Elementals-Chapter 3

From: Cheryl Baumgartner(C Baumgartner, Posted Date: Aug 13th, 2011

**To any humanoids who may be interested, there’s a very subtle clue in this chapter as to the true identity of the hero.  If you notice the clue and figure out the mystery, don’t tell anyone else, k?  I’ll eat your brain if you do**

 

 

Elementals

 

Chapter 3

 

 

            Running, running for their lives.  Benai crashes through the trees, the cries of the pursuers not far enough behind.  If we can make it to the warrens, escape may be possible.  Running, heart pounding, legs burning, one misstep means death.

            There!  The entrance to the underground tubes.  Almost there, just a few dozen more paces.  Exclamations from behind, they know where we’re going.  C’mon Danik, you’re falling behind.  As the cave mouth nears, Benai launches himself down its throat, sliding on his belly, hearing the one remaining knife in his belt scrape along the rocky floor of the cavern.  The other knives had been thrown at the would-be captors, but only one had hit its mark.

            Danik falls on top of him a second later.  Get off me!  This is the last time I ever break a fall for you!  Scrambling to their feet and randomly choosing an opening in the back wall, they run again.  Benai knows some of these tunnels, but not all of them.  Very easy to get lost, and die of heat or starvation, down here. 

            Glowing fungus lining the walls, lighting the way.  Thank the Gods for those mushrooms.  Left, right, right again, down the hole, left, dead end, where’s the ledge?  Aha!  Benai draws upon the last of his strength to launch up what looks like a sheer wall.  At the top, there’s a hidden alcove, just large enough for the two of them to fit.  No one can see them here.

            Chest on the verge of bursting, multiple flight wounds throbbing, muscles screaming.  Breathe, have to breathe.  No, don’t breathe, be silent!  Here they come.  Uncertain voices echoing down the tubes.  They can’t follow, dare not follow. 

            Go on, give up.  No chance of finding the evil murderers in here.  Go back and bury the dead.  Bury Grik, bury Klea.  My Klea………….

I will avenge her, Danik will die…..if we live through this, I will kill him.

            Seconds pass, or is it hours?  No more sounds from behind.  Breathing slows, heart rate returns to normal.  Still and silent.  Danik lies near Benai’s feet, dagger still in hand.

            Benai kicks out hard, shoves his right boot into Danik’s throat, slamming his head against the back wall of the alcove with a satisfying crack.  Another kick aims at the hand holding the weapon.  Danik, choking and spluttering, evades the second kick and swings his blade wildly, slicing the flesh of Benai’s calf.  Gasping, trying desperately not to cry out, Benai releases his improvised strangle.  Danik rolls away and down out of the alcove.

            Can’t follow.  Gods that hurts!  Bastard, you’d better not get caught.  I’m the only one who gets to kill you.  Benai rips a swath of fabric from his clothing to tie off this newest wound.  Lucky, that one, a fingernail to the right and there goes the major ligament.

            More hours pass.  It must be full night by now.  Benai struggles, slides, falls down the wall to the cave floor.  Wet warmth on his leg announces the re-opening of that gash.  Worry about it later.  He limps, retracing his steps back to the entrance, and hearing nothing.  No Danik, no mob.  There’s the opening, the stars of the nighttime sky, yes!  He hobbles out under the Northern constellations, half-concealed behind rocks, half no longer caring.

            I will live and you will die.

“Husband, husband.”  A voice calls from a distance, “Husband wake up.”  A sharp pain across his cheek.

 

Benai bolted awake and sat upright in the bed.  Sarni, her strawberry hair ruffled, looked at him with concern, and a slight twinge of guilt.

“The dream again,” she said.  It was more a statement than a question.  “You were talking out loud this time.”

Benai rubbed his eyes for a moment, then gingerly moved his hand to his cheek.  Gods, woman.

“Whatever I spoke, did it really deserve your hardest smack in the face?”

“You said ‘I will live and you will die’.” she replied, sliding out of the bed heavily.  Her swollen belly seemed even bigger this morning.  Her time would be close now.  “Even if it wasn’t directed at me, a good slap was the least I could do.”  She winked at him, blew him a kiss, and moved toward the washing chamber.

Benai chuckled, then sobered.  Under the blanket he fingered the thick scar, a full hand in length, running down his calf.  Would he ever stop dreaming about the day Danik disappeared?  The day Klea died?   

That was six annuals ago. 

He’d fled his home town, the whole province, the whole continent.  For many moons, living in the wild, eating what he could kill or forage, being subjected to the worse extremes of weather, he’d made his life as a fugitive.  But he would not give in to the torment.  He had not shed a single tear for his situation, for his lost love.  And he never would.

Finally, feeling safe enough that he wouldn’t be found, he’d settled near a small farm community on an island several miles from the coast.  Building even the smallest house required supplies, and he was forced to go into the town center.  It was there he’d met Sarni. 

She looked nothing like Klea, in fact, he would break into a private rage whenever he saw Klea’s golden hair on another woman.  He also would not tolerate those with black hair, like Danik’s had been.  Sarni’s deep red had been a welcome sight, and he’d fallen for her almost immediately. 

He’d thought those nightmares would end when he joined with Sarni one annual ago, but they hadn’t. 

Wait, one annual ago?

For a split second, he panicked.  Then, remembering the gift he’d made, hidden from her under the mattress, he relaxed again.  Today was the celebration of their first annual together.  Newly invigorated, he jumped up and started getting ready for the day.

Sarni cooked them a very special morning meal, with vegetables and herbs straight from their own garden’s first growth of the season.  They did their morning chores quickly, then packed a basket of fresh fruits and cheeses.  They were going to picnic at the crystal spring where he had asked her to be his mate.  He would catch some of the elusive spring crabs and roast them, as a rare treat for his beloved wife.

It was not a long walk to the spring, but they went at a very leisurely pace, partially due to Sarni’s condition, and partially to admire their lives along the way.  Sarni picked wild flowers and skipped through the meadows they passed.  Occasionally, Benai would sweep her into an improvised dance that left them both panting and grinning, picking up fallen picnic items jarred loose from the basket. 

At the spring, they settled under the largest Sunset Willow they could find.  Benai set about the task of catching their aquatic appetizers, flinging his nets into the water.  Sarni fed him grapes as they relaxed, his hand resting on her belly.  The child must be resting now, for he felt no kicks.

“Darling” he said to her, “No protests, I’m giving you your gift now, because I’ve been simply dying to see you with it.”

Sarni gave him a playful frown, but nodded.  He pulled a small pouch from his belt and passed it to her.  She loosened the drawstrings and looked inside.  He watched her face intently for the reaction, and saw what he had been hoping for.  Her eyes went wide as saucers as she exhaled.  He knew this was what she did when in awe beyond words. 

From the pouch, she freed a fine-toothed hair comb carved from a single mollusk shell.  Set into the frame were flakes of fire opal and diamond, catching every color of the spectrum as she held the comb up to the sunlight.

“Oh beloved” she breathed, “It’s exquisite.  How?  Where did you find this?”

“I didn’t, my dear” he said, “I made it myself.”  He chuckled a bit at her expression of disbelief.  “I spent weeks carving that shell to perfection.   Two moon cycles passed before I’d gotten all the stones, each one taking hours to set properly.  But there’s one thing missing to make it complete.” 

He reached out and gently took it from her.  Moving behind her, he gathered up some wavy red locks and slid the comb into place.

“There” he said, “Now it’s finished.”

His smile barely had time to form before her lips interrupted it.  They embraced passionately for a moment.

“Just like you to overshadow my gift, husband” she said once they’d separated.  Sticking out her tongue and winking at him, she reached into the pocket of her skirt.  She drew out a closed fist and held it before him.

“You’ve got to tell me the first thing you think of when you see this” she said,  “People have different interpretations when they look at it, so it has a unique meaning for everyone.”

He grinned as she opened her hand. 

A strong golden chain looped through a pendant shaped as a hollow ellipse.  Inside it was a large, perfectly round gray pearl that rotated on a golden axis through the center of the oval.

“It’s our family” he said.  She looked at him quizzically. 

“You are the ellipse” he continued, “Our beautiful child is the pearl within, and both are the center of my universe.”

She sighed, her eyes moistening.  “Then promise me you’ll never take it off.”

“Not a chance, love.”  He bowed his head for her to clasp it around his neck.  It fell comfortably into the hollow of his throat.

She caressed his cheek.  “My handsome husb……”  Doubling over, her face contorted into a mask of agony.

“Darling, what is it?” he asked, a sudden fear gripping him.

She couldn’t speak.  Her mouth was a wide O of pain and she clutched her belly tight with both arms.  Benai saw with horror that a thick dark stain was spreading across her skirt.

The child!

“Help………..me…………….” she rasped.

 

Benai growled at the young man standing by the door of the birthing chamber and began his hundredth cycle of pacing around the entry room of the healer’s hut.  The healer’s apprentice looked terrified and tried to hide under his hood. 

A short while ago, Benai had burst through the door, carrying his wife, who flailed helplessly in his arms.  The healer had immediately taken her in and set to work, while Benai himself had collapsed.  The initial rush of adrenaline had fled from his blood as he was relieved of his charge, his legs had given out, and his arms had gone completely numb. 

He’d awakened to smelling salts and had nearly strangled the apprentice who was reviving him.  It was only when he’d heard the screams coming from the next room that he remembered what had happened.  Sarni!  The baby!

Now, he was quickly wearing down a track in the floor of the cottage.  He wasn’t allowed into the chamber, but could not simply wait and be still.  Going outside for some fresh air, he noticed with horror the conspicuous trail of blood droplets leading up to the door.  This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen.

He saw something sparkle on the ground, just a little ways off the path.  Picking it up, he felt a sting as a tooth of the seashell comb pricked his thumb.  It must have fallen from her hair as they’d flown toward the house.  He pocketed it, then marched back inside.  The apprentice who’d been guarding the door to the chamber was no longer there.  It was also eerily quiet.  There were no more screams.

He was about to tear down the door when the healer emerged from it, holding a small wiggling bundle. 

“It is a girl, Benai” he said, smiling.  But the smile was too cheerful, too forced.  Benai knew at once something was wrong.  He didn’t look at the babe, but just stared at the healer, trying to read in the other man’s eyes what he was starting to realize in his own heart.

“My wife” he almost choked on the words.

“She lost too much blood Benai.  I’m so sorry…”

I will live and you will die.