Friday, March 1, 2013

PART 1, NICOLAE'S ESCAPE: Chapter 4 (UNEDITED)



If you are just catching up, see the CHAPTERS section to read the Prologue-Chapter 3 before proceeding to reading Chapter 4.  

Otherwise, read PART 1, NICOLAE'S ESCAPE: Chapter 4 from the jump :) 

It was two hours after midnight when Nicolae woke.  Eloisa had been here. 
In the last two years since her passing, there had not been a single night that Nicolae hadn’t seen her and the experiences felt too real to be nothing more than dreams.  It would be as though nothing had changed; Eloisa was with him and he could not only see her, but feel, hear, and taste her.  The warmth from the fire would be next to them as they relived their most intimate and private moments.  There were also times when they would be walking under the stars, holding hands as they did when their relationship had begun to develop.  She always looked so happy and full of life.  It would be in these moments that Nicolae would feel complete and alive.  But the time always came when he was taken back to the world without Eloisa and the dark, lonely void of his existence sank back in.  Nicolae still tried to take comfort in that he could at least still have this time with her even if the end result was him waking up heartbroken. 
Eloisa continued coming to him but the last few times he had seen Eloisa since entering Spain had troubled him.  The two of them would be standing at the edge of and ocean much like the one he had come to with the cloaked man only two years earlier.  Dreary hues of gray shaded the beach with a giant, dull moon stretching across the horizon.  The usual soft, romantic glow of their meetings was gone.  Eloisa would also be standing a good distance from him.  He would try walking toward her, reaching out and calling to her.  But she would simply stand, looking sadly back at him before Nicolae would wake up.  In the last three nights that he had been in the Gitano village, he had seen her in the tent he was staying in.  But instead of the passionate trysts they would have had previously, she would just be sitting, gazing down at him with the same sad, faraway expression in her eyes.  It seemed as though she were disappearing in front of him before he would open his eyes back up to being the only one in the tent.
Nicolae sat up, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dark and seeing the tan canvas material of the tent.  He let out a jagged sigh as held back the sobs that threatened to escape; he feared what the last few times with Eloisa had meant.  The last of those who meant anything in the world to him were gone and now it seemed he would lose what he had left of Eloisa.
“Please don’t leave me my love,” he whispered, “you’re all I have…”
His voice trailed off as a few tears streamed down his face.  At twenty-one, he had become an aimless wanderer.  He had taken his brother Sebastian out of Romania with an intention of getting to the first seaport available to them.  But Sebastian was gone too, having disappeared without a trace. 
Nicolae quickly moved his hand up to wipe his face dry and lit the small lantern, filling the tent with dim light.  He reached into the bag he carried, his hand brushing the wooden box always without fail.  Sometimes touching it was painful, but it was another way he was able to stay close to her.  Nicolae took out the map he had been using.  He had crossed nearly the entire European continent on foot.  In the end, Nicolae decided to go through with his original plan of boarding a ship to America.  He didn’t know what would happen once he got off the ship (if the ship would even make it to an American port), nor did he have any sort of plan.  But what he did know was that there was nothing left for him in Europe. 
Nicolae studied the map, plotting his next path.  He estimated another month or two before he would reach a port depending on his stops.  He looked up and lifted the flap of his tent open, peering out at the huts in the village he had been staying in for the past three nights.  It was the first time since leaving Romania that he had stayed with other Rom.  Nicolae had, for the most part, kept to himself on his travels opting to stay sleeping outdoors during the warmer months.  Nicolae still preferred traveling at night.  It was quiet, still, and generally kept people out of his way.  The less he had to encounter, the better.  It would only be when the weather would turn cold that he took refuge in churches or monasteries.  Nicolae wasn’t particularly religious and lately, he wasn’t sure of where he even stood with all of that, though he had kept the small wooden crucifix a bishop had given him in Prussia.  The crucifix was on a long, leather strap to be worn around the neck.  Nicolae never wore it and instead kept it in his bag. 
The Gitano village was a more cared for version of his slave village near Alexanderescu Castle.  It was difficult for Nicolae to recall the aristocrat family that owned him for nearly twelve years of his life and not feel the flames of rage creep into him.  Aside from that, it was hard for him to think of any type of elite group or public figure without his blood reaching a boiling point.  But Nicolae tried to not allow it to consume him.  He turned his eyes upward to look at the remaining stars in the early morning sky and the memories of sitting under a starry sky as a little boy with his father flooded him. 
With a heavy sigh, Nicolae let go of the tent’s flap, letting it fall back to it’s original place.  He placed the dagger that he kept within reach of him as he slept back into the sheath on his belt before folding the map back up placing it into his bag.  The bag was slightly fuller than it was when he had arrived.  The elders of the village had provided him with a few more supplies the night before.  When he was ready to leave, Nicolae exited the tent, beginning his journey out of the village and back onto the path toward the Spanish seaport.  As he walked along the trail, a brief flash of him and Sebastian hiking along the creek in the Transylvania woods entered his mind.  Nicolae imagined that the essence of him and his younger brother were forever etched in time along that creek in the woods back in Transylvania.  Part of him and Sebastian were still in those woods and oddly, that gave Nicolae some comfort after Sebastian had disappeared.  The night Nicolae’s road to solitude came to a full circle.

That road to solitude began for Nicolae at the age of eight.  It had started with the killings of his parents, Luiz and Anabel Ganoush after they had gotten Nicolae and his five siblings up in the middle of the night to escape to a seaport.  The family lived in a slave village near the Romanian-Moldovan border.  The eldest of Luiz and Anabel’s children were twelve-year-old fraternal twin boys, Emilian and Lucas.  Nicolae followed the twins and six-year-old Carmina followed Nicolae.  The two youngest were four-year-old Cristina and Sebastian was two at the time.   
Word had gotten back to the village that about half of them were being traded at an upcoming auction.  There was no telling who would be auctioned and separating families from one another wasn’t an uncommon practice.  Luiz and Anabel had both spent much of their childhood and adulthood in captivity and couldn’t bare the thought of their children in such a life any longer.  They would attempt an escape (as Nicolae and Sebastian would years later) only to be captured two days later resulting in the arrest and execution of Luiz and Anabel and the children being carted to the slave auction. 
The children were all bought by different slave owners.  It was only a fortunate coincidence that the Domn Anton Alexanderescu would buy Nicolae and Sebastian together.  Nicolae would never forget the seering gaze of the Baron as he placed the highest bid on him and his baby brother.  Anton was a man with a powerful build and stance.  He stood in the bidding crowd with the rest of the upper class wearing his lavish garb and regarding the Romani slaves as though they were nothing more than parasites whose only purpose was to cater to them.  The Domn’s onyx eyes, angular features, and sharply pointed dark facial hair reminded a young Nicolae of the devils in some religious paintings he had seen. 
As a child, Nicolae had been quite frightened of Anton Alexanderscu.  He would often have nightmares of the Domn coming into his bunk and attacking him and Sebastian.  Nicolae would wake up sweating even in the coldest weather and always checking to make sure that Sebastian was still with him.  Relief would set in when he would see his little brother safely next to him.  But there were times where even that wasn’t enough and Nicolae would get out from his cot and check around the bunk to be sure that the Domn wasn’t hiding somewhere in the dark.  When the Domn was nowhere to be found, Nicolae would return to the cot satisfied but still uneasy.  As Nicolae grew up, the childhood nightmares would leave him but the ghosts of his parents and his final memories of his siblings would follow him.
Nicolae and his siblings had all been purchased by new slave owners who would take each of them to different parts of Eastern Europe.  Nicolae’s last memories of Carmina and Cristina were their tear stained faces filled with fear as they were taken away.  The twins, Emilian and Lucas, did not have the better fortune of being purchased together as Nicolae and Sebastian had.  Emilian and Lucas tried to appear brave as their new owners put a rip between them that would never be repaired.  The twin boys who had come into the world together would die in the next two decades within minutes of one another in separate areas of the country.  If one were to see Emilian and Lucas prior to their separation, they might be able to detect a hint of knowing sadness beneath their brave façade as though the eldest Ganoush boys knew what the future held for them.
The helplessness Nicolae felt as his siblings were rounded up with the rest of the slaves overwhelmed him.  He had held onto Sebastian as tightly as he could when one of the Domn’s servants carted the newly purchased slaves to their new village near Alexanderescu Castle.  Nicolae remembered sitting among all the other new slaves, all of them with fearful anticipation, and hopelessness in their eyes.  Sebastian sat beside him, observing but not completely understanding what was happening.  At the age of eight, Nicolae was left to fend for himself and his little brother.  He vowed to his dead parents that he would take care of the little one and he would always be grateful that Sebastian was too young at that time to remember any of what had happened.

Despite the grimness of the situation, Nicolae help couldn’t help being amazed the first time he set eyes on Alexanderescu Castle.  The magnificent stone structure loomed over the extensive grounds owned by the Domn and had been in the Alexanderscu family since the late fourteenth century.  The stone was a dark gray hue and extended across the grounds with strategically placed towers.  The fortress was covered by a deep red roof that eerily reminded Nicolae of blood.  Anton’s wife, Elsa was just as intimidating as her husband.  She was tall and thing with her dark hair pinned severely back but still leaving ringlets to frame her face.  Elsa was one of those women who was quite beautiful but a pinched expression and hard glare would often distort her feminine beauty.  Elsa was a descendent of the House of Pejacevic of Croatia.  Two children had resulted from her and Anton’s arranged marriage.  Their son Dimitri was the eldest with their daughter Lucinda two years after.  Dimitri was eight years old, the same age as Nicolae, and Lucinda was six when their father had brought Nicolae and Sebastian back with the rest of the new slaves.  The two children took after their father as much as possible when it came to mastering Anton’s hard, burning glare when they regarded the slaves.
Nicolae and Dimitri would meet for the first time after Nicolae would be a slave for the Alexanderscu family for nearly a month.  Nicolae had been doing assigned chores around the castle when he had heard a loud crash followed by what sounded like two girls arguing.  Nicolae ran to see what was going on and came across Lucinda standing next to a large, broken vase and taunting a seven-year-old Romani girl.  Nicolae had recognized the other girl as Eloisa who had been brought to Alexanderscu Castle shortly after Nicolae and Sebastian had.  Nicolae had seen Eloisa around the village and the castle a few times, but had never really seen her up close until that day.  Lucinda and Eloisa had been in a heated argument over the broken vase.  It was clear to Nicolae that Lucinda had broken the vase (possibly on purpose) and was trying to blame Eloisa who had just happened to be there doing her assigned work. 

“You broke it!  I saw you!” Eloisa cried.
“So what?  No one’s going to believe you and you’re going to get in a lot of trouble!” Lucinda retorted.
Eloisa’s eyes welled up with tears.  “Why would you do that?  I didn’t do anything to you!”
“I felt like it,” Lucinda said with a shrug.  A mischievous and rather sadistic grin spread across Lucinda’s face before she yelled, “Daddy!!!  Come quick and see what happened!”
A look of horror crossed Eloisa’s face.  But that horror made a switch to anger when Eloisa reached out and pulled hard on a dark brown curl in Lucinda’s hair, taking Lucinda by surprise.
“OWWW!!!!” Lucinda screamed as Eloisa kept a tight grip on her hair. “MOMMY!!  DADDY!! HURRY!!!”
Nicolae felt his legs rushing him over to Eloisa.  He grabbed her from behind, pulling her from Lucinda.  Eloisa had ended up taking a clump of Lucinda’s brown hair in her fist.  As a crying Lucinda held the assaulted side of her head, the Domn and Elsa Alexanderescu came hurrying down the hall with two servants.  Not too far after them was Lucinda’s brother Dimitri with their governess.  A servant carried a sobbing Lucinda off as the governess walked alongside, coddling the little girl.  Elsa fixed her hard stare on Nicolae and Eloisa before following to where her daughter was being carried. 
Nicolae shifted his eyes over to Eloisa who looked quite pleased with herself, but that was easily evaporated with one angry look from the Domn.  It was then that Nicolae had noticed Dimitri.  It was the first time Nicolae had seen an aristocrat boy his age close up.  The son of Anton Alexanderscu was standing, looking from Nicolae to Eloisa, studying them as though they were specimens.  The boy did have his father’s eyes.
Nicolae’s stare was broken by the bellowing voice of the Domn.
“Dimitri,” Anton said, “go finish your studies.”
“Yes father,” Dimitri answered.   
The boy obeyed his father and headed down the hall toward the chamber where the governess gave him and Lucinda their schooling.  As he approached the staircase at the end of the hall, Dimitri took one final glance back at the two Romani children cowering under his father.  He looked at the boy, Nicolae and then at the girl.  Dimitri turned his eyes back to Nicolae and then fixed on the girl for another moment before heading back up to the schoolroom.

Nicolae had ended up taking responsibility for the broken vase.  It was obvious that trying to explain to the Domn what had really happened wouldn’t do any good (and would very likely make the situation even worse) and Eloisa would still be punished for attacking Lucinda.  But Nicolae figured that he could at least take some of it off of Eloisa.  The two of them had been sentenced to a week of even more physically demanding tasks after taking a paddling each (they had been spared the whip due to them being children).  Nicolae and Eloisa would also be separated during their punishment, but that incident would only be the beginning for them. 
Nicolae would watch Dimitri and Lucinda, wondering what it would be like to live in a castle full of servants and to have everything handed to you.  Dimitri and Lucinda were always dressed in their finest as their governess took them on outings.  In addition to their private schooling, Dimitri would get fencing, jousting, and combat training while an etiquette coach would come to give Lucinda lessons on being a proper young lady (which would be something Eloisa would often make rather snide jokes about).  Both Alexanderescu children were also given equestrian lessons by some of the country’s finest instructors.  There were all things that Nicolae would observe as he completed his tasks around the castle.  As much as he would dislike the Alexanderescu family, he couldn’t help feeling a slight envy over the fact that they at least were a family and had not been taken from one another.  Despite being raised by some of the women in the new village, Nicolae never felt a close familiarity to anyone other than Sebastian.  But that would soon change with Eloisa.
Eloisa had come from the Wallachia area after having been separated in a slave auction from her uncle who was the only family she had had.  As children and after the situation with the vase, Nicolae and Eloisa would occasionally cross paths with one another.  As they grew, the connection between them became more apparent.  They wouldn’t even need to say much to one another; even a simple glance would say a lot when it came to what was developing between Nicolae and Eloisa.  They began exchanging words when she was fifteen and Nicolae was sixteen.  They slowly began finding time to spend together and Nicolae also liked the kindness she would always show Sebastian.  He had felt a change in him as he got to know Eloisa.  He was no longer feeling alone and he welcomed the companionship Eloisa offered him.  Eloisa had also found herself starting to heal as her relationship with Nicolae progressed.  They often walked together in the woods in the evening.  They would just be together and talk.  It was on their third walk together when they held hands for the first time and a month after that was when Nicolae knew he was falling in love with her.  He had a small touch of fear when it came to getting close to someone but knowing that Eloisa felt the same way about him allowed for him to want to push through any apprehension he may have had.  On the first night of Eloisa’s sixteenth year, he finally got up the nerve to kiss her and consummating their commitment to one another would not be long after that.

Nicolae continued down the trail under the early morning sky as the Gitano village he was just in faded into the background.  He was shaken from his memories as feelings of being followed began to seep into him.  The more steps he took, the stronger it became.  It wasn’t long before Nicolae began to hear footsteps behind him.  Nicolae quickened his pace, placing his hand on the sheath that held his dagger.  He listened intently as it seemed that the footsteps behind him sped up, drawing closer.  Nicolae stopped, spinning around and taking out his dagger.  He could hear his heart pounding in his ears as he looked out to the empty, dark trail, narrowing his eyes as he strained to see deep into the darkness.  Chills covered his skin despite the warm, balmy morning.  One thing was for sure, he would be glad when he reached the seaport and would get as far away from here as possible.  He didn’t want to be in a country that took his family and those he loved.  Nicolae turned around and began his walk down the trail again with his dagger in one hand and his other in his bag clutching the box.  His thoughts were of his missing little brother when he saw something out from the corner of his eye.  A shadow…it was scampering across the field next to the trail at a speed that was impossible for any human to move at.  Nicolae felt his heart lurch as he turned toward the area to see the cause of the shadow.  As before, his surroundings were void of any forms of life.  There was no sign of any human or animal on the field.
Nicolae stood at the side of the dirt road, deep in thought, almost in a trance.  He could sense a small shift, the same he had felt the night he and Sebastian escaped, the night he met the cloaked man, and the night Sebastian disappeared.  Nicolae had his guard down when he felt a hand on his shoulder.  He whirled around, raising his dagger to his attacker.
“What do you want!” he yelled.
“Please! It’s only me!” a small, frightened voice answered.  A young girl stood cowering in front of him.  It was a girl from the camp he had just been at, the one who had brought him there with her younger sister.  He didn’t speak to her much after his arrival at the village and hardly remembered her name.  Nicolae took a calming breath before saying, “What do you think you’re doing?!”
“I’m sorry,” she stammered, “I didn’t mean to startle you…”
“Well, you do realize I could have killed you,” Nicolae said, “Now answer my question.  What are you doing here?”
“I followed you,” she confessed after a pause.
Nicolae’s eyes widened with surprise.  He looked down at Teresa.  She was pretty, beautiful in fact.  He couldn’t deny that.  He looked at her for another second before turning away.
“Well, that was a silly move,” he told her, “If I were you, I’d get back to your village.  I’m sure they’ll be worried when they discover you gone.”
Nicolae continued down the trail away from Teresa.
“I can’t be there anymore,” she called to him, “I just can’t.” 
Nicolae stopped and turned back to her. 
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
Teresa paused before drawing in a breath and saying, “I want to come with you.”
Nicolae looked at Teresa in disbelief.    
“Don’t be absurd,” he told her in a rather arrogant tone as he turned his back to her again.
“Luiz, please…” Teresa began.
 “You have no place with me or where I’m going,” Nicolae sharply cut her off.  He quickened his pace, but a determined Teresa jogged to catch up to him.
“How do you know?” Teresa boldly asked.
“Because I do,” Nicolae answered.
He could feel the young girl’s eyes on him, studying him as if she really wanted to know him and that was the last thing Nicolae wanted.
“Well, that’s not much of an answer,” Teresa countered, her voice wavering slightly.
Nicolae stopped abruptly, turning back to her.  His dark eyes pierced into her and his handsome features twisted into a defensive sneer.
“Well it’s an answer you are going to have to accept,” he told her with his voice rising, “now good day.”
Teresa stood on the trail, visibly hurt as Nicolae walked away from her.  If Nicolae had bothered to look behind him, he may have caught a glimpse of the tears that streamed down Teresa’s dejected face.  He began to feel guilt for the manner in which he had just treated her.  After all, she had been generous enough to invite him to stay in her village and Nicolae had to admit that it had been nice staying with other Romani for a change.  He considered going back and apologizing to her, but decided against it as he feared that it would only encourage her to want to follow him. 

It’s for the better, Nicolae thought, you really are better off not knowing me.

Nicolae continued his journey down the trail, a few steps closer to leaving the cruelty of his past behind him.  Every so often, the young girl from the Gitano village would enter his mind.  It was for the better that she did not know Nicolae Ganoush, former slave and fugitive and instead knew Luiz, simply the young man who had passed through her village on his way to a seaport.  That was all she and anyone else would need to know and Nicolae wished to keep it that way.

Read on to CHAPTER 5 .

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