The Yoke of Eternity

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Review Chain


Hauel escapes the island, much to his little sister's sorrow.

Chapter 2 (v.2) - The Fall

Submitted: March 07, 2019

Reads: 63

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Submitted: March 07, 2019

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Chapter Two

The Fall

 

The dark blue of the night sky blended with the small crescent of the moon which offered mere hints of his previous life. His small tables and cushions looked lonely there in the pale light, and he wondered which of his kin would come and take over his house. Only a select few had the privilege of building their own houses anymore, and he hoped that they would treat his things well. It was possible that they would dismantle all of it and reuse the materials. Perhaps they would burn it all as a sort of statement or ceremony, he didn’t know. That would be for their father to decide. He stepped out into the quiet night and closed the wooden sliding door.

Drawing his hood, he relied on his stealth training. He stepped lightly and stuck to the shadows, even with the vague moon overhead. He avoided the houses of those who slept the lightest. His cloak was merely a passing wind, and his sandals became the jumping of crickets.

Halfway through the village, his father’s house caught his eye. The unique two-story structure boasted magnificence and beauty. With the moon overhead, it loomed like a tower, its proportions precise, from height to width and depth. The surrounding stone wall emerged with elegance and it, altogether, was a thing of beauty both among the land and the other structures, as if it were a statement from his father saying that no one would ever be as powerful or as intelligent as him.

A sudden urge came over Hauel; over the years he had pieced together a certain secret. He had sometimes seen the silhouette of his father in one of the rooms. Other times, he had heard a door opening where there should not be one. Hauel understood that there was something his father was hiding in there.

He came to the wooden arch overhead and opened the iron gate, which led to the stone courtyard. His father told him, long ago, that the iron that was used for the gate was taken from Logos’s castle. It was one of many artifacts that his father had from times long forgotten by mere mortals.

Hauel passed through the courtyard like a shadow. The ambiance and dark blue of the void made all the flat stonework seem the same shade and hue, just as the fruit trees that sprang from geometric gardens looked, as though they slept, rustling with whispers in the night air.

He came up two wooden stairs to the veranda that surrounded half of the aesthetic house. His sandals clicked on the wooden boards as he gently slid the door to the main room open. Hauel could not quell the racing of his heart as he walked through his father’s house with criminal intent. He had been here many times before, even while his father was gone, but never with the purpose of stealing from him.

The first open door to his right provided easy entry to the suspected room. Inside, gray light beams abashed by closed windows showed a common scene: a knee-high table and two cushions. He knocked on the left wall. It sounded hollow. He pushed on various points, looking for a crack, a handle, or a notch. He found nothing. He went to the far wall and did the same, knocking and inspecting to no avail. Pulling up the floor boards, he only discovered clothing and blankets. He knocked on the last wall, and it sounded somewhat more solid, as though there were something inside of it. His fingertips forced a crack as he felt around the edges, then he pushed. The wall slid a stroke away from him, slipped over, and opened revealing a hidden storage area.

The tender light coming in through the paper covered windows showed shelves inside the wall. On the shelves were exactly what Hauel had guessed there would be, it was his father’s private sword collection. Each shelf housed one or two perfectly displayed sheaths. Only two were inferior double-edged blades, the remnants were in the typical Shaddin style, one single sharp edge and slightly curved. They varied in length. Some were standard, others were long, or quite short. There were even a few sets of daggers displayed. That’s when Hauel realized that in his haste he forgot to bring his own A’Sassein daggers. The perfection of the tools within his reach tempted him.

Hauel had often heard his father hammering steel in his private forge. He never allowed anyone to watch him, saying that it was beyond his children’s understanding. Nor were they ever allowed to see his finished products. Only one other had ever seen the private collection, or so was rumored, passed down from one sibling to another, attempting to avoid their father’s ears. The very first Lig’Shaddin, born from their father her human mother, the one who was rumored to have obtained immortality and built a great civilization. She did not live by her father’s law, but instead created things of her own mind, doing as she pleased. But she passed beyond this world, offering no solace to her future brothers and sisters. Her name was Eden, and she was legend among the Lig’Shaddin. Hauel knew little in detail, for their father only spoke of her a handful of times generations ago. He told the story of what she had done, but did not reveal how she came to achieve her great power. And so the story passed from Helai to Hauel, yet it seemed to be a History empty of its most important teachings. How could any being defy the power of their father? And how does a half-breed obtain immortality?

Hauel gazed upon the woeful precision of his father’s steel. Anger steeped inside his heart. His father did not trust him, the oldest, wisest, and most capable of his siblings with this secret. Many Lig’Shaddin did not believe that Eden was real, but in his heart, Hauel knew she was. His father trusted Eden two thousand years ago, but no other. It was an impossible standard to attempt to live by, and it was evident that no one, not even Hauel, would ever hold the same favor in his father’s eyes as she did.

His eye was caught by a black scabbard, pitch and sunken in the darkness of the night. A black silken strip neatly wrapped the guardless handle. The concealed blade lay snug in its sheath, made of sturdy Ironwood, heavy and dense. Hauel took it from its display, caressing the smooth surface of the wood and gripped the handle. He hated himself for it, but he was envious of the actual and true perfection of the craftsmanship. It seemed to whisper to him, not in words, but in form. It seemed to say that it too was a prisoner on this island with a higher purpose.

The sword seemed to ask to be taken from its black sheath, to be used. But Hauel feared to draw it. His father was a being who knew the secret things of the world. And it was possible that these swords were hidden away for a reason. Its name would reveal its purpose, but looking at his father’s sword, he was afraid to unsheathe it. What purpose would a true Shaddin bestow upon his sword? Yet Hauel took it for himself and he wedged it between his belt and shirt. He closed the secret door and went out the way he came.

He intended to arrive at the stables before the villagers came to tend the horses, which was soon. He clasped the heavy sword at his side, mindful of his sin. The first light of morning crept over the horizon, and the deep hues of the sky began to retreat. By the time he reached the stables, the last stars were huddled together at the center of the sky as the oncoming red and orange faded into blue.

He found the horses gathered like the stars, some lay on the grass, a few selfishly grazed. A quick glance gave him an automatic count of thirteen horses. Long Cast was missing, but it wasn’t uncommon for the mare to go off on her own for a while. One curiosity was sated, yet another arose, for among the herd, a woman in a white robe sat and leaned against Wool Hair, a young colt with soft fur that lay on the ground.

She had already seen Hauel and offered a broad human smile that seemed so far off. “Hello, Hauel,” she said as he came near. It was Marriet, Elmond’s mother. She spoke in the common tongue of men because humans could not be taught the Language of the Heart. Her voice carried far in the quiet of the morning. “You are up early, what are you doing here?” She patted the ground next to her.

He was full of reluctance, and urgency, but he did not dare to show it. He came to her and sat against the warm horse, right beside her because human mothers enjoyed close contact. He deferred the question, “I could ask you the same.” He spoke the common tongue better than the other Lig’Shaddin. After all, he had much more time to practice.

“Oh, I come out here sometimes,” Marriet said. No older than thirty-five, with straight brown hair and a soft complexion, she was an ideal specimen to have born a Lig’Shaddin. Her dark blue eyes were difficult to make out in the oncoming light, but as the two of them spoke, the more light came about and the bluer her eyes became. “Before I came here, I lived on a farm with horses.” Her perfect white teeth showed through her somber smiles. “Nothing like these, you know. They were small and brown, mostly. Their hair was course.” She picked at her fingernails in silence.

Hauel guessed her feelings out loud, “You miss them. You miss your old way of life.”

She shrugged her delicate shoulders. “I have three brothers. Had three brothers. I don’t know what has become of them. Or my parents. My father was out in the fields often. I mostly remember my mother, really.”

“You don’t like it here?” he asked.

Marriet smiled a little and shook her head. “It’s not that.”

“You regret leaving your family?”

“No,” she said to the ground. Then she perked up a bit. “I did not mean to make you worry, I know that you suffer at times because of us mothers, always making sure that we are happy. To be the mother of a Lig’Shaddin, to live here in the presence of your father, it is a wonderful thing. We can pursue many types of crafts, and we do not go hungry or thirsty, and do not need to worry about being harmed.” She pulled her knees up to her chest and looked in the distance. “But still, I sometimes miss the old days. Not that I know so much, your father came to me when I was sixteen. But I had seen many things by then, and at times I wonder what life would be like to have worked in the fields with father, or perhaps if I ran the bakery with mother. Perhaps flirt with the noble boys.”

She glanced at him, then nudged him. “I do not complain, really, after all I would think that it must also feel odd to be in your shoes.” She thought for a moment. “Sandals, I mean.” And she scrunched her nose. “Perhaps not. Living this way is normal to you, isn’t it?”

Hauel considered the thought and slowly nodded. She sighed and said, “Yes, I do miss my old life. The people, the places and things,” she trailed off. Her face fell into a sullen demeanor, but she caught herself again. She lifted up her head and told him, “Any rate, I command you to continue on with what you were doing, it will make me happy. Go on then, do not startle Wool Hair, he is still asleep.”

He stood carefully and left the girl there, hugging her knees and leaning her cheek on them with a musing look in her eyes. He quietly called to Beggar and he came trotting around the herd and followed Hauel to the barn. Hauel saddled his horse and took the axe and rope off the wall, glancing back at Marriet, who had dozed off still smiling. He tucked and tied the ax, rope, water gourds, and his father’s sword onto the saddle before noticing that time had diminished.

The last star faded from the night as Hauel sped off to the north side of the island. He allowed Beggar to drink from the Eden River, a brief reward for his reliable pace, then quickly returned to riding.

Hauel dismounted at the Wolf Woods and found the destined cedar tree. He took his ax and with great strength hewed it at its base. Wedges of white cedar flew off the trunk and the sudden smell of it gushed from the wounds as bleeding sap stuck to the blade. His cuts were deep, swift, and precise which had the tree creaking and tumbling over in a matter of minutes. Hauel then sheared off all the branches, cut the top quarter of the tree off, as it was too narrow to be of use, and then chopped the usable trunk in half. He placed the ax back in the saddle without cleaning it and retrieved the rope. He crossed the two halves and bound them tightly together with clever knots that would swell and tighten in the water.

He now had a makeshift raft, a mere X of light timber, and he carved a thick branch into a crude oar. It was not ideal, but it was all that he could afford to make. Hauel was out of time. The stable workers would be calling for Beggar and when they did not find him, they would go to Hauel’s house only to find it empty. If he were found out here, he would likely be restrained and held under guard until their father came back from delivering Velrune’s ashes on the mainland.

Hauel took the last length of rope that hung from the raft and tied it to the saddle. He looked Beggar in the eye and asked, “You would not mind pulling my boat for me, would you?” Beggar simply turned his head away and blew out his nose. His master grinned and patted him on the neck, then led him back to where they came from.

Lost in thought, Hauel guided his four-legged companion. The tickle of sweat rolled down his neck and was absorbed by his shirt. His feet broke little twigs on the ground and rustled dead leaves, all brown and dehydrated. In a month or two many of the trees’ leaves would change color for the fall, and the sweet aroma of them would be kicked up by the breeze and carried all the way to the village.

Hauel scarcely noticed that he came out of the forest until he looked up and found Long Cast a toss away from him. His first thought was that she smelled Beggar and came looking to play. But his heart skipped a beat as she was adorned with her saddle. A small figure held her reins, standing stone still next to the horse. Inella’s black eyes shot from side to side going from Hauel, to Beggar, to the ax, the X of logs, and then back to Hauel again.

Hauel said nothing when he stopped in his tracks. His eyes met hers and they spoke volumes in the silence. He led his horse, circumventing Inella closer to the cliff.

“Eldest!” Inella called as he passed. He did’t answer as she followed next to him.

Hauel spoke without looking in her direction, “It was clever of you to take Long Cast this morning. I underestimated you.”

The corner of her lip perked up. “It’s a Marked One’s purpose to use cunning.”

Hauel turned. “Do not become haughty, any Lig’Shaddin knows how to follow horse tracks.” Even now can I not shed the mold of Eldest? “Still,” he admitted, “did you stay up all night? You seem to have had some success getting through the village without waking a soul.”

She said nothing to this but accused, “You are stalling for time. What are you waiting for? Where are you going with those logs and ax?”

Hauel stayed silent, there was nothing that she could do now, and although she was clever, she did not guess what his intentions were. He used her ignorance to get to his appointed site for his escape, telling her nothing. They strolled beside each other, yet not together, and Inella cast a suspicious eye in his direction, her mouth tight at the lips in consternation. The commotion of the dragging cross filled the silence in a soothing sound as it brushed over the browning grass like white-noise.

Hauel came to a straight cliff and stopped. Inella looked towards the sea and spoke up, still holding her horse. “Is this a test?” she asked.

He huffed. “It is not a test.”

“May I help you with what you are doing?”

Hauel felt guilt overcome him. She had no idea that he was leaving her, abandoning all of them. “No.”

Inella looked from side to side as he prepared his raft. She told him, “Cedar floats, the flat branch is a paddle, the water is enough for a few days, the sword…” She furrowed her brows. “Are you going to go kill humans?” she guessed. “Did father give you a mission?” Her excitement grew. “Can I go kill humans with you?”

“I am leaving, Inella,” the words forced themselves. “I am leaving the island. It is not a test, it is not a mission, and father does not know.” He bent down and coiled the excess rope around his belongings, save for the sword which he kept at his side. He looked back at her, a wide expression of confusion and then fear came over her.

“You cannot go,” she said.

Hauel insured that his belongings were secure, got up and walked to her and stood face to face. He looked down at her and asked in his own assertive way, “Why not?”

She looked away and held her shoulders just a little lower. Her eyes wandered, betraying her thoughts. She looked back up at him, her challenging voice faltered. “Because…because it is against the law.” He wasn’t moved by the sentiment. “Because we need you.” Hauel’s heart stung. “Because you are our Eldest, you are our brother.” She became uncharacteristically impassioned, “You lead us when father is not here, and sometimes in spite of when he is. Besides, no one has ever left before, where will you go?”

A stray breeze came by and whipped their cloaks and hair. “A thousand years ago,” he began, “our village was on the mainland. It was once our home. It is not as strange a place as father would have us think.” He looked out to sea and pressed his lips together. “I was not the first Eldest, nor will I be the last. The village will continue on without me.” His eyes and face relaxed, letting go the visage of Eldest. His shoulders sagged, and his eyelids dropped as the new sun shined upon his face. “I am an old man, Inella. For four-hundred and twenty-nine years I have lived on this little island. I have lived nearly twice that of any other of our kin, and yet I still feel that I have twice more to go before this mortal shell perishes.” He took a step even closer to her so that she had to look straight up. “For thousands of years the Lig’Shaddin have been bred and beaten like steel. Forged in fire to the purpose of waging war against the world of men to take back father’s land from them. But when has it come?” He looked to either side of her, gesturing with a nod. “Where is it? How many humans have been slain by your daggers, Inella? If you have seen one battle, then you have seen more than I.

“What I have seen are all our Eldest wither and die from old age, with no glory to take with them. Their only legacy is the knowledge of the skills they leave behind. Even their bodies are burnt and their ashes scattered on the roots of Carrion Tree, wherever in the wide world that may be; I have never been to the place. I have outlived my human mother by centuries, even many of those who were born after me aged and died more quickly than I. To what end? We train endlessly, hardening our bodies and our minds, and yet I would wager that our war will not come until long after you and I are dead. I am a hammer, Inella. A hammer and chisel, perfect in form and function that sit on a shelf until they are devoured by wind and rust.”

He softened when a tear welled up in her eye and rolled down her cheek, abandoned by his resolve. Her lips and throat quivered, and her voice came out broken. “Do not leave, Hauel. I don’t want you to go!”

Hauel did not answer her passion with words, but rather he looked into her eyes with such sensitivity that has scarcely been shared among their people. He stepped forward with open arms and embraced her. Her face pressed into his chest and she stood with straight arms, and whimpered into his cloak. Her shoulders relaxed into his embrace, and hot tears soaked into his shirt, warm against his skin. She whispered with a mouth full of wool, “I always wondered what this would feel like.”

“I know,” he said. “We all do.”

“What if father comes for you? Will he kill you?”

“I do not know. I suspect he will, but who can ever know the mind of a Shaddin, even if he is our father? But perhaps, out there, there is a way for us all to live forever. It has been said that it was found once before. If I can find immortality before father finds me, if he even cares, then I can share it with all of you.” He held her back, his hands on her shoulders. He smudged away the wet line on her freckled cheek. “And then there will be no more tears.”

She suddenly ceased her snivels, hiding the blatant expression of emotion. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “What should I tell the others?” she asked.

He beheld the way south, the village’s direction. “Tell them that you tried to stop me.”

She shook her head. “But our language doesn’t allow us to lie.”

“It is not a lie,” he retorted, “You did try to stop me.”

The corner of her mouth crested. “There’s still so much to learn.”

He guided his hand past her ear, filling his fingers with her short, black hair. “You know enough. You are too clever. I must go now. It’s best that you use some fire once I’m gone. It will help your cause.”

She nodded with a solemn smile. He let go, then walked back to his whimsical raft. With some strain and effort, he picked it up and threw it off the cliff, hoping that it would not shatter on the surface of the water. He turned his head over his shoulder and asked, “Would I be a terrible brother if I said you were my favorite sister?”

She called to him with a telltale flash in her eyes, “Only if I mention it to the others!”

He stared down at the abyss, took a step back and launched himself from the cliff.

Hitting the ocean surface feet first, water turned and churned above him, the world becoming silent and dark, save for the glugging of bubbles that tickled his ears. He was glad to have not hit the side of the cliff, nor been broken by previously unseen rocks at the bottom of the water. He swam upwards until he broke through the surface with the sun beating down on him. His raft wandered west, so he swam to reclaim it. It floated well, though his supplies had come loose. All but one gourd of water broke free and celebrated its way to unknown lands. His oar was intact and when he reached down at his side, he felt that his father’s sword was still attached. Altogether, it was a successful dismount.

Already, he seemed to have caught a channel and was being dragged away from the Isle of Anara. He looked up, squinting in the sun, to see Inella bending over the edge of the precipice, ensuring that he made the leap in one piece. She bowed farewell to him, and he raised his hand in return.

Hauel kept his eyes on the island edge for a while until his sister’s form disappeared. Then a great pillar of fire roared skyward nearly touching the clouds. It had been a long time since he had seen her flame, and thought it quite impressive.

The pillar of fire ceased in an instant, charring the edge of the cliff and sent up smoke that would soon be seen by the entire village. Hauel, however, had already escaped.

 

“Looking down upon the crowd

Knees bent, heads bowed

Through the iron mask I saw

Slaves; men, women, all”

  • Book of Starlight


© Copyright 2019 C. S. Spence. All rights reserved.

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