down, and picked up the baby.
“That’s it.” Astrid cooed, positioning her arms. “Be careful of his head. He’s beautiful, isn’t he?”
Brigitte nodded, dumbstruck as she stared into his eyes. How could something so beautiful come from something so foul?
“What are you going to call him?”
“Erik.” Brigitte smiled, her cheeks still wet with tears. “Erik Theodore Morg’han.”