Aphelion Issue 236, Volume 23
February 2019
 
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A Soldier for Melinda

by Cary Semar




Cadell awoke to find himself looking up through trees at clouds. He must have fallen again, but he was not dead; his leg still hurt. He heard the sound of a step and turned his head to see the face of death, in the guise of a young woman, standing a few yards away holding his machine pistol. He knew she was not real because she was too beautiful. She wore a dress of pale blue with a complex floral design worked into the weave. Her hair was dark and long, and hung over her shoulder. He welcomed the vision, for dying was growing tedious.

"I am thirsty," he said. "How can I be thirsty if I am dead?"

"Thee are not dead, Soldier." the woman said, in the barbaric accent of the savages which inhabited these lands. "But thee are soon to be dead."

"Are you going to kill me?"

The woman lowered the weapon and came closer. "Canst thee stand? I would help thee if thee would'st bring thyself to my dwelling."

"I will try," he said. He summoned his strength, and found, that he could move. He rolled over on his side and lifted himself up to a sitting position. "That is the most I can do," he said. "I am sorry. My leg still hurts. Can't you do anything about my leg? How can I go to Valhalla with my leg on fire?"

"Get thee up and live," she said, "Or lie thee down and die. The choice is thine."

Cadell got up and the woman took hold of his arm. He looked in her eyes and drew strength from her. Cadell struggled forward in the direction she pulled him, despite the agony. Perhaps if the woman had been less beautiful, he would have died then. She led him to a house built into a cliff and took him to a room lined with books where there was a soft bed. Cadell collapsed onto the bed and fell asleep. He awoke later calling for water and it was given to him.


*****



Cadell awoke in a cave-like room on a bed of furs. The woman sat near him in a rocking chair, asleep. Somewhere in the dim room was the sound of a radio playing the music of The Realm. He dimly recalled an eternity of misery, struggling tortuously through a dark forest supported by a slight figure that urged him onward with soft, compelling words. "Where am I?"

The woman's eyes opened. "Thee art awake at last," she said, and rose from her chair. She was tall and slender and there were faint lines in her face that spoke of suffering. He loved her more for them. "How dost thee feel?" she said.

"I feel well," said Cadell. "Is this cave your dwelling?"

"It is my refuge from the savagery of the world," she said. "Let me look at thy dressing." She came to the side of the bed, lifted off his blanket of fur and studied the wrappings that Cadell encased his leg.

"I am grateful," he said. "You saved my life."

"Thee were near death when I found thee. Thee were lucky that it were me that found thee and not another."

"Do you know who I am?"

"Thee art a soldier. Thy name is Cadell."

"What is your name?"

"I am Melinda."

"Where are your people?"

"Dead."

"All of them?"

"These are harsh times, Soldier. Most were killed by the likes of thee. I had a brother; his fate I do not know."

"I am sorry. Have you no man?"

Melinda adjusted his dressing, then restored the blanket. "There is no man here but thee."

Cadell realized that his luck had returned. "How long have you been hiding in this cave?"

"For many years," she said. "Are thee hungry now?"

"Yes."

"That is good," she said. "It shows thee art better. I will bring thee food."

It was an excellent soup, seasoned with herbs gathered in the forest. Cadell was astonished at the sophistication of the flavor, worthy of the finest cuisine to be found in The Realm. Cadell ate it all, then asked for another bowl. "Not now," she said. "You will sleep now."

"I am not sleepy, " Cadell protested. "Tell me about your people. What happened to them?"

"Later, we can talk," she said. "Rest now."

A wave a drowsiness passed over him. He blinked and tried to focus his eyes on her. "Did you put something in the soup?"

"It were only a draught to bring sleep," she said. "Sleep now, Soldier, it will heal thee."


*****



Cadell sat beneath a tree near the spring which flowed at the foot of the cliff. He held his crudely made crutch across his lap and looked at Melinda who sat cross legged nearby. She had been tilling a vegetable garden in loose trousers, baggy shirt, and straw hat, but now she rested near him in the shade. A portable radio sat between them playing the music of The Realm. Her toes moved in time with the music.

"Why do you live here alone, so far from a town?" Cadell said.

Melinda lifted the brim of her straw hat. "My mother and father lived here," she said. "Did I not tell thee? Those books were my father's. Before I was born, my mother and father came here to be safe."

"What happened to them," Cadell asked. "Did they die?"

"Yes," said Melinda. "Two rogues found our secret place. They killed my mother and my father. They took me with them as their slave. I killed them, and came back here."

Cadell was astonished. "You killed them? How?"

Melinda smiled. "I were their slave. I were forced to do all the menial work of their camp, including preparing their food. So I poisoned them. It were easy." She studied him a moment, then said in a gay voice, "Fear not. I would not poison thee, Soldier."

"I wish you would not call me Soldier," he said. "My name is Cadell. I am not a soldier, I am an aviator."

"If thee art an aviator, where is thy plane?" she asked.

"It crashed and burned," he replied. "I am still an aviator, even though I am temporarily without a plane."

"My brother joined a rising against the warlord," said Melinda. "The warlord was overthrown and my brother came home. When I asked him if he were in the infantry or the cavalry. He told me that he were in the cavalry until they shot his horse and then he were in the infantry."

"That is an old joke," said Cadell. "But I see your point. What about your brother? Is he dead?"

"I think so," she said. "He went off to another war and did not come back. It has been many years." The radio stopped playing and she snatched it up. "Perdition!" She began removing the back.

"Who can fix a radio in this wilderness?" he said.

"I can," said Melinda. "For the moment. But one day something will break that I know ought of and that shall be the end of this radio."

"That is a very old radio," said Cadell. "In The Realm, we have found that vacuum tubes are easier to manufacture than transistors, but such devices require more power to operate. Old radios are treasured and handed down from generation to generation. The knowledge of the Old One's is lost to us."

Melinda was removing the back of the radio as he talked. She peered inside, her forehead wrinkled as she studied the complex works. "The knowledge is not lost," she said. "It is locked away in books and in the memories of old men," she said. "All that hath been lost is peace. War destroyeth the will to make things. It is easier to kill a man and take his goods."

"Not in The Realm," he said. "We have industry and social organization. We can build airplanes and trucks and tractors. We can make almost everything the old one's made."

"Thee dost not make enough babies," said Melinda. "The barbarians are becoming more numerous and thy Realm gets smaller with each passing generation. One day, the barbarians will push thee into the sea and chaos will rule the whole world."

"How do you know this?" said Cadell.

"I listen to the radio everyday," she said. "I will have to tend to this later." She put down the radio and turned to him. "Art thee recovering well, Soldier? Does thy leg still trouble thee?"

"The leg is healing well," he said. He stood up and lay the crutch aside. "I can walk without the crutch if need be." He took a couple of limping steps to one side, then turned and limped back.

"Be patient and use thy crutch a little longer," she said. "But that is good."

"I have noticed a scar behind my ear," he added. "It is a little sensitive. I do not remember having an injury there."

"Thee haddest many small wounds," said Melinda. "Thee canst not remember them all."

"The others have long healed and trouble me no longer," he said. "Only this one is still tender."

Melinda came to him and said, "Bend over, let Melinda see thy hurt."

He bowed before her and felt her fingers touch him lightly behind the ear. The closeness of her and the posture of submission excited him. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feeling. "This little hurt will soon heal," said Melinda. "Do not be concerned with it." She quickly moved away from him and picked up her gardening tools. "I must return to my vegetables," she said. "When the sun is halfway down the sky, I will return and prepare thy supper. Rest Soldier, and heal thyself." She walked away down toward the spring.

Cadell watched her go with longing. Before he resumed his journey, he was determined to have this woman. It was a pity that he could not take her with him to The Realm, but the way was long and she would slow him down. In the meantime, he must take care, for she prepared his food.


*****



Melinda picked up the bowl which Cadell had finished and put it aside to be washed. Cadell was lounging on his bed of furs looking at her thoughtfully. "Thee be healed now," said Melinda. "It is time that I stop waiting on thee and let thee earn thy keep."

Cadell nodded. "Yes, I am healed," he said. "And I am in your debt. I wish that I could stay awhile and pay back your kindness, but I have my duty to The Realm. Tomorrow, I must resume my journey to my own land."

"No, Soldier, thee may not leave. Thee shall stay with me." She said it simply and with such confidence that Cadell was amused. He had expected anger, tears, even begging, but he had not expected this self-assurance. He extended his hand toward her, smiled and said, "Come, sit here beside me on the furs."

She hesitated a moment and Cadell realized the woman was afraid. That pleased him. "Thee will not hurt me, will thee?"

"Good Melinda, you are the kindest, gentlest woman in creation. I owe you my life. If any man should give you a moment of grief, I would track him down and chop him into tiny pieces, though I had to track him to the edge of the world. I would never hurt you. Come, sit beside me."

Melinda hesitated a moment more, closed her eyes, and seemed to be chanting something silently to herself. Then she opened her eyes and lowered herself onto the furs beside him. Cadell put his arm around her and held her close. "I love you, Melinda," he said.

"Then stay," she said, reaching across his broad chest. "I love thee also, Soldier, as I have from the moment I first saw thee, struggling through the forest like a wounded bear."

"Then we are the luckiest people on earth," he said. "When two people love each other, and they are together, they are always in paradise."

"Then thee will stay?"

Cadell smiled. "How could I ever leave?" he asked, then leaned down to kiss her trembling lips.

One kiss she allowed him, then she opened her eyes and said, "Wait, Soldier," she said. "Let me prepare myself for thee." She rose and hurried to her private chamber. Cadell lay back on the furs and waited while the fire on the hearth burned lower. He was fond of Melinda and it pleased him that she seemed to want him with such eagerness. He trusted her, but if she were tortured she would talk. He wished he did not have to leave her behind.

When she returned, Melinda wore a long white silk gown. "That must be very old," he said. "It is as fine as anything from the old days." He took her arm and pulled her toward him.

"No, not here," she said. "Come to my chamber."

Cadell rose and followed her into the private bedroom at the rear of the house. "Wait," said Cadell, as she started to get into the bed. "I want to see you."

Her shyness touched him, as she unbuttoned her gown and let it slide off of her shoulders. Cadell let his eyes slide down her sweet body, beginning with her full, rounded breasts, her narrow waist and taut belly. His eyes traced the curve of her hips and thighs, skimmed her ankles and delicate feet, then came to rest upon the dark shadow between her legs. Her hand moved slightly, eclipsing her pubes, and he looked up at her face.

"Do you love me?" she said.

"Yes."

"Tell me how you feel."

He searched for some metaphor that would describe his feelings, for they were real as the moment itself. "I love you more than The Realm. I long to hold you and guard you against all the dangers of this world."

She smiled and opened her arms to him.


*****



In the morning, Melinda did not get up and fix his breakfast, as had been her custom. With kindly feelings toward her, he let her sleep and slipped out of the furs. He built up the fire in the hearth and heated a pot of porridge for his own breakfast. While it was cooking, he began to make up a pack of things for his journey. While he was eating his porridge, he saw her watching him from the door.

"Thee art leaving," she accused him.

"I have to go," he said. "Where did you hide my weapon?"

She did not reply.

He moved swiftly across the room, seized her by the shoulders and shoved her hard against the wall. "Tell me," he said. "Or I shall beat it out of you."

"You are not grateful!" she said, her eyes flashing. "You do not love me!"

"Where is my machine pistol?" he said, giving her a shake.

Melinda pointed to a crevasse in the rock. "It is there."

Cadell found the weapon and drew it out. "Where are the magazines?"

She reached under a pile of furs and pulled out the long clips of rounds for the machine pistol. She selected one clip, handed it to him, and put the rest in a hide bag. "This will make them easier to carry," she said, as she draped the bag over his shoulder. Cadell was touched by the tenderness and domesticity of the gesture. She filled another bag with food, and lifted it onto his shoulders also. When he was ready, she stood back and looked at him with a proud smile.

Cadell looked around the gallery of the cavern which had been their bedroom and kitchen, and knew he would never forget it. There was nothing left to do, but to go. "I wish we could be together," he said, "but I have my duty to The Realm. I must go back, or failing, die."

"Did thee mean it when thee said thee loved me?" she asked.

He felt sorry for her. "Yes, I do love you."

"But thee are determined to go?"

"I have no choice," he said. "I wish it could be different. I would take you with me, if I could, but that would never work." He raised the pistol and aimed it at her heart.

"Thee would kill me then?" She looked him in the eye and he was puzzled to find no trace of fear there.

"I am sorry, Melinda," he said. "I cannot leave you behind to tell which way I have gone."

"I am glad we had last night," she said. "I will miss my soldier's avid lovemaking. If thee had loved me in truth, thy mind could have been spared."

"What are you talking about?" Cadell demanded.

"When thee first came, I implanted a programmable process controller chip in thy head whilst thee were unconscious," she said. "Thee art familiar with such devices?"

Cadell touched the spot behind his ear. It was no longer tender, but there was a tiny bump of scar tissue. "What does it do?" he asked.

"It is programmed to respond to my voice," she said. "Once the device is activated, I can inflict pain and pleasure upon thee at will. Thee will be totally in my power, Soldier."

"Where did you get this thing?"

"It is a medical device developed by the Old One's for the treatment of mental disorders, before the Confusion. I altered the programming a little."

"How is the device activated?"

"I am the only one who can activate it, Soldier. I need only speak the code word."

Cadell pressed the trigger. There was an impotent click. She had handed him an empty clip. His eyes were locked on hers as he fumbled in the leather bag for a clip with some bullets in it. It only took a second to pop out the empty clip and shove the new one into place. He could do it with his eyes closed.

"The code word," she said, as he raised the machine pistol and took aim at her heart, "is Cadell."

He never fired. He felt his bowels turned to water, he dropped the pistol and cringed as a terrible fear took hold of him. Melinda was here! Melinda! He went down to his knees and then ground his face into the dirt at her feet. "I am sorry!" he said, his body quaking with fear. "Forgive me!"

Melinda lifted the hem of her dress and placed her foot on his neck. "Poor Cadell," she said. "I wish thee no ill, but I need a man to help me search for my lost brother. Did thee think that I saved thee from death from kindness only? Did thee think that I did not know thee would kill me when thee departed? Now get on thy feet and stand at attention, Soldier."

At the word "soldier" a chill rolled up his back as if the colors of The Realm were passing. Faintly, the strains of the anthem echoed in Cadell's ears as he rose to his feet and came to attention. His chest swelled with pride, as he waited for orders.



THE END


2019 Cary Semar

Bio: Cary Semar is a retired aerospace engineer living in Galveston County Texas. He contributed four short stories to Aphelion Webzine and served as our Short Story Editor for seven years.

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