I still think of Lucas, from time to time. His face in particular. Angular, with a strong, sharp nose and a flat bridge. A too-wide mouth that could talk for hours about hunting strategies. His green eyes, as vivid as pine needles against the fresh snow. I remember his smell, pine and musk, and the nights where we lay together by the fire. He had this quirky thing of surprising me with little gifts, wooden carvings that he made. He's the one who taught me how to carve, though, I had no real talent for it. All I could make were little wooden flutes, and we would have competitions to see whose flute would have the best pitch, he won most of those.
We would hunt together, at all times of the year but his favorite time to hunt was winter. When prey was scarce and the mountains were at their best, frosted like a baker's cake and glittering with ice. For days we would travel across the mountain-scape, following deer trails or chasing rabbits from their dens. Sometimes we'd race through the deep snow, running, or tumbling as it usually was, until our faces were flushed red. At night he would build a shelter and I would start a fire and we would huddle around it, reveling in the others warmth. It didn't matter what we talked about, because we would would listen to each other with rapt attention. I loved his stories, they were tales of bravery; of hunts past.
I sometimes made up stories. I couldn't tell him the truth about things, not at first. The fear that he would judge me froze my heart, and for a time I avoided him. Which I don't know why I was so bothered, but I was employed in his service so there was no way I could go a day without seeing him at least three times. It didn't take him long to pull me aside to an isolated place and confront me. Trapped, with no where to run... I... opened myself to him. I hated keeping things from him, but I am a coward. Then he held me tight, and I cried. He didn't let me go for the rest of the night.
I loved Lucas. With everything I had I loved him. I had not known love before him, so when I found him there was no restraint, no world-weariness to keep me in check. I had spent years alone in the forest with just the barest contacts with society. I didn't know how starved I was for contact. I had no idea what I was missing until I got it. He held me in his arms and he would kiss me and I would think, this is what I've always wanted. A place where I can live in peace, far away from war and nightmares.
On lonely nights we sat in his room, and watched the snow fall idly outside, in the world beyond the frosted windowpane. I told him true stories. I told him about the place I go when I close my eyes. The world of lava, or burning planes. A red sky. A tower. People I know hanging from spears or tortured until their skin peeled away from their bodies like the skin of a discard fruit, the flesh inside rotten. Rotten. He listened solemnly, and he would hold me when I cried. He's the only person I ever told about Brother, about Kingsley, and his fear of dieing alone, in the middle of nowhere, his ashes mixed with anonymous men.
Through these stories I accidentally told Lucas about the guild, because when I talked about my past I could not stop. I was still scared of it, and if I had to tell it I could only tell it in full and if I had thought about what I said I'd never be able to finish.
He was very interested in the guild, and I answered all his questions. I trusted him. I loved him. I told him everything about the guild. In return he'd tell me all the rumors he heard about the guild, the made up stories that the guild was so fond of spreading. I smiled and laughed with him, and proudly told him the rumors I stared.
Then... one day Lucas asked me to help him. It pained him to see his people struggled to get by, and if he had just some of the land that belonged to the neighboring lord, that he could improve the livelihood of his people. I knew he meant his words because Lucas had such a heart for his people. He would share food from his own table when food was scarce and would share his home on nights when howling blizzards ravaged the village. I wanted to help him, anything for my love.
So I set out and gathered all the information on this rival lord, even contacting the guild and asking them what they knew. I reported everything back to Lucas and he would not and sit behind his desk and plan. I'd watch him. His face would change as he thought, grinning when he plotted some cunning plan and frowned when something unexpected hurt one of his plans, then.... there was his calm expression, which would come over him suddenly, and I could never tell what he was thinking.
I never got to see the fruition of Lucas' planning, for the guild, suspicious of my behavior sent someone to watch me. They saw me report to Lucas. That night I was abducted from the castle and carried away to the nearest Hall.
I was thrown into a room, someone stood outside my door day and night. I was given a piece of bread once a day. There was no light.
I cried. I wailed and sobbed. Banged my head against the walls until I bled. Angry at myself. I was scared that they would kill Lucas. “Don't kill him!” I cried out, constantly. “Don't kill him! Please! Don't kill him! I beg of you! Don't kill HIM!”
They wouldn't let me out of the room for anything, and I had no bucket to pee in. I relieved myself in the corner and tried to ignore the smell. This was punishment, I would think. But I knew this was not it. I knew what was coming. I wasn't ready for it.
After four days I was all cried out and simply laid on the floor. Only my nightmares stirred me.
I knew what was coming. Funny, with Lucas I never thought it would happen. Love would protect me, I guess that was the notion I was under. I broke the laws of the guild. Love comes above the guild? I should be killed. Sila told me this would happen if I had broken the guild's laws. I was so in love, I couldn't help myself. So in love.
Then they came in, threw a cloth bag over my head and dragged me out. I tried to stand, but they were in a hurry, I couldn't keep up with them so I let myself go limp. They dragged me behind them. Goodbye life.
No! I wasn't ready to give it up yet. I wanted to live longer. I was scared of death, of going to that place forever. Hell, oh gods don't sent me to Hell. But I broke guild law. Hell. I moved against the foundation. Tear down the weak walls. Then rebuild. Someone else would replace me. I'm just a pawn. There are more desperates out there.
WORTHLESS. I'M WORTHLESS. WHAT'S THE POINT ANYMORE? LUCAS. LUCAS. My family... I'm sorry. For taking up space.
Without me, Kingsley would still be alive.
Then the cloth was pulled off my head, and the first thing I saw wasn't the execution block. I did not see the guild standing before me, to witness my death. But I saw Sila, her face blank.
“You have been pardoned, Calyn Bren.” She told me.
No, I was ready to die. I should be dead! I can't be alive. Don't tell me I'm still alive! I betrayed everyone! I SHOULD BE DEAD. WHY AM I NOT DEAD. Sila. Sila what's going on? You told me I would die if I disobeyed the guild and the guild is everything. I am a wall that moves against the foundation. A danger. I KILLED BROTHER.
“Lucas Geise was using you, Calyn Bren.” Sila continued to talk. I just cried. She held me. “He abused your trust and manipulated you. He didn't love you. He never loved you, only loved what he could get from you.”
“Don't kill him...”
“He's still alive. Unfortunately.”
Sila told me to return home to Errant and I told her no.
I couldn't look at my family. I was too ashamed of myself. A year later I was reassigned to Darragon so no one had to look at me.
The first thing I ever learned was how to steal.
We were in the market place and it was packed. It was that time of year where merchants flooded the city with goods from all around Tau'il and the whole city it seemed to have come out to take advantage of it. Tarps of every color topped the stalls and banners were laced above the crowded pathways, the adults heads just brushing against the many colored banners. Shouting could be heard everywhere, mostly women trying to haggle the miserly merchants down. These were uncertain times! The merchants shouted back. War is on our doorstep.
I'd have thought the whole thing was a festival if everyone wasn't so grim faced, or moved with purposeless, going only where they needed to go. Only Brother was smiling, ambling through the crowds, my hand locked tight in his. Eight Divines I loved Brother. He always had a joke or some crazy prank in mind and just being with him made me smile. Together we ran through the crowds, grinning madly over our devious plans. All those unsuspecting people! Brother had shouted in the Hall before we had set out. And stalls just waiting for clever little fingers to rob from them.
Kingsley was twenty years old then. He had light blond hair pulled back into a tight ponytail at the base of his neck, and was as lanky as he was tall, which was about seven feet easy. Once he told me we tall people got to stick together. I was pretty tall for a five year old kid and as thin as stick. Tree girl was one of the many fond nicknames I had.
“What should we 'purchase'?” Kingsley grinned deviously, wiggling his fingers as he spoke. We had to pick something perfect for my first act of theft, though, looking back on it, I think Brother had something in mind the whole time. The whole morning we twisted through the maze-work of colored stalls, and he would pause outside certain ones, he would lean over the wares, hand on chin and lips pushed out as he thought. I thought the whole act was so funny and I'd try not to giggle and the merchants would look at us suspiciously. As did the people around us but before anyone could shoo us away Brother grabbed my hand and we were off to find the next stall.
Cloth, jewels, exotic spices, masks, toys, strange fruit we looked at it all until... Brother suddenly grabbed my shoulders and pointed towards a stall.
Beautiful, red, apples.
“Tell me, little Calyn Bren, are you familiar with the Bible?” Kingsley asked me, and smirked.
I shook my head, Sila told me to never bother reading any religious books. The Guild forbade religion. Though, that didn't stop anyone from knowing about different religions. I didn't think much about it as a kid. I mean, God or Goddess, it was such a foreign concept to me. I couldn't see the gods, were they really there? Though, later in life, I found how easy it was to blame things on them was, and how good it felt to do so.
“Well, time for a little lesson then!” And he crouched down, and arched his back so that we were on eye level with another. “The very first story in the Bible is in a book called Genesis and in Genesis God creates the world. He said 'let there be-!' …. and there was. Land, water, sky, the sun, the moon, all of it! Buuuuut, it wasn't enough. So then God created all the animals, the fish, the birds, the dogs and cats, and there was still something missing.
“Man, is what was missing. So God scooped up some earth and formed man in his own image, and later, he took a rib from man and made woman. Hey? You're paying attention right? Just trust me, little Calyn Bren, I'm getting to my point.... soooo God made man and woman! And God told them that they can eat whatever they want in the Garden of Eden except... from one tree at the center of the garden.
“Well, one day the devil disguised himself as a snake and went up to Eve, the first woman, and told her that if she ate from the tree then she'll be like God. Eve went to the tree and ate from it, and thus gained the knowledge of good and evil. She shared the apple with Adam who ate of the fruit as well. Long story short God found them and booted them from the Garden of Eden and cursed them and all of their offspring. That was the first sin. Aaaaaand do you want to take a guess at what that fruit was?”
He turned his head so he could look at me. I stared at the stall for moment, then looked to him and back to the stall. I knew the answer, I just wanted to drag this out. I was having so much fun. “An apple?”
“Exactly! What's better than an apple to be the first thing you 'purchase'? The symbol of the first sin, the forbidden fruit, the furit that caused the fall of man. Go forth little Calyn Bren and join the fallen.”
Eight Divines have I said how much I love Brother?
Brother gave me a little nudge forward and I started forward, and with Brother watching I felt pretty good. If something bad happens Brother will be there for me.
As I approached the stall, the owner was already wary of the dirty little girl coming closer. I didn't look at him so much and stared at the apples. Which one would I take? There was one apple at the very top of the pile and it was the reddest apple I had seen my whole life. The apples were on a slanted platform that was at least two feet off the ground. If I jumped a little or stood on tip-toe I might just reach that apple. I think I started drooling, it was... it was a while since I had an apple.
“Hey, scram,” The owner growled at me. I didn't say anything back, I just stared at all of those apples. “Kid, get lost. You don't got no money!”
Oh boy. I was a real reckless kid. I jumped forward, crashed into the stall, and reached for the apple at the very top. Apples were falling around me and my feet dangled off the ground. My heart beat faster than a humming birds wings and in a moment I was terrified and excited all at once. I think the owner jerked my off by the back of my shirt because as I grabbed that apple I fell back, and my butt hit the ground hard.
“Give that back!” The owner yelled at me, among other things, I think. Everyone started shouting after that. Someone made a grab at me and I twisted out of the way and ran back to Brother. He scooped me up in his arms and half flung me over his shoulder and high-tailed it out of there, laughing like a madman. Eventually, I laughed too, the apple clutched in both my hands. We ran out of the market, no one bothering to chase after us just to get an apple back. The guards probably weren't even notified.
Brother paraded me through the streets as I munched on the apple.