Sunday 5 – Wednesday 8 August 2012
Fire engulfed the small hamlet a few miles outside of the castle walls. Cottages, barns, fences, and crops were razed to the ground in only minutes, and Queen Josslyn’s death squad, as they had come to be known, galloped away in the direction of the castle. Their job was done; their lives would be spared.
Patrick Miller, with a child safely wrapped in each arm, watched his home burn. He prayed that somewhere in the village his wife would be in hiding, but he feared the worst. When the death squads came through, little survived, and it was a miracle that he and his children lived.
A weak hand clasped his left shoulder and he flinched, not expecting the sudden touch. He turned quickly, forcing his children behind him.
‘I’m sorry, Patrick. I didn’t mean to startle you,’ the old woman’s voice was still gentle despite the devastation and horror before her.
‘Ruby, you have a gift for surprising people whatever the situation. Where’s Hans?’ he asked. The old woman lowered her eyes to the ground, and Patrick understood that her husband of so many years had not been as lucky as she. He placed a hand on her shoulder, and squeezed ever so gently.
‘I’m so, so sorry, Ruby,’ Patrick whispered.
Ruby smiled, but her terrible loss had stolen the life from her own being, and it sat insipidly upon her lips in what looked as if it could be the beginning of a snarl.
‘Susannah?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Patrick shook his head.
‘If you want, the children can wait with me while you look.’
As desperate as he was to have his children close at this traumatic time, Patrick was more desperate to find his wife. He ushered the children forward to Ruby’s side, and knelt on the ground before them. He straightened their clothing as he spoke.
‘Papa will be back soon. You stay with Ruby, do everything she says, and I’ll be back soon.’
‘Are you going to get mother?’ the little girl asked.
‘I’m going to try and find her, yes, Eliza. Jack, look after your little sister until I come back.’ Patrick hugged both children, took one last look at them, and then disappeared into the smoke and haze of the village to find his wife.
Bodies barged past him, left and right, friends desperate to escape the inferno that was once their village. Ash and tear stained faces became a blur, passing by in rapid succession, with the occasional person grasping at Patrick’s arms, and begging for any information he might have about their loved ones. No one asked Patrick if his family was safe.
‘Susannah. SUSANNAH,’ he screamed as he ran, lungs burning from inhaling hot, smoke filled air. He searched the unrecognisable village three times before he understood why Susannah had not replied to his pleas. He ran to her, and dropped to his knees at her side. A grotesque, pained wail spewed from his body, as he cradled the beaten and broken corpse of his wife.
‘She’ll pay for this, Susannah. If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll make Josslyn pay for this,’ Patrick whispered.
. . . To be continued . . .