Author Topic: ❆ ~ The Lazarescu Girl: Constanta's Tale ~ ❆  (Read 1381 times)

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❆ ~ The Lazarescu Girl: Constanta's Tale ~ ❆
« on: May 06, 2017, 07:38:05 PM »
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Name: Constanta Lazarescu
Meaning: Steadfast; Romanian Surname
Age: 24 Yrs.
Race: Human
Religion: None
Former Steward of Krofburg
Origin: Krofburg, Barovia (Ravenloft Native)


"non ministrari sed ministrare -- not to be served, but to serve."

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Auriel's Ascension - Jeremy Soule
 1. Image by Vandal
« Last Edit: November 10, 2019, 03:34:41 PM by emptyanima »

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The Steadfast Child ❆ The Audacious Almost-Woman
« Reply #1 on: May 11, 2017, 06:01:45 PM »
All of Anca and Iacob Lazarescu's children were born during the wintertime, but only one survived beyond the week of her birth. Their home, the village of Krofburg, stood defiantly on the slopes of Mount Ghakis, against a force that levels armies; the elements, cold and unforgiving. The Lazarescu couple had pressed on, living as they must (for that is the way of the mountain folk), possessed of the same stubborn spirit as the village itself. They had not given themselves to lengthy grieving, and now, their quiet persistence had brought fruit.

Once the first week had passed, the Lazarescu girl was a source of celebration for her parents. Already, tufts of black hair, like the wings of raven chicks, crowned the young girl's head. Her eyes were strange among Barovian folk, being blue like ice as it reflects the stormy mountain skies. Her parents named her Constanta, for she had been steadfast. Sadly, she would have no siblings; she did not meet the sisters who came before and perished, nor the brothers that came after, though she came close to it once.

There were other forces, darker than the all-encompassing elements, which would deny Constanta this.


Gangly, and on the cusp of womanhood, Constanta was at play in the upper vineyards of the Barovian village. She wielded a fallen branch like a weapon, and was throwing herself into playful fighting with a similarly-armed playmate.

"Die, Gundarakite scum!" She shrieked, while her pretending playmate tumbled and feigned death. As the pair were rolling in the grass, emitting peals of childish laughter, Constanta presently noticed footsteps, approaching, behind her. These were steps she knew well. She stopped her laughter, beginning to shush her bemused friend, waggling her finger in an accusatory fashion. Constanta's cheeks were scarlet as she turned, dusting herself off.

She had been a friend of Laurentiu's for many years. He had always been a little older, a little wiser, and in many ways like an older brother to the Lazarescu girl. Lately however, she had found her feelings changing. She smiled at him.

"Salut, Laurentiu! What brings you to the vineyard?"

"I thought I heard the goats bleating, but it seems I found a pair of lambs instead." Constanta frowned, her blush deepening.

"We were clearing away the litter before seeing to the weeds, weren't we, Lina?" The girl behind her nodded, grinning sheepishly. Laurentiu appeared unconvinced. He paused presently, stepping closer to the Lazarescu girl.

"You have dirt on your face. Let me just..." He reached forward and began running a thumb over her cheek to lift the dirt. Constanta smiled involuntarily, her cheeks still scarlet. Laurentiu patted her shoulder once he was finished. "Now you look a bit more presentable, you mucky creature." The girl frowned, while her friend behind her burst out laughing.

"I was hard at work!" Constanta protested, "Don't talk to me like I am still a child, Laurentiu. I am almost grown." Laurentiu appeared incredulous.

"Enjoy being childish while you can, Constanta. You'll have to start thinking about getting wed and having children, and spending your days washing all their clothes." He grinned, and Constanta sighed.

"I am not being childish, Laurentiu. And..." She frowned. "Maybe I am thinking about getting wed." Constanta looked at Laurentiu for a moment. Laurentiu feigned gagging.

"I'll make sure to warn all the men, then." He turned and bolted, his longer legs taking him away from the girls as they gave chase.

"Hey, stop that, Laurentiu... don't!"

While she spoke of weddings now, she had no way of knowing that even though she would be betrothed to a boy, she would be unwed even seven years from that day.

Not even in her most violent nightmares could the Lazarescu girl have imagined why.

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A Traditional Proposal ❆ Winter's Embrace
« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2017, 11:30:12 AM »
Constanta did her best to conceal her disappointment (and bemusement) when her father told her that a boy who was not Laurentiu Sala had approached him to take up the traditional betrothal challenge (admittedly a couple of months prior to their usual period). She knew of Artur Rotariu by name and face (he did not have the same appeal as mischievous Laurentiu), but was surprised that he would come forward. While he greeted her in passing, he rarely spoke with her, usually hard at work on his family's land. She was not surprised that her father had accepted the challenge, however; while Barovians are not in the business of arranging marriages, they are often strong in the encouragement of their children to choose when they are of age, for life is often hard and childbearing years precious. In addition, the Rotarius were not troublesome, and their land yielded a reliable crop each year, no doubt giving peace of mind to any father looking for his daughter to live in health and comfort.


Artur was set a simple challenge, as far as many of these challenges go (disapproving fathers will set tasks of extremely difficult or impossible standard to drive off those he deems unworthy); to drive a lone wolf from the lower vineyard, slay it, and bring its pelt to the Lazarescu's home. He was of stocky build and no stranger to physical work, but care would need to be taken. When he crossed her father's threshold, the creature's pelt draped over his shoulders, Constanta acknowledged him with a small smile. Her father examined the pelt. He nodded.

"We will wait for the Festival of the Joining, of course. It is not so many months away now, and they will pass quickly." He approached the young man, and set his hands firmly on his shoulders. "And Artur? You will take good care of her, or you will get stern words from me." Artur ran a hand over the back of his neck.

"Understood, Domn Lazarescu." Artur looked over at Constanta now. She smiled sheepishly in return.

Then, Anca Lazarescu rose from her work at her loom.

"Come, Tanta. Let me measure you again, so I can make you a new dress for when the day comes."


Constanta was sweeping snow from the doorstep, brow furrowed in thought, when she became aware that she was being watched. She looked up and saw Artur, hoe in hand, turning the frigid earth of the field. She didn't know what to make of him. Then, as though hearing her thoughts, he set down the tool against the fence and approached. Though his stride could be called confident, there was evident bashfulness in his manner, and that worried the young woman.

Why was it me that he chose? Was it even his choice?

Artur did not look at her directly, speaking in a low voice.

"Constanta, walk with me."

"Why, Artur? Is something wrong?"

Artur cringed.

"No... nothing is wrong. Will you come or not?"

She hesitated for a moment before nodding.

"Alright, where are we going?"

"This way." Artur gestured towards the fields, and Constanta followed. They walked in silence for a while, side by side, when presently the young woman felt new warnth despite the chill. Looking down, she saw that Artur had taken her hand in his. She frowned in thought, but did not retract her hand. Eventually, they reached one of the Rotariu's barns, stocked with feed for the beasts to weather the winter months. The beasts themselves were in another barn nearby, giving the pair some privacy. The bales of hay provided some insulation against the chill, taking the edge from the winter which raged around them.

Artur let go of Constanta's hand, working then to push two of the bales close together. He smiled at his handiwork, took a seat on one side, and patted the space beside him. Constanta sat beside him. She felt his hand on hers again and frowned, her prior thoughts returning. Constanta was often introspective, something her father attributed to reading too many books -- all three that she owned were her most precious possessions.

Constanta looked at him, speaking firmly.

"You do not have to hold my hand if you do not want to, Artur."

The young man looked puzzled.

"Is this what you wanted?"

Confusion continued to cloud the young man's brow.

"Constanta, I do not understand..." She sighed.

"You do not have to marry me if you do not want to." He laughed bashfully.

"Constanta, no one made me do this." He smiled at her. "Why do you think I asked your father for the challenge before the betrothal festival?"

Constanta looked at the ground, frowning. Her cheeks were beginning to colour, and not with cold. "I thought that someone else would ask your papa if I waited."

Constanta looked at him.

"Why didn't you come and speak to me, then?"

"Well..." Artur shuffled slightly where he sat. "You were always spending time with Laurentiu, and I thought..."

"Laurentiu?" Constanta interjected with incredulity, laughing. "He doesn't want to marry me. He teases me too much for that." Artur rubbed the back of his neck.

"I was not expecting your papa to accept. I was expecting him to say that he had already asked. Silly Laurentiu." Artur rolled his eyes, smiling now. He looked relieved.

"Silly Laurentiu?" Artur looked at her, his smile broadening. He was the image of a plain, simple Barovian; no one could have accused him of being deceptive or misleading in his ways.

"Silly not to ask you." The colour of her cheeks darkened. He looked more solemn for a moment. "But I know it was not good of me to go to your father first. We still have some months before the festival, so... maybe we could try?"

Constanta considered him carefully. Smiling, she nodded. Artur sighed in relief. "That's good." He took a breath. "Yes, that's just swell, Tanta... can I call you that?" He was full of all the earnestness of a puppy; it practically radiated from his rough but youthful features.

"Yes, you can."

He seemed to pause for a moment, as though recalling a word of wisdom, and cleared his throat. When he spoke again, his voice was lower. "Good." He repeated, a sense of sheepishness still lingering. He stretched forth a hand, running broad, work-calloused fingers through her hair, then allowed his thumb to rest against her cheek. It was not an entirely natural movement (Constanta wondered to herself if he had rehearsed this beforehand), but he was surprisingly gentle. His thumb moved slowly down her cheek and towards her mouth; all the while, there was a look of focused concentration on Artur's face. She could almost hear his heart in his mouth. He opened his mouth a little, and Constanta looked up, as though expecting him to speak. Instead, she felt his mouth against hers, his tongue darting around hers like a salmon fighting its way upstream. While his technique was unrefined (which even Constanta, lacking experience, could tell), she could not doubt the boy's enthusiasm. She became faintly aware of his free hand hovering over her chest, drawing closer as the youth kept adjusting his expectations on how far her bosom was from reach. She took the opportunity to interlace the fingers of her free hand with his, gently resting them both on the straw seat.

She had surprised herself that her reaction had been to return his advance, and not to turn away. Pulling back, Artur looked cheerily dumbstruck for a moment.

"Er, sorry... I hope that was fine. You looked a bit nervous. Are you?"

"I was, a little." She smiled shyly. "But less now."

"Ah, good... good. Sorry, I am not so good with words as you, Tanta. But maybe I will be, if you help."

She nodded, very much more at ease. While he was no poet, his sincerity had its own charm. He kissed her again, then looked skyward out of the barn. "Ah, there's not going to be light much longer. I'll get you to your papa before he beats me." Constanta laughed, taking his hand for the duration of the short walk back.

Heading inside her father's home, she cleared her throat and looked at her parents.

"Tanta?" Her mother looked at her.

"Mama. Papa. I think I will love Artur. So... do not worry, if you were." Iacob Lazarescu arched a brow.

"I thought you did, girl? That's why he would have asked..." He frowned. "I hope you haven't been naughty."

"No, papa, I haven't."

"Well, I hope not. I already have one woman full of child to worry about, don't I?" He pulled Anca, who was stood beside him, into his arms where he sat, his large, rough hands clasped about her belly. Anca laughed, before a more somber looked reached her, as though she had caught herself. Iacob sighed. "I know, I should not get too excited so soon, Anca, but I cannot help myself. This time, I am certain, this one will be strong, like Constanta here."

Constanta rubbed her eyes. She had long wanted siblings, but the troubles they knew before her birth remained with them afterwards. Despite this, they were smiling. Perhaps, she thought, Artur and I can be like this. Her thoughts again turned to the boy she was to wed. He was right, I am fond of Laurentiu, but he doesn't look at me that way. Better to put that behind me and grow. To marry means to leave girlish things behind. She went and embraced her mother and father, before going to her preferred corner of their communal room and taking one of the three books she owned in hand (they had cost dear, and she prized each one), losing herself in it as the year drew to a close. As the months passed, she spent more time with Artur, and each time, she was more and more convinced that this had been the right choice. As winter loosed its grasp on the mountain village, she knew that she loved him.

That night, she lay down to sleep, and dreamt of a day that would never come.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2017, 04:40:01 AM by emptyanima »

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The Razing of Krofburg ❆ After Azazel
« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2017, 09:31:28 AM »
Spoiler: show
((I wasn't present for this event, as it took place in 2009. Please enjoy this more as a snapshot of an event that happened in the server's history, that has had its effects on my character, and others in play, though it may not be entirely true to what took place.))


Terrible screams, more terrible than any Constanta had ever heard, filled her head as she woke. Her weariness instantly dispelled, she cried out.

"Mama, papa! What's happening?" Her mother rushed to her, swelling with child as she was, and threw her arms around her.

"Tanta, Tanta..." She trembled violently, pulling the young woman from her bed, "We've got to run, now. Leave your clothes and your books, there's no time." Worry choked her voice, as it began to seize Constanta's.

"Where is papa?" Anca's brow was etched with worry.

"I can't find him. We need to find him and leave... Krofburg is overrun."

"Wh-what, what's happening? Invidians? Gundarakites? What's happening, mama?"

"D... d..." Anca trembled more violently. Constanta held her tightly. "Demons."

Constanta's blood froze.

"Papa! We have to find him!"

"Tanta, please, we have to be careful. I cannot... I cannot lose you." She cupped a protective hand behind her daughter's head for a moment, shaking.

"We cannot lose papa either! Stay here, mama, for the baby... I'll find papa and come back here, I promise." Anca wept.

"Tanta, please, it's too dangerous..."

"I can't stand by and do nothing, mama. The baby needs you, and we need papa." Constanta took her cloak and threw it over her nightclothes. She then took a leather belt and wrapped it about her waist, shoving her mother's sewing scissors and a knife into its pouches. Then, she ran into the village, which was blanketed with a smoke-filled, bloody sky as the sun tried to begin rising for dawn. As soon as the door was behind her, fear took her. Fire tore its way through the village, and the people were running in terrified panic from their homes. And then, she saw them. They belied description, terrible in their near-humanlike visage. But these were far from human. Hellspawn ran amok through the village Constanta loved.

Her heart felt as though it was in a vice grip. Would they come for her if she called out? She had no choice; still, she cried out. "Father? Where are you?" In the corner of her eye she saw movement. She forced herself towards it. Relief reached her as she drew close, recognising the silhouette she saw.

"Lina! I'm so glad you're alright! Listen, we have to run now..." She touched her friend's shoulder, preparing to turn her about. She was bemused by her silence.

Lina turned. Constanta screamed.

The girl that was once Catalina Negrescu stared back, though she did not have eyes, only tongues of flame in hollowed-out sockets.  Lina made sounds that were inhuman, and Constanta leapt back. The abomination lurched forward after her.  At that moment, the building next to them was seized by the flames, and it tore through the thatch in moments.  Still aflame, beam and thatch tumbled down, burying Catalina. She gave a terrible scream before being burnt away to bone and ash. Constanta covered her mouth and nose, smoke and sorrow stinging her eyes. Clambering to her feet away from the flames, she ran, somehow regaining the will to press forward.

"Papa!" She screamed, "can you hear me?!" She could not hear a response over the screams and the cacophony of the abominations. Her voice hoarse, she called again, fearful tears streaming down her cheeks. And then, she heard it, faintly at first, a familiar voice. She ran towards the voice she knew so well, whether chiding or in praise.

"Tanta! Tanta, I am here!" He bellowed. Constanta threw her arms around him as she reached him. He held her tightly as she sobbed. "I am so glad you aren't hurt. Where is your mother?"

"I told her to wait at home for us. I hope the fire's not gone that far...!" The two sprinted towards their small but well-loved home, and strained hope quickly turned to terror. The house was indeed aflame. Anca Lazarescu was sprawled in front of it, her skin pale. One of the demons was moving away from her.

"What have you done to my wife?!" Constanta could her father's rage rising within him, and she restrained him, pulling him instead towards Anca. As she tried to lift her, Constanta could see now that her mother's head was bleeding. She pressed her ear to her mother's breast and sighed in relief when she heard her heart beating. Then, Constanta stiffened. She moved a hand to her mother's belly now, desperate now to feel the movements of the child within. She found only stillness.

"No..." Constanta whispered, her heart racing with this new fear. Her eye travelled downwards, then pricked with tears. She sobbed.

The cry caught her father's attention, and for a few awful moments, he took in the sight of his daughter, weeping over the bloodied skirts of the woman he loved. He couldn't speak at more than a whisper.

"Anca..." He took his wife in his arms and wept. Constanta had seen him cry on few occasions before. It was always at times like this. He trembled in grief and anger, before meeting his daughter's eyes. "Constanta, I must take your mother to safety, but it will slow me. I need you to run on your own, girl."

"Yes, papa." Contanta's sight blurred with tears.

"Good girl. Make for the mountain path, just at the edge of the meadow. I'll meet you there, love." Constanta nodded, then rose, tearing away.

As she ran, she looked over her shoulder at the burning village, the smoke again stinging her eyes. Suddenly, she felt something beside her, and she screamed.

"Tanta! It's me..."

"Oh, Artur..." She paused for a moment to embrace him tightly. "I am so afraid..."

"We all are, Tanta. But we are both alright..." Hand in hand, they made for the meadow, running as fast as they could. Then, she saw it. The demonic being that had she had seen close to her mother. The one that doubtless caused her sibling's demise. Sensing them close by, the demon turned. The young Barovian couple cried out in fear.

It began to give chase.

"RUN!" Artur cried.

Together they raced through the meadow. The demon, unphased, pressed on after them. As they ran, Constanta felt her legs begin to give way, and her steps became increasingly unsteady. The boy at her side could feel her beginning to slip. He tried to steady her, then turned back, brandishing a grain sickle. "You won't touch her!"

"Artur, no!"

Taken aback by the sudden movement, Constanta tumbled onto the grass.  Pushing herself up, she took the knife from her belt and turned. Somehow, Artur had embedded the sickle in the demon's arm. He had not made his escape, however; he could not. The demon's claws were embedded in Artur's neck, pressing more and more tightly. "Artur!" Constanta ran forward. But what could the girl have done? As she drew closer, she saw blood oozing from his neck, his mouth. He struggled to wrest the sickle from the demon's arm. Giving a pained inhuman cry, the demon threw Artur to the ground and retreated, no doubt to deal with the sickle itself.

Constanta hurried to meet him. She threw herself to her knees, then took her mother's sewing scissors from her belt. She scored into the hem of her dress, then ripped it, taking the fabric and attempting to stop more blood oozing from the boy's neck. Artur tried to speak, but the claws had damaged his vocal cords, his throat almost crushed. He reached out a paling hand for Constanta's cheek, and she held it there with her other hand. Her sight blurred with new tears. She kissed his fingers as the light went out in his eyes, his hand becoming limp and heavy in hers.

Sobbing, she embraced him and kissed his brow, his blood staining her clothes, then she set his hands gently at his sides. Then, with some effort, she set him upright against a nearby tree. She ripped another shred of fabric from her dress and bound it about his mouth. The image of Lina, made a mockery, filled her mind. She made a warding gesture over him.

"They will not take your body, I swear it."

As she stood, she could sense something was behind her. It gave a low growl, filled with anger. Her eyes went wide. She turned.

The sickle was still stuck fast, and the demon bled, seething with rage.

Constanta ran, and she could feel it at her back, its hot brimstone breath at the back of her neck.

"Constanta!" It was her father's voice. She turned as she ran.

Her mother and father were close by now, and while her mother stumbled, her eyes red from crying, she pressed on. Perhaps, driven by the loss of one child, she was ever more desperate to secure the safety of the one that remained, and this sustained her.

The demon was growing more and more frustrated with the implement the now-dead Barovian lad had left embedded in its arm, but still it pursued her, vengeance not sated. Constanta took the knife from her belt and turned, aiming to take it by surprise, though fear gripped her tightly. It was likely that it would deal with her in the same way it had Artur. She drove it into the demon's face, the blade stuck fast in its eye socket. It shrieked. Constanta turned to keep running, hoping to have purchased enough time to properly break away from its pursuit. She felt something hard press against her feet, and she fell, twisting her ankle as she landed. She winced, trying to scrabble away through the damp grass, noticing for a moment the rock that had been her downfall. Breathless, she looked behind her as the demon closed the gap she had made between them. It leapt for her, bloodied claws shining with lethal purpose. Too late, Constanta saw him.

Iacob Lazarescu had placed himself in the space between them, stood between his daughter and the hellspawn. The creature pushed him to the ground as he brandished his militia blade. Constanta heard steel meet flesh, and cries both human and inhuman. Constanta turned where she lay. Her father's blade had made the demon's chest its scabbard. The hellspawn's features were frozen in death, mouth agape. Its claws, however, had also pierced flesh, stuck fast and deep across Iacob's bloodied torso.

Anca cried out.

Constanta pulled herself through the dirt, helping her mother to lift the demon's carcass from Iacob's body. He breathed, but he was pale and bloody.

"Papa..." She took her mother's scissors to her skirts once more, trying to bind his wounds. He placed a hand on hers, weakly shaking his head.

"Constanta," he murmured. She looked upon him tearfully.

"You saved me." He took her hand more tightly, but his breaths became shallower, speech more difficult.

"Artur... he will take care of you now. He's a good lad." Constanta tried to smile through her tears, nodding. What would it profit her to make her father's passing any more difficult? Their parting was already painful enough.

"Yes, papa."

"Good girl," he murmured, faintly now. His head sank heavily to the earth beneath. He reached for Anca's hand now, gasping in pain. Taking it tightly, he looked upon his wife, a thousand unspoken apologies behind his eyes. Then, he gave up the ghost.


Krofburg lay in ruins, bereft of life. Huddled together upon the meadows, the survivors held fast to one another, united by their grief. Together they mourned, for so many had lost so much, and so swiftly.

Constanta held tightly to her mother as they watched Iacob and Artur be buried. Guilt overwhelmed the young Barovian woman's heart; surely, she was to blame for both of their deaths. Both of these men had died for her sake. She looked up at her mother's face, and silently wept anew.

Anca Lazarescu was not crying. While she held her daughter, she did not look at her, instead staring into the wide beyond, still as a corpse. Her body was a tomb, and so much of her now lay in the grave, so that little of her remained. She, like the village, was a shadow of what once was.

Krofburg was a widow swathed in black, struggling in grief. It is no wonder that they seized upon the offers of help, vulnerable as they were. The demons were gone now, the cult of Azazel vanquished, but another painfully human force would soon have its grasp upon the village.

The Bellegarde Consortium.

Quote
Krofburg had been under the corrupting influence of Azazel [...] The people of Krofburg turned into abominations and demonic beings roaming freely [...]
Now, where once the realm of Azazel was, lies a destroyed village. Mostly empty as only a few stray wolves or birds cross the areas from time to time.

~ The Destruction of Azazel, DM Corvus
« Last Edit: August 28, 2017, 01:52:55 PM by emptyanima »

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Farewell, Laurentiu ❆ The Bellegarde's Grip
« Reply #4 on: October 09, 2017, 02:54:05 PM »
As the weeks and months passed, with the aid of the Consortium (and a handful of locals and outlanders), Krofburg once again took shape in the mountains. New brickwork and buildings, however, could not wholly conceal the damage inflicted upon the mountain folk. Grief left many of them looking too old for their bodies, while the horrors they had witnessed kept many of them from sleep. Their rough features were afflicted with unfathomable tiredness. For some, staying in the village was not an option.

“Forgive me, Constanta, I can’t stay.”

Laurentiu Sala spoke without sarcasm or mischief. He carried all his few possessions in a pack over his shoulders, looking down at Constanta with sadness behind his eyes. Sorrow was evident in her own features; he had long been a friend to her, despite his teasing, and she would miss him dearly. She could not be angry at him for leaving. She could not be angry at anyone.

“I understand.” She paused, considering for a moment, and tried to smile. “Vallaki is not so far away.”

“You’re right. I will try to visit, when I can. When I am not busy with the garda.” Constanta’s smile wavered.

“Be safe, won’t you?” She suddenly hugged him tightly. Laurentiu returned the embrace after a moment.

“You won’t have to worry about me.”

*

Several visits were planned, but none of them came to fruition over the years. Constanta threw herself into work, first alongside her mother at her loom, and later accompanying caravans as they traversed the road between Krofburg and Vallaki. She did not consider joining the Consortium; while at first their efforts to help rebuild were welcomed, it became more and more apparent that where their offer of friendship had seemed an outstretched hand, that hand now gripped tightly at Krofburg’s throat. Men toiled in the mines. While the village had some wealth, most of it was theirs. They had become so tied into Krofburg’s way of life, to simply cut them out would be a death sentence to the village.

The Bellegarde continued to dig. They had no notion just how much wealth was concealed in the mountains… or how violently it would make itself known.

Strange omens began to beset the village. Strange sights, stranger births.

Change was coming to the village once more.

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Meeting Dimitry ❆ A Striking Moment
« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2017, 03:56:16 PM »
772, BAROVIAN CALENDAR

Constanta finished tying the oxen’s rope to the door of the barn, exhaling. Her breath misted in the January chill. She rubbed her gloved hands together to coax warmth into them, making her way to Krofburg’s inn, the Wandering Billy. It had been a wearying day, taking another delivery to the city of grey, and she was ready to discard her furs and leathers for something light and clean. Having done so in one of the back rooms, she returned to the front in a dress of black and cream. It had been almost eight years since the loss of her friend, her father and her fiancé, but black continued to dominate the Barovian woman’s attire. She had brushed her raven hair, but the waves caused by keeping it in a braid during the day still persisted. Her face was still red and rough from being battered by the elements (no one in the mountains could keep smooth features for long – it usually marked the locals from the visitors), but the redness would subside in time. She found a seat in front of the hearth and warmed herself, counting the coin she had made that day. The worst of the winter was over, and the journey to Vallaki, while always dangerous, was less fraught than it had been at the end of the previous year. “So if I keep this for myself, I can give this to Mama for her fabrics, and this-…”

She heard the door to the Billy open, followed by a sudden quiet. She looked up.

While much had changed in the village, some features and folk persisted. Lord Dimitry Bochinsky, Burgomaster of Krofburg, was one of these features. He carried himself stiffly, appearing older than his years, but he was still faintly recognisable as the same man who led the village all those years ago. Constanta rose to offer her respect, curtseying before him.

She was surprised when he addressed her directly.

“Bring me wine, hot wine! You there, wine and some pork.”

"Yes, my lord." She approached Marilena to pass on his request, blinking in surprise.

“You are not one of my serving girls.”

“I am not, but the Burgomaster was... firm in his request.”

"His mind... has not been as it was. I will give it to you." Constanta nodded.

“Thank you.”

Constanta waited for Marilena to return with the tray, bearing the items he’d requested. She took it, and carried it carefully to where Dimitry was now seated. He looked at her with tired eyes. "Your pork and wine, my lord."

"Multumesc, madamoazela. Please put it there on the table." She set it down before him and respectfully inclined her head.

“You are not a server here, are you.” He stated, more than asked. Constanta opted for honesty.

“I do not serve here, no, but I shall serve my lord if he asks.” Dimitry looked at her oddly.

“What is your name, girl?”

“Constanta. Constanta Lazarescu.” Dimitry looked at her.

“You show more deference than my own servants. How is it they have so forgotten their place when you remember?”

“I do not think I could say why, my lord.” Constanta offered diplomatically.

"You know what they say. You know very well." Dimitry straightened in his chair, defiant. "They say that I have sold them to Bellegarde. That I wear a collar and chain like a dog. Is that not what they say?"

Constanta's voice softened. "Some do, my lord."

"You do not wish to flatter your lord?" Constanta blushed.

"I wish to serve, but I do not want to sound... false." She cringed at her choice of word.

"Hm. Come with me." Dimitry stood, leaving most of his food untouched. "Leave the meal, it tastes like ashes anyway."

Constanta followed him out of the inn into the early morning air. Quietly, she continued to walk behind him until they reached his home, close to the vineyards. While large, it was dingy inside. The two of them continued upstairs. Dimitry banged heavily on one of the bedroom doors. "Wake up, you drunken lout!" He opened it.

A man was sprawled on the floor, snoring heavily. The reek of alcohol was obvious. A number of bottles were scattered about. His face was caked with mucus and vomit.

“That is my steward.” She frowned.

"Ah... I see, my lord."

"That is the respect the people of Krofburg have for their burgomaster."

Constanta watched the drunkard thoughtfully. Dimitry spoke again.

“Well? What do you say to that, madamoazela?”

"It is unacceptable, my lord. The people of the mountains are resilient. We should remember that, not give in to drunkenness and muttering discontent."

"What would you do about it?"

"Me, my lord?” She looked up in thought. "Well, I... there is only so much that can be done if the people around you are layabouts."

"Go on."

"Surely, you need those folk who still have pride in the village. Who want to see it do well. Those who are willing to work hard to see that done."

"I mean with him."

"Oh! I would be firm with him. If he will not change his ways, then he is not fit for his post."

"He has had years to change his ways. He has failed." Constanta hesitated.

“You have my advice, my lord."

“Get rid of him, then see me downstairs."

"Yes, my lord."

She approached the man to rouse him. He was still lost in his drunken stupor. He grunted angrily.

"Get up, you oaf."

The drunken steward reached out to identify his tormenter, and upon touching her, made a surprised sound.

"Come on, up with you!"

“Mm… Margereta..” He slurred, reaching out to grope her chest. Constanta slapped him across the face.

“Ow!” He sat up, eyes wide. "What... what... what?! Where in Iadul... who in Iadul are you?"

“Constanta, but that is not important. What is important is that you clean yourself up and leave.”

"You don't tell me what t'do! I'm the steward!"

"The burgomaster brought me here. I am carrying out his orders." She stated, firmly. "Now move." He scowled at her.

"Ugh, I'll have you horsewhipped, you little bitch, once I find the lord."

Constanta kept a firm grip on his arm, leading him down the stairs.

As they reached the main hall, Constanta hovered for a bit, as though awaiting confirmation from Dimitry.

"Lord, lord! Some little bitch broke into my room and keeps claiming that she serves you!"

“Are you still here? Constanta, my instructions were clear.” The steward's face was thunderous.

“You can't be serious. You can't be serious.” The former steward trembled with rage. “You can’t throw me out on my arse, I served you!”

"Is that what you were doing?" Dimitry asked. The drunkard jabbed a finger in his face.

"You don't get to throw me out like this. Not now!"

Constanta grabbed his sleeve. With a drunkard’s strength, he backhanded her, hard. Not prepared, the girl fell against Dimitry's chair with a heavy crash, yelping in pain.

Dimitry rose from his chair. "You presume... you dare? Guard!"

The drunkard was uncertain now. "I didn't- I mean-"

"Lord!" The guard barked.

“This man has struck one of my servants. The sentence is to lose the hand with which he struck.” He paled.

“No, wait! I didn't mean- I didn't want- I... no!” The guard came forward to take his arm. Constanta rose, dizzily.

"Don't feel bad, Dio." Dimitry offered. "You can still waste time with the other hand." He looked at Constanta. "See it done, Constanta."

"Yes, my lord."

She followed behind in the falling snow, and took a breath. Guilt and pain stung her cheeks. Dimitry's orders rang in her ears.

With courage, she approached the platform outside the residence.

"Once the people gather, doamna, you will have to proclaim it." The guard said, "I don't know fancy words."

"As you wish."

So began Constanta's first test.

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Punishment Meted ❆ The Steward of Krofburg
« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2017, 05:18:26 PM »
The crowd began to gather quickly. Among the drab browns and creams of the villagers' attire, Constanta spied a woman dressed in Bellegarde blue, arms folded.

"Whenever you are ready, doamna." The guard offered. A voice went up from the crowd.

"Hey, isn't that Dionisie?"

"What have they got you up there for?" Another chimed in.

"This little bitch turned the burgomaster against me! Don't listen to her!" The guard struck Dio in the back of the head. He sobbed.
Constanta cleared her throat, trying to warm her voice against the chill.

"I was carrying out the orders of the Burgomaster, in removing this man from his house, for he has grown lax in his duties as our lord's steward. He struck me-" Constanta motioned to her cheek. "-and in doing so, struck one of our lord's servants." Another voice went up.

"Aren't you Iacob Lazarescu's daughter?" Constanta hesitated for a moment at the question, but pressed on.

"Hence we carry out his second- his second order. That this man lose the hand with which he struck his Burgomaster's servant." She turned to the man who had addressed her. "He was my father, yes."

"Go home, girl. Dio's a good man. If he hit you, you surely realise that you deserved it."

The guard watched Constanta closely. She swallowed before speaking.

"I deliver our lord's sentence. Nothing more, nothing less."

"Don't let them do this, Petru!" Dio cried.

"Go home now, girl." Petru approached the stage, reaching Constanta. "Leave off this silliness."

"Doamna?" The guard asked. Constanta looked back at him.

"The Burgomaster was clear..." Petru tried to push her aside. Constanta, living up to her namesake, held fast.

"I said go home, girl, or I'll belt you."

"Stand down." Constanta's voice betrayed a hint of her worry. "You disrupt the Burgomaster's orders."

Petru laughed. "The Burgomaster's orders. The Burgomaster doesn't give orders. He hides in his house and pretends he didn't sell us all to Bellegarde."

She frowned. "Do you not remember why we needed their help? You refuse to listen. So I tell you again to stand down. It would not be wise to continue as you are."

"Ooh, you've scared me, little girl, oooh. What would your father say if he saw you like this, huh? Now get out of my way before I lose my patience." He looked at Dio. "We'll have you back where you belong soon, Dio, don't worry." The disgraced steward did not look reassured. Suddenly, the woman in Bellegarde blue spoke.

"If he persists in being a nuisance, let him share in his friend's punishment."

"Do not speak of my father." Constanta snapped. "Stand do-..." She looked at the Bellegarde woman. "The burgomaster's instructions were only for this man." She looked again at Petru. "But I will be forced to make this known to him if you go any further."

"That's it." Petru began untying his belt. "You gonna bend over like a good girl or am I gonna have to make ya?"

"Doamna?" Came the guardsman's voice. Petru looked at him.

"You ain't gonna interfere, are you, Mariu?"

"Doamna..." He repeated. The Bellegarde woman cut in.

"Do your job, garda, or I will report this to the burgomaster myself."

"You don't own me, Bellegarde." He looked again at Constanta. "Look, doamna. The burgomaster's mind, it's.... it's not what it was. He might forget tomorrow he ever ordered it. There's no need for violence here, da?"

"Da, that's right, Mariu, now just get that girl out of the way." Petru looked to the crowd for support. Constanta spoke, more firmly this time.

"He gave you an order. He was very, very clear on this matter. Entirely present when he spoke it. If you do not respect his words, how do you expect him to do anything?"

Like fire, mutterings spread through the huddled crowd. Worry creased Constanta's brow, but still she stood firm. Petru stalked off. The mutterings continued. She murmured to the guardsman. "I did not ask for it to come to this. I only serve my lord. This is not for me." The guardsman listened to her as she spoke. Petru returned, carrying a bullwhip in his hand.

"Mariu, end it. Get rid of her." He approached her again, speaking as he drew back the whip. "All right, little bitch. I am going to have to teach you a lesson." The guardsman's eyes darted between Petru and Constanta.

"And what would thrashing me accomplish? What would allowing disrespect to fester against the one who leads us profit us? What do you gain by striking me now? Will the Bellegarde not mock our infighting?"

"We're done talking."

The whip began to take its course towards the Lazarescu girl. It did not meet its mark. Suddenly, there came a sound of metal slicing through flesh. Petru's bloody, lifeless corpse hit the stage. Mariu spoke, the blood new and slick on his blade.

"This girl speaks with the Burgomaster's authority. Anyone else want to protest?" A few voices of dissent went up.

"W-wait!"

"You killed him!" Mariu was resolute now.

"And now I'll see the sentence done." Constanta stepped back from the body, beginning to tremble. She tried to tear her eyes from Petru's corpse. "On your knees, Dio." Mariu barked. "Don't piss yourself. Take it like a man."

Dio bawled. "Iadul, don't do it! I didn't mean to, I didn't! I... please, help me! All of you, help me!"

Mariu raised his halberd, the pale moon beginning to be reflected in the metal. Singing, it swung. Constanta averted her eyes.

Staring at his stump, Dio screamed.

"Sentence is done. Someone tend to him before he bleeds out." Mariu nodded once to Constanta, then looked at the woman in blue. "I'll remember you, Bellegarde."

"And I you."

A man stepped forward from the crowd. "I'll take care of him, doamna. And... see to burying Petru, the mad fool."

"Please do, quickly."

*

She waited for what felt like a long time in the Burgomaster's hall, the white wool of her dress flecked with blood. Eventually he appeared, rubbing at his temple.

"It is done, then?" He seemed hardly to look at her.

"Yes, my lord. There was... dissent. Petru tried to stop the punishment, left a while, and came back with a whip. He was about to beat me but the guard intervened. Sadly, Petru has died. The punishment was then delivered, t-." Dimitry lifted a hand. Constanta quietened.

"I don't want to know details. I want to know, is it done."

"Yes, my lord. It is done."

"Good. You are Lazarescu's daughter, are you not?"

She interlaced her hands. "He was my father, yes."

"You may have Dio's job, if you want it." Constanta blinked in surprise.

"My lord..." Words failed her for a few moments. "Thank you. I will do it."

"Good. I have no money, no other servants except for a senile cook, a dozen guards and a crumbling house." He paused. "Your first task is to go to Bellegarde and get them to give us this season's payment for His Excellency. It should be about ten thousand fang. If we are short, the Count will kill both of us. Is that clear?"

"Yes, my lord." She inclined her head respectfully.

"Very well, very well." He paused, looking at her closely for a moment. "Lazarescu's daughter, hm. Hm. Very well. Go along."

She went at once to deal with the Bellegarde woman, and learnt that her name was Cerise Roche. It was agreed that the payment would be delivered in three days' time.

There would be greater problems to face before that time came.
« Last Edit: October 15, 2017, 07:36:51 PM by emptyanima »

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❆ The First Quake ❆ The Minstrel and the Lance
« Reply #7 on: January 17, 2019, 07:03:56 PM »
The omens had never abated.

Strange signs and troubling curses continued to show themselves. The animals were unsettled, as were their keepers. A raven with two heads was seen by at least one fearful Barovian, pecking at the eyes of a rotting mink. Looking to the heavens, a shooting star passed over the village beneath a red moon. A young boy, lost in the woods overnight, returned speaking nothing but gibberish, his hair now white.

From time to time, the earth would tremble. These were not violent enough to cause damage, but enough to require the people to stop in their work and to cling to something firm, such as a beam, a tree or each other.

The earth groaned with the beginnings of a pain that had yet to be fully understood. Something was coming.

It was not a surprise to Constanta that travelers had come in increased numbers to the village in the wake of such omens; curiosity can make a man depart from wisdom, and this she knew for herself.

The Steward had departed from the House for the day; she had sat in the hall for some time hoping to receive word from Cerise Roche of the Bellegarde. Their tax payment had still not been received, but no response had been forthcoming and the waiting had made her restless. She had expected to see more of Lord Bochinsky during her time in the House, too. She had learned quickly that he was an intensely private, withdrawn man, who kept to his study for nearly all hours of the day. Having no tax payment to give it, she had seen no reason to disturb his solitude.

She drew her cloak about her as she entered the Billy, glancing about the hall in search of a familiar face, and she soon found one.

Constanta was not sure what to make of Morrigan. They'd met while she was accompanying a caravan to Vallaki, before her stewardship began. The Mordentish woman was older than her, but she still held to a youthful inquisitiveness that Constanta saw as a mirror to her own. She was a lover of tales and folklore and books, and from time to time had need to take work from the bookseller Houlgrave in Vallaki. Constanta found her to be friendly and well-intentioned, and while her outlander ways were absurd, she took her to be good and interesting company.

She saw that her face was contorted in confusion as she approached, engaged in whatever conversation had left her so perplexed. Two women were sat across the table from her. Taking a seat beside her, Morrigan whispered,

"I've been lost ever since she started talking."

She was speaking of the bookish, odd lady sat opposite her. Her dialect was strange, even as outlander speech goes, but she managed to piece together that she wanted to know more of the history of the village (no doubt interested in the origin of the omens). Her questions became increasingly specific, and while Constanta could not answer everything, she did try.

Their conversation was cut short by a sudden, earth-shaking groan. Constanta frowned, holding to the table as she waited for the tremor to pass as they had done before. What she did not anticipate was that it might become more violent. The women were thrown from their chairs as the beams of the Billy's roof groaned a warning.

As Constanta rose to look more closely at them, the whole building shook. She fell to the floor with a cry.

"This is no tremor, this is a quake!" Her heart plummeted in her chest and, as she stood, her eyes went wide. "Lord Bochinsky!"

She hurried out of the Billy and was immediately battered by the rubble that fell from the mountains. She bled from her brow, her movements becoming more labored and uncertain. Morrigan forced her to stop for a moment while she tended to her wounds. The instant she could stand again, she bolted towards the House, Morrigan acting as her shield all the while.

"Lord Bochinsky!" Constanta cried out again as they breached the threshold.

"Is he not here?" Morrigan's voice filled with concern as they took in the hall. Suddenly, the door burst open before them and Lord Bochinsky appeared, staggering, bleeding, in a dazed fashion. Mercifully, one of his men was nearby, muttering in concern.

"We've.. we've got to get you out of here, mi'lord..." Constanta stared at the blood streaked across his face.

"Constanta..." He said, still in a daze, "The mountain..." Then he slumped to the ground, two words on his lips... "My people..."

As Constanta moved to help him up, she was struck by a portion of the ceiling as it separated from the rest, and fell to the floor. Morrigan pulled her up, and guided the dusty, bleeding group from the house. Almost all of them were clear when suddenly, one of the pillars became loose, and it fell quickly. Lord Bochinsky roared in pain as the pillar pinned his leg to the ground. His men fled. As Constanta and Morrigan tried to lift the pillar, the women from the inn and a Barovian stranger came to their aid. Freeing him, they set Lord Bochinsky to lean against the man as the group attempted to find safety. Still, the earth shook and debris fell from the mountain. Slowly, painfully, they moved through the village.

At last, the quake seemed to abate, only for the mountain to give one final cry, a rock striking the young stranger very hard across the head. He crumpled to the ground in a heap.
Then, and only then, did the shaking stop. As Constanta stared, blurry-eyed and full of worry at the man, the strange women drew a small orb from her bag, and broke it over his head. The man, who by all accounts should have been dead from his injuries, began to move. Somehow, they'd all survived, even if they were all suffering.

Lord Bochinsky limped forward as the man woke, dropping to his knee beside him.

"Are you alright, son? I do not know what this woman has wrought, but she has saved your life, as you saved mine."

The men who had fled were now running towards the battered group.

"My lord!" one cried.

"Lord Bochinsky!" exclaimed another. The lord frowned.

"When my men were running away, son, you did not. What is your name?"

The man coughed.

"Kovac. Ah, Jovan, sir."

Constanta sighed in relief. "You were brave, Jovan."

"Jovan Kovac?" Lord Bochinsky asked, "are you of this town?"

"No, sir, I'm from across the Luna, not far from Raduta Keep. Owned a farm out that way, before the war. Though these days, this place is as much a home as I have. The people of your town have welcomed me, even though I am not from here. My aid to you is only a small way to, ah, repay their hospitality." As the lord rose to his feet, with the aid of one of his men, Constanta looked over the destruction wrought by the quake, all the dust and the debris... and then fear gripped her heart.

"Mother!" She cried in worry. Lord Bochinsky looked at her.

"Constanta! See to your mother quickly. Your people need you." Constanta could barely move in a straight line, but she ran quickly to find her. She discovered her mother, mercifully unharmed, in a nearby barn.

"Tanta, you're alright!" The women embraced as Constanta stifled a weary sob. "Dear, you're bleeding all over..."

"We... we had to make sure that Lord Bochinsky was safe. He will be alright."

"It wasn't safe inside the house, so I ran here. Thankfully, I think the damage was minor. The house withstood... what took your father. I think it can withstand Mount Ghakis shaking." Constanta nodded slowly, frowning guiltily.

"I should have come for you sooner."

"Don't say that, Tanta. Go and get those wounds seen to. I... I don't want to lose my daughter tonight, alright? I'll be fine, I promise."

"I'm just glad that you are well... I'll go and have them seen to."


Morrigan appeared soon after they left the barn, refusing to permit Constanta to move anymore until her wounds were addressed. This done, she and Morrigan returned to the House, finally given the opportunity to begin cleaning up the aftermath and change into clean clothes. A short while later, Constanta, Morrigan and Jovan were summoned to see Lord Bochinsky. Captain Alin Baboescu, a wizened but broad man, stood close by. As the three stood before him, Lord Bochinsky turned to address Morrigan first.

"Doamna, you have helped us greatly, and it is my desire to see that rewarded. It is true, I understand, that you are a performer of music?"

"It is true that I perform music, though the sort I do is often rather melancholy. The dirges of Old Mordent, and the tales which span the countryside of ghosts, moors and more. But in dire times, I can find the means to be uplifting, if it will help your people." Lord Bochinsky considered her answer for a moment.

"Well, you will need to learn Barovian songs, as I don't like any of that crap." Morrigan grinned slightly, at this.

"I understand. I've been studying some in my time up here. My name is Morrigan Harding, of Mordent, of course." She bowed her head.

"I offer you the position as my house minstrel. Constanta will pay you one thousand fang a month."

Jovan's brows rose in surprise. Constanta glanced at the light coinpurse on her belt.

"I... yes, Lord Bochinsky." The lord next turned to Jovan.

"As for you, well..." He glanced at the Captain, and he stepped forward.

"You wear armour, lad. Done some soliderin'?"

"My brother was in the Wachter Militia, taught me a thing or two. As for me, I've done my share of caravan work to make my way. I know my way around a blade."

"Wachter..." Alin echoed, "They killed a lot of men I trained." Constanta hummed softly, in thought. Jovan nodded.

"Nobody enjoyed that war. Not your men, not theirs. Ain't nothing to be had in Barovians killing each other. And they paid the price for it..." The captain nodded, at that.

"Well, if these recent events proved anythin', it's that I've not been trainin' my men well enough. I got old, see, an' been laid up a while. I hate to admit it, but I need someone younger'n me to whip 'em into shape. Will you swear an oath o' loyalty to the Burgomaster?"

Jovan swelled a little with pride. "It would be an honor, sir."

"Then take a knee, lad."

Soon enough, the oath was sworn, and Jovan Kovac was made a Lance Corporal. As Constanta took it all in, she smiled. The House had grown, now, and within, she felt something rising. Hope.

But how long would it last?

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❆ Memory ❆
« Reply #8 on: October 11, 2019, 07:46:40 PM »
774, BAROVIAN CALENDAR

The world was falling apart.

Constanta ran her hand along the wall of the meeting hall, straining to anchor herself to something as her head swam. How much had this house, the dwelling-place of Krofburg's lords, borne witness to in its lifetime? The fire spat in the hearth, the crack temporarily rousing the Steward from her thoughts, but not for long. In an instant, she recalled all the events that had taken place in this hall.

She recalled the various courts that she had held. The meetings. The auction where that wretched gleaming rock had been sold for an obscene price, when she had only asked a pitiful fee for the use of the hall. She remembered her Lord's anger as he had punished her for this failure, the rod in his trembling hand. "This is the only way to learn. Pain. Pain is all there is left," he had said. She remembered the relish with which Justine Valcourt of the Bellegarde had mocked her for this punishment, knowing its cause.

For a time, only one demon remained in the village, and that was the being of anguish that had so possessed Lord Dimitry Bochinsky. She remembered how he had looked, at one time, barely caring for himself, his clothes creased and his hair wild.

She remembered how he had locked himself away from the world, alone in the study with his drink and his books and spinning satellites. She remembered how, in his grief, he saw the ghost of his wife, Alina. He had seen her where Constanta stood, and had tried to embrace her. She remembered how she had pushed him away, the worry she felt when she looked at him, and how much he frightened her.

Constanta had known much fear in this House. She recalled how it had trembled when the smaller quakes came. She recalled the great quake that had split Krofburg from the mountain road, as the silver had emerged, like blood from a wound. She recalled the first tax, once the silver was revealed, when Vasili van Holtz himself had deigned to visit the mountain village. She remembered how they had knelt in the hall, how they trembled at his presence. She remembered the woman who delighted in slaying one of the men, as punishment for Lord Bochinsky's late arrival. She remembered the man's screams. She remembered the weight of the coinpurse in her hands as she presented it to van Holtz.

She remembered van Holtz's hand, like ice, on her shoulder, a cold that bloomed through her whole body, as though winter itself was born in her bones. She remembered his words to her.

"You know... you remind me of someone, doamna. Someone I used to know long, long ago."

She remembered her Lord's drunkenness when the tax was paid, and how he staggered, shouting through his village, grieving the price that had been paid for his late arrival. How he had been forced into his bed and she had unbuttoned his shirt, just a little, that he might sleep for the first time in days.

She remembered how hard it had been to serve him. She recalled that anger, close to hatred, that had welled in her with every suggestion he had cast aside, every derisive word. And yet, she had stayed. Stayed, because there were times, brief and fleeting, that she had seen a glimpse of the man trapped within. A flash of the broad-shouldered, bright-faced man he had been when he was younger. Before his anguish. What was it he had said when the mountain shook, the very first thing from his mouth?

"My people..."

Despite all his talk, all his telling of how he thought to throw himself from the mountain, his wish to die... despite all this, he was a man who loved his home and the people within it, and his pain continued in part because all of Krofburg was still suffering. Constanta knew it too. She remembered the dreams she had of Artur Rotariu. Each time, she failed to save him from his fate at the hands of the spawn of Iadul.  She remembered the loneliness that had weighed on her; as Steward, she had few friends. Many came with the overtures of friendship in hopes of obtaining favour, but those who she could consider true friends, she could count very quickly. Chief of these, Morrigan, who had saved her life times beyond counting, and given her strength in dark days.

Dark days...

Constanta closed her eyes. These were dark days. Dark, lonely days that gnawed at her resolve, and she struggled to hold it together. She forced herself to press on through the House, past her office, past her Lord's study, the dining room, the door downstairs to the kitchens...

She groaned with the effort it took to take herself up the stairs, but still she pressed on. She passed her room, Morrigan's room, and the little library that her Lord kept. She drew close to the door. The door upon which she had knocked so many times, much to the amusement of the guard who kept it. But now, she pressed on, opening it. She saw the two chairs by the fireplace. She saw the table on which the wine-goblets stood.

She remembered when Lord Dimitry Bochinsky had first softened towards her. She remembered when he had placed his hand on hers, and asked her if she too saw the ghosts. The toll of the demons had been heavy upon the whole village, but none more so than Lord Bochinsky, who bore not only his own grief, but the collective sorrow of all his people. It was no wonder he had lashed out. It was no wonder that he kept to himself, that he feared to speak with others, lest they be taken from him too. That bitterness with the world had seeped into Constanta's own soul. She had spoken harshly, cruelly. She had struck a member of the militia when they were insubordinate to her. It was a part of herself that she wished to forget.

She remembered a troubling moment, through which she had shown resolve.

"Your courage is a salve to my heart, Constanta," her Lord had said. She had treasured those words, and kept them close in times of self-doubt. She remembered words spoken with Marina, Lord Bochinsky's loyal cook and housemaid, and Marina's surprise when Constanta revealed that he spoke to her of destruction of Krofburg, that he had lain bare his pain for her to see. Constanta had resolved then to help her Lord through this pain, to lead him through to the other side, where his people waited for him.

Rather than keeping all her words for her log, she had made an effort to meet with him more frequently. She remembered his eyes, weary from sleeplessness, red and sore from hours alone by the fire. She remembered that evening when he had been low and sorrowful before the flames, overwhelmed once more by his pain. How he had lifted his arm to his eyes. How he had spoken of his loneliness as as a lord. How, with the death of his wife, he lost the only person he could speak with as an equal. Constanta, living up to her namesake, remained resolved. She reached for his hand, holding it before the fire in silence. She had refused to leave her Lord alone with the ghosts. And there they had stood for some time, watching the flames.

She remembered one of the court days, where one of the prospectors, angered by one decision or another, had lunged towards where her Lord sat, brandishing a knife. She remembered how she had moved, without thinking, to fill the space between the prospector and her Lord, before the Captain, Baboescu, had intervened. She remembered when the many threats approaching the village began to overwhelm her, and how wearily she had stared into her goblet of wine as she sat on one of those chairs, telling her Lord of all that had transpired, and all that was needed.

"Your Steward shall be kept very busy, my Lord."

"That is my Steward's role to play. Does it displease her?"

Constanta looked down into her wine, her weary reflection looking back.

"It is, and it does not. Please forgive me if I gave that impression."

She remembered the sound of his chair creaking as he stood. She remembered his approach. She remembered his hand as it drew close, the gentleness of his rough fingers as he lifted her chin to look at her, cupping her jaw. She remembered how she trembled.

"Do not leave me now, Constanta," he had whispered, "Not in body. Not in soul."

She remembered that moment, that instant when everything fell into place. The first time her heart leapt in his presence. How she looked at him, and saw him as he really was, beneath the grief that altered him. She remembered his eyes. His eyes...

She remembered the chill that ran through her. How desire had fought with sense as she sat there, looking up at him. How much she had wanted to rise to meet him.

But she had not. Fear gripped her heart in a vice.

He is my Lord. I am his Steward. She was his equal... and I am but his servant.

She remembered the nights she woke weeping, stirred from dreams that could not be. She remembered the fear that her unspoken longing would dull her mind, when she needed to remain keen to be of help to her Lord. She remembered resolving to find an alternative, and she tried this, seeking company from one of the Merriment, named Haluk.

She remembered speaking with her Lord one evening, informing him of several events that had come to pass. They were both weary and struggling under the ongoing intrusions of the Count's men, who had been poring through every page of their records, counting every penny that the House kept. She remembered the guilt that had weighed on her as the evil of the men of Bratva was revealed, and how her inaction had sent her friend, Verinne van Haute, down a dark path. She remembered the man of Bratva that had pinned her, a knife to her throat. She remembered the dagger she sank in his thigh.

She had voiced a fear, as her final word in the quiet between them, that she believed the Captain to be watching her, distrustfully. Then, she had asked if he required any more of her.

"Yes, Constanta. Baboescu did... discover one thing. I believe you already know of what I speak. It must end, immediately."

She remembered how she had blushed, the shame that bloomed within her when she realised his discovery. She remembered her excuses, how she had said that she and Haluk had only met once, and nothing lascivious had occurred.

"Do you remember your predecessor, Constanta?"

"Yes, my Lord."

"Do not behave as he did."

"Understood. Please, forgive me, I sought..." Constanta stopped herself, but already, she had said too much. She rose quickly from the chair.

"Sought what, Constanta?" She remembered how she trembled, how she could barely speak the words...

"A cure."

"A cure for what?"

"For foolishness, my Lord."

"What foolishness, Constanta?" She remembered his soft words and how they had hurt. How she relished the tone of his voice, but feared to speak. She remembered his hand on her arm as he turned her to face him. "Constanta, if there is something that hampers your ability to do your duty, it is your obligation to tell me." She remembered how she had lifted her face to look at him, her heart in her throat. "Are you bored with your tasks and duties? Or does the responsibility overwhelm you?" Again, her words had failed, and she felt the beginnings of tears stinging at her eyes. "Speak, Constanta!"
Finally, finally, she spoke.

"It is no boredom, or burden of responsibility. If it hampers me to... to care too much for my lord, then I am blessed with my burdens." She remembered how she had turned away, the heat in her cheeks, the tears in her eyes. She approached the door for what she had thought would be the last time, ready to resign her post, to be sent out by the Burgomaster she had come to love.

She remembered his steps behind her. She remembered his hand on her arm, deliberate. She remembered how forcefully - how needfully - he had pulled her into his arms. She remembered the first sweet taste of his mouth, her tears on her cheeks, and the relief that accompanied the knowledge that the feelings she had kept secret for so long were returned. She remembered the first time she had dared address her Lord by his name.

"Dimitry..."

She remembered his tears, his guilt. How he had cursed the laws of Barovia which kept him from taking another wife, and himself for wanting another. How she reassured him that all his family would want was his happiness. How she pressed her lips to his cheek, and he shuddered.

"Iadul, I had forgotten what that felt like..." Dimitry held her close.

She remembered her shock at her own words as they followed.

"Is there more you wish to remember?" She recalled his eyes widening.

"Constanta... have you... before?"

She remembered her dreams. Dreams of how her life would be, had the demons never come, and she had wed Artur. She had imagined many times, in her grief and longing, their first night in the fields after the Festival of the Joining. She had imagined it often enough for it to be as near to her as a memory.

She shook her head, and with a ragged breath, he had led her into his bedchamber. Lost in her memories, Constanta wandered there now.

She remembered how tenderly he had laid her down, his mouth tracing its course down her neck. She remembered their first night, and the words shared as they watched each other upon his pillows, baring body and soul. The night she had learned the truth of her Lord's place in his family, the third of three sons. How his eldest brother had been killed by the mountain cats. How the second, Edoard, had sent his father to an early grave with his gambling, before taking the coin left in the House and leaving his brother in his stead. How Dimitry and his wife had dreamed of spending their days studying together at the Teodorus Archives of Immol, but instead were left to rule. How he had learned that Edoard yet lived when a woman asked money of him to treat him in his illness. How he had sold books, rare volumes, gifts from his wife, to pay for his wayward brother's medicine.

She remembered their many secret meetings, stolen kisses, the nights she had to leave him though she wished to stay till dawn. She remembered the comfort she had found in his arms when troubles in the village were widespread. How he called her his bellflower, his mountain blossom, his gypsy rose. She recalled the many monsters that had ruled the night, where her Lord ruled the day. She lifted a hand to her throat, faintly scarred, as she recalled the terror of Ogtbish, the Neureni shaman, who had almost succeeded in sacrificing her to his demon-god, Irlek-Khan, and how she lived only because of the bravery of Morrigan Harding, her Under-Steward. She remembered her sorrow when the law forced her and her Lord to punish Verinne for the crimes she had done. How she had watched her friend be branded by Captain Alexandrescu. The faint gladness she had kept that there was a path that let her live. But Verinne lived no more.

Tears reached her eyes.

She remembered the first time she knew his child was in her. How happy he had been. The dreams of the family they would build. She remembered the terror of Stela Savescu, the vampire who had sought to usurp her, to take control of her body and rule through her. She remembered the night Stela sent the prospector after her into the House, her grip a vice on his mind... and how he had attacked her. How she struck him with her rod of office, over and over and over until he moved no more, his blood all over the trembling Steward. She remembered how Stela had captured her, and how the wolves had obeyed the vampire's every word. She remembered how she betrayed herself when the beginnings of motherly instinct took over, and she had moved her hands protectively to her belly. How she agreed to permit the vampiress to feed from her arm, that her people might be kept safe.

She remembered the court at which she had sought to resolve a feud between two friends. How it had all been for naught when Stela interceded. How Constanta had told Stela to leave, and one of the men had drawn his blade. She remembered her terror as she begged him to sheathe it, to ware Stela's sorcery...

She remembered the black tentacles breaking through the floorboards of the hall, squeezing the life out of all those who came. She remembered how they had snaked around her, and how she couldn't breathe or move. She remembered the feeling of her child choking in her womb, the moment her body became a tomb, before the world went black.

She remembered the harshness of the light as it stung her eyes. She remembered Dimitry's arms around her, carrying her tenderly from the hall as she wept. How she had lain in the bed she had joined him in so many times as she felt the child leave her, his arms around her as sorrowful exhaustion dragged her into a long, aching sleep.

They had pressed on, as they must, for Krofburg endured all things. Eventually, Stela's reign over the dark came to an end. Constanta herself had been the one to sever the vampire's head from her shoulders. But her death could not reverse her pain, or uncry her tears, or bring back the child she had lost.

But, with her end, came a small measure of peace. A day of remembrance was held for all who had suffered losses in the recent times of sorrow. Constanta had spoken of their endurance in the face of Iadul, and the night creatures, and the strength of true blood of the mountain. She remembered the fair that had followed. She remembered the music and merriment, and dancing with Dimitry. The meal they had shared in the upper room, and the night of passion that followed.

She remembered that they had dared to hope, to try again. Soon enough, Constanta found herself with child a second time. She remembered telling her mother, and her concern, but also the love that her Lord had shown, and the agreement that was made for Anca Lazarescu to act as her midwife, when the time came. But then came the missive from one of Dimitry's friends abroad, of mutterings in the Village of Barovia. Of a man raving about his stolen birthright.

Edoard.

She remembered the anger that had risen within her, that he dared do this after all the kindness Dimitry had shown him. After all Dimitry had lost because he had remained to rule - Alina and his daughter would yet live, had Edoard not turned his back on duty.

She remembered further trials. The weeks Morrigan was lost in a sleeping sickness, and how Constanta had traveled to Vallaki to visit her in this comatose state. She remembered how Vicente, a man she had once thought a friend, sought to extort her through Bellegarde.

But all this paled to what came now. She was searching the room of her love, her Lord, for traces of papers concerning the terror that lay below the mountain, seeking to keep them safe from the eyes of the one who came. Her love, her Lord... he was not there to help her.

He had been summoned by Count Strahd von Zarovich to Castle Ravenloft some weeks hence. No reason had been given. She remembered the night before he left. How he had drawn her into his arms, kissed her swollen belly, held her desperately through the night as they slept. He had left without saying goodbye, leaving her to wake alone in his bed, to spare them both a tearful parting.

Constanta had spent several days watching the mountain road, waiting for his return. Though not the sort to pray, she had prayed.  She had dreamed of him, reaching for his face, and awoken to empty space beside her.

But had it all been for naught?

Constanta paused in her search for the papers, and moved with effort, her child kicking within her, to Dimtry's bed. She found his pillow and held it tightly, pressing her face against it in hopes of finding his scent there. She inhaled, and then she sobbed.

She remembered the missive, not meant for her eyes, that she had seen in her friend's hands. That which confirmed her worst fears.

She trembled violently now, dispelling every image from her head. Then, she closed her eyes.

Knowing how this man had treated his own family, Constanta feared for her life. She feared for the child within her.

But most of all, she feared for her people.

"I will not abandon them," she whispered.

She looked up, returning to thought again. No matter how she suffered here, Dimitry suffered the harder part. She imagined him, alone in that dark place. She heard his words.

"I will be thinking of you, Constanta. Know that wherever I am, as long as I may draw breath, I am thinking of you."

She was stirred from her thoughts by the sharp kicks of her child. She cradled her belly, a thin smile reaching her lips at the signs of life within her... but this soon turned to sorrow. Into what kind of world was she bringing their child?

She imagined herself carrying the newborn in her arms, roaming the wilderness alone.

She fell upon her Lord's bed, and she wept.

« Last Edit: October 31, 2019, 03:21:35 AM by emptyanima »

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❆ The Steward No Longer ~ A Difficult Birth ❆
« Reply #9 on: October 30, 2019, 09:14:16 PM »
Constanta woke at her desk.

She found herself sleeping in the strangest of places, so weary both from carrying her child, and the weight of the village and its troubles upon her shoulders. She had not woken with the coming of the morning, or any great announcement, merely the arrival of her dearest friend, Morrigan.

They spoke of the awful quiet. Of the weariness they both felt.

"I don't know how much more I can take," said Constanta, weariness still clinging to her.

"As much as ourselves combined. I am nowhere near giving up. You may borrow from me, if you feel the need." Morrigan's reply warmed Constanta's spirit a little, but still the heaviness pressed against her weary bones. She felt the kicks in her belly, and wished wordlessly for the strength to bear it all, for the sake of the child within her. For her people. For Dimitry. She drew a few deep breaths. The air of the House felt stale in her lungs, embittered by the grief for its lost lord that enveloped it.

She needed air.

She walked with Morrigan through the village she loved. She tried to keep her worries concealed as she looked at the villagers, not wishing to frighten them. They looked to her to show strength, in Dimitry's absence. Her gait was a little awkward; the ground was muddied by the rain, and her steps were altered by the heaviness of her belly. She pressed on through the village and through the rows of tents that seemed now to be a natural feature of the meadows beyond. The prospectors went about their business. The guards stood, watchful. One in particular, Krofburg's Lance Corporal, Stefan Raducan, watched the road. They spoke for a short time of matters troubling the village. And then they heard it.

Through the rainfall, thick and heavy, it came. The din of hoof-beats, echoing in the mountain pass. They echoed through the high places, the stone throwing the sound so that it confused the air. It was impossible to tell how many came, except that there were many.

The horses were huge, taller than the trio - Constanta, Stefan, and Morrigan - and their horsemen were of stature to match their steeds. They did not slow at all as they passed them on the road, kicking up the mud and sending it flying over the three as they galloped past. Constanta noted their colours and crests as they sped past.

These were the Count's men, and they made for the village itself.

Constanta was already worn from her walk through the village; she struggled back along the road, gasping for breath, returning once more to her Lord's house. The carriage had come to a rest outside, surrounded by Von Zarovich's soldiers. The steps of the carriage were lowered, and one by one, the travellers within stepped out.

"It's been so long since I smelled that particular variety of shit." These were the words of the first man to descend the steps. Following behind, a larger woman in a gown of yellow and blue laughed at his words. Next, came a larger man, who immediately stood to the side of the carriage. Very soon afterwards, a young woman stumbled down the steps, almost falling, bracing herself against the larger man's shoulder as she hastily pulled her dress over her form. The larger man looked at her with contempt as she did this. Constanta's heart sank a little as she put it all together.

But after her came a figure that Constanta instantly knew, though she had not seen him before.  He stepped down from the carriage in a leisurely manner, running the back of his hand over his mouth. He was whip-thin, a narrow man, but the family resemblance was striking.

"Edoard..." Constanta whispered, her eyes going wide. She fought back tears. She had known that he was coming, but to see him now, to see that the missive was true and their worst fears confirmed...

Edoard was taking in his surroundings, taking in the buildings he had never seen. Constanta felt anger well within her. He was last in the village before it burned, destroyed by the spawn of Iadul. He had been absent when Krofburg cried out in her suffering. He had been absent when Dimitry cradled his daughter's charred corpse in his arms, and mourned his wife Alina. He had abandoned his duty, and treated the kindness of his younger brother with scorn.

"You..." Constanta drew a breath, trying to speak loudly, to keep her tears back as the rain beat down upon her. "You are here at the House of Lord Dimitry Bochinsky. What... what business brings you?"

Edoard's entourage responded with cruel laughter, by and large, though the young woman who had been in a state of undress looked away. Constanta drew a breath, pushing back her sodden cowl, trying to keep her chin held high.

"There is no 'Lord Dimitry Bochinsky', girl," the first man said, "There was only a criminal and an usurper... and he has been brought to justice after many long years." Constanta sensed Stefan's jaw tighten beside her.

"Where is he?" Constanta asked, hesitantly. She believed that she knew, but could that have changed? Did her lord, her love, live or die? The man ignored her.

"Before you stands the lord of the mountain, granted to you by warrant of the Count himself. Lord Edoard Bochinsky, Burgomaster of Krofburg!"

There were gasps among Krofburg's guards. Stefan swallowed.

"We are to bow, aren't we, doamna?" Stefan whispered to Constanta.

"Kneel before your Burgomaster!" The first man commanded. Loathing, mostly for herself, rose up in Constanta as she knelt slowly in the mud, her child kicking more than ever in her womb. She held protectively to her belly. She looked down at the sodden, muddy earth and began to weep, silently, though this was largely masked by the rain that still pelted the village.

"Rise," came Edoard's voice, and he gestured with an upturned palm. Morrigan aided Constanta in her difficult ascent. Constanta leaned heavily upon her rod of office, offering Morrigan a look of gratitude for her aid.

"Welcome to Krofburg, Burgomaster," offered Stefan, formally. Constanta did not detect much feeling in it.

"And your name, guardsman?"

"Stefan Raducan, Lance Corporal."

Constanta trembled, soaked through with the rain, emotion welling within her.

"Easy, easy..." Morrigan's voice came softly. Constanta felt Edoard's gaze shift to her.

"And yours?"

Constanta tried to speak in a loud, clear voice.

"Constanta Lazarescu. Steward of Krofburg."

"You are my brother's concubine." Constanta's heart leapt, and it felt as though it had fallen into her stomach. What had he said to Dimitry? What words had Edoard drawn from her beloved's lips? What cries?

"I will not deny it," she replied, in a softer voice, now. Her hand remained protectively over her belly, the other still firm around her rod. "I would not. I am not ashamed."

"It is perfectly customary for Barovian lords to take concubines. Less so to make them their Stewards." Constanta did not feel shame. This is not how it had been at all, not for her and Dimitry. She began to speak.

"I was..."

Edoard drew closer. Constanta felt his eyes heavy against her form, changed as it was in maternity. She could almost hear the lurid thoughts in his head, and she trailed off, disgusted, before drawing a breath to continue. "His Steward, long before..."

"That said, I can see why my brother was tempted." Constanta's blood ran cold. She remembered all her love had said about his brother's lechery. How he often traveled, in his misspent youth, to Vallaki for the whoring. He will not have the same from me, she vowed inwardly. "But do not worry, madamoazela, I have no need of your services in that regard." Edoard looked at his woman, and she winced, looking down at the ground. Constanta's attention was drawn to her, worry creasing her brow. She wondered from where he had taken the woman, for surely no woman would willingly make love to the man before her.

Her attention soon returned to Edoard, however, as he began to whisper. "It's unfortunate, my dear, that your child's parentage should be so well-known. Otherwise, I might have been inspired to show mercy..."

Constanta shrank back. "No..."

"Lance Corporal!" Edoard barked, "Arrest this... 'Steward'. Put her in the cells."

"Stefan!" Constanta cried, looking at the man she had come to trust. The man who had prayed with her. The one who had stood with her on the mountain road as they watched for her lord. The one who had been loyal in these dark times. Beside her, Morrigan growled.

"She is complicit in my brother's crimes, I am afraid." Edoard added.

"Constanta," came Morrigan's voice in a whisper, "We have to go."

"No, that... that is death, Morrigan." Constanta eyed the many soldiers in the vicinity, the horsemen and those dark figures with red eyes....

"Now, Lance Corporal, I shall not ask again." Stefan was conflicted, his movements slowed by his loyalty. "Doamna," he said softly, turning to Constanta. She opened her mouth to speak... and then the sharp pang came.

"Agh!" She drew her hand tightly over her belly as the pain screeched through it. Slowly, slowly, Stefan took his shackles from his pack, still hesitating with every movement. Edoard was firm.

"Do not force me to ask these... friends of mine to do your job for you, Lance Corporal. You will regret it."

Constanta held out an arm for Stefan to shackle, surrendering herself. She could see no other way. All other paths were to death.

And then it happened. Constanta felt the water between her thighs, almost missing it for the heavy rain that still soaked her.

"Constanta!" Morrigan cried, as Stefan began to lead the trembling Steward towards the barracks. "Constanta, what would you have of me?"

Constanta's eyes were full of tears, her sight blurred. "Look... look to the people, Morrigan." A new wave of pain crashed through Constanta's body, and only now did it all sink in. "Help.... ah! Morrigan... get my mother!" Now that he was here, and now that the world was upside-down... now her child was ready to meet the world, wretched as it now was.

Stefan led her inside. "Stefan, the child, the child..." Constanta stammered with the pain, shivering as her sodden form met the sudden warmth of the barracks. Stefan reeled in shock.

"Is... is it coming?"

"I think so." Stefan was at a loss, still holding onto her shackles. "Take me to the cell, I don't want you in trouble." He helped her to settle down gently upon the floor of the cell, her back to the wall.

"Do you need help?" He whispered, worry in his voice.

"I asked Morrigan to fetch my mother. She... she will be so worried, but I need her now." Her words were cut short by another cry of pain. She felt it in her whole body, sore and desperate and damp. It was not meant to be like this. No, Dimitry was supposed to be here, and she was to be on his bed, in comfort, attended by her mother in calm and quiet. Not like this...

There came heavy knocks upon the door of the hut. Stefan ran to meet them. A man (who was not Morrigan) appeared with a smile.

"Dawn's blessings!" Constanta knew his voice; he had recently come to the village with his fellows from the Church of the Morninglord to ask to hold their ceremony there. But this was not the voice Constanta wished for now. She screamed again as the pain arced through her once more. Stefan gasped.

"Domn, are you skilled in helping a mother give birth?"

"I have seen it done many times. I have never done it." Constanta screamed again.

"Stefan! My mother... please, find her, I sent Morrigan after her..."

"Steward, Morrigan is on her way to your mother," came the man's voice. Through the pain, she managed to remember his name - Kerdic.

"Thank-" she began, before descending into sobs, trembling in agony, before the tears took over. She wept for more than her own pains.

She wept for the House that had been conquered by a terrible pretender. She wept for her people who would suffer under him. She wept for the office she had lost, the place she had been given to help her people. She wept for her lord, alone in darkness, if he still lived at all. She wept for their bed, and the sanctuary within it that Edoard would surely despoil.

She fought for breath as Kerdic knelt beside her, speaking soft words that she barely heard to try to comfort her. He told her to be calm, to count between the contractions. Constanta mourned aloud for her people. Her breaths were deep and sharp, like little knives in her lungs. Through the pain, Constanta saw a familiar face.

"Mother!"

"Constanta!"

Kerdic stood aside, allowing Anca Lazarescu to draw close to her daughter, still sodden, still trembling, still writhing in pain.

"Mama, please... help me. I am so afraid..." Anca knelt over her daughter, bringing her hands quickly to Constanta's belly, fear and worry writ large on her own face. Guilt welled in Constanta's trembling body, and she held her mother's hands as they lay over her belly, breathing in pained gasps.

More shouts echoed around the barracks as Morrigan returned, her friend Shannon in tow.

"Shannon, come on! She's in labour!" The air was frantic and tight, and it felt wrong in Constanta's lungs. Just then, a new voice pierced the din - that of Edoard's right-hand man.

"What's going on here?!"

"Sir, she is giving birth," came Stefan's reply through the shouts. Behind Edoard's man, a soldier dressed in Von Zarovich colours entered the barracks. One of Krofburg's men reached out to place a hand on the soldier's plate.

"Now, hold on, you can't just-"

He did not finish his sentence before the soldier's blade cleaved him in two.

"NO!" Constanta cried out. How much blood of the mountain had been spilled? How many had died? How many had she failed?

The response was visceral, frantic. More screams and shouts were flung around the tiny hut.

"Lance Corporal," Edoard's man began, "Everyone but the prisoner will leave immediately. Then we will deal with you."

"She's giving birth," Kerdic said.

"Do I look like I care? Out!"

Constanta clung feverishly to her mother's hand. "Mother..." She said, softly, desperately.

Beyond the bars, blood dripped from the Von Zarovich soldier's blade.

"She's to die in the morning anyway." Edoard's man added. The words barely registered with Constanta for a moment, so overwhelmed by her agony as she was. Anca Lazarescu refused to move, her voice quiet but firm.

"My daughter, I fear what they will do... this child is breached. The child must be born in a bed with proper attention. You must go from here."

"Mama, no..." Constanta's whispers were harsh for all the pain she was in, "How? They... they will kill me. My child..."

"I won't let them. I won't let them!" Anca's voice was anguished, but firm. Just then, Stefan pulled Anca back, as the man still shouted at those who were not Constanta to leave.

"DON'T HURT HER!" Constanta bellowed, fear rising in her as her mother was torn from her, her desperate vow still ringing in her daughter's ears.

"Outside. Final warning." The man's voice was stern, final. Anca Lazarescu drew close to the door of the hut, moving as though to leave. She paused. And then she shouted.

"DEATH TO THE TYRANT!" Anca cried, "DEATH TO THE TYRANT! DOWN WITH THE COUNT!"

Constanta's eyes went wide as the solider turned his attention on her mother.

"Mother! MOTHER!"

"Get up, when I say it..." Came Stefan's whispers beside her.

Anca fled.
The Von Zarovich soldier pursued.

Soon, the barracks were almost empty, save Constanta, Stefan, Kerdic, and Edoard's man. "Run, when I knock him down," said Stefan quietly.

Then, Stefan left the cell, not locking the gate behind him.

"Get that man out of here, Lance Corporal." Edoard's man barked, gesturing to Kerdic.

"Of course," Stefan said. And then he and Kerdic struck the man down. Constanta stifled a sob as the man's corpse hit the floor, pulling herself to her feet and leaving the cell. Constanta's office had been taken from her, but Stefan now surrendered his, bravely.

Constanta followed Stefan into the night, Kerdic at her side, and they hurried around the rear of the hut, out of sight. Constanta peered around the corner, and froze.

She saw her mother's face. Her head, severed from her corpse, lying in the mud. Before her stood the soldier. It spoke in a rattled hiss.

"The will of the Count must be done!"

Constanta wept, sparing a single sob in the night's gloom, the rain still relentless.

"Mother..." Constanta whispered. She looked to Kerdic, still beside her. Stefan was gone. Constanta would not waste the opportunity she had been given. Stefan had paid with his office, his safety. Her mother had paid with her life. She fought back the urge to scream in grief, knowing this would kill her and the child who was still being born, even now. "We... we must go. "


They ran through the treeline, behind the buildings. Constanta did not run on her own strength, but was instead driven by the fear that if she was spotted... if she was seen by the Count's horsemen, then it would be over. She could not die. Her child could not die. Not after all that had been spent.

Spent... she felt it. She felt her child trying to come, but the child, like the world, was upside-down, and was tearing her as she ran. Her wrists were heavy with the shackles around them. And still the rain continued.

"I need a bed," she whispered, harshly, "She said... the child is breached. Mother..." She sobbed at the thought of her mother, the image of her severed head never shifting from Constanta's mind. The only thing that kept her from tumbling to her feet, from stopping and giving herself a moment to grieve, was the child that still fought to live. For the child's sake, and for hers, she had to fight.

"Can you keep going?" Kerdic asked as they continued to run, Constanta's breaths hoarse as her throat became raw.

"Yes, we must... to a bed." Down the mountain, they ran. Constanta's legs trembled violently, so sore that she could scarcely feel them at all. Down, down, down they ran, until the pain became unbearable, and for a moment Constanta believed that she was being torn in two. She screamed. Kerdic supported her weight, cursing under his breath. "Please..." Constanta begged him, hoarsely, "you are my one hope." With Kerdic bearing the bulk of her weight, Constanta managed to run with him along the final stretch of the mountain path. Barovia's sky was still dark and wet. Where could they go? Were they followed?

They were almost off the mountain now. But now, the mountain itself was shaking. Constanta's mind rushed for a moment as she thought of the mission that Edoard had forced her to abandon. The Sleeper was stirring.

A piece of rubble fell and struck Constanta's brow, dizzying her. She would have fallen down the steps had Kerdic not been there to bear her weight. For at least the third time that night, Constanta's life had been saved. He kept her still, when wolves gave chase, and he put them all down as she hid behind the rocks.

A dark shrouded figure appeared beside them. Constanta was about to scream, until she saw who it was.

"Morrigan!" Morrigan carried Constanta now, leading her towards a place of safety. For a moment, she was relieved that Morrigan was with her. How she had brought her mother to her side. Her mother...

"I..." Constanta sobbed. "I killed her..."

"You did no such thing, quiet. We are almost safe now." Morrigan's voice had taken on the sternness it had when she was passionate. Even in bluntness, it revealed that she cared much. She looked to Kerdic, now. "Find me Shannon, immediately. I will be here."

Morrigan bore Constanta inside, upstairs. Finally, she was able to lie down upon a bed, as her mother had advised, as Morrigan removed her shackles. The moment that she stopped running, and no longer was distracted with thoughts of her immediate survival, the pain grew to be immense.  She cried out as it overwhelmed her.

"Constanta!" Morrigan's voice came again, worried.

"Morrigan, Mother...  she said that the child is breached. I... I need help."

"Shannon will be here soon, she will help you."

"Mother..." Constanta whispered, hoarsely, the memory filling her mind again, "I am so sorry..."

Between rasps of pain, Constanta sobbed. Morrigan embraced her where she lay.

"I will protect you. Please do not give in. Do not give up. Take from me. Take from me, as I said."

"Raducan, he... he killed to protect me. He will be in grave trouble. Oh, Stefan..."

It was then that Shannon arrived. Constanta told her, in hurried breaths, of her child's dilemma. There was talk of a surgeon. Morrigan moved to help Constanta up from the bed, but she did not move. Her body refused. "No, I... I can't!"

"Constanta! We have to! You may die, you may both die!"

"Bring... bring them here, please. I... I have run all I can..."

Morrigan bade Shannon stay to tend Constanta's wounds and to try to keep her condition from deteriorating. Shannon placed a hand on Constanta's shoulder, healing her wounds, the claw marks from the wolves and the bleeding caused by the fallen rubble fading away. She told Constanta to drink from her flask, and she did, letting it soothe her throat a little before the pain overtook her again. When she began to complain, to mourn for her people, to curse Edoard, she bid Constanta focus on her breathing, placing gentle hands on her abdomen.

"You are doing well. You must remain calm. There is only peace for you and your child, we will make deadly sure of it." Constanta continued to work to ease her breathing, a few choked sobs occasionally tumbling out. Her pillow was soaked. "I'm sorry, Constanta, I meant to be there sooner. Please forgive me."

"You... there is nothing to forgive." Constanta spoke softly.

"This dawn belongs to you and your child. There will be another to right these wrongs." As Shannon examined Constanta, all she had been told about the breech birth was confirmed; the child was reversed, and the umbilical cord did not look as it should. "I need you to hold on a little longer. When Morrigan is here, everything will be alright."

It was only moments later that Morrigan arrived, the surgeon in tow.

"Where is the patient?!" Came the surgeon's voice.

"On the bed!" Morrigan's familiar voice brought a little comfort to Constanta, despite the pain and shouting. She groaned.

"Help... please, help me."

"Do not fear, my dear one. I will help you!" He reached out to examine her. "On second thought, you are going to die."

"What?!" Morrigan was incredulous. "This isn't the time for jokes!"

"I never joke!" went the surgeon.

Morrigan's response was swift and firm.

"There is a capable priestess of the Morninglord here, she will not die, with you two working together. Just instruct her!" The surgeon looked again to Constanta.

"I am going to have to move the child inside you, doamna. You may suffer great loss of blood. Outside, you two, let me work!"

"Do... do what you must." Constanta's voice was fainter as she replied.

"Be strong, Constanta." Shannon's voice echoed strangely in Constanta's ears for a moment as she fought to stay awake. As the door closed, the surgeon lowered his voice.

"Well, then, my dear. You seem to have gotten yourself in quite the pickle." Constanta was in no mood for his levity.

"My mother died for this. It must not be in vain, you hear me?" Her words were barely audible, through all her pain.

"I see. I am sorry to hear that. Life can be bitter, no?" He began to work to try to move the child, still speaking quietly. "I take it neither of those lovely ladies is the father?" Constanta thought of Dimitry, alone in the dungeons of Castle Ravenloft, and wept, knowing that it could be excused with the pain.

"He... he cannot be here."

"Ah, so it's like that, eh?"

"No, no... he... he is a good man. The..." She stopped for a moment, groaning in pain, "the finest of men."

Just then, Morrigan and Shannon burst back into the room, eager to assist, but in their eagerness, they had startled the surgeon, and his hands had slipped. A stab of pain ran through Constanta's belly, and she cried out for the agony it caused her.

"Every moment counts!" The surgeon cried, "If you want to be of use, come here and hold her down. Talk to her. But do nothing without my say so!" Constanta continued to sob, the pain growing no easier to bear for how long she had withstood it. Blood stained the bedclothes red. The pain grew and grew, until eventually, it wracked her entire body as all her muscles went into spasm at once. She screamed, a scream so loud that it filled the whole district.

Shannon tried to keep Constanta calm through her screaming. "She is watching over us, Constanta, your mother-"

"Mist weed. I need mist weed." The doctor's declaration was sudden, urgent. Morrigan was able to produce a single knot of it. "That's not enough! I need more... at least five!"

"No one's going to have that around here!" Morrigan's mind raced as she thought of a way through this.

"I can keep her alive, but I do not know how long. We must have it!"  A thought crystalised in Morrigan's mind.

"Stay here and keep her spirits up, Shannon." And then she ran. Shannon turned her attention fully once more to Constanta, whose responses were less formed words and more sobs.

"Constanta. She is watching. You must be strong for her. I can feel it. I can feel her gaze. She is with the lord now, watching you."

"Mama, I... sorry..." She sucked in a deep breath before the pain took her again, and she sobbed.

"Do not be afraid. Do not let fear and guilt shackle your soul. Hold fast, Constanta. For in the dawn there is life again." Constanta continued to focus on her breathing, trying to stay awake. "There is still hope, Constanta. Morrigan will return. Be steady." She gave Constanta more to drink; she swallowed the water in sore gulps. "Let his strength be yours, Constanta. I ask you to endure just a little bit longer. For her."

Constanta thought of her mother. She thought of all she had given for her. She thought of her people, suffering. She thought of her lord, alone.

"I... I'll try."

"That you hold on is sacred. The Lord will not forget you. Do not let your eyes leave me. Please, tell me the name of your child, Constanta." She remembered one conversation she had with Dimitry, when he had kissed her belly, and they spoke of the child.

"We... we never chose, for fear of bringing about a cruel fate. It seems... that was not enough." She kept her focus on Shannon, her sight blurred with weary, anguished tears.

"True hope is going on no matter what. There are no bad turns in good intentions. There are only villains in disguise. Do not let these villains dishearten you. It is time to name your child whose life is about to begin."

"I... I do not even know if it is a boy or a girl who now wishes to come. But... if she is a girl, she... she must be Anca. After my mother."

Shannon regarded her with a calm that set her spirit a little at ease, but Constanta saw determination in her glassy eyes.

"She would have your mother's undying love for you. You have chosen well, Constanta." A thought formed in Constanta's mind.

"For a boy? Perhaps... Stefan, for what he did for me."

"The honours you place on those who have sacrificed for us will not be forgotten by the Lord. Keep holding on. Please."

Constanta fought as blood continued to pool below her. She blinked, remembering that night, all those years ago, that she had seen her mother on the steps of their home, losing the child between her legs. She remembered lying in Dimitry's arms as the child Stela stole from them left her body. But this was different. Now, it was herself she felt slipping away.

"I don't want to die..."

"Your mother's spirit is beside you. You will not die."

"Mother... you... you won't lose your girl yet. I... I'll try." A solemn smile came to Shannon's lips.

It was then that Morrigan burst through the door.

"Fortune must love me. I ran into Conner. He gave me everything he had." She gave the precious weed to the surgeon, who immediately took some instruments from his bag to begin macerating the leaves. Then, Morrigan leant against the bookshelf, utterly exhausted. The surgeon turned to Constanta and leaned over her, opening her mouth to place the leaves inside.

"Chew, please." Constanta did as she was instructed, and she felt a warming numbness spread through her body. Some of the tension in her exhausted muscles eased. The pain, while present, became easier to bear. "Now, doamna, I will need you to push."

"Tell... tell me when."

"Whenever's convenient. No... that was actually a joke. Now!" Constanta took a deep breath, and began to push with all she had left. She drew from stores of strength that were not physical. It was only force of will that allowed the former Steward to fulfill this duty. Shannon squeezed her hand with one of her own, the other pushing her down at the shoulder to steady her. Constanta clung with her free hand to the bloodied bedclothes.

"A new dawn comes. To life, from the dust and ash of death. Your mother's immortal spirit protects you, Constanta. Keep pushing." Constanta did, for all she was worth, for all she had and more, crying a desperate cry.

Feet first, the infant arrived. Constanta collapsed against the blankets.

"Is it a boy or a girl?" Morrigan's voice came, curious. Shannon held the child, large and wrinkled. A healthy little boy.

Constanta cried out again as a new pain took her, confusion creasing her brow. "What... what is...?"

"It can't be!" The surgeon announced, examining her, carefully. "It can!"

"What's the problem?" Morrigan's voice had that sternness again, the sternness that revealed the depth of her care.

"Doamna, there's... a second infant."

"Twins?!" Constanta's voice came out in a half-shriek from the shock of this revelation.

"The first infant was so large that he blocked me from feeling the second... no wonder they were contorted!"

Constanta drew another breath, readying herself for another push. "Now, doamna!" She did not know where she took this strength from, as every limb trembled and her sight blurred. Perhaps this was what they meant about mothers being strong. Constanta made a silent wish to be strong, in this. To be as a good a mother to her children as hers had been to her. Shannon's voice came again.

"Constanta, do not give in! The pain- do not let the pain overwhelm you! Push!" As she did so, she heard a loud, piercing cry. Her son, gasping in the air outside his mother's womb.

"My boy!" Her words were almost strangled. The pain arced one more time, subdued a little by the mist weed. And then it stopped. "Is... is it over?" She fell again upon the bedclothes, drenched in rain, tears, blood and sweat. Her dark hair clung to her neck, her bloodied legs cold with the damp and the air.

"Yes, doamna. You have a daughter, as well."

"Let me... let me see them." The surgeon laid the girl against her breast. She was smaller than her brother, and dark in colour, like burgundy wine. Then, he took her son from Shannon, and set him in Constanta's arms. Constanta sobbed in relief. There was a warm sensation that welled in her chest now, as the love she felt for her children bloomed through her whole battered body, lifting her spirits, granting her a second wind. Morrigan fought for breath, relieved but clearly still recovering from her run to find the herbs that had eased Constanta's pain, and allowed her to survive her children's difficult birth. Shannon's voice came again.

"Bless these new lives as they enter our world. Guard them as they begin their journey under your bright sun. Guide them with your light, lord..." As she finished her prayer, the surgeon interjected with more prosaic matters.

"I presume you can wash them and see to their immediate needs, doamna? This has been long, and I have other patients." Shannon nodded to the surgeon. Constanta thanked him, over and over, as the end of the harshest pain allowed new and better feelings to be felt. Love. Gratitude. Hope.

Morrigan paid the surgeon's fee. He had asked a mere one hundred fang for the miracle that had been performed. Morrigan saw that he was paid more than this. Shannon carefully washed the pair's faces while Constanta held them, kissing them gently, lovingly upon their heads. "A boy and a girl... it is just as you said. Anca and Stefan. The only prophecy worth believing is the one we can bring about ourselves. You have brought them into this world, Constanta, with your word."

Aided by Morrigan, Constanta sat up, bringing one child to each breast to nurse them. The pair nursed eagerly, but Constanta noted that Anca did not cry out, as her brother had done. She would need more help, more food, more care. But she would be alright. That was Constanta's solemn, silent vow.

Shannon looked upon Constanta as she nursed her children. "I have never seen such strength in my life, Constanta. Today, you have given them life, but you have also given me hope."

An aftershock rippled from the mountain, drawing the trio from their weariness, for a moment. Constanta thought again of their mission. The Sleeper under the mountain.

There was much to do. They would need allies to aid them with the Sleeper. To help Krofburg, the home to which they could not return. And when this was done, Constanta inwardly swore to see Dimitry, whether he lived or died, retrieved from the dungeons of Castle Ravenloft, and returned to his people, either to rule them once again, or to be buried and mourned. She prayed for the former, as she held their children in her arms. She wished to give them all her love, and all of his.

But first, they would have to hide.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2019, 08:29:35 AM by emptyanima »

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❆ ~ On The Run ~ ❆
« Reply #10 on: November 10, 2019, 04:57:52 PM »
Constanta had never run so far in her life.

Once Edoard's bounties upon her and the others were adopted by Vallaki, any hope she had for it to serve as a sanctuary were dashed.

She carried Anca and Stefan protectively against her in a makeshift sling; it allowed the pair some safety at her chest, beneath her cloak. Constanta was grateful for this, as the rain was harsh and seemingly unending.

An idea that was had for a potential resting-place sadly also proved to be doomed. As Constanta and her closest confidante drew near, she heard Morrigan murmur to her in hurried hushed tones.

"That man there, he's a known bounty hunter."

They hurried inside, having no clear path to escape. They found a dark corner where they hid, until weariness drew them both to seek an upper room where they could rest, sharing soft words for a while as Constanta nursed her children.

Slam.

They froze, ceasing their chatter until they could be sure of the source of the sound. Perhaps the wind on the shutters, or a disgruntled guest?

Slam.

Constanta's blood ran cold, and she looked at Morrigan. There were heavy footsteps now. The hunter was searching for them.

Slam.

"Hide, Constanta. If he opens the door, you must run!"

Constanta concealed herself beside a bookcase, veiled also in other ways, holding all her world protectively in her arms. Please don't cry, she begged inwardly, looking upon her children, please don't cry.

Constanta wished that she could disappear.

Still the slams continued, and though she could not tell which doors the hunter was opening, she knew that the sound was growing louder. He was drawing closer...

Slam.

The door to their room burst open. In an instant, she saw him. She took in his dark armour, his determined face. She held her breath, cradling her children with a forced tenderness to soothe them, in hopes to prevent any fearful tears at his presence. She stared into his eyes from where she hid, her heart in her belly.

The door closed.
The hunter departed.

As the pair exhaled, slowly, softly, they knew that this hiding-place was unfit, and a new one would have to be found.

It was in this place that she lay now, her body curled protectively around her son and her daughter, acting as a protective wall between her children and any potential intruder. She felt a chill at her back, but its cause was not draught or illness.

Constanta's eyes welled with tears. Now that constant fear no longer seized her, the grief and loneliness she had long-restrained could be felt in their fullness. This was her family, incomplete. She saw her mother's face, her head in the mud in her mind's eye, the grandmother her children would never meet.

Her bones were chilled and heavy. She longed, she prayed, she begged, all these, for her Lord. She yearned for Dimitry, for his strong burly arms around her, his broad shoulders, firm and sure as the mountain, his warm voice speaking words of love and reassurance. She wished for him at her back, his arms around her and his hands clasped around a book in his hands, for him to read to her as he had done so often during their evenings together. That he could be there now, reading to their children.

She squinted at the book beside her, one she had been given in recent days, filled with the kind words and promises of the Morninglord. She remembered once more the bold man, Kerdic, who had borne her down the mountain during her travail. For his sake, at least, and for Shannon, who had helped her bear Anca and Stefan, she should read them this.

But the light was fading now, and the words were hard to read. The book would have to wait. She looked upon her stronger, larger son, and her smaller, slighter daughter, and she swore anew that solemn vow of motherhood. To protect them always. To love them fiercely and boldly. One day, she swore, they would all return home, and be whole.

In a soft, sweet tone, still wary of any unwelcome presence finding her and her little treasures, she sang a lullaby to her children in the dark.



 1. Artwork by Vandal/BastardSon of PoTM