Heart of Glass: A Tale of Memories and Loss
It was an hour before sunrise when the stranger appeared at Donnea’s doorstep. Concealed by its white cloak and the dark early morning mist the figure lingered for hours, huddling and trembling by the door. It was not until the sun was high in the day’s sky that the house’s residents finally noticed its presence. By that time the figure had gone limp, and when no warmth was felt on its skin while it was being dragged within her house Donnea assumed the stranger to be long dead to the cold. That is, however, until she saw the stranger’s face.
Throughout her long life Donnea had heard tales and legends of the Chralla, a secretive race from within the mountains. Called “People of Glass” by some, the race was said to have been crafted from crystal by the Old Gods while Humans and the other mortal races had been shaped from earth and clay. Their skin was cold and pale-white and hard as stone while their eyes were a deep blue and, if the tales were true, as dark as their hearts.
Donnea knew nothing of the color of the stranger’s heart, but the skin around his face was pale enough and formed angles that even her old and nearly-blind eyes could tell were those of a being of crystal, not of flesh.
“By the gods,” she heard her son Rodrik say a moment after he removed the figure’s hood from his face. “It’s a Man of Glass. Does it still live then?”
Focusing upon the figure’s chest Donnea could indeed see the rising and lowering breath of a living being, albeit it was very slight and faint. So they breathe just as we do then? She found herself thinking. An interesting thought, who knew stones required air as we do?
“Dear, what should we do with it?” Donnea heard her daughter-in-law, Nathara, ask. “How should we deal with such a being? Is it injured? Is it possible for it to be injured?”
“This it is a he,” Donnea chimed in, her voice still ringing true above the rest of her family. “And he needs care; else he wouldn’t have come to an unfamiliar house. Rodrik, take it near the fire and I’ll boil some water for it to drink. I don’t know what it eats but I’ll have no one dying of thirst in this house.”
you really think that wise, mother?” Rodrick began, keeping distance from the
Chralla. “We could try to care for it, but what if we accidentally kill it? It
is not like us, and should we be blamed-”
“No man has ever blamed another for giving someone water,” Donnea broke in, poking her finger out at where she perceived her son’s chest to be. “It breathes as we do, was affected by the cold as we would be, and if its mouth is truly made of stone then it will be drier and in need of more water than any of us.”
Grabbing the cane at her side Donnea made her way towards the door. “If I must I’ll do it myself. I may be old and half-blind, but-”
“Fine mother,” Rodrick finally spoke, stopping Donnea mid-speech. “I’ll get some water for our… guest. You find it a blanket, please.”
It was two days before the Chralla awoke, enough time for Donnea to almost forget it could be anything but asleep. She was there when it opened its eyes, which were indeed a deep blue just as the stories said. For the longest time the being simply sat upright and looked around, confused. Finding not the courage to approach, Donnea returned its blank, confused stares with her own looks of uncertainty. Eventually her guest did speak; its voice was a low soothing pitch as one would imagine an echo would sound in a cave.
“What manner of being are you?” the Man of Glass spoke slowly in the common tongue, his eyes holding a frightened look.
My my, Donnea chuckled to herself. He thinks we’re the monsters, doesn’t he? I do love irony. “I am a human,” Donnea finally responded. “My family has been taking care of you. I take it we succeeded; well, that or we are both dead and seeing each other as ghosts. At my age either is a possibility, really.”
The Chralla nodded, either not understanding the humor or ignoring it, and adjusted himself to sit upright more firmly. “I do believe I am alive. Yet… I have never before felt so weak.”
Donnea had been expecting as much. “I’m sorry for that. We did not know what to feed you, but we figured that a mixture of honey and water should keep you alive at the least.”
It was not long before the rest of her family took notice of their guest’s consciousness. Rodrik paid little mind to him besides asking what he ate (mushrooms apparently as they were abundant in the mountain caves). Her daughter-in-law did her best to avoid him while still attempting to appear hospitable, a notion that baffled Donnea to her core. It was Donnea’s grandson however, Kiral, who took the most immediate liking to the Chralla, nicknaming him “Crystalman” and asking questions of his family and house, all of which the stranger declined to speak.
“I apologize for this,” the Chralla eventually said to Donnea as the sun began to set. “I did not mean to trouble anyone, I shall go now.”
“Oh hush now,” Donnea responded, stepping closer to her guest. “You are too weak to go out on your own. Stay at least until you can walk easily, and even past then if need be.”
“Mother,” Rodrik cut in. “Are you sure? We don’t exactly hold an easy living out here and he’d be another mouth to feed.”
“And another set of hands,” Donnea snapped back at her son, tired of his unfounded suspicion. “Last I checked you were complaining about needing to hire a farmhand to help the planting this season. Well wish granted, mister!”
Donnea turned back to the guest. Her old eyes could not see his face well, but his surprise at her attitude was apparent enough even with what she could see. “What shall we call you then, hmm? Do you have a name that you remember?”
The Chralla contemplated her question for a short time before responding. “Ne-Falon. That is what you should call me.”
“Nice to meet you Ne-Falon, you may call me Donnea.” As Donnea introduced herself could not remember how long it had been since she had smiled that widely.
The next week passed as casually as any other, save for the initial unease between Rodrik and Nathara towards their new family member. It took only a day of warm soup and rest to revive Ne-Falon and only an hour after that for him to insist upon working to pay off the kindness done to him. The days seemed to pass faster after that. Rodrik’s complaints died out as soon as his new helper showed his efficiency in the fields while Nathara simply grew accustomed to Ne-Falon as the days went on and as it became more apparent that he was no danger. Yet, despite the pleasant atmosphere of the household, there was a constant air of sadness about their new visitor that Donnea could never shake.
It was the afternoon of the eighth day when Donnea finally decided to sit out with Ne-Falon by the window. She had noticed for several days that he Chralla was fond of gazing at the setting sun and figured that it was a good opportunity to learn more of this being that she had learned to care for.
“There is nothing like the sun for my people,” Ne-Falon began, sensing the questioning gaze of Donnea. “Our world is illuminated by ancient magic and mirrors that brighten and flicker as they will. My people sleep and wake as yours do, but erratically and without a guiding purpose. The sight of your sun would frighten many of my people. It is bright and hot and chaotic, yet orderly and warm, like a gentle but stern mother.”
“Oh, so your people do indeed have mothers?” Donnea asked, genuinely curious.
“In a sense,” the Chralla’s gaze did not leave the sight of the setting sun. “We are formed, not born, yet we have fathers and mothers. It is… difficult to explain in your words.”
“How is it that you know our words?” Donnea had never questioned it, seeing the Chralla’s knowledge as convenient, yet it now struck her as odd.
voice went on, unwavering. “Our people once found a group of humans lost in our
caves. We could not save them, but before they died we learned your language
from them and their minds.”
“Their… minds?” Donnea felt her brow furrow, unable to understand. “Can your people… read mind in that way?”
Ne-Falon nodded slowly, his eyes unwavering. “Some of us, yes.”
There was a long silence after that as both watched the sunset. Donnea remembered loving the sight when she could still make out all of the details of the horizon. It was not until after the sky had darkened she finally spoke again.
“You said that some of your people would fear the sun,” Donnea began, slowly. “But you did not?”
“My… mother,” Ne-Falon spoke, still refusing to divert his eyes from the window. “She once ventured out and saw the sun. From her I learned of it, and through her I saw it.”
“You… saw it through her?” Once again Donnea found herself for a loss, “How?”
this.” With little warning Ne-Falon lifted his hand up and touched the tip of
his index finger to Donnea’s forehead. In an instant Donnea found herself in a
dream, a dream in which she could see once more. She saw the landscape outside
of her house, the setting sun in all of its colors and details. Looking down
she saw her hands were devoid of their usual wrinkles and aged pallor. In
disbelief she looked again at the image of the setting sun and became entranced
by this vision of her youth. Then at once the vision came to a sudden end and
she found herself back in the seat next to Ne-Falon, her aged vision blurred
Seeing the disbelief on her face Ne-Falon nodded his head, “Such is the power of my people. We live long and in time can forget our past, but as long as we are around one another we can share memories and delve into the past we thought we had forgotten.”
“Amazing…” Donnea whispered, still rattled by the vision.
“At least,” Ne-Falon rose, his face keeping its usual stillness. “That is how it is for the others.”
Donnea attempted to rise and ask what he meant by that only to find her old joints did not allow her to move fast enough to catch the Chralla. I can’t tell if he is secretive or stubborn, Donnea thought as she eased her way towards her bedroom. Either way, he will tell me in time, and only if he wishes. By the time Donnea reached her bed the house was shrouded completely in moonlight. She did not remember falling to sleep, but in her dreams she still saw that crystal-clear sunset from her youth.
“I apologize,” Ne-Falon’s voice pierced through the clamor of supper. “But I am afraid that it is about time that I leave.”
faces around the table looked to one-another in questioning glances. Nearly two
weeks had passed since Ne-Falon had been taken in by the family, and during
that time he had never mentioned his desire to leave. Despite thinking it odd,
Donnea was almost hoping that the Chralla would stay in their little household.
“Why has this suddenly become an issue?” Nathara asked, having warmed up to the Chralla in the past weeks. “You’ve never spoken about this before.”
All eyes were on Ne-Falon as he spoke. “I… I have been told of your world before, and while I do appreciate what you have done there are still things I wish to see, and understand.”
Donnea nodded her head. And you don’t want to cause us any trouble either, she thought to herself. The Chralla would never say such a thing, but Donnea had seen a touch of unease in his face for the past few days. After Kiral had mentioned the local marshals and their purpose the attitude of the Chralla had changed dramatically. From what she could see of her friend’s face when the marshals were mentioned it could be assumed that his people had something similar, but far more brutal.
“At least allow us to pack some supplies for you,” Rodrick said, hushing up his son’s protests.
“And stay this last night, please,” Donnea added, smiling at her friend. “I’d hate for you to venture out into the cold like when we first met you.”
Chralla nodded silently as he usually did, but this time with a faint smile
that even Donnea could make out.
“Fine,” Ne-Falon said softly. “I’ll leave tomorrow when you think it is time.”
The evening seemed to move at a slower pace after that. Everyone, even Ne-Falon himself, seemed saddened by the realization that this interesting event was coming to a close. Of course Donnea had more questions to ask, but had not the stomach to inquire about any of them. She could tell from her friend’s expression that either he did not wish to talk about his past, or it pained him to try.
It was later into the night that followed when the dreams began for Donnea. They were like the vision of the Sunset, yet more powerful. She first saw herself as a young woman with her husband by her side. In the morning light his dark skin and bright smile shined in the vision as much as they had in life. She approached to hug him, and in doing so felt the warm embrace of her beloved and the familiar ruggedness of his skin upon her own. Gazing up at him she saw the long scars across his face from the war, the long braid down his back that told of his standing, even the correct tooth was missing. The image was so lifelike and vivid that Donnea found herself crying within his arms.
Lyonus,” Donnea spoke as she buried her young head into his chest. “I know this
is a dream. I know, but I don’t care.”
Softly her husband began to stroke her hair as he had in life, and when Donnea looked up she saw the forms of her children appearing around her, and her grandchildren. All of them were smiling at her and all of them were as she remembered them, both those who had moved on and those who had simply left.
“Your family is beautiful,” a soft and deep voice spoke behind her. Turning, she saw the shape of Ne-Falon within her dream. To his left and right were two figures, one was almost his height and feminine in appearance while the one to his left was shorter and had the appearance of a child. Yet, in the vision they were not crisp and clear like the visions of Donnea’s family. Rather, they appeared as obstructed visages, almost like shadows.
that your family?” Donnea asked, moving towards the image of her friend.
The Chralla nodded. “What I can remember of them, yes.”
There was a silence before Donnea realized what he meant. “So then, are they…?”
The Chralla shook his head. “They live, but the memory of my people is fragile. It has been so long now that these visages are all I can create with my power.”
“But you entered my memories,” Donnea’s eyes were tearing up once more, this time at the thought of forgetting her family.
“I entered yours and many others,” The Chralla looked away. “But no Chralla can enter their own memories; they must be shown for them to retain it all.”
“Then, why did you leave your people?” Donnea asked, already suspecting that it was not his choice.
Chralla turned back to Donnea. “Ne-Falon is not a name. It is a title. It is
what you might call an exile, a wanderer, or a condemned man. It symbolizes
that I have done wrong in my life and must atone by wandering the world until I
can no longer remember by own name.”
“That’s horrible!” Donnea shouted, aghast. “What could you possibly have done?”
The Chralla stared at her with sad, large eyes, and it was only then that Donnea saw that he truly could not remember what he had done and that the punishment had already long begun to take its effects. Donnea buried her face in her handsand began to sob.
is fine, Donnea,” the Chralla spoke, the vision fading. “This is simply how it
Donnea woke shortly after, tears covering her face. She did not sleep again that night and instead turned her old eyes to the drawers by her bedside, knowing that it was time to find the old keepsake she knew lay within.
The midday air was colder than usual for the season and everyone gathered outside had wrapped themselves in furs accordingly, except, of course, for the Chralla who donned his usual attire.
you for your help,” he spoke, smiling a sad smile.
“Promise you won’t forget us,” Kiral spoke up. The comment was harmless to all, save for Donnea and the Chralla who both flinched slightly.
With a sad smile the Chralla nodded. “I… I promise.” With a final nod the Chralla began to turn away only to be stopped short by Donnea who grabbed his arm. The Chralla looked down with a surprised expression on his face, not sure what to make of the old woman with a twinkle in her eye.
“Before you go you should know,” Donnea’s voice was louder and clearer than normal. “A few months ago there was word of a ‘Man of Glass’ being brought into the service of the king of these lands.”
hand shot out, revealing a beautiful blue-and-purple ribbon attached to a medal
adorned with the royal seal. As the Chralla took it in his hands Donnea
continued. “Now, my husband won that for his service to that same King and it should allow you an audience with him.”
The Chralla’s eyes widened, understanding Donnea’s words.
“Now, you and I both know what it would mean for you to meet another Chralla. I’m not sure if the tale is true or not or even if you’ll make it,” Donnea’s eyes seemed to pierce the Chralla’s crystalline features. “But it’s worth a shot.”
Without a word the Chralla leaned down and hugged Donnea, its body shuddering in what must have been a sob. In the embrace Donnea could not stop thinking that the Chralla’s body felt not jagged or cold for something seemingly made of stone. Rather, it was smooth and warm, like a human. “Thank you,” it spoke at last. “Thank you, thank you, my friend.”
Donnea smiled and hugged it back. “Just don't go wandering aimlessly now, you hear.”
Kiral piped up then. “You’ll need a proper name to meet the king, Crystalman!”
“Indeed you will,” Donnea replied, beaming. “Hmm… I think ‘Syndraan’ suits you. It means ‘heart’ in the older tongues, and you certainly have a large heart mister.”
in approval, Syndraan got up and began to walk away, smiling brilliantly. As
the Chralla visitor began to walk into the horizon Donnea began to wonder at
how such a race of beings could be so kind and yet frowned upon by so many. It
was never in Donnea’s nature to question the world too harshly; yet, in this
instance, she felt she had a right to think as she did. The figure that faded
into the distance was no liar or monster, it was their friend; one that would
never fade from Donnea’s memory.
“You know Rodrick,” Donnea said as they began to walk back inside. “I think you should hire some new hands around here. After all, it’ll start to be lonely rather soon with him gone.”