The Myth of Arden Chapter 2: Part 1

Chapter Two: The Road to Pent

      “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.

      “Yes, yes. Go on,” Marcus muttered.

      Taking a deep breath, Anny continued…

Chapter 2: Part 2 coming soon!

The Completely True Tales of Jax: Part 15

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!

For Part 16 click here!

The Myth of Arden Chapter 1: Part 2

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.”

For Chapter 2: Part 1 Click here!

The Completely True Tales of Jax: Part 14

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!”

For Part 15 Click Here

The Myth of Arden Chapter 1: Part 1

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.

      His passenger smiled back and continued…

Chapter 1: Part 2

The Completely True Tales of Jax: Part 13

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.

For Part 14: Click Here!

The Completely True Tales of Jax: Part 12

Now mind you, I was tired. We had been walking uphill for the entire day, and now I was fully running, trying to catch up to the guys. I had to- I had to warn them before they were all killed! I began questioning everything I had ever done to that point. Should I have stayed on the farm? Was this really what being an adventure was all about? Fully!

So, I finally catch a glimpse of them, and I see that they have all stopped. At first, I was relieved. Then I realize that the men are all gathered in a circle of sorts, and who do you think is in the middle of it? Yeah, Baruk and Captain are going at it. Baruk had pulled out his sword, which looked just like one we had sold to him. Can you believe the irony in that? I mean, being killed by your own sword?

Well, Captain was not having any of that, and he has out his weapon as well. I could tell he was messing with Baruk, trying to give him the idea that he had a fully chance to beat him when really Baruk was outclassed. Baruka saw what was happening and screamed, but that was a mistake! Baruk looked to see if she was okay, and Captain clobbered him over the head! Baruk just crimpled to the floor, and now Baruka was screaming while I tried to hold her back. Captain looked from Baruk to us, and I could see that he was not pleased with me. Like, fully!

What? What is the matter, Anny? Why can’t I say, “fully?” Well, what have you been doing that for! You mean to tell me that you’re still writing “fully” for when I say fully?? But I want to say, “fully” this time. See how confusing that is? Okay, so then write something else. Write “entirely” when I mean “fully” and “fully”… you know what, just write it as I say it. No, it isn’t that hard!

Can I get back to it then? Okay, write it properly. Fully! Let me see what you wrote. What does that say? “Fully?” Perfect. Just keep writing what I say…

Anyway! Where was I? Oh, yeah! Baruka is screaming, and I am holding her back, but it was not easy since she was a good foot taller than me. The other guys are laughing so hard at me that they are falling over. Captain calls out to us, “Restrain her, you fool!” So, the guys do just that, coming over and grabbing her and tying her hands behind her back. I notice they are doing the same to Baruk, so he must not be dead like I thought at first.

“Where have you been”? Captain starts just entirely laying in on me. Then he made some speculations on where Baruka and I had been, which included some rather tawdry things! I was blushing at the suggestion, but since the men were finally looking at me like a hero, I just went along with it. The Captain finished by informing me that I ought to think with my head. You know how that goes!

So, I said, I looked right at him in the eyes, man-to-man, and I said, “Captain, you do not understand! We are walking into a trap! Baruka…”

“Of course, we are!” Captain snaps at me. Then, pointing towards Baruk, he adds, “Isn’t that obvious? You about to tell me the sky is blue too?”

I was flabbergasted and flummoxed! I mean fully shocked. How did he know? What was it that had tipped him off? Something must have happened while I was gone. It was getting late at that point, so Captain ordered us to settle down for the night. We went to a rocky clearing a ways off the trail. Kent and I were told to keep an eye on Baruk and Baruka. Like a true friend, Kent fell asleep right away, leaving me the first watch. Baruk was still lying there with blood running down his forehead. I wasn’t sure if he was unconscious or faking it. Baruka finally calmed down, but she looked pretty upset.

“I won’t let them hurt you,” I assured her, whispering so that Kent wouldn’t wake up and the others wouldn’t hear. Then I started to make a campfire.

“You should have killed me when I asked!” Baruka hissed at me. I mean, fully hissed! Here I had tried to help her, but now she is mad at me! What else could I have done? Wouldn’t Captain have just offed them both if it wasn’t for me?

I tried reasoning with her, but Baruka was staring at her brother. So, I went over and gave him a shove, and he just sort of groaned a little. See? He was fine! She should be thanking me! I had no doubt that if I had not intervened, Baruk would be Ba-dead! Baruka did not see it that way and started arguing with me. I don’t even remember what we said; it was so stupid.

Finally, I just got up and walked back to the edge of the woods. See, the clearing was too rocky- I had to go back a ways to grab some of the dry underbrush. I was still keeping an eye on them, but suddenly I notice that Baruk is standing up! Baruka was standing up! Kent jumped up, but Baruk knocked Baruka into him and ran the other way. The only thing was, the other way was right at me! Kent is screaming for me to grab him like he really needed to do that!

I don’t think Baruk even saw me. I crouched down like this, like a frog ready to pounce! As soon as he was close, I leaped at him. He dodged me! Ha! Spry little thing, wasn’t he? Then, he took off into the woods. It was for the best, though. I followed him and had an advantage because his arms were still tied behind his back. He started yelling, like help might be nearby. He was screaming, “It’s me! It’s me! Baruk! Help!”

So, I stopped, grabbed my ax, and just listened to the sound of his voice. It was like that was all I needed to see him. I raised my arms over my head and just let it go. BAM! Baruk gave out a shriek and fell to the ground. By the time I caught up to him, I could see the wound was bad. It was really, really bad. Fatal even.

I rolled him onto his side, and his eyes were all glassed over. “Tell Baruka I am sorry,” he sputtered.

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I was like, “Hey, you’re going to be fine! Come on!” But Baruk knew. He knew, but he seemed at peace with it.

Then he whispered, “Bring my sword to the village up the road. It belonged to my nephew. Do not let Baruka see. My nephew… they will listen to you but only if you bring the sword…”

For Part 13 Click Here!

The Completely True Tales of Jax: Part 11

After the whole dagger incident, I just could not get those things out of my mind and was daydreaming about fighting with them as we started walking again. You know the exhilaration! I am carrying a stick and swinging it around like I just killed a whole army with those sharp, little things!

Naturally, Baruk was mad at me. He had been sort of keeping up the rear of the group, but now he kept up with Baruka and me. At one point, they get pretty far ahead because I could just not keep up. The air was getting so thin, and I needed to slow down. How much more up-hill could we go? When I finally caught up enough to see them, I noticed that there is a fork in the road, and the two of them are arguing in front of it. Baruka is pointing one way, and Baruk the other.

When I got close enough to make out what they were saying, they looked at me and then fully stopped talking altogether. Baruk just storms off to the left, but Baruka hesitated to go with him. I asked her, “What’s the matter?” but she was watching Baruk and did not answer. Instead, she took my hand and started walking very slowly. Very, very fully slowly! Slow enough that the others caught up to us and eventually passed us. Now we were at the end of the line.

I was trying to get her to talk, but Baruka just answered everything with a nervous laugh. Now I was starting to get nervous too! Soon, I could see we were basically alone. The path curved up ahead, and I could no longer see any of the other men. At that moment, Baruka grabbed my arm and stopped me.

“What is going on?” I asked her, but she was crying! Have you ever seen a grown woman cry? Oh, it is the worst thing in the world. I thought my stomach was going to explode, and I might have reflexively let off a little gas because of it. I begged her to stop.

Finally, she did. She wiped the tears from her eyes, and as I’m asking her to tell me what is going on, she loosens her robe again and pulls out this dagger. This one I am holding right here. It is lovely, isn’t it? Look at that engraving! It is a thing of pure craftsmanship. I always keep it right there in my boot, and I can’t use it without thinking about her.

She handed it to me, then holding her robe open, she placed my two fingers on her chest- to this spot on the left. That is right above the heart. Here, I will show you on your chest. Right there. Can you feel your heart beating? I could feel her heart was pounding hard- harder than yours is now. “There,” she said. “I want you to stab me right there.”

I sputtered and took a step back. “What is wrong with you? Are you crazy? What in the world would I do that for?” I asked her.

“Because of what I am about to do,” Baruka insisted. “I am about to betray my brother. I cannot live with myself!”

“Then don’t!” I spit out, trying to hand the dagger back.

“No, I must. Baruk plans to kill you all! We are no longer headed to Mesu. At the end of this trail is one of our villages. He will signal the men there to attack as we approach. Now you understand; our love can never be! Jax, do what you must. I cannot live without you!”

Then she fully kissed me right on the lips! She grabbed my face, tilted my head straight up, and plants one right on me! I was confused, standing there with this dagger in one hand and unsure what to do with the other hand. It was not what I expected my first kiss to be like, but it was lovely! I mean, it tickled a little because of… well, never mind. It was nice!

Baruka suddenly lets me go and is now holding her robe back with her chest puffed out and her eyes closed, waiting for me to finish her off. I just started laughing my head off. She was not amused. “What is wrong with you? Are you crazy?” she yelled at me. “What in the world would you do that for?”

“No, no!” I explained. “This is perfect! Captain wanted to speak to your leaders. Will they be there?”

“Some of them,” she admitted, “but what good will that do you if you are dead?”

“We won’t be, of course!” I assured her, but we had to hurry. We had to warn Captain!

For Part 12 Click Here!

The Completely True Tales of Jax: Part 10

Where is all the food? You promised me a bigger spread than last time! What? Water? What am I supposed to do with hot water? Tea?! Are you out of your mind? I do not sip tea, so just put that away right now! That was one time. I was being polite. No, you can have it. Here, take it.

Okay, let’s make this quick because I haven’t had my lunch yet. Had we met up with Baruk yet? No? Okay, well, in the morning, we packed up our things nice and early and headed over to meet up with Baruk. My stomach started giving me trouble along the way. No, it wasn’t the “water” I’d drunk; it was Baruk! I kept seeing his face whenever I closed my eyes.

Baruk was a big guy with a round face. He had this little mustache- you know the kind. It needed to be a bit longer or gone altogether. I wanted to get a knife and shave it off! He wore robes with a sash that when you made him mad, the sash made this noise like it was being ripped. That was how strong he was- just flexing his muscles might rip his clothes off! He smelled a little funny too. I thought it was dill. I wasn’t sure.

So, when we get to his tent, we are a little surprised that it is still there and not all packed up or something. Captain was all huffing and puffing when Baruk comes out, but he is not alone. It turns out he has a sister- Baruka! They were twins, right down to the tiny mustache! I took one look at her, and my stomach twisted all the way around. I think she took it the wrong way. She smiled at me, sort of giving me that look- you know the one- before informing us that she was going along too! She grabbed my arm and just started walking me towards the road into Dione.

I balked, reminding her that someone needed to stay at the shop, but Baruka whispers to me in her gentle, husky voice that they had several cousins ready to step in. As she did so, I was then certain- it was dill; definitely dill.

As you know, Dione is covered in trees and mountainous. I began to feel the strain in the back of my legs right away, but Baruka would not slow down. She glided along the path like she were floating, humming the entire time. Whenever we would come to a junction, she’d inspect the trees, and then we’d continue on. See, they made notches in the trees- tiny marks to indicate which way to go, and we were supposedly headed to Ghanrey, the capital of Mesu. I asked her how long it would take, and she said it depended on the weather but as much as a whole week. She was pleased about that! I looked up, and it was a bit overcast. No way, clouds! You keep whatever is in you right up there!

Finally, she stopped, and at this point, I realize we are far ahead of the others. She points down a little path and begins dragging me along it. Suddenly, the trees parted, and there is a spectacular view of the plain between Mesu and Pacia. I had never seen anything like it- better than the view we have over here at Faverly. For a moment, I forgot how tired I was and was acutely aware of just how small and insignificant I am. It did not last long, though. Baruka grabbed my arm and pulled me down to sit on a rock next to her.

“Isn’t it lovely?” she asked, but she was staring at me.

“The view? Yeah,” I sputtered.

I pointed flutily at the valley. I was about to grab Baruka’s stubbly chin to point her at it when she holds my hands and says, “Oh, you! Do not let my brother catch you saying such things to me!” Believe me! I did not want that! I went to get up, but she held onto my arms and yanked me back down. “You want to know a secret?”

I did not.

“Here, look at these!” and I kid you not, she grabbed her robe and ripped it open! I just sat there with my mouth hanging open. I had never seen anything like them- so beautiful! So perfectly shaped! So… pointy! I had to hold them. I reached out, but just as I did, I heard Baruk call out, “You leave my sister’s daggers alone!”

“No, I want him to see them!” Baruka insisted as she pulled one out of her holster. “He could use a good dagger, and I would give him a fair price! A fair price for a fair man!”

“Put those away!” Baruk balked at us, and so she did, and the two of us sat there like scolded children.

“Maybe later, when we are alone,” I whispered to her. “We could work out a deal.” Baruka winked back at me. I was beginning to like her.

For Part 11 Click here!

The Completely True Tales of Jax: Part 9

What is up with all this food? Hey, part 10, you say? That is pretty amazing! Think anyone will actually read all this when we are done? Yeah, me neither. Wait, count again. Haha! Well, I expect a spread twice this size the next time then!

Where did I leave off? Okay, let me finish what is in my mouth, and I won’t eat more until we are done. Right, we were in Pacia, still on our way to Dione. Have you ever been to Dione? I don’t mean here. Yes, fine, we are in Dione right now. I mean the other side of Dione, the western part where all of the trade routes are. No, the major trade routes, not the tiny one that goes to Paultry!

Well, the major one that runs from Mesu to Pacia ends on the border of Dione right where we arrived. The forest gave way, and there was a huge market right in this flat clearing that went all the way to the disputed area between the two countries. Believe me; you wanted to stay away from there! Far away! South of the market, there was a space where people camped. There was a small river. We are standing there trying to figure out if it is a legitimate river or just a collection of all of the disgusting… okay, nevermind. Would you pass me that piece of cheese?

What? Right, the market! A lot of stuff could be found in this market. I mean, almost anything- tea, fruit, cheese, those little tassel things you see on hats sometimes… anything! So, you get the idea of where we are at; the road through the woods ended at this open market. To the north was the other route that led into Dione, but the people of Dione were pretty wary of letting anyone use it. You had to hire an official escort and pay them handsomely if you wanted to travel that way.

We had some stuff we had looted from those bandits, so Captain sent us in pairs into the market to see if we could barter for supplies. Kent and I were supposed to look for food, but we ended up finding a place that had wine! Captain had the foresight to keep the goods with him, so all we could do was nose about to see if they would be willing to trade. They weren’t, but apparently, there was a guy who would buy the stuff outright. His name was Baruk, and his booth was right near the road to Dione, so we headed that way.

The guy looked fully shifty! He was sitting at the opening of his tent, but the goods were kept inside, out of sight. I had a bad feeling about all of this. Baruk seemed very interested in what we had to offer, so we got Captain.

Now Captain was an exceptionally good judge of character. I mean, just take, for example, how much he liked me! So, when he gave us the nod, I thought, “Maybe I am being paranoid!” The three of us piled into the tent, and Baruk offered us tea in these tiny gold cups. I drank it to be polite, but it tasted like mud. Come to think of it, maybe it was! Baruk and Captain started to haggle, and I sort of lost interest. I was peeking outside the small opening in the tent. There were a lot of people milling about out there, and after spending that time in the woods, I was a bit wary in such a small place.

Finally, the two men shake hands, and Captain hands over the goods for some amount of money. The man waves us good-bye, but as we are leaving, he mentions that he is, in fact, one of those men who could escort us thought Dione if we wished. Captain indicated that he was indeed interested in passage to Mesu. This was news to me, but I totally kept my composure! Mesu? What in the Arden did he want with Mesu? This was getting crazy!

Anyway, we left and set up camp for the night. I was glad to get out of there! We were just getting settled when Captain came up to Kent and me and gave us some money to buy the group wine. Apparently, he was really happy with us for finding Baruk. I knew I liked that guy! Trusted him right away!

We bought as much as we could afford and got drunk off of wine and stuffed ourselves with the last of the bear meat. I slept well that night for a little while, but because of all the food and wine, I woke up thinking about that creepy guy in the tent. I went out to the river to get a drink, and I can assure you it was not water. Whatever I put in my mouth, it was not water! My hand is three different shades of brown, and at that point, the bear meat and wine made a second appearance. Believe me; it was a more pleasant taste than whatever that sludge was that I tasted. Slept good after that, but I would have to see Baruk again in the morning. That was when Captain told us all to pack up; We were headed for Mesu!

Anyway, that is enough for now. You okay? Looking a little green, Anny. I am just wondering if you are going to finish that cheese or if I can have it? Thanks!

For Part 10 click here!