Marianne sat down at the head of the large oak table. On the islands, where nothing grew naturally, wooden furniture was one of the largest outward expressions of wealth. This table would seat twenty people comfortably. Today there were only four waiting when the Lady of the Keep and her handmaiden sat down in their ornately carved chairs.
The room itself was the largest in the keep. The table was along the back wall near the fireplace. This room, like all parts of the keep, was designed with defense in mind. The doors at either end were double planked, almost a full six inches thick with iron straps woven on both sides. The outside wall was lined with narrow windows facing south, towards the most secure side of the island, which provided most of the light in the room. Six huge candelabras burned, chasing away the worst of the shadows in the hall.
Marianne smiled and paused for a second when she sat, looking at the face of each man at the table. The pause, like everything she did, was intentional. She made them wait for her, while she slowly opened up a box containing a quill pen, removed the lid from a pot of ink and opened the jar of sand. Every movement was deliberate.
Marianne had been raised to do this job. All of her life she was trained to be the Lady of the Keep, to handle the day to day operations of their tiny country in the absence of her husband. Were Arian here, he would admit that she was much better with the details than he. The difference was that Arian had fought to earn the respect of the men, Marianne was born to her position. This fact was not lost on her, despite having proven herself a more than capable administrator. Arian Tilwin was the most powerful pirate in The Strait. He spent most of his life at sea, and Marianne spent most of hers dealing with this gathering of Governors.
Finally, after patiently ordering her effects, she said, “Gentlemen. I’m sorry I was delayed this afternoon. As you all know, Lord Tilwin sailed at noon.” All four men at the table nodded. There were five islands that made up The Rock Tail, in a progressively smaller string running from north to south. The Keep was on the second island in the chain. Marianne sat at the head of the table, where her husband normally sat. To her right, beside her at the head of the table was Carina’s seat.
Nearest them was Luke Santerson. He was tall, fit, and chiseled with long sun-bleached brown hair hanging loosely under a white bandanna. Luke was dressed in a fine cream-colored linen suit, with a darker khaki cotton vest. His tie matched the vest, and three large diamond earrings adorned each ear. He was the wealthiest man on the islands, and liked to show it. The Governor’s face was straining to smile as he waited impatiently for his turn.
“Your Grace,” Luke began, lowering his head in barely respectful nod. “With Lord Tilwin sailing The Windlass, and The Wicked Wench directly behind, who will carry this week’s harvest? If we don’t get our crops aboard ship soon, there will be major losses to spoilage on the docks.” His tone was one of incredulity, as if the Tilwin’s owed him something, instead of the other way around.
“I understand your concerns, Governor. Trusting that you know that The Keep’s duty is to protect The Rock Tail, I assume you are asking my advice as to which merchant vessel you should contact to carry your goods?” A ship sitting in port was a liability. Ships were made to sail, not sit at anchor. Whenever there were free ships, Arian was glad to carry goods from The Village to foreign markets. Doing so was good for their small hold, allowing The Rock Tail to sell fruits and vegetables at lower cost, having not incurred the price of transportation. Luke was spoiled by The Keep’s generosity, and it was showing.
“Your Grace, Lord Tilwin understands the need to keep the price of goods down to be competitive.”
Fire flashed through Marianne’s eyes briefly, before she brought her temper in check. “Luke Santerson, Lord Tilwin does what is best for this hold, and will continue to do so as he decides. If Lord Tilwin decided that his ships are better served sailing without your goods aboard, then you will do what you must to do your job.” Her use of his name, ratherthan title was calculated, to add emphasis as a reminder to whom he was speaking. It always took the first couple of days of any of Tilwin’s voyages to remind the council who she was. After a brief pause, she added, “For the good of The Rock Tail.”
“Of course, my lady. With lower profits come lower tax payments. And I noticed on my walk over here that the wood yard is completely empty. There is nothing with which to repair any ships Lord Tilwin damages in whatever escapades he’s up to.”
In a flash, Carina was out of her seat. She moved so quickly, her chair tipped backward. When she stopped, one foot shot out sideways to catch the back of the chair. She was standing next to the Governor, holding a long, thin dagger to his temple. The other hand was pressing his head onto the tip of the blade. His skin, not yet cut, was pressed inward by the tip of the knife. “You will remember your place, Governor Santerson. You are speaking to the Lady of Rock Tail Keep. You will do well to remember that she is the reason you are able to afford your baubles, and your tone will reflect that respect. Are we clear?”
Luke’s anger was palpable. Marianne knew there would be consequences to pay for this. “Carina, thank you for defending my honor. Please release the Governor, I’m sure he was just momentarily overcome with the passion he feels for his business. Of course he is aware of the number of times the House of Tilwin has protected his village and his crops. Mister Santerson is perfectly aware that he owes his life to us.”
Carina poked just a little harder, and then sheathed her dagger. She set the chair back on all four legs with her foot, and lowered her own leg to the ground before moving gracefully back to Marianne’s side, and looking downward.
“You keep that bitch on a short leash, my lady, or I’ll make sure she’s controlled,” shouted Luke.
Merianne reached over and put her hand on Carina’s leg under the table. “Governor Santerson, you may go now. You are dismissed. And while you are rowing back to your island, please be sure to look upward at the guns of my Keep. Perhaps that will help you recall why you have an island, and where you would be without us.”
Luke sputtered and muttered under his breath, but got up and left the room in a rush, slamming the door behind him. Marianne waited a moment for the room to settle before continuing. “Governor Codner, how can I help you today?”
The afternoon council session finished uneventfully, complaints from each island’s governor were often met with solutions from the other councilmen, as was her style. Her goal was that she represent The Keep, when the need arised, and served as a mediator between other islands. She did not rule, as much as she guided. Still, by the time the session adjourned in late afternoon, she was exhausted and looking forward to some time with her son.
About an hour later, Marianne and Jack sat at the private dining room table having their evening meal. Carina was still raging at Santerson as she cooked their supper. “How dare he speak to you that way, my lady. You should have let me kill the noxious prick.” She flipped a giant piece of fish in a huge metal skillet, sprinkled something from a jar above the wood-fired stove on it, and turned her attention towards dismantling a large pile of vegetables.
“What’s noxious?” Asked Jack.
“Poisonous,” replied Marianne. “But that’s not a word we should be using to describe someone in a position of authority, even if they disrespected us. Carina knows that name-calling will never result in the outcome we desire.”
“Right. Cari, we don’t call names in this house,” said Jack.
“I’m so sorry, Master Jack. You are right, of course. We shouldn’t call names, I’m just very angry that he spoke to Mommy in such a way. No one on The Rock Tail can speak to your mommy or daddy like that.”
Jack nodded very solemnly. “Can I have my salad without tomato? I hate tomatoes.”
“I know you do,” Carina said, leaning over the counter, popping a piece of tomato into her mouth. “But your Mommy and I love them! Sooooooo yummy!” She picked up another piece of tomato and put it into Marianne’s open mouth.
“Jack, you don’t know what you’re missing, these are so good!” she said to her son.
“No way! Yuck!” he said making a face, and all three of them laughed.
Several hours later, after giving goodnight kisses to Marianne and Carina, Jack lay in his bed. “Mommy,” he said. “When Daddy is back, do you think he’ll stay for a while? He told me that this trip was to protect us. Will we stay protected this time?”
“I sure hope so, Jack. I don’t want him to have to leave so often either. But we all do what we must to protect our home. For you, that means paying extra attention to your studies.”
“Yes, Mommy. And also, I love you, Mommy.”
“I love you too, Jack. See you in the morning.”
She closed the door, and walked down the short hallway to her bedroom. Carina was waiting for her on the bed. “We have to give him a minute to get to sleep,” she said, eyeing Carina’s naked body.
“Can I not get comfortable in my own bedroom?” Carina asked, smiling innocently.
“You know I can’t resist you,” she said, reaching behind her to untie her own bodice. Carina jumped up and helped untie the back of her dress, planting soft kisses on the back of the shorter woman’s neck. When the dress was untied, Cariina swept it off her love’s shoulders, allowing it to fall the floor. At the same time, she moved to her earlobe, kissing and biting it.
Marianne turned, and stood on her tiptoes to kiss Carina on the lips, wrapping her arms around her. Carina picked her up, Marianne wrapped her legs around the other woman’s waist, and Carina carried her to the bed. They made love until both were satisfied, before kissing each other goodnight.
Marianne rolled onto her side, and Carina spooned up against her and murmured “I miss Arian,”
“Me too, Cari,” Marianne said softly, already half asleep.
Carina waited until Marianne was asleep before whispering, “I will protect you and your house with my life. You are my sun. Your husband is my moon, and your children my stars. I love you, for all that you are and all that you will be, and on my honor, no harm will come to you and yours.”
She said it every night before she fell asleep. When Arian was home she waited until they were both asleep. When he was away, she thought about him as she spoke, and then she drifted off to sleep as well.
Carina was roused from sleep less than two hours later, to the sound of someone opening the outer door to their room. She opened one eye, and rolled protectively over Marianne. Her other hand slid under her pillow, down the head of the mattress to the knife she kept on the wooden platform between the mattress and the wall. Two men approached, dressed in all black, if it hadn’t been for the moonlight streaming in the window, they would have been almost invisible. They took great pains to move around the pools of light on the floor.
Still Carina waited. She was grateful Marianne hadn’t woken up yet, she wanted to see what these two men were up to before she killed them. Both men stood at the side of the bed. The first drew a long, thin dagger, much like Carina’s from a sheath on his belt. The other stood, looking directly at Carina.
“They’re here to kill her. They’re not after Jack,” she thought to herself. “Now they can die.”
She waited until the man drew his knife up over his head, and plunged it downward. At the very last second, Carina heaved Marianne, rolling her over top of herself and off the bed on the far side. The dagger drove through the thin mattress and stuck into the wood frame underneath. Carina smashed the pommel of the dagger, driving it further into the wood frame, and then swung her legs out, kicking the man in the face. Her hand held his to his dagger, pinning him in place, which added more power to her kick.
Next, she drove the point of her knife into the stomach of the second man, and shoved the handle sideways. He howled, and backed up a step as the man she kicked managed to free his knife. Carina was on her feet in a flash, just as Marianne was getting to hers. Carina squared off with the two men, placing herself between Marianne and the assassins. She had no thought about being stark naked, aside from wishing for the power a pair of sturdy boots would add to her kicks, her only worry was for Marianne.
Marianne surprised Carina, something that almost never happened. Rather than screaming for the gaurd, Marianne, standing naked in the moonlight began chanting. Over and over, in a language Carina didn’t know. As she chanted, Carina felt strength flowing through her body. She would have chalked it up to adrenaline, but she was already pulsing with her bodies natural power. This was something else.
Carina struck at the man who was clutching his stomach. She used her left hand, and it was a straight jab from the shoulder. The blow was meant to break his nose, causing his eyes to water, lessening his ability to fight. Instead, her hand caved his entire face in, as if it was an over-ripe melon. He crumpled to a heap on the floor.
“Witchcraft!” the other assassin yelled, throwing his knife at Marianne. Carina lept over the bed, caught the knife in mid air, and threw it back at him. It impaled his chest, spearing his heart. He collapsed to the floor beside his partner.
Carina hugged Marianne tightly. “It’s okay, Mari. We’re safe. It’s okay,” she said over and over. Marianne pulled her love away, and looked her up and down, before her gaze settled on Carina’s hand.
“You’re bleeding, baby. We need to get you to the surgeon.”
About the Author
Kirk Allmond started writing the first bestselling What Zombies Fear novel in 2010 as an online story as part of his website The Zombie Preparedness Initiative. When the idea to write a novel struck him, he took his own “Zombie Apocalypse” plan and turned it into a story. That story has now spawned six novels and two short stories, and is showing no sign of letting up.
When he’s not writing or talking about zombies, the Michigan born writer holds firmly to the southern roots of his family. He grew up in Chicago IL, and Roswell, GA. Kirk has an amazing little boy who was born in 2007, who is the basis for the character Max in his novels. His time growing up in the south with his grandparents taught him the value and skills to live off the land. He is an avid outdoorsman, loves hunting, fishing and backpacking. When he’s not honing his survival skills, Allmond is often found sitting at a role-playing game table, either as the GM of his own Zombie Apocalypse role playing game or as a participant in games run by one of the members of Grown as Gamers, the premier podcast for all things geek and pop culture.