Through the Heart

Fiction By paperpoet // 5/12/2011

“Annabel!” the call rang out across the busy stable yard where I was grooming my horse, Ether.

I smiled at the sound of a voice so familiar; it was a near and dear to me as my own. “I’m here!” I called back, paying no heed to the fact that here is anywhere and everywhere, because I knew he would not give up until he found me.
My presumptuousness proved true and not more than five minutes later, my best friend stood before me. Grayson was a tall, handsome lad of seventeen. We had lived in this same settlement of the Cuthbertian Kingdom all our lives and had been friends from childhood. Our mothers were dear friends and through he was two years older than I, we had often been put together as playmates when our mothers would get together and talk. Grayson and I had whiled away those many hours exploring and fooling around outdoors and, as we were both only children and had no siblings to play with, we became the other’s chief companion. Now we were like brother and sister to each other and ever inseparable.
“Annabel!” his green eyes sparkled with amusement that tried to be annoyed and mostly just ended up looking amused “Would it really trouble you so much to show yourself when called?”
I continued to comb through Ether’s thick grey hair and adopted the arrogant and nonchalant look I knew annoyed him so much. “I was busy. If you think I am at your beckon call, you have another thought coming and I shall be more than happy send it through that rather thick skull of yours very quickly.”
“You needn’t bother on my account, your highness. I have found you and I shall keep in mind that calling your name will not only fail to result in your feet hastening anywhere, it will also offend your carefully coddled sensibilities.” He replied coolly. “I merely had something to ask your highness, if you had the time.”
I stroked Ether’s soft nose and nodded slightly, looking into the horses large intelligent eyes as if there I had found my answer. “I suppose I could spare you a moment, if you speak with haste.”
Grayson’s playful features grew serious and he shifted nervously. My heart sank. For all our fun, I knew Grayson was about to remind me of a painful reality that our banter could only delay coming to the vanguard of my mind.
“I want you to practice with me.” He said softly, leaning in closer to ensure that the words intended for my ears fell only nowhere else. 
I hesitated. I did not want to, and yet I felt obligated. Grayson was becoming a soldier in the ongoing war against the Edwardian kingdom, planning to enlist in mere months when he turned eighteen. I was of no little fame for my grace with the sword and we had often practiced with each other in the past. But since the end of peace and the dawn of the war, our practices had adopted an element of danger and fierceness. To me, the handling of the sword was an art, but for Grayson, it had become a means to an end.
“Please?” he knew, at least in part, my thoughts on the matter, but he smiled alluringly at me and I could not say no to the brother of my heart.
“Alright,” I gave my consent and he beamed happily at me, soothing the qualms that nagged me in the corner of my brain.
“I will meet you in the woods in half an hour, yes?” he was starting to leave, stepping sideways to look at me, waiting to run at the slightest sign of my agreement.
“Yes.” I said and he was gone. I turned back to Ether and continued to rub down her soft grey hide. She snorted at me, as if reading my mind.
“Well, what would you have done?” I asked the horse, “You know I cannot turn him away. He needs my help.”
Ether shook her shaggy hair sagely. I laughed softly at her disapproval, stroking her nose and then led her back to her stall.
As we walked down the aisle, I could hear the voices swirling around me from the many people who occupied the space.
“Any day now…”
“…His Majesty is regretful, but….”
“…impossible to avoid it any longer…”
“…enlisted, he’s leaving tomorrow…”
“Its bleak days ahead, I warn…”
The raging war was ever escalating and as it did it began taking over everything, from the rations and horses to the hearts and conversations of my people. I am a simple girl, to be sure, but I cannot see why we must resort to such horrific means to settle our conflicts. Surely there is nothing more precious human blood. To my way of thinking, neither land nor politics should come before the preservation of our lives. But I am merely a simple girl. Still, I pray that his Majesty knows what he is doing.
Having left the stables, I walked through the village taking care to make haste. Half of an hour was not a generous span of time to walk home to gather my sword and then walk out to the woods to met Grayson. Not generous, but doable.
“Good afternoon, Annabel!” the cheerful voice of the baker hailed me and I waved to him. I should have liked to stop and talk to him, but Grayson did not like to be kept waiting.
I soon found myself upon my own doorstep and knocked once on the door to announce my presence to my Mother.
“Annabel!” the door swung wide and there stood my Mother with her apron on and flour on her hands. She swiftly embraced me in a hug that pulled my over the threshold and into the middle of the kitchen, closing the door behind her.
“Mother,” I hugged her back tightly. She has a heart of purest gold, my Mother.
“How were things in town? How is Ether?” she asked, releasing me and turning back to kneed the soft bread dough on the counter. A soup simmered over the fire and I took a deep breath of home.
“Things in town seemed to be alright. Ether is also well.” I started to walk up the stairs, calling as I went “I am going to meet Grayson. He wants to practice.”
I could not see her face, but I could hear the frown in her voice. “Again? I am worried about that boy. He has been changed by this war and it pains my heart.”
I took down my sword from its resting place on my bedroom wall and walked back down to the kitchen.
“Have not we all, Mother?” I asked, sadly. For it was in this same sad war that my Father had been taken from our family by the sharp sting of death, and my uncle by his betrayal in turning over to the enemy side. My Mother had said sadly that it was indeed a mercy that my Father had died before his brother had abandoned his country. “That,” she had said “Would have hurt him far worse than death.”
Her eyes adopted the veil of sadness that always comes over her when my Father was brought to the forefront of her mind. “Indeed we have.” She agreed softly and a respectful silence settled over us and I fought back the tears that always came with the memory of a loss that, while just over a year old, was still a fresh wound in my heart.
“You had best be going,” my mother remarked after a moment, pulling me back from the land of grieving memories and into the present.
“Yes,” I agreed and walked over to the counter to plant a kiss on her soft cheek. “I love you,” I told her.
She smiled “I love you, too.” 
I ran back outside, around the house towards the woods. We lived on the edge of the west side of the kingdom. Grayson was meeting me in the north end of the woods, which made a broad circle around the outskirts of the kingdom. Entering the woods from the path nearest my home and following the circle north was the quickest way to our meeting place.
I ran on the paths which were coated in pine that fell from the huge trees that populated much of the forest, my shoes striking a gentle thud with each step. The sky was a truly beautiful blue this afternoon and the wind was low. It was a wonderful spring day, the kind that made you feel like all your worries were being melted by the warm sunshine and all your troubles were being blown away by the gentle breeze. I smiled and tilted my face upward towards the light pouring in between the tree branches. Such beauty made everything surrounding it seems more beautiful too, by association.
As I approached the clearing, I could see Grayson pretending to fight an imaginary opponent, leaping this way and that with his sword poised, eyes trained on his made-up partner, stabbing swiftly and decisively as if the whole thing was real. He was beautiful to watch, always so meticulous about his performance, he had drilled himself into a near effortless perfection. My interest and talent with the sword has often been described as natural, but Grayson, while he does not possess my natural skill, is a more devoted swordsman than I will ever be. My gift makes handling a sword like breathing, but for Grayson he had to learn it, and learn it well he has.
He finally turned in battle and saw me standing there.
“Annabel!” he exclaimed in surprise, “Why did you not say something?” his voice was breathless from his exertion.
I shrugged “I was watching you.”
He straightened up and smiled a little “And how did I look?”
I rolled my eyes, for I could almost see his ears prick forward like Ether’s, in hopes of some compliment.  “You do well with a sword and you know it.” I told him, “I shall not inflate your pride with further praise.”
He laughed and came toward me, his sword dancing towards mine like an invitation to play. I grinned, losing my pretend annoyance and let my blade come sweeping up from my side to clash with his. We moved around each other, back and forth in a glorious dance. Grayson fought hard, but I was light on my feet. My defense was generally better, though his attacks were stronger. I faked a bold attack to the right, knowing he would most likely over correct. He did, but at the last moment saved himself and poked his sword towards my left side. My sword went flipping out of my hands and landed on the grass a few feet away.
He grinned at me in disbelief. I laughed at his obvious exaltation caused by beating me and I walked towards the place where my sword had landed. “You know my left side is weaker,” I protested in a half hearted attempt to save my dignity, bending down to collect my sword.
“I…” Grayson began, but I heard a sound and put a finger to my lips.  He stopped and listened for a moment. I heard the snapping of the branch and a man’s faint murmuring. I looked at Grayson and he nodded, stepping slowly towards me.
“Follow me,” he whispered and I nodded, slowly putting my sword back in its sheath and followed him as he ran silently out of the clearing and back into the woods
“What was that?” I whispered to him once we were several paces deep into the woods and well out of sight.
“I don’t know.” He replied softly, taking my hand in his while he looked around, backing me slowly against the tall wide trunk of a tree “Stay here.” He told me as he started to walk away.
“Grayson,” I hissed, starting after him “No!”
“Annabel, you have to stay.” He said quietly, putting a hand out to stop me. I did not want to stay idle like a sitting duck in a pond, but I also trusted Grayson to know what was best. I leaned back against the tree and he nodded gratefully at me, starting towards where we had heard the noise.
I tried not to let my mind race to horrible conclusions about who could be in the forest. In wartime, it is hard not to suspect the worst. What if it was enemies from King Edward? What if they found Grayson? What would they do to him? What if they found me? What would they do to me?
I jumped and shrieked as Grayson suddenly appeared from around the other side of the tree. He clapped his hand over my mouth and I collapsed into his arms.
“Shush!” he chided putting a finger over my lips.
“Did you find anything?” I whispered, after having recovered from my fright.
“No,” he murmured, “But it’s still not safe. You should get out of here.”
Panic overtook me and I clutched him hands tightly in my own “I’m not leaving without you!”
“You have to,” he began, but he suddenly grabbed me, whirled around and pinned us both to the back of a broad tree.
I began to protest, but before the sound reached my lips I heard voices and my heart caught in my throat.
“Can you climb it silently?” Grayson asked me in a low breath, looking up at the low branches of the tree.
I nodded and slowly and carefully hoisted myself up on to a low branch. I slipped, and my sheath smacked the trunk with a thud. I froze, listening. Nothing happened. I looked down at Grayson and he gestured for me to keep going. I slowly climbed until at last I was hidden from view by the thick leaves of the tree. Grayson followed. We sat quietly, waiting and wondering. The voices became nearer and louder.
I listened silently to the beating of my heart, Grayson breathing and men’s voices. I could tell that their accents did not belong to us. They belonged to the Edwardian kingdom- to the enemy. They could not have been more than a hundred feet from where we were. Silently, I listened in fear to words I could just barely make out. The space between us was muffling the sound, but I heard one sentence that could not have been any louder than if it had been screamed at me.
“We will attack tonight.”
The words played over and over in my head and a panic set it. We had to warn the village. We had to tell the king! We had to stop this. I was overcome with a feeling somewhere in between terror and elation. I was scared to death that we would be discovered. That the consequences of our actions would catch up to us. That somehow Grayson or I would suffer for being here. And yet I was also delighted. We could save the kingdom from almost certain destruction! The king could plan a counter attack or some defense or something to ensure fewer, if any, lost lives! Perhaps this information could even somehow sway the war in our favor!
I waited in restless excitement and agony until finally, the voices stopped and footfalls faded into silence. We sat there for a few more moments, listening hard.
“We have to warn them.” I breathed to Grayson. “We have to tell the king.”
He looked at me with the most peculiar expression on his face, like someone who is being spoken to in a language he cannot understand a word of.  “Tell whom what?” he asked.
My mouth dropped open “Did you not hear? They are planning an attack! Tonight!” I hissed “This may be our only chance to save the kingdom, to keep our brothers safe, to…”
“Are you sure that’s what you heard?” he asked, interrupting me abruptly
“Yes!” I was becoming intensely frustrated with his reluctance “We need to go! Now!”
I hastily started to climb down from the tree. Grayson leapt down ahead of me.
“Annabel,” he said, helping me down and holding my arm. “Do not make a fool of yourself. Why would they believe you?”
“They have to believe us! We will testify before King Cuthbert! There is too much at stake for him to completely disregard us. Come on, Grayson!” I tugged at one of his arms which he had crossed in resolute non-cooperation.
“I cannot.” Grayson said, in a voice as dark and heavy as iron.
I looked at him in utter annoyance and disbelief. “Well if you won’t come, I’ll go by myself.” I declared.
He stepped in front of me. “I cannot let you go.”
“Why not?” I was nearly yelling at him. Why did he not understand how gravely important this was? Why did he doubt me? Surely he must have heard also? Why… looking into his cold gray eyes I suddenly thought something dreadful. Something horrible, something I wanted to have disproved to me so desperately.
“Grayson…. You are on our side… aren’t you?” As I looked at him then, I cursed our ability to understand each other without a single word. I did not want to understand what I could see him telling me in his stony silence, in his hardened eyes and in his firmly clenched fists.
He looked straight at me, but did not say anything for a moment. He did not have to. I suddenly knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Grayson had betrayed us. He saw in my face what I was thinking and he walked over to me, putting his hands on my shoulders as if to comfort me.
“No.” he finally said, “I’m not. But it will all be alright, Annabel.” I would not look at him, but he took my chin in his hand and turned me to face him. For a long moment, he held my troubled blue eyes with his dark gray ones “You just have to promise not to tell anyone.”
My heart turned to lead and my body went cold. He was asking me to make a promise that was contrary to everything I believed in. Contrary to everything my Father had believed, taught to me and had even died for.
“I cannot make that promise.” I said, pushing his hands away, my decision made in a heartrending instant.
“Annabel, you have to!” he said, as though my refusal was the stupidest thing he had ever heard of.
 “I will not make that promise.” I replied my fear and pain fading in the wake of my fury at his betrayal. Just like my uncle. Just like so many other people my family and I had trusted, Grayson had turned against us. “You are a traitor.” I spat out.
Grayson threw up his hands “Idiot girl! Is it not apparent to even you that we are going to lose this war? The Kingdom of Cuthbert will perish at the hands of King Edward’s army. We have held out this long, but we cannot resist forever and we will lose even more than what we already have. Can you not see? With but a little more to the opposing side, our fight will be over!” His voice adopted a pleading tone, “Isn’t that what you want? Isn’t that what we all want? If we resist, we will be defeated. What will become of us then, Annabel? You tell me, wise one!” He narrowed his eyes in disgust “We will lose everything and we will be destroyed. I know not about you, but I do not want to be on the losing side.”
I shook my head sadly at him, seeing that his mind was fiercely made up to oppose mine. “That was your choice, this is mine.”
He bit his lip and looked at me in anger and pain. “No,” he replied “it’s not.”
At that moment a horrible clarity overcame me and I started to run. I had not gone but a step when I heard steel brushing steel as Grayson drew his sword and my hand automatically leapt to my own and turned back to him. We stared at each other, swords drawn.
 “I will not let you ruin this.” He finally choked out through clenched teeth.
 I was still in shock when he issued his first attack, but my instincts kicked in at the last moment and I blocked him.
“Grayson!” I pleaded with him as he advanced. There was a desperate anger and a savage rage in his eyes and it horrified me. This was not Grayson. Grayson would never hurt me. I continued to say his name, yelling at him and pleading with him, trying to reach the person I once knew underneath the attacker whose assaults I was enduring.
I did not want to hurt him, only to escape him. The goal of my attacks was to try and disarm him so I could run. I was smaller and faster and if I could merely distract him for a moment, I could escape. His attacks, however, were violent and ferocious, as if I were the enemy that must be stopped at all costs. We swung at each other in a way so familiar, yet entirely new. I was aware of his patterns, his strengths and his shortcomings, just as he was aware of mine. But rather than the friendly banter our steel used to exchange, our swords raged in a battle of life and death. We were using whatever knowledge we had against each other, trying to take the opponent permanently.
I urgently tried to wrench his sword away from him, but he slid his blade underneath mine, coming dangerously close to my left side. I pressed down quickly, making it so that our swords were held against each other in an X, locked in position with pressing towards me and mine holding him inches away. He looked at me, his brow beaded with sweat and his eyes crazed with desperation. I did not know this man.
He finally flung his sword up viciously with all of his might and mine went flipping out of my grasp. His knee came up and knocked me to the ground in a single blow. I stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, his boot in the hollow of my ribcage and his sword poised before me.
“Promise that you will not tell.” He whispered. He was half ordering me, half begging me- giving me one last chance to surrender.
“I cannot… make… that promise,” I gasped out.
He lifted his sword and for an instant, I saw regret on his face. The second before his sword went through me, I saw pain in his eyes. There was an incredible anguish and softness to them. He was Grayson again. If only for a moment, I saw the boy that I had known for so long and loved like a brother for every day of his life. There was no greater gift than that moment, for in it, I knew he was not evil. I knew he was not possessed. Underneath what was completely unrecognizable to me, there was still a shade of familiarity.
 I could never have imagined that he was capable of this; war had changed him almost beyond recognition. He had pushed himself to the ends of his own humanity and committed an unspeakable crime. And yet in spite of all this, there was still a glint of beauty in his soul. He was still a good person. He was still my friend. From behind the shadow of the man who murdered me, I saw the boy who loved me one last time.
I still loved him. I still trusted him. Even when his sword was inches away from my body, I could hardly bring myself to believe that he was actually going to hurt me. That he had actually betrayed me. That we were actually enemies.
From far away a felt something that felt a little like physical pain, but more like an ache in my chest so intense that it rent my heart in two. I suddenly felt like I had broken the surface of deep water and just taken my first gasp of air, like I had shed a thousand pounds I never knew I had and like I was waking up from the longest, most refreshing sleep imaginable. I opened my eyes and stepped seamlessly into a beautiful light.
“Annabel!” the voice came from both outside and within my person, as if I was not hearing it so much as I was just knowing.
I turned and saw the face of my Father.


Author's Note

As my username might imply, I do not write fiction often. This is, in fact, a school assignment. I never would have bothered with had it not been mandatory. If you see any glaring spelling or grammer errors, please let me know so I can correct them before I turn it in. Creative critizism is welcome. :)

paperpoet | Thu, 05/12/2011


Oh PLEASE change the ending. *sob, sob* That was so sad! How could he do that to her? Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! ((But seriously--write fiction more often! You're good at it!))

Madeline | Fri, 05/13/2011

everything was better when/you would call and I'd be like/yeah babe, no way

 oohhh! *weeps* that was so

 oohhh! *weeps* that was so good... but so sad!

Renee | Fri, 05/13/2011


That Grayson has gotta get killed somehow, later. I will never be satisfied until it happens.

Arya Animarus | Fri, 05/13/2011

Oh for the times when I felt invincible.


Well, you already know how I feel about this. This is beautiful. You say you suck at writing fiction. Pshaw! Though its totally sad and a little morbid, i love it. : )

Clare | Sun, 05/15/2011

Thanks for your comments!

Thank you for reading it y'all. I know it's rather long...

Do you think it's believable? At least within reason?

The short story is supposed to have an unexpected ending and one that satisfactorily resolves the tale. I'm sorry you felt it was too sad, but I am disinclined to change the ending.

I think death would be better for Grayson than having to live with the reality of what he did for the rest of his life. That would be the far worse punishment.

paperpoet | Mon, 05/16/2011 was awesome!

So if you can't change the ending...


Madeline | Mon, 05/16/2011

everything was better when/you would call and I'd be like/yeah babe, no way

Don't kill him.  It would

Don't kill him.  It would mess up the story.

Which, by the way, is very good. :-)

Bridget | Mon, 05/16/2011

"I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question." - Harun Yahya


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