Chapter 55: Blood Runs Thicker Than Water
Rancid smells of flesh and intestines rotting away teased my nasal nerves. My stomach recoiled and the contents within threatened to force their way out. I struggled to hold in the remnants of my last meal, but the onslaught of the stench on my senses did nothing to help me. Detestable taste of vomit coated my buds as I emptied my stomach. A cool hand pressed against the skin between my shoulder blades; tracing circular patterns and rubbing off some of the tension prevalent.
“Take a deep breath, El, and walk with me. The baby is making you hypersensitive, you need clean air.”
Alden urged me to move. His arms snaked around my body to provide me with much needed support. My vision was hazy, my head spinning, my knees week and my legs wobbly. A thick bubble of sorrow and pain had me deeply encased within as I found my senses returning.
In every direction that my eyes put up the effort to wander in, all that met my gaze were dozens and dozens of dead bodies; every single one in a certain state of decay. A handful of men holding on to life had busied themselves with the task of pilling up the flesh of dead and setting fire to it. In distance I could pick up the popping sounds of fire crackers but in my immediate vicinity all I could hear were the sounds of fire crackling and dancing onto the bodies left in its wake by the war.
Not giving me a chance to analyze every minute detail present in my surroundings, with gentle tugs Alden made me move away from the land littered with the remnants of the once living soldiers. The pair of us walked in silence; lost in our own set of thoughts. Alden steered us to a certain section of forest that had remained almost untouched by bloodshed. The air held no smoke, no soot, and no scent of death. The fragrance of herbs lingered in the atmosphere; working wonders to calm my nerves down.
Picking out a rather large rock placed under an aged pine tree, I made my tired body comfortable. Uttering no words, Alden joined me. Sitting next to me Alden placed his strong arms around me. Kissing the top of my head, he let out a deep sigh. His familiar scent of Sandalwood took me in its wrap; reminding me of the countless times in our childhood when my brother would hold me while I cried out my sorrows. The familiar sense of protection, safety and truly coming home, overcoming me with the embrace of my beloved brother, caused the dam to break. All the barriers that I had built brick by brick around my emotions since a while came crashing down in a useless heap. A continuous stream of tears began to pour down my cheeks. Sobs wrecked through my body; I struggled to pull in every single breath that connected me to life. Alden said nothing, just simply held me as I cried away my pain. The onslaught of my tears left his top in a wet mess, but he could not care any less.
All that had happened over the course of past few months flashed in front my mind’s eyes. I felt my heart bloom with love as I saw the images of Vincent spending moments with Caroline and Genevieve. A yearning of the strongest quality seared through my heart, body, soul and mind as the moments of togetherness Vincent and I had shared flashed in my mind. My heart shattered to million irreparable bits and pieces as I relived through the loss of Mr. and Mrs. Carter, Emily, Vincent and everyone who I had met and lost through my journey of finding justice for my people. My soul ripped one excruciating inch at a time as the betrayal hit me again and again. The jagged edges of my shattered trust and splintered illusion of life pierced my mind, as the words Andre and Adrian had spoken out constantly ringed in my ears.
For what felt like hours, I cried into my brother’s chest. I stayed stationary within his embrace even when I ran out of tears and the trails of it dried on my face. I struggled to take in gusts of air. Alden let his fingers slide through my hair in a repetitive manner till my breathing evened out and my tears stilled completely.
“El, there is so much that you need to know. Father wanted to talk to you the moment you woke up, but you needed time to yourself. However, now-“
“It is alright, brother. You do not need to justify anything. Take me to father.” I cut off Alden mid sentence. He nodded, and pushed himself off the stone we were perched on. Dusting his hands on his pants, he outstretched one hand towards me. Placing my hand in his, I allowed him to pull me to my feet. Moving in companionable silence we retraced our steps; ending up in the same clearing we had initially moved away from. However, this time we did not stop amidst the bodies on flames, but kept up our pace. Maneuvering through multiple piles of burning bodies, Alden led me to where I could see my father standing alongside the man who had previously introduced himself as Enock. Both had seemed to be in a deep conversation, but stopped once they saw me approaching. Father’s eyes looked onto mine; giving me the glimpse of all the love, concern, worry and weariness that swirled around in his mind.
“How do you feel, El?”
“Like a tornado crashed through my world, father.”
My voice cracked towards the end of my dialogue. A flash of pain and sorrow hooded the irises of my father, but he cloaked it fast enough. Stepping forward he took me in his arms and placed a kiss on my forehead.
“I wish, I could taken away all your pain,” he whispered, “I wished to take all the bad away from you since the day you came into this world, but what I want is not always what I get. At this moment all I have to say is that I am so terribly sorry for not being a good father; for not being present around you always and for not keeping all ills away from you at every possible cost. It is my fault that you underwent a series of terrible events, one after another, and I cannot tell you how sorry I am. I always put my duty to the king first and my family second, that cost you the most. I am so sorry, my beautiful daughter.”
The pain he carried within his soul did not fail to be expressed in every single word father whispered on my ear. I could feel his tears silently falling onto my hair. His words brought tears to my own eyes, but I refused them exit. I curled my arms around his torso, burying my face deeper into his chest.
“It is alright father, everyone makes mistakes. You and I both made some which caused us to get hurt, but on the bright side we did save the day. No evil scheming king got to sit on the throne.”
I titled my face up and gave my hero since day one a watery smile; tears shone in his eyes as a response. Just like that all the ills towering between a father and daughter came crashing to the ground, leaving us embracing each other with nothing but love.