The Letter

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Summary

A world of magic and wonder is rendered on its knees under the rule of a tyrant king determined to follow in the footsteps of his father. His death is a necessity for the prosperity of Calanand, the assassination months in planning. On the eve of the day, unforeseen betrayal wreaks havoc that gets seventeen friends killed and everything begins to unravel. Left alone and full of doubt following these events, one woman struggles to move past it all as the job still needs to be done.

Genre:
Fantasy / Adventure
Author:
M. K. McElwain
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
28
Rating:
4.7 3 reviews
Age Rating:
16+

Correspondence of Disquiet

As Sarra flicked through letters, an expensive parchment, smaller than the others, caught her attention and her heart nearly stopped with its recognition. Her eyes glazed over the handwriting—beautifully intricate with sharp loops—unable to fully focus on it. She felt cold despite the early summer heat, hands clammy as she twisted her wrist to look at the back. In the middle, there it sat—a wax seal which confirmed her fear:

An impression of three eyes with no pupils.

She swallowed a lump in her throat as she dropped the letter back onto the desk and ran her hands over her tired face. She could feel the shallow dips of her cheeks and the puffy bags under her eyes from the worry and stress and pain she had endured for so long but dared not uncover any of the mirrors in the house to face her reflection. She had hoped to be done with this business, that the choice would never be presented before her as it was now. The last incident had been a mess. One last job turned disastrous over a nasty betrayal. So many dead . . . It was still unclear whether the motivation was for power or greed. Did it matter? The consequences of either were often identical in their destruction.

Sarra slumped in the stiff, wooden armchair that had once been her father’s as she mulled over her thoughts, staring at the parchment, candle burning away time beside her. This was the one chance she had to truly walk away if she wished it. No one would come for her or judge her. It was the same for all the others.

The old man’s words still rang clear in her mind when she thought of that last day they had all gathered. One final meeting in the wake of the dead and the blood that was still fresh on everyone’s minds. His old, tired, and hunched over form addressing what was left of them:

“Due to . . . the treachery of one of our own—and the deaths of seventeen of our most beloved friends . . . and . . . the failed assassination of King Wiliame . . . all oaths are pardoned. Should any of you choose it, you are free to walk away. So long as it is with a vow of silence for our secrets. I ask only that everyone think over this decision with grave sincerity.” He had paused for a long moment then, turning over his next words heavily in his mind. Sarra knew what he wanted to ask, that his determination for their cause hadn’t broken, but she felt no such conviction in herself as her hands had already began to shake. “I will send out letters one year from now and you may respond—or not. Let that be your answer.”

She felt conflicted. A part of her earnestly wanted to return, to help make a difference once again; be the hero she dreamed of as a child, even if the part she played was only a small one. Yet, the thought absolutely terrified her. She had no idea what to expect. Wilmot’s betrayal was much more than exposure of the Silent Eyes to the Crown, it was a seed of doubt and distrust. The first in over four generations that had answered the call before her. She hated him for causing her to always look over her shoulder in fear that the people around her were his spies, or that one of the others was in on it too and coming for the rest of them. How could she ever convince herself otherwise? That all the people she had once called friends—family even—everyone she had ever had confidence in, weren’t also capable of following Wilmot down the same path. How could any of them know? Wilmot was still alive. Praised as a hero. Elevated in society to a Duke. He had money and influence and the ear of King Wiliame himself.

Hesitantly, she grabbed the envelope and broke the seal. She would read its contents before making her final decision.

Sarra,

I don’t need to be there in person to know you feared this day more than the others. To receive my letter and come face to face with it all once more. Especially after all you’ve been through. Especially at the friendship the two of you once shared. I know that feeling well. I have spent much of this last year contemplating if bringing us back together would even be worth it. If it would not just be better for everyone to move on and let fresher faces answer the call in their own way. But I could never go through with it. I could never abandon the duty I’ve set upon myself. I cannot abandon our country and its people. Not now. Especially now.

I am glad that you’ve been staying in that old house and trying to repair it, your father and mother would be proud. But I worry your seclusion has left you ignorant. Our fears have come to pass. Wiliame is all but proclaiming his tyranny openly. I see it more and more with my own eyes every passing day. It is no longer safe to speak outside of our homes. And even then, I fear what ears might be pressed to the walls.

Know that you are under no obligation to return. I will understand if you simply choose to ignore this letter and I hope dearly that such a decision would not weigh too heavily on you or make you think less of yourself. For it is strength to know our own limits. However, if the call still rings in your heart, come to the ruins of Lathon under the first new moon of summer. You know the way.

M.

Sarra read the letter three times over before setting it back down. There wasn’t much time to prepare if she chose to go. The new moon was nearing and the ruins were deep in the wood to the south-east. The trip would be long even by horse, she would need to be quick and not make too many stops. But she was hesitant. Her hands trembled just as they had on that day. A part of her chided her inability to sort through the mail that she had taken from the courier nearly a month ago. The letter on top of the small stack handed to her had read her father’s name and she immediately discarded the lot onto a table in avoidance.

Going would be to leave behind everything and there was no guarantee of coming back. It would mean abandoning the house again and turning her back on all the memories it held that she desperately clung to. Forsake whatever normal life she might have had and accept that it just wasn’t her fate to stand idly by. To be a participant in something she had always believed in even when it meant risking it all.

Yet if she remained, she could rebuild what her parents had wanted for her. And, despite her incessant protesting to her mother when she was younger, maybe she wanted that for herself as well. A quiet life devoid of death and blood, where she knew the sun would rise the next day. A beautiful tomorrow where friends didn’t die and no one turned traitor. She could pretend like all was well, ignore the evil around her. Settle down and devote herself to some fool who would never be allowed to know her too intimately for fear they would turn on her as well. Boring and predictable—but utterly and completely safe.

Bitterly, Sarra reminded herself that either choice was followed by the constant fear of her identity being discovered. That was true even if she chose to do nothing and wither away, ignore both paths and rot in the crossroads; forgotten by history. Wilmot had given the names and descriptions of everyone in the Silent Eyes to the King and a bounty was on each of their heads. It was why the old man had insisted on keeping quiet for so long. That didn’t mean they were no longer being hunted, but it was at least with less fervor now.

Shame stabbed at her. Sarra knew the others had most likely done the same, but she couldn’t help feeling guilty that she hadn’t kept in contact with anyone. She had no idea if any had been discovered, or killed. Would the old man even know? What if he had sent out the letters without checking and the meeting was compromised?

Sarra scowled and pushed her chair back, standing and approaching one of the windows in the room. She felt cold and hollow as the choices before her tugged in opposite directions, threatening to rip her in two. She didn’t know if she had the strength to make such a decision. Every path she had taken led her to more graves, more bodies that rotten upon her soul and made her shoulders feel heavy.

The cold pressed in closer. The house was too empty; this study—which had once been her father’s—in particular felt much too still. She couldn’t help the paranoia that seeped into her bones. She saw shadows everywhere she looked and they startled her every time. Even when she expected them. But how much longer could she live her life in fear? The rest of it? She wrapped her arms around herself as she regarded the garden she had slaved so hard over for months now blooming beneath the window outside. The plants would wither and die without her here. All that work to carefully nurture them just to give up before harvest. The irony of it was not lost on her.

After a long moment, Sarra turned back to the room. There was so much memory here, so much life. This was where her father had worked, labored over documents and wrote letters; built a comfortable nest for his wife and daughters. Other rooms were memorials to her mother, sewings of flowers and paintings of fields and sunlight, a closet still half full of her dresses. The hallways whispered the laughter of Sarra chasing her sister out the front door, into the nearby field to pick wildflowers. She still didn’t have the courage to go into her room.

Then her eyes watched as that life turned grey and ashen around her. Her father’s books and papers had stiffened and rotted over the years, her mother’s creations were covered in a thick layer of dust, her dresses slowly eaten by moths, and there wasn’t a single item or impression left in the house to suggest that her sister had ever lived here.

A shiver ran down Sarra’s spine. There was sacrifice on both side. It was just a matter of what she could live with. And she knew she could never forgive herself if she turned her back on everything she cared about, everything she had fought for.

Not after all she had lost.

Slowly, Sarra made her way through the house, taking it all in. She ran a hand over the walls as she climbed the stairs, entered her mother’s painting room last and stared at the decaying canvas left in the easel that portrayed marigold and cornflower growing along the sides of her home, fireweed clustered across the front yard and vegetables growing in the garden. The dust made it look shrouded in fog, a little more and the image would disappear. She wiped a hand over it, cleaving a clean spot and allowing color to spill through. The old clothes line was faintly drawn at the side. She could hear her mother’s humming as she imagined her folding laundry.

Her heart ached.

Sarra descended the stairs with her hand sliding along the warped railing. It seemed to groan under her touch, the house sensing the turmoil within her, grieving her departure. Or was she just projecting? She packed everything she dared take with her. This time, the pang of guilt within her was for turning her back on the life her parents had tried to build and pass on. Eleven years they had been dead, but their memory still haunted her.

“I’m sorry . . .” she whispered as she saddled her horse, strapping her belongings to the back, and giving the house one last look before turning away.

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