The Beautiful Forbidden: Chapter Eight

the-beautiful-forbidden-kyra-dawson-chapter-8-excerpt-card-v2.jpgChapter Eight

     “Nightfall watch!” the cry came from above their heads. They had just made it across the drawbridge when the great creaky chain winch began hoisting the bridge planks they had just walked over. The portcullis lowered with a deep, vibrating finality. “No more cross bridge dealings. No more wayfarers, travelers, players, peddlers, vagrants, nomads or soldiers of fortune. No more wandering this night!”

     The edict was given and the thick oak doors inside the walls were slammed shut, obscuring the gate from sight, and a sturdy beam was thrown in place. A keyed padlock the size of a man’s head was locked with an oversized black metal key. Meruself studied the barrier with an apprehensive consideration. Hopefully they didn’t find it necessary to flee. The only way over the wall would be to fly; and unless Meruself or Wolf sprouted wings that would be impossible.

     Unease prickled along Meruself’s spine. She hated being caged in behind walls of any kind. Always she longed for the freedom of wide open spaces. In the wild unknown she was free, free to live as she pleased, even under the wrathful eyes of the Mother Norns. Yet outside in the darkness of night away from the safety of her cozy heima the Beast of Hella would find her. Here in Saga a powerful enchantment had been placed upon the surrounding walls by the city’s Druidæi. This enchantment was as ancient as the monster itself and it prevented the Beast of Hella from entering the city and slaughtering every living soul. Wolf was right. Within the walls of Saga Meruself would be safe from the fang and claw of the great beast that hounded her every step. Yet even now behind the protection of the great sandstone walls she could feel its clawing and ravenous presence, as if its malevolent eyes were upon her watching her every move.

     Distracted by her thoughts Meruself didn’t notice the glares of passersby or the eyes quickly shuttered and averted from her existence within the gated city. When she realized she had stood at the drawbridge for quite some time Meruself chided herself. Hadn’t Wolf warned her not to draw attention to herself? Standing in the street gawking at the gates as if she were planning to break them down would do her no good service. She ignored the unfriendly and worried stares; she was used to them and the minute sting of pain she felt she ruthlessly stifled.

     “Come, Wolf,” Meruself said, reaching to stroke the direwolf’s soft fur.

     When her hand touched naught but the cold evening air concern spiked a jagged shaft through her chest. Meruself looked around, trying to spot the direwolf’s form in the twilight to no avail. Had the direwolf left her? Had it been a wraithe after all? Then she remembered how the direwolf had reduced its size to that of a timberwolf and looked around again. Disappointment began to fill her with a stifling rush until she saw a little movement in the darkness at her feet. Relief flooded her, more relief than she wanted to acknowledge considering Wolf had only been a part of her life for less than a day. How had she become so attached so quickly? It should be alarming to her yet the sight before her caused her not only relief but mirth.

     Meruself stifled a laugh. “Wolf! You are so tiny now you’re a pup. Be careful or you’ll disappear in a small wisp and puff of fur.”

     Wolf made a sound that was somewhere in the vicinity of a growl, a mewl and a squeak. The big bad wolf had become the sweetest pup and was so small Meruself wondered if Wolf would fit in a pewter goblet. She bent down and picked up Wolf, easily holding the little body in one hand.

     “Norns love us, you are so cute I can barely stand it,” Meruself said, unable to suppress the laughter that was bubbling up inside her. “No one will ever suspect how dangerous you are.”

     “The ruse is necessary. I’m glad you think it’s funny.” Wolf’s tone was curt, but Meruself could sense the underlying mirth. Though physically tiny, the direwolf’s voice had lost none of its power or majesty, only now it emanated from a creature that would hardly be a threat to exposed ankles. She had been surprised when Wolf had grown to fight the daemon, but this unexpected ability of Wolf’s caused Meruself to nearly double over in laughter.

     “State your business!” A gruff voice demanded from the darkness just before a hastily lit torch was thrust in front of her face. Meruself stepped backwards quickly, wanting to save her eyebrows, lashes and her miniature direwolf’s fur. The now Little Wolf let out a tiny growl.

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     “I have business with Helga and Bjorgen at the Apothecary,” Meruself answered in a firm voice, quickly suppressing her merriment. She realized she must look as if she had lost her senses, laughing as if she were a mad thing out here in the darkness of the city streets.

     “What business?” the sentry asked, not caring if it was intrusive and not really any of his concern.

     “Business of the apothecary kind,” Meruself said, intentionally vague. The man’s face went a dangerous shade of purple.

     “I do not like your smart mouth, girl. Perhaps a visit to our hospitable dungeons will make it less smart,” the burly man said, his tone aggressive and threatening. He stood to his full height but he was still a head shorter than her and this seemed to make him even more irate. Meruself knew that this was a mean ruffian who was always able to frighten those at his mercy into submission. Men like him had ruined this world. He stepped closer to her and touched her cloak, rubbing the finely woven material between rough and dirty fingers. “And perhaps I will come visit you in those dungeons and we shall see how smart you are once I leave you.”

     “Perhaps you shall visit me. And when you leave me there will be less of you. So how smart are you, miscreant? Time to use your smart mouth,” Meruself said in a venomous soft whisper, her dagger pressing against the bulky protrusion of his soft belly.

     The man understood her meaning all too well. She watched the greasy sweat roll down his forehead and temples, watched as his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down half in fear and half in indignation.

     “Do not let me catch you on the streets beyond twelve bells, girl,” he said with false bravado, trying to salvage his authority while simultaneously backing away from her and her dangerous blade. He eyed her with malicious intent, contemplating whether or not she possessed any real strength. “I won’t be so kind to you next time.”

     Meruself sheathed her deadly blade with practiced ease and nonchalance. Her eyes never left his dull brown pits of cruelty. She felt the forgotten power rise up within her once again and her own eyes flared with bright violet light for the slightest of moments, and she wondered how frail and fragile she looked to the sentry now. The surly guard’s eyes widened in alarm and he retreated hastily, disappearing down the barrack lined streets and into the dark. Meruself wondered if he would raise the alarm or try and rally some cohorts to attempt to apprehend her for threatening him.

     “Hel’s bells,” Meruself cursed beneath her breath.

     “The man won’t raise the alarm,” Wolf stated, her tone confident. “He’s not sure what he saw. And to the naked eye we pose no threat.”

     “You read minds as well, Wolf?” Meruself asked. She wondered if Wolf could also tell her why the power that seemed to course within her blood, the power that Meruself had forgotten existed, was choosing this time to awaken from slumber. It had lain dormant for so long Meruself didn’t know how to use it or when it would rise to life. It was unpredictable and the guard wasn’t the only one who feared it. Her gaze watched the empty street where the guard had disappeared, her ears straining for any sound of the night watch’s boots on the cobblestone approaching in her direction.

     “What happened to not drawing attention to ourselves?” Wolf chastised her mildly.

     “I can’t abide a bully,” Meruself answered, her tone a mixture of contrition and annoyance with herself.

     “You have made another enemy and you have been within the gates of Saga for less than two minutes.”

     “Another enemy? I have more than one then?” Meruself said in a half-joking tone.

    “Have you already forgotten Craven? I do not think he has forgotten us, Meruself.”

    “This is why I live alone. In exile. In a haunted forest. Where a terrible beast roams terrorizing all who live and enter there.” Meruself paused. She knew her heated words and actions would only prove to serve them ill. “The anger I feel…I am not myself.”

    “You must choose your words carefully for now, Meruself. Do not let anyone bait you. Temper your words and your actions. Or all will fall to ruin.”

     “Forgive me, Wolf. I would not have careless thought, word or action put you or I in harm’s way. I —” Meruself’s voice trailed off. Embarrassment made her words falter. “Long have I known the depths of mankind’s cruelty, and when I encounter those of a more vicious nature I can’t abide it. I’ve seen what the unkind words and actions of mankind can do. Most times I can turn a blind eye and deaf ear, though now…” Meruself sighed. “I will try harder.”

     Wolf licked her fingers. The feel of the direwolf’s tiny paws in the palm of Meruself’s hand and the gesture of affection was somehow immensely reassuring.

     “Thank the Norns you are handy with a dagger. We may have need of your skills before over long.” Wolf said.

     Meruself smiled at Wolf’s attempt to lighten the mood. “Yes, I have practiced long.”

     “Of that I have no doubt,” Wolf said. “Nor did that man.”

     Hasty footsteps came up behind them in the dark and Meruself felt a brush inside her cloak against her side where a purse would normally be. Her hand reached out quick as lightning and snatched the arm of a slender waif. The orphan looked up at her in surprise, her mouth falling open but no sound of protest came out. She stood frozen for a moment, snagged like a hare in a trap, staring at Meruself, fear flickering to life in her pale, pale blue eyes. Within those strange eyes Meruself saw panic swell, panic that was instantly and ruthlessly squashed and the would-be pickpocket began to struggle, trying to escape Meruself’s tight grip.

     “Unhand me! Unhand me before I call the Vultures!”

     Meruself was puzzled. “The Vultures?”

     “The Watchmen. Release me before I call out for help.”

     “I do not think you want to draw attention to yourself. I do not think you will call for aid. I do not think that there is anyone to help you. There is only you and only me here. And my direwolf,” Meruself said in a stern tone, gesturing to Wolf. How she knew these things was part of the gift of her Knowing. The waif glanced down at the tiny blonde pup, doubt flashing across the ashen face.

     The thief was a girl, no older than twelve summers, hollow of cheek and gaunt of frame. Her height gave her the appearance of someone a lot older and more imposing, but upon closer inspection Meruself could see just how alone and vulnerable she truly was. Her golden brown hair was dirty and hacked short, her clothing thin and frayed, and her feet bare. Meruself saw the fight leak out of the girl’s thin frame and felt her body sag. She stopped struggling yet Meruself could see her nimble mind working, trying to find a way to escape.

     “I never stole nothing from you, Lady. The street’s crowded is all, I bumped into you. Let me on my way,” the waif pleaded. The girl’s mind was agile but the lie, though it came effortlessly to her lips, Meruself knew that the waif despised herself for uttering it. Meruself saw it plain as day in those strange pale eyes.

     “The streets are hardly crowded, child,” Meruself scolded.

     “Release me and I will bother you no more, I swear it.”

     Meruself studied the girl. She heard the shame hidden within the pleading words. Meruself felt a tingle begin behind her eyes. The long dormant sensation of power was rising once more. Already it was beginning to become more and more familiar, urging Meruself to remember it. It was a force she knew she must begin to remember to trust. The tendril became a stream of fire and worked its way swiftly down her arm. A spark stung the tips of her fingers and surged into the waif’s body. The moment Meruself’s burgeoning power touched her, the waif’s body stiffened, shocked into a state of fleeting paralysis. It surprised Meruself as much as it surprised the girl.

     “What — what are you? Release me!” the girl almost yelled and began to struggle in earnest.

     “Stop!” Meruself bid her, her breath a harsh whisper. She urgently needed to quiet the girl before they drew unwanted attention upon themselves. She locked onto the girl’s eyes and the waif’s struggles instantly ceased.

     “What are you called?” Meruself asked. The voice that came forth from her was and was not her own. It was fathomless, commanding and filled with a nameless power that drew its force from a wellspring that dwelled within both Meruself and Wolf. As the power grew it bound Meruself’s, Wolf’s and the waif’s lífneisti and sál gildi, their lifespark and soul force, together for the strength it needed. Time slowed around them, locking them in a shielded orb of charged silence where only the three of them existed.

     The answer came, but not from the waif’s lips. It was as if Meruself reached into the heart of the girl and pulled it out.

     “Kitsura, I am called Kitsura.” As the name dropped from Meruself’s tongue it felt foreign yet also familiar somehow. Stunned, Meruself released the girl named Kitsura and they both fell back. Wolf’s tiny form fell from Meruself’s grasp as she crumpled to the ground, and the waif known as Kitsura was barely able to keep to her feet as the power that coursed through them all finally released them from its implacable grip.

Copyright © 2016 by Kyra Dawson (@Kyra_Dawson on Wattpad)

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One Comment

  1. First, let’s get a little historical perspective on American health care. This is not intended to be an exhausted look into that history but it will give us an appreciation of how the health care system and our expectations for it developed. What drove costs higher and higher?

    To begin, let’s turn to the American civil war. In that war, dated tactics and the carnage inflicted by modern weapons of the era combined to cause ghastly results. Not generally known is that most of the deaths on both sides of that war were not the result of actual combat but to what happened after a battlefield wound was inflicted. To begin with, evacuation of the wounded moved at a snail’s pace and this caused severe delays in treating the wounded. Secondly, many wounds were subjected to wound care, related surgeries and/or amputations of the affected limbs and this often resulted in the onset of massive infection. So you might survive a battle wound only to die at the hands of medical care providers who although well-intentioned, their interventions were often quite lethal. High death tolls can also be ascribed to everyday sicknesses and diseases in a time when no antibiotics existed. In total something like 600,000 deaths occurred from all causes, over 2% of the U.S. population at the time!

    Let’s skip to the first half of the 20th century for some additional perspective and to bring us up to more modern times. After the civil war there were steady improvements in American medicine in both the understanding and treatment of certain diseases, new surgical techniques and in physician education and training. But for the most part the best that doctors could offer their patients was a “wait and see” approach. Medicine could handle bone fractures and increasingly attempt risky surgeries (now largely performed in sterile surgical environments) but medicines were not yet available to handle serious illnesses. The majority of deaths remained the result of untreatable conditions such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, scarlet fever and measles and/or related complications. Doctors were increasingly aware of heart and vascular conditions, and cancer but they had almost nothing with which to treat these conditions.

    This very basic review of American medical history helps us to understand that until quite recently (around the 1950’s) we had virtually no technologies with which to treat serious or even minor ailments. Here is a critical point we need to understand; “nothing to treat you with means that visits to the doctor if at all were relegated to emergencies so in such a scenario costs are curtailed. The simple fact is that there was little for doctors to offer and therefore virtually nothing to drive health care spending. A second factor holding down costs was that medical treatments that were provided were paid for out-of-pocket, meaning by way of an individuals personal resources. There was no such thing as health insurance and certainly not health insurance paid by an employer. Except for the very destitute who were lucky to find their way into a charity hospital, health care costs were the responsibility of the individual.

    What does health care insurance have to do with health care costs? Its impact on health care costs has been, and remains to this day, absolutely enormous. When health insurance for individuals and families emerged as a means for corporations to escape wage freezes and to attract and retain employees after World War II, almost overnight a great pool of money became available to pay for health care. Money, as a result of the availability of billions of dollars from health insurance pools, encouraged an innovative America to increase medical research efforts. More Americans became insured not only through private, employer sponsored health insurance but through increased government funding that created Medicare and Medicaid (1965). In addition funding became available for expanded veterans health care benefits. Finding a cure for almost anything has consequently become very lucrative. This is also the primary reason for the vast array of treatments we have available today.

    I do not wish to convey that medical innovations are a bad thing. Think of the tens of millions of lives that have been saved, extended, enhanced and made more productive as a result. But with a funding source grown to its current magnitude (hundreds of billions of dollars annually) upward pressure on health care costs are inevitable. Doctor’s offer and most of us demand and get access to the latest available health care technology in the form of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, diagnostic tools and surgical procedures. So the result is that there is more health care to spend our money on and until very recently most of us were insured and the costs were largely covered by a third-party (government, employers). Add an insatiable and unrealistic public demand for access and treatment and we have the “perfect storm” for higher and higher health care costs. And by and large the storm is only intensifying.

    At this point, let’s turn to the key questions that will lead us into a review and hopefully a better understanding of the health care reform proposals in the news today. Is the current trajectory of U.S. health care spending sustainable? Can America maintain its world competitiveness when 16%, heading for 20% of our gross national product is being spent on health care? What are the other industrialized countries spending on health care and is it even close to these numbers? When we add politics and an election year to the debate, information to help us answer these questions become critical. We need to spend some effort in understanding health care and sorting out how we think about it. Properly armed we can more intelligently determine whether certain health care proposals might solve or worsen some of these problems. What can be done about the challenges? How can we as individuals contribute to the solutions?

    The Obama health care plan is complex for sure – I have never seen a health care plan that isn’t. But through a variety of programs his plan attempts to deal with a) increasing the number of American that are covered by adequate insurance (almost 50 million are not), and b) managing costs in such a manner that quality and our access to health care is not adversely affected. Republicans seek to achieve these same basic and broad goals, but their approach is proposed as being more market driven than government driven. Let’s look at what the Obama plan does to accomplish the two objectives above. Remember, by the way, that his plan was passed by congress, and begins to seriously kick-in starting in 2014. So this is the direction we are currently taking as we attempt to reform health care.

    Through insurance exchanges and an expansion of Medicaid,the Obama plan dramatically expands the number of Americans that will be covered by health insurance.

    To cover the cost of this expansion the plan requires everyone to have health insurance with a penalty to be paid if we don’t comply. It will purportedly send money to the states to cover those individuals added to state-based Medicaid programs.

    To cover the added costs there were a number of new taxes introduced, one being a 2.5% tax on new medical technologies and another increases taxes on interest and dividend income for wealthier Americans.

    The Obama plan also uses concepts such as evidence-based medicine, accountable care organizations, comparative effectiveness research and reduced reimbursement to health care providers (doctors and hospitals) to control costs.

    The insurance mandate covered by points 1 and 2 above is a worthy goal and most industrialized countries outside of the U.S. provide “free” (paid for by rather high individual and corporate taxes) health care to most if not all of their citizens. It is important to note, however, that there are a number of restrictions for which many Americans would be culturally unprepared. Here is the primary controversial aspect of the Obama plan, the insurance mandate. The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided to hear arguments as to the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate as a result of a petition by 26 states attorney’s general that congress exceeded its authority under the commerce clause of the U.S. constitution by passing this element of the plan. The problem is that if the Supreme Court should rule against the mandate, it is generally believed that the Obama plan as we know it is doomed. This is because its major goal of providing health insurance to all would be severely limited if not terminated altogether by such a decision.

    As you would guess, the taxes covered by point 3 above are rather unpopular with those entities and individuals that have to pay them. Medical device companies, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, doctors and insurance companies all had to “give up” something that would either create new revenue or would reduce costs within their spheres of control. As an example, Stryker Corporation, a large medical device company, recently announced at least a 1,000 employee reduction in part to cover these new fees. This is being experienced by other medical device companies and pharmaceutical companies as well. The reduction in good paying jobs in these sectors and in the hospital sector may rise as former cost structures will have to be dealt with in order to accommodate the reduced rate of reimbursement to hospitals. Over the next ten years some estimates put the cost reductions to hospitals and physicians at half a trillion dollars and this will flow directly to and affect the companies that supply hospitals and doctors with the latest medical technologies. None of this is to say that efficiencies will not be realized by these changes or that other jobs will in turn be created but this will represent painful change for a while. It helps us to understand that health care reform does have an effect both positive and negative.

    Finally, the Obama plan seeks to change the way medical decisions are made. While clinical and basic research underpins almost everything done in medicine today, doctors are creatures of habit like the rest of us and their training and day-to-day experiences dictate to a great extent how they go about diagnosing and treating our conditions. Enter the concept of evidence-based medicine and comparative effectiveness research. Both of these seek to develop and utilize data bases from electronic health records and other sources to give better and more timely information and feedback to physicians as to the outcomes and costs of the treatments they are providing. There is great waste in health care today, estimated at perhaps a third of an over 2 trillion dollar health care spend annually. Imagine the savings that are possible from a reduction in unnecessary test and procedures that do not compare favorably with health care interventions that are better documented as effective. Now the Republicans and others don’t generally like these ideas as they tend to characterize them as “big government control” of your and my health care. But to be fair, regardless of their political persuasions, most people who understand health care at all, know that better data for the purposes described above will be crucial to getting health care efficiencies, patient safety and costs headed in the right direction.

    A brief review of how Republicans and more conservative individuals think about health care reform. I believe they would agree that costs must come under control and that more, not fewer Americans should have access to health care regardless of their ability to pay. But the main difference is that these folks see market forces and competition as the way to creating the cost reductions and efficiencies we need. There are a number of ideas with regard to driving more competition among health insurance companies and health care providers (doctors and hospitals) so that the consumer would begin to drive cost down by the choices we make. This works in many sectors of our economy but this formula has shown that improvements are illusive when applied to health care. Primarily the problem is that health care choices are difficult even for those who understand it and are connected. The general population, however, is not so informed and besides we have all been brought up to “go to the doctor” when we feel it is necessary and we also have a cultural heritage that has engendered within most of us the feeling that health care is something that is just there and there really isn’t any reason not to access it for whatever the reason and worse we all feel that there is nothing we can do to affect its costs to insure its availability to those with serious problems.

    OK, this article was not intended to be an exhaustive study as I needed to keep it short in an attempt to hold my audience’s attention and to leave some room for discussing what we can do contribute mightily to solving some of the problems. First we must understand that the dollars available for health care are not limitless. Any changes that are put in place to provide better insurance coverage and access to care will cost more. And somehow we have to find the revenues to pay for these changes. At the same time we have to pay less for medical treatments and procedures and do something to restrict the availability of unproven or poorly documented treatments as we are the highest cost health care system in the world and don’t necessarily have the best results in terms of longevity or avoiding chronic diseases much earlier than necessary.

    I believe that we need a revolutionary change in the way we think about health care, its availability, its costs and who pays for it. And if you think I am about to say we should arbitrarily and drastically reduce spending on health care you would be wrong. Here it is fellow citizens – health care spending needs to be preserved and protected for those who need it. And to free up these dollars those of us who don’t need it or can delay it or avoid it need to act. First, we need to convince our politicians that this country needs sustained public education with regard to the value of preventive health strategies. This should be a top priority and it has worked to reduce the number of U.S. smokers for example. If prevention were to take hold, it is reasonable to assume that those needing health care for the myriad of life style engendered chronic diseases would decrease dramatically. Millions of Americans are experiencing these diseases far earlier than in decades past and much of this is due to poor life style choices. This change alone would free up plenty of money to handle the health care costs of those in dire need of treatment, whether due to an acute emergency or chronic condition.

    Let’s go deeper on the first issue. Most of us refuse do something about implementing basic wellness strategies into our daily lives. We don’t exercise but we offer a lot of excuses. We don’t eat right but we offer a lot of excuses. We smoke and/or we drink alcohol to excess and we offer a lot of excuses as to why we can’t do anything about managing these known to be destructive personal health habits. We don’t take advantage of preventive health check-ups that look at blood pressure, cholesterol readings and body weight but we offer a lot of excuses. In short we neglect these things and the result is that we succumb much earlier than necessary to chronic diseases like heart problems, diabetes and high blood pressure. We wind up accessing doctors for these and more routine matters because “health care is there” and somehow we think we have no responsibility for reducing our demand on it.

    It is difficult for us to listen to these truths but easy to blame the sick. Maybe they should take better care of themselves! Well, that might be true or maybe they have a genetic condition and they have become among the unfortunate through absolutely no fault of their own. But the point is that you and I can implement personalized preventive disease measures as a way of dramatically improving health care access for others while reducing its costs. It is far better to be productive by doing something we can control then shifting the blame.

    There are a huge number of free web sites available that can steer us to a more healthful life style. A soon as you can, “Google” “preventive health care strategies”, look up your local hospital’s web site and you will find more than enough help to get you started. Finally, there is a lot to think about here and I have tried to outline the challenges but also the very powerful effect we could have on preserving the best of America’s health care system now and into the future. I am anxious to hear from you and until then – take charge and increase your chances for good health while making sure that health care is there when we need it.

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