Whispers in the Wind
By: Hensbane

Part Three

"Hellbore?" A tiny voice called from the tent opening. "Can you help me with this darn dress?" The voice belonged to Hellboreís flower girl, Maja Larson, the stonemasonís daughter. Hellbore held out her hands to the delightful child and smiled the first true smile since coming into the bridal tent. Hellbore loved this little bold and very beautiful scamp as if she were her own daughter.

"Come here sweetheart!" Hellbore held out her hands in welcome to the tiny silver haired child. Maja was going to be a true beauty when she reached the age of marriage. She had the bluest eyes and sweetest bowed lips Hellbore had ever seen and even at the age of six, already knew how to talk to men and boys in a most flattering manner. Yes, she was going to be a most beautiful young woman. Hellbore had even been teaching her to make purses and pouches out of the beaten soft leather scraps in her workroom. Maja had a real eye for design, though she would never make a saddle maker or boot maker, she would one day draw the designs for others to use in those fields.

Maja ran over to where Hellbore waited and threw her tiny arms about the waist of the tall woman with the fox-red hair. Most of the children were in awe of Hellbore and not comfortable in her presence especially if Hellbore was in a bad temper. Maja was not impressed with Hellboreís temper and could and did quite often show Hellbore that whatever had upset her was not worth the effort of getting angry about. Maja knew how to make Hellbore laugh and perhaps that was the secret of their friendship.

Hellbore turned Maja around and began tying up the thin ribbons that held the bodice of the full-skirted dress closed. Maja did the dress justice, right down to the ribbons that matched the color of her eyes. Hellbore, having tied the dress securely, turned to the box setting on her table and removed two small objects. Sapphires! She placed a necklace of silver chains with a single solitaire sapphire on it around Majaís neck and then she put a silver armband with a sapphire heart in its middle on her slender upper arm in a warrior fashion, which pleased Maja.

"They are a gift from Lars and myself. I hope that you like them." Hellbore remarked as she finished fastening the S-link closure of the necklace.

Maja, with the grace of a fairy princess, walked over to the full-length mirror and turned herself round and round to see how she looked. Maja satisfied with the image, turned a million gilder smile on Hellbore.

"I look like a real princess now, donít I?" Maja told Hellbore as she held out her skirt with her tiny hands. She did not really need an answer for she was a girl who truly knew her worth and needed no words of false flattery to increase her ego.

Hellbore carefully walked around Maja, as if taking in every aspect of the childís appearance. The pale blue silk dress she wore, down to the blue half boots, Hellbore had created just for the child, were absolutely perfect. Majaís silvery blonde hair had been caught away from her delicate face by a dark blue silken ribbon and tiny white flowers graced her hair around the edges of the ribbon.

"Perfect in every way, Maja. It would seem that I had best take great care that you do not sweep my husband off his feet with your great beauty." Hellbore said as she bent down to pick Maja up in her powerful arms. The child felt light as a fly as Hellbore tossed her into the air and caught her again, causing the child to giggle uncontrollably.

"Ah, I never get to be the listless beauty around you, Hellbore." Maja laughed again, for she knew that Hellbore would never allow her to become indolent and vain in life. Maja respected Hellbore for that and loved her all the more for it. Hellbore treated her like a real person, not a doll.

Their moment of reverie was interrupted by a gaggle of young voices coming into the brideís tent. The twenty young daughters of the families brought with them the high-pitched sounds of gaiety and mirth as they entered the tent all wide-eyed with surprise when they gazed upon Hellboreís manner of dress.

One of the older girls looked at Hellboreís outfit with a twisted curve to her mouth and asked, "Arenít you going to get dressed for your marriage?"

"I am dressed." Hellbore answered with a far too calm voice and stared stonily at the snotty older female.

Maja knew that voice all to well and pushed her way forward and got between the two females, then with a voice that would have done any chieftainís wife proud, Maja sneered up at the older girl.

"I am surprised at you, Hortiense. Lars Stone, himself, designed Hellboreís wedding clothes! I canít believe that you do not recognize excellence when you see it!" Maja huffed at the rude girl, the through her small head up in a most haughty manner.

"He created that for you?" Hortienceís mouth gaped as she stared in surprise and shock at the daring outfit. Silently she wondered if she could talk her own mother into getting her such an outfit for herself. It was bold and daring to be sure. Hortiense was certain that she would look much better in such a costume than this man-woman, Hellbore Reid. Surely her own soft curvaceous body would be better suited to such a design than Hellbore Reidís muscular one.

"My husband to be is ever wise and knowledgeable in his choice of clothing for me and all his clients." Hellboreís replied with just a hint of a snub in her tone. The attitude was more for Maja than for herself. Hellbore personally wanted to slap the girl in her fat little mouth and get it over with, but Maja needed to see a battle of words not fists. She looked down at Maja and saw that the child was smiling up at her. It was satisfaction enough.

Outside the tent the music was getting louder as the various family bands were tuning up for the festivities.

"Bamm, bam, bammm!" Went the heavy drums.

"Tum-te-tum! Blatt!" Came the sounds of the bagpipes warming up.

The din of music was getting louder and louder as the sun set in the western skies. The music was joined by the sounds of hundreds of people arriving at the wedding pavilion. The scent of roasting meat wafted through the party air making more than one stomach growl in hunger and mouth salivate in hunger.

Enormous tables groaned under the weight of platters of baked breads and hot vegetables, pies and cakes, fresh fruits and thousands of finger foods prepared for the wedding feast. It was to be a festival that no one would ever forget.

Part Four

In the dark damp cave the sleeper twisted as if in pain as her dream continued. The storm still raged on outside the cave, occasionally tossing the salty spray from the storm twisted seas inside to add to the dreamerís discomfort. Naked under her white sleeping robes of Polaris fur, the sleeper tried to warm her body by pulling the robes tighter around her. It was to no avail, the chill she was feeling was coming from the dream, a dream that would not die.

Part Five

A shaky peace prevailed inside the brideís tent as everyone waited for Leif Reid to come and take his daughter out of the Reid Family Tent and into the Stone Family Tent where the two old friends would be married in the sight of all the heads of the Vinkin Craft Halls. Hellbore could not remember when she became aware that something was not right with the night, except the funny birthmark under her left shoulder blade began to throb painfully and her stomach was rumbling from serious hunger. Her appetite was one of the many things that Lars teased her about; it made him happy to see that she had such a strong appetite for things. Then he would laugh boldly when she realized what he had said and blushed scarlet, which made him laugh even harder. Lars knew exactly how to get her goat without making her furious at him. It was a game they both played with each other, but woe to any other person who tried playing it with either of them. Neither Lars nor Hellbore had any truck with fools.

Hellbore offered to help several of the younger girls with their hair dos, it wasnít much but it did help pass the time. She was involved in assisting one of the plumper girls braid her hair when the first rank smell hit her nose. Hellbore had risen half out of her seat when something hot and wet hit her in the chest.

Red! Blood red! Her new wedding costume was covered in copper smelling blood. Who ever was guilty of this outrage would feel the full wrath of Hellboreís temper! Hellbore, thinking it was one of the older girls who had tried to humiliate her earlier; she turned quickly to face her attacker. That was as far as she got, something applied intense pressure on her neck, just where it joined the shoulder, knocking her onto the floor of the tent. Whatever it was had pierced the leather of her coat and had torn her flesh. The last sight that Hellbore saw before she passed out was a pair of blues eyes looking up from her hands and a beautiful bowed mouth open in surprise. Majaís head was still resting in her hands as Hellboreís world tuned dark and she knew no more.

Hellbore did not see her attackerís head explode as the razor sharp teeth came in contact with the silver wires that were part of her collar designs, nor did she know about the bodies falling on top of her. Hellboreís world ended that night.

All over the area set aside for the wedding pavilion hundreds of bodies lay where they had fallen. The sounds of screaming rose and fell over and over again until finally at last silence reigned in that blood soaked arena of death. Only the faint sounds of flesh being torn and eaten, bones being cracked to suck out the marrow gave proof of any life still existing in that odoriferous area. The wonderful smells of cooking meats and baking breads had been replaced with the odor of burned foodstuff and the foul stench of offal and the coppery scent of blood.

Sixty dark and hairy shapes crawled among the fallen human bodies, grabbing at those still moaning in pain and putting an end to those voices. Suddenly one of the beasts stood on two legs like a man and howled up at the moon, he was joined by more than fifty more howling voices and as one the band of beasts slinked away from the pavilion area and into the open front gates of the town of Ducat, there to repeat the killing process until not a single human was left alive when the morning sun returned to the sky.

The first notice of trouble in Ducat came when seven sailors from the anchored ships came to shore to find their captain, who was a guest at the wedding feast. They expected to find him passed out from too much fine wine, instead they discovered his disemboweled, his pale and bloody body laying in the open, his sword still held in his bloody hand.

"Captain Eric?" One of the men spoke as he knelt down by his captain. He turned, pale faced to look at the others and saw them looking across the pavilion area looking in horror at the sight that met there eyes.

Hundreds of men, women and children lay where they had fallen, their bodies torn and broken by some horrifying force. Silently, for the men did not trust themselves to speak, they walked among the dead. They found the tents torn and bloody and in every tent they entered they found more bodies. Thinking that everybody was dead, they were shocked when they caught the faint sound of someone moaning in the last tent, the bridal tent. Entering cautiously they moved toward the faint sound and discovered a tall red-haired female lying under the bodies of at least twenty more females, still clutched in her hands the tiny bloody head of a little girl.

"Someone is alive in here!" One of the sailors shouted as he moved the dead off of the body of the female. It took all his reserve effort not to retch in the midst of the carnage.

Five more men joined the sailor as they quickly uncovered the female. No one recognized her, for they had been assigned to stay on the ships during the wedding festivities, even if they had known of her, in the condition in which they found her not even her mother would have known her right off. The woman was completely drenched in dried black blood and offal and stank like a cesspool in summertime. The men had to cover their mouths with handkerchiefs to be able to carry her back to the safety of the ship.

"I donít know how she managed to stay alive with these wounds in her neck and shoulder, but the gods have blessed her with life." A sailor remarked as he helped carry Hellbore from that tent.

Part Six

"Maja!" Hellbore moaned. It was the only word she would speak for the next three weeks as she lay in a hammock aboard one of the ships. A fever raged through her already slender body, reducing her to a thin shadow of her former self. The ships medic had washed her body and crudely stitched up the wounds to her neck and shoulder, and then he had applied honey to the wounds to help remove infection. It was not the wounds that worried him most, Hellbore would not eat. He knew not her name yet, but the look in her eyes tore at his heart, for she looked so lost, her yellow-green eyes only stared ahead blankly and were constantly swimming in unshed tears. He warned everybody not to mention what they had found in the pavilion area nor in the town of Ducat. This woman was far too weak to know that there was no one left alive of her friends and family.

"Now miss, you have to eat if you are to heal." A male voice tried to coax her to eat more of the hot broth he had gotten from the ships cook. He knew that if she continued to deny herself sustenance she would join her family in Valhalla. The ships doctor began having a running conversation with the woman lying in the cot, though one sided it seemed to generate a response in her, for he would catch her eyes focusing to look at him, staring in silent wonder as he spoke to her.

The fever came upon her two days after being brought onto the ship. The medic checked her wounds for signs of infection but found none that was visible to his eyes. He worried about her condition when she began to convulse, her very thin body twisting in what must be very painful contortions, her skin was dry and hot to the touch and she could hold no food nor liquid down. He really didnít want to lose this one for she had the knowledge they needed to understand what had happened in Ducat and to the wedding party. The medic knew he needed to have something to tell the families of those who were killed at the wedding festival.

Finally, on the fourth day, Hellbore spoke through fever-cracked lips, each word forced out of her stiff throat, the effort causing her lips to bleed as she tried to form the words.

"Here, miss." The medic said as he ran to her bedside and held up a water soaked cotton rag to her torn dry lips. He had to pull it away from her as she tried to suck it dry. "Patience, please. You have been very sick and your body has not had any sustenance for sometime now. I am going to rewet the rag and I want you to slowly allow the liquid to soak first your lips and then start sucking the liquid down carefully."

Hellbore watched the gray-haired man as he demonstrated what he wanted her to do, and then she took the rag from him and received a shock when she discovered that the effort of lifting the small rag was almost too much for her to manage.

"Where?" Hellbore managed to croak out, though the effort was almost too much for her.

"You are on board the Dragon Queen, miss." The elderly medic responded as he wiped away the sweat from her upper lips.

"Why?" She looked puzzled.

"What do you remember, miss?" The medic pulled up a stool and sat down by her cot, a bowl of broth laced with dark red wine in his hands and a wooden spoon for her to sup from. He really hoped that she was ready to try to eat something now.

"Nothing. I have an awful headache." Hellbore put her hand on top of her head and her hand suddenly began feeling around the area, a frown twisting her mouth. "My hair? What has happened to my hair?" Her voice whispered frantically. She had been shorn as close as one of the sheep the weavers of Ducat kept for their wool.

"I be that sorry, miss. But you were burning up with the fever and the hair was too heavy for your poor head to handle. But now donít you fear none, it will be growing back and then you will only have to worry about finding a brush for it." The medic tried to keep his tone light like it was a normal thing to have to cut away hair for the fever. He did not tell her that her hair was so mated with the blood and brain matter of her friends and the offal from their intestines that the hair had to be cut off because she stank so badly no one wanted to come to close to her to wash it in an enclosed area, though the fever that had taken control of her emaciated body had been reason enough.

"Hair. Hair is nothing. Where is Lars? Where is Maja? Where is my family?" Hellbore began to realize that she had not seen nor heard anyone looking for her.

"Ah, miss. I do so wish that you would wait another few days before you put that question to this old man." The medic responded, not wanting to upset her even more than she was already. "What is your name?"

"Hellbore. Hellbore Reid. My father is Leif Reid, the head of the leather craft hall in Ducat." Hellbore tried to explain, but her tongue kept getting caught on the roof of her mouth and her words were somewhat garbled and the effort to speak was almost too much for her.

"I can barely understand you, so why donít we wait until morning before I try to fill in the answers to your questions. First I need you to finish all this broth to build your strength. Then you will be stronger and better able to talk." The medic took her silence as compliance with his request and offered up a spoonful of the lukewarm liquid. He was relieved when she emptied the bowl of the broth and drifted back into a light sleep. He left her there, hoping she would sleep until morning.

Hellbore waited until the old man had left the area, then she rolled out of the cot and nearly stumbled when she tried to put weight on her feet. She had to quickly grab the rim of a counter to keep from falling.

"What is going on here?" She asked herself. Hellbore felt confused, her body wasnít responding like it should. The last thing she could remember was helping some girl get her fine hair braided so that it would not continue to fall into her face. Then there was a sound, or was it many sounds, she couldnít remember. It was supposed to be a special day. What day? "My wedding day!" Hellbore exclaimed aloud. "Why am I here? Where is Lars?" Suddenly there was a flash of memory and Hellbore collapsed onto the wooden floor in the cabin of the ship. She remembered what had been thrown at her, Majaís young head. Something had killed little Maja. Then she thought of the pain in her shoulder, she reached up a paper-thin hand and touched the spot that now was no more than a rough scar, smooth and slick under her probing fingers. Hellbore saw a small looking glass hanging on the cabin wall and pulled herself over to that area and then climbed to her shaky feet and stared in wonder at the reflection that stared back at her.

The bones of her face had always been sharp and angular, but now they reminded Hellbore of a skeleton, the flesh was tightly drawn against the angular bones and her eyes looked like burned out sockets, the only life she could see there were her two yellow-green eyes staring back at her. Her once beautiful hair was now shorn close to her head adding to the visage of a living skeleton. There was something wrong with her eyes, too. They looked animal like and sunken into her head. Hellbore shook herself and tried to be more objective in her analysis. She had been ill for sometime, judging the amount of weight she had lost. That would account for the change in her facial appearance. No, it was not just her looks; she felt something stirring inside her, some thing different, something dangerous.

Then she felt something right and normal, she was ravenous. Her stomach complained that it had gone too long without sustenance, no wonder she felt weak. Hellbore found a sack of dried meat on a shelf in the medicís room and sat down on the edge of the cot to eat it. The meat was too salty to be sure and tough to chew, but it was food to rebuild her body again. Soon her hunger drove her up on deck, where she looked for something more to eat. She found a bucket that held brackish water but it felt cool enough going down her throat to slake her thirst.

It was then she noticed the black oily smoke rising from the area where her wedding pavilion should have been, but it was gone. All the tents were gone, and the only people she saw around the area were those dressed as Vinkin sailors. No townspeople could be seen anywhere. Hellbore walked slowly to a gangplank and descended to the worn wooden dock, she turned her head to look this way and that, but there were no people around that she recognized.

The men tending the huge fires seemed not to notice her as she moved through the courtyard area and then into the city gates. She was going home to find her family and maybe make some sense of this strange occurrence. She began to see strange sights; doors knocked off their frames, shutters torn off windows and the faint scent of rotting flesh coming from inside the houses and craft halls, instead of the wonderful smells of baking breads and smoking meats that would have normally filled the air. Still she saw no people.

"Where are the animals?" Hellbore asked aloud, for she suddenly realized that not one dog had barked at her approach nor had a single cat run out of a doorsill to be petted. No children could be heard singing their silly songs, nor, even the sounds of fighting to be heard. The town of Ducat was empty of life, only the sounds of Hellboreís footsteps could be heard as she walked down those wide hard packed dirt streets heading for her own home and the leather craft hall.