The Fallen King
Liam has an argument with his grandfather, who claims Liam needs to train to fight an oncoming evil. In a huff, Liam leaves to go down to the village and on his way, encounters a creature of Darkness.
(art by Dall-e 2)
It watched him with eyes as black as the purest night. Its face was long and almost skull-like, crowned by two branching sets of horns, each of which came to six points. The thin face ended in slit-like nostrils and a long mouth with foaming teeth protruding over the lower jaw. Liam knew the marks those teeth made. They had been on his father when they had found him. Nearly as long as his little finger, the teeth could rip out flex like it was straw from a bundle.
A mane of black fur flowed down the creature's neck and then onto its long back. Its four legs were toned with power that made it quicker than any other beast of the earth. Each foot ended in large black hooves that almost looked like they were made of metal, their edges as sharp as blades. Over its body, weaving through its skin, were bands of darkness, like a dark ivy had taken root inside the creature.
It stood before him. The Stallion of the Night. The Calvary of Darkness. The Equine Companion of Shadow.
Liam maintained a gaze with the soulless pits of nothing that were its eyes. Darker than the space between the stars, he almost felt like he could fall into them. The stallion's Darkness was so complete it shone like light, filling the mist around it with thick shadow. The blackness seemed to steam off of the stallion's back and surround it with a halo of the night.
Even the silence was thick with this Darkness.
The Darkness was both magnetic and repelling. The deepest parts of him that knew light from dark and death from life pushed him away from it. His core animal instinct of life knew it was never supposed to touch the Corruption. It told him to run, to get as far away from this pure void of Darkness at all costs.
Somehow though, and at the same time, it pulled him in. It called to him. It whispered to him in the silence. Its breath played seducingly across his mind.
'You are more than they know,' He heard it say in the silence. 'But we see it.' The words were not spoken on the waves of air like most. They were not created with breath and mouth but with something older and more powerful. They used his thoughts themselves as its medium, instead of air or water like the beasts of this world. Whatever was speaking was not less than physical, but more.
The stallion was not the Darkness, merely its messenger. Merely… its gift. Its gift to him.
It was faster than the wind and stronger than the earth. The Darkness was offering him this mighty creature. It was offering him a way to go anywhere.
He was trapped between the two pulling instincts, one to flee and one to accept. He was like a band pulled tight, only able to snap or go flying away when the tension was let go. The stallion breathed out, its nostrils flaring and misting the air with shadow.
Liam resisted the tension. He would not snap, nor would he run. But the stallion also seemed determined to wait.
It would let him mount it if he tried or tear him down the moment he turned, rending his flesh from bone.
The tension was pulling him so tight even his vision seemed to darken. It felt like he was falling into the creature's eyes, its mist enveloping him. He was quivering all over. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. He could only resist the purest instinct of life and the most promising seduction of death.
He would not run - but he felt like he might. He was terrified at any moment he might turn and attempt to escape. All it would take is to drop vigilance for a moment.
Liam felt he had to go one way, and if he did not go towards it, he felt he would definitely go away from it.
Those strong legs could carry him anywhere. That back was the perfect seat. This creature had been bred by humanity to give them freedom, to bring them where they wished to go. This beast had once dwelled in the king's own stables. If he wanted to flee the lighthouse behind him, what better to it on, then the back of this royal beast.
As he stared at it, he realized it had only appeared dark because his eyes had needed time to adjust. It in fact had golden chestnut fur, blue sparkling eyes, and not horns, but a golden crown.
It was a gift, a gift to him. And the gift was everything, the gift was to be without chains or bands ever again. He was being given the chance to everywhere.
The want to flee faded. Why would he want to flee this? This was what he could flee on. Why use his own legs, when he could, like the kings of old, use the powerful legs of this royal creature.
He reached up towards the stallion, to touch its beautiful face.
A shield flashed and clanged against the creature's face as Liam was shoved off his feet. The crushing feeling of being pushed and pulled shattered with no resolution as he fell to the ground.
The creature crashed back into what it had been before, the colors solidified back into darkness, and the feeling of pure terror rushed back into Liam's chest.
"Back!" An armored figure shouted as he stabbed the chest of the stallion. It was Sitric, standing tall in his gleaming armor, silhouetted against the dull gray mist. His sword flashed as it danced through the air, slicing at the stallion and forcing it to retreat back into the wood. Sitric's every movement was accompanied by a slight clinking of his chainmail and the shimmering of his flowing purple cape. At his side hung his Lownire blade and a silver signal horn.
Sitric must have slipped around the bend in the path while Liam had been distracted by the creature. Liam hurriedly crawled backward and away from the fighting of the Keeper and the creature. The mud squelched under his hands and feet as he stopped against the trees that walled in the path, a couple of paces up the path and behind Sitric.
Sitric slashed his longsword along the stallion's side, causing black steaming blood to gush forth. He dodged an upswing of the sharp horns by stepping back. As soon as the creature's head was out of the way, he stepped forward and stabbed its chest, the dark liquid dripping down his long blade. The horse jumped up and landed a kick on his breastplate, sending Sitric stumbling backward. The stallion charged forward and swung its head down, but the many points of its sharp horns were stopped by Sitric's raised shield. He dug his feet into the ground as it slid him through the mud, horns grinding against the metal. Sitric let the horns slip off the shield one way as he sidestepped to the other. He swung down his gleaming longsword, which gashed through the stallion's large muscular thigh.
The creature snorted and reared up again, kicking at Sitric. He caught one hoof on the shield and retreated backward from the wildly kicking feet. Sitric stopped to stare at it, equal parts awe and hate filling his face. It was taller than two men, dripping with its own black blood and throwing its head back, sending a terrible cry into the mist.
Sitric dove, rolling out of the way just as the stallion stamped back down. Its sharp hooves hit the ground with enough force to split metal, one of them barely missing Sitrics side as he rolled away.
Sitric landed in a crouch next to the creature and tried to stab into its side. Before he could, its head swung around and upward at his chest to gore him with the black horns. He caught the sharp points on his shield, but the force lifted him off his feet and threw him through a bush.
He crashed through the branches, armor clanging as he hit the ground. For a moment, Liam wondered if it had knocked him out, but then Sitric was back on his feet, crouching with the shield in front of him and his sword raised, ready to strike. He watched it with narrowed brown eyes as blood trickled out from under his helmet and down one side of his face.
Sitric was an extraordinary fighter, but he could only hold his own for so long.
Once again, Liam realized he could run. Sitric was keeping the creature occupied. He could return to the lighthouse and close the heavy door. Safe from the stallion, safe from the questions that might come if Sitric had seen him reaching towards it.
But Liam couldn't run. He'd already lost enough family members to the Darkness. He looked around for anything that might help. Lying in the mud within arms reach was the torch. Upon it was a glimmer of hope. A small part of it was still above the water and smoldering blue, like the coals of a recently put out fire. Astrum was hard to kill.
For a moment, Sitric and the stallion watched each other. Liam could hear their labored breathing as he grabbed the torch… He'd just need to light something with it.
Before he could, the stallion charged, horns down. A clang like two mountains crashing together sounded as Sitric caught its horns on his shield. The pure force knocked him back against the tree behind him and sent two of the horns points bursting through the metal.
With a cry of anger and pain, he plunged his sword into the creature's neck. The same black steaming blood poured thick over his sword and onto the ground, killing every plant it touched. On any other beast, that would have been a killing hit, but steel could not vanquish a creature of Darkness -- only injure.
Reflexively, the stallion tried to throw Sitric off, swinging its head upward, but the pierced shield was still stuck to its horns. So, Sitric was carried with the head's movement and thrown up into the air. He flew through down the path like tossed plaything before landing down the path, rolling and then stopping in a crumpled heap.
Liam frantically looked around for something dry enough for the torch to light. Every twig and leaf had been soaked by the torrent the night before.
Sitric struggled to get back on his feet. He dropped his bent and bashed shield from his strangely twisted arm and growled. Slipping behind a tree, he threw down his sword, and he pulled his Lownire blade off his belt.
With no sword or shield, he was now almost entirely defenseless. But with the Lownire blade, which glimmered like a fang of light, he might be able to kill it.
If the forest was wet, Liam would need to light something that had not come from the forest. Liams mind was like a machine, working quickly to a solution. No longer gunked up by distractions or slowed to consider why they spun. They were like the gears of the lighthouse, oiled by fear and pulled by the weight of survival. They turned on towards his one goal: Fire.
'I am not from the forest,' Liam realized. Not all of him was flammable, but a fair amount of him was. Hair, clothes, and best of all, paper.
He reached into his pocket and took out the parchment that he had lined with the rituals. Well, he better hope he had them memorized.
Sitric dodged out of another charge, his feet deftly bringing him behind another tree. Liam realized Sitric was leading the stallion away from him. Sitric's only hope now was to let Liam escape or get a killing hit in with the short blade.
Liam crumpled the paper in his hand and pressed a corner against the torch's smoldering section. He blew on it slowly and steadily, trying to ignore the snorts and stamping of the stallion and the frantic movements of Sitric's foot. Both were more sluggish than when the battle had started, but Sitric's were slower.
"Come on, come on, come on," Liam muttered to the torch.
The stallion caught the side of Sitric's breastplate with a hoof, and Sitric was spun off his feet. As he landed on his back, the stallion reared up to slam down on him. Sitric rolled out of the way and stumbled back to his feet, his breathing labored.
"Please…" Liam begged the torch. The paper crackled and then caught. Liam quickly moved the crumpled piece of paper so the fire danced up it.
The horse snapped at Sitric, missed, but cut clean through a large branch.
Liam looked between the crackling piece of paper and the horse's back which faced him. With the limited time, what could he do with that little crumpled piece of paper?
Suddenly, he felt Father's hand clutching his again and heard his wheezing voice speaking those three words.
Though he hadn't known it, those words had been his plan as soon as he had picked up the torch.
Taking the crumpled paper in one hand, he charged the stallion. He slammed his hand against the horse, pressing the burning paper to its side.
"Legus Thu Hume!" He shouted, pushing every ounce of fear and power into the words, "Awaken and be given strength,"
The fire exploded to life, shooting from between his fingers and gleaming like the noonday sun. The blue flame roared up like it had in the graveyard and enveloped the side of the stallion.
It screeched and stumbled away, its side steaming with white smoke. The fire burnt out, the paper completely consumed, but it had done its working. Smoking, the stallion stumbled away.
It stopped on the edge of the forest, and looked at Liam with its black empty eyes. It almost seemed longing, but then it turned, head hung, and disappeared into the mist. Defeated, but not dead.
Liam stumbled over to Sitric, "Did it get you?" He asked breathlessly. With neither Lastrios nor Astrum, if the Darkness was in Sitric, there would be no way to remove it before it took root.
"No," Sitric growled, "Just a broken arm.”
Liam sighed in relief. If the creature broke skin, it could seed you with the Corruption. Nothing could heal you of the Corruption once it took root. It was a death sentence, killing you if you resisted it or turning you into a monster enslaved by The Beast if you did not.
With the cleansing ritual, Lastrios and Astrum could take the Darkness instead of you, bearing its Corruption and destroying itself instead, but the ritual must be done with one or both of the two before the Corruption took root in your soul.
Sitric gritted his teeth. “Do you know how to make a sling?” Sitric asked, the pain tinging his words, but not overcoming him in the slightest.
Liam nodded, and used a Sitric lownire blade to cut his cloak and put his arm up in a sling quickly and efficiently. For most people, getting attacked would shut down your mind, but Liam was not most people. For Liam, a shot of danger made him work faster and think clearer. Suddenly, everything made sense. Instead of wondering what he was doing or why he must do it, there was a simple goal: Survive.
Once the sling was done, Liam returned the blade and helped Sitric to his feet.
Sitric breathed for a moment, eyes closed. It looked as if he was systematically willing the pain away. After a moment, he opened them. Seeming clear of distraction or discomfort, he scanned the forest.
"You’re injured?” He asked, without looking away from the forest.
“Yes, it didn’t touch me before you came.”
Sitric nodded. “We’re both lucky then. The armor and shield stopped the creature from breaking skin, so no Corruption got to me. Two horns pierced the shield, but the breastplate stopped them. The stallion did break my arm when it threw me by my shield, and I think I have a cracked rib, but besides that, I am uninjured.”
Liam winced. "Thank you for saving me," He said.
Sitric stared out at the wood, scanning each shadow like they might be hiding another creature of Corruption. “Don't thank me yet. There is more lurking out there," Sitric warned. He turned to face his nephew. "What happened to the torch?"
"I slipped, dropped it, and it went out," Liam said, understanding his uncle was cataloging resources for their defense.
"What about the thing you did with the fire? The explosion?"
"It's something my dad taught me," Liam said, pushing away the thought that he had to explain to Sitric that Grandpa was back. Not now, too many other problems to deal with.
"And you're Lownire blade, did you drop it?"
Liam grimaced, "I forgot it?"
"Forgot it?" Sitric began, a tone of frustration, but then he paused, and his voice became more controlled. "Liam, I don't have time to explain this to you, but you should already know this. You must never forget that blade. It shouldn't be something you even have to think about. It should never leave your side. When you sleep, it should be sheathed next to you, and when you awake, the first thing you do is hitch it to your waist. If you are defenseless, the village is as well. If you die, so dies light. If light dies, countless people within the walls would be in danger of fates worse than death. It is your duty to carry that blade. For the safety of everyone within those walls. Do you understand that?" Sitric asked in a loud voice, but it was not yelling. His voice was raised, but it was more controlled and more powerful than angry shouting. Every syllable carried command, as if they were indubitable facts. They carried complete authority and demanded complete obedience.
Liam swallowed, feeling like he was having weights piled on his chest. He had a thousand excuses. That he was distracted. That he was not fully trained to be a Keeper. That even with the Lownire blade, he would stand no chance against a creature of Darkness. But now was a time for none of them. "Yes, sir." He responded
Sitric nodded, seeming to accept that for now. He picked up his sword, sheathed it, and began to walk, gesturing for Liam to follow him.
After walking through the misty forest, watching every shadow of every tree, the two Keepers arrived at the North Gate. A silver enforced door guarded by three members of the Watch.
"He is clean!" Sitric shouted to the city walls.
"He is clean!" Liam echoed.
For a day after a creature of Darkness was spotted, protocol demands that you must be declared clean by a Keeper to be let back into the walls.
One of the guards gave two short and one long pipe on his horn. Liam heard the sound repeated down the wall in both directions. The brass horns, along with the runners, were a part of the Watch communication system. The horns for simple ideas that could be signaled with a few long and short hoots, and the runners bringing more complex messages.
The three Watch members let them in speedily, two watching the forest with knocked arrows while the other opened the door. As the door closed and clicked behind them, Liam felt as if he could breathe a bit more deeply. A creature of Darkness hadn't gotten through the wall in more than two years… but that dark November day two years before had been a massacre.
"There's been two creatures spotted, sir. One on the east and one on the southeast," A young man communicated. He was shaking slightly and only seemed a year or so older than Liam.
"Any attacks?" Sitric asked.
"None have approached the wall yet. We moved light there best we could, and a few of our arrows found home, but one of them still seems to be prowling."
"Thank you, Samual. Please go to the East gate and say more light is coming."
"Yes, sir!" The young man said. He ran off through the city streets, armor jingling.
Liam looked off into the town. The buildings were blanketed in the same mist as the forest, the roads curving away into the fog. Every door was bolted, shutter shut, and house quiet.
Sitrice turned to Liam. "Go to the Keep, speak to the light there. See if Hugh needs anything. A messenger will come to fetch you and bring you where light is needed,” Sitric ordered quickly. Before Liam could respond, Sitirc turned to another member of the Watch, "Direct all future messages for me to the West Gate."
"But, your arm!" Liam protested.
Sitric smiled gravely, stepping onto the first rung of a ladder. "I'm the Keeper of the Walls. I stop keeping them when I die. But if my pain concerns you, send a member of the Watch from the Keep to get Physician Daniel for me up on the East Gate. Maybe he can make me a better sling." With that, he climbed up into the mist.
The other member of the Watch rushed off, and Liam was left alone, standing in the street.
The walk to the Keep was not long that day. Normally it would have taken upwards of ten minutes, but the street was entirely empty of traffic or anything to block him. And, since he felt that the situation was pressing, Liam ran most of the way. Passing quiet buildings that seemed to be holding their breath.
Soon his footfalls passed from the cobblestone streets to the grassy knoll of the Keep. Here, in the center of town, all roads and buildings gave way to a green hill. Often filled with grazing animals, playing children, and talking adults. Every part of town life intersected in that large grassy field.
Now though, it was quiet. The silence was only split by Liam's heavy breathing and the chewing of the few grazing goats. Liam passed the funeral stone and arrived at the large front door of the Keep.
The only building in the valley taller than the Keep was the lighthouse. The Keep rose high into the mist, its marble towers, and walls becoming vague shapes against the gray sky. The front doors were huge, and each had two normal size doors contained within them. They were made of old wood painted white, with the heads of giant nails patterning its face. The doors only closed at night and when the city was under siege.
Liam took a deep breath and knocked.
He heard a bolt slide, and the right smaller door cracked open. Liam stepped inside quickly, and the door was closed behind him.
The Keep was the oldest building in Lownire and built of old marble. Its main chapel was large and, at that moment, very dark. Yet, though he could not see the building as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could smell it. A complex fraternity of scents met his nose, bringing back memories of the festivals and sermons.
Each smell blended with and added to the last; The slight moldy hint from the velvet pews which lined the long building; The papery mustiness that wafted up from the books kept in the deep catacombs below; The particles of old wood that radiated from the shutters pulled over the tall stained-glass windows; The stuffy dust that gathered in cobwebs between the large intricately carved columns and archways lining the sides of the chapel; The scent of the flaking blue paint that decorated the high vaulted ceiling above; The slight smoky fumes that came from the two bowls of Astrum fire next to the door, each of which was now tinged red; The waxy smell flowing across the room from the dripping leaning candles candles at the far end of the long chapel; And the flowers. Purer and more noticeable than the rest combined, were the flowers.
Though a hundred paces away, the flowers gave a noticeable sweet fragrance of spring. Growing in a perfect circle around the dark Well of Lastrios, the flowers were perfectly white, kept for weddings and the Offering. They grew year-round, their roots spilling over the edge of the stone indent where the Well sat and drinking the water of purity.
The space echoed with hushed voices and a child's crying. Liam blinked, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. Standing next to one of the copper bowls of fire was the man who had let him in. A member of the Watch only a year older than him.
Upon turning sixteen, every able-bodied male in the village trained and served as a member of the Watch for a year. Upon adulthood, they were all expected to fight off attackers if the bell was rung, but during their training, most of them worked as runners and squires in actual attacks.
Liam knew everyone in the village. With only less than two thousand inhabitants, he should be able to remember all their names as well. But he didn't. Though he was glad to find he could pull the guard's names out of the deep recess of his mind.
He nodded at James, and James nodded back. The son of a butcher where Liam got his meat once a week, but Liam remembered him because his twin sister had gone up as Offering the year before. Liam still remembered the pain he'd seen on James's face. As a Keeper, Liam would be the source of that pain.
Across the way, standing in the side wing behind the columns, Finn spoke to a family of people who were all huddled close together. Probably people seeking shelter after their home was flooded. The Keep was meant to be a safe place in times of danger.
Nearest by, Gwendoloin, the daughter of Hugh, was trying to comfort a crying child. She glanced over at Liam and smiled weakly,
"Hey, Liam," She said quietly. The Keep was not a place you ever needed to talk loudly to be heard.
Gwendoline was short, like her father. Her face was spattered with freckles, primarily covering her small pointed nose. Her eyes were bright green, and her hair was blonde but tinged with that same red as her whole family. Currently, it was in two disheveled braids.
"Hey, Gwen," Liam muttered. He knew there were more important things to be concerned with, so he tried not to wonder about how often James saw Gwen if he guarded the Keep. He failed.
"I suppose you're here to see my father," She said, patting the back of the crying child as they sobbed into her shoulder.
"Yup," Liam said, too tired to think of a more interesting response.
"You always come by to see dad these days, never to play queens and kings like we used to," Gwen joked, "Did you get tired of wearing a paper crown?"
Liam smiled warmly, "No, I was forced to start wearing burdens not made of paper."
Gwen smiled, “That is growing up, isn’t it. I'll go fetch Dad for you, I guess. But if you want me to grab a paper crown while I'm at it, the offer still stands."
Liam smiled, "Now you’d just give me speeches about actual history, instead of pretending.
Even though it wasn't very funny, she laughed. Gwen was nice like that. "True." She leaned into the child and squeezed them, whispering, "I'll be right back. You stay strong." The child sniffled in response, and Gwen rushed off.
Once Gwen was gone, Liam quickly explained to James that he needed to fetch Physician Daniel for an arm break up on the West Gate. James got a bit sidetracked in asking him about the walk outside the walls but was soon rushing off. Once James was gone, Liam noticed that the family and Finn had left, leaving Liam alone with the child.
Liam turned to the two bowls of fire. Each one was barely Astrum, almost entirely a crackling dancing red, letting off sooty smoke, but at its bottom was that little bit of dark blue fire that glowed brighter than the red. Only a few days before, the fires had been almost entirely blue. The large bowls were the town's central source of Astrum, and had probably been used to relight many of the wall's torches but with every torch relit, a little bit of the extraordinary power of Astrum left, making the flame more like normal fire.
Liam screwed up his face, trying to remember the words to make the Keeper of The Light could speak to fill the lights with power again. As a Keeper of the Light, if he had a fire that still had a little Astrum, he could do a ritual in the King's Speech to make it blue and bright again.
He would have to reach his hands inside the fire and speak the words, but he didn’t remember the words perfectly, and he had messed this up before, and that normally meant burns.
He sighed, closing his eyes and searching his mind. That is why he’d brought the piece of parchment, it had the rituals on them. Dad had taught them to him, but he’d never been able to remember them, they just seemed to slip out of his mind. Of course he’d gone and burned his parchment on the way down here.
A sniffle interrupted his thoughts.
Liam opened his eyes and looked around, and saw that Finn and the family had left, leaving him alone with the crying girl. Liam looked at her curiously, why had she been crying?
The small child's dark hair was matted against their head, and she was wearing a sleeping dress. It was evident she had been dragged out of bed recently. She was six, maybe seven, and was still crying quietly. She threw a haphazardly glance at him, but when she saw he was watching her, she turned away and cried.
Liam walked over to her. "Hey, what's wrong?" He said in a gentle voice. He'd never had younger siblings, but his younger cousins had given him enough experience.
The child looked up, her blue eyes swimming with tears. She turned away and buried her face in her hands, and cried harder.
Liam got down on his knees, so he was at eye level with her. "Shhh, it's going to be okay," He tried.
She still didn't respond.
"Hellooo?" He said, "You going to say anything to me?"
The little girl shook her head.
Liam sighed, throwing all his mental resources at the problem.. "Hmm, okay then," He said, “Well, would you want to see me make this fire turn blue?” Liam asked, gesturing at the bowls of mostly red fire.
She nodded slowly.
Liam stood up and walked over to the bowl. She watched from between her fingers, still crying, just quieter now. He stopped studied the flickering fire, it was red, but with little sparks of blue through it. It sure looked like it would burn to touch. He sighed. He had put himself on the line here, he better deliver. and then closed his eyes. He thought it would be easier to stick his hands inside if he couldn’t see it. He quickly shoved his hands forward, and suddenly, they were very warm, and it took everything he had not to pull them back again. They were not quite as hot as he would have expected from a fire, but still bad enough he suspected they would be burned if they stayed there much longer.
“I command thee to fill with the light and power of Astrum,” Liam said quickly in the king's speech. Suddenly, the burning sensation faded, but the heat didn’t. Now it felt like his hands were in comfortably warm water.
Liam opened his eyes, and saw that the bowel was filled with bright blue fire. He grinned and turned to the girl, who looked nearly as astonished as he felt.
He hadn’t needed the parchment.
Liam excitedly went to the next bowl, this time he kept his eyes open. As he stuck his hands in, the fire licked around them. If this was a completely normal fire, it would just burn him, but since this fires source was still Astrum, it wouldn’t yet. He said the same command again, and when he finished with ‘Astrum,’ blue spread out from his hands, like dye dropped in water. The blue filled the fire, all the way out to its tips. Now, it burned bright Astrum blue, smokeless and pure, able to cleanse the Corruption or ward of Darkness.
The child took her hands off her face and smiled slightly, revealing that her two front teeth were missing. "How'd you do that?" She asked quietly, "Mommy says to never touch fires."
"And mommy's right," Liam added, "But I'm the Keeper of the Light, so the fire can't hurt me."
"Oh!" The little child responded as if they had thought of something. "Your daddy died," She said, proud that they were able to pull that piece of information out.
Liam paused. "Yes, he did," he responded quietly. "My name's Liam. What's yours?"
"Emily," She responded, whipping snot out from under her nose and sniffling again as if she was starting to remember she should be crying.
Liam walked up to her again, and studied her face. "Hey,” he said gently, “Why are you crying?"
"My daddy is going to die," She responded, lip quivering.
"Oh, why do you think that?"
"He went out on his boat into the clouds, where all the scary sounds are."
"Oh, your daddy is on the sea watch?" Liam realized. The sea watch was one of the most dangerous jobs. Those on it would take a boat to the horizon and watch for Austermen, signaling the town if they were coming. The Sea-watch went out even at night and rarely regarded weather as an obstacle. They needed to be able to warn the city of an attack, regardless of their own safety.
She nodded quickly.
"But none of the monsters go out into the water," Liam reminded her. That was, of course, an oversimplification, but it was generally true.
"But the thunder is going to come again and blow his ship to bits," She responded. Liam considered pointing out that thunder was merely a sound and did very little blowing, and it was the lightning or wind she should be worried about, but decided against it.
"Don't worry about that. The storm is all gone. We made sure it left."
"But what if it comes back?" She shouted, beginning to cry again.
Liam placed a hand on her small shoulder. "If it comes back, then I'll be sure to chase it away."
"What if his ship runs into rocks in the dark?"
Liam frowned at this, impressed by the little girl's ability to think of so many scenarios that ended in death. "You see this fire?" Liam asked, pointing at the bowel.
The little girl nodded, continuing to cry.
"Your daddy has a lantern-like this, and if his boat starts to sink, I'll see it, and I'll go out there with another boat and save him."
"You will?" She sniffled.
"Yes, it's my job. I won't let your daddy die. I can't. The light would make sure I could save him," He said gently, looking into her shimmering blue eyes.
Liam opened his mouth and then paused, something getting stuck in his throat as a memory came back to him, "I do promise."
"Mommy!" The little girl shouted suddenly. She ran past Liam to a young woman. The women looked impossibly tired, holding a baby in one arm and towing a toddler with the other. She smiled gratefully at Liam. She turned to Hugh, spoke a word of thanks, and then walked away with her three children.
Hough stepped toward Liam. There were deep bags under his eyes, and his old gnarled face looked older and more gnarled than usual. "Relocation's right fun," He sighed, watching the women walk towards the far end of the hall. "The rain flooded a couple of houses, so we need to find places for these people to stay for the night. All while the city is surrounded by Darkness…” The baby woke up and started to cry, "And yet, being a keeper is still easier than having three littluns at once."
Liam chuckled, and a silence settled in the room as the women exited out of the chapel through an intricately carved wooden door. They both sat in the silence for a moment.
"Would you?" Hough asked gently. Liam looked at him confused, and Hugh gestured after where the little girl had excited with her mother. "You weren’t just trying to make her feel better, you would actually go save her father?" He wasn't accusing. He seemed to be giving Liam a moment to be honest.
Liam looked at him, countless emotions playing through him, pain, sadness, embarrassment, pride, love, each one with its own distinct taste, none being lost in the mix. "Yes."
"Even though your father never had the chance to train you on how to navigate the Keepers ship?" He asked, stepping closer. Liam thought about the few times his father had managed to take him out on the small boat. How much he'd loved it. How much in those moments, he had wanted to be a Keeper.
"Yes," He said again.
"Why?" Hough asked, his rough voice more gentle than any soft one could have been.
Liam's mind went through countless truthful answers. Because it was right, because it was his duty, because she didn't deserve to lose her dad either, because he wanted to smell the sea, even if it was the last thing he did. But those all weren't it. "It's what my father would have done."
Hough nodded slowly. "Sometimes it's easier to lean on other people's wisdom than your own.” Hugh looked around, studying the large beautiful Keep. Liam kept the lighthouse, Sitric kept the walls, and Hugh kept the Keep. “I was at sea - when I was chosen. The man who was Keeper of the Well before me had been dying for months and refusing to name a successor. Keeper of the Light and Wall always take their firstborn child unless something gets in the way, but the Keeper of the Well is supposed to be chosen from among the common people.” Hugh laughed, “And I was certainly nothing more than a common person. They came for me, while I was out on my ship. They said I was needed onshore, immediately. I thought maybe my wife had begun giving birth to Gwen or someone had gotten hurt, so I was surprised to be rushed to the small home of the old man. He told me I was to be the next Keeper of the Well. It seemed absurd to me. I was a rough sailor. I knew nothing of books and the Well. I tried my best to be pure, but I was more like briny seawater than the smooth water of the Well. I knew more of rough ropes and angry seas than fragile book pages and gentle Lastrios.
"I was on the verge of refusing when for some reason, I thought of something, I nearly heard it. My yet unborn daughter would be - was - proud to call her father a Keeper. She didn't deserve to have a dad who was too much of a coward to take the job. So even though I didn't understand it, I took the authority, and he died moments after. I think he knew it was me all that time he was sick, but if he hadn't been on the verge of death when he asked me, I would have told him to look for someone else." Hugh paused, searching Liam's face with his soft blue eyes. "I think sometimes we don't understand why we should or shouldn’t do something - maybe we don't have the bravery either. But we can borrow understanding and bravery from others. I borrowed it from my daughter that day, and I still do sometimes. I'm glad you're still borrowing it from your father. We're stronger when we trust those who love us. A lone halyard line will always snap in a storm."
Liam looked down at the ground, his mind stirring with the two parallel conversations.
Suddenly, James burst in through the small door, armor clinking against itself as he came to a halt. "Keepers are required on the West Wall. A creature has struck!"*
1. Did you like the combat? Was it entertaining?
2. What did you think of the creature? Did it communicate Darkness?
3. How do you think this encounter changes Liams view of Sitric?
Part two of chapter five: https://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work.php?id=1...