Here is this week’s installment of Machinations of War.
For those of you who are new to my blog, (or just passing through :) ) my son and I have been writing this collaborative story project for the past three months.
If you would like to read the story in its entirety, please visit here for Chapters 1-11.
Nearing the Village of Sharna – 536 AC
In the ensuing weeks, as Aislyn and Natalie continued their trek southward toward Sharna, neither spoke more than a few words. Aislyn, cloaked in her own private misery of sorrow, confusion, and rage over her father’s murder, had become increasingly withdrawn. Although Aislyn believed Natalie, when she declared to have had no knowledge of the Creator’s plan to assassinate the King, the Princess couldn’t help but mistrust the Seraph. Natalie was an instrument of the Creator, and Aislyn knew better than most how one became an unsuspecting weapon in the Creator’s personal arsenal.
Natalie, ever the good soldier, would not contemplate questioning the actions of the Creator. She had learned as a young girl that one shouldn’t question or criticize the Greater Power. She remembered all too well the day her four-year-old self watched in horror, as the inhabitants of the small fishing village where she and her family lived, stoned her mother to death for heresy. To escape the same fate, her father had fled with her and her younger brother in tow, with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a few days worth of food. They struggled to survive the many months of travel before her father finally stumbled upon civilization. Far to the north of their previous village, the family found themselves at desperate odds in their attempts to adapt to the climate and customs of their newly adopted region.
Natalie’s father found employment in short order, securing work as a mason; yet the position required him to travel to the Capitol City for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. Forced to leave Natalie, and her brother Nathanael behind, he arranged for their safekeeping by hiring a nearby neighbor girl to look after them in his absence. A kindly girl, Ruth was not much more than a child herself; perhaps twelve or thirteen seasons had passed since her own birth. Although Ruth tried desperately to provide proper care for her two young charges, Natalie’s obstinate wilfulness, and uncontrollable anger, often overwhelmed the young nursemaid.
The brutal murder of her mother; the long months of fleeing, dirty and hungry, through the wilderness; her father’s abandonment of her and her younger brother to a complete stranger, proved to be too much for young Natalie. In her struggle to cope, she became uncontrollable, lashing out with unrestrained fury against everyone in her path. Ruth was ever patient, treating her and Nathanael both with love and compassion, but Natalie would have none of it. Over time, Ruth and Nathanael developed a deep attachment to one another, and Natalie found herself increasingly ostracized within her own home.
Their first winter in the North was bitterly cold. Raised by the sea, in the sunny clime of the southern territory, neither Natalie nor Nathanael’s constitution was strong enough to resist the winter sickness, which was common to the region. For those raised in the North, the sickness was nothing more than an annual annoyance, making the sufferer mildly ill. Natalie and Nathanael however, became enfeebled by the sickness. Plagued by persistent coughs, vomiting, high fevers, and difficulty breathing, both children languished throughout the winter months, at times, hovering near death. Unwavering in her responsibility to the children, Ruth sat by their sickbeds day and night. She wiped their small foreheads with cool rags, as the heat of the fever dripped off their tiny furrowed brows. She tucked their threadbare covers tight around their diminutive forms, building raging fires in the cooking pit, all to ward off their violent throes of shivering. She sang soft lullabies, to quiet their restless sleep. Fed them watery broths, and mashed root vegetables, when they were able to emerge from their illness-induced stupor.
Natalie’s father came and went during that long winter, never staying for more than a few days at a time. His first stop upon arriving in town was always to Ruth’s mother, paying her the agreed upon wages for her daughter’s service. He would then secure provisions, making sure Ruth had enough food and firewood to last until his next visit. Occasionally, he would fetch the doctor, more out of guilt than love, but the diagnosis was always the same, “Nothing to be done,” the doctor would gravely utter, “It’s in the Creator’s hands, whether these children survive the winter.” With regularity and precision, Natalie could expect her father’s departure for the Capital City, by the moans of union as her father bed the young Ruth. Before daybreak, he would be gone.
It was during their father’s absence that Nathanael finally succumbed to the sickness. “Ruth?” he wheezed, “Hold my hand. Hold my hand, please?”
Ruth rushed to his side, “Yes, Nathanael. Yes, little one. I’m here.” She took his tiny hand in hers, while gently patting it with the other. “It’s okay, Nathanael. Everything will be okay,” she cooed in a sing-song voice she reserved just for him.
“I know, Ru…”
Her name simply faded on his lips, and he was gone.
With the back of her hand, Natalie roughly wiped away a tear. She hadn’t thought of Nathanael in such a long time, years in fact. Crossly, she thought, “Why? Why am I recalling all of this family crap? The last thing I need now is to deal with this.”
Fueled by those long ago memories, she found herself barely able to contain her anger and pain; a growing rage permeated her entire being, infecting her like a poisonous venom. Every nerve ending screamed with fury at the recollection of her wretched childhood. Her eyes began to glow brightly, the unnatural blue of the Creator’s enforcers, while the sigil of the Creator upon her chest and the sword tightly clutched by the alien tendrils protruding from her back, began to radiate their peculiar white light. Natalie was completely oblivious to the consequences of her rage.
“Um, Seraph?” The Princess had stopped dead in her tracks.
After weeks of virtual silence, the sound of Aislyn’s voice gave Natalie immediate pause, snapping her out of her tormented recollections. She turned abruptly, rounding on the Princess with an unexpected vengeance. “WHAT IS IT!” she fumed.
The unexpected excessiveness of Natalie’s response startled them both. “Oh. I’m so very sorry, Milady.” I, um, you caught me off guard.”
“Let’s dispense with the formalities, shall we?” said Aislyn. “I think we are going to be in this together until the end, so I’d prefer that you call me Aislyn. No Princess, no Seer, no Milady, okay? Just Aislyn.”
Natalie glared at Aislyn impatiently, “That’s what you stopped our travels to say?”
“No,” replied Aislyn, her growing annoyance with the Seraph beginning to show. “I stopped our travels because you are beginning to glow like the Sea Ghosts that invade the shoreline on warm summer nights.” Natalie stared at Aislyn, perplexed. “You have seen the glittery blue light that spreads across the sands of the beach in the summer, right? The Sea Ghosts?”
“No, Mi—Aislyn, I can’t say that I have. Regardless, I don’t understand the significance.”
Aislyn pointed at the Seraph, “Natalie, look down at your chest!”
Natalie looked down and gasped, finally aware of the white light emanating from her black leather armor.
“Your sword glows too. And your eyes seem to be smoldering with the eerie azure light of the Sea Ghost.”
Reaching around with panicked swiftness, Natalie quickly snatched the sword from the slender appendages fused to her back. She was met with the same haunting laughter she had heard in the old Lorne Abbey when she had first retrieved Tizona, the weapon forged by the Creator himself.
The ephemeral creature suddenly materialized in front of her, “What a perfect host you’ve turned out to be Natalie Clark,” he murmured. “Your anger and hatred fuels my energy and strength, Seraph. Together, you and I are unstoppable. We will fulfill the commands of the Creator.”
“Natalie?” Aislyn stood dumbfounded.
Natalie stood dazed, seemingly detached from her surroundings. Several minutes passed. Finally, the Seraph turned to Aislyn and responded, “It is the spirit of the sword, Tizona. He directs us to continue on to Sharna. It is critical we reach our destination by the morning.”
Aislyn intently inspected the Seraph. She seemed cold, calculating, emotionless, and it terrified the Princess in a way she had never known before.
Without another word, the two women continued their journey.
When the sun rose on the next day, Natalie and Aislyn stared down on the still sleeping village of Sharna.
“Well… here we are,” said Aislyn, as she surveyed the village below.
“Yes, here we are indeed,” replied Natalie, then in a faint voice she added, “may the Creator’s blessings be upon us, always.”