Authors: The Crown of Anavrea
Book One – The Theodoric Saga
The Crown of Anavrea
By Rachel Rossano
Published by Rachel Rossano on Kindle
©2003, 2011 Rachel Rossano
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine, or journal.
The Crown of Anavrea is a work of fiction. Though actual locations may be mentioned, they are used in a fictitious manner and the events and occurrences were invented in the mind and imagination of the author. Similarities of characters to any person, past, present, or future, are coincidental.
Cover by Laura Miller of An Author’s Art
Eve covered her head and crouched low in the raspberry patch. She concentrated on not making a sound. The blare of the horn and the cries of the hunters faded. Lowering her hands, she strained her ears. Not even the echo of their crashing in the distance remained. The birds stayed silent, but considering the recent ruckus, they might have all fled.
A groan broke the unnatural silence.
She froze and listened, heart in her throat. A pained, male grunt came from about three feet to her left. Cautiously she turned her head. A stranger stared at her through the tangle of bushes between them.
A wild mess of brown hair fell over his dark blue eyes as he regarded her in alarm. Sweat plastered the hair to his forehead. He observed her with more of a feverish glaze than true understanding. Pain etched lines about his eyes.
He opened his mouth as if to speak, but then shook his head. Falling forward, he then rolled onto his back and lay still.
Eve hurried to untangle the thorns from her tunic.
Free at last, she crept out of the patch and approached him. Fear and instinct screamed she should flee. Instead she paused. If she stopped to help him, she would be beaten. Her master warned her to stay away from the king’s men.
Well, the king’s men or not, the pursuers were gone. As their prey, he could hardly be one of them. Was he worse?
She inched forward and a twig snapped under her knee.
“Go away and leave me be,” he ordered.
“What will become of you?”
He stared into the sky above the trees. “My pursuers return.” His chest still heaved from his recent exertion. “I die.” Restlessly, his hand clenched and released at his side as though he was fighting the urge to run.
“I know of a place where you can hide.” She watched his lean form for a reaction. “It is nearby.”
He stopped moving. Finally, as though sensing she would not leave, he spoke. “Come over here. I want to see you.”
She crept to his side. As soon as she drew close, she could see the source of his pain. A shallow gash ran across his left arm above the elbow and an even more serious injury marred his right leg above the knee. The leggings, torn and caked with a combination of dried and fresh blood, trailed filth in the wound. She was calculating how she could slow the bleeding when he commented.
“You are only a child.”
She brought her eyes to his face and bit her tongue. This was not the time to argue her age. She returned to assessing his injuries.
“If you are wondering whether or not I am able to walk, stop.”
“I will help.” She met his eyes with a cool determination that left no room for doubt.
After a moment, he broke her gaze and returned to staring at the sky.
“What if I want to die?”
She was still thinking about the best reply when she grew aware of his scrutiny. Their eyes met. “Why would you?”
His lips compressed as he swallowed his reply. Instead, he offered, “I understand I do not have a choice.”
He resisted as she reached for his wounded arm.
“You need to promise me something first.”
She frowned and didn’t reply.
“If we are spotted or do not make it into hiding, you must kill me.”
She looked away from the pleading and pain in his eyes. “I promise.” Her voice was barely audible, but he seemed satisfied. Thankfully he did not ask her to say it again. She concentrated on ripping strips from her chemise. It made her nervous to repeat a promise she didn’t intend to keep.
Kurios, don’t make me keep the promise,
She bound his leg and arm. After numerous false starts, they managed to gain their feet. He towered over her by a good foot. His injured leg threatened to give out, but otherwise he could easily support himself on his other limb despite the obvious loss of blood. The weight he draped over her shoulders made it clear she wouldn’t have been able to budge him on her own.
Conversation was reduced to grunts of pain or effort. Eve began to consider the seriousness of her decision. Mridle wasn’t going to allow her to nurse this man. There was no possible way to do it without his knowledge. Escaping her master would be the only way she could care for this man. And if the stranger persisted in his fatalistic outlook, she might not succeed. She shook the thought away.
He must live, Lord. He must live.
The usual three-minute walk took them forever. Dusk dimmed the sky when they finally reached the broken-down door of the old shed.
The last steps were brutal. A few feet from the door, his good leg gave out. Eve could not carry all his weight. She stumbled under the sudden shift, tripped, and came down painfully on her knees in the mud. Realizing that he might crush her, the man rolled to the side and landed on his back in a small patch of grass. After his stifled cry of anguish, they fell silent. She waited until her knee ceased throbbing before she crawled over to where he lay.
“I will go in and clear a place for you to lie down before we try to move you again.”
He nodded his agreement. He had no breath to speak.
She moved as fast as her sore muscles allowed and stumbled inside. A hermit’s shack, the one-room structure did not offer much comfort. A fireplace took up most of the right wall. A small cupboard-like lean-to added for storage hid behind a rickety door to the left of the hearth. Leaves and bugs littered the floor and swaths of spider webs rustling with carcasses filled the room. Movement among the clutter and the rotting window coverings did not help her first impression. The only thing resembling a bed crouched along the length of one wall. In essence it was a wooden shelf with an old straw mattress on it. She pulled off the decaying mess and, using her skirt, she brushed off the bugs. Now came the harder part.
Upon returning outside, she almost cried at the sight of him. He managed to prop himself against the wall. In this position, he dozed. Every line of his body screamed discomfort.
Gently, Eve woke him. Together they got him to his feet and through the door. He fell onto the hard pallet. She winced as his face contorted in pain. She knelt near his shoulder to work on making him more comfortable. The gash in his arm needed stitching, which required thread. She glanced at the single window. Twilight veiled the sky and there was much to do.
“What is your name?” His voice wavered so weakly she barely heard him. She met his eyes, dark and glassy with pain and fatigue.
With a shallow, bitter laugh, he said, “How ironic.” Then, as if the strength to fight unconsciousness drained from him, his eyes closed, and his head rolled to one side.
For a frantic moment Eve feared she had lost him, but his weak pulse reassured her. She watched his chest rise and fall and tried to decide what to do next.
Darkness crowded out the last light when she finally left him. He still shifted restlessly on the bed, but she could do nothing more without supplies. As a final step before leaving, she removed every weapon on his person. She doubted he would use them, but she wanted to be certain.
First, she returned to the berry thicket. The pail lay where she dropped it. A sheathed knife lay next to a nearby tree, hidden in the grass until her toe found it. Taking these with her, she headed for her master’s house. Fear rose up, threatening to override her determination.
“He must have food, warm blankets, and medicine or he will die.”
She said the words once aloud, but their essence pushed her forward through her fear. Each step still took great effort. Finally she stood before the aging edifice of her master’s house. The sagging roof, broken shutters, and overgrown doorstep offered little assurance of a welcome.
Kurios, give me strength,
she prayed before unlatching the back door and entering.
The kitchen glowed with weak light from the banked cooking fire as she slipped through the opening. Her master, Mridle, waited for her with his strap and fist.
“Where were you?” he demanded. “I had to eat supper out.”
Eve closed her lips tightly and straightened. She dropped the pail and knife among the boots and then turned to face her punishment.
“Not going to tell me, brat?” Mridle wrapped the whipping strap around his fist. “We shall see about that.”
When Mridle purchased her, Eve resolved to never cry in his presence. This time she couldn’t hold back the tears. Before he left her, eye swelling shut and blood dripping from her face, Mridle paused.
“You are now the property of Horben.”
Horben was the local tavern owner. He kept slave girls for his patrons’ entertainment. Eve’s golden hair and green eyes had caught his attention years ago.
“He is coming for you tomorrow.” Mridle spat at the hearth stone, not even bothering to aim for the slop bucket at his heel. “He will teach you to show respect. Those girls get three choices, obedience, whipping, or worse. Horben is planning a lesson in worse by nightfall, be sure of that.” He grinned, showing off his yellow and brown teeth. “He will have you submissive and begging in a few days, mind my words. Then you will wish yourself back here with me.”
The moment he was truly gone, clamoring up the stairs to bed, she began getting to her feet. Gingerly working her hip joint where one of his kicks had landed, she glanced around the room with her good eye. She didn’t own much, and they would need more. Mentally calculating the value of the government mandated wages due her, she limped around gathering thread, food, bedding, clothing, medicine, and other necessities. Finally, with a bundle on her back and a tinderbox banging her good hip, she left.
Eve realized Mridle might just come after her. Trusting him to make the assumption that she would run as far as possible, she suspected they would be safe for a time in the abandoned hermitage.
When she reached the cabin, Eve stumbled over the doorsill. Fighting the heaviness of her eyes, she tended to the man. His clothes were drenched in sweat and his skin hot to the touch. As she removed the makeshift bandages, she cleaned, stitched, and dressed his wounds. Praying that it would be enough, she covered him with the warmest of the blankets. Each breath hung briefly before their mouths. Now she needed to build a fire.
The previous inhabitant left an abundance of wood behind the building. She cleared out the clutter in the fireplace and built a small blaze. Thankfully the chimney worked, drawing the smoke upwards and outside. After a mild November, the weather was turning. He needed the warmth. After checking on him once more, she allowed herself to lie down between the hearth and the bed.
Eve awoke to a cry of pain and grief. The stranger sat up in the bed, arched in agony as he let out a second guttural yell. She barely intercepted him as he threw himself forward. With all her strength and weight she just managed to get him to return to lying on the wooden slab. He fought her, but the initial lunge apparently exhausted his resources. She did her best to restrain him so he could not hurt himself. He was still quite strong for a sick man.
“You are safe now.” She brushed back his hair as he relaxed again. “I am here to help you.” He didn’t open his eyes, but his face turned into her touch like a small child seeking comfort.
He muttered nonsense as she straightened his blanket. She talked to him as she would a child, describing her actions. Her voice appeared to soothe him. He quieted and relaxed again. Eve got up with a sigh, and then fed and stirred the fire. Twisting her back to stretch the aching muscles, her eyes fell on her charge. His dark eyes scrutinized her, struggling to focus on her face for a few moments before finally sleeping.
For three days, his body fought the infection. He talked, and she listened. He cried out, and she soothed. While she cleaned or moved about, he would lay motionless, gazing at her with distant, glassy eyes. She often wondered if the man she met still existed behind the fits, sweat, and pain. All the while, she prayed.
On the second night, the hallucinations commenced with him yelling in terror for Ireic. It took her an hour of role playing to get him to sleep again. She gathered from his ramblings that Ireic was his brother, but not much else.
Later in the night he called for Atluer and spoke of a Prince Hiaronical. For two hours she attempted to convince him he shouldn’t get up and pursue someone named Trina. He became so loud and hysterical she feared discovery. Since their lives were both marked, she fought to quiet him.
Finally he settled again, but not before she grew curious about his past. His memories seemed to focus around his and Atluer’s late childhood.
The interruptions in the night and long days of hard work took their toll on her own healing body. Early in the third evening, she fell asleep while tending the fire. Her eyes refused to remain open one more minute.
She woke later the same night, and darkness greeted her. The glimmer of embers was gone. Mindfulness of her surroundings slowly awakened and she grew conscious of something soft between her and the floor. When she reached her hands out before her, the fingertips found the rough grain of the shed’s outer wall. Realization dawned. She must be lying under the shelf. She rolled over. Her gaze searched out the weak glow in the grate across the room.