WHEN SOFIA SCREAMED

by

Jennifer Hor Email: jennyhor2004@yahoo.com.au

Story Length: 4,459 words © Jennifer Hor 2011

..
"When Sofia Screamed" Jennifer Hor 2 "There was no doubt about Sofia, the baron and his wife agreed, no doubt at all about their daughter: from the time she was born with a huge scream that shattered the bed-posts and permanently deafened the midwife, Sofia was, in their opinion, cursed with a rare talent a shout so loud it might one day demolish an army. Oh, she was a lovely and obedient child, they might

ati:I quickly:

not beautiful or

especially quick-witted but very sweet natured, polite and compliant - the very model of a dutiful and submissive daughter. Only when she was frightened or upset (which was rarely, for the baron's wife made sure all the spiders in the manor-house were eliminated regularly) might people have to hide and cover their ears for Sofia's shrill scream could splinter wood, tum animals berserk and twist swords into such strange shapes that none could hammer or reheat them straight again. Apart from her voice, Sofia was ordinary enough for a baron's daughter that her parents decided she would be a suitable enough wife for another baron or with some luck a viscount: nothing more, nothing less. So when the girl reached the age of fourteen, her parents sent messages to all the lesser nobility from viscounts down throughout the country that Sofia had come of age. Alas! after twelve months of broadcasting the news, the baron and his wife had received no replies - not one! And no young man of noble birth had called on the family even though the manor-house was close to the main trading and pilgrimage routes in the country and the baron's lands were not generally considered inaccessible. "If we cannot find you a suitor soon enough," the baroness told Sofia, "we shall have to send you to a convent where you will live the rest of your life. Our wealth is not enough to support both you and your brother Nikolai and he will need it all to maintain our family's status among the lords of this country."

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"Whatever must happen to me, I accept it as God's will and I trust in Him with all my heart and soul," Sofia replied. And she returned to her needlework which, like everything else she did, showed competent enough skill but no great flair. The baroness could do little else but return to her husband. "We have brought the girl up to be a proper and dutiful daughter and hopefully wife but I fear all we have done will not be enough to save her from life n a poor convent," she told him. And the baron could only sigh in agreement.

In a distant country there was a young prince called Vladimir, the last of three brothers who were heirs to a small principality. When Vladimir reached the age of sixteen, his sick father Prince Svetomir called him to his bedside. "What I am about to tell you, I have already told Lubomir," Prince Svetomir said, referring to the middle brother, "my principality is too small to be divided among the three of you and I fear Casimir seeks not only to depose me but to get rid of you and Lubomir as well. Therefore do you go abroad as soon as possible to seek your fortune and make your own life. 'Tis best that where Lubomir goes, you go in the opposite direction so you do not compete for the same lands, the same treasures or the same woman. Know that wherever you go. you go with my blessing and may God bestow the greatest of fortunes upon you both." Vladimir wept and hugged his father before spending the rest of the day packing his saddle-bags and preparing his mare for the long journey. The following morning, he and Lubomir rode out of the principality together. Lubomir chose to travel east so Vladimir directed his mare to travel west. He spent over a year travelling. stopping at inns along the way. helping peasants gather in the autumn harvest and spending the winter with a shepherd family. In the spring, he entered the lands owned by Sofia's father the baron. He stayed at an inn where the innkeeper, on discovering who his new guest was and where he was from, told

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him about Sofia and the baron's quest to find her a suitor. "She's pretty enough but not real beautiful," the innkeeper said, "she's said to know enough to be a good wife to a lord but she ain't so good she could be the wife of a king. She's just a nice girl, is all. Oh, and, er, one other thing - her screams are awful loud." Vladimir digested this and other information about Sofia proffered by the innkeeper's wife and some of the inn's guests. He remembered the nights spen with various peasants' families and how he often wished he had a companion to share his thoughts with. And this girl called Sofia - well, she might only be a baron's daughter but she seemed all right, she did not seem precious and he could not hope for any nobler girl as a potential wife in his current situation. "I think I'll pay this baron a visit tomorrow," he told the innkeeper. The innkeeper then told him directions to the manor and he hurriedly scribbled them down with a piece of charcoal on a page of his Bible. The following morning he set off for the manor. He arrived in the early afternoon and told the surprised servants he wanted to speak to the baron and the baroness. The baron and the baroness were shocked at Vladimir's appearance - his clothes were old and worn and his hair and beard needed trimming. Vladimir introduced himself and the two calmed down on hearing his soft and cultured voice and the mention of Prince Svetomir, the former scourge of the Turks ad the nomads from far beyond the eastern horizon. Vladimir explained why he had come: "After travelling alone for more than twelve months, 1find myself yearning for a companion who can share my fortunes and misfortunes, my joys and sorrows, a companion nobly born yet not too highly bred for my journey has been hard and will continue to be hard. An innkeeper told me about your daughter so 1decided to come here." The baron and his wife looked at each other. Should they entrust Sofia's future to this young stranger? This might well be the only opportunity Sofia would ever have to marry a

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young noble. Convents were not rich and a nun's life could be hard. There was a possibility this suitor could become very wealthy indeed. If Sofia couldn't have a comfortable life, at least she'd have an interesting one. Still, this young Vladimir was an unknown quantity despite his father's formidable reputation. The two excused themselves, ordered a servant to bring food and wine for Vladimir and then hurried into another room to talk. "He seems noble enough. Imagine ... the son of Prince Svetomir asking for our daughter's hand! Do you think he is genuine!" the baroness asked. "He looks honest enough:' the baron mused, "but the future he offers Sofia is

. precanous ... "
"As is spending your whole life in a convent," came the reply," and you do realise another opportunity such as this may not come for another twelve months." "True, true. Our poor Sofia is neither beautiful nor exceptional enough to attract many suitors." They decided to bring Sofia down to meet Vladimir. The girl blushed deeply and giggled when she saw the young man. Vladimir saw she was not beautifulindeed, she was

very plain and was chubby - and yet he had the sudden thought that there was something about her that would prove more valuable than great beauty or maidenly accomplishments. "We'll leave you both to be acquainted," the baron said, "Sofia, please ensure our guest does not want for wine." The girl nodded and her parents left the young people together in the hall. After some time elapsed, the parents returned to the hall where the young people informed them both that they had pledged their betrothal. After a three-month betrothal period, during which time Vladimir worked for the baron, he and Sofia were married in the manor chapel. The next day, they prepared to leave the manor. Sofia's dowry consisted of a small bag of gold coins and two horses for the couple.

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The servants loaded Sofia's belongings onto a third horse and the young couple resumed Vladimir's quest with their three horses. The newly-weds had not left the baron's lands and his protection for very long when they heard the sound of galloping hoofbeats and male shouting behind them. Vladimir looked behind and his heart sank: three bandits were coming after them and their own horses were carrying too much for him and Sofia to escape fast enough. "Fear not, Sofia," he told his wife, "perhaps these bandits are only after the money and will be satisfied taking only that and leaving us to continue. Just stay quiet and let me deal with these men." The bandits quickly overtook them and forced them to stop. The men surrounded Vladimir's horse with the bandit leader facing the prince. "We're in luck!" the man chortled to his companions, "two wealthy young travellers with lots of treasures - what's in those saddle-bags of yours, eh? Search his bags!" While Sofia's horse stood behind the four, Sofia herself watching in open-mouthed horror, the bandits dug about in Vladimir's saddle-bags while the bandit leader pointed his knife at him as if preparing to throw it, and the rogues pulled out the bag of gold coins. The bandits tossed the coins to their leader who caught the money in one hand. "Very good!" he cried, holding the bag up in the air, "now, kill the fellow." At once the bandits pulled out their knives from their waist belts to cut Vladimir's throat and ... a mighty blast of solid air slammed into the four men and threw them and their horses to the ground. One horse fell on top of one bandit, crushing his legs. A shrill piercing sound followed. Vladimir put his hands to his ears. When the noise stopped, he shook his head to clear the throbbing in his brain and got up slowly. On standing up, he saw one bandit lying unconscious, his head resting against a stone, a second bandit lying under a horse struggling but failing to get up and the bandit leader lying spread-eagled on the ground with his face to the sky, his forehead cleft by a knife driven into his head right up to the hilt.

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Vladimir turned to face Sofia, her hands over her mouth, her eyes wide open, still sitting on her horse which was still standing as was also the horse carrying her clothes. "What happened?" Vladimir gasped, "it seemed as though we were hit by a giant rock from nowhere!" "'Twas I," Sofia confessed. "I was afraid for you and I - I screamed." Vladimir remembered what the innkeeper, Sofia's parents and their servants had told him about Sofia's voice over the last three months. "Well- you saved my life," he said, not knowing what else to say. "Shouldn't we hurry?" Sofia said, "there might be more bandits here." She's right, Vladimir realised. He recovered the money. gave it to Sofia and soothed his horse which had got up in the meantime. He had to kill the horse on top of the dying bandit as the animal was in pain and could not get up. After cutting the horse's throat with the bandit's knife, he left the knife in the grass, mounted his own horse and led Sofia away from the scene. The other bandit horses followed them. They travelled a day and a night, sleeping under the stars, and the next day they stopped at an inn where they sold the bandit horses. People at the inn inquired as to where they were journeying and when Vladimir replied, "We're travelling west," the innkeeper said, "West is the mountain and forest abode of the ancient giant who calls himself Hrothger Hrothgersson. He's the last of his kind and he lives on human flesh. Many who have entered his country have not been seen again. If you have to go there. be as quiet as you can for his hearing is sharp." The young people quailed but the innkeeper assured them he had made trips through the giant's abode over the past ten years and told them to stick to the forest paths and avoid travelling along the valley. They thanked him and next day they set off early and soon entered the mountain and forest country. They remembered the innkeeper's words and travelled through the forest. The branches were low and the forest canopy was so thick little sunlight

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shone through. One of the horses stumbled and a saddle-bag fell off and hit the ground with a loud thump. Immediately birds in the trees fluttered up high above the canopy and whirled about in an ancient pattern; in the distance there was a loud guttural roar, followed by the steady beat of a giant creature striding towards the forest. "Quick! We must hide!" Vladimir whispered. They both dismounted and hid behind a tree. The forest shook as the giant thundered closer. "Who dares to trespass in the home of old Hrothger Hrothgersson 1" came a deep rumble. "come out. cowards. and face my righteous anger!" Several trees around them were suddenly pulled out and tossed far away, clods of earth raining down from the sky as the giant picked the trees out to find his victims. Sofia looked up and saw the giant, his face marked with wrinkles and warts, standing above her and leering down at her. "Hal Frightened are you?" the ugly beast laughed, "let's see you be really afraid!" He pulled up the tree they were hiding behind, threw it aside and lifted his foot to prepare to crush the puny humans below. The horses galloped away in fright while Vladimir and Sofia clasped each other. A lump of earth fell from between the giant's toes and hit Vladimir on the forehead. He flinched and said, "I'm not hurt, Sofia," but Sofia, watching the foot descend, could only open her mouth to scream ... "Waaah!l!" the giant bellowed as a tremendous wind threw him high into the air and over the forest. Trees were flattened or uprooted to fly with the beast. He crashed so hard into the highest mountain in that area that it seemed the whole world shook and was about to crack apart; the noise of hills collapsing and dust rising was beyond endurance. Vladimir clamped his hand around Sofia's mouth and she stopped streaming. Then there was an incredible crash as the mountain into which the giant had crashed fell in on itself and threw up storms of dust and rocks. When the dust finally cleared after what seemed an eternity, Vladimir and Sofia stood up and gazed at the altered landscape in disbelief. Behind them, trees were still standing; before them, the entire forest was utterly devastated and the hills and mountains had

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been levelled into low-lying plateaux surrounded by mounds of rock and gravel. The giant's grave itself was a smooth mount of fine dirt and sand rising gently from the ground. "lowe my life to you again," Vladimir said to Sofia who blushed deep red. "No, Sofia, there's no need to feel shame. With training, your voice could be a mighty weapon." "It could?" she said, her voice full of awe. All her life, she had thought of her voice as a curse. Everyone had told her so. "Yes," He kissed her. "Now - we'd better find our horses." They managed to find only two horses (the one bearing Sofia's clothes having galloped far, far away) and made their way out of that formerly mountainous region more quickly than they would have done had Sofia not screamed. They made their way to a town called Steinburg which happened to be offering a reward of ten thousand thalers to whoever could find a way of getting rid of Hrothger Hrothgersson. The townspeople laughed when Vladimir and Sofia attempted to claim the reward but when Vladimir took the mayor and his councillors to see the area and they saw the grave, the plateau and the uprooted trees, the town leaders had to admit there was merit in the couple's tale, especially as they could smell the decomposing body. Vladimir and Sofia were paid ten times the ten thousand thalers for making t~e area easier for travellers and trade and for supplying Steinburg with lumber. The mayor declared the two to be citizens and heroes of Steinburg and granted them the whole altered landscape as their land. So Vladimir and Sofia not only found a fortune but a new home and land.

News of Vladimir's sudden wealth eventually filtered back to the oldest brother Casimir who had deposed their ailing father as the ruler of the principality. The Prince flew into a rage at the thought that Vladimir might be richer than he was.

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"This must not go unchallenged," he told his ministers, "call my generals and tell them to prepare for war! My brother may raise an army and try to usurp me." And the thoroughly cowed ministers hastily bowed and scuttled away. Soldiers were called up, peasants conscripted and mercenaries lured with the promises of fat salaries and riches to plunder. When the army began its march to the west, there were over twenty thousand men marching as a vast organism with Prince Casimir and his generals riding in the middle and surrounded by elite cavalry. Behind the army came another army of hangers-on: cooks, grooms, smithies, armourers, labourers dragging cannons, barbers, beggars and prostitutes. Over several months, the plague of army swooped over many territories, demanding food and shelter at sword-point. Among the many nobles whose lands were devastated in this way were Sofia's parents who had to entertain the Prince and his generals, supply them with food, wine and fresh horses, and fmd room in all the inns and villages as well as their own manor to put up everyone. When the army finally left, the baron and his wife wrung their hands and wept that there was hardly anything left to pass onto Nikolai. Prince Casimir sent a messenger ahead to Steinburg. A month later, the councillors received the grim news and debated as to how to deal with the threat of an invasion while the messenger languished in the stocks. "Surrender the brother Vladimir and his wife to the Prince and maybe the army will spare us," opined one councillor. "No, Vladimir and Sofia are our honoured citizens after ridding us of Hrothger Hrothgersson," the mayor said, "even though I still don't understand how they did it." "But we don't have an army." a second councillor moaned, "we used to rely on the giant to get rid of any armies even though he was a troublemaker most of the time." "Now we must provide our own defence," a third councillor said.

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"Hey," said a fourth, "Vladimir and Sofia got rid of the giant - perhaps what they used against the giant can work against the army." After much discussion and arguing with two black eyes being traded, the mayor and councillors decided to visit Vladimir and Sofia at home and explain the problem. They went to the couple's manor and the two listened intently to the news of the impending invasion. "Well. 1 could be of some assistance," Sofia said when the councillors finished, "my scream threw the giant into the mountain." The councillors gaped. "Really? But we are dealing with twenty thousand men with heavy artillery, lots of horses and lots of fire-power - you couldn't possibly sweep them away," the mayor said. "With my voice, 1 could stop the army from attacking until Prince Casimir agrees to negotiate," Sofia replied, "I may not need to blow them away." "The main thing is to protect Steinburg from invasion," Vladimir added. The councillors agreed, somewhat doubtfully, to allow Vladimir and Sofia to defend the town after more discussion. The two took up lodgings in the watch-tower of the eastern wall
';

of the town. Weeks passed and one day they saw the army advancing from the east. Vladimir told a guard to notify the mayor and then he and Sofia watched as the army drew closer. Prince Casimir came riding up to the front of the army as it stopped outside the town walls some distance away. Sofia's heart dropped when she saw the size of the army. "I fear it will take all my strength just to hold your brother's army back," she said. "Have faith in your strength," Vladimir urged, "I'll talk to my brother and try to persuade him to leave." He called out to the Prince. "Brother Casimir! It's I, Vladimir! 1 urge you not to attack this town. What harm has it done you? The people here are only interested in

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trade. I myself have no ambition to usurp you as ruler. I'm happy to live here for the rest of my life and raise my children here. Turn back and let us part on friendly terms." "Never!" the Prince yelled back, "I intend to take this town and claim it for the principality. As for you, I have other plans to make sure you and Lubomir don't usurp me. Prepare to defend yourself and this town!" "Our defence is ready for you, Brother Casimir!" "Already? Ha! Where are your soldiers then? What weapons do you have?" "My wife Sofia is defending the town!" At this, the Prince, his generals and the infantry laughed. "Really!" the Prince called out, "a mere woman against twenty thousand men? Bring out your wife, Vladimir, and let her do her worst!" And the soldiers continued to laugh and then started to hurl insults and bawdy jokes. "Just a demonstration, Sofia," Vladimir whispered. Sofia nodded. "I'll try." She counted to ten, drew a deep breach and began to hum. The humming wobbled through the air and gripped the infantry, the Prince and his generals. They felt a strange sonic paralysis throbbing through them. "C-c-can't m-move,' the Prince stuttered, "wh-wh-what witch's sp-spell is-s th-this-s?" As the paralysis fanned out through the ranks, a strange fear began sweeping through as well. Men dropped their weapons, some people collapsed on the ground and others moaned and wept. "That's just a demonstration of what my wife can do," Vladimir's voice rang out, "will you desist now and return?" Some soldiers began to urge the Prince to agree but he was stubborn. "N-n-never!" he stuttered, "N-never-r!" "Try something else," Vladimir suggested. Sofia nodded, stopped humming and began to sing in a low voice. A gentle breeze then swept down from the watch-tower and lifted

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several men, suspending them in the air. While Vladimir marvelled at the scene and the army was confused and disordered at the sight, with several soldiers muttering rebellion, a tiny spider was scuttling along the ledge Sofia was leaning on - and touched her elbow. Sofia looked down, saw the spider - and screamed! A huge force swept down upon the army and whooshed all twentygnen plus the horses, heavy artillery and all the hangers-on along the ground and up, up. up into the sky. A mass of airborne people raced through the sky speeding over plains, forests, mountains and rivers, flying over villages, towns, cities and empires, on and on and on until they reached the wide ocean and the force dissipated somewhat so that they all fell into the gaping deep blue. By then, most of the anny and hangers-on were already dead from travelling at such high speeds which literally turned many people inside out, and at such altitudes which froze others; Prince Casimir himself was barely conscious when he cannoned into the water and hit the surface
~~

hard with a loud crash. Thus did Sofia repel an entire army without a single bullet or cannon
being fired. "What happened, Sofia? Why did you scream? We might have been able to force him to change his mind!" Vladimir said. "A spider crawled onto my ann," Sofia shuddered, "I'm frightened of spiders!" She Vladimir looked for the spider but it was nowhere to be seen. The tiny creature had been swept away with the army. "Well, my brother is gone now. We'd -," Vladimir stopped as the truth dawned on him. "Casimir must be dead! That means I must return to the principality. My home country is without a ruler."

and

Days later, they took their leave of the grateful townsfolk of Steinburg and travelled back to the principality. New bridges and roads made the journey a matter of months rather

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than a whole year; Prince Casimir's anny had included engineers and labourers who constructed bridges over rivers to enable the army to cross, and since Hrothger Hrothgersson's death, trade had increased which led to new roads being built. When Vladimir and Sofia finally reached Prince Casimir's palace they were in for a surprise: the ministers had heard about the flight of the army over the continents and into the ocean, and had also received news that Lubomir had become a monk in a distant Buddhist monastery and renounced all his royal claims. So the ministers offered. the crown to Vladimir who gratefully accepted it. "Y ou must crown my wife Sofia too," he said, "she will be co-sovereign, not just my consort. lowe my life to her, not once but three times. Three times!" And he gazed at Sofia with such love and feeling that she blushed deeply and giggled. And so it was that Sofia not only conquered an anny but also achieved wealth and status beyond what her parents had predicted for her, thanks to a voice that she believed was a curse but instead was her greatest gift. The town of Steinburg pledged its loyalty to her and became part of the principality. Her parents and brother came to live at court and she made Nikolai a duke. She learned statecraft from her husband and the court ministers and with her husband ruled the principality wisely. And with her voice ever ready for an emergency, the principality had no need of a permanent standing anny - indeed, Sofia never had to scream very much again, even as mother to a brood of six children, and Prince Vladimir made sure that the servants were thorough in eliminating all spiders from the palace buildings.

END

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