Gerome heard them calling, his brother-in-arms from the battle field. Bloodied from the savagery, their eyes hollow from the horrors of war.
Jumping from the sleeping wagon, he would chase after them, following their bloody footprints in the dusty road.
They would turn, open wounds and smashed heads then disappear into the night. Only days of drinking, fighting and whoring would deaden the memories. Then he would stagger back to the troupe, knowing his ghosts would come again.
When she joined the troupe, she had a steading presence on everyone, and Gerome in particular. Her gift of remembering was a secret they shared, binding them closer than a friendship. But even she could not keep the dead away forever.
She rubbed salve on his bruised knuckles. She put a poultice on his blackened eye. She brewed a potion that would help with the pain. Looking at him with troubled eyes, she sensed a dark secret in his soul.
Gerome knew he owed her an explanation for his behavior. She never asked why he disappeared, nor scolded him for it. She just quietly took care of his wounds.
How could he share his ghosts with her, knowing that they would never leave her mind? He practiced what he would say, how he would explain the bloody foot prints, the smashed-in heads.
The troupe had camped in the lea of an oak wood. Hopefully, the lord’s men would not notice them, and run them off or worse.
She knew not to approach Gerome without saying his name first. Otherwise, a touch on the shoulder brought a swirl and a hand on a sword no longer there.
“A walk?,” she asked. He nodded and they climbed the rise to the edge of the wood. She lay down with her head touching the trunk of a giant oak and watched her world dapple in yellow and green. He sat beside her, watching her.
“Tell me.” she said, drawing herself up into a sitting position, and looking straight into his eyes to assure him that no story was too dark for her.
So, he told her the story of how he and his brother were soldiers for hire. They had been paid to fight for a certain king against another. During one battle, his brother had forged ahead of the main group, waving his sword and shield and calling for an advance. He was easily cut down, with none of his own comrades in arms to save him.
Gerome, fought with a fury seldom seen. He shouted the battle cry and cut though the enemy as if cutting a slice of bread. As the sunset, the battlefield was strewn with death. He threw down his sword, and began to walk the dusty road. Along the way, he shed the pieces of his blood-soaked battle-gear.
She had gently placed her hand on his arm, to reassure him that the story was not too much to know. He told of meeting those who became the troupe, and in the same breath, the ghosts that haunted him no matter where they went. Ghosts that made him disappear. Ghosts that ate at his soul and were only deadened by drink and fights.
There was a long pause of silence. She pushed a strand out hair out of his eyes. “Many people have ghosts.” And, with a surprising kiss on his cheek, she was gone. She made no mention of his story, nor the closeness of her face to his.
One full moon lit night, unable to sleep, Gerome slipped out of the wagon. He didn’t want to wake the snoring Jangler, or the rolling Sparrow. He stretched his arms, and then he noticed someone moving.
She was dancing. Not a pagan dance. Nor a witch’s dance. But one that came from her soul. She sang softly, one of Luther’s ballads.
She had said, “Many people have ghosts.” So, perhaps her mix of country and court, swirling and dipping shouldn’t be so surprising. He tried to banish ghosts with drink and fists; she with song and dance.
The story cycle of which this is a part began as a response to a fairy tale friday prompt on May 4, 2014. Since then, in response to various MindLoveMisery’sMenagerie prompts, I have played with the characters. Over time, they have come to “haunt” me, and I continue to write their lives and adventures, if only in my head. I haven’t visited the troupe with MLM for a while, so I thought I should drop in.