Free Fantasy Story: Mari’s Garden

In lieu of a real blog entry, I offer you the following complete short story, a historical fantasy from the Dark Apostle universe.  This story features the early lives of two characters featured in Elisha Magus and Elisha Rex.

a chilled English rose

a chilled English rose

Trigger Warning:  this story implies non-consensual sexual relations.

Mari’s Garden

When Jerome first noticed Mari, out planting flowers by the inn her father’d bought, he hated her. It just seemed the natural thing to do, seeing as girls would grow up to be women—temptresses like Eve. At nine, Jerome was strong enough to carry butts of flour across the bridge to her father’s inn. The Lamb had been a wretched place for years, and this new keeper had notions of the bishop’s people staying there sometimes (madness, so his father said). Maybe it was that drove the keeper to what he did, a few years later, when frigid spring gave way to deadly summer, and even Mari’s little flowerbed started to lose color. Was about then that Jerome knew his father was right about Mari, too. She was growing to be a woman—like Eve.
Jerome settled the full butt of flour and banged on the door. Mari popped out, her dark eyes flickering down. “Thanks. My da’s coming.” She hustled into the yard, taking a horse from Sir Roger, who had business with the bishop pretty regular. Her skirts revealed strong calves, bits of dirt still marking where she’d been at her gardening.
The innkeeper stuck his head out. “Can’t pay now. Back tomorrow, eh?”
“Can’t do it, keeper.” Jerome squared his shoulders. “We need it now, and what you owe, or I’m to roll it back again.”
The keeper gave a sick little grin, his eyes roving back toward the stable.
“Here’s a fine bit you’ve been keeping from me—that why they call you keeper, eh?” The knight boomed, slapping the girl’s rump.
She gave a squeak, her cheeks flaming, but he put out his arm and caught hers, pulling her close, lifting her until her toes danced upon the ground. “Nobody’s plucked you yet, eh, my little flowerbud?”
“Not yet,” her father agreed, his glance darting toward Jerome. He folded his arms, and one elbow tore through his tunic.
“What’s she—your fourth?”
“Please, sir, my lord,” Mari stammered, and he set her down, but did not let go.
“Fifth,” spat the innkeeper, then he tilted his head. “What’s your interest?”
“I like a soft bed after a long ride. And I’ll pay.”
Jerome’s head shot up, Mari’s eyes squeezed shut as the knight pinched her chin in his fingers, looming over her. Jerome’s hands fisted, and the innkeeper pushed him back, holding him to the wall. “Right, then, your dad’ll get his money, won’t he?”
“He don’t want it that way,” Jerome said.
“Room and board’s five shillings, plus one for stabling.” The innkeeper gave a nod toward the horse. “But she’ll be a pound extra.”
“Please, sir,” Mari whispered, but her father cut her off.
“Hush up, you. Don’t want your old man t’starve now, do you?”
“This ain’t right, keeper,” said Jerome. “You can’t—”
The keeper’s palm slammed into his face, bowling him to the ground, blood spurting from his nose. “Go on and tell your father I’ll have his money. Sorry you had to see that, sir.”
“No need, keeper, someone’s got to have a firm hand. My usual chamber?” Sir Roger tramped into the door, towing Mari. Jerome reached out to her, and their fingers nearly touched, her eyes filled with tears. For a moment, his hand warmed with power, then the door slammed between them, and it drained away. Jerome trembled as he rose, stumbling back over the bridge, his arm pressed to his face. His father muttered, “Temptress,” then told him to go back in the morning and get that money, and Jerome curled into himself on his pallet, crying, his nose throbbing.
She knelt in the flowers in the morning, yanking off the dead leaves.
“Mari,” he whispered, and she flicked him a glance, bruises showing where the knight had grabbed her chin. Jerome reached out, but she flinched from his touch, scrambling to her feet and limping away, her arms held tight across her belly.
After that, Jerome’s face burned every time he crossed that bridge. Every time he pounded on the keeper’s door. He could not even bring himself to ask for money. He just stood there, his hands limp and useless, the tiny, witchy power he thought he felt heating up his hands, but doing nothing. She would not be touched by him. She who now suffered the hardened hands of half the laborers in town.
Next year, the rains returned, but her father did not stop. The year after, Jerome helped her run, but the keeper brought her back, and broke Jerome’s arm in the bargain, and his own da got up a thundering rage about how he couldn’t even roll out the butts now.
So he stood a few months later, when the rains had gone, only to see another brute too eager even to go inside, pass his coins to the keeper, pushing Mari down into her own flowerbed. Jerome howled then and ran again across the bridge, his hands sizzling. He wished the sky would open to smite the bastard with heavenly fire, but he slipped and fell, his barely-healed arm instead shooting bolts of agony. He lay on the bridge in the mud, hearing her cries, and he cried himself as he scrambled to his feet.
Jerome pushed himself harder and stumbled on, shoving through the gate.
She lay bleeding in the flower bed, the customer still hunched over her. From the stable, another voice called out, “Hey, up, don’t wear her out!” And two more men arrived, both taller than Jerome, both with arms more brawny than his father’s. One of them brushed him aside. “Hey, lad, wait your turn.”
“Let her go,” Jerome grated, and the two men laughed as their leader rose.
“This mudpuppy thinks that one’s his.”
Jerome leapt on the leader, shouting, “Run, Mari, run!”
But the two already had her in their hands, and the leader’s fist rapped Jerome’s head against the garden wall. He misbelieved his eyes a moment, but no—Mari’s skin turned a shade darker, matching the soil she knelt in. Then she sank between them into the earth, and vanished, her dress pooling on the ground.
“Jesus! Witch!” One grabbed for a knife, lunging toward her throat.
It slashed Jerome’s arm as he dove between. By the time he rolled, Mari was gone, her clothes in a pile left behind. Jerome’s aching head beat a rhythm as the three men cursed, but she had gone beyond their hands. Her beloved earth had taken her, beyond his power to reach. Did she feel the heat of power, did she feel. . .as he felt?
The evening smelled like a storm, Jerome’s power rumbled like kin riding home. He stretched out his hands and the clouds became his own. At last, he kissed the earth with raindrops, at last, he stroked away her pain.

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About E. C. Ambrose

I spend as much time in my office as I possibly can--thinking up terrible things to do to people who don't exist.
This entry was posted in Elisha Magus, Elisha Rex, fantasy, fiction, magic, medieval, The Dark Apostle and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Free Fantasy Story: Mari’s Garden

  1. I loved it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    that is all I have to say right now.

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