Friday, 14 January 2011

The Void - a free short story

This story was first published on my website but I thought followers of my blog might also enjoy it.

The Void

     Someone came to the entrance of the rain-soaked tent to speak to her and they talked in hushed voices.  Obviously their words were not for his ears and he strained to comprehend their meaning. 
     She nodded, clearly understanding and agreeing with them, but to his frustration no one communicated with him.  Whenever they were in his presence, they spoke in hushed voices, unwilling to disturb his rest but his mind cried out to be disturbed, to be awakened.  How much longer would he be held prisoner in this abyss?  If only he could remember her, then all would fall into place.
     His sword and shield stood propped against his saddle in the corner, his helmet atop a wooden chest, which also served as both seat and table.  The coat of arms on helm and shield meant nothing to him.  He was obviously a knight of some standing.  One who had both property and land.  One of considerable consequence.  They called him Sir Miles Reynard.
     His squire came and stood just inside the entrance, casting a covert look at his master from beneath lowered lashes.  Realising that he was awake, he came hesitantly to the side of his straw pallet. “Have you need of me, sir?” he asked quietly, his youthful countenance appearing drawn.
     “Nay,” said Miles hoarsely, and turned his head away from him.  How could he have need of the boy when he could neither sit nor stand?  The gash that extended from temple to jaw drove all but a fierce throbbing from his brain.  The wound that ran from hip to knee rendered all but the smallest movements too painful to bear.
     She came to his side and placed a delicate hand on his brow.  “You appear cooler now, my love,” she said in a pleasantly low voice.  “Will you try some gruel?  You will feel so much stronger if you would but take sustenance.”
     “To what point?” he asked, his voice cracked with disuse.  “To what point should I feel compelled to revive?”
     “You are all we have,” she replied, dropping to her knees beside the pallet.  “We love you. What will we do if you leave us?”
     “I have no memory of we.  Why should I fight to remain in a world I know or care naught of?”
     She clasped his large, warrior’s hand in both of hers, as if willing him to draw life from their joining.   “It is your wounds that speak, they have brought you low, but once you begin to heal, so will your memory return.”
     “I wish I could believe you,” he said, in a more rational tone.  “For now, I see nothing beyond this pallet and if I do not heal, I will be naught but a cripple – a burden for you to bear.”
      “If that is so, then it is a most welcome burden, my love,” she whispered, her voice husky with the tears that slid silently from her lovely eyes. “The leg does not suppurate, the wound stays clean. If it remains so, there is no need for its removal…”
     “Aye, and what of my head,” he interrupted sharply.  “How can I live without memory, without sense of who I am?  I will not be thought a pitiable imbecile who hangs on your skirts!”
     Releasing his hand, Lilly rose quickly to her feet. “Have done with this. What I offer is love not pity. You are a strong man. You are no imbecile.  What you do not know, you will learn.  Once we have you returned to Radburn, to all that is familiar to you, we will rebuild your memory.”
     With effort, he raised his hand and reached for hers.  “Forgive me. I find this frustration hard to bear and I know not what I say. You are right, I must have fortitude.  If it is so important to you, bring me the gruel.”
     He watched her as she moved away, his eyes concentrating on the soft swaying of her hips.  Surely he should remember a woman of such beauty, but he did not.  He was a man and as such appreciated her comeliness; even in his present state he recognised her appeal.  Why then, did he not remember her as being his?
     As evening fell, he heard the sounds of decampment from outside the tent and realised that at sunrise he would be required to endure the tortuous journey to the place she called their home, Radburn.  His entourage was large, or so he believed and he had been assured that they would travel to accommodate him, that he would not be required to endure more than he was able, but still he dreaded the mere thought of upheaval.


     The pain in his head woke him.  He had slept far into the night and all was quiet in the tent.  Only the even breathing of his wife as she slept nearby disturbed the silence.  He felt a weight depress the foot of his pallet but he could not make out who sat there.  The weight shifted further up the pallet until it rested by his uninjured knee.
     “Father,” said a small voice.  “Father, ’tis me.”
    It was impossible to see in the velvet darkness but in his mind’s eye he saw a six- year old boy with hair, whose features so resembled his own.
     “Dominique?” he said reaching out his hand, and cold little fingers clutched his.  Not knowing why, he felt an unutterable sadness but he returned the pressure of the child’s hand.
     “You’re cold lad,” he said, lifting his blanket.  “Here, lie with me.  I will warm you.”
     The boy curled up at his father’s side, leaching the warmth from his body and a great peace stole over him.  It felt so natural that the boy should be there.  So right.
     “Could you not sleep?” Miles asked, placing his arm about the small shoulders.
     “I was thinking of the times you took me hunting, Father, and when you taught me to fish.  Do you remember?”
     “Aye, lad, I do.”
     “And we didn’t tell Mother how often I fell when you taught me to ride?”
     Miles smiled into the darkness, tightening his arm about his son.  “Soon I will teach you how to wield a sword, to defend yourself, in preparation for the day when you become a knight.”
     The boy gave a contented sigh and snuggled closer against his father’s thigh and he could feel the weight of the child’s head on his hip and heard his breathing deepen.  Dominique slept and so did he.

     When he awoke, it was to the sound of men and horses as they prepared for imminent departure.
     Seeing him awake, Lilly came immediately to his side, relieved to see that he appeared much improved and well-rested. 
     For the first time since the battle, there was no pain in his body and he greeted her with a warm, welcoming smile.    
“The boy, where is the boy?” he demanded, light-headed at the revelation that all had come back to him.
     “The boy?” she queried.  “You require your squire?”
     “Nay, my son,” he said, smiling.  “He spent the night at my side.  Where is Dominique?
       She blanched visibly.  “You remember Dominique?” she said, a catch in her voice.
     He smiled broadly.  “Rejoice with me, my love.  It was the boy, coming to me as he did, that brought back my memory.  I didn’t think of it at the time.  I just recognised my son.  I wasn’t even aware of the exact moment that all fell into place; only that it did.  Now I remember everything!”
     She sank to her knees beside him.  “Not quite …everything, love…
     “Aye, everything.  It has been nigh a sennight since the battle, why have you kept him from me?  Did you fear he would disturb me, for he did not?  The boy helped me remember!”
     Slowly, her slender frame crumpled and she pressed her face into his shoulder and he felt the wetness of her tears.
     “Dominique is dead,” she wept.  “You stood by his grave but six months past.”

     © Hazel Statham 2005