Vol.2, Ch.2, P.5
Once again was Mia asleep upon my bed.
Not long ago was the supper we shared of lentil stew. I remembered all too well of how she broke down in tears so asudden then. Only thereafter was it known to me that her father well-favoured the foresaid legume, and that a meal of it was to be had with the whole family upon his return.
A tragedy, then, that such would never be. Forever was he lost to war, and with him, the happiness of a family supping together with their dear father.
This was what Mia recalled. The sorrows, unearthed. The tears, roused.
In the bedtime that followed, Mia had thought to visit my room, too shaken as she was by the awoken weight of the trauma. It was then that I shared my bed with her, and together we stared at the stars till our sound slumber. From then on, every so often would Mia visit me in like fashion, when the memories were a reminder too vivid, when the solitude of the night proved too affrighting for her heart to handle.
Earlier today, in the course of our outing did Mia at last relate to me her plight and past. The gentle persuasion to do so was founded in my simple desire to lighten the burden of her sorrows, if even by a little. But just as before, to reminisce upon misery of such might was a tax too dear upon Mia’s mind. So it was that again, she now slept by my side.
Her slumbering breaths were unabated. It would seem her dreams had found some peaceful purchase.
But the same could not be said of my heart.
For the tragedies that befell upon her—not least her captivity and indenturement—all transpired only after I had assumed my post as acting commandant of Balasthea.
Of course, that possibility was hardly a thought unvisited in my mind. But to think earnestly upon it only now… Yes. In the end, I may have been merely afraid to confront so cold a truth.
By her words, Mia’s village was violated four moons ago.
Within the first days of that fateful month. A time I recalled too well. One that found me yet unaccustomed to my new life and duties here. One that found me in friction with the margrave. Indeed, the words and ideals we exchanged were as a clash upon a battlefield.
Yet neither of us yielded in the end. The margrave went ahead and sent his men through the gates of Balasthea, their hearts steeled with the singular aim of pillaging all that they would find in the Nafílim domain. Whether it be trinkets and treasures, or innocent souls to be sold as slaves for a pretty coin, nothing was to be spared from their eager grasps.
Oh, did I sue for the staying of those hands. But my reasonings were alien in these lands as they were to the margrave’s mind. So it was that we could not find accord with one another. So it was that I could do naught but look on, powerless to stop the rape and ransacking that ensued thereafter.
An ease upon my heart, were Mia’s abduction an affair well-transpired before my charge.
Needless to say, I wouldn’t dare fancy such folly.
Even then, there lingered in me some indelible lament or misgiving that left me breathless. Like a stone of solicitude set squarely upon my bosom, to press upon my lungs till their beleaguerment.
Why was I so wrung? Well…
There was but one reason.
Not more than a few days after my argument with the margrave did I find his Fiefguardsmen returning from their greedy excursion.
Across the fort they coursed, their carts and carriages packed with plunder.
Across my presence they passed, homebound to the bowels of Arbel.
And within one such waggon was surely Mia, her sister withal.
Fresh from the massacre of their family. Their hearts, fracted. Their fates, forever shadowed.
The both of them passed right…
…right by me.
What now welled up within my heart, I knew not the nature of. Whether it be self-resentment. Or whether it be sympathy for those blameless victims. But what I did know of was the shallow extent of my grasp. The true worth of a man utterly powerless. Now, more so than ever.
The Nafílim are a kind to be killed, if not imprisoned and enslaved. Nevermind whether they bear arms or amity.
Such is the creed of Man, common throughout all his realms.
This, I knew.
That the waggons passing under my watch were possibly bedecked with prisoners…
…this, too, I knew.
Yet it was not till a living example was presented before me that the weight of that truth was first and full-impressed upon my conscience. An example by no other name than “Mia”. Indeed, not till our chance encounter did I ever realise what my actions exacted from my victims. Of what plights my battles precipitated beyond their boundaries.
‘…no one else in the village… used a big axe like him…
and he often went… went to battle with it…’
Of her war-dead father, Mia spoke as such.
Words, passing familiar.
The day before the Fiefguard’s raid. Sternly did I turn down Ebbe’s wantonness for pursuing our routed Nafílim foes. Yet in spite of this, he sallied out with his men and did just that.
The greenest youth of Ebbe’s unit. Verily was he inebriated amongst his like-sodden mates, celebrating the fruits of that selfsame pursuit within one of Arbel’s pubs. His rambunctious ramblings rang clear to me, even now.
‘…Git this…! They ran…!
…Wit’ them tails tuck’d under them bollocks like the curs they are…!
…Then I came t’cut ‘em all down, I did…!’
‘…Got one o’ ‘em good, I tell ye…!
…Biggest o’ ‘em bastards thought t’stay b’hind an’ let ‘is beefin’ brothers run off…!
…Nice fellow wit’ a giant axe, ‘e was…!
…Then I gave ‘im a good scratchin’ on ‘is back fer the noble deed, I did…!
…Wit’ the keen side o’ me sword, tha’ is…!’
In cold blood did Karl cut down Mia’s father.
The dots certainly lined up.
I was commandant to these men. Yet command them, I could not. Thus did they give in to their grim bloodlust. Thus did they kill Mia’s father.
War was what bound these two together.
And so long as that fell fetter was uncut, so, too, would continue the cruelties. The losses. The tragedies.
Man and his kin were also culled in grievous numbers. That, none can doubt. And for that very reason does he take up sword and magick, to dam the tides of turmoil. To him, the sword is keen not just for the killing. With a swing of it can he protect those dearest to him. With a strike from it can he defend his beloved homeland.
Such a man, bound to battle as he is, finds himself obligated to his country, and only his country. To engender generosity towards his foe, to be derelict in his duties to his lord and land, amounts to naught but treason. What he shall protect must ever and always be none other than his dear neighbour.
One does not err, to think so.
One is not deceived, to believe so.
To Mia’s slumbering face, I looked.
The face of a child, innocent, faultless in this bloody affair.
What must I…?
The following day.
Work resumed. Thus was I back at the fort, sat within my chamber, nose deep in the records of four months prior. Included were copies of the Fiefguard’s operational reports, shared by its commander. Begrudgingly so, that is, but with my insistence that Balasthea’s defence would only benefit were I privy to all of Ström’s military activities, he could but comply.
The Fiefguard’s raid.
Their warpath had wended through the northwestern span of the woodlands yonder, past which laid a Nafílim village. There did the men massacre any Nafíl ill-suited for enslavement; the rest were captured and carted away.
Treasures, coins, and commodities—these, too, were plundered. The village itself, structures and all, were then deemed non-essential, and thus left no more destroyed than they already were.
At present, the village stood as a mere memory of itself, a den without its denizens.
With the reports read, I began piecing together all that I’d learnt with what Mia had related to me.
Not more than half a week before the fateful raid, her father had set out with his fellow Nafílim on a campaign to breach Balasthea’s walls. A short-lived endeavour, for at its end awaited defeat, and in their retreat, the Nafílim assailants were pursued by Ebbe’s unit. It was then that Mia’s father was felled.
The Fiefguard’s foray commenced the day after.
But in the waning light of the afternoon, a few hours before the Fiefguardsmen’s arrival, Mia’s mother left their home. Not long after did her eldest sister follow, to check upon the orphanage where she oft gave a helping hand.
As evening came, so, too, did the Fiefguard. Soldiers set upon Mia’s home, and her brother, dire in his deed to protect both it and his sisters, was cut down. With no less than three men did he measure swords.
…A brave lad. Would he were yet alive. I certainly would like to meet him.
Indefensible, Mia and her elder sister were dragged out and taken to the village square. There were the befouled remains of her father presented, and her mother later killed.
After that ordeal came another: the two girls were brought to Arbel. To wit, a concentration camp therein, where the elder sister ailed till her last breath.
I dug my face into my hands.
Truly, a tragedy. And such strength there was in little Mia. To survive it all. To retell it.
And it was thanks to her strength that there lingered one untended truth.
The eldest sister.
Not yet was her ill end established.
The Fiefguard’s findings recount no more Nafílim left in that land. A right mind would reason that the orphanage, too, was attacked, and Mia’s eldest sister along with it. Indeed, to re-tread this bloodied path would surely do naught but invite new nightmares to Mia’s haunted heart.
Yet, at the end of this unravelled thread may be hope, however faint. And so long as there was, I thought it a worthy endeavour to seek it out and know its nature.
And espy whether it portended some semblance of solace.
“…A conundrum, this.”
I pondered, homebound.
Not without visiting that eviscerated village could I, or anyone, know the fate of Mia’s remaining sister.
Indeed, four full moons have wheeled by since the coming of the raid. Odds are, naught would be found. Naught would be known.
But suppose I did find someone. Not by my faculties would I be able to tell Mia’s sister from that of a mere stranger. And that’s to say nothing of leaving Mia alone for however many days the trip would take.
Mia is key in this. I must take her along.
Yet the way is not without its dangers; such woods are wont to host in their shadows any manner of beasts or behemót. And to begin with, I am a kin of Man. To wander unguarded into Nafílim lands is tantamount to suicide.
It bears no mention here: those territories are hostile now as they ever were before.
What’s more, I have my position to consider: as acting commandant of Balasthea, I am beholden to my men just as much as I am to Mia.
Am I a fool, then? One sodden with the idea of deserting his office, all to protect a pitiful little girl? An ungraced, chivalrous not by occupation, but by delusion? A white knight—syndromically so?
What foul jest.
Steeped in such thoughts, I found myself arriving at my porch. With the door opened, Mia came forth to greet me.
“Glad to be home, Mia.”
To her, I looked. The very subject of my worries—what did she herself think of all this? No optimism was to be found in her words when she recounted to me what had befallen upon her family. None, even for her missing sister.
It was by that same tragedy that such pessimism was conceived. Mia was made to surrender all hope she had for the world. Of late, her emotions were reawakening bit by bit, sure enough, but her heart remained fracted. Not yet had it found an anchor. Not yet was it ready to believe in aught.
Thus had she given up on the very idea of stepping foot once more upon her homeland. There’s no escaping this realm of Man, she likely thought. Not anymore. So it was that to Mia, to ponder upon the simple possibility that her sister might yet draw breath was naught but a seed of fatigue for a heart already fatigued through and through.
But in that same heart.
At its very core. At its very bottom.
Was therein any hope that it still nurtured? For a dear sister so unaccounted for? Did it yet have the strength to set forth into the unknown? And make known the fate of her last family member? Knowledge that can only be found in her homeland, the hearth of tragedy itself?
What must be done?
By my estimation, the chances that her sister still lived were exceedingly low. But “exceedingly low” was not “nought”. Though, truth be told, my conjectures, my considerations—all were based on this fragile fancy. One ready to shatter unto shards set upon our hearts, were we to find not what we hoped for.
A heavy sigh from my languished lungs. My mind did all but ail as of late, ever since hearing Mia’s story.
A man as much a giant as he is a want-wit, ever and always wavering when it counted most.
And true to his nature, not on this night, like so many other nights, would he find his resolve.
The dawn of another morrow.
The beginning of another work day.
With a check of my boots, I started off on my commute to the fort.
“I will, Mia. I’ll be home at the earliest.”
Mia, of late, has been given to venturing beyond our doorstep just to see me off. There she stood upon our porch, looking quietly on as I stepped towards the road. What prompted such courtesy, I could not say for certain, but I’d like to think it was a sign of our warming bond.
…Was the course of my thought, till at that moment, a one-horse waggon happened to wheel down the road.
Mia’s meek voice, heard as I watched the waggon pass by. Her eyes were turned to a different matter, for in their view was a flower.
—crushed into the ground.
The dainty bell-flora were given to growing in great beds with their brethren. Thus was it passing peculiar for a specimen to sprout upon an unceremonious wayside—not amongst its kin, but all by itself.
An ill-starred solitude, then. To grow upon a path that would one day be driven over by a waggon, and in the wheels’ unwitting wending, be laid low. Flattened—a smear of white and green upon the fresh furrow.
There was sorrow upon Mia’s mien. A deep sorrow for the death of a flower. Though she herself was victim to tragedies more grim and graver again, she had yet the heart to pity a flower.
To it, she went. And then upon it, her caressing fingers. Gently then, she began to stretch up its stem, that it might stand once more.
Only, it could not.
The bell-lily was forever broken.
“…poor… little white flower…”
The cunning curs.
The nemeses of Man.
An evil to be extinguished.
Who was it?
That first aired such curses?
A thrall of the Deiva? Some sainted servant of Yoná?
I should like to meet him. And end his wicked wiles.
For I’ve made a promise.
A promise to Mia.
‘…But you know, Mia… The future is different…
…It can be changed…
…and by my hands, I will see it done…
…Your days yet to come…
…they’ll all be free of sorrow…
…And I’ll make sure of it…
Am I ungiven to honouring my promises?
Of course not.
I keep my promises.
Down at Mia’s side I knelt, and put upon her shoulder a hand unwavering.
“Mia. We must talk.”