Mandor in the Water
The Mandors were a dying clan. The plague had stolen so many souls in its invisible grip that their only hope lay across the abysmal Thrushrock river with a neighboring tribe that was stubborn as it was select. The Chartans would never allow the Mandors to breed with their own. They were proud of their bloodlines near a point of madness, and hence the Mandors were driven to stealing Chartan daughters to prevent annihilation.
The stronger warriors were sent out one at a time to a grim passage of rite, testing their stealth to take desirable young women for the good of the clan. But the Chartans were not a simpering people and they soon met their rivals with resistance. Mandors were killed trespassing on Chartan land; Chartans met their end by blows meant to disable; and not a moon's wane went by when some skirmish did not erupt between the dying breed of warriors and the conceited folk who withheld their deliverance.
Olderic was a Mandor. As son of one of the most revered elders in the clan, he had been thoroughly trained in the art of war. His sword, ever a solid extension of his arm, had taken the lives of hundreds of rivals, and yet it was not his own victims that haunted him during sleepless nights when he tossed and turned beneath his pelts. In his mind's eye he could still see the misshapen bodies that had fallen victim to the mysterious plague; a disease whose death toll equaled more in a single day than all his years of battle. The plague did not distinguish between male and female, young and old, slave and master. It swept through their town like a divine scourge, leaving only the strongest of them alive. But even the strongest would eventually be taken by age or times of war, and if heirs could not be had, the Mandors would cease to exist.
He waited in the Thrushrock, limbs cold and stiff, keeping his nose just above the water level so he had no need to hold his breath. He was aware of how long he could keep still in the calm of the icy river before need would drive him to move. His quarry would arrive soon. She always came to the river after filling her basket at the market.
He'd seen her before, more often than he could admit to anyone. He would watch her during idle moments of solitude in the lake that was neither Mandor nor Chartan. And when at last his father gave the order that he was to cross the neutral river to find a woman to wed, there was no hesitation in the footsteps that took him to the dark waters.
She was a willowy thing. Too small according to Mandor standards, but strong in purpose and hardened by what she was made to endure. When she washed her arms and legs in the frigid water, Olderic was strangely incensed by the purple bruises that made her plight manifest. The markings on her skin were not from ungentle invaders or those of his clan, but inflicted by the feeble tyrants who called her family; those who denied her the protection of a Mandor husband and then beat her for trifles. His hands clenched. Blind rage had taken over him like a fever. He would be back for her.
That morning he killed them. He sliced through the father that beat her and the mother who sat by with her strong cider and watched. Blood coated the surface of chairs and floor when he was finished. The stench of death hung heavy over the once inhabited hut. Her father's hands would strike no more. Olderic had seen to that when he removed them. The rhythm of his heart barely elevated as he spent a last glance at the carnage he'd wrought.
A vision of her freckled face danced before his eyes. For the first time he felt fear control him. It forced him to run—run to the river and wash himself of the blood before she saw and knew what he'd done. He stopped halfway through his frenzied swim to Mandor land. She would be there soon. If he went on in his cowardly purpose, she would be missed.
Reacquainting himself with his shield of calm, Olderic settled back into the water and waited.
When she came, and her uncovered feet took her quickly over the treacherous rocks of the shore, Olderic was overcome with impatience and he abandoned all stealth.
He stalked forward, a powerful form of menace and brute strength. The girl turned her head to see him rise from the water like a monster of nightmarish proportions. She did not balk or flee, but stood staring at him blank-faced. Curious she was, and no more fearful of him than a doe with her buck.
"You are a Mandor," she stated, one foot still poised before the other as she gripped a pink shell she'd picked off the ground.
He nodded with a face grim as death.
"And you have come to take me?"
He stood. He stared. It was not a question that begged an answer.
"What is your name?" His voice was a command by habit, but she was not unsettled.
"I would rather have a new one."
He dared two fingers to collect a pinch of her golden brown hair and slide through the soft threads until they fell back over her ear. "Fianait," he said.
She slipped her hand into his; her tiny, fragile hand, soft from the oats she mixed, into his warrior grip; calloused and broken from battle.
It was then that his heart raced, that his stomach plummeted in the throes of doubt. His chest expanded from the thrill. The heat of battle did not move him. Death did not move him. But this willing daughter of water and wind sent a sword straight to his heart. At that moment, she could have asked him to fall on his weapon and he would have done it without hesitation.
She did not.
He looked down at her soft doe's eyes while his own filled with a new and strange thing.
"Will you hold tightly to my shoulders as we cross?" he pleaded.
"Will I reach?"
Her grey eyes were wide with wondering. He did not comprehend her question.
"They're so large," she whispered in awe, and he saw that she meant his shoulders.
"My neck then."
She nodded her consent.
As he dipped back into Thrushrock with his treasure obediently clinging to his neck, he felt her shift to glance behind her shoulder.
"They cannot hurt you anymore."
As if in denial of his promise, a scream echoed what had once been her name across the lake. "You were to be mine! Your parents… he's killed them! You were to be mine!!" The boy screamed her old name once more.
Her lips tickled his ear and she whispered, "Go."
And he carried her across the river.
I have learned something about myself. Even if I sit down determined to write a grisly story about plagues and carnage, inevitably there will be a romance snuck in. It seems I am incapable of writing a story devoid of couples. I am not apologizing. Just making you aware. :P
This idea may have come to me while being subjected to a Taylor Swift song on a homeward drive. It doesn't make any sense, but somehow my brain turned it into this.
Contest: maranwetelrunya dot wordpress dot com/weekly-writing-challenge. Image: flickr dot com/photos/tomhoops/3001880225/.
Fun tidbits of info; I totally made the clan names up. I didn't want to pick anything historical, otherwise I would have researched diligently for the entire week in order to remain accurate and nothing would have been written. Fianait (FYAN-ait) is Old Irish for "deer" and I thought it suited my deer-stuck-in-headlights character. Although I think she's more hardy that she seems... Oh, and Olderic... I don't remember what it means but I just liked the name.