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Chapter V

A goddess. Allen was preoccupied with his thoughts as he left the College. His mind was filled with questions. What was her name? Who was she? What did it mean to bear her mark, and was he supposed to be the champion of this goddess? What responsibilities were involved? Did he want those responsibilities? Whatever they were, it seemed they would be forced upon him. He had not asked for the mark.

He dismissed the idea of unwanted responsibility with a shrug. If the goddess asked him for something, he would worry about it then. The priestess of Kaisa had seemed pleased with her position, and he had the general idea that those with marks were not discontent with their lot.

He wasn’t sure if they were even that special. Really, what did a mark mean? Did it grant its bearer some form of divine favor or power? Was he supposed to work miracles as superstition around the marks suggested?

He would find out eventually. If the goddess had seen fit to grant him a mark, then no doubt she would make the rest of her will evident to him eventually. Perhaps she was waiting for something.

He wondered if she were waiting for him to change beneath the influence of the mark, as the priests had said he would. How long did something like that take, and what would be the end result?

The marked were perfectly human, as far as he knew. So it wasn’t a strange physical change. Perhaps it was spiritual or mental. Perhaps it took time for the divine influence to work its way through the body and alter whatever it was interested in altering. Had three and a half years been enough time for the mark to work?

He clenched his hand into a fist and then relaxed it again, watching the movement of bone and muscle in his arm. Three and a half years had certainly put some muscle onto his once skinny frame. Work on the Dhara and the Guard’s training had been good for that. He was broad-shouldered but still lean, and as tall as most of the people in the north. His hair was dark and short but slightly tousled on a usual day. Keeping it a bit long helped provide extra padding for a helm.

Champion. Goddess. What did those words mean to him? More importantly, what did they mean to Her?

Why had she given him the mark, and what did she expect of him?

He wasn’t averse to serving her. If nothing else, these years had made him very comfortable with the mark beside his eye, if not always so much with the reactions of people to it or the responsibilities it might entail. A fine distinction, he mused. Perhaps he hadn’t thought it through yet. But, in a way, to see the Mark on his face every time he looked in a reflection was reassuring. It was true that it reminded him he was not home, and raised a strong feeling of nostalgia, but it was also a sign that he belonged where he was, that he was the focus of something greater than himself.

The Mark was like his Guard uniform, an outward representation of his place in society. And living in a world that was still sometimes new to him, he liked to have that reassurance.

Besides, he thought as he paused beside a jeweler’s window and examined his reflection in the glass, it was a pretty mark. A green ivy vine with smaller tendrils that curled around the outer corner of his left eye, the top of it curving around his eyebrow and the bottom curling just under his eye. Small green and gold leaves spread themselves from the vine and tendrils.

As he was looking into the mirror, a young woman with a small girl walking beside her caught sight of him and paused. She was dressed in a simple blue skirt and white blouse, and a patterned shawl was wrapped around her shoulders. She took in his uniform and his mark, and gave him a tentative smile as she approached.

“Good morning, sir.” She dipped in a short but graceful curtsy. “I don’t mean to bother you, but I saw your mark.”

“How can I help you?” Allen asked, after he returned her curtsy with a polite bow. He brushed away his slight irritation at the interruption. She was probably going to ask for a blessing. Most people did. It was his duty as a Guard to help the people of Aciel whenever possible, and perhaps it was his responsibility as the marked champion of a forgotten goddess to spread her blessings as far as possible too. Either way, at least he was doing something useful. The only problem would be if a crowd started to gather. He didn’t have that much time before he needed to get back.

“I was hoping you would bless something for my daughter. She’s afraid of ghosts, and I think a blessing will help her to get over it.”

She knelt down beside her daughter, who looked to be four or five, and unclasped a thin necklace. Then she stood up and held it out to him.

It was a simple silver chain with a crescent moon hanging from it. Initials were engraved onto the back of the moon.

He smiled at the girl, and took the necklace into his hand. It seemed twist itself around for a moment, glittering and flashing in the sunlight, and then he felt the world waver. It felt like the entire world was rippling around him, as if it were a sheet hung out in the wind.

A glade at night surrounded him, and he heard the sound of crickets and the creak of branches in the wind. A crescent moon hanging above illuminated pathways that circled in the center of the glade, their borders flowering hedges that bloomed with pale white and gold. A sweet scent floated on the air.

And across the glade from him, bathed in the light of the pale moon, stood a woman with dark hair that cascaded past her waist, clothed in a simple, classical dress. Ribbons of white flowers were woven through her hair.

He knew his eyes should not have been sharp enough, but he could see her in every detail. She smiled at him.

And then she was gone.

The necklace in his hand grew warm with the blessing of the goddess.

He swayed slightly and the world seemed vague and ethereal around him, but he struggled to maintain his composure as he smiled at the woman and held out the necklace for her. It would be easier if she’d just stand still.

“The blessing of the goddess go with you and your daughter,” he managed to get out.

A moment later, the mother and daughter were gone and he was alone again on the street. By a stroke of fortune it seemed no other passersby had been aware of the blessing, or at least were not inclined to ask for one themselves. The mother and daughter had not seemed to notice his reaction.

The world slowly resumed its solidity.

When he had recovered from the vision, he could still feel the lingering sensation of the woman smiling.

Woman. Goddess. He knew her now, and she was beyond a doubt the one who had marked him.

Why had she waited so long to show herself to him? And was she not still sleeping?

It was a confirmation of what the Council had told him, and it did bring him some reassurance that the story was accurate. He didn’t think she would have shown herself to him otherwise. It was as if she were offering her approval to the knowledge he had gained.

And perhaps it meant she was ready to take a more active role in his life? Or an indicator that he should take a more active role for her? He felt a slight sense of rebellion at being at the beck of a goddess that he hadn’t chosen, but it faded shortly. She had never asked him for anything. It didn’t seem as if she were asking him for anything more now.

She was simply confirming her existence and giving him an idea of herself. Time would tell what it all meant, or what he was supposed to do for her.

He felt a new and vague longing join the familiar nostalgia for his home. He wanted to visit that glade where he had seen the goddess, to truly see her in the night. It would be the culmination for his sense of wonder in the world. To be in the presence of a true goddess.

What would she be like? he wondered. What would she say to him? What truths would she reveal or myths dispel?

He wondered who she was, but he stopped himself with the thought only half-formed. That was what she had shown him. Not with words, but with a sense of herself that was more solid than words. It would be better to ask not “who” she was, but to wonder what she was, and to question her purpose, her history, and her intent.

He was glad to have had this glimpse of her, and to have the assurance of her presence. He thought he could feel the touch now of the spirit behind the mark. And he knew, at a level that he had not before consciously examined, the dissolution of a tension. He had not ever let himself consider the matter, out of a sense of self-determinism, but he was aware now that he had feared learning the origin of the mark. It had brought him into the world and taken him away from his family. What worse things could it do?

The vision of the goddess had banished that worry. Whatever she was, and whatever her purpose, he no longer worried that it would harm him. There was, he figured, a distinct possibility that it could kill him. But that was a different matter, physical rather than spiritual. The difference between unwilling torture and a death in heroic defense of a nation.

He could live with the second, if it were necessary. After all, he had his oaths to the King and Guard and they were much the same. Heroism was part and parcel of his place in this world. That the goddess might ask that of him did not worry him, just as that the King might ask it of him did not worry him. Perhaps it was a mindset familiar only to another Guard, but he was content. The worry over unwilling servitude had come to an end with the goddess’ appearance. Whatever she was going to ask him, he knew the answer would be of his own free will.

He also knew though, that eventually she was going to ask him. He didn’t know yet what the question would be, but he could feel it dangling there somewhere in the future. Indistinct still. Unrealized. But eventually it would come to him, and she would ask him, and he would have to answer.

For now, there was no need to dwell on it. It was a matter for deliberation on long nights spent alone beneath the moon and for time on patrol in the distant north, not for the sun-warmed streets of the late morning, when passersby thronged around him and the rising beat of Rylar’s activity rose into the heavens and caused the city to echo with its vibrancy.

And he wondered with more immediate concern how Kilin and Jaella were faring in the infirmary, and if they had awoken yet. He should check on them again.

There was no need to report to the Secretary’s office on his return to the palace. The Council had sent its own message to the king, and his report would be unnecessary. If the Secretary or the king thought it would be useful to hear his thoughts on the meeting, they would simply order him to report at a specific time or send a messenger for him.

He suspected he would be summoned eventually. Marks were rare, and curiosity if nothing else would probably win out. The king might also have a plan for him at some point, if he thought Allen’s mark would be useful. Allen didn’t know how reliable the precognition seemed to be. It had only happened twice, and years apart. But the possibility of it might be enough for the king to take interest. Especially if the attack on Kilin and Jaella had been part of something larger, as the king’s questions the night before had suggested it might be.

He had his usual afternoon training to attend, but there was enough time to stop by the infirmary and check on Kilin and Jaella and still get lunch.

He heard voices while he was still in the hallway outside the infirmary door, and when he walked in he found Kilin and Jaella sitting up in bed and carrying on an animated conversation about the merits of mead versus ale. There was no sign of any injury, and they were dressed and sitting cross-legged atop the beds.

He just stood there for a minute staring at them. And then he started laughing.

Kilin and Jaella turned to see him enter, and Kilin gave his infectious grin. “Our hero!”

Jaella was slightly more formal, but still smiling as she stood up and crossed the room to him. “Good morning, Lieutenant. Thank you for finding us and for the help.” She paused in front of him, and gave him a hug.

“You have to come to dinner with my parents tonight. They would like to thank you themselves.”

“Thank me?” he asked, a bit confused. “All I did was find you and this lout in an alley.”

“Night after that at my parents,” Kilin said. And then more quietly added, “I may have talked you up a bit. Nothing untrue though. You valiantly found us in the alley, after all. It’ll do you some good. Father was here earlier, and regretted that he missed you.” His voice lacked his usual humor when he mentioned his father, but that was usual for him. His father’s expectations for him were one thing that Kilin failed to find amusing.

Allen accepted both invitations with grace, but in truth he was not interested in the dinner with either family. It would give him a chance to see Jaella, and he found that he liked that idea. But he was uncomfortable accepting thanks from people he did not know.

He didn’t know about Jaella’s relationship with her family and how the attack might affect it, but it would not go over well with Kilin’s father. Allen’s presence at dinner was only going to aggravate the situation. Kilin’s father would be constantly aware that his son had been bested, and instead of being grateful to someone who’d helped, he’d be angry about it. He would take it as a suggestion that his son was not good enough.

He would be polite, of course. He was Baron Vreis, and known for his cool head in hard times, as well as for his public speaking. But what marked Baron Vreis in public was not what marked Baron Vreis in private, as Kilin had explained before. Allen had only met the Baron on two occasions and for the sake of his friend he was not looking forward to the third.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, June 26th, 2008 at 12:14 am and is filed under A Northern Heart. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Responses to “Chapter V”

  1. Ryan Says:

    This is a really excellent chapter; Allen’s musings over his relationship to his goddess and his own desires and freedom of choice are particularly thoughtful. The characters are still gaining a lot of flesh, and that’s fun, too, especially with the (partially foreshadowed) backgrounds of Kilin and Jaella.

  2. nabi al-raml Says:

    Nice. I really liked Allen’s inner musings and for some reason the line about harm vs. kill really grabbed me.

    The mysterious goddess appears! And appears to have some connection to the moon. Although the crescent moon is usually a good female symbol (or at least has been retconned as so if the former isn’t the case) so she doesn’t necessarily have to have a direct connection. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of her (obviously big things) and the two familial dinners.

  3. anon y mouse Says:

    Poor Kilin. 🙁 I hope that goes well; or at least not as badly as Allen expects. And he gets to meet Jaella’s family; there are several ways that could be interesting.

    I think Allen is becoming more in tune with his goddess and he doesn’t even realize it. It’s usually a slow process though, so someone will probably have to point it out to him for him to notice. And he might not even then.

    Funny thing happened when I started reading this on Thursday; I had to stop in the middle of it. So the half-written chapter a while back, comes back to haunt me. 😉

  4. cat Says:

    More gremlins…
    “Besides, he thought as he paused beside a jeweler’s window” … jeweller’s has 2 l’s. As in, traveller. Or jewellery.

    “By a stroke of fortune it seemed no other passersby had been aware of the blessing” … passers by is 2 words, it’s one of those split infinitive grammatical annoyances.

    I enjoyed this chapter, I like getting inside someone’s head. You don’t have time to be moody about dinner dates Allen, you have a Sleeping Beauty to wake up! Go find that armour and trusty steed! (lol)

  5. Chad-Writtenfire Says:

    Jeweler’s is fine with one “l”. The double “l” is a variant. Passersby is usually hyphenated as passers-by, but I deliberately left the hyphen out and made it one word. I haven’t been revising the last half-dozen chapters; I just put them up when I’m done with them, and they usually have typos here or there that I’ll correct eventually. Thanks for pointing out the tipos. I did take your suggestions in the last chapter.

    But remember that spelling is an idiosyncratic art, Cat. 😉 Punctuation is too. Ask Joyce, Eliot, Cummings, and Pound. Grammar is a matter of descriptive and proscriptive rules, and for the most part spelling is descriptive–something medievalists are very familiar with after reading Old and Middle English and seeing all of the commonly accepted variants.

    The dictionary is a valuable resource, but it’s also limiting. Stifling.

    I’m glad you’re excited about the story. Allen is going to go in search of the sleeping beauty one way or another, whether he wants to or not.

  6. V Says:

    One part of the chapter that really grabbed me is this section:
    “Whatever she was, and whatever her purpose, he no longer worried that it would harm him.

    There was, he figured, a distinct possibility that it would kill him. But that was a different matter, physical rather than spiritual.”

    I also had a small hiccup at “to see her for real in the night” as I don’t usually see that construction in literature–it’s more linked with “IRL” and the internet. However, it’s quickly becoming part of our language and this was a good, appropriate place for it. After I stopped to think about it I quite like it.

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