Excerpt: Rivers Run Red (A Vampire Novel)
Rivers Run Red
A vampire novel by Jerry Tuck
She emerged from the shadows as if the granite and rhyolite wall was giving birth to her. In the half-moon’s meager light, the hem of her robe seemed to be soaking up natal blood. But this was not birthing fluid, just a frigid rain. She was young but not that young. The inquisitive couldn’t tell her age, though. The black cowl of her robe was too deep for prying eyes or the cold precipitation to penetrate. The evidence of her presence, though, followed her through a tiny door in the huge blocks that was almost invisible. Anyone watching could follow the wet trail of her sopping hem as she silently eased down the torch-lit interior passageway. Her hands were protected inside the robe’s long sleeves. She held them to her breast as if she was afraid her thumping heart would leap from her. Regally aloof and silent, inside she was terrified. As she should have been.
The single door she stopped before was a marvel of masonry. One barred window set at five feet from the slab flooring is all that broke the hard rectangular passageway. Unless you knew the window was set into a door you wouldn’t know that it existed. She stopped before that window and peeked inside. She was prepared for the sudden appearance of the boy. Her gasp came not from his face suddenly blotting out the light from inside his cell. She screamed at the sheer brutality that had once been her lover’s smooth cheeks.
“Declan? My God. Is that you?”
His voice was as harsh as prison grating being pulled across the stone floor. “Tansy?”
“It is I, love.”
She turned her face from his. The ferocity with which he pulled on the bars shocked her into looking back at him. “What have they done to you, my darling boy?”
“Too weak. To talk. Dying.”
She smothered a giggle. “So dramatic.”
“Tis true. I’ve met my end.”
“Lovely child, you know that that is impossible.”
Declan’s face turned homicidal. “Do not use his language. Not to me.”
Tansy’s hands fidgeted in the folds of the robe. Her giggle returned when Declan began to sniff. “Turn aside, love. Against yon wall.” When his back bumped against his cell’s opposite wall, her hands came into view. Caught in her pale, loving fingers was a large white rabbit. Declan gasped but her pale finger stopped him before he could move.
“Do you remember still?”
Declan’s harsh breath was in Tansy’s face before her eyelashes met and parted. The metal bars ground against the granite. The door held them as solidly as they held their prisoner.
“What do you remember?”
“Too hungry. Starving me to death. I, I can’t remember.”
“Back once more, my darling. Go. Hurry. If I, if I feed you, will you try to remember? There is much I need to know if I am to…if we are to…”
Declan growled this one desperate word but it echoed down the prison hallway.
Tansy motioned him back. Then she pushed the plump hare through the window. It squeaked when it fell. A deeper, more terrified, screech forced Tansy to hide her face. She leaned her forehead to the cold granite and caressed it as if it was a surrogate for Declan. Declan actually burped after he had crushed and sucked on the rabbit’s bones. From nose to chin, his face was a gory mess. Not close to being full, though, he once again pounced on the bars. The stone door didn’t budge.
“Tell me. From the start,” Tansy demanded.
“What difference could it possibly make?”
“I’ll explain later. When I come back with more food. You’ve had your taste. Give me mine.”
Declan wiped his maw and left a scarlet streak on his forearm. “Indentured, we were. My brother, Dougal, and I came over on…”
“The girl. Start with the girl. Maybe she is the key to…”
“To my saving you.”
Declan coughed out a laugh. That started a chain reaction that Tansy also suffered through.
“Pardon. Food wants its freedom too. The girl, eh? You want me to relive my friendship with the most comely maiden in all of the Wompanoag nation?”
Tansy bridled at his description. “She was but a child.”
“Aye. But in body only. She had more wisdom in a teardrop than all the wigged and powdered Puritans who came, who saw and conquered. Dinna be jealous.”
Tansy laughed and turned to go. “Maybe another month without food will loosen that wayward tongue of yours.”
Declan’s smile was ecstasy and anguish. “Aye, my tongue is bad, but hers? Let me tell you, hers was…”
“Yes, please do. Tell me. But hurry.”
Declan and the Pokanoket maiden were copulating like bunnies. Their sex act resembled wrestling as much as passion. Declan arched his wet, tall, barely out of his teens frame. He thrust his hips upward as if trying to buck off his young rider. She giggled and rode out his gyrations. Her hold was strong even though her own hands were mauling her budding breasts. Her grip on his member, impeccable balance and leverage was more than she needed to stay on him. Suddenly her playful eyes became hooded. She stopped moving. Declan gasped. He raised his head to see if they had been found out. Feeling his thrusting stop, the girl growled and pulled his long brown hair. Don’t you dare stop, her eyes shrieked.
They rolled over in the lush riparian grass without breaking contact. Now looking down into her agonized expression, he understood what she wanted. Needed. He hooked her knees with his elbows and leaned over to gain purchase. Her grunts caressed him like the tight glove of her sex. The sound confirmed that he was learning. They also promised that there was so much more that she had to teach him.
Suddenly it was the boy’s eyes that shot open. Dougal. I’m late for the docks. He shuddered; ten lashes or another of her piercing, hungry looks? He looked down at himself. His cock was like a curved Saracen sword. Instead of blood, however, it glistened with her thick lubrication. Her eyelids fluttered at this second pause. The whip bedamned, he growled and began a deep stroking rhythm that soon had them both gasping. His pounding was relentless. Violent. And her nails pulled him deeper into her body. Her teeth chewed his lips. Their bodies slapping together sounded like the time one her older siblings had discovered them entwined on the river bank. Older sister had watched, then applauded, their sweaty performance. With one deep thrust he emptied himself into her frothy, hot sex. Then he collapsed into their sweat now pooling in her belly button.
“Dougal,” his mind groaned, as his spasms eased enough for him to speak. Her eyes opened again. She smiled and pushed on his chest with both hands. Go, her face said. He also thought he saw a promise there. “I will always be here. Ours is an endless feast, snow or sun. He had no native words to butcher into an apology but his face said it all. She nodded. He dressed. As he trotted toward the hostile Pilgrim shore he looked back. Dressed, she was now a vestal virgin. His heart begged him to stop and return to her. He could not so he began to run instead.
To the overseer watching Declan streak onto the wharf it would appear as if the boy was running to cut minutes off his punishment of one lash for every minute tardy. Nothing was further from the truth. Declan ran for the pure joy of running. He was filled with the euphoria of having someone like his Indian maiden who would later rub herbs on his raw back. They both knew the scratches left by her nails and teeth would be crisscrossed with the cruel whip. Their passion was worth it.
Declan’s brother, Dougal, also knew he would be late. Like the slaves in the hovels around him, he already had a back as tough as a stallion’s winter coat from past whippings. He risked yet another as he waited for Shanti’s father to look up from the pipe be sucked on.
“You ask to see my daughter,” the shaman said with a wry smile. “She is there, tending the crops. To look bears no price tag.”
“Nay, I asked if she and I might, uh, meet?”
“To what purpose, my chalky friend?”
Dougal’s jaw muscles pulsed in anger. “She approves of me.”
“Fine children you two would give me, that I know.”
“For now, just a chaperoned walk.”
Dougal, too, smiled as he raced toward his own punishment. He waved to the object of their discussion. Shanti, the shaman’s daughter, leaned on her wooden yam tiller. Tears dripped from her chin onto her coarse white blouse. Her own happy smile and the wide eyes set in a perfect ebony face were striking. She would be his soon. Not soon enough but that would have to do. He was patient and respected their ways. He’d be a good mate.
Tansy shifted outside the cell window. It was too high for a chair and her feet and neck hurt from peering over its rocky jamb. “Your brother loved a black African and you were enthralled with an Indian maid?”
“Aye. Is that as startling as your face makes it?”
“No, love. I was thinking of girls of your own kind but there were none, I suppose?”
Declan’s laugh was anything but humorous. “Servant girls were too good for the likes of us Irish. What the overseers and masters had gratis, we could not pay for. Nor would we if the chance occurred. To suffer that agonizing voyage and years of slavery to die of the pox?”
“You were wise men.”
“Nay. Dougal was but I was ignorant. I would have had them had he let me. He was brother and father all rolled into one lovely package.”
“You loved him greatly?”
A full minute passed. Declan’s voice broke when he spoke. “Aye. That, uh, that I did.”
“It didn’t last then?”
Declan sighed as she forced his mind back to the beginning.
Dougal was mortified to see Declan waiting for him on the docks. His groan turned to laughter, however, when Declan stood and opened his arms. His younger brother turned in a circle to signify that they were alone. Their master was later than both of them. They sat on the wharf and dangled their legs over the bay’s lapping waters. But not for long.
“Eh, what might this be? God punishes loiterers, lads, then he tosses them to me.”
Burke, the Overseer, was already wearing out his left hand by slapping his whip knob into its palm. He was eager to hit something.
“Probably hasn’t draw blood since shaving, the bastid,’ Dougal whispered. Louder, he directed his next comment at the advancing Overseer. “The tardiness is a fault of mine, squire. The young fool beside me is without guilt.”
Burke shrugged and flexed his shoulders. “Matters not to me. Two tardy, two feel the whip.”
Dougal stepped in front of Declan. The younger brother quickly stepped in front of his elder brother. Dougal pulled him back and shoved him against a bale of cotton. “And stay there,” he growled to Declan.
Burke, never patient even during the best of times, couldn’t wait. He landed one good glancing blow across Dougal’s shoulders before…
“Avast. As you were, Burke.”
The mild tone stopped the Overseer in his tracks. The trio turned to watch a large man being carried toward them. Four black slaves grimaced under the combined weight of the rich white man and his cushiony litter. The servant brother’s bowed from the waist. Burke extended his bow deeply over one leg and swept his hat to the side. His girth didn’t allow for such a cavalier gesture and he tripped himself. He was headed for the drink until the two brothers each grabbed an arm. Right-sided, the red-faced Overseer shook off their hands. “Back, you two. Bend over that bale and take your…”
“There’s not time,” the keeper of both Burke and the brother’s paper sighed with a wave of his hand. “Observe.”
“Not me, you demon spittle. The ship. On the water?”
Burke and the brothers quickly followed the effete finger pointing out at the bay.
“Late they were, these lazy, no good…”
“Down,” the master of everything and everyone on the wharf and most beyond grunted. He daintily waved a bit of lace beneath his nostrils. Decked out in Armani Puritan, he was obviously uncomfortable being this close to the filthy working class. His bearers were, by all appearances, as clean and perfumed as the man mountain they hefted on their calloused shoulders.
“Let them be responsible for transporting the cargo to its staging point. Punishment enough, that.”
The rich Puritan raised one eyebrow. Was this plebian actually arguing with him?
Burke recognized how close was to his overseeing duties being over. He nodded and pushed Declan toward a nearby bollard. A monkey fist from the incoming ship skimmed the older brother’s head and landed in the water. With no time to rub his offended skull, Dougal grabbed the small line and pulled. It became a larger line. Then larger. Finally the growing ropes became the loop of the ship’s hawser. He tugged it in and dropped it over the bollard. Then he stood back to watch the sailors winch the ship in. He kicked off a fender to protect the ship’s hull. Declan was doing the same from the bow and they met at mid-ships.
“Burke’ll be fuming. Keep away from him as best you can,” Dougal whispered.
“We have missed a whipping. Why the long face. Praise be to older brother. How might a young lad exist without such wisdom? ”
Dougal helped the sailors secure the gangplank. “You’d probably fornicate yourself into a wedding, a hospital, or both. Mind your head.”
The brother’s scurried up the ladder before the crew could off-ship. A knot of foreign seamen near the main hatch parted as they boarded. Dougal gave a respectful nod to the country’s ensign waving aft. He also nodded a welcome to the sailors who didn’t reciprocate.
Instead of honoring the ship’s flag, Declan watched the seafarers around them. Most seemed to be suppressing a giggle. He muttered that they appeared to be out of a general joke. When he stopped and leveled a questioning look, one officer standing well back from the riff-raff motioned him down a passageway at mid-ships. He caught the key tossed at his head and unlocked the door.
If hell itself has a smell what he encountered in the belly of that ship would have to be it. Two dozen black bodies writhed on the planking erected to house the poor wretches. The smell was pure human and one that didn’t have to exist except for brutality and capitalism’s sake. Men and women were chained to beds eighteen inch high and just wide enough for the broad shoulders of the males. Vomit and human excrement assailed Declan’s impressionable senses. More than one ex-Africaner had died in his, or her, traces. Chained together as a precaution, it must have been too much of a burden, or too dangerous, to extract the rotting corpse. Declan reckoned that he might forget that odor in the coming decades but he knew he would have to take a hot iron to his eyes to scour the look of abject horror and hatred from the wide white eyes glaring back at him.
The sailor’s smiles erupted into foreign hoots and laughter when Declan came running up the ladder. Dougal grunted as Declan almost went over the railing. He gagged and gulped for air to the general entertainment of the sailors who stood back to make sure his gorge didn’t splatter on them. To shut them up, Dougal took his younger brother’s place. He went down and came up hauling the lengths of chain noisily behind him. He also had a mask made from the cloth of his shirt tied around his face. Scowling in defiance, he motioned for Declan to follow him down the gangway.
Off the slave ship, they trotted to get the wagons tied up near the receiving offices. They tried not to look as the hideous cargo was loaded in behind them. Declan held the reins while Dougal kept a musket across his lap. Like Burke’s whip handle, he constantly patted a cutlass into the palm of his free hand.
“Be there a need for such,” Declan asked with a quake in his voice?
“Look at them. No, do not. I don’t want to have to bathe whatever that wench fed you for lunch off me. Trust me on this, though. They are too weak to be a threat to even your young lady love”
As if trying to stretch out their punishment as long as he could, Burke jumped onto the lead wagon and squeezed himself in between the brothers. “The reins, you scum. I can’t trust you to get this precious cargo home safely, now can I?”
Dougal looked as if he was about to test the cutlass’ cutting edge; on Burke’s throat. Burke was on such a roll, though, that he didn’t seem to notice any potential danger.
“A grand day that even you dullards can’t ruin. First, fresh blood for the fields. Always a treat. Then I am off to the elections.”
“We can see this rabble to the barns, Master Burke. You could leave now and not miss any of the speeches.” When Burke smirked, Dougal continued. “We’ll treat M’lord’s property as if it twere our own.” This changed the Overseer’s sarcastic look to a complete frown. “Pardon, sire. An expression only.”
Declan wasn’t as tactful as his brother. “Elections? When do we get to vote, Dougal?”
“It be the Governor elections, fool.” Both Burke and Dougal snarled this out in unison.
“Could we be from the same dame? Only propertied men are allowed to vote,” Dougal said with scorn.
“One needs five thousand pounds worth of property to run for Governor and five hundred pounds to vote, you dunce.” Burke’s chuckles seemed almost friendly.
Dougal glanced over at the Overseer only to see Shanti’s father standing near the entrance to his master’s farm. Horrified, he felt his chance with the slave girl wither on the vine.
“How can you be a part of this, Master Burke?”
“This what, lad?’ Burke’s lapse into companionship lasted a little longer. Being the fierce supervisor every minute was like holding a grudge or endeavoring to stay angry; too much work. When Dougal glanced back at the slaves Burke shook his head. “We slaughter cattle and wild turkeys, aye? Black are no different. It isn’t as if we were butchering human beings, eh? And that’s the be all of it.” He dusted his hands for emphasis. Then he reined in the team and handed Dougal the reins. “Best check the trailing wagons, don’t you know. Mind the road. This lot is fragile as eggs but not near as valuable.”
Declan watched the Overseer climb up to inspect the second wagon. “Master Burke feeling well?”
“A mite embarrassed, I’d say. His momentary lapse into humane conversation caught up with him, I’d say.”
“I know it is horrid, this fix we volunteered into, but why be you so sad of a sudden?”
“Oh, I have women worries same as you.”
“Aye? Little brother is having more success than Dougal the elder?”
“Here’s the lane. Look sharply. And, remember that we meet tonight. At dusk. No one follow, mind you. Upon all our lives. Not a sole must see you go.”
“Burke is off electing. Might I sneak away and steal a bit of light?”
Dougal’s frown of reproach was all that Declan needed to see.
Still, once they had stood guard as the new slaves were sorted into cabins a
nd Burke had turned an empty wagon back on the journey it had just made, Declan snuck away anyway. He trotted to the stream and made the call of a heron. His Indian maiden appeared while he was paddling like a dog in the deep water upstream of a rock dam. She shrugged off her leather dress and joined him. The dying sunlight glinted off her brown skin. A noise from her encampment made her look up. She hurried out of the water and stood homeward. Bitterly disappointed, Declan had the sense to not call out to her. He just watched her body shiver. When she turned her lush pubic mound glistened. She smiled at the adoration is his expression. Then she spread her dress on the grass, lay down and spread her legs in invitation.
Dougal snuck out once the light was almost gone. Going down a path toward the river, but in the opposite direction from Declan, he heard a branch snap. From behind a bush he watched Burke lead a militia patrol down that very path he had been traveling. Smart enough to stay hidden, the patrol backtracked by him ten minutes later. Used to their tactics, Dougal waited them out. Burke had played the thespian that afternoon. It had been too dangerous to tell Declan that the electioneering was a ruse. This bore out the suspicions that he had about the Overseer. Once he knew it was safe, Dougal moved back onto the almost imperceptible trail.
The girl was on all fours with Declan behind her. Caught in the exquisite last moments of their mating, neither lover noticed when the Overseer parted branches and stared at them. The man’s face declared that he wanted the next go but it was enough to know where the one brother was. Knowing that knucklehead he’d be pounding that Indian slut all night. A wonder that the boy had energy for his daily chores, Burke thought as he motioned the patrol back. They eased into the dusk without a sound.
“Your coming here is enough, my son. Worry no more of it.”
Dougal sighed his appreciation. “It is late and I must needs depart, but I needed you to know that I was on that wagon not by choice but by force.”
“Understood. Now, go to your meeting.”
“Meeting? Nay, I want to wash the stench of the Overseer off me.”
“No, you and your conspirators are meeting with slave to plan a revolt.” He laughed at Declan’s shocked gasp. “Spare me, s’il vous plait. It is not common knowledge. I would be there myself if…”
Shanti’s father’s voice trailed away and Dougal knew enough about his history to not ask for him to continue. The black man was legendary in the slave community. He had run away so often that they finally cobbled him. Only his knowledge of agriculture and the curing of tobacco kept the skin across his backbone. Surely his overseer would have whipped him to death if the master had not needed his knowledge. But, his days of running away had been truncated by the birth of his daughter and cemented by her mother’s being sold to another farm. Had he been alone he would have stolen an ass and tried yet again. That was common knowledge.
Dougal bowed low to the African that he hoped would soon become his father-in-law. Feeling the press of darkness, knowing it would slow him down even more, he jogged deep into the forest lining the river. A slave appeared out of the gloom. The guard had covered himself in mud to keep the moon’s reflection on black skin from becoming a beacon. Dougal’s knife was ready but the guard recognized him and disappeared back into the night.
Declan, weary from a full day of work and fornication, could barely trot down the path his brother had assigned him. Always a good navigator, he found his way easily and outdistanced the militia patrol that was tracking him. He went passed the same guard that had silently challenged Dougal, unbeknownst to Declan. He was well beyond that meeting point and too far away to hear that slave guard gurgle as Burke covered the slave’s mouth and slit his throat.
Dougal was addressing the crowded room when Declan knocked the secret code and was allowed inside.
“As I was saying,” Dougal said with a glance at his late brother, “If we band together there is nothing that can stop us.”
“And the powdered wigs sit by and pick their teeth with their bayonets, brother?”
This wheezy question came from a dark corner. Feeling all eyes turning to him, the Witch Doctor sitting on an empty powder keg sighed and reluctantly stood.
“What can they do if we band with the savages to the West? Declan here, my blood kin, has an in with the Chieftain’s daughter.”
“His kind of ‘in’ will not make her father want to help us.”
Dougal let the soft laughter die before he allowed his own chuckle to escape. “Well said, Shaman. But we have nay a choice. We are all slaves to the money they brought across the water with them. A new start? This land of opportunity? Only if you had it back on the accursed isles the rich call home.”
“And we kill them all? With time I can bring on powers that will combat theirs.”
“Time is not a luxury for us. More land barons arrive every day. This means they will push the Indians further West, then further. Already they are given freeman farmers the Indian’s land. They need that buffer between their mansions and the wigwams. When more land is needed they will slaughter a farming community and blame the Indians. Then what is left of the tribes will be uprooted more.”
The Witch Doctor shook his head. “Our numbers grow as well. When I have my remedy ready we can…”
‘We cannah wait, revered father. They are already at work turning slaves and servants against each other. We’ve lived in harmony among you to date but we are too potent a threat for them to leave us be. They will turn white servants against their black servants, have no fear. This is not a foolhardy, hasty decision of one or two men. This is by government decree.”
“And we can’t even vote unless we are free and have property,” Declan shouted.
Suddenly a slave guard rushed in and whispered to the Witch Doctor. The look on the wise old man’s face was enough for Dougal to spring into action. He opened a trap door. The river gurgled below. Without another word the slaves helped their leader down to a waiting skiff. The others followed without comment.
“Danger. Leave now. I’ll keep the blackhearts at bay.” Picking up a musket, he turned and leveled a vicious glare at his brother. “You let them follow you?”
“I, uh, how, I, oh begone. I will hold them off as my contrition.”
Declan pulled the musket out of Dougal’s hands.
Dougal’s reply was smirk and a grab to retrieve his weapon. Off balance, Declan pushed him down onto the ladder. Then he slammed the trap door and stood on it. When the door burst open and a militiaman rushed in, Declan swung his rifle butt and dispatched the intruder.
“Easy enough, that,” he said out loud. Another member of Burke’s blackguards entered and Declan calmly raised the musket. He pointed the barrel at the man’s startled face and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
Declan’s face registered the expertise of the interrogation even though he was unconscious. It was nothing the man in the black hood leaning over Declan hadn’t seen many times. When the eyelids flickered, the interrogator grunted. He rolled his shoulders to relieve the tension in his neck and back. And waited. It wasn’t long before the boy’s eyes open wide; the memory can’t compare to the actuality of the pain one man can inflict on his fellow. The interrogator leaned over Declan, his wet, stringy hair dangling in the boy’s newly opened eyes.
“Be ye ready to confess and receive the holy sacrament or…”
Declan only glanced at the bloody thumbscrew that replaced the hair dangling before his eyes. “God, man, chew a mint leaf. Your breath will make me talk before that contraption does.”
“Go. Take your supper.”
Both the naked boy shivering on the cold table and the sweating adult hovering over him trying to decide which area of the boy to torture with what, flinched. The voice came from the black corner of the dungeon. Soon a figure eased out of the shadows in much the same fashion as Tansy had emerged from the prison wall. The old interrogator whipped his head around, his long hair spraying perspiration. After he had slowly pulled himself up the stone steps, his replacement took a lace handkerchief from the sleeve of his black shirt and wiped his face and then Declan’s.
“Would you care for some water, son?”
Declan nodded and licked cracked, swollen lips. The metal cup clicked softly off his teeth as he craned his neck to catch as much water as he could.
“I apologize. All this could have been avoided, you know? Why endure such pain? We all know, including yourself, that you are not the rebel leader.”
“But I am.”
The new interrogator held a wrinkled note before Declan’s eyes. “You can write, then? Show me.” When Declan snorted in defiance, the man continued. “It is signed with a D.”
“Declan is my name. Capital D.”
“Irish, is it? We all came across the ocean to be free of persecution, did we not?”
“Plenty good that horrid trip did our lot.”
“I want to help you. One name and you will secure your freedom. Free to see the Spring. Free to be whatever you want in the bonny new land. Think on that, young sire.”
“I can’t even vote.”
“One name and you’re lists go into the fire. Think of it, a servant no more. And, if elections be your delight, I can give you enough pounds to make your X on the next ballot.”
“I’d sign it with my proper name was I to betray my men. Which I shan’t.”
“All right, then, me boy. You say you signed this paper. With which hand do you hold the quill, Scupperface?”
The original interrogator came stumbling back down the stairs when Declan began to scream. He stood with a hand on the railing watching with respect as the newcomer took Declan to another level of agony.
The sun forced Declan to squint in pain when the executioner pulled him out of the dungeon. He staggered on legs and feet that were just healing from the torch. When his eyes did clear the first thing he saw was the gallows. It had been built in the square. More militiamen held the crowd back by linking arms. Walking as erect as possible, Declan refused to look at the gawking citizens. Under the beam, however, he did look up. His gaze fell on Dougal but he forced himself to look through his older brother. What little sense was left in his proud body made him aware that the more vicious, but shrewd, tormentor would be gauging the condemned reactions. One look that lingered on a face too long would mean that that face would be the next fitted with a noose like the one they pulled into place around his grimy neck.
On the fringe of the crowd stood slaves. They had been mustered to witness the inevitable fate of those who dared fight against their bondage. Suddenly an old Indian parted that black fence and weaved his way to the gallows.
“Beyone, ye savage,” the executioner growled. A look from the young interrogator silenced him. A second, icy look told the man to give the old Indian access to Declan. The condemned boy flinched when the old man pulled a knife. The younger interrogator held up his hand. He then smiled when the ancient Indian simply cut a lock of Declan’s hair. As the old man back away, chanting all the while, the entire crowd gave one communal exhalation.
“Who was that,” Declan asked the man who would put him to death?
“Tribal chieftain. I’m astonished he yet lives. We burned his village and crops after the rebels were routed.”
“Why? We were but white servants and black slaves, the lot of us.”
“They were but in the way. Too close to god fearing farmers. Farmers who need more land. We offered them food, t’was the least we could do after those early days when they fed our kind during that bleak first winter. They refused the food and refused to move. His whole tribe starved. He must be the only one left. How he yet lives is known only to God.”
“And his grand-daughter?”
“Died of a breached child. Her suffering was ended earlier than most.”
Declan groaned and hung his head. His few tears were all his ravaged body could afford him. But the executioner respected his grief until his sobs vanished.
“Thank you, sire. A favor?”
“Asking carries no price.”
“I want to see your face.”
The executioner shrugged and took off his mask. Declan immediately recognized the face of the more fiercer of the torturers who had worked on him.
“Aye, tis as I thought. The long hours with me paid you well. This new job is a promotion, be it not?”
“Knowing this chore to be in my future made waiting all winter worthwhile.” He motioned and a soldier began to roll a barrel under the crossbeam. The executioner shook his head. “We’ll not be needing that.”
Declan inspected the executioner. “You are out of your class, sire. Who be you, really?”
“He’s but a wee lad,” a woman in the crowd yelled.
“Oaks grow from wee acorns, M’Lady.” To Declan he said, “You will not get a drop. I want to watch your strangle. Moreso, I want to give your confederates, and the real leader of your rabble, time to come rescue you.”
“A Red Coat demon you must be to treat humans this way. Well, my men will na show themselves, upon my expressed orders. Do your best. You make a sad torturer, Mister…”
“Lord. Lord Buxley, at your service. And I would have made you talk had you one word of interest to utter. You are not the stuff to lead even that scum. “ Buxley turned to the soldiers and the true executioner waiting with the fatal rope in their fists. “Get on with the entertainment, man. It’s all we can use this piece of refuse for. See we now if this wee lad knows how to die.”
“Aye, my people have for ages show you British how to die. And we will do so until the sun explodes or dies of sorrow. No man who calls me friend will raise an eye when I am trussed up. This I swear you to. As for our friend Mister Buxley, I promise you all that I will return to even this score.” Feeling the press of the rough noose on his windpipe, Declan turned his face to Buxley. “Hear me. You are a doomed man. I will come for you, you murdering swine. For the girl, for all of the people you’ve hurt and those you will hurt until I return. I will kill you, I…”
A motion of Buxley’s finger sent Declan into the air. The boy’s traitorous feet kicked though he told them to be still and dignified. He couldn’t stop the choking sounds made from the last air in his lungs. His last sight was not of his brother, though. What he saw was the black outer ring of the crowd. Slaves who didn’t know him but who had relived and reenacted his story every night of that long winter, tried to break through to save him. The townspeople screamed and fled but the militia and soldiers did not. Several black souls floated above the square that night, chasing and embracing the one pale soul that had died for them.
“They killed you.”
“Does it look like they killed me?”
“Aye. Had you a mirror you would see yourself as I do.”
“There are worse deaths than…”
Two gravediggers patted down the dirt with their shovels. Sighing and twisting their backs for relief, they gave one final look at Declan’s grave and then hoisted their tool on their shoulders. It was cold. Luckily the black slaves killed at the execution would be burned and their next chore would benefit from that warmth.
“Than the demise of the body?”
The gravediggers talked softly as they departed the potter’s field. Neither heard the hand that broke the dirt they had just tamped down on Declan’s body.
“All I could remember was the hunger. I was ravenous. Like a caged animal being…”
“Like he has been treating you here. Yes, I understand. But how?”
Dougal and the slave witch doctor rushed from the underbrush. Together they pulled the executed man from his interment. Declan is delirious. Even half-buried he struggles enough to force his grave robbers to restrain him.
“How is this possible,” Dougal asked, his voice harsh?
“The spell was immediate. Strong medicine from such an old man. We must take him to a safe place.”
“Go. Words are for later.”
The witch doctor finished binding Declan’s feet and helped roll Declan onto the cart that he had sent Dougal to fetch.
“Deke, tis I, Dougal. Your brother. Hear me, do you?”
Declan’s teeth grazed the end of Dougal’s nose.
“Answer enough for you,” the witch doctor growled. “Come. Hastily.”
Dougal growled but pulled the cart nevertheless. It was tough going but he never resented the old slave as he walked ahead fingering his necklace of bones.
The charms attempted by his darker savior didn’t work on Declan. Chained, he still bit and growled as bad as he had when resurrected. Dougal was cringing in the corner, his face close to tears, when the witch doctor entered the shack. When the old man produces a rabbit from beneath his cloak, Declan sniffed. Then he settled down to purr like a kitten. Dougal can’t watch as the food is tossed to what was once his kin. Gagging he staggered outside.
Dougal stood staring out at the deep swamp panorama that surrounded him. When the door opened he spoke without looking around. “Better to have left him dead.”
“No grave would hold the likes of him. Tis a powerful, powerful curse.”
“Then he will always be this way?”
“Until I can find a cure. Or a way to make him return to humanhood.”
“Better to kill him now.”
The slave shaman just stared at Dougal. Then he gave a dry chuckled and reentered the shack shaking his head.
Something forced Dougal’s eyes open the next dawn. He shook off the bear rug he had curled under and looked around. The slave was in a deep trance. Declan seemed to be swaying to the old man’s breathing. It had been a long night but both were in the same position as when Dougal had gone to sleep in frustration. There was no time for self pity now, though. The sound he had heard was not of the swamp. Snakes and moss didn’t clink, metal to metal.
“Up, old man. Be gone. Danger lurks.”
The shaman’s chanting became louder, more emphatic. He would not stir and only shook his head viciously.
“Not I. I die on my feet.”
When the door burst open Dougal was ready. He slashed open the first soldier than barged in. He lopped off the head of the second intruder but the third, fourth, fifth and sixth overwhelmed him. Before he fell, though, his last act was to roll over and cut Declan’s bindings. Freed, Declan jumped up and threw the shaman over his back. Clubbing attackers away with just his free fist, he kicked his way out the shack’s back door. Muskets roared in his wake. If hit Declan he never gave evidence that the lead balls had found their mark. He was gone into the mist before they could reload or vacate the area for fresh troops to aim and fire.
Deep in the swamp, Declan waded through waist-high water until he found a small rise. He gently laid the shaman down. A water snake slithered by, spooked by the human spooks that had suddenly appeared in his home. With lightning speed, Declan grabbed the reptile and snapped its head against a rock. He ate half the snake and pushed the remaining flesh against the shaman’s lips. The old man could only grunt and roll his eyes.
“Ow? Wha? Ow you…”
The sunken eyes opened as Declan tried to form words. Pride at what he had accomplished filled the ancient eyes with tears. “Cause you be not dead. Not totally. Old chief curse you with eternal hunger because he blamed you for the starvation put upon his tribe by others. Evil others. He hated you but you are a hero to my people. Forever a God, now.”
Declan munched the snake as if it was a strand of spaghetti. He listened intently to the words directed at him but it was obvious that he hadn’t gotten but only a few of the words. Knowing this, the shaman repeated his statement until he was exhausted.
‘Bra? Brather? Where?”
“You hungry still?”
Declan nodded vigorously.
“Never again. You never told them where to find us. The savages cursed you with hunger and I curse you too. With these.” He holds up the bony necklace. “You…never..hungry…ever…as long as…”
Declan shook the old man. It was all the black man could do to force his skinny neck to support his head. He was fading fast and he knew it.
Declan rubbed his forehead in frustration. Knowing he was asking too much, the old man tried to pull the knife out of his waistband. Declan saw this and helped. He handed the knife to the old man.
“I can not, my child. But I can do this.”
With an effort he drew the blade across his wrist. When the blood spurted, Declan caught every drop with his mouth. He feed on the blood until it coagulated.
Back at the Puritan dungeon a british officer was dropping coins into Burke’s palm.
“Very biblical, this.”
“Jaysus himself was a rebel, Captain,” the overseer snarled at the inference.
“White men are dead, man. That be the difference. But, here, take your…”
Suddenly the door above burst open. Declan tossed the already dead warden down the stairs. He follows the man downward, carrying two soldiers on his back. He doesn’t seem to feel the boot-knives slicing his flesh as he descended on Burke. The British captain’s rapier was ready. As the ghoul hit the last step he ran the blade straight through Declan and one of the soldiers clawing at his back. Declan crushed the officer’s head with a single blow. Then he turned on the remaining rider on his back. The man screamed and fled up the stairs to safety. Thinking the same, Burke had hurried around Declan. Unfortunately he slipped on the pooling blood and went down. As he crawled to the steps Declan grabbed his hair and sunk his teeth into his old overseer’s jugular. With a belch, Declan took a nearby implement of torture and smashed through the cell door lock. He entered and returned to the stairs with Dougal on his back.
This time his nearly white eyes didn’t blink from the harassing sun’s glare. He stared straight ahead. The jailer who had escaped his wrath had kept running. No phalanx of soldiers, no ready firing squad, awaited the brothers. Declan loped off into the forest with his burden as if he was carrying a newly slaughtered bunny himself.
“Bring back. Now.”
“I try,” the shaman told Declan as he helped lower Dougal to the ground. He starved and tortured. Maybe too much. But I try.”
The old man wheezed as he took off Dougal’s filthy clothes. His lungs sounded as if they were being squeezed by one of Declan’s strong grips. The gasps became more frequent as Declan paced the shack munching on another snake he had caught almost matter of factly as he had waded to the small island. The shaman looked up sadly at the undead man. His eyes knew the truth long before his brain told his body to go to sleep. With a tortured smile, he looked up at Declan and then fell face down over the already dead body of Dougal.
Later, Declan patted the dual graves just as his own gravediggers had given his grave one last stroke. Maybe it was out of reverence. Maybe respect. Probably just to say that they were done. Declan’s mind hadn’t advanced to such lofty expressions, though. He simply stood and tied the shaman’s bone necklace around his own neck. He opened his dirty right hand and looked at the gold ring that had been meant for Shanti. He used his left hand to put it on his right middle finger as Dougal had worn it. He probably didn’t remember who he had buried by the time he was on the edge of the forest but his keepsakes would tell him that that work had been an act of love.
A hunting party silently glided through the forest. Just as silently, Declan reached out and pulled the trailing Indian into the greenery.
The collected braves numbly placed the entire dozen members of the hunting party onto the final resting platforms. Their chief chants a eulogy as each body is laid to rest.
An Indian brave nervously steps out onto a rock outcropping. He glances behind him at the smoke from his village. Ready his entire life for this test of his manhood, this passage from playing with children into the violent world of the warrior, he feels he is ready for anything human. Yet he moves as if every rustle of the forest was the fiend that had been slowly eradicating his kinfolk. Below was the pool he frolicked in as a child. Today, he needed water for his rite of passage. He hopped won and knelt to fill his leather pouch. A huge trout deep in the water made him jump. Calming himself with an internal chant, he turned back to his chore. This time Declan’s grim face was looking up at him from the depths of the pool.
The chief had grown weary of funerals. He motioned for his painted braves to leave him his grandson’s stilted crypt. He rocks as he mutters a song as old as his people. He hears the fiend approaching, not sure if he actually hears the footsteps or just senses that the calm has been destroyed. When he does open his eyes, Declan’s mouth is almost on his throat. Suddenly arrows from his lurking braves thud into Declan from all angles. Blood seeping up around the wooden shafts, Declan swats as more arrows pincushion him. He looks at the old man and follows his gaze to the dead boy he fed on at the pool. He waits as the old, veined hand touches the nearest pole of the boy’s pyre. Then he strikes.
When Declan finally left the Indian encampment the moans and tears of the women and children savages he had left alive followed him like the mist he parted. The eyes of a non-Indian also tracked his bloody frame. Assured that the wraith was not going to return, the man whipped out a huge knife and trotted into the camp. His long, red cap flopped the side of his head as he ran up to the first dead warrior. He wrapped the long hair in his left hand and with on vicious slice he took his trophy. Hysterical women began to stalk him, making him shoulder his musket. When one threw a rock at his head, he shot her without remorse. Then he methodically desecrated each brave corpse. More rocks followed until he pulled a pistol from his belt. An Indian child fell under that hunk of lead. The women, thinking his weapon empty, charged. A second pistol from beneath his patchwork coat of beaver pelts stopped them in their tracks. Realizing that enough blood had been shed, the survivors of Declan’s vengeance melted back into the shadows of their wigwams. Only when the white man had departed with his human pelts did they reappear to tend to their dead.
The same scalp harvester plopped his string of trophies on the tavern’s wood slab bar.
“Whiskey,” he chirped happily.
Seeing horrible bounty piled on his bar, the tavern owner came running. “A fine haul, Senechal,” he said as he poured two fingers of rye into a tankard. He left the bottle by the Frenchman.
“A fine haul indeed for a man who lost a hand to a bear trap.”
Rene Senechal, the owner of the grim harvest, turned quickly but not fast enough to see who had made such an indelicate remark. Unconsciously he pulled his mangled left hand into his coat sleeve and out of sight.
“I done it. I did. And I fight the man who sez I dint.” His razor sharp knife caught the candlelight as he held it up. He was still smiling but his grin had an edge to it. It was imperative that he show these British bootlicks that he was prepared to fight for his honor and his haul.
“I done it with this right chere.”
“No one doubts you collected the scalps, Pierre. But who was the man who came before you?”
“No weapons inside, Senechal or this is your last dram from my establishment.”
Senechal nodded and sipped his liquor. Then he turned to the crowd like an orator and tapped his temple.
“It be a wise man who lets others do the travail too rigorous for himself.”
“I’ll be. Frenchy tracked the phantom. Barman, his next round’s one me. How much are scalps going for nowadays?”
The bartender poured from the bottle at Senechal’s good elbow. “Twenty five for adults,”
“The fiend only takes braves, not women or children,” Senechal interrupted.
“And only fifteen for tykes. Babies have scant hair to lift.”
The tavern roared with this joke.
“And no whites, mind you, Froggy.”
“Mais oui. Ribbit, ribbit. Froggy, c’est funny.”
One drinker in the far corner of the tavern watched and listened without comment. His smile was a masquerade. The eyes above it were cold and as penetrating as the winter’s wind. He wore a three-cornered hat pulled low over those eyes. And the collar of the black cloak that gave him a monkish look was turned up to hide most of his face.
“The monster enjoys his meat rare. L’homme Rouge, n’est pas? Red man provides red meat for his never-dulled hunger pangs.”
Senechal’s antics were a good diversion for the ominous stranger in the corner. He stood and quietly, but regally, walked to the tavern’s front door. The bartender glanced up and then did a full bow when he saw the flash of red and royal clothing beneath the man’s full length cloak. The barkeep almost said “Lord Buxley” outloud but Buxley’s glance at him was enough to make an ice floe of his heart and veins. Instead, he dropped a flagon and bent out of sight to pick it up.
Tansy shifted impatiently. Declan, with just enough raw meat in his gullet to allow him such reminiscing, barely had his eyes open as he told his story. Finally, Tansy coughed and said, “Declan? The girl? I can not be found here but I shan’t leave without hearing how you met the girl.”
“I was feeding on a buck when I caught wind of her. She came running out of the forest easily outrunning the two French soldiers chasing her crashed into the sunlight. I was full of deer and sluggish. I still could have interceded but before I could stand a third Frenchman caught the girl from the flank. She was giggling when he barreled her over. They would have never caught an Indian maid so easily if she hadn’t looked my way and broke her stride. She was naked and unconscious when I got to the soldiers who were preparing to mount her. I sent them to their maker with barely a taste. Then I rolled over what I thought as a girl. And gasped.
“She was the twin of the maiden whose kin I had dishonored. An entire tribe I had caused to perish. So stunned was I that when the girl jumped and bolted away, I couldn’t follow her. I picked up her clothes and followed her trail, though.
In real-time it was Tansy’s turn to gasp. “That was you?”
“Aye. I wanted only to see your face once more. Transfixed was I. I couldn’t stand the thought of her, you, walking into their bivouac without clothing. I know, I was stupid and ever have been.”
“Not so. I think that that is such a sweet thing to hear.”
“Glad to hear. So, I borrowed a uniform, and a full belly of blood, from a strolling picket who approximated my own size, and wandered through their tents. I came upon the one most guarded and saw you inside with a man. When you embraced, it was all I could do to not lay waste to the entire army of blue uniforms. That was you in his tent that night but…”
“Mayhaps. There’s been so many tents.”
“Regardless, in my mind at that point all I saw was my first love giggling as she stepped into her lover’s arms. Do you remember the forest?”
Tansy’s answer we coyness personified. “What forest?”
“You lie. It matters not.”
“I do not lie.”
“Then you choose to not remember. But I do. I certainly do.”
“And the difference? But, enough about me. Go on with your tale.”
“As long as wars were fought or skirmishes happened, I never went hungry. Nor will I ever, from the looks of this world. Back then I roamed, always returning to the Frenchman’s.”
“Why? He sounds like a fool.”
“Things are always as they seem, Lass. He grew old. I did not. We both knew that time was doing its horrible job but we rarely spoke of our differences.”
Senechal was rocking in a homemade chair by the fire. His drawing on the ceramic pipe didn’t change when Declan quietly opened the door. The boy fiend waited politely until the master of the house gave a formal wave of his smoking bowl. Declan entered but coughed as he neared the fireplace.
“Tis the future of this country, son. Try it?” Senechal chuckled at Declan’s face.
“It canna be good for even young lungs.”
“Ah, but I be of an age where simple pleasures are compounded and trebled. And sooty lungs would pose a problem for your ever youngish innards, mon ami?”
Before Declan could reply an old Indian hag entered the cabin carrying firewood. Senechal recognized the barely contained hatred that was close to boiling over and spewing out of his young guest.
“And so, where were we?”
“It takes years for tobacco to harm a man’s lungs. I will be long worm dirt before…”
“Thomas Paine, you old fool.”
“You have listened well these many years. I cry when I think of this new country bursting like a phoenix from the ashes of tyranny. Oh that I could watch it with you.”
“I liked you better as the local laughing stock. Read, por favor.”
“You should find a woman. A young one with a strong back will be such a comfort in your old age. You could buy one from the Engleesh. I saw a fine savage specimen just last week when my old woman pushed my cart to the mercantile.”
“Oh, was it so? I forget.” Senechal chuckled and they hacked violently. He held up a hand when both Declan and his squaw stood to attend him. The electricity between the two was palpable.
“A female slave, you say?” Declan stared at the squaw until she returned to the pot boiling over the fire.
“An Indian beauty. Bellisimo.” Senechal shrugged and picked up his book. “Where was I? Hummm, oh yes. A wonderful quote from your Mr. Paine. ‘Society in every state is a blessing, but government is but a necessary evil and in its worst state an intolerable one.’ “
“Why would I want a heathen bitch, old friend? The disparity between the two of is torment enough.”
“Thank you, mon ami. What heathen bitch are we speaking of?”
Declan growled a reply. “The one you mentioned. God help me why do I…?”
“This one was special. She had eyes to gut a country for. Named after a flower was she. And only a sweet smelling rose could do her justice.” Senechal kissed his fingertips and then laughed at his gesture. “The Italians may be fools but their hands speak better than most British dogs.”
“A squaw named for a rose? Preposterous.”
“Not if you saw her. And a rose did not do her justice. Her name was for another flower. A pansy, I believe. Of what I heard.”
“Pansy? Odd. Pansy is a strange name for a….Pansy. Are you sure it was Pansy?”
“Mr. Paine is fomenting a rebellion with his little tract. Little does he know that he is the midwife to the birth of a nation.”
“But sired by the same men who wanted you and your kind dead.”
“It was just a war. One of an endless stream. Man can not be happy until his streams run scarlet with the blood of others. We live in a stew pot now, all kinds in one soup.”
“You are but their court jester.”
“Many will die wrestling this land from the Red Coats and this will be a land of boundless opportunities. Alas, you will see it, not I.”
“Stop with that talk.”
“Fine. In quotes ‘Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise.” Powerful, eh, my young brother?”
“Pansy, bedamned. Tansy. Could it be Tansy?”
Senechal snapped his fingers. The sound coincided with his cabin door slamming. Declan had exited so fast into the blazing rectangle that Senechal hadn’t seen him depart.
“Ah, the power of the Succubus. The sucking chest wound of l’amour.”
Tansy was sitting with her feet captured in the notched wooden stocks. When Declan walks by no one seems to notice. The edges of Tansy’s mouth curl slightly, though. She remembers him, or is thinking about another time, a different place. The Indian lounging with his back to the well doesn’t even bother to look up. They don’t expect him to come in the middle of the day. Or do they?
Senechal’s squaw heard the commotion in the woods and jostled him awake. After shuffling to the window he peered out and then suddenly slammed the shutters closed. He pushed a rough hewn log into the metal braces to secure it. He was turning to the door when Declan carried a trussed up Tansy through it.
“Ayeee, you brought her here? Quell malady. Sheer insanity, mon ami.”
“Into the woods. Now.”
Tansy squirmed in her bindings. “Keep me and he will not rest until…”
“This has happened before?”
“I know the man,” she hissed. “If you value everyone’s existence…”
“I loved you as a son. Pray take pity on a surrogate papa.”
Declan nodded and motioned to the hearth with his chin. The squaw was already packing up a burlap bag with food and a gourd of water.
He ran with Tansy bouncing on his shoulder until he found a knoll. She was spitting like a cobra when he set her down.
“Good. Get firewood.”
The look on Tansy’s face told him that that was work that she never did with her English lord. Work she certainly wouldn’t do for this phantom. Her wicked gaze was directed beyond his threatening face anyway. “There seems to be plenty from whence we came, fool.”
Declan followed her gaze. A huge blaze made the treetops beyond glow.
“I told you,” Tansy snarled with pleasure.
She was snarling with anger, though, when Declan tied her snugly to a tree and then loped back across the territory he had just covered carrying her.
He arrived at the Frenchman’s cabin in time to hear the horrible screams seeping out of the chinks in the wall siding. Declan shuddered; of all the ways to die fire had to be the worst. The final howls of the trapped couple inside billowed out into the night like the bonfire’s smoke. Declan howled himself and ran to try and free his friend. If he couldn’t save the man he could at least put him out of his misery. Before he reached the cabin door, however, four soldiers jumped him. He tensed, ready to shake them off. A fifth soldier was standing by with a musket. It took three blows of the metal-coated stock to render the furious fiend unconscious.
“So, we meet again, Irish.”
The accent high above him roused Declan. Fully awake, he realized that he was spread-eagled on the ground, staked out to the point where he couldn’t focus his considerable strength to free himself. All he could do was ignore Buxley as the English lord strolled around him.
“It’s a shame that you never spent enough time in polite society to learn the ways of our fairer sex. They have their many uses and create exquisite diversions but a woman’s most enduring quality is their use as bait to catch an starry-eyed fool such as yourself.”
Once more Declan had to endure the humiliation of having this monster in his own right lean over him in judgment and ridicule. Buxley waited but Declan wouldn’t acknowledge his existence. Nonplussed, he called out in a native tongue and two braves appeared. One carried a sharpened sapling.
“You kept your word, Irish, I give you that. You did come back for me. Unfortunately I am not ready to be dragged down to the fire and brimstone of your world. Let me offer up a promise of my own. This will be very painful.” To the braves he nodded and said, “Proceed.”
As the brave raises the stake and his partner takes purchase above so four hands will drive it downward, Buxley said over his shoulder, “But not as painful as the morning sun. Tell me where you put the girl and I will grant you a quick death.” Buxley waited with his back to Declan. His posture exclaimed that the boy wasn’t worth that much effort. Still Declan held his tongue.
“Very well. Just the stake. Let the dawn explain what I mean.”
Buxley’s adjutant slowly sheathed the sword that he had held down by his leg. His face showed his disappointment. Eager to lope off Declan’s head, he now could only watch as the friendly Indian braves drove the stick through Declan’s heart.
Tansy stirred. With the bark of the tree scraping her back, he yawned as she gazed at the glow in the East. When Buxley and his entourage appear out of the forest she yawned.
“Timing was always your strong suit, M’Lord.”
Buxley glanced up at the near-dawn sky and motioned to his aide. The man chopped Tansy’s bonds with a smile.
“Happy to finally use your saber, eh? Sorry, but the Irishman deserved that…”
Buxley pulled the collar of his cloak up until it touched his tri-cornered hat. He held out a pale palm to Tansy. “Tell me, my love, you’ve freed yourself from tighter bindings. Were you waiting form the monster or the master?”
Tansy looked into Buxley’s glowing red eyes and smiled.
Declan opened his eyes. The sun was overhead. With the enforced rest his arms finally work the stakes holding them free of the bedrock they were hammered down into. He untied his legs. Grunting, he arched his torso and slowly pulled the stake out of the same hardpan. Still skewered by the stake, he stood and shook off the ropes at his wrists. Then, he stepped back until the base of the stake was firmly against a tree. Then he methodically backed toward the trunk, driving the stake out his chest. Flush against the tree, he took the gory sapling in both hand and yanked it free. The sun was hot. He stayed in its healing glow until he the blood from his wounds had hardened. Buxley had been right; he was young. Granted, he was a fool. And the worst kind of fool, an Irish dolt. But there was one thing he was not; he was not the same sort of monster as Buxley. And he wasn’t the same kind of monster as the girl, Tansy, that Buxley had turned into his eternal companion.
Declan’s hands slipped from the bars. Exhausted from such a long, drawn out recapitulation of his early history, he slumped to the cold floor. Tansy waited until he appeared asleep. Convinced, she took a pouch from her robe pocket. The snake she pulled from that pouch slithered over her hands. She carefully placed entwined it in the bars of the window. Declan, even asleep, sniffed. His eyelids fluttered. Knowing that time was precious, Tansy glided back the way she had entered. Ten feet from the cell door, however, she stopped and placed a warm palm on the wall. Hearing Declan stir, she hurried on.
The artistry of the door then became evident. After Declan had pulled himself erect, seen the snake and devoured it, he remembered Tansy. He pounced once more on the bars. And the door swung silently ajar. Confused, Declan sprang outside. Then he crouched, awaiting the prick of a guard’s pike or rapier. None came. Slowly he eased along the internal wall. Boots jutted out from the corner. The shiny, well-polished boot toes pointed to the ceiling. Once around that turn he saw the chalky face of a guard staring where the boots pointed. Only the eyes were glassy. Dead. There was a similar sight future on. Then an exterior door. Declan was free.
The rain was freezing but it felt as good on his outside as Tansy’s rabbit did on the inside. Declan hugged himself. The grimy Bolero that covered his torso was useless. The Rhinegrave breeches were too shredded to offer protection. Then he saw the robe. It had been thrown over a small metal box meant to hold the daily mail. He threw Tansy’s departing gift over his shoulders and looked around. Daring not to call out her name, his lips formed “Tansy” nevertheless.
Then he loped off into the wet night.
For creatures of the night the dark is a living, breathing organism. Tansy watched as that monster gobbled up her old lover. Like the chameleon of before, she had blended into the sandstone of the edifice across from the prison. She shivered but did not grace the cold with notice, much less a curse. She ran a hand through her hair. Water dripped into her face but she didn’t blink. Instead she stared at that hand. It was steady as the granite walls across from her. She nodded and stepped into the edge of the sidewalk. This was her cue for the carriage to come fetch her. It’s black hulk slowly rolled around the corner. It stopped near her and the driver hurried out and opened the double passenger doors. When the door closed securely behind her, she pressed a button and a bulletproof window slid up from the metal door.
“Hurry,” she said into the limousine’s intercom. “He is out there.”
The driver nodded and drove the black, custom-made Rolls Royce out of sight in the opposite direction Declan had taken.