The Praetorians: Chapter 2 – Hide and Seek

forest-tree-fog-night-darkness-womanHello my wonderful readers! I have something for you, not chocolate cake…sorry that would be amazing. Maybe next time? With Wine? Ok good…glad we talked about that one.

No, not sugar, I do however have what you have been anxiously waiting for!!

CHAPTER 2– Hide and Seek
Eleven moons later…

The sun hung low in the distant clouds, and the branches above Camille’s head were heavy with the multicolored leaves of early fall. Camille was easily concealed behind an ancient trunk covered in sickly gray moss, yet her heart pounded all the same, causing a small, piercing ache to break between her lungs. How long had she been running for this time? She heard soft steps closing in on her, and knew her hiding spot wouldn’t last long. A twig snapped in the distance and her stomach twisted; it was time to relocate.
She could smell the tangy scent of his sweat; he was beginning to tire, but his footsteps were still nearing. She racked her brain for a plan as she pressed aside a wayward branch, crouching in a hunting stance.
Her instincts told her to act first and think on her feet, and that innate, animalistic sense of battle preparation still startled her. How did she know these things? How could she smell the storm flowing in over the Iron Mountains visible just north between the treetops? How did she know the valley twenty feet to the west had a fourteen-degree downward slope? Slight, yes—but enough to enhance her speed by fifteen percent if she really pushed herself. She never could figure out how she was able to make these automatic calculations, but they were useful in her hunting process nonetheless. Especially when she was the one being hunted.
Camille leapt from her momentary sanctuary and dove toward the heavy brush five feet to her left, swiftly running down the sloping valley deeper into the woods. She heard his soft footfalls turn to heavy thudding as he crashed through the dense forestry, speeding like a raging bull in her direction.
Ducking behind another large aspen trunk, Camille held her breath, forcing herself to remain silent as she dug her nails into the dense tree bark. She heard the assailant stop just behind her new hiding spot, and her heart slammed against the confines of her ribs.
Camille closed her eyes and prayed the forest would grant her a reprieve; that some branch might fall to the earth and create a diversion, or some bird might fly past so she could sneak away.
“Ah ha!” the little boy screamed as he jumped around the wide tree trunk followed by a mewling Neeko. “That’s three for me. I found you in less than forty minutes this time, and without any help from my handy hunting partner,” Lunci exclaimed happily, before performing a little victory dance.
“You are a worthy opponent in this game of hide and seek,” Camille said, unable to restrain the huge smile streaking across her face. They’d been playing all day and still he wasn’t tired of it, nor was she in all honesty. Camille loved the moments she shared with Lunci, even though she was almost ten years his senior. He reminded her of what it was like to be a kid again, and considering she couldn’t remember her own childhood, Camille welcomed the chance to live vicariously through Lunci whenever possible.
Lunci was unusual for a nine-year-old. He never wanted to hunt with boys his own age, and girls who glanced at him with childlike flirtation received nothing more than a sweet smile and a passing glance. Peter passed it off as nothing more than a young state of mind, but as much as Camille loved Lunci’s penchant for fun, she felt his childlike demeanor stemmed from something deeper; perhaps even something traumatic.
“Round four?” Lunci asked with a grin, one that Camille knew would disappear when she informed him it was getting too late to play in the deepness of the forest they’d migrated to.
Despite the fact that they were still within the gated confines of Sierra Village, they were far enough away to cause Peter worry. “It’s getting pretty late there, mister. I think we should start heading back. Your grandfather will have my head if I keep you in the forest past sundown.”
“Awww…come on!” Lunci whined. She feigned toying with the idea of refusing him, loving the way he stamped his feet and kept repeating “please, please, please!” with his hands clasped.
“Okay, one last time. But after that we are going home,” she said sternly, making a mental note to pick an easy hiding spot that was within sight of the village grounds. Lunci broke out into another little jig before slumping to the ground, hands over his eyes as he began to count backwards from thirty.
She ran a medium distance away, making sure to keep Lunci within earshot and taking loud steps so he could detect her path more easily. She never dared go too far from him, and kept her hunting knife with her just in case any real predators decided to join the game. Despite the fact it was her day off from hunting, Camille wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring fresh game home for Peter to sell.
“All right, ready or not, here I come!” Lunci yelled into the thick foliage.
Camille smiled when she heard him rustle through the same bush she’d just passed a few moments earlier. Normally he spent a few moments trying to decide which direction she’d gone in, but apparently he’d conveniently forgotten to close his eyes this time. She took extreme pride in his growing abilities to track prey. It was a small lesson she carefully explained over their months of weekly playtime, but she would let this little cheat slide under the radar.
Camille made a quiet trek back up the sloping valley toward Sierra Village, ensuring she heard Lunci’s footsteps close behind her. Her stomach growled at the idea of dinner filling her to near-bursting, but tonight’s offering would only be a small plate of food despite the fact she lived with the village butcher.
It was two days before the Moon Tax was due, and only the wealthy didn’t dread the offering. The rest of the village scrounged for food to meet the High Court’s demands, but luckily Camille’s hunting skills and market trades kept Peter’s table filled through most of the month.
At the end of every moon cycle the buffoon Grenswald, a foul-mouthed, grubby man wider than he was tall, came to town in a cloud of stale whiskey and body odor. He would barrel his way from door to door, collecting items he deemed “presentable” to the High King LeMarc’s court. Even though Camille’d only lived in Sierra Village for a year, she clearly understood what it meant to hate the high king, his cruel Moon Tax, and the disgusting people he kept readily at his beck and call to maintain total sovereignty.
Camille led Lunci further up the hill toward the heart of the village, snapping twigs and rustling leaves as she did so. Ducking around a relatively large boulder and scurrying through a thick bush, she hid, waiting for Lunci to reach her spot. She hunched down and slowed her breath to an inaudible pace, but after a few moments realized she no longer heard Lunci in the distance.
Camille bounded out of the underbrush and still heard nothing but her own ragged breaths—not even a distant bird call. Something was wrong. Normally Neeko would bounce back and forth between her and Lunci, his tracking senses far superior to any humans’. But she didn’t even see his bushy black tail anywhere amongst the darkening forest terrain.
No need to panic, she reminded herself. Last week Lunci had gotten distracted by a small family of squirrels in the trees, but Camille had been high up on the hill and observed him the entire time. This was different. She couldn’t hear him at all, couldn’t see him, and the forest’s ever-present cacophony of twitters had stilled.
The eerie silence cut into her calm reserve, grating against her skin with unrelenting harshness, and just like when she slipped into hunting mode, a tingling, unnatural heat grew beneath her eye sockets.
She grasped her hunting knife tightly before racing back through the forest along the path she’d just taken. This time she was silent, shifting through the damp leaves and twigs beneath her feet without the slightest sound. In the distance were heavy footfalls pounding against the earth directly north of where she’d last heard Lunci.
Rounding a tree she’d passed earlier, Camille stopped dead in her tracks to listen. She heard distant voices from the village, a subtle hum of wind whistling through the trees, but no sign of the boy.
“Lunci?” Camille said evenly, trying to keep her voice neutral. “Lunci, it’s time to get home now.” Nothing.
“Lunci! Neeko!” Camille repeated, not caring any longer whether she sounded worried.
What if something had attacked Lunci? What if she’d overestimated her ability to keep him protected from such a distance?
An internal flood of dread spread throughout her system, making it almost impossible to think—and that’s when she saw them through a thick brambled bush: heavy-lidded, blood-red eyes the size of her fists and oddly human in appearance.
Fear invaded her senses, leaving her frozen on the spot. She’d heard of a shadow beast, a monster roaming Aspera from a recent viral outbreak in a distant village: the Chimera.
Soft footsteps came treading up the path behind her, and Camille’s back went rigid; Lunci had found her.
“Lunci! Don’t come any closer,” she instructed, keeping her focus on the stark red eyes. Her tear ducts began to water in her desperation to keep them in sight, but the moment she blinked, the gleaming red stare was gone. She held stiff and silent, counting the seconds before the monster decided to attack.
“A little jumpy there, sweetheart?”
Camille leapt a foot in the air as a sultry voice assaulted her tender, overly aware ears. Whipping around with her knife at the ready, she careened off-focus when she located the man who’d addressed her. “Who are you?”
Leaning against an aging tree, arms casually folded across his chest, stood a young man not much older than her. Blond, wavy hair fell back from his angular face, with both sides shaved and the top left long. The man dragged a hand through his thick strands, gaze never leaving her. His irises were the strangest hue Camille had ever seen: a bleached blue, almost devoid of color; like the bright tinge of sky at high noon.
“Well hello to you too,” he responded, pushing away from the trunk to saunter over, a broad grin spanning his face. He glanced at the dagger she still held and chuckled. “You thinking of stabbing me? Or do I get a proper hello?”
Camille kept the knife raised, a slight tremor in her hand. “Stay back stranger, who are you?”
She fought to keep the raging monster coiling inside her from surging to the forefront; she’d spent the past year working to keep her internal beast on a tight leash. It had taken several moon cycles living under Peter’s roof to understand that her wild range of emotions wasn’t directed at anything in particular. When she was happy, she was ecstatic; when she was annoyed she became unreachable; fear turned to unimaginable terror; and anger transformed into explosive fury. Nothing was at equilibrium within Camille, raging out of control at the tiniest shift.
The stranger’s brows knit together with apparent confusion, his lips pursing in contemplation. “Do you not recognize me?” he asked softly, all form of jest dissipating.
“No,” Camille snapped. “Should I?”
“How long have you lived in this village?” he said, ignoring her question.
“That’s none of your business.”
He shook his head. “Can’t have been more than a few months; maybe a year. Sweet Mother Ma’Nada, I can’t believe it. Is it really you Camille?”
How does he know my name? Camille narrowed her eyes, truly taking in his appearance. She noticed three hefty throwing daggers, and a short-nosed sword with a wide belly blade. His clothes were well-fitted and made for travel; a loose cotton shirt and leather vest were layered beneath a brown leather coat, and black pants tucked into dirty black boots. She could smell the bag of coin hanging on his hip filled with copper duggars, silver rubles, and golden gilders—enough money to buy a year’s worth of food for Peter and Lunci.
“Who are you?” Camille insisted, glancing around for any sign of the boy.
“A drifter. I have no name,” he said sarcastically, flinging his arms out like he was presenting himself to the royal court.
“What do people call you then?” Camille retorted.
He smiled. “You can call me anything you like, sweetheart.” He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively at her, drawing closer.
“What are you doing in my woods then, drifter? And how do you know who I am?” Camille asked, instinctively stepping back. She continued to scan the forest in a slight panic, still unable to detect Lunci or Neeko nearby.
“Your woods?” he said, the corners of his lips quirking. He was annoyingly easy to look at, and Camille found it very distracting. His left cheek boasted a soft dimple with every smirk and smile—an uneven flaw in most, but endearing on him. “I didn’t realize these trees were spoken for.”
“You’re in Sierra Village. You aren’t one of us. So who are you? And how did you get past the guard tower?”
“Your ‘guards’ are quite seriously the most moronic Asperians I’ve ever seen. Those lazy bastards wouldn’t know how to guard their dinner from a pack of puppies, let alone an entire village against a Chimera attack. I mean, honestly,” the drifter continued, ignoring        Camille’s incredulous expression as he took another step toward her. “Now—are you planning on putting down that little toy of yours?”
“No!” Camille shot back, lifting it more prominently in front of her. “Not until I know whether you did anything to Lunci.”
“Ah, I see,” the stranger cooed, looking to his right and left in a conspiratorial fashion. “You’re looking for the little blond boy, yes?”
“If you hurt him, so help me—”
“Whoa, whoa…easy there, sweetheart. He’s fine. The boy’s about fifty yards south of us.” The drifter rubbed at the back of his neck, and Camille was immediately drawn to the flexing of his muscles—it was intoxicating.
Every facet of the stranger seemed slightly familiar to her; his mannerisms, his movements. The man’s scent, especially: it was one of oak and pine, soap and musk, and it sent her pulse galloping.
“How do you know where he is?” she growled, trying to keep her anger from building further.
“Perhaps if you dialed back that temper, you would’ve been able to deduce his location yourself,” he snapped, looking to a spot just over Camille’s shoulder.
Camille didn’t want to glance away from the drifter for even a second, but Lunci’s careless steps were approaching. She took one more step away from the man before spinning to face the rustling leaves on her left.
Lunci broke through the bushes in a childlike gallop. “I got you! Thought you could hide from me, but none can escape the power of the incredible Lunci!”
Lunci leapt at her with careless abandon. Camille twisted away to avoid stabbing him, causing the silver amulet she always kept hidden under her vest to swing free, pinging loudly against the flat side of the blade.
“What’s wrong?” Lunci rasped, eyes going wide at the sight of the knife.
Neeko picked that moment to join them, a low and menacing hiss escaping his throat as he stared at the spot where the red-eyed beast had been.
Camille whipped about, searching the now-vacant spot where the drifter had been. “Neeko, do you smell something?” Camille whispered. Neeko spit and hissed in response, the fur bunching up around his neck as his tail swished back and forth.
“Camille, what’s going on?” Lunci’s voice shook as he edged closer to her, looking in the direction Neeko hissed.
“Where were you?” Camille said, grabbing Lunci’s hand as her jade-colored eyes scanned the bushes for a pair of blood-red ones. She led them quickly around fallen trees and piles of dead leaves, constantly scanning their surroundings as they followed the slope of the hill toward the village.
“Where was I?” Lunci said, sounding confused. “I was looking for you! Why’d you quit hiding?”
Camille didn’t answer, instead continuing to drag Lunci toward the safety of the village. As they left the tree line, Camille stole one more glance back amongst the forest and ran smack into a solid, hairy body that reeked of stale fish and week-old perspiration.
“Watch it, idiot—oh, it’s you,” Grenswald rumbled, sneering down at her. Camille despised him out of principal being a hired hand of the High Court, but her distaste for his proximity ran deeper than his presence alone. His muddy brown eyes lit up at the sight of her, and Camille was certain he was recalled the first time they’d met.
She hadn’t been in Sierra Village long, and most of the villagers kept their distance but for fake pleasantries when they saw her behind the butchery’s counter.
Grenswald hadn’t been too keen on making her feel welcome, and when she’d tried to hide a small apple away for Lunci during her first Moon Tax, the fat oaf had dragged her outside to make an example of her disobedience. He’d bellowed to the townspeople about the foul, beastly nature of those who stole from the High Kingdom, screaming that no crime would go unpunished. He’d gotten seventeen lashes in before the head guard stepped in, and Camille still couldn’t believe she’d restrained herself from throttling the man.
“Grenswald,” Camille nodded curtly, scanning the wagon he’d filled to the brim with cartons of meats, bread, and vegetables; the best Sierra Village had to offer.
Before she could get around the behemoth, Grenswald grabbed her upper arm with his grubby sausage fingers. “What do you have for the Moon Tax today? It’s two cartons this month, and you better not be hidin’ goods from the High Court again.”
“You’re here two days early,” Camille said, breathing through her mouth as wave upon wave of his stench assaulted her nose. As politely as she could manage, Camille removed his grotesque hand and looked up into his beady brown eyes, making sure to keep the hatred writhing in her body under control. Neeko sidled in front of her and hissed, and Grenswald took a few clumsy steps away.
“If you’ll pardon me, sir, I’ll go collect a hearty payment for you right now,” Camille said through clenched teeth.
His eyes roved her body crudely, before landing just below the cavity of her neckline. “That’s a pretty trinket you got there,” Grenswald said, nodding to the slim silver amulet hanging from her neck.
“Don’t even look at it,” Camille warned, rage surging through her system before she could contain it. She grabbed the amulet with one hand as the warm rush of blood pooled behind her eyes, her gaze becoming sharper and ready for any abrupt movement. He would not be allowed to lay a hand on her again, consequences be damned.
Grenswald’s eyes widened, a mixture of fear and surprise spreading like wildfire across his features. “You’re a…a…” he said, stumbling back to slam into his wagon with a loud thump.
“You can’t have that, sir,” Peter suddenly piped up from behind Camille. “It’s just a piece of tin and painted glass, anyways—nothing of value. But I do have a hearty payment for you!” The old butcher shoved two cartons filled with bread, vegetables, and a bag of fresh meat into Grenswald’s arms, then took Camille by the shirtsleeve and steered her home.
Camille fingered the amulet as they walked, tracing her thumb over the single red ruby it held. Soldered into the metal were branches bent to create a perfect circle, while the back of amulet was stamped with an unrecognizable symbol; a circle with a off-kilter line sliced through and a central dot buried dead center of the line. She kept anticipating Peter’s reprimand for losing her temper with the king’s henchman, but it never came. Instead, Peter silently ushered Camille and Lunci inside his cabin and set a pot of water boiling as Camille slumped into a chair.
“Camille!” Lunci shouted, dancing in front of the hearth. “Guess what?”
Camille quirked a brow at him, dropping the amulet back beneath her shirt front. “What?”
“Papa said we get to celebrate Fόmhair!”
“What’s ‘Fόmhair?’” Camille asked, massaging her aching temples. It had been a much more eventful afternoon than she’d anticipated and her body was paying for it.
“It’s the best holiday ever!” Lunci exclaimed, practically swooning. “So much food!”
“And when was this decided?” Camille asked, peering at Peter.
“After all these years, the only thing you remember is the food,” Peter chuckled, disregarding Camille’s question. “That isn’t all there is to Fόmhair, my dear boy.”
Peter disappeared down the short hall to the adjoining butchery, no doubt to grab whatever meager options he’d set aside for them that evening.
“It’s truly the best holiday,” Lunci continued. “There’s mountains of food, as well as dancing and singing. It’s a celebration of the harvest’s end.”
“Oh,” Camille said, suddenly understanding. It was the thirtieth day of Deireadh Fόmhair, which made the following day the first of Fόmhair and the beginning of food storage for the winter.
“Count Jenkins has been storing apples for us this year, can you believe it? We get to eat apples! Isn’t that great?”
“Yeah, sure…” Camille said with a twinge of guilt.
“Don’t worry yourself,” Peter said from the doorway, eyes alight with mischief as he held a small plate of meat and cheese out for her. “The count and some of the wealthier villagers stored away additional food in the last couple months of harvesting. We’ve been lucky this year, my dear—far more than the last. No need to fret. Mother Ma’Nada has been kind with her blessings this season, and there are many who want to share in the giving.”
“But I don’t want to take what isn’t mine,” Camille said, picking at her fingernails to avoid the kindness in Peter’s expression. “I don’t want to owe anyone anything.” As much as she knew the offer of food was an open invitation, she still felt as though she didn’t deserve to be a part of the treat. Despite her ability to be amongst the inner circle of Sierra Village, she still felt undeserving of it’s benefits, yet she couldn’t pinpoint why.
“You just might have to join the hunt tomorrow, then. Fresh meat is more than enough of a contribution,” Peter answered with a sly smile, reading her expression keenly.   “Perhaps even Lunci can join.”
“Join I will!” Lunci cried. “I will slay every last enemy and bring home food for twenty families!”
Both Peter and Camille laughed at the nine-year-old, but Camille couldn’t discount the shadow of worry that darkened Peter’s face as he watched his grandson.
She considered sharing her earlier encounters in the forest with Peter, but something about the interaction with the strange blue-eyed man made her want to keep it to herself. Also, a large part of her felt incredibly embarrassed about how close Lunci had gotten to danger under her protection, and there was no doubt he’d never be allowed to play in the woods again if she said anything.
They went about their nightly routine, picking through the oldest meat in the butchery that was still edible and stoking the fire to cook it. Peter reached for a loaf of bread and carefully picked off the staleness forming over the top, placing three meager slices on the rack beside the dancing flames. Lunci pulled a ripened tomato from the pantry store and sliced a couple of juicy sections off before handing them to Peter to roast over the fire.
It was a routine Camille cherished: huddling by the hearth to keep warm, clasping hands to pray to Mother Ma’Nada, and enjoying their meal together. Everything about their life felt easy to her; a comfortable sweater she’d worn many times before. It was in those moments that she felt like one of them, just as much as she felt like a complete and total outsider the rest of the time. Their routines and rituals weren’t hers; they were completely foreign. Yet she pretended not to care that none of it belonged to her, instead smiling and giving thanks for the blessings bestowed upon her that day.
“Can we have a story tonight?” Lunci begged, plucking a small piece of mold from the edge of his bread before he took a hearty bite.
Peter smiled as he lowered himself on his weathered wicker stool stoking the flames into a steady crackling burn. “A story? I guess we can manage that,” he said with a jovial wink in Camille’s direction. “Which would you like to hear?”
“Have you heard the story about the Ayya Sister’s Camille?” Lunci asked, bouncing up and down on his haunches like a puppy in anticipation of a meal.
“I don’t believe so,” Camille replied, taking a piece of sliced turkey and a chunk of cheese before settling down next to Neeko by the fireplace. She stroked the top of Neeko’s soft furry head as Peter began.
“Ma’Nada, the great mother of this world, has since the birth of time loved all living things. She did however form a great kindred love for the moon and stars, the sun and knowledge of the world, and the many plush life and wonders of Aspera and it’s many wonders. With her strength of love for these elements, Ma’Nada gave life to three lovely Daughters; Buvona, Joana, and Nimeha.
“Buvona was protector of the Night sky and those crossing into Tier’eveth, the land of everlasting life. Her hair raven black, her skin a silken white and eyes a fierce gray. Buvona was a dark Goddess and a brilliant light to behold. Joana, protector of the Sun and all growing life, her hair was fiery copper like a torching blaze on her head with eyes green as grass. Nimeha, eldest of them all, was protector of time, wisdom, and fate. Her hair, cascading down the length of her back was neither white nor blond, but a mix of the two slipping from tones of honey to the white iridescence of pearl. Her eyes were of the lightest amber, soft and inviting.”
Camille’s back eased against the stone pillar at her back, slipping into the story with ease as Peter’s slow rumbling voice continued. She enjoyed the stark tales of love and adventure, of loss and good fortune. Each story came with a strong message or warning, all she felt were slightly recognizable but she could never place her finger on when she had heard the tale. “The Daughters were often referred to as the Ayya, the three forms of life joined together in a circle of infinite growth and cycle of nature. Soon after enjoying the gift of new life and the exploration of their surroundings. It wasn’t long before the pang of loneliness struck them.
“Nimeha, understanding the workings of fate, had it in her mind that Ma’Nada wouldn’t leave them to suffer in longing. She patiently waited for her true love to find her. Joana, walking the flat plains, grassy knolls and rocky terrain of her lands lived for the exploration and nurturing of life all around. She didn’t much mind the longing for human interaction as she had the animals and the trees to converse with. She kept peace of mind, if not a slow yearning, knowing that her time would come. Buvona, fierce in stature and pressed into the darkness of their world felt the sting of loneliness the most. She cared for those in passing and nurtured all who crossed the gates into the afterlife, but she could neither save them nor ease their pain. Buvona, youngest of the three sisters felt cheated.”
Peter pulled the steaming kettle from the hook inside the hearth and went about pouring three cups of his specialty lavender mint tea. The earthy sweetness filled Camille’s nostrils and she grabbed a slim slice of bread off the plate as Peter offered her the steaming cup. “Thank you,” she said quickly, not wanting to interrupt his story, but Peter continued with a mere nod of his head as he himself blew methodically on his own steaming cup of liquid.
“One night Buvona begged for mercy from Ma’Nada, asking for the gift of man to bring her some sense or warmth and bond of family. Ma’Nada agreed, wanting love in her daughters life. From the seeds of Ma’Nada’s womb she gifted her daughters with three beautiful men; Edis, Gideon, and Fotrix.
“Edis, a proud man with a penchant for the sea took to Joana, their mix of land and sea melting together as one. Their love grew and bond secure, together they nurtured and protected not just their domains but also each other. Gideon, finding his love in the craft of writing, song and poetry soothed his heart in the arms of Nimeha and her endless knowledge. Fotrix, was a sly trickster. Though joyous and bubbly at heart, he wasn’t honest or truthful. His passion was to manipulate, to trick, to deceive. His falsities and lies tricked Buvona whom was desperate for light and love in her life, fell deeply for the silver haired fox.
“As Joana and Nimeha explored the joys of love and blossoming family, Buvona remained sadly alone. Despite Fotrix express desire to love and cherish her and his promise to build a family, Buvona walked the silvery nights alone and without any children to dampen the harshness of being alone. In a spur of great cunning, Buvona devised a plan to trap Fotrix in the darkness of the underworld allowed only to roam the lands at the brightest of all full moons for her to easily find him.”
“I’ve always thought Fotrix deserved to be tricked,” Lunci spoke up, his lips pursed with intent thought.
“Oh?” Peter said, taking the pause in story telling to sneak a bit of turkey between his lips. “Why is that?”
Lunci scrunched his tiny nose in thought, his sharp blue eyes watering with his focused intensity. “Well, because he’s mean. Buvona loves him and she is a caring beautiful person, but he brings out the worst in her. He makes her look evil, even though she isn’t.”
“Keen observation,” Peter replied, nodding once in agreement.
“Please continue,” Camille spoke up, now deeply intrigued with the tale.
With one quick gulp of tea, Peter quirked up an eyebrow in thought as though searching for the words rolling around somewhere in the confines of his brain. His lips pressed together as his eyes scrunched and then his mouth popped open into an ‘o’ as though he had located his verbal bookmark and he continued the story.
“Fotrix didn’t like to be the center of a trick and loathed Buvona for succeeding in trapping him in the dark depth of the underground. He was allowed out into the open air once at every moon cycle when the fullness of it’s light could grace the lands with a bright silvery glow. It was on these nights that Buvona expected him to come to her, but that he did not. He instead enchanted the rocks, the trees and the late night animals to enchant her while he planned a devious trick against her. Fotrix schemed to give child to both Joana and Nimeha, shielding their eyes for them to believe they lay with their lovers. Buvona, enchanted as well by Fotrix’s charm believed herself to be full with child.
“In the following months, two beautiful girls were born; one to Joana, and one to Nimeha. The pair of the girls were clear images of Fotrix. The mother’s didn’t want to forsake their new born babes, but they realized at once what had happened. They waited for Buvona to step out of her underground home into the evening air that night and shared the news with her. Buvona, heart sick and anxious for the own child she was supposed to have birthed, looked upon these two baby girls realizing that her own pregnancy had also been a falsity.
“The girls were supposed to have been hers and Buvona, hating what Fotrix had done to her, snatched the new born girls and pulled them down into the darkness of afterlife with both Nimeha and Joana helpless to stop her. Buvona desperate to make Foxtrix pay for his deceit plagued the lovely daughters with an eternal curse of life and death. Eliza, born to Nimeha was cursed to birth many children many times over to prepare for all battles against all men and women. Morrighan, daughter of Joana was cursed with the touch of death to all living things, dubbed the Black Queen. A single drop of her blood could kill any foe, no matter their strength. Buvona wanted nothing more than to end the life of her most hated enemy, and she spent her life in the depths of shadow plotting all ways to best Fotrix and kill him once and for all.”
Camille frowned, but Peter winked at her. “Not all of our sacred stories are happy ones Camille.”
“Yes but, don’t you think it’s incredibly unfair for Buvona to have suffered so much when everyone around her was barely affected by the pain of loss and loneliness?”
Peter quirked a questioning brow at her. “You think she was the only one to suffer? The center of a storm isn’t typically where the damage happens, it’s only where the chaos begins, no?”
“Does she ever get him back?” Camille asked, her tea now completely gone, her hands gripping the empty mug with a bit more force then necessary.
Peter glared at her for a long and arduous moment, his milky eyes a depth of sorrow she couldn’t even begin to untangle. His face though devoid of emotion ripped open a cavernous hole inside Camille and yet she was unable to pinpoint the wound or it’s origin digging against the lining of her flesh.
“Lunci, my boy, go wash up. It’s time for bed.”
Lunci’s face crumpled into a heap of disappointment before Peter’s stern eye found his, and the little boy scurried down the dividing hall toward the wash room.
Camille remained where she sat, back straight as an arrow, her heart thudding in her chest. She couldn’t be certain where the impending sense of foreboding came from, but as Peter cleared away the plates and took a seat across from her once again she knew without a doubt that Peter had a history she wanted no part of. It was clear in the deep set lines of worry and stress running the lengths of his face, the downward angle of his lips and the heavy tinge of sadness that sat on his shoulders like a well worn shroud.
“The stories aren’t all good you know, the scriptures of our gods. They capture an embodiment of holiness, morality and well being but in truth the stories are an outline of the death and cruelty to one another. They point out the truth of man and our many flaws.”
Camille remained silent as Peter pushed the iron kettle onto the counter instead of back into the fire for a another round of tea and headed instead to the shelfs lining the right side of the kitchen wall. Reaching into the top most shelf, Peter extracted a stone bottle corked with a waxed and wooden stopper. He grabbed two glasses from the side board and poured several inches of a deep caramel colored liquid into each cup.
Handing one to her, Camille could smell the smoky notes of whiskey mixed with a woodsy tang of oak.
“Buvona spent her entire existence trying to best the trickster. Unfortunately,” Peter said with a sad smile. “There are some monsters that can’t be killed, no matter how hard you try.”
“Do you believe the stories, these scriptures of your faith?” Camille asked, taking a small sip from her cup and enjoying the sharp burn as the whiskey traveled down her throat.
“Oh I do,” Peter said, a resigned sigh escaping from between his lips. “Buvona may never see the end of her own internal torture, but she did give rise to another power, perhaps a stronger one.”
Taking another sip of whiskey Camille coughed slightly, the hint of burn sizzling the lining of her throat in a slightly uncomfortable and yet please fashion. “You think that the High King is a stronger power that was fated to rule by the Gods?”
Peter laughed then, a deep belly laugh that brought a fluttering grin to Camille’s lips. “No,” Peter said with assured finality. “Definitely not.”
“Then what?”
“Hope,” Peter replied easily, as though the single word had been resting on his tongue throughout the entire evening.
Camille snorted in response. “Oh come on, you can’t be serious.”
“I am dead serious my dear. Buvona may have cursed her nieces but left Aspera with the hope of two incredible protectors. A giver of unending life like an army of soldiers. And an unstoppable warrior able to kill even the most deadly of all evils. She may not have saved her own life, but she in the depths of her heart sought the answer to help all those in Aspera in need of protection against the trickster.”
She couldn’t tell if he was being completely serious or pulling her leg but felt it best to remain silent, uncertain of what Peter was trying to tell her. If the sharp glint in his eye was anything to consider, Camille felt Peter were unloading a dark secret he felt it wasn’t his place to keep any longer.
If she was truly honest with herself, she might admit that as much as she wanted answers from Peter about who she was, her past, as well as his; there was an immense amount of fear surrounding what the truth might be. Perhaps the past was best left alone; untouched, and disintegrating with the passage of time.



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