Saturday, 5 April 2014

Madden's Cry

Maeve was the middle of three girls, to the utter dismay of her father. She’d lost count of the times he cursed God for testing him with a house full of women and denying him a son, one single son to pass his name to. Maeve felt the sting of his words more deeply than her sisters. She had not been blessed with a comely nature or figure to make a man’s blood race. Her fathers words flowed more freely with a horn of strong cider or malted ale. Now that his beard was running with silver, his siring days were over. With Maeve's sturdy shoulders and manly height, she was as close to a son as her father could ever hope to get. A fact that made him despise her even more. 


A crofter’s life was a hard life. Fields to be tilled and stock to be tended. When the only strong back was creaking with years it added insecurity too an already dire condition. Rua – her father, had been seeking to wed off his brood of fillies. With no dowry to speak of it wasn't going well. Roisin, his youngest, was favoured by all the boys, and men, in the village for her beauty and boundless mirth. She would have already have made a good match, if she did not have the devil living under her skirts. Lost in the tizzy of youth, her wanton reputation was whispered in drinking circles, it was sure to leave her used and discarded. Aine - the oldest Daughter of Rua, had been matched to a greedy old man who lusted after the Rua’s land not his daughters love. Her flesh however was a happy windfall. The fastening of hands would not take place until Rua had no choice left as it would strip him of nearly all he owned. Aine secretly wished her father to have a change of heart but had resigned herself to ,someday soon, feeling cracked ancient hands on her skin. The harvest was reaped and the matching season drawing to an end. Maeve had still not attracted the attention of a suitor. If nothing happened soon she would end a spinster banished to the roadside.


The autumn mist drifted over the still warm soil bringing fourth a bounty of wild mushrooms in the woodland above her village. The afternoon was mild and sunny as she climbed the hill a foraging creel in the crook of her arm. In the distance sea gulls glided on ocean breezes over twinkling blue water. Most chores were back breaking but gathering wild mushrooms was a welcome pleasure. Maeve felt the give of the moss carpet under her calloused bare feet.  She could not resist laying aside the wicker creel and laying herself out fully in the cool embrace of the mossy bed. Twigs pressed her skin through a thick woollen shift. She wished she were as brazen as Roisin, as she wanted to discarded it completely and lay skin to air in the dappled sunshine of the grove. Maeve would never do such a thing for fear of the priest.


A mighty monastery stood over the village. It had been founded by Brendan the Navigator when he passed this way on his journeys. How the people had marvelled at his tales of God, the almighty power he held over all things on this earth. Brendan told them of the wonders of Heaven and the unending torture awaiting any sinners falling to the pits of Hell. When Brendan explained that the land they lived on did not go on for ever but was an island in a mighty ocean it was hard to take in. Up to this no one had travelled further than a pony could trot in a day, why would they? It was even harder to take in that this mighty ocean was filled with countless other lands. Brendan had founded his church, laying the foundations stones with his own hands. He educated men in the ways of God and ordained them as priests. In the end he moved on to bring news of Jesus Christ the Savour to new lands. That had been three hundred years ago. His stories still were retold nearly four generations later with awe around flickering firesides.


Many men had come to this shore following the departure of Brendan but none as savage as the Men from the north, the Norse Men. Just the mention of their name was enough to make blood run cold. As Maeve lay in the cool of the glade a warning bell began to sound. Maeve sprang to her feet grabbing her empty creel and raced out of the wood.  The sparkling blue water was being sliced open by a narrow wooden ship, driven forward by both sail and oar. The serpents head guiding them towards her home, the Norse men were coming. In terror Maeve let her creel drop as she ran as fast as her legs would carry her home. The boat still had not made shore when Maeve burst through the door of her father’s cottage, the fire was burning gaily in the hearth with a millet broth bubbling above. The stirring spoon lay in the middle of the earthen floor where it had been discarded in haste. Maeve knew that everyone would have ran to the monastery and the safety of the tower. She turned on her heal praying she would not be caught.


Maeve bounded over graves as she crossed holy land to the base of the tower. The door high above still stood open, faces peering out each narrow window that dotted the tower’s sides to its pointy roof. Made completely of stone and slate, it was an impressive fortress. The only entrance sixty dizzy feet off the ground, the door of stout oak and iron was flitted flush to the wall allowing no room to set a foot while it was closed.


“Wait, wait,” she called as she ran “let down the ladder.” Maeve’s fathers face appeared at the door and beckoned his daughter to run faster.

“It’s Maeve, send the ladder down,” he called to the people inside the tower. Another figure in a belted priests robe appeared at the door.

“It is too late,” he said to Rua “Look – the Norse have landed.”

Maeve glanced over her shoulder seeing the warriors jumping from the ship into the foaming waves on the beach. They were a distance away yet, there was time a plenty.

“The ladder please Father,” She pleaded. “Save me." Rua hesitated for a moment before the priests hand rested on his shoulder easing him away from the door. The solid thud of timber and iron slamming into place was a sound she would remember for the rest of her time even though it might just be moments.

“Father!” she cried as she beat her fists against the cold limestone of the tower base. She was still calling for her father when she was knocked senseless with the butt of a war axe.


***

When Maeve’s head cleared her hands and legs were bound. Standing over her was a giant man with a pelt of red hair covering his chest. On his feet were no shoes and a simple loin cloth covered his manhood. Not much protection from the ocean wind even considering it was still warm from the departing summer. He had no weapons except for a timber club and his hair was shorn short which was not customary among men of the day. Maeve groaned and the man bent to look upon her. Despite his huge size he had the gentle eyes of a deer.


“Be still,” he said in her tongue, his accent was strange.  He stood to resume his guard.

From close by came the sounds of fighting and dying. The stench of burning straw filled the air. From where she lay Maeve could not see what was happening but she could imagine. The nightmare is was just beginning. Trussed bodies were carried by men and dumped by the base of the tower. From the smoke covering the village strode six men shoulder to shoulder. They looked wild like spectre’s of death with hair to trailing below their shoulders. Weapons clanked as they walked leaving droplets of blood trailing in their wake. The scars of battle, both new and old, marked their shields, their armour and their skin. 


“Priest,” bellowed the oldest “Look out your window and gaze apon my face.”

“I see you heathen, it changes little,” came a voice from above. Maeve recognised the words of the abbot from his preaching’s on the Sabbath. 

“Brave words Priest from high in your nest,” laughed the Viking chief “but what of your flock? Is the Sheppard not charged with seeing off the wolf?”

“Wolfe’s yes, wolf’s are God’s creatures. All I  can see is the spawn of Satan, slave’s to the Dark Angle. You and all you touch are already damned beyond my saving.  I shall pray for their souls and gods mercy.”


“You should pray for my mercy priest, not that I am blessed with much. I will give you one more chance to save these pesents. Throw your gold from the window and I will consider it payment for my bounty.”


“Gold, as such I possess, is not mine to give. It belongs to the Lord.”

“Then if I was you, I should pray for them, and for yourself,” said the chief dropping his shield. The six Norse men trashed the captives, men and women, with fist and foot until they were without wind. Then they rested in the Evening sun drinking from plundered casks of Ale. The captives were  all injured, some so badly that they did not even whimper. Grass and soil was stained crimson with fresh blood.  Once rested, the warrior again offered the chance to stop this needless surffering. "All we want is your Gold and we will be gone. Save your people and rebuild your fortunes." From above came no reply. Maeve prayed for mercy, but knew that beneath the cloak of righteousness the priest's heart was filled with greed.

"As you wish," the savage said spitting a mouthful of ale on the ground. He unsheathed his sword and dragged Maeve to him by her hair. She screamed in blind panic when she saw the tip of the weapon arch towards her. When the blade did not bite the skin of her neck  but rather sliced threw the lifeless hair on her head she was momentarily relieved. As she was sheered like a sheep, loosing fist full's of her lustrous red hair, fresh blood running in rivers from the wounds left in her scalp she again cried to her father for help. Around her other women were suffering just as she. When she was as bald as a newly hatched gosling, the warrior drove the sword down the neck of her dress splitting it from throat to hem. He reached inside and grabbed her breast painfully, she tried to pull away from him but his grip was too strong. Like an animal he ripped and tore at her clothes until she lay naked on the grass with the eyes of the village looking on. The warrior sheathed his sword only to unsheathe the weapon he had been born with. He mounted her like a beast from behind, wild with lust, he punched and beat her as he took her in the vilest ways. Maeve could see the face of her father watching all the time from a window near the top of the tower. The red giant stood near as he had from the begining of her ordeal but not taking part, not watching. Again and again the Norse men fell upon different women, defiling them in all possible ways, using the hilts of their weapons when their man-hoods were no longer up to the task.

Through all of this no mercy came from above. At last the women were abandoned, slick with blood and sperm. The captured boys and men became targets. With a shake of the Norse chief's head one teenage boy was pinned down by four of the slave men. The chief drew his war axe, holding it high over his head. He waited for a second, a woman's scream echoed from deep within the tower, no gold landed at his feet. He axe whistled through the air cutting off a hand. The chief squeezed every scream from the boy he could before letting his axe fly once more. Each time the boys sicking screams dried up the next lobbing blow landed. The feet followed the hands in this grim reaping. At last the boys head tumbled across the grass like a great bloody ball. The warriors threw the body parts towards the tower windows, trying to get them inside. After five men had suffered the same fate it was clear that the tower was never going to give up its treasure.

With a few words in a forghen tongue, two young men were dragged away towards the sea shore. The rest of the captives were lined up, with quick and precise blows heads fell from bodies in fountains of blood. The chief dragged Maeve to her knees circling her slowly he moved behind her and with a grunt the blow was struck, all went black.
 
***
 
Her mind explored her numb body, it felt alien to her. Was this death, why was it so dark? A voiceless choir whistled tunelessly in her ears, then her first feeling came, sickness. She lay as still as she could while her senses returned. Everything hurt to much for heaven and not enough for hell. The rocking motion and creaking of  oars straining in water told her she was at sea. She felt the tickle of cold water slosh across her naked skin as the boat pitched on rolling waves. She pried the dried blood from her eyelids slowly letting the bright light into her brain. Feet were planted above her head, naked legs joined and straining bodies dripped sweat on her from bare timber planks. She was still tied and stowed under the rowing benches against the hull of the ship. A raised walkway in the centre was patrolled by the chief and five Norse warriors, roaring with good spirits and strong drink.  As the feeling returned to her body so did the cold. She cold not stop the shivering of her muscles. Above her a pair of keen eyes noticed the movement, thankfully it was not a Viking  but the giant red-chested  slave. Their eyes locked as he strained forwards and backwards, the timber oar groaning in his mighty grasp. At last with a slight twist of his foot he dislodged a leather hide that lay on the bench ahead of him. It landed on Maeve sheltering her from the worst of the sea spray and cutting wind. Such little comfort was manna from heaven as she let the darkness take her mind once more.
 
The jolt of the ship grounding on soft sand woke Maeve. Pain flared in every part of her body. The Norse men spat commands in Gaelic as well as other languages, driving the slaves into the cold water, drawing the lighter ship higher on the beach. They came and went constantly, the evening sky darkening. When the red giant lifted Maeve gently from the bottom of the boat it was early night. He carried her through the waves holding her above the water. She was still covered with the cow hide he had dropped on her hours earlier. The boat was moored in a little cove.  On the beach a huge fire burned sending a stream of sparks into the night sky. A whole pig was mounted on a spit and being turned over the flames by a slave. Above the high water mark stood a fisherman's hut, the door was open and a body lay to one side on the sand, clearly the fisherman.

Inside the six warriors sat around a table, a fire blazed in the open hearth, the fire set so big it was going to use up the fisherman's stack of gathered timber in one night.  The warriors voices rose in merry song, wild with blood lust and victory. The giant ducked under the low door with Maeve in his arms.  The chief stood and wobbled over to them, unsteady on his feet but his eyes were aware and dangerous. He flung the skin aside revelling her bruised and naked body. A chorus of yells erupted from the men at the table. With one powerful hand he spun her, out of the massive arms that held her, onto the ground. With her hands still bound she was dragged kicking towards the table. Her bonds were sliced free as the warriors seemed to enjoy it the more she fought.  For the next hour she endured rape and beatings at the hand of each of the men. They only stopped to eat and drink. In the end Maeve's limp body was carried unsteadily up a ladder into a hayloft in the roof of the cottage by the Norse Chief. A cask of cider was tossed up after them and the drinking continued below. By now both Maeves mind and body was completely numb to her tortures, she endured the Chief several more times before he landed a savage blow across her temple knocking her gratefully unconsous. 
 
When Maeve awoke it was dark in the little hut, heavy snores came from close by as well as below. Maeve lifted her head and looked around, the great gut of the Chief fell in steady rythem of deep sleep. His leather armour discarded in the heat of rutting lay just within hands reach. A blood encrusted sword handle poked out from under it. With silent movements she got to her feet. Drawing the blade a fraction at a time until it rested heavily in her hand. With cat like steps she moved until the blade hung over the rising chest of the sleeping man. With a firm double hand grip on the weapon she let her whole weight fall forward driving the blade in cleanly between the ribs. The Chiefs eyes shot open, air grunted from the body but it was a killing blow, she must have pierced his heart cleanly. She watched as the life left the Chiefs eyes and she smiled. His body went into spasm, below a warrior stirred, Maeve let her whole weight hold the Chiefs body as still as she could. It was not enough, in a flash of panic she began to pant and groan, imitating the sounds forced from her body by each of them in succession earlier. She heard the man below chuckle and settle back into sleep.   



When all was still once more Maeve turned her thoughts to escape, she had nothing to wear so she slipped the Vikings leather armour on. It was too big but it covered her naked body which now discussed her. If she had not been a woman none of the things that had happened would have happened. Climbing down the creaking ladder would wake the men below. If she waited till morning, they would come up to see what was delaying their leader. She was damned either way. Maeve turned her attention to the reed roof. Years of Island weather had taken their toll on it, she could tell it had not been mended in several seasons. Low at the rear of the house she found a blackened patch where the rain had penetrated and rotted the reed work. Using the blade of the sword she began to pry a hole in the thatch. When it was big enough she slipped out and climbed down the dry stone wall of the house to freedom.

 

Her first urge was to run as far and as fast as she could, the direction was what held her fast. She could run for home. A home where her father’s eyes had witnessed her disgrace, where he had not lifted a finger to help, a home where the leaders of the community had abandoned her for the sake of wealth, a home where she would always be seen as a fallen woman of easy virtue. Maeve decided that she would indeed go home but not now, not like this.  Her indignity hardened in her heart to hate, her pain into bitterness and her fear into resolve. When she went home she would take back all that had been taken from her. She needed to make a new home for herself now, a new family and she knew who she wanted as its first member.

 

Maeve slipped around the corner of the building and padded silently along the beach to the sleeping bodies around the now dead bonfire. Picking out her red giant was easy as his sleeping figure was so much bigger than the rest. The crash of waves on the beach masked any noise she made as she approached. When she rested a hand lightly on his lips his eyes sprang open but he did not move. Putting a finger to her lips she bid him be silent and he was. She lay beside, moving under his blanket and latching her body onto the length of his. She rested her trembling lips to his ear and prayed the words she had for him would be enough.

 

“Their Chief is dead but I’m still not free. I have no home to run to, no family to protect me - except you. We could be free together, all of us. We could live as they do but as masters not slaves.” Maeve saw the giant take in her words. For a long time he lay still, unmoving and silent. At last he rose and covered Maeve fully with the blanket. In succession he woke each of the other slaves sleeping around the fire. They moved to the water line and spoke in a huddle at the water’s edge. Maeve watched from under her blanket wondering if her giant would convince them to follow him, to follow her. When they broke and moved towards the cottage, scooping up club size rocks Maeve knew the break for freedom was happening, she slipped from under the blanket and followed. The Viking Chief’s sword resting in her hand, seeming lighter now that the fire of battle loomed ahead.

 

Her red giant was the first to enter the hut on careful feet. Five more slaves had entered before the first warrior woke groggily. Surprise was not theirs any longer. The rest of the slaves rushed the door followed by Maeve. As she entered the gloomy room her eyes took in the scene before her. The red giant sat across the chest of the biggest of the warriors, the stone in his hand raining blows on the mushy pulp that had once been a face. Two more of the Norse devils were pinned under the weight of several slave men, repaying each hour taken from them in blood and pain. Of the last two warriors only one was capable of fighting, as the other had a sword hilt sticking from between his naked shoulder blades, he turned in lazy circles trying to tug it free, his life leaking slowly from the hole it made in his skin.  The last remaining warrior was fending off three slaves as they attacked with wild swings of his war axe. A lucky strike levelled the three of them. The warrior saw the giant slave still pulverising his comrade on the floor next to him. The warrior lifted the axe far above his head for a killing blow on the exposed neck of the massive slave. Maeve felt her feet fly across the floor, the blade she carried pierced the stretched skin of the warriors stomach and buried itself solidly in his guts. He stumbled back and fell. The wounded slaves launched themselves upon him finishing the job Maeve had started.

 

When the battle was over, Maeve and the giant stood side by side. Three of the slave men were dead or dying of their wounds, a dozen and a half remained. Of these, three wished to depart as they had family in distant lands, all the rest formed a new family under their founding mother. The Norse warriors were stripped of their clothes and weapons. It was Maeve who climbed the ladder into the loft. She stripped the chief bare throwing all that was of use to the waiting men below. When she came down the ladder she did not come empty handed. From her fingers dangled the Viking Chiefs head. That day they divided the wealth of the ship equally among the men. All taking equal parts, none bigger for any. Maeve spent the day alone, she had taken some items with her and vanished to the far end of the beach. The men could still make out her figure but not what she laboured at. After a time she bathed in the ocean for a very long time. The day was near gone when she returned to the group. She was dressed in a man’s tunic, and leggings. With her hair cut shorter than any mans, she looked like a boy. She had adapted the leather armour to fit her body, the chiefs sword was fastened on her hip and in her hand was a ghoulish mask. She had skinned the chief’s head, turning it inside out she had used a sharp rock to scrape it free of fat and meat. She had cured it by rubbing salt into the skin she had seen men do when making leather.

 

That night the bodies of the dead were laid together inside the small fisherman’s hut including the fisherman himself. A pyre was built and the new family ate by the light of it on the beach, bidding farewell to friend and foe alike. They rowed and sailed back along the coast, the men looked to the giant in their midst for leadership and he in turn looked to Maeve. She was a different woman from the one he had guarded at the base of the tower. This woman was stronger, colder and more savage. The Vikings had broken something in her and released a demon that had wiped them from the face of the earth. He respected her power and even feared her a little. Despite this he felt something for her, a warmth, a need to protect her. When not at the rudder guiding the ship along the coast, Maeve constantly worked on her mask, curing it and improving it. Stuffing the nose with linen, plumping the lips, combing its hair. Soon the headlands became familiar to her, they were close to home. The pulled into shore for the remainder of the day. Maeve gathered the men to her.

“I must leave you now but we will be together again by morning. Beyond that headland is the village, my village and the gold you could not get. When the moon is directly above the mast make sail as you did before. Drive the people before you as the Sheppard heards his sheep, kill if you must. They will make for the tower, I will wait for you there.”

The men nodded their agreement with the plan and Maeve slipped over the side of the boat her manly garb covered with a traveling cloak. The giant followed her progress until she was out of sight, his heart was filled with a strange emotion, worry. That night the crew did as they had said they would. At the appointed hour they set sail rounding the headland. The ship was riding in on the breaking waves when the first alarm note was raised. Dressed as they were the farmers fled before them without a blow being delivered. As Maeve had predicted they fled like sheep up the hill towards the tower. When the red giant lead the warrior pack out of the village into sight of the tower, every resident was gathered about the bottom of it, crying for sanctuary. But the ladder had already been drawn up. The door high on the side stood open. The giant held up his hand and the men stopped advancing.  The cry’s continued until the priest was shoved into the door way, his hands were tied behind his back and a noose around his neck. From behind him appeared Maeve in her man’s clothes urging the priest forward with the point of her sword. On her head she wore the face of the Viking Chief as an evil mask.  

The crowd at the base of the tower fell quiet. Maeve’s voice carried easily. “This man of god, chose money over mercy, chose greed over kindness, he chose himself over you. This man says he has the right to judge. I have no such right. Only God can judge me and I believe only God can judge others.”

The crowd looked on in awe at this demon figure as it pressed the blade home forcing the priest out of the door and into the drop. The rope zipped after the falling body adorned along its length with the gold and riches of the church. It snapped firm stopping the priest five feet from the round leaving him dancing the gallows jig.

“Prepare yourself to be judged priest” said the figure in the tower door. The crowd screamed and ran in all directions.

“Let them go,” shouted Maeve to her men rising her sword to single out one man running in the direction of the grave yard “except him.”

 

 

 

The howling man was dragged back to the village easily by the red giant. Maeve strode ahead of them still wearing the Viking Chiefs face as a mask. Behind them the rest of the crew carried away the gold that had been stripped from the hanging rope once the priest was dead.

“Bring him in here,” Maeve said to her  red giant “just you and him.” The rest of the crew formed a ring around the building guarding their new leader.

Inside was the village forge, the giant tied the struggling man to the main post holding up the roof. The hooded demon pumped the bellows until the coals glowed white hot.

“What do you want of me,” cried the man “I have no money, no gold. Have mercy please.”

“Hello Father,” said Maeve turning, taking off the Chief’s skin. Her face was smeared red by the flesh that remained inside her death mask.

“Maeve, I thought you were dead.”

“I am dead Father. Dead to you. You could have saved me but you didn’t.”

“It was the priest not me child,” he whinged looking for sympathy.

“You should have remembered I was your child then.” Maeve turned and took a spitting white hot iron from the forge. “Hold his head,” she said. Massive hands clasped her father’s face with a vice like force. Maeve advance on her father the spitting iron held before her.

“You watched them rape me father, your own flesh and blood. You watched and did nothing. A fathers eyes should never see such things,” she spat at him, driving the bar into his eyeball. It sizzled and popped, the fluid boiling on contact with the white hot iron.  Without hesitation she repeated the act on his remaining eye.

 

As the boat pulled away from the beach, Maeve knew she would never see this place again. Her family were gone and replaced by a pirate gang that had proved themselves far more loyal than blood ever had. As she gazed on the dwindling village lit by the flaming forge at its heart, she felt his massive hands rest gently on her shoulder.  It was too much, she had to let it out and a sob reached her lips. He took her in his arms holding her tightly giving his madden a safe place to cry.
 

Post a Comment