THE ISLAND OF FIDUCIA
Willow and Rohan’s faces were glowing. Willow turned and grabbed his hands.” I really thought that was the end.”
Willow realized that Devon had not said a single word since Salvador’s miraculous appearance. Turning forward to face him, she took in his expression. He was a ghastly shade of green and sweat was pouring down his face.
It took him a moment to answer, but he finally groaned, “Seasick.”
“Here. Sip some water,” she said, handing him a canteen. “The seas are calm again. I’m sure your stomach will settle in a moment. I’ll paddle for a while.”
He carefully switched places with her without argument. It was unsettling to see him in such a weakened state.
Willow picked up his oars and began to row. The wind and waves had pushed them a great distance, and they were not far from the island now.
Still glowing from the encounter with Salvador, she called back to Rohan, “I can’t believe I didn’t recognize him when we saw him at the Pit. Of course he was trying to help us. I don’t know how we could have ever thought otherwise.”
“But at least you recognized him immediately today, when you saw him up close. I still didn’t know until you said it, and even then I had my doubts. I feel so stupid.”
“Don’t say that. Of course you’re not. Even my parents didn’t identify him for who he really is -- at least as far as I have read in the journal, that is. But I’m sure they realized too. How could they not? I’m going to read through it tonight. You know what this means though -- his being here?”
“I think the oracle is being fulfilled. I think he’s going to establish his reign any day now.”
“That would be incredible. The people of Tutis have waited so long.”
“I know. And to think we’ll actually get to see it, it’s amazing.”
They rowed on in contemplative silence for a moment or two before Rohan said, “Hey, Willow? What do you think Salvador meant about that last part? The warning.”
“I was wondering about that myself. He said to beware of the Fire Snakes. But Devon, you said that they can’t bite humans -- their mouths are too small, right?”
Devon let out a moan in response, and Willow said, “Right, sorry. I’ll ask you later.” She turned her attention back to Rohan. “He also said someone would be coming into our camp that we should fear.”
“Good thing we’ve been keeping watch then, even if it was Salvador that we were watching out for.”
Only a few yards from the island, Willow and Rohan climbed out of the boat and pulled it along the shallow water, dragging it up the sandy beach. Devon was in no shape to move, so Willow and Rohan decided to search for the shield themselves while Devon slept off the nausea.
“Where do you think the shield is?” Rohan asked. “The island’s small, but it could be anywhere.”
“My guess would be that it is at the heart of the island.”
“As good a place as any, I guess.”
Willow took Rohan’s hand as they walked past the line of palm trees into the jungle. He squeezed her hand tight and beamed at her, slowly tracing circles with his thumb on the side of her hand. Holding her best friend’s hand, she reflected on the subtle changes in him since starting out on this journey. Not only had Rohan strengthened physically -- his muscles were hardened and toned -- but he seemed to have found a confidence in himself that he had lacked before. However, the more she dwelt on those details, she wondered if they were changes at all. Somehow she felt that it was always inside him, and being on this journey had opened her eyes to it.
“It’s strange about Devon, huh?” Rohan said, breaking into Willow’s reflections.
Willow pulled her hand away defensively. “What do you mean?”
Rohan could not hide the hurt in his eyes. Willow wanted to comfort him but was not sure where he was heading. Did he know that Devon was the reason for her distance of late? It was a new revelation even to her.
She braced herself for the conversation that was coming. Willow had never had a boyfriend and had really never had the desire to have one. She was young and the right man would come along eventually, besides she had Rohan and he had always been more than enough. Willow had never thought how Rohan would react when she did start courting.
He'd never courted either. In fact, she could not remember him even mentioning another girl besides herself. She tried to imagine how she would feel when he found that special someone. But the idea was too foreign; she could not wrap her mind around it. It left her with an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach. It had always been just the two of them.
“I just meant it’s strange that someone so strong would get seasick,” Rohan said, looking at Willow with hurt and confusion in his eyes. “When I look at him, sometimes I get the feeling that he’s indestructible. And from his countless stories of bravery, it’s hard to believe all it takes to subdue him are some big waves.”
“Oh, that’s what you meant,” Willow said, sighing in relief. “Yeah, very strange. But I guess everyone has a weakness, right? Even the great Devon Riley,” she said slipping her hand back into his.
Willow noticed a significant change in the air. Even though the small island was completely surrounded by salt water, the breeze carried a sweet scent. The further in they walked the sweeter the air grew.
Willow and Rohan broke from the shade of the trees they had been walking under into the dazzling sunlight. An extraordinary waterfall plummeted from a massive cliff face into a winding river that split the island. Willow carefully maneuvered her way over the sharp slippery rocks to examine the waterfall. Rohan followed closely behind. Approaching the fall from the side, Willow saw a cave cut out of the cliff behind the flowing sheet of water. Peering into it, Willow noted an irregular shape in the heart of the cave.
“I think we’ve found it,” she whispered.
She squeezed between the stream of water and the cliff, ducking into the cave. A steady mist from the fall sprayed her. The sunlight filtering through the curtain of water provided just enough light for Willow to take in her surroundings. A large carved pedestal supported an iron shield. Willow was surprised by its weight as she reached out and took hold of it.
“Oh my, it’s really heavy,” she said as she clambered back to Rohan, awkwardly carrying the shield.
Once she reached him, Willow and Rohan examined the metal object. The shield was flat across the top with the sides curving to a point at the bottom. Across the face was the word Faith, arranged in beautiful orange fire opals. Below that was a carving of a torch housing duel flames.
Willow automatically touched the tiny torch pendant that hung from her neck -- it appeared to be one and the same as the carving -- and it burned warm underneath her fingers.
“This must be the most beautiful armor that was ever crafted. Just think of what all the pieces will look like standing together,” Willow said.
“It will be absolutely brilliant. Here, I’ll carry it for you. I know its heavy.”
Willow gratefully passed Rohan the shield, and as he slipped it through his arm, she was struck by how strong and brave he looked. He was no longer the awkward and lanky, easily excitable boy of her childhood – not there on that far away island, not holding that magnificent shield.
“What are you staring at, Willow?”
“Nothing,” she said, shaking her head. “Ready to head back? Another round of hot baths await.”
“Yes, definitely,” he said, reaching out his free hand to take hers.
She took it automatically as they made their way back. As they approached the tree line that opened up to the white sandy shores, Willow caught a glimpse of Devon.
He was sitting in the sand next to the boat, staring out at the gentle waves with his back to them. Without thinking, Willow released Rohan’s hand at the sight of Devon and immediately felt a jolt of guilt at Rohan’s response. She caught the pain in his eyes as his face crumpled, but she could not bring herself to take up his hand again.
It was not like they were a couple, and Rohan was not even interested in her in that way, she reasoned with herself. He was just afraid of change; he did not want to lose their friendship. But that would not happen; she would not let it.
She walked up to Devon as Rohan put the shield in the boat. Tentatively placing her hand on his shoulder, she asked, “How are you feeling?”
“I’m alright. I think it’s passed.”
“That’s good. Do you want me to row anyway? I don’t mind.”
“No, no I got it. Let’s get going.”
The boys turned the boat around in the sand and pushed the bow into the water. Devon got in first, taking his perch on the first bench and picking up his oars. Willow followed him and took her seat in the middle. Rohan gave the boat a solid shove and agilely jumped into the hull. Willow was startled by his new found alacrity. Had he tried that maneuver just days before, it would surely have yielded disastrous results.
Devon remained silent as he powered forward, only pointing out when their bearing was slightly off course. Willow and Rohan returned to the subject of Salvador, though Rohan was less than enthusiastic. He was obviously still upset about Willow’s snub.
“Do you think we’ll see him again?” Willow asked.
“He said that he’s never far,” Rohan said, acutely concentrating on rowing.
“I hope we do. I feel so, so…safe in his presence.”
“I hope the Leviathan is the worst thing we have to face. I can’t imagine anything more terrible.”
“Yeah,” Rohan said shortly.
“Rohan, I’m sorry okay,” Willow pleaded desperately.
“Yeah, yeah. I get it.”
“Please, Rohan. Talk to me.”
“Just drop it. I’m fine.”
When they rowed up to the docks, North Port was basking in sunlight. Devon climbed out of the boat saying, “I’ve got something to take care of. I’ll meet you back at the tavern.”
He walked quickly down the docks.
called out after him, “Can we help you?”
“No,” he said sharply. Seeing her wounded expression, he added, “But thanks for asking. I’ll be back soon enough.”
“That was strange,” Rohan said, returning to his usual self in Devon’s absence.
“Oh, now you feel like talking, huh?” Willow was beyond frustrated, but she didn't want to renew their argument. “Let’s go check on Apollo and Bellefire. Then it’s hot baths and steaming chowder.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice! I’m starving!”
“You’re always starving.”
He winked at Willow. “What can I say, I’m a growing boy.”
Willow laughed, happy to see his spirits lifted.
They secured the boat to the cleats, and Rohan helped Willow onto the dock. Willow was about to release her hand, not sure what Rohan wanted at this point. But he held firm, almost daring her to let go. She conceded and they walked happily down the dock, swinging their entwined hands between them, the shield tucked securely under Rohan’s arm.
Willow and Rohan did not make it but a few steps when they were confronted by the same old man in the raincoat from that morning.
“I’ll be darned! I thought that young man that hurried by a moment ago looked familiar, but he wouldn’t stop to chat. So you three thought better of your errand then, did you?”
“No, sir,” Willow said.
“What do you mean by ‘No, sir’?”
“We did indeed complete our errand at the Island of Fiducia.”
“Great Scott! The tales you babes tell.”
“Sir, I assure you, she tells no tale,” Rohan said.
“But then you mean to tell me, you really did venture into the Depths of Sheol? And live to tell of it? Inconceivable!”
“Why yes, sir. We did, and we do.”
“I-I. Well, I never. Never. I need to have a sit down,” he said, leaning against a pylon. “My heart’s not what it once was. The Depths of Sheol? Phew! It’s more than I can take in. Well, I promised you a pint. Let’s say we head to the tavern, and you can tell me all about it.”
Willow could sense the old man still did not believe them, and besides he had smelled like he had consumed a pint too many already and thought it best to decline.
“Actually sir, we really need to check on our horses.”
“Nonsense, pure nonsense. I made a promise and I fully intend to follow through.”
Willow did not see a way out and looked to Rohan. He shrugged. He was happy for any excuse to get a bowl of chowder without delay.
“Okay. One quick drink. And then we really must tend to the horses,” Willow said.
“As you say, dearie. By the way the name’s Alcott Hastings. Friends call me Al for short. What are the names of the Great Conquerors of the Leviathan?” he asked sarcastically.
Willow ignored the jest and said, “I’m Willow Payton, and this is Rohan Brewster. The other young man is Devon Riley.”
“Where was he off to in such a hurry? He nearly knocked me over in his haste. Didn’t want to celebrate the big victory, huh? Too modest for all that.”
“Um, he had something he had to do. It couldn’t wait. He’ll be back later,” Willow said.
“Well, tell him I owe him a pint.”
sir. I’ll pass it on.”
As they approached the Tavern Ora, they came across the scruffy sailboat captain.
“Ahoy there, Barwick!” Alcott called out in greeting. “Look who I found!”
“Smartened up then, did ya?” Barwick asked.
“Not at all. They claim to have completed their errand,” Alcott said laughing mightily.
“You ain’t serious?”
“Aye. So they tell me.”
“Well, they certainly look a bit worse for wear.”
“Right you are, Barwick. I hadn’t noticed.”
Willow and Rohan exchanged appraising looks. Their wet hair was matted across their foreheads, salt clung to their skin, and their clothes were stiff and uncomfortable. Willow did not notice until just then, the excitement having driven her condition from her mind, but her teeth were chattering slightly, and she was shivering in the coastal breeze. Rohan’s lips were a frosty blue and goose bumps covered his flesh.
“Let’s get you two warmed up all cozy in the tavern, and you can entertain us with your tale,” Alcott said.
The four of them walked up the docks towards the tavern.
“Haven't seen a blue sky like this that I can remember,” Barwick said.
“Funny how the fog just disappeared, ain't it?” Alcott said. “Still plenty cool, though.”
As soon as they reached the tavern, the two men found cloaks for Willow and Rohan and a table by the roaring fire. Rohan tucked the shield discreetly between his knees, carefully covering it with the cloak – a precaution against the curious, though it would appear that their audience was too drunk to notice. The warm blaze was pure bliss to Willow’s numb limbs. They scooted their chairs as close to the hearth as possible, warming their hands, soaking up the heat. Alcott and Barwick made their way over to the bar and brought back four foamy mugs.
“Root beer for the babes,” said Alcott, passing Willow and Rohan their mugs.
“Thank you, sir,” they said in unison.
“A promise is a promise.”
“So tell us the facts, don’t spin no yarn, ya hear?” Barwick said.
Willow let Rohan do the talking. He recounted their adventure with fine detail, only leaving out the specifics that alluded to their quest, pausing in precisely the right places to achieve ultimate suspense. Willow watched amused at Rohan’s animation. The two men oohed and aahed in all the right places, and even threw in the occasional “Well, blow me down!” and “I never!” much to Rohan’s delight.
By the time the story was told their mugs were drained thrice, and the entire populace of patrons was huddled around their little table, all doubt abated. A request to retell it once more came from a latecomer somewhere in the far corner.
“Unfortunately, we really must decline,” Rohan said. “However these fine gentlemen-” he said gesturing to Alcott and Barwick.
“He means us!” Alcott said staggering to his feet.
“Aye, w-w-we knows the t-t-tale!” Barwick stuttered.
“There you go then. We really must be going.”
“Three cheers for the Conquerors of the Leviathan!” Alcott shouted.
“Hip, hip, hurray! Hip, hip, hurray! Hip, hip, hurray!” shouted the mass knocking back their mugs.
Willow and Rohan excused themselves blushing and wound their way through the drunken crowd.
“We are the talk of the town!” Rohan beamed.
“Yeah, I guess. But we really didn’t do much, it was all Salvador,” Willow said.
“I know. I told them all about him, remember? But they still think we’re conquerors. Conquerors. Sounds pretty swanky, huh?”
“Don’t let it go to your head, oh Great Conqueror of the Leviathan,” Willow said punching his arm. “Baths, then we see to the horses. Okay?”
“Sounds good,” Rohan said as they climbed up the steps.
As they were walking back from the stables, Rohan’s stomach growled angrily. Willow looked at him with eyebrows raised, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
“What? Three pints of root beer is hardly supper.”
“I guess someone was too busy telling stories to remember to eat earlier. Let’s go get you a proper supper then.”
Entering the tavern they were greeted by vigorous hand shakes and slaps on the back. The crowd from the night before was nothing compared to the mass that assembles this night. The tavern felt like a different place, the glum drunken reverie of the night prior had transformed into good cheer, and it seemed no one in North Port had escaped the news of their adventure. Their bowls of chowder were on the house courtesy of Birch Cenwig.
“I haven’t had such business since, since -- heck, I’ve never had such business! I owe it all to you,” he said, smiling his full-faced smile.
It was impossible for Willow and Rohan to carry on a conversation. Between each bite they were interrupted by a smattering of questions. They ate quickly and retreated upstairs. Even Rohan, who fully enjoyed the attention, was ready for some peace and quiet.
“I thought Devon would be back by now. Where do you think he is?” Willow asked, opening the door to their room.
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“What do we do if he doesn’t come back?”
“What do you mean? Why wouldn’t he? Did he say something to you?” Willow asked anxiously.
“No, calm down. It’s just that he didn’t say where he was going. And it’s not exactly like he told us when he’d be back. If it comes down to it, we won’t be able to wait for him forever.”
“Of course he’ll be back. He’s probably on his way right now.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“Rohan, seriously, are you ever going to cut him some slack? He’s not some monster. He’s helped us so much. Why can’t you see that?”
“Never mind. It was just a question. Forget I asked. I’m going to crash. I’m wiped, and it looks like the bed’s mine tonight,” Rohan said, walking over to the bed and plopping himself down. “Goodnight.”
Willow walked over to the hearth and lit a fire, and then drew the drapes to block the moonlight. She was worried about Devon, despite dismissing Rohan’s idea.
Would he abandon them now? After all they had been through? Surely not, she convinced herself. She decided to busy herself while she waited up for him by listening to more of her parents’ journal entries. She removed the book from the small dresser and flopped down onto the musty couch.
She wanted to see if they ever realized the true identity of Salvador. As confident as she was out on the boat in their ability to grasp the truth, she now felt forced to assume that they never did. If they had, surely Devon would have known about it, and he never would have feared Salvador at the Pit of Despair. He would have known that he was only offering aid.
She flipped through the pages, scanning the entries for any mention of the cloaked figure. After a few false leads, she found an entry in her father’s distinct hand that looked promising. Glancing over at Rohan, who was snoring softly in deep sleep, she cleared her throat and whispered aloud:
What fools we are! How we could have been so blind, I cannot fathom...the cloaked figure we so imprudently feared, our very Savior! Salvador -- the Lord Protector’s son -- of course. Everything makes since in retrospect. We saw him in the worst of times because it was then that his aid was most needed. We expected a conqueror, not a humble servant providing silent aid, and therefore we did not recognize our deliverer. He has been our saving grace these eight long months, and yet we regarded him as a traitor – a common criminal.”
Willow’s father’s voice subsided with the last exclamation. A small smile parted her lips. They knew the truth. Her parents died with the truth securely residing within their hearts. It was all she could have asked for.
But why then, had Devon never mentioned this? Why did he still fear Salvador? She made a mental note to ask him when he turned up again. She refused to think if he turned up again.
Willow spent several hours listening to her parent’s words. Repeating several entries that emphasized certain aspects of their personalities she particularly wanted to call to mind. In the waning light of the tired fire, she reached the last entry and froze.
She knew she would come to this entry eventually, but she was not sure if she was prepared for it. It was short, just two lines, and appeared to be in her father’s script. There was a distinct difference in this entry in comparison with all the ones before it. Willow could not quite put her finger on it, but the letters seemed too straight, almost forced. She began:
The Sword of the Spirit: Through Gates of Death to Tree of Life. It is over.”
Her father’s voice was slightly off just like his script. His voice was gruffer, strained. Willow realized with horror that her parents died just minutes, maybe seconds, after her father penned those words. Those were the words of a man who knew he was doomed to die. His last act was to complete the instructions his daughter would need to save the world.
Tears streamed down her cheeks as she pictured in her mind’s eye her father hunched over this ragged book writing fiercely these last two lines, knowing his daughter, the world’s only hope, must now undertake the task he and his wife had failed to complete. She could see him hiding the book where Devon would soon find it and walking bravely to his death, his wife by his side.
Willow sat curled up lost in thought until the last embers burned out, and she was left in the darkness.