Duty, Determination, And The Price Paid
For the rest of that evening, Elissa sat slumped and forlorn on one of the rickety old chairs in the kitchen and laid her head on the table, letting her long hair fall around her face and help hide her from the world. Dark’s laughter continued to echo in her brain and she couldn’t get his words out of her mind. She hadn’t been chosen as a champion for her people. She wasn’t sent here to honor some ages long promise or fulfill some debt to protect the kingdom.
From what she’d seen and experienced, there hadn’t been anyone else who’d stayed here for years besides The Darkness. Wasn’t someone supposed to be here constantly? One champion at a time, chosen from each land and people in some predetermined order, serving a ten-year duty and then being replaced by the one who came next? It’s what she was told, but not what she’d experienced. There hadn’t been a champion when she’d arrived. There hadn’t been anyone but The Darkness, sitting and rocking unceasingly in his chair, for no one knows how long! Even Dark himself was completely unreliable when it came to a matter of time – when one had a lifetime that stretched back to before the beginning and ending of multiple creations, what sense did they keep for hours, minutes, or even centuries?
Desperately, Elissa tried to find some reason for it all, or find some flaw in what The Darkness had told her, so she could discredit his words and thus lay her own doubts at ease. Lord Mourningblade had been like family to her. He was the one who had passed the duty down to her. Surely he wouldn’t have cast her here, if he’d known how meaningless the whole thing was. The Darkness wouldn’t hunt down her people and erase them from the world. He wouldn’t even get up to trim his own damn beard or hair! He was completely apathetic to everything around, except for his memories of the past!
She wasn’t protecting her people. She wasn’t making a noble sacrifice for the greater good. No matter how she looked at it, she had simply been sent here to be cast away and discarded as The Darkness laughed so merrily over. The only thing she couldn’t determine was why? Why discard her and send her to some giant junk heap in the middle of nowhere? Why not just kill her? Why had Uncle Moo warned her to lose the competition. Why? Why? WHY!
Disgusted and no closer to finding her answers or settling her mind than when she’d first stumbled into the kitchens, Elissa forced herself to go up as the shadows in the room were getting deeper in the evening. She may have been cast away like some sort of unwanted rubble, but the only one who could make her throw away her honor was herself, and that was something she wasn’t willing to do. She’d promised to return by sunset and submit herself to The Darkness. She wasn’t certain if he’d even notice if she failed to appear any more, but she knew she’d notice. Her honor was all she had left, and she was going to clutch onto it tightly.
Slowly, forlornly, Elissa shambled into the living room where The Darkness still rocked back and forth. Working her way across the floor, she slumped down to the grown and sprawled out invitingly before him. Closing her eyes, her mind drifted far away as she let her body submit to any carnal desire The Darkness might have for it.
The sun was shining higher and brighter in the sky than usual when Elissa awoke the next morning. Instead of getting up to bathe, clean, or tidy out outside and check on her plants she had growing, this morning she simply stretched and then stayed sprawled out, arms and legs wide apart, so The Darkness could continue to feast his eyes on her as much as he wished while rocking and overlooking her.
“Why me?” She finally asked, softly.
Dark said nothing. Sat unmoving except for the relentless rocking, deep black holes gazing down upon her, where his eyes should’ve been.
“You didn’t choose me,” Elissa mumbled, “and yet every night you take your passions with me. Why? Aren’t there others more skilled? Built more to your pleasure? You may not have chosen me to come here, but you could have anyone in existence as your partner at night. Why me?”
For several long moments Dark sat in silence and said nothing as he rocked and stared, while Elissa continued to wait patiently, sprawled out and on display, before he finally shrugged his boney shoulders. “Like all creatures, I too enjoy the act of procreating,” he explained, voice cold and gravelly. “You may be right,” he agreed simply. “Perhaps I may be able to have any I wish, but they are not here.
“They are not willing,” Dark emphasized, as he stopped his rocking and slid one bare foot up the inside of her legs to rub his toes across the center of her groin. “You are lacking in build and talents that others’ may possess, but you are here and you are willing.”
This time it was Elissa who was silent for a while, before she finally slid herself several feet across the floor closer to Dark’s chair. “I haven’t truly been willing,” she admitted softly, her lower lip quivering lightly as she struggled to find the proper words. “I haven’t been resisting, but I haven’t been truly willing either. I’ve resented your touch. Dreaded the nights. Hated the filling I awoke with each morning.”
“But, I endured for my duty.” A few quiet tears trickled down the corner of her eyes, running down the side of her head to fall and gently moisten her hair. “I allowed it, believing that my people would suffer if I didn’t,” she whispered softly. “You don’t even know who my people are, do you? Or where I come from?”
“Up.” Giving just a single word command, Dark rocked forward and held out his malnourished hand down to her. Taking it, Elissa uncertainly wiped at her tears with her other hand and let herself be pulled to him.
“Sit.” He commanded, not letting go of her hand. Elissa found herself wondering how she could fit her legs inside the narrow rocker and still face him as he seemed to be wanting. Frowning, she bit her lip lightly, and then placed her hands on his shoulders and half leapt up into his lap, legs awkwardly on the outside of the armrests of the chair.
“Like this?” she asked, wrinkling her forehead somewhat from the general discomfort, as Dark wrapped his arms around her to keep her from falling out of his lap as the chair lurched violently forward and backwards. Sitting as she was, she was now forced to stare into those endlessly black pits which were Dark’s eyes, and which always made her shiver uncomfortably.
“You are correct,” Dark finally admitted, his voice betraying no hint of emotion. “I do not know your people. Nor from whence you came.” Staring directly at her, he asked, “Do you seek to leave here, to return to them?”
Elissa stared back for several moments, trying not to blink any more than she possibly had to while peering into those endless deep pits. “Not anymore,” she whispered, feeling like a frog staring into the eyes of a snake. “Not until my time is up. Even if I was discarded, I accepted the duty. I shall not break it,” she asserted firmly.
There was another of the long pauses which she’d come to expect from The Darkness, before he finally nodded once. Voice cold and impossible to read, he asked, “You do not wish it. You do not accept it. You will not refuse it. Is that how it goes?”
“I didn’t accept it,” Elissa corrected, “but I will. Even if all my people believe me to be just trash and only worthy to be discarded here, I am not,” she asserted, voice growing louder and more confident as she spoke. “I am still a Knight of The Rose, champion of the people. I cannot, in my heart of hearts, believe that it was the people’s will for me to be discarded and forsaken.
“Someone, somebody is a position of power or authority, is playing a game with the knights of the land,” she continued, sounding more sure and certain every moment, “and I can only believe that their actions are selfish and dark in nature. A sickness is spreading in my land back home, and removing the champions of the academy is but a symptom of that disease.”
“Then does that not make you wish to return even more?” Dark asked, slowing the rocking till it stopped.
“It does,” Elissa admitted, “but I won’t. Returning now serves no good purpose. It would break my duty to serve for at least ten years. I would return discredited, my honor and name sullied. With no troops, no wealth, no authority, there would be nothing I could do but watch the darkness spread across my land and curse my own weakness.”
“I don’t want that. I won’t accept that,” she declared defiantly. “So I find myself at an impasse. My heart cries to help my people. My brain tells me I am powerless. My honor demands I finish my time here.” Hanging her head, she leaned forward and rested her head upon Dark’s shoulder.
“Even after my time is up,” she admitted, mumbling into his neck, “I doubt there is anything I can do on my own. I lack the strength, power, or knowledge. I could leave here and spend a lifetime searching the world on my own, and never find my way back to my people.”
“Help me, my lord,” she whispered, having a hard time to work up the courage to get the words out. “Lend me your strength.”
“Hmmmmm…” Dark let out a long, drawn out hum, while playing with her hair softly. “Why would I?” He finally asked. “What’s in it for me? The people do not want me. The gods do not want me. Much like you, I too am left here in this forgotten junk heap, unwanted and discarded by creation.”
Leaning back again, Elissa wiped a few tears from her eyes and then stared deep into his. “I have nothing to offer you,” she admitted softly, but determined. “No wealth. No lands. There is nothing in my possession which I could give to you, which you could not create for yourself.”
“Nothing, except me,” she finished, with a weak smile. “I can offer you my friendship. My trust. My companionship, and perhaps in time, even my heart. Lend me your strength, my lord Dark, and when I have fulfilled my duty to protect my people, I shall return to you, and stay by your side, for the rest of my days.”
Deep holes staring, Dark said nothing for several long moments as Elissa’s legs began to tingle and sleep from the awkward position they were in. Saying nothing, she forced herself to endure and never moved her gaze from his eyes.
“You still have to complete your time here,” Dark reminded her.
“I do,” she agreed. “Regardless of whether you’ll lend me your strength or not, I’ll stay for the ten years I had agreed to, no matter what. I’ll fulfill my duty here, before I return to fulfill my duty to my people. Besides,” she answered, a slight smirk forming at the corner of her mouth, “I still have to fetch you a beer.”
“Kakakakakakakak!” Dark suddenly burst out laughing and stood up, unceremoniously dumping Elissa on the ground. “Kakakakakakakak!” Stepping over her, he slowly strode to the doorway and gazed outside. With a dismissive wave of his hand, the rain and storm scattered instantly and a warm, gentle breeze blew across the clear blue sky.
“It seems,” Dark chucked, “that it may be time for this old one to stretch his bones once more. I accept your bargain.”
“Kakakakakakakak!” With another long series of his strange laughter, The Darkness stared out into the light for the first time in a very long time.