Chapter Six


The Leaving


People change, of that there is little doubt.  Many years later Rune would understand that even the kindest and most gentle of people can be changed by a string of chance circumstances, slowly and over an extended period of time.  Their honor can still remain inside their most personal understanding of themselves, even after that part of them that the world sees has changed beyond recognition of what they once were.  The most painful part of such change is that most often it happens without them even noticing it.  It is as if they continue to see themselves the way they were when they were younger and not yet grown harder so that they might deal more easily with life's hardships and responsibilities.  Therefore of course, they are then unable to understand why people close to them no longer react with understanding, nor treat them the way they remember being treated when they were nearer to their innocence.  The pressure of life itself will often make a kind person not callous, but willing to justify their actions as the result of events, circumstance and chance happenings of Fate.  Like aging, the hardening of a personality happens so slowly that a person may hold within themselves a set of values that they then betray by their actions every day of their lives, due to the growing cynicism they have chosen to adopt so that they might survive emotionally without acknowledging their own weakness.

No one is unaffected by change and few are strong enough to take a definite course of action to rectify such hurt as it may bring about to those that they love who are daily about them.  For all change and experience of life occurs with the destruction of the innocence and the ambitions of youth itself.  It is like the love a man has for a woman that blinds him to her aging, until one day she shatters his fantasy by some unlikely act or word and he sees her for the first time as what she has become.  Desperately trying to prove it is not so becomes like a nightmare to him and reality itself begins to lose it's focus.  Is it any wonder that he reacts with anger and a feeling of betrayal?  His Angel of Perfection is no more than any other woman and his need to believe she is still what she has always been to him destroys his ability to accept the change.  Before he can help himself he is blaming his surprised wife for what she has taken from him.  Even as he does so he is forced by instinct to gain her aid and understanding, which he hopes may help him to accept the loss that she has forced upon him.  He turns to his only true partner in life knowing that she has done the worse thing anyone, friend or stranger, could ever do to him.  Yet where else can he turn?  She has destroyed his image of her and he suffers no less a sense of loss and despair than he would have experienced had she been murdered without reason.  For the deeper the love he holds for her, the greater his image of her, the more devastated will he be by the reality that is suddenly forced upon him and the emotional loss of his reason for living.  Life is always so, survival of it's desperate moments is to understand the fear that one may not be able to stop them returning again.

Just so is a person's understanding of what made them what they have become with the passage of time and how they are responsible for it continuing.  From outside it is easy to see that the erosion of self continues only because they are unable to forgive others for what they themselves are now doing daily.  Therefore it is not surprising that the best, the kindest and the most charitable of people are the more certain to be dealt emotional pain and heartache, for they find that they can not take upon themselves the responsibility for their part in changing the situation they so wished never to change.  Whether their actions have become in fact just a reaction to a life of simple satisfaction, which brings out their strengths, or a life of pressure and tension which drives them into the reaction of self-survival by any means, the ultimate collapse of the situation is always the result of denying that a solution does in fact exist.  There is no horror to compare with the fear of being totally helpless in a situation which brings only more pain, be it physical or emotional.

Rune's loss of memory was by such a comparison, a blessing.  He knew without proof that there must be many things in his past which, had he been able to avoid them, he would have avoided, or in a child's understanding he would have made such things not happen.  So was he blessed to regain himself in the pastoral setting of Havor's Holding in the forests of Natan.  Living with people who were content because they knew how to be nothing else and who lived every day without any need to accept responsibility or change.  He was with people who had lived their whole lives without the helplessness that most educated and experienced people suffer through many times before they are fully grown.

After the Buyer had left the Holding Mother was unable to add anything to the simple statement that one of the slaves Rune had tried to help had been her husband, before the children burst into the house a few moments afterwards.  There had been no time for him to formulate questions which might have allowed her to share her grief and fears with him and so the matter was dropped while she got on with her normal chores.  The evening meal occupied her then and the rest of the family were put to storing away the trade goods they had obtained from Vanaten.  The way she busied herself gave away nothing of what she must have been struggling with in her mind, as she added fresh logs to the fire and began banging pots and pans about.  Watching her from behind as she worked on the preparation table he had built beneath one of the small windows, Rune realized again how helpless the woman felt outside of her role as housewife and mother.  Her shoulders moved, echoing the industry of her hands as she chopped at the onions she was preparing, yet the rest of her body stood as if anchored to the floor.  Her simple woolen dress covered her heavy frame, which rippled as her strenuous arm movements sent rippling waves through the fat of her back and buttocks.  He realized for the first time that during the years he had been with the family all vestiges of youth had left her and the late afternoon sunlight which played on her face as she worked was a spotlight for the thickening of the skin on her face and neck, emphasizing the layer of fat which had made indelible lines on her neck where it folded.  There was a spot on her neck, which she had opened at some time by her absent-minded scratching and now it was a small red-brown cake standing up from the downy hair of her skin.  The protective instinct for women and children that is natural in men rose within him, even as he accepted that Mother would never be anything other than a simple peasant, no matter how much he would like to save her from it.

The evening passed with all of them doing the odd jobs of a household that has had a profitable day and then, before Mother and he had a chance to continue their conversation, she announced that it was time for bed and she and the children were climbing the ladder to their sleeping quarters in the loft.

Rune tried for a long time to get to sleep that night, but his brain raced with thoughts that were alive of themselves and no amount of justifying would put them to rest.  In the dark warmth of the house he lay with his arms above his head contemplating the alternative outcomes the day's events could have brought down upon them, most of which promised him a restless night.  What would have happened if Mother had not cured his anger at the last moment with her scream?  What might have taken place if the Buyer had not then been there to rescue him from the spite and retribution of the insulted Overseer?  What would have happened to the family if he had killed the brute, or if one of the guards had squeezed off a bolt into his heart?  But in all truth the greatest reason for his being unable to relax that night was his wondering at what Casper Havor was doing and thinking at that very moment.  As Rune lay in the warmth and comfort of Casper Havor's home and family, the true owner of this house was confined by chains in a prison wagon suffering the night's chill.  What did Casper Havor think of Rune taking over his home, his wife and his family?  Did Mother's husband lay somewhere tonight planning revenge on him for usurping a husband's rightful place?  The more Rune thought about it all, the more questions he found that he developed to ponder upon.

Suddenly the quiet haven he had created about himself in this place was beginning to crumble before the attacks of a newly conspicuous outside world and Rune knew that never again would he be able to pretend that what was happening out there in the real world was something that need not concern him overmuch.  Those sorry men in chains today had been his ex-comrades, surely he owed them something?  His shame began to build as he realized he had not once thought of doing anything more than giving them a piece of bread, yet had the Gods chosen otherwise he might well have been one of them tonight.  He knew that somewhere down in his tortured mind his true self was twisting in contempt for the self-centered coward that had taken his place.  How much he hated himself then, how he hurt for being who he had chosen to be.  In the end the confusion in him drove Rune from his bed and out into the quiet night.

The moon hung like a silver ball above their clearing in a cloudless sky that night, seeming like a great baleful eye looking down at Rune to reprimand him.  He paced for a long time in front of the house, then sat in the porch chair for a while before he finally went looking for Mother's wine jug to drown his confusion.  There was a chill in the air he had not noticed before when he returned to the chair and poured himself a beaker of the wine.  No more than a swallow had passed his lips when Mother came out onto the porch wrapped in a blanket.  In her arms she carried a bundle of cloth, which she came over and laid down in front of Rune, almost as if it were a child.

"I can see what today's happenings have done to you Rune and I've listened half the night to your trying to come to terms with it."  She took the jug and poured herself a beaker of the wine,  "Time's come for decisions hasn't it?

"Only the God's know what I'll have to do to understand what's happening Mother and what I must do as my part of it all."  Rune said despondently.

"Time had to come, Rune."  She said sadly.

"What's in the bundle?"  He asked, glad to change the subject.

"These are the things you had with you when we found you.  I was frightened someone might come by and see them, so's I hid them in the hiding hole under the hearth."  She said quietly, untying the bundle.

Curiosity overcame him, along with a feeling that somehow she had treated him badly in hiding these things from him for all these years, to say nothing of risking them when they had renewed the house.  To avoid any more insecurity or confusion he turned to helping her with the bundle.  It was a strange feeling when the first piece of his past came into his hands.  It was a blue tunic, edged with silver braid and retaining a few silver buttons.  He turned it over in his hands, hoping that it would unlock some memories, enjoying the feel of the fine cloth and examining the tears and marks on it as if they might be clues to his forgotten past.  In the end he saw that it was no more than a tunic he had once owned and he tore off the buttons and dropped them into his pouch, then he pushed it back into her hands.

"That's what I thought when I first opened it."  She said.  "Seventeen gold crowns, twenty three silver pence and more copper than two month's work stacking charcoal kilns would ever bring you Rune."

"Where would I get such a sum?"  He asked in amazement, feeling the warm weight of the wealth that lay in his hands.

"First off I thought you'd robbed a Bishop,"  Mother said quite seriously,  "But when I looked you over you looked like it must be yours, I think you were some high person once, an aristocrat even. . ."

Her voice trailed off in contemplation, then she handed him a small bundle wrapped in a white linen kerchief.  He searched the cotton square for initials but found nothing.  When he opened the piece of cloth he could do nothing but stare in disbelief at the small collection of expensive jewelry it contained.  The workmanship of it all was wonderful to examine and it's beauty was beyond description for two peasants who worked every day of their lives to survive as charcoal burners.  The first piece he took out was a heavy golden ring with what looked like a stag or a beast's head engraved on it's face, the fine lines of which had been filled with silver, then he lifted out a heavy golden chain that pulled up a similarly engraved medallion almost as large as Mother's palm, only this time the animal's head was surrounded by a circle of red gemstones.  There was also a bracelet of heavy gold, a single band decorated with blue and white stones and a pin with a device that looked like the unicorn's head once again but with a single sparkling water-colored stone mounted where the beast's eye should have been.  It caught the light of the lamp which hung above them, sending flashing rays of red, amber and blue lights from it's faceted face.  Before he could recover from this last surprise, Mother handed him a heavy leather belt, with two matched silver chased daggers hung on it and a huge silver buckle that once again displayed the unicorn motif.  He unsheathed the knives and was examining them closely, intrigued by the workmanship, when Mother interrupted his thoughts.

"I know I should have shown you these things many years ago."  She was near to tears he could tell,  ". . .but I was frightened they might bring your memory back and then you would leave us. . .  and. . .  I'm sorry Rune, I'm so sorry. . ."

He touched her hand and smiled to comfort her.  He felt that he should be scolding her for keeping these keys to his past from him, but he also knew they would have made no real difference to the lost soul he had been for so many years, except perhaps to add even more confusion.  If he had had them before he thought, he might have ventured forth too soon into the Gods knew what trouble.  So in a way he had cause to be grateful to her, although he knew that his excuse had not occurred to her, nor had Mother considered his needs at all in any part of her reasoning.

"They would have meant nothing to me Mother, they unlock no memories.  Perhaps you should have shown them to me earlier but it is of no matter now.

The thought came to him and he had put it into words before he considered what it's effect might be.

"You did you not steal them Mother?  Why?  The God's know you are in need of what this treasure could bring."

"It was yours."  She said, sounding puzzled,  "It wasn't mine and if anyone knew about it they would have slit my throat for just one piece of the silver, wouldn't they?

"I'm sorry Mother. . ."  She never allowed him to finish.

"Times are I don't understand how your mind works Rune.  I was just scared that you might leave.  I have never been without a man about me, father, brothers or husband, until Casper went off to fight in that War.  I had good reason to be frightened of what would become of me and the children if we had no man to look out for us.  It was because you were with us that we survived these years you know."  She hesitated, then took a breath and said,  "Now I know that it's time for you to be your own man. . .  well, it wouldn't be right if I hid what was yours from you at such a time, would it?

She stopped talking and picked up the tunic and went into the house without waiting for an answer, leaving the door open so he could see her stir up the embers and put the blue cloth onto them.  It smoldered for a while before bursting into flames.  The light lit up the whole room for a moment and the familiar things he had lived with, not least the bodies of the sleeping children up in the loft, were illuminated in a way that made him realize tonight was the start of a new time.  Events were at last forcing upon him the need to rise from his stupor and start considering the very real future that had suddenly presented itself to him, unbidden though it was.

Mother returned to close the door before she went back to her bed and he was again alone on the porch.  That night brought about a complete change in him, one which he could not turn away from, nor one that he would ever be able to ignore.  He spent the next few hours realizing how easy it had been to spend the past five years avoiding his responsibilities in this quiet clearing.  The understanding that soon he would have to leave made everything about the only home he could remember seem the more precious to his happiness.  He walked around those places in his mind that had been so dear to him in that time, knowing that he must soon leave them to seek out the destiny the Gods had predetermined for him.

Morning came with a quietness of rose gold clouds and the promise of a clear hot Spring day, fresh and clean like only Nature can explain.  He returned to the house in time to join the family for a wonderful breakfast, in which Mother used many of the food items and spices they had obtained from the Buyer the day before.  The children were of course excited and made far more noise than usual, but Mother remained quiet and withdrawn and neither said nor implied by her composure what had happened between them while the children had slept.  She had however, shown him how to open the hiding hole in the hearth, under which stone his treasures once again rested.

It would be hard in later life to look back upon that morning without a sudden feeling of apprehension overcoming him, for during that meal the events which were about to happen to them during that day would have seemed absolutely impossible.  Yet Fate has a habit of hitting you hardest when you least expect it.  How clear that scene would always be to him.  The scent of cloves that spiced the oatmeal and the tart smell of boiled apples that would always return to him whenever he cared to close his eyes and remember it in the years that were to come.  There was also the smell of new soap in the air and freshly brewed coffee, ground that very morning.

It soon became obvious that Mother had not mentioned to the children that one of the slaves they had seen in chains the day before had been their father.  How sorry he was for that poor woman right then, alone with all of her problems, not through choice but because she knew not how to share such things, nor had she the education to be able to analyze or explain them even to herself.  Mother's face moved through silent contractions as she mentally dealt with problems she was unable to speak of and in the way of simple folk she tried to think of other things, in the hope that somehow the pain would go away before she had to face it again.

Kirdi broke the silence before Rune could, by asking,  "What are we doing today Mother?

"What we always do the day after the buyer comes."  She replied,  "We shall have a day of ease and each of us may do as we wish, but tomorrow it will be back to work as usual, so don't wear yourselves out."

Both the boys whooped with joy and with hurried explanations and even more hurried movements, they were out of the house to go fishing within minutes.  Mother flashed the first half-hearted smile he had seen from her that morning, as her sons rushed to enjoy themselves in the independent way that only young boys can.

He, in turn, answered her look by mumbling something about "going for a long walk in the woods", while she announced that she would take Maer and go up the river to collect some wild flowers.  However when she asked Kirene if she wanted to get the picnic ready, the eldest of her children surprised her by saying that she would rather go along on the walk with him.  It was the first time Rune had ever heard Kirene speak out against, or rather not just quietly agree with, whatever her mother suggested, ordered or decided.

"As you like."  Said Mother and within a few minutes she had taken Maer and left for the fields of wild flowers.

Soon after Mother left the house Kirene and Rune set out for their walk and within an hour they were far from the clearing and following game trails through virgin forest.  It was a beautiful day, clear, sunny and quiet as only country days can be.  Canopies of branches above their heads made the forest a place of wonderment, pierced with brilliant shafts of sunlight in which small flies and dust motes swirled in almost magical dance.  The blanket of last year's fallen leaves and forest moss, through which the emerald shafts of new Spring grass were again growing, gave the whole scene a quietness that was both beautiful and mystical.

They had been out of the house for just over an hour, when he looked at Kirene as they made their way through that silent wonderland and he suddenly saw her as a woman for the first time in his life.  It would seem ridiculous later but it came to him as a shock, as if he had returned after several years absence to find her full grown.  He found himself watching her every movement in wonder that bordered on astonishment.  When had it happened?  Why had he never noticed before the way her hips swayed as she walked, how her firm young legs moved beneath the homespun dress and her young breasts, that for some reason he had never really noticed before, now commanded his attention as he watched them sway heavily with each step she took?  Her long hair was a healthy mane that seemed to balance her youthful walk and it shone in the shafts of sunlight like spun gold, perfectly framing the face of a woman who only hours before he had seen only as a child.

How the inevitable happened was an accident.  She stopped to avoid a half hidden log, doing so suddenly enough for him to all but walk straight into her as she turned to warn him.  To keep his balance and not knock her over, he put his hands on her, not just anywhere but cupping those newly observed breasts.  It was done and yet he had not meant to do it.  If she had said something or reacted with shock, then perhaps it would have gone no further, but she smiled and did not move, that is until her hands rose with the purpose of covering his own.  She held his hands on her, pressing them against her hardening flesh, so slightly that had he not been so nervous he might not have even noticed that she was doing it.  Then she slowly lifted her face and looked directly into his eyes and the sister he had known these many years had gone for ever.  Her hands moved slowly away from his and he removed them from her, feeling more awkward than he had ever felt before.  She never took her eyes from his face.  How can one describe such a look?  Her pupils were like polished jet set in green liquid spheres that floated in pure white.  They shone like the eyes of a Saint, innocence and need pouring forth from them at the same time.  Her lips were full, parted slightly to show pearl white teeth as she began unlacing her dress with careful finger movements. 

Rune noticed for the first time how beautiful her slim hands were as she slipped the thongs free.  It was as if she had practiced what she was now doing many times in her mind.  Before he knew it the homespun garment slipped from her body and she stood before him completely naked.  He would hear poets later who would claim that a man can be blinded by the purity of innocence offered willingly for the ultimate sacrifice of self, yet he was not blinded in any way that wonderful morning, instead his eyes feasted on her beauty.  The tightness of youth complimented the golden-cream smoothness of her skin and the warmth of life that trembled through her as she offered herself to him, was all but breath taking.  She was beauty in perfection caught up in the body of a girl, a body that was as graceful as a young cat, lithe and without excess.  Her breasts were half-spheres that clung to her with a firmness that only suggested softness, with rose-pink buds centered on them that had grown to bursting point with the passion of the moment.  She was obviously also caught up in the fantasy of the hour like a tightly coiled spring, almost shivering with her new feelings of need and the audacity of her actions in inviting him to join her in this moment of discovering her womanhood for the very first time.

Unashamed and yet shy at the same moment in space and time, she moved the step to bring her against his body and he lowered his head to kiss her.  The embrace was tightly held and her scent rose into his nostrils to overwhelm his senses, even as her soft lips touched his own.  During that eternity he felt her tongue press against his lips, opening them and forcing itself into his mouth, where it searched out the flavors that only his own tongue had known before.  Without command his hands stroked up and down her back, feeling the tightness increase, until she stepped back and away from him, his loss almost bringing a cry from his throat.  

Her eyes, which had been closed while they kissed, opened and she looked directly into his soul itself as she said,  "I love you Rune.  I always have loved you and I always will."

All around them it seemed as if the forest itself was hushed, waiting to observe the conclusion to this unfolding play.  Sunlight speared through the branches above them crossing Kirene's young body in stripes of sparking gold and contrasting with the warmth of the flesh caught in nature's earth colored shadow.  Somewhere a bird picked that moment to launch into a peal-like chain of clear notes, a fanfare to the beauty he beheld before him and desired even above life itself at that moment.  Then, as if caught in a dream, Kirene lowered herself onto her discarded dress which lay like a sheet on the forest floor.  It was like a dance that time had spread over longer than such movements should ever take.  Her hair folded with perfection as it spilled over her shoulders, to be brushed back with a double handed movement allowing him to worship the sensuousness of the action and giving her the pleasure of savoring his desperate need for her.  Her legs folded with grace beneath her as she lowered herself to the ground, taking the weight on her hands in a way that allowed her full breasts to sway in perfect symmetry with her movements.  Then she lay backwards until her shoulders were cushioned by the ground and her hands again wrapped her hair out of the way, as if hiding one square inch of her skin from him might destroy the magic.  Her legs spread before her towards him and the curve of her body was enhanced as she moved with a body-embracing moan of longing.  Her right knee lifted to lay on her left, deepening the shadow between her legs and leading his eyes to wonder at the small triangle of down-like hair beneath her tight young belly.  Still not saying a word, Rune removed his tunic and knelt before her as a peasant will kneel when worshiping a shrine.  With a natural longing, exhibited without shyness or shame of any kind, her arms came up to pull him down on top of her and her body opened to him and the girl became a woman in that moment.

Rune understood for the first time the perfection the Gods have planned into the joining of two souls in the act of love-making.  There was as much taking, if not more, than giving, a search for pure pleasure that sheared away all pretense from a person.  A surrender to satisfaction and enjoyment that was multiplied as one felt it reflected in the other, satisfaction mirrored and thereby increased, if not created for that moment in time.  Each of them drawing from an unending stream of pure pleasure, selfish in it's enjoyment, yet needing to be shared to even exist.  Feelings that were perfectly right, whole and without equal, as every part of the body and mind came alive at once to complete their understanding and total gentle conquest of each other.  Like ripples of Heaven itself, love played it's tune upon them and seconds became hours and minutes days, with the end coming too soon, with a desperation for it to continue for ever being lost beneath the pounding waves of fulfillment they could not at last deny.

Afterwards Kirene lay cupped in his arms in a silent smiling half sleep, leaving him to wonder on the mixture of guilt and satisfaction that was running through his head. 

It was a long time before they got up and began the walk back home.  It was a journey that was punctuated by moments of happiness which made them skip, tumble and laugh with each other and also with moments when they walked in what seemed like very solemn thought, contemplating the implications of what they had done and how the future now had responsibilities it had not had for them before.

He remembered little of that long walk back save the beauty of the forest, a feeling that never again would he be alone and rehearsing over and over again how he would explain to Mother what had transpired that morning.  It seemed that through everything else a part of him went on hoping that the affair might be able to remain an eternal secret.  

 * * * * * * *

 The End of Tranquility

Just before nightfall they came out into their clearing and their world fell apart.  Havor's Holding was a scene of destruction.  Still smoking timbers of the house jutted up from collapsed walls and everywhere bodies were sprawled where they had died.  The silence was deafening and for some time the two young lovers just stood and stared at the disaster that had happened while they had made love only a few miles away.  The shock which had frozen them ended abruptly when Kirene screamed and made to run towards the house.  Rune only just managed to restrain her and it took several minutes to calm her down enough to understand that perhaps the danger was not yet past.  He persuaded the sobbing girl to take cover under some bushes and convinced her that if anything happened she was to run into the forest and hide.  Immediately.  Without waiting for him.  Then Rune started towards the house.

The steps that made up that walk were like the beat of a funeral drum, each one increasing his observation of the disaster that even yet his mind tried to convince him could not have happened.  Their home no longer burnt, although a light smoke still rose from the charred timbers and here and there a sporadic breeze fanned glowing red embers to life.  The scene was one of unbelievable savagery and as he walked it was simple to piece together exactly what had happened.  Vanaten's slaves had managed to escape from him and, obviously led by Casper Havor, they had returned to the farm.  The buyer had followed them with his men and, Rune gathered from the many horse signs on the ground, with a detachment of troopers from some nearby garrison.  For his zeal in attempting to reclaim his property the buyer had been rewarded with death.  He lay near the house in almost comic crookedness holding with both his hands the crossbow bolt that had pierced his chest and taken his life.  His bloodless face still held a look of shock that he could be killed.

For some reason, the signs showed, the slaves had been in the house when their pursuers had arrived and had then run from the house towards the river.  The result of that decision proved it had been one of desperation that had gone wrong for them, for their path was littered with bodies that had been brought down by charging cavalry and well aimed crossbows.  None of them had had any chance of escape of course, for they had not had the time to remove their shackles and slowed by those chains they must have presented easy targets to the soldiers charging after them.  The last body he came to was heaped as if he had fallen to his knees in prayer, the broken lance entering him beneath the left shoulder blade and protruding enough to hold him off the ground in a kneeling position.

Rune reached the house and turned the corner to go round the barn when the sight that greeted his eyes made him retch.  The survivors had been herded into a bunch and then systematically shot down.  In the sprawling heap he saw Mother's body and those of her two sons.  Kirdi had three bolts protruding from his chest, his pathetic little knife still clenched in his fist.  Casper Havor had obviously tried to shield his family and for his bravery had one bolt firmly planted between his shoulder blades and the shaft of another protruded from the back of his skull.  With a heaving stomach Rune checked every body in that terrible pile, only to scream with agony when he found little Maer crushed beneath her mother's body, showing no signs of assault but dead nevertheless, probably suffocated by her own mother's body.  The troopers had done their job with a dedication to slaughter.  No-one had survived.

In a daze Rune carried the bodies of Mother, her husband and each of the children back to the house and then he took up the spade they had used to cover the kilns and he dug five shallow graves.  Casper Havor weighed little more than Kirdi and Maer was so light in his arms he was able to step down into the grave with her.  It was their faces which made the greatest impression on Rune's senses, they all looked as if they were asleep, not dead, never again to talk to him but just asleep.  There were some flowers blooming in the corner of the yard that Mother had planted when the boys and he were digging the well.  Rune picked some and laid them in the grave with little Maer, before he covered the bodies with earth.  He thought she would have liked that because his little Maer had always liked flowers.

When the burying was done, Rune had picked his way through the rubble to retrieve his belongings from beneath the hearth stone, swearing as the retained heat of the large stone blistered his fingers as he tore it loose.  Then he had returned to gather up Kirene and urging her on, he set off without delay to put as much distance between them and that nightmare as they could, before others came to investigate.  They did not talk as they walked, for there was nothing either of them could say right then that would have taken away the pain and horror.

In the same afternoon, only a few miles apart, two lovers had experienced the joy of complete happiness, while a short distance away their family had been destroyed like animals before a lust for violence no one would ever be able to justify or understand.  So is often the paradox of humanity.  There was no comfort in such logic that night though, as Kirene and Rune stumbled wet eyed away from the only home and family they had ever known.  In the clearing behind them there was no sound.  The animals had been stolen or had run off into the forest and even the birds were not singing in that place now.  The fruit trees around the house were in blossom, the new grass was like a blanket of emerald green abundance and the river flowed in silent splendor through that picture of sorrow as they left the place.  

It seemed that if only someone could have painted a picture, just leaving out the smoldering ruins of the house that had been their home and take away the already stiffening bodies that lay around the ruins as evidence of the murder that had been committed there, it would be a picture of how every man and woman dreamed heaven itself would be.


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Chapter Seven

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