Abyss & Apex : Third Quarter 2011: Maria’s Crossroads

Maria’s Crossroads

by Richard Marsden

 

The sun was setting and Maria had to get home quickly. The Goat would be active, and though she was curious as to what it really looked like, she did not want to find out alone in the dark. She grasped the rough material of her dress, lifted it up and shuffled across the muddy street towards her house. The wooden door was stout and she imagined her father waiting impatiently within, ready to bolt up for the night.

“Maria!” a familiar voice called out from the smithy.

She bit her lip, forced a smile and turned. Eligio stood across the street, under the orange glow of the forge. He had his apron about his waist and in his hand a hammer. Soot dusted his frame and his smile glowed white, in the fading of the day. He was a fine figure, and Maria knew that their twined fates broke the hearts of other girls.

“You should not be out so late.” He looked around and kicked at the dirt of his shop. Behind him, his burly father hung up tools, shuttered windows and smothered the flames of the forge. Eligio glanced behind him briefly before puffing his chest out. “Allow me to walk you home.”

She tried not to laugh. She brought her hand to her mouth and tilted her head to the door to her home, which was roughly two steps away. “I will manage.” She added belatedly, “Thank you.”

He stammered a moment. “Well…” he trailed off.

“Boy,” his father barked. “Time for flirting after you are married. You can wait a week.” He crossed his arms. Calogero was a shadow of a giant and Maria could feel his eyes upon her. “Off you go, Maria.”

She curtsied and didn’t need to be told twice. She entered her home, wincing as the smell of smoke stung her nostrils. As she expected, her father was sitting in his favorite chair by the fire, his eyes firmly intent on the door and now his daughter.

She bowed her head and shut the door. She bolted it before he could remind her to do so. He cleared his throat. He was wearing his simple clothing, but she could see his old helmet on the table and she knew his sword was somewhere close by. Ever since the Goat had arrived, she had caught him sharpening what he had called, ‘that most wicked of tools’. His scarred face, his salt and pepper hair, even the way he looked at her, spoke of travels abroad. He looked tired, but not in the same way as other men in the town did. They were tired from toil in the fields. Not her father.

“Where were you? You know I don’t like it when you are out this close to dark. The Goat-“

She cut him off. “I was home in time. Eligio was right there.” She winced. She hadn’t meant to mention him.

Her father smiled and he slapped his knee. “Ah! See, my flower. See! He is a good man.”

“Yes, father,” she said quietly and moved to an empty chair near the fire.

“He will be an excellent husband. Is he not strong?” Her father winked.

“Yes, father.”

“Isn’t he kind?”

“He is,” she agreed.

“No more crying then, eh?” He shook his head. “A bride shouldn’t cry too much before her wedding. Your mother, she told me she wailed only for a day when she found out who her husband was to be.” He laughed softly. “No one likes to marry a soldier.”

She bowed her head lower and clasped her hands upon her lap. She didn’t want to much talk about her pre-planned future. She had other thoughts on her mind. “Why not,” she asked.

“Oh, because such things work themselves out. You will be married in the Cathedral of Milan itself. Calogero has connections with the Duke of Milan and that should be foremost in your mind, my flower. Great things lie ahead. A bride to be should be happy.”

She hid her smile. “No, father.”

“No?!”

“I mean, father, why does no one like to marry a soldier?” She peered up at him. “Mother loved you.”

His expression fell and he turned to the fire. Its glow deepened the scars and wrinkles on his face. “Oh.” He shrugged. “Because a soldier does not stay. He goes. I missed much. Too much.”

“I wish you would have taken us,” she breathed. Visions of cities, of Cathedrals, of Swiss Pikemen in their brilliant red and yellow and of armored condottieri with their multi-colored plumes flashed through her mind. Even a blood-slicked battlefield would be more exhilarating than Bella’s one road and cluster of squat, stone houses with their uniform thatched roofs. Even the mayor’s home was hardly different, except in size.

“No,” her father barked, as if sensing her fantasy. “The world is a terrible place.”

Something breathed heavily outside their door. A gurgling grunt followed afterwards.

Maria turned to stare at the door; she instinctively made the sign of the cross.

Her father stood, wincing as he did so. He moved to the coat rack and pulled forth a longsword that had been hidden behind the coats that collected dust in the summer months. He braced himself and held the blade in a position she knew was called, ‘the plow’. When he was drunk in the tavern he would sometimes demonstrate how a man held a blade. Maria herself had pretended with a stick in the kitchen until he caught her.

“Go to your room, Maria,” he said. His eyes found hers and he nodded sharply.

The breathing outside the door continued and the door shuddered. Dust rolled off of it and the bolt clanked against the metal bindings that held it in place.

Maria yelped.

“Go to your room!” He stared at the door.

Maria darted off and did as her father told her. The window was already shuttered and the sun had set. It was dark within, except for the light from the main room. She crawled atop the bed, pulled the covers about her body, despite the warmth and waited.

The Goat lingered, it lingered while her father stood guard. Eventually, the monster left. Maria thanked God numerous times and did not fall asleep until her father dimmed the fire and put his sword back behind the coats.

 

She awoke early and did her chores. Truth be told, there weren’t many. Her father was easy to keep happy. Her worst meal, he called fabulous compared to what he had eaten while he was away. With mother gone to Heaven, father could be made happy with a little dusting and the occasional pastry.

He had slept in the main room in his favorite chair and was paying for it. He stretched. Rubbed his back and muttered, but when she fed him he smiled. He made no mention of what had lingered at their door the night before.

There wasn’t much more to say. The Goat had killed three men, had ruled the town by night, and if Father Pella was to be believed, was an agent of the Devil. She had heard that someone in the town was the Goat. Men eyed each other suspiciously these days and whereabouts at night were a topic of conversation at the tavern.

She opened the door, letting in the morning sun, and stared at the earth. The tracks were all over the place and she frowned as she noted claw marks on the wood. The tracks were indeed, goat-like, but much larger and staggered in a way to suggest whatever it was, it walked on two feet.

She looked up and down the road and something strange caught her eye. Strangers. She counted ten of them, all men. They wore bits of rusted armor, and their breaches were mud-stained. They had several horses and ponies, laden with wrapped up bundles, trailing after them and a pair of oxen, hauling a wagon filled with long pikes, whose ends gleamed in contrast to their armor. They had tired faces, beards that were untrimmed and the man in the lead was followed by another who held aloft a banner.

Maria stared as the men trundled past, heading towards the mayor’s house. A breeze rustled through the warm air and the banner briefly came to life. It was black with a white rose, embroidered with a fair amount of skill and detail, emblazoned upon it. The man leading the procession had a black, almost pointed beard and wore more armor than the rest. He turned, catching Maria’s gaze.

She dipped her head.

“Morning. The mayor of Bella, is this way?” the leader said. He spoke Italian, but the accent was strange and she couldn’t place it. Was he from Venice? Rome?

Her father placed his hand upon her shoulder and dragged her back inside. “You crossed the Adda to get here?” he said gruffly.

The leader of the band nodded. “Yes. The waters were a bit difficult to cross, but we managed. Did you destroy the bridge?”

“Yes,” her father said. “To keep the Goat here, until it could be dealt with.”

The leader smiled. “Indeed. The mayor?”

“That way,” her father said. He pointed to the largest house in town.

Meanwhile, others of the community had clustered in front of their homes to gawk at the strangers. Maria even saw her husband to be, but pretended not to see his wave and smile.

Maria whispered. “Who are they?”

“Condottieri,” he whispered back. “Foreign. Very, foreign.” He ushered Maria inside and shut the door. To her surprise he bolted it. His expression darkened. “The mayor better refuse them.”

“Mercenaries,” Maria said. She moved the window and opened the shutters to peer out at them as they passed on by. “Where are they from? Rome?”

Her father stifled a laugh with a grunt. “Rome?” he said, “No, England. They are far from home and it has been years since I’ve seen their kind. They’ve been killing themselves the last I heard.”

“Why?” she asked.

“A war of thrones, but I don’t know the details.”

“Their war is over then?” She leaned out the window, but retreated when one of the mercenaries looked over his shoulder and winked at her.

“Perhaps,” her father grumbled. “But that isn’t good news all the time.” He stomped over to his favorite chair. “The mayor better refuse them,” he said again.

Maria nodded reflexively. She sat down in the chair across from her father and imagined what a place like England might look like.

Her father soon enough began to speak of the wedding. She nodded, but remained mute on the subject. He sat in his chair and stared at the doorway. Silence persisted between them. She knew he wanted her to speak of gowns, of dances, of flowers and children. She wanted to hear about foreign lands, the life of the condottieri and what England was like, or at least their people. Maria sighed inwardly. Neither of them were going to get the conversation they wanted.

“I should see if I can get some eggs from the Gallo family. We need some. I’ll stitch them something nice in exchange.” She rose and clasped her hands together.

“Hmm?” Her father blinked. “Yes, yes. Sure. Be back before sunset.”

“Yes, father.”

“Maria!” He rose a graying brow. “Before. Not at.”

“Yes, father,” she replied and slipped out the door. She hiked up her dress to manage the muddy streets and plodded along without worry. Bella had its fair share of mud and the populace had long ago stopped carrying about seeing it spattered on everything and everyone. She walked along the only road, making sure to hurry past the smithy. She heard two sets of hammers clanging and was relieved when no one called out her name. Maria coasted by the Gallo house as well. She could visit them later.

The prominent men of the town were clustered in front of the mayor’s house, minus her father. She saw the mercenaries sitting outside the house. Smoking long, burning strands, drinking from clay cups and speaking in a language she had never heard of before. Two men tended to the mounts and packs. At close range, Maria could see every one of them bore scars. One even wore a patch over his eye! She looked for the leader of the band, but couldn’t see him.

There were no women near the structure and as she neared, both the town men and the mercenaries eyed her. She didn’t like the look in some of the mercenaries’ eyes. She strode forward and before anyone could object said, “My father sent me. The Goat was outside our door all night. He is tired.” Father Pella would see her whipped up and down the road if he ever found out about the sin and Maria said a prayer in her mind to her namesake for her transgression. She asked, “What is going on?”

Lorro Rizzo patted his wide belly and beamed a smile. “The mayor is speaking with the English condottieri. They will take care of the Goat.”

“Ah, if he pays them. Though there are not very many of these English. This is no Grand Company,” Bruno Rossi added.

She didn’t offer her own opinion and waited with the men outside the mayor’s house. When the man himself finally emerged, he smiled and stroked his long black moustache. Behind him, the tall Englishman with his wild beard and dirty armor stood with his arms crossed.

“An agreement, people of Bella. A fair contract, signed under the glory of God,” the mayor announced.

Maria had seen enough of his speeches to know when something was up for debate or not. When God was brought into the discussion, then it was understood there would be no debate.

“The Company of the White Rose, under good Captain William Travels,” the mayor continued, “will rid our town of the Goat, and spare our people hardships. He is apprised of the situation and does not mock us.”

Men of the town murmured in agreement. Maria had heard that their pleas to Milan were laughed off as the fantasies of a rural township. Even Eligio’s famous connections with the Duke were not enough to get a single soldier to investigate.

The Englishman William Travels stepped forth. “Your beast emerges by night and from what I gather, you believe one of your own transforms into it. The mayor was not sure why. I ask you. Why do you think it is not just some fiend from Hell?”

The men murmured again, but this time in confusion. Maria watched as they wrestled with the question. She knew and as the conversation didn’t subside, she stepped forth. “Because by dawn numerous people have seen a naked man run through the town. Beast by night, man by day.”

She felt the glares. This was not a woman’s place. Despite the hostility, Captain Travels offered a courtly bow. “Madame. Please, tell me more.”

She knew the gossip of the town. In truth, she relished it. Anything to make Bella more exciting and in some ways she was almost glad the Goat had arrived, if not for its three murders and the clawing at her door. She even had ideas on who it might be. Hopes really. “I know the rumors. By night the Goat wanders the town. Any man it comes upon it slays. It does not fight unarmed. I saw Marzo before they covered him up. My father said it looked like an axe wound. He fought for a condottieri, he would know.” She remembered the sight of poor Marzo. He was pale as snow, and his shoulder had a clean rent through it. Though Marzo’s tunic was stained with blood, she in truth expected much more.

The townsfolk had gone quiet and Maria felt her cheeks warm with a blush.

“And?” Captain Travels prompted.

“Umm…”

He smiled once. Wrinkles formed about his eyes as he did so. “Everything you tell me, Madame, will save lives.”

She crossed her arms and stared at her muddy shoes. “The Goat is interested in women.” She cleared her throat. “Young women.”

“Maria!” Bruno Rossi said.

“Let her finish,” Captain Travels snarled. He took a step towards the crowd who visibly shied back. Though no command had been given, the mercenaries were on their feet. Cups were discarded, the burning brands dropped and hands were held firmly on the hilts of swords.

Maria blinked and she saw the mayor nearly faint. Licking her lips, she continued, nearly tumbling over her words. “The Goat has lingered outside houses. My own more than once, but also outside the Mizzi house. They have a daughter, my age. Oh, and outside the Lunbo house and they have two girls. They say the beast hungers for flesh, and not just blood.” She shuffled her feet in the mud. “No woman has been caught by it. Thank God.”

Captain Travels scratched his head. He sighed. “One of you by day, lustful beast by night, and naked man at dawn . You defiantly have a problem. I have seen beasts before that by day are man and by night something horrible. They can be dealt with, and I have a plan. Tonight, the Goat dies, or the Company of the White Rose will perish defending you.” He turned to the mayor. “I will stay in your home, and my men will camp outside. I need a bath, food, and a mirror. We lost ours and I’d like to trim my beard.” He stroked the unruly black strands. “You best stay elsewhere for the eve, good sir.” He winked.

The mayor stammered, but Maria saw his eyes dart to the mercenaries, who were still in an offensive posture. He nodded . “Of course. You are my guest, Captain Travels.”

The mercenary captain turned and entered the home. His men, like dogs told to heel, sat back down, righted cups and relit brands as if nothing had happened.

Maria lingered by the house, even after the men had left. She averted her gaze from the mercenaries and didn’t make her move until the mayor left his own home. She boldly strode to the door and entered.

It was dark within, the shutters had been closed and the fire in the hearth was small. Just enough to heat water and provide some light. The house, much to her surprise, was even smaller inside than she imagined. The mayor had three rooms for himself and his family, who, just by chance, had gone a trip to see relatives at Bormis. It was the day after they left that the mayor ordered the small, rickety bridge crossing the Adda River be destroyed.  The main room was dominated by a table. Chairs were clustered around it, and its broad surface was covered in maps, scrolls and unwashed dinner plates. An iron tub was placed by the fire and Maria hid her smile as she saw Captain Travel’s long legs sticking out of it on one end, and his pale chest and arms on the other. He peered at her.

“You brought a mirror?” he asked.

“What?” She looked around, then remembered. “Oh, no. I’m not here to cut your hair. I’m not very good at it. The last haircut I gave my father made him look…” She sighed and used her hands to try and give a visual to how askew of a job she had done.

“Ah,” he said. “Well, Madame, you seem to have me at a disadvantage in more ways than one. I’m terribly naked, you’re terribly young, and you said your father was once a mercenary?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“Charming. I’ll kill your beast, and your father will kill me.” He shook his head. “Run along, Madame.”

She looked behind her at the door, but she had already gone this far. She moved to one of the mayor’s chairs and plopped herself in it. “I will, soon. I promise. My father, he is well travelled and he has seen much. He won’t tell me of it thought. Or, not much.” She gestured to him. “You are from England. That’s farther away than Rome.”

He smirked. “Yes, yes it is.”

“I want to know what England is like. And tell me what battles you have been in. Did you ever meet the Swiss Pikemen? Oh, and tell me of summers in other places. Is it as muddy?”

He laughed. “Wet. Lots. Yes. Warm, but not as muddy here and believe it or not, this place has cool summers. The Alps aren’t far off you know. They lock you in.” He brought his fingers together.

“I know,” she said and tried to take some of the sting out of her voice. “But tell me more. Anything.” She shook her head. “Father won’t, and he’s the only man in Bella who has seen anything past Milan. Now, Milan is supposed to be gorgeous.” She looked up. “The Cathedral I am to be married in is taller than all the buildings of Bella stacked up.”

“Oh, dear.” He splashed water in his face. “Come before sunset and I will tell you everything I can, Madame.” He waved her off. “For now, I think it is best if you leave. Your husband-to-be will wonder where you are.” He added in quiet tones, “And your swordsman father.”

She didn’t like to agree, but had to. Eligio was probably wondering about her. He always stared at her with obvious concern when the sun was starting to sink across the horizon, and when the sun was still high in the sky, he would try to make conversation. This revolved around their wedding and how pretty she looked. Her father would also need lunch shortly. “I’ll come back.”

“Indeed,” Captain Travels said.

“Maria,” she blurted out.

“Pardon?” He sniffed. “Ah! Yes, Maria. A pleasure to meet you. I’d be more formal, but…” he gestured to the iron tub.

She darted out of the room, she looked over her shoulder. “I’ll be back. You promised to tell me stories.” She shut the door behind her and frowned when she heard the mercenaries loitering outside snicker. She ignored them and strode back home. Her father was waiting for her.

Furious didn’t describe him. She quailed and cried in her chair as his face twisted up in a rage she imagined he reserved for the battlefield all those years ago. Good Catholic girls did not mingle with condottieri under any circumstances, was the general topic of his rant, as well as deep concerns for her reputation in town and what it might mean for her marriage. He had not liked her smile when he hinted it might be called off.

She had been banished to her room for the day and, of course, night. There was to be no lunch, or supper. She would pray for her sins and find sustenance in holy thought. She prayed as bid, but her prayers did not revolve strictly around past sins. When the light of day was dimmed, she prayed softly.

“Oh, God, Christ and Mother Mary, please forgive me for disobeying my father and please make his wrath tolerable. Better yet, please make him unaware of what I am to do. That would be good for both our souls.” She nodded. “Amen.”

He had popped open wine soon after she had been sent to her room. She could hear him all day drinking and muttering. She could hear him now. He was snoring. Maria slipped out of her room and saw her father sprawled in his chair. Not one, but two bottles were at his feet. She crept past him and silently as possible left. She wasted no time in walking up the road and into the mayor’s house. The sun had set by the time she shut the door behind her.

The men of the White Company were not the same as before. Their armor was polished, and their boots and tunics were clean. Most had cut their hair short and Captain Travels’ beard was smooth and pointed. Like his men, his hair had been cut short and in the firelight she reminded him of her father as he sat in chair. They were probably the same age, she guessed. Though while one girded himself for battle, the other slept in an alcoholic daze.

His eyes found hers. He rose and offered a low bow. “Maria.” He inhaled deeply. “I’m afraid the stories will have to be told by another.”

She bobbed her head. “Perhaps after you slay the Goat?”

A frown brushed across his features. “No. If I die, there will be no stories. If I live, then I must leave the village immediately. It is the terms of the contract, and it is best.” He gestured to his men. “These are all good men. But too long in a place like this, and they will get into trouble. Milan is a better place for them to get some rest.”

She raced towards him. “Oh, sir. Please, no.” She felt tears and blinked rapidly. “No one comes here. I so very much want to hear about the world. Something beyond all this.” She looked around the house. “My father says the world is dangerous.”

He gently pushed her away. “It is. You want to know what England is like? So do I. But I can never return there. None of us can. The world is cruel. Kings die.”

“I don’t care. I want to know,” she pleaded.

“I’m sorry.” He grabbed her by the arms, lifted her up, and placed her to his side. “Stay. This is man’s work.” He strode past her and his nine men followed.

She lingered alone in the mayor’s home, only for a few moments. Maria followed after the Company of the White Rose and sat in the doorway of the house. She could see the road and upon it the mercenaries forming a ring. They lit torches and rammed them into the mud. In the center, Captain Travels stood, he bore a white shield with two rampant lions in black upon it. She shied back when she thought he was looking her way.

The mercenaries waited. Two wielded the long pole-arms, while the rest had long blades like her father’s or smaller ones and shields. They were quiet. Maria looked up to the sky and could see the moon was full, and there were few clouds. The corpse-light of dusk gave way to the silver of moonlight.

It was the animals of the White Rose that tipped her off to the Goat drawing near. They stamped, groaned and pulled at their reins looped around hitching posts. Maria crouched low and scanned the familiar buildings. A shadow moved near the smithy. Her heart sped up. It was coming from the smithy!

She expected the creature to prowl for a moment, but it did not. With a deep bleat, the thing charged into the mercenaries. It was taller than a man, with rich, black fur and the head of a goat. Its horns were long and twisting and Maria shuddered as she saw that in its furred fist, a great axe was held. With one broad sweep of its weapon, she saw two men stagger back, their shields rent and blood flowing from their chests.

The mercenaries cried out and Captain Travels barked commands in his native tongue. The two men with pikes thrust their weapons towards the beast. The Goat batted one sharpened tip aside while the other sank into its muscled shoulder. It grasped the wooden haft, and with a crunch, the weapon snapped.

Maria lost track of the motions made by men and beast. There was a flurry of sword strikes and axe swings. She brought her hands to her face as she saw an arm spin through the air, spattering blood in a pattering arc. Just as quickly as the creature had attacked, it leapt back and loped into the darkness.

The mercenaries staggered and caught their breath. One crouched over another protectively. Captain Travels spit. He waved his blade and issued out a challenge to the Goat. Maria heard it growl in the darkness between the town’s buildings.

She saw the door to her home open. Maria stood sharply as she saw her father, sword in hand stagger out. “Maria?” He stumbled into the street. “Maria?”

“God forgive me,” she said to herself. Maria grasped the hem of her dress and ran as fast as she could. She felt her shoes give way in the mud, but each slip she turned into a bounding leap. She raced past the mercenaries who stared at her with open jaws.

“Woman! No!” she heard Captain Travels shout as she passed him by.

Her father caught sight of her. “Maria! Inside. You foolish girl. You foolish-“ his eyes widened.

She felt a breath on her neck and the stink of animal fur filled her nostrils. She heard something heavy stomp in the mud behind her. Maria shuddered and pumped her legs. She felt her dress constrict about her knees with every stride. She heard a cacophony of horrified screams from the men and saw her father rushing, clumsily, towards her, screaming her name.

There was no pain. One moment she was running, the next she was face down in the mud, and it was atop her. She felt enormous hands grab her shoulders. She felt little relief that it had dropped its axe to grab her. The rumors of the village and the thing’s intentions prevented that. She tried to crawl forward and looked up just in time to see her father swing his blade over handed into the beast. The roar deafened her and warm liquid spattered on her. She felt the thing’s blood ooze across her cheek. However, it was off of her.

She flipped over and saw the shape of the monster, with its wide chest, and bent legs. It was grabbing its own shoulder, which had received a long gash to keep the pike-wound company. It lowered its head and jumped over her and into her father. Maria yelped as she saw her father’s sword go one way, and his body the other. He slid in the mud and the beast pursued, snarling with every hoofed step.

The survivors of the White Rose were rushing towards them, kicking over the torches they had set up. Captain Travels’s face was as white as his shield and banner. She didn’t have time to wait. She hauled herself to her feet and tottered towards the fallen blade. It was heavy, but she managed to hoist it up. The stance she entered held the blade completely vertical. Her father had called it, ‘the roof’. She trembled while the Goat lorded over her fallen father. She tried to block out the sound of tearing flesh with her own cry. “Here! Here!”

The thing rose and spun about. Blood flowed from its gnashing teeth. Yellow eyes, with square pupils, affixed upon her. The monster charged, hands outstretched. Maria looked into its gaze, she wondered for a moment if there was a spark of recognition from it. The ground shook as it neared, she saw its legs flex and the Goat leaped. Maria stepped to the side and brought the blade down, using gravity more than her own meager strength.

The blade slammed into the mud.

The Goat ran several more steps, fell into the mud and its head spun off. Blood bubbled like a fountain from its enormous neck. Headless, but not quite dead, the thing tried to rise. It managed to make it to its knees before falling back down.

She sucked in deep breaths. She looked at the sword and the blood coating it. Maria didn’t look up as the mercenaries arrive and she shrugged off Captain Travel’s hand on her shoulder. She watched the body of the beast instead.

Hair melted away. Bones snapped. The bestial form contorted and made slurping noises before becoming a nude figure. She didn’t recognize the body, but when she saw the head, Maria felt almost a pang of disappointment. It was not Eligio. It was the mayor.

The mercenaries were gone, having taken the road back to the Adda River. Her father would be buried on Sunday and she would be married the same day. Calogero insisted and Eligio was eager to obey his father’s wishes. She sat in her house while the pair of blacksmiths made plans for her.

The mercenaries had not been paid. No services had been rendered and the mayor was dead. Father and son debated if that had been the man’s intention all along soon as he discovered he was cursed. Better for foreigners to die, ending his misery, than any more men of Bella they decided.

Alas, one more man had died. Calogero said the town would forgive her for her stupidity, but the sooner she had children the better. People loved weddings and babies. A wedding and a baby would make them hate her less. They had many more plans. She would cook. She would sew. She would most certainly stay indoors. She would also pray for her sins and the troubles it caused.

She had to admit, Eligio was not nearly as brutal as her father. Every hint of an accusation, he softened with a smile. When Calogero said it was her fault her father died. Eligio reminded him that it was she who killed the Goat. She didn’t hate him. She didn’t love him, either.

“I need to lie down,” she said looking up to the pair. “I must pray. May I be alone?”

Calogero nodded. “Praying will do you good. Pray till Sunday.” He left.

His son smiled gently. He stepped forward, reached out to take her hand, but shied back before making contact. “Everything will turn out. Your father would be happy. Proud. You killed the monster! You didn’t mean-” he lowered his head. “I’ll visit you tomorrow. You need to choose flowers.”

She nodded and said nothing. When he left, Maria picked up a few belongings, including her father’s old helmet, and the sword that still was coated in the Goat’s blood. She climbed out the window and took the deer path towards the river. It was quicker than the main road.

She had little trouble in catching up to the seven survivors of the White Rose. Their dead had been left behind, efficiently stripped of every possession. They would leave it up to the citizens of Bella to give them a Christian burial. Their heads were hung low, and they were already coated in mud. Maria adjusted the helmet on her head and rested the longsword on her shoulder.

The men looked up as she fell in with them. They grumbled and spoke to Captain Travels. The leader of the band turned. His brow arched.

“You left three men behind, and have nothing except the road ahead,” Maria said. “I left behind a father and a road that goes nowhere.”

He stared at her. The men halted. Captain Travel’s eyes flitted to the sword she carried. He stepped beside her and started walking. Without complaint his men fell into line.

“Not too long ago, two great houses in England clashed over the throne. The House of York and the House of Lancaster. To separate theses kinsmen in war, the two factions picked roses. Bloody red for Lancaster, and noble white for York…”

Maria listened intently to Captain Travel’s first story.

 

______________

Richard Marsden was born in Canada and currently is a resident of Arizona. He has been fencing with the rapier for fifteen years, dabbles in economics and holds a Masters Degree in Land Warfare courtesy of AMU. http://www.freewebs.com/rmarsden/

 

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