Deerward – Chapter 3 – ‘Katara Forest’
Fearfully we fled straight into the icy white forest, running on without pause to look back – heading further into its dark depths lest the moonlight betrayed our position. The falling snowflakes were now thick and dense and within moments they coated our hair and clothes. We eventually stopped at a cave, making sure no one had followed our trail and Andrianna then suggested we spent the night here. Eadric quickly set up a campfire and we all sat around it, cuddling next to each other to ward off the bitter cold while the tension was still evident in our faces.
“Thank you for coming to the rescue there – you too Eadric; I’m thankful and frankly a little surprised,” I told him, as fatigue and cold weighted heavily on my body.
“No need to thank me. Instead, I owe you an apology for the rude way I’ve been treating you all these years. I was truly wrong about you, Alcander,” Eadric said with honest regret in his voice, shaking hands with me.
“I’m starved,” Methodios complained and wearily laid down on Andrianna’s lap.
“I was wondering when he’d mention food again,” she commented.
As the night went on, we remained cuddled together next to the fire, trying to keep warm, while I briefly explained all that had happened since yesterday. About the old man and our meeting, about the room with the emblem of Silver Fir and about the truths that Lysandros revealed to me. Andrianna and Eadric seemed crestfallen when they heard of the real reason Slaughterer murdered their parents for. Andrianna cried all through the night in my arms and her sobs pierced straight through my heart. Eadric on the other hand expressed his sadness differently, uneasily patrolling all the time without ever returning to sit by the fire. The pain he was feeling by picturing his parents’ brutal death under Slaughterer’s axe must have been many times more powerful than the cold that threatened his very life.
The next morning we set off on our trip into the unknown, as far from the city as possible.
“It might not be long before Charna traces us down. If she is as powerful a sorceress as you say, she probably has the means to find us,” Andrianna said desperately.
“Keep your spirit, Andrianna. A simple mortal can overcome all dangers and foes with the power of his heart,” Methodios said optimistically.
“You’ve been reading too many stories, chubby,” Eadric teased him.
“I, actually, am troubled by how he usually only cares about food yet sometimes turns into a “being of higher intellect”,” Andrianna said sarcastically, causing a round of laughter.
“I’ve already told you, lass, I’m just incredible! It goes without saying that my mind’s sharper than yours eh,” he said jokingly, getting a clout up the head for it.
We moved on through the endless forest, the trees looking like so many hands, their long fingers tangled together. Lumps of snow would come falling from the above every now and then, while icicles adorned the canopy overhead. Plenty of snow had worked its way into our boots and our hair were sprinkled with numerous snowflakes. We kept listening carefully to the sounds of the wintry forest around us, but we all needed someplace warm to spend the following night, which was slowly approaching.
On the way Methodios reminded us of a funny incident that had happened five years ago, trying to keep our spirits up. It was about a prank we had pulled on Melantha: We had decided to secretly spend one night sleeping on the outside of the tallest castle tower and enjoy the starry sky. When Melantha found out she immediately reported us to Charna who scolded me like usual. Like typical children, we plotted on how to get back on her. One day, when she was – like every night – out on the balcony of her room, we sneakily tossed a pile of horse dung onto her head from the balcony straight above hers. She started shouting and shrieking hysterically, but she hadn’t seen us so she never got to know who was responsible for the prank – though of course she always suspected it was me.
“Shush – I hear horses coming! Run!” Andrianna suddenly said, alarming us so much we didn’t even turn to look back before bursting into full sprint.
“We’d best split! Spread out!” I exclaimed.
“What for?” Methodios asked, while his own weight made things hard for him, barely managing to keep up.
“Just to as I said – we’re sitting ducks as we are. Split away, now!” I commanded and we all swiftly went different directions.
I ran as fast as I could through the forest, but the snow that had piled up higher than my ankles slowed me down considerably. I glanced back and didn’t see anyone behind me, but the sound of galloping horses echoed all around. Suddenly I slipped off a ledge to my side and started violently tumbling down the slope. Sharp rocks tore at my clothes and skin of my sides and legs. My blood dyed the white cliff crimson and a tree branch carved a scar on my forehead before I finally reached the ground with a thud.
The sound of the bells got on my nerves to an insufferable degree. Oh how I wanted to tear down the damned church and end the life of that annoying priest that’s sounding them every day. Bells, churches, prayers – they all disgusted me. It’s about time I put an end to all that – too long have I kept my patience. I slammed the window shut and sat upon my rocking chair by the fireplace. The creaking sound of the door slowly opening was too so annoying, I didn’t even bother to turn and look. The sound of the ax laid awkwardly on the floor and the smell of filthy boots declared that Slaughterer had just entered the room.
“Did you find them?” I asked impatiently, my eyes focused on the fire.
“No, but those pups will fall into the trap like rats. No worries, I will soon present you with their dismembered bodies,” he promised, gulping down wine voraciously.
“I want the young one alive,” I commanded, glaring at him.
“What do you want that spoiled brat for?” he asked sniggering, flinging spittle around like a wretched pig.
“I said: I want him alive,” I said again, as Slaughterer didn’t seem to be taking me seriously.
“Why didn’t you just get rid of that little runt all these years anyway? You saw that he kept resisting, and that dark magic didn’t seem to work on “him.”
“That is exactly why I need him alive. He has the power to deflect even the strongest of the dark spells, and power thrills me. Can you imagine the potential of that mortal once I have him in my control? He would be one of my most potent weapons, should I find a way to win over his soul. I would have the son I always wanted, one that would be my shield, and help me defeat the mightiest of this world’s foes. I would conquer it all; a strong mortal soul is so potent… so precious…” I said, gripping on my wooden chair, tense with excitement.
“He just looks useless to me. I don’t get you… you’ve got all you want – you’re a queen now. Everyone kneels before you. As for your craving for the son you never had – haven’t you already found that in that other bastard, Nicodème? He already does all you ask him to, becoming what you wanted him to be… the dark spells worked just fine on him, right? I doubt you really need that Alcander; he’s nothing but a pitiful, worthless little runt!” Slaughterer barked out and crumbled upon the bed face up.
“I’ve never desired anything so strongly like I do with his soul,” I told him, my eyes focusing on the flames again, although Slaughterer still seemed deathly bored.
“Order Manasés to go look for him. He’s bound to prove more useful than you, brainless dog,” I said and Slaughterer jumped off the bed, instantly enraged.
“Mind your mouth mad witch!” he growled, causing me to burst out laughing.
“Or what? You’ll punch me? You’ll hack at me? Watch it, filthy butcher, or you’ll find yourself turned into a slimy worm, able to only threaten my wooden floor!” I warned him.
“…As you wish, Charna. You always get what you want either way. I will pass your orders on to Manasés,” he replied dejectedly, and walked away like a scolded pup. I then slowly walked to one of my chests, taking a cloak that belonged to Alcander out of it. I sniffed it and smirked wryly, heading to the fireplace and tossing it into the fire. There was now but one thought on my mind, which I couldn’t help whispering over and over…
“I want your soul, Alcander… I want to conquer it, to make it mine!”
I opened my eyes with difficulty. My head felt heavy, as if someone had been pounding upon it with a club for hours. Startled, I saw an ethereal figure leaning over me, looking at me worriedly. Her alabaster face harmoniously complimented her flustered cheeks and well-shaped rosy lips. Her almond-shaped eyes were a warm brown hue and, coupled with her long white eyelashes, formed a gaze the charm of which was almost hypnotizing. On her head there were branches that looked like deer antlers, adorned with snow-flowers. They beautifully decorated her long white hair, which flowed evenly over her shoulders and reached down to her slim waist. Her skin was white and smooth and fitting with her airy silk dress in earthly colors that made her seem truly dreamlike.
“Are you real?” I asked awe-stricken, thinking I was still lost in some dream.
“Please, don’t stand up. You haven’t fully healed yet,” she replied and her voice was like a bird’s song.
“You’ve been asleep for over a full day. I found you injured yesterday at the bottom of a cliff,” she said and I only then realized how long it was since I slipped off that ledge. I looked at my body and saw herbs placed on my wounds, while the bleeding had fully stopped.
“Thankfully I got to you early so the wounds haven’t become infected,” the girl replied and I started coughing hard. She brought me an intricately made wooden cup and in a caring voice said.
“Drink this, it’ll do you good.”
Amidst my haze the picture of Andrianna and the others came to my mind.
“My friends!” I exclaimed in alarm.
“I must go find them!” I wailed on.
“I’m afraid it’s impossible to leave the forbidden zone. Katara forest is surrounded by guards,” she replied as I looked at her at a loss.
“Wait a second now, let’s take this from the start; my name is Alcander and I’m from Silver Fir. What is yours?” I asked politely.
“It is a pleasure Alcander. I am Awentia and I’m from Calanthia,” she replied sweetly.
“That is a beautiful name, but I’ve never heard of Calanthia.”
“You don’t know of Calanthia? It’s the most beautiful place in Emerald. It’s the land of the people of nature, the land where the faeries are. Also, “Calanthia” means “beautiful flower”,” she replied with pride. In my twenty years I’ve never heard of it – but tell me, what did you mean when you said I’m in the forbidden zone? How did you come here?” I asked her, anxious for answers.
“First tell me how exactly you got here,” she interrupted, looking at me suspiciously. Even so, her face made me feel I could trust her and so without hesitation I started telling her of my tale. I explained her everything: about my past, about Charna and about the truth I recently learned from my uncle. I also spoke of the incident on the night after our flight from the city, and lastly of how I fell, tumbling down that cliff and ending up inside this forest.
“I’m very sorry for what happened to you Alcander,” she replied, solemnly lowering her head.
“It’s still all blurry in my mind; so much has happened in the last two days that it almost feels I’ve been having a nightmare. I still have a lot of questions about Charna and my past left unanswered. Before he passed away my uncle was about to tell me of the person that “opened the gates of hell” and freed Charna but he couldn’t finish his sentence…” I replied disappointedly.
“I think then that it is time you got your answer to those questions that have been tormenting you. You now have a chance to hear it all from the very person that accidentally freed Charna,” Awentia replied sadly.
“What do you mean?” I asked, surprised.
“It was me that unintentionally caused great harm upon this whole country; it was me that freed Charna.”
I swallowed hard with shock, seeing the misery drawn clearly upon her expression. Not missing the chance, I asked on
“Be more specific please. How did you do this? What did you mean when you said it happened unintentionally?”
“It all began many years ago. First I should tell you about the people of nature and Calanthia, which is closely linked to these events,” she replied and slowly started retelling her story, while I listened on like a child about to hear some fairy tale.
“Calanthia lies in a beautiful valley that was once surrounded by many trees, flowers, streams and abundant verdant beauty. The people of nature, also known as faeries, live upon an enormous tree in the center of a small lake. Faeries are multi talented creatures and their main ability is spreading life and beauty around them. They are protectors of the rivers, the lakes and nature seems to be magically connected with them. They have the power of talking with animals and feeling others’ emotions. Some can fly, some can heal the wounded and all their senses are generally more acute. I was raised in that valley – that earthly heaven where birdsong seemed alive and the sound of streams echoed like a lullaby. The fragrance of the flowers was hypnotizing and the air of our land blessedly clear.
Our deity and emblem was Goddess Livana Fawna, the white deer that symbolized spring and livelihood. In the center of the lake, apart from the great tree, was also her temple, a truly marvelous structure. About forty years ago the temple was endangered by a wildfire that had broken out within the forest, but my father, Anthias, a young man back then, saved the temple from the all-consuming flames. The Goddess Livana Fawna offered him a wondrous gift to express her gratitude. The first of his children would have the gift of being the protector of nature, turning into a white deer and preserving spring and summer and causing life to bloom whenever he or she would go.
A year later, Anthias married a dazzling faerie called Yolanda, which means violet flower, and with her had me, giving me the name Awentia, which means little deer. I had the honor to inherit the precious gift given by Goddess Livana Fawna. Everyone respected me for what I was and even worshiped as part of the goddess herself. When I was born however, Goddess Livana Fawna gave a command. I was to never go near the opposite side of the forest, the forbidden zone known as Katara forest. Goddess Livana Fawna said that two hundred years ago a horrible witch was buried there. She was a demon’s daughter and a powerful sorceress that eons ago spread death and fear across Emerald. In the same forest people used to bury the evil and corrupt, among them a murderer that, centuries ago, used to butcher innocents with his axe. Also buried there was a dark wizard that had the power of casting enchantments on people with his magical touch, sparking dark desires within them. Lastly, the dark faerie Melantha was also to lie there. Goddess Livana Fawna said that going into the forbidden zone would make my power give life to the dark forest, waking all the evil souls sleeping therein.
Years passed by and I grew up always taking care not to set foot upon Katara forest. Danger however seemed to be lurking about in Calanthia forest. The malevolent spirit of Maya roamed freely; a spirit with the ability to take different shapes and whose intent was to lure me away into the forbidden zone. He was said to have once been the lover of Charna – an evil but not particularly powerful wizard that was not buried in Katara forest, but nobody knew exactly where instead. That being was haunting the forest, trying to somehow free his beloved Charna. But I always managed to escape him. He had taken countless forms trying to trick me, like those of my father and mother and friends and even that of Goddess Livana Fawna herself, but he could never lure me there.
And so he decided to do something much more underhanded – a trap I could not have foreseen. One beautiful morning I was wondering around the forest in my white deer shape and when I passed near the forbidden zone Maya, standing in front of Katara Forest, took the shape of a part of Calanthia forest, thus tricking me into thinking I was heading back to our territory. And so it was that I unwittingly entered the forbidden forest. The moments that followed were of pure horror. Unintentionally I flung open the very gates of hell and Charna, Slaughterer, Manasés and Melantha awoke among thousands of other nightmarish beings. Spring and summer were gone, and endless winter descended upon Emerald. I was trapped in this forest, frozen at the age of twenty and Goddess Livana Fawna abandoned me, insulted by the thought that I had disobeyed her order and disgraced her precious gift.
When Awentia finished her story she burst out crying, as I looked at her at complete loss after all I heard, not knowing what to say to soothe her pain. What had happened was catastrophic and in the face of this tragedy there were no words to make her feel better. Under different circumstances, hearing this story from someone else I might have blamed her, but it was now impossible for me. Awentia was not at fault at all; she was tricked, like anyone in her place would have. It seems there is no one to blame for the evil that always lurks, ready to snatch away all happiness.
“But why do you say you’re trapped in this forest? The evil was done, the demonic souls awoken; how come you can’t just leave here?” I asked.
“Because Charna’s soldiers, those horrible beings that were raised along with her, have surrounded the forest and have been keeping me captive here, assuming that if I leave here my spell will be broken and Charna along with all the souls I awoke will be gone.”
“I’ll do it then, I’ll free you, thus freeing all of Emerald from this tragedy,” I said decisively, rushing ahead.
“You’re very sweet and innocent, Alcander, and the way you think this would be achieved is very romantic, but if it was so easy do you really think I would have remained here all these years? Countless times I tried to get free of this hell but all my efforts have been in vain,” she said as tears flowed fast over her rosy cheeks.
“I think you’ve lost your hope, Awentia, and it’s understandable. Look, you might have freed Charna and you might think that it was a tragic thing, but I actually grew up at her side. Can you imagine how horrible it was to consider that monster to be my own mother? How horrible it was to have all the young people hate me, thinking I was her son? I had a very hard childhood Awentia and I hate her more than anything in this world. She murdered my family along with so many innocent souls; she’s been torturing the people of Silver Fir and has been keeping my own sibling under a spell. Despite all this I don’t lose my faith!” I replied, raising my voice despite the pain from my wounds.
“No Alcander, you’re not in a worse position than me; I caused all this and I despise myself every passing hour for it. I should have been more wary and not allow myself to be tricked by Maya. You say they hated you for being Charna’s “son”. Imagine what they’d think about me if they heard I opened the door for her to come. That is why I hate myself, and just as many times as I tried to escape I also tried to end my own life, but I lacked the strength to do it on my own, for I was and am a coward. For the first time in years though I felt relief – upon finding you. For I thought within me “finally now someone can do this for me, helping me put an end to this torment…” so, Alcander, please kill me!”
To be continued…
Δείτε την παρουσιάση εδώ
Διαβάστε το πρώτο κεφάλαιο εδώ
Διαβάστε το δεύτερο κεφάλαιο εδώ
DEERWARD COPYRIGHT © 2013 BY MARILENA MEXI. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED