Chapter 1 - The 'one-handed monster'
Armin looked at the plate of food in front of him. His mother had put all her love and hard work into that meal, he could tell. They never ate such extravagant food. She had given him the most tender piece of meat, which she probably cooked to comfort him, but he couldn’t eat it. Not even one bite. His stomach turned in all directions. He felt nauseous.
His father just dropped a bomb on him. He was told that he was to marry someone he had never met before. Someone he didn’t love. Someone that was a pariah to society. The ‘one-handed monster’ that’s what the people in town called that someone.
A man that was known as Kristof Sutherfield.
Besides him being famed for being a freak, he was also well-known for being the wealthiest man in the country.
Kristof wasn’t liked by the people of nobility, for he was no nobleman like they were. He held no title, like a duke or an earl. He gained his fortune by earning it with his own hands, or better yet, single-handedly.
The man only had one hand! His left hand was missing. He also had a big scar on his face. A flaw. Running from his eyebrow, all the way down. It reached almost to the corner of his mouth.
The people in town told all kinds of tales about the man’s missing hand. They said the devil ate it himself. Or that when Kristof was disobedient as a child, his own mother chopped it off with an ax! However, nobody really knew the true story...
Though the people cruelly talked about Kristof’s appearance behind his back all the time, he was also loved by them up to a certain degree. He helped them financially even when their own king wouldn’t. They loved him for his money and praised him for that. But that’s all they really wanted from him.
“I will not do it, papa. I won’t marry him,” Armin spoke softly.
It was just so surreal to him.
“Yes, you will!” his father replied, not tolerating any backtalk from his son. His firstborn.
Theo was offered a large amount of money for this arranged marriage. Of course, he didn’t want his son to be unhappy, but the family was financially struggling and he had more children to take care of.
His son had always been popular and lots of people wanted to marry him. The beauty of Armin, now twenty-one years old, was known all over the country.
Theo had always refused proposals, but this time the amount of money that was offered was so great, he just couldn’t refuse.
“Kristof is a fine man. Wealthy, kind, generous, and somehow willing to marry a disobedient brat like you.”
“A fine man? Do you know what the people in town say about him? How can I marry someone like that? Mama, tell him! Tell him I can’t and I won’t do it!” Armin told his mother, screaming.
He desperately looked at her. She had tears in her eyes and her lower lip was trembling, but she couldn’t talk back to her husband because she also knew they had more children to take care of. So she said nothing.
Armin’s younger brothers and sister were in the kitchen too, where the atmosphere was thick with tension. Their faces were crestfallen, all they could do was look down. The young man felt betrayed by his own family.
“I’m going to Roan,” he announced, no longer able to sit with these people anymore.
He needed air.
“Be back here tonight or I will hunt you down, Armin. The marriage will be in two days. Kristof himself will pick us up tomorrow evening.”
“You heard me.”
Two days his father had said? Armin couldn’t believe it. As he pushed away from the table with heavy stomps, his breathing came with difficulty. Swinging the door open, he left the somber home without closing the door behind him. He started to run through the forest.
He wanted Roan. That was the man he did love. He cursed that man named Kristof. Not only in his mind, but he screamed it through the forest while running. He hated the man even before he ever met him.
The small cottage ahead of him was Roan’s.
While watching through the window, Armin saw Roan eating with his family. He knew it was rude to intrude on their dinner time, but he waved through the glass hoping that Roan would catch a glimpse of him. His lover did. Roan signed something at him, and he knew immediately what he meant.
Their secret place... It was at an old abandoned house. Almost a ruin.
Armin waited there and when he saw Roan making his way to their secret place, he ran into his arms.
Roan looked sad when Armin told him everything.
“Let’s run away together, please leave with me. We can be happy, Roan!” Armin said while tears poured down his cheeks.
“I’m sorry, Armin, but I can’t just leave my family behind.”
Roan seemed to be only a little sad. Armin had expected him to be heartbroken, mournful, bitter, angry. Not this. If it was Roan in this position, Armin would surely elope with him! Did Roan not love him?
He now knew that his love for Roan was greater than Roan’s love for him. Still, he whispered, “I want to sleep with you.”
“What?” Roan asked.
“I want to sleep with you...tonight, before I leave with Kristof tomorrow. I don’t want my first time to be with that man. I want it to be with you, the one that I’m in love with.”
Even though he loved Roan more than Roan loved him, he wanted this.
Armin looked at his lover. In his eyes, a mix of love, despair, sadness, and longing, and Roan didn’t have to think twice about Armin’s invitation...
Armin laid on his bed, in his room. He couldn’t sit because it hurt too much.
His first time was different from what he had imagined. It wasn’t satisfying and it didn’t feel nice at all, it only hurt.
Roan had guided Armin to lay down on the soft grass and then he had pulled his pants off. After widening Armin’s legs and positioning himself in between, he took him! He didn’t even take off the rest of their clothes!
He took him, right there on the grass, without any kissing or hugging or loving. It took maybe one minute … Armin didn’t even come.
He couldn’t understand why his friends always talked about sex like it was a life-altering experience. In fact, it did not feel good at all. Not even with someone you loved dearly. It was nothing, but a minute of thankless pain. Just a hapless moment to celebrate the eve of his wedding day…
’Maybe it was befitting,’ Armin mused miserably, ’A wretched tryst to match his ill-fated future.’
Roan had thanked Armin and said it felt like heaven. At least Roan enjoyed it.
Despite accepting that he loved Roan more than he loved him, he could not help but be disappointed in his lover. All he wanted was a night of passion to bid adieu to his beloved and his bachelorhood. Yet he could not have that either. To make it worse, it was at the hands of the man who he loved with everything in him. He felt tears rolling down his temples, and at this very moment, he just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up again.
He didn’t want tomorrow to come.
Kristof stood in front of the mirror. He just had screwed his leather-covered wooden hand onto his arm cuff. He always wore black leather gloves when he was around other people, so he could cover up the wooden prosthetic hand.
The large scar on his face, however, was always present. He couldn’t cover that up. And so, every day when he looked in the mirror he was reminded of that fateful day.
He could remember it as if it was yesterday, and not twenty-five years ago.
“Mommy, daddy, what are we going to do? Where are we going?” Little Kristof asked while he looked outside the carriage window.
His mother and father had a surprise for him. They said they would go somewhere nice for this special day.
“Well, my sweetest little Kris, it’s your birthday today! So we’re gonna go somewhere special. Oh, I can’t believe my baby boy is already seven years old!” His mother whined and pinched his cheeks.
“He is big now, aren’t you, Kris? You’re not a baby boy anymore.” Kristof’s father laughed at his wife’s silly behavior.
“I am, mommy. I’m almost as big as daddy already,” Kristof spoke proudly.
“Haha. Oh, yes you are my love.”
All of a sudden, the carriage came to a quick stop and little Kristof fell off his seat. Permeating the carriage and flooding his ears, was a lot of noise. People were talking loudly and screaming could be heard.
Kristof saw his parents looking at each other with wide and frightened eyes.
“Kristof, you must leave. You must be safe,” his mother whispered as she slowly pushed open the door and shoved her son out.
Sitting on the horses were menacing-looking men. The horses they were sitting on trampled on the ground that was splattered with blood. All little Kristof could see was blood everywhere. It filled his gaze and flooded his nostrils. Screams from the carriage drivers tore his eyes away from the gruesome sight on the ground. The screams were followed by a rancorous cackle from one of the depraved man’s wicked lips.
“Run Kristof, now, run,” his mother and father whispered to him.
But the bad men saw them.
“Run, now! Please, Kristof, do it. We love you!” His parents screamed, they did not bother hushing their words, knowing that the men had seen them anyway.
Everything seemed to happen so fast, prompted by his parents’ desperate cries for him to flee, his legs finally agreed to cooperate and ran from the scene. While he ran, he could not help looking back. He saw one of the bad men grab his mother by the hair and stabbed her with a knife.
She screamed, his father wailed in horror, and little Kristof’s heart hammered inside his little chest.
He ran through the forest as fast as his legs could take him, but then he slipped and fell into a deep ditch, rolling over sharp rocks and branches. He was not sure which of those things did it, all he knew was that something cut his face and the memento was a scar for life.
Everything went black after his fall.
When he woke up, he learned that an older lady found him at the bottom of the ditch. Rocks that had fallen down had slammed on his little hand. It was smashed and the lady couldn’t save his hand anymore.
But she did save little Kristof.
Kristof snapped out of his memory when he heard a knocking on his door.
“You wanted to see me?” Adam asked, coming into the room.
Adam was one of the few friends that Kristof had. They knew each other from way back and Adam worked for him now.
“Yes, please I need your help. I got a letter from the King. An invitation to his palace. I can’t refuse the King even if I wanted to. It’s planned for tomorrow, the day I would meet Armin and bring him here.”
“I understand. I will go, don’t worry. I’ll explain it to him. I’m sure Armin will understand.”
“Thank you, Adam.”