Cover Image by Veli Nyström – Deviantart
Fifty seasons had passed since the end of The Sunder. Memories of the long civil war twisted my dreams into horrid shapes, until I only slept a few hours a night. The memories were part of me, though my old body and mind refused to accept them. Like a good believer of the Old Creed, I had faith that Time was the great healer—so it was on that cool sunny day I went to make peace with the nightmares of my past. I packed enough food to last a week, a cloak, two large candles, a roll of fur and a walking staff. I left my empty home behind.
I headed down towards the path by the sea, and I felt the wind walking next to me. The air was a delicious blend of flowers, seawater, and forest trees, all carried by the playful currents that swirled around me. I closed my eyes and walked blindly for a few minutes, and took in the soft sound of grass bending in the breeze, of the restless sea endlessly shifting to the left of me, and the feeling of my long beard being pushed and pulled by the wind. I remembered when The Sunder happened, being younger and foolish, but also being passionate about protecting my two sons and wife. Who was I to try to stop the destined split between Borion and Ersidon? I shook my head from the thought, and increased my pace.
I reached the gravesite by the foot of the forest. I’d kept my eyes on the ground for so long that I hadn’t noticed the turning of the leaves. The once cherry-red leaves of the ensivio trees had become oyster-white, covering the ground in little leaflets of peace. I stumbled on uneven ground.
It used to make me profoundly sad when I came there, seeing two lonely mounds surrounded by the grassy plains and the encroaching forest. Behind them were two healthy trees that reached closer towards the sky each time I saw them. After The Sunder ended and Ersidon split from Borion, everyone on both sides planted a tree for those who we knew died in the war. Fifty seasons later, and we have the Dodentus forest, the forest of the dead.
I reached into my pack and took out the two candles, and placed one at each gravemound—one for my irreplaceable wife, Faelise, and another for my youngest son, Molo. I touched the wick of the first candle, and the air around me shed some of its heat. A thin flame spiraled around the wick, and I smiled. I still had some magic left in me. Then I shook my head and realized what a terrible symbol I had just created. My wife and son, killed by Ersidoni raiders with magic so many seasons ago, and there I was disrespecting them, Goddess shame me. The wind blew out my candle before I could.
Instead of sadness, it was just a hollow feeling that came upon me when I visited them that time, like being reminded that you once had a left arm, or that you used to live in a beautiful home which now lied in charred ruins. Perhaps these examples don’t relate well, though both of them were true for me.
I deftly lifted myself up from the ground with my right arm, and left the haunting memories of Faelise and Molo’s deaths behind, sealed in the ground like a time capsule. I knew I hadn’t made peace, and I would open those memories once more sometime in the future.
It was about two days’ march across the border to get to Belroy’s home, my eldest son in Ersidon. Many of the ensivio trees had lost half or more of their leaves already, but those that clung to their leaves made the forest seem spiritual, otherworldly. The Season of Winds was unmistakably the best time to visit the forest of the dead. Though once I was fully in the midst of it, with trees all around me as far as my eyes could see, the memories of The Sunder returned to me once more. Each tree represented a loved one lost. I touched a young tree beside me. It could have been a smiling Faelise or an adventurous Molo, a life full of dreams cut short by an untimely war. What if any of these souls were born a mere hundred seasons later? Time and place conspired against the unlucky and pushed them into an early grave.
I thought of Belroy, and the night he said he rejected what Borion stood for, and decided to fight for the creation of Ersidon. Faelise and I talked with him, calmly at first, thinking we could sway the rebellious nature of the youth. Then we argued and threatened and shouted. Nothing could stop him from joining the Ersids. Molo tried to convince him to stay, talking brother-to-brother, but it didn’t change a thing. He rejected it all, the Old Creed, the continental dominion, and King Kaedor of Borion. He called him a mix of different excrements before he left and never returned.
He joined the side that killed Faelise and Molo. The side that started The Sunder, and laid to death millions of people on both sides. How many Borions has Belroy killed? Does he even know that his mother and brother were murdered by his compatriots?
I approached a forest stream and made a grassy shelter nearby for the night. My thirst quenched, I satisfied my hunger by eating a handful of nuts and dried meat from my pack. Night quickly descended upon the Dodentus forest, and my furs made sleep comfortable and warm. It was eerily quiet, and it made me think that wild animals have not made the forest of the dead their home.
I continued on for several more days until I crossed the border into Ersidon and left the woods behind. The thought of seeing Belroy after all these seasons threatened to tear me apart. Perhaps what old hunter Yarrin said was wrong, and he mistook someone else for my son. But ever since he told me that he saw Belroy in Ersidon, I knew I would confront him someday.
It was inevitable. Though I didn’t know how I would feel if I saw him myself. Would I greet him in rage or peace? Would I see the old spectre of war across his face, would his movements remind me of the two mounds with two pale trees behind them? Perhaps he too experienced loss, and in rage would try to kill me for deeds I haven’t committed. Goddess knows my magic had faded and I couldn’t even defend myself against bad weather, let alone an Arcon in his prime.
After the forest, across a grassy hill with small trees at its top, you’ll see a wooden home near a small lake, said Yarrin many seasons ago. He was right, and the one hill was unmistakable. I climbed up to the top, and the handful of trees there had already matured. They weren’t ensivios, and instead had thick trunks with long, thin golden leaves. Below, I could see a wooden home near the lake, smoke coming from its chimney. Someone still lived there, Belroy or not. I couldn’t muster the strength to meet whoever it was, and laid myself at the top of the hill and rested my way through the evening and night. I ate my last bit of food I had with me, some dried hardfruit and breadchips, downed with delicious forest stream water.
The morning sun peaked through the clouds and woke me. I gathered what I laid on top of the hill, and saw a thin mist stretched across the cool hilly plain below. From atop, I could still see the outlines of the wooden home and chimney smoke which gently pierced through the mist.
With my white beard and a stump for a left arm, I wondered if Belroy would even recognize me. I don’t know if I felt fear or nervousness when I descended the hill, but some kind of moving force pushed me to go to the wooden home. My legs moved, though my mind was a mess, like a ship lost at sea. I hoped Yarrin was wrong, and all I would need to say is I arrived at the wrong home, that I was lost and only needed a bit of food and direction. Confronting the past seemed like confronting a vast, impenetrable citadel. There it was in front of me, only it was small and wooden.
The door opened before I could get too close. A little girl came out and raced towards the lake, giggling, her brown hair splayed behind her like a small cape as she ran. I checked the lake and saw there was a fish trap, no doubt she set it up and was excited to see the result.
She didn’t notice me at all.
A few seconds later, a man and a woman walked out of the home, but stopped only a few steps from the door. The man pointed at me and they stood still for a moment, looking at me in confusion.
He was tall, his dark hair was down to his shoulders and he wore leather clothing which looked like he himself made. The woman beside him seemed to be the same age, with the same sort of leather clothing and her hair was in a long tight braid coming forward over her shoulder. She looked into my eyes, then back at the man and gave a sharp nod towards my direction. She gave a smile and walked towards me.
“Good morning, traveller. What brings you to these parts?” she said, the man staying behind. The girl by the lake gave a quick, disinterested look at me and then continued to check on her fish trap.
I looked at them both, my mind blank and my mouth empty without words to say. My silence was doing ill work against me. The man eyed my up and down, his posture was tense and he was rubbing his fingers against his thumb, though he was probably not conscious of it. It only meant that he was ready to pull magic and use it to shatter me if I made any threatening moves.
The woman raised an eyebrow, though it was more of an expression of impatience than curiosity or confusion. I couldn’t keep my silence any longer, I needed to say something.
“Oh, I’m just a lost old man trying to find someone in Ersidon. I was hoping to ask for directions, if you don’t mind helping to set my course straight,” I said.
The man took a few paces towards me. “There aren’t many people in this area, though we can tell you the direction to go if you tell us the city or town, traveller,” he said. He kept fidgeting with his fingers.
“Your words are kind, though I’m here precisely because the man who I seek is said not to live in a city or town. Do you know of one named Belroy, son of Vestiados?” I said.
His eyes narrowed at me for a quick moment. “Why are you seeking him?”
“He’s my son,” I said, and gave a deep sigh. My heart raced.
The woman quickly turned her head to look at the man, and he turned his head towards her, and they seemed to speak each other without saying a word. He finally turned himself back towards me.
“What’s the name of my brother?”
“Molo,” I said.
“And my mother?”
“Faelise, though they both died in the war.”
The rosy color of his cheeks disappeared as his face paled, and he stared at me, or rather, through me. He seemed to be thinking of a great number of things, and was lost from the world for a few moments.
“Father…” tears pooled in his eyes.
I gave a great smile, shutting my eyes for a moment and tried not to cry. It didn’t work, and a few streams escaped down my face.
Belroy came closer and embraced me in a hug, breathing in short bursts. I said no words, lightly sobbing instead.
“I thought you were dead,” he said.
“I thought you wanted me dead,” I said quietly.
He let go of his embrace, and held me by my shoulders, and shook his head. “Let’s head inside. I need to introduce you to my wife and daughter. We have fifty seasons to cover.”
I nodded, and I felt as though for me, the war had finally ended.