Darkness and Despair
It was a cold and dreary day as he stood in the cemetery with the rest. Clouds covered the sky as all from Arenaria, Altissima, and Agrostemma gathered for the funeral. The day smelled damp, as though rain was on the way, and it was certainly appropriate. It was a sad day, and the weather only added to it. Darkness threatened to push in on the heart of everyone gathered, but it had already descended on the hearts of four. The four who were affected most by the death of the one they all gathered to honor.
Teasel sighed. It was hard for him to see his best friend so sad. Yet there was nothing he could do to cheer her. He remembered how he felt at his mother’s death, and knew that it didn’t matter if he did find something to say to her. She wouldn’t be cheered. Not for several days, at least. She, her two brothers, and her father all needed time to mourn and to heal. He glanced to them. They stood together before the open grave, watching as the coffin containing their beloved Inula was lowered into it.
He sighed again. Inula was much loved by many. The fact that so many gathered at her funeral proved it, and as king, he was meant to get over it the fastest so he could say something to comfort the rest. Yet what could he say? He didn’t even know what to say to Lakita, and it was her mother.
It had been three years since he had been forced to claim the throne and become king, and things had been going fine. Until now. He was still uneasy about the whole thing, and still questioned why he was on the throne, but he managed to do what needed to be done by a king. Now he would just have to push through like he had before.
As those in the gathered crowd moved to offer their sympathies to those in direct relation to Inula, he moved to Lakita’s side. He stood by silently, not wanting to disturb the cheerless silence. As he did so, he glanced to the headstone before the grave. Inula Pinnata, it read, Beloved by all. It was followed by the dates of her birth and death. He sighed again. The year she died. 1709. The current year. It seemed so fresh; so depressing.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there,” he finally said to Lakita, keeping his voice low out of respect for those gathered.
“It’s alright, none of us were,” his friend replied, and he was surprised by the strength in her voice. He could still hear the sadness, but also... confusion...
“No one knows what happened,” she continued to explain. “She arrived home late last night out of breath and looking like she’d seen a ghost. The only thing we could get out of her was gibberish.” She paused to shake her head. “It made no sense at all.” Her confusion seemed at its peak, and then with the next sentence, she seemed to finally break into full despair. “Then this morning, she didn’t wake up.”
Her voice almost caught, but she managed to finish. Her sorrow crept into his thoughts as they both stared sadly down at the coffin in silence. Lakita slowly lifted her hand to toss the first dirt upon the coffin that would soon be buried. Her mother was gone.
Several days later, Teasel found himself in his council chamber with his council fully gathered, but his thoughts were anywhere but on what they were discussing. He had successfully managed to handle the funeral and all that went with it. He had comforted those in his country who needed it and even those in the outlying villages who had known Inula well. Yet his thoughts wouldn’t rest. He still worried over Lakita. He still hadn’t found the words he needed to comfort her, and he hadn’t seen her at all since the funeral.
“It is a sad thing, Inula’s passing...”
The men’s words drew him back to the council chamber. It was Calamus who had spoken. He sat to Teasel’s left along the long table stretching down the room. It was all that was in the room, which was strictly for business. Windows lined the wall behind Calamus to let in the light and a door to Teasel’s right led out of the room.
Teasel glanced around at the other men. Arvense, an older gentleman in his sixties, sat directly to his right. He had been a councilor to his father for years, and now was a councilor to him. He could be a bit eccentric, but was an amazing inventor, and a wonderful mentor.
Androwsii, who three years before had sought him out in Altissima to bring him to the throne, sat to his direct left, beside Calamus. He was a thin man with dark hair and eyes to match. He was in his forties and was almost as wise as Arvense. His compassion toward people showed in his eyes at Calamus’s mention of Inula’s passing.
Calamus, however, was a shorter man with brown hair, dark eyes, and a temper to match. He was quick to get angry and even quicker to jump to a decision and get it done. Four years ago he had wanted to stick to the laws of the country and throw out Teasel’s friends, who had helped him through much in his journey to the throne. It showed Calamus’s commitment and loyalty to the law of the land, and to his king.
The rest of the men on the council varied in age and wisdom, but all had something to offer, and Teasel would hear them all out. Abutilon sat next to Arvense. He was the newest member on the council and also the youngest, besides Teasel himself. He was twenty-four, four years older than Teasel, with shoulder length black hair which he wore pulled back. His handsome smile and sparkling brown eyes reflected his gentle and kind personality. He was good with people and with a horse, and so was a trusted messenger runner.
Androwsii was nodding in response to Calamus’s words, drawing Teasel’s attention back to the subject at hand. “Yes, she was much loved by everyone, especially those who’ve now returned to the village in Agrostemma,” Androwsii observed, and Teasel had to agree. He knew how many he had comforted from that country.
“Speaking of which, we must get down to more serious matters. What has caused her death? Was it something that we should be concerned about?” Another of the men from the council chimed in, but Teasel barley heard. His thoughts had turned back to Lakita at Androwsii’s mention of Agrostemma. He had comforted their hurts, but what could he possibly say to Lakita? Over and over he turned the question in his mind, coming up with no answer.
“Teasel?” The call of his name brought his attention back to the men before him. He turned to his right, toward the voice. Arvense sat watching him in concern. “Something wrong, lad?”
Teasel sighed as he felt all eyes on him in the silence of the room. There was no denying his distracted thoughts. He shook his head slowly, sadness creeping into his eyes as he spoke the truth aloud for the first time. “I’m just worried about Lakita.”
A knowing look came into Arvense’s eyes as he smiled. He nodded to his king. “Go ahead. I’ll take care of things here,” he offered.
Teasel watched him a moment longer, then allowed a smile to cross his face as he nodded his thanks to his mentor. Arvense returned the nod and Teasel stood to his feet, turning to the men before him. “Excuse me, gentlemen.”
The men before him nodded in understanding as Teasel turned toward the door and left them to their discussion.
As the king left the room, Arvense turned to the men around him and returned the focus to the point at hand. “Now then, what about this threat to us?”
“The cause of Inula’s death – was it something we should worry about?” Asked the man who had earlier wondered what had been the cause of the death.
Arvense, too, wondered what was behind the death. From what Teasel had told him, no one in her family had known the cause nor expected the death. It all seemed rather odd, and unexplained.
“Yes, and what about this mysterious thing Haran spotted in Chelone? Was it merely his imagination?” Androwsii asked, leaning forward on the table in curious concern, bringing Arvense’s mind to question yet another unexplained event within the country of late.
Haran was a young lad who lived in the Eastern village of Chelone and had reported less than a week ago that he had sighted a strange creature behind one of the shops there. Small, the size of a rat, and with a tail as long as a rat’s, but not the coloring, the creature had been so fast that he hadn’t gotten a good look at it. Yet it had sparked his attention and concern which had made Arvense wonder. The one thing the boy had seen was a bright flash of orange light just before he had seen the creature, which sparked his attention more, and the marks in the dirt around where the creature had been seen made it clear that claws were definitely a part of the creature’s make-up. It all put Arvense on edge, especially since no trace of the creature had been seen since. With Inula’s death so unexpected and unexplained, he began to wonder if the two instances were related. He and the men continued to discuss things, hoping to find answers.
Acanthus walked slowly toward the looming castle before him, but though it was large, it wasn’t sinister. In fact, it was rather peaceful, and within the peaceful castle, he hoped also to find peace for his churning mind. Since his mother’s death several days ago, his sister hadn’t been able to cope. She had locked herself in her room and wouldn’t come out for anything, not even meals, and though he and the others in his family would take meals to her room, he doubted that she ate them. The sound of weeping constantly spilled from her room and each time he heard it, his heart seemed it would burst with the hopelessness of her despair. He, too, had mourned his mother’s death, but Lakita had been extremely close to her mother, and so for her, the death was even harder. Though she had known pain, she had never experienced the death of a loved one, and her mother being the first she had lost left a great pain he feared she may not be able to allow to heal. He often tried to comfort her, but she refused to talk and most times wouldn’t even listen. She merely stayed in her room and avoided contact with anyone. It seemed that now that she had lost someone she loved, she didn’t want to get close to anyone else. Yet if she didn’t talk and sort through her feelings, he knew she would never get over her mother’s death. He sighed in defeat and again prayed that he would find his peace with Arenaria’s king.
He soon reached the main entrance of the castle where two guards stood watching it. Recognizing him as a friend of the king, they politely bowed to him, waving as they straightened again.
“Hello,” said one.
“Good to see you again, Acanthus,” the other added.
Acanthus nodded in return to their comments. “Good day, gentlemen.”
“Go right in,” said the first, as both men turned to open the door for him. Just as they were about to open the door, it suddenly burst open of its own accord. All three men stared in shock as Teasel emerged from within the castle, walking briskly past the guards without acknowledging their presence, heading toward the stables beyond, a determined, yet concerned, look in his eye.
Realizing their king was before them, the two guards quickly bowed to him. “King Teasel!”
Acanthus smiled at their antics and at the coincidence of Teasel being the one to emerge from the castle. The king nearly ran into him in his hurried state, but caught himself just in time, stepping back to stare at the man before him, allowing his face to register in his mind. “Oh, Acanthus.”
Acanthus stepped aside, allowing the king’s path to be open as he smiled at him. “Good morning, Teasel. In a hurry for something?”
“Yes, actually,” Teasel replied truthfully, then looked to Acanthus with a furrowed brow. “What are you doing here?”
Acanthus almost chuckled at the coincidence of their meeting. “Actually, I came to see you.” He leaned forward, asking, “Are you reading my mind?” He chuckled in full as he couldn’t keep the feigned accusation in his voice.
“No,” Teasel replied, and he was far from chuckling. Acanthus lost his smile and watched his friend in concern as a slight sadness crept into his eyes. “I was on my way to see Lakita.”
Acanthus forced a smile, refusing to allow his own sadness to deepen his friend’s. “Perfect! Than I won’t be holding you up, for that’s precisely what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Teasel suddenly tensed, jerking quickly to look at Acanthus in shock, worry written on his features. Acanthus’s attempt to keep him from growing more concerned had failed.
“Is something wrong?” Teasel questioned. He glanced over his shoulder at the guards still standing before the door and started toward the stables again, motioning for Acanthus to follow him.
Acanthus quickly took up the cue and hesitantly answered the king’s question. “Well...” He paused to sigh. “Yes, I think so.” No longer could he hide his sadness, as Teasel eyed him in concern. He continued to explain. “She’s not been eating and she’s spending most all of her time locked away in her room. Most nights I wake to the sound of her weeping, but she’ll rarely talk to anyone, and when she does, she refuses to talk about mother, or what she’s going through.” Indeed, it seemed when she would talk, she was in denial over all the pain, living in feigned high spirits and a façade of overabundant joy. But such moments were rare and the pretense was almost transparent.
With a sheepish grin, Acanthus turned to Teasel, flinging his request on him. “I had hoped maybe you’d talk to her.”
Teasel said nothing and the two continued on in silence. Not willing to allow his one small sliver of hope to fade, Acanthus pushed on. “She listens to you, Teasel, and she may talk to you as well. She needs to talk to someone! It’s not good for her to keep it all inside like that. Besides, you said yourself you were on your way to see her, anyway.”
Acanthus watched Teasel in desperate hope, waiting for his answer. Teasel finally stopped walking and, after a short moment of hesitation, he turned to Acanthus sadly. “Yes, but I don’t know what to say to her.” He sighed and continued on toward the stables.
Acanthus slowly followed him, saying nothing as he watched the stable building grow ever larger the closer they got to it, his sadness deepening with every step.
Finally, Teasel sighed again, turning to him. “I’ll see what I can do,” he relented. Though he still seemed unsure, a smile crossed his face as he finished.
Acanthus was overjoyed, not just because his hope had been renewed, but because after years of staying away from the unknown, his friend had finally learned to just plunge in and leave it in the hands of their Creator. He, too, smiled. “Perfect.”
In the ever-beautiful valley he had spent four wonderful years living, Teasel rode with Acanthus toward the lone village within it. It brought back dozens of memories as they rode down the streets together past the many businesses and homes of old friends. The cozy, comfortable atmosphere of the village hadn’t left it in the three years he’d been gone, nor had the appetizing aroma of roasting wild fowl, which floated across the dirt streets in an enticing call from the wooden buildings all around. Sheep bleated in the distance as herders took them out to pasture and happy chatter mixed in as villagers walked happily down the wooden planked walkways along the streets before the shops and houses together. Teasel smiled as he watched the people interact with each other, and took in the familiar sights and sounds. It was a joy to be back in the town that he had called home for so long.
Soon he and Acanthus reined their mounts to a stop before a double story building. He looked up to the sign above the door. The Pinnata Inn, it read. Their destination was before them. His previous joy left as he thought about the task before him. He still didn’t know what to say to Lakita to comfort her, and the time for figuring it out was running close to an end. He sighed as he dismounted and followed Acanthus toward the door of the great building, defeat threatening to set in before he even started.
Inside, he followed Acanthus down a long hall and up a set of stairs at its far end to the second floor of the building. He found himself in another hall where Acanthus stopped, turning to him.
“Her door is the last on the right,” he explained. Teasel nodded and moved alone down the hall, swallowing the defeat that tried again to rise within him. Moving past door after door in the dim light from the lone window at the far end of the hall, he finally reached the farthest door on the right and stopped before it. Facing it, he sighed, taking a breath to calm his unsteady nerves. Then he lifted his head to stare at the door before him, determination rising within him. He lifted his hand and knocked steadily.
A shout from within tried to deter him. “Go away!”
He recognized the voice as Lakita’s, and knew he was in the right place, smiling as he thought, Well, at least she’s talking to me. He chuckled to himself, then focused his thoughts on what to do next. He knew the door would be locked so ignored the knob altogether. He furrowed his brow as he studied the door, refusing to talk to her through it.
Slowly, an idea formed in his mind and he lifted his hand again to the door, but instead of knocking, he placed his palm flatly against the door, leaving it there for several minutes until the center jewel on his crown began to glow with light. He smiled at the feeling of peace the light gave and waited as it spread from his crown, through his head, and down his body toward his outstretched palm on the door.
If he had been new to using the light which flowed through all living things in the country of Arenaria, he would have noticed the slight tingling sensation as the light worked its way through his body, but since he had used the light for many years, he didn’t notice at all. He had become so used to the sensation that it gave him nothing but joy as it made its journey. Soon his hand was glowing fully with light and that light slowly flowed into the door, causing the whole thing to glow with the brilliance of the light. Soon the door would become light and he would be able to step through with no hindrance at all. He smiled as he thought of what a spectacle that would be to anyone walking by, or to anyone on the other side.
Lakita sat before a window in her room, her long black hair hanging down around her head like the shroud of shadow she felt about her. Her deep brown eyes had lost their shine and were red and puffy from the endlessness of her tears, but it mattered little, for she stared without seeing, anyway. It was as though a sheet of blackness hung in front of her face, and it seemed nothing could lift it. This was the extent of her sorrow. All joy had flooded from her life and she could find no beauty in it anymore. Her mother was gone – her entire source of joy, beauty and strength. Her despair had no limits as all these things had been taken from her in the blink of an eye. How was one supposed to go on when their source of love and joy was gone? Sure, she still had others who loved her, but she had little desire to see any of them. Her mother had been the closest person in the world to her. They shared everything, and had everything in common. So it was that her mind continued to turn, remembering her mother in sadness with no hope of a brighter tomorrow. Nothing, it seemed, could lift the veil of darkness that hung around her.
As she continued to stare unseeing at the window before her, remembering her last days with her mother once more, a glowing brilliance behind her caught her attention. In curiosity, she turned to look, still unseeing. But the brightness before her forced her to blink and take a second look. Her eyes were opened and the dark mist finally lifted. She saw the things about her in her room for the first time in days, and what caught her attention the most was the door of her room – the source of the light. Indeed, the door seemed to be light itself, glowing brilliantly like the sun before her. She stared in wonder, which increased two-fold as the king of Arenaria stepped through it as though it were nothing. His right hand was within the light of the door, and he turned to move it. As he did, the light slowly faded from the door behind him.
His shoulder length brown hair peered out from beneath his regal crown and his brown eyes sparkled as he looked at her, a handsome smile spreading across his tan face. But she couldn’t see the beauty in it. She couldn’t shake the dark mist that surrounded her away. At least, not completely. It lingered still, as did her sorrow.
“You can walk through walls now?” She questioned him.
She saw his smile fade and concern sink in as he stepped nearer her. “It comes with being the king,” he explained.
“You seem to be doing well with that,” Lakita replied sincerely, even if her voice only held sadness. She turned back to the window, not knowing what else to say, and feeling a sudden new despair and anger rising within her at the thought that he should have success when all she had was torment and ruin. She swallowed the anger as she stared at the window before her, not wanting to be angry with her friend. He couldn’t help his good fortune. He didn’t control the things of the world and the courses they would take.
“Yes, Biden has helped me,” Teasel responded. Lakita’s anger returned in full at the mention of their Maker’s name. He was the one she had every right to be angry with. He had taken her mother, or at the very least, had let her death happen.
She turned to Teasel with a bitter laugh. “Biden, ha. What a joke.” She turned back to the window, glaring at it in anger and hatred. “Biden can’t help anyone.”
She felt Teasel’s shock as he hesitated in a response to her. “Lakita, I, uh...”
As he continued to struggle to find words, the tears Lakita had thought she no longer had within her suddenly burst forth in full as she turned to her friend in despair, explaining for the first time aloud her sudden bitterness toward her Creator.
“I prayed and petitioned for my mother for days, Teasel, honestly believing Biden would bring her back! You know the stories of the dead coming back to life in ‘The Book.’ I truly trusted Him for that!” She shook her head as new tears sprang to her eyes, and she fought past the sad lump rising in her throat, taking a deep breath to steady herself. “But He didn’t do anything. He did nothing. He let her die, and now she’s gone.” She paused to shake her head again, turning back to the window as her old bitter defeat returned. “She’s not coming back.”
Suddenly she had nothing left to say. The hopeless reality of it all finally sank in and she cried out in despair, throwing her hands to her face and weeping uncontrollably into them.
Teasel watched his friend in deep concern. He searched his mind for the words of comfort she needed, but he could find nothing to say. It crushed him to see her in this state and to have failed in finding any way to draw her out of it. As her soft weeping filled the room about them, he watched, still searching for something to say. Finally, he stepped nearer her, deciding just to speak from his heart.
“Sometimes we don’t understand why Biden does the things He does. I never dreamed I’d enjoy being a king.” He shook his head in emphasis, then looked at her sincerely, nodding. “But Biden does know what he’s doing. And He doesn’t want to see us in pain.”
Lakita looked up at him with tears fresh in her eyes. “Then why did He take her?” She pleaded.
Teasel was almost too overwhelmed by her utter distress to speak, but forced himself to shake his head and reply with strength. “He didn’t, but He can help you through it.”
Lakita only stared at him with tear-stained cheeks. In the silence, Teasel hesitated, unsure what else to say or do. He decided it best to leave things as they were and made an offer. “I’ll come by again in a few days.” He smiled at his friend, hoping she would catch his joy. “We can go to Backup Barn with the others. Fly the flutterwings.”
He stared at her with raised brows, waiting for a response. She nodded without a word, and he was glad at least for the glimmer of hope it presented. According to Acanthus, she hadn’t been willing to see anyone, nor to leave her room. Now she was agreeing to both. It was a start. Satisfied, he turned to leave the room. He felt Lakita get to her feet and follow him as he neared the door. He turned back once more, his heart wanting to say more, but, not knowing what else to say, he turned to the door before him. The key was in the lock so he easily unlocked it, opened it, and left Lakita alone once more.
Lakita closed the door after Teasel, glad to be alone again, yet feeling the bitter sting of such ironic feelings. Teasel’s visit had stirred new emotions and thoughts within her, adding to the already growing pile of gloom within her head, swirling in a giant mass of irresolvable chaos and hopelessness. That thought brought more tears to her eyes and she fell back against the door, closing her eyes in hopes of shutting off the swirling jumble of confusion and despair. With a sigh, she allowed her body to slide down the door, sinking to the floor where she remained the rest of the day, crying in agony and defeat, the black shroud of misery surrounding and overwhelming her once again.