The Silent Witness (Published)

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CHAPTER 22 - FEVER DREAMS AND A NEW GOD

The cries of a girl could be heard all over the forest, and Sërafinn found herself running in every direction, desperately looking for the lost child. Now and then, she would cry out for her aunt, Motiňa, to show her the way, but no answer came.

No matter how fast she ran, the crying seemed to drift further and further away. She yelled out in desperation but continued her search. Eventually, she came to the end of the forest and saw the little girl, whose expression showed she was terrified, lost and alone. Sërafinn gave her a reassuring smile, thinking of what Motiňa would say during the few times she helped children who were lost in the forests.

She slowly walked towards the girl to let her know that everything will be alright, but the little girl shrieked and ran back again, further into the forest. Sërafinn sighed out of frustration and began to run after her again. It seemed as if she was running forever when all of a sudden, the child’s cries came to an abrupt stop.

Sërafinn stumbled in her tracks and steadied her breathing, craning her ears to hear anything. She heard a commotion and took off again, stumbling across an open area in the forest where she came across a pack of wolves. The little girl was laying on the grass, covered in blood, her unfocused eyes staring into the sky. Sërafinn screamed and felt her clothes beginning to feel heavy and looked down. To her horror, she too was covered in gore, her hands soaked with blood dripping between her fingers. The wolves turned, smelling fresh meat and began howling. They sprinted towards their new prey.

Sërafinn raised her arm in a futile attempt to defend herself, waiting for the jaws to close around her arm, but everything became still. She dared to open her eyes and found herself on a vast, open plain.

She looked ahead and, to her relief, stood her father, Zethër. He was clad in armour and stood on top of a mound. He unsheathed his sword, Bright Star. She called out to him, but he didn’t seem to notice her. He was looking at something behind her, his expression grim yet resolute. She turned around and saw what Zethër was focusing on.

Thousands of men, armed for war, stood in formation and let out their battle cry. She noticed these men were as tall as the gods themselves.

She looked back at her father, who now raised Bright Star and gave the signal to Verontó, who raced forward in his war chariot across the sky, leading the Warriors of Evertheen towards the men behind her. She realised she was in the dead centre of the battle that took place between gods and men during the First Age - over three hundred thousand years ago. The war that ended their Age.

As the armies were about to clash, she screamed and fell to her knees, covering her head.

Sudden stillness overcame her, and she looked up. She was now in a cottage, worn down from years of neglect. Shaking violently, she looked down at her clothing and was wearing a nightshade woollen cloak, but there was no blood. Confused, she looked around and took in her surroundings. The cottage was sparsely furnished and had a thatched roof. She went outside to see if she could identify where she was but couldn’t. She looked at the skies to see the outline of Evertheen, but it was invisible to her. The cry of a baby broke the silence, and she screamed from shock. She went back into the cottage and found a crib in the corner.

That wasn’t there before?” She carefully walked towards the crib and found a newborn baby within it, wailing. She looked around to see if anyone would appear, but no one came. She looked back at the baby and saw it was a girl. Smiling, she gently lifted the baby out of the crib to calm her, but no sooner had she held the baby did she begin to slowly disintegrate in Sërafinn’s hands. Sërafinn shrieked and backed out of the cottage, stumbling and falling onto the grass, face up.

Sërafinn!

She got up and turned, looking around in a wild state of panic.

I know that voice!” She cried out for help.

Sërafinn! Come back to me!

She did know that voice! It was her sister!

“Samrósa!”

She began to weep with relief. A welcoming breeze stirred around her, and her body began to shake. The air became cool, carrying with it a sweet scent, and then… her eyes opened.

“Oh, Sërafinn, thank goodness!” cried Samrósa. She found herself in a warm, comfortable bed, surrounded by godlings, who were opening curtains, letting in the fresh air. She was shaking and found herself gasping for breath.

“What happened to me?” Samrósa was too emotional to answer, but Sërafinn remembered the little girl and the baby. She immediately sat up, and though it was painful, she grabbed her sister and asked in a frantic voice, “Where’s the baby? Why didn’t Motiňa guide the child out of the forest?! Why did Kafshëva allow her to be killed by a pack of wolves?!”

Samrósa was looking at her in utter confusion.

“What are you talking about?”

Sërafinn told her about the little girl in the forest, as well as the newborn baby in the cottage, and the final battle of the First Age. Samrósa tried to calm her sister down.

“You were having dreams!”

Sërafinn blinked. “I? What?” Samrósa took her sister into a crushing embrace and began to cry.

“I thought I lost you!” She whispered in her ear. “The fever took you, and Father wanted to heal you, but the risk was too great. What you experienced was what humans call fever dreams!” She turned to the godlings. “Bring her another jug of water! Quickly!”

One of them dashed out of the room, bringing a jug of cool water moments later.

“Here,” Samrósa said, offering her a cup of water. “Drink it all. Your fever has finally broken, and you’ve returned to us!” Sërafinn closed her eyes and gave silent thanks, easing herself back in her bed.

She felt the coolness of the wind and savoured it. Samrósa was idly stroking her cheek, still holding her hand. She never left Serafinn’s side. When the fever came, Zethër ordered the godlings to keep her temperature cool at all times, but it was Samrósa who took up residence in the villa and had a bed brought in next to Serafinn’s so that she could keep an eye on her.

Day in and day out, she helplessly watched her sister thrash in bed, sweating and screaming as she held her sister’s feverish hand. Other days she had to hold her down, crying and cursing at her helplessness. She would constantly speak to Sërafinn and shout her name in the hopes that somewhere, in her fevered nightmares, she would hear her voice and come back to reality.

She heard the many things her sister would mumble as she hallucinated, and there were frequent recurrences of a child. It was always a girl. She decided not to let Sërafinn know (at least not yet) about her constant nightmares of either a little girl or a newborn. She wanted her sister back to her, fully recovered.

After a while, Sërafinn asked feebly, “Where is everyone?”

Samrósa gently squeezed her hand. “We’ve all been here, taking turns in watching over you. Mother hardly left your side, and when she did, she’d watch over you from the Chart View.” Samrósa looked up and willed Evertheen into view. She focused on the grand palace and sure enough, Vězra was looking at them through the Chart View, tears rolling down her cheeks.

She looked back at her sister, who then asked, “Why am I on Barathørn? I want to be in my palace on Evertheen!”

She became agitated and tried to sit up. After helping her sit in a comfortable position, Samrósa began to relate to her everything that had happened. She could see it was a lot for Sërafinn to process.

Human minds are feeble,” she thought. “I hope this won’t break her in the state she’s in.”

After a while, Sërafinn looked at Samrósa with a glint of irritation.

You did this to me!”

Samrósa stood up. “I told you it wasn’t me! This is what happens when you break the Ancient Law! We all learned a hard lesson from this! You especially!” Sërafinn swayed, and Samrósa helped her lay down again.

“Love is very powerful,” Samrósa continued, taking her seat and gently combing her fingers through her sister’s hair. “I know why it happened. Mother told us what you confided in her at the Mark River.” On hearing this, Sërafinn let out a sharp groan.

“Why did she do that!?” Sërafinn felt sick, mixed with embarrassment.

“Because it was the only way I could make everyone understand what was happening to you,” Samrósa jumped out of her seat, and Serafinn’s eyes snapped open. There, in all her glory, stood Vězra. Samrósa composed herself and kissed her sister on her brow.

“I’ll leave you two alone. I promise to return,” Samrósa walked away from her sister’s bed towards the door.

Vězra gently took her hand. “Thank you for being here for your sister, my love.”

Samrósa looked at her and coolly replied, “It’s what families do, mother. They look out for each other!” Twisting her hand out of her mother’s, her form began to shimmer into a soft, blue light, floating towards Evertheen. Vězra sighed miserably.

“Mother!” Sërafinn sat up rather slowly. Vězra smiled and went to her, taking her into her arms and embraced her. She buried her face in her daughter’s hair and wept softly. Eventually, Vězra gazed into the face of her youngest child but saw her eyes were that of an ordinary human and her expression darkened, making Serafinn’s heart skip a beat.

“What?”

Her mother looked away. “Your eyes,” she whispered.

“What about them?”

Vězra looked back at her. “They don’t reflect the moon!”

Sërafinn began to panic, but Vězra placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“It’s alright. Your sister explained everything that has happened to you. Correct?”

Sërafinn nodded.

“Well then, know that in time, you will heal, and the moon will also be restored.” Sërafinn looked out the window towards the gardens, and then it dawned on her.

The moon! What’s happened to it?!”

Vězra went on to explain that after Sërafinn collapsed, the moon disappeared. When the gods were trying to bring order back to Evertheen and discuss the matter concerning the moon, it was Sælev and Færró who suggested that it may have retreated back to the Void after its connection to Sërafinn was severed.

Zethër ordered them to investigate. They raced along the skies in their golden chariots to the Void and more to Færró’s surprise than to Sælev, there it was, a tiny light in the same form as it was when Sërafinn and Sælev were first tasked to bring the lights back. Sërafinn was shocked.

“But the powers of the Great Six could refashion the moon without me! Not even the Great Six would be needed! Your power combined with Father’s would’ve sufficed!”

“We could have,” agreed Vězra, “but decided it was best to leave it be. Once you have fully recovered, the moon will return. Only then will we know without a doubt that order and balance have been restored!” Sërafinn thought for a while. She looked at her mother with a grin on her face.

“I suppose Ismińa is up in arms with all the theories going on about there being no moon!”

Vězra allowed herself to laugh. It had been a long time that she felt light at heart, and she relished in it.

They sat in content silence until Sërafinn asked the dreaded question.

“How is Daris?” Vězra clenched her jaw.

“What about him?” She asked, rather sharply. Sërafinn quickly altered her question.

“What I meant was, how did it go with the wedding between Joshen and Ysha? It must’ve been a beautiful sight to see!” Sërafinn gave her mother an innocent smile.

Vězra eyed her but silently gestured with her hand, and the entire wedding scene took place before their eyes. It was as if they were looking into one of Verontó’s display cabinets.

Sërafinn marvelled at the beauty and grandeur, and it saddened her that she missed out on so much. She also noticed that her mother intentionally omitted the scenes that would evidently have contained Daris in them.

After Vězra showed Sërafinn the whole ceremony, including the events before and after, she looked at her daughter with a stern expression.

“I told you,” she began, “I warned you before that you’re too fond of humans! I thought everything was made clear that day at the Mark River!

Sërafinn swallowed. She knew this was coming.

“Mother, please...” she began.

“Do you see now why we can’t be amongst them?!” Vězra’s voice began to rise. “And yet, after everything that has happened, you ask how is Daris?

Sërafinn looked away and began to feel dizzy and found herself leaning dangerously from the comfort of her bed. A godling quickly came and eased her back into bed, covering her. She bowed to the Queen of the gods and left the room.

“You see,” Vězra remarked. “These feelings weaken you. How do you hope to regain your celestial essence if this is what happens to you by the mere mention of his name?!” Sërafinn blinked back tears. She turned to face her mother.

“Then tell me. How do I stop these feelings?” Vězra looked out the window, and Sërafinn could see her mother was in anguish.

“If only I could just snap my fingers and make everything normal again!”

Sërafinn sat up and grabbed her mother’s arm in desperation. “Then do it!”

Vězra recoiled. “And risk seeing you die before my eyes?!” Sërafinn swayed, and Vězra caught her, helping her to lay back. Her expression softened. “This is a journey only you can take! I cannot do this for you. Know that in my heart, I yearn for you to be back home again. But it simply cannot be done! Not by me, but by you!” Vězra sounded almost desolate. Sërafinn reached for her mother’s hand, who in turn took it as if it were her lifeline. Her daughter’s life was in the balance, and it broke her heart seeing Sërafinn in such a weakened state.

“Samrósa can teach me how to unlove a person,” suggested Sërafinn.

Vězra laughed feebly and resumed her seat next to the bed.

“Love cannot simply be wished away! It’s a process. But yes, speak with her, but no godly powers are to be used! Promise me!”

Sërafinn weakly lifted her mother’s hand to her lips and kissed it.

“I promise!”

* * * * *

As the ship reached the shores of the Malcøme Islands, Alkan took another look at the night sky.

Still no moon?” He thought. It had been over three weeks since the moon had last been seen, and reports had been flooding in of people panicking all over Barathørn.

According to those who lived on the Pøntam Islands and the village of Pass Nøtt, they believed the gods were angry with them and were ready to strike them down at any given moment. That fear quickly spread east.

However, no sooner had the moon disappeared, so too did the maelstroms and tsunamis come to a sudden standstill. The people of the Little Turn Islands and those who dwelt on the Malcøme Islands believed that the phenomena were caused by Tengër, believing it to be the ’quiet before the storm’. Alkan snorted at their superstitions.

His thoughts suddenly turned back to how Queen Shafis had rebuked him and his men, and his mood darkened. He could still hear the men on the bridge and outposts laughing as their horses galloped towards Caper Løck.

She will pay dearly for what she has done!” He vowed, his knuckles turning white while holding onto the ship’s railing. He remembered when they made camp not far from Sajanell Døørs. He was breaking everything he could get his hands on in his tent. Elarosh rushed in to see what all the commotion was about.

“She’ll pay with her life!” He yelled. “I will see her die by my hand!” Elarosh stood there, not knowing what to say that would ease his king’s anger, when a thought suddenly came to Alkan’s mind.

“How is it,” he slowly remarked, trying to regain his breath, “that you, out of everyone else, were unscathed by that woman’s scheme?” Elarosh stiffened, and Alkan saw it. He lunged forward and grabbed his face, jerking him to face him.

“You were conspiring with her against me, weren’t’ you?!” He saw fear in his old advisor’s eyes.

“No, Your Majesty! I would never do that!” Alkan wasn’t moved.

“You lie!” Alkan struck him, and he fell to the ground. He kicked Elarosh in the ribs, feeling them crack from the force of his inner anger. He kicked him over and over again, in the face, his back, legs, anything he could get a kick in. Finally, out of breath, he called the guards to pick the advisor up and face him. Elarosh was bleeding profusely, holding his ribs with bloodied hands.

“Look at you!” Alkan taunted him. “How are you supposed to go to the Grand Ambassador and announce my arrival looking like that!?” He took a wine cup and smashed it across Elarosh’s face. The advisor was lying on the floor, bleeding and mumbling incoherently. Alkan went down on one knee and pulled Elarosh by his hair, almost snapping his head off his shoulders from the brutal force.

“What did you say?” Elarosh spat out a few teeth, blood dripping from his mouth.

“I said… my cousin… will never let you enter the capital now!” Alkan was taken aback. He loosened his grip on Elarosh’s hair and got up.

“Your cousin?” The old advisor looked up at him, one eye already swelling closed where the cup had struck him.

A weak smile came across his face.

“That’s correct, Your Majesty! When my cousin sees what you’ve done to me, you’ll prove him right and openly declare what he always thought of you... An enemy of the capital!”

Alkan looked at the guards, but their expressions didn’t give him an explanation. They didn’t know who the advisor was referring to. Alkan gestured for them to pick him up again. By now, Elarosh was half conscious but aware enough to give Alkan a satisfied smirk.

“I demand to know who your cousin is!” Alkan was shaking with anger.

“You know him well,” came Elarosh’s reply. “You made a sacrifice in his garden! And… out of respect for him, and in memory of his older brother - who was also my cousin - Queen Shafis stayed her wrath from me!”

Alkan, whose eyes began to widen from shock, backed away and knocked into the Centre pole that held up his tent. He felt as if a tsunami crashed into him.

“Gren Velthor is your cousin!”

Elarosh laughed weakly, then passed out. The guards let him fall to the ground. For a while, Alkan didn’t know what to think or do.

“We should kill him!” said one of his guards. “Send his head to the Grand Ambassador!”

Alkan toyed with the idea, but he’d already changed his plans. He first thought of returning home to Caper Løck and muster an army from his kingdom, Lan Carvi, and Waters Field. However, ever since the phenomenon concerning the missing moon and the seas being unpredictable, he decided to change course.

“No! I need the Løng River to find a boat and ferry us to the Straights Øf Dale Førd. We’ll then hire a ship and set sail for the Malcøme Islands. We can’t pass through Sajanell Døørs. We’re too few in number, so we’ll have to travel around the capital, staying out of sight from their outposts. We’ll keep him until we set sail.”

He looked at Elarosh, but his thoughts were racing. The guard pointed at Elarosh.

“What should we do with him?”

Alkan looked up and grinned. “We’ll send him off to his cousin in the same way the great Queen Shafis sent us!”

“Hail! King Alkan Lothbert of Caper Løck!” Alkan’s thoughts snapped back to the present. The island magistrate greeted him warmly, and many came to see the king who said not too long ago that he would come and ’save’ them. “I’m magistrate Lugman, Your Majesty. Kegen Lugman, at your service!” He bowed deeply. Alkan thanked him for receiving him and his host. “I must confess, Your Majesty. We were not expecting you for some time.” Kegen continued. “In your letter, you stated that you were first travelling to Marpøøn Gantal, then to Rake Turf, undertaking the pilgrimage to Yearn Answer, and only then would you be able to visit us.” Alkan didn’t answer Kegen, who quickly put in, “but we are thankful all the same!” The people on the shores were craning their necks to see him.

Finally, Alkan gathered himself and replied, “Yes. I was supposed to go to Rake Turf and take the yearly pilgrimage - which would’ve been my first experience seeing the Thenin. But certain… events took place that couldn’t be ignored.” He looked up at the night sky. “Let it be Shafis. You think I’m deluded? So be it!

He looked at the magistrate. “What do you make of that, Kegen?”

The young man looked up at the clear night sky and said, “We’re all baffled! We don’t know what the gods are up to. But if truth be told, we’ve all felt of late that they have abandoned us.”

Alkan smiled. “They did!” Many of the bystanders came nearer to hear. He raised his voice for all to hear him speak. “The gods have all abandoned you, except for one!” He heard people murmuring amongst themselves. “The gods lied to you!” His voice rang clear. “There were never thirteen Evertheenians! There are fourteen of them! The one, which priests and scholars vowed never to tell you, as it would be deemed as blasphemy!” He had their attention now.

Someone from the back shouted, “Who is the fourteenth Evertheenian?” Silence filled the air. Only the breaking of waves could be heard.

Alkan raised his arms and proclaimed, “It is I! Alkan Lothbert! I have finally come to live amongst my beloved creation!” And with that, the people cheered and chanted his name, and all knelt before their new god.

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