Finding the Faith: Part One
People tell tales of Sir Jeran. A brave, true knight, and Champion of Meridell. They tell stories of the daring Lord Darigan, who overcame Ambition, Vengeance, and Greed, and defeated the evil lord Kass. ‘Round the hearth tales are told of epic battles that happened in the two wars. But never do you hear those small stories of kindness and self sacrifice. Never are tales told about the small people whose deeds get overlooked because of the more impressive things. No one ever seems to realize that if the small things didn’t happen, the big things never would. My name is Aislin O’Connor, and this is my small tale.
_ _ _ _ _
It was a year ago, almost to the day, I remember it because my seventeenth birthday had just passed. I was in the kitchen cooking dinner for my father and brother. My lavender hair was pulled back by a strip of linen. I was pretty, but no one had ever considered me a beauty. My violet eyes disturbed people; they held too much knowledge. They were the eyes of someone who as a child looked beneath the bed and found there really were monsters hidden in the shadows.
Just as I was taking the soup pot off of the fire, my father came into the small house grumbling that my brother had shirked his evening chores again to gossip. As I glanced at him I had a fleeting moment of gratitude that I favored my mother and was a striped Korbat. My father, a red Skeith, wasn’t exactly a treat to the eyes. I set the table and poured soup into two of the bowls; the third one I left empty. My brother could serve himself since he was late.
Ten minutes into the meal, my brother Adam slipped into the house, poured his soup, sat down, and waited for Father to scold him. In silence I ate my stew and wished that I didn’t have such sharp hearing. Listening to my father rant about how useless the blue Ixi was got annoying after Father’s limited vocabulary forced him to repeat his insults.
“I’m sorry, Father,” Adam said after my father had finished his tirade. His ears dropped and his eyes were properly downcast, but I could tell he looked anxious, as if he wanted to say something more. After a few moments of silence he said, greatly daring, “I did find out something interesting.”
I rolled my eyes skeptically; the only things Adam ever found out were silly pieces of useless gossip. I didn’t see what he found so fascinating. My father grunted, signifying to Adam to continue, but assuring the Ixi that he would not have a very rapt audience.
Not daunted, he said excitedly, “There’s a gypsy caravan coming through tomorrow.” When this failed to amaze, he continued, “There’s going to be singing, story telling, juggling, fire eating...” Adam continued rattling off the myriad attractions as my father gradually became more and more interested. Adam finished with, “There’s even going to be a dancer from the King’s own court!”
When he was done he looked to Father and pleaded, “Can we go? Please?” Although my brother was three years my senior, he looked like a small child when he begged like that. His ears would perk up and his brown eyes would get all wide and innocent. Father, who was more keen on the idea than he would like to be or would ever admit, replied, “Yes, all right, we’ll all go, but there’ll be no skimping on your work to go there early.” He glared at Adam and for good measure looked sternly at me, although the last time I had skipped my chores had been when I was five years old.
Rolling his eyes at my brother, Father stood. “I’m going to bed,” he rumbled in his deep Skeith growl. This was the cue for both of us to get in bed too, so I whisked up the dishes and tossed them into the sink to clean tomorrow. Adam was already into the loft bedroom we shared and had drawn up the ladder. He was constantly playing this prank; it didn’t accomplish much as I had wings, but it was a hassle trying to maneuver through the small opening, and sometimes my delicate wings were bruised. Gliding up there gracefully enough, I drifted to my bed and crawled beneath the blankets.
Adam rolled over on his bed and whispered, “I can’t wait for tomorrow evening. Are you excited?” Without pausing for a reply, he added, “I think I’ll see the fire eater first, then the dancer. She’s supposed to be incredible.”
“I’m not going.”
“What? Why not?” He sounded absolutely floored. “Everyone in the village is going.”
“That’s the point,” I quipped irritably, rolling my eyes. “People. Men gawking and trying to buy me drinks. Women staring and whispering to each other about me. I’d rather avoid that.”
Adam sighed in sympathy, then said, “What if I was there?”
I gave him a strange look.
“No, really, what if I was there to encourage people to leave you be?”
I considered this for a moment then said, “Are you sure you won’t mind being stuck with me the whole evening?”
“Of course not, Ais, I love spending time with you. You know that.”
“Okay,” I whispered. He grinned then snuffed the candle and rolled back over in his bed. Perhaps this would be fun.
_ _ _ _ _
The next day I sat in front of the only mirror in the house applying a bit of kohl to my eyes. My brother was pacing behind me, and threw irritated glances at me every few seconds. Father stood behind the two of us watching in amusement.
“Come on, Ais! The fair will be over before you’re done,” he finally burst out in frustrated impatience.
I laughed a little and pulled the ribbon from my hair with deliberate slowness, antagonizing him. Hearing a huff of irritation behind me, I smiled wryly and picked up my mother’s old comb from the vanity and gently eased the tangle from my lavender hair until it flowed smoothly from its center part to my shoulders. My hair was my one vanity, shiny and soft, and I couldn’t resist a small smug smile as I looked at my reflection.
“Okay,” I said, rising from the stool on which I had been perched, “now we can go.”
“Finally!” Adam exclaimed, throwing his hands up into the air in mock celebration, and we all went through the door toward the faire.
_ _ _ _ _
As faires went, that one hadn’t been bad. The fire eater had been a con; the gypsy who swallowed the flaming brands was a Scorchio and therefore his throat was protected against the heat and flames. I was explaining this to Adam as we walked toward the dancer. She was pretty, I had to admit, a brown Aisha with red hair that fell to her thin little waist. The girl could dance, but I wasn’t that impressed. The crowd around the dancer was growing and I was becoming uncomfortable around so many people.
Adam had been very good about staying with me, and I had been able to enjoy the faire as long as he was there, so I touched him on the shoulder and pointed over to the sword juggler signifying I wanted to go. The Ixi gazed at me blankly for a moment then gave me a strange look as though he had just realized who I was and thought me a minor irritant. Then with no apparent thought at ignoring me, he turned back and was enthralled once more by watching the dancer. The crowd continued to swell around the strange dancer, and, while no one was paying me any mind, I was becoming slightly claustrophobic amongst all these people. So I wandered off and soon found I needn’t worry about anyone bothering me: the rest of the faire was completely deserted. Everyone was watching the dancer.
I heaved a sigh and sat down at the roots of a tall beech tree and waited for the show to be over. Thankfully the dancer finished after about twenty minutes - to the disappointment and irritation of the crowd - and everyone began drifting back to their homes as the gypsies began packing up their instruments and colorful tents.
_ _ _ _ _
“I’m going to bed now.” This statement received no answer, nor even the slightest hint that my father and brother had heard me. Men. All they were talking about and had been for the past half hour was that dancer. It was infuriating and I couldn’t stand to be around them any more tonight. The ladder to the loft was down; Adam still in the sitting room talking to Father. As I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, I couldn’t help but wonder at the strange actions of my family. Adam hadn’t even blinked when I berated him about deserting me, and further more, he was engaged! He didn’t need to be drooling over some prancing Aisha. My father was just as puzzling; when Mother died, he swore he’d never have anything to do with women because it would be an insult to her memory. I agreed, and was livid with the pair of them. But they didn’t seem to notice; any time I said anything, they either ignored me or just stared blankly at me for a few moments while I seethed. Banishing the disturbing thoughts, I rolled over in my bed and tried to go to sleep. Finally, sleep claimed me and my worries were flooded beneath a sea of dreams.
_ _ _ _ _
I woke with a jerk. The moon was visible out my window; I judged it to be about two in the morning. Lighting the stub of candle next to my bed, I wondered what had woken me. There was a crash and a scream outside. I jumped again, my breath coming in short gasps. What the heck was going on out there?
“Adam!” I called, then saw his bed was empty. It hadn't even been slept in, judging by the neat way the sheets were folded. Worrying, I swept my hair up with my ribbon and slipped my feet into my working boots which lay beside my bed. I was dressed in naught but my night gown, so I threw on a shawl to keep away the chill. Snatching up the candle, I crept down to the ground floor and opened the door to find the source of the noise. I screamed and dropped the candle, which guttered out on the floor.
Outside my small farm cottage was a scene of mass chaos. War engines bearing the symbol of the Darigan Citadel crashed over the terrain, obliterating everything in their path. A small group of knights was trying to hold off the machines, but even as I watched their numbers fell quickly and they retreated.
“Evacuate the villagers! Get them back into the forest!” a blue Lupe in heavy plate armor called to the soldiers. Those under his apparent command tried to obey, but then I saw my friends and neighbors running at them with crude weapons in their hands. I hurried out into the mayhem looking for Father and Adam, screaming their names out as loud as I could, then I felt a blow to the back of my head. Toria, a pretty blue Acara who was Adam’s fiancé, had struck me at the base of my skull. I had just enough time to turn and stare at her in a kind of dreadful fascination before I blacked out.
To be continued...