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CALDORA: Chapter 2: Come Away, O Human Child

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Come Away, O Human Child

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            Lance and Gwen woke up to the sounds of sobbing and wailing that permeated the morning air. The Funeral Procession was about to begin and peasant and noble alike had to be ready for it. Wrapping her son in a dark blanket, Gwen picked him up and they rushed out the door. Crowds upon crowds of people – the entire populace of the city – gathered to form rows on each side of the main street. Dark rivers of melancholy, miserable, tear-streaked faces lined the street in a heart-wrenching image of grief. Lance and Gwen, dressed in their mourning robes, took their place in the multitude and waited in silence.

            The front of the line heard the castle gates creak as they swung open. The funerary float – the vessel that bore the body of the King wrapped in dark velvet, embroidered with black beads, and accented by raven feathers – was carried somberly across the threshold. The rest of the gloomy host followed. First came the Queen, sitting downcast on a throne atop her own float. She was garbed in flowing black robes, a dark veil hung over her face, and beaded garlands with raven feathers were woven into her braided hair. After her came the guards in polished black armor, solemnly clasping their weapons. The servants tagged along behind them, voicing their despair in unearthly shrieks. The city crowd echoed their cries.

The consciousness of the crowd was fully immersed in the ancient ceremony as the ghostly Procession advanced down the street. All except Lance. Though his head was bowed, his fists were clenched in anger and his hateful glare was on the verge of burning holes into the ground. The King was dead, and that two-faced, two-tongued viper of a Queen who brought about his demise now enjoyed the sympathies of all the land. Yet all he did was stand there, powerless to do anything against what had happened, against the weight of the Procession, and most importantly, against his irrational dread of the Queen.

Then he blinked from a sudden realization. What a pathetic excuse for a friend and servant he must be that he would let a petty fear stop him from speaking out in defense of his King and of justice. How could he stand passive and let this murderous monster walk away unscathed? If he kept silent, who knew what other atrocities she would commit against the land, the people, and his family. This matter was beyond him and his trivial concerns, the Forestside Kingdom must know the truth! Without realizing it, and before a wide-eyed Gwen could stop him, Lance found himself walking out from the crowd into the middle of the street and in the path of the Procession.

It was too late to backtrack by the time he comprehended his predicament. A lone figure standing in the road, he was sure the parade would simply trample him. But that did not happen. For the first time in known history, the entire Procession came to an abrupt halt. The wailings turned to gasps and incredulous whispers. Shaken by the sudden stop, Onedia raised her head, dumbfounded.

Figuring this was his cue, and hoping to get a word in before he was mobbed, killed, or hauled away by guards, Lance boldly pointed at Onedia and shouted, “She is the reason for the King’s death! I charge the Queen with murder and treason!”

The crowd howled in uproar. Confident that the masses were on her side – and confident that she could make them be if they weren’t – Onedia slowly rose from her throne, never lifting her fixed stare off Lance, “How DARE you disrupt the Funeral Procession!”

Lance swallowed hard, standing speechless, paralyzed by her hypnotic eyes. Gwen rushed out from the crowd and fell to her knees, groveling before the Queen, “Please, please pardon my husband! He is drunk and knows not what he does!” she cried, tugging a stupefied Lance sideways towards the crowd while bowing anxiously, “O gracious, merciful Queen! We will do all in our power to amend this transgression! All praise be to Queen Onedia!”

Onedia raised an eyebrow, still fixed on Lance, “You dare accuse me of treason?” she hissed, “Well, boy, I have some accusations of my own. I charge you with disrupting the Funeral Procession! I charge you with treason against the King for evading your duties to the Funeral Procession! I charge you with treason against the Queen for daring to insult her during the time of mourning!”

“And you!” she turned to Gwen whose face paled, “I charge you with defending a traitor!”

Lance felt a sick nausea wash over him at the accusations, for they were true enough and neither of them could say anything in protest. Onedia looked over both of them, “And therefore, I banish you, your wife, and your child to the Enchanted Forest as an example to all those who dare go against-” catching herself before saying ‘dare go against me’, “-the divinely chosen rulers of this land.”

Onedia motioned to four of the guards, verbally sealing her magical command, “Take them to the borders of the Enchanted Forest. Make sure they enter it and do not come out. If any of them resist, kill them all on the spot.” The guards bowed in obedience and drew their weapons as they walked over to Lance, Gwen, and her son. They would have fought back, pleaded with the crowd, or ran away, but neither wanted to be responsible for the death of the other two. Quietly they submitted to the prodding of weapons at their backs and began the long walk towards the Enchanted Forest.

“All insolence must be purged,” Onedia said cryptically, sitting back down on her throne. Once again, the floats were raised onto the shoulders of servants and the Funeral Procession continued on. It would pass through the streets of Iyutel, spiral into the surrounding towns, and finally reach its destination, the Enchanted Forest. All the Kings and Queens of the Forestside Kingdom were buried at the outskirts of these woods in their attempts to draw closer to the gods, and perhaps even be reborn as Sidhe.

*          *            *

Lance and Gwen, with their son in her arms, walked day and night in a straight line towards the Enchanted Forest, kept on their toes by their silent escorts. The guards didn’t seem quite human: they showed no signs of individual thought processes, only mindlessly obeyed the order to bring their prisoners to the forest. The group stopped from time to time in nearby towns for supplies but their determined pace never wavered. Lance was not sure if Gwen blamed him for their banishment, or if she approved of his actions, but he was beginning to think they were not the most intelligent ones.

Soon they were walking across the outskirts of the Forestside Kingdom, with the faint treeline of the Enchanted Forest visible on the horizon. Though for much of the long walk Lance tried his best to cheer Gwen up, telling her that the Enchanted Forest is not such a bad place after all, he was not so certain of his words now that they were finally standing before it. A powerful energy field could be sensed at the forest boundary – unwelcoming and possibly malevolent.

The guards’ weapons prodded at their backs again. Gwen hugged her son closer. After a long pause, Lance took a step towards the forest and stretched out his hand for Gwen to follow. Hesitantly, she took his hand and also moved forward. For a moment her questioning eyes met his, and Lance felt as though she trusted in him to make the right decision.

“Better die later than die now,” he smiled at her as he crossed the forest boundary and pulled her inside.

The soldiers readjusted the grip on their weapons and spread out across the perimeter of the border, ready to stand guard for the rest of the day.

“What are we going to do?” asked Gwen, “They won’t be leaving anytime soon.”

Lance shook his head, “I don’t care how brainwashed they are, nobody stays near the Enchanted Forest past twilight. They’ll probably take shelter in the nearest village, and while they’re gone, we could make a run east for the Riverside Kingdom.”

“Dodging attacks by tricksters and Dark Sidhe as we go?”

Lance didn’t miss the sarcasm of that statement, but only shrugged and smiled, “What do we have to lose? All we’d have to do is last through the night.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and began leading her a ways away from the forest entrance, to a suitable place where they could wait for dusk. “We could start a new life in the Riverside Kingdom,” he said, “Nobody will know us there and there’s plenty of farmland for everyone.”

It didn’t seem so bad, sitting under the lush green canopy of the Enchanted Forest, hearing the birds chirping melodically in the ancient trees, and watching the filtering sunlight dance on the mossy ground. Gwen even found a bush with edible berries. Still, the forest felt unwelcoming and foreboding. They felt as if an ever-present intelligence was watching them with unblinking eyes. This came as no surprise since it was common knowledge that the forest was home to the faery races: finicky beings known for their hostility towards those who entered their territory uninvited. Nevertheless, Lance and Gwen tried to be cheery to pass the time and forget the eeriness of it all.

Evening was fast approaching, so they collected a pouch full of berries for the road and headed in the direction of the exit. The way back seemed longer, but they blamed that on their anxiety. Going by landmarks, they retraced their steps, remembering a boulder here, a patch of flowers there, a hill, a stump, a fallen log… a rotting human corpse?

“That was not there before, Lance,” Gwen whimpered as she stared at the body, which was buzzing with flies and crawling with worms.

“We-we should’ve been out by now!” he stumbled backwards over the fallen log.

“I don’t remember this place at all,” Gwen cried fretfully, hugging her child closer, “we’re lost, hopelessly lost!”

Lance sat up on the log, looking away from the corpse, and stared at the ground. Crickets chirped in the background, heralding the evening. A faint mocking laugh was heard on the wind. “Pixie-led,” he breathed after some thought, looking back at Gwen, “The Enchanted Forest is home to-”

“Haunted Forest! The Haunted Forest!” Gwen erupted in muffled sobs, burying her face in her son’s shoulder. Lance walked over to her and hugged them both.

“Lets just move away from this…” he glanced back at the corpse, “This place, and go build a fire, at least to stay warm and to keep the animals away. There is nothing more we can do.”

“’Nobody stays near the Enchanted Forest past twilight,’” Gwen looked up at him with a tearful smile, repeating his own words, “Nobody except us, right?”

“Yeah,” Lance let out a pitiful chuckle, “Nobody except us.”

“We… We’ll just have to last through the night,” she said, trying to keep a steady smile, failed, and bust into sobs again.

Lance swallowed and hugged them tighter.

*          *            *

Lance sat in the middle of a clearing, trying his best to build a fire out of the dry wood they had gathered. Gwen was beside him, hysterically pleading with the faeries to spare the life of their son, of her husband, and herself. She begged for them to have mercy on her family because they were here against their will, and because they would leave faery territory at the first opportunity – not that it’s not pleasant! – if the faeries wish them to.

One passing faery did hear her prayer. But Kirune was not passing through the territory by chance, she was monitoring the activities of the tricksters for the Seelie Court. Memory of what caused the great rift between the Seelie and Unseelie Court had since been eroded by time, and all the elders could recall was that it coincided with the birth of Akireli and Kumbayeli – twin gods of polarity. One thing was certain, however: ever were the two Courts at war. Though neither was particularly fond of humans, those of the Unseelie Court were outright malevolent. They reveled in the terror, torture, and death of their victims. Kirune knew how Onedia cursed the Enchanted Forest, transforming it into a death trap for her own purposes. She also knew this was the reason that a band of snickering tricksters were surrounding the doomed family.

Night ominously descended on the woods. The trees loomed above Lance and Gwen’s encampment like menacing shadows. Darkness was absolute under the thick canopy of the forest, the only brightness being the lone fire that Lance had managed to light. Gwen, exhausted from stress and hysteria, slept with her son in her arms. Lance was sleeping close by. Intangible whispers rustled from the bushes around them, then suddenly hushed as the glade flooded with silvery light.

Kirune drifted in on shafts of moonlight. She looked around and saw the child. Smiling, she floated over, singing a sweet faery melody audible only to him. It told of faery dances in emerald groves under wild starlight, of majestic Sidhe in their halls of alabaster, of weaving the fabric of dreams on astral looms, of life in endless bliss, and of the splendor of Faeryland. When the child opened his eyes he saw the luminous form of Kirune dancing before him, the intricate designs of her fluttering butterfly wings leaving traces of light in the air. Entranced by the music and by her hypnotic movements, he crawled out of his mother’s arms and walked towards her on shaky feet. With a wave of her delicate hand a glittering silver path lit up, leading away from the clearing, and she motioned for him to follow.

The tricksters in the bushes shifted uncomfortably at the faery presence, and were very relieved when the light faded from the glade. Though they worried that the humans’ ability to sense magic would create complications, Kirune had given them an ingenious method to trick these two – nothing tampers with human psychic ability more than anxiety and fear. Giggling maliciously, one trickster put on the glamour of the human child, while the other transformed to seem like a troll and dove out of the bushes with the child in its clutches.

Gwen awoke with a start at the sound of a baby crying, and was quick to notice that her son was not with her. The troll’s gurgling growl brought her to her feet and she turned around, too scared to scream. A bulging, slime-coated mass with matted green hair towered before her, its gleaming fangs dripping saliva. This monstrosity held her child under one armpit. It emitted another roar, stomped one heavy foot, causing a mild tremor, and trudged off into the forest. Lance groggily opened his eyes from the commotion in time to see Gwen shout a desperate cry of protest and run off after the troll.

“Gwen!” he yelled at the suddenly silent forest, finding himself all alone in the clearing. Without a second thought, he hopped up and scampered in the direction he hoped Gwen disappeared to.

Gwen ran and ran blindly through the darkened forest, but the troll seemed impossibly fast and its steps were getting lighter. Finally, she tripped over a log and fell face first onto the earth. Bruised from the run through scraping branches, she weakly looked up. The troll was nowhere to be seen or heard, and the forest was jarringly still. Gwen rubbed her eyes, not yet adjusted to the darkness, then broke out into muffled, miserable sobbing.

Out of the silence she heard Lance calling her name in the distance, and the rustling of tree branches that she guessed was him finding his way in the night. But then she heard the creak of wood behind her, a noise too close to be Lance.

An uproar of breaking wood, low groans, and bloodcurdling screams resounded from somewhere in the forest. “Gwen?!” Lance yelled, running in the direction of the sound. Bending unseen branches aside, he ran through pitch black. Suddenly he was surrounded by faint spheres of light, within which he could see tiny grotesque little people pointing and laughing at him. Switching his gaze from them onto the ground, he saw Gwen’s body. Well, pieces of Gwen’s body scattered in a pool of blood. Horrified and trying to catch his breath, Lance staggered backwards, tripped over a log, and fell onto his back.

“The Haunted Forest…” he said, staring at the animated log that loomed over him, breaking apart to grow arms and claws and splintering teeth. It exploded into a blurred frenzy of motion, and then the world went black…

*          *            *

The child followed Kirune deeper and deeper into the forest though he did not notice it. He was not aware of how long they have been traveling or in which direction. All he knew was the refreshing breeze that brushed against his face, filling his nostrils with the scents of wildflowers, and the buoyant sounds of lively panpipes drifting on the air. The forest was getting brighter.

Curious eyes peeked from behind the foliage, watching Kirune with her pet human making way towards the heart of Faeryland. Little people scurried between the trees, others peered at the spectacle from among the branches. Faeryland was inhabited by a myriad of bizarre creatures, for every rock and leaf and flower housed a spirit all its own.

The silvery path led to a hill bordered by a magnificent fence structure formed out of glowing crystal that was entwined with morning glories and moonflowers. Set in the fence was a double door gate, decorated in precious gems and flanked by two regal Light Sidhe sentries. They wore diaphanous robes dusted with sparkling diamonds and held exquisite oaken harps which were strung with silver and gilded with gold. Seeing Kirune approaching, the two beings played a soothing melody to which the gate responded by opening without the slightest sound. Never breaking pace, Kirune crossed into the cave with the child in tow. The gates closed behind them.

Kirune danced through dim crystal caverns, the image of her innate light reflecting in the crystals as swirls of color. The child giggled and crawled after the faery, completely enthralled by the carefree happiness that saturated the place. The cavern opened up into a huge underground cavity, illuminated by the brilliance of an intangible Underworld sun and faery fire. The light here was so bright it was nearly blinding after the dark forest and the dusky caverns.

What a sight to behold! This place mocked the notion of gravity. Dwellings were hollowed out from stalagmite and stalactite columns, and faeries flew between top and bottom, from side to side, in one window and out the other. Crystal formations grew out of the rock, translucent marble buildings lined the main street. Fascinated whispers echoed from all around as some faeries stopped to regard the human. Kirune floated through the street and towards the shining crystalline palace at the center of it all. Sounds of feasting and merriment boomed against the walls, leading her to believe there was a celebration going on.

Entering the main hall, she drifted past the Sidhe nobles of the Seelie Court, and approached the revered Faery Queen Erunei, Onedia’s regent. Kirune bowed before her and presented her human, “I have rescued this child from the tricksters, my Lady.” The party music died down as all eyes turned to the newcomer.

When the child looked up at the Faery Queen he felt that this was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his short life, and somehow knew that he would never see anything to surpass it. Her skin was as luminous as the moon, her hair as radiant as the midday sun, the flowers braided into her golden locks were in full bloom, and her eyes were like emeralds, matching her forest-leaf gown which reflected the changing seasons. Erunei smiled at him – a smile that could erase all cares, all worries, all memories – and he smiled back with an open heart.

“Your name will be Lakai,” Erunei said both in verbal and telepathic tongue, in a voice as sublime as the song of a nightingale, “And this is your home now.” She reached over to a silver bowl and held up an apple, “You have many ancestral gifts, Lakai, and we will make them stronger. There are five seeds inside this apple, and in each one I will place a gift.”

Her hand began to glow as the power flowed into the apple, “One for faery sight, one for hearing thoughts, one for feeling emotions, one for beauty and artistic talents, and one for your protection by faeries and our allies whenever you are near us.”

Getting off her throne, Erunei crouched down and stretched out her hand to offer Lakai the magical apple. He took it with his little hand and eagerly munched away at it with tiny teeth. Erunei smiled in adoration of the human baby, and the rest of the Court smiled with her – for when the Queen was happy, everybody was happy. The pace of the music picked up and the ball resumed.

*          *            *

Lakai grew up in Faeryland, where time stood still. He was a carefree spirit, with golden blond hair, sapphire eyes, and delicate elven features which rivaled that of the faeries themselves. If any human from outside the forest would see him now, they would label him bewitched. But he never met anybody from the outside. Faeries, elves, unicorns, and the creatures of Faeryland were all he knew. They were his playmates in a life of bliss and uninhibited trust, surrounded by magic and splendor.

Nevertheless he eventually began to wonder what lies beyond Faeryland, and Erunei knew that this would only lead to his death. Hoping to save him from the tricksters and changelings which lay waiting past the borders of the Seelie Court, she reluctantly handed him over to the faeries visiting from Acrela masked as a diplomatic gift. The Acrelan faeries accepted the gift and took Lakai away to their home in the East Forest. News of such a prized gift from another continent spread rapidly across the Caldorian forests. The word reached Aloquin, as well, and he deemed the boy’s rumored abilities most useful indeed.

*          *            *

Meanwhile, Onedia ruled the Forestside Kingdom with an iron fist. Upon instructions from Aloquin, she refused to take a husband. Through illusions of miracles and signs, she persuaded the people that she ruled by divine right of Osenya. Some were not convinced and stirred the populace to remember Lance’s accusations, but all who had the nerve to question her suffered the same end as their predecessors.

The dungeon cells constantly brimming with rebels served as mere waiting rooms for a far grimmer fate.  Every month long lines of prisoners bound in chains were herded off to the Haunted Forest, never to return. Only frightened beasts were on occasion seen scurrying out of the woods. Some said that even those who inadvertently wandered out of the forest, would forever roam the countryside in madness, still seeing the wilderness all around them. Others said that there was no way out of the forest, for you were pixie led in circles until death.

The Forestside Kingdom became a nation consisting predominantly of orphans and the elderly. Those that remained cowered in fear behind closed doors, believing the status quo would never change. No longer did they have the courage to speak their mind, no longer did they dare to hope for a brighter future, no longer did they wait for a knight in shining armor to come and rescue them from the witch’s evil spell. The only thing left to do was stubbornly survive in the face of Onedia’s merciless assault on their collective psyche.  

         Things were going well for Onedia. She knew better than anyone that imprisoning the mind was far more effective than imprisoning the body, and this goddess wielded such subtle chains with unmatched skill. The masses slaved away while she threw lavish parties in her castle for the nobles.



Copyright © 2003 by Yumeni www.twilightvisions.com. All rights reserved.
Revised: 27 Jan 2013 22:56:57 -0700 .




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