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Authors: Kaitlin R. Branch

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BOOK: Valeria
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Mache panted as she prodded at his wrist as if to be certain it was fully broken. “I dislike liars,” she said. “I dislike lies. Lies kill. Lies hurt. More importantly, lies kill others, hurt others. I merely make certain when lies are discovered, they hurt the right people.”

She lay out a wad of shirt on either side of his head and then inspected the point of one of her utensils. Satisfied, she knelt on his chest. To his horror, she was smiling. Her clawed fingers rose even with his eyes, the points so close that no matter how he strained they would not focus. “By my accounts you have been here for six months. For every day, I will extract an hour. As you have taken no life, I will not take yours, but I assure you, Mache, this will not be pleasant.”

 

Chapter Three

 

The man awoke with water on his face. Rain? Yes. Rain. His hands were twisted and his shirt in tatters.

He could not see.

Dimly, he recalled pain. Screaming. Curved crimson lips. He remembered a woman with one golden eye and one blue eye. A dirigible?

It didn’t matter, he thought. Whatever he had been before, whoever he had known, it was gone now. He climbed to his feet, groping for a wall, found one, and began to walk.

* * * *

He walked in a straight line. Streets came and went. People talked.

“Who is that?” they whispered.

“A clockwork beast,” some whispered, “the parts were installed but the mind was lost.”

He smiled. A lost mind indeed. At least a lost mind was a clear mind, though.

“A crazy man,” others answered. “Stay away or he may kill you.”

No, he was content as long as he could keep walking.

“A shaman of the lost arts,” another said. “He is walking the world in poverty to teach us of humility.”

He liked the sound of that. Perhaps he would really do it.

He walked. Voices changed. Sometimes he didn’t hear them for days on end. Sometimes he was harassed but as the climate turned warmer people became more friendly, more curious. Some spoke to him, laid hands on him and pressed food into his broken fingers. He always tried to thank them as he could, but never lingered.

He only knew his path was east because in the morning the sun was in his face. In the evening it was at his back. He wandered south as people kindly directed him away from walking into the ocean. Languages passed. The man was certain that sights beyond awe passed before his blind eyes. It didn’t matter.

A year had passed, he guessed, when the man came to a port city where he could find no further directions.

“Where you headed?” someone asked.

“East.”

“You lookin’ te throw yerself into the sea?”

“I only want to walk.”

The man could smell the salt on the old sailor as he threw back his head and laughed. “A pilgrim, eh?” he asked. “Tell you what. You can’t go much further east without having to double back west again. But you
can
go south, with some help.”

“I was told there was ocean there too,” the man said.

“That there is.” There was the firm pat of a hollow wooden hull. “And that’s what this ol’ girl’s for. Happens I’m bound to do some trade in Morocco. Strangers and cripples are good luck on a voyage. I’ll take you over and you can keep walking south.”

The man thought and, finding this proposal acceptable, boarded the vessel. They sailed to Morocco under clear skies, smooth oceans and steady winds.

“Aye, boy,” the sailor said as they disembarked and clapped the man on the shoulder. New clothes were put into his hands along with a packet of food. “That’s the smoothest sailing I’ve ever done. Can I ask, why are you walking?”

“I don’t know,” the man replied.

“You got a wife?” the captain asked. He tapped the man’s twisted fingers.

The man blinked and used his cheek to feel at his fingers. A ring. His brow furrowed. “I don’t remember,” he said.

The captain patted his shoulder again. “Good luck, friend,” he said. “I hope you find her.”

“If she’s alive,” he said. He didn’t quite know why he phrased it in such a way.

He continued to walk. The land turned, dirt to sand, and the air from pleasant to hot. The people were still kind, though, and he never wanted for food or water.

One day as he bathed his face in a public fountain there was a shriek. “Mache!” The voice cried, and hands fell upon him, stroking over his face, down the shirt which the captain gifted him on their voyage, softly moving over his gnarled hands. “Oh my darling, is it really you?”

He squinted, for the first time truly regretting the loss of his sight. All he could see was the impression of gold. “Who are you?” he asked.

“Mache,” she whispered. “Oh, love. Come. Come with me.”

The woman took him into her home, where two young children sat on his knees and babbled at him in words only they could understand. He smiled broadly, uncomprehending of why he was here, but contented in the shade of the golden woman’s home.

She fed him. She clothed him. She bathed him. When the children fell asleep, she led him to her bed and kissed him deeply. Confused, he returned the kiss. The image of a leather corset came to mind, the laces slowly loosening in soft light caught in softer hair. He grasped at the memory, tried to hold it only for it to slip through his fingers. She was patient and guided his hands over hers as she did the lacing.

Deep in the night she whispered, “I can heal you.”

“Can you?” he asked, staring at the ceiling. “It would be nice to see again.”

“Mache…”

“Is that my name?”

“Yes.” She leaned over and kissed him again. Her hands warmed his as she drew his ring off of his finger.

“What are you doing?” he asked, alarmed. The ring was his only clue to his past. Even if he’d accepted that he would never go back to the way things were, he still wanted to keep it. It was important. He knew that.

“Hush,” she said, and stroked his hair. “Trust me.”

He thought for a moment. With everything that she had done for him, perhaps she deserved his trust. “All right,” he said and let her take the ring. What was he doing with it, anyway?

Many weeks passed. The children were twins, a boy and a girl. He never tired of them, even when the woman spent many hours busy at some work. When he asked, she only said she was helping him. At night she took him to her bed and lay with him. Slowly it grew less strange.

After a month, she took his hand and instead of leading him to bed, laid him on the kitchen table. She kissed his cheek. “I made your ring,” she whispered, “with the very elements needed to bring back your sight. It was not my intention ever to use it in this way, though, my love.”

“I don’t even know your name,” he murmured, reaching out to stroke her face.

“You will, Mache.”

“All right.”

He lay back and with a potion she sent him into a sleep so deep he noted nothing for many hours. His dreams were filled with windows looking over a countryside he no longer remembered, a dirigible decorated with bronze and crystal, a box from which he looked down upon a woman he loved with golden hair pinned up with a slim rod, who bent over something. Periodically she looked up and smiled at him.

Will you let down your hair? he asked.

Not yet, she replied.

Now? he asked later.

No, she said.

He waited again. Please let down your hair, he urged.

When you awaken, she said. Perhaps I will.

He took a deep breath and returned to consciousness. His eyes ached. He tried to blink but there was nothing. His breath caught in a panic and he tried to reach his hands to his face. Long, slim fingers caught his wrists. “Mache,” she cried. “Wait. Wait, calm down, it’s okay!”

“I cannot see,” he whispered, “I still cannot see.”

She leaned over, murmuring into his ear, stroking his hair until his breathing returned to normal. She stood up again. “I haven’t turned them on yet,” she said. “We can fix your hands later. Are you ready?”

He nodded. “Yes. I want to see you.”

“Then,” she shifted a few wires, and suddenly his eyes were assaulted with light. It did not hurt in the same way it would have pained his natural eyes. More than anything it was surprising, and the woman who stood before him was the greatest surprise.

It was the woman from the dream, though she did not look as young as he remembered her. There was no mistaking the gleaming golden eye, the long slim fingers that worked wire and crystal, even the hair now pulled back and up. As his expression changed from confusion and fear to awe and joy, she reached up and let her golden tresses fall to her shoulders. “Mache,” she murmured, smiling and breathless as if she’d recently returned from a lesson in flying.

He sat up and pulled her close, burying his face in her hair. “Valeria!”

 

 

 

About Kaitlin R. Branch

 

Kaitlin enjoys a variety of things, such as running, dancing, writing, Patrick Stewart pontificating about the letter, ‘B’, swimming with sharks and taking naps in the sun. She is currently an ESL teacher in South Korea with her husband and writing partner Michael. She can be found at www.kaitlinandmichaelbranch.com, on Facebook–www.facebook.com/pages/The-Athele-Series/138271962938031–or on twitter with the handle @theatheleseries.
 

Website:

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Valeria

9781616504199

Copyright © November 2012, Kaitlin R. Branch

Edited by Antonia Tiranth

Book design by Lyrical Press, Inc.

Cover Art by Renee Rocco

First Lyrical Press, Inc. electronic publication: November, 2012

 

Lyrical Press, Incorporated

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eBooks are not transferable. All Rights Reserved. This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

PUBLISHER’S NOTE:

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

 

Published in the United States of America by Lyrical Press, Incorporated

 

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BOOK: Valeria
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ads

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