Saturday, August 25, 2018

'Jewel'--a story by TAS


Needin’s easy most of the time. Wantin’s lyin’ awake at night and worryin’ yourself sick for no good reason. That’s what Daddy Bob told me once. You can have your needs all figured out and still not know what it is you really want. And that’s where you get into trouble, moonin’ after things you can’t have, confusin’ ‘em with what you need.
Guess all I ever wanted was to be loved. That’s what I thought back when I was real little, anyway. They said I was a pretty girl, all them men who kept coming and going in and out of Mama’s place. She never could hang on to any one of ‘em for very long, but they always seemed to like me well enough, even if things didn’t work out with her. S’pose that’s why she started getting jealous about the time I turned 12. Threw me out for good when I was 16. Said I was trying to steal her boyfriend even though I swore to her that nothing ever happened.
See, I’ve always been a curvy girl. Mean folks say I’m fat. But I ain’t. Not really. I’m more what you’d call ‘full-figured’—like one of them BBWs you see in the magazines—and there’s plenty of nice guys think that’s more’n sexy enough. I figure there ain’t no harm in being nice back, even if I know for sure they ain’t never gonna put their money where their mouths is at. Let’s face it, men’ve all got that one same thing on their minds no matter what comes out of their mouth. Like my boyfriend back in school. Always thought he was nice enough when he was sweet talkin’ me, trying to get me to put out. Yeah, real nice. Right up until he run out on me for some skinny blond bitch looked like she’d been put together with coat hangers and safety pins. At least the mean guys are honest.
“I like me a gal with some paddin’,” Daddy Bob’d say when things was good between us. “It’s like fuckin’ on a fancy sofa.” That was about as romantic as D.B. ever got. Old coot was all wiry and tough like some bantam rooster don’t know when to quit. Always smelled like he’d been working outside in the sun, kinda sweaty and stale. Never could look me in the face when we was doin’ it. Never would kiss me. Daddy wasn’t exactly what I’d call ‘nice,’ but most of the time he was OK for a river rat. Didn’t throw me out of bed for bein’ poor white trailer trash. Give me a job at the bar and a room upstairs after Mama’d put me out. Figured letting him have a poke every once in a while was only fair.
The fellows who come into the bar called me Jewel—I always liked that lots better than Julie Mae. They’d say ‘what’s a looker like you doin’ in a shithole like DB’s?’ and I’d just kinda shrug my shoulders. Truth is, I didn’t know myself. It got to be kind of a joke around the place ‘cause every time I’d shrug like that the top of my shirt’d pull open a ways and the mens ’d get ‘emselves a good solid peek at my nice big pillows. I knew when they was lookin’ at my chest ‘cause they’d tell me how pretty my eyes was. ‘Cept they never seemed to notice that the two are actually different colors: one’s blue and one’s green and the green one’s got some little gold freckle-sorta things in it. Mama said that was the sign of the devil in me, but the menfolk never seemed to mind.
The bar wasn’t much, just a rickety old shack with a even ricketier upstairs stacked on top of it and Daddy Bob’s trailer off to one side. Wonder the place didn’t slide off the levee and fall right into the river or burn down or come crashing in on top of people’s heads or get itself blown away in a twister. Floors were all warped up from every time the river come over the top of the levee. There wasn’t no ‘lectricity and no fancy air conditioning, just a noisy old gas genny in the back and some creaky ceiling fans hadn’t been oiled in an age. At night the fog’d roll in off the river like steam out of a kettle. It was always way too hot and stuffy and just plain miserable muggy and it was even worse when the May flies come out. You had to put blankets over the windows and sweep these great big ol’ piles of nasty brownish-green bugs that looked like sick-people shit out the front door every fifteen minutes, but you could still never stay ahead of ‘em.
Nobody ever asked too many questions about stuff that happened on Finn’s Levee. I guess the place was just too out of the way. If the law did come snoopin’ around once in a blue moon, it’d only be the sheriff lookin’ to get in on the card game Daddy Bob run in the back room after hours. And long as Daddy played it smart and stayed sober enough to let that fat old bastard win a hand every once in a while, things’d keep running smooth.
Some nights Daddy had me sit on his lap while he played. He liked showing me off to the other guys, like he was rubbing their noses in it and saying ‘Lookee here what I got, fellas! Bet you ain’t got nothin’ half this young and fresh waitin’ for your sorry asses back at home.’ Most of them men tried real hard not to look, but a few of ‘em’d stare straight at me like I was a big juicy piece of steak. Didn’t matter. I could tell they all had the same thing on their mind. Wasn’t long before Daddy Bob’d figured it out, too. I was good luck for him. All I had to do was unfasten a button or three to show off the top of my pillows and the pot’d be a couple hundred bucks before any of them fellas knew what’d hit ‘em. They’d start folding all over the place, Daddy’d rake in the pile and nobody ever said a word about it.
One day Daddy come back from a trip he took up to Keokuk. I was turning 18 and he brung me a present; this sparkly pair of danglies looked like they’d come from a fancy store.
“But... these ain’t earrings is they?” I wasn’t sure what they was at first.
“Course not!” He laughed like he was about to tell a dirty joke. “That’s not where they’s s’posed to go.” He told me to take off my shirt so’s he could put ‘em on me himself. They looked like little diamond waterfalls hanging off my teats.
“Damn girlie!” Daddy give my ass a swat. “You’re gonna make me rich!” Then he told me to get down on my knees so I could thank him good and proper for my present.
After that I’d be sitting there in one of them broad Stetson hats with my hair all the way down round my shoulders and my shirt a little more’n halfways open right when the game got started. Undo another button every once in a while, real slow and secret-like so nobody’d notice I was doing it. Then Daddy Bob’d whisper in my ear and tell me to ‘bring out the big guns,’ and I’d unbutton the last couple of buttons. Guys’d look up from their cards and I’d be right there all of a sudden with my pillows hanging all the ways out like it was nothing special. DB’d lean over and kiss ‘em for luck and you shoulda seen them mens’ jaws drop when he did. Nobody ever said nothin’ about it. Didn’t matter that it threw ‘em off their game. They was enjoyin’ the show too much to complain.
Daddy figured he needed something like that to give him an edge. Thing the old man hated more’n anything was losing at cards. Always got mean when he lost. Mean and dumb—and that was if he hadn’t been drinkin’. Throw in a bottle o’ Jack and he’d start making these wild bets that everybody knew he wasn’t good for, burn through his stake and start into betting anything that wasn’t tied down—pretty much anything come into his head—whatever it took to stay in the game. Poor son of a bitch’d go crazy like some cornered animal, all the while talking his mean-drunk trash about the other guys at the table, bragging about what a sweet piece of ass I was and how he could make me squeal when he was givin’ it to me.
Anyway, this one night there’s a fella I’d never seen before, sitting across the table, anteing up and taking his five from the dealer. Don’t know how he’d gotten in on the game, but there he was. Guess he knew one of the regulars, or maybe he just come in off the river road, waved some cash around and fast-talked his way into the back room. Called himself Jake. Smooth, good-looking fella. Might’ve been part Mexican or maybe a Indian. Had these deep dark poker-player’s eyes that took everything in and never gave nothin’ back. The way he looked at me was different—not like them horny older guys—Jake didn’t exactly stare, but he didn’t pretend not to either. I could feel his eyes lightin’ on me every time he swept ‘em ‘cross the table, sussing out the other players’ tells.
I kept wishing he’d hold still and take a good long look at me. Lost track of time just thinking about how much I wanted him to. It was like he had me hypnotized or something. I forgot everything else. Next thing I know Daddy Bob’s swatting me on the behind, telling me to get my fat ass off his lap and go fetch ‘im a bottle of Jack from out of his trailer. He was losing pretty bad. I figured it wouldn’t be long before he told me to bring out my not-so-secret weapons.
And when I finally did? Jake’s face never changed. Not one little bit. Didn’t twitch a muscle or raise an eyebrow. Nothin’. He just looked straight into my eyes and said “I’ll see you and raise another fifty.”
“Gotta be bluffin’!” Daddy Bob laughed, but it wasn’t because anything was funny. It was a ornery, low down, half-drunk kind of laugh, like the kind he’d come out with if he was getting ready to squash a bug. “I’ll see your fifty and raise you the same again. What you say to that, boy?”
Anybody with any sense had already folded a long time ago. I could see Daddy’s hand and it was a pretty good one. I just wasn’t sure he had that kind of cash to be playin’ with.
“Call it,” Jake said. “Let’s see what you got.”
They laid ‘em down and it was like somebody’d let the air out of a tire. I could practically feel Daddy Bob losing what was left of his control.
“Tough luck, old man.” Jake raked in the pile. “Wanna try again?”
“Hell yeah!” Daddy was looking around the room, real desperate-like. “I’ll bet you... these here sparklies hangin’ off my gal’s tits.”
“What’re you doin’?” I said. “You give them to me—”
“Shut up, and lay ‘em on the table. Do it now, girl.”
I took ‘em off, but I sure as hell wasn’t happy about it.
“I’d say they’re worth a good hundred a piece.” Jake tossed his money into the middle. Most of the other guys was sittin’ out the hand. Ante was too rich for a lot of ‘em and nobody liked playing when D.B. started betting the moon.
“Gimme two cards,” Daddy said.
“You sure you wanna do this?” Jake’s mouth hardly moved when he talked. “Them pretties look mighty fine on your girl there. Why you wanna go breakin’ her heart?”
“Mind your own damn business,” Daddy Bob practically spit across the table. “I call.”
“Have it your way, mister.” Jake put down his cards and I put my hand over my mouth so’s not to come out with a string o’ cuss words. Daddy come out with more’n enough for both of us.
“Like hell I’m lettin’ you walk outta here with them things. They’s worth a helluva lot more’n two hundred dollars. You and me’s gonna play till I win ‘em back. Set up another goddamned hand.”
“And what you got left to bet with, old timer?”
Daddy was breathing hard and sweating even harder. For a minute I thought he was gonna have himself a heart attack or something. “OK,” he said, “how ‘bout I bet you a good time with this little bitch right here? She goes with them sparklies anyhow. What you say?”
I was holding my breath. Couldn’t hardly believe what Daddy just done. It was bad enough that he gambled away my birthday present. Now he was gambling with my pussy—and I wanted the old coot to lose.
“Not sure that’s your bet to make,” Jake said. “What does the lady have to say about it?”
“She ain’t no lady and she’ll damn well do what she’s told.” Daddy Bob was almost shouting. “You playin’ or not?”
Jake didn’t say nothin’. Didn’t move a muscle. Just nodded ever so slightly.
“And what you bettin’, boy?” Daddy leaned towards him, real threat’nin’-like, “What you got’s worth this fine piece of ass? What’re you gonna—”
“All of it,” Jake said. “Bet you everything—and another thousand dollars on top of that.”
Daddy let out a long breath sounded like he’d just took a chill. He leaned over and I thought he was gonna kiss my pillows for luck like he usually done, but this time he kind of buried his head between ‘em till I thought he was gonna smother himself in there. Don’t know but what I might’ve thrown a wink in Jake’s direction, maybe run my tongue round the outside of my lips a couple times, just so he’d know whose side I was on.
Finally, Daddy Bob sat up and told the dealer to cut a new deck.
I held my breath, but I didn’t have to hold it very long. It was all over pretty quick once they turned them cards over.
“Aw hell no!” Daddy Bob cussed and banged on the table with his fist. “We ain’t done here!”
“Give it up, mister,” Jake said, real quiet-like. “Just admit you’re beat.”
“I’ll... I’ll bet you the bar!” Ain’t sure Daddy knew what he was saying, but there it was.
“And what’d I do with this worthless pile o’ kindling?” Jake said. “Hell! ‘Nother couple years the Corps of Engineers is gonna be up here fixin’ to bulldoze this old firetrap right off the top of the levee just like they’ve been doin’ places down the lower part of the river. No thanks. And besides,” (he looked me in the eye again) “already got everything I want.”
I liked this guy a lot. Kinda felt like I should’ve been sitting on his lap right about then seeing as how we was gonna be spending the night together.
“Tell you what,” Jake says to Daddy Bob, “I’ll give you a chance to win most of it back. One more hand, all in ‘cept for the girl and that pair o’ lavaliers. Everything else is on the table. What do you say?”
Course there was no way Daddy was gonna say no to that. Old coot nearly shit himself when he actually won the hand. But I was off his lap by then, coming round the table to start getting acquainted with Jake, and the two of us was out the door and halfway up the stairs together before anybody could say a word about it.
“You’re a Kentucky girl, aren’t you?” Jake stood in front of me, real close, just inside the door to my room.
“Uh huh. We come up from Paducah after my pa run out on us.”
“Figured,” Jake said. “Prettiest girls I ever seen was from Kentucky.” He helped me take off my shirt, and I helped take off his. “Ever think about goin’ back there?”
“Not really,” I said. “A place is a place.”
“Mm.” He kissed me. I mean a real kiss, slow and gentle and sweet. Nobody’d ever kissed me like that before. Didn’t take long before we was both using our tongues, and the deeper we went the tighter we hugged each other. I liked the feel of his bare skin against mine. I liked the way he smelled, all clean and spicy like a breeze through an orange grove down south, and kinda warm, too, like he was maybe just a little excited. I couldn’t get close enough to that.
Jake’s hands was cool and steady. Nothing like the other guys I’d been with, all nervous and weak-like. When he moved ‘em across my chest, I could practically feel a fireball shooting straight up from my coochie, burning up everything in between. My sexy places was starting to sing like a church choir got a extra helpin’ of the Holy Spirit on a Sunday mornin’.
“You ready, honey?” He laid me down on the bed. I was gonna turn over and give him my back side like I always done for D.B. but Jake said “No, baby. I want to look at you while we’re makin’ love. I want to see them pretty eyes of yours go all wide and sparkly, maybe see if the blue one starts glowin’as bright as the green one.”
“You caught that?”
“First thing I noticed about you,” he said, “and, gotta tell you the truth here, honey, just a little secret ‘tween you and me; I could see the old man’s cards reflected in them eyes of yours. That’s how I could beat him every single time.”
“But you lost that last hand—”
“Sure I did. But it’s like I said, already had everything I come for.”
Jake leaned down and kissed me, real long and serious till I thought I was gonna explode from wanting him so much. Then he started sucking on my neck, good and hard the way I like. He give my pillows a squeeze and run his hand down to my cooch, stroking and pressing, getting me all nice and wet. He kept whispering to me, real low and rumbly, telling me how sexy I was and how he’d wanted me right from the minute he saw me in the back room. The way he talked made me melt like ice in the summer sun. And then...
Oh sure, a fella or two might’ve fucked me before—and I’d include Daddy Bob in that number just to be polite—but nobody’d ever made love to me. Not the way Jake done. He come into me all strong and quiet, taking it easy and slow till I was begging him for it. I wanted him in me as deep as he could get. He took my legs and propped ‘em straight up against his shoulders and when he started up again I nearly fainted because it felt so fine. I let it all out, bellerin’ and screamin’ and breathin’ all fast and heavy. Didn’t care who heard, I was loving it so much. Jake just looked into my eyes and smiled. And when he finally got there and started into firin’ off his load, I lost it for real and fainted dead away.
Must’ve been a few minutes later. I woke up, and Jake was lying beside me, running his hands up and down my arms and sides, kissing me all over. Finally, he got to my pillows. “That reminds me,” he said, “jewels for a Jewel.” He handed back my danglies and we made love again while I was wearing ‘em. The way they went flying back and forth every time he gave me a good hard shove fired the both of us up something fierce.
He was gone before the sun come up. I lay in bed for a long time, kinda dreamy and breathless, thinking about him and how he’d made me feel. The sheets still smelled like him, and I wanted to remember that smell for as long as I could. I wasn’t ready for things to go back the way they’d been. I wasn’t looking forward to going downstairs and facing Daddy Bob.
The old man slapped me a good one across the face when I tried to give him back the danglies. “What’s this?” he said. “I don’t take charity from no damned whore!” Didn’t matter that them pretties had never really belonged to me. Didn’t matter that it was his idea to bet ‘em in the first place. Didn’t matter that he’d come out of the game a lot better than he’d gone in what with that extra thousand dollars Jake let him win. I finally saw Daddy for what he was, a ornery old bottom feeder who only cared about money and never did nothin’ less it’d help him get ahead, to hell with everybody else.
Guess you can figure out what happened after that.
Couple nights later I was sitting by the side of a cornfield ‘long the highway, hoping somebody’d come driving along and maybe gimme a ride. It was all fogged up and spittin’ rain. Couldn’t hardly see twenty feet ahead of my nose. I smelled the river in front of me and I heard a barge going through a lock over on the Missouri side. Train was blowin’ its whistle, coming over a bridge into Illinois. Figured I must’ve walked about five, six miles from Mama’s place that morning. I’d tried going there first, but she wouldn’t take me back in. Called me a whore just like Daddy Bob had. Spit at me and slammed the door in my face. I wasn’t sure where I was going or what I was gonna do once I got there, but I was too tired to care one way or the other.
“Well, hey, pretty girl. Fancy meetin’ you out here in the middle of nowhere.” I must’ve fallen asleep sitting there on my suitcase. Never heard the car pull up. The driver asked me again, “Where you headed to, honey?”
“Don’t much matter,” I said. “Ain’t got no place to come from. Ain’t nobody care where I go.”
“Well maybe I’m askin’.”
“Where you goin’, mister?”
“Could be just about anyplace,” he said. “Heard about a game in East Dubuque might be worth a card player’s time.”
“Are people nice up there?”
“Some of ‘em,” he said. “Some of ‘em not so much—it’s like anyplace you go, I reckon.”
“Can I come with you, mister?” I was almost bawlin’. “Will you take me with you, please?”
“That I think I will, darlin’.” He held the door open for me. “C’mon. Get in. Put your grip in the back.”
“Jake?” I recognized that good smell soon as I got in the car, before I even seen his face.
“Hey there, Jewel.” He smiled at me and I threw myself into his arms. Couldn’t help it. I was crying like a baby now. But Jake just held me, strong and steady, kissing away my tears. “It’s alright, honey,” he said. “I come back lookin’ for you. Everything’s gonna be OK from now on.”

And you know what? It was.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

'The Fire Hostage (Part 3)'--a story by TAS

(Part 3)

Now when the lad who knew no fear at last found his way to the foot of the mountain, he saw that the land was littered all about with the bones of many men, a great army of skeletons, still clad in rusting mail and broken plate. What manner of place is this, he wondered, for if in life these warriors were honorably felled in battle, why had the host of Valkyries not come upon their milk-white steeds to bear them to Valhalla?
Laying his doubts aside, Garin set to stripping the corpses of knives and daggers with which he might hasten his ascent, finding, at last, a heavy double-headed battleax, a goodly thing for driving the blades into the rock. Nonetheless, in spite of all his effort, the climb was arduous and slow, for the mountainside was steep and treacherous, making it almost impossible to gain purchase on the sheer, unyielding face. Yet ever undiscouraged, the tireless youth made his way for many hours—a day and a night or so it seemed—until, pulling himself up onto a narrow shelf of rock, he saw that he was hardly further from the bottom than when he had begun, and that the ground below was still much nearer than the summit above.
Now there drew on an ominous and dreadful storm such as might unman the heartiest of heroes. Lightning arced from the low-brooding clouds that swirled about the mountain. Thunder broke in deafening roars, reechoing against the peak until the rocks themselves began to quail and quake as if in terror of the storm-god’s wrath. The loud reports spread out in all directions, far and wide, booming through the forests and valleys below like the mighty footfalls of a giant.
Undaunted even by this, Garin resumed the ascent, clambering upward through the very heart of the tempest until the clouds lay far below him, a churning maelstrom of murky mist and shadow, now and then illumined from within by sullen bursts of lightning, half-blurred beneath the roiling haze. Still on he climbed until, upon what must have been the dawning of the third day, the hero beheld a drear promontory, flat and barren save for an ancient stone circle, a shrine to some unremembered god, long fallen into disrepair. And yet, the youth could see at once that the place was enchanted, for among the pillars that still remained erect, a spectral conflagration blazed and flickered, unkindled and unconsuming, upon the very air itself.
‘Tis naught but an enchanter’s glimmer, he thought. But when he stretched out his hand to touch the fire, Garin found that it was surely real enough. Even so, from time to time the flames would appear to part, becoming transparent whenever the lightning flashed far below. Thus, for a fleeting moment, the circle inside the wall of fire would be illuminated. And there within, Garin spied the image of a beautiful maiden, reposing on a low stone couch, though whether in slumber or in death, he could not rightly say.
In truth, Garin had no words for what he saw—for though the lad knew vaguely of women, he had never beheld one so closely before. Could this be the cenotaph of some fallen heroine, he wondered, the grave-effigy of a valiant shield-maiden? Or, perhaps, an alter of the elder folk, set up in reverent homage to an ancient patroness of battle? Curiosity welled up within his heart like a ravenous hunger, and thus, drawn by a strange emotion he could not name, the boy tried to think of a way he might break through the ring of fire, and make his way to the maiden’s side.
Putting his back to the flames, his great sword drawn and ready, Garin began to wheel about like a weathercock, turning widdershins as he sought out the very warp and weave of the magic from which that wondrous conflagration had been conjured. Through the iridescent tongues of flame he struggled, even as a mariner might sail into the face of the wind. The fire seared and branded his flesh where it was exposed, but would not give way. So Garin began anew, circling in a deosil direction, against the grain of the spell. And though the fire barely burned him this time, neither would it yield nor part. Again and again he tried, seeking a path through the unearthly blaze, and each time the way was blocked.
Finally, waiting for a lightning flash from below, whence the wall of flame grew transparent as a pane of crystal, and ridding his mind of all thought save that of the beautiful damsel within, Garin burst through the fire into the midst of the circle.
And there outstretched before him lay a woman of surpassing loveliness and grace, neither of wood nor stone, but of flesh and blood, loosely involved from head to toe in a diaphanous shroud, which did not hide the simple linen shift she wore beneath. A beauty, tall and lithe of limb, her hair was the color of honey, the long silken tresses tumbling about her naked shoulders in supple disarray. Her hands were folded formally across her midriff, fingers entwined in regal repose. Her eyes were closed as if sleep hung heavily upon them, though her bosom did not rise or fall, nor was there any sound of breath upon her winsome lips.
But as he looked upon her, Garin, for the first time in his life, was seized by dread. “Better to face a score of dragons,” he said to himself, “or contend alone against a host of goblins, for in that case at least my arms would remember their skill, and I could strike at the heart of my foe. Yet, as it is, I can neither rush headlong into the fray nor turn about and flee.”
Thus, ever so cautiously, the lad reached forward with his sword, gently prodding the dormant vision before him. “Rise up and challenge me!” he cried, but the sleeper was not roused. Emboldened thus, using only the very tip of the blade, Garin lifted the shroud from the maiden’s face, gazing on that fair and fearsome countenance with childlike awe. After a moment he began to pull back the gossamer fabric that covered the rest of her body, slowly peeling it away as if it were no more substantial than a spider’s web, until, at last, it lay about her sides, a tattered remnant of the gauzy grave sheet that had imprisoned her.
Surely she still lives, Garin thought, and it was true, for there was no sign of corruption upon her flesh; her voluptuous limbs had not wasted as one in death, nor had mortality cast its withering shadow o’er her rosy cheeks. And yet, for all, she did not stir.
He came close then, inclining his ear to listen at her lips, but no sound did she make. After a short while he turned his face to hers, softly blowing upon her mouth, but no sign did she offer in return. He gently pressed his lips to hers, willing the maiden to respond as he shared his breath with her, but still she would not be awakened.
I’ve come too late, he thought, stepping back that he might take in the sight of her more fully. It was then he noticed that one of the sleeping beauty’s perfect breasts lay bare, for the gown she wore had fallen open as he cut away the shroud. And before he knew what was happening, Garin’s mutinous manhood had risen up within his breeches, growing painfully tumescent at the thought of her unveiled pulchritude.
And so, driven by youthful lust, intoxicating as the first taste of new wine, the boy returned and knelt beside the maiden once again, leaning down to kiss her fair, firm breast, and run his curious fingers through her hair. The gods are cruel to lead me to such an end, he thought. How now am I to be satisfied? His lips and tongue then freely roved about her comely curving shoulders, ascending the alabaster column of her neck, until they found her mouth a second time. “Farewell,” he whispered, “Would that I had known thee in life.” Thus he sighed and murmured, too addled by thoughts of desire to notice that the woman’s lips were warm and yielding where they ought only to have been rigid and cold.
At last, weary from the many labors of the arduous hours gone by, Garin laid his head upon that welcoming bosom, meaning to rest a little while. Yet, strange it was, for at that very moment, he thought he heard the beating of the damsel’s heart.
“How can this be?” he said. Still, pressing his ear more closely to her breast, he attended with all his might. And there it was again, a mortal cadence, muffled and slow, yet adamant withal. “Surely, it must be a dream!”
No sooner had the words left his lips, than the maiden started up on her stony bier, drawing in a great gulping breath. “And what would you know of dreams?” she said, wrenching the sword from Garin’s hands. “Explain yourself, presumptuous mortal!”
The woman held the sword to his throat, edgewise, a little way beneath his ear. She asked again: “Who is he that wakens me so boldly?”
“I am Garin, the son of Lotharing and Lorne,” he stammered, struggling to master his fear, “and I have come many leagues seeking this place. With the aid of the gods themselves I forged the very steel you hold now in your hands, and with it, too, I’ve slain a fearsome dragon, winning for myself a great hoard of riches beyond measure. For three days and three nights by my counting I clambered up this alpen crag, breached the ensorcelled ring of flame, and found you here as if bewitched, enthralled in deathlike slumber.”
“Truly?” The maiden leveled the sword at Garin’s chest. “Are you the hero, sir, whose coming my father foretold?”
“Your father?”
“The Father of All,” she replied. “Wotan himself.”
“How now?” said Garin. “Whence came you, a daughter of the mightiest of gods, to this bleak and unexalted plane? Wherefore have you been spellbound upon this low and lonely rock?”
“I am called Feurgeisel,” she said, “that is, Hostage of the Fire, though long ago I bore a nobler name, before I was imprisoned here for defying the will of my father. Once I was among the company of Valkyries, who bear the bodies of the honored slain from off the field of battle. But I chanced to fall in love with one of my mortal charges, a warrior of matchless mettle and manly prowess. So it was that I plucked him from harm’s way when Fate had justly decreed his death. I could not endure the thought of so low and inglorious a doom for such as he, to be stabbed in the back by a cowardly dissembling foe. Love blinded me to duty, and so I was imprisoned for my crime within this cell of mystic flame.
“Yet I begged my father, e’er he abandoned me to my penance, one day to send a hero who might pass through the fire and win me to himself. And such love was in great Wotan’s heart that he granted his wayward child this boon.”
“And so have I come,” said Garin, “and so would I have you now.”
“Mayhap you shall,” replied the Valkyrie, still brandishing the sword. “Yet one more test remains ere you prove yourself that champion of whom the bards shall sing.”
“And what test is that?”
“A simple thing, indeed, for such as you,” she smiled. “Only vanquish me in single combat, whence I’ll gladly give myself to you. Overcome my immortal body by dint of strength and skill, and it shall be yours to do with as you will.”
“Aye?” Garin moved quick as lightning, dancing aside to dodge the blade, and, in a single dizzying turn, seize the Valkyrie about the wrists. And now they contended, strength for strength; Wotan’s daughter desperate to keep hold of the sword-hilt even as the son of Lotharing would strive with all his might to wrest it from her grasp.
“I feel the trembling weakness of your limbs,” said Garin.“I hear the panting sighs of fatigue upon your troubled breath. The fire of defiance has gone out of your eyes, whence now they wax with fear. Mayhap I shall not need to fight you at all.”
“Oh glorious All-Father! What have you done?” cried Feurgeisel. “Can it be that I am mortal?”
No sooner had the words parted from the blushing maiden’s lips, than Garin overcame her last defense, turning her wrists aside until at last the sword became too heavy for her to bear. With no other choice left to her, Feuergeisel dropped the blade, and bowed her head in maidenly submission.
The boy raised her clenched wrists to his lips and kissed them hungrily. Still, he hesitated to do more, not knowing what to make of this new-won prize, the like of which he had never beheld. Nor did Feuergeisel yet understand the ways of a mortal woman’s heart, for it is intuition above all else that sets the children of Midgard apart from those who dwell above. Thus, waiting upon him patiently, by and by she looked up into his eyes with dread and wonder. And as she gazed upon him, a strange spirit rose within her, whence she knew at last what she must do.
Slowly, she pulled his hands to her bosom, leaning forward so that he might savor the firmness of her unimprisoned breast. With that, the lad released her wrists, and thrust his fingers wantonly beneath the drooping fringe of her bodice, the better to probe the camber  of that still half-veiled orb. His trembling palms were moist against her soft enfevered flesh, his fingers curious yet uncertain. Thus, heeding her new-found mortal senses, the maiden laid a gentle hand upon his burgeoning loins, and so began to work the laces of his leathern breeches, whence in a little while his ample manhood was released, drawn inch by inch into the open air.
“Oh, brave and wondrous sight!” the Valkyrie sighed. “Truly only the greatest of heroes could wield so worthy a weapon!” So saying, she bowed her head to lay her lips upon the lurid shaft, anointing it with kisses like a supplicant at the feet of some dread lord. Bold Garin could do naught but gasp and moan as Feuergeisel pleasured him thus. And so it was that desire at last overcame uncertainty, and, firmly seizing her by the shoulders, he began to bull his way into the maiden’s mouth, thrusting forward with his thighs till, with a deep groan, he sped and spent upon her thirsty palate.
“How now!” he cried. “I am undone! For you have disarmed me a second time!”
“Not so,” said Feuergeisel. “See? Brave and unbroken stands thy blade, wanting for naught but a sheath to call its own.”
“And where,” said he, “am I to find a proper scabbard?”
“Here, my lord,” Feuergeisel replied, standing boldly before him as the shift fell about her feet. “Come, lie down with me and try it—” she drew his hand to the place of which she spoke “—no doubt ‘twill make a goodly fit.”
And so they lay together, the hero and his Valkyrie, limbs ever tightly entwined as they wrestled and writhed, delving the pleasures of earthly love, joying in one another’s strength. Garin might well have conquered with his hungry mouth alone, while Feuergeisel, beguiling him with sighs and kisses, eagerly led the lad to all the hidden treasures of her maiden flesh. Their hips and thighs were as the wind and waves, rolling and swelling, arching and falling, the hero moving easily within his love, as she for her part eagerly rose to meet his sure, unhurried thrusts. Again and again, they melted in the fiery forge of bliss, one into the other, dying in delight, to be reborn, yet only half-cooled, to a still more adamant desire.
“Oh, what a thing it is to be mortal,” cried Feuergeisel, “for I never knew the power of such enjoyment could be contained within mine own unworthy limbs, like some hidden treasure waiting to be found!”
“Nor I,” said Garin, leaning over to kiss her breasts again, blowing upon her jewel-like paps, as one might work a bellows to bring a fire to full and fulsome heat. “’Tis true, before I came unto you I knew naught of dread, yet now you’ve shown me a thing even mightier than fear.”
“Love!” she whispered.
“Aye,” said Garin. “And a favorable omen from the gods it is, for with it we are both set free indeed. Thus, shall you no longer be the lowly hostage of the fire; but I shall call thee Siegrid, for, in truth, you are my beauty and my peace, my glorious victory and my happy rest. What say you, fair one?”
“I like it well, my lord,” said Siegrid, drawing him into her restless, yearning arms. “And I would have that blade of yours once more within its scabbard!”
“You are a young lad’s dream come true!” he said. “But look! Do you not see?”
“What, my love?”
“The sun!” He pointed upward to the sky. “The sun has come out at last! How could I have failed to notice it, but that my eyes were dazzled by an even greater wonder!”
And thus, the twilight that had so long oppressed the land was broken by the brightness of a new day, and the sorrows of Midgard were, for a time, forgotten. Some say it was the father of the gods, great Wotan himself, smiling upon the union of his own dear daughter with so worthy a hero as Garin, the lad who knew no fear. Some say the two of them still dwell quite happily together within that enchanted wheel of flame upon the mountainside, where, eternally young, they pass the time with tales and songs, making love with that same wonder and delight as when first they met.


Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here

Saturday, August 11, 2018

'The Fire Hostage (Part 2)'--a story by TAS

(Part 2)
(read Part 1 here)

The stench of death hung heavily about the entrance to the dragon’s lair. Above that cheerless pit it lingered, the odor of a thousand rotting things; smoldering brimstone, blood, and ordure, failed courage, sorrow, and despair.
“Not far now!” the dwarf led on like an impatient waif, taper in hand as he scurried through a warren of narrow-winding tunnels, the most capacious scarcely broad enough to admit a child, save a man full-grown. “Make haste!”
“So eager to meet your doom?” Ducking low, his back to the wall, Garin expelled the breath from his chest, barely able even then to squeeze beyond a treacherous restriction.
“Nay! Zvergrotz will surely live!” The dwarf’s voice echoed dully in the gloom. “As richly as a landed lord when once the treasure’s mine.”
At last the way widened before them, for they had reached a cavern deep within the earth, where, long ages past, the hands of men had hewn a city from the living rock. Through high-vaulted corridors they passed, great halls of carvéd block and gravéd stone, so vast that one might wander for many days without ever coming to the end.
Yet, even now, the path was not without its perils. For, here and there at intervals along the passageway, flickeringly illumed from dreary fires far beyond, dust-smoking heaps of human bone loomed up like morbid mountains, disgorged from glutted catacombs through buckled fissures in the walls; obstacles impassable, compelling rashly-improvised retreats through lightless galleries where only skittering rodent hosts remained to rule the gloom. Their red eyes peeked out covetously from amongst the rubble, precarious mounds of shattered masonry where, from time to time, an interloper might espy the detail of a pallid human face, shards of statues toppled from upended plinths, once-proud features immortalized in marble now fractured into voiceless infamy.
Presently through the branching halls there came a sound like the lonesome keening of the wind, desolate in its melancholy rise and fall.
“The serpent wakes.” Zvergrotz ran to cower at Garin’s back. “Have a care lest we be roasted alive!”
“Which way then?” The hero drew his sword.
“It matters not.” The little man blubbered in fear as flame leapt from a hundred hearths throughout the city. “Doom comes for us anon!” And surely it was true, for the fire spilled forth in a great torrent before them.
“In time,” said Garin, withdrawing into an alcove along the wall, whence the flames scorched neither man nor dwarf. “But not this day.” The niche into which they had retreated was itself a disused antechamber. Beyond this stretched a curving thoroughfare, a spiral ramp leading still further into the depths.
“S’blood!” The dwarf held his nose, for the vile stench of ordure waxed more keenly the further they descended.
“Ah!” The hero brightened at a thought. “Mayhap we’ll yet outwit the beast!” So saying, he bade the dwarf climb upon his back. Thus, like a steed with his rider, far and fiercely did bold Garin hasten, and for a while until, at last, he came to the place where the monster held its solitary sway, keeping drowsy watch o’er all its vast ill-gotten hoard.
And what a treasure it was! As far as the eye could behold it lay in such extravagant profusion as might seduce the noblest mind: bricks of gold in gleaming heaps, plate of silver piled high, and gem-encrusted drinking horns, gilt armor, scabbards, helms, and swords with jeweled hilts; even noble crowns, purloined from the heads of kings and princes, scattered carelessly about the floor like the cast-off trifles of a spoiled child. Beyond these, coin of every weight and value spilt forth from ancient yawning chests, more than the greediest of men might dream to covet.
Yet all that shone was not fair or wondrous, for here and there amongst that vast surfeit of wealth, jutting up above the glittering peaks, enormous skeletons might be beheld, the hulking remains of mighty monsters, spines like gargantuan tree trunks, and broken ribcages like the frames of houses, ravaged and burned, limbs twisted and broken, sharp and deadly as a phalanx of spears.
And in the very midst of it all, a towering massif thrust up amongst those grisly hills, the dragon itself, still half aslumber, coiled jealously around the spoils it favored most. Perpetually bereft of light, its flesh shone with a ghostly gray pallor, appearing to glow in the subterranean gloom. Its sides were as battered shield walls, scales singed and blackened by a hundred battles. Its claws were each the size of a heavy broadsword, and twice as deadly; its legs, short and stout as gnarled roots, but powerful and swift. Most terrible of all, its hingeless, wormlike jaw, a yawning pit of death, edges studded with row upon row of venomous fangs.
Garin could only marvel at the sight, for he had never stalked so fearsome a beast before. “Wait here,” said he, “for I shall steal around behind ere the curséd creature stirs.” So saying, he took his leave of the dwarf and made his way, half-crouched among the shimmering mounds of booty. Thus, creeping forward with artful stealth, would he surprise the serpemt in its wakeful torpor. And, sure enough, at last he stood within a hand’s breadth of the monster’s side.
But ere he raised his sword to strike, there rose a great commotion in the hall.
“Halloo!” The dwarf stood atop a heap of treasure as he called out loudly to the beast. “See what Zvergrotz has delivered just as he promised?”
The monster yawned by way of answer, sending a voluminous ring of smoke into the air. Garin scrambled to keep out of sight as the dragon stirred.
“Remember the bargain that was struck between us!” Zvergrotz demanded. “Have I not kept my part in full with this offering? Ah! See what a fine morsel he will make!”
The dragon spewed forth a bolt of fire that lit the cavern all about, the light redoubled in the shimmering mirrors of yellow gold and pale silver littering the floor. Yet the monster itself was quite blind, responding in no way to the sudden brightness. 
“And you shall keep your word as well,” cried the dwarf, though his voice quavered now with doubt and trepidation. “As much as Zvergrotz can carry in payment for this feast. Be we yet agreed?”
The serpent roared as if in ascent, whipping its tail about like a mighty flail with which to send the interloper to his doom.
But even now, having lost the element of surprise, the youth kept his wits about him. Thus with bold alacrity, he leapt upon the dragon’s back, whence the beast thrashed about wildly, determined to be rid of its tormentor. Yet the more furiously it struggled, the more adamantly the hero held fast, keeping his grip with one hand, while, with the other, weilding his enchanted sword, biding his time to strike.
At last, the daring hero plunged his blade through the back of the serpent’s throat, bracing himself for what he knew must follow. In fury did the beast rear up, vomiting fire from its gullet, though grue-ish ichor followed soon enough. Yet still, not altogether vanquished, the dragon charged forward at an ungainly gallop, smelling at the air as it cast about with its head, determined in its blind agony to be avenged upon the trespasser.
Thrice more did the hero strike, and thrice more did he wound the beast, though its ferocity was not abated in the least. At last, Garin rose to his feet, riding the serpent’s back as one might bestride the heaving deck of a ship at sea. Thus, clutching the hilt in both hands, the youth stabbed downward with all his might, striking so forceful a blow as to rend the monster in twain, cleaving head from shoulder with a single fearsome stroke. A river of gore flowed forth from the stump of its neck even as the carcass juddered in the final throes of death. But ere the curséd head did strike the ground, a roar of despair escaped its broken maw like the tolling of a broken bell above a sepulcher.
Then Garin saw that some of the dragon’s blood had spilled upon him in the fray, and now lay spattered o’er his face and hands. Unthinking, the lad licked the blood from his lips and fingers. Yet, no sooner had the blood been tasted upon his tongue, then he heard a strange voice resounding in his mind:
How now shall I slay him? But not too soon, for who else will help carry the treasure from this place? Curse that foolish beast!
In a moment, Garin came to understand that it was the dwarf’s own thoughts he was hearing.
I suppose I’ll have to do it myself. Once the treasure’s been removed, and he is weary from his labors, after he settles down to rest… Yes!  I’ll creep up to the place where he sleeps and plunge a dagger deep into his heart… Only for now, let him believe all’s well…
“A silver pffenig for your thoughts,” Garin said slyly. “What’s to become of all these riches now that their guardian is gone?”
“It’s ours at last!” Zvergrotz turned about to face the hero, feigning innocence, dancing and skipping about like a merry child, though his thoughts remained as dark as the pit about them. “The treasure is ours!”
“Ours?” Garin spoke coldly.
“Aye,” cried the dwarf. “Plenty to go around…” Especially once I’ve slain you in your sleep…
“So much wealth,” said Garin. “You wouldn’t be tempted to betray me?”
“What’s this? Nay! Zvergrotz is a dwarf of his word!”
“Indeed? You’re not tempted even a little? Not thinking of burying a dagger in my heart?”
“Zvergrotz would never…” The dwarf affected outrage. “Zvergrotz is noble! Zvergrotz is loyal to a fault, and ever generous… See?” He tossed a handful of silver coins in Garin’s direction. “Let the gods bear witness to my munificence!”
“Verily.” Garin approached the faithless halfling, wading  hip-deep through a lake of blood and steaming viscera. “Let me likewise be generous and dispatch you quickly.”
“Mercy!” cried the dwarf. “Spare poor Zvergrotz his life!”
“And what should I have in return?”
“My gratitude and… half the treasure?”
“When you had already sold me to the serpent, just as you once sold me to the ogre? Surely so noble a life is worth more than such a pittance?”
“I beg you, son of Lotharing,” the dwarf croaked piteously, “pray, stay your hand! Zvergrotz will be as good as his word!”
“How well I know the worth of your word,” said Garin, still coming on, sword drawn and ready.
“Nay!” Zvergrotz began to pelt the hero with whatever missile came most easily to hand; volleys of gold and silver coin, the merest handful a fortune; sacks and purses groaning with jewels and precious stones, sapphires, diamonds, and pearls, gilt trinkets, chains, and baubles, flung with ruthless desperation in some vain hope that his doom might be delayed.
“Cease, feckless fool!” Garin cried. “Today your pathetic destiny is decided. This cavern has become your tomb, and so shall it be, both now and forever more.”
“Keep away!” Zvergrotz shrieked in terror. But as he endeavored to flee in the face of the hero’s relentless advance, the dwarf tripped and fell. The heap of treasure on which he had made his stand suddenly gave way, collapsing in a treacherous landslide, carrying the little man headfirst towards the bottom. “No!” he cried, “Surely this cannot be my fate! Surely Zvergrotz will—” But his words were stopped in his mouth, and in their place a trickle of blood spurted from between his lips, for the dwarf’s body had been impaled on one of the sharp bone pikes half hidden like a hunter’s snare amongst the dragon’s shimmering hoard. He lay, gasping and panting, his eyes bulging in disbelief as his fate dawned upon him.
And now the rats came swarming, drawn by the odor of looming death, hungry, ravenous things, they descended upon the little man, and the last sounds Garin heard ere he turned away were the wordless screams of that craven soul being devoured alive.
Thanks for nothing, little man, Garin thought as he turned his back upon the dwarf, making his way as best he could, holding the enchanted sword before him like a glowing lantern in the gloom. Moving cautiously along, he cocked his ears, listening for the telltale sounds of wind or water, some sign that might forebode escape. At last, he heard the roar and rush of an underground river somewhere far away. But before he could reconoiter the pathway ahead, he found himself falling, a portion of the floor having given way beneath his feet. He plummeted like a stone into the darkness below until, at last, after what seemed a fall of many leagues, he came down, splashing and spluttering in the icy churning waters, still clutching the hilt of his sword. The fast-moving stream bore him along through narrow tunnels and yawning caverns turned to lakes, roofs open to the starlight far above, and yet again into the blackness, down rocky chutes and over plunging cataracts, his limbs bruised and sore.
In time the river carried him out into the world. Washed clean in the flood, the hero stood upon a stony bank and turned his eyes again to the east. The strange light still shone upon the moutainside, and there, bold Garin knew, his destiny awaited.