Chapter 61: Houses of Healing
Colin heard the thunder roll one last time before the darkness parted and sunlight broke through the clouds. Beyond the Ambassador’s Square the morning light glided across Gilead’s harbor and every Amorite ship, save Avery’s, was set ablaze as if it were a matchbook coming too close to a flame. The remaining warriors nearby screamed in horror and fled from the light into the shadows of adjoining alleyways.
Colin turned to Alexandra’s body and saw Egan held her head, tears rolled down his cheeks. Balaam sat next to him, staring bleakly at her.
“She’s gone. I couldn’t save her. I . . .” Egan started.
Colin ran his hand across her face and let it fall to his side.
There in his pocket, he felt something soft, the leafy fold he had taken from the dead tree. He pulled it from his pocket and opened it to reveal that the small amount of the balm was still intact. He looked up. It was meant for his mother, but that was another time, another world. He looked around and saw the ruin of Gilead. Now more than ever, the people needed her. You need her too.
Colin took the resin. “I’ve seen enough death today.” He ran it across the deep cut on Alexandra’s neck, pressing the last of it to her lips.
The bleeding slowed and stopped, and before their eyes the wound mended. Her face filled with color again and her chest rose with breath.
Egan gasped, then smiled through his tears, and Balaam’s ears perked up.
“I’ll stay with her,” Colin said, placing his hand on Egan’s arm. “You have a job to do, Chief.”
Egan nodded, rubbing the tears from his eyes, then turned and called out, “Awaken Gilead! Call forth the watchmen!”
His voice resounded across the square and within moments the news spread across the city. The retaking of Gilead was at hand.
* * * * * * * *
Alexandra gazed at the first sunrise in over a year. Like a long-absent lover finally returning, its warm rays kissed her face, and for a moment, made her forget her cares. She turned back to her bed to reluctantly wait for more news. Egan had insisted she mend for a time before she takes on any other duty and she knew he was right. Her wounds had completely healed save for a small scar at her neck, and a few bouts of exhaustion. From the reports given Egan and his men had routed and killed the few remaining Amorites within the city walls for nearly two days. In that time, the wounded were tended, and search parties were formed to scour the wreckage for survivors. Several of the citizens came forward to give aid in each district. Her father’s body was soon found. Despite the stroke of Molek’s club, he was unscathed and intact, hugging his sword to his chest, as if he was sleeping in the Maker’s hands. Days later, she found Absalom recovering in the healing tents. There at his side lay Rustag, battered and broken, but alive. The privateer watched over his sleeping friend.
“I owe him more than I can repay,” Absalom said to Alexandra as she approached.
“Then that makes you friends,” She replied and sat next to him.
“It’s not a bond I’m eager to carry,” Absalom quipped. “Though I’m glad I could help him, and you. If only to bring some order to this place again.”
Alexandra paused. She had been there, listening, when Absalom had spoken with her father. There were wounds here she had no idea how to mend. “If things are to be set right, it should start with us.”
The rogue folded his arms as he met her gaze.
“You’re family,” she continued. “It’s long past due that you be treated as such.”
Absalom’s expression softened a little and for a time the brother and sister looked on at their injured friend in silence.
A day later, Avery buried his wife on the bluffs near Samuel’s old hut. Alexandra stood next to Colin and others, unsure of what to say.
“She always loved the ocean,” Avery said as he stood over her grave. “I’d hoped one day we could build a home of our own here, but I could never scrape together the money for it. I didn’t deserve her.”
“You were all she wanted, Avery.” Alexandra put her hand on his shoulder. “You were there, and that’s all that mattered.”
The following morning at dawn, the people of Gilead walked down to the shore. There on a floating pyre, they placed King Braeden’s body, which the remaining skiffs pulled past the breakers before it was set free for the tides to pull out into the ocean. Three women stood to the side of the crowd and sang a dirge and a song of redemption. Their melodic voices carried across the shore. A line of soldiers held their oil dipped arrows nocked and at the ready.
Alexandra turned to Colin and Egan, standing nearby, struggling to hold her emotions in as she pulled the King’s sword, Teacht Riocht, from the scabbard at her side. Her father’s name was now etched onto its surface.
“I’m sorry, Alex . . . if it means anything,” Colin whispered.
“It does,” she said and raised the blade overhead before lowering it to signal the archers. A torch was passed among them and within moments a hundred flaming arrows hit the pyre and set it aflame. “He was imperfect, but he loved this place. He loved me.”
Egan turned towards the crowd. “The king is dead! Long live the queen!”
The trumpets of Gilead blew as she watched her father’s cradle be enveloped by flame and water. She looked down into her hands and wondered at the great conch that Dagon had risked everything for. Such a strange prize to covet. We must take the time to find the answers in the Logos. Samuel saw something there. But prophecies were seldom deciphered easily, it was a mystery they might never understand. Such was the motive of all evil things -- to corrupt what is beautiful, to destroy without regard. And so much had been lost. She turned to her friends. Egan looked past her to the pyre, Colin caught her gaze and smiled. Why would anyone risk so much? Give everything for so little in return? she wondered as she smiled back at him. Perhaps there was more to value than what was apparent. Perhaps even in this dark world, there were beacons of light.