Chapter two, part one: https://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work/MaybeAnd...
The Fallen King
Liam hiked out of the forest, hearing strange whispers in the wind and the trees telling him, "He is coming." Liam thought about his father's death, caused by the menacing Darkness. Now, as the Keeper of the light, he must bring light to his father's tomb to keep his soul at rest.
Liam sighed and switched the torch from his right to left hand. Carrying a torch for three miles was no easy task, and he wasn’t making it any easier by staring out at the valley. He was atop the hill opposite the lighthouse, where trees had been cleared and buildings raised. The winter sun shone down upon the tombs and surrounding forest. Liam had hiked down from the lighthouse with a torch of Astrum in hand, clambered through the forest, and then back out onto the tall hill where the graveyard stood.
Liam turned away from the view and looked to the graveyard. It was made of neat rows of tombs. Each one was built out of large stone bricks that at one point had been bright gray but now were stained with moss, lichen, and ivy. Each tomb was three times as long as it was wide, with a stone-tiled roof. Liam walked up the white gravel path leading between the building, his boots cracking and popping against the small stones.
After Father had died, they had taken his body and placed it on the Funeral Stone in the center of the village. One of the two stones of Death created by the Old One. Hough, Keeper of the Water, washed the body with the sacred water, and then wrapped it in silk. From there, Sitric, Keeper of the Walls, had placed a silver band on its head. The funeral ceremony was one of the few rituals which required all three Keepers, so Liam himself, the recently bequeathed Keeper of the Light, had finished the Ceremony. After they had surrounded the body with bundles of wood, he lit the pyre with the torch of Astrum.
Liam arrived at the center of the graveyard. The field of the Offerings. A flat meadow with knee-high grass at the highest point on the hill. In the summer, it was filled with countless white wildflowers. But now, it was yellow grass sparkling with dew. Sticking out of the grass was line upon line of small headstones made out of white granite that glistened in the sunlight.
On each was carved the name of an Offering. Four stones ago stood the one with the only name that gave him pause. ‘Arwen, Daughter of Rohiesa and Thomas, Keepers of the Light.’ Liam stared at it for a moment. Of course, no body was actually buried under the Offerings’ graves. The Offerings were taken by The Beast, leaving no trace. The stones were merely a memorial.
He passed by and soon arrived at his family’s tomb, a dark stone building with moss growing between the stones and tracing their outlines. Like all the tombs, the small door faced the sunrise and was made of rusted iron. His eyes were drawn to the words inscribed on its arch. They were written in a flowing long forgotten tongue that tradition required to be placed above the door of any tomb.
He knew there must be some subtle difference between those words and the King’s Speech. The King’s Speech was the language his father had taught him, the language his oaths were taken in, and older than the common tongue. Though King’s Speech used a similar script to that on the arch, those words felt different. He traced his fingers along the script as if they might speak to him through the stone. The words had been passed down from the Starling, but as far as he was aware, the meaning had been lost.
Liam unlocked the door and pulled it open with a heavy creak. His father’s last words had been cryptic, and though he didn’t understand them, he somehow knew they had been in that same language. They had crackled with power and smelled of the mountains and rivers. They had felt older than even the King’s Speech.
Inside, the tomb was cold and tight, either wall lined with shelves. Set on these shelves were rows of rusted green copper urns. Inscribed on the bottom of each decorated pot was a name. Liam’s eye was drawn to his fathers, far to the left. It was new enough it still shone bronze. Father’s ashes were kept beside mother’s, and hers beside grandmother’s, and grandmother’s besides great grandfather’s, and all the way back until they faded from memory.
Maybe at one point, Grandpa would have been able to tell him what those words had meant. He had always seemed knowledgeable in strange things. But Grandpa, though by some miracle alive, had not said two sensical words together since Arwen went up as Offering.
Liam turned away from the pots to the stone pedestal in the center of the room. It was made of the same granite as the Offerings headstones, with a bowl carved out of its top. Its sides were lined with carvings of spirals, reminiscent of the two stones of the Old One. Always in sets of three, always flowing together.
After the Authority Ceremony, Father had lost the little energy he’d had left. But delirious in his last struggle with death, Father had grabbed Liam and muttered three strange words. He had made Liam promise him that when the Light went out, Liam would say those words. Three words that had smelled of the rivers and the mountains and crackled with power. Father could not be calmed until Liam had agreed. Once he had sworn it, Father fell back onto his bed and let out a sigh. The struggle was over. Whatever he was fighting with, he had given in.
Liam had wanted to yell. He had wanted to grab him and shake him and demand that Father explain himself. Why those words? What did they mean? Why, though he didn’t understand them, they didn’t sound foreign either?
Liam had wanted to ask him if he could leave this village behind forever, or if he had to be a Keeper, or why he had been out in the woods that day. But he hadn’t. He had just sat there and listened as his Father let out his last breath.
Liam took a small flask of lantern oil off his belt and poured it into the pedestal’s stone bowl. With the torch he’d carried from the lighthouse, he lit the oil. The blue flames quickly swept around the bowl. It wrapped around the stone like an angry snake and leapt to life. But the blue color was not the only strange thing about the fire of Astrum. The flame would burn impossibly long for the amount of fuel allotted to it. As long as it stayed blue, it could burn forever, not giving off smoke or using the fuel it was reporting to burn. An eternal flame.
But the Darkness always got into it, so, over the course of weeks, it would become redder and redder and then transform back into normal fire. Unless the Keeper of the Light spoke to the flame or brought it back to its source, it would eventually lose its exceptional light and ability to ward off the Darkness.
As part of the Death Ceremony, the Keeper of the Light must come every day at dawn and light the bowl in the crypt. But then, every night, the Darkness would put it out, and in the morning, the Keeper would come once more. This gentle battle would go on for a full moon cycle until, after thirty days, the sun would rise, and the flame would still be there. The soul of the dead would then finally be safe from its Corruption.
Tomorrow, the light would still be burning, and he would not have to return to the crypt.
Liam watched the fire crackle. He waved his hands through the flames to warm them. Letting the fire lick his fingers just long enough that it didn't burn him. He knew these blue flames well. They had been his family's ally and responsibility for generations.
One month had passed since his fathers death, and he was still no closer to understanding his last words. Those words still echoed in his mind and made him feel a strange sense of foreboding.
"Legus Thu Hume," Liam whispered to himself. As he finished the last syllable, the flame leapt up and roared like a great wind had breathed into its depths. It roared like a lion and shined like the summer sun. The flame's heat and light filled the room, singeing Liam's arm hairs and making his eyes burn. Liam stumbled backward and caught himself on one of the shelves, making the urns clink against each other. But as quickly as it had burst alive, the fire fell back to its place in the bowl.
He took a deep breath and swallowed. "Well, that didn't exactly clear anything up," he said to the empty room.
1. Does this feel like a good follow-up to the prologue? (if you've read it)
2. How do you feel about Liam's state of mind? Pity? Anger? Agreement? Maybe even confusion?
3. Do you think it might have been better to start farther back, like at his dad's funeral, or do you feel this chapter does everything it needs to?