In the Absence of Light

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Chapter 4: Politics

I almost forgot about the trip out of the temple grounds. I woke up and immediately began practicing with double daggers. Practice was so ingrained in me, that I was still half asleep while practicing.

When practicing, my senses became sharper, and I could hear all around me. I could pinpoint all sorts of things, like the footsteps entering the practice area from behind me. I listened as the person approached me, and I kept practicing. I heard the footsteps get close enough, and I spun. My eyes caught the fact that the woman behind me had no weapons in her hands and the light robes around her, so I brought my sword to her neck and my dagger pointed at her belly.

She was quaking in fear that I was about to kill her. I lowered my weapons, “Never try to surprise a warrior. It doesn’t work.”

I started to move away to clean up when the girl spoke, “But, umm, ma’am, Dyrana. I’m supposed to tell you that there are two people here to take you into the city.”

Inwardly I cursed myself for forgetting to remember that, but on the outside I turned a stone cold face to the girl, “You should of announced yourself at the front of the practice area. Don’t ever try to sneak up on me again because you can’t. You told me what you came to say, now leave.”

The girl looked shocked and horrified by my abrupt treatment, but when I told her to leave, she scampered away. The young healers were so silly sometimes, and often didn’t know how to treat warriors. Hopefully I ingrained it into her head not to try and sneak up on us though. A less observant warrior might have simply taken her head off.

I quickly cleaned my weapons and went to the stable. Layarna was waiting for me there, “Since Gegarat is outside the city in foal, we decided you will take Kyra’s horse since she is your partner and she has no need to ride right now.

I nodded agreement, but before I could move, a priestess of Jarginshira brought out the horse. The horse was a pretty light gray horse with chestnut speckles known as a fleabitten gray.

“He’s a gelding. Kyra called him Sarak which means rock in the old language. He is an Arabian draft pony mix. We’ve worked to breed a beautiful and steady creature for the healers. Unlike the warrior horses, we’ve been very successful for many generations now with these mixed bloodlines.”

I wished I was on my powerful Gegarat, but this guy would do. Maybe I could get permission to work with him so that I could train him to take care of Kyra. With her attitude toward life, she would need someone to watch over her when I couldn’t. “Well Sarak, what do you say to riding in a city, hmm boy?” I gently rubbed his cheek bones, and l smiled slightly as he moved his head so I could scratch better.

“He can’t talk back,” Layarna’s statement bothered me, but I simply nodded my head to show I heard her.

“I know they don’t talk, but it gives me someone to talk to who won’t annoy me.”

Layarna took the hint and walked off with her nose stuck in the air. I went to grab tools to brush Sarak with, but the priestess who brought Sarak out had already grabbed them and was brushing Sarak.

“If you would kindly wait, I will have your horse ready soon, my lady. I am glad to see this boy getting some exercise.” I figured this priestess must be a stable mistress for the light priestesses. She was quick with cleaning and tacking; though I would have preferred to get the horse ready myself.

'”Please, take good care of Sarak, he is one of my favorite charges.” The woman told me as she handed him over to me.

“I will.” I took the reins from the priestess and mounted up in the courtyard. I asked him to walk, and he began walking without any prodding. He felt sufficiently responsive to not be too much of a pain to ride.

I moved him easily through the compound till we got to the gate, where I saw two men and horses waiting. One I recognized as Darin, but I didn’t recognize the other man. Where Darin had black, messy hair, this other man had neat white blonde hair. Darin was olive skinned, and this other man was extremely pale. Darin had dark green eyes, and this other man had pale washed out blue eyes that almost seemed to have no color at all. This other man was also about a hand taller than Darin.

Darin had a large, stocky bay horse next to him, and the other man had a bony chestnut that was taller than the bay with a large ugly looking head. The chestnut had one small star on its forehead.

“Who is he? I thought you were leading me around the city.” I spoke to Darin, but the other man answered.

“I am here you know. My name is Chrisin, and I was the man who was supposed to marry your partner Kyra.”

I almost laughed at that thought. Darin wanted me to marry him, but love was burned out of me. Chrisin wanted to marry Kyra, the woman who loved everyone, but was practically married to her own love of everyone. Kyra would never notice one particular person in her world. She loved everyone and remembered no one.

How we were all poor torn up fools. We were silly mortals whose lives were twisted into a melted wreck of metal after being played with by the gods. In my case, I was simply a burned husk who was part goddess.

The look Darin gave told me he knew what I was thinking. It was filled with recognition that Kyra would probably never notice Chrisin, and he even seemed to recognize that I was too twisted to save. Suddenly, his face lost expression, and he blindly said, “Well, Chrisin has introduced himself, and you know me, so why don’t we get started with the tour of the city and the understanding of politics.”

Before Darin could say more, Chrisin turned to me and spoke quietly, “Do you think I could see her after we finish.”

Chrisin didn’t seem to understand what had happened to us. “If she is willing to see you, you can see her. If you can get through without wanting to bash her head in, then I wish you luck.”

“You would bash your partners head in?” and I thought Darin recognized the fact that I had changed. I guess he hadn’t.

“I have no patience for people that think they are sages and refuse to listen to what is said.”

“And yet your refuse to listen to other people and you refuse to believe that you can still love!” I counted carefully until I didn’t want to slap Darin upside the head.

“I cannot love anymore, it was burned out of me, get over it. Lets either go on this little tour of the city or I am leaving. I don’t care to stand here being told I am a heartless bitch when that is exactly what I am anyway. I recognize this fact, get over it.”

“I’m not trying to say you are heartless, I am trying to say that you have a heart. You love your horses don’t you?” Poor Darin. He really didn’t get it.

“Horses are a matter of convenience for me. If they are happy and like me, they will work harder for me.”

Before Darin could respond, Chrisin tapped him on the shoulder, “you can have this argument another time, but right now we have a lesson on the city to give. Come on, let’s mount up.”

Darin quietly nodded, and the two guys mounted up. We moved away from the gait at a quiet amble, and headed for the market. The city had one main market and a couple streets with street vendors. I still remembered this from my childhood in the city.

“So, do you remember the name of this city?” It was Chrisin who started out the lesson, probably because Darin was still sulking.

I knew that there were other cities, and that cities were supposed to have names, but I couldn’t remember what the name was! “No.”

“This city is called gon jarka calt which…”

“Which means ‘city of the gods’,” I interrupted. “Calt is ‘city’, and gon means ‘of the’, and jarka is what the common men called the gods in the old language, while the nobles called them jarkdelasaraka, which could translate to, ‘all powerful spirit rocks’.” I felt proud of myself for my knowledge of the old language, but from the withering look Chrisin gave me; he obviously wasn’t impressed.

He continued when I shut up, “The city was named this because the spectrum of gods chose this city as the main place to train followers. For a long time, it was hidden away and forgotten. The warriors that were trained by the dark lord and lady, but they had no experience. The bloodlines diminished, and the gods almost gave up on the city that was once their pride and joy. They brought invaders in that worshiped them, and helped the invaders defeat their own city. The people of the city were forced to learn the invaders language, which is the language we speak now. Our cultures merged and only the historian remembered the old language.”

“I already knew this. We learned the history of the city in our classes, and even if I didn’t learn it from that, I have the memories of Zedigrivikonola leading the invasion force into the city. Why did you feel this is important?” Did he think I was an idiot? Every citizen of the city knew this.

“Not everyone knows this anymore, especially not with all the foreigners in our city.”

Darin spoke up suddenly, “You might not remember this, but every year there were more and more foreigners in our city. They bought the houses of families that weren’t around anymore and they set up in the market place. They’ve been buying up the land outside the city from the old families that need money. Life is too expensive here now to live off a couple years as a mercenary.”

Chrisin took over again with his calm deep voice, “And the foreigners have a monopoly on food now. They’ve raised the food prices so high half the people can’t buy food.”

Darin jumped on this, “And the lord of our city does nothing!”

“Quietly my friend, we do not want to be arrested for treason.”

“Why would you be arrested for treason, and who is this Lord of the city?” I felt confused as if the two were speaking in puzzles.

Chrisin answered quietly, “The lord was originally the man in charge of the invasion of the city. For a long time, he was little more than a figure head that collected taxes to keep the city looking nice and to pay the male police force the gods trained.”

Darin interrupted, “But when the foreigners came, they expected more out of the leader of a city. Our corrupt and greedy…”

“Darin! If you can’t speak without foul mouthing the GOOD Lord of our city, don’t speak at all.”

Chrisin continued, “The Lord of the city realized the foreigners wanted the leader to have more power, so he took the power they expected him to take. He told the people of the city that this was to help the city’s economy, and to help keep it known so that it did not fall into disrepair like the old city. The people agreed, and the Lord took more power.”

Darin whispered harshly, “He raised the talving[vi] taxes! He made us so poor we were desperate to sell out to those talving foreigners!”

Chrisin glared at Darin, and Darin stopped his rant. “You see that woman over there?”

I looked where Chrisin was pointing and noticed a woman dressed in black trying to sell her armor. She seemed ragged, and a child clutched her arm.

“She will probably lower herself to become a whor for the foreigners soon. The Lord doesn’t pay the city guard that well anymore unless we are one of his elite and devote inner police force. That woman probably lost her husband tone of the diseases that spreads through the guards on the walls. Darin and I are lucky. Darin is a temple guard and I am a city employed healer. We make just enough money to rent a small room from one of the lord’s land owning nobles”

Darin’s voice sounded almost as if it was choked with tears, “My father’s leg was crushed by a foreign cart he tried to stop to inspect. My family couldn’t afford a good healer, so my dad ended up losing the leg. My family lost the house, and was left on the streets. My mother turned to selling herself, not her sword, so that my family could eat. My father tried to lead a revolt against the Lord, and he was hung as an example, along with my older brother Faltark. I haven’t met up with my mother in while, but the last I knew she was desperately trying to earn enough money to feed my younger brother and sister long enough to send them to their respective temples. She sold her armor, horse, and even her prized sword to foreigners.”

I was shocked by the cruel stories of the city, but then I felt the Zedigrivikonola’s mind join with mine for a second, and I realized this was true. It was something she tried not to let her mind encompass much. She disliked what was happening to the city, together, we understood that the city was coming to an end, and one day, the gods would leave it. Her mind withdrew leaving me reeling.

I grabbed Sarak’s saddle to keep from falling while I processed all the information my tiny human brain had just received. “Are you ok?” I could distantly hear Chrisin’s voice asking in worry. I waved him away and focused on the information at hand. I realized that once I left the city, I would never be coming back.

I focused back on life around me. “The city is too far gone. The gods will leave it to its fate soon. The world is forgetting them as it moves into progress.”

Darin mumbled something. “What did you say, Darin?”

He looked up with glassy eyes that showed his resistance to crying, “You are almost right. The spectrum is forgotten, but even the foreigners recognize the healing lady and lord, the dark lady and lord of war, and the male and female twins of life. The foreign merchants worship the twins because they believe the twins watch over merchants.”

“The others are fading though. They are falling asleep as they are forgotten. If even legend forgets them, they will become nothing but shadow in the world that watches but cannot wake and cannot do anything,” I spoke out of the knowledge that Zedigrivikonola had just shared with me.

Chrisin and Darin shared a look of confusion, but then Chrisin turned away and pointed out, “We are almost at the market. You should get something. Maybe support one of the vendors still owned by someone of the city.”

I wasn’t sure why Chrisin wanted me to buy something, but I nodded in agreement anyway. Once we were in the market, I looked around, trying to find a vendor still owed by one of the native people. I saw our people miserably working for foreigners, but I didn’t see any locally owned vendors. I could see the city’s people in their personal god or goddess’s colors, but they only seemed to be selling themselves or gifts from the temple. I saw something that looked like a woman selling her child to foreigner.

And I could tell the foreigners apart. They looked healthy, and they dresses in multi-colored and patterned costumes with fabric hung every which way about them. I couldn’t tell if the foreigners were wearing dresses or pants. I could barely tall what gender they were draped under all their excess layers of fabric.

“I don’t see any local vendors. I wouldn’t mind grabbing a bite to eat, but I just don’t see anyone who is local selling food here anymore. I remember when I was younger Kyra’s mother would take us to an old healer lady that sold sweet food over there,” I pointed in the vague direction of my memory.”

Darin laughed, “Chrisin made a joke by telling you to buy from a local vendor. There aren’t any anymore. That old lady you remember was the last of our people to have a vendor in the market. She died two years ago. Much has changed since you and Kyra went into that complex and disappeared.”

I had a sudden thought, “What about my family? And Kyra’s family? How are they doing?”

Drin looked t me strangely, and I had a bad feeling about what he was about to say, “Dyrana, your parents, well, they participated in the same rebellion as my father. Your mother used to be a fair fighter, but she’d grown rusty, and they chopped her down. Your father died trying to defend her body. Your siblings were sold into foreign slavery.”

I don’t think I’d truly ever hated someone with a hatred so deep it burned in my very soul. I could feel my hatred grow for this terrible lord with every word Darin spoke. When Darin spoke of his own family, I was shocked, but this was my family! Zedigrivikonola felt my anger, and an anger arose to match mine. We would destroy this city!

Darin was tapping my shoulder. I turned, “what do you want.” I could hear the checked anger in my voice, and I could see the fear in Darin’s face.

“Dyrana, control your energies. Wait until your time here is up to do something. I can see the darkness rising around you, but if you do something now, they will label use as dangerous and unstable, and they will lock you up or kill you. Please wait.”

With a twist of my will, I forced myself to calm down and force the energy to come back to me. Zedigrivikonola forced our minds away from this subject. She placed a barrier in my own mind so as to protect me from the feelings that came with the knowledge of what happened to my family.

“And Kyra’s family? What happened to them?”

Chrisin looked at me strangely, “I didn’t know her family before the god of light told me I was meant for her. When I tried to find her, I was told about her fate as a hostess to the Lady of Light. I then tried to find her family, but I couldn’t. They were simply gone. Come on, let’s grab a bite to eat.”

I felt there was something else there, but agreed to get food anyway. We rode up to one of the shops selling food, dismounted, and tied the horses up to a hitching post near the food place.

The man looked at us strangely as we walked up, “Where’d yon get the horses? Yon natives can’t afford no horses.”

I pushed the anger down, “I am a priestess of the Lady of Death.”

“That Lady ain’t got no priestesses, warrior woman.”

I felt a sly smile rise up on my lips at that comment, “Oh but she does have one. Her priestesses are the women who host her in their bodies.”

I could see him working out that statement, but before he could figure it out, Darin spoke up, “I am a temple guard and my friend is a healer for the city guard force. He was extremely good in his class, so he was one of the lucky few to be hired by the city. The temple loaned us horses so that we could escort the dark lady around the city. She is only allowed out once a year.”

I could see the man again trying to link all of what we were saying, but then Chrisin stepped forward, “We would like three chopped meat wraps please.”

The man went back and brought us food back, “Heres yon food.” Chrisin nodded and passed out the food.

We ate the food and just looked at the shops with foreign goods that were all around the market. Once we finished eating, we made our way back to the horses, and I saw a woman trying to untie them. I ran at her and yelled “Stop!” She froze, when she realized a dagger was waiting at her neck.”

“What were you doing?” I snarled.

She started babbling, “I was just making sure they were ok, please don’t turn me in! I have a young girl to feed, and we care for horses for money…”

Before I could reply, one of the city guards was there, sliding the woman out from where my cold steel was frozen in the air. “We’ll take care of this trouble maker ma’am. You’ll never need to worry about this one again.” I watched in shock as he dragged the woman away.

Another guard went for the child, but Chrisin was there first, “I’ll take care of her.”

“Can you afford her boy?” the man asked, almost kindly.

“Yes, sir. I’ll make sure that she learns from her mother’s bad example and becomes a good member of society.” I was shocked by Chrisin’s respectful tone, but I was even more shocked by the ragged bundle of dirt Chrisin was protecting.

Chrisin gently brushed some of the dirt off the girl’s shoulders, and a dark fabric was reavealed. “She’s a fighter’s child. The fighters were some of the worst hit by the changes.”

My dagger was still frozen in air, and I could feel Darin glaring daggers at me. “You idiot,” he hissed. “You just got one of our folk hanged. Anyone caught stealing is hanged on the wall. If you’d politely gone up and thanked the woman for looking after our horses, she would still be here.”

I felt shocked, and I slowly lowered my dagger. I could hear Darin berating Chrisin, “And you! Why did you protect that girl! We don’t have time for her, and you could have left her for the guard to take care of.”

“She would’ve been sold, and you know this Darin. Dyrana didn’t know any better, and I figured this was the best way to make up for our mistake. We didn’t warn Dyrana about the thieves. Come on, mount up. We need to get this girl cleaned up and dressed.” Chrisin sounded tired, as if that encounter had taken a lot out of him.

I could hear Darin arguing with Chrisin, but I quietly mounted up. I believed in being fair, and treating people equally. I knew I was quick tempered, but was I feeling remorse for letting this woman be killed?

No. It couldn’t be that. It must just be the shock from how efficient and quick the guard was. It wasn’t my fault the woman would be killed. She was trying to steal the horses.

I watched quietly as Chrisin dropped the girl off at a pump where an older woman dressed in light blue robes was sitting, and told the woman, “We’ll be back for her in an hour with clean clothes and money for you.” The woman nodded, and we rode to a small street vender selling children’s clothing.

The two guys must have come to an agreement because Darin went up to the foreigner, who I thought might be a woman there and said, “Do you have any dark colored clothing for a little girl about this high?” he raised his hand up to where the little girl would have stood against him. The foreigner nodded and ducked behind some fabric, and came out with something in her hands.

She held out the bundle and spoke with an old woman’s deep, hoarse voice, “The here wrap should work. You start it at one shoulder and wrap it around under the arms until you come to a thin piece of fabric that goes straight up. You take that fabric over across the top of the shoulder and pin it. You also pin where the wrap started to the layers on top.” The woman let the fabric show so that Chrisin and I could also see it. It was a black fabric with light blue symmetrical line designs on it. It was the least patterned of the foreign fabrics I had seen.

While Darin bargained on the price with the woman, I glanced at the other fabrics. All of them seemed fairly simple, though they had some design on them.

Chrisin rode his horse closer, “This woman sells to the people of the city cheaper than the market venders. Also, people don’t mind her fabric as much because it is less patterned than a lot of stalls. It’s actually cheaper than buying from a vender who still sells clothing that is plain and our style of clothing.”

“Hey Chrisin, would you mind if we went by Kyra’s old place?” I asked suddenly. Kyra’s family’s disappearance was still bugging me.

“Sure. We can go there after we pick up the girl.” We sat in silence after that, waiting for Darin to finish making his deal.

Finally, Darin brought forward money, and the woman handed Darin the wrap and two pins. Darin mounted up, and we rode back to the water pump where we left the girl. The woman was waiting for us with a frail looking, pale girl. The girl had light, ashy brown hair with faint blond highlights, and dark, stormy gray-blue eyes. Shreds of a faded black tunic hung to her shivering frame.

“She says her name is Tyva, and that she is of warrior bloodlines. I wouldn’t believe it looking at how pale she is. She’s too dark to be light, but too light to be dark. Her mother must have been very close to the twins. I nodded in agreement at the woman’s statement.

I suddenly realized Darin’s horse was next to me, and he was thrusting the wrap at me. You are a woman, you can help her put the wrap on. I almost laughed at the way both of the guys seemed to suddenly not want to help the girl with the wrap.

I jumped down and walked over to where the girl was waiting. She glared at me. “My mother is going to die because of you!”

I nodded, “Laws are laws, and it is wrong to break the law.”

“Is it wrong to want to eat?”

“How old are you, girl?”

“I am 8,” she was proud and straight in her defiance. I could suddenly see the warrior spirit flare up in this quiet girl.

“Tyva, it is not wrong to want to eat, but thieving is wrong. Your mother should have found an honest way to live. If she had come up and asked to take care of the horses, we might have paid her for that, but instead she tried to take our horses. Everyone gets a horse from the temple, and your mother already got her horse. These are our horse. You are lucky that Chrisin protected you from the guard after your mother tried to steal from us. Now come here and let me show you how to put this foreign garment on.”

“I don’t want to wear anything foreign.”

“You can get more clothing later, but this was what we got you without being able to have you along ok?”

The girl didn’t answer, but she came to me and let me help her out of her scraps. I helped her put the troublesome wrap on, and pinned her into it. I saw Darin handing money over to the pump lady as I lifted the girl up onto Sarak. I had to place the girl sideways on the horse because of how the wrap restricted her movement. She would definitely need easier to move in clothing. I would talk to the guys later to make sure they had a good plan for the girl.

I mounted up behind the girl, and held onto her so that she wouldn’t fall off. She was quiet, and her proud flare seemed to have died into quiet shock again.

I heard Chrisin tell Darin of my request and I saw Darin nod in response. He said something that I didn’t catch, and then we walked off again, but this time we were traveling into places that look more and more familiar until I recognized my house, and beside it was where Kyra used to live.

Chrisin and Darin stayed mounted, and I dismounted. Tyva stayed perched up on Sarak’s wither’s playing with his mane.

I walked to the door of Kyra’s house, and I knocked. A foreign woman answered the door, took in my dark warrior clothing, and asked, “What do you want?”

“I wanted to know if you knew what happened to the family who lived here previously.”

The woman nodded, as if she had heard that it was a common thing for people to come asking about families. “Healers are like fleas here, and only the best ones can get jobs. The rest starve in this city. Elsewhere though, healers are in short supply. The family that was here before said they were leaving to find a new city that wanted them. I offered them the advice that they should go to Cantilga, where I came from. Healers are well respected there. I don’t know where they went, but that is about all I can tell you girl. Now be off with you.”

I started to turn away, and the lady slammed the door shut. I wondered if she’d been questioned previously. I went back to Sarak and mounted up behind the girl waiting perched on the front of my saddle. I didn’t say a word to the guys, but they turned the horses back to the temple. My day in the city was almost up, and truthfully, I was glad. So much of the city just felt wrong. One day, I would change this city.

The girl fell asleep in my hold on the way back to the temple. Once we got there, I passed the girl to Chrisin, and asked, “What are your plans for her?”

“Well, I plan on taking her with me to work. People don’t mind healers having tagalongs as long as the tagalongs don’t get in the way.”

“What about clothing?”

“Umm, well...”

“Take her to a seamstress and tell the woman to outfit her. That way you don’t have to worry too much about what a girl needs for clothing.

“Umm, ok,” he started to turn away.

“And Chrisin.”

He turned back toward me cautiously, “yes?”

“If you have any trouble, bring her to me. I will look after her if you guys can’t. And in a year when you see me again, I will try and drag out the ever uncaring Kyra for you to meet.”

He nodded, and before he could thank me I rode up into the complex where I would spend another year in frustration. It was only fair that he would get to meet Kyra. Maybe then both of those boys would realize they had no chance with us.


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