I’m not sure how many days I was hanging out with those guys, but eventually, Loina tracked me down and dragged me back to her home. She was acting weird! I mean, she’s clutching my arm, looking at me with those big eyes of hers. I thought this might be my chance to make a move. I was expecting her to propose to me, but instead, she tells me that Baruka wants to meet with me! I was thrilled! Unfortunately, we couldn’t just meet out in the open, so Loina tells me to go to the bathhouse, you know that place where they dump the water over your head, in about an hour.
I think I got there way too early. In the mornings, the women are mostly there. That was how it was done- the women and children in the morning and the men in the evening. So me loitering there brought a lot of dirty looks from the women entering the place.
Finally, after what felt like a fully hour, Baruka shows up with a gang of other women. She saw me standing there in that little robe and rolled her eyes. She pulled off her own cloak and threw it over my head. “Do you want to be seen?” she scolded me. The women surrounded me and snuck me into the bathing area.
Baruka took me off to the side, but I could feel the others’ eyes burning into the back of my head. I offered to return Baruka’s cloak to her, but she insisted I keep it on. “I cannot look at you in Loina’s robe!” she insisted. I did not realize until that very moment that the little blue robe belonged to anyone, let alone Loina! That sure explained a lot!
Anyway, I asked Baruka if she was okay and if Captain was taking good care of her. By then, I had heard so many rumors!
“I am fine,” she insisted. “Please, do not worry yourself. Captain explained the situation to me. If I did not agree…”
“What did he tell you?” I interrupted.
Baruka looked surprised. She hesitated, looking over her shoulder at the other women before explaining in a hushed tone, “I know Captain is not Ramoth, but he has explained that if I do not play along, my people will be in great danger. Our land connects to so many others. We survive off of the trade that affords, but those same routes could be used for other things.”
“Like a war?” I offered. Baruka nodded. “That is what he has promised, not to bring Arden’s armies here?” Baruka again nodded, but I knew Arden did not have a large military. We were mostly farmers, but if Pacia joined us, then Dione would be in trouble. I hesitated to say anything, but as I did, Baruka grabbed my arm.
“Could Captain really convince Ramoth to leave us alone? If we promised to remain neutral, would he protect us?” Baruka whispered all at once. Her nails were digging into my arm as her grip tightened.
“Sure?” I blurted out, mostly to get her to let go of my arm. My answer had satisfied her, and she did just that. I was relieved that she seemed to know who Captain really was, but I still had so many questions, but I never got the chance to ask.
Regaining her composure, Baruka continued, “Then do nothing to jeopardize my people! The Elders will arrive in a short time. They will agree to the peace treaty, and then I will likely never see any of you again.”
“You mean you are staying here?” I asked, but Baruka did not reply. She grabbed her cloak off my shoulders and walked back to her friends. I wanted to go after her, but seeing the looks I was getting, I decided I had better leave. I returned to Loina’s house to pack up my things and head for the town’s gate. I was done with all of them. Baruka might have been okay with living a lie, but I was not. Not anymore.
The throne room itself was open to the central courtyard, which allowed billows of starlight to streak the floor. These also found their way into the side chamber, equally unbarred unless heavy doors blocked three separate archways. One of these doors was open, allowing a stream of lamplight to spill across the sections of starlight. Ramoth entered the throne room to find the king standing in his private chamber talking to the general who controlled his army.
“But my lord, I do not understand the urgency in your request. To have a thousand horses by sunrise is impossible. The most I could offer would be fifty,” the general explained.
“Fifty? That is not enough!” the king insisted, slamming his hand onto a table.
“Then bend to my expertise and allow me to know where it is we are to attack,” the general pled. He waited as the king took a drink.
“Faverly!” the king said as he wiped a drop of wine from his lips, his cup landing with a heavy thud.
“Yes, I know, but I have never heard of this town,” the general said impatiently.
“It is not a town!” the king scoffed. “It is a fortress, an old castle built into the southern edge of a craggy mountain. On the east is a field, but on the north side is the steep mountain, which is too sheer to climb down. We will have to guard the door until they starve and let us in.”
“How many people are we talking about?” the general inquired.
“There are about fifteen inhabitants there that must be killed as soon as possible,” the king explained.
The general thought about it for a moment then asked, “Fifty warriors?”
The king rolled his eyes impatiently. “No, fifteen! Fifteen servants,” he carefully enunciated.
Ignoring the insult the general continued, “Then ten horsemen should be more than adequate with five-foot soldiers to be safe. If they are servants, they will open the doors to you.”
“But what if they do not?” the king speculated. “We will need force!”
Ramoth paused, waiting for the right moment to interrupt the conversation. He stood patiently as the king rolled around in circles confusing his general with his rambling words and roughly drawn sketches. After much time had passed, he could hold back no more and entered the chamber. The king turned to him for but a moment before returning his attention to his general.
“If we fail it could be the end of Arden,” he continued in a foreboding tone. “I will not see one of them escape.”
“But my king,” interrupted Ramoth, “is it necessary to kill all who are at Faverly? Why kill the servants?”
“I would think it would be quite obvious,” the king retorted sharply. “We cannot risk even one of them telling what we did.”
“And what exactly is that?” Ramoth accused. “If you are ashamed we might seek alternatives.”
“Remember yourself Ramoth,” the king warned. “Your tone does not sit well with me. I understood you would be against me going to the fortress to take care of those Sisters as you always have, but the time has now come. I can no longer put my throne in jeopardy over a handful of little girls. We leave tomorrow with or without you. You had your fun and spared them these past years, but the end is now! I can no longer hold my judgment on them. Even you must agree that it is better to kill them than to risk another war with Pacia. Though we would most certainly win, the amount of bloodshed would be great on both sides and for what? A thousand soldiers for seven little brats?”
“My lord, I do not see the threat they present. They are just children! Have you lost your mind that you, the great conqueror of nations, is afraid of a few girls?” Ramoth asked as he paced about the room.
“Silence! I suggest that if you wish to keep your life, you help me find my way to Faverly. Once the girls are disposed of I will decide about the servants, but no promises. Understood?” the king asked. He was glaring at Ramoth with glassy eyes.
Ramoth stopped pacing and looked over to his king. “Your wish is my own, my king. As you command, so shall I obey,” he assured him.
“Good. Then get ready,” the king said as he motioned for both men to go.
Ramoth turned to leave almost running into a male servant with sweat pouring down his ghost white face.
“My king, forgive my intrusion,” the servant begged between heavy breaths, “but there is terrible news from the west quarters!”
“Well speak fool!” the king demanded.
“Your queen: she has been found in a most unpleasant state!” the servant blurted out. Ramoth’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“What are you speaking of?” the king demanded.
“I know not the details, my king. I was only told to summon you to her quarters immediately! Please forgive me!” the servant said as he began to back out of the room.
Before the servant could finish, the king had pushed him to the ground and was storming off to the west wing of the castle where his wife’s bedroom was located.
Ramoth and the king arrived at the queen’s room to find it well lit by the fireplace on the far wall to the doorway. In the corner to the left of this place was a vanity. It had a sizeable silver-backed glass knocked from its brackets and shattered into a thousand pieces across the floor. Each piece sparkled as it caught the light of the fire from the air. On the wall to the right of the fireplace was the queen’s bed. Their attention now turned to it, and they could hear the queen’s maid weeping.
The king stormed towards her, stopping suddenly only a foot from her realizing the queen was laying in the bed with her head resting on the maid’s lap. She seemed sleeping except for many deep scratches on the palms of her hands and feet. The maid was stroking the queen’s hair, the tears running down her face.
“What has happened here?” the king shouted. The maid let out a deep wail. “You dog, tell me what has happened to my wife!” he rumbled.
The maid, now frightened, turned her head to him and said, “My king, she came to my room but a few moments ago in a lowly mood. She said she feared to be alone. I brought her back here, and when I saw the mirror smashed, I asked what had come of it. She said she wished to die and had pulled it down to cut herself with it, but it had smashed into fine pieces. It was then I saw all of the small cuts on her hands and feet.
“And did she say what was troubling her?” Ramoth asked.
“No,” the maid stumbled, “just that she was very sad. I put her to bed and thought she had fallen asleep. So I went back to my room. However, when I arrived I realized a small vile I keep in my pocket was missing. She had taken it. I ran back here, but she had swallowed the whole thing before I arrived.”
“And what was in the vile?” Ramoth asked, now growing more outwardly panicked.
“Te Berry Elixir: I use it to help me sleep. A drop in a pitcher of water is enough for a week, but she drank the entire contents.” Again her tears overcame her. “I know for this I must die. Please do not take me to trial!”
She wept now so great that she hardly could take a breath. Ramoth stood in disbelief, his hands numb and his face cold. The king walked to the bed, lifted his wife from the maid’s arms and shook her. She was limp, and not a sign of life was still with her.
The king stood still for a moment, looking at her still face in the fire’s light. She seemed but asleep, but then he looked at her chest and saw it was still and she drew no breath. He continued to watch while waiting for it to rise, but it did not. He then dropped her to the ground with the care given to a discarded shoe.
“She is dead,” he thought to himself before he spoke, “Old woman, you are hardly worth the rope I would need to hang you.”
The servant looked up to him with the faintest of hope at his last words as the king left. Ramoth looked at the servant, but she seemed lost in her own world. He decided to take the risk, his last chance, and walked over to the queen. He laid her out on her back and stroked her hair as the old woman had been doing.
“This is my fault,” he said to her under his breath. Then to himself, he thought, “I killed her because I would not stay. What is so great about me?” He then fell over her, his head resting on her chest as he cried.
Some guards entered, saying nothing as they came to take the dead queen’s body and her maid away. Ramoth did not even hear the maid’s cries as she was carried away to her death. He felt too alone.
Now it was customary in those days of Arden that at the death of a family member one did not travel abroad for the sake of morning and remembrance for a certain length of time. Ramoth was overcome but gathered the strength to convince the king he ought not to go so soon to Faverly as it would sully his reputation.
So one more month passed as Ramoth mourned and the king sought comfort where he had always been able to find it, but the king’s women were only able to soothe him for those few weeks. Soon he was once again compelled to go, and so Ramoth went with him.
Another month passed as Ramoth tried to find his way back to Faverly. He claimed that his memories of the convoluted forest trails that led there had faded, and it was slow moving with the twenty horsemen and ten foot soldiers the king and his general finally decided upon. There were also the three carriages needed for the king: one for him and two as decoys with five personal guards to the king surrounding each one. Carts, food, and blankets had to be carried, and the slowness of the travel compounded by multiple wrong turns and detours to get more supplies.
However, they did finally arrive, and to the general’s relief, the gates were opened to them. They filed into the courtyard and there set up camp inside the fortified walls of Faverly.
None of the guards knew the point of the journey and considered this place just another stop on the way. None could fathom this barely inhabited fortress was their intended target. They remained camped there for the night, resting from the hard journey and leaching off of the fortress’s resources…
● ● ● ● ● ● ●
“And how do you know all that?” Marcus taunted. “It is as if you were there.”
“Well, maybe I was! Goodness, you are cynical for such a young man,” Anny admonished him.
Marcus was about to comment to the fact that had she been there she should be dead right now. Instead, he decided to give her a break. “Come now, do guess my age. You’ll never be able to!” he suddenly quipped.
Taken aback Anny said, “What would be the point?”
“Just do it!” Marcus egged her on.
“Fine, you are,” she paused, trying to think it through, “thirty-eight.”
“Ha! Thirty-three,” Marcus boasted. “No one ever gets it right. And how old did you say you were?”
“Seventeen, I think. Maybe eighteen,” Anny said after thinking it over for a minute.
“A good age to be! I miss those days,” Marcus said gleefully. “Well, actually I do not. I was nineteen when my father finally tracked me down and dragged me back home from my joyous travels.”
“Yes, you never fail an opportunity in bringing it up,” Anny muttered to herself.
“Well it always bothers me most when I am traveling,” Marcus explained. “Take this caravan for example. Ten horsemen are surrounding this one little cart and for what? It just says, ‘please, try and attack me!’ I would have been better off if they let me go by myself, but my poor father is wary of losing yet another son, and so I must go his way. I could have been to Pent yesterday if I had gone myself. You see there are just as many horsemen as would be needed to storm a fortress!”
The young girl did not so much as crack a smile at his last comment. “And why are you in such a rush? None of your companions seem to know,” she said.
“Why should I tell you?” Marcus asked.
“You wish me to trust you? How can you expect that if you are not honest with me?” Anny countered back.
“Please, you could care less what I think of you. You are just curious,” Marcus surmised.
“So what if I am?” Anny said with a grin. “If you did not have something to hide you would just tell me.”
Marcus rolled his eyes and said, “Fine, I have some unfinished business to attend to.”
“Like what?” Anny asked innocently.
Marcus went to say something but stopped himself and said instead, “Oh, border disputes mostly, but now I must be sure to ask him if he has any idea what Te Berry Elixir is. I for one have never heard of it.”
“It is the honey of the lower class. You probably have much too refined a taste for it,” Anny mused as she wondered who the man was that Marcus was referring to.
“But what if the queen was faking her death? What if it had been a clever plot to make the king think she was dead? Then she and your Ramoth could run off together!” Marcus conjectured happily.
“I am afraid that is not what happened though. If that were true that is what I would have said, but the queen is indeed dead,” Anny lamented.
“All the more to give credence to your words should they follow some fact I suppose, but you are wrong about her death for it is just as the king said it was. She died from vanity!” Marcus said as he smiled broadly.
Anny shook her head from side to side as she rolled her eyes. Marcus only laughed, though inside one half of him scolded the other half for being so heartless.
● ● ● ● ● ● ●
Just ten or so miles away from Marcus’s carriage in the sprawling city of Pent the king of Arden rolled over for the last time in his burdened sleep. The king, like most of the inhabitants of Pent, had a light tan complexion. His eyes were small and brown, topped by bushy, thick eyebrows. After so many years of decadence, his belly had grown large and round. Unlike others in his court, he liked to have an unkempt beard which was perhaps why he looked much older than he truly was. He rubbed his face, scratching at the hairs as his door opened and Cailar, his chief advisor, arrived with news of the day.
Cailar was, by comparison, much thinner and somewhat gangly in appearance. Though his complexion was like that of the King’s his small, squinty eyes were bright blue. He kept a clean-shaven face and was in every other way neatly coiffed with his short hair beginning to grey.
The king tended to sleep very late into the day as matters needing his attention did not usually come to light until noon had shone its course. This was convenient, however, as the king tended to stay up very late. Once asleep, he was known to awaken many times from nightmares and remembrances.
He was presently neither awake nor asleep, but rather somewhere between wandering through dreams as he came to realize Cailar’s looming arrival. He groaned inside at the thought and lay for another moment desperately trying to remember what had occupied his mind just the moment before. He heard his door creak open and familiar footsteps made their way into the room. With the window curtains drawn, the footsteps approached the bed.
“Arise, dearest king! The day has come,” Cailar said. He seemed uncharacteristically cheerful. Behind him, as there always seemed to be a procession of servants following his command, marched several men ready to prepare the king for his day.
“Another day, how I loathe it,” the king replied. “Again I am right back to where I started. What some find comfort in I find only despair. The sun will rise only to set. The stars shine only to fade again. The trees bud and bloom only to return to their frail skeletons once more, devoid of life and color. Again I rise. Again I dress. Again shall I eat, yet again shall I hunger. Again I lie down. Again I rest. Again I tire. What is the point if life is just a constant cycle of birth and death? A play, a dance that is continuous in length, yet seems to double back on itself. If there is a word for life, then it is ‘again’.”
“We speak of this every morning my king. Have you found no answer that pleases you?” Cailar said as the servants began to ready the room for the king.
“None. What have you to offer today as a possibility?” Ramoth said as he began to pull at his blankets.
“The court jester has said, ‘the meaning of life is to laugh,'” Cailar offered.
“And I should take his advice?” Ramoth chuckled half-heartedly.
“Do cheer yourself, my lord,” Cailar said. “Marcus shall be here soon.”
For the first time, Ramoth’s eyes lit up as he said, “My dear friend! How I have awaited his return.” The king finally sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes. The servants descended upon him hoping to finish their work before he was fully awake.
“A messenger appeared just a short while ago announcing his imminent arrival,” Cailar assured him.
“Good, good,” Ramoth said as a servant struggled to comb Ramoth’s hair, “and what other news of the country have you brought me?
“None else sir. Nothing new has developed in the last night that concerns the country,” Cailar said. Then after hesitating a moment, he continued, “There is one of personal concern that has presented itself.”
“And what might that be?” Ramoth asked disinterestedly.
“There is a particular maid who works in the kitchen much as her mother did. She is young and somewhat fair,” Cailar began.
“Fair?” Ramoth interrupted.
“Well, she is not as fair as your ladies, but as she belongs to you I would like your blessing to marry her,” Cailar said. “You know I am growing in years and she is young.”
King Ramoth smirked to himself. “Growing in years indeed!” he thought. The fact that the two were close in age never crossed his mind. Aloud he merely commented, “Tell me, what is her name?”
“Sonia, my lord,” Cailar quickly replied.
Ramoth made a face and said, “Sonia? I have never heard of her, but I am sure you two will be happy anyway.”
“Thank you, my king!” Cailar said with a bow. “May this gracious act bring many blessings upon your kingdom.”
“Now be gone with you. I need to be alone, and you need to be ready for Marcus’s arrival,” Ramoth gruffly said as he shooed the servants away.
Cailar bowed again and exited. The king by now was dressed and his servants gone. The king left for his breakfast and to handle the affairs of the evening, his mood slightly cheered by the thought that his friend would soon arrive.
You can find the rest of The Myth of Arden on Amazon!
I slept really well that night. When the early morning light hit my face, I had sort of forgotten about the day before. I had forgotten about Captain, forgotten about Baruka…
I breathed in the fresh mountain air and listened to the sound of the birds singing in the forest around us. I was at peace for the first time in a long time, but then I remembered. As soon as I opened my eyes, I remembered because my eye was sore and swollen still. I pit formed in my stomach, but I had no idea how I was supposed to get to Baruka without Captain finding out.
Loina was sitting there, watching me. What did she want? She looked concerned, but I was not sure why. She fed me and then took me outside the village wall- out the back gate where they kept livestock in a clearing surrounded by fences.
There was a group of men there: more Baruk look-alikes. They were tall, muscular guys with those same mustaches! Loina introduced us, then asked one of them if I could stay to train with them.
“Train with us? This little guy?” they mocked. They weren’t wrong! Compared to them, I looked like I might snap if the breeze was strong enough! Loina insisted, suggesting that if they did not help her out, she could make life very unpleasant for them.
“Why should she care?” I wondered, but the first thing their leader did was to grab my ax and chuckle.
“What is this? Are you going to gather some wood for us?” they all laughed.
“It was my father’s,” I explained, but he had already given it back. Then he noticed the dagger in my boot. This intrigued him.
“Where did you get that?”
“Baruka gave it to me,” I explained. The men then looked at each other like I had said something important.
“Well, then, let’s teach you how to use it,” he said. “I’m Henry, and this is Osten. Let’s get you a real ax and see what you can do!”
It turned out I could do very little, but that was okay. An ax isn’t that complicated to use. You just jab at the person. Jab! Jab! Jab! Yes, like… well, now, what are you doing under the table? Get back up! Okay, then, where was I? Oh, yeah! JAB! JAB! JAB!
You have to control it, not pull it back too far, or you’ll leave yourself open. So that is what I did all that day. I jabbed. Then I jabbed. Then I jabbed even more until my arm was about to fall off! I was invited to Osten’s for dinner, and we had a blast. I woke up on his floor the next day, and we just went back to it: JAB!
When I needed a break, they showed me some of their own weapons. Then talk of Baruk’s sword came up. How had Captain gotten it? I knew, but I did not know what they knew if you know
what I mean! I said I wasn’t sure, but then they suggested that Baruk had given it to Captain as a sign of his engagement to Baruka as it was a family heirloom! Who knew that was a thing? It was like a dowry or something to them, and it meant that, at least as far as they knew, that Baruk must have given his blessing for the union to proceed.
I wondered that night if that was Baruk’s intention when he told me to bring the weapon here. It was odd to recall that little tent I had met him in and to try to imagine him now in the village laughing with his family. He wasn’t anyone important, as far as I knew, so what was I missing? Did he mean that Baruka and I ought to marry? What had I done in giving that sword to Captain?
“Are you hungry?” Marcus interrupted as he removed a small basket from a compartment under his chair. “There is not much, just some leftover fruit and cheese, but the castle is only a few more hours from here so it will go to waste if we do not eat it now.” He reached into the parcel and removed an apple. “Here, this is still good.” He said as he stood up in the carriage and sat next to the girl. He leaned in close to her with the fruit in front of him. She instinctively leaned away, and for a second, he paused staring into her eyes before smiling jokingly. They both laughed as she took the fruit.
“Thank you. You are most kind,” the young girl said before she took a bite.
“It is nothing. At the start of the trip, I had all sorts of wonders. All that is left is this.” He trailed off, realizing his subject choice was a little poor. “Well, food is food!” he said chuckling as he took a bite of his apple. “What did you say your name was again?”
“You never asked,” the girl pointed out.
“How rude of me, please tell it to me, then,” Marcus said between bites.
“Everyone calls me Anny. It is short for Antoinette,” the girl explained.
“How wise of you to shorten it!” Marcus teased.
Anny smiled and said, “You know you do surprise me, Marcus. They say you are a great prince…”
“But I don’t act like one,” Marcus interrupted her. “True, true, it is all my brothers’ fault. I was the middle of three brothers. My elder brother was to assume the throne, but he died of a strange illness. My remaining brother was then to assume the throne, but he also fell to an untimely death.”
Anny gasped horrified.
Marcus chuckled, reassuringly clarifying, “the death I speak of is a spiritual one! The poor fool lives on, but only for himself. He has taken the luxury to go traipsing off looking for some deep spiritual meaning to life where there isn’t any. The older one I mean. No, just the older one. The younger he is dead: yes, dead as dead can be.
“They were so concerned with the crown when they were young, but I wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, since I was ten, I’ve been wandering these roads in search of real wisdom and adventure!”
“And did you find it?” Anny asked when he had finally stopped.
“Well, a little I suppose before these damn guards tracked me down and brought me back home,” Marcus said as he made a rude gesture out the window. “Actually, it was on one of my last trips that I heard this story you speak now, but it has to be years since those times, fifteen maybe twenty.”
“You mean you have heard this story before?” Anny said surprised.
Marcus chuckled. “Well of course! Who has not heard the famed story ‘The Myth of Arden’! Though no one tells it quite as well as you do. Tell me again where you first heard it.”
“My mother told it to me. She was the head cook in a great house,” Anny said as she gazed out the window.
“Ah, and whose house was that?” Marcus asked. He had finished his apple and threw the core out the window in front of Anny’s gaze.
Anny looked back at him disgruntled and said, “Well it was a great house in the small town near where you found me. I would not be surprised if you had never heard of it.”
“I have been from one coast to the other of this silly country. I bet I have heard of the place and probably dined there too,” Marcus assured her.
“Well, the village nearby is called Fay Hill,” Anny said hesitantly.
“Ah, good old Fay Hill! That is just outside of Reed? Am I remembering correctly?” Marcus asked jovially.
“You could not have possibly heard of it!” Anny insisted.
“And why not?” Marcus quipped.
“Because it is so small!” the girl replied while crossing her arms.
“Why I was there just three years ago sighing a peace treaty with those fine people, though I do not remember you being there. It is nearer to the border of Paultry in Arden right?” Marcus said with a triumphant smile.
“Yes. I guess it is,” Anny conceded.
“See, but what I do not quite understand is why a young and pretty girl such as yourself would be traveling alone from there. Come now, you can tell me,” the man said with a wink.
Anny’s shoulders slumped, and she went on to explain, “Well, suffice to say all of my family is dead and so I am seeking refuge at the nearest castle. I hear there are jobs available that will provide food and shelter.”
“But that is no good,” Marcus said firmly. “You would be stuck there the rest of your life! Why not stay at the estate and indenture yourself there? They would treat you much better.”
“I have no skills,” she said with a sigh as she held out her hands as if to prove that they were worthless.
“But you grew up in a great house. You must have learned something,” Marcus pointed out.
“I am sorry I did not,” Anny said. “I must be a slow learner.”
Marcus slapped his hands together and said, “Well in the least you can tell stories.”
“That is the only story I know,” Anny confessed sadly.
“But you tell it so well!” Marcus assured her. “Tell you what, you go ahead and take a position at the castle in Pent, which is where we are going. If by the time I must leave the castle for my own, you are not happy I will pay your fees and take you as my own. Once at my castle, you would be treated with the best of care, and I will make certain of it.”
Anny looked at him skeptically. She was sure she knew exactly why he would make such an offer, and it had nothing to do with chivalry. “But why would you do that?” she finally mustered the courage to ask.
Marcus turned to her, and for a brief moment as he spoke she felt like a mask had slipped from his face. “Because I know you are lying to me about certain things, and I hope that by being nice you may open up a little to me,” he said softly.
“But I am not lying!” she blurted out, her face turning all shades of red.
“If you say so,” Marcus said.
“Well, why should I tell you anything anyway?” Anny said, flustered.
Marcus shrugged his shoulders and said, “You are right. You are under no compulsion, but I wish you would trust me a little.”
They sat for a moment, the both of them, with arms crossed staring out opposite windows of the carriage.
“He is mocking me,” the young girl thought to herself. “Tell me, how famous is this story I tell you?” Anny said, finally breaking the silence.
“I would guess everyone alive knows it or at least everyone who has a common border with Arden, which is everyone,” Marcus informed her.
“And who told it to you?” Anny asked.
“I have just heard it my whole life,” Marcus said dismissively. “Except, I should say that if you wish to tell it to anyone else, then you ought to get the names right.”
“What do you mean?” Anny asked.
“Well it is the king who is called Ramoth,” Marcus began. “Ramoth means ‘great leader’, so you can see it is more of a title than a name. But you do have the queen’s name right, which is quite impressive. As for this strange man who you call Ramoth, perhaps he was Cailar as he seems to have the position of head advisor. You know: one who holds no words in the king’s presence.”
“Well then, shall I finish this great story or would you have me stop seeing as you know it already?” Anny asked dejectedly.
“No, no, go on!” Marcus insisted. “I do wish to see how it ends according to you though you do realize that the king you speak of is one of my best friends but forget that now as this story is entirely fiction.”
Anny nodded and agreed, “Yes, it is.”
“Then continue, and I will try not to let the name’s scrambling get in the way of the story,” Marcus said as he leaned back into his seat.
“Well, I left off when Ramoth had gone to see the king then?” Anny tried to recall.
When I woke up in the morning, it was to the sound of several hushed giggles. I sat up, startled by the change in surroundings, having forgotten where I’d been. There, outside the door of the house, were a group of girls, and again they were pointing and laughing at me. Loina brought me my clothes, and I was happy to have them back, I tell you! Not that I had anything to be ashamed of! It was for their sake!
Petton had already gone out, so I wandered around the town looking for him. I ran into Captain instead. I was in no mood to deal with him. Just seeing his face, well, you know what it is like when you are angry with someone. I had heard rumors that he was not treating Baruka well, but she was nowhere to be seen. Captain saw me, smiled, and waved. Can you believe that fool? I went right up to him and gave him a piece of my mind! I told him that he had better not lay a finger on Baruka if he knew what was good for him! That is about all I can remember because when I came too, I was back at Loina’s house!
Petton was there, holding a wet cloth over my left eye that smelled sweet. “Just stay still!” he hollered at me when I tried to get up. “You fully fool; you are lucky to be alive!”
“What happened?” I asked, but I sort of knew already. Petton then went on to explain that after running my mouth off, I challenged Captain to a fight. Then I just stood there like a fully full while he sucker-punched me in the face! You would think you’d see it coming, but no. It was like, POW! That is good technique! No grand movements; just strike! BAM! Then I hit the ground, and Petton had to drag my fully self back home.
Thanks to whatever that medicine was, my eye did not swell shut, but it hurt like nothing I had felt before. I was ready then to just go home. What was the point in staying? I mean, really? I had been pretending to be a mercenary this whole time, but all it had gotten me was a sore eye and humiliation. That’s the thing about it; I was a fake, and I knew it. When you are faking your life, it is exhausting. You wake up, and it is another day of pretending you know what you are doing, pretending you are confident, pretending that you fit in. My swollen eye was proof enough that I didn’t. I didn’t fit in. I was a fully loser, and I was ready to just start my trek back down the mountain alone. It didn’t even matter one way or the other if I made it or if I fell to my death; Made no difference at this point because I was done!
You would think Petton would have tried to stop me, but he didn’t! Some friend! He just told me that if I wanted to quit, I ought to get moving right away before Captain finished me off for good. Then he left without another word, and it was just Loina and me. She took that sweet smelling rag from me and dipped it in a bowl. Then she handed it back to me and said, “It was nice of you to try to help Baruka like that. You know, Captain has been telling everyone that they are married, but the way Baruka acts, I wonder if it is true.”
I was about to confirm that it was indeed false, but thinking better of it, I just muttered, “I wouldn’t know.”
“In a few days, the Elders will arrive from the other towns. They have been summoned to confirm the marriage and to place Captain in his rightful place among them. He speaks of a peace treaty between our people. If the Elders sense that he is lying, there could be many unpleasantries.”
“That is an understatement!” I thought to myself, but I just kept quiet because I did not want to get Captain in trouble.
“Tell me the truth, Jack,” she whispered. “Is Captain really who he says that he is? Is he truly Ramoth?”
I just about passed out again. “Ramoth?” I asked.
“Yes, he has dropped hints that he is Ramoth and that the peace treaty would spare us all!”
Now I knew that Ramoth was all the way back in Pent, probably having a nice drink in front of his fireplace, but I could not tell her that. I might have been mad at Captain, but I didn’t want to get my friends killed either. They must have misunderstood, so I said, “Well, Captain has the authority of Ramoth.”
Loina seemed pleased with that. She pushed me back down onto the mat I was lying on and begged, “Do not go! Stay here with me! Our people will be as one soon!”
I was not sure what to do, so I pretended to pass out, and I stayed like that until the morning!
The king now heard another noise, something closer, louder and in the room! His hand unconsciously reached for the cord to his bell. He searched in the darkness. Where was it? Where had it gone? Where had it been? Within a split second, his hand had touched something else: something warmer than the still air and with solid form.
He gasped, trying to scream but no words could escape his throat. It seemed an eternity of wondering…waiting. Yet slowly there was a light: dim at first but growing steadily from the darkness itself. A form slowly grew out of the light. It was that of a man, nothing more, yet terrifying, nonetheless.
How had he gotten past the guards? Who was he? What did he want? Again the king struggled to speak, but it was to no avail. As the form grew denser, it placed a finger to its lips to show its desire for silence. The king ceased his efforts to speak, for it seemed he no longer could recall how to do so. The form walked about the room, his feet causing faint echoes to multiply in the king’s head. The king seemed now almost completely incapacitated by this. He placed his hands over his ears and closed his eyes.
Suddenly able to speak the king boomed, “What do you want from me?” into the stillness that was everywhere but within him. “Why are you here?” he continued.
His words caused the figure to look up towards him smiling. His teeth glowed behind transparent lips! “You have come seeking contentment as all men do, but you do not yet know how to find it or how to keep it,” the figure said, lips unmoving.
The king shuttered for it could not be.
The figure went on to say, “Why great king did you not listen to me? I offered you the world, but you would not follow my orders and for what? The Myth lives even if you deny it.”
The king then came to himself; a ghost without a body cannot harm you. “But my son,” he retorted, “he is dead.”
“Ah, but the Myth lives!” the figure boasted.
“Impossible!” replied the king incredulously.
“The future is never absolute. By telling you that which is not certain I was taking a risk. Your actions have changed the course of history for Arden,” the figure explained.
“What do you mean? How can a man do that?” the king asked, now looking around for his robe. “Only what was meant to be has transpired.”
The form, still smiling, laughed under his breath. “Of course, you are of a small mind. Be content to know that another has been chosen to rule at the time of your death,” it said.
“Who?” the king exclaimed.
“Who controls the waves that roll to shore? What use is a fire that burns no more? Where are the flowers before they grow, and when the sun sets where does it go?” the figure replied.
The king stared, baffled. Next, he spoke, “You may think you are clever, but I know where the Sisters are! They…”
“Will be dead by morning?” the spirit interjected. “Not likely. Remember all those preparations you entrusted with your advisor Ramoth? Well, it’s not his fault, but what if something, or dare I say, someone, was overlooked? Perhaps one, just one child was accidentally misplaced? Who knows?”
“You are trying to confuse me, but I will not allow it! Ramoth will vouch for himself when I have the time for it, but for now, I must be on my way. Even six dead Sisters is better than all living. Even if one of them is destroyed, the myth will be no more! I am not as afraid of you as you may think. I am the most powerful man alive. And you? You are some transparent fool. Tomorrow at the sun’s rise I shall go to the fortress in the Venom Mountains. I will go to Faverly and destroy them all!”
“Go right ahead. Perhaps that is what I desire,” the figure said.
“Lies, all lies to distract me from my course!” the king insisted. “Begone! You cannot stop me! My holy men shall rid you from this castle tomorrow! No, this very night!”
With that, the king clumsily pulled the cord next to his bed. Before long a small fleet of servants were in the room trying to make sense of the king’s ramblings. The king was soon out of bed, arms flailing. He demanded to see his wife, who soon appeared of her own accord to comfort him. The whole castle was awakened within a matter of an hour as all were needed in the preparations.
The servants ran from this place to that, except for Ramoth himself, who sat behind the meek desk set in the corner of his chamber. His eyes were beginning to blur the words that he could see only by candlelight. In one hand was a response from Cavner, a mining country, confirming the authenticity of some jewels delivered to the castle. In his other was a ring: silver washed in gold.
He turned his attention from the page to the ring, which he rolled between his large fingers making it seem small by comparison. The candlelight reflected off of the tiny filigree wrapped around the band. It was intended, along with a few other small, jeweled pieces, for the wife he never had. His remorse in never spending time apart from his job to find one weighed heavily on him. Yet as before, the ring was soon back in the bottom drawer of his desk as he pulled out the clean sheet of parchment that was needed to send a reply to the country of Cavner.
He started the letter, read over what he had written and then groaned at the site of it. He seemed unable to think clearly and seeing as this letter had sat unanswered for the last few weeks, he decided to leave the task till morning. He began to prepare for sleep, removing his robes slowly and taking care to place each so that it would not wrinkle.
Before he could finish, a light knock presented itself at the door. Again he groaned as he clumsily returned the articles he had just removed to his shoulders and walked to the door. It was Kayla, the queen.
“Ramoth, the king has gone mad! He speaks rubbish of going to find his sisters and destroy them,” she said as she rushed into the room.
“His sisters? You mean the Sisters of Faverly?” Ramoth asked.
“Perhaps that is what he meant,” Kayla replied. She seemed distracted by his state of undress.
“Then I must go! I must stop him!” Ramoth said as he turned from her to hasten to the king’s chambers. The slightest whimper from the queen’s lips was all that was needed to draw him back to her. He froze in his tracks, turning towards her now to see she was holding back tears. “Is something the matter?” he asked tenderly. Slowly he walked back to her and took her hand in his.
She looked pleadingly into his eyes and said, “Please don’t go, Ramoth. The king is in such a rush; He asks for only his army. Let him go.”
“You expect me to stay when he plans on killing seven innocent girls?” Ramoth asked in surprise.
“I knew you would not be pleased with the idea, but I did not tell you his plans so that you could chase him down!” Kayla scoffed.
“But why then?” Ramoth asked.
“Ramoth, this is our only chance!” Kayla said as she took his hands into her own. “If the king does leave tonight then we have the perfect opportunity to run away together. We can say we are going with him when in reality we are running as far away as we can.”
“But Kayla, you speak nonsense! We would surely be caught. Besides, you cannot expect me to throw away the last years I’ve spent saving them, only to let them go now!” Ramoth said as he motioned to go.
“Oh, you fool,” Kayla lamented. “It has been so many years that have now elapsed since you rode off with those infants to Faverly. Why make the time any greater? Simply think on it. What are sixteen years in the breath of your life? Why sacrifice all the years of happiness we could have to make the last worth it?”
Ramoth looked at her tenderly and said, “What joy could I have knowing those girls died because of my selfishness? I was there for all those early years. I watched them grow and learn. If only you could appreciate that! It was the king that kept us apart. He sent me a dozen different places to keep me from returning all these years just so that we could not be together.”
“Those little dogs are lucky to have been spared the famine in their fortress all these years and to have lived as well as they have lacking noble blood. Let them die,” Kayla said as she turned away from Ramoth.
“Kayla, what has come over you? Why do you hate them so?” Ramoth asked, his large hands leading her back to him.
“It should have been them years ago! Not my little boy, but my husband…” She trailed off for a moment, her eyes searching the floor. “Do you not see all I have given for nothing? My son is dead, and my husband no longer even wishes to look at me. How then can I now lose you too?”
She broke into tears then, falling to the ground at the thought of her only child taken for no reason. Ramoth lifted her and carried her to the bed so she could rest on its edge. He sat next to her, his arm around her. Her tears slowed after a few minutes, and she again looked at him.
“Kayla, it was just a senseless accident. Forget about it,” Ramoth tried to assure her.
“Forget?” the queen asked. “It has been so long since you left for Faverly, gone for years trying to make their lives better while I remained, wandering the halls thinking of our love while my husband remains estranged to me. And yet it seems as if no time has passed between us at all. Why can we not have a second chance together?” She searched his eyes, hoping for a response.
“Hush my dear and think not of such things,” was Ramoth’s reply.
“Why not?” she implored, looking deep into his eyes.
“You know why. The king would have my head for it! Once I was foolish and young. Forgive me for that. Now come, I must go to him and convince him to stay,” Ramoth said as he again went to leave.
“Have my words no sway? Stay with me! I need you!” she begged, wrapping herself around his arm so he could not leave.
Ramoth turned back and looked into Kayla’s eyes. He whispered to her, “And they need me. The seven of them do weigh out just us two.”
“And what if you go and cannot change his mind?” Kayla pled.
Ramoth shrugged and said, “Then I must go with him and try to sway him there.”
Kayla looked away and lamented, “Then, either way, we cannot be together?”
“Kayla, either way, you belong to another,” Ramoth said as he removed her arms from his.
“That is not how you felt before,” Kayla called after him as he left.
“Silence. Be away from here, as I must be away,” Ramoth said as he hurried to the king’s private chamber.”
In the morning, we headed out to the village. Baruka was now leading us, and I noticed Captain was paying an awful lot of attention to her. We’d been wandering in the woods for weeks, so I couldn’t blame him, but now I was regretting giving her that little make-over. I call it the WCA Effect: Whatever Companion Available! When you are the only one available, it doesn’t matter what you look like; you’ll look good compared to the alternative!
So, how could I compete with that? I kept as close as I could, but even then, I could not hear what Captain was saying to Baruka. I did notice that Captain was now carrying Baruk’s sword with him. The tension in the group began to grow as we went along. There was a sense that we were about to step into something nasty.
That’s when we saw it: a village! It was up on a hill, surrounded by a wall made out of tree trunks tied together. Baruka pointed to it as she said something to Captain. He grabbed her arm and told the rest of us to stay a ways back. Then he and Baruka approached the village entrance. Baruka was waving and calling out to them. A whole group of chickens walked right by me like nothing was happening! Eventually, we were noticed because the doors flung open, and children came running out to greet her.
The tension melted away as the sound of kids giggling flooded the woods. Several of them ran back to greet us as well and to chase some of the chickens around. At that point, Captain signaled that we ought to follow him into the village. As usual, he had not told us what was going on. We were just following his lead.
Inside the village, there were houses built along the wall around the outside. You could climb up on the roofs to look out, but it seemed they hardly got any visitors. The big surprise was that they had dug down as well. The center spiraled down to a cistern carved out of solid rock. Each of the houses was furnished with the finest linens and furniture. There were some fancier than Ramoth’s Private Chamber!
Baruka and Captain disappeared into one of the houses, leaving the rest of us sitting in the roadway just inside the village wall. The kids were burning through me with their eyes, looking at my sword and pointing to it. So, naturally, I handed it to one of them and watched him try to lift it. Three of them together couldn’t do it! His mom got pretty mad at me. She came running out of one of the houses, yelling at the kid to give the sword back.
Then, one by one, more women appeared and began to “adopt” us. They brought us water, then asked that we go wash up before a meal would be prepared. You know when you stink, but the person is too polite, so they just sort of hold the back of their hand to their nose and smile, but their eyes are watering? Yeah, that was the treatment we got!
Some of the older women led us over to the baths. They’d have you stand one at a time on this rock, and they would dump water over your head while they laughed. It wasn’t even the laughing that made me blush; it was the pointing! Then they took our clothes and gave us these brown robes to put on. I was having a hard time keeping it closed. Every time I sat down, there was more pointing and laughing!
Finally, Petton and I end up in one of the nice little houses. There was a round fireplace in the middle and cushions to sit on. They gave us food and more of that brown liquid Baruk had served us back in Pacia. This stuff was good, though. I wonder if Baruk wasn’t very adept at making it.
Suddenly, Baruka walks in! I was startled to see she was back. So was the mustache! Then the woman explains that she is not Baruka but another cousin: Loina. The family resemblance was strong with that clan! We ate and then we played this game with little marbles. Loina played the flute, and we danced until it got dark. Then, we stretched out on the floor. I remember Peyton whispered to me, “Hope we can trust them. Should one of us keep watch?”
“Nah,” I muttered back. “At this point, I don’t care what they do!”
Those fools and wretched sons of Arden!Their passions are too great,and for them they fall like the grain at harvest.Can they not see the wages of their destiny;the dangers in the paths they choose?Soon their lives I’ll lay in shatter.Arden’s brothers for Faverly’s sisters.
Chapter One: The Myth
The king lay sprawled out on the couch of his private chamber, which was adjacent to the throne room. His left hand rested over his eyes while his right laid by his side playing with the fringe of the blanket underneath him. He simply lay there, quietly pondering the events of that morning. His advisor, a great and noble idiot, had finally come to his senses and obeyed his king: the boy would die, and that pitiful man could not prevent it.
He let out a gentle groan as he rubbed his face, now trying to awaken himself. With a swift motion he swung his legs over the edge of the couch, and for a second, he leaned over with his elbows on his knees, his head spinning, before sitting straight up. The footsteps he heard that had riled him from his rest now paused outside his door.
“Come in you fool!” the king cried out.
The door pressed open, and a young man peeked inside. He was a new servant, fearful to enter the king’s presence as most newcomers to the castle were. Hesitantly, he brought his fruit laden tray to the king. Arden was a rather warm and humid place. The fruit was available year-round, and though some might have thought it a treat, the king grumbled loudly at the sight of it; It had become mundane to him.
The server, however, was unaware of the King’s displeasure. His whole body seemed bowed over slightly, carrying his offering ahead at arm’s length. He placed the dish on the bench next to the king and, without lifting his head or turning around, floated to the door, closing it behind him. The king had to wait but a second till the door opened again, this time without the pageantry as before. Tall and mighty, the king’s advisor entered.
“My king, I see the day finds you well,” his advisor began.
“Why yes, my dear friend, it does. You have carried out your orders, and with such care! Tell me, how did you manage to conceal yourself?” the king asked.
“My lord, I fear I was not as successful as you had wished,” the advisor warned. “I have just returned from the market. Already there are great murmurings among your subjects. They suspect foul play.”
“Let them do as they please. What can even the greatest of my people do but speculate?” the king said plainly.
His advisor continued, “The consensus among those I spoke with is that the child died from the fall, or perhaps suffocated when the blankets fell on top of him. A few argue that the babe may have just died, as many infants do, and the nurse watching him was so afraid that she knocked the cradle over to make it look like an accident.” The man paused for a moment before he admitted, “Still there are those that suspect it was murder.”
“My good man, I fail to see the proof of murder!” the king blurted out, suddenly sitting up.
“Details of this morning, or rumors if you prefer, have spread quickly,” the advisor explained. “They say that after the child was removed from the room, the weight of the cradle was so great that three maids together had to lift it back to its place, leaving all of the maids individually blameless of the accident. It is also rumored that the cradle was in no way damaged and that there was, therefore, no reason for it to fall unless a man pushed it. I feel it would be wise to destroy that cradle immediately.”
The king thought for just a moment before he said, “I see. I shall have it hacked to pieces so that no man may see the truth behind it. As for the other details, they can be easily explained.”
The advisor nodded before continuing, “Then the matter is settled, but another issue presents itself. What of the Sisters? I understand you wanting a son’s death, but what threat could those girls present? They are just children.”
“I have been thinking upon that myself,” the king said as he laid back. It would seem that we ought to limit the stain of infant blood on our hands, yet the Sisters present a degree of danger if they are to produce the next heir to my kingdom.”
“My lord, think on this with care,” his advisor pled. “The people are torn. They had much hope in your son to unite them. Should they discover the Sisters to be deceased as well, it may cause an uprising. They shall suspect foul play. The countries that sent the girls will be most displeased if they are returned lifeless. For now, none would believe you capable of murdering your son, but if they die too who knows what they will be compelled to believe? It is better to let them live. Tell the people now that you will have another son. Restore their belief in you and keep them dumb at least until the prophecy is a myth and nothing more.”
The king paused for a moment, trying to take in all he had heard. He stared down at the floor for a moment before his eyes returned to his advisor. The fool had done him one service in eliminating his heir. Now perhaps he could humor him and keep the girls for a little while.
He straightened up, and in an authoritative voice, he resumed. “Ever since this prophecy was uttered, my men have retained control of that cursed fortress in preparation of this time. I want you to send the girls there. Take them to Faverly as we were told to do. Take the map from my journey and return there. Take with you whatever you think the fortress will need along with ten servants to care for the girls and protect them. Only be careful whom you choose to take. I would not want any more unexpected heirs. In time, in a place so far away, they will be forgotten. Then we will decide.”
And so, it was done. The girls were sent away while the king used the anger and confusion caused by his son’s death to rally his people behind him. In time, a year or two at most, the memory of the Sisters would fade, and then he could dispatch them. They were just seven little babes: all girls, all born on the same day as the king’s son, but each born in a different country. It was foretold that they would be the ancestors together of a single male who would unite the world in peace.
Years of darkness and famine followed that day, yet the king in his high walls was unaffected. Sixteen years passed to be exact before the Myth of Arden once again returned.
● ● ● ● ● ● ●
The king entered his bedroom many years later filled with a fantastic sense of warning. He shrugged his shoulders as if to shake off his feelings as he turned towards his bed and raised his right hand slowly. His fingertips caught the smooth softness of a cord that hung from the ceiling. Gently he pulled it till several young servants entered the room. They occupied themselves with every detail of the king’s busy nightly ritual before exiting, closing the door stoutly behind them. The king now lay in his bed, staring into the darkness.
His mind wandered as he thought of the blind man who would entertain him with stories in the evenings and wondered what he must see: blackness, whiteness, red like the look of the sun through closed eyes? His stories were always so vivid as if the man could look into another world. The king had been told again and again by the eternally patient blind man that he saw nothing at all. However, the king had never seen what nothing was, so the form of it was foreign to him. Therefore, if the man had never seen anything how would he know what nothing looked like? He resolved only to inquire again of the man the next evening, for his eyes were growing heavy.
He closed them, but it was so dark that the room remained unchanged. For a minute he fancied that his eyes were still open, but after blinking several times, he became quite sure that his eyes were indeed closed.
He shifted his weight back and forth restlessly, trying to establish a comfortable position before he was able to take in a deep breath and set in. A moment elapsed. The room was completely silent. Again, he shifted between the covers. Yet as he did so he became aware of a noise. The silence was again broken.
“Who was that?” he pondered. A guard, or his wife perhaps? He sat straight up in his bed, his ears straining to listen. Again, there seemed to be no sound. Again, the silence beckoned. His drowsiness overwhelmed his fear. He motioned to lie back down when he thought he heard it again. His heart quickened. His breath grew shallow. It all seemed to be connected; connected to his premonition…
● ● ● ● ● ● ●
“What premonition?” interjected Marcus. His female passenger glared back at him, arms folded, a pursed frown on her lips. She strained to hold this pose as the carriage they were riding in swayed suddenly, forcing her to reach out and catch herself. Marcus tried to hold back a laugh. As he did, she noted the faint wrinkles beginning to form in the corners of his deep brown eyes. He was a handsome man with defined features and dark, tan skin. His hair was black and somewhat long.
“If you are going to keep interrupting me I’ll never get through this story,” she warned.
“What premonition? I do not remember hearing about one,” Marcus insisted. Seeing her glare sharpen, he raised his hands in defeat before motioning her to go on.
Marcus’s escorts had explained earlier to his befuddled passenger that under any other circumstances Marcus would not have been so cross. However, he had been traveling almost nonstop for the last four days to arrive at the capital city of Arden, which at that time was called Pent. The reason behind the urgent trip was unknown to all but Marcus, yet his royal position delegated him the luxury of such an expensive excursion unquestioned.
His young, female passenger had been spotted very early that morning as the caravan made way through a small town. Marcus immediately liked her. She had smooth pale skin and long, straight, dark hair. Her eyes were large and a brilliant shade of blue. In exchange for entertainment, Marcus had agreed to let her come along.
As it turned out, Marcus’s escorts were being somewhat deceptive about the prince’s temperament. In truth, Marcus was always known to be cross.
“As I said before, he had a premonition right before going to bed,” the young girl annoyedly insisted.
“Of what, exactly?” Marcus shot back sourly.
“Of sugar, and rainbows! What do you think it was of? You should just know premonitions are always bad,” she snapped back.
Marcus paused for a second, seemingly insulted before he gave out a hearty laugh. He hadn’t been spoken to like this in some time. He found it almost endearing. This girl was either brave beyond measure or incredibly naive.
“Yes, I guess that is a silly question, please go on,” he said with a charming smile.
I took my time walking back to the campsite. When the men saw me, there was a cheer. Baruka was just pale as a ghost. Kent was not sleeping anymore! He was sitting there next to Baruka on the ground with his dagger pointed at her. It was then that I remembered that Baruka still had one of her daggers in those sheathes she kept under her robe. I really messed up! Kent could have been hurt, but he wasn’t. Baruka must have had had no intention of using them, or she would have escaped too.
I went straight to Captain, who you can imagine was furious with me. He had some choice words, including that I was a fully, fully full who fully’s with ugly fulls. He wasn’t wrong! I handed him Baruk’s sword, and I told him what Baruk said. “Fine,” Captain goes. “I guess now we will have to do it your way.” He said it like he was mad, but there was this hint of jubilee in his voice. He told me to get lost, so I cleaned up my ax quickly, and then I hesitantly returned to Kent and Baruka.
I thought Baruka was going to scream at me, but she just looked at me without saying anything. She looked completely shocked. Then her gaze fell to the campfire. “What happened?” Kent asked. I looked at him with daggers of my own! What are you asking me that for in front of the lady?
“He got away,” I fibbed. Kent rolled his eyes. He was about to call me out, but I looked from him to Baruka and repeated, “He got away, okay?”
“Fine, you fully fool!” he snapped back. “Can’t even keep watch!”
“Captain already chewed me out,” I pointed out. “I don’t need that from you too!”
“Could have gotten me killed!” Kent mumbled, but he finally put his dagger away and laid back down. I thought I heard snoring, but I am also pretty sure he still had one eye open.
I looked at Baruka’s face, lit by the campfire. I just stared at it while the others began to settle back down. It got so quiet you could hear every wind that blew through the trees. Finally, I got up and sat next to her. I thought she’d push me away. “Sorry,” I muttered, barely above a whisper.
“He woke up that man when he got up,” Baruka began to explain, indicating with a nod that Kent was the man she was referring to. She still wouldn’t look at me, but she said, “He bumped into the man, and I thought he was going to tell me to run, but then he knocked me over so he could get away. Why did he do that?”
“He just wasn’t thinking!” I insisted, “I am sure he was sorry. I mean, if he were here, he would be saying, ‘I am so sorry! I just wasn’t thinking!’”
Baruka did not seem impressed, and I wasn’t sure what else to say. Then, purely by coincidence, I remembered she still had that dagger. I reached out gently and pulled her robe open. She looked at me now, her eyes sparkling in the firelight. I reached under her robe and grabbed the handle, gently pulling it out, so I did not cut her. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “I’d forgotten about that.”
I held it up under the light of the stars, then I took her chin, and I pointed her face towards me. I pulled her face closer to mine. Closer, closer, gently urging her to come forward. My eyes were fixed on her lips. Then I lifted her dagger. It flashed against the light of the fire. I put it right up against her face, and I shaved that fully mustache of hers right off! It was like a complete transformation! Have you ever kissed someone without a mustache? You really ought to try it sometime! Not that I got a chance that night. No, not that night because Kent started fussing and just ruined everything.