Saturday, August 13, 2011
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Lenia turned around once more, her feet sinking inches into the fluffy carpet. “I really couldn’t stay here, it’s much too fine.” But even as she said it, her heart sank. She didn’t think she was going to make any decisions for herself anymore. His Majesty Prince Rignald had made it all too clear. Once they reached the palace, he had dragged her off the horse and into the palace. Almost instantly she was turned over to a short, very thin woman who had brought her here, where she was afraid to touch anything for fear it would break.
“If you need anything, ring that bell.” The woman’s voice lilted up and down, as though she was trying not to sing.
“Yes,” said Lenia despairingly. Then the woman left. Lenia scrutinized her room. It was large by her standards, but compared to some of the rooms she had seen on the way through the palace halls, ‘twas quite small. It had a very large bed with dark silk curtains hung all around, and the one window had curtains the same. There was a dark red chair with wooden arms that looked very uncomfortable, and a wardrobe in cherry wood nearly in front of the window. And then of course, there was the carpet. When she stepped on it, it oozed up over her feet, making her feel as though she was being sucked into quicksand. Despite this, she sloshed over to the wardrobe and flung it open. It was full of rich dresses that matched the room, and had such low necks that Lenia blushed in shame.
There was a knock at the door. Lenia started and slammed the wardrobe closed. “Come in?”
A man peeked his head into the room, and then his body followed. He was very thin, but he looked as though he had once been generously proportioned. He looked like he had just recovered from a long illness. His graying dark hair was in the process of leaving his scalp. “Mra Lenia?”
“I am Lenia.”
“Excellent, excellent. I am Belshar. I’ve come to speak with you. You see, to tell you why you are here.”
“Alright.” Lenia sat in the red chair.
“Perhaps you have heard that King Midrah is dead.”
“He named you his heir.”
She started to her feet, her hands trembling within each other. “I don’t understand. I don’t know the king; I am not of royal blood. You must be mistaken, you must be thinking of a different Lenia.”
“We are quite sure that he meant you. Now, just because you have been named heir, it doesn’t mean that you shall be queen. There are several men who would like very much to kill you if it meant gaining the crown.”
“I don’t want this. Please, just take me back to my home. They can have the crown!” She knelt at his feet in supplication. “Please.”
“That is not possible at the current moment. I just wanted to warn you. Remember, I am your friend. I will do my best to protect you, but these men are quite desperate. Be wary of Rignald, Prince of Bulima. He—“
“The man who brought me here?”
“Yes. He is a very cruel man. Also, Vloman. You should not speak to him or deal with him, in any way shape or form.” Belshar twitched his hands nervously.
“I will do my best. I thank you, Mro Belshar, for helping me. It is good to know that I have a friend.” She stood and curtseyed.
“Excellent, excellent,” said Belshar, as he left.
Lenia had scarce time to think on what she had heard before there was another knock. “Come in.”
This time there was no peeking around the door. The man flung it open and strode in as if he owned the place. “You are Lenia?”
“I am Vloman. I have come to see if you are comfortable.”
“I would appreciate it if you would leave, immediately.”
Vloman blinked. “Why, my apple cheeked maiden?”
“Belshar has told me of your cruelty. I will have nothing to do with you.” Lenia’s heart thumped uncomfortably.
Vloman walked to her with a fluidity that reminded Lenia of a snake. He grasped her hands and slowly pushed her to the chair. He sat her down, then knelt at her feet. “I have come to swear fealty to you, as our future queen. I will serve no one else, I will protect you to the death, you will be my sole thought day and night. If this be a lie, let fire and brimstone fall upon me.” He stood. “Please, my Queen, if you need anything, if you need protection from anyone, please call me, anytime, any day. You are my sole thought. You know Lisina?”
“The woman who brought you here.”
Lenia nodded, feeling dizzy.
“She will be our mediator. If you have any need for me, tell her and she will pass it on. Do not be too friendly to me in public, for if our enemies suspect that I am your protector, they will try even harder to hurt you.”
“Beware of Prince Rignald of Bulima. He will stop at nothing to get at the throne. He will even kill you.”
“I will try to protect you, but please make it easy for me. Do not ever be alone with him, nor his adviser Belshar. I must go. If I am here to long, people will suspect. My queen, this road will not be an easy one. Many people want Rignald on the throne. Many people are against a peasant girl from the hills. But I am not.” He smiled at her, then turned and left the room.
“What a pleasant man,” said Lenia aloud.
(Note: In Bremia, the terms of respect are 'Mro' and 'Mra'. They are much like our 'Mr.' and Mrs.' of today, but there is no 'Miss'.)
Saturday, July 23, 2011
“Delivery is getting better and better these days,” she said aloud. She wiped her white hands on her whiter apron and went to open the door. She was in the midst of making a pie and she was coated in flour.
She swung the door open to reveal a tall, handsome young man. He stepped inside without permission.
“Oh!” began Lenia. She had never had a stranger visit her before.
Rignald interrupted. “Are you Lenia of the hills of Bremia?”
“Some call me that. Who are you?” It wasn’t respectful, but Lenia was flustered, and she never thought when she was flustered. Her brown curls hung close to her head as if they were shy as well. Rignald failed to recognize their appeal.
“Prince Rignald of Bulima.” He looked regal with a wine-colored doublet and a purple cloak covering his shoulders. Lenia had never realized how short she was.
She dropped to her knees. “Your Majesty,” she whispered. “Please forgive my…disarray.” She was painfully aware of the flour coating her, and the interior of the cabin. She was not much of a cook.
Rignald rolled his eyes and pulled her sharply to her feet. He dragged her out the door roughly.
He had no need to be either sharp or rough, because Lenia followed him willingly enough. “Do you have need of my assistance?”
“No. You are to come with me to Richardo Castle.” He glanced down at her, then added as an afterthought. “I never need assistance from peasants.” He curled his lip.
“Are you sure you mean me?”
“Yes. Now climb on my horse.”
“Your Majesty, if you will forgive me to question you, why?”
“I do not give you permission to speak! Now climb on!” Rignald swung heartily onto the dancing stallion’s back.
Lenia hesitated. “May I first pack my belongings?”
“You will have no need of them in Richardo.” Sensing her timidness, Rignald added, “I am high above you. If duty didn’t ask for it, I would never even speak to you. I order you as your future ruler, to climb on this horse!”
Lenia came forward then and gripped the hand he offered. He jerked her on, and before she could even get comfortable, he kicked the black horse in the ribs and it galloped away.
Lenia looked back once at her little cottage. Daisy was still tied out front, and the door was swinging back and forth in the wind.
This silly girl has been humming for three hours, thought Rignald irritably. There was no denying that she was comely—she did have rosy cheeks, and her hair was pretty. She had a shapely little figure clothed in a worn blue dress, but that wasn’t enough to forgive the humming. It was the same song—the Ballad of the Battle Lost—the same lilting melody over, and over, and over, and over. Only an hour more and then we will never have to ride together again…I hope.
They pressed onward.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
In the mist that never lifted from the Bremian hills, things began to happen.
Midrah, an elderly man lay dying. His wive had died years before. He was childless. And he was king. Three men watched him anxiously, waiting to hear which one of them would be named king.
Midrah coughed, shaking his thin body mercilessly. “I name my heir,” he said with finality. Three men leaned forward.
One was Belshar, the king’s adviser. He had had the assurance the crown, but he had fallen out of favor with the king in the past months of the illness and now was not as sure. He patted the thin claw tenderly hoping that in the last minutes of the king’s life, all his hard work would be remembered.
One was the young, turbulent Prince Rignald from the neighboring country of Bulima. He had no doubt about who would become king. Not only was he of royal blood, but his mother was the late queen’s niece. He glared at Belshar harshly.
The third was almost as thin as the king, and twice as cruel. He was Vloman, a man of great power but unknown parentage. And he knew he would be king. Even if he was not named, a vial of poison was hidden in his sleeve. He smiled with a hint of the malice that was never quite hidden.
“I name…I name young Lenia of the rosy cheeks, Lenia of wisdom unmeasured. Lenia, of the hills of Bremia.” And the king breathed his last.
Belshar slumped, upset and broken. Rignald stamped his foot in an angry passion. Vloman smiled at his companions. “Gentlemen, we need not find this Lenia of the rosy cheeks. If we never find her, she will never rule. Instead let us draw lots for the crown.”
Belshar shook his head, faithful to the king, even to the death. “No, Lenia must be found.”
Rignald stamped his foot again. “I will find the girl. I will find her, and when I do, she will be regretful that the king knew her name. She will not be queen. She will never rule Bremia.”
Belshar looked at him, amazed. “You wouldn’t kill the girl?”
“I would indeed.”
Belshar’s face turned alternating shades of white and red. “That is not fair to her. The poor girl has no say in the matter. No, we should try to convince her to give up the crown in favor of one of us.”
Vloman smiled, again with malice. “I think both ideas are right. You Rignald, shall go find her, and bring her back alive. You Belshar, shall find out everything you can about her, as well as arrange King Midrah’s funeral pyre. I will take care of the final details of his estate. We will let the girl decide who will rule in her place.”
Rignald and Belshar exchanged uneasy glances. Neither liked Vloman. Neither trusted him not to snatch the kingdom when their backs were turned. But there was no alternative.
“I believe it is wise.” Belshar looked like he disagreed with himself.
“I believe it will work.” Rignald looked fiercely upset. “I will set out at once for Lenia of the rosy cheeks.” He bowed stiffly and left the room even more so.
Vloman turned to Belshar. “Mro Belshar, be very careful what you do. I am going to rule this kingdom. I will not let anything get in my way. If you try, you will be gotten rid of, and so will young Rignald. I warn you, stay out of my rule.” Then Vloman left the room with a great sweep of his blue cloak.
Belshar shook his head. Bad times were in line for the country of Bremia.
In the north of Bremia a small man with a large mind was gathering army strength. He had heard much about the king’s illness, and he thought that attacking and gaining control would be easy. He did not know that three men were already in a fierce struggle for the throne, one of which was his own twin. But even if he had known, he would not give up his dreams of the crown. No, that deserved to him and to him it would go, as soon as his warriors were fearless and trained within an inch of their lives.
Cloban smiled, looking much like a darker version of Belshar.
High in the hills Lenia of the rosy cheeks sang as she milked a cow named Daisy. She knew nothing of politics, of palace intrigue. She knew nothing of the handsome, vicious young man galloping his horse towards her. Yet her sweet ignorance would not last long.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Norfolk, Virginia September, 20th, 2010
“I’m Special Agent Eric Monroe, NCIS,” Agent Monroe said, showing his badge to the police officer at the barricade. Monroe turned to the three people to his left. “This is Special Agent Callie Monroe, Special Agent Luke Collins, and Special Agent Bethany Fletcher.”
The officer looked up from the badge and looked at each of the three agents. “NCIS. What’s NCIS?” he asked.
Luke and I exchanged glances and stifled the urge to laugh. Luke leaned in. “Callie, why am I not surprised we were asked that question. It seems this question is asked more often than not,” he whispered into my ear.
I smiled. “Very true, Luke,” I whispered back.
“Naval Criminal Investigation Service,” Agent Monroe replied not at all surprised by the question. If he was surprised, he didn’t show it. “When a Navy officer dies under suspicious circumstances or a suspicious event occurs involving the Navy, NCIS is called in to investigate. Did a navy officer die?”
“We aren’t sure yet,” the officer replied. “We are waiting to see if the firemen find anyone.”
“Seeing as this is a warehouse near a Norfolk navy base, we have jurisdiction,” Monroe said passing under the yellow tape.
“I understand. I just want to clean my hands of this mess. I have enough on my plate as it is. By the way, my people will cooperate in every way we can.”
“Well, that would be a first,” Luke commented as we followed my father under the tape.
“Yup,” I agreed passing under the tape Luke held up for me.
“Excuse me, sir,” Monroe said, taping on one of the firemen’s shoulders. From the looks of it, he appeared to be the chief.
The man turned around. “Can I help you?”
“Yes. I’m Special Agent Eric Monroe, NCIS. I have a few questions for you,” Monroe said showing his badge.
“I’m Chief Brian Scott. What can I do for you?”
“Do you know when the fire started?”
“We received a dispatch at eight o’clock sharp. By the time we arrived here, the building was completely engulfed in flames. I would say the bomb went off fifteen minutes before it was called in. But that’s just a guess. I’d have to asses the scene before I could be positive.”
Eric nodded. “Do you know what we are dealing with?”
Chief Scott shook his head. “No, I don’t. My guess-and this is only a guess- would be arson. The flames are pretty harsh.”
Eric nodded. “Thank you for your time. Do you know if anyone was inside? Or when we can go inside?”
“My men are still searching for anyone that could have been in the warehouse when the explosion happened. As for your second question, it may be a while.”
Eric nodded and turned to face me. “Do you know who they are, Callie?” he asked not directly looking at them.
I followed his gaze. Two young men were standing off to the distance talking among themselves and watching the firemen putting out the blazing fire. I quickly looked away. “I don’t know. But, I’ll go find out.”
Dad nodded and headed back to the others who were standing out of the way of the firemen. As I maneuvered my way through the crowd of firemen, the second man, who was also taller than the other man, tore his gaze from the burning building. The two men wore identical white uniforms with matching white hats. They appeared to be Navy.
A smile appeared on the second man’s face when he saw me approach. “Why hello there. What brings such a beautiful young lady to a dreadful event such as this?” the second man said.
I smiled. “What brings you here?”
He chuckled. “I won’t answer until you answer my question.”
I took my badge out and flipped it open. “NCIS. Now will you answer my question?”
“We are here for the same reason you are: we came to discover the truth about what happened here,” the man replied.
“Are you a reporter? A cop?” I asked hoping they weren’t a reporter. Their uniforms suggested they weren’t but one never knows.
He smiled. “No.” He paused and reached into his coat pocket. “I’m Commander Kyle Dawson, JAG and this is my partner Major Ian Edwards,” he said, showing me his badge.
The photo ID seemed to fit the profile of the man standing in front of me. Blonde hair, blue eyes, a nice pair of perfect white teeth, and a mesmerizing smile.
I handed it back to him and headed back towards my fellow team members who were waiting for the fire to be put out and the building deemed safe to enter.
I stopped and faced Commander Dawson. “What?” I asked impatiently.
“You know my name but I don’t know yours.”
I took a moment to decide whether or not to tell him my name. I sighed inwardly. “Special Agent Monroe.”
“Come on, a last name,” Dawson complained.
“Callie,” I replied. “Now look. With all due respect Commander, this is an on-going NCIS investigation. We believe there is a possibility a Navy officer died in this fire and since the fire is on a Navy base we have complete control of the investigation. I don’t have time for being friendly.” I turned to go when a firm grip grabbed my arm. Without any choice, I faced him.
“Easy Agent Monroe. All I was doing was being friendly. I understand this is an NCIS investigation but since I just so happen to be a JAG lawyer. JAG specializes in cases involving the Na-”
“I know what JAG is,” I interrupted.
“Of course, you do. I just thought maybe-” he began.
“Maybe what?” I demanded meeting his ocean blue eyes.
“Will you stop interrupting me?”
“Sorry,” I apologized, tearing my eyes from his. Eyes that made my heart skip a beat. I mentally shook my head and focused on the investigation at hand. There was no time to let my emotions get the best of me. Besides, I only just met the guy. I hardly know him.
“I thought maybe we could join forces and share information,” Dawson finished. “Besides, we can cover more ground with more people.”
For several minutes, I didn’t say anything. After finally seeing what Dawson said was logical, I sighed. “Fine. But you must agree that you report to us first. Are we clear Commander?”
“Agreed,” he replied with a triumphant smile on his face.
“Good,” I said walking towards my father and ignoring the smile on his face.
“Can you please call me Kyle?” Dawson asked catching up to me.
“Okay, from now on I will call you Kyle,” I replied.
“Good, can I call you Callie?”
I sighed. “Fine, you may call me Callie.”
“You’re just in time. One of the firemen found a body. They are bringing it out now,” Luke said. His eyes met Dawson’s. “Who’s this?”
“Yes, Callie, who is this?” dad asked, turning his attention to us.
“Dad, Luke, this is Commander Kyle Dawson and Major Ian Edwards. He’s a JAG lawyer.”
“Hi,” Kyle said holding out his hand. His hand dropped when no one offered to shake it.
“Callie, may I have a word?”
I nodded and followed my father a little ways away from prying ears. He stopped and faced me. “What are they doing here?”
“They came to find out what caused this explosion. JAG specializes in suspicious cases involving the Navy.”
“I know what JAG specializes in. Did you tell them this is our case?”
“I did. Kyle said he understood.”
“Yes, Dad. His name is Kyle and yes I agreed to call him by his first name.” I paused. “Dad, I agreed to share information with them.”
“You did what?” You couldn’t miss the anger in his voice.
“I agreed that Kyle and his friend could help us search the scene and share information as long as Kyle reported to us with what he discovered.”
Eric ran his fingers through his pitch black hair. “Next time you come to me before you make this kind of decision.”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“Look. They are bringing the body out,” Bethany said pointing at the entrance to the burning to building.
I followed my father back and stood beside Luke. A fireman dressed in yellow pants and jacket carried the body in his arms as if it were a child.
“Do you know you have quite a feisty woman on your team?” Kyle whispered to Luke.
“I heard that,” I said trying to ignoring Kyle.
I smiled when I heard Kyle chuckle.
“That was a compliment by the way,” Kyle said.
The fireman carefully laid the body down on one of the black body bags Hailey, our ME brought. Hailey Evans graduated the top of her medical class at Harvard and somewhat new to our team. At the age of 20, she was recruited by my mother, the director of NCIS, to come work for us. Hailey, usually a very fashionable person, wore a blue jumpsuit with the NCIS insignia above the right hand side pocket. Over that she wore a black light weight jacket with NCIS written in bold blue letters. To finish the outfit, she wore a blue baseball cap with the NCIS logo written above the bill. Her strawberry blonde hair was tied back in a pony tail which was pulled through the hole at the back of the cap.
“What can you tell us, Hailey?” my father asked his notebook in hand.
“Well, I can tell you who this is in just a minute,” Hailey replied reaching for one of the victim’s fingers. With her right hand, she pressed the victim’s forefinger onto a small portable fingerprint device. “Our victim is Major Josephine Taylor.”
“Is she Navy?”
“Yes. Other than that, I have to get the body back to the morgue before I can tell you anything else. Sorry Eric.” Hailey, zipping the body bag, stood.
Eric nodded. “As soon as you get back to HQ and examine the body, I want a report ASAP.”
Hailey nodded and turned to the police chief. “Can you spare two of your officers to help transfer the body bag onto the gurney?”
The chief nodded and called for two officers.
“Now be careful,” Hailey ordered. “This body is a human being and should be handled with care.”
They nodded and lifted the body onto the gurney Hailey I had brought with her. Hailey secured the black straps to keep the body from falling.
“Hey, wait! Oh please tell me that’s not Jo!”
I turned around. A young man in his mid twenties stood outside the police tape. His eyes were focused on the gurney Hailey had stopped moving.
“Let me through. I have to see if it’s her,” the man demanded.
I followed my father as he headed towards the young man. In the corner of my eye, I saw Kyle was following us as well. I shook my head mentally. Great. Look at the mess I’ve gotten myself into. Just what I needed in the middle of an investigation, I thought.
“Who are you?” my father asked.
“I’m not going to say anything until you let me pass.”
“You will answer my question and then I will see if you are important enough to be allowed access to this scene.”
The man sighed. “Fine. I’m Major Mark Hall. I work in the Navy’s cryptology department. I’m Jo’s boyfriend. Now who are you?”
My father looked up from his notebook and showed Hall his badge. “I’m Special Agent Eric Monroe, NCIS and this is Special Agent Callie Monroe. Now do you mean Jo as in Josephine Taylor?” my father asked.
“Yes,” Major Hall replied.
My father placed his notebook inside his pocket and turned to the police officer. “Let him pass.”
Major Mark Hall, without saying thank you, walked under the police tape, and brushed passed us. He stopped beside the gurney and looked Hailey in the eye. “Is it her?”
Hailey nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
Hall reached for the zipper. Hailey placed her hand firmly on his arm. His hand froze inches from the zipper. “I have to warn you. What you are going to see isn’t pleasant.”
He nodded. “I have to see for myself.” Unzipping the beginning part of the body bag, he looked down at Taylor’s body. He quickly looked away and covered his eyes not bearing to see the desecrated state of her body
“I’m so sorry,” Hailey said pushing the gurney towards her van which she parked on the other side of our SUV.
He moved his hands down; his face was wet from tears and his eyes were overflowing with more tears. “Who did this?” he demanded looking at us.
“We don’t know yet,” my father answered. “But I promise you we will do whatever we can to find out what caused the explosion and to find out whether or not it was premeditated.”
“What do you mean premeditated?” Hall demanded. “Do you think she was murdered?”
“It is quite possible. But for now it is too early to tell,” Eric replied.
Mark turned his back from us and covered his mouth with his left hand.
“Is it true?”
I turned to see another young man standing on the opposite side of the yellow tape. He seemed to be the same age as Major Hall perhaps a bit younger. He wore a blue navy uniform just as Major Hall.
“Who are you?” my father asked.
“I’m Major Aidan Wilson. I knew Jo. Is she really dead?” Wilson answered.
My father nodded. “I’m afraid so. Let him pass.”
The police officer nodded and held up the tape for Wilson to pass under. He leaned under and walked over to Hall who had turned around when he heard Wilson’s voice.
“Aidan,” Mark said.
“Mark, I am deeply sorry for your loss,” Wilson said giving him a hug.
“I’m Special Agent Eric Monroe, NCIS. If you don’t mind, I would like to ask you a few questions,” Eric said once Wilson had let go of Hall.
Wilson nodded. “Of course, I will do everything I can to assist you.”
My father turned to Hall. “If you are up for it, Special Agent Fletcher has a few questions for you.”
Hall nodded and headed over to Bethany who was walking away from the rest of us for a little privacy. If this explosion turned out to be premeditated and Taylor was murdered, then it was best to keep suspects separate.
My father turned to me. “You and Luke go see if the building is safe to enter. We need to collect as much of the evidence as possible. A lot of it has already been destroyed due to the fire. Oh and the fireman who found the body said she was lying beside her desk.”
Luke nodded. “Yes, boss.”
Halfway towards where Chief Scott was standing, I remembered Kyle and his friend were supposed to help us. I paused and turned around. “Are you coming Kyle? You said you were going to help us look for evidence.”
He smiled. “Of course, I’m coming. For a moment, I thought you had forgotten about me.”
Ignoring his last comment, I headed over to Luke who was already asking Chief Scott if we could search the warehouse.
“What did he say?” I asked.
“He said the building is safe.”
I nodded. “Good.”
“Wait here. I will go tell boss we are going to search the warehouse and grab our gear from the SUV.”
I nodded. “Sounds good.”
Luke turned to Kyle’s friend. “Major Edwards, I could use the extra help with carrying the gear.”
Luke flashed me a smile and followed Edwards. I knew Luke had done this on purpose leaving me alone with Kyle. I looked over my shoulder at Kyle and smiled. I turned away hoping my frustration at Luke wasn’t showing.
A few minutes later, Luke and Edwards returned with our gear. Luke handed me my backpack and handed Kyle Bethany’s. Balancing mine on the ground, I zipped it open and took out my camera. I rechecked the camera to make sure it was fully charged and hung it around my neck. I reached into the second pouch of my backpack and retrieved several plastic bags all different sizes.
“You ready?” Luke asked.
I nodded. “Yes, I’m ready.”
“Here you go. You’ll need it. It’s pretty dark in there,” Luke said, handing me a flashlight.
“Thanks,” I said taking the flashlight and flipping the switch.
“Who wants to go in first?” Kyle asked.
Luke looked to me and said, “Ladies first.”
I shot him a scowl as I passed him which brought a smile to his face and entered the building.