I stepped into the kitchen with my usual upbeat skip. My heartfelt joy cut short with the sight of my mother standing at the soapy water filled marble sink. Her sobs soft yet digging deep into my heart.
She turned slowly, wiping obvious tears away with her sleeve. White soapy froth dropping from her wet arms.
I had known there was something dark hanging over her for several days now. Only each time I questioned her she simply smiled, telling me it was nothing I need worry about. Yet I knew sadness hid behind her twitching smile.
Even the mouth-watering sweet smell of freshly cooked apple pie tantalisingly hanging in the air failed to divert my thoughts from mother’s sadness.
I stood staring up at her tear-smeared face, searching for the truth in her eyes. My thoughts soon interrupted by the clumping footsteps of my brother, Adrius, entering the kitchen. He made his way toward me with a smile I recognised as mischievous, before gently ruffling my hair.
This had always annoyed me, he knew it. His hand wider than my head, ruffling my brown, what he always called, unkempt hair. Always telling me it made little difference to the look of it.
I told him to stop. He laughed at my high-pitched tone which sounded more comical than threatening.
Standing on my tiptoes I desperately tried to reach his neatly trained hair. Barely reaching his chest. I brought my clenched fist down their instead. My hands so tiny on his muscular frame.
“Have you told her?” Adrius asked mother.
“No.” mother replied. Tears still seeping from her eyes. “Please stop annoying her.”
“She likes it,” Adrius laughed.
“No I don’t,” I glared at him, unable to stop myself from giggling at his exaggerated expression of fear. I knew he was mocking me, but it never failed to make me smile, and he knew it.
“See,” Adrius tossed me one of his smiles.
Mother turned to us both, her eyes locking onto me for a few seconds longer than she did my brother. The seed of suspicion already sprouting within my mind.
“She needs to know,” Adrius spoke softly. An obvious deep respect in his voice.
“Know what?” I looked at each of them. A rush of fear growing within the curiosity running through my thoughts.
“There’s nothing to worry yourself about, Johara, deer.” Mothers lips quivered a little. Fighting tears I could see desperately trying to force themselves out.
“You need to tell her,” Adrius stepped toward mother, taking her wet, soapy hands. “She needs to know.”
“She’s just a child,” mother cried, “she’s my baby.”
“And that’s why she needs to know,” Telestis, my other brother, had stepped into the kitchen unseen. Now standing at my side.
He glanced at me with a smile. I knew what was to come, yet, deep down, I did not want to stop him as he ruffled my hair. Quickly scooping me off the stone flooring with ease. Placing me on his broad shoulders.
I tried resisting. Yet unable to stop myself from giggling out loud. Soon falling silent with the sight of fresh tears forming in my mother’s eyes. “Please, stop.”
Telestis lowered me carefully onto the floor. Looking at me with a strange sadness in his eyes. A sadness I had never seen in him before.
“Please,” I walked to mother, wrapping my arms around her waist. Desperate to comfort her the best I could, “tell me.
Mother glanced at my brothers - Her two brave sons, she often called them – Her tears glistening in the lamplight of the kitchen.
I could see Telestis and Adrius both struggling to hold back their own tears. They rarely cried, both afraid to open the gates to their emotions.
I looked up at mother. My arms stretched tightly around her waist. Her arms wrapped around my shoulders. I could feel her body shaking with each sob.
Adrius stepped toward me, crouching on one knee. He took me gently from my mother’s grip, looking deep into my tear-filled eyes.
“We have heard rumours of an execution in the city.” He spoke softly, yet his words were firm.
“There are always executions in the city,” I told him, glancing toward mother. Unsure of what was happening.
There had been many executions within the confines of the city walls. More than I cared to remember. An everyday occurrence I always hated. Something which happened to many who disobeyed the Lex-Terram, the law of the lands.
Attending punishment was compulsory. Enforced by the Legatus, the law keepers, who would arrest those failing to do so.
When an execution was imminent the entire population of the city, and its surrounding lands, would congregate at the cities central stage. A huge wooden structure sitting next to the Ecclesia, the church of the people.
Prisoners who were to be executed were marched to the stage, shackled together like worthless cattle. Braying crowds screaming, demanding blood. None cared whose blood. Glad it was not their own.
The prisoners were strapped to thick wooden posts standing proud from the blood-soaked stage. All waiting for the Tourians, the owner of the people, to appear. The Tourian ready to implement the punishment ordered by the Posiarch, who owned the land the city limits sat within.
Punishments always occurred with the rise of the days sun. The crowds cheering when the Tourian announced the decision of the Posiarch. Some in the crowd secretly taking wagers on which form of punishment would be declared. Decapitation, hanging or firing squad. Those who could afford to bet, bet.
Of all the executions I had never known the person being punished, nor the crime they had committed. Mother always tried hard to protect me from what was to come. Turning me away or covering my eyes when the brutal death finally came. From the final blow of a sword, the tightening of the rope, the snapping of the neck. The firing of the first bullet. Not wanting me to see the face of death which each execution brought.
Only once, when I was no more than seven years of age, my curiosity grew too strong. Intrigued by the laughing and screaming in near lunacy of the crowd. Many watching the executions with joyous hearts.
I managed to peek through the gaps between my mother’s fingers covering my eyes. Inquisitiveness overpowering my urge to believe in mother’s protective soul. Through the gaps I saw the look of terror on the face of the person being executed. A face pleading for mercy from those who had none.
That day I saw the beaten, blooded face of the person to be executed, recognising Mulier Pellius. A young boy, maybe ten years of age, the son of a family living in one of the outer ring shanties.
I was in the market place the day Mulier was arrested. Watching helplessly as he was taken away by the Legatus policing the city. A stall holder having accused Mulier of stealing from his stock.
The rumours claimed Mulier had stolen a small jug of drinking water and half a loaf of bread. Not for himself, but for his family who had not eaten for days. Not since his mother had fallen ill and could no longer work. Mulier’s desperation to feed his three younger siblings had become too great. No longer fearing the punishment he knew he would face if caught. Which he was.
That morning, with dawn rising, I stood in front of mother watching two Legatus drag Mulier across the stage. The city Tourian already standing at the front of wooden platform, reading out the crime Mulier had committed. Together with the sentence given by the Posiarch, who had arrived in the city the previous evening. Staying overnight in the grand home of the Tourian. Enjoying the splendour only guests of a city Tourian could offer.
On the stage I watched a figure, donned head to foot in a black cloak, step forward from the rear of the wooden platform. Only his eyes and mouth visible through the death shroud. He carried a metre-long metal sword which tapered off toward the short, chunky ivory handle gripped tightly in his hands. The freshly sharpened blade glistened in the light of the rising sun and burning torches. The metal thickened toward the end giving it the weight it needed to slice through flesh, tissue and bone. Decapitating a person with one clean blow.
I saw the fear on Mulier’s face. The young boy having caught sight of the cloaked figure carrying the sword with menacing malice. I could almost see a smile curved beneath the black cloth covering his lips.
Another Legatus stepped forward, pushing Mulier’s head onto a well used, blood-soaked block of wood. A curved arch of metal locking his head in place. Mulier now unable to move away from what he, and the crowd, knew was to come.
The crowd screamed with ecstatic joy, shouting for the blood of the thief. Several had already begun throwing rotten fruit and vegetables at Mulier. Much falling short, splattering on the front of the stage.
None in the crowd cared why Mulier had been forced to try and steal such simple food. Only glad it was not them kneeling on the stage, awaiting inevitable death at the hands of the cloaked figure.
I was glad mother, nor my brothers, joined in with the near delirious crowd, even though they were risking their lives for not doing so. It did not matter they were family to the city Tourian. This made no difference. In fact, they were supposed to lead by example and be the first to demand the blood of those punished. But they remained silent whilst the crowd erupted.
Moments later the order of the execution was given, sending the crowd into a near anarchic frenzy once again.
The Legatus raised the sword high over his head. Powerful arms hidden beneath the black cloak. Bringing it down without hesitation.
A squelching thud filled the air as the sword sliced clean through Mulier's neck. The blade burying itself a few centimetres into the wooden block.
I watched in a trance like state as Mulier's head bounced along the wooden stage before falling off the edge. It then rolled a few metres across the sandy ground, leaving a stretch of thick, red blood in its wake.
Mulier's dead eyes were still open, widely glaring at the cheering crowd who had enjoyed his death. For a few seconds I feared Mulier was staring into my very soul. Was he blaming me for his death? My guilt unfounded, yet real.
Even in the warming air my body trembled, my stomach churned. Saliva filled my mouth. Food in my stomach forcing its way up my throat.
Mother gripped me tightly, whispering for me not to be sick. Knowing any signs of dishonour of any kind, deemed an insult to the Posiarch, or the Tourian, would bring about a punishment for such disrespect. It did not matter if I were the daughter of the city Tourian.
I managed to control my nausea, swallowing the vile tasting lumps rising in my throat. Sucking in the air through my fingers covering my mouth. Yet I was unable to stop the tears forming in my eyes.
My heart went out to Mulier’s family, knowing they too would suffer for the young boy’s actions. Punished for his sins.
I no longer heard the delirious screams of the crowd. Their obvious joy passing me by. The crowds cheering subsided with the ramblings of the Tourian, my father, who I saw heartlessly kick Mulier's headless torso from the stage. Laughing louder with the rapturous cheers around him.
I knew my father, the city Tourian, had a vicious side to him. I had seen it many times. Only then, seeing him dispose of Mulier's body in such a heartless manner, made me hate his very soul. A feeling I still held deep in my heart to this day, yet afraid to speak it out loud.
For days, weeks, months even, the face of Mulier appeared in my nightmares. His decapitated head rolling from the stage, landing at my feet. Always the same terrified expression on his face. His eyes wide, pleading for help, which never came. His gaping mouth about to cry my name, awakening me with my own screams. Always screaming.
I had never watched another execution since, realising why mother had always protected me from what was to come. I had always had to attend, but I put my trust in mother ever since. Her covering my eyes, or burying my face into her comforting body.
Only now, as I looked at mother standing there in the kitchen, seeing a deep sorrow in her eyes, I knew she was protecting me once more.
I had been born into a better life than that of most others. Being the daughter of a Tourian. My father controlling all living inside the city of Lindines and its surrounding lands. All slaves working hard so my father, and I, could live a life of elegance and comfort.
This gave me a start in life very few had. My life more luxurious than others. Food always on the table, fresh water available at the pump of a handle. Hot water for bathing. Even my clothes were made to measure, not like the rags other children wore.
No other female child within the city walls had any of those qualities in life. All having to rely on their parents, in most cases, only their mothers. Their fathers having felt the wrath of the Tourian, my father.
Most children were barely fed. Many dying of malnutrition at a young age. Parents unable to provide enough food after working hard in the fields. All they grew, all they nurtured, all they made, taken by the Legatus for the inspection of the Tourian, my father, who gave very little back.
I began noticing the difference of my life and the life of others at an early age. Five, maybe six. Me being of higher importance than most others inside the city.
I knew my eldest brother, Telestis, would take on the responsibility of the Tourian within the city when our father either relinquished control, or died. In some cities it was the latter. A slave’s mind broken, forced to watch the suffering of their kith and kin. Their anger aimed toward the Tourian. Some managing to get close enough to take the life of those they blamed.
I grew up with Telestis and my other brother, Adrius. Together with my mother and father. All were of higher status than I. But the rest of the city dwellers, including the Legatus, were mine to control. This I knew well, often told so by my father.
Yet, growing up, I did not want to control others, believing slaves were my equal. Only my father’s wealth causing the gap between slaves and myself. A wealth which came from the hardship of those very slaves.
My heart often went out to the slaves. Wishing I could do more for them. But I knew I would face punishment for showing excessive compassion toward those who were deemed beneath me.
I felt for some of the Legatus too. Those, like my mother and brothers, who saw goodness in the slaves. Those Legatus knowing their lives would be taken if they failed to obey my fathers commands. Even the commands of my brothers and mother. Even commands from myself. Yet I gave none.
Even at the age of twelve I had never given a single command to a slave, nor a Legatus, which had come to the attention of her father many times. On one occasion father called me into his chambers to explain myself.
In my stubbornness I told him the slaves were my equal. I did not see why I should force anyone to do something against their will. I even questioned as to why slaves were not free to be who they want, to be what they want?
Father’s face reddened with fury. His bellowing voice sending a chill of terror through my veins. In his rage he accused my of being a proditor, a traitor to his rule.
I froze where I stood. Unable to move with the fear rushing my mind. He grabbed me by my hair, almost tearing a clump out by the roots. In his rage he began beating me. His huge, powerful fists pounding down on my quivering body.
I screamed for help, yet, deep inside I knew none would come. Those nearby fearing to stand against their Tourian.
My father pounded me for what felt like an eternity. His hammer-like blows striking every part of my body.
Through already swelling eye I caught sight of a shadow in the doorway. Recognising the uniform of a Legatus. In my confused, fogged mind I thought help had come. Only to see the figure hastily bow before retreating back the way he came.
Father’s beating was relentless. I feared I would black out, or die, when his pounding fists and brutal kicks stopped as quickly as they had begun.
I heard muffled voices screaming through my blurred vision. Unable to open my eyes properly to see what was happening. I dragged myself across the ground, blindly escaping more punishment as I cowered against one of the marble pillars. My body beaten. The strange warmth of blood pouring from my nostrils. I could no longer see through my left eye, my right eye only a blur. My thoughts all but lost in a place I could feel no more pain.
The muffled voices began to clear in my mind. Recognising the deep, growling tones of Telestis. His rage aimed at father.
Through my one blurred eye I saw Telestis grappling with father, twisting his body with ease. Father no match for his strength and power.
Father turned to Telestis, his face reddened with rage, demanding to be released. Each word spat with venom.
Telestis refused to do so. Standing face to face with father, if a forehead taller. He growled out his own words, telling him his beating had gone too far.
I could see father shaking with rage, swinging his clenched fist around to strike Telestis. Hitting him hard on the side of his head.
Right then, for the first time, I saw genuine fear etched on fathers face. His powerful punch having absolutely no effect on Telestis. The realisation of how weak father felt now showing in his wide-eyed expression.
Telestis twisted father’s body, spinning him like a clumsy dance partner. His muscular arm wrapping around his throat. His stone-like Biceps squeezing the life out of him.
I saw the look of terror etched on father’s face. Telestis's raging calm almost surreal, on the verge of taking the life of his father, my father. Slaying the cities Tourian.
Even then, terrified of father, hating him for what he had done, I did not want him to die.
I shouted for Telestis to stop. Pleading with him to spare fathers life.
Telestis turned to me. His shocked expression enough for me to know how badly beaten I must have looked to him. Beaten by my own father.
He released his grip on father, pushing him away like an irrelevant nuisance. His sheer strength causing father to stumble across the flooring before crashing against several pieces of furniture in his way. Finally coming to rest against the far wall, clawing at his own throat, gasping for air.
Telestis turned to me, scooping me off the floor. Cradling me in his arms. The warmth of his muscular body bringing a soothing reassurance to my trembling soul as he carried me from my fathers chambers.
I heard father screaming threats at Telestis, having found his voice again. Promising Telestis would pay for his actions. He would see him in hell for what he had done.
Telestis stopped in the doorway, turning back toward father. Silencing him with only a look.
“You beat your own child,” Telestis growled, “what sort of father are you?”
He carried me from the room, dismissing the threats father screamed. Walking passed the Legatus and several house slaves who had gathered near the doorway. All standing in silence. Moving aside to allow him to pass.
Even through blurred vision I could see the look of what I swore was admiration in the eyes of those we passed. Admiration for my brother’s actions.
An admiration none dare speak of.
Telestis carried me to my bed chambers, laying me gently on my bed. He grabbed a handful of clean towels, together with a bowl of tepid water, before sitting on the edge of my bed.
With worried eyes, and the softest of touches, he dabbed at the cuts on my face, wiping away the blood with caring hands.
His eyes darted from each of the bruises covering my paining face. Still dabbing away the blood he could see.
My left eye had swelled shut. My right eye barely opened. My vision slightly blurred, yet I could see the concern on his face as he tended to my wounds.
I found myself smiling, pushing through the agony tearing through my cheeks and trembling lips. The look of struggled concentration on his face almost comical, if the situation had not been so dire.
“How are you feeling?” he asked, speaking with a kindness I knew so well.
“Good,” I lied. Not wanting him to worry as I struggled to talk through cracked lips. “Thank you.”
“He’s going to be mad at you,” I told him. Coughing harshly with each word clawing up my throat.
“Don’t you worry about me.”
I could see his heartbreak in his eyes. His gentle touch dabbing at the blooded cuts. Hearing his soft-toned apologies each time I flinched with a jab of pain.
He warned me of the coming pain before pushing pressure on two, what he called, stubborn cuts, which would not stop bleeding. One above my eye, the other on my cheek. Concern clear to see in his eyes.
Eventually the blood from both cuts eased. Only smaller blobs oozing out. Telestis gently dabbing them away with care.
He looked down at me, a slight quiver in his smile. His eyes glancing over the cuts and bruises I knew covered my face. But how bad they were I had no idea.
“Thank you,” I whispered, looking up at him through my one opened eye.
“You’ve no need to thank me,” he smile still quivered.
I could see concern in his caring eyes. But it was not for his own safety. I knew he had angered father, yet he did not seem afraid of any punishment father may inflict on him. The concern in his eyes seemed to be for me. His worried glances a comforting warmth to my heart.
I tried my hardest to hide the pains tearing through my body. My ribs felt splintered, as if about to pierce through the skin. My shoulders were on fire. Large blood-covered grazes scratched across to my neck. Even the top of my head screamed in pain. I feared father had actually yanked clumps of hair from my head? It certainly felt like it.
“What’s happened?” I heard mother’s fretful voice fill the bed chambers. Her hurried steps shuffling across the floor.
“She’s okay,” Telestis told her.
Mother perched on the edge of my bed, taking my hand with a loving warmth. She quickly glanced over my injuries before her eyes settled on mine.
I heard more footsteps come into the room, catching sight of Adrius and Calious, the family physician.
Telestis motioned for Calious to look over my injuries before he took Adrius to one side. Both brothers soon huddled in whispered conversation. Whispers I could hear.
“Who was it?” Adrius asked Telestis.
Telestis looked at him. I could see he was struggling to tell him who was responsible for my injuries. He knew father had a temper, he, and Adrius, had grown up feeling the wrath of it many times. Yet father had never taken his temper out on me in such a vicious, almost uncontrolled manner. Until now.
“Father?” Adrius already knew the answer.
“Leave it,” Telestis grabbed Adrius's arm, stopping him from leaving the room.
I knew what Adrius was about to do. Pleased Telestis had stopped him. Father would be raging now. There was no telling what he would do to Adrius if he approached with such anger.
“It has been dealt with,” Telestis whispered, “and I don’t want father punishing both of us.”
I caught Telestis's glance. A worried glimmer in his eyes.
He was right. I knew it, so did Adrius. There was a high chance father would send Telestis away from the city. On an errand of some kind. On ‘official business’ he would say.
I could see the thought of both brothers being sent from the city filled Telestis with obvious concern.
Calious checked over my injuries under mothers watchful eyes. He covered the cuts with what he called his ‘magic potions’ before dressing each one with fresh bandages.
Once done I watched mother join my brothers.
“Who did this?” she demanded to know, her whispered voice no quieter then either brother.
“It has been dealt with,” Telestis told her.
I could see he did not want to cause a deeper rift between mother and father. We all knew father often beat mother. Most times when he thought we were out of sight. Only I had heard a tale of a time when Telestis and Adrius had witnessed a thrashing father had inflicted on mother. A thrashing that nearly took her life.
The brothers had intervened, possibly saving her life, only to face father’s rage. Turning his anger onto them. Their young bodies taking many blows. Both too small, too weak to fight back.
Telestis always said he saw a look of pleasure in fathers eyes that day. Delighted at the power he held over his wife and sons. The brothers knew then what father was capable of.
Now I had felt it with such venomous rage.
“Herlè?” I heard mother say, glancing at each of her sons. Her quizzical, tear-filled eyes waiting for a response.
“Please,” Adrius took mother’s trembling hands in his.
I could see her desperately fighting back her tears with each rapid blink. “Telestis has dealt with it.”
Mother looked at Telestis. Her worries etched across her frowning forehead. Worries she, and I, knew could well bring a raging fire ripping through our family.
Father was a proud man. A stubborn man who refused to accept failure. Belittling those who show weakness. Only now Telestis had stopped him from doing what he called his fatherly duties he would make sure Telestis suffer. He could make sure I suffered too.
* * * * * * * *
As time passed I recovered well, leaving only scars and memories to remind me of that day. Father had not sent Telestis from the city, nor shown signs of punishing him for what he had done. This alone brought its own worries to us all. But this meant they were there to keep mother and myself safe from harm. Neither one trusting father, always believing he would concoct a plan to seek revenge for the humiliation Telestis had brought upon him. Knowing how vicious and devious father could be.
Yet none of us could have ever guessed how evil father’s mind really was.
“We are to be arrested,” Telestis spoke slowly, seeing my obvious confusion which must have been etched on my face, “before the sun rises,”
“Telestis,” mother raised her voice, softly scolding her son.
“Come on, mother,” Telestis turned to her, “she needs to know.”
“I don’t understand,” I looked from Telestis to mother.
“We have been told of our arrest tomorrow morning.” Telestis explained, “before dawn breaks.”
“Who by?” I was still unsure of what he was saying.
“Legatus Audiaos,” Telestis moved towards mother, resting his hand on her trembling shoulder, desperately trying to comfort her.
“Chalinus?” I still struggled with what I was being told. Or was I refusing to listen?
“He told mother he wanted her to be know what was to come,” Telestis explained, “so she could decide on her actions.”
“Why?” I asked.
“You know he has great respect for mother,” Telestis talked softly, “and he does not agree with what is to happen.”
“No,” I cried, “I mean why are we to be arrested?”
“They are accusing mother of disrespecting father,” Adrius spoke with a gentle yet firm tone. So like Telestis's.
“How,” my mind puzzled at the accusation, “mother would never do such a thing.”
“They’re saying she is fraternising with the slaves,” Adrius told her, “breaking the lex-terram.”
“Mother would never break the law,” I could not comprehend what was happening. Struggling with the accusations against mother. “We all talk to the slaves, they are people too.”
“Tourian’s relations who become friendly with their slaves are deemed proditors.”
“Mother is not a traitor.” I insisted. Knowing my brothers already knew this.
Mother was a kind, gentle person who would help those who needed help. Including the slaves who worked within our home. The Tourian’s home.
I knew of the rumours which spread through the city, and beyond. Rumours of the gracious lady of a city Tourian’s house. The kind-hearted lady of the house, my mother. The stories spoke of her having respect for those slaves, or staff as she preferred to call them, who worked the house, and the city. Something few others with such power ever had.
In turn the slaves returned this respect. A genuine respect not brought on by fear. Over time I had witnessed bonds building strong between mother and the household slaves. Friendships made which should never be known.
I had even overheard some of mother’s staff speaking of enjoying working for mother, and my two brothers, who had kind hearts like mother. I had even witnessed many of them holding genuine smiles whilst working around the house. Smiles which should not be.
Sadly, such friendships had to be kept hidden, secret, for fear of father discovering the truth. Knowing what would become of those involved.
Now, as I stood in the kitchen, it seemed mother’s friendship with the house staff had come to father’s attention.
Telestis knelt in front of me, his eyes fixed on mine. “Remember last week?” he asked. His tone soft, yet confident. “when Sevane visited?”
I nodded, recalling when Uncle Servane came to the city unannounced only days earlier. A drop-in visit, as he called it, on his way to Mamucium City a few kilometres North.
We all assumed he had simply come to see father, his younger brother, staying for two nights before leaving in a rushed silence.
I knew Uncle Servane, a hate-filled, lonely man, envied father for what he saw as a life he could never have.
“When Servane came here last week,” Telestis explained, “his motives were not as he said.”
“I don’t understand.” I glanced at mother. Her tear filled eyes tearing into my breaking heart.
“He came to see if the rumours were true.” Telestis's voice trembled a little, his eyes glazed with tears. “He came to spy on mother and us.”
Telestis explained how Chalinus had warned mother that the rumours of her behaviour had reached Uncle Servane at Cantabrigia City, where he was Tourian.
I stared at Telestis with confusion spreading through my mind.
“When Uncle Servane came to stay his motives were sinister,” Telestis explained, “Chalinus told mother how uncle Servane had witnessed her speaking happily, and freely to the staff.”
Even in my confused state I was glad he called them staff, not slaves.
“He told her Servane had seen the disrespect mother showed father,” Telestis continued, “Servane also reported Adrius and myself as he claimed we controlled the city, not father. This enraged uncle’s already hate fuelled mind.”
Telestis glanced at mother, before turning back to me. “He saw you too.”
He nodded, “At the rear of house with some of the staff.”
“I don’t understand?”
“He saw you giving them food.”
“Telestis?” mother groaned.
“She needs to know,” Telestis glanced at mother once more, before turning back to me.
I recalled the day Telestis spoke of. The afternoon before Uncle Servane left the city. I had asked several of the staff to meet me at the rear gates of the house. Those who were suffering the worst, in a city filled with people who all suffered. But I could only help a few at a time.
I often tried helping others, always making sure I was never seen in what I was doing. I knew those I helped would face punishment if caught, yet I could not ignore the desperate plight of those people serving my father.
I recalled they took my offerings with truthful thanks. Some even crying when taking the bread, the fruit, the vegetables. Items I took for granted, yet luxuries for others.
“He saw you through the higher windows,” Telestis whispered, “offering food to each of them.”
“So this is my fault.” I cried. A weight of guilt dumping into the pit of my stomach.
“No,” mother insisted, “this is no one’s fault.”
“It’s father’s fault,” Telestis growled.
“No it’s -”
Telestis glanced at mother, his silence cutting into her word.
“According to Chalinus,” Telestis continued speaking softly, looking deep into my eyes once more. Was he trying to drill his words into my mind? Probably.
“Servane rode through the evening and night to get back to Cantabrigia city. Just so he could give his findings to the Posiarches.
“Within hours the Posiarches had given the order for action to be taken against father, and us. Preparing to travel here the first chance they had.”
Telestis glanced at mother, before turning back to me. “They’ll be here in less than an hour.”
“You need to leave,” mother now crouched in front of me, her cheeks stained with her fallen tears still dripping from her chin, falling to the ground. “If you do not run they will slaughter you too.”
“I don’t want to leave you, mummy,” I cried, wrapping my trembling arms tightly around her waist. “I would rather they took my life than be without you.”
“You need to go,” she squeezed me back, tightly. Her sobs shaking us both.
“Time is running out,” Telestis whispered.
“What for?” I asked.
“For you to get as far from the city as possible.” Adrius had left the kitchen and returned, without me noticing. The only clue being the green sack cluthced in his hands.
“You’ll need to take that,” Telestis pointed at the sack dangling from Adrius's hand.
I glanced at the sack, turning back to Telestis, confused. Still unsure of what was happening. My mind exploding with the struggle to take in what I was being told.
“You need to go,” mother cried.
I could see a deep pain in mother’s eyes. Her pain clawing at my aching heart. “Can’t father stop this from happening?”
“But he's a powerful man,” I quizzed, “surely he can do something.”
“He’s the one who ordered the arrest,” Adrius grunted his words with a hatred venom.
“You did not need to tell her that,” mother moaned.
“It’s not true,” my voice raised. My body shook. Unable to stop my tears flowing. “Father would not do such a thing. You must have heard wrong.”
“It’s true,” mother’s soft voice cut me deep, “he will be leading the punishment.”
I looked at each of them, almost reading their transparent minds through tear-filled eyes. I knew then Adrius spoke the truth.
“We can all run,” I struggled to keep my voice from trembling. Unable to hide the sorrow shredding my heart.
“We would get no further than the town of Altdorfio.” Telestis explained. “before being captured.”
“Why are you sending me alone?” I could no longer control the tears rolling down my face, “could we not –”
“They will come hunting for us,” mother sobbed. “They would not stop until they found us.”
“Surely they will hunt me.”
“No,” Adrius had busied himself packing more food, water and clothing into the sack. struggling to look me in the eyes. “They will search the city first. They will never believe a child of your age would dare walk the lands alone.”
“I don’t want to go,” I cried, “not without you.”
“You must,” mother wiped her sleeve across her tear-streaked face before handing me a rolled up piece of wax paper.
She explained it was a roughly sketched map of the lands I must walk in order to find the place many slaves called the Libertas mountains. The mountains of Freedom. A place spoken of by those looking for hope. Talked about in the shadows, in secret, for fear of being overheard.
“I can’t leave without you.” I clung to mother with whitened fingers.
“You have to,” Telestis struggled to hold back his own tears. “I will take you to the city walls. From there you must run. Alone.”
“Please,” my tears fell freely. Salted droplets rolling over my lips, dripping from her chin. My heart breaking with each passing second.
“We need to go,” Adrius stood at the back door leading onto the street. Glancing into the darkness of the night, “the Legatus will be patrolling soon.”
“Please,” I cried, stubbornly clinging to mother. Not wanting to let go of her.
“You have to go,” mother kept her voice low, calm. Yet I swore I heard her heart breaking. Her body trembling with each sob.
“I don’t want you to die at the hands of the executioner,” she whispered through each sob. “I want you to live and if that means sending you away then so be it.”
I could tell mother struggled with the choice she was forced to make. Die inside the city or live in the wilderness outside the protection of the City walls. Either way I knew I would not see my mother, nor brothers, again.
Her trembling lips kissed my forehead. Her tears falling into my hair. We were both crying hard now, unable to stop.
“We have to go,” Telestis took my hand. Pulling me gently from mothers hold.
I tried to resist. Refusing to let go of mother’s grip at first.
“I’ll always love you,” I heard her cry before Telestis almost dragged me through the doorway.
“I’ll always love you too, mummy,” I sobbed.
Then mother disappeared from my life, forever.
The last hundred metres to the city wall were a blur. My mind exploding with the flashing thoughts of a thousand confusions. Still struggling to piece together what was happening. Not quite believing. Not wanting to believe.
Adrius was waiting at the wall, having already uncovered the metre-wide hole which ran beneath it. A hole my brothers and I had used several times. One of few places the Legatus did not patrol. A hole I now stared at with a rising dread clawing at my heart. My world tearing itself apart.
Telestis crawled through the hole first, dragging his ample frame into the darkness.
Adrius tied the sack to one end of the rope Telestis had taken with him, tugging on it to let him know it was ready. The sack disappeared through the hole, sucked into the darkness like a spider down a plughole.
Adrius wrapped his strong arms around me, almost squeezing the air from my lungs. His tears streaming from sorrowed eye.
“Go,” he whispered, reluctantly releasing his hold.
He leaned toward me, his tears shredding my heart. He placed his hands either side of my face. “I love you,” he sobbed, before ruffling my hair.
For the first time ever I did not mind him doing what had always annoyed me.
“Please,” I cried, “I don't want to leave you all.”
“You have to,” Adrius struggled to keep his voice low, “you need to help bring an end to all this.”
I knew what he meant. I had heard him talk of it many times. Telestis felt the same too.
“What can I do?” I cried.
“More than you think you can.” Adrius rubbed his thumb over the tears falling down my face. His trembling smile torturing my soul. “Now go.”
I turned to the hole, glancing back one last time to Adrius. “I love you,” I told him before dragging myself through the hole.
Telestis helped me out of the hole on the other side of the wall, pulling me through the last section. I looked at him in the quarter-moon licked darkness of the night, seeing the pain he could not hide from me. His tear-smudged face screaming his sorry.
He placed his hands either side of my face, moving closer to me. “You've been taught for this.”
“Is that what all those forest hunts were for?” I sobbed.
He nodded, “we feared what was to come long ago.”
“Then why did we not leave then?”
“Mother worried for those she would leave behind,” he explained. “She feared for the lives of the household staff.”
“I don't want to go,” I cried.
“We don't want you to go,” Telestis kissed my forehead, staring into my eyes, “you’re our baby girl.”
“Then why are you sending me away?” I hugged Telestis with tired strength, unable to get my hands to touch around his muscular torso.
“We want you to live,” Telestis told me. His tears rolling down his face, “if you stay till dawn your life will be lost too.”
“I don't care,” I cried.
I knew what was to happen to my mother and brothers. I had seen the same punishment given to many others. Yet, in my heart, I would have preferred to face the same fate just to stay with those I loved.
“Well we do,” Telestis told me, touching the tears on my cheek, “you need to run. Run as fast as you can.”
He passed me a small, metal disc I instantly recognised as a compass, his compass. One of his most favoured possessions, always with him, inside his pocket.
I recalled a time when I had picked up the compass, fascinated by what it did. Only Telestis had caught me with it. Scolding me for touching it. Soon apologising for his outburst. Rising guilt easy to read on his face, in his eyes. He then spent time teaching me how to use the compass, what it was for and how to read it in order to cross lands.
Now, standing on the wrong side of the city wall, this gift, a simple gesture, told me more than words could ever say. Telestis giving me his prized possession spoke of only one thing. Those I loved were giving their lives to save mine.
“Get over that mountain.” His finger ran up a snaking path leading up the mountainside. Pointing out a narrow gorge cutting through the towering rock about half way up. “And head North.”
I saw tears welling in his eyes. My brother, my brave brother, who never cried, was now struggling to stop the flood gates of heartbreak from opening.
“Follow the map.” His lips trembled. His voice shaking slightly.
He wrapped his arms around me. I felt a warming comfort in his loving hold. The thought of never feeling such protective comfort ever again tore my heart in to a myriad pieces.
“Now be strong,” he told me, before ruffling my hair with shaking fingers.
“I'm scared,” I cried. My eyes darting around the eerie darkness of the land.
“Don't be,” Telestis held my face in his hands, looking deep into my eyes, “you're stronger than you think.”
He kissed my forehead, ruffling my hair once more, before turning to crawl back through the hole.
He glanced back at me, his sadness etched on his shadowed face. “We'll always love you.”
He threw me a quivering smile before disappearing through the hole. Leaving me all alone, in the darkness of the wilderness.
“I'll always love you all too,” I cried. Not sure if my words were heard.
With a sunken heart I stared into the empty hole Telestis had crawled through. Deep inside hoping he would reappear to tell me this was all some kind of joke. But he never appeared.
The chill of the night cut through my clothing, seeping into my trembling body. A numbing pain rushed my broken heart. I knew I had to move.
With a deep breath I got to my feet. Glancing back at the hole once more. Struggling with the temptation to crawl back through, into the city. Only the words of Telestis stopping me from doing so.
My mind filled with thoughts of those I was leaving behind. My mother, my brothers. My friends. friendships my father forbid as they were staff. I knew I would never see them again.
Mothers words ran through my mind. The mountains in the North. Helping bring freedom to mankind. Bringing an end to torturous lives.
I knew what I had to do and, for my mother and brothers, I was going to do it. Somehow.
Author Notes: I hope you enjoy the read.
Any comments, good or bad, are much appreciated ...