Aager Fogstep, the right hand of the town sheriff, the head of SIS —Serenity Intelligence Service, and unbeknownst to any but the willing few; the dreary Winter Knight and Inshala ‘laFey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman, the Mistress of The Grove, the wont of MabandTitania, the Lady of Durkahan and the Ritual Guardian walk side-by-side, indeed, arm-in-arm, worn and tired of a long day’s hard accomplishments.
The quiet young woman, somewhat abashed and with the small smile of an unspoken achievement clearly etched on her face, walks with light steps next to the silent, spooky man in his dark, sinister-looking leathers, hood, and mask. The girl inadvertently does this little skip-and-hop thing every once in a while for she has her hair down and her awesome rams horns are in full display; the source of her smile, her skip, and her elation.. and one of great consternation, fear, dread, dismay, and anxiety —each distinct, now, and finally overcome, accepted, and acknowledged.. The man on the other hand seems alert and distracted at the same time. His steps are steady, careful, and ready to pounce. His distraction, hidden under the hood and mask, is perhaps due to the unaddressed nature of the hope he hankers, as they head for the little, single-room lodge assigned to him years ago, and that the girl with the light, happy steps next to him would also call, ‘home’..
“Thank you.”, he whispers in his growly and gravelly voice.
The girl turns and gives him a look of shy elation.
“You are welcome. But, why?”, she asks.
The man clears his throat.
Fighting and consequently bleeding, many times, has never been a matter of trepidation for him.
This little girl, and trying to express his feelings, for her or otherwise, however, has always felt like an uphill battle for him.
A battle he knows he would win, should he but dare.
She certainly wills, with all her heart and mind, that he would.
Dare.. and win..
“I suspect you know why..”, he says carefully.
“I do. But I like it more when you voice it. Reminds me of Katana, my saber-tooth.”, she replies quietly.
“You like my voice because I sound like a cat?”, he asks a bit amused.
“My cat was not just any cat.”, the young girl retorts with mock fire. “She was a great, six hundred pound tiger, with a massive jaw that could take a man’s head whole and still have room for dessert, and awesome paws that could cave in an ogre’s belly, flat! And I find the viscous similarities between the two of you quite.. intoxicating! I am sure, or at least I very much hope you find something in me that makes you remember things you liked. Perhaps that is why we find something akin in one another.”, she says happily.
“How do say things like that and claim not to understand people?”, he asks with unveiled wonder.
“I claim nothing other than you, my Aager —for as long as I can.. Some things are clear to me. People.. and this.. social-thingy.. is just not one of them.”, she replies with resigned remorse.
“Fair enough.”, somewhat agrees, Aager. “Though you are wrong about my finding something akin in you that reminds me of something else that I once liked.”
“Ow.. How come?”, asks Inshala with a small pout.
“The answer to that is quite elementary in its simplicity.”, he says with a well-hidden smile.
“You are unique!”, Aager admits, and freely.
And without even needing to turn, he feels, through their bond, how the young woman blushes.
“That.. is beautiful to hear.”, she stammers.
“You like?”, he asks, with a very un-Aager like tone. A tone that he would never, like never ever, use with anyone but the girl in his arm.
“I.. love!”, she smiles, blushing even more.
“I thanked you..”, Aager says, rewinding a bit back. “.. because of your brevity. And for not hiding what you are, for I wish you never to be my personal secret, but known to all, and that we belong.”
“I must thank you for that, even though I know you will not let me. But we both know I would never have come here, let alone display myself the way I have, had it not been for you.”, she admits and smiles even more.
“Perhaps. But this is your moment. Not mine. And..”, he says and freezes in his pace.
As if on cue, so does she.
“What is it?”, she asks peering into the night.
“I.. am not sure..”, admits Aager with a slight frown. “I sense.. an equal.. but not.. at the same time..”
“You sense quite correctly.”, says a deep, muffled voice from the night.
“Show yourself, if your intentions are honorable!”, grows Aager Fogstep, his hands clear and at his sides and Inshala standing, not precisely behind, but with the exact amount of space and distance he would need to draw his swords for a swing, a parry or an unrestrained thrust..
“That, coming from you, I find a bit ironic, Sir Knight.”, says the muffled voice.
“I sense.. Summer.”, whispers Inshala, a bit baffled.
“I greet you, Lady Inshala, and I mean you no harm.”, comes the voice.
“But you mean harm to whome I belong!”, she says staring hard into the night.
“That is but for him to decide.”, declares the muffled voice with an intense and implied voice.
“What is this?”, asks Aager in her mind.
“I am not sure, my Aager. I have a guess, but I would rather he introduced himself, lest I give him power he may not have.”, replies the young woman in his.
“Dammit!.”, very nearly blazes Aager with frustration. “Apparently, running around all day fixing issues and defacing potential political outbreaks, training three different parties for the upcoming battle, and corking security gaps as an encore, is not enough.. I would like one moment.. ONE SILENT MOMENT IN PEACE with you and alone, dammit!”
“I am sorry, my Aager. This is my fault.”, whispers Inshala guiltily.
“How is this your fault?”, he asks, still frustrated.
“You are the Winter Knight because of me.”, she says in a small voice.
“Inshala.. To this day, I have done many things that I have come to regret, and shall likely end up doing more.. Dying for you to live, however, was never one of them.”, he almost lashes back.
“But..”, Inshala tries to object.
“Also to this day, never have I banned nor barred you of anything, have I?”, he steams.
“No, my Aager. Never.”
“Well, now I have. Never shall I hear another word of regret to the choices I made with regard to you. Because when you cast doubt in my choice, you cast doubt on what I feel for you.”, he says, and not without wroth.
Inshala falls silent, whether it is perhaps due to shock of how her Aager has just addressed and admonished her, or because she is afraid, is not clear. When she speaks, however, it is due to neither.
“I.. am sorry, my Aager. It was thoughtless of me to question you and your feelings, for I know it isn’t easy for you to speak them, yet you have.. For my sake.”, she says with shame in her voice.
“Inshala. Please. There really isn’t any reason to go there.. Much like you have made peace with some of the things in your life, your past, and your choices, I have thus done so. If being Mab’s hatchet man is the way to keep you and safe, peace, then, is upon me.”, he says, though not unkindly.
“You want me to cry, don’t you, my Aager..”, pouts Inshala.
“Not for me, and not tonight..”, he says as he smiles..
..and turns to face the man, hidden in the night.
With a low, distant, and arctic voice, the Winter Knight growls..
“Who are you, and what do you want? I have run a full day of petty mortal errands and am tired. I have another long day full of such errands waiting for me tomorrow, which is in mere few hours, and hence have I but little time to spare for late-night theatrics, and none for drama. Either come out and spill your wont, or go. Suffice to say, move or I shall move through you, should you truly want to test me tonight, for you are between myself, my lady, and my home, in the middle of the night, and in my town..”
“Oh, my.”, giggles Inshala and mimes a tiny, virtual fist into the air —in his mind.
“I think he just ate earth! You go, Winter Knight!”
“You go,WHAT? Where did you even hear that?”, asks Aager both surprised and amused.
“I am sorry. I have no idea what I just said.”, bubbles the young girl a bit embarrassed. “I heard young Master Cümeyt say it, but I am not sure what it means! He did make it sound like a ‘cheer’, though!”
Aager laughs.. silently..
“It is ‘dirt’, by the way, love..”, he inserts, stifling another laugh. “Not, ‘earth’..”
“But.. isn’t dirt, well, dirty?”, wonders Inshala a bit confused.
“The best thing about dirt, you never want to eat it more than once, love”, Aager says, not without a certain amount of vicious satisfaction. The man in dark leathers, hood, and mask wears what he does for three, rather distinct reasons, and none of them has anything to do with drama;
One, the obvious reason; for better cover in the dark.
Two; Aager has an astute sense of smell, particularly for bad ones..
And three; a dark hood, along with the mask, has the practical capacity to fend off fools.
There is a moment of chagrined silence and Aager gets the distinct impression that whoever it is hiding in the night, is perhaps a tad new at whatever he is at..
“Very well.”, the muffled voice says. “Meet me at the Guest’s Inn tomorrow at noon.”
“Afternoon!”, Inshala counters.
Another silence ensues.
“Why? Why would you back this evil man, Lady Inshala?”, he asks quite perturbed.
“My Aager is no evil man. He has proven his mettle. Yours is yet to be seen, Sir.”, she replies the young girl with stern command.
Aager’s eyebrows shoot up.
It isn’t the first time his Inshala has gone out of her way to defend him, and it certainly feels.. surprisingly ‘awesome’.. to be.. safeguarded?.. by someone you dearly loved, but the verbal dual here is a subtle one and in a realm, he is not yet accustomed nor has had much privy to.
“Afternoon, then. I shall consent to this request for your sake, Lady Inshala.”, the muffled voice says.
“You shall do no such thing, Sir. I owe you nothing and have promised you nothing. And I shall owe you no debt! ‘Afternoon’ is a neutral time, neither too warm nor too cold.”, Inshala says, equally sternly.
A sigh of resignation is heard followed by the slightest shuffle of feet and the muffled voice is gone.
“Alright.”, Aager muses, staring into the night. “That wasn’t odd or anything. Your thoughts, love?”
“I.. I am not certain..”, Inshala frowns slightly.
“It’s alright. Your halves are better than my nons!”, smiles the sinister-looking man.
“You are in an unexpected mood this night, my Aager. And I can’t even claim any crafty skills on my part.”, smiles back the young girl.
“First of all, I apologize, wholeheartedly, for my harsh words earlier. You deserve better than that. But I would much rather we put my choices and their reasons well behind us. They are done and gone. Going over them makes neither of us happy, but puts both of us in despair. Agreed?”, he says quietly.
“And I apologize for bringing it up in the first place, though I got what I deserved for it. I shall submit to your wishes on this matter, my Aager, hence, yes. Agreed.”, she replies staring somewhat at her own feet.
“Please, don’t do that.”, Aager says.
“Don’t do what?”, she asks.
“You did nothing wrong. Don’t look down. As a matter of fact, never look down!”, Aager pleads.
Inshala looks up, her face is slightly pink.
“You will not even let me suffer my own follies.”, she says with a flustered pout.
“The pout can stay. It looks sweet on you.”, smiles the man in dark leathers.
Inshala does a very unladylike snort, causing Aager to laugh.. out loud!
“Well. How about that. I laughed. Can’t remember the last time I did that. I guess I do owe my mood to crafty skills on your part.”, he says with an amused tone of voice. “As to what that was all about, I believe you do have some thoughts on the matter.”
“Yes. And deep down, I believe you have as well, my Aager..”, replies the young girl, suddenly looking at him with intense eyes.
Aager cocks an eyebrow and thinks..
..and the thing that has had him itching somewhere at the back of his mind suddenly dawns.
“Yes, my Aager. Nature is balance. Winter will follow Summer and Summer dies when Winter arrives. Much like Summer will melt and defrost Winter upon her arrival..”, she says softly.
“Damn..”, he blurts. “He is.. double damn.. the Summer Knight? My opposite?”
“That is my thought. I believe he wanted to keep that to himself and perhaps use it as a levelidge.. lefedirge.. leafer—”, she blunders and her face turns pure red in self-disgrace.
“Leverage?”, Aager offers kindly.
“Yes. That..”, says the young girl, her face still burning with frustrated shame.
“But he gave himself away.. Ahhh, that’s why you argued about ‘noon’. It is likely he will be at the peak of his power at noons and at summer times. That was very ingenious of you the way you refused him and moved the time of the meet to afternoon.”, says Aager admiringly for even though the young girl hadn’t quite won him an advantage, she had, instead, stripped any his opposite might have gained, just by changing something that had seemed so trivial.
Inshala blushes some more.
“I suspected.. the moment you said, ‘sensing an equal, but not, at the same time..’, and when he called you, ‘Sir Knight.’ Only fey would know you for what you are.. And the vassals of either court. I felt no fey vibes from him. He seemed.. mortal.. and something else.. perhaps some sort of affiliation I am not aware of.”
“How come there is suddenly a Summer Knight now and what does that entail?”, asks Aager, with a ‘should-I-be-concerned?’ frown.
“Nature is balance, my Aager. Both Winter and Summer have a ‘Mother’ known as Mother Winter and Mother Summer, and then they have the Queens, Mab as the Winter Queen, and Titania as the Summer Queen. Both courts are also supposed to have a ‘Lady’, but there hasn’t been a Winter Lady for ages forgotten After she lost her own daughter some unknown millennia ago, Mab refused to take another as the Winter Lady, causing the Summer Lady wane, and eventually fade away.. There was the potential for a new Summer Lady, but she was slain at Gull’s Perch by some ruffians a year or two before I was born, which is why there has been a ban on mortals, and a dwarven outpost there, guarding the Perch’s entrance ever since.. I believe there were some dwarves among the ruffians and Titania blamed their kin at Scowling Hills and forced them to build and safeguard the valley as a payment for their kins’ sins against her daughter. Whether the death of her daughter was a coincidence, or it was because Mab would still not take a new Winter Lady, I do not know.”
Aager listens to the young woman in amazement as she explains the monumental goings-on that no mortal would know.
“There also hasn’t been a Winter Knight since the last one was slain by a mighty wild fey, who was actually a noble in Mab’s court once, many, many millennia ago. And Summer failed to produce a knight of their own during that time. It isn’t a coincidence that they would do so now, almost the moment you chose to become Mab’s Winter Knight. For there to be balance, nature compempates.. compendates—”, she pauses, her face flushed with embarrassment again. “Help me, please..”, she pleads..
“Compensates?”, offers Aager as he puts one hand over her small shoulder and gently turns her to face him.
“Conpendates.. That..”, blubbers the girl, her face burning red. “I hate this. I am so stupid. I lack so many important words, and I am supposed to be the Ritual Guardian and fill my Father’s shoes..”
“Hey.. Don’t be like that.. Please.. We promised to be stupid together, remember? At least you know what you are talking about. I don’t even know where to begin to even understand.”, he says kindly, and gently pulls her into his arms.
Inshala just stands there, burning with embarrassment on any number of levels now.
“You are so awesome.”, he adds quietly.
“Awesome like.. Madina? Or awesome like Moira?.. Or perhaps awesome like Laila? Laila is awesome and cool, though I am not sure what that means.. I mean, she has a nice, warm heart. And I think that De-De-Dexter boy likes her. I saw him give her as an example of how his trainees should act and behave, just the other day.”, she mumbles.
“Madina, Moria, D.D. Dexter and even Laila aside, I would say, awesome like Inshala.”, he says. Then thinks for a moment, nods, and repeats. “Yep. We shall thus call it, Inshala-Awesome!”
Slowly he releases her, and they are once again, arm in arm, walking in the night, towards ‘home’..
. . .
“She is pathetic.”, says the skinny, vixen girl, hidden further in the night, and quite waspishly.
“She is what she is, love. And she holds great favors from both the courts. It is not wise of you to speak ill of her, nor to go out of your way to taunt her. She is good people..”, replies the man with the muffled voice.
“And the man. His attitude. Such arrogance.. Perhaps a nice hex will fix that for him..”, she sneers after the two.
“You shall do no such thing, love. There is no point in starting a war here when there is another war right on our doorstep. I merely wanted to meet him and warn him not to abuse his powers. We shall meet on the morrow.”, he says sternly.
“You are afraid of him.”, sniffs the girl with disdain.
“No one in his right mind would be uncautious of him, love. Mab chose carefully, as she always does. Don’t let your pride get the better of you.”
The girl sniffs again, and haughtily, with her small, perky nose.
“I bet, I could best her!”, she declares.
“Perhaps.”, says the man. “But you will not go up against her. She is the Ritual Guardian.”
“Suppose you best her. What then? Who will take up her burden?”
The girl shrugs.
“Will you?”, the man asks, looking at the skinny girl.
“Why would I? It is a folly burden that offers little to no reward. She is as foolish as her Father was..”
The man with the muffled voice signs. The slight girl standing so agitated next to him is a fun, life-loving girl, but she does have her moments of pique, and they did tend to get the better of her indeed, and she is quite a single-minded girl who lives for silly challenges..
..which was how they had met, really.
“Come. We have much to do ourselves..”, he says, in hopes of distracting her. “Thousands of mouths to feed..”
“I think I want to know what they talk when they are alone.”, she says, squinting after what little she could make of the two, distant figures walking away, arm-in-arm.
“No.”, says the man even more sternly this time. “You don’t..”
..And picks up the skinny girl, by her waist and carries her off, literally, as she kicks and squirms and laughs with delight..
“Will you feed me too, Sir Knight?”, she snickers viciously..
It isn’t the life-threatening moments that makes us realize the value of those we love..
Sometimes it is the silly things..
..such as coloring pictures in a children’s book..
This story takes place several days after The Oathbreaker (Part Four) and after Aager Fogstep and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane defeat the tyrannic oathbreaker; Lord Tarakadahan Karkashi in a very bloody duel to the death.
Aager Fogstep held Inshala close and tightly to himself for she was in mourning and because her soft warmth was the only thing that kept him from screaming in pain. The little girl held a sad, broken piece of dry twig in her small, delicate hands —the only discernable part left of what was once a giant walking tree; Snare! True, Snare had never been a ‘nice’ tree, but rather a vicious, sour, and one old cuss of a monster. He had, however, kept the little girl safe and company during their stay at Arashkan, before the city’s fall, hiding in plain sight among other trees, deep in Heaven’s Park, and had helped both her and Aager in their numerous encounters.
This last fight, however, had just been once too many for him. The tyrannic lord, Tarakadahan Karkashi, had come down on the grumpy old bark like ten thousand axes and smashed him into the ground. And now, his tiny mistress held the only bit of what was once a grumpy, eighteen-foot tall monster..
“When we.. get out of this stupid.. arena..”, Aager grinded his teeth. “I want you to go with Lady Alisia and Moira..”
Inshala looked up at him through her tear blotched face.
“No. You are hurt. I need to—”, she started.
“Inshala. Don’t argue with me. Not now.”, he cut in harshly. “This is an excellent opportunity for someone to take advantage of and make an attempt on your mother’s life.. Or Moira’s.. Or yours.. You must watch over them as they watch over you.”
“But.. What about you?”, she asked with a pleading voice.
“I hold no power in this city, love. I am a nobody here. I am not of the nobility and I carry no titles. I am not even a squire, let alone a lord. Not that I would want to be one. Ever..”
“..The only person that would have benefited from my death is dead! Anybody else coming at me will gain nothing from my demise. You, on the other hand, hold the city in your hands and it will take but one fool to ruin everything we gained today should he attack you, your mother, or Moira.”, he said through his gritted teeth.
The pain of his dislocated shoulder was getting at him and trying to rationalize why he wanted her to go, rather than to stay and watch him suffer was taking every ounce of his remaining strength.
“Please. Do this for me.”
The great gates leading in and out of the arena parted with a booming echo, smoldering any objections the little girl might have said, and Lady Alisia, followed closely by Lady Moira, Captain Fardashi, and half a dozen guards came running at them.
“Okay. I am going to let go of you now. You mustn’t show them any tears because everyone is watching you. Be strong and go with your mother.”, he hissed quietly.
“Sir Aager..”, Lady Alisia called as she stared at him, and at the little girl holding a piece of twig, with unveiled awe.
“Lady Alisia..”, Aager greeted the First Lady of Durkahan with a barely contained voice behind his leather half-mask. “..Lady Moira. If you would be kind enough to escort Lady Inshala to your quarters whilst she could rest. She has had a trying day.”
Lady Alisia ogled at the bloodied, sinister-looking man in his dark leathers.
“Please..”, added Aager with emphasis and giving a quick glance at the watching crowd.
Lady Alisia’s face lit with comprehension.
“Of course, Sir Aager. Daughter, please come with me. We must get you out of those bloody clothes at once. I believe a nice hot bath, a meal, and sleep will do wonders to you.”, she said as she held the little girl close to her, nodded at Aager.
And with Moira on the girl’s other side, they started back towards the arena gates as the guards fell in formation around the women.
For a moment Aager was left behind and he gave some serious thought to whether he should just surrender to gravity and fall where he stood.
..said a gravelly voice from behind him.
The fact that he hadn’t even heard that someone was actually standing behind him without his notice was definitive proof that the man in dark leathers was about to lose it soon.
“I’d love to give you a hand and carry you out, but that would totally ruin your ‘cool’.. And I am not sure I’d even get the hand back!”, he recognized Fardashi’s amused voice.
“That was one hell of a fight, young man. Hard to be impressed when you get to a cussed old age like mine but, what can I say, I am impressed. Good thing I didn’t tell you to buzz off the night you two came at the city gates. Will you be able to make it until we get out of here? People with nothing better to do love watching the victor drop dead after a good show!”, the old captain said lightly. A bit like the way he spoke right before he had smashed in the castle guard commander’s face in, about a week ago.
“I think so.”, grinded Aager, and took a stubborn step forward.
✱ ✱ ✱
Stand guard here.”, commanded Fardashi at the guards, pointing at the door. “I must see to the Ladies than make sure the rest of the city is all well and good.”
Just before he left, however, he paused, gave a thoughtful look at the door, frowned a little, and quietly added, “Whatever happens, don’t enter the room!”, he warned.
The guards looked at their captain, then at the door, and hastily nodded.
Aager stood in the darkness of his room. The one he had been given shortly after their arrival at the inner castle of Durkahan city. It was barely ten strides in either direction with two, separate, single-beds, a small chest at the feet of each bed, a decent-sized cupboard, a high, rectangular table complete with a large washing pan, two blocks of soap, and several neatly folded rough, gray towels and one, slit of a window that seemed to stare gloomily at the arse end of a rigid, stone tower rather than at the city, but it still seemed cavernous compared to his tiny, one-room house back at Serenity Home. That house at least had had a larger window —two, in fact, now that Aager had a moment to think about it. Not that he preferred large windows —or any window, and he certainly had never fancied homes with scenic views, but that house —his home— had had them anyway; an easy to climb in and out window with a view to one of the town’s mildly busy streets. The other, he’d boarded the day he had moved in, years ago, because it had provided too big a security flaw for his taste, and because it was a window, it also provided a natural security ‘gap’.
He grimaced in pain at the jarring irony there;
Security Gap – Open Window!
Apparently, Aager thought, he had a bit too much free time in his hands, since he had the luxury for such delinquent ironies. But there was a point to that irony.. and the boarded window now. It used to open to a rather picturesque view of the back garden. Not so much picturesque since Aager had moved in, as it was full of dead plants and ugly, barbed, and thorny weeds. But should his Inshala come to Serenity Home, he could open that window while she did some things nice with that garden. And perhaps they could share responsibilities at that point as well; he could keep an eye on the street side window like he always had, and she could cover the garden side!
Alright, the man in dark leathers, hood, and mask thought. There was something genuinely wrong with that thought!
He doubted anyone in that town ever ‘covered’ their windows with the metaphorical fanaticism as he did.
Or rather, no one else..
He shrugged —his other shoulder.
At least with both windows open, his home would be ‘sunny’.. Unlike how this chamber would ever be..
This chamber was dark at noon, pitch at night, and was slightly on the musty side.
More like a lair.. or a den, really. Men like him did not have suits or chambers.. They had lairs!
Just how he preferred it..
..just how he should have been preferring it, as awkward as that phrasing sounded!
But for whatever reason, however, he did not.
Yes, he had come here every night, washed off the day’s dirt here, slept here, and ate here, quite laconically, too —many times. For the same, ‘whatever reason’, however, that just didn’t seem to ‘cut’ it anymore. He felt ‘blank’.. more than empty, here. A blank he had come to recognize very slowly and growing recently.
He stared at the dark walls of the chamber, all the while sweating profusely in pain.
Carefully he chose a specific stone.
Not that it mattered, but focusing on something in particular had always given him a sense of purpose. And that purpose, now, was not going to be fun..
Slowly, he walked up to the stone he had selected and stared at it with baleful eyes.
“I am sorry, love.”, he growled with pure, unadulterated self-loathing, swung his shoulder once, twice..
..and smashed it into the stone and wall!
A horrid, meaty crack was heard by the guards outside followed by a feral roar of pain..
..and something stumbled over and the room fell silent.
Somewhere two floors above, Fardashi ran back into Lady Alisia’s quarters, his sword drawn, when he heard the single, shrill scream of a girl in savage pain!
✱ ✱ ✱
And what do we have here?”, asked Aager, entering his chamber/lair/den, late one night, several days later. The proceedings, the meetings, the strategic plannings, and the secretive, impromptu ‘hallway’ chats on how they should mobilize the Durkahan Army, and which route they would take to reach Serenity Home in time were taking their toll on him. He felt like the sore merchant of some vast trading company, bargaining for rights of free passage through man-eating local’s lands.. without getting et!
..or possibly the CEO of some bank trying to stay afloat during an economic crisis!
“I am coloring this book that Master Cümeyt was kind enough to give me.”, Inshala replied from where she lay on the thick, pale beige carpet. Aager knew it was pale beige because the guard who had brought it had told him so like it held some significance and in all likeliness, it probably did. Just not for Aager..
..in any way that would be significant.
But then, this whole carpet thing was a new addition to his chamber/lair/den and seemed disturbingly out of place.
Feral beasts like him did not do carpets, nor cushions or loveseats..
Alright, there weren’t any loveseats in his chamber now either, and Aager did not really want to know what a loveseat was, but there were any number of colorful cushions, thrown on the said, pale beige carpet.
Aager scowled at the thick, soft, comfy thing and its fluffy little companions, and they scowled back at him..
..with compounded smug smirks because they knew they had won, and there was not a buggery bum he could do about it!
He certainly wouldn’t have asked for them, had it been up to him. But the young girl had taken a habit of bringing things her new brother, Cümeyt, or her new sisters Madine and Maira, and even Moira would give her, to here, and either play with them or draw pictures —on the cold, stone flour.. Hence, Aager had asked one of the guards if he would be kind enough to bring in a carpet, for Lady Inshala’s benefit.
And a cushion or three, while he was at it..
Or even if he weren’t kind enough!
Aager did not recall having put any such emphasis, but the thick, soft carpet had arrived within ten minutes followed by the half a dozen or so cushions..
And now, said Lady Inshala was here, lying flat on her little tummy, her skinny legs swinging up with lazy contentment and coloring what appeared to be some sort of flower in the book with little, colorful sticks scattered around.
“Crayons”, Inshala had told him with knowledgeable accomplishment.
They were called crayons.
The sinister-looking man in dark leathers thought that sounded suspiciously like a fancy name for some kind of deathly and dermal poison!
Then there was this coloring-book-thing!
Aager had never seen a book that could be, or even should be, colored before. Would have been a surprise if he had. He wasn’t sure if anyone back at Drashan had ever seen one, either.
Drashan aside, why would he?
And what was the point of buying a book, and books weren’t cheap, then doing all the work by coloring it yourself, anyway? Apparently, some smart artisan was making a lot of money by openly cheating his customers!
The nerve some people had in this world..
What kind of a demented idiot would even buy—
Aager opted to stop making combustive, mental commentary at that point.
Whatever he was about to say about said idiot, one of them was already here, and apparently, he was about to be the other by joining her!
“Would you like to join me for some? Before I am called back to sleep in my room?”, she asked smiling up at him.
It was quite obvious this coloring thingy was something she had liked a lot, Aager noted, because not only did the young girl seem happy, but she also appeared content. And there was a distinct sense of serenity about her, which made her glow in an altogether new kind of beautiful.
“Maybe..”, smiled Aager as he pulled off his dark, leather hood, undid his mask, and tossed them both on his bed. Then unbuckled his leather armor, and his belt, ridding himself of his swords and daggers, and carefully set them aside.
“You want me to pout, don’t you?”, asked the girl honestly.
“Very much.”, replied Aager in kind. “You could win just about any argument with me using only the pout.”
“But.. I do not want to argue with you. Arguing is not nice. It tarnishes some things between people. And I think it becomes a habit in time and people start doing it without noticing anymore.. They argue about everything, and they do not recognize, both love and respect are now gone!”, she said..
..with a pout!
Aager was astounded, once again, at the depth of the young girl’s insight. Particularly when taking into account that this girl never had anyone to have argued anything in her past, save one, venerable old man, to have observed, and consequently, gained such insight.
“We are not doing this on the table, why? Seems easier on the knees.”, he asked as he knelt down across the little girl and on his stomach, pulled off his heavy leather gloves, stared at the flower in the book, which he assumed was some kind of a rose, picked up one of the red sticks, and carefully started to fill one of the pedals.
“I am not sure.”, Inshala replied.
Aager cocked an eyebrow.
“When.. when we sit around a table, the table is standing between us. That makes me feel like I am alone.”, she said, frowning slightly.
“We could sit next to one another, perhaps?”, he offered.
“We could. I suppose. But.. that feels like we are only friends.. Like Ranger Corporal Laila, or even Master Gnine are my friends.. I like friends and I like that they are my friends. And I like that Alor’Nadien ne and Udoorin are my friends. And how Lady is my friend. And Merisoul and even Anglenna are my friends. I want you to be my friend too, but not like them. I do not know the words. You should not be my friend like they are my friends. When we lie down on the floor like this while doing things or talking, however, it feels like we are actually sharing something.. and more than just these pictures and more than just words..”, she said, struggling to correctly phrase her mind.
Then she went a bit pink.
“And.. and our faces are much closer when we are lying down and coloring these pictures.. And I can watch you from this close, as well!”, she said with a blush.
And now Aager had both his eyebrows cocked up, for this insight did not belong to a little girl.
They colored the flowers and some other things that Aager was not always sure as to what some of them were. But they did it anyway and in content silence..
..for two hours straight.
He asked what color he should use when he wasn’t sure and the girl would look around for the appropriate stick, pick it up, hand it over to him, and say, “This!”, every time, with a happy, accomplished smile.
It was during those two hours Aager had the opportunity to think, or perhaps, contemplate on certain things.
He threw careful glances at the girl as she savagely colored the flowers, the stems, and the leaves, the sun, the clouds, the bees, and the bugs, and the dears, and the houses in the coloring book with child-like fervor.
He looked down at his own workmanship and noted his seemed more like he was dissecting the flowers, the sun, the clouds, the bees, and the bugs, and the dears, and the houses with jugular accuracy, waiting to be labeled and placed into their corresponding jars!
It was just about then, a number of things dawned on him.
The little girl was deliberately, or maybe the correct word would be, ‘inadvertently’, acting like a little girl because for the first time she had a genuine mother, a grandmother, three sisters, and a little, overtly smart, mischievous brother and hence she could afford to.. let go?
Or perhaps, drop her guard.
A something, Aager thought, was quite encouraging to see, yet altogether sad —in a way.
Thanks to young Master Cümeyt and the emo girl Madina, though Aager still did not quite understand what the buggery bum an ’emo’ was, she, Inshala, was catching up to everything she had missed during her own childhood, both because such entertainments had never been available to her, and it wouldn’t have mattered even if they had been, seeing as how solitary and dangerous a life she had lived.
He himself was pretty much in the same rickety boat as she was, dammit! When people looked at his Inshala, they saw a traumatized little girl, all the while thinking he, Aager, was the steady one and that at least he was ‘alright’.
Lying face down, coloring silly flowers and dears and bees and bugs, Aager Fogstep realized he was not alright. He realized he had never been alright, but always skirted at the edges of suppressed, angry insanity all his life. Coming to Serenity Home had been a blessing, certainly, but in a way, and unwittingly to be sure, that had merely diluted his very unhealthy mental status. Or camouflaged it, to put in a more astute perspective.
This little girl, Inshala, had come to his room, much like every other night, and shared everything she had seen, learned, felt, and experienced that day with him until late hours, in effect, making sure he healed as much as she did. Bit by bit, she was freeing herself from her fears, her desperations and her losses, all the while seeding her desolations with her mom, her grandma, her sisters and brother, while making new friends, and learning and experiencing the things left missing all her life. And by coming here, she was sharing her joys with him, in affect, bringing whole new norms into his life as well, even if only by proxy.
The beauty of it was, there was never been any deliberation in her actions at all. Only instinctual need to make him feel as good as she was feeling, and the irony in all of that was not lost on Aager.
Inshala was giving him surcease, just by being here and being herself!
Aager loved it!
Without any doubt.
All of it.
And knew, at that very moment, why he had felt thus ‘blank’ of late.
For he had just recognized, with quiet fervor, that he could no longer tolerate her being just a ‘part’ of his life..
He wanted to be all of hers!
“You seem.. odd tonight. Lost in thought and distracted and your hands are drawing without consulting you.”, whispered Inshala, staring into his eyes.
“I am odd every night.. And distracted much of late.”, replied the man in dark clothes, a tad gruffly.
“A gold coin for your thought?”, she smiled. “I have a gold coin. I think.. I could go and get it if you like.”
“I doubt my thoughts are worth a gold, love.”, Aager said quietly. “But I will share them with you. Just as soon as I understand them myself. I promise.”
“I could ‘pout’ them out of you, you know!”, giggled the girl.
“I think you have been with Master Cümeyt for far too long, love..”, mourned Aager.
“He has shown me so many interesting things. Did you know there is more gossip going on here, in this place, than among the fey at Gull’s Perch? You would think a city full of paladins would have a bit more honest people!”, she said a bit disturbed.
“Ow? Is there some theft going on? That kind of behavior should be discouraged.”, said Aager with a frown and felt no guilt or shame, whatsoever, at the fact that being a thief was what he had started his long line of an uncouth carrier in the first place. But thieving had never really been any more than a stepping stone for him. Sort of something he’d had to endure in a ‘just do it’ sense until better options had presented themselves. If anyone he’d known had been an outright thief, it had been that Darly Dor kid —which did also explain why he had disliked him so much..
“No, no.. Nothing like that. It’s just something I learned, that many people are sleeping in someone else’s room and few wake up where they are supposed to!”, mumbled the girl as she slapped her tiny feet together for emphasis as she totally drowned a sunflower in dark purple with vehemence.
“People are strange sometimes. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. And I am not sure that’s the color for that picture, love.”, said Aager, pointing at her page.
“It isn’t. I am just angry. That is why it is purple. My sunflower is angry too!”, she said unhappily.
“Ow? Why are you angry? Did something happen?”
“I do not know.”, came her frowning voice in his mind. “I am sorry. You are tired and have been keeping me company when you should be sleeping and now I am afflicting you with my silly!”
“True. I am tired. But doesn’t ‘keeping company’ work the other way around as well? And let’s not go to ‘silly’, please. I haven’t even begun my daily ranting yet!”, he replied in an amused tone. “Now tell me, what has gotten you riled up?”
“I do not know.”, she repeated. “I am put out that people don’t wake up where they should, yet I am doing the same thing. I go to sleep in my room, but wake up here all the time.. Is something wrong with me?”
“Uhhmm..”, said Aager, not sure as to what he should say or how he should respond, really, so he tried for a casual sort of tone. “I.. do not think what you and they are doing is quite the same, love.”
“How so?”, she asked glumly.
“Well..”, he began but faltered. “..Possibly because when you come here every night, I call your name, every time, but you don’t hear my voice. You truly are asleep. You come, your stand before my bed, hold out your arms, and just.. stay there. Took me by surprise the first time you did it, and even more, when I finally figured out what it was you demanded.”
“I.. I demanded something from you? I shouldn’t be making demands from you! That is not nice! And in my sleep, too? What did I demand?”, she asked in a depleted voice.
“A hug.”, replied Aager kindly.
Inshala’s face turned bright pink.
“I..”, she stammered. “I thought I came here and just slept in the other bed, to keep you company, though I honestly do not remember ever getting up, nor walking here..”
“That.. might have been partly my doing. Not the coming here. The waking up in the other bed.. After I’d give you your silent demand, you wouldn’t move but make this funny noise.. like when cats see a bird or a squirrel..”, said Aager honestly and Inshala dropped her coloring sticks and just buried her face in her skinny arms..
“I think, or felt, to be more precise.. you wanted to.. cuddle up and sleep next to me.. But something about your base, honest character wouldn’t let you.. Not without my express permission.. And because you weren’t really awake, I wouldn’t give you that permission because it would be wrong.. Which is why I would pick you up, and tuck you away in the other bed. You’d make a bit of a fuss in there but eventually, go still.”, he said kindly.
“This is so embarrassing. I do not remember the last time I was this—”, she mumbled in a muffled and horrified voice.
“There is nothing to be embarrassed about, Inshala. We both want, what we want. Apparently, you decided to actually do something about it, without ever knowing.”, he said thoughtfully.
“But.. what do you want?”, she asked, her face still buried in her arms.
And, there it was..
The simple question that was the core of what they had been, what they were, and what they would become for one another.
To simplify that even further; what they had, and what they could have..
What did he want?
What did he want?
And what did he want?
The small nuances in the same question made all the difference, to be sure, but the only thing he was certain of was the answer to the question that actually preceded this one;
Did he want?
To that, he said, yes.
Not because he was mentally sure of anything.
But because the blank in him was telling him exactly that.
Or rather, he had the blank, because he no longer could tolerate the lack of certain things..
..or a certain someone.
And something clicked in his mind.
Aager decided, then and there, to shut up..
..and do something about the blank in his soul.
“Come, love.”, he said with a deliberate, casual tone. “It’s getting late. I’ll escort you to your room. I believe most of our plannings and meetings are done, but a few crucial details are left. They will need me wide awake for them in the morrow.”
The young girl accepted his offer to take her to her room gracefully.
Not that it would matter.
She’d be back in a few, anyway..
✱ ✱ ✱
Aager dropped off the strangely beautiful, deeply sincere, shyly honest, and unconventionally his Inshala to Moira’s former room with a gentle kiss, then left..
But not back to his own room.
He decided to have one meeting before going there and for some oddly existential reason, this one would be much more important than all the meetings he had done for the last eight or ten days.
He dashed silently through the torch-lit corridors and long halls of Durkahan’s inner castle and skid to a halt before the one door he would have never expected to have knocked.
“Aager Fogstep to see Lady Granma on an important matter —if she is available.”, he said quietly when a young, feminine voice asked who it was, upon knocking on the door.
A moment of surprised silence ensued, but it didn’t last long.
“Come, boy..”, he heard the old, cackling voice of Granma.
Aager slowly opened the door and entered the dimly lit room of the very old woman —the mother of Lady Alisia.
The room was comfortably decorated with many chairs holstered with velvets in subdued colors, a long, comfortable-looking, dark maroon divan, and cushions, several deep, soft rugs, a large, old wardrobe, any number of shelves with books, delicate porcelain cups, vases, and many other delicate curios, and a small table covered with cream-colored laces, all of which gave the distinct impression of ‘been there, done that and I have the aged wisdom to prove it’ feel to them.
The old woman was sitting in a large, rocking armchair, delicately holding a cup with something steaming in it.
“Tea, boy?”, she asked in her wheezing voice but didn’t wait for him to reply. She motioned a hand and Moira’s younger sister, Lady Maira produced another cup from the shelves and poured him his tea, while the Granma watched the sinister-looking man settle down.
“Sugar? Honey? Milk, Sir?”, Lady Maira asked politely, though it was apparent she was not very comfortable with the idea of being just her and her grandmother in the same room with this man.
“None for me, Lady Maira.”, Aager growled with his gravelly voice, inadvertently making the girl flinch.
“Honey. Put honey in his tea, girl. Methinks he will need it.”, snickered the old woman.
“Ma’am..”, said Aager, sort of as an excuse to start from somewhere.
The old woman snickered again.
“You didn’t come here to Ma’am me this late, boy. ‘Granma’ will suffice. I have heard it enough many times to respond to it by now.”
“I came.. to..”, stammered Aager. “I was hoping for a private talk.. on a private matter, Lady Granma.”
“Well, now.. Lady and Granma.. You truly must be desperate, boy. But polite. Good qualities to start a conversation. Maira, dear, why don’t you take the night off. You don’t have to sit up late every night for my sake, you know. Do tell Alisia I said that, if you would, please. I am old. Not invalid, nor senile. She can attend to me personally when I am, rather than send her daughters..”, she huffed.
“Are.. are you sure, Granma?”, Maira asked tentatively, giving a sidelong glance in Aager’s direction. “Will you be alright?”
“I am alright, dear. And quite safe with Sir Aager here, seeing as he is the only trustable man left in Durkahan.”, she said steadily.
“I shall not keep Lady Granma up for long, Lady Maira.”, promised Aager quietly so as not to scare the girl any further.
“Then I leave my grandmother in your tender care, Sir Aager.”, she replied politely, bent down, kissed her granny, curtsied Aager, and regally left the room.
“I hope I didn’t scare her too much.”, mumbled Aager.
“My daughter and my grands don’t scare too easily, boy. Managed to give them that much at least. Though they did botch the job when Tarakadahan happened.”, said Granma, staring at him thoughtfully. “Now, what’s on your mind, young man? You truly must be desperate to have come to me for wisdom. People seldom do, anymore.”
“Their loss, I am sure..”, Aager said. “It is true that I am desperate, but I do not believe my choice of wisdom was faulty.”
“Very good, young man. Polite, and honest in his praise. No wonder that poor, skinny girl cares for you so deeply.”, she replied. “I suspect this has to do with her?”
“Uhhmm..”, stammered the sinister-looking man and.. squirmed.
“Speak, boy. Wisdom must be given direction to make sense.”, said the old woman sternly, surprising Aager a bit.
The man in the dark clothes took a slow sip from his honeyed tea, sort of to wet his throat, then started talking..
“I.. am not sure where to begin.. I.. deeply care.. for Inshala..”, he whispered. “Before I met her, my life was only about work. And the safety of the people who I knew nothing about, and who knew nothing about me. But I did it anyway.. As payment for my past sins. Then I met her.. while tracking the miscreants in the vastness of Ritual Forest, who ran and hid inside the old Themalsar ruins. We spent weeks in the cursed halls and dungeons of that mad man’s temple, fighting and bleeding on a nearly daily basis.. Then we faced Themalsar himself.. I almost died when he cursed me, Inshala got banished and then he dropped his demons on Lady Moira and the others.. We were.. desperate.. Dying, really.. But somehow, possibly by sheer stubbornness and a good dose of dumb luck, we did it.. We slew the mad priest who had plagued those lands for over eight hundred years., though we still couldn’t do anything about his deathly ruins, which would always be a gathering place for evil, as it did on at least four occasions, causing the death of tens of thousands of people.”
Lady Granma did not say anything, nor did she interrupt the whispering narration of the man sitting merely a few feet away. Silently, she listed to his desolate recollection of the historical event that had, perhaps unwittingly, changed the world.
Aager had just remembered what had happened after that.. and the ten days he had spent watching over the girl he’d come to love and honor, constantly making sure she was still breathing and still alive, every moment of those ten days, day and night..
Inadvertently, he shuddered.
One day, it was likely he would get over the terrors of those ten days..
But not anytime soon.
Slowly, he took another sip and continued.
“When we got out, she, Inshala, just stared at us and smiled, and just like that, she took the responsibility of kings and queens, great generals and armies, and buried the sins of men and the ruins of Themalsar, deep into the earth, and brought forth life —a whole forest of it, upon the dead and desolate land that was Themalsar, sacrificing everything that was precious for her. Everything that defined her.. She gave away what she was.. for the sins of men..”, whispered Aager in a desperate voice. “And now, I feel lost.. She comes to my room and together we color these silly pictures with colored sticks —with crayons, and I have never felt anything thus fulfilling in the entirety of my life, Lady Granma. What’s worse, we are going to a desperate war and she will follow me there, right into the bloody field.. I.. I do not know what to do, yet I feel so empty.. so blank.. without her.. I want her to be with me, for the rest of my life, and I want to be there, with her, for the rest of her life.. And yet, she is so young.. Do.. do I even have the right to ask such a selfish wont from her?”
The room seemed to hold its breath as Aager fell silent again.
Then Granma took things into her hands and dismantled everything!
“You are aware, that you are speaking to a woman who married at the age of fourteen, right, boy?”, she said with a toothy smile.
Aager ogled at her.
“And the same woman whose mother married when she was twelve! My father was barely sixteen himself and could barely hold up a shield.”, she continued with a cackle. “My mother was playing hopscotch with her friends when my grandfather called her inside and they wed her with my father who was nursing a bloody nose because he had just been fighting with some other boys at the time. Then the wedding was done, in under ten minutes, my mother returned to her game and my father went back to return the compliment done to his nose and had his lip split for his efforts!”
“Life is not how we define it, boy. That is base arrogance. Yes, they fought and so did I and my beautiful man, who had the soul of a shark, and was a brigand in bed! We did all sorts of silly things and fought over even sillier things and it took us years to understand what being married truly meant. But when we did, we were thick as thieves after that. Children marry at an early age in Durkahan, and for many reasons varying from the need for soldiers to farmers and artisans because we constantly feed our troops who safeguard the vast lands around the Demon Plains just north of here and Heavens Hand to stave off the evil that is constantly trying to overrun the Demon Wall, with logistics, soldiers, masons, and both armor smiths and weapon smiths, knowing should we fail, Heavens Hand will fail, and then the kingdom will fall. Other cities might have the luxury to live otherwise, but we do not. Boys and girls tend to marry quite after their twenties at Koruxan, while it varies greatly in other cities, and our dear little Inshala is not a human girl. Judging her by our standards is a poor way to repay her due respect. Not to mention the fact that she is a bloomer. I could see what she sees when she looks at you. You might see a little girl when you look at her and try to be honorable for all you like, but she sees a ‘mate’, when she looks at you! True, she has not grown in a society, hence, she lacks the things she should know and do, which refrains her from fully blooming. But you should also note; none of that is her fault.
Think of this when you are deciding whether she is too young or not; she sleeps in her room, wakes up in yours!
I am guessing, she does not do this because she needs a father figure. It is possible you filled such a gap, before, and at the beginning. But that is not the case anymore and has not been so for quite some time now, and I believe the delay was only due to her lack of social mingling; she just couldn’t correctly define what you were to her because she never had the appropriate social references. When it came to boys and men, that only meant being chased, caged, and whipped!
It is commendable and quite remarkable that you have managed to be as honorable as you have and never taken advantage of her, seeing as how honest, sincere, earnest, and pretty she is. Just for that, you have my respect. Methinks, however, playing with fire every walking moment of your day, and ‘not walking’ moments of your nights, and not expecting to eventually burn, or burn out, is foolishness, and you don’t look like a fool to me, boy.”
Aager stared at the old woman with astonishment. He had expected her to be mildly straightforward, certainly, but what he had gotten was a whole herd of Moxes trampling over him!
“You think.. I should ask for her hand?”, he asked carefully.
“And here I thought you were a smart man.”, muttered Lady Granma with exasperation. “We are past hands, boy. Ask her whole, already!”
Aager dropped the cup!
“Tell me, boy..”, the old woman asked. “When is the correct time to kill? You should know. It’s quite your area of expertise. Right up your alley, as they say..”
Aager paused for a moment.
This was something quite off-topic, and not exactly a ‘table conversation’ kind of thing to ask, nor answer, for that matter..
“I.. do not understand what you mean, Lady Granma.”, he replied carefully.
“Let me dummy that down for you then, young man.”, she said with a slightly disappointed tone.
“What happens when you stab too late?”
“You have missed your opportunity and are likely bleeding to death now.”, he replied.
“And what makes you think love is any different when it’s too late?”, she asked, staring deep into his eyes.
Aager Fogstep picked up the porcelain cup off the thick carpet, slowly rose, and spoke in his gravelly voice.
“Thank you, Grandmother. Your wisdom, it would seem, is quite sharp and well earned.”, he said a bit flustered.
“Sit, boy. We are not done yet!”, Granma ordered.
For a moment he wasn’t quite sure what to say. Finally, a low, harsh, and bitter whisper escaped him.
“I can not think of a life without my Inshala. I shall ask for her hand from Lady Alisia. I dearly hope she gives her to me, and with her blessing..”
“I wouldn’t worry too much about Alisia, young man. She yearns for a wedding.”, replied Granma with a snicker.
“Thank you for the tea.. and your insight..”, he said honestly.
“Do not wait for a day or three. Ask her hand in the morning, and have the wedding afternoon. The moment you forget to mention that, Alisia will turn the whole thing into a parade. Thrust me, boy, you don’t want that.”, Lady Granma warned with a smile. “Nothing short of an ambush will save you!”
“You have a very interesting way of laying things out, Lady Grana Maarva!”, Aager said, quite intrigued.
“I do, don’t I?”, she replied with another snicker. Then her face turned serious all of a sudden. “You will take care of my granddaughter, yes?”
“As tenderly as I can.”, replied Aager.
Granma stared at him and something deep inside her squinting eyes lit up..
“Tender is good.. But do not overdo it. Inshala is a flower, but not a wilting one. She will cry easily because she has never had the benefits of social moderations in her life. She also knows pain intimately and does not fear it. She has, methinks, figured early in life that, much like being tired after a long, happy run, being hurt and suffering pain is merely one of the natural outcomes of any venture —as sad as it is that she has come to that conclusion, and at such an early age, really is.
What she fears is not pain, but one of two things that very much matter to her. This, I have seen in her. She listens to everyone around her, and carefully asks the things she does not understand, even things that are trivial or just silly. I am guessing my mischievous grandson Cümeyt and my hair-brained granddaughter Madina are giving your Inshala a crash-course in many things she has missed, and possibly on things it would have been perfectly alright for her to have totally missed.”
“Yes. Buggery bum!”, said Aager with a short snort.
“Heard that, did you? Madina’s favorite for this month. Drives her mother crazy every time she uses it. And now she has learned it to young Inshala, who, willy-nilly, also uses it when her mother is there and is totally innocent of her deed. You can imagine the snickers all around, and there’s nothing much Alisia can do about it. I haven’t had this much fun in the last three decades..”, cackled the old lady.
“Her responses are oddly early or late, though. It is like she is miscounting her turn to speak, but eager to blend in..”
“Huh.”, grunted Aager. That had never happened when she was with him.
It dawned on him that it hadn’t because she trusted him to see her flaws and correct them appropriately, and for some reason, that made him feel happy.
Funny how it was always the little things!
“..For whatever reason, your little Inshala absolutely fears not being comprehended!
This she dreads mindlessly and can not shrug off nor ignore. My guess is, it is because she has been judged, and consequently punished for being something she is not —her whole life, precisely for that reason.
Somehow, she sees the absence of respect not so dissimilar to being misunderstood, hence, she fears this also. It is possible she strongly believes; ‘the misunderstood’ can not have respect.. Ignoring her wonts and desires —and likely her strengths as well— for the sake of your own conformity and providence and for something she can, and is willing to bear and endure will do her injustice on both accounts and give her the impression, quite clearly, I might add, just how little you really understand her, thus, how little respect you have for her! My man had faults. Too many to name here and now. But one thing he was never at fault nor lacking was, he showed me his love the way I wanted it, and I laughed every time he did a funny, even though he was a lump when it came to humor! Give her what she wants, boy. And let her give you the love you need to fill in your blanks.. Life is too short for stupid, and we are all going to war and some of us are not going to come back! Live with the regrets of loss. Not with the regrets of never having had the balls!”
Aager stared at his feet.
The sinister-looking man in his dark clothes felt singed.
That had been one, classy thrashing he’d just received from Lady Grana Maarva, and she hadn’t even been trying!
Also, she wasn’t done yet..
“Being polite and honorable is good and well. I am guessing, is how you have been treating her all along. Polite and honorable are indeed, good qualities, boy, but not at the expense of the people around us. Delia did the honorable thing, and good thing he did too —got himself killed by his own. Don’t get me wrong. I adored and respected that boy. He made my Alisia deliriously happy and I am sure that was a mean trick for him.. My Alisia was quite the petulant girl when she was young. Then my Moira did the honorable thing; landed herself in the dungeons. And then my Alisia decided to be honorable and good, and almost married the animal who killed his own brother and her husband. No one sought the wisdom of this old woman, which would have been; hire cutters, put a bounty on his head, poison his well, hex him, drop a loose flagstone on him, push him down the stairs, or whatever.. just kill him, already!“
“My Alisia did disappoint me, back then. Of all the things she could, and should have done, she chose defeat because that animal had threatened her with her children.. You see, boy, when someone threatens you and yours, you do not bargain to bed them. You simply have them killed! “, she finished pleasantly.
Good thing this old lady had been on their side.
“What you and your pretty little girl did was more than save our collective sorry hides. You, Sir Aager, and Inshala, in particular, remembered Alisia what it was to be a noblewoman, and the First Lady of Durkahan again. And when I say ‘Inshala in particular’, I do not emphasize it because you were less than her, but because she came here as not as a savior like you, but as the scared little sister, the lost daughter, and the awesome granddaughter!”
The old lady fell silent after that as if telling him she was done learning him her wisdom.
Aager stood up, respectfully nodded at the old woman then ghosted to the door.. and paused..
..as a moment of unexpected, and quite a retrospect insight dawned upon him.
“Would you..”, he asked, looking at Granma over his shoulder. “..know a Lady Daniella, perchance?”
Grana Maarva stared at him for a piercing moment.
“Now why would you ask me about Daniella?”, she asked sharply.
“No particular reason. Overheard a conversation between a young man, Udoorin Shieldheart, and Lady Moira once, right after we had come out of the Ruins of Themalsar and before my Inshala permanently sank it into the depths of the earth.”, he said.
“Why would Daniella’s name be mentioned at all?”, Granma asked intently.
“From what I gathered, she is the great-great-something-grandmother of the young man..”
“That so? And never did they figure, he and my Moira were cousins, then?”
Aager turned and stared at Lady Grana Maarva.
“You see, Daniella was my mother’s younger sister and a fiery, rebellious girl she was. She detested the nobility and married a promising young captain named Samdorin Shieldheart and together they left Durkahan and settled somewhere far off to the east..”
“Serenity Home!”, Aager blurted..
“No one will blame the beautiful Princess of Bari Na-ammen to have taken a simple country oaf for a king!”, said Lady Grana Maarva with a check-mate snicker.
✱ ✱ ✱
Aager Fogstep lay in his bed, staring blankly at the stone ceiling, back in his ‘lair’..
..and quietly waiting.
It was past midnight and he was exactly twenty-five years and one month old now. Normally, that wouldn’t have been remarkable for him. People who lived on a daily, ‘today, I have survived again’ basis, cared little about their age.
This particular night seemed special, however.
Or rather, this particular day.
There seemed a sense of freshness, and perhaps that of ‘expectation’, in the air. Much like how children felt when they learned their father was alive and coming home..
..from a long, depleting war.
“Huh.”, mumbled Aager. “That was a bit dramatic. Couldn’t have related to something brighter, something happier, could you?”
The door to his den opened and in a particularly pretty, pale lavender nightgown with white, frilly fringes that barely covered her slender hips and nothing else, Inshala walked in.
She didn’t wait at the door to look inside, nor pause for her eyes to adjust to the dark chamber.
She entered as she’d opened the door.
And with silent, naked feet, she ghosted around Aager’s bed until she bumped her, somewhat knobby knees, to his bed and just stood there with little to no expression on her face. What was there, however, seemed on the bare edges of distress.
Slowly she rose her skinny arms and held them outstretched and with her palms facing one another.
She had been like this ever since Moira had given her room to her, and gladly, but Aager suspected the whole idea had been Lady Alisia’s.
True, she had done it to preserve her new daughter’s dignity and avoid possible, slandering gossip. But she had, perhaps unwittingly turned ‘the girl who hangs around that sinister-looking man all day’, into ‘the girl who sneaks off into that sinister-looking man’s chamber at nights!’
Aager sighed and put the esteemed Lady Alisia aside, sat up, and stared at the girl.
He stared at Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane and quietly called her name.
The girl’s brows crested slightly, then she made a small, distressed noise.
She looked so very pretty, but sad..
..or perhaps ‘unhappy’, was closer to defining her distress.
She seemed like someone yearning to be somewhere, was allowed to come thus near, just not permitted to touch her wont.
It was a cruel way to punish someone, and unwittingly as it may have been, that was exactly what was being done to her.
Silently, he got out of his bed, came around behind her, pulled her to himself, and enfolded her, and her outstretched arms in his.
She seemed so small in his arms like that and Aagerwasn’t a large man, to begin with. A stab above average in height, and an edge broader at the shoulders, certainly, but altogether, a lean man, really.. A man, made of tightly woven, cord-like spring-muscles. More so since he had accepted Mab’s offer and taken the Winter Mantle.
Everything seemed more vivid, detailed, and alive since the Mantle, including his deadly attire, and his not-so-dissimilar desires..
In fact, everything was more since the Mantle!
His moments of happiness, and consequently, his moments of wrath. Which was exactly what he had dished out on Karkashi, in the arena..
And Inshala had found her solace in a man like him, of all people.
A good-for-murder, only Mab would have deemed worthy of her Mantle..
Inshala, on the other hand, had found her peace with him and in her beautiful gray eyes, he saw her storms, and her demons back off and scatter.. and he only needed to be near.
Was it, then, too much for him to ask just as much of her?
To stave off and scatter his demons?
And perhaps find solace too?
And certainly not for his demons.
For he had already found his solace in her and that had happened before the Mantle.
The scattering of his demons was merely ‘collateral damage’, per se.
Because Aager Fogstep was always honest with himself.
With her, he had been nothing less.
Slowly, and with great care so as not to wake her, he picked the little girl, as he always did, and tenderly lay her in the other bed. And with nothing less than honest desire, he looked at her tiny feet, her smooth, bare legs, her slender, naked hips, her small, palm-sized butt, her slim waist, her little tummy, and her appealing, nubile, baby-pink breasts, quite visible under her revealing nightgown, and her diminutive, somewhat angular face, her long eyelashes, her slightly frowning brows, her cute, perky nose, her plush, cherry-red lips, her beautiful, curving horns, and her scattered, long, and silky hair..
And he wondered.
For an inevitable moment.
Whether this little girl knew.
Just what kind of a stirring effect she had on him..
But that was it, wasn’t it?
Other than some vague insight at an instinctual level, the little girl truly had no idea.
Only suppressed hope that the man, Aager, somehow found her appealing.
And that was also his fault.
Both that she didn’t know, and that she would think so little of herself..
Perhaps it was time, he thought, he really ought to tell her.
With a destitute sigh.
He reached down.
And covered her tiny feet, her smooth, bare legs, her slender, naked hips, her small, palm-sized butt, her slim waist, her little tummy, and her appealing, nubile, baby-pink breasts, still visible, still calling from under her revealing nightgown, all the way up to her skinny, bare arms, slender neck and her diminutive, somewhat angular face, with his own blanket.
He watched as the girl did a sad little whimper and struggled to free herself from under her covers.
Inshala, it would seem, displaced her blankets quite frequently. A something he would look forward to tending in the near future..
..and mayhap, in the far future as well.
He bent down and kissed her forehead, then her beautiful, curving horns, and soothed her long, silky hair until she calmed, and with a depressed sigh, went still.
For a long time, Aager listened to her sated breaths, then gave a similar, depressed sigh of his own, silently ghosted to the large wardrobe, pulled out a spare blanket, and went back to his own bed.
Lying in the dark, and staring at the ceiling of his den, he asked.
“Do you want me thus much, Inshala?”
No reply came.
Only soft, steady breathing..
..and a barely discernable, sleepy little sigh.
It was possible he had a barely discernable smile of his own on his face when he finally drifted off to sleep. He was twenty-five years and one month old now, the girl he loved was barely an arm’s length away, and today seemed to promise a whole new beginning.
✱ ✱ ✱
And what do we have here?”, asked Aager, entering his chamber/lair/den, late that night and stared down at the little girl lying on her tummy and on the pale beige carpet with her legs swinging lazily as she furiously colored what he thought was a woodsman’s lodge with a garden full of flowers, bushes, trees, a raccoon, a dear, a bear, and an eagle, or maybe it was a hawk, or likely a crow. A picture, he thought, was a bit on the pretentious side and would likely end with the bear killing the dear and raccoon destroying everything in the lodge and possibly knocking down a candle and setting the whole thing on fire!
“I am coloring this new book that Master Cümeyt was kind enough to give me.”, she said, looking up and smiling at him from where she lay. “He insists I am getting better so he gave me this one and swore on his ancestors that this one was for pros!”
“I could see how this one is indeed for pro’s.”, said Aager with a straight face, as he pulled off his dark, leather hood and mask off and tossed them on the bed.
“I told him he did not have to swear at his ancestors and that I would have believed him anyway because brothers and sisters never lie to one another.”, she said happily. “But he just stared at me with this funny face and he was like, ‘Ow, like never ever?’, and I said, ‘Of course, never ever, because brothers and sisters must trust one another, and he was like, ‘Well, that’s a buggery bum. Where’s the fun in that?'”
“That boy..”, growled Aager, while he undid the buckles to his dark leathers, pulled them off, and put them neatly on the bed as well. “..will either go far or go to jail, someday..”
“Then he tried to explain what pros meant and I asked him why he cut the other half of a perfectly nice word, and he said, ‘Cuz that’s what pros do, sis!'”
Then she sighed.
“The rules of cities and families are confusing and many.”
“That they are.”, he agreed and loosed his heavy belt and removed his swords, daggers, and knives, and carefully set them aside.
“And of course, I am confused now. I wanted to ask you, then and there but decided against it. You were in a meeting with the pigwigs.. or maybe it was the bigwigs, I am not sure which because both Cümeyt and Madina started laughing and giggling when I said pigwigs and neither of them made any sense after that and I was like, ‘This is a buggery bum of a situation only my Aager could untangle’, but you were at the meeting with the pigwigs.. So then I was like, ‘Girl, you must stop, like, now! You are like this clumsy bear cub that just stepped on a wasp’s nest and is now running around in silly circles with all the angry wasps on your tail!’
I did tell him, I would rather he never cut the other end of my name, though. Or anybody else’s. Can you imagine Inshes, Cüms, Mois, Mais, and Mads and Fards running around all day? I mean, we wouldn’t even have to be running, and we would still look funny and silly!”
“I would rather you all didn’t run around all day as Moi’s, Mai’s, Mad’s, Fard’s, and Insh’es, either. That would be awkward, indeed. And funny. And silly.”, he said with a smile, settled on the thick, pale beige carpet and on this stomach, pulled off his heavy leather gloves, grabbed a brown coloring stick, and started on all the tree trunks, and the lodge.
Inshala giggled again.
“Master Cümeyt thought it was funny, and silly too. So he laughed. In fact, he laughed so hard, we had to stop playing for a while. But his laugh was also very squeaky and funny, so I laughed too. Then Madina laughed because she thought we were funny and because I make this snorty noise from my nose when I laugh. Then mother came and grounded us because there was an important meeting going on with the pigwigs and we were making so much noise and being irresponsible! That sort of annoyed Granma so she and mom started arguing. Granma told mom the pigwigs wouldn’t even be having their buggery bum meetings if it hadn’t been for us and we could hear them all the way from our room and Cümeyt, Madina, and I thought that was a bit unfair of mom to have grounded us when they were making so much noise themselves.. I did also wonder why we had been grounded. I mean, we were already sitting on the ground. But I decided to let that pass too, as things were confusing, and funny, and silly enough as they were and I thought maybe not asking would make me look more like this ‘pros’, rather than the clumsy bear cub! After all, I thought, I could always ask you.. when you are not in a meeting, and not busy, and not resting..”, she finished with a pout, as she picked three shades of blues and started on the sky!
“You could ask me now.”, he offered.
“No..”, Inshala said with a happy, yet slightly distracted voice. “..You are busy in a ‘resting-meeting’ now, with me.”
He just couldn’t help himself.
Yes, the story Inshala had just told was mildly entertaining, but it was the artlessly innocent, earnest, and seamless ‘commentary’ way she told it, followed by the unexpected conclusions that made it cute, adorable, and funny. What was more, was that Inshala was not telling her stories with the intention to entertain.
She was just telling them.
The way she saw them and comprehended them. It wasn’t all about her stories and how entertaining, or even fascinating they were.
It was how she delivered them..
When Aager told a story, he said it like he was giving an intelligence report; short, succinct, to the point, and with professional deliberation. It would start at point A, and end at point B, using the shortest, straightest, two-dimensionally linear path, and A would always keep B in his LoS —Line of Sight because that’s how much his A’s would trust his B’s!
Inshala’s recollection of events never went from point A to point B. They certainly never followed a straight nor a linear path because there were C’s, D’s, E’s, F’s, G’s, and a whole flock of other letters both related and sometimes, not so related, to consider, hence, were all brought into her telling, because outright discarding them was obviously not nice, and probably rude as well, as she told the events of her day in her soft, seamless, and ‘slightly confused’ narrative voice where she took point A into her small, delicate hands and bloomed it!
From there, things could only branch or ripple out, seeming to go every which way without any purpose or destination. She would reach point B, but never in an ‘eventually’, sense.
Her point B’s were neither here, nor there, but stressed in her telling and you just had to be deliberately dense or outright lacking any form of sentient perception or insight to have missed it thus thoroughly, or it came from an angle that had little to do with what she was talking about in the first place but ended up being oddly relevant.
The curious part of it all was the fact that things THUS FAR FROM THE POINTandLINEARLY NON-TWO-DIMENSIONAL were the very same things Aager Fogstep had truly, and unequivocally hated..
..until he’d bumped into one, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane.
The counter-amazement to this was in the dilemma of how Inshala would rather be straightforward, to the point, and succinct like Aager had been all along, only if she could.
Aager certainly wished to never see that!
“I didn’t want to tell Master Cümeyt, but the real reason why I thought he shouldn’t cut names in half like that was because names have protective power of their own, and cutting them in half removes that protection..”, Inshala said after a while.
“I didn’t know that.”, admitted Aager.
“Not many do. This is why it is unwise to name certain evil beings. It might irk their interest and bring them upon us. Not something anyone would want, and it will give them power over us. This is also the reason why we shy from calling those we love by their name, I think. We already feel helpless against them and we fear we might succumb to them all the way, should we call them by their name, “, she explained quietly.
“Huh.”, said Aager. “Is that why you didn’t use to call me by my name before?”
“Yes.”, she replied honestly.
“But you are saying it now.”, Aager stared.
“Yes.”, she said again, her voice a bit smaller.
“What changed?”, he asked.
“Nothing changed.”, she answered in a tiny, abashed voice. “I have decided to succumb all the way..”
In silent contemplation, the two turned the picture around as per need and colored the lodge, the garden, the bushes, and the trees, the raccoon (who, against all expectations, behaved itself), the dear, the bear (which indignantly refused to kill and eat the dear), and the hawk, in unified trans, passing the crayons back and forth for the next two hours.
“You once asked me when I would see you as a girl and not a baby —like a woman..”
“Would you like to be my woman? My wife?..”
“..And be stupid together for life?”
Just like that.
Aager Fogstep proposed.
✱ ✱ ✱
Aager Fogstep, the silent, sinister-looking man in his dark leathers, hood, and mask, the Winter Knight of Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman, the Lady of Durkahan, the Ritual Guardian, the Mistress of The Grove of Titania, the Queen of Mother Earth and Summer, married the very next day, just a bit after ambushing Lady Alisia and asking her blessing, and for the hand of her new daughter.
The wedding took place in Lord Delia Karakarsh’s own small, private chapel in the inner castle of Durkahan City where Ladies Moira, Maira, and Madina happily attended, while the young Master Cümeyt held the tail end of the pretty bride’s long skirt, merrily skipping and hopping behind her and punching the air with a victorious fist and shouting;
“Yeesh! You go, girl!”
Seated at the rear, one Lady Grana Maava smirked while her daughter, Lady Alisia, dabbed her eyes as she watched her Inshala join, in health and in sickness, up in the sky and down in the ground.. and for life, with the silence, spooky man, Aager Fogstep..
The ring Aager gave Inshala was handcrafted by the best gold and glass smiths Durkahan had to offer and was made specifically for her; a slim, extraordinarily elegant circular glass, quite indestructible, with a forest of very tiny life-like flowers and vines, and tiny motes of what appeared to be fireflies captured in it and smoothly framed with gold —all intricately molded and flecked with emerald, ruby, and diamond dust, and with both red and green copper.
Inshala’s ring to him was a simple, very dark, quite thick, blue-black thing with two fiery orange bands running around it’s surface. And between the seemingly burning bands, was a poorly scrabbled etchings that must have taken the skinny little girl hours to have carved.
To • My • AAGRR • I • Belong
✱ ✱ ✱
Far, far away to the east and in the dark, silent depths of the vast Ritual Forest was a rundown and abandoned derelict. Standing right outside that small, sad, and desolate hovel was an ancient oak with less than half her leaves and weighted down with snow.
A warm, happy breeze soothed unseasonably from the west and caressed the brittle branches of the old, nearly-petrified tree and the ancient oak shuddered, felling more of her remaining leaves. A sharp, precipitous crack echoed in the forest and the ancient tree split in two. With a great sigh of relief, Tamara whispered.
“She is safe, she is loved, and she belongs. You may rest in peace now, my love..”
And after some three fulfilling millennia of breathing life into her forest, the ancient oak toppled over and crashed with a resounding boom, adding to the derelict..
Tamara gave another sigh.
“You be good, now, Ritual Guardian..”
Tamara was the beloved wife of Master Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig who was Inshala’s surrogate father and master. Tamara was killed some eight hundred years ago, during the first Themalsar War. At least on one occasion, Master Cathber was known to have called or referred to the great old oak tree standing mighty in front of his tiny hut as Tamara.. Whether he was calling the oak, Tamara in reference to the day they met and right in front of the old tree, or he is being literal is unknown, as the only two people involved, Master Cathber and Lady Tamara, are both dead.
What Inshala etches on the dark, blue-black carbon-alloy iron ring may, or may not be a misspelling of Aager. She does know the secret runes and glyphs of druidic, and perhaps a spatter of elvish, but does not know how to read nor write common. Cümeyt and Madina are tutoring her some (possibly on Lady Alisia’s orders) and she has come far. Interestingly, the first word she asked to be taught how to write was not her own name.
Whether she does a typo mistake on the ring, or she has etched it so with deliberation is unclear. She does confess, much later (in the story: A ‘Warm’ Warning) how Aager reminds her of her saber-tooth tiger, Katana.
This is a recollection of certain events taking place from around the Themalsar War to centuries later and ending somewhere amongst the ruined lands of Demon Plains and Arcanton Mordenon’s faulty demon gate..
This is a story on how the letter-scroll Prince Gordigon gave to Arcantonic Palecog traveled through time and space to end up back in the hands of the little gnomic girl after she lost it during their hurried flight from the war zone of Themalsar.
Brom Bumblebrim gets bit, again, by whatever it is that keeps biting him on occasion as he brushes by the Tinker-guy on his way out of the Great Arashkan Library. And on an impulse, he burglarizes him, unwittingly taking back the letter scroll that Tonic had lost, some 800 years ago, just past Ogre’s Foot during their first prophecy.
As to how the scroll comes by the gnome, Gnine Tinkerdome is an adventure all by itself;
About a week after its loss, the scroll is first discovered by one of the scores of scouts belonging to Durkahan Paladins and the Koruxan Knights heading towards the battle against Themalsar. The document is handed over to the Keeper of Durkahan Archives who is killed, some two weeks later, along with hundreds of other military personnel during their final push against the Themalsar’s forces when goblin sappers strapped with fused bombs charge out of their hidden trenches and into the ranks of the Durkahan Paladins and Koruxan Knights..
When the war finally ends, the paladins, the knights, the elves, and the dwarves refuse to loot the bloody, stinking, corpse-infested battlefield. They collect their dead and wounded, and head home, leaving the Arashkan Military to deal with the mess.
The not-so-happy Arashkan Army loots everything they can find and take them back to their own city, inadvertently raising the economical level and power of the city by tenfold while all documents and writs found are sent to The Great Arashkan Library to be sifted and eliminated; a long and tedious process that unwittingly forms the foundations of ARIS, Arashkan Intelligence Service.
Some of the writs and documents are forwarded to the department of history, and some are handed over to the military, while others are sealed and archived in the royal palace vaults.
Many centuries later, a disreputable and quite a drunkard professor is excommunicated from the University of Arashkan for selling antique books and documents in the black market, also finds himself on the wrong side of the law for forgery and falsifying official documents.
Afraid of being locked in jail or worse, he seeks sanctuary among the Thieves Guild of the same city. The thieves ‘hire’ him to work for them in their ‘information department’, for a small fee to prove his loyalty; the professor is to bring his whole batch of pilfered antique books and documents.
Unfortunately, the conflict between the thieves guild and the cutters known as Them Friggin Bastards escalate and turn into a bloody, open street warfare after the seemingly unexpected murder of a high standing aristocrat, a Lady Felishia Fremeir, over some stolen ‘royal gifts’. The professor, along with his marketable antiques are ‘shelved’ and put on hold, and shortly after, are totally forgotten when the professor’s liver finally gives in and he dies of over abuse of alcohol.
A few years later, a young half-elf thief named Darly ‘Darlius’ Dor searching for a means to avenge his unspoken lover, the Lady Felishia Fremeir brings his ‘friends’; Aager Fogstep, Laila Wolvesbane, Inshala Frostmane, Merisoul Xyrtowu, and Gnine Tinkerdome to the ‘information department’ of the thieves guild to ‘help’ them in their search to find the whereabouts of the highly wanted and elusive rebellion, Gar Thalot.
During their hours-long excavation among thousands and thousands of documents and bits and pieces of parchments with various information on the city, the city denizens and officials alike, the keen ranger corporal Laila Wolvesbane stumbles on a very old letter scroll. To the great surprise of everyone in the group, the letter is written by a Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome some 800 years ago to his father, King Drine Tinkerdome of Silent Hills. The letter scroll is handed over to Gnine Tinkerdome, also a member of the same company.
Historically, when the Demon Fog settles over Silent Hills, some few colonies of gnomes do manage to escape the disaster. The majority of these gnomes travel far south and west, never to be heard of again as they are hunted down and slain by some very large, orc-like creatures, possibly the first-ever sighting of the Greater Orken. Some few, though, secretly settle at Tinker Hills to form their own small and ‘silent’ community. Nearly three hundred years later, a highly intelligent, and dangerously proactive young gnome is born into this community; Gnine Tinkerdome.
Burning with curiosity about his possible heritage, and with the help of his bond, Whimsi Lola, the gnome, Gnine, starts to secretly break into The Great Arashkan Library in hopes of finding more information in the restricted, official archives, where he meets a rather unscrupulous hobbit named Brom Bumblebrim, who, upon a familiar sting, burglarizes the gnome and inadvertently retrieves the letter-scroll and returns it to Tonic..
This, seemingly minor ‘hiccup’, would constitute the basis of the obsession in the little gnomic girl, Tonic, and inadvertently trigger the events that would lead to the story; Left Behind (18+), some 180 years in the future, pushing and urging her to find a way to open an Astral Gate where time and space get distorted, to get back to her one and only love; Prince Gordigon Tinkerdome..
✱ ✱ ✱
In an unprecedented irony, Tonic follows her uncle, Arcanton Mordenon’s researches on ‘gates’ , and after decades of trials and errors, she finally constructs her own functional gate. Not a gate leading to the Abyss to summon demons, however, but something ultimately more destructive; an Astral Gate.. A plane of pseudo-existence where time, space, and matter are torn apart, shredded, and corroded down to their base moments, units and elements..
What becomes of Arcantonic Palecog after she steps through the Astral Gate to get to her prince is never quite clear. Rumors assume her to have been, inevitably torn apart in the Astral Void, as she sought, for relative centuries, to find a counter exit point to reach the moment she met her desire. But rare historical records found after the lifting of the Demon Fog in Silent Hills’ long-forgotten and crumbled vaults, however, mention one of their greatest kings to be a King Gordigon Tinkerdome son of King Drine Tinkerdome son of King Knine Tinkerdome, and speak of his fiery little queen.. The identity of the said queen, however, is never discovered as it seems to have been diligently never recorded!..
Interestingly, the name of King Gordigon’s firstborn is recognized in The Silent Archives; a beautiful little gnomic girl named Seressa Ton Wraiven!
Having fulfilled its prophetic purpose, the letter scroll thus finds its way back, like the song, ‘Time’,
‘..Linking places, spaces, events, and relations by the simple expedience of relating the past to the future..’
to its true owner; Arcantonic Palecog!
✱ ✱ ✱
As for her pair, Seressa Wraiven slowly deteriorates into the madness of hopeless despair at the loss of her pair and is rumored to have last been seen roaming mindlessly, like the broken ghost of her former self around the devastated and rotting lands north of Durkahan City and Kahan Mountains, among the ruins of Demon Plains, ferally seeking a way to get passed the endless sea of undead and fiends, streaming out of Arcanton’s faulty demon gate.. and enter it, in hopes of finding a way, through the Abyss, to her pair or to just end it all..
Late one night, many hundreds of leagues away, a certain hobbit gets bit, perhaps one final time as he dons his lorica, his sword, his cap, and his cloak.
“There really was no need, my friend..”, Brom Bumblebrim mumbled quietly.
“I had already made up my mind.”
He hauls his backpack, grabs a simple, nondescript walking stick, and picks up his antique lyre, gives a final, mournful look at the empty depths of his home..
Once more, he drops a note to his, now quite a bit older friend, Gamwise Samgee. Unlike the note he scrabbled nearly two centuries ago, this one would be a bit longer;
My dear Gamwise Samgee,
Due to quite expected reasons, I will be leaving and I am afraid there will be no coming back this time. You will find the deed for my home and everything I own, all listed and cataloged, in the small chest, in the study; my garden, my lands, my roses, my phloxes, my cherries, my books, my songs, my mother’s tea cups.. have all been transferred to your name and properly notarized. I would greatly appreciate that the aforementioned lands and properties stay in your family and never be sold and the roses, the phloxes, and the cherries are allowed to remain.
I have but two boons to ask of you; a package containing various odds and end, and a staff I had been trying to mend and repair for the past few years.. You will find them both hidden behind the seed sacks, down in the cellar. The package and the staff are to be taken to a certain house at Salt Woods. You will find the exact location marked on the map I left with the package. I am afraid you will personally have to make this trip as you are the only one I can trust for this delivery. You will have to approach the site from the north side and use a password to safely enter as the boundaries of the house is heavily warded.
For my second boon;
Live, my friend.
Live and be happy.
Well, that’s it, then..
I must now part with the acceptance of a curse to find what I should have taken when I had the chance. The time for me to shed my cowardice, my ignominy, and my disgrace has arrived.
I shall take up the mantle of my love and my passion, and wear it, even though I do not deserve it. I go to redeem my self of a sin I did by abandoning my heart for reason.
I leave to seek a lost soul and to right a wrong. A wrong I let happen one hundred and eighty years ago..
Farewell, my dear friend.
Yours truly, Knight Laureate Brom Bumblebrim.
P.S. Be particularly gentle with the staff, if you would, please. I had meant to finish it before this journey, but I am afraid, my time is up.
When people come to call and ask about my grandfather’s rusty old sword collection, they will want to know if they are magic. Never answer that question. Always smirk —silently. The way I did. It will drive them crazy, but the legend must go on!
The password for the wards is;
“The Wonder In Pinks”..
✱ ✱ ✱
For many days and deep into the nights, he traveled north, skirting The Savage Plains and Endless Watch. He passed Tinker Hills, then Silent Hills, and decided to skim by Serenity City, rather than stay. He didn’t want this venture to turn into a parade. And just when he’d passed Gulls Perch, there she was..
Standing at the side of the road was a particularly grim-looking tundra elf barbarian bearing deep, frostbite scars, whirling dark blue storm tattoos, long, snow braids, and wearing the mark of a Riserin —the sign of the Princess of Ironfrost.
“You decided then..”, she said gruffly.
The hobbit nodded mutely.
“Took you bloody long enough.”, she scowled.
“Didn’t want you to come.”, he said quietly.
“Didn’t care what you wanted!”, she said bluntly. “You don’t get to make choices for others, Brom. Made her choice for her that one time, and look where it got you. Where it got her!“
“We both paid the price.”, he replied inaudibly.
“Seems like only she paid any price.. ALL THE PRICE!“, the barbarian girl glowered. “You know, you are a lucky little hobbit, and my friend, because I so want to beat you into the ground, right here, right now!”
“Yea..”, replied the hobbit morosely. “..lucky me.”
“When you made her choice, you abandoned her, Brom. You made us abandon her. Do you think she would be the way she ended up, had you been with her?”, she said mercilessly.
“There really isn’t anything that you can say, that I haven’t already said to myself, Cora.”, Brom replied quietly.
“That is possible. But I shall give it my best!”, she bit savagely.
A few days later, when they were passing Misty Forest, they came out of the filmy haze like a pair of wraiths and joined them; a cold, sinister-looking man in dark, patchy clothes, holding the hand of a very pretty, ‘still needs some filling’ little girl with sad, forlorn eyes, strawberry lips, long, silky hair, and beautiful, curving horns. The man silently nodded at them and they start walking in the same direction.
“Dear, dear Brom.”, said the skinny girl, with misty eyes. “The heart wins when the mind submits. He wanted to beat you. But I said please, don’t. He asked me why he shouldn’t and I reminded him how I had to sneak up to him all those times and whispered into his ear, just to get his attention, the first time we met, and he barely took notice of me..”
“I noticed you. Four years before we ever met. You had my attention. Grilled those two, mule-headed ranger girls, Laila and Morel, for hours, but they refused to give me anything about you.. When we met, you were just too young..”, the sinister-looking man, Aager, growled. “I didn’t want to make choices for you. Nor take away your options..”
“Yet, by doing that, did you not do just that? Take away my choices?”
..she replied, but there was no rancor, nor rebuff in her voice. Inshala turned to Brom and spoke with a conversational, matter-of-fact voice.
“I had decided I wanted him. He knew I wanted him. He knew he wanted me. Yet he decided it was better for me to wait. He wanted me to stay as a baby, not a girl. And wait we did..” Then softly she added. “And lost years.. Years I wanted him.. Nothing is as sweet as the moment you want something.. One can live with regrets, but never with lost opportunities.
I carry no regrets. But I do miss the lost opportunities.”
“Told him pretty much the same things, all those years ago.. just more bluntly.”, inserted Cora. “But our hobbit here is a bit thick in the skull!”
They passed the ruins of Arashkan and decided not to stop at High Woods, even though Inshala very much wanted to.
They traveled further west, resupplied at Vodgar, and followed the road past Dark Forest.
They took a boat across Kahan Lake and beached at the dying shores of Demon Plains..
Carefully they traveled towards the dreary lands and there, at the very edge of the Demon Plains, they beheld the slight figure of another tired and desolate soul.
The beautiful heart of High Woods silently rose and told them that she has thus passed her legacy and her heritage to others and that she would accompany them in their sojourn to help find a friend and perhaps, find her twin sister as well.
With a steely determination, she would join them, and perchance her own Dorin..
“Is this what he would have wanted, my Queen?”, asked Brom sadly.
“I am queen, no longer, dear Brom. I shed my burdens ere I came. Nons shall take pride over my death, nor carry my burden as a trophy.”
..replied Alor’Nadien ne with her soft, brushing voice.
“You will always be my Queen and hold the throne of my heart.”, said the hobbit sincerely.
“Methinks your heart’s throne already has her queen, dear Brom, but my King is not here and by his stone, my grief is no longer bearable.
I have been offered many prospects since then; other kings and princes, merchants, and royalty. They never understood; I have never wanted to be queen. Yet I chose to be one for he was there to bear its burden with me. Much like he chose to be king, for that was the only way we would be allowed to be together. And by his hollow seat, day and night, year after year, for a century and more, I sat, appearing like the person I no longer am; strong, alive, and willing.
I no longer hold the strength nor the will to carry on. And I see no point to stay any longer, my friend. Where he is, he awaits. Where I go, will be there.”
“The fight. Who will—”, asked Brom, words failing him now.
“If the fight has come down to a tired, broken soul such as I, then surely we are lost already. New hands with vigor must pick up that mantle now, and bear its burdens. Not these tired hands.”, she replied solemnly.
“What of High Woods, my Queen?”
“My youngest granddaughter, Alor’Derune, the Allure of Dorin, has been chosen and the mantle passed. I shall miss the heart and the breath of my forest. The spirit of High Woods promised I would cherish and prosper. So I have. From the ashes of my forest, I have lived to see my kingdom reborn, and by my King’s love, my children and their children strive. But everything must come to a close. We thought we saved so many but lost so much more. We gave our all, and more until we had none..
I relish my moments in this life. And I cherried my beloved friends. But like my King, most are gone, now. This life no longer offers me favors, nor passions. Thus I yearn for the other and for over a century now, I have counted my days. I have kept him waiting because he asked this one boon of me; that I live and be happy.
I have lived, but he did not know, he had bereft me of all happiness when he left. Nay. I think I have kept my promise. It is time he honors his and accepts me.”
Brom quietly nodded. That was all he could do. When a person talked in a language one could understand, but not relate, one knew, they were on two, very different levels of perception; the Queenof High Woods, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist Shieldheart was already gone. What stood here, was nothing but her shade.
They had given their all.
But such was the required sacrifice of the few, select mortals to save their world from annihilation.
“It’s a bit late to start. We have lost the noon sun. Will make them stronger as the hours pass. Might as well make camp early, and start at first light.”, Brom said.
“Did I ever tell you how much I hate ghosts, wraiths, and zombies? Ow, and demons.. Especially the ones with the long, barbed tentacles..”, he added with a voice that was barely audible.
“Yea.”, replied Cora said from somewhere behind him. “They always go for the little, fat ones!”
He squinted at the distant lands, dead and rotting. He took a deep breath and faced his preening destiny.
For a long, long moment, Brom thought of the very tall, very dark girl that had ruined him for everyone else..
He remembered the time when she had whispered into his mind. The time when he and Cora had thought they were going up against a terrible demon, all those years ago, on Ice Wolf Horde’s request. It had also been the time they had first met.. Thinking back, she could have whispered at Cora, yet she had opted to whisper to him.
He remembered the way she had flopped and klutzed, face down into the snow, displaying all her curvy glory in pinks.. After nearly two hundred years, he could still remember that image, and so vividly..
He remembered when she had gone up against Cora in defense of her pair, Tonic, at Mount Dreadmaw, and had so dearly paid the price.
And he remembered the way she had blushed so furiously and had been so embarrassed that time when he had caught her with Tonic’s foot in her mouth.
“This isn’t what it looks like!”, she had blurted in unveiled panic, with Tonic’s foot still in her mouth. “I am not eating her!”
Brom wondered why she had feared that he would think her eating Tonic.
Had she done something silly as she often did, in her past, and someone had said something stupid to her? What kind of a demented idiot would be so cruel, he wondered.
And suddenly he knew he needn’t seek the cruel idiot far away.
That cruel idiot was right here.
Then, just like that, he started to shake.
And silently, Brom Bumblebrim wept..
..he wept while staring at the dead lands where ‘The Wonder in Pinks’ was off, somewhere, not even sure if she were alive. Her beautiful mind gone, as she crept and crawled in the filth of the rotating land towards the demon gate.
“I will not offer comfort by saying it isn’t your fault. Because as sure as it is, it is mine as well, Brom Bumblebrim. When you chose to do what you did, I chose to stand by you. Many things could have been different if I had ignored you and just picked you up and threw you at her! Knowing her, she would have caught you, and kept you.. along with her dignity and sanity..
You are not the first to think less of themselves and feel unworthy, Brom. And Seressa was a great soul..”, Cora said.
“She always was. And like the coward I am, I turned away from her, thinking she deserved better, deserved more.. Never bothered to ask her what she wanted. Just like all the other animals out there who never bothered to ask her what she felt.. I sinned her, Cora..”, Brom shuddered as he wept. “I burned her when I abandoned her.. I did her wrong and now, I dragged you into this.. I deserve everything you want to do to me.”
“Well, when you say it like that, makes me wonder just what kind of a girl you think I am. Shall I fetch my whip? Would you rather pole lashing or have me do it while you are stretched on a rack!”, she said mildly. “As for the dragging, I doubt you could drag me anywhere even if you tried.. That’s what friends are for; being dragged without being told. It was my choice to be your friend, Brom, and so was accepting you as mine. You were there when I was down. You let me lean on you. Yes, I never cried on your shoulder, but I did know that your shoulder was always available should I ever needed it.. Now I am here for you to lean back. Doesn’t mean I am not pissed off at you. This one, though, I am doing for her.”, she said.
She looked down at the shuddering hobbit, removed her heavy fur cloak, and settled it over him.
“Go on. Get some sleep. I will cover the first watch with that Aager-guy. He is worse than I am. I didn’t use to talk because I was so ‘can’t be bothered’ and ‘cool’. He doesn’t even care about cool. The only one I have ever seen him smile is his wispy little wife. Wonder if I should ask him just how old he is.. and why! Pain to get him to talk.. And creepy as hell, the way those two just ogle at one another like newly eloped teens, without ever saying a single word.”
“Tomorrow is going to be one, long day..”, sniffed Brom.
“Yes.”, agreed, Cora. “Tomorrow, we enter Demon Plains and retrieve a friend. Two, if we are lucky.”
Then she looked at the shade of the Queen of High Woods, Alor’Nadien ne, lost in her own sorrows; loved ones and friends..
“But I mean to leave no one behind. A girl of her stature and grace needs a proper stone and a decent shrine. Not a ditch in the ground..”
The twin sister referred to here, is the recorded kinship of Arcantonic Palecog as a Feymist, on the day Alor’Nadien ne is born, by Nadine Graciousward. Both of their names are entered into the royal archives of Bari Na-ammen on the same day, making them, ‘technically’, sisters and twins..
The staff Brom refers to, is the Staff of Blooms that belonged to Seressa Wraiven since shortly after her graduation from the Academy of Melshieve.
During the story, Left Behind (18+), Seressa breaks the staff in wroth and despair, never wanting to see the beautiful, pink cherry blooms that it would sprout. During one of his visits to check in on her, Brom finds the broken pieces of the staff and takes them, in the hopes that he could fix it, and return it to Wraiven, proving to her that the broken can be made whole again and that nothing is beyond repair.
And that is the summed-up story behind the mystery of how in the blazes did that letter even get here.. Good luck discerning any sense out of that paradoxical loop! This is where an unforeseen variable is introduced into a perfectly linear equation, turning it into an infinite loop, causing it to either freeze or crash your processor.
Bu hikaye, herhangi bir şekilde, herhangi bir resmi zaman çizelgesi içerisinde gerçekleşmediği için, bilinen, standart tarih kronolojisinde yer almıyor.
Tahmin edilen tek şey bu hikayenin “Farstep” ‘den ‘hemen sonra’, ‘esnasında’ ve ‘öncesinde’ yer aldığıdır..
Aager Fogstep, sislerin arasında kaybolan Mab’in davetkar, imalı, şuh sesini son bir defa duyar..
“Annenin adını hatırlıyor musun, Kış Askeri?”
Aager, bilinçsiz ve farkındasız bir sesle, Geminiile ilk bağlandıklarında ve sadece Inshala’sının saf, yumuşak ve sıcacık dokunuşları sayesinde hatırlayabildiği ismi söyler;
✱ ✱ ✱
1:33:017 — TOK!.. CLANK!.. BIZZZT.. DİNG!
TOK.. TİK.. TOK.. TİK..
Ben ölmek isterken, günlerce bana baktın. Halbuki sana hiçbir vaatte bulunmamıştım bile. Şimdi o vaadin zamanı geldi, zira yaşamak için sebebim yokken bana, beni bir sebep olarak gösterdin.”
1:30 – “Bunu kabul edersem, ona.. Mab’e bir lütuf borçlu olacağım ve sen de benim bütün korkularımın acısını yüklenmek zorunda kalacaksın.. korkularımın, deliliğimin ve cinnetimin!”
1:28 – “ÜÇ ŞEYİM YOK! SADECE BİR ŞEYİM.. BİR HAYALİM VARDI VE O DA ELİMDEN ALINDI!”
1:27 – “Yaraların.. Bi çok yaraların var. Bunları bizimleyken almadın. Alsaydın bilirdim!”
1:24 – “Sanırım dans etmek istemiştin..”
1:20 – “Ben acı çekebilirim ki! Acı çekme konusunda çok iyiyimdir..”
1:16 – “Ö.. özür dilerim. Ben aptal kızın tekiyim.. Bu sosyal şeysinin kurallarını anlayamıyorum. İnsanların bölgelerini nasıl işaretlediğini de bilmiyorum!”
1:10 – “Kimin iyi olmadığını senin kadar sık söyleyen biri için, tutturma oranın oldukça düşük. Bugüne kadar isabet ettirebildiğin tek kişi benim!”
1:06 – “Gördün değil mi? Evet, gördün.. Artık benim nasıl bir yaratık olduğumu biliyorsun! Sana iyi birisi olmadığımı söylemiştim.. “
1:02 – “Ama neden? O iyiliğin ne olduğunu bile bilmeyen bir iblis!”
0:58 – “Daha değil.”
0:56 – “Sen.. iyi biri.. misin?!”
0:52 – “Hepsi senindi..”
0:50 – “Sana hiç bırakmadım..”
0:46 – “BU SADECE İŞLEDİĞİN CÜRMÜN CEZASI OLACAK..”
0:44 – “VE ŞUNU BİLESİN Kİ, BU BİR İNTİKAM OLMAYACAK.”
0:43 – “BUNU HER ZERRENDE SANA HİSSETTİRECEĞİM.”
0:36 – “VE SEN ONU ÖLDÜRDÜN!”
0:32 – “O bizim göz bebeğimizdi..”
0:30 – “O sadece bir salağın sevgisi değildi..”
0:27 – “Sana, onun bizim için kıymetini anlatmaya çalıştım.”
0:24 – “Seni BEN hayatta tuttum! Bugün buradasın çünkü bunun olmasını BEN sağladım. Bunu asla unutma..
0:22 – “Ona karşı saygı göstermen gerektiği konusunda seni uyarmıştım.”
0:20 – “Bırak beni sefil bücür!”
0:15 – “Benim adım ‘Lilly’s Venom’..”
0:13 – “Inshala..“
0:11 – “Sen benim ağabeyimi öldürdün!”
0:09 – “..Sen de bundan sonra, benim sana emanet ettiğim bu acıyla yaşayacaksın.”
0:08 – “Buna ‘ACI‘ derler, Aager Fogstep!”
0:07 – “Güzel.. Dorin.. ablam sana.. emanet. Onu.. onu kurtar. Ve.. Darly.. bu onun suçu değildi.. Lütfen..“
0:05 – “Çün.. çünkü sen benim.. ablamsın..“
0:03 – “Alor’Nadien ne.. Güzelim.. bebeğim.. neden? Hedef bendim, sen değil! Beni vurması gerekiyordu.. Neden..? Neden girdin araya?“
0:01 – “HAYIR!.. HAYIR.. NEDEN YAPTIN BUNU? NEDEN?”
0:00 – ACI!
TOK.. TOK.. TOK..
TİK.. BIZZZT.. DİNG!
Lady’nin bütün çabalarına rağmen ortalık cesetlerle doludur..
..ölenlerin ve öldürülenlerin bir ‘kısmı’ yoktur.
..ölenlerin ve öldürülenlerin bir kısmımın ise tamamı yoktur!
Aager tekrar yaratığın tepesine çıkmaya çalışır.
Yaratık ya göründüğünden çok daha zekidir, ya da fevkalade kurnaz bir içgüdüye ve tepki mekanizmasına sahiptir; Aager zorlukla saplayabildiği hançerleriyle yaratığa yine tırmanmaya çalışır ama dev kertenkele, huylanmış gibi irkilir ve bütün vücudu titrer.. ve Aager’i tekrar üstünden atar!
Anglenna, tükenmek üzere olduğunun farkına varmış bir şekilde, “Bence herkes aynı anda, aynı noktayı yakmalı. Bu şekilde büyüler bir birini desteklemiş olur.. Küçük kız, onu yerinde tutabilecek bir büyün var mı?”
Inshala, kendisine küçük kız denmesinden hiçte hoşnut olmaz. Dahası, ördek dudaklı bu kadınla daha hiç konuşmamıştır ve o kendisinden “küçük kız” diye bahsedip durmaktadır. ‘Doğa da hayvanlar bile birbirleriyle daha saygılı konuşurlar!’, diye geçirir içinden ve Anglenna’ya cevap vermez. Sadece omuzlarını silker.
“Yardım et, lütfen. Onu yerinde tutabilecek bir büyün var mı?”, diye bezgin ve yaralı bir ses duyar zihninde.
“Bana ‘küçük kız’ demesinden hoşlanmıyorum! Yaşımın gerektirdiği olgunluğa ulaştığımı düşünüyorum.. Aramızda en olgun duran Laila ablanın boyuna ulaştım nerdeyse.. Sıska olmam ise benim suçum değil!”, diye Inshala’nın alınmış sesini duyar Aager zihnine.
“Biliyorum, biliyorum, bebeğim, inan boyum yetişse bi tane patlatasım geliyor kafasına ama yaratık hareket ettiği sürece bir şey yapamıyoruz.”, der Inshala’ya doğru.
“Büyülerimin çoğu bitti. Neredeyse tamamını size ve hiç tanımadığım kişilere kullandım..”
“Gel, Snare!“, der Inshala ve ellerini tekrar havaya kaldırır.
Arenanın zemini sarsılmaya başlar..
“Gel, Snare..“, diye bir daha çağırır küçük kız.
Koca bir toprak parçası yerden fırlar.
“Gel, Snare, bana gel..“, der son bir defa daha ve birden toprak tamamen parçalanır ve içinden bir..
Yaratıktan ilk defa bir can havli haykırışı duyulur, ve tüm gücüyle canını yakan şeyden uzaklaşmaya çalışır.
Ağacın kolları gerilir ve sürüngenin muazzam gücüne karşı koymaya çalışır.
Azılı yaratık çekiştirmeye ve çığlık atmaya devam eder ve dallardan çatırtı sesleri gelmeye başlar.
“Seril, Snare.. seril, güzelim.. Sen doğanın köküsün. Sen, varsın!“, diye fısıldar ağaca doğru Inshala.
..ve ağaç bir an titrer, sonra yine doğrulur. Yer tekrar sarsılır ve birden ağacın etrafında kalın kökler belirir.
Kökler salınır ve her yöne serilir..
..ve ağaç, muazzam yaratığı durdurur!
Vahşi bir heyecanla Laila da haykırır ve yayını gerer;
Udoorin de manyamış bir mutlulukla haykırır;
Dev sürüngenin diğer yanından, Lorna’nın beklenmedik, heyecan dolu çığlığı duyulur;
Muzaffer bir çığlıkla Gnine’da haykırır;
“ŞİMDİ, ATEŞ TOPU ŞİMDİ!”
Yüzünde şaşkın bir ifadeyle Gnine’ın arkasında duran Inshala da haykırır;
Lady, Gnine ve Inshala’nın arkasından Anglenna, yüzünde soğuk, donuk bir ifadeyle tıslar;
Daha da geriden biri “Felishia Fremier’i hatırla..”, diye geçirir içinden ve sessizce fısıldar;
..ve babasıyla yaptığı anlaşmanın ilk kısmını yerine getirir..
Etrafa saçılmış, parçalanmış, kanlı cesetlerin atlından, kimsenin fark etmediği biri daha fısıldar;
“EVET, AAGER.. ŞİMDİ..”
Darly Dor, daha on iki yaşındayken sokağa atıldığı gün onu bulup yetiştirmeye başlayan Yaşlı Sansar’dan öğrendiği marifetlerini sergiler ve kimse onun sessiz hışmını görmez..
Darly’nin, hedefine arkasından yaklaştığını görebilecek tek kişi ise göreceli bir güvenlikte, devasa yaratığın öbür yanında dumanlı teberini savurması gereken Prenses Lorna’dır ama o da her nedense tamamen aksi yöne bakmaktadır..
Yumuşak tabanlı çizmeleri, arena’nın pis, kanlı toprağına sanki hiç değmiyormuş gibi ses çıkarmaz.
Genç hırsız, herkesin dikkatinin yere yığılmış devasa sürüngene çevrildiği anı beklemiş ve tahmin ettiği gibi Anglenna yılanı, herkesin en arkasında, olduğu korkak gibi, olabilecek en güvenli yerde o kibirli edasıyla durmuş, pahalı elbiseleriyle poz vermektedir.
Darly ona, bir High Lady olmanın sokaklardaki ederini çok ‘keskin’ bir şekilde öğretecektir.
Anglenna’dan sonra sıra babasına gelmiş olacak ve ancak onunla da işi bittiğinde, Felishia Fremier’e verdiği sözü tutmuş olacaktır..
İki bacağı da diz kapaklarından aşağısı eksik, içini yere boşaltmış kanlı ceset, anca fark edilir bir şekilde kenara kayar ve altından, cesur bir kalemden çıkmış yüz hatlarına sahip Lilly Venom peyda olur..
Gözlerini kısarak dev sürüngenin sırtına çıkmayı başarmış Aager Fogstep’i gözler.
Hedefi, tahmin ettiğinden de uyanıktır zira bütün savaş boyunca adamın arkasını kolladığını gözlemlemiştir.
Kız, olağanüstü, büyüleyici bir zarafetle hedefine doğru süzülür.
Yıllar önce, kendi kendisine verdiği ‘Kan Yemini’ni tutmaya kararlı bir ifadeyle, dikkatlerin yıkılan devasa canavara verildiği anda, herkesin kör açısından sokulur hedefine..
Udoorin, deli narası atarak yaratığın ayaktayken ulaşamadığı yerlerine ellerindeki dev baltalarla kesip parçalarken, bir yandan da gözü dönmüşcesine, ve kendisini görenleri ürperten kahkahalar atmaktadır.
Laila, kıymetli yayını omuzlamış, “Oklar pahalı.. oklar pahalı..”, diye kendi kendine telkin eder ve iki uzun kılıcını da belinden çeker ve yaratığa doğru koşmaya başlar.
Sanki az ileride manyamış Udoorin’in kahkahaları bulaşıcıdır ve Laila’nın da yüzünde çılgın bir sırıtış belirir ve yaratığın karnını bir ucundan diğerine yararken kendisi de manyamış bir kahkaha atar;
“Ahahahaaa.. Kız haklıymış. Bu gerçekten bir ‘sürüngen’!”
Gnine kimsenin yakında olmadığından emin olur ve yaratığın, mancınık boyundaki kafasının tamamını içine alacak şekilde büyüsünü yapar.
Dev sürüngenin kafası, muazzam bir ateş topunun içinde kaybolur.
Ateş topu ivmesini ve harını kaybettiğinde geride bir gözü akmış, başının bir yanı neredeyse tamamen kömürleşmiş bir şekilde, uzun, acı dolu bir inlemeyle yaratık olduğu yerde yığılır kalır..
Udoorin’in çıldırmış kahkahaları, Lorna’nın bir şeye ayılmasına sebep olur;
Aylar önce, ilk karşılaşmalarında Udoorin yine aynı manyamış kahkaha ve gürlemesiyle Darly ve Merisoul ile bulundukları odaya dalmıştı..
Lorna’nın uyandığı şey, sevdiği bu gencin bu manyamış halinin, kendi kendisinden hiç beklemediği, asla tahmin edemeyeceği, hayatı boyunca varlığından bile haberdar olmadığı içsel bir şeylerin tetiklenmesine sebep oluşudur.
Lorna’nın yüzü kıpkırmızı kesilir..
‘O benim sakin, hanımefendi halime, ben ise onun çılgınlığına mı vuruldum?’, diye geçirir içinden..
Sonra beklenmedik bir şekilde omuzlarını silker.
“Herkesin, derin manaları olan felsefi bir aşkı olması gerekmiyor..”, der ve “Ayrıca çok güzel gözleri var!”, diye de tasdik eder.
Elindeki koca glavyesini savururken, “Konuştuğum zaman dinliyor, konuştuğu zaman dinletiyor. Bana karşı her zaman dürüst. Bugüne kadar prenses oluşuma bakmadan, bütün kötü huylarıma rağmen yine de beni karşılık beklentisi olmaksızın seven tek kişi..”, diye kendince önemli bulduğu noktalara değinir.
‘..Ve toplam zekamız da buradaki herkesinkini geçer!’, diye de ekler içinden alakasız bir şekilde ve kızarmış yüzünde tatlı bir gülümseme belirir.
Elindeki uzun, dumanlı glavyesini bir sağa, bir sola, ritmik bir şekilde daha da azimle savururken gözüne, ablası Anglenna’nın olduğu yerdeki bir şey takılır..
..ama tam o anda, Lorna için ortamdaki bütün sesler kesilir ve arkasından, sanki sessiz bir mağara gölüne düşen bir su damlasının yankılanan sesini duyar.. ve ardından, daha küçük bir kızken sadece bir defa duyduğu High Woods’un ona seslenişini işitir..
Alor’Nadien ne. Ben Quarlani Ath Tel’Ora ve seni kalbim olarak seçtim.. Senden gelecek nesiller bu ormanda büyüyecek. Ve onlarla beraber bu orman da salınacak ve serpilecek..
Lorna hayretle karışık bir mutlulukla sesin geldiği yöne döner..
..ve ablası Anglenna’nın arkasında gördüğünü sandığı Darly’yi kaçırır.
Darly, belindeki kemerinin altında sakladığı ince, uzun hançerini çeker.
Ne kadar ironiktir ki Felishia’sını öldüren kesiciyi de bu hançerle öldürmüştür.
Aynı hançerle şimdi asıl kesiciyi öldürecektir..
Yılana sekiz adım kalmıştır ve artık geri dönüş yoktur..
Darly, sanki Arashkan’ın pis lağımlarında olduğu zamanlarda duyduğu gibi, sağ tarafından bir damla suyun, karanlık, boklu tünellerde yankılanan sesini duyar gibi olur.. ve beklenmedik bir şekilde Felishia’nın ona saf, derin, kontralto sesiyle konuştuğunu duyar..
Darling.. Neden yüzüme bakmıyorsun artık? Seni üzecek bir şey mi yaptım?
Genç, yakışıklı hırsız kontrolsüz ve kahrolmuş gözlerle sesin sahibini arar.
Ve tam orada..
..birisinin müthiş bir ivmeyle Inshala’nın arkasına atladığını görür.
Darly tereddüt etmez.
Hiç sektirmeden rotasını kırar— ⊗
Lilly Venom son anda belinden hançerini çeker, zarif, sessiz bir hareketle, bir hayvanı adam eden kızın sırtına doğru atılır..
⊗ —ve diğer kesiciye dalar!
Lilly Venom ne olduğunu ancak son anda fark eder; elindeki lanetli hançer, hemen önünde duran, sıskası çıkmış sırtı kendisine dönük farkındasız kızın dağılmış saçlarını okşar..
..sonra kendisine saldıran adamla birlikte yere yuvarlanır. Darly kesiciyi iki bileğinden de yakalar ve yerde onunla boğuşmaya başlarlar..
Her nasılsa Venom kendisini üstte bulur.
Hedefini elinden çalan bu adama karşı muazzam bir kinle bakar ve bir teselli ödülü olarak onukesmeye karar verir..
Aager Fogstep, dev sürüngenin ensenine çıkmış, yaratığın atar damarlarının olduğunu düşündüğü yerleri kesmektedir.
Hiçbir anlam veremediği, sanki dirseğini yanlış bir açıyla bir masanın köşesine çarpmış gibi irkilir ve olduğu yerden doğrulur.
Aager’in zihninde bir şimşek çakar ve her şey bir anda yerli yerine oturur!
Darly Dor, yapmış olduğu şeyin ona tam olarak neye mal olduğunu o anda anlar zira kaçırdığı fırsat asla ve bir daha eline geçmeyecektir; Anglenna elinden kurtulmuştur!
Sonra, var gücüyle elindeki mel’un dökümlü bıçağı yüzüne sokmaya çalışan kesiciye bakar ve sonunun geldiğini anlar.
‘Eh, bir gün olacaktı illa ki..’, diye geçirir içinden.
..kendisini öldüren kıza gülümser.
“Elveda,Felishia..”, diye fısıldar.
TİK.. TİK.. TİK.. TİK.. TİK.. TİK.. TİK.. TİK..
✱ ✱ ✱
Lilly Venom olduğu yerde irkilir ve duyduğu isim karşısında dona kalır.
Başına isabet eden şeyi fark etmez bile.
Lilly Venom için dünya gitgide artan bir açıyla yan yatarken, o kendisini küçük, tek gözlü, köhne bir evde, ağabeyinin onu zorlukla çıkardığı iğreti sandalyenin üstünde bulur!
“Kıpıydama. Geycem şimdi!”, der ağabeyi ona, her zamanki çatık kaşlı, ciddi ve koruyucu sesiyle.
Lilly’s Venom, sandalyesinde usluca oturur, ağabeyine güneş gibi bir gülümseme atar ve “Piki”, der.
Çocuk, Lilly’s Venom’un düşmeyeceğinden emin olduktan sonra, diğer sandalyeyi itiştire çekiştire kız kardeşininkinin yanına sürükler. Sonra ıhlaya poflaya kendisini çektiği sandalyeye çıkartır ve mutlu bir şekilde “Oydu işte!”, der ve annelerinin onlar için masada bıraktığı soğumuş tasın içindeki un, patates ve suyla yapılmış fakir yiyeceği tahta kaşıkla alır, önce bir kaşık kız kardeşine verir, sonra da kendisi bir kaşık alır.
Bu şekilde tası yarılayınca çocuk “Tamam. Doyduk!”, der kati bir sesle. Kendisinden bir yaş küçük olan Lilly’s Venom’un yüzü buruşur. “Ben doymadım ama ki!”, der mutsuz bir şekilde.
Çocuk son derece ciddi bir ifadeyle, “Annem ne zaman geliy bimiom. Geyinisini soyna yeyiz. O zaman daha çok doyayız!”, diye kız kardeşini ikna eder..
“Annem.. “, diye boğuk bir fısıltı kaçar kızın ağzından..
Lilly’s Venom kendisinden geçmiş bir şekilde yere yığıldığında, kayık gözlerinden yanaklarına ve acı dudaklarına gözyaşları saçılır..
Merisoul Xyrotwu, elindeki son derece pahalı, bulunması ise çok daha zor olan büyülü sopayı böylesi bir ‘ahmak odunu’ olarak değerlendirmiş olduğundan dolayı biraz utanmış bir şekilde yerdeki kıza bakar.
“Kahrolasıca kaçık şey.. Bir grupta bir deli yeter ve bizimkinde dokuz deli fazlası var zaten!”, diye burnundan solur.
“Ayrıca o çocuk bana ait. Onun güzel yüzünü çizmemiş olsan senin için iyi olur.”
Aager kayarak yanlarına yetişir ve farkındasız, kontrolsüz, katışıksız, dağlanmış, fokurdayan, cinnetin eşiğinde ve çırılçıplak bir duygu seli içerisinde Inshala’sına sarılır.
Sel, hayret içerisinde ve kafası karmakarışık olan kızın tüm setlerini olduğu gibi darmadağın eder..
Kendisine sımsıkı sarılan adamdan aldığı dev duygu dalgalarından başı fırıl fırıl dönen Inshala’dan dehşetle karışık küçük, salt, mutlu bir çığlık kaçar ve içindeki, her zaman tetikte bekleyen kendi duygu fırtınası bir anda kontrolden çıkar ve pikler ve kendisini, sarhoş olmuş bir şekilde Aager’e, erimek istermişçesine bırakır..
Koca arenanın ortasında, etrafı parçalanmış ve yenmiş cesetlerle çevrili kadim sürüngenin ölüsünün yanında Aager, ayakları yerden kesilmiş bir Inshala’ya sarılmış, öylece durmaktadırlar..
Neden sonra Inshala, çocukça bir coşkuyla ağlayan Aager’in ıslak yüzünü küçük, sıcacık avuçlarının içine alır ve onun gözlerini seyreder.
“Bir şey oldu..”, der Inshala.
“Çok şey oldu.”, diye kırık bir sesle fısıldar Aager.
“Nooldu?”, diye onu fırtına grisi gözleriyle süzer.
“Sonra.. Sen gitme yeter!”, diye zorlukla yutkunur Aager.
“Ben buradayım ki. Bir yere gitmiyorum. Beraber aptal olmaya söz vermiştik..”, diye geri fısıldar Inshala kendisini teslim ettiği adama.
Aager Fogstep, Inshala’nın yüzüne baktığında gördüğü tek şey, onun gözlerindeki vahşi fırtınanın fokurdayışıdır..
“Bu ilişkide aptal olan sadece ben varım, sevgili Inshala.. ve bundan dolayı tahmin edemeyeceğin kadar da mutluyum.”, der Aager.
Yandan Merisoul’un alt dudağını pörtleterek, “Şu işe bak yaa.. Yıllarca ne olduğunu anlamaya çalıştım ve bu iki salak sevgiyi bulmuşlar bile!”, diye söylendiğini duyulur.
Aager, Inshala’yı bırakmaz.
Çok uzun bir süre hayretle onun yüzünde oynaşan ifadeler silsilesini, aralanmış küçük, çilek rengi dudaklarından nefesini ve onun gözlerindeki, hapsedildiği kafesten kudurmuşcasına kurtulmaya çalışan vahşi fırtınayı seyreder Aager.
Ne çıldırmış arena seyircilerinin haykırışlarını duyarlar, ne de etraflarında toplanmış diğerlerini fark ederler.
Lady, yüzünde mutlu bir ifadeyle, Laila hafif çatılı kaşlarıyla, Udoorin hayretle, Lorna sevinçle, Gnine sırıtarak, Anglenna ise tek kaşı kalkmış bir şekilde kahkahalarla ağlaşan iki gence bakmaktadır.
Ama o an, ikisi için de sadece diğeri vardır..
“Ben de seni..”, diye fısıldar dolu gözlerle Inshala, sadece onun, ve sadece zihninde duyduğu bir şeye.
Grup, Lady’nin kısa bir emri ile iki genci baş başa bırakır ve arenada hayatta kalmış yaralılarla ilgilenmek için dağılır.
Aager uzun bir süre daha kızı bırakmaz. Yüzünü, utancından sarıldığı adama gömmüş olan Inshala’yı sımsıkı tutar halde Merisoul’a döner ve başıyla yerde yatan kesiciyi işaret ederek, “Teşekkür ederim. Onu öldürebilirdin. Ama bunu yapmadın.. Teşekkür ederim.. “, der ve baygın kıza, onu ilk defa görüyormuş gibi bakar.
Merisoul makul bir şekilde bu teşekkürü alır ve yan cebine koyar ama bununla tatmin olmaz.
“Kim bu kaçık ve neden senden bu kadar nefret ediyor?”
“Nefreti uzun ve çetrefilli bir hikaye. Kim olduğuna gelince..”, der Aager sessizce.
“O.. Sanırım o benim küçük kız kardeşim..”
✱ ✱ ✱
Aradan saatler geçmiştir..
Büyük acılar sonunda Gnine’ı arenanın zindanlarından kurtarmışlar, yorgun ve bitkin bir şekilde, yeni yaralar ve yeni tecrübelerle, daha bilge olmasa da, kendilerini ve birbirlerini daha iyi tanımış olarak o sefil yeri geride bırakmışlardır.
Şehrin öbür ucundaki kaldıkları hana, tuttukları büyük, kapalı bir araba ile giderken herkes son bir haftayı tekrar yaşıyormuş gibidir.
Gnine, Lilly Venom’un olası kimliği hakkında ki tahminleri dışında, cehennemde geçirdiği bir haftayı büyük bir heyecanla non-stop konuşarak anlatmış, sonra birden ipleri kesilmiş kukla gibi yorgunluktan kıvrılmış, başını en eski arkadaşı olan Laila’nın bir bacağına yaslamış ve mutlu bir şekilde kendinden geçmiştir.
Laila ona, ‘Ne yapacağım ben seninle? Bir gün de başını belaya sokmadan geçirebilecek misin acaba..?’, der gibi bir ifadeyle bakar.
Lorna, da uyumaktadır. Küçük, zarif elleri, Udoorin’in kocaman avuçlarında kaybolmuş, başını iri gencin omzuna yaslamış, yüzünde hafif bir tebessümle kendinden geçmiştir.
Lady, Anglenna ile konuşurken Darly, arenada geçirdikleri son dakikalardan itibaren yüzünde beliren ‘hayalet görmüş’ ifadesiyle, araladığı arabanın kalın perdesinden sessizce dışarıyı seyretmektedir. Yanında oturmuş olan Merisoul ise ilginç bulduğu bir kitaba dalmış gibi sessizce onu seyreder.
Neden sonra Darly’ye nazikçe uzanır ve ona fısıldar;
“Öç.. Ben aldım.. Hepsinden.. Tamamen hak etmişlerdi ama yine de bu hiç bir işime yaramadı.. ve beni tamir etmedi!”, der sessizce.
Sonra küçük omuzlarını silker.
“Ama illaki öldüreceksen, piyonlarla uğraşan bir maşa olma. En azından fili öldüren mızrak ol..”, der garip bir ifadeyle.
Darly ona bakmaz. Yüzünde beliren arzu, kayıp, kahır ve özlem ifadelerini gizlemeyi tercih eder; başını pencereden ayırıp bacaklarını kendisine çeker ve yüzünü dizlerinin ve kollarının arasına gömer.
Aager ise, koluna tutunmuş Inshala olduğu halde hala baygın olan Lilly’s Venom’u kucağına almış, kaldıkları hana varıncaya kadar da onu bırakmamıştı..
Kendisine merakla bakanlara hiç bir açıklama yapmaksızın, Inshala ile beraber onu yedek odaya kadar taşır ve arkasından odanın kapısını kapatır..
Kapı kapanırken Aager, Merisoul ile diğerleri arasındaki fısıldaşmaları duyar;
Udoorin: “Kız kim? Bana bir yerden tanıdık geldi ama, hatırlıyorsam ne olayım.. Aager de ‘OFF‘ moda geçti. Ağzını bıçak açmıyor.”
Merisoul: “Çetrefilli ve dramatik bir aile hikayesi; kız onun kardeşiymiş ve o daha küçükken biri onun annesini öldürünce Efendi Aager de kızı öldürmeye kalkmış.. Defalarca! Sanırım o zamanlar biraz beceriksizmiş..”
Nezih [Aager]: “Fesüphanallaaaaah!”
Mustafa [DM]: “Ahahahahahaaaa!” – diye güler.. ve kaçar!
Quarlani Ath Tel’Ora: kadim elf lehçesinde ‘Ormanın Ruhu’. Bazen, çok nadiren, toprak, üstünde yaşayanları seçer. Ormanın Ruhu, söz konusu bir toprakta, zamanla oluşan, anlaşılması oldukça zor, muallak anlamda bir çeşit ‘ruh’. Bu ruhlar, kendilerine yakın hissettiklerini düşündükleri birisini seçerler. Quarlani Ath Tel’Ora, High Woods’un ruhudur ve bin yıl önce, Selendenien’i (Angrellen ve Grandarelen’in küçük kız kardeşleri) ‘kalbi’ olarak seçmişti. Ne var ki Selendenien, Themalsar savaşında öldürülmüş olduğu için, High Woods orada yaşayan high elf’lere küsmüş ve onlarla yüz yıllarca konuşmamıştır. Ta ki, bundan 22 yıl önce, Lorna daha 6 yaşındayken onunla sessizce konuşuncaya kadar..
Lilly’s Venom: Kriss Li – Kriss Lilly.. Lilly’s Venom (Lilly’nin Zehri). Annesi ve ağabeyinden alınmasından sonra yaşadığı ciddi duygusal travma ve huy değişimi ile ortaya çıkan asabiyeti, hışmı ve acı dili, ilerleyen yaşlarında ise, kesicilere katılmasıyla birlikte, kullanmaya başladığı olağandışı, ölümcül zehirleri dolayısıyla Drashan’da bu isimle nam yaptı.. Ağabeyi Aager Fogstep gibi, Lilly Venom’un da gerçek ismi unutulmuş durumda.
Mab, Inshala ve Lorna’yı (dolayısıyla Anglenna, Aager ve potansiyel olarak Darly ve Lilly Venom’u) kurtarmak için iki damla su, Lorna’nın anılarından High Wood’un sesini, Darly’nin anılarından ise Felishia’nın ölümünden sonra genç hırsıza söylemiş olduğunu sandığı sesini canlandırır.
Kışın Hanımı olayların gidişatını büyük, kocaman büyülerle değil, son derece basit ama fevkalade ince düşünülmüş ve muhteşem bir zamanlama uygulamasıyla değiştirir.. Ve işin hamallığını da başkasına (Darly’ye) yaptırır.
Olayların bir önceki 1 dk. 32 sn. de gerçekleşen versiyonundan ise sadece Aager haberdardır. Aager’in gerçekte olanları kimseye anlatmak gibi bir niyeti de yoktur, nevarki bu konuda Mab onunla aynı fikirde değildir..
Arenadan ayrılmalarından sonraki gece, Mab üç kişiye diğer versiyonu, son derece canlı bir şekilde rüyalarında gösterir;
Anglenna; Lorna’nın fedakarlığını, sevgisini ve değer bilirliğini anlaması, ve annesinin kuklası olmaktan çıkıp ‘tarafını’ doğru seçmesi için.
Darly; ahmaklığının ve fevriliğinin nelere mal olduğunun farkına varması için..
Lady; tamamen farkında olmadan yapmış olsa da, lanetli bıçağın yarasını iyileştirerek gerçekte Inshala’yı (ve Aager’i) öldürdüğü gerçeğine ayılması için.. Bu Mab’in kişisel olarak yapmayı tercih ettiği tek acımasızca denebilecek davranışı olur zira onun gözünde Inshala çok kıymetlidir ve cehalet de bir bahane değildir..
Mab, Lilly Venom’u daha farklı cezalandırır. Ona rüyayı göstermez, ama günlerce ve ard arda ona aynı kabusu yaşatır; Lilly, kabuslarında kendisini kimin yaktığını göremez, ama yanarken etinin kavrularak kemiklerinden ayrıştığını, ve o anda hissettiği dipsiz, kahredici acıyı çok canlı bir şekilde, defalarca yaşar.
Kendi çığlıkları arasında da hep aynı, hiddet dolu korkunç sesi duyacaktır;
“BU SADECE İŞLEDİĞİN CÜRMÜN CEZASI OLACAK..”
Mab, kati dürüstlüğü, her zaman verdiği sözleri tutması, sahibesi olduğu kışın kendisi gibi soğukluğu, güzelliği, satın alınamaz ve acımasız bir adalet anlayışı olması gibi bir çok vasıfları olan biridir, ancak şefkatiyle bilinen biri değildir. Inshala ‘la Fey’e olan ilgisi de sadece kızın Themalsar’da yaptıklarıyla sınırlı değil, onun geçmişi ve doğumuyla da ilgilidir; LAMENTING FEYNOX..
Son olarak, Lorna’nın, ölürken kırık bir şekilde söylediği cümleler;
“Güzel.. Dorin.. ablam sana.. emanet. Onu.. onu kurtar. Ve.. Darly.. bu onun suçu değildi.. Lütfen..”
Lorna, (a) Udoorin’den ‘ablasını’ kurtarmasını rica ederken, onu Darly’den kurtarmasını değil, annesinden(Angrellen’den) kurtarmasını istiyordu. (b) ‘bu onun suçu değildi’, derken, hem Udoorin’e, kendisine olanların Darly’nin suçu olmadığını, hemde Darly’ye, öldürmek istediği Anglenna’nın, gerçekte “Anglenna’nın” suçu olmadığı, Darly gibi, high elf kızın da sadece içine doğduğu koşulların yarattığı birisi olduğunu anlatmaya çalışıyordu..
Bu hikaye, herhangi bir şekilde, herhangi bir resmi zaman çizelgesi içerisinde gerçekleşmediği için, bilinen, standart tarih kronolojisinde yer almıyor.
Tahmin edilen tek şey bu hikayenin “Ben, MAB” ‘den ‘hemen sonra’, ‘esnasında’ ve ‘öncesinde’ yer aldığıdır..
YOK..”, diye acıyla haykırır yerde yatan adam..
“HİÇBİR ŞEYİM YOK.. OLAN HER ŞEYİM, TEKER TEKER ELİMDEN ALINDI.. BİR HAYALİM VARDI, O DA ÖLDÜ!”
Soğuk, dipsiz gözlerle Aager’in acı dolu haykırışlarını seyreder Mab.
“Onun.. onun canı karşılığında.. benimkini al.. Bu dünyada.. bir serseri eksik.. kimse fark etmez.. O.. o ise özel.. Ondan sadece.. bir tane var! Onu.. kurtar..”, diye bitmiş bir fısıltıyla inler Aager.
“Korkarım hayatın, en çok sevdiğin şeyler arasında yer almıyor, ölümlü.. Aslına bakılırsa hayatın, sevdiğin şeyler arasında hiç yer almıyor. Sevmediğin bir şeyle mi sevdiğin bir şeyi kurtarmaya çalışıyorsun? Bu, pazarlık için kusurlu bir yaklaşım.. Inshala’na verdiğin değer bu kadar mı?”, diye sorar Mab, hükmeder bir sesle.
“E.. elimde olan.. elimde kalan.. tek şey.. bu..”
“Ölümünün bana da, ona da bir faydası yok Aager Fogstep. Kendini sıradanlaştırarak onu yükseltmiş olmuyorsun. Dahası, senin hayatın karşılığında onunkini kurtarmam durumunda bunun ona neler yapacağını hiç düşündün mü, ölümlü? Onun, yaşlı efendisini kaybettiği anki zaptedilemez, delirmiş, vahşi cinnetini hatırla. Ve onun o halini katlayarak bir düşün.. Şer feylerin nasıl peyda olduklarını sanıyorsun? Hayır ölümlü, şer feyleri ben yapmıyorum.. Onları ölümlüler, yaptıkları tercihler ve getirdikleri savaş ve yıkımlarla yaratırlar..
Düşüncesizce kesip yakıp yağmaladığınız ormanlar ve sahibiymiş gibi kirlettiğiniz doğa ile yok ettikleriniz sonucunda aldığınız canlardan arda kalanlar ve kayıtsız kalamayanlar bana gelir.. Ben sadece onları donmuş kalplerle ölümlülerin üzerine geri salarım!”, der Havanın ve Karanlığın Sahibesi.
“Bana ölümünü değil, hayatını vakfedebilirsin ama.. Bu şekilde, senin dışında her şeyi pahasına Themalsar illetini bu dünyadan sonsuza dek silen sevgili Inshala’nı kurtarabilirsin. Çok uzun zamandır bir Kış Askerim olmadı. Tıpkı bir Kış Prensesimin olmadığı gibi. Bu çağ pek kısır çıktı.”, der Mab, fısıltıyla.
“Çok yüz yıl geçti en son Kış Askerimin ölümü üzerine. Bir Kış Prensesim ise Yıl Bir’den beri olmadı.”
“Ondan.. ondan uzak dur.. Elinden her şeyini.. aldın..”, diye hırlar Aager.
“Bana emir mi veriyorsun ölümlü? Daha azı için ülke yok ettiğim zamanlar oldu.“, der Mab soğuk bir şekilde.
“Vere.. verecek bir şeyi olmayan birisine.. iş teklif eden ilk kişi.. sen değilsin.. Mab!”
Buna Mab’den bir cevap gelmez.
Kışın Hanımefendisi, uzun bir süre sessizce önünde kıvranan adamı süzer..
Neden sonra soğuk ve ifadesiz yüzünde küçük, tatmin olmuş bir gülümseme belirir.
“Eveeet. Acı içerisindeyken bile kurnaz. Tam Kış Askerine layık biri..”, diye, verdiği bir kararı onaylıyormuş gibi mırıldanır.
“Onu, ve daha fazlasını kurtarabilirim, ölümlü. Senden, zamanı gelince hizmetin ve sadakatin dışında bir şey istemeyeceğim.
Sevgili Inshala’ndan ise, gerçekte önem vermesi gerekenlerden alıkoyan ve onun dikkatini dağıtan şeyler dışında bir şey almadım..
…Grubun arkasındaki yerini de bu yüzden terk ederek Inshala’ya yaklaşmaya çalışmıştı. Mantığını görmesini istiyordu. Yaptığının iyiyle kötüyle bir alakası yoktu. Herkesten çok Inshala’nın anlaması gerekliydi bunu, çünkü doğada da “iyi” ve “kötü” kavramı insanlardan farklı çalışmıyordu nihayetinde.
O anlamalıydı, bunu..
Ama Inshala, önce adımlarını hızlandırmış, sonra ise o çok sevdiği sinir bozucu sivri dişli kaplan kılığına bürünüp grubun önüne doğru kaçmıştı. Onca yaratıktan ve kötülükten kaçmayan druid, Aager’in konuşma çabasından kaçmak için oldukça seri davranmıştı…
“Bunlar senin sözlerin, ölümlü.. Sevgi’nin ne olduğunu bilmeyenler ona sahip olamazlar. Ve ona sahip olmayanların kaybedecek bir şeyi de yoktur. Kaybedecek bir şeyi olmayan biriyle pazarlık yapamazsın ve o kişiye de asla güvenemezsin.. Inshala’nın büyüme zamanı gelmişti ve hayvanlarıyla oynamayı bırakması gerekiyordu. Ondan aldıklarımı bu yüzden aldım ondan; sevgiyi bulsun diye.
Ve o sevgiyi sende buldu.
Şunu da iyi bilesin, ölümlü; o kız içindeki bir boşluğu seninle doldurmadı. Genç Inshala o boşluğu hayatı boyunca yaşayacak, taşıyacak ve acısını da çekecek.. taki yeterince olgunlaşıp bunu aşıncaya kadar.. O, senin ona gösterdiğin sevginin ne olduğu hakkında sadece yaşlı efendisinden gördüğü kadarıyla anladığını, içgüdüleriyle, el yordamıyla.. ve senin ona gösterdiğin ilgi ve sabır sayesinde buldu.
Birisinin seni sevdiğini ve seni istediğini nerden anlarsın biliyor musun, ölümlü?
Bana olan mevcut borcu dışında ona sadece bir teklifle geleceğim, ama bunu ondan talep etmeyeceğim. Bu koşulları kabul ediyor musun, ölümlü?”
“O.. o iyi olacaksa, evet”, diye, gözlerini sıkmış, acıyla hırlar Aager.
“Zamanı gelince, kendi rızanla benim Kış Askerim olmayı kabul ediyor musun, ölümlü?”, diye tekrar sorar Mab.
“E.. evet!”, diye dişlerin arasından tıslar Aager.
“BENİM KIŞ ASKERİM OLMAYI KABUL EDİYOR MUSUN, KENDİSİNİ AAGER FOGSTEP OLARAK TANIMLAYAN ADAM?”, diye son bir defa sorar, Kışın Kraliçesi.
“Evet.. Ka.. kabul ediyorum, lanet olasıca..”, diye, kalan son gücüyle haykırır Aager..
..ve Mab ile arasındaki anlaşmayı mühürler!
Aager’in gözleri kararır ve sonsuz, beyaz acı daralır.
“Öyle görünüyor ki, insanoğlunun çirkefliği ve sevgisi kadar, kaderleri de hayret verici.”, diye kendi kendine söylenir Mab.
“Bir önceki Kış Askerimin kim olduğunu bilmek ister misin, ölümlü?”, diye garip bir bilmeceyi çözmeye çalışıyormuş gibi bir ses tonuyla sorar Mab.
Aager’den bir cevap gelmez.
“Herkes kendisini hürmetkar, bilge ve son derece dindar biri olarak bilirdi.. Adı sana tanıdık geliyor olmalı;Aager Farstep!“
Sonsuz, beyaz acı aralanır ve Mab, oluşan sislerin arasına, geldiği gibi tekrar geri dönerken yerde kaskatı kesilmiş yeni Kış Askerine bakar.
“Şu ölümlüler hayret verici. Acıyı sahiplendiklerinde en muhteşem, korkakça ondan kaçtıklarında ise en sefil hallerine şahit oldum..”, diye başını sallarken mırıldanır kendi kendine Mab. “Kim bilebilirdi ki, gün gelecek ve Drashan gibi bir günah çukurundan, cesaret ve aşkın ne olduğunu bilen biri çıkacak ve her şeyi pahasına sevdiğini koruyacak. Bir konuda haklıydın, ölümlü; sen gerçekten Inshala’nınkalkanısın..”
Aager Fogstep, sislerin arasında kaybolan Mab’in davetkar, imalı, şuh sesini son bir defa duyar..
“Annenin adını hatırlıyor musun, Kış Askeri?”
Aager, bilinçsiz ve farkındasız bir sesle, Geminiile ilk bağlandıklarında ve sadece Inshala’sının saf, yumuşak ve sıcacık dokunuşları sayesinde hatırlayabildiği ismi söyler;
Kış Askeri: aslı ‘Winter Knight’. ‘Kış Şovalyesi’, söylemesi zor olması dolayısıyla ‘Kış Askeri’ olarak kullanılmıştır.