Princes of Purt:
chapter 22: Visions
Chapter 23: Healings
Chapter 24: Mortality
Visions: It was something that helped her mind settle. Gardens had always been Tavia’s safety and refuge. She didn’t think the owner would mind if she tended to his kitchen garden. She took her time to pull the little weeds, shifting their energy, making a rapidly decomposing bed over the soil to put the life energy back into the soil.
She was startled out of her quiet when Onwar knelt down beside her. He reached out and touched her hand lightly. She had let the energy already drain back into the earth before he actually touched her, but it was close, too close. He took her hand and turned it over to look at the soil-stained fingers and the dirt under her nails. She looked up at him, not sure what his intent was and none too easy with being touched after the attack on her at the stream bank.
“I don’t know if it is wise that you be alone,” he said softly. His thumb smoothed across her palm, almost as if searching for spells cut into her palm, perhaps. It was an ancient method rarely used now, but if he was looking for it… He lifted his eyes to her. “Whatever that was at Keeb, it has moved north, but if it is linked to us at all, we will be attacked by the locals. You should not sit alone outside.” He smiled faintly, but rather sadly. “A woman as gracious as you tempts the dark side of men from areas with few women to pick from.”
She knew what he was saying and if Dave had said it, she would have thought he had overheard talk of ambush against her or other such garbage so many men spat at each other. “Kelly is not far,” Tavia said.
“She is far enough,” Onwar said seriously. “If I had wanted to hurt you, I could have. She is not here, Tavia,” he said looking around, trying to make certain his words were not taken as a threat, but a warning against others.
She wanted to object that she could defend herself and that if she truly needed help, Shannon would come to her, but she didn’t say anything. She wanted to pull her hand away, but she didn’t want to seem rude. She wanted to cry, but she forced a small smile. It seemed that she never got what she wanted in her life. “Your concern is very generous, Onwar,” she said. “I have lived through very ugly events and I fear I will again, but when I find a moment to be at peace and tend the simple joys, such as gardens, then I will do so. It is how I build the strength to endure the wild things and the hurtful things. You should try to as well.”
He lifted her hand and kissed her knuckle with warm soft lips. He rose, letting her hand slip from his. “I know your men do not like me, but with all my soul, I am here to help you. I will do everything I possibly can to protect you… and them.”
She forced herself to put on a simple smile. “I know, thank you.”
He bowed to her, a gracious and very Purtan bow, before he walked from the garden, catching up the hem of his robe with practiced ease and unconscious motion. She felt sick and upset. Covering her mouth with the back of her hand, she wanted to cry, she wanted to allowed to be ill, she wanted Travis to help her, to assure her this was right, she wanted to understand all of this but as always what she wanted was not likely to happen. She gripped her hand to force the shaking to go away and looked back to the little plants, trying to stay sane and strong enough to see this through. Why her? Why must she be the one to do this and be so alone in it.
“All I want is help,” she whispered to the earth. “A little assurance…” tears spilled from her eyes and she dug her hands deeper into the soil, finding it warm and calming.
She used her shoulder to wipe her cheeks of tears as she sniffed, drew a breath and set back to weeding the struggling garden. She poured the energy of her fear and tension into her work, shifting it into useful energy for the plants to live and grow on. She felt as if she had slowly begun to master herself.
When she felt for certain that she was settled, she got to her feet and walked to the small water-spigot at the back of the inn wall. Turning it on, she let the trickle run a moment before she set to scrubbing her hands. She got the mud off and carefully cleaned every fingernail.
She was still washing when a woman joined her. She was a beautiful Purtan woman. She wore a pair of well-fitting black pants, a blouse of blue that matched her eyes, and a vest that was laced up the front. It was all terribly casual and her stance backed it up. She leaned back against the wall and watched Tavia a moment.
Tavia glanced at her, knew who she was at once and ignored her. She had nothing to say to the woman. Alisha had been haunting her dreams for years. She seemed now to be haunting Shannon as well. Tavia did not approve.
“I would almost think by your reaction that you had spoken too long with Elleshara,” Alisha said. Tavia shook her hands of water and flicked her fingers a little as she looked at the woman. Alisha was as beautiful as TyraAra and yet as unlike her as possible. She was all relaxed ease and on some level reminded Tavia of Dave.
“Elleshara and I do not speak of the past.”
“Don’t get me wrong – she is a powerful woman and I respect her, but she did not care for me much.”
“You choose to spend your energy talking to me about the relationship you had with someone five thousand years ago? Why don’t you turn my son back into a boy.”
“I didn’t do that,” Alisha said.
“You just happened to be there?”
She nodded. “I was there, yes, but I did not turn the boys. I do not have that sort of power. It was clever and saved them from a horrific end, but…” she shrugged. “And yes, I do spend my energy to talk to you. It takes less to talk to you than anyone else. Most of them are so shielded and cold I cannot even be seen.”
Tavia looked at this woman whom Shannon still grieved for. “What then? Why are you here?”
“Several reasons,” she said. “One is to assure you that things are working out as they need to.” She stood off the wall and moved with the same grace and power that Shannon did. They must have been a stunning pair once. Tavia couldn’t help but feel small and plain next to such a woman. “The other is to tell you that you must have Onwar with you in the end or all will fail, but you knew this already.” She glanced to the back door where a couple children ran out, but didn’t see the two women and went out to the garden to play. “Third, that I have no choice but to advise you of that.” She clearly did not want to say any more, but had no choice. She cleared her throat, “I am not dead in the way men think. The right power could restore me as I was.” She drew in a deep breath. “You and I cannot both be Queen of the Wood. Do you understand?”
Tavia looked at her a bit shocked. “No. I don’t think I do.”
“In the end, he will have to choose.”
Tavia offered her hands up openly. “Oh, then by all means… I am here only because Armond willed it, not by my will. I wanted a small garden by the river and to be left alone. I want nothing to do with thrones and gods and… whatever else.”
Alisha smiled faintly. “As much as I would like to think that it’s that simple, I seriously doubt it. I do not know why it has to be me to even let you know, but by the Deal imposed, you must know. Don’t mistake me, I want to come back, but even I know I am not… as forgiving as you. Given the power, I will destroy the souls of those who allowed my children to die, and that includes Armond.” Her anger and cold hatred ghosted across her eyes a moment. “If it means that he be Shannon for the entire age to come, so be it. I will have vengeance. As a mother who watched a man destroy her babies, you must understand.”
Tavia didn’t know what to think. Maybe whoever sent Alisha to talk to her knew the woman would reveal her cold dark side and that alone would move Tavia, but then again, she did know what it was like to have a child murdered before her.
“I do not mean to, nor want to be at odds with you, but…” Alisha shrugged. “You are a simple woman, with simple desires, while I was born in a court that did not like me from the day I was named… a court that I should have been empress of. It made men dislike me very much. I did not get a crown easily and I had to fight for my power every step.”
“So, now that you have said this, you going to continue to haunt him? To distract him and wear him down so he can hardly focus? You risk a great deal in the game.”
Alisha brushed at her sleeves in an odd vanity. She looked back to Tavia. “I do not mean to haunt; I come to sooth the nerves of those you deal with so that you all seem less of a threat, less remarkable. Like it or not, I am on your side. I am doing what I can for the company. It is a shame that we must compete for the rank of Queen. We won’t both get it.”
“Then I fear I have already lost. I will not play such games. I am not a teenage child to vie for power. I have been through far too much for that. I will do my part to bring the Barrier down, then whatever fate is laid before me, so be it. Just keep in mind that Armond died for him.”
“No,” Alisha said firmly. “Travis died for him. A mere avatar. Armond himself sat back in his hold and did nothing but wait for a suitable womb and energies to give himself the power his vanity demanded before he bothered to sliver off a bit of himself. The only one to even truly try was Ulam,” she said with such cold anger it made her face flush with rage, “and he almost did it.” Tears spilled out of her eyes. “You want to know the true God of Purt, the one who truly tried to make the age turn over in peace, not war? Look first at the tombs of those Armond and his horde gang raped and left for dead. It wasn’t Armond!
“I will bring the church of Armond down! I will rip open the wells and purge the world of the horde and burn away their laws.” She sobbed a moment and covered her mouth with the back of her trembling hand, almost exactly as Tavia had not so long ago. She wiped the tears off her cheeks and looked to Tavia with restored dignity. She lowered her hand and calmed her breathing. “First step is to bring the Barrier down.”
Tavia nodded, unable to say anything after the woman’s reaction. Alisha turned and vanished in a shimmer of sunbeams and dust motes. Tavia stood there – shaken by the woman’s words and plans. She was still there when Kelly came out to her. The big woman had cups of tea for them and offered one to her.
“I was wondering where you had gone.”
Tavia smiled a little. “In all your teachings and all you have seen, is it ever said that Armond was vain and cruel to the powers here before him?”
“Vain, yes,” Kelly said as they moved to sit in the sunshine on a low wall that lined the garden. It held water in a man-made pool that was home to a few bright fish and watercress. “He was a powerful warlord and demanded much of his ranks, but I don’t think the word cruel ever came up. Why?”
Tavia drew a slow breath and told Kelly everything. If she could trust anyone to understand, it would be the big woman. Kelly listened without saying anything. Before Tavia was done, she was on the verge of crying again and had to work to draw it back in. Kelly put her hand on Tavia’s back, warm and solid.
“Just as Shannon is not the man he was when he woke that morning, neither is Alisha the woman she was. Her role might be a good one for the moment, but she would make a very angry and cruel goddess. She would well make Raz look kind and forgiving. I don’t think you need to worry about it, though, at least not for now. Armond will have his own reaction to her and Shannon is still his son. Just be you, Tavia.” Kelly put her arm around her friend and pulled her close. “In the end, that is all any of can truly do. I love you for you and likely for the same things that Alisha might see as weakness. I see them as strength.” She kissed Tavia on the top of the head. “Something else to consider,” she said after a long silence, “he dropped everything and ran into the lions’ den to save you. I don’t think he would be so willing to just forget you now.”
Tavia smiled. “You’re a beautiful woman, Kelly,” she said.
Kelly chuckled. They stayed a bit longer, then went inside to get more tea.
Healings: There weren’t that many people beyond the walls of the fortress inn, but Jamie seemed to find them. Ivan was impressed with how the man could just sort of wander out, find trails, and end up at little walled farms. This little farm seemed even worse off than most others, even if it was a bit more sprawling. The walls were made of un-mortared stone and dense brambles with wicked thorns in it all. A few of the building were barns of various types, and a silo stood with another wall around it. The house was long and low and build back against the hill that was crowned with trees inside the wall.
Chickens of various sorts ran about, a few wild looking goats were loose in the yard, at least a dozen or so weakling sabets were nestled around as well. They didn’t even get up when Jamie and Ivan entered. Several children ran for the house as the two men walked up the yard. A pregnant woman came out of the house, wiping her hands on an apron. She looked worn and weary, half eleven perhaps, but wore her hair up under a hat with long front cords to tie it on if the wind blew. Her face was lean and showed evidence of hard work, abuse, and a burn on her cheek.
She watched them come to the house with fear in her eyes, but without backing away.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“I am a healer,” Jamie said.
“We come to offer service to as many as can be found in need,” Ivan said.
“We don’t have much to trade,” she said.
“As proof of skill, I always aid a child from each place,” Jamie said. “Is there not one child who could be aided?”
She considered, then motioned them inside the house. It was dark after the sunshine outside. They passed through a large front room into the back side kitchen. Here the door was open to the side of the house, letting in light and fresh air. There was food cooking on the large black wood stove, which made the kitchen so hot it was hard to be in.
In a basket beside the stove was a toddler who sat holding a small doll in its hands with a blank face and a bit of drool running from a slack mouth.
The woman looked to the child. “I don’t know what happened. One day he was fine, the next…” she looked to them. “If he doesn’t recover, his father will drown him. If a child can’t work, it can’t be fed.”
Jamie picked the child up and sat in a chair near the door and ran a hand over the little boy’s head. The child had been badly abused. He could feel it. Fractured bones, damaged joints, and a brain that had been rattled by being shaken too hard. He wanted to cry for it.
“Who was watching the baby when it happened?” Ivan asked.
“His young mother, but she said she had stepped outside to hang up clothes.”
Jamie looked at the woman with a very sad expression. The injury to the baby, the fact his mother would be considered young by this woman, and the clear abuse to the woman herself, made Jamie ill. He dared to lower his shields a little and felt it at once. It was crude, but it was there.
“Whoever is inflicting abuse is using it in black magic,” Jamie said to her softly. “Pain is enjoyable to people, mostly men, like this and they do it for pleasure.”
The woman looked away; clearly she knew that and yet, like so many abused women, blamed herself for it. Jamie ran his hand over the baby’s little limbs, healing the bones and joints from the damage done.
“You don’t understand,” Ivan said in barely a whisper. “It’s not just a pleasure, it’s blood magic. It’s very bad.”
She shook her head, not saying anything.
Jamie ran his hand over the child’s head a few times, healing what he could, getting the energy to flow right to heal it further. The shift of such energy made the child drop off to sleep at once and Jamie laid it back in the bed. Jamie stood turned to the woman. He turned her face to look at him over at him to see he had only gentle compassion.
“I know it’s not easy,” Jamie told her. “I was very abused as a child myself and I understand. This child will be fine in time, but not if he is shaken like that again. Who is doing this to you?”
“He’s in the barn,” she whispered, “but we need him. You do not understand. It’s just me and the children. He brings home the fondlings and…” she almost started to cry. “I cannot do it alone. Women cannot own anything. I will be cast out. They will cast us all out to be homeless.”
Ivan put a great hand on her shoulder. “We will not leave you homeless,” he promised and went out the open door. Jamie caught her hand before she could go after him.
Jamie smiled at her. “The baby is well. He can feel your love for him, even if you are afraid for him. Tell him it is alright. It is safe now. There is no fear.”
She started to cry.
“Tell him every night,” Jamie said to her. “He is a powerful child; he will not come out if he feels your fear for him. Greet him and assure him and he will born smoothly with no trouble. One day he will be a healer as well. Teach him kindness and mercy and he will simply learn to heal the injured with the goodness of his heart. Now… for you…” He turned his focus to the depth of her abuse, abuse that was deep and went far into her mind and soul. It would take time, but she would be set free. He would heal her later pray with her so that she might heal and aid others.
Ivan left the little house to find the barn. There were several, but he found one that was larger than the others. He heard something crash and ducked in. It was a sheep barn; several stalls held weak and sick looking animals with droopy heads and snotty noses.
A child cried out in pain. Ivan followed the sound around a corner to where the hay was kept. A man was wrestling a young girl, twelve or so by Ivan’s guess. His shirt had been pulled out of trousers that were held up by suspenders. He grabbed her neck, choking down her cries of pain. Her little hands tried to pull his hand off her throat as she choked and tried to suck air.
Ivan jerked the man by the hair and ripped him away. The girl sobbed and gasped for air as Ivan grabbed the man by the throat and lifted him off the ground. He snarled at the man, not the snarl of a man but that of a bear. The man fought to pull the great hand off his throat, kicking and struggling against Ivan’s grip. Ivan was strong enough to hold the man up without choking him in the process; just cutting off air and blood as he willed it.
Fear filled the man’s eyes at the growl. He tried with utter lack of skill to attack Ivan with his stolen power. The power burned the front of Ivan’s vest, but did nothing to him. Such might have caused injury or pain to local men, but the King of Ezeer was not impressed. Ivan grabbed a pitchfork and with deliberate strength and calm power, he sank it into the man’s gut, stabbing it hard enough into the wall of the barn to hold the man up.
The man screamed, let go of Ivan’s writs and grabbed the handle of the pitchfork that held him up off the floor. Ivan scooped a fist-full of manure off the barn floor and stuffed it in the man’s mouth.
“Shh,” he said to the man, patting his cheek. He wiped his hands clean on the man’s shirt tail as blood began to run to the floor. “This is the best way to give back what you stole. You should be glad I found you… this sin won’t carry so heavily into the next life.”
He turned his back on the man and went to the girl, who was curled up and shaking, sobbing, but trying not to. She shrank back from Ivan, but he gathered up with careful gentle strength.
“Come my dear child, the healer will fix it. You will be safe now.” He carried her back to the house. By the time he got there, she was curled up against his chest, crying softly. He carefully sat in the chair by the toddler and held the girl while she cried.
Jamie had much work to do with the woman and it would take time. The two stood unmoving for hours.
When the girl was still, Ivan smoothed her hair. “Maybe we should see to some food,” he said. She nodded and got up to tend to the meal. “While you see to that, I need to go clean up the barn. I will be back soon.”
She nodded mutely and let the giant go. Ivan went back to the barn and found the man dead. He had bled to death and made a pool that not even starving cats would touch. Ivan found an old shovel, and gathered up the blood-soaked dirty straw from the barn floor into a wagon. He pulled the man down, tossed in him the wagon and drug it out to the yard. He heaped up wood on the body and set it on fire just as the children began to return from their daily tasks outside the walls.
Most of them came in with either a few animals, baskets of crystals, or herbs to sell. All of them seemed to have a smaller child in tow. They watched as the giant set fire to the wagon. Slowly they began to gather around to watch. Ivan ignored them and began to use his own magic to gather up the stain of the energy and put it into the fire. He wandered about and found each place dark magic had happened and brought it to the fire to burn it away, to make the energy new and allow this place to be healed.
He went to each child then and laid his hands on their heads, one by one, to share with them the blessing of the fire and the energy’s strength. He could feel each of them as gifted in power. The man had chosen his victims for their inborn power as much as for being orphans. He almost suspected the man was behind them being orphans to begin with.
They saw to their chores after they received this odd blessing. Ivan went back inside as night fell. The kitchen smelled of food, the toddler was making noises and playing with the doll, the girl was taking with the little boy softly. She had a horrid black eye now, but had seen to the meal for her family. All of it was a good sign.
Jamie lowered his hand to smile at the woman. She smiled back timidly. She was healed right down to the old burn mark on her cheek. “You are made new,” Jamie said. “You have been given new life, new hope, and a new place. You have been charged with the children, to teach them to be kind and good.”
She had tears in her eyes and nodded. Jamie looked to Ivan.
“I think we should stay a few days,” Ivan said softly. He put his hand on the girl’s shoulder. “This strong young woman could use your help as well and I think most of the others outside need a moment of your time, also.”
Jamie nodded. “We can stay a few days. I need to rest, though.”
The woman nodded. “Anna, take him to the bedroom.”
The girl nodded, a little fearfully, but led Jamie from the kitchen to the back room where there was a large worn-out bed. Jamie paused in the door. He could feel the pain, the blood magic, the horror of this room.
She looked at him, confused and uncertain as to why he stopped in the door “You wanted to rest,” she said.
“Oh, this is bad room,” he said, starting to cry. He could feel the energy of children being destroyed here and knew it all too well. He had endured such a childhood and felt it all well up within himself. He felt six years old again and did not want to go into that room. He knew what would wait for him there.
“He is dead,” she said taking Jamie’s hand in a motion of utter sympathy. “The Giant killed him.”
Jamie nodded, trying to swallow the sickness. “His stain remains. He was a very bad man. I cannot sleep here. I will sleep in the yard on the ground first. This room needs to be cleared and blessed before it is safe here. It will harm any who stay too long.”
“You can sleep with us.” She took him by the hand from the room to a long narrow hall that was filled with straw for the children to sleep in. It was terribly sad and filled with grief and lingering pain, but it was also the safe place for many children. Jamie took a place she offered in the straw along the wall and lay down to sleep.
Ivan stayed up and helped with the children as they saw to the needs of the houseful of the young. The oldest one was a boy about fourteen and Ivan took him aside as the rest began to go to bed. His abuse was deep and had been happening all his life.
Ivan had him help stir the fire and add more garbage, the man’s clothes, and everything else that belonged to him. They burned away all evidence of it. Then Ivan sat with him and told stories of the Holy Father of the church in Purt. How he was abused by his father, but grew up to be a great warrior and healer. He told stories of men who overcame such horrific wrongs and protected others against them. As he did, he let the gods of Ezeer breathe though him and aid the young man. He told stories of the warriors of Ezeer and the hardships of the high moors and how the gods aid those who aid others.
He stayed up long after the young man went to bed. He scrubbed the blood from the barn and checked on the animals, feeding and watering them. Only then did he find a place in the barn to sleep. He slept in late and woke to the sounds of children voices. Getting up, he set to helping them see to the animals.
Jamie took to cleansing the house and teaching the older children and their “mother” simple prayers for healing and energy clearing.
It was just before dark when Riven and Salma showed up.
Salma happily set to work in the kitchen and sang to the little children while the men worked to clear the energy and to heal the damage done.
“Why?” Riven asked them as the three men stood on the hilltop under the apple trees. “Why have we dropped everything to heal this place. I felt the shift; I came to see what it was.” He looked to Jamie. “We risk a lot to do this.”
Jamie nodded. “I’m not certain, Riven, but I know that it matters. That we are needed here, I have no question. I cannot say Armond has given me a commandment, but he may as well have.”
“If we forget for what we fight, then why fight at all?” Ivan asked. “All of these children have powers, all of them are a new generation for a new age, and if it is not them we aid, then who cares if the age turns or not.”
Riven nodded. “I will stay and finish up here if you two need to move on to other places.”
“No,” Jamie said. “If heaven guided our feet, then we were guided here and we have work to do here.”
Mortality: “Can I ask what we are waiting for?” Kelly asked Shannon.
Shannon looked up from the book he was reading. It was a little book of poems that he had bought off a man who had passed through the night before. Kelly had joined him before dinner and still sat with him.
“Word from Theo,” Shannon said softly.
Kelly took a sip of her beer and watched Dave play cards with the locals, laughing and teasing with them as if he had been born here.
“Do you see her often?” Kelly asked.
“Your wife,” Kelly said, looking back to him.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” he said with a glance over to where Tavia was playing with the puppies.
“Shannon,” she breathed, “you know exactly what I mean.”
“No. Not often,” Shannon said, picking up his book again. Kelly wasn’t about to drop it.
“Great events change the soul. You of all men know that. The woman she was once is no more than the man you once were. You’d be wise to recall that.”
Shannon didn’t say anything for a moment. “What provoked that?” he asked as she took a sip of beer.
She wiped foam from her top lip. “From what I understand, she was a reckless woman. She had little respect for anyone or any rules of her culture or her race.”
Shannon looked over at Kelly with a slight scowl. “Maybe that’s why I loved her,” he said.
“Hmm, I expect it was. You were so bound by laws and rules, you could not even think for yourself. Fought over like a prize stud, trapped in obligations you simply could never fill, she had to be a breath of air like nothing else.”
“Your point?” Shannon asked.
“She must have been a great deal like Salma, I would think.”
“Your point, Kelly?” he pressed, closing the book, a bit annoyed.
“I don’t see why your heart is still locked up on her. She not only would belittle your need for control, she would seek to undo it and tell you to do whatever the whim would wish. She would act on her own desires and if she had the power now, she would rip the world apart out of anger and vengeance for her children. I imagine she would be very much like Raz. Yet you choose her even now.”
“Out of respect for you, Kelly, I am trying to understand what you are getting at, but all you’re doing is starting to piss me off.”
Kelly leaned an elbow on the table and looked at him directly. “Not even Dave is so insulting to me as you are to Tavia. And for the sake of Purt, he must be.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He might ignore me for the sake of our souls and for those around us, but at least he does not watch Salma with a lustful eye. He might joke a time or two, but it’s just a friendly jest. You, on the other hand, ignore Tavia as if she disgusted you and at the same time pine after a woman who was unworthy of you even when she was alive.”
Shannon looked at her a bit shocked. He was speechless for a moment and not at all sure how to take Kelly’s seriousness or her words. “Have we been turned into sixteen-year-olds? Are we seriously at our first ball?”
Kelly didn’t smile at all. “You have bound up so much of yourself with your grief that you cannot even shift a sliver of your power to anything beyond it. So long as you hold onto her and pine for her, you can never be whole, you can never know peace, you can never be mortal. You hold onto the grief as much as once you held onto your rings. She will burn you, scar you, and in the end make you into nothing more than grief and rage. You can never have back that girl you once adored. It’s a hard lesson. I say it carefully, I say it as a friend, as an ally, as someone who has been betrayed by love and by my god. If anyone is going to relate to you right now, it’s me.”
“And if your lover had not betrayed you? What if instead he had been beaten and destroyed beside you, screaming your name for you to be strong?” Shannon asked her back, barely above a whisper so no one could hope to hear them.
Kelly shook her head. “You’re not hearing me,” she said, appealing to him, frustrated.
“You’re very upset right now, Kelly, and I don’t know why. I can feel it through your shields and you’re starting to give me a headache, but I do not know why.”
Kelly drew a deep breath and shifted her shields, blocking the emotions better. “Please,” Kelly said softly. “Please, let her go. For you to have her back, you have to give up all that you have now. Only if you surrender to being a dark lord can you have her. Before you do that, look at what you have here.”
Kelly stood up and left Shannon at the table alone. She went to the bar to get more beer, then walked over to join the table of card players. Shannon watched her go, not sure he quite understood her. Ever since Oirion had done whatever it was he did in Purt, Shannon had not been the same. His mind just didn’t seem to work. Emotions intruded and confused his thoughts. He felt clouded and out of focus. The age-old complaint of men that women were impossible to understand suddenly gave him pause. If Tavia confused him, so did Kelly… and he had once thought he understood them both.
He looked back to his book and had to reread the pages several times to even begin to understand what he was reading. Frustrated, he snapped it closed just as Dave brought him a bottle of beer.
“Try this,” Dave said as he held out a bottle opener for Shannon to use. Shannon took it and popped the cap off. Dave took a seat with a smile. “I just won a bit. I didn’t even cheat,” he laughed. “I bought a keg for later and a few rounds now. I’ll lose what I don’t spend tonight. You look altogether in a bad mood.”
Shannon almost spoke, but there she was. She was at the fireplace in the crowd. He tore his eyes off her and looked at Dave. “Just thrown off balance and trying like hell to get my feet under me and then there she is pulling at me in one direction and Oirion’s pulling me in another. I have this very bad feeling Gerome is about to slam me with something and that I’m going to lose control.”
Dave took a drink and leaned back. He tipped the chair to teeter on the back two legs. He put his feet on the edge of the table in a comfortable ease.
“Sucks to be mortal,” Dave said. He laughed a little. “How do you feel other than a little foggy in the head?”
Shannon considered it a moment. He wanted to give as truthful an answer to Dave as he would want Dave to give him. “Physically I am still adjusting to not being in pain all the time. I feel removed from everything right until something happens.”
“Removed?” Dave asked. “Like it isn’t important or that you don’t relate?”
Shannon considered it as Tavia started a song in the corner accompanied by some fellow with a guitar. She sang a song so light and true it brought the tavern to a near silence.
“It’s like stories that I read once – all of it – right until I see something. Rasha is a story until she is walking in the crowd. The ship is just a story until I see Riven. My life is just a story until it I am caught in it. It does not feel like it is me, like it is real.”
Dave dropped his chair to its feet and leaned on the table to consider it. “Isn’t that sort of a blessing?”
“You might think so, but it is also very distracting. The oddest things shatter my focus and change what I was thinking a moment before. I cannot know if my actions are that of an experienced lord or of a moment’s emotions. I no longer feel connected to the past nor to the future.”
“You think maybe what you’re feeling as lack of focus and lack of connection is Oirion? That his cord, that solid connection he had was his priesthood and now that it is gone, he is fumbling along, doing his best and feeling like everyone is talking in riddles that he can’t understand.”
Shannon scowled. “We are very shielded against each other.”
Dave shrugged. “Just an idea.”
They both turned to watch Tavia sing.
“You know, if Kelly would just say that she cared but was afraid to cause later grief, I would understand a lot more. Tavia assures me, but… it still feels to me that Kelly regrets everything and hates me. Just a single gesture would give me strength that I don’t think she begins to understand.”
Shannon took a drink of the beer. Dave was saying more than he was just saying.
“Maybe she is waiting for the same from you.”
“Maybe,” Dave looked to Shannon, “but then maybe that wasn’t what I was talking about. Maybe I was trying to suggest that maybe Tavia offers counsel because she understands how it feels to be nothing but a suitable servant, a well-trained dog, an unwanted spouse.”
“You aren’t an unwanted spouse…” Shannon started to say.
“No,” Dave said with a sad smile, “but she understands how I feel about it… because that is how she feels. Maybe you should either give her permission to find someone to be with or you should let her know you care for her.”
Shannon scowled. “She knows that I care.”
Dave almost laughed. “I don’t know… you might want to make sure,” he said with a swig. “Speaking of Kelly,” he said, changing the topic, “I don’t understand why Zou is dark. I mean, I thought she was changed fully.”
Shannon nodded. “There is a theory that it has to do with Raz’s desire for children of her own.”
Dave scowled. “Children of her own? Why can’t she have children?”
Shannon shrugged and took a drink. “There are holes in our history, I think. Not even she understands it.”
“You know, I grew up being trained every day. I studied languages, history, magic, every single day of my life. It was understandable that I was able to be what I was when I was sixteen. On the other hand, Zou has not. He ran around with a homeless man. Yet, he keeps up. It worries me.”
Shannon nodded. “Zou is a powerful young man. I don’t know what magics the Druid used, but Zou whispers with power like I have never seen before. I have seen him do things not even he is aware of. I would say that he was trained; he just didn’t realize it.”
“I find it hard to think he has been through what he has and he is the son of who he is. It is very difficult for me to think that he will not be taken by the powers that are involved here. You have told me enough times that any man can be broken. I cannot see him and not fear for it.”
Shannon looked to the blond pirate at his table, no, not a pirate – king, heir to the throne of Purt. This man should have been emperor… will yet be emperor, Shannon told himself.
“He is your son, David,” Shannon said. “He has chosen Purt in his heart and he belongs to me. No one will break him as long as I am here.”
“Yet they tried and you couldn’t do much to aid him.”
Shannon leaned on the table and smiled a little. “I didn’t have to,” he said softly. “Zou didn’t need anything more than the assurance he wasn’t forgotten and that someone cared. He fought his own battle and took what lessons I could offer and made them his. He pretends it never happened to our faces, but it happened and his soul was changed… but not necessarily in a bad way. As I said, David, he is a powerful soul and one the world will know before the end.”
“He is also a teenager barely old enough to know what to do with a woman if he had one. I remember being where he is. Trying to live up to your shadow is a hard thing to do.”
“You know, in my life I have known a lot of people and few have provoked a sense of paternal guardianship.” He looked to Dave. “Some few have. You, for one. Oirion, when he was a child, Theo in his own way.” He turned the bottle in his fingertips. “It makes me wonder why. Maybe it is just that you are lit up with some sort of energy unlike others or maybe your soul is the key. All of us have lived before. I like to think that the souls of my children escaped, that they have been reborn and are living full lives. My point is…” Shannon brought his conversation back to what he was aiming at, “Zou is not a young spirit. He knew full well who his parents were and chose to be born. He chose you, David. The highest part of his soul chose to be who he is. We all choose.”
Shannon curled his hair behind his ear and took a sip of his drink. By his own words he had to admit that Rajak then, as well, had chosen to be born as the son of Shannon. He took another drink and watched the princes of Purt play on the dirt floor.
Zou cracked his knuckles against the ache and pain in the bones. It hurt, but offered relief for the moment. The weather was changing again and he could feel it. He was glad that he was here with Gabren and DaHane. They had escaped the tavern and its noise to the quiet of the house here. The family was much nicer than the drunks and gamblers there. He needed simple sounds right now. He was sick with tension and ached just about everywhere.
DaHane, of course, had tried to help him relax, but had left him to go flirt with the daughters of the man who lived here with his family. Zou wished he felt up to the game, but the teenage girls were not going to satisfy his need. Raz had ruined him. His body wanted only something as powerful. A simple roll in the barn hay was not going to even be fun for him.
It felt as if Raz was haunting him, whispering in his ear, begging him to come back and meet her in the desert. He wanted Shannon to be there, to help him center and protect him from the desert goddess, but Zou wasn’t even sure how to ask Shannon for help, how to let him know he needed help, that what Shannon had already done wasn’t enough.
“You seem troubled,” the woman of the house said as she offered Zou a cup of tea. “You do not join your friend?”
Zou smiled at her a little as he took the cup. “Thank you,” he muttered in Etan. “No,” he said to her.
“You do not enjoy talking with the young women?” she asked with a warm tease as she sat beside him at the table. “They do not often get to meet such handsome young men as you two.”
Zou looked back to the young women. They were pretty enough for what they were, but they just didn’t excite him. “Maybe that’s the trouble,” he said. “I won’t be here long and girls like that might think someone might stop and stay, or take them along, and they do not want to go where I am going.” He shrugged.
“You don’t sound convinced,” she said.
Zou shrugged a shoulder and took a sip of the tea. “Once you have gone where I have gone and done what I have done, simple pleasures no longer are able to capture you.” He took a sip. “DaHane is Sphinx and he requires affection to stay mentally healthy. Such games are as important to him as food.”
“You do not hunger for affection?” she asked. He looked over at her, wondering why a grown woman would ask him such questions.
“Not from a village girl.”
“Is it that you don’t like girls or that you don’t like the young?”
He scowled a little more. “I don’t really think this conversation is appropriate to have about your daughters.”
She looked back to the girls who all but hung on DaHane. She sighed a little. “I must go to the kitchen to finish up the day’s tasks,” she said. “You’re welcome to join me if you do not wish to watch your friend flirt.”
He watched her get up and leave the main room for the back room. He looked to DaHane for a moment, then for lack of interest followed the woman to the kitchen. She was at the sink scrubbing at the pots used for the night meal. He watched her from a door a bit before he entered the room. He had a hard time not noticing the front of her dress had gotten wet above the apron top and revealed the color of skin through the wet fabric.
She glanced over and smiled a little. “The men have gone to worship for the night,” she said.
“You do not go with them?”
“No. For now the only ones who go to temple are the priests and I am not of the ranks. Are you?”
Zou smiled a little as he leaned back against the wall at the end of the sink counter. “Not officially, but I suppose by most standards one might say I could be. I would say more of a disciple, if anything. Not really a priest.”
“It’s true he’s not a god. Not yet.” She plunged the pot into the deep sink and drew it out to get the soap off as best she could before rinsing it in the next sink. She set it aside to dry and took another. “They seek to build the foundations for his new church… for the day that it happens. The earth will feel it from the highest mountains to the lowest ocean trench.”
“Oh, that I believe,” Zou said. “How long have you been part of it?”
“I was born to it. My parents were both Shannonites. They paid the price for it. Gerome’s men killed them when I was a teenager. I ended up here,” she said.
“Lucky you had a chance to escape.”
She nodded. “I suppose so. I have been given a decent life, but if Shannon heard prayers, I would not be here. I am a servant for the priests of the temple here and that is about all I am. I have little joy in my life; I suppose few do, but for a life of service I have gotten very little. It makes being devoted to a “living god” feel a bit redundant and false.”
“You have a home, you’re safe, your children are healthy and alive, your husband cares for you.”
She smiled a little. “My husband has devoted his life to Shannon and forgotten his wife and his daughters. I was a young girl, younger than my girls are now when I was all but handed to him. I became a wife in trade for a home and food. When he was younger and had not tasted power, he lusted for his woman… but now…” she shrugged. “I am not certain this is a conversation best had with a man the age of my daughters.”
Zou finished his tea and set it on the counter. “Sometimes, the things we seek the most are right before us if we look past the surface,” he said, thinking of Shannon sitting at the tavern sipping wine by himself while his priests were off at some hidden temple on their knees. “The idea of being a priest appeals to some because it gives life a purpose and to be a priest to a man like Shannon gives it an edge of energy and danger that a farmer or a tradesmen is not likely to taste. Oh, there are benefits to being in such a company, but then again it numbs you to the simple pleasures.”
“I have no reason to believe it. As far as I have seen in my life, only men have power. And the sort of power they play with is dark. As I see it, Shannon is a vampire and a demon, and if that is the sort of God they want, then fine… but I’d rather have a loving God with a gentle hand. I do not see such a man God (?) in Shannon.”
Zou moved. He took her arm and turned her from the sink and took her hands in his to talk to her seriously. “Good men have power. Good men move to put their power in place and begin the new age with grace and as gentle a hand as they can. Good men just do not walk around blowing horns and pounding drums to their own glory. Shannon could be here right now and he’d not go to temple. He’d not come knock on the door and ask for a bed; he’d go to the inn, sip wine and eat his meal, pay his bill, and then move on.”
“I would like very much to think so. I would like to think the good men will win and to even know for certain good men do have power, but I have never seen it and the men who preach to me are my brother, my aged husband, and the cobbler. I see no power in them. They claim to be priests of a church that their own God does not acknowledge. What’s the point?”
Zou shocked himself a little when he suddenly kissed her. As he did, he opened his sanctuary to the outer halls. In an almost transparent image, they were both in the kitchen and yet standing on the white sand shores of his made-over image of the Pusan sea. Now it was a sea of tears, full of the souls of those lost to the dark lords, and they each shimmered as little silver fishes that darted about in the water.
The sky was in a lavender twilight with stars just coming out despite both moons being full in the sky. To the south was a great temple rising in a vast pyramid from the sands and to the north the mountains.
The hot wind gusted about them and Zou knew she could see him not as a young man, but as Zou, disciple of Shannon. He was the man with the burning heart, the scars of torture he had endured, the blood of Von Armond.
He moved her, pushing her back from the center of the kitchen to the pantry.
“Do you see it now?” he asked her. He kissed her again, just as he kissed Raz. Her reaction was very similar. “Do you taste such now?” he asked her. “Not all gods are what you expect, and not all of them walk around preaching their own power. Now and then, though, they reach out.” He kissed her again and pinned her to the wall. He wanted her.
She didn’t resist, but she didn’t tear at him. He had to take every step in his own hands… and he did. He couldn’t get to her fast enough, but once he did there was a sudden peace. His mind seemed to clear, tension begin to shift and it seemed weight lifted off. He was able to think and feel for himself without the pressure he had been enduring. He knew then that Raz had been pushing on him, trying to capture him.
Likely she watched even now. If anything, it made him want to seem to enjoy himself and do even more. He wanted to make it clear to her that he was free and she was nothing to him. When he was finished, he held the woman in place, not allowing her to slip away from him.
He held her pinned to the wall as his blood slowed and cooled. He whispered in her ear when she tried to slip away. “To touch and taste such power always comes at a cost.”
“You have to let me go,” she whispered back. “I would be disowned if I was to have a child of this.” She tried to push him away, honestly afraid now that it was over. He held her in place, forcing her to keep him a little longer. He used the last moments of union to flood her with energy, with power. She gasped with the sudden rush and forgot for a moment everything else. He let her go with that power flushing her body. He fixed his clothes as she stood trembling and out of breath against the kitchen wall. Oddly, he could feel her still. He could feel his own energy in her, on her, swirling about her. He wondered if that was how it felt for a demon, to be able to still feel it and manipulate it even after he had backed away.
He left her alone, but even as he sat at the table wrapping his hands around his mug, his mind went back to her and with nothing but his energy he manipulated her. It might have been rape except that she had invited it and was now caught in it. He closed his eyes and savored it, enjoying this far more than the actual act. He was sitting calmly with his tea when the men came back from the temple.
He seemed to be just sitting there watching the fire as the men took their places about the chamber. Reluctantly, Zou slowly let go of her as her husband came in. Zou drained the last of his tea and made sure the energy on the woman was as pure and good as he could make it. He did not want them to think she had been raped by a demon.
She had wanted to taste power and was not happy with a good simple life? Well, she’d not have to worry about a simple life again. She would never be the same. It would take a god to seduce her now. He rose from the chair with a yawn. The old husband went to go find his wife to make tea for the men.
“Dozing off where I sit,” Zou said as an apology. “I’m to bed.” He left them just as the husband returned. He look a bit flushed and whispered to Gabren, who went with him at once. Zou went to bed to dream of nothing for the first time since he had been touched by Raz.
End part 21 edits