The Appointed is a fantasy novel of a boy willing to fight to save his family and friends.
He crept through the forest as a thief, treading on the forest loam carefully in an effort to avoid breaking any branch, shifting any fallen leaf—a shadow among shadows. He’d made such trips before, and had thought himself inured to the anxiety that they presented, but he had been wrong. Somewhere in the dark that surrounded him, under the shadowed, swaying canopies of the trees, she waited for him. Death waited for him, and he was heading straight for it.
The forest itself seemed to seek to thwart his attempts at silence. Leaves he was unable to see in the blackness conspired to collect underfoot; dead twigs seemed to snap of their own accord, producing such bedlam to his anxious mind that he continually looked over his shoulder, searching for anyone that might share the night with him.
Even the wind seemed to taunt him, rushing through the boughs of the trees fiercely one minute and going unnaturally silent the next, mocking his attempts at stealth. He wiped cold sweat from his forehead and muttered quietly to himself, disgusted by his own cowardice.
The sounds of the night were something he had grown accustomed to, something that, in fact, he related to. Coyotes howling as they closed for the kill, the creatures of the woods trembling in silent fear as a mountain lion stalked its prey—sounds of the night, such things were well known to The Path for he too was of the night.
Yes, on any normal night he would never give them a second thought. At any other time, he would respect the mystery, the uncertainty that the night held--but not this night. This night, his powers were of little consequence, for Oliandra would come, and compared to her he was nothing more than a little boy performing parlor tricks. He was used to working in the shadows, serving his Mistress as she wished, and he was growing in power so that soon he would no longer be forced to hide his true self, but he was still scared. However, his mistress had called to him in his dreams, as she did from time to time, and such calls must be answered.
He crossed from the woods into a small clearing. The dark, dew-laden grass swept back and forth in the wind and the trees all seemed to hover around this spot, as if in anticipation of what was coming. He was deep in the near-endless tracts of forest now—deep enough that he didn’t have to worry about anyone stumbling on him during his work. In the center of the clearing, a woman lay on her back in the wet grass. She wore a simple white cotton dress, and even through her drugged stupor she must have heard him coming because she turned her head and stared into the darkness. Her dull, brown eyes were wide in panic and she was shivering.
Her wrists and ankles were bound and staked to the damp earth. She struggled against her bonds, but they would not budge. Tallow candles were placed around her so that the light jumped sporadically in the wind, illuminating her wide, scared eyes one moment and leaving her struggling in the darkness the next. Her eyes widened further as he stepped into the candlelight and she saw what it was that he carried.
He wore black robes, and so it appeared as if his face floated in darkness, a specter floating among the shadows. He grinned as he toyed with the dagger. It had been a gift from his mistress, and a truly amazing gift it was. The girl whimpered against the gag in her mouth as he approached. His men had done their work, she was prepared as ordered and it was clear from her dilated pupils and the fact that she was shaking uncontrollably that they had administered the drug as told.
“There now,” he whispered in mock-comfort, “Do not be afraid.” The girl’s reply was unintelligible, muffled by the gag. It didn’t matter; he didn’t care to hear what she had to say. “You will serve me. There are things that must be done.” He took a minute to gain his focus and began reciting the summoning that he had been shown.
He stepped around the woman, gesticulating wildly as his chants rose higher and higher in pitch. After several minutes of chanting, the shaping was complete and, as his voice rose to a crescendo, he squatted down and in the same motion slammed the dagger viciously down into the heart of the panicked girl. Blood blossomed out onto the white dress in a spreading pool of crimson. The sharp, metallic smell of blood drifted in the air. The girl’s struggles and her breath slowly faded into nothing as he waited, never removing his hand from the dagger, from that vital contact. It was the heart that continued a human’s life and it was this which he had stolen.
He watched the woman’s body for several moments after she was dead, waiting eagerly to see if he had performed the ceremony correctly. It was an exacting, complex shaping after all. Suddenly the wind became fierce, sending leaves and small twigs flying across the clearing. He glanced up, surprised by the absurd force of the gale, as he brushed leaves out of his face.
When the draft had subsided, he glanced down at the corpse. The brown, plain eyes that had been glossed over and still in death were now the color of darkest midnight and they watched him with an eerie awareness. He fell backward, surprised by the speed with which Oliandra’s spirit had coalesced into the vessel. He watched as the corpse seemed to move right through the bonds that had held it as if they were no more tangible than air. It stood, its head cocked to the side, a spill of dried blood still covering the front of its dress. It smiled. Its head was still cocked to the side unnaturally and the knowing smile coupled with eyes the color of pitch gave it an alien, frightful appearance.
He dropped to one knee and bowed his head. He had thought himself inured to the shock of this ceremony after the other times, but he had been wrong. She had appeared much quicker than he had anticipated, the shaping had been much more immediate than ever before.
“M-m-mistress Oliandra,” he stammered, his head lowered to the ground, “y-you wished to speak with me?”
“Yeeessss.” The whisper did not issue from the form standing in front of him, but from all around him, emanating out from the surrounding shadows in a low hiss akin to the murmur of the wind as it passed through the treetops.
He looked up and cringed. The black eyes were only inches from his face, the skin of the recently dead girl an unearthly pale and her head still cocked to the side as if she was evaluating his worth. He supposed she was. “Wha-what can I do for you, Mistress?”
The smile vanished from the corpse’s face. In its stead was a total lack of expression, but despite this Oliandra’s posture and countenance exuded anger. When she answered, the corpse’s mouth did not move and again the voice seemed to emanate from all around him, more forceful this time. “The Appointed has come!” came the phantom whisper, fury evident in its tone.
He looked at the expressionless face, confused. “The Appointed? Wh-what is that?”
“Not what, fool,” answered the shadows, “who.”
He noticed sickeningly that the skin of the dead girl was beginning to turn black and wither, the decomposition process taking place as she stood. He understood, of course, that no human form was meant to contain the power that the corpse was being forced to hold, but it was still a grizzly sight to witness. “I-I don’t understand,” he said, his breathing quickening.
“Of course not.” Came the reply, the words reverberating around the small clearing. “My powers and those of my brothers and sister are growing, but the Appointed must be dealt with.” The body was unnaturally still as one arm shot out and grasped his wrist. “Find him,” the shadows whispered, “with the Appointed in our grasp, the last of the world’s defenses will be gone.”
He tried to pull away from the now gnarled and decaying hand, but with no more effect than a child struggling to get out of the grasp of a full-grown grizzly bear. He gasped as piercing pain shot up his arm and looked down to see his own flesh blackening around the corpse’s grip. “H-how!?” he cried in panic, “How will I find him!?”
He looked into the face again and noticed with disgust that the skin was falling off in chunks, exposing bone and tissue, but the black eyes still shone with a malevolent life. “He will not be like the others. He is different, unique. That is all that is known—all that we can see of it.” The face turned upward, contorting in anger and contempt, “He keeps the rest from us for now, but not for long.”
“I will find him. I will!” he shouted, as a fresh stab of pain lanced through his arm.
“Whhheeen yyyooouu doooo,” The voice came from all around him, but it seemed to be weakening, speaking more slowly as if through great effort, “Uuuussseee theee daaaggggeerrrr.”
“I will! I will!” he screamed as all of the skin, muscle, and tissue sloughed off the corpse, leaving a bloody heap on the ground and a skeleton whose sockets still radiated a cruel black.
“Dooo noooootttt faaaaaiiiil,” was the reply, and finally the skeleton’s fingers released their painful grip on his wrist. Slowly the skin of his arm, which had been turning a sickening gray, reverted back to its normal color. “I go now. There are others who must be told.” The voice said, and with that, the skeleton crumbled into dust and was carried away in the blustering wind. The voice spoke one last time, coming to him as if from far away, “You know the price of failure.
He sank to the ground in a heap, rubbing anxiously at his arm and trying to get control of his breathing. He could feel his heart racing, his head pounded with the ferocity of it. She had never been like this before, never so angry so … full of rage. He had known what powers he was bowing to, he was no fool, and he was happy to bow to Oliandra for the powers he had received, the powers he had been gifted. But he felt shaken from the encounter.
He rose quickly, fearing to hesitate another moment, and set out through the brush, making his arduous way back to his horse. The night no longer held the captivating, imposing character that it had when he’d come. He crashed through the undergrowth of the forest, oblivious to the branches that nicked and scratched him during his passage. Oliandra had been right. He did know the price of failure. It was a price he would do anything to avoid paying.
The Appointed was coming, she had said. There was no time to lose. He would find him, and Oliandra would be pleased. He raced through the forest haphazardly. There were things that must be done—he must be prepared.
He knew the dream well, he had no choice. After all, he’d had the same one ever since he could remember. It haunted him—the dream, whispered in his ear reminders of all that he was. Of all that he had lost.
He stood in the yard in front of a small country house—his home. His light brown hair hung in his eyes and his eyes were locked on his feet. His mother stood beside him holding his two year old sister, Andrea. She murmured comforting words to her in an effort to get her to stop crying. His father was a large man, and then, more than any other time, he seemed to tower over his family, to somehow stand apart from them. A human monument to shame and cowardice. Or so Iscal remembered him.
His father stood over him in tan leather pants and a woolen shirt, two long swords sheathed at his back. His muscular frame bent down to look his four year old son, Iscal, in the eyes. Iscal looked into the bronzed face, into the dark brown eyes that carried such sadness, but were resolute just the same. His father’s eyes.
His father’s words echoed in his mind, inundating the dream with melancholy and despair. “I know you don't like that I'm leaving son- neither do I. But know this; I do not go because I wish it but because I must. We must all do what we know is right son no matter what others may think of us. I know that you're too young to understand a lot of what I'm telling you now but know that I love you, your sister, and your mom more than anything in this world.
His father wiped his dark brown hair out of his face as he put his calloused hand on Iscal’s shoulder. “But if...if anything should happen and I'm not able to make it back …” He hesitated for a moment, clearing his throat. “Iscal take care of your sister and mother...I'm counting on you son.”
And with that, Teschuff kissed Elena and Andrea and turned to the path. He hesitated for a moment, staring off into the woods. Abruptly he turned back to his family. He began to speak, but stopped--his mouth twisting with emotion. Grief? Iscal thought as he watched the dream helplessly yet again, watched events unfold that he could not change. Is that what you feel? You should. Coward. His father turned away, whatever words he had wanted to say left unspoken for so many years. Forever.
The four year old Iscal wiped his eyes as he looked at his father's back, “I hate you!” he yelled through sobs.
Teschuff looked over his shoulder at his family as a single tear ran down his face, “I pray that one day you'll understand Iscal, but it is our choices that define us and doing nothing against evil is a choice itself.” Without another word, Teschuff turned and trudged down the path, his long strides carrying him quickly away from his family . In moments, he disappeared into the woods, a phantom among their gnarled limbs and leafy boughs.
Iscal awoke in his bedroom to the sounds of Andrea's voice. “Wake up lazy! Your chores are waiting and mother needs you to go into town for supplies.”
Twelve year old Iscal sat up in his bed and tried to wipe the sleep from his eyes as he looked at his sister. She had shoulder length blonde hair with light hazel eyes that always seemed to sparkle when she laughed or played her favorite game--which was poking fun at Iscal. His mother always said that Andrea was her sun child and Iscal understood it, she always seemed to light up any room she came in, she was always happy or so it seemed to Iscal and he never could understand it.
Maybe because she was too young when their father left to remember it. Iscal was somehow sure that she didn't have dreams every night about it like he did. He was sure that she was not haunted by the image of their father fading into those woods until he was nothing more than a shadow among shadows. Leaving nothing behind but a memory and shame—more shame then one family should ever have to bear.
He smiled past the sour memory as he swung his feet over the edge of his small bed. “Shouldn't you be making stick dolls or having conversations with Emma?” Emma was their cow and the source of the family’s milk. Having once seen Andrea attempting to carry on a conversation with Emma when she was younger, Iscal made certain to hang on to the memory for times such as this.
Andreas' eye brows turned down as she put on her mock-frown face “Your chores aren't going to do themselves you know! The day's waiting!” And with a smile and a twirl Andrea turned and pranced out of the room.
Iscal slowly, groggily began to put on his boots. As he did, he tried to rid himself of his foul mood, but try as me might he was unable to shake the remnants of his dream. Iscal scowled as he tugged on his second boot. “It's almost my Calling Day father,” He spoke the words through a cynicism and bitterness that few twelve year olds ever possess, “soon I'll be grown and I still hate you.”
Iscal's father had been a soldier in King Darien's army. He had been the leader of the King's elite warriors, the Ghosts, and in times of war, he was the head of the King’s army. The Ghosts were known for their prowess in battle, their ability to survive in the wilderness, to make use of herbs and tinctures to heighten their awareness as well as their fighting abilities.
The name for the small group had a double-meaning, they were known as the Ghosts because of their ability to blend in, to disappear into terrain of various types after a job was complete, but they also garnered their name from their successes-- from their ability to complete missions despite overwhelming odds. If someone needed to die, a cruel dictator or some other evil man, then the Ghosts were sent--and die, he did.
Teschuff had been known throughout the land of Ranedal for his courage and leadership, not just as the leader of the Ghosts, but also as commander of Ranedal’s armies during the Shadow War. In truth, Teschuff’s skill in combat, the devastating economy of motion with which he fought, was a common topic of whispered conversation during the war and after.
That is, until the day came that haunted Iscal not only in his dreams, but also in his waking thoughts--the day his father had deserted the Realm. No one knew where Teschuff had gone, but he had left his home and, as far as anyone knew, disappeared. He had vanished from their lives, and from the realm completely, leaving no trace, as if he truly was a ghost.
As far as anyone knew, Iscal and his mother and sister were the last to see his father. No one was sure why Teschuff had left, where he had gone, but the popular theory was that he had turned coward or that he had found a mistress who he loved more than his wife and family. Iscal's mother always defended his father's honor to others whenever she heard them talk about it and never lost hope that, if he could, he would return to them.
Such a fall from the King's grace had left its mark even on Iscal and his family. Though they lived on the outskirts of Entarna, where Teschuff had moved them when Iscal was only a child, still people would stare when one of them walked down the road through town, their whispers intentionally loud enough to be heard. “Coward” some would say, “Poor family,” others would whisper.
Of course, the ridicule did not end there. The rooms of the Dancing Jester, the only inn a small town like Entarna merited, would always just happen to be full if ever they wanted to stay a night instead of traveling the few hours to get back home. It was not the life any of them would have chosen, not the life Iscal thought his mother deserved, but it was the life Teschuff had left them.
Iscal's mother was a seamstress who most of the town would come to when their clothes needed patching or they wanted something specific made. She also acted as midwife for much of the town, but since the town of Entarna was small, with no more than a few hundred people, they were barely able to survive off of the coin she made.
She would never accept charity from those who whispered about them. “They do it for themselves,” she’d say, “Not for us. And until the day comes when we cannot provide our own food, we don’t need their pity.” Tears would always sparkle in her eyes when she said this, and the sight of them, of her sadness, made Iscal hate his father all the more.
Despite all of this, Iscal was excited. Tomorrow was his Calling Day. During the ceremony, he would find his affinity. Once his affinity was found, he would be apprenticed to a tradesman and be able to help his mother provide for his family. Apprentice wages were poor, often little more than food and lodging, but every little bit helped. Besides, he never again wanted to see that look in his mother’s eyes, the anguish that was sometimes so apparent in her face when they were forced to eat a lean supper.
The entire town talked about how beautiful his mother Elena was, but Iscal could see the strain in her eyes, the occasional weariness that settled over her from time to time. However, what angered Iscal the most, was that he sometimes noticed her looking out the door to the path that Teschuff had taken so many years ago.
She would wait and watch expectantly. As if one day Teschuff would be standing there and everything would be the way it was. Iscal knew that would never happen. Teschuff was a traitor, a deserter, and a coward. He would never come back because he didn't care about his family or Ranedal—only himself.
Iscal sighed and having dressed in his wool shirt and pants he began his chores for the day. These mostly included milking Emma and mending parts of their house and the small barn, where Emma stayed. By the time Iscal finally made it to town, it was midday and a lot of Entarna’s residents were out, stopping by shops to stock up on various goods, or standing in small groups having conversations that always became hushed when he walked past.
With an effort, he ignored the looks he got from the townsfolk and made his way down the street to Allister's General Shop. The shop was a simple one, its wood frame and sides cut from the trees surrounding the village, but it somehow always felt like home to Iscal.
He loved to come to the store, enjoyed spending time listening to Allister talk about a variety of things. Sometimes Allister would talk about bird calls and their meanings (which he was teaching to Iscal) sometimes about the weather or some of the townfolk, and sometimes about nothing at all. Allister was a man who loved to talk, which was fine with Iscal because, as far as Allister was concerned, he loved to listen.
Allister was an older man in his fifties that seemed to Iscal to be wider than he was tall, and resembling in shape the casks of ale he sometimes had in stock. Iscal loved to see him laugh. The man’s laugh caused his whole body to shake and jiggle like the cherry marmalade he’d give the children from time to time. It was a wondrous laugh, a carefree laugh that said he was completely satisfied with life and his part in it. Sometimes, on days when he was depressed, Iscal wondered if that could ever be true for him. He doubted it.
Allister was sitting behind the oak counter as he walked in. The older man was wiping down the counter with an old rag he always kept in the back pocket of his pants and, as usual, sweating profusely. Iscal liked Allister. He was one of the few people who never seemed to look down their noses at Iscal or his family and he would often give Iscal or Andrea treats when they came in to town. Nothing expensive or extravagant, his mother would never allow that, but small candies and the like.
Allister’s presents were the only such gifts that Elena would allow. “When Allister gives,” she’d say, “He doesn’t do it for himself, like so many do. He does it for you two, to make you happy. He’s a good man.”
Allister’s graying brown beard bristled as he noticed Iscal. He smiled wide, his chin jiggling slightly, as Iscal approached, “How are ye lad?”
Iscal smiled as he spoke, “I'm good sir, thank you for asking. My mom sent me down to get some supplies.” He handed the list his mother had given him to the shopkeeper.
Allister smiled and lumbered out from behind the counter. He walked between the aisles gathering the supplies and placing them on the counter. “How's your ma and that sister of yours doing?” Allister asked as he placed the items in a burlap sack.
“They're doing good, Mr. Benedict I'll tell them you asked after them.” Iscal replied.
“You do that lad you do that.” Allister turned to look out the window of the shop as he spoke. “It's getting mighty cold son. Ain't even Winter yet and these bones can feel the weather a'changin. Might be that's more the fault of age than anything else if I'm bein' honest but you tell Elena that if she's to need anything just to let ol' Allister know.”
Iscal was used to Allister saying this, it had become practically a ritual anytime they came to town, but it never failed to make Iscal feel better. Allister had a way of doing that, with his good-natured smile and easy laugh. Iscal grinned as he replied, “Yes sir, Mr. Benedict thanks again.” He wanted to stay and talk to Allister, but he knew that his mother would be looking for him so he asked, “How much, sir?”
“Aaw how about you take this one on the house, lad. Your mother and father--bless him wherever he be-- ain't never been nothing but kind to ol' Allister. Even though sometimes I didn't deserve it likely as not.”
Allister’s brow furrowed and he hesitated. He stared off into space for a moment, not looking at Iscal, but looking past him. His smile slowly faded as thoughts or memories that Iscal could only guess at ran through his mind. “Naw lad you take these things on home to your ma. The least I can do. The very least.” He said, his voice lowering to a near-whisper as he finished.
Iscal was shaking his head even before Allister had finished speaking. His mother had said to never accept anything more than the small treats that Allister gave him and Andrea from time to time. She said that Allister had never been the same since his wife died and that he’d give away the whole store if he wasn't careful. Good to a fault she had said. “If it's all the same to you Mr. Benedict I'd like to pay, I know mom wouldn't be happy if I come home to tell her I hadn't paid you.”
Allister sighed as he tugged at his beard laughing, “Naw I'm not 'sposing she would be at that. You got a good mom Iscal one of the best people I ever met and that’s the truth...what a pair they made...” He fidgeted with his hands for a moment before continuing,“Tell ya what you make me take that money for them supplies and you take a couple of these with ya and we'll call it square.”
He reached into a bag he kept under the counter and tossed a few treats to Iscal who caught them eagerly, grinning as he did. “Don't figure I'd keep my teeth for much longer if I tried to eat them things myself.”
Iscal couldn't help but laugh as he pocketed the candies into his trousers, “Thank you Mr. Benedict.”
Grinning Allister said, “Seems as I may've told you this before but Allister'll do just fine for me son. Can't say as I'm much into formalities at any rate. We're all just people Iscal and ain't none of us anything without each other.”
That haunting look came back to Allisters' eyes as he spoke, “Folks has a way of forgettin' that these days. He knew the truth o' that sure'n he did. Taught me the truth of it and goodness knows I wasn't the easiest to be teachin' at the time. Don't 'spose as I'm too much better now, mind...”
Allister caught himself with a start and looked at Iscal as if he’d forgotten the boy was standing there, “I'm sorry son sure as the weather's changin' you ain't too keen on sittin ' round a shop listening to the words of an old man like myself. You go on ahead and get home and we'll be seein' you tomorrow at the Square. Someone's Calling Day's on the way this year after all.”
Iscal nodded to Allister, trying to find some reason to stay in the shop, to find some reason to keep talking to the friendly old man, but he knew that his mother would be waiting for him. So he grabbed the bag, waved and walked out the door. For some reason, as he followed the path back home, he couldn't get thoughts of his father out of his mind.
As Iscal walked home he began to focus on the prospect of his Calling Day. All the older kids of the village had always told him it hurt when you were endowed with your Rune of Calling, a runic symbol of the element for which an individual was aligned, but he was pretty certain that they made up the stories to scare the younger kids.
However, Iscal could not be sure of this, and so his excitement over becoming a man was mingled with apprehension about the experience itself. However, the pain, if there was any, would be worth it. After all, having obtained their affinity, children were no longer thought of as children. They were adults in their own right, and if they were still judged by the shortcomings of their family Iscal hoped, and strived to strengthen the hope, that the effect would be weakened by the choices and acts of the individual.
It was a chance for him to no longer be looked at as the spawn of a treacherous and weak man. A chance for him to be judged according to his own deeds-- the chance he had always hoped and longed for.
Distracted by his thoughts, Iscal emerged from the woods into the clearing before his house. It sat on a grassy, windswept hill. The road cut through a couple of acres of field on either side before reaching the house. The flowers and grass blew in the wind, giving them the appearance of rhythmic dancers in a painstakingly choreographed play. Iscal had been only four when they had moved here and so the place was—for him—home.
His mother had told him several times that before they lived here; his family had lived in the city of Ranedal in a large, prosperous estate. But, due to reasons she either didn’t know, or would not share, they had moved their family to the small, backwater village of Entarna. The house was simple, as was every house or shop in Entarna. It was made of plain wood with no grand designs or arching structures, but to Iscal it was home.
Elena always decorated with flowers and herbs so that Iscal had begun associating the smells of jasmine and gardenias with home. But more than any of that, it was a place where Iscal did not ever have to doubt his worth. It was only the three of them, and life was hard sometimes, but as his mom said, they were family and they’d always have each other.
Iscal knew that this house was a home only because his family was there, and if he had not deserved the cruelness of his father’s desertion, he thought that he did not now deserve the kindness of his mother and sister. But—thank the Maker—they were his family.
The only house in Entarna that was not modestly built was the home of Mayor Venten and his family. The mayor of Entarna maintained a very large manor. To the manor’s credit it included a Great (if small) Hall, and a Solar for sleeping and resting. Mayor Venten often stated when asked that the state of his manor was indicative of how well off the village was. “A symbol for the prosperity of all Entarna,” he would say in his theatrical voice.
Allister had a different opinion on the matter than the mayor. And as he stared at his house Iscal couldn’t help remembering the diatribe that Allister had let out on the subject. “Now listen here lad. Can't say as I trust a man with that big of a home. What’s a man to do with all of that space? Seems to me so much of the village is just managing to keep on and Dane (that was Mr. Venten's given name) well he figures he's got a lot to prove to someone or another. Don't 'spose any of the townfolk much care about the appearance his manor gives. They no doubt do care about the fact that it was paid for chiefly by their money.”
The manor had been one of the primary products of what the mayor labeled “The Entarna Improvement Act.” “If ya ask me,” Allister had said, “it ain't nothing but a lazy man's way to stress his own station to whoevers alookin'.” People always put on faces Iscal it's one of the worst things about our race. Everyone wantin' to be seen as more than they are.”
Allister’s words echoed in his mind as he stared at the plain structure that was his home. “Be happy with what ya got son, and be content with where ya come from. It don't never do to go around tryin' to prove how great you are to everyone. Ain't nothin' real about that. Be real Iscal and let everybody else take care of themselves, or at any rate...” Allister had finished his rant with a self-demeaning smile and a tug of his beard, “...leastways thats an old man's view that don't nobody pay no mind and I don't reckon there's a reason why they oughtta.”
As Iscal stood and stared at the small three bedroom house with a sitting room and outhouse, with its oak supports and walls created out of wattle and daub, he wondered again at the reasons for his father leaving his manor and lands surrounding the Realm's capital of Darnet.
According to his mother, it had been a large manor with many people who worked for his father and stayed in small hovels, not unlike the one they resided in now, on the lands of his manor. His father's name used to be widely known throughout the land, so his mother had told him, and his father and mother had often been invited to feasts with King Darien himself. Iscal couldn’t imagine what that would be like. The idea was just too far removed from anything he had ever experienced in his own life.
As he was reminiscing, and looking at their house, Iscal noticed a bird sitting on the thatch roof. He knew, from Allister’s lessons, that it was a Catbird. It was small and light blue, with rounded black eyes that seemed to be staring right at him no matter which way it turned.
Iscal knew that sometimes people would come from the surrounding villages to ask Allister the meaning of a bird they had seen or heard. Since Iscal was young, Allister regularly visited Iscal and his family at their home. Often, Iscal would go to help Allister at his home or at his shop at his mother's asking. It was during these common visits that Allister had began teaching Iscal the different calls of the birds as well as the meaning behind the appearance
His eye brows furrowed in thought as Iscal tried to remember and finally it came to him. Allister said the appearance of a Catbird on the roof of your house meant that visitors were on the way. Iscal thought that was odd since the only visitor they really got here miles from town was Allister himself.
Yes, because of Allister, Iscal knew of many different birds and their calls. And that's why the next sound he heard made sweat break out on his forehead. Amid the whistling of the leaves in the wind and the common forest sounds; the chirp of crickets, the creaking of branches, Iscal heard the distinct plaintive call of a Cuckoo.
He heard two calls, in fact, the rich bubbling of the female to the north and the more commonly known male calling from the south. Allister had devised short rhymes to help Iscal remember the many different birds and their meanings. “From the east the Cuckoo calls of peace, from the west your fortune's best, from the north sorrow comes forth, from the south Death's about.”
Iscal struggled to hear the calls again, listened intently for the sound, but they did not come. Maybe he had been wrong. That must be it-- he hadn't really been paying attention it was most likely the more common call of a robin. The more mundane, common, peaceful call of the robin. Yes, he was sure of it.
Dismissing the feeling of foreboding that had settled over him, the same unexplainable dread that he sometimes got at night, Iscal entered his home. His mom was in the kitchen busily preparing a stew. Cutting onions, peppers, and squash and adding them to a steaming broth that filled the kitchen with a spicy, not unpleasant aroma.
“Hello sweetheart just in time, I was just starting lunch” She said, smiling as he walked in. Though she was busily preparing lunch, Iscal saw that she had been standing close to the window as she did so. The window afforded her a view of the fields and the path he’d just walked down, the path that his dad had taken so long ago.
His mother stood average height and her long dark hair fell down well below her shoulders. She smiled at him more with her eyes than her mouth, but she most have noticed the worry in his eyes and face because she asked, “Is everything okay, honey?”
Her voice was kind, calming, and Iscal found that now that he was inside, with his family, he felt better. “I’m fine, mom. Mr. Benedict says hello.”
His mom nodded as she worked, “Are you excited about tomorrow, honey? Your Calling Day already.” She stared off for a moment and shook her head as if amazed. “it seems as if you were just a child yesterday and now you're growing up...” She smiled at him again as she bent down to hug him and kissed him on his forehead, “Or almost grown up I should say.”
Iscal grinned, despite his embarrassment at still being treated like a child. It amazed him that his mom could seem so happy after all that she’d, all that they’d¸ been through. He saw some clothes she had been working on earlier sitting on a chair in the main room. “Oh yes” She said putting on a mock serious expression “You see apparently I did a poor job of patching the clothes of Tom and Jimmy Waytes.” She said mimicking the stern, critical voice of Frank Waytes their father so that Iscal couldn’t resist laughing.
She continued,“No doubt it has nothing to do with the fact that they run through the woods playing without paying any mind to their clothes at all. Any pieces of bark or dirt I find in the clothes are no doubt coincidence. Or put there by my design to ruin their impeccable reputation.” Elena started laughing when they finished and they laughed together.
It was at times like this when his mother made him feel like all of the bad things in life didn't matter. She was here, and she loved him and Andrea and that was enough. It had to be.
The aroma of cooked vegetables and meat filled Iscal’s nostrils and he realized that he was ravenous. “How long until dinner is ready mom?”
She reached for the sack of supplies still in Iscal's hand as she spoke. “Well since someone was nice enough to get us some supplies it shouldn't be long. Why?”
Iscal shrugged, “I was going to see if Thomas was still going down to the creek to go fishing. Remember mom? I asked you a few days ago. He should be down there now”
Iscal's mom smiled a knowing smile, “You and that Thomas Venten ... it amazes me I can separate you long enough to come home for sleeping. Tell you what. If you promise to do your best to catch us a fish for dinner I suppose I can put it off for a couple of hours.”
Iscal's face lit up at the thought of fishing with his friend Tom. Tom was the only friend of his age that he had, the only kid who didn’t act like Iscal was some kind of freak. “Okay mom, I'll catch a huge fish just for dinner you'll see.” He went running out the door of their house not wanting to waste any time.
“Iscal!” his mom shouted as he was leaving. Iscal turned to look back in the main room and his mom. His mom was laughing, “You're pretty good at convincing your old mom of something and getting what you want but it may be that even you won't be able to talk the fish on the bank. Your fishing rod's in your room just in case the fish are particularly ornery today.”
Iscal slapped himself in the forehead “Of course thanks mom sorry love you ok bye.” He said in a rush as he hurried to his room. In a flash of light brown hair he was back, rod in hand, heading for the door. “And you’re not old!” He yelled as he ran outside.
Elena watched as Iscal hurried down the path and smiled. She glanced up at the sun, assuring herself that the night, and all of its accompanying dangers, was still a long way off. He is so much like you, she thought, to the air, and with that thought, and those that followed it, her smile faded.