Wine



As I sit here, the darkness creeps up and brushes up against my eyelids, dragging them down, whirling my head, my memories and my thoughts into mangled mess of complexity that resolves into dreams from which I fear that I shall never escape. I force myself to concentrate, despite the pressure of exhaustion, fear and starvation that threatens to overwhelm me in an overwhelming tide. I have, I tell myself, made it thus far, just a few more hours and it will all be over. Dawn will come and the warm rays of the sullen red sun will warm me, feed me, drive the cold exhaustion away. I will live again. As I think this the dark tide of exhaustion washes over me, my eyes close and I feel the irresistible drag of the formless night overwhelm me and despite all my best endeavours, I feel myself falling into the blackness of oblivion and I realize that I have lost the battle, nothing can save me from the entombing darkness, the loss of consciousness and the gravity well of exhaustion and it is with a certain relief that I give up, loose my grip on reality and sink away from everything that I am, everything I believe, everything I hold dear. Nerveless, I let go and sinking into eternity my last thoughts are of you.

Something crackles, softly far out in the darkness. Not threatening, just sound, unemotional, just enough to draw my attention away from my dreams of darkness. The crackling stops and I begin to drift downwards into darkness again, into dark creatures welcoming arms. Peace descends again and I turn toward the slow creeping tide of nothing that was slowly engulfing me before the noise. I am without will, without ego, without desire and, despite the fact that I know that engulfment is death and dissolution, I wait patiently. A lamb to the slaughter, almost welcoming the end of all. Then there is another sharp crackle and a firm pressure behind my ear starts to make itself felt. I try to brush away the distraction, but the pressure is there, unmoving, unyielding, irritating. It is summoning me away from the darkness and I experience a vague irritation.

"Go away." I mutter and try to move away from the pressure which merely increases the noise and doesn't relieve the pressure.

"Fuck off." Irritation is now turning to anger. Don't they know I want to die? I don't want to face any more reality? Life is a seriously overrated occupation.

The pressure on my ear increases and a soft crooning noise starts. A humming, a mumbling hum, a humbling mum. My rage starts at the spoonerism, that sort of stuff got me into the mess I am trying to escape. Don't I learn anything from my stupid mind bending idiot mistakes. I growl deep in my chest. I feel the rumbling growl deep in my body and it feels good. It rides on the rage horse that has been tethered too long in my soul, I feel muscles I had consigned to death and dissolution moving in my body, the rush of blood in my ears and the rush of air in my lungs. This too feels good. Then a primordial scream splits the air, I find myself sitting upright, head thrown back with the last whispers of the howl leaping from my throat and echoing against unseen hard surfaces. Adrenalin forces me to my feet, and I swivel looking for something or someone to punish, to kill, to rend limb from limb. This state of being cannot be sustained long and my body so long denied food to fuel it and take it into battle, into contestation suddenly starts sending empty signals to my brain and to my muscles which almost immediately start to shake and to lose power. I feel myself slumping to my knees. The blackness starts to return, rushing in to regain its lost prey, but I am awake and in a rage, not groveling anymore.

Food, I need food and water. My mind is hammering away again not giving up, demanding to live, to fight, to take vengeance. Again thoughts of you dominate my thinking.

"Impressive."

The voice comes from my left in the darkness.

"I thought you had given up. Turned all mushy on us. Waiting for death. So very romantic. So very pathetic."

I swivel fast and hard.

"Who are you?"

"Right now? A provider of food, nourishment. The food and nourishment don't come free of course." The voice seems disembodied, remote from the world of reality. I stare into the darkness and see nothing, no movement, no shape, just darkness.

A heavy sack bounces to a halt at my feet.

"Food. Eat. Eat and listen."

I fall to my knees, partially from exhaustion but mainly from hunger, mainly just to get at the promised food. Hard bread, cheese, dried meat, a flask of water. I eat ravenously and I listen.

Silence falls long before the food is gone and I finish the food in silence and alone. I don't hear the speaker leave, I see no movement. Nothing. One moment there is a voice, then silence and I know that I am once again alone.

The food has energised me and I sling the now empty food sack over my shoulder and walk cautiously toward the light I can see in the distance and out into the world, still thinking of you.

It is market day. Carts rumble across the bridge, get inspected by a couple of bored guards and then pass on. I watch the process carefully and then with my most charming, alluring smile, I hitch a lift with the most ramshackle, disreputable  cart I can find. The driver is a hard bargainer and the price of riding on his cart is almost beyond belief, but beggars cannot be choosers so I pay up and we rumble up to the gate. To give him his due the driver does a magnificent job of distracting the guards whom he seems to know by name and reputation. Draped in one of his most foul noisome cloaks the guards scarcely give me a second glance and soon I am inside the keep undetected. I slide off the cart before the driver can think of another reason to charge me for "services rendered" and I slip into a side alley fast and as quietly as I can and nearly fall over a grubby urchin sitting in the shadows who is only really visible when he smiles and his white teeth become visible.

He smiles quickly and conspiratorially.

"Don't stand there too long. Old Bob will be singing his head off to the guards about you as soon as he has dumped his rotten excuse for a cart. Give him his due, he does give his customers a lead before claiming his reward. Good business that."

"I'd like to discuss extending our agreement. Where does Old Bob stable his cart?"

"Now that information will cost you. The advice was free."

After a brief negotiation, the urchin reluctantly agrees to lead me to the stables where Old Bob was seeing to his horses. We arrived just in time to see him feeding his horses. As he emerged from the stable I throw the urchin at him and they go down in a pile, I stand on the urchins long hair and hold my sharp knife at Old Bobs throat.

"I have come to discuss the client confidentiality part of our agreement with you."
Old Bob looks at me without fear and with some interest.

"You had me completely fooled. And also little Trev there and that is an accomplishment. How can we assist you?"
Two minutes later I wipe my blade on the urchins hair, find Old Bobs purse, take his hat and leave them both to the rats.
I jiggle the purse that Old Bob had so desperately tried to hide until the loss of fingers became just too much for him. He was a more wealthy man than I had realised at first. Apparently his wealth came from smuggling humans at a price and then selling them to the guards. He made it easy by getting Trev to lead his customers back to the stables for easy access by the guards.
I find a luxurious house with an open door and persuade a maid to take me up to the main bedroom. She helps me appropriate some of the masters more plain clothing in the rich cupboards. She is a happy, sensuous and wicked woman who is more than happy to hide me in her room and indulge me in my lusts until darkness comes.

Having spent a sweaty afternoon with her, I am reluctant to kill her so I persuade her to take some of Old Bobs coin and head out of the town without looking back. She doesn’t need much persuading and kissing me on the mouth she slips out into the darkness and out of the town using a secret exit known to the servants of the town. She tries to get me to come with her but I was still thinking of you and so I sent her on her way with a promise to look for her when my purpose was fulfilled.

I head to a small but comfortable in near the gates and negotiate the rental of a room overlooking the town square with a good view of the gallows. I sit in the front room looking out at the passing crowds. Not long after there is a commotion on the street and a squad of guards gallop past, out of the gates and down the road that the maid had taken.

I have just finished my meal and a glass of wine and am contemplating a second glass of wine when the guard return from their expedition with the maid trussed up and laying across the back of one of the horses. From the shouted questions and comments it appears that she had killed a carter and his son, stolen his money and then fled. They knew it was her, because she had left the carters bloodied clothing under her bed before fleeing. The guards also promise a good hanging in the morning. I am glad I have a front seat for tomorrow and wonder if I can persuade some plump woman to join me to watch the hanging. I decide not to as this would be the first opportunity to see you again after so long and I am reluctant to introduce any distraction no matter how pleasant that distraction might be.

In the morning the inn keeper is at my door as soon as the hanging is confirmed and demanding more money from me for the hire of the room or eviction for the day. His point is that he can make a large profit for just half a day as it has a very good view of the gallows. I don't haggle, hand over some more of Old Bobs money and order a box of food and a flagon of wine for refreshment for the days festivities. I spend much of the morning sharpening my knife and remembering you. How the light fell on your hair, on your face. How your laughter lit up the dullest of rooms and how much I love you.

The square starts to fill up and I am becoming restive. My food and wine hasn’t arrived and it would be a poor show not to be able to toast the maid as she dances on the end of the hangmans rope. The bookies touts are already offering odds on how long she will survive. Rumour has it that the hangman is betting on a long dance, so he will not kick her off and break her neck but lower her gently off the cart and ensure that she dances amusingly. Having seen her with no clothes, I know that she is plump and that will shorten her dance so I take a bet on a medium length dance hoping that she dances long enough to be entertaining but not so long as to become tedious. Equally I will get better odds for a shorter dance.

Suddenly there are cheers, jeers and applause and I go to window to watch a fiddler, playing a lively jig under the gallows and miming the hangmans dance. He is finally driven off by the guards, not before he has been pelted with rotten food, mud and a worthy collection of coins. It is at this time of distraction that my lunch hamper arrives catching me unawares and allowing the serving woman to see my unsheathed knife on the bed. She looks shocked and backs toward the door. Noting that she is wearing fairly revealing clothes with a deep décolletage, I assumed she is hoping to entertain me to her profit and also get a grandstand view of the hanging, so I smile soothingly and invite her in to join me in a glass of wine. It doesn’t take too much persuading to get her to settle next to me in the window seat and accept a glass of wine which she throws back without much ceremony.

We sat admiring the view both out of the window and down the front of her dress which, as I had suspected required little loosening and I soon had her moaning gently as I sucked on her exposed breasts.

I had just insinutated my hand up her skirt when the crowd started cheering and the hangmans cart entered the square with the maid half lying, half sitting against the rails of the cart. The guards had not been kind to her in extracting a confession, her face was a mess of bruises and welts. A few teeth appeared to be missing. From the damage to her clothing I guessed that the guards and had undoubtedly taken advantage of her lowly status and impending execution to take their pleasure with her. She had to helped into a standing position at the back of the cart and stood there, priest at one shoulder and hangman with noose in hand at the other. A silence then fell in the square as we waited for the great and good to arrive and I knew that you would leading them in colourful procession and that you would read the death warrant. My heart was hammering hard in my chest, I found difficulty breathing, my hands shook and I could not sit still.

The growing noise of cheering informed me that you were on your way and I stood to look out the window. The serving woman who had been leaning against me collapsed on the floor, her mouth foaming slightly and I realized that she had been poisoned by the wine sent to me. Someone wants me dead. The question is was it just plain felony or did they know or suspect something? The lack of intrusion from the innkeeper indicated it was his small side business and I promise myself I would take my vengeance at another time.

I rush back to the window and look out in time to see you enter the square and, as I expect you will be passing directly under my window, I fling myself across the room, grab my knife and, as you pass under the window, leap out onto your shoulders, plunge my knife into your beloved chest, again and again and again, blood spurts, people scream, the horse rears and bucks. In the huge fracas no one can touch me, no one can take a chance on hitting you, I swing the horse around and make for the gate. It is at this moment that some soldier takes a chance, and looses a crossbow bolt at the horse piercing the its chest and impaling itself in the wildly beating heart. The horse stumbles and you and I fall together to the ground and end up in a close embrace much like those that we indulged in when we were just children growing up in the palace and you slipped into my bed chamber when all were asleep and made the two backed beast with abandon. Then when we were sated you would slip out and back to your bed chamber. But one night we were caught. I was lying wide open to you, as you rutted and thrashed on my body. You were chastised and forgiven but I was exiled. You inherited the kingdom and I got nothing but revulsion. I lived by my wits, joining mercenary armies, roving the world, nursing my rage and thinking only of you. I am the oldest. I should have reigned not you, but you were forgiven, kept, loved. I was defamed and exiled and all of that because I am a woman.