‘They are all monsters. There is not a single one that will keep you on a happy pill. I mean have you met him? He has gone to every war with his father’s army since he was seventeen. He looks as rugged as he feels. You do know the things warriors do in their camps right? Unforgivable sins. Am telling you even that sweet farm boy of yours has his flaws.’ Complained Jane. Vashti’s older sister.
‘Jane c’mon, you are getting married in what? One season? Feminism will grow roots in about two more centuries, father will require that you get married. You heard father, feminism involves economic equality. Meaning you will need your husband Richard, to fund your trips.’
‘Whatever! All the same I will be a queen, in a much bigger castle than this rat hole of a castle. You do know Richard’s kingdom has the best tailors right? I can get all my ideas down in fabric. Economic equality!’
Jane’s sister, Vashti, was the last of the three daughters of King Jeremy. Jane the second daughter.
Her first sister had married the prince of the kingdom down south, Racostar.She was her closest friend in her family. Too maternal even for a big sister. Mothering her sisters and friends. She dreamt of having little girls to play with and a happy little family. It must have been a retaliation for growing up in such a money hungry family. A need to have a happier family than the one she was born in.With a mother too concerned for wealth, she had been barely concerned with the emotional farewell of her family. Their father was aging fast since the death of their mother. In a couple of years, his body would be so sucked up, he would start feeling like a memory to the people around him. Knowing his next phase was death, he arranged profitable suitors for his first two daughters to choose from and left a will for his eldest son, William, to be his heir.
Vashti was the last of his four children. Three of each gender. She was only eighteen years old. He wed his daughters at twenty two, at his wife’s persuasion. Not the usual twenty, when the suitors started streaming in.Vashti had a number of years to grow into readiness. Her father was concerned for her, he knew he wouldn’t be there to give her away.
Every time her father teased her on marriage, she would cast her eyes down as if she was in confession. Her father had never understood the coincidence.
Only Jane did. Actually didn’t. It was the farm boy who Vashti had been sneaking around with, in the name of love. It made Vashti guilty, knowing her father would never approve of it.
Jane theorized that being a last child, Vashti was protected from all the hard methods of growing up their parents had experimented on them. She was lavished in clothes and trips. Things that had been limited for her and the other older siblings. Their parents often dismissed servants so they could learn responsibility, punished them by limiting their shopping and gifts and applying all the hogwash theories that only invoked the urge to leave home for better lives. The first two girls were marrying rich men. Vashti, however, had none of those hardships of life. She was well pampered, all she needed in life was feelings of bliss, not considering the conditions that maintained it.Wealth.She genuinely valued pure feelings of admiration and adoration more than wealth. She’d never had to. Jane concluded that by the time her parents were raising Vashti, they were too tired to try any wits on her.
Vashti had met James the farm boy on one of her fancied walks in the garden. One time, when they were a little more comfortable in their unorthodox affair, they had snuck into Vashti’s room where they were almost caught by the guard on his usual routine check. Finding the door unlocked, he’d walked in and inspected it, except under the bed where they had hidden. No amount of persuasion could reconcile James to sneaking back again.
On this day, talking to her sister Jane, all she could do was look out the window. The rains had been pouring all day like heaven’s artillery was let out. Staring at the dimmed forest far ahead.
It was dark and dreary with the rain, the edge of the forest was blurred out in broad daylight.
Her sister combed her hair as they debated on why Jane needed her marriage to Richard, rumors of the kingdom she was to be married for. She was half tuned to that and more focused on staring out her window.
Her eyes were cast far into the forest all afternoon trying to make out the shadows with the diminishing daylight. Her sister soon fell asleep on her bed.
She focused her gaze more when she saw a splash of colors moving up, down and sideways. Like a painters brush on canvas. Disappearing into the tress and reappearing. Quickly dismissing it as sleepiness. Sleep is as infectious as yawning, she assumed. Maybe her eyes were weakening with sleep.
She tapped her sister’s back to get a second opinion on what she was seeing, without batting an eyelid, or angling her head, Jane growled and went back to sleep. She was now assuming it was probably the wind hurling around things.
The freights were now standing a step apart engaging in what seemed to be an argument. The larger freight disappeared in a flash of color as the other was motionless on the ground. She was now watching with her whole body. This was no wind.
She almost jumped out of her skin when she had a loud knock. James was standing there drenched to his boots in water and face in blood. He was leaning on the door side.
‘Oh my…James! What happened?’ Her sister exclaimed now sitting up in shock in bed.
They dragged James to the bed. He couldn’t speak a word. His voice was like wind in a keyhole. His eyes narrow with exhaustion.
He could however make out the figures of them at the door sealing a deal as Jane rushed out. Jane had promised Vashti she’d tell the servants concerned it was a bad time of the month for Vashti, till they figure out poor James’ situation in private.
James was now looking at her not with the same anxious look he always had. Or the exhaustion he had banging on the door. He had a vicious look. An austere expression. It didn’t frighten her. She had never seen anyone so helpless with such fight in his face. Not even the soldiers who returned from war in care at the hospital.
The most astonishing must have been the deep cut he had on his chest when she removed his shirt. The shirt was clinging to his chest with the blood. She ran her fingers on it as she bandaged and cleaned him, as if to confirm her eyes weren’t blurry. He was watching her tightening his jaws and his eyes still. Waiting for the question for him to explain what had happened. She didn’t. That was one of the reason he loved her, she was a gentle spirit. She could possibly love the devil with such gentleness and bring out the good in him.
The air was now dark outside. She stared outside occasionally to finish her story of the flash of colors.
‘Thank you, Vashti. You are the best of hosts’ he said after licking the last of his dinner.
She smiled at him with a blink.
Jane had brought them two bowls of food, disguised, and covered in clean laundry.
‘So what was that? James, you almost killed me with all that blood on you’
He didn’t speak a word.
She narrowed her stare at him. He sure was acting strange that evening.
He smiled. Even differently. The certainty on his face of courage was unmistakable just as it was new. She was enjoying learning this new face. Very different from the timid one.
‘Can I start with a story?’ he finally spoke up. ‘It will make better sense afterwards. Centuries ago there lived a tribe in the middle of the jungle. They lived harmoniously with the jaguars, tigers and all the other creatures of the wild. They ruled the jungle and kept the balance of life. Their houses were built of the rare strong oak trees. They stalked their store with food to last all winter. Rabbits. They were a kind of creature too.’
‘What do you mean? Like creatures in the folklores?
‘Exactly. They fed on blood. Years of human invasion into their side of the ocean had tamed them to feed on animal blood. Originally they fed on the outcasts, rebels, criminals and their enemies. With the invasion of humans into their land, they slowly adapted to animal blood, to keep the peace as disguised humans. Problem was, the humans were invading the jungle too. Selfishly hunting animals and cutting down even the oldest of plants. The balance of life was out of balance. The animals escaped far away deeper into the jungle, even to other forests. The blood feeding people were angry with the invasion. So they started killing and feeding on their enemies. No one knew why no one ever came back from the jungle while out on a hunt. The blood suckers finished them all. Until one day, one human who escaped a blood feast, reported of his sightings back in his village.
’I shot him with a dozen arrows and he still came at me, I would have been dead had I not fallen off the cliff into the river and swam here.They are beasts, more savage than a bear.’
So they relentlessly searched for ways to retaliate for years. After eight years, they had found a way to finish the blood hounds and restarted their invasion with vengeance. This time they were armed with both artillery and skill. They secured the edges of the jungle with spiked oak spears dug into the ground. So they staged an invasion and waited for them to run into the spears like blind rats. Shooting arrows of fire into the forest, giving the hounds no choice but to run outside the forest. They had discovered a secret to finish them off and build a kingdom in the new found land. The oak tree killed the hounds, roasting them from the inside like burning meat. Some families however, fled from the other side of the forest. Some of them blended with the humans while others stubbornly protected their heritage and had found home in faraway lands.’
He now looked at her .Pausing for a moment to choose his next words prudently.
‘Half of my family blended. The rest found another untouched forest to restart their lives. Still looking into her eyes.
She was still, listening to him. Unmoved by the darkness just uncovered. Did she know? Or does darkness not scare her?
‘Hahaha Hahaha right, so you are a blood hound? I see. You got me.I did not anticipate that. Quiet the story teller huh’
That was not a compliment to him. He paused for a moment, contemplating his next actions. Then quickly tore away the bandage on his chest.
‘Vashti, how would you explain this?’ It was clean and healed.
She looked keenly, not keen to buy his story so fast.
‘My dear, ‘he lifted her and flashed to the opposite side of the room then put her down.
‘Oh my gosh, what the…what was that?’
He took her back to the other side in the same flash.
‘What treachery that? ‘Wait a minute, where were you in the afternoon, while it rained?’ holding her head to physically stop the spinning.
‘I had to see to an uncle.’
Looking up the ceiling ‘We are not to be intimate with humans.Traditionally,we, we don’t get intimate with…you know,non blood people. It feels a little awkward to say “humans”. So we keep a neat tight family association. The elders would rather have you marry your cousin than a ……….. human’
‘Immortals’ she interrupted, ’the people who do not die. I am still wrapping my head around that. It was all forklore.My grandmother used to tell us a thousand stories of the ancient people who were immortals. Their strength, speed and here is one, immortal.’
‘I cannot be with you Vashti, was will both be banished. Unless you become one of us. My mother sought my uncle’s advice, who is strongly against staining the family line.
‘I had to fight him to come here.I came here to ask for your hand in marriage, Vashti, marry me.I will stake myself before I let my centuries’ old practices run my life.’
He was now sitting across her, on the bed, legs crossed, with the ring in his left hand. His right hand grabbed her right hand. His new vicious look with intense passion, like he would snatch her out of that room before she even spoke the next word and leave town the same night. He was prepared to travel for days on end far from his delinquent family. He couldn’t bring himself to turning sweet Vashti into a blood hound. To him, blending meant full blending. He would protect her with his last eternal breath. Not that that made a difference, he’d still protect her nonetheless.
All she could think of was her sister’s words that afternoon in her room, from her misguided perceptions.’Monsters,’which she whispered
‘They are all monsters’
Her brows knitted in a frown, not scared.She was still holding his hand, a centuries’ old hand she thought. It’s as if she was waiting for reality to dawn, wake up from a lucid dream, or for a decision to be forced on her. What was the rational way to think in this situation anyway?
He smiled, slyly, cupping his hands on hers.