Journey to Exile
by Erik Weiss
Part 1, Part 2|
appear in this issue.
Mira was dragged through the camp by a pair of Baerstan’s henchmen. To her horror they stopped her only a few yards from where her brothers were being tied. Two thick posts had been driven into the ground several paces from the edge of the camp, each fitted with a crossbeam where the men’s arms would be tied. Mira watched as her brothers were secured to the crude crosses, their faces pressed into the sturdy poles.
Her eyes grew wide and her tears began to flow as the pair were stripped to the waist and a man emerged from the milling crowd holding a long, many-tethered whip. She watched the spectacle for several minutes as the man whipped first Raon, and then Brigden, over and over again. As the blood began to flow freely down the backs of her beloved brothers, Mira realized that neither had cried out. She didn’t pretend to understand male pride, but she had to marvel at the strength her brothers must posses to endure such pain.
Finally Mira could take the sight of her brothers’ torture no more. She pulled free of the one man left holding her and started to run forward. It was then that she saw Baerstan standing before her, a twisted smile on his face. All the years of her youth, the man’s scowl had instilled fear into her; now she found that his smile was worse.
“I thought you might enjoy watching your brothers’ discipline,” the man taunted, his smile widening. “Perhaps your punishment should be similar, yes?”
“We saved your son!” Mira shrieked.
Baerstan leaned in close, so close that Mira could feel the heat from his breath. He curiously fingered the tattered material of her shirt, as if toying with some sick thought in his head. “You would make a fine wife to my son. But first you must learn to act as a woman should!” His voice rose so that all around him could hear. The lashing of the twins ceased for a moment as the whip-wielding man turned to regard the spectacle with the rest of the crowd.
Mira’s heart eased a bit when she saw Beorg stride through the throng of people and stand at his father’s side. She couldn’t hear what was said, but she saw that Beorg whispered into his father’s ear and motioned to her with his head. “Very well,” Baerstan continued, “if you are to be wed to my son, then he will see to it that you understand what is expected of a wife.” Baerstan’s smile appeared again on his face. “Take her, my son. Do with her as you will — her punishment is in your hands.”
Beorg nodded to his father and then grasped Mira by the arm and led her off through the tents toward his own. Just out of sight, Mira could hear the sharp crack of the whip as her brothers’ beatings resumed in full. A few minutes later she looked up to see Beorg’s tent before them. One of the larger tents in the camp, he had it to himself, one of the perks of being the son of the Chieftain.
Beorg pulled back the flap of the tent and the pair stepped through. Mira caught a glimpse of her bow and belt knife lying in the corner. No doubt Baerstan had turned them over to his son after confiscating them. As soon as the flap of the tent fell behind them, Mira threw her arms around her future husband. With all the turmoil of the previous night, and the hostility toward her in the camp this morning, the two had not had a chance to speak but a few words to each other.
“Finally,” she gasped, “we can be together. I was so scared for you, my love.” Mira pulled back from Beorg a bit, enough to look him in the eyes, her own eyes filled with tears of joy.
Overwhelmed as she was with her joy of having her love returned to her, she was startled when he roughly pushed her away. “What is it?” she asked.
“You have shamed me,” came the man’s response. His shoulders were slumped and his eyes facing the floor. Despite the fact that he was still looking rather battered from his ordeal, and he still favored one leg a bit, he looked well. But the look in his eyes and the tone of his voice did not share the same joys that Mira’s did.
“I don’t understand!” Mira said, confused.
Beorg shook his head as he lifted his gaze to meet that of his betrothed. Mira met his gaze and for the first time recognized the emotion betrayed there. It was anger. “You took from me something that I can never get back!” he yelled. Mira’s tears turned from those of joy to those of pain.
“Would you rather I left you to die?” she pleaded.
The simple, flat, cold answer set Mira back on her heels. “Why? What of our life together, what of the children we have dreamed of?”
“I was rescued by a woman!” He nearly spat the last word. The anger was growing in his voice and Mira noticed for the first time a distinct resemblance to his father. “What is it you would have me do?” he asked. “I am supposed to treat you, now, the way I would if we were wed.”
“Then love me,” Mira begged, “for I love you.”
Beorg turned to a small table set along the side of the tent. When he turned back to Mira he was holding a thick leather strap, nearly as long as a man’s arm.
“No!” Mira sobbed as the words left her lips, unable to believe the reality. The man she had grown to love, and had expected to marry soon, was not the tender jovial person she had grown to know. What stood before her now bore a remarkable resemblance to the monster that was his father.
Beorg did not respond to Mira’s pleading, at least not with words. He dragged her farther into the tent and began lashing her with the strap, working his way up and down her back. After several agonizing moments Mira squirmed free of the man’s iron grasp and turned to face him. Before she realized what happened she found herself flying backwards and tumbling over the small table at the side of the tent. Before she blacked out, Mira looked up to see Beorg standing over her, rubbing a tender fist.
* * *
Fuzzy images began to take on more substantial shape as Mira awoke. By the sounds coming in from outside she could tell that the day was at its end and the camp was beginning to settle in for the night. Most of the afternoon and evening was a blur to her; the pieces she could remember were not pleasant ones. Memories of her love whipping and beating her, each time speaking to her of behaving as an appropriate wife.
It occurred to her that the beatings would not subside until she agreed to ‘behave’ herself and act as a respectable woman should. She held fast to her belief that she should not need to be subservient to her husband to show him love, and each time she said the words she blacked out, usually from a devastating punch. As she lay there on the floor of the tent, among the shattered remains of the table she realized just how badly she had been beaten. She was sure she had several cracked ribs, her left eye was swollen shut, and her entire body was a mass of welts and bruises.
Looking over she saw Beorg sipping water from a crock, her belt knife resting on the stool next to him. Slowly he made his way over to her, his face fixed with an angry scowl. He crouched beside her, helping her into a sitting position and held the cup to her lips, for which she was very grateful. Perhaps the man she loved had returned to her, she thought. That idea slipped away as the man stood before her, his eyes hardened with hatred and anger. No, this is the same person who has tortured me for the gods only know how long, she thought to herself.
“This has gone on long enough,” he said to her. He was no longer shouting, but his voice had taken on a darker tone that was not there before. “You will profess your loyalty and obedience to me, now.”
The first thought that went through her mind was to tell the man whatever it was he wanted to hear, anything to put an end to this unbearable pain. Then she remembered the display to the north of the village, of her brothers hanging helplessly as they were lashed over and over, the skin torn from their bodies. Neither of them begged for mercy, neither asked for the lashing to stop. In fact, neither of her beloved twin brothers so much as let out a whimper that she could hear.
Foolish male pride, she thought again, or was it something more? Raon and Brigden were not being punished for something trivial, for some perceived betrayal to the community. They were punished for loving their younger sister, something neither of them would turn away from, no matter the cost. No, it wasn’t foolish pride on their part, it was strength, and strength they held on to because it was something that no one could take from them.
Sitting there in Beorg’s tent, amidst a pile of shattered wood on her bruised and bleeding backside, Mira sought that strength. Staring up at the towering man before her, Mira’s eyes narrowed, her fear gone. She only saw the truth of what stood before her. Beorg wanted simply to drive the spirit from her, to have her broken in mind and soul. She spat at his feet.
“Never!” she hissed.
“I thought that might be your reaction.” Beorg’s tone grew even darker. Then he turned away from Mira, stepped across the carpet to the stool holding her heavy bladed belt knife, and drew it from its sheath.
Panic set in immediately. He wasn’t going to beat her anymore; he was going to kill her. Kill her to preserve the image of what the tribe thought a good woman should be. Mira’s eyes darted around the tent, searching for a way out. Nothing. The only way in or out of the tent was past Beorg, and in her condition she doubted she would run far before he caught up to her.
She startled herself when she began to rise from her sitting position, one leg of the broken table clutched in her right hand. It took most of her willpower to keep from crying out in pain over her sore ribs. She took a step forward as Beorg turned to face her, knife in hand. His eyes popped open wide at the sight of Mira standing before him.
She struck before she even realized what was happening. The first blow caught the big man square in the face causing him to drop the knife and double over, clutching his shattered nose. Mira’s second blow hit Beorg on the back of the neck, sending him spiraling down onto the carpeted floor of the tent.
When she finally stopped, Mira found herself sitting on Beorg’s chest, her arm so tired she could no longer lift it. She let out a gasp when she looked down and saw the lifeless form she was sitting on. His face was beaten to an unrecognizable pulp.
After a few moments of weeping over the loss of the man she thought for so long she would marry, Mira rose and began to wipe the blood from her body with a large towel Beorg had laid out on his bedroll. Over the next few minutes, thousands of thoughts ran through her head, but the one that kept returning was that she needed to get away. She couldn’t imagine the rage of Baerstan after he found the dead body of his son in the morning.
Mira quickly gathered what few supplies were laying around the tent, mainly a pair of water skins and some bread and cheese. Gathering her bow, quiver, and belt knife, Mira slipped quietly out of the tent and into the night.
The short trek through the camp was quick and uneventful, since nearly everyone was sleeping. As she left the shelter of the clustered tents she came upon the limp bodies of her brothers, still tethered to the poles on the north side of the camp. Fearing the worst, Mira rushed over to where the two men hung. Her heart nearly soared out of her chest when both forms stirred at her approach. They were badly beaten, and covered in their own blood, but they were alive, and to Mira, that was a blessing.
She approached as silently as she could, considering her fatigue and weary body, and drew out her knife, preparing to cut the bonds holding Raon to the cross.
“No,” he mumbled, “I will take my lashes, take my punishment, and do it with my head held high.”
“I fear that all may not be forgiven in the morning,” Mira responded, her head hanging low.
“What has happened?” Brigden asked.
“Beorg is dead,” Mira stated simply, feeling quite numb over the whole affair. “He was going to kill me.”
Both of the brothers nodded their heads.
“What you did was honorable, at least in my eyes,” Brigden said, “but I think that Baerstan will not see it so. You must leave here, dear sister, or your fate will be sealed.”
“Come with me, please.”
The brothers looked to each other and shook their heads. “We cannot, our honor binds us,” Raon said, his voice trembling the slightest bit.
“Know that we love you, and will think of you always,” Brigden added, his voice as filled with emotion as his brother’s.
Mira stood in silence for a moment, looking at her brothers. The two people in her life who had always been there for her, always accepted her for what she was, and not judged her for it. Despite her feelings and her arguments with their logic, she knew that they would not leave. Worse, she knew that she must. She stretched high and gently kissed each of her brothers on the forehead, tears streaming down her face.
“I love you, my brothers. I will pray every day that we might be reunited.” Mustering what little stamina remained in her abused body, Mira turned to the north and disappeared into the night.
Copyright © 2007 by Erik Weiss