Valhan; a farmer, teacher, husband, is reborn into a god, but wasn't supposed to...
Beneath a garden of stars, amid a vast purple sea under a purple sky is a ring of cloud-piercing mountains commonly known as the Mountain Wall, wherein upon its depths, lies a land riddled with green hills and mountains with a great river stretching from one end to the other, connecting the kingdoms of man, elf, and dwarf. The Giving River is its name, as it feeds the towns and villages under the reign of the Mountain, Valley, and Forest Kingdoms with its many limbs kept alive by the several waterfalls cascading down the Mountain Wall’s steep slopes. While beautiful, this land is haunted by its past; scattered ruins scar the land, remnants of a war-torn history. Its shadows made mortal by forces bred of hate and suffering, ever waiting for their chance to win the War of the Celestial Sons for their Dark God. Beyond the shadows, a time of true peace not seen since the Days of Rendering, endures to the joy of all. Among them is a young man with a most significant past living a not so significant life…
“It is believed by most historians that for as long time has existed, so has war. While the concentration of study for many is merely the wars themselves, I believe the origin of war is far more important, and it will be the concentration of this class for the next two weeks. Before I start with today’s lesson, can any of you tell me what started the War of the Celestial Sons?” Valhan Analeth’s voice is amplified by the white marble board he writes the question across using a thin strip of charcoal. Several hands dart eagerly into the air behind him like a nest of chicklets at hearing their mother returning from a hunt. As always, he starts from the left side of the room, and chooses a thin Galthan boy of fifteen years.
The thin, but tall black haired boy takes a deep breath as he stands up. “When Thraykar Hellwright chose this world to be our home, he sent a small star to clear a way in the global sea, but he didn’t know of the life already existing here. Not long after the children of Thraykar settled into our lands did, what we know now as the Ecrarí and Akúnarí, attacked the kingdoms of Balifae, Scarioth, Typheria, and even the Barakin.”
“While the Oceanic War is an impressive answer Galaryn, and I’m proud you started taking my class more seriously, try to think further back in time.” He gives him a warm smile, like he does to all his students who answer incorrectly. Valhan looks to the rest of his class, whose hands have gone down, except for one, a Caccer girl of the same age as Galaryn.
The broad shouldered, short blonde haired girl is on her feet and talking before he can say her name. “It was a wager between the Kahtarian and Hellwright families over who would rule the ether realms.”
“Ah, it was indeed a wager, but we’re looking for the reason the wager was made. Think even further back in time.” He says, smiling again, but this time from excitement. All of his students’ faces fill with a guilt he recognizes, and Valhan chuckles to lighten the mood. “That’s alright, I didn’t expect you to. Not many people actually know how the war really started, but those who are the most…dedicated, and are lucky enough to know an Eternal King, do. Today’s lesson will be over such origin, and it will be one you might enjoy as you won’t have to do anything but listen. I will be reading to you, the Tragedy of Niah and Barath.”
“Who are they?” Several students ask at once.
Instead of answering them, he gives them a sly smile, holds up several pages of slightly off white paper filled with lines of small text, clears his throat, and begins to read.
“Before aught else was made, Niah and Barath were. Niah’s love knew no bounds, it was a love so great that in time, a yearning grew in her heart to have more things to love. Barath had a bounded love, but great still a love it was, though only meant for his Niah and no other. Niah shared with him a dream she had, telling him of the things she saw therein which made her happier than anything before. She told him of beings she called Valhar who were to be their children, told him of the worlds and beings the Valhar would make in their respect. The more she spoke of her dream, the more her heart wanted it, until it grew to be all she could think of and desired to see.
Barath bore a great love for Niah, but also a great fear. A fear of Niah loving others more than he, and how these children were to make her happier than he could. It was his great love for her which gave him the strength to try to love the Valhar as she wanted, but he could not find space in his heart to do so. His mind only grew in fear of Niah’s love for the Valhar, and he felt humble next to the Valhar’s love for Niah.
Barath went to his beloved to speak his heart and mind on this matter, but just like Barath could not love another, Niah could not see past her own desires. From Barath’s fear, Niah grew a fear of her own after seeing Barath harming her children in her dreams, and she cast him from her welcome, pushing herself from his yearnings to fulfill her own. So, was made from her longing heart, Ledía and Gothiah. The Valhar, meaning the first, as in the first to exist after Niah who from then on was known as the Grand Mother. They were her children, born of her vision, and were of independent mind and soul. She then gave them a home to shape how they wished as she foresaw in her dream, and it was so named Milnhr, meaning mortal realm in the mortal tongue.
The world of theirs was white which they felt was rather plain. Using their fingers and emotions, they painted it in dazzling arrays of colors so beautiful, it made their mother cry of joy whenever she gazed upon it. The Valhar then made many Míthralíl, meaning child keepers or planets as we humans call them with lands of many shapes, landscapes and weathers with the guidance of the Grand Mother, upon which they could make living beings of their own thought and will like they were of the Mother’s. This filled Ledía and Gothiah with a joy that grew with every planet they would create. In those early millennia there was only joy, but like all things must in Milnhr, such as it is the way things are to be therein, it came to an end…
It started slowly with only one incident a year for five years when Ledía and Gothiah’s worlds started to be burned and consumed by a darkness in the hundreds, and the colored white of their realm was blackened by what they called Lúnakír or The Darkening. This darkness struck fear into their hearts for the first time. They did not know what it was, only that it was alive, and moved with a malicious nature to destroy all things resembling joy in their realm. When they neared it, they were filled with a soul-numbing cold before it would radiate with a heat great enough to burn them. This darkness was a blackness so deep, no color could withstand it, nothing could be seen in it and all was destroyed by its touch. The Valhar went to their mother with sorrow in their hearts for the first time in their existence, and they did not know what to do with it. She embraced the Valhar and said to them,
“Oh my children, my soul cries to know you have felt anything but joy, for it was not in my dream, or mind to have you ever feel pain. Though I wish it weren’t so, this is your father’s doing, though try to understand it is not his fault.” This both angered and saddened The Grand Mother deeply to admit. She knew why this happened, for she could not only feel what happened to Barath, but bore witness to the torment that befell her most beloved.
Once Niah left his side, a darkness fell upon Barath, and over the course of those early many millennia of joy as he watched Niah’s dream unfold, he felt it hollowing out who he once was. Tendrils of the empty blackness found their way to his heart, and broke it again and again just as it would heal until he could no longer feel love or joy in any of its old manifestations. A sickness called Vamrímúl, meaning the bleeding of the soul, or sadness as mortals call it, filled him. Long did he fight it for his love of Niah, but it was a sadness too great for his lone existence. He felt himself plunging into a soul freezing black sea, and ever descending its endless depths. Long did he drown, long did he call out for help, and nightmares overtook his time of sleep in which he watched himself destroy his family again and again. He lost himself in that dark sea, and over the millennia all his pain turned into madness. A fire like no other filled Barath’s heart, mind, and soul; a fire which burned fiercer at the thought of anything that once made him happy.
Barath now could only hate, and it was this about him which granted him mastery of the darkness that once tortured him. He would stare into the blackness of his heart until horrific creatures born of his pain and malice would take form before his eyes, and so grew the beginning of evil. Barath was renamed and the meaning of it was changed. Henceforth he would be called Barath-Kír, meaning Darkened One. Barath-Kír’s sole purpose to exist became thereafter to destroy all of the Grand Mother’s dream.
Barath-Kír advanced on Milnhr, corrupting the weak minded and desperate with empty promises to better their lives to corrupt the realm with his darkness. To counter this assault, The Grand Mother created the Nhrnúnor, meaning realm keepers, four beings close to the power of the Valhar but limited in their thought. Tha'haren and Paega were made to create Míanhr, an ether realm of merriment to celebrate the loyal in the Afterdeath. Krahal and Oróga were made to create Malnhr, an ether realm of misery to punish the disloyal in the Afterdeath. The Grand Mother had Barath-Kír beaten, but he did not give up.
A great war of light and dark broke out among Milnhr as Barath-Kír struck back against her and the Valhar. Dúlahnthrae, meaning night lights, or stars as we know them, were created by the Valhar to shine out the dark and in their healing light, what had been lost was found. Some Dúlahnthrae were placed inside the dead worlds to heal them, creating titanic Star Knights, and from their surfaces arose armies empowered from the star within. Barath-Kír’s darkness then took the form of mighty beings he called Dúlahn-Makúln, meaning Starslayers, to combat their assault. Many millennia passed before the war’s end with Barath-Kír’s defeat and imprisonment. Though victorious, the war had riddled Milnhr with scars not even the Grand Mother could heal.
Barath-Kír stained the realm in eternal dark, the Valhar’s children were scarred in ways they could not see from the horrors of battle, and the Grand Mother’s dream had fallen apart in her hands. Her sorrow did not stay with her, for the comfort of her children no longer suffering warmed her heart, and even more so when she discovered Tha’haren, Paega, Krahal, and Oróga started families of their own in the times of peace she fought to achieve. Though scarred, Milnhr prospered from the adaptive minds of Ledia and Gothiah, who moved the Míthralíl close to the Dúlahnthrae, and created Anlúaeth, meaning light catchers or moons, to keep their children in the cover of light when the Dúlahnthrae could not. With the ether realms constructed, The Grand Mother and Gothiah were able to feel at peace, now having an answer to their vexing question. Another age began for the realms, an age of joy as the three families ruling them prospered in their duties, and serenity filled The Grand Mother once more in knowing her dream was not completely lost.” Valhan puts the pages down on his desk. “And after many thousands of years of war, the mere fact we are still here today, enjoying a time of peace is a testament to that dream.” Taking a look at the clock, Valhan quickly adds, “Before class ends, by a show of hands, how many of you would like a copy of today’s story?”
Every arm in the room rises, like a field of knights holding spears.
“And there goes my plans for the week’s end.” Valhan chuckles with his class just as the melody of several bells signaling the school day’s end for the oldest students, ring out from the school’s two towers centered in the main courtyard. “Alright class, I’ll see you in two days. Remember next week we are going to be visiting the citadel to see the King, to answer any and all your questions on the First and Second Moonwalker Wars before taking us on a tour through Alvrhar, the old fortress of the Knights of Hellwright. And don’t forget in the following weeks, we’ll be visiting the other Kingdoms to talk to the Kings about the Thronethief, Noble, Oceanic, and Silent Wars. So don’t forget to get your parents’ permission, and I want handwritten allowance letters from them, the last thing I want is for them all to think I’ve kidnapped you when you don’t show up for dinner.” Valhan says, packing up his own things along with the students.
“Bye Sir Analeth.” His class says, giggling along their way out the door, with Valhan not too far behind.
~ ~ ~“Knock! Knock! Knock!” Thirteen sets of children’s eyes turn from their teacher, who was in the middle of acting like a walking scarecrow to demonstrate one of the core rules for comma usage, to the door through which its small window they can see a shadow standing patiently before the entrance.
“And that will be Sir Analeth, please excuse me class.” Aryla says to her students.
“You forgot to tell him again, didn’t you Miss Analeth?” A bright-eyed, short haired Galthan girl of ten years says, her hands on tilted hips, and pigtails swaying with her movement. Aryla curses herself.
“Thank you Norliah for reminding me. I’ll be right back.” She says with a guilty smile, before stepping out of the class room.
“Sorry to interrupt Aryla, just wanted to let you know I was heading home, need to get a head start on making copies of Niah and Barath’s story for my students.” Valhan brings the stack of papers he’s yet to fill up for Aryla to see. “Maybe even do some writing myself afterwards.”
Aryla winces at the news.
“What’s wrong?” Valhan’s smile disappears.
“I’m sorry Valhan, but I forgot to tell you my family was going to visit tonight.” Aryla says.
“Again? What do they want this time?”
“I’m not sure, probably nothing more than the usual.”
“Okay…” Valhan puts all his lesson work into his bag. “I guess I’ll be heading to the markets then. Hopefully I will have everything ready by the time they arrive.”
“Would you like me to go with you? I can end class early.”
“No, no, don’t do that to the kids, they love you. I should be done by the time you finish class, and we can go home together then. If we hurry, we’ll have enough time to fortify the house before they show up.”
“Valhan.” Aryla slaps his arm.
“Like you haven’t thought of it before.”
“That’s not the point.”
“But I’m right.”
“Not even in your dreams.” Aryla kisses him. “See you after class. Make sure to buy the really good nails.” She says with a smile into his left ear, making sure to kiss his cheek as she pulls away from him.
“I’m going to tell them you said that.” Valhan says, chuckling.
“Good thing they’ll be locked outside then.” Aryla says, before walking back into her classroom.
~ ~ ~
Aryla leans back on the wooden counter in her kitchen, resting her muscles while drying her hands with a rag, and admiring her handiwork of a now completely clean house. The red-brown wooden floor is free of spills and dirt, the Darkwood table and six chairs in the dining room are neatly back in place, the counters are clear of vegetable remains, the cooking tower in the middle of the kitchen is free of ash, blood, and the grates scrubbed clean of charred meat.
Her family visiting always left behind stacks of unclean dishes piled next to the sink. Her family visiting has also always put a stress on Valhan, treating him as the prince he never wanted to be while making him feel guilty for being the humble man he actually is. They never approved of his denial of the many privileges granted to being a prince, only because they couldn’t enjoy them, nor of his infatuation with studying and teaching history. In the eleven years she’s known him he’s only used his royal power once, and it was for her, eleven years ago when she wanted to take a book home from the Library of Lore which no one but a King, Prince, or Noble was allowed to do.
Valhan had taken notice of how common her visits were to the Library had become, as he practically spent his childhood there, and quickly realized she was reading the same books he was. His admiration grew for her when he saw how excited she would be to read the next volume of Imagined Tales, and the care she treated them with. They officially met when she finally had caught up with him in the series due to his staring instead of reading, and after asking the Librarian who was reading the book, she walked over to him without an idea of knowing who he was. Even though everyone watching their exchange was baffled at her carelessness of who he was, Valhan enjoyed the company of someone who didn’t treat him like he was made of precious glass. She was beautiful to him, and sweet as she was kind. Instead of telling her she would have to wait like she feared, he gave it to her to read first, saying it was his fault for not having read it yet.
As he was getting ready to leave, he saw her at the Librarian’s desk wanting to take the book home to finish so Valhan could have it back the next day, but they wouldn’t let her. Aside from the rule, they were also afraid she was lying, and would outright steal the book or ruin it because she was a child. Those words set off a rage in Valhan as he despised condescension of children, and the accusation she would steal or lie, especially since she was thinking of him over herself just as he did for her. The worst of it all was the Librarian had called for the Library’s guards to arrest her, and she had begun to cry, holding onto the book for comfort. He charged up to the desk, ordered them to let her go, and to let her take the book, careful to sound as intellectual as possible. He scolded the librarian for his ignorance, and for lying to the guards about her intentions. After collecting her things for her, he walked her home, and the whole way they talked about Imagined Tales. By the end of it, she thanked him for giving her the book, and for standing up for her. She never knew how to talk to adults like he did, and was embarrassed for crying in front of everyone. He then told her,
“Bear no shame in crying, for it is not a sign of weakness. Sadness is a sickness, and just as how the body sweats to cool itself or heats to rid itself of an illness, so does your soul shed tears through the keyholes of it that are your eyes to rid itself of all that you can’t handle on your own. Crying keeps the darkness from consuming you and makes room for the light.”
Before he left, she promised she would be done with it by tomorrow afternoon so he could read it, and he had told her to take as long as she needed so she could enjoy the book since it was the last in the series. He then asked her if she wanted to meet at the library the next day because he had something to show her. When she got there, he was already sitting in his usual spot, but he had several makeshift books in front of him. He greeted her with a bow before pulling a chair out for her, and pushing it back in after she sat down. He told her he had noticed her own stories she was writing when he picked up her things, and was excited because he wrote his own stories too. They spent the day discussing his stories as she read them, and would continue to do so every day for years, alternating between his stories and hers. Eventually she motivated him to teach history, and he motivated her to teach Talecraft classes in the Library of Lore to fulfill their life’s aspirations.
Even his best friends, Halavan and Threihem, say Valhan has only used his power for them once in the thirteen years he’s known them. Their parents died when they were born from what is known as Birth Sickness. It's not common for it to be fatal, but when two children are being born at the same time, it is a well-known risk to the mother. The father can choose to carry the sickness as well in order to save the mother, but in their case, it was not enough. Halavan and Threihem were told their parents’ age was at fault in their deaths as humans don’t begin to age until they have children, for it is their life force which provides life for their children and the protecting ward, to keep the balance in Milnhr. It was an assurance put in place by Thraykar meant to comfort parents to know their children would be protected should they die. Halavan and Threihem were raised in one of the Orphans of War sanctuaries until they were ten years old when they were to select a profession to start an apprenticeship with. They wanted to join the ranks of the Kingdom Guard to be like their heroes, Grell and Gren, brothers who started the Nobellion to take back Cacceroth during the Thronethief and Noble Wars.
They had met Valhan a few months prior when they were finally allowed to go to the Library of Lore to learn more about Grell and Gren. Halavan and Threihem were denied apprenticeship into the Kingdom Guard because they were too old to start, and were not Galthans by birth. This devastated them, and infuriated Valhan. Not just because they were his friends, or the age and race limit, but because the Kingdom Guard’s ignorance to see Halavan and Threihem would make great Knights for the kingdom, Galthan or not. He went to his father, knowing Heldaryn was the only one the guard commander would listen to, to make his case for his best friends who Heldaryn himself was rather fond of. To prove themselves, Threihem and Halavan challenged the guard commander to a duel, which he was more than happy to accept. Even though they did ultimately lose the duel, they had managed to disarm him, and even land several non-lethal blows, which well surpassed the skill of first and second year training. To cement their right to join the Kingdom Guard, Heldaryn adopted them as his own to give them an authority no one would dare challenge. Despite their training being harsher than any other, they not only prevailed, but succeeded in their endeavor to be captains.
Valhan’s helping hand grew beyond those he cared about as he got older, but eventually found himself surrounded by liars, thieves, backstabbers, and fakehearted women. This drove Valhan out of Galthaden. The kingdom had become a mirror reflecting someone he no longer recognized, and so he settled in the countryside to be free of his power. Aryla helped Valhan deal with the storm over his soul when she could visit him, and because of her, he was able to find his way back only to face his greatest mistake of naivety. Aryla loved him more than anyone, and he was too caught up in his self-misery to realize it.
Valhan spent the following four years needlessly earning her love he didn’t feel he had yet deserved. On the celebration of their eighth year as friends, Aryla asked him to be her shield, to put an end to his self-sentenced enslavement of sorrow. She had been trying desperately to show him there was no need for penance, but he would not listen.
To her surprise, he presented a necklace carrying the coin they used to determine whose story would be discussed during their meetings, which they hadn’t done in years. He’d hollowed it out to make room for two separate silver chains to cross paths in its middle where they connected to two larger golden links holding a gold open heart firmly in place at its bottom. Two four-sided gems, a ruby and amethyst, were inlaid into the coin’s surface next to one another, angling downward to the heart. Above the gems, an A and V were engraved over one another. On the back, the noble wisdom had been replaced with,
“‘A wise man listens to his heart to guide him, a fool spends his life listening to others.’ What is this?” She said, smiling like a child tasting chocolate for the first time.
“A Fool’s Wisdom.” As he put the necklace around her neck, he said, “And what a fool I’ve been to not listen to you, my heart.”
As per tradition, they spent a year apart to test their love. During which time Valhan continued to work for another gift for his beloved. It was a new house closer to Galthaden to make the travel there and back easier for their teaching and trade, as well as visits from loved ones. Heldaryn visits sometimes when even his patience for his people runs dry, her family visits most often in the hopes to pry a favor out of Valhan, which they often get much to her despising. Even some of their students will drop by during the winter for help in their lessons. Halavan and Threihem visit when Heldaryn does, having been promoted to be his Throneguard two years ago. As much as they enjoyed company, Valhan and Aryla preferred to have only each other’s when they could.
Normally, Valhan would be more than happy to help her with the cleaning. More often than not, they’d turn the chore of doing so into a game, but this time of the year was harvesting season, and Valhan was not going to lose the crops to greedy animals again. She also knew he wanted space to breathe. Her parents normally would ask for money, or for a relative to be released from jail, but this time they had asked for children. It was a conversation they had many times, and it always ended the same way. Valhan felt he was too haunted to be a father yet, an answer Aryla could accept, but not her parents.
~ ~ ~
Starflame, that’s the word Valhan would use to describe the sudden eruption of mind-blanking pain inside his chest, and spreading throughout the rest of his body. The soft grass beneath him burns black at the touch of his skin. He’s endured the worst of Balifae’s summers, felt the heat of the blue sun roasting his body as he worked in the fields of his farm, but those combined don’t even compare by miles.
Valhan tears off his olive green shirt in a feeble attempt to let spring’s gentle wind cool him, but it might as well not exist in the face of this scorching fire. His skin begins to peel away at his back as if it were healing from a sunscar, unveiling a glowing gold aura mocking his anatomy. His chest bursts open from a surge of power originating from his heart. His vision fills with an endless eye-scorching white as he feels the heat within leave him in all directions, swift and fierce as an owl diving for its prey. Valhan lets out a scream that shakes the very foundations of the earth
~ ~ ~
Aryla’s thoughts are interrupted with a jolt from the counter at the sound of a lightning bolt striking the ground too close for comfort. She sprints out of their two story house when she sees a glowing form of Valhan collapse and rip his shirt off before writhing around on the ground. Twenty feet away from him, he releases another scream that makes the ground tremble, and before she can move any closer, the ground erupts in a spire of pale blue flame. At its center, she can see Valhan alive, his eyes aglow in gold and staring back at her. He reaches out a hand to her as if to tell her to stop, but a wave of fire rises over the land.
“No!” Aryla hears him shout through the growling of the hungry ethereal flame headed for her. As the wave crashes over her, it splits at her presence, the heat invisible, but she can still feel the power emanating from the ocean of flame crashing around her. Although beautiful, the sight strikes a fear in her, a fear for Valhan, who she can no longer see.
“Valhan!” Even as she screams at the top of her lungs she knows her voice goes unheard in the roaring fire.