Needle Ash – Chapter 11: The Schism, part 2

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Turns passed, the endless cycle of the strange realm healing Michael beyond what he thought possible. He felt stronger than before, and took to practicing with his sword. He wished to go riding, to break in and train the horse he had acquired from Batoli, but Shadathal cautioned him not to go afield, afraid he would lose his way back.

“The paths do not run always straight here. You may return along the same path and end up somewhere else, since you are not from here,” Shadathal said one day, as Michael rode the horse around a gentle pond filled with koi.

“It is like that in the Dobo Wold,” Sharona said. She was reclining and reading the same book under the light of a tree. “I have a few spells which can help.”

“All the same, I would prefer if you kept to pastures here,” said the elf.

Michael practiced the horse’s paces a few more times, then dismounted and left it wander in a fenced pasture, along with several of the elves’ horses (which seemed, to his eyes, quite fine, in a variety of painted colors), as he saw the approach of two familiar faces. Enatalla, the girl who had picked up the mirror, was approaching with her mother. Sharona greeted them in her language.

They had a short conversation, leaving Michael standing by the side. In a pause in the conversation, Sharona turned back to Michael and said, “Shadathal seems to have kept the mirrors, and Entalla enjoyed seeing the other girl from the village. Do you think we would have another opportunity to go back there? I thought I might make another mirror for her.”

“I don’t know,” Michael said. “Will we leave here?”

“What do you mean?” Sharona said.

“I have been thinking… I have no clear path anymore. My brother seeks my death. I will have to go into exile, into hiding. What shall I become? I consider now… perhaps we could stay here. You and me.”

“Just a moment,” Sharona said. She turned to the littler girl and spoke, and the two elves walked away. When she looked back, there was a frown on her face.

“What?” Michael said. “It seems a far better potential for life than going back to Ferralla, or Artalland, or elsewhere, where I will have to be a mercenary to survive. A simpler life. Here.”

“It is tempting, Michael. Do not think I haven’t thought of that, or even wished it. Even now I wish it, as I imagine a life…”

“But you oppose such a decision.”

“It supposes that Shadathal will even permit us to remain. But if he did, would you find enough life here?”

“There’s beauty, food, peace, companionship, comfort. What else does one need?”

“The question is what you need. Would you be satisfied with me alone.”

Michael smiled. “Well I expect that I would learn the language. It seems you already have. There is fellowship here.”

“They aren’t the same as us, Michael. Who would our children marry?”

“Children?” Michael said.

“Yes, or would you subject me to a life without such? Who would they marry, elves?”

“I suppose… Why not?”

Sharona grunted and put her hands on her hips. “That’s not even my point.”

“Well, what is your point?”

Sharona took a breath and stepped closer to Michael. “My point… Who are you?”

“You know who I am.”

“Tell me.”

Michael rolled his eyes and said, “I am Michael, son of Edward, of the house Harthino, prince of Artalland, High-captain of- wait, not that.”

“Do you understand now?” Sharona said, putting her hands on his chest. She made a fist and thumped it over his heart. “The heart of you is what you just said. I don’t believe you would ever be satisfied by a life of simple comfort and life unchanging.”

“So what should we do, exactly?”

“That is for you to decide. After this, things become hazy.”

“What becomes hazy?”

“The dream,” Sharona said. “The dream I was given, in the Fay, of you, of what I was doing with you… I can’t remember much now.”

“You had a dream of the future?”

“No, not exactly. I don’t think so. I believe I saw a dream… of another being. Maybe the dreamer himself. A thing of potential, but so complex, it took so long to dream it. Like living another life. It was wonderful, living that dream with you, but now I can scarcely remember it, except snippets, when before it was so clear. Like I can only remember it when we are enacting it. Or maybe it’s like the voice said…”

“The voice?”

“A dragon. One of the great dragons, gods of time and creation, old as the twelve. Maybe older. He said that it was my dream, if I choose it, but that if I choose it, it ceases to be what it was.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I, really. I think it means we’re making it up now. It’s our lives, we’re in control. The displacement of time hasn’t eliminated our choice. Your choice, Michael. You have to decide what to do.”

“I will need time to think.”

“We have some, I think.”

 

Shadathal approached Michael and Sharona as they ate a soup of vegetables at a table, the window open to let in the eternally muted light.

“You are well?” He said, sitting down.

“I’m back near full strength. Physically, at least.” Michael looked to Sharona.

“I will ask a task of you. You may refuse it,” Shadathal said.

“What is it?”

“The assassins must be killed.”

Michael nodded. “I was wondering if I would find them here.”

“They aren’t in this village,” Shadathal said. “They are dissidents. I know who they are, for they could be no others. Two elves. They do not want us to live so isolated, but to exert our power in the mundane and become lords of men. I believe they have something in their possession that allows them to travel to your world, for they are themselves weak with magic.”

Michael looked at him. “You saw Alanrae – the human woman, correct?”

“Yes. You know as I do that it was she who made use of them.”

Michael stared at his soup. “What if I refuse?”

“Then you will have to find your own way back to Midgard. I lack the skill.”

“Could I stay here?”

Shadathal was quiet for a moment. “You could, but you would no longer be a case for charity. The two assassins are named Parthill and Mondal.”

“Why don’t you do it yourself?” Michael asked.

“It is against our law and custom to kill another elf. We are not separated, body and soul, as you are.”

Sharona said, “What is the punishment usually for murder?”

“Banishment. Of course, one will cause the other, after time,” Shadathal said. “But such is the penalty for murder, which they have committed on behalf of  a human.”

“So why not banish them?” Sharona said.

“I have tried. They have the same power as I, as long as they are fed by the flows of the prim, as all this realm is. They have made their own abode, and I cannot separate them from it with magic.

“Alanrae must have given them something of great value,” Michael said.

“Not necessarily, Michael,” Sharona said. “She could have compelled them with magic. Some mages are strong enough to control a person’s thoughts and perceptions.”

“Let me consider it, Shadathal,” Michael said.

“Of course,” the elf said, and rose. He walked calmly out the door.

Michael went back to eating his soup.

“What do you think?” Sharona said.

“My heart says I must see to these men. Elves. My father deserves justice. My heart also aches, for I know that Johan must have been part of this plot. He attacked me because I knew what Alanrae was doing, which means he is part of the conspiracy. That makes me sick. Makes my blood burn!” He gripped the spoon in his hand with white knuckles. “I want so badly to purge these assassins. I want so badly to avenge my father, and the father of my friend Julia, but I cannot see how I can do it. Once we leave this place, I will be so far beyond the power I need that I cannot fathom what I should do.”

Sharona placed her hand gently on Michael. “You are not without power. You have friends, comrades, connections-”

“No title, no money, nobody to call upon for allegiance,” Michael interrupted.

“And you have me. I’m pretty good, if I do say so myself.”

“And you do say so,” Michael said. He paused for a moment and watched his soup drip off of his spoon.  “I’ve never been an outlaw before, I’ve never-”

“I have,” Sharona said. “Oh, don’t look so surprised. I don’t know what it is, but I have a way of angering people.”

Michael nodded. “I’m sure we’ll be fine, then. Let’s find out where these assassins are. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but I’m hungry.”

“Finish your soup,” Sharona said.

Michael chuckled. “It’s a metaphor.”

“I know. I just think it’s bad form to march to possible death whilst hungry.” She stood up and stretched her back. “I’ll be in the bedroom, when you’re finished.”

“Why?”

“I think it’s bad form to march to possible death whilst hungry,” she said again.

“Sharona, I am nobleman. I would never-”

“You’re an outlaw now. So come act like one.” She leaned over him and kissed him on the neck, running her hands on his shoulders. “Don’t leave me waiting.”

With a sigh, she walked out of the little kitchen and down the dark hallway. Michael looked at his soup and quickly slurped it all down, then followed.

This post is part of a project to write and publish a book in a month, as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). If you enjoy this story, consider buying my other fantasy novel The Water of Awakening, of which this book is a companion or sequel.

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