A Woeful Melody
Once they finally do, I look up at Gwynn, this time taking note of her appearance. She wears brown trousers and a white cotton shirt. Her silver hair is tied in a braid going down her back, and her eyes are bright green, the same as when she was younger. While she isn’t bulky, her shoulders are wide, and her bare arms are corded with muscle.
“What happened to you? Where did you go, and why?” She looks at the sky thoughtfully for several seconds before responding.
“I left. I discovered the truth, and ran away as soon as I could.” Her eyes drift to the ground, and her voice gets quieter. “Those people are monsters. They talk of blessings and gratitude, but plan torture and travesty.” There’s a beat of silence, and when she looks up, instead of grief, there’s hatred etching her face. In the darkness her face is twisted by emotion. “I’m going to kill them and bring an end to that awful religion.” I try to wrap my mind around the idea, but find it impossible.
I don’t want to kill anyone. I just want to free Tef before he dies. Would it even be possible to beat the church? They have over two thousand devout followers. By God, they took my memories from me. What other powers could they have?
“Impossible. There’s just no way that you could do that.”
Gwynn clenches her jaw, barely containing her anger at my words. “It’s not impossible,” she says, her voice solid and unmovable. “Don’t assume I can or can’t do anything. You’ve been sheltered in the church your whole life. You don’t know anything.” I’m taken aback. Her words sting slightly, from the starkness of their honesty.
“I’m sorry. You’re right. I’m just concerned.” I answer weakly, not wanting to anger her further. She stares at me stiffly for a few moments longer, then her expression softens.
“It’s okay, just don’t underestimate me again. I’ve gained power beyond your knowledge.” Gwynn raises her hand and a light, the color of starlight, illuminates her hand and arm from the inside. It traces the webbing of her veins, ending at her elbow. I stare in open-mouthed wonder at the sight.
“How?” I ask breathlessly. Gwynn smiles, this time her mouth raises fully and her eyes brighten. A joyful smile, that lasts for only a moment, before assuming a more practiced form.
“Magic,” she states and cuts it off, “I can teach you more about it later. Right now, we should get moving. They might be able to track us down from that display.” Gwynn starts moving away, and when I don’t move to follow, she stops.
“Come on. The quicker we get past the barrier, the better.” I still hesitate.
I don’t have anywhere else to go...but I’ve never thought about leaving the town before. Isn’t it dangerous outside the barrier? Gwynn walks back to me, and places a hand on my arm.
“Listen, I get the feeling you went through something disturbing recently. You have that look about you.” Her eyes are sympathetic, and I nod my head slowly, afraid to speak, or else I might break down in tears again. “I understand your fear and confusion, but it’s too late to turn back now. You have to keep moving forward now, even if you’re scared.” She squeezes my arm, lets go, and walks into the forest.
I swallow the lump in my throat, clench my jaw, and follow her into the woods.
I should be happy that his memories came back, and I am, but I also feel guilty. I could have let him continue living his life as a bookkeeper. He was happy and safe...
...but to what end? We would come to face the church n a few years. By then, they could have made him a priest, and then there would be no saving him. We’d have to kill him. This is better, even though it causes him pain. I stop and turn to look at Diqan. His jaw is sharp, a birthmark devoid of all coloring covering his left cheek, from jawline to the side of his eye. His hair is black and short and he has broad shoulders, though not quite filled out. His eyes are level with mine, dark green and close set. Were he a different person, they would seem penetrating; however, spend any time with him and you immediately realize, he exudes caution and innocence.
“It’s not much farther ahead. Don’t be surprised if you’re met with hostility, there aren’t many of us, and everyone here has reason to be cautious of strangers, especially those who’ve been a part of the church for so long.”
“Okay, I’ll let you do most of the talking, then.” I nod and move on.
“You’ll be fine. I’ll explain the circumstances.” As we keep walking forward, I feel the barrier surrounding the camp. I raise my hands to the barrier, feeling the rhythm the energy forms. It takes me a few seconds, but I find the counterpoint to it and allow my vitality to leak into the barrier. “Follow right behind me.” I say, as a doorway opens for us to pass. Diqan follows behind me, looking closely at the barrier. Once we’re both through I allow the doorway to close behind us.
“What is this?” Diqan asks, raising a hand to the almost invisible barrier. I slap his hand away.
“Don’t touch it.” I say sternly, then I add in a softer voice, “I don’t want to set off the alarms.”
“Sorry. What are the things moving in it?” I raise my eyebrows at him.
“Well, you do have an aptitude for this. That’s the vitality I mentioned before. The fact that you can see it is good.” He looks pensive.
“There’s a pattern to it.” He noticed that?
“You’re pretty damn perceptive,” I observe aloud. He smiles shyly at the compliment, his eyes not quite meeting mine. “Anyways, let’s go meet everyone.” I lead him deeper into the forest until the trees thin out and it opens into a clearing. The grass has been stomped down to make it flat for sleeping on. Three campfires are spread about the clearing, the light dimming in the late hours. Small lean tos are grouped together in fives, a safe distance from each fire. There’s ten feet around the outside of the camp left open and immediately upon entering the clearing, I raise my hand and illuminate our symbol on my hand, a downturned dagger. The man on watch closest to us, walks up to me.
“Welcome back, sister.” Byron puts out his hand, and I grasp it.
“And I’m glad to be back, brother.” He glances at Diqan behind me, and purses his lips. I feel his hand tense up. I let his hand go, then gesture to Diqan. “This is my friend, Diqan. Recently, he’s been freed from the church’s grip.” I say it loudly, so that everyone by the fire can hear. They stand and make their way towards us. Forming a half-circle, I sense hostility in their postures, as their silence stretches out.
From between two tents, a middle aged woman with long black hair braided back and narrowed eyes, enters the half-circle. She wears the same plain brown trousers and white shirt as the rest of us, and her stance is proud. “Who is this stranger you've brought to our camp?” Cerc demands. Her eyes are piercing.
Of course Cerc would be the one to challenge us.
“As I just stated, he is a friend, who has discovered the atrocities of the church firsthand and decided to leave that world behind.” Cerc stares at Diqan sharply, and he can’t meet her eyes. At least he doesn’t look threatening, though I wish he wouldn’t act like that. It’s as if he’s afraid to be noticed. Cerc looks back at me.
“Is he willing to put his life on the line, willing to sacrifice it to take down the church?” I’m at a loss. I want to say yes, but I can’t know for sure. I look towards Diqan and see him clench his fists. Taking a step forward, he stands up straighter and while he still doesn’t meet Cerc’s eyes, his presence improves dramatically. Everyone’s eyes are on him as he gathers his thoughts.
“I watched a man who I loved like a father lose his mind to torture. My only friend in the church betrayed me out of fear for what they might do to him.” His voice is unsteady, but he continues. “I promise I’ll do whatever I can to prevent these things from happening again, to anyone else.” He seems to deflate after saying his piece.
Glancing around the circle, I see most people nodding their heads or staring at Diqan with empathy. Cerc looks around, and after gauging their reactions, speaks.
“It seems your convictions are in line with ours. I’m sorry you had to go through that.” Her eyes are still hard, despite the softness of her words. She takes a step forward and raises her hand for Diqan to shake. “Welcome to the family, brother.” She smiles and Diqan hesitantly takes her hand.
Playing to the crowd like always. She’s weak. Only caring about her position as leader. Once Cerc formally accepts Diqan into the group, the rest of the people scatter back to their fires. Before heading to join my friends at the fire, I lead Diqan toward my tent. It sits back in the group of five farthest from where we entered. I head inside and rummage in my rucksack for a few moments before pulling out brown trousers and a white cotton shirt.
“Here.” I say, handing them to Diqan. He takes them meekly.
“Are they going to fit me?” I eye him again and shrug.
“They were too large for me, so they should fit you.” I leave the tent to let him change, and a minute or two later, he comes out. The clothes fit him perfectly, which I can only attribute to his lack of athleticism. From years spent in the church, he’s skinny, but has the solid frame of a future fighter.
“Good. Now let’s go greet some of your new family.” We head to the fire closest to my tent, where four people are gathered.
“Welcome to the family.” Maven says when we get closer. She’s an older woman, with streaks of gray in her once dark brown hair. She’s a pleasant woman, who has the rare ability to set anyone at ease with a smile. She reaches out a hand and Diqan shakes it.
“And welcome back, Gwynn.” She turns her smile to me now, and I reciprocate.
“It’s nice to be back.” I say, taking a seat and gesturing for Diqan to sit as well. He does so, more relaxed now.
“I was wondering where you had been going at night. Now, ” Nan glances meaningfully at Diqan, “I understand completely.” She winks at me. Everyone laughs, except Diqan.
“Yeah, you caught me.” I say with a smirk, my hands raised in front of me.
“What?” Diqan says, slightly confused, which makes everyone laugh louder. He looks at me. I just shake my head. The rest of the people sitting around the fire introduce themselves: Byron and Bolon, identical tall, lanky, twins, and Nan, Maven’s daughter who doesn’t share the gift of amiability. Where Maven is all smile lines, Nan is frown lines, and a pinched face. The only trait that she seems to have gotten from her mother is her straight brown hair, and her eye color. We talk quietly, trying not to disturb the people sleeping.
“Cerc wants us to move camp tomorrow morning. She thinks we’re being tracked.” I sigh,
“This is starting to be a weekly process. We should just make our move soon, and be over with it.”
“You know we don’t have the ability to do that yet.” Maven gives me a reassuring smile. “Just be patient. The more time we take in preparing, the better our chances. I give a halfhearted smile at the typically response.
“Yeah, I know you’re right.” A weariness settles over me at the reminder, dampening my mood for any further conversation. It isn’t long after, that everyone goes to bed.
“You can sleep in my tent tonight. I have an extra bedroll.” I lead Diqan back to the tent, place two bedrolls on the floor, then take off my boots and get into one of them. He gets into the other, and we don’t say anything for a while, though I can tell by his breathing that he hasn’t fallen asleep.
“Tomorrow, you’ll start training. You haven’t fought a day in your life, and you haven’t tapped into your vitality before, so it’s going to be difficult.” I pause. “But if you’re as determined as you sounded back there, then you’ll be fine.”
“Are you really okay with this?” I roll to face him. I can’t see him in the dark, but I want to hear him better. He doesn’t respond for a few minutes, and I wonder if he’s asleep. I’m about to go to sleep myself, when he finally responds.
“I meant what I said. I’ll do whatever I can to make sure others don’t suffer...I just don’t know if I have it in me to hurt others towards that end.”
That’s something at least, though…
“You can’t solve everything peacefully. That’s a truth of the world you haven’t learned while being locked up in that church. Some people will die to achieve our goals and any one of us may have to kill. This is war, not a protest.” Diqan doesn’t respond and I turn away from him. The words sounded rough to even my ears.Why does the truth have to be so callous? I wonder as I drift into a fitful slumber