Vol.1, Ch.1, P.4
Revision – 2022.10.27
Summoned so by the priest, I stepped up to the transept. Repeating the actions of my precedents, I received the quartz crystal, knelt, and closed my eyes. Once more, the holy man’s psalm resounded through the church.
“O Yoná, Deiva Suprēma, Aegis of Man from the Empyrean on high. Here, we beseech Thee, Most Divine, of Thy Grace, that we may dam the tides of the Wicked, and soothe the sons and daughters of Man set adrift.”
The air was stilled. Breaths were bated.
Yet, there manifested nothing at all within my bosom. The quartz, too, remained wholly immuted.
“…O Yoná, Deiva Suprēma, Aegis of Man from the Empyrean on high. Here, we beseech Thee, Most Divine, of Thy Grace, that we may dam the tides of the Wicked, and soothe the sons and daughters of Man set adrift,” the priest repeated diligently. Try as he might, no change came about the crystal.
“Reverend…” whispered one of the knights, “…what’s this…?”
“I… I know not. This should not be possible,” returned the priest. “…O-oh Yoná, Deiva Suprēma, Aegis of Man from the Empyrean on high! Here, we beseech Thee, Most Divine, of Thy Grace, that we may dam the tides of the Wicked! And soothe the sons and daughters of Man set adrift!”
A third attempt. A third failure.
“…What… what preposterousness…!” our Reverend relented. “Young man. I now know a fear in me. A fear that Yoná, the Deiva Suprēma, has graced you not of Her gift of odyl.”
Upon hearing the priest’s words, the knights were seized by a surprise of a different sort.
“Why, has there ever been such a thing, Reverend? To be given naught?”
“…Writ in our history, it is not, I’m afraid. Though Her grace of odyl varies in measure, it is heretofore a gift always given.”
“But what of reason, Reverend?”
A shake of the head.
“I… I have not the answer. Were it merely that the light was unthinkably faint… but this, too, I fear, was not so. While sore incredulous, Yoná’s ways are mysterious. Thus I can only surmise…” the priest reasoned, his brows furrowing at me as if beholding something most alien, “…that this wayward lamb is lost to Her blessing.”
I dared not dwell upon the matter.
Instead, I took in the weight of those words, rose up, and turned back. There was I met with Emilie and Felicia, struck and silent out of all their wits.
I stared on through the window from my room.
“…the man ungraced…”
In the high yonder, skies were awash with an evenlight drabber and more dreary than those of days past. Home was never so heavy.
Our return trip from the rites bore a like weight, for nary a word was aired between Emilie, Felicia, and I.
Never do I make myself the sort to be bothered by mere silence, but today was different: enduring the two’s reticence required tangible effort. From time to time, I had sensed the girls looking my way, their eyes darkened with both woe and worry. What words to say, which wordless moment to break—all seemed lost to them.
Not that any blame was to be found in them. Our Reverend said it himself: never has such misfortune befallen upon a Londosian in all the history of this realm. Indeed, to be bereft of odyl is clearly an aberration. Its absence brands one as being nigh powerless in battle; a stigma, then, for we kin of Man have long been at war with the Nafílim.
Though they be our enemy of many centuries, they are unlike us humans in scant ways. They foster culture, share our appearance, our language—the sole difference that immediately strikes the eye is the tawny colour of their skin.
But what sets us apart most notably is not to be found without, but within: the strength native to their flesh. While we progeny of Man must attain odyl through divine ritual, a Nafíl is instilled with the treasured force from the moment of his conception. And with it, he and many brethren arm themselves with affrighting magicks, well-earning their place as a most terrible foe.
Fighting fire with fire was the chosen path for Men—we, too, came to wield the same odyl against the Nafílim. A magicked defence best wards off a magicked offence. Similarly, only a magicked offence can break through a magicked defence. Without this supernatural succour, Men are as lambs left to the slaughter.
The Chivalric Orders themselves are founded upon this very basis, honing their knights in all manner of magicked combat. So it is that those who lack odyl lack the means to fight the Nafílim. It follows, then, that such impotence would be most unwelcome in the knightly institution. Of course, for a man to be “odylless” is heretofore an unthinkable occurrence, but there was no doubt in my mind that such a man, powerless as he is, would find no comfort wherever he may wander, let alone the hallowed halls of the Orders.
Always have I longed to become a knight.
But the grace of odyl has spurned me. I am that “odylless” man, lacking that which the knights hold to be most precious: the power to fight.
What, then, could I do?
“…Rather vain, I admit, to ponder on like this,” I muttered again.
I would join the Order, just as planned.
Knighthood forever eludes me otherwise. No matter how meagre my chances, so long as the light of luck itself is not snuffed out, so long as I yet have the will to keep pursuing my knightly dreams, I can do little else but cast the dice. Besides, there are other avenues to apply my mettle in battle, even without odyl; say, the extermination of the behemót vermin.
What’s more, the Order is hardly the only place in these lands that measures the worth of a man by his odyl. Thus the barony itself affords no safe haven for an aberration like me, who has no odyl to begin with. And with things as they are, inheriting the Buckmann estate is out of the question.
Here on the barony…
…or there in the Order.
What my future lacks in choices, it brims with blame and censure.
“…Such friction might be the least of my worries, I fear….”
Of course, to be denied odyl is to be denied by the divine. Yoná’s forsaken child, as it were, for whom awaits nothing better than despisal, derision, and discrimination. What foul a turn my life has taken…
“I yet have my sword.”
Sharp iron mirrored the thinning twilight—in my hands, my trusty blade, the sole companion in all the toils of my training. Used through and through, its patina was riddled with scuffs and scratches, yet by my unfailing care, the weapon was kept most serviceable.
Yes. The sword may yet avail me. I can still wield it, ungraced as I am. I would further ply my technique in the Order, and fight by the sword. And then, I would become a knight.
This I swore upon my very heart.
With the setting of the sun came the hour for supper.
Only, not a single servant came to bid my presence, as per usual. Worried, I went down to the dining hall, finding my parents and Felicia in the wordless midst of supping.
Neither Father nor Mother spared a single glance my way. For her part, my sister found the impulse to do so, but just once, and only before immediately turning her gaze down to her plate. It was then that I noticed my chair wholly missing from the room.
From behind approached one of our servants.
Obliging, I followed him to the kitchen. The other servants, let alone the cooks, were absent therein; no more meals would be prepared for the rest of the night. But there, set unceremoniously upon the counter was a smattering of food: black bread and a bowl of soup conjured from vegetable scraps. To them the servant pointed, and then went about his way without a word.
Before the counter was a wooden box—my new “chair”, from the look of it.
“A meal with all the trimmings. Fancy that,” came my hollow quipping. “More than I could’ve hoped for, if I’m honest.”
Sat upon the box, I grabbed the stiff black bread and tore off a morsel. Into the soup it went before I endeavoured a bite of it. Not too terrible. Who could’ve imagined that the combination of cold, hard bread and tasteless soup was a match made in heaven?
My chewing stopped. I stared into the bowl.
This sort of treatment was to be my reality from now on.
That’s to say nothing of the Order; I would sooner rouse some magicks of my own than be welcomed more warmly than a sickly cur there.
Indeed. Even a cur has its place, unlike a man unloved by the Deiva. An intruder upon Her cherished land. An alien ailing Her flesh. A mistake within Her machinations. A good-for-nothing to be disdained—that was I, Rolf, the ungraced.
I resolved to accustom myself to such treatment. For meals even, I would partake of aught I am accorded, no matter how crude the menu. I was yet growing; to deprive my body of sustenance now would leave it stunted and fain to fail me in a future battle.
Silently, then, I took up another scrap of bread and pushed it into my mouth.
Supper was done with.
In the dimly lamp-lit kitchen I remained, still sat upon the box, arms folded. Up to the ceiling I then gazed. My thoughts turned to my family, now fractured by the day’s happenings.
That I would be treated this way falls well within my expectations, but one small matter did not: I sense little in the way of anger or sorrow from my parents.
Thinking upon it now, the warmth of our familial bond is, all through to my most faded memories, not especially warm at all. I am, to them, a progeny of potential. A fine cog in the Buckmann machinery.
But never a son.
A heavy cloud of an epiphany it is, one that settled in not recently, but during the course of my tinier years. Murkily. Steadily.
Of course, no parent should be so blamed for fixing at least one eye upon his child’s future promise. Only, the eyes of my own parents are all bespectacled by the jealous lenses of “self-interest”, as it were.
Who they need is not “Rolf”, but an able heir to House Buckmann—a cold conclusion, I admit, but one I somehow settled upon regardless.
“No… Perhaps I read too deeply.”
Or perhaps this situation had taken its toll, and my thoughts couldn’t help but turn to negativity, turbid as they were with cowardice, self-resentment, and resignation.
Yet my plight is grave. That much is true.
Truer still is the influence of one’s environs: deep as it is inescapable. But discrimination is as a cage, sapping all hale that might give growth to one’s character. A cage that now very well surrounds me.
The laws of Londosius hold the age of fifteen to be the dawn of one’s adulthood, and it is at this same age that one can enlist in the Order at the earliest. But let there be no doubt that one’s heart is yet immature at this unripened age. Thus, even after reaching adulthood must the heart be allowed to mature further yet. The Order, too, exists for this purpose.
Let there also be no doubt, then, that to live in such a space, where one is so harried by malice from others, one would surely be impaired by no small degree.
Those who are hurt time after time eventually come to fear all too much the thought of being hurt yet again, and so does the integrity of their character begin to shrivel. They fret over the words and conduct of others, seek stagnancy when their hearts desire action, and ever avert their eyes from the gaze of society.
All too often have I witnessed this for myself in others. And now, the fates deign to count me amongst those pitiable droves by throwing me into the same misery that produced them.
This, I will not abide.
But to brave the breaking and battering winds, I must, at all costs, keep myself from falling apart.
“Through discipline, temper thyself,’ was it now?”
My lips bent into a wearied simper. I realised then just how given fifteen year-olds are to feigning wisdom.
Shaking my head, I rose up to make my way back to my room, only to find a figure standing at the kitchen doorway.
“Dear Brother…” came her quiet, quivering words.
(Language: Hebrew; singular: behemá) The “beasts” of Soot-Steeped Knight; terrible creatures imbued with odyl of their own.