Monday, March 4, 2013

PART 1, NICOLAE'S ESCAPE: Chapter 5 (UNEDITED)

If you are just catching up, see the CHAPTERS section to read the Prologue-Chapter 4 before proceeding to reading Chapter 5.  

Otherwise, read PART 1, NICOLAE'S ESCAPE: Chapter 5 from the jump :) 




Nicolae ran though long, dark corridors not knowing where he was or how he had gotten there.  All he knew was that he had to get out.  Eloisa was here.  He could feel her presence as he frantically searched for her.  He called her name, but his voice was drowned out by the howling winds circulating through the black maze. 
A small, dark haired boy suddenly ran out ahead of him before turning a corner.  Nicolae recognized the boy almost instantly.
“Sebastian!”  Nicolae tried to call out, “Sebastian!  Wait!”
Nicolae continued on in pursuit of his brother.  He would catch glimpses of the boy, turning a corner and would follow only to come up empty or at a dead end. 
The urgency in Nicolae to find Eloisa and Sebastian grew as the howling wind carried a woman’s whispering voice.  Nicolae paused, straining to hear what was being said. He couldn’t make out the words, but the rhythm of the voice resembled chanting.
Nicolae’s mind began to cloud as his senses dulled and his limbs turned to stone. 
The chanting continued as a pair of cold hands slipped up from behind Nicolae and enclosed around his throat.  The rotting flesh and long, claw-like fingernails pierced into his neck, reawakening him.  Nicolae struggled to break free of the deadly grasp and saw Sebastian, standing at a short distance from him, staring at his older brother fighting for his life.  Nicolae briefly shut his eyes as he strained to pull the choke hold off of his neck.  He reopened his eyes to Sebastian right in front of him, hovering above the ground at Nicolae’s level, looking into him with eyes that were completely black.  The boy’s features were more angular than Nicolae remembered.  Sebastian’s mouth opened into a hideous grin that boasted rows of razor sharp teeth.
“Let me in, Nicolae,” he hissed…

…Nicolae sat up gasping for air and bringing a hand to his throat.  His eyes frantically searched the empty, abandoned farmhouse that he had stopped in for the night.  He let out a sigh, releasing his hand from his throat.  Nicolae waited for his breathing to return to normal.  He was still shaken by what had just taken place.  He shuddered as he noticed a small smear of blood on his hand.  He brought his hand back to his neck and discovered that he did have a small amount of bleeding in the same area where the claws had been digging into him.  Nicolae searched the floor he had been sleeping on, looking for a stray nail, anything that would logically explain why he was bleeding.  But he knew that most of what he had experienced in the last two years defied any type of physical logic.
Nicolae rose, onto his still trembling legs and picked up his bag.  He decided to move on as there wouldn’t be any way he could or would want to fall back asleep.  A lump of despair rose into Nicolae’s throat as he thought of how the only serenity he had left had been invaded. 
Sebastian’s disappearance troubled Nicolae more than anything else.  While losing his parents, other siblings, and Eloisa had been the most horrific experiences of his life, he at least knew what had happened with them.  With Sebastian, there were no answers.
Nicolae started toward the house’s front door, intending to exit as quickly as possible and start back toward the path, putting as much distance between him and the house as he could.  He was about to step outside when he heard a loud bang on the floor above him, as if a piece of furniture had been knocked over.  Nicolae turned back, listening as the house fell silent again.  It wasn’t long before he heard footsteps sliding across the floor toward the top of the staircase.  Every warning sensory in Nicolae’s body was going off.  Somone was up there.  Someone who intended to follow him.  He could tell by the sound and pattern of the footsteps that his pursuer was human. 
Nicolae made quick, silent strides over to the staircase and crouched down beside it.  He took out his dagger from his sheath and another out from his bag.  He looked up with anticipation as a human shape appeared at the top of the stairs.  He timed himself as the shape moved swiftly down the stairs.  As his pursuer reached the bottom of the stairs, Nicolae rushed out and pummeled the individual to the ground.  The scream that came from the person caught him off guard.  It took him a few seconds to find his words when he realized who he had just pinned down to the floor.
“What the hell is wrong with you?!” he finally yelled.  “Once again, I could have killed you!  Have you no sense at all?!”
Teresa lay on the floor underneath him, frozen with shock and fear.  Nicolae stood up from being on top of her, put his daggers in one hand and offered her assistance in standing with his other.
“Get up,” he ordered.
A shaken Teresa hesitated before taking Nicolae’s hand and allowing him to help her up.  Teresa stared at the floor as Nicolae retrieved his bag from over by the stairwell.  He got out his flask of water and unscrewed the lid.
“Here,” he said, handing the flask to Teresa.
Teresa looked at the flask and then at Nicolae, staring at him and not saying a word.
“It’s just water,” Nicolae said rolling his eyes, “I’m not going to poison you.”
Teresa slowly took the flask from him and took a small sip of water.  She watched as Nicolae walked across the room away from her before she took in some more water.  He stood with his arms folded as he turned back to her, their eyes locking.
“Are you alright?” he finally asked.
Teresa clutched the flask, still unable to answer him.
“Look, I apologize for attacking you,” Nicolae continued, “but you shouldn’t be sneaking around behind someone in the dark.  What if I ended up slicing your throat before realizing it was you?”
“I…I don’t know…I wasn’t thinking…” Teresa managed to say.
Nicolae sighed.  “Besides, I thought I told you to go back to your village.  We’re quite far from it now.”
There was a long pause between them before Teresa said, “I know… and I told you I can’t be there anymore.”
Nicolae walked back over to Teresa studying the girl as he got closer to her.
“So you’ve been following me since this morning,” he said.
Teresa nodded.
Nicolae gave her a wry smile.  He couldn’t help feeling amused and slightly impressed that she managed to follow him for a full day unnoticed.
“Have you had enough?” Nicolae asked indicating the flask.
Teresa nodded and handed it back to him.  She watched as Nicolae secured the lid back onto the flask and caught a glimpse of his precious box as he returned the flask and one of his daggers to his bag.
“Just out of curiosity,” he continued returning the other dagger to the sheath on his belt, “for how long were you planning on following me without my knowing?”
Teresa shrugged sheepishly.  “I don’t know…” she said.
Nicolae shook his head and ran a hand over his face.  “I have to take you back to your village,” he said.
“No!” Teresa protested.
“They woke up to both of us missing.  It’s possible that they think that I’ve kidnapped you.”
Teresa took her eyes from Nicolae.  “I did try writing a note…” she said.  Her reading and writing abilities were next to non-existent.  She had wanted to learn, but everytime she would try Gabriella or one of the elders would discourage her, saying that all she needed to learn how to be was a good wife to her future husband. 
“You tried.  Meaning they still don’t know that you left on your own,” Nicolae prodded.
“I think,” Teresa said.
“No, no you think.  Yes or no, were you successful in writing your note telling them you left at your own choice,” Nicolae said.
“No,” Teresa admitted.
“Well, I’m taking you back.”
“Please don’t,” Teresa begged, her voice barely above a whisper, “I can’t go back.”
“Why not?”
“They want me to get married.”
“And you don’t want to?” Nicolae asked.
“No…I mean yes…just not to the boy they picked out for me.”
Nicolae took a step closer to the girl.  There were some things about her that reminded him of Eloisa, though her face was a bit rounder and she was shorter and a little softer spoken than Eloisa had been. 
Nicolae shook his head. “You’re certain no one has followed you here?”
“Yes,” Teresa insisted, “I kept watching all day to make sure no one was following me.”
Nicolae gave out a relenting sigh.  “Well, I will admit I’m impressed you made it this far outside of your village, regardless of how foolish a move it was,” he said.
Teresa’s eyes lit up but Nicolae held up a hand cutting her off before she had the opportunity to say anything.
“Listen, if you’re that intent on traveling with me I want to make a few things clear,” he continued. “You mind your own business and I mind mine.  I’m not looking for any type of close companionship.  I’ll take you to the seaport and see that you get on and off the ship safely and I’ll do my best to see that you are given whatever you need once we are off.  But that is the extent of our relationship.  If you can’t accept those conditions, tell me right now because otherwise it is best for you to return to your village.”
Teresa tried to mask her disappointment. 
I’m not looking for any type of close companionship…that is the extent of our relationship echoed back to her. 
No, that’s not acceptable, she wanted to say, I think it’s ridiculous how you keep yourself so closed off from everyone.
But she nodded in agreement.  Perhaps she would find a window of opportunity to get closer to him.  This was better than nothing and going back to the village was out of the question to her at this point.
“Good,” Nicolae said, “if we set out now, I expect to cover much ground before the next nightfall.  What did you bring with you?”
“What do you mean?” Teresa asked.
“You know.  Supplies.  Food, weapons, anything?”
“Not really…” Teresa muttered.
“Yes or no. ‘Not really’ isn’t an answer,” Nicolae said.
“No,” Teresa said.
“And how long did you plan to follow me undetected without anything to sustain you?”
“Well, I did bring some food with me… but…I ate it all,” she confessed.
Nicolae rolled his eyes and raked a hand through his wavy black hair.  “This is going to be a long night.  Do you not have any concept of rationing?”
“I guess not,” Teresa said through gritted teeth.  It’s going to be a long night for me too if you keep talking to me as if I’m stupid, she thought, I can learn you know.
Teresa watched Nicolae who seemed to be deep in thought, weighing out options in his mind.  He finally broke the silence by saying, “Look, it’s probably better that I take you back.”
“Why,” Teresa demanded.
“Because I lack the time and patience to parent someone and that’s what you need,” he snapped.  “You’ve proven to me that you know nothing of survival and I’m not in a position to teach a novice.”
Teresa’s mind was spinning with all sorts of potential reactions.  Her body shook as she searched for the right words to say back to him.  She had never stood up to anyone before, at least not to the extent where it could potentially result in an argument.  Her clenched fists began to go numb.  Her mouth was dry as she tried to speak, not knowing what would come out of it.
“You know nothing about me,” Teresa managed to croak out.
“What are you talking about,” Nicolae asked.
“You think you know everything,” Teresa said.  Her voice shook and she was on the verge of bursting into tears and was trying her best to keep from doing so. 
Nicolae looked at her, puzzled.  “I’m telling you the way it is,” he said, “would you rather I lie to you just so you feel better?”
“Well you don’t have to be so mean!” Teresa exploded.  Her willpower in holding back her tears crashed as she ran out of the house.
Nicolae stood dumbfounded at what had just happened.  He knew he couldn’t let her run out into the night by herself. 
“Hey!” he called as he ran out after her, slinging his bag across his torso (it was then he also realized he didn’t remember her name).  Nicolae was able to catch up to her in almost no time.  He stopped her by grabbing her arm.  He turned her to face him and took her by the shoulders. 
“Let go of me!” she cried struggling to get out of his grasp but he was too strong for her.  Nicolae could see Teresa’s cheeks were stained with fresh tears.
“And what’s your plan if I do?” he countered.  “Do you even know the way back to your village?  Did you watch your path in case you would have to retrace your steps?”
Teresa collapsed defeated.  Nicolae loosened his grip on her as she sank to the ground sobbing.  He looked at her for a second before sitting down next to her.
“I’m sorry,” he finally said, “it’s just that…living the way I do…it’s not easy.  Even for me.  You always have to be thinking at least twenty steps ahead of where you are and you can never let your guard down.  Like I said, it even gets hard for me.”
Teresa’s sobs died to small hiccups.  “Do you even remember my name?” she asked.
“No,” Nicolae said, “I make it a point not to remember anyone’s name.  It keeps encounters less personal.”
“Why do you live your life alone?” Teresa asked as she wiped tears away with the back of her hand.  She could see Nicolae tense up at her question.  But he then relaxed a little before answering, “Because I choose to.”
“But why,” Teresa asked.
“Look,” Nicolae said trying to hold his patience, “part of the agreement of us traveling together is that we both mind our own business and not pry into the other’s life.”
“I know,” Teresa said, “but I want to know more about you.  I want to know you and for you to know me.”
Nicolae looked at the pretty young girl who wore her heart on her sleeve.  Pangs of guilt began to rack his body as he tried to search for the words to get through to her.
“My name is Teresa,” she continued, “so now you can call me by my name, Luiz.”
Nicolae looked back to the house, avoiding eye contact with Teresa as he didn’t have any intention of telling her about how he had adopted his father’s name.
“If you still wish to do so,” Nicolae said, “I suppose you can come with me.  But it is imperative that you do as I say.”
Teresa nodded. 
Nicolae stood up and then offered his hands to Teresa, helping her to stand.  Having his rough, callused hands around hers was enough for her knees to turn to liquid.  She had the sudden memory of following him out to the lake only a couple nights ago and fought the heat that crept up toward her face as she noticed the faint outlines of his chest through his clothing.  Teresa was shaken from her fantasy when Nicolae broke their physical connection.
“First and foremost,” he said indicating his bag, “never leave your supplies lying unattended.”
Teresa looked down at the bag catching a corner of the box poking out.
“What’s in that box,” Teresa asked. 
A defensive glint streaked Nicolae’s eyes.  “That is none of your concern,” he said, “and don’t ask me that again.” 
Nicolae began walking ahead of her before he stopped and turned back to her, waiting for her to follow.  She jogged to catch up to him and peered up at the man she only knew as Luiz, walking in a stoic silence beside her.


~~~~~~~~


They had only been traveling for an hour when Teresa began lagging behind.  Nicolae asked her three times if she needed to rest before Teresa would admit to her weariness. She hadn’t slept at all that night.  Back at the abandoned house, she had wanted to be sure that she would be awake when Nicolae would leave and as a result, had sat waiting in the dark until he had woken up.  Nicolae selected a discreet area and Teresa insisted to a skeptical Nicolae that she only needed a few minutes to rest.  That was nearly an hour ago and Teresa was still fast asleep under the tree they stopped at.  Nicolae sat with his hands inside his bag, tightly gripping the box that held Eloisa’s ashes and grateful for the silence.  Images of his wife filled his mind and the idea of her disappearing from him for good disturbed and frightened him.  He would be content if, for the rest of his life, he could continue being with her every night after he had gone to sleep.  They had consummated their union a month after Eloisa had turned sixteen and Nicolae never had a wanting to be with anyone else since, even after death took her.

Back in their village in Romania, Nicolae and Eloisa didn’t have much trouble when it came to seeing one another.  One thing that the Romani did have in common with the upper class was the chaperoned courtships with arranged marriages.  There were many Romani communities through Europe who managed to keep this tradition alive, Teresa’s village having been one of them.  But this proved to be more difficult in the countries where Romani slavery was still in practice.  Families were being torn apart and there was no telling how long a slave would even be kept by an owner.  Romani slaves were also discouraged from keeping the practiced traditions and identity of their culture, though many did their best to keep their traditions.  
Nicolae and Eloisa were chaperoned in the beginning, but they soon mastered the art of sneaking away from the village to be alone together and Dimitri Alexanderescu was among the main reasons they had begun their sneaking around.  In many parts of Romania, slaves would need to have permission from their owners to marry and due to Dimitri’s desire for Eloisa, the hope for her and Nicolae having any kind of real wedding wasn’t very great. 
Nicolae and Eloisa had their arranged methods of sneaking around to see or at least catch a glimpse of one another throughout their working day.  In the evenings (and in the morning on Sundays when the Domn and his family would attend Mass), they would go off together to designated locations.  Nicolae always looked forward to seeing her and holding her.
The night Nicolae made Eloisa his wife was in the early winter of 1842 during the annual Christmas gala at Alexanderscu Castle.  The castle was beautiful and festive at that time of year and the gala was a grand event, far grander than anything Nicolae and Eloisa had ever experienced.  That particular party was also the night Dimitri would be meeting his Austrian fiancée for the first time. 
Eloisa had been among the Romani slaves who had remained houseslaves after childhood and had worked in the kitchen during the preparation for the gala.  It was later found out that Dimitri had requested Eloisa remain a houseslave and that, of course, happened as Anton and Elsa never failed at giving their two children exactly what they wanted.  Dimitri lingered around Eloisa in the kitchen during the gala preparation, acting as though he had come to oversee everything on his father’s behalf, but would spend most of the time making subtle advances toward Eloisa.  But Nicolae and Eloisa had hoped that the advances from Dimitri would cease now that he was betrothed and would be meeting the girl he would marry, though that would end being far from the case. 
That night, Nicolae and Eloisa had snuck over to the castle to see the castle during the gala.  Despite their disdain for their owners, they couldn’t help being amazed at the castle’s appearance.  The joyous sounds of conversation and music coming from inside the castle made the home of the Domn almost appealing.  Nicolae and Eloisa had stood outside the gate at a safe distance, looking at the large Christmas tree out in front, the colored paper lanterns, the garland and ice sculptures that decorated the grounds.  Eloisa had wanted to go running through the maze of ice sculptures, but the castle and it’s grounds were heavily guarded for the event.  It was then that the light snow began to fall and Nicolae had leaned in to Eloisa, kissing her and suggesting they go someplace to be alone together.

“We are alone,” Eloisa teased him.
“You know what I mean,” Nicolae said smiling at her before he pulled her into another passionate embrace.  Their lips softly intertwined.  Nicolae allowed the tip of his tongue to enter her mouth causing Eloisa to let out a soft moan.
“Where do you want to go,” Eloisa asked as she and Nicolae held their embrace after their lips had parted.

Nicolae had taken Eloisa’s hand, leading her to the shed which had been Nicolae’s newest discovery at the time.  He had been thinking of bringing Eloisa there in the colder months as he came to realize that it wasn’t as used as the other shed and he set it up as best he could for her.

Nicolae lit up a lantern in the shed, filling the room with soft, dim light before shutting the door.  Eloisa watched with butterflies filling her stomach as he went to the other end of the shed and took down an old mattress discarded by the Alexanderescus and set it in the center of the shed.  She turned away, attempting to mask her nerves.  Through a small window above, just beneath the shed’s roof, Eloisa could see the light snow falling outside.  She felt Nicolae stepping up to her from behind, slipping his arms around her and pulling her to him.  Eloisa rested her head back onto his shoulder, feeling his lips on her hair and traveling down the side of her face to her neck.  Eloisa’s heart began racing as a mélange of feelings pulsed through her.  In the past month, she and Nicolae had shared a few heated embraces, but tonight, Nicolae was behaving more amorously than he before.  She gasped as she felt Nicolae becoming aroused through the shield of their clothing.
“Are you alright?” Nicolae asked her.
“Yes…” Eloisa said.
Nicolae loosened his embrace on her.  “What is it?”
Eloisa turned around to face Nicolae.  “It’s just…” she began lowering her eyes, “I…I love you, Nicolae.”
“And I love you,” Nicolae said.
He watched Eloisa eyeing the mattress. “Do you want to leave?” Nicolae asked.
“No…” Eloisa said, “it’s just that…if we…I mean, I want to but you know what it means if we do.”
“That you become my wife.”
Eloisa nodded.
“Is that something you would like?” Nicolae asked with nervous anticipation.
“Very much,” Eloisa said welling up, “but you know we have to get permission and you know how Dimitri is toward me.  And how the Domn watches us.”
“Yes,” Nicolae said, his voice darkening, “yes, I know.”
They stood silent for a moment before Eloisa spoke up again.  “Nicolae, I do want to be your wife.  More than anything.”
“Eloisa,” Nicolae said embracing her, “nothing could bring me more happiness.”
They held their embrace before Eloisa rose and softly kissed Nicolae’s lips.
“Nicolae,” she whispered, “please make me yours.”
“Are you sure?” Nicolae asked.
Eloisa nodded. 

Nicolae and Eloisa both knew that they were taking a risk that night, but sometimes one needs to take risks for the person he or she loves.  By that time, they came to strongly resent the idea of the Domn and his family running their lives to where they couldn’t openly be with one another.  While they wanted to have a real wedding one day, Nicolae and Eloisa saw that night as the beginning of them truly belonging to one another.  From their initial and rather clumsy seating on the mattress to the thrill of seeing each other undressed for the first time to Nicolae carefully entering her to extreme pleasure of the climax, that night had been the beginning of both of them truly feeling as though they belonged and had a purpose.  Nicolae lived for Eloisa and she was his, loving him the way he loved her. 

Nicolae rested his head back against the trunk of the tree and took the box of ashes out from the bag.  Wherever Nicolae ended up in life, he knew he wanted it somehow worked out to where his ashes would be spread with Eloisa’s following his own death, whenever that would end up being. 
Teresa rolled over in her sleep, reminding Nicolae of her presence.  He avoided looking at her as he placed his box back into the bag in case Teresa should wake up.  He wanted to avoid any more questioning of what the box held. 
Nicolae had found Teresa very challenging in the short time he had known her and far more exhausting to travel with than Sebastian.  She was quite the conversationalist and was not shy about telling Nicolae her life story even when his responses to her were less than enthusiastic (he couldn’t help the relief he felt when Teresa finally went to sleep).  Nicolae had also been able to cover alot more ground with his younger brother than with Teresa as Teresa insisted on arguing with him on things she knew nothing about.  Nicolae was having second thoughts of allowing Teresa to come with him any further.  They were still close enough to where he could get her back to her village in a relatively short time. 
Nicolae dared to look down at the sleeping girl.  She didn’t make traveling easy but he had to admit that his time with her so far had been far from dull.  And it was Teresa’s feistiness reminded him a little of Eloisa.  But Eloisa had a more mature worldliness to her where Teresa’s sheltered upbringing stuck out in her naivety.  What did get Nicolae’s attention was Teresa mentioning the loss of her parents at a young age.  That was one thing that Nicolae understood about Teresa and found common ground on with her even if he didn’t allow her to see it.  He was reminded of Sebastian and the early morning he had awoken to find his younger brother missing and had waited an entire day before moving on, searching for his brother.

Nicolae’s thoughts were interrupted by a rustling in the brush close to where he and Teresa were.  Nicolae stood facing the brush, taking out his dagger and stepped protectively in front of Teresa and the bag with Eloisa’s remains.  A shadow moved the brush and stepped out toward them.  Nicolae relaxed when it was discovered to be a fox.  The fox froze, gazing curiously at Nicolae before it turned and disappeared back into the trees.

Read on to CHAPTER 6 .

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