Jezebel, Part 5
Jezebel woke to a shot of lightning. The room was bright as day for a moment, then went dark. She felt around for Elijah but didn’t find him. She sat up in the bed. The fire was out. Rain pounded on the roof and lightning lit the room again. The rain comforted her, natural noises that came and went but were consistent like the sun. She felt a pinch in her chest, deep down, not quite a gap but a small pinch that she knew would grow larger the longer the rain poured. Lightning struck again and she looked around the room. The wolf was gone. The table was bare except for a large, dark spot that had bled into the wood. The chairs were shoved to the side. Something metal caught her eye.
Another bolt of lightning and she saw a sword leaning against the wall next to the front door. It was long, reaching halfway up the door, and the hilt was a thick dark metal. A single green jewel was set in the pommel. She got up, clutching a sheet around her naked body, and with the random light from the lightning she went to the sword and picked it up. Her hand fit the grooves in the hilt comfortably. She raised her arm and felt it extended by the double edged blade. Jezebel held it in front of her, protected her body, then placed her other hand over the pommel and pointed the tip into the floor. She stared down at it. The jewel glared back up at her.
The storm passed. Morning came and the rain stopped and Jezebel walked out into the village toward the supplies cellar. Wrapped in a handmade scabbard, the sword with the green gem in the hilt swung at her hip as if taking her energy in. She went down into the earthy darkness and walked down the hall lined with rabbits into the large back room. The room was empty.
“Get a good night’s sleep?” Jeremiah breathed heavily. Jezebel turned quickly, feeling her long hair whip across his face.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“That storm was terrible. Kep’ me up all night.”
“I can tell. Those bags under your eyes don’t really compliment you well.”
Jeremiah smiled and puffed his cigarette in her face. She held her breath. The cellar door opened and she saw a flash of gold hair in the light. The door closed and she heard steady footsteps down the hall. Elijah appeared.
“Babe, look. We’ve noticed you’re having a hard time with this,” Jeremiah waved his empty hand, “this king thing. Why don’t you pass it on? Let someone take over who knows what they’re doing?”
“Like who?” Jezebel asked.
“Oh, I dunno. Eli here’s a damn good hunter. He knows a hell of a lot about a hell of a lot. Why not him?”
“You think your nephew is good king material?”
“Course I do, he’s my nephew.” Jeremiah smoked his cigarette. “Or me.” Elijah looked at Jezebel. His mouth turned down at the corners slightly, but his eyes burned.
Jezebel’s eyes fluttered and she pictured Elijah smiling, his blonde hair blowing in his face. There was a tall braided crown on his head and he was walking through the village. The people were crowded around watching and following him. He held a sword in his hand that dripped blood. People clapped. The crowd followed Elijah into the Great Hall where they grouped around him and, after laying his sword on a table, he raised his arms in welcome. The crowd clapped and cheered, and Elijah spoke words she couldn’t hear. Blood was splattered across his chest. The smell of cigarette smoke brought her back to the cellar.
“No. I’m king. Where are the animals?”
“That’s none of your concern,” Jeremiah said.
“Of course it’s my concern. You’re no longer king. Where are the animals?”
“They’re fine. We’ve taken care—”
“What the fuck does that mean, taken care of? Where are the animals, Jeremiah?” Jezebel gripped her sword at her hip.
“It means we didn’t want you to run and steal them all, Jez,” Elijah whispered.
“Why would I do that?”
“You stole that wolf, din you?” Jeremiah raised an eyebrow.
“That doesn’t have anything to do with this, and you—”
“It has everything to do with this!” Elijah burst. His eyes still burned and his mouth was still turned down, but he had grown larger in the room.
“The fuck it does, Eli.” Jezebel glared.
“It does, babe,” Jeremiah said. He smiled to himself. “See, what we’ve come up with is you steal food from here, maybe thinking that ‘cause you’re king you have the right, or ‘cause you’re a woman. Or both. Whatever you been thinking, we know better. Why else isn’ there enough food to go around? There’s only a couple rabbits and squirrels so far in the emergency stocks. Whose fault is that? Not ours. We go do our huntin’ and bring back the animals we shoot so the village don’ die out, and you just up and take one of the larger animals we managed to kill. It ain’t that much bigger, but it’s big enough to make one family go hungry this winter. We stole it back and took the rest of the food to keep you from it.”
There was a long pause between them. Jeremiah smiled at Jezebel. She felt her eyes widen the longer he spoke to her. Her mouth fell open a little. Elijah looked down at the frosty floor.
“No. No, I won’t let you. What’s wrong with you? You can’t kill animals for yourselves that the whole camp needs. It’s getting cold and unpredictable, and you of all people know what happens when it gets unpredictable.”
“Jez, babe, don’ worry so much. We’re takin’ care of it.”
“By starving the families that aren’t in on it?”
Jeremiah laughed. “No, we’re cleansing.” He finished his cigarette in silence and crushed it under his boot. He left the cellar with Elijah in tow. Jezebel followed.
“Jeremiah, get the fuck back here. Cleansing? What does that mean?”
“It means we’re clearing the way for those of us that deserve to be strong. It means that some people don’ even have a chance.”
“Stop!” Jezebel yelled. She pulled the sword from its scabbard and raised it in her arm. Jeremiah and Elijah turned.
“What is that?” Jeremiah laughed. “Is that a sword?”
“Where’d it come from? I haven’t seen a sword used…ever, actually.” He kept laughing.
“It doesn’t matter where it came from. Stop. You can’t take all the food. There are people that need it more than you,” Jezebel said. She felt her hand shake and saw the sword shake too.
“No one needs it more than me,” Jeremiah said. He stopped laughing. “You’re nervous.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“Oh, you’ll find that it does.” Jeremiah pushed Elijah. Elijah walked away through the village.
“Where’s he going?”
“That doesn’ matter.”
Elijah disappeared. The sun shined and reflected the blade like the lightning the night before. The dark metal grew warm in Jezebel’s hand. She threw her other hand behind her to balance herself. The sword was long, just short of her hip, and with her arm held out it was even longer. It reached across the empty space toward Jeremiah and pushed into the comfortable area around him. Elijah returned holding a broadsword similar to Jezebel’s.
“Where’d you get that?” Jezebel asked breathlessly.
“It belonged to me,” Jeremiah answered. “It was my father’s, the king before me.” The blade was double edged, with a gold hilt. A clear stone glittered from the pommel.
“Where did he get it?”
“He told me a story once,” Jeremiah crossed his arms and relaxed his stance. “Said he found it near his bed one night. There’d been a rainstorm, the worst the camp ever seen. Lightning struck down a coupla trees and destroyed a house. A little girl was killed. He woke up in the middle of the night and saw a sword leaning against the wall next to the foot of the bed. He had no idea where it came from…”
Jezebel didn’t say anything. The swords appeared out of thin air. No one knew where they came from. She stared at Jeremiah, then Elijah.
“If you fight, you’ll lose,” Jeremiah whispered. Jezebel tightened her hold. “Elijah.”
Elijah stepped forward, brandishing the long sword in a large swoop. He held his hand out for balance and shuffled. Jezebel gripped her sword, unsure of what to do. She circled opposite Elijah and watched his hands and eyes. He looked around her, fixing his grip every few seconds. She saw the sword slip a little before he gripped again. She lunged forward. Elijah backed away swiftly, swinging his sword in front of him to block the blade. The swords clanged together and it shook Jezebel’s arm. She gripped the hilt again and repositioned her feet.
The two circled each other again. Jezebel heard feet in the dirt around her and risked glances beyond Elijah to see the people in the village enveloping them. More people ran to the crowd until she could no longer see past them. She focused back on Elijah and saw his eyes flick to her left. She shuffled quickly to her left. His eyes looked to her right, so she bounced to the right. Elijah swung his blade at her. She quickly threw her sword up to block, bringing her knee up into his stomach at the same time. Elijah doubled over and held his stomach while he dragged the sword’s tip in the dirt as he backed away.
“Eli, come on. Just stop.”
“No. I can’t,” he gasped.
“Eli…” Jezebel moved quickly. She jumped forward, but was unable to pull her sword directly up in front of her. She felt the blade cut through his pant leg. He sucked in air but remained standing. She stepped back into position and adjusted her hold.
“Didn’t know you could fight, Jez,” Elijah said.
“Neither did I,” she said.
The people around them clapped. Some yelled, others glared. One girl pushed her way to the front line of the circle, her golden ringlets bouncing as the people around her jostled her with excitement. Her blue eyes were wide and glassy.
“Eli, please. Can’t we just stop? This is ridiculous.”
“I can’t do that, and you know it.”
“I don’t know that. You can if you want to. Please can we stop?”
“No, we need to finish.” He jabbed the sword at Jezebel.
“You don’t need to finish anything. Jeremiah’s to blame.”
“Why do you say that?” He ducked to miss a well-aimed swing.
“He made you and all those other men slaughter the deer. He forced you to do it. We don’t have to.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Jezebel lunged forward again. He stepped back and stumbled down. His legs flailed and caught Jezebel’s foot. Holding the sword in front of her, she tripped and fell forward hard. The blade eased into Elijah’s ribcage. The hilt of the sword hammered into her chest and she lost her breath. Her eyes widened. She watched Elijah’s mouth open and his breath cease. He raised his arms toward her with his hands splayed as if trying to catch something he missed the first time. Jezebel released the sword and fell onto the ground next to Elijah. She rolled her head to look into his face. He looked up and his arms were slowly falling from their raised position. She saw the sword in his chest shake steadily, still, slower, until it stopped. Elijah’s arms were at his sides. There was red along the edges of her vision and she felt her cheeks burn.
She couldn’t breathe. She gasped, her mouth moving to gulp air, but her lungs didn’t work. She couldn’t raise her arms. She lay there in the dirt, the sky bright with sunshine that fell over the village. She didn’t see heads bobbing around, arms wrapping around shoulders, or hands over mouths because no one stepped forward. There were no noises; silence overtook the crowd, the light breeze stilled. Jezebel opened and closed her mouth like a fish washed up on the riverbank. Air wouldn’t go down her throat. Her fingers felt colder than before, then her toes, and slowly the cold crept up her legs and arms and down her face until it reached her chest. The center of her chest flared, and the longer she tried breathing the greater the flare became and the more red she saw.
The white sky became red all over, then slowly from the edges bled into black. Her lungs refused to fill, and she stopped trying. She imagined Elijah raising his arms up to the sky with a wide smile across his face, his hair flowing over his shoulders and glowing. A red stain appeared on his chest and spread until, still smiling and with hair tinged red, his head fell backward and he closed his eyes.
Her feet were warm. Jezebel lay in a field of tall familiar grass in a white lace summer dress. Her legs were bare, her feet were bare, her chest and shoulders felt the sun beat down and worshiped the feeling. Her feet. She spread her arms out in the grass and gripped them near the roots. She closed her eyes. A cold wind blew over her and her skin felt wet. She opened her eyes to a dark sky and a bolt of lightning. She blinked and the sun came back. The grass and her feet.
Elijah laced his fingers through hers. She looked over at him lying next to her in the grass. His naked chest was tanned, and she could easily imagine a metal blade stuck through the ribcage and into the beating muscle that was his heart. Instead, she saw a sharp white line in the very center. She put her hand to her chest and pushed down where her ribs met. The pressure stung and she lifted the top of her dress. She saw a large dark bruise on her porcelain skin. She gasped. Pain. It surged.
She pulled Elijah up with her. A wolf stood next to them. A deer with large black eyes. The wolf looked at her. She ran with Elijah behind her and heard the deer’s hooves as it galloped to their left. The wolf breathed loudly in her ear. It ran above her, in the air where it smelled the nothing and everything all at once and where it burst out of the ghostly white of its scars.