LAST TIME ON THE FALLEN KING
Liam visits his fathers grave, hears strange voices, and ponders his fathers strange last words
"May this light burn, may thou sleep, and may the stars take thee up when the King returns,"
Liam muttered in the King's Speech, one hand on the tomb door, the words sealing and finishing the month-long ritual. He hoped he wouldn't have to say those words again anytime soon. Liam had heard his father say them before, but he had never hoped he someday could have the responsibility of speaking them. Now he had to say them to his own family tomb.
Liam turned to face the valley, taking a deep breath of the chilly air to clear his mind. The valley was the same as it had been when he had entered the graveyard, but now, on its far horizon, a storm was brewing.
He let out a low whistle as he stared at the horizon. A line of clouds occupied the edge of vision, standing just where the long sea disappeared from sight. It looked like one giant wave crashing against the sky, dark, churning, and foaming with purple lightning.
Liam couldn't help but smile. He had always loved a good storm. He liked the sound of the waves crashing against the cliffs and the howling of the wind swirling around the lighthouse. Arwen always said if you listened hard enough, you could hear it announcing its power over the earth, even against Darkness.
"But first, it's time for supper," Liam said, turning to face the village.
The walk from the graveyard to Lownire was almost entirely downhill, so it was easier than the up-and-down hike from the lighthouse. His mind was also quieter this time, mostly because dinner was at the end. Liam could quiet the countless questions that buzzed in his head with the promise of food. He was glad to be leaving the graveyard, and with spring coming, he hoped he wouldn't have to return for months.
The forest's mutterings had been quieted as well. But it was getting darker, and the light from his torch was beginning to be noticeable under the branches. He stepped out of the forest and onto the abandoned farmland surrounding the village. No one lived outside of the walls in winter. No one, except the Keeper of the Light. He passed the abandoned silos, barns, and houses as his feet crunched over the dry grass. Up ahead were the walls themselves, called out of the earth by the old one and rising into the sky almost as high as the trees.
On each stone battlement shone a glowing torch of Astrum, keeping the Darkness away from the wall. Some torches were starting to fade from dark blue to purple, red, or yellow. The torches' edges tinged with common fire that would creep down and eventually make the torch begin to smoke and burn. The torches were actually quite beautiful, making the wall look like it was lined with stars.
"Is that you, Liam?" A voice called from up on the wall.
Liam smiled and waved. Through the battlements, he could see Matthew, a tall man with red-tinged hair and the beginnings of a beard. Hough's oldest son had known Liam since birth and had always been one of his favorite people in the village.
"Who else would it be?" Liam said, laughing, "Not many wandering around the forest this time of year."
He shrugged, "I dunno, you could have been an Austrmen."
"Yes, a single Austrmen would sneak up from behind the city, armed with a torch!" Liam yelled back, shaking the torch.
"Okay, okay, I get it. It was a dumb question. I'll be down in a moment," Matt said, disappearing from view.
The city had four entrances, the two main gates, East and West, and the less-used, smaller South and North gates. The South and North gates were simply silver-enforced doors that only would allow one man to enter at a time. The fewer entrances, the easier it was to keep the Darkness out.
Liam was at the south gate, which was also the least guarded. Austermen or creatures of Darkness rarely attacked the city from that side. Anyway, it was a bright day, so it wouldn't be a likely day for an attack anyway. Regardless, Liam still could see at least four guards, all staring out into the forest, breastplates gleaming. Liam waved at another guard he knew by name, Finn, the old guard trainer. Finn chuckled, shook his head, and waved back.
The small gate door creaked open to reveal Matthew was standing in the arch, holding the door open. "Come on in," he said, "Sir," he added, winking.
Liam pushed past him, "Don't call me that. You're a whole six years older than me."
"Yes, but all I am is a humble member of the Watch. You are one of the Keepers." He explained, a twinkle in his eye. He knew how much that annoyed Liam.
"Oh, shut up," Liam replied, rolling his eyes. He placed the torch on a holder inside the wall.
"Will do, sir," Matthew mocked, closing and locking the door behind them.
Liam stretched his arm. He'd been carrying torches since he was a child, but after a couple of hours, it still got tiring. "How's your family?" He inquired, feeling bad for being grouchy to Matt.
"You mean, how's my sister?" Matthew guessed. Liam didn't feel bad any longer.
Liam scowled at him and then couldn't help but start laughing. He had to admit to himself in many ways that was what he was asking. "I care about your whole family, but yeah, how is Gwen?"
"Good. Reading more than anyone - as always."
"Do you know if she is planning on dancing with anyone on Mayday?"
"Mayday's not for months, Liam," Matthew reminded, beginning to smirk.
Liam stepped away and shrugged, "I'm Keeper of the Light. I just have to make sure everything's in order."
Matthew laughed, and encouraged by this, Liam continued, "You know what, as a Keeper, I assign you to keep me updated whether your sister is planning on dancing with anyone."
"Yes, sir!" Matthew shouted, straightening up and putting a hand over his heart. Liam chuckled and walked into the town.
The cobbled street weaved between old leaning buildings. They were all stacked right up next to each other, running into the walls and hanging over the streets. Lownire was a forest of its own, but instead of trees and boulders, there were houses, stores, and workshops.
One made of brick here, stone there, but most were solidly constructed wood buildings. Exposed beams separated whitewashed wattle and daub. The small streets weaved under balconies, signs, and past large windows.
The town, as always in winter, was busy. Most people didn't leave the city walls during the dark period between Samhain and Mayday, so they were all packed in tight.
Besides himself, the only people who regularly went outside the walls were the sailors. He could hear them now, probably rushing to get their boats tied up before the storm hit. The sound of their shouting and singing reached all the way across the village. Liam stopped to listen to them. He didn't know why he had been born a lighthouse keeper. He would have made a better sailor - able to talk and sing with the others until his voice was hoarse. Liam loved talking. He loved it so much he even did it when he was alone. Which these days, was most of the time. Lighthouses are lonely places.
But the sun was lowering in the sky, and he needed to be home before dark, so Liam hurried on. He tried to ignore the nods of respect and recognition he got as he crossed the small town. Soon, he arrived at his aunt and uncles. Sitrics and Maria's house was one of the biggest in town. It had similar architecture to many of the homes in the village, but it was built against the city wall and looked nearly like it was leaning against it for support, the thatched roof bending down away from the stone. In front of the house was a small vegetable garden with a little bench. The house always had someone or other visiting it, and the chimney was constantly pouring smoke tinged with the smell of food. Sometimes Liam wondered if half the reason people came to see Sitric about their problems was to get a taste of his wife's cooking.
Stepping inside, Liam closed the door and took a deep breath. The entry was dark compared to the late afternoon light outside, but the air was warm and smelled magnificent. His aunt's cooking was one of the best in the village and reflected her personality. It was always warm, safe, and comforting.
Before Liam was fully able to adjust to the lower light in the small entry hall, a tiny body slammed against his knee. "Leem!" The little voice screamed. Four-year-old Thomas struggled to say Liam's full, multi-syllable name. Liam bent over and tousled his cousin's hair.
"How are you doing, Tommy?" He asked, looking into his large woody-brown eyes.
Thomas stared up at Liam, giggled, and then ran away.
"Not much of a conversationalist," Liam commented, stepping through the open door into the kitchen.
The kitchen was the center point of the home, like the hub of a wheel, spokes of hallways coming off from it, with a door out onto the back and a staircase to the second floor. It had a dark stone tiled floor underfoot, exposed beams with bright cloths strung between them overhead, a huge table, and most importantly, a large stone hearth. At this hearth, stirring a burbling pot, was Aunt Maria.