A Small Measure of Peace

A Small Measure of Peace A Small Measure of Peace

Status: Finished

Genre: Literary Fiction

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Literary Fiction

Summary

Plagued by recurring nightmares and visions a man races to put a stop to them before they overwhelm him.

Summary

Plagued by recurring nightmares and visions a man races to put a stop to them before they overwhelm him.

Content

Submitted: February 13, 2017

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Content

Submitted: February 13, 2017

A A A

A A A


A SMALL MEASURE OF PEACE

I awake with a start! Totally disorientated having no idea where I am. The fog of sleep slowly clears, as I turn to see my wife Judith. Then I recall that I am on a coach. Outside the road signs passing rapidly by are not in English. Of course! I'm in Italy.‘Are you OK?’ Judith enquires her tone one of concern.
‘Yeah I'm fine,’ I reply rather embarrassed. Glancing about the coach I notice the eyes upon me, a few of concern, the rest of clear disapproval.
‘The nightmare again?’ She asks offering me a bottle of water. Before I can reply our tour guide Claudia begins to make an announcement on the coach public address system.
‘I have for you information’ She begins in her clipped English, ‘We will shortly be arriving at the beautiful Lake Trasimine and will stay approximately 3 hours —  you can rest, have coffee and nearby is made the finest gelato (ice cream) in Italy.’
‘Ge what?’ Comes a loud irritated voice directly behind me. ‘What's that stupid Itie bitch going on about now?’

Judith just rolls her eyes in irritation at Mr Loud mouth the trip moaner. The coach pulls into the rest stop and we begin to disembark, Mr Loud mouth just barges his way past everyone wanting to be first off the coach. In doing so he knocks a young blonde girl, who I know only as Helen on to me. Flushed with embarrassment Helen moves quickly behind them. No one says a thing they are all intimidated by this ignorant bully. We sit quietly as the coach empties.
‘When was the last time you slept properly, without this nightmare?’
‘I don't know Jude,’ I reply, ‘I've lost all track of time, it must be almost a couple of weeks now.’ I pull a small purple felt bag from my jacket pocket, place it on my lap and open it to reveal a gold bangle. It is plain except for a small engraving of an eagle and an inscription in Latin that reads: “Honour and Faithfulness.” Ever since I'd inherited it from my late uncle George I had been plagued by this recurrent nightmare. I knew something of his work as an Archaeologist, that he had discovered the bangle while conducting a dig around Lake Trasimine; searching for the lost battle site where Hannibal, the great Carthaginian general had ambushed and wiped out a Roman army. Or as Judith insisted upon calling him: “that bloke with the elephants.”
‘Are you sure about this Stuart?’ Judith asks breaking my train of thought. ‘Are you sure coming here is the thing to do?’
‘I've never been more certain about anything in my life Jude —  If I'm...’ I pause for a moment, mentally kicking myself. Despite everything, despite the visions, the nightmares, the sleepless nights even  — the arguments that we’d had over this issue; this wasn't just about ME! It was about US! Indeed it had strained our marriage almost to breaking point and yet – Judith had still insisted upon coming with me, upon what she called this: “fools quest.” “Honour and Faithfulness,” was not just the preserve of the warrior. It also constituted the very bonds of marriage, and I confess that without her by my side I wouldn’t have managed to stay sane with what I have been through. ‘If We – are to have any peace Jude, any future, then these nightmares have to stop. This...’ I held up the bangle. ‘This has to go back where it belongs. I can't explain to you how I know — I can only ask you to trust me.’ I know she's not totally convinced about this. ‘I need to freshen up and grab a coffee, and if you're a good girl, I'll buy you an ice cream.’
She smiles. ‘Given what I'm putting up with, it better be a bloody big one.’

We are the last ones off the coach. I hand the velvet bag to Judith for safe keeping then we head toward the cafe that Claudia has recommended. Leaving Judith to queue for coffee and ice cream I head off to the rest room. Splashing cold water on my face I try to wake up out of the semi fogginess my mind has become. The mere fact that I am still able to function is nothing short of astonishing. I barely recognise the image in the mirror, it is of a much older man than my 30 years; haggard, on the brink of total collapse with exhaustion, with bags under blood shot eyes.
I desperately needed to sleep, and an end to this torment.

The nightmare begins as it always does with the sensation of fear, almost overwhelming in compelling me to flee —  but to where? There is no sanctuary, no safety. From the moment the ambush had hit us we had been forced backwards to the water’s edge and then into the shallows. I shiver; the water around my knees is so cold, my legs and feet are numb as are my fingers; I can barely feel them, let alone grip my sword. They watch from the banks, gloating; preparing themselves for the final assault. 'Here they come!’ shouts a figure to my right. He turns. No words pass between us — none, are needed. We know our duty. He raises his sword in salute - the cold seems to subside as I raise mine in return. No matter what happens, I know I am not alone. The Centurion brotherhood gives me the strength to overcome my fear, reminding me of ‘My Oath and My Honour - Never to retreat.’ My companion and I stand our ground with only a handful of legionaries. The rest lay dead on shore or have panicked and fled into the deeper waters behind, throwing off their helmets, armour and weapons in a futile hope of being able to swim to safety. ‘Stand firm! Lock shields,’ I shout issuing my final order as the enemy approaches rapidly upon us. There is the clash of metal on upon metal, grunts and cries of pain. We stab, punch and gouge at the dark figures before us. Despite their courage my men are falling to the sheer weight of numbers upon us. My companion goes down. Then - I too am falling backwards, the weight of my armour dragging me down, my lungs bursting for air as I descend into the cold blackness.

When I returned Judith is almost frantic. ‘Stuart, I can't find it! It must have fallen out of my bag when I went up to the counter.’
A cold chill shot down my back. ‘We have to find it Jude, we...’ There is a commotion at the other side of the room then a voice. Mr Loudmouth pushes his way to the front of the queue.
‘Well what we got here?’ His voice unnecessarily loud, he stands all smug holding the purple velvet bag. Then he opens it producing the bangle. His eyes widen at the sight of it.
‘I'll take that,’ I say stepping forward holding out my hand. ‘It belongs to me.’
‘Finders, keepers,’ replies Mr Loudmouth —  then with a sneer – ‘loses – weepers.’
For a moment I stand dumbfounded at the utter effrontery of this overgrown school bully. My anger rises, I'm tired beyond words, my patience exhausted:
Then —  I am shoulder to shoulder with my companion standing our ground as the enemy advances. I see a face, bearing down upon me. Our swords clash. I strike with my shield knocking him backwards — then force myself forward through the freezing water to deliver the killing blow...
‘Stuart! No!’ comes Judith's unmistakable voice.

I am standing over Mr Loudmouth sprawled out upon the floor. His lip trickles with blood and his hands are held up in a clear sign of submission. My hands are clenched into fists, my heart beating rapidly ready to spring upon him. I sense movement to my right. There is a gentle breeze and the sweet scent of honeysuckle. Turning I am face to face with:
‘Fortuna honours the brave, and the faithful,’ comes a soft, calming feminine voice. Before me stands the Goddess Fortuna. She is smiling and holding out a purple cushion upon which lies a laurel wreath and the gold bangle.
The vision promptly vanishes to be replaced by — Helen, the young girl from the coach. She smiles holding out the bangle. ‘I think this is yours.’
Mumbling my thanks I gently take it from her, then Judith ushers me quickly out of the cafe. ‘What the hell were you thinking?’ she scolds.
I don't answer. We make our way rapidly over to the lakeside where some boats are moored. Approaching one of them I speak quickly to the owner offering him a wad of Euros to take us out upon the lake, his eyes light up at sight of the money and readily agrees. I sit with Judith as we move slowly away from shore. Eventually the boat stops, the anchor is dropped and we bob around quietly. Taking the bangle out of my pocket I give it one last look. Then to my surprise Judith holds out her hand. I pass the bangle to her. She examines it for a moment before handing it back.

‘Do it,’ she says. ‘End this.’
I nod, then throw it as far as I can. It lands with a plop vanishing into the dark, cold depths of the lake. We stand together for a few minutes waiting — for what? I have no idea. After everything I've been through I expect at least some sign, something akin to the lady of the lake holding the bangle up majestically before sliding back into the depths; or at the very least, some feeling of release. I am to be disappointed.

Arriving back ashore I thank the boat owner before making our way back to the coach. I turn once more towards the Lake —  and there! On a small hill on the far bank a lone figure stands, I watch as he raises his sword in salute and then — he is gone.
The coach is strangely quiet, but the mood is much happier than before. I am greeted with smiles and a few thumbs up from Claudia and my fellow travellers; Mr Loud mouth sits silently. No longer the arrogant fool he has been throughout the holiday. I feel Judith take my hand and give it a gentle squeeze. It is the last thing I remember as the coach begins to pull away I sink, at long last into a restful untroubled — peaceful sleep.
 
 


© Copyright 2017 Gerard Peters. All rights reserved.

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