I wanted t share just a bit from the novel. For those of you who have followed my tale since its inception in 2012, this will not be unfamiliar. For those who have read recent excerpts, this will hopefully make sense. Anyone who is reading for the first time can get some background by visiting past posts under the Forever Never category.
In this segment, others are awakened to the call for returning the rightful keeper of Domhan to her place in their world. From every corner, they will rise and make the journey to the Black Mountains, a journey into the heart and mind of darkness, for every one has been touched in some way by its selfish hand…
More Than This!
From the Land of Caves
Against the sky he shook his fist.
“By Eternity’s Light, we are more than this!”
He was stout, though leaner than most in his village, and his triangular face was etched with lines too advanced for his time on Domhan. Life had heaped mighty heartache on him in life too soon, making him feel weighed down and clumsy. His steps were slower, his eyes dull, and rarely a smile found his lips. He who once kept the village alive with laughter had grown morose and introverted, leaving his friends to avoid him most of the time. What they didn’t know was that the heart of his exuberance had always been his companion-she was his life, his comfort, his Joy. Since that dark night of nights when ashes flew and flames streaked the skies, his reason for living vanished in the clutches of the fire breather while he gaped, horrified, as they disappeared over the mountains and into oblivion. He was left alone to care for their newborn treasure, and he a simple rock cutter.
Now he looked up from the mess on his bed where all that he owned lay in a disorganized heap. He needed a moment to steal a glance at the tiny girl standing in the entrance to his cave, her face a mixture of loving adoration and knowing sorrow. A gentle smile moved across his lips in spite of himself. The child was so beautiful, and the look in her eyes-the Joy of her-brought him both comfort and agony at once.
She clung tightly to the rotund female beside her, her pink fists tugging on the skirt she hid behind as she sucked a chubby thumb. He frowned and she pulled it from her mouth, remembering how it made him angry when she reverted to that infant comfort. None but he would dare chastise her or steal such a small comfort. The rest of the village pitied the poor girl, losing her mother so tragically. Of course she knew no difference, having been raised by his best friend’s dear Othar, a gift herself sent straight from heart of the Realm, to be certain. Not only did she care for his motherless child since she was but a suckling, but she was loving and kind to his most unruly, unkempt, haphazard, well-intentioned best friend Carraig. Carraig, who never got enough to eat, Carraig whose bodily noises rivaled a thunderstorm, Carraig who would die for the world he was born to serve. And he might well have already done that by going off with the heartbroken son of M’na. At first Rith was furious with Amhain for accepting Carraig’s offer, but he didn’t have the heart to deny the young male. Rith’s allegiance to the Light Ones of Domhan was still intact, although he had conflicting emotions towards the Gods and Goddesses who seemed to have deserted them so long ago.
“Do you really have to do this?” Othar’s soft voice squeaked, but the vastness of the cave carried her simple question circling round its corridors in a chorus. She held her breath, knowing full well it was a futile question. Of course he was going. Rith never did anything frivolously or without careful planning. It just seemed to be so sudden, his decision to head toward those cursed black mountains.
Rith put his hands on the bed and lowered his head, searching for the right words, but there were none that would ease the pain of truth.
“My Joy was ripped from my arms by that..” he began, but stopped when he saw the terrified but inquisitive look in his child’s eyes. Othar pried Agra’s hands loose from her skirt and shooed her down the steps.
“Go, play with the others now. We’ll be down in a little while.” The child obeyed, but not without several furtive glances back toward the dark figure shadowed by the firelight flickering from the cave entrance. She felt confused and unsettled in a way that she had only a vague memory of, like a long ago dream. Something felt wrong and her stomach rolled over.
“Hi Agra! We’re playing hoop ball. Want to play too?” One of the children in the village urged her from her discomforting thoughts, and Agra left her sorrows in the dirt as the tiny doll she had been clutching slipped through her fingers onto the ground. She was told that her first mother-the one who was taken away-made it for her on the day she was born. It was nothing you could play with really, but she liked the color of its skin, made from soft vine cloth; and it was comforting to keep it in her skirt pocket. Agra had no true memory of that mother but thought she must have been very special if her father could not forget about their life together. Still, it broke her heart that he could not find enough joy in just being with Agra, playing with her and seeing her. What she didn’t know was that he truly did see her and that the very Joy in her face was what kept him from allowing himself to be comforted by her presence. The girl hastily bent to pick up the tiny treasure and stuff it back into her pocket, where it belonged. It was the least she could do for her father. With one last look up at the cave she ran to join the other children.
“How can I explain what I sense, Othar? I never wanted Carraig to go with that sorrow crazed son of M’na. I thought the boy just needed to accept what Eternity had taken from him, although anyone could understand his bitterness. In one night he was completely abandoned but for a brother who was very likely eaten by a talking wolf.” Rith shook his head, still unable to grasp the story as it had been told. “Now, though, I am seeing through new eyes. I look at Agra and think Amhain’s parents must be so proud of him for being brave and for not giving up as I did. I always thought Carraig to be lazy of mind and weak of body, his thoughts always on food and sleep.” Rith looked sorrowfully at Carraig’s most beloved. “I’m sorry, Othar, I shouldn’t..”
She shook her head and waved her hand at Rith, unable to speak for the lump of sorrow stuck in her throat. Rith was right, of course. Carraig was lazy, though he always went into the mines with the others, always stayed from sunrise to sunset, and always returned to her for a hearty meal which he gratefully devoured. He was unruly, unkempt and sometimes unclean, but he loved her. And she loved him. He also loved his best friend Rith, almost as much as her she guessed. It was that love which sent him off with the first son of Domhan on a wild quest to find his mother. The boy was certain the mother of Domhan was still alive, for how could she not be? She was created as an immmortal, the Keeper of Inion’s world, and yet where had she gone? On the night of the Devastation, she disappeared without a trace and no word had been heard since. The boy insisted he could feel her and often heard her voice as he drifted out of morning’s slumber, but he had not seen her in all these years.
“I should have gone with them, Othar. He is doing this for me, you know.” He began stuffing things into a leather bag and Othar moved silently beside him, gently taking the things out and folding his clothes.
“They will fit better if you do it this way,” she urged. Rith stopped, looked at Carraig’s companion and felt a twinge of affection for her himself. She wasn’t his Joy, but she was a good companion and had been more than a mother to his daughter. It seemed tragic that she and Carraig had not had a child of their own since Creation was awakened for them all. A tuft of wiry hair sprung from her bun and he reached up to tuck it back in. She recoiled a bit, then smiled nervously, fixing it herself before returning to the packing.
“I..I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be bold. Othar, I want to thank you..” Rith began, but she turned quickly to face him and put a finger to her lips. She looked him straight in the eyes, her face soft and glowing in the firelight.
“I know the affection you feel for me as Carraig’s best friend, and as the mother to your Agra since Joy left us.” Her voiced choked and she lowered her head for a moment. She wiped an escaped tear and looked at Carraig’s friend again. “Joy was my best friend. No one knows the loss I feel every day in her being gone. But having Agra to care for has eased the loss I felt. Carraig has been like another father to her as well. She loves you both. I miss him every moment of every sunrise to sunset.” Othar smoothed her skirt and tucked the tunic in where it was puffing out over the edges. “I am not a pretty one, like some of the others, even Joy. My gifts are in what I can do for others. Having Carraig to love me for my stews and my ability to love him in spite of his imperfect ways has been a gift from the Realm.”
Rith touched her arm and she did not pull away. “Everyone can see your beauty, Othar. Your devotion to Carraig is as plain as daylight, and someone who will care for her best friend’s child as her own on top of that has more beauty than the brightest bloom in Foirfeachta.
“Oooh, have you been to Foirfeachta, Rith?” He shook his head and they both laughed.
“No, but to hear the Sorceress and Warrior describe it, I feel I have been there. You can see it in young Amhain’s eyes too..” His voice trailed off.
“Well, you best be getting on with it if you are to make the next valley by sunset,” the words spilled from Othar’s mouth as a directive. “Agra will be fine here. You just go and find Carraig.” She stopped, bowed her head and closed her eyes, fresh tears spilling over her cheeks. Othar reached over and grabbed Rith’s hand. “Who knows? Perhaps you will find Joy also.” She squeezed his hand then released it again.
Rith turned away abruptly and walked to the cave entrance. The wind slapped his face and he crossed his arms, rubbing them to warm his skin. In the pink and orange glow of a new sunrise he watched his daughter playing with the other children of his village, so carefree. Something in him stirred, fueling a resentment that had lain dormant for too long. Agra deserved her mother, her true mother. Othar deserved to have her happiness back. And Domhan needed its Mother more than anything else. If M’na returned to the Garden-or what might remain there-she could stop the cruel hand of darkness that stretched its gray fingers over their world.
Rith turned back to look at Othar who watched him intently. He nodded and faced the horizon once more. As the sun peered magnificently over the edge of the unknown, its glow illuminated his hardened face. He raised his hand to the new dawn, the dirt stains from hard work glaring at him in the morning light. He made a fist and thrust it towards the face of opportunity.
“I am Rith of the Caves! And I am more than this!”
to be continued…
Words and images copyright Cheryl KP 2019