The villagers of Ste Marie sur Canut have a problem.
But not as big of a problem as the Allied soldiers detained in Stalag 31 under the guardianship of Oberfuhrer von Hausen and his officers.
The problems boil down to trust and power: who has it, and who does not. Who can manipulate it and who can undermine it. Cut off from the leadership in Berlin, assigned to a yearlong posting at this backwater Stalag for what amounts to guard duty, Von Hausen does his best to make the most of the hand the Reich has dealt him, accepting the post because he believes this appointment is the best thing for his beautiful, troubled Jenny-wren. He never counted on Clara, or the men he was assigned to guard, burrowing beneath his skin in ways that threaten his command at every turn.
Sturmbahnfuhrer Anton Stetcher may, undoubtedly, be the greatest threat of all.
The men behind the barbed wire, strong men, brave men, surely do not deserve to die for their misfortunes…if only they would learn to follow orders.
If only this damned war would end and they could all go home alive.
Dusty dropped to his knees near enough to Jennifer to pat her face and tilt her head to allow her unimpeded breathing. One of the guards took exception to his efforts and struck him, but as he fell back on his ass, he saw that his efforts were helpful. Jennifer gasped, choked, and coughed her way to consciousness. Relieved that Skip had not killed her, but knowing the attempt itself could guarantee his death, Dusty rubbed his aching shoulder and watched the guards wrestle with Skip as they tried to tie his hands behind him.
Though the blow dazed him, Skip continued to struggle to reach the woman, his fury blinding him to the steep price he would pay, despite his failure to kill her. “Whore!” he screamed. Unable to get closer, unable to get free of the guards who held him, or those who gathered around Jennifer, he spat at her in frustration and rage.
Dusty’s head turned when the door opened again and a second set of footsteps, heavier than Jennifer’s, barreled down the wooden steps. von Hausen’s revolver was drawn and cocked and Dusty expected him to use it. Intending to throw himself in harm’s way, to protect Skip, Dusty struggled to his feet. One shot did ring out, and though the gun was pointed in Skip’s direction, the bullet passed harmlessly over his head, hitting no one. A warning shot only. Next time, Skip would not be so lucky.
“No…Hans…please…it is my fault…” croaked Jennifer as she realized through the haze what had happened and why.
Hans reached the foot of the steps and stopped, his pistol still aimed at the Australian. The guards had cleared away and he now had a clear shot if he chose to take it, a shot he could not miss. His finger trembled upon the trigger.
“Please, Hans. If you ever felt anything for me, I beg you. Hansy…please!”
He paused, hesitated, his resolve softened when he heard her use his pet name for the first time in months. He could not remember the last time she had used it. In his heart, however, he knew the usage was a trick, a way to manipulate him into giving her what she wanted, regardless of the effect to their marriage. His jaw clenched and the gun, which had begun to lower, came back up, this time turning ever so slightly in Jennifer’s direction. Then, unexpectedly, he relaxed at the noises behind him, the sound of two other sets of footfalls on the wooden veranda. Clara and Mila.
“Hans!” Clara shouted, not considering at that moment that perhaps she should use his rank or title or something other than his name in front of his wife and the soldiers. Lives were at stake and she had to do her part to save them. All of them. He looked at her. Oblivious to anything then except her hypnotic green eyes, and then lower, to the protective arms she had wrapped around his child.
Hans squeezed the trigger. A cloud of dust hovered in the air above where the bullet was now embedded in the earth. His desire not to subject his child to the gruesome execution of a prisoner, and possibly her mother, stayed him from action more than anything else. There was a collective sigh of relief when he replaced his pistol in its fine leather holster and went to his wife’s side. He bent down to see if she was well. Despite that he had just spared, her life, and for the moment Skip’s, all Jennifer could see was the gun pointed at her by that man in that uniform and she recoiled from his touch. She believed it had been Clara who had prevented the killing, not her own efforts or some personal decision of her husband’s; in truth, it had been Mila’s presence that had stopped him. Her fury at Clara’s interference in her life only fueled her desire to escape Hans’ touch.
Hans saw it all in her eyes. Every fear, every rejection, every touch of blame. Glaring at Jennifer, he hissed in frustration, “This is your doing. Are you happy now?” Snarling with hurt, he resisted striking her and instead struck Skip hard across the face with the back of his hand, a blow that would have knocked Skip to the ground if the soldiers had not been holding him. “Take him to my office. I will deal with him there.”
He looked again at his wife, who still lay upon the ground and was now being hugged by their child, both reassuring one another that everything would be alright. Jennifer was murmuring that she had tripped and fallen, nothing more, a likelihood due to her drinking, though she had not had much to drink yet this morning. Hans wanted to kneel with them, offer his own words of love and comfort as he hugged them both…
…and then he saw Clara.
He growled and turned on to follow Skip and the guards to his office to mete out Skip’s punishment and hopefully still make it to the required luncheon on time. He was full of anger, resentment, and passion. But passion for who, he could not say.
On the practice field, Bhríd was trying to teach Muir to feel an opponent’s advance when he could not see it. A difficult feat for someone who was not Elyri, but the prince was, as usual, proving to be more proficient than his Elyri teacher expected. Perhaps his constant exposure to Elyri had sharpened the boy’s natural intuition. A small flame of pride flickered within Kavan but he extinguished it quickly. Muir could have been his son for all of the pride he took in the prince’s accomplishments.
Vision blurring, the bard lost sight of the men on the field and the castle walls beyond. Instead of struggling against the vision he knew was coming, he relaxed into it, hoping to avoid the worst of the usual nausea and dizziness that came with them. Two in such rapid succession was rare and thus important.
This time he Saw Muir standing at the foot of a cliff, in a musty cavern, a sword raised above his head as though he was preparing to drive it into an unmoving opponent at his feet. Kavan could hear Prince Wilred crying again, and somewhere far off he could hear Caol arguing with someone. Several paces to Prince Muir’s left, a body lay face down amidst a scatter of jagged boulders and stones. The form was regally dressed, though dirty, but from this distance, it was unrecognizable. Though Kavan strained to push the Sight towards the figure, the vision would not allow itself to be molded. He could see only what it allowed. Within the vision, there came a loud crashing of falling rocks and Kavan’s view went dark.
Groaning, he pushed himself off the ground, knowing better than to ask how he had come to be face down in the grass. The Sight did strange things to him sometimes, and he long ago stopped trying to understand it. Prince Muir and Bhríd ceased their practice and rushed to him; the prince was already there helping him up with concern on his young face.
“What is it, Lord Cliáth?” the prince asked. “Are you well?” He worried more for his tutor since his mother’s death. He could not bear to lose Kavan as he had lost her.
“I am. It is nothing that should concern you, my prince…”
Bhríd squatted beside him and placed a hand upon his kinsman’s shoulder. “llánec?”
It was a term the prince had heard before, and he knew what it meant. Brow knit in worry, he knelt and asked, “What did you see? What has happened?”
“I…” Kavan shook his head. “It is something that will happen…or could happen, but it was not clear enough to say any more about what it means.” He raised a hand to stop the boy’s questions. “The Sight is not always obvious, my prince. Often its images are cryptic. I can know what it wants me to see and no more, and right now, what I have Seen makes very little sense.”
The boy looked up abruptly, staring into the dwindling
fire on the hearth but not truly seeing it. What he did see,
what he sensed, were things he did not quite comprehend.
Sorrow. Chaos. Hope. As surely as he knew his own name, he
was certain that Enesfel’s great King was dead and that
somewhere another had been born. Twins had been born, but he
knew not where, or how he knew this to be true. A word came
to mind, or a name perhaps, Arlan, but it belonged to no one
he knew and held no meaning for him. It was only a word, a
word connected to the images and impressions he had been
shown, but he had no idea what any of it meant. Bewildered,
he rose to his feet and went to the window. Little could be
seen through the swirling snow so he watched the flakes fall
instead. It was the distraction of darkness that he wanted
most to help clear his head.
Pushing his white hair back from his eyes, he pondered the connection between the death and the births, certain there was one. He was equally certain that what he had witnessed were actual events, not flashes of fancy and imagination. Glancing at the staircase behind him, he considered waking his family, but he was still a child, unproven and untrained in Elyri ways, and he doubted that anyone would believe him. Only Ártur would, and thus it would be best, he decided, to await his cousin’s return home. Ártur would have news from Rhidam, if there was any, and he would be able to prove the truth…and perhaps even explain it.
Kavan wanted that proof himself.
With a small shrug of resignation, he settled again upon the plush woven rug and tried unsuccessfully to refocus on his book. Too many unsettling things had happened to him in the last three days; this was only the latest oddity to plague him. Based on what he knew of his people, he presumed that the Elyri gifts were awakening within him, as they did in all of his kind. But he knew how his uncle frowned upon such gifts, and it made him wary of speaking up, of revealing himself to them, or anyone. He was afraid of their rejection. Afraid of the power.
Looking down into the palm of his white hand, he watched with fascination as a small flame sprang to life there, glimmering and flickering as a candle but burning nothing.
From the my earliest memories of creating picture books designed to
bring stories I read or saw on television to a more satsifactory
end, storytelling has been my primary passion for as long as I can
recall. Whether doing so through theatre, dance, music or
words, expressing the inner self, or the world as perceive it, has
been my compulsion.
Who doesn't watch a good movie, or read a good book, and imagine 'what if' or 'if only'?
After a lifetime of living all over the United States, I've made my home in the Northern California county of Lake with a variety of furbabies who keep me on the run. In addition to writing, I'm a movie and music lover, and a proponent of continued education throughout one's life.
Suspicion's Gate is my third publication.