Deerward – Chapter 1 – ‘Silver Fir’
“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.”
― Victor Hugo
I’ve never been afraid, for I always knew I was stronger; powerful
enough to crush any single enemy. But to your power, my son, I can but
bow… for I feel it is greater than anything; it is a power coming from the
very depths of your soul. But remember this: Do not start having dreams
just yet, for the darkness is ever deeper just before the dawn. Even when
your heart is shattered though, never let your hope perish; for it will
come to you after dawn.
The snow fell softly and covered Silver Fir like a white magical dust. The moon’s pale blue light stretched across the triangular rooftops and down onto the cobblestone streets. The pine trees embraced the whole city as the moonlight drew long shadows from their shapes that streaked over the beautiful town like tall figures. The ice-cold air engulfed me and for a while I thought it would freeze me to my very bones. As I walked hastily among the narrow backstreets of Silver Fir I suddenly heard a woman’s voice, calling at her children.
“Come back inside now, it’s too cold,” they went running back into the little house while the lady gave me a grim look and forcibly shut the door behind her.
I walked towards the inn, surrounded by the smell of burning pine wood, wafting out of the chimneys of the charming houses all around. The streets were empty at this hour, when the temperature was cruelly low and the night had already put on its darkest cloak. The only sound was the wind, mercilessly whipping and clawing away at the wooden homes.
As I took the next turn a bright appeared up ahead, followed by music and singing from the inn, echoing around the neighborhood. Slowing down my pace I walked to the entrance and pulled down the hood of my cloak, opening the door and letting myself in. The music, laughter and songs were cut off abruptly as the waitress stopped short of serving the two large mugs held in her tiny hands. Most of the guests of the inn were looking at me with resentment, showing me all too clearly how unwanted I was there. I was about to just turn around and leave, but Andrianna’s voice came loudly.
“Alcander, don’t go please! You are welcome among us,” she said smiling, and pointed at an empty seat in the table of the company that was “waiting” for me.
Hesitantly I moved towards their table and stiffly sat on the wooden chair there, but Eadric, Andrianna’s older brother, immediately got up and, giving me a hateful look and walked out of the inn.
“Don’t mind my brother, he just can’t understand that you’re different from your brothers and mother,” Andrianna said, encouragingly hitting my back.
“Don’t worry Andrianna; I’ve had much worse…” I dryly replied.
“There are people in town that really like you though! To them you’re the best buddy eh!” Methodios said laughing, spreading bits of food as he spoke still chewing down like a horse and looking rather buzzed from too much beer he evidently had gulped down earlier. Truly, looking at him made me smirk for a second and forget the tension that pervaded the inn’s air since the moment I set my foot there.
“Only madmen would keep you company,” said a large woman amidst the patrons, and I just lowered my head in response.
“Pay them no mind, Alcander. Just act pretend you didn’t hear it,” Andrianna urged friendlily.
“Thanks for the support, Andrianna. You and Methodios are without a doubt the only friends I have left… or rather, the only ones I ever had,” I replied gloomily.
“Don’t be so negative! I know people spit and swear out in the streets, and I know it often feels like they all hate you. But truth is that none of it is your own fault, Alcander. It’s not of your doing that your mother, the queen, has enslaved the whole country. Your heart is different – it is warm and just,” Andrianna said and compassionately held my hand.
“I just can’t take it anymore, Andrianna. On one hand I understand the people’s outrage, living under the fear, cruelty and tyranny of my mother Charna and her army – it’s only natural they would think no better of me. But on the other, I feel trapped and powerless before this situation, and it’s depriving me of all my dreams and of any hope for leading a normal life.”
“Your mother is a monster – and so are you and your siblings!” the furious woman wailed on, as I fought to keep my calm.
“Please ignore her Alcander, I beg of you!” Andrianna pleaded on.
“You know what hurts me the most? That I can’t help agreeing with them! They’re right – my mother is a heartless hag… and there’s nothing I can do about it!” I said, gritting my teeth with anger.
“Well I don’t agree with them. You are not like Nicodème or Phaedra – you’re more like the opposite of them, Alcander! You never tortured innocent villagers, you never murdered and you never mistreated anyone. You never embraced your mother’s ways like your brother and sister do. You were always on the people’s side. Your sister has turned out spoiled and extremely irritable like Charna and your older brother is just as bad; following in Charna’s footsteps, mesmerized by her domineering demeanor. But fortunately you are different – and unfortunately the people’s outrage has fallen upon you as well,” Andrianna said with a sigh.
“But it is the outrage of the people that is tearing me up inside, day after day… please believe me Andrianna, I really love my brother and sister. I could care less of my wicked mother though. I am not sure if it is simple hatred I feel for her, but I know for sure that I want to be free of her,” I added with a heavy heart.
After a while a young man entered the inn, apparently looking for his mother among the patrons. She turned out to be a woman sitting on the table next to ours. She rushed to him when she saw him and, after embracing him, gave him a bundled up meal. He thanked her and told her it would be a hard night, since he was assigned for guard duty at the city gates. This tender picture revived the long dead child within me, and I felt jealousy, as I was myself deprived of any kind of motherly love by Charna. During my childhood, she was either absent or completely uncaring when present. Even when I was gravely ill she would not care whether I lived or died. As I grew up, I started questioning what I had done wrong. Had some deed of mine cause her to hate me, showing no love to neither me or my siblings? I often found myself comparing her to the mothers of other children, who seemed to be both tender and dedicated. Fortunately the servants and workers of the castle were there to be my sole family, the people that actually helped me grow up and cared for me when I really needed it.
“I wonder what my life would be like if my father still lived,” I told Andrianna, who seemed lost in her own thoughts, and she turned and looked into my eyes.
“Speaking of that… has Charna told you nothing of the fate of your father?” she inquired.
“On the rare occasion that Charna would speak of him, she would reveal as little as she could. We only know that he died in some battle when I was a but an infant, and even my brother and sister were too young to remember him. Whenever I tried talking to her about it she would immediately change the subject, refusing to speak of the past until she burst into a fit of anger,” I said with a dejected sigh.
“Did you try looking into it yourself? Find some information, or anything related to him?”
“Of course I tried… when I was little I sneaked into her chamber once when she was absent, manically going through her things and the little wooden chests she had, looking for any kind of clue about my father. She caught me red-handed, shuffling and making a mess, and beat me mercilessly, to the point where she almost killed me,” I said, feeling a shiver crawl up my spine as I remembered that scene.
“Unbelievable! That woman is mad – she’s a monster in human shape, no doubt about it! How could she bludgeon a small child like that!” Andrianna exclaimed.
“At least I got lucky, then; the servants found me a few hours later, lying bleeding on the floor, and managed to save my life. The palace women knew some hearth medicine and managed to nurse me back to health. I survived, but the child’s heart in me was forever maimed…” I said, still feeling repulsed by the memory.
“You had a nightmarish childhood, my friend. Charna was always an obstacle to all the goals you set. I remember well, back when you were training swordsmanship with that good ol’ mentor of yours… when Charna finally found out you had been training under him for years out in the forest she was furious! She had him arrested, tortured without mercy and locked up in a rat-infested dungeon for a month straight. We didn’t see you at all during that time,” Andrianna added, and my mind became once again lost in a sea of unpleasant memories.
“Lost in thoughts, Alcander?” came Andrianna’s voice, suddenly blowing away the dust of hurtful memories and sadness that had settled upon me for a while there.
“I don’t want to see you looking you so sad; come, smile a little – it’s free you know!”
“Have some beer and it’ll set you right up lad!” urged Methodios, obviously tipsy and started dumbly yet cheerfully singing some folk song without even remembering the words right. He then went on standing up and crudely dancing, the sheer amount of beer having relaxed his muscles to the point of making his every move completely out of timing and place.
In an instant I started feeling mellower and ready to have some fun, free of dark thoughts that would surround my mind, all thanks to my beloved company, Andrianna and Methodios.
Andrianna is exactly my age, twenty. She is sometimes confused for a male, as she has something manly about her, both in the way she speaks and the way she moves. Her body is muscular and her interests mostly have to do with swordsmanship, street fighting and other such pursuits usually popular with men. Her long amber hair, her bright emerald sweet eyes and dense freckles are the only things about her that make her look somewhat girl-like.
Methodios on the other hand is the complete opposite of Andrianna, to the point of making me think that he has the girl’s role and she the man’s. He is a year younger than us, blond, fairly chubby with intense blue eyes shaped like they are permanently smiling and cheeks like bread buns. He is a great lover of food and sleep and is particularly lazy when it comes to actual work. His soul is that of a child and his heart of pure diamond and under his goofiness that no one takes seriously I believe that in times of need he is the most rational and mature of all.
“I hope you feel better now. As you can see, tonight’s show is quite entertaining!” said Andrianna, pointing at Methodios and then tried to change the subject.
“You know that you’re very important to me Alcander. Events may have caused you to lose your spirit, but don’t forget that you have two good friends here for you. I myself will never forget that day, years ago, when you saved me from certain death in the forest. Those wolves would have torn me to pieces had you not showed up there for your daily hunt. Remember how unfairly I was treating before that? I couldn’t stand even the sight of you… but since that day, when you bravely rescued me, my opinion of you was forever changed,” said Andrianna, her smile radiating with gratitude.
“I wish Eadric could realize how good your intentions are,” she added, and I held her hand understandingly.
“Don’t worry, Andrianna; I understand how your brother feels. Charna’s loyal “lapdog”, Slaughterer, murdered your parents at her orders, for reasons that remain even now unknown. It’s only natural Eadric would come to hate me…” I said sadly, as Andrianna’s face took on a painful expression.
“I’m sorry… I shouldn’t be mentioning anything about that. I apologize,” I said and she simply nodded, showing that she didn’t mind.
“Although we were orphaned at a young age, Methodios’ parents soon took up the responsibility of raising us. We were lucky in that,” she added with a smile.
“Did I ever tell you about how we used to spend hours and hours out in the forest secretly hunting with the little chubby-boy there?” I asked her, changing the subject.
“Yes, I heard. Methodios’ parents though were always against the friendship you two had. In the end though, you managed to win them over. Bringing food to their little home from the castle cellars every so often was a generous gesture on your side. They soon grew to understand how different you are from your siblings.
“Tri-la-ri-la-ro!” went Methodios’ incomprehensible singing, again disrupting the conversation. He had by now lost all sense and was just spurting random words, much to the enjoyment of the laughing customers as Andrianna was trying her best to make him settle down.
“Come on, enough now, you’re making a fool of yourself!” she scolded him, trying to pull him down to his chair and stop dancing like a court jester.
“Oh Andrianna, I sometimes wonder where your moustache is at!” he jested on as people wouldn’t stop laughing.
“And I wonder when you’ll finally explode with all that food and beer!” she shouted back, trying to take away his mug before he gulped it all down. But Methodios turned swaying to the waitress coming towards out table and loudly burped next to her face. Disgusted, she pushed him away and he crashed onto the nearest table, flipping it and its plates and mugs over, falling down with his large belly pinning an unlucky customer’s face to the floor. This time I couldn’t help myself; I burst out laughing out loudly, to the point where my own stomach started hurting as everyone in the inn joined in. The mere sight of the unconscious Methodios sleeping on top of the helpless man he had squashed while he in turn called for help was beyond humorous.
“That’s good Alcander, smile some more – it looks good on you!” said the waitress, finally managing to reach our table and put a large mug of beer next to me.
“I’m trying,” I simply replied.
“Well keep at it, because when you do smile you look handsome like the bright sun I’ve never seen,” the waitress said nostalgically and a wave of sorrow came crushing over me once again. This land is like it’s cursed, I thought. On one hand is my malevolent mother and the other the winter that has haunted all of Emerald for good. My eyes automatically turned and focused outside the window, on the snow falling swiftly; a unchanging scenery.
“My grandfather used to describe the blue sky, the sea and the summer, when Emerald was a true paradise… a green, fertile land. Before he passed away grandpa would talk of such things, telling me how this country was named after the precious green gemstone because of its vibrant green nature. But let’s stop repeating the same old story,” said the waitress sadly.
“I myself wish we’d speak of it all the time; even though Emerald has been plunged into eternal winter for many long years, for me spring and summer still remain in my heart,” I added, my mind filled with beautiful images of seasons I craved to see.
“Don’t you think it’s strange that no one of our generation has ever seen the sun on a blue sky? Only the elders now remember and tell us tales of the other seasons,” the waitress said with a melancholic sigh.
“It feels like a fleeting dream, to wake up one day without the cursed snow falling endlessly outside the window,” I said and turned away, upset at the helplessness of it all.
“Yet our city, Silver Fir, was built on the base of a mountain, surrounded by pines and rivers, Alcander. I am sure that a blessed place like this was surely full of green splendor once… the true heart of that paradise,” the girl said, letting tears flow from her eyes.
Suddenly Andrianna’s yelling was heard throughout the inn.
“Get up, you lump of pork!” she exclaimed as she tried lifting Methodios up, who was already sleeping deeply and snoring annoyingly loud, as the customer under him was trying to wiggle free. People started laughing again but then entered an unwelcome figure that completely crushed the cheerful air of the inn. It was Slaughterer, along with two soldiers, standing by the inn entrance. The mere sight caused everyone present to stop even their own breaths and suddenly all that could be heard was the obnoxiously loud snoring of Methodios.
“I hear quite a bit of laughter. What happened? When the cat’s away, the mice can play?” Slaughterer asked sarcastically. Large, with long grey hair and beard and black, wolf-like eyes, he would always instill fear on those around him. The deep scar on his right cheek and the giant axe he always carried only added to his creepy outlook. I volunteered first, as nobody else would speak.
“We were just having a little fun; we did nothing wrong,” I said apologetically.
“Laughter upsets me,” he replied dryly. It was certain that there was something wrong with Slaughterer, particularly his mind. Nobody knows about his past or his real name, so all call him by his nickname but mostly avoid talking to him. Slaughterer is fear itself in Silver Fir; he is the queen’s “faithful hound” as they call him, and a cold-blooded murderer.
He looked around for an empty table for himself and the soldiers but to no avail, as the inn was completely full. He then went on forcing a group out of their table without the slightest hint of civility and sat heavily on a chair as if he was in his own house.
“Bring us beer!” he gruffly commanded the waitress while the other patrons turned their gazes away, knowing that if they kept only staring they would only make him angrier. Meanwhile, seated in a small table in a corner was an old man that seemed to have been glimpsing at strangely me ever since I walked in. Of course, everyone did so usually, but the look of this old man was different; he seemed to be looking for a chance to come and talk to me for some reason.
“Why’s the beer taking so long!” shouted Slaughterer as the waitress hurried as much as she could to fill the mugs from the keg.
“Hurry up already!”
She, in her rush to carry the beer to them, accidentally dropped the mugs onto the floor.
“Imbecile!” Slaughterer exclaimed.
“A thousand apologies sir, I didn’t mean to…” said the young girl fearfully.
“Clean up the floor now and then you’ll bring me new mugs,” he ordered.
“Yes, of course sir. I’ll get the mop right this instant,” she said trembling.
“Mop? What’d you need that for? You have a tongue don’t you? Lick it up, slave!” Slaughterer shouted, grabbing her by the hair and trying to press her head against the floor. Everyone was frozen still and the only sound in the inn now was that of the girls present almost sobbing at the sight of the poor girl, that was now shedding tears down onto the floor like droplets of rain.
“Enough already! You’re going too far, leave that girl be!” I shouted, ready to burst with anger.
“Oh please, spare us the whining, brat!” he replied, brushing my intervention away. Yes, even as a prince I never had the authority to give any sort of order to my mother’s servants. I was nothing to both her and her henchmen.
The girl slowly started to lick the beer off the floor while crying. It was then that a brave patron pulled out a large dagger and, mad with fury, charged against Slaughterer.
“You blasted tyrant!” the brave man exclaimed, but before he could even get close enough to attack, Slaughterer flung his great axe, which sank into the poor man’s abdomen, spraying blood all over. The women present started screaming in horror and chaos ensued.
“Let this be a lesson so that nobody else ever tries anything like your compatriot here did.” Slaughterer, in a few large strides left the inn, followed by the soldiers. Andrianna rushed and helped the shock-stricken girl off the floor.
“Easy, now, calm down girl,” she told her, whipping the tears off her horrified face with a dry piece of cloth. I stood in the middle of the inn, and everyone’s eyes were upon me.
“Why, Alcander? Why? You’re a prince, couldn’t you have done something to stop this tragedy?” shouted a young man.
“If you’re really different from your family as you say and as many seem to think, why don’t you do something to prove it?” another girl said sarcastically, trying to corner me.
“I really wish I could,” I said,
“But you don’t understand – I am like you myself; my words mean nothing to my mother and I have no power against her, her underlings and her army. If there was something I could do I really would, but I swear to you, there isn’t!” I said firmly, biting my lower lip to stop the tears from overflowing from my eyes.
The patrons started leaving the inn and I helped Andrianna lift Methodios up, who still lied on the floor enjoying his sleep, unaware of everything that just happened. I grabbed a jug of water and splashed it over his face. Methodios shuffled up in alarm and looked around.
“What happened? Where is everyone?” he asked, still half-asleep.
“Who threw tomatoes against that wall there?” he asked.
“Argh, Methodios! Sometimes I just want to give you a good solid beating!” Andrianna grunted irritably.
After managing to take him home with quite some difficulty, I bid her goodnight with a heavy heart and started walking the town alleys alone, headed for the castle. Deep silence had fallen over the streets; however, I felt, to my surprise, that there was someone following me. I paced up and tried taking different shortcuts, looking back suspiciously every now and then. Suddenly someone appeared right in front of me, making my blood freeze in surprise just for a moment.
“You’re walking too fast, lad – I couldn’t catch up with you so I took a shortcut instead,” said the man in a deep voice.
“Who are you and what do you want with me?” I asked him as he threw back the hood of his cloak, revealing himself to be the old man sitting in the inn’s corner glimpsing at me for hours.
“You? What do you want from me?” I asked on.
“I am the one that must finally tell you the truth everyone has been hiding from you,” he replied nonchalantly.
“Excuse me? What truth? Are you trying to play some kind of trick, old man? Look, I do respect your old age but I really don’t feel like joking around anymore tonight – I just had a rather hard and sad evening…” I replied, tired and irritated.
“And you shall have more and even worse if you don’t listen to me,” he added, looking at me intensely.
“What do you mean?” I asked hesitantly.
He then took a deep, hard breath in and whispered:
“Charna is not your real mother.”
To be continued…
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DEERWARD COPYRIGHT © 2013 BY MARILENA MEXI. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED