Walking the sea

holding hands

Elai was a war veteran of the Arid Lands, yet he hadn’t seen the dark realm fall for when this happened he, an Ilsenoy lord’s son, was too young for the war yet. No matter how much he wanted to be a hero his father wouldn’t let him.

Two years passed since the victory when Elai had come of age and joined the army. Since then his duty was fighting the shards of the former horde, patrolling the lands freed from them, and keeping order. Elai had seen his share of fighting, killed, watched people die and villages burn. There was nothing romantic about that. The hardened veteran laughed bitterly at the naive boy he used to be.

Elai left his childhood on Ilsenoy. There, in Arid Lands, he got his first wound and found his first love. There a young boy turned into a grim man with a long scar across his sunburned face. Once the war is over he planned to return home with his wife and daughter. One day…

Elai’s contemplation that early morning was interrupted in the most unexpected way: by a golden dragon crash landing on the ground beside his tent. Golden dragons are bred and trained to carry letters and parcels, not people. No wonder this one had fallen down. A man who rode it, a servant, by the way he moved and kept his eyes low, was running toward Elai now.

“My lord!” He pleaded. “You should go to Ilsenoy at once!”
“What happened?” Demanded Elai and shook the servant by the shoulders. He feared that something was wrong with his father, but no, the answer was different:
“Lady Enya is very ill!”
“Lady Enya?” Elai raised his brow, puzzled. “Who’s that?”

The servant’s shoulders drooped in a helpless gesture…

“You grew up with her together, lord Elai,” he muttered. “She… she is a daughter of the warrior who died saving your lord father’s life. Lord Vidar, grateful for his sacrifice, took the hero’s daughter to live in his castle as his ward. You grew up together… and… don’t you remember me as well?”

Elai frowned. Enya… yes, that’s her. They grew up and played as equals back then, all three. The third one was the servant’s son, Archie. When they turned ten their paths diverged, according to their birthright. Elo became Elai, a young lord and his father’s heir. Ena became lady Enya. Archie kept his old name, because, no one would call a servant Archibald.

Last time Elai saw Enya at his knighting ceremony, right before he was sent to Arid Lands. They even danced together. Oh, how long ago that was!

“Archie?” The warlord grinned, remembering. The servant grinned back.
“Elo…” He stopped dead, his head bowed, and promptly corrected himself: “Lord Elai. She is dying, my lord. Day and night she calls your name… I came here myself, with the postal dragon, because I couldn’t trust a letter. For the sake of our childhood friendship, please, go to her, lord Elai.”
“Why me?” Elai shrugged.
“I think…” Archie hesitated. “I think she loves you, my lord. Always did.”
“You don’t say! So I must leave my troops, my wife, my daughter and fly to some dying girl right away? Who do you think I am…”
“Just let her see you again. Let her die in peace. Please, lord Elai. It will be counted as a good deed when you leave this earth and ascend the Sky…”

The servant had the audacity to look the lord in the eye.

“We are responsible for those who loves us, Elo! Your father knew this well,” he said.
“All right, I’ll go,” Elai agreed begrudgingly already regretting his decision the very moment he made it.

Elai gave the necessary orders to be carried out in his absence and sent Archie to saddle up a violet dragon for him. Violet dragons are strong enough to carry people. One at a time, of course, if you don’t want the beasts to crash land half dead after each ride.

Archie watched the violet speck disappearing in the sky with the kind of hope that fills eyes with tears and heart with flame… Something snapped in him, he drew himself up to his full height, he clenched his fists and for a moment didn’t look like a lowly servant at all. Soon he found himself running to the barn and waking up his golden dragon.

“Wally, dear Wally,” he said giving him a hug. “Please, wake up!”

The dragon opened his eyes, very very tired eyes, deep blue.

“I beg you, carry me back home. I must be there! I know you can do this! I know you’re strong enough!”

To the utter shock of the local dragon tamers the golden dragon they didn’t hope would survive this day had raised his head and spread his wings. In a minute he was in the air, with a rider on his back. A golden speck was getting smaller and smaller, heading to Ilsenoy.

Elai felt nothing as he passed by his father’s castle. He wasn’t going to visit his family, even though the should have done so, according to the rules. He was not in the mood. Every second he spent there felt like a precious thing stolen from him. He couldn’t wait to go back.

After Enya had received her adult name, lord Vidar gave her a little castle by the sea to live in and rule. From above it looked like a weird nest clinging to the bare rock and was easy to find.

Violet dragon flew around it in a wide curve before landing. Seeing him people of the castle hurried to prepare for the arrival of the high guest the best they could in such a short time.

A servant greeted Elai as he landed. He wasn’t even surprised that it was Archie. For a moment Lord Vidar’s son remembered him as a boy and thought that he’d make a great warrior if he weren’t so lowly born. Elai’s lips answered the thought with a smile. An unseemly smile he hurried to wipe from his face as he’d seen the other servants running to meet him.

“Where?” He asked Archie unceremoniously and threw the bridle reins to the nearest dragon tamer.

Archie led him through a labyrinth of narrow corridors, stepping without a noise and keeping his head low as a good servant must.

The air of the small, thickly carpeted room was filled with a strong smell of herbs. A sad healer turned his face to Elai as he entered. A lot of sleepless nights left their mark on that face. The healer didn’t say anything, just spread his hands in a helpless gesture and left the room.

Elai barely recognized Enya. His childhood friend was as pale as a ghost. The bandage on her wound was fresh, not yet stained with blood.

“What happened to her?” Wondered Elai. “Is it an arrow wound?”
“She was a creator, like Mildegard,” Archie replied in a whisper, “and dreamed of glory just like hers... She fought in Arid Lands, Elo…”

Archie fell silent and looked Elai in the eye, again, hoping to see an old friend in the grim young lord. A friend he loved. A friend he trusted…

“You must say “lord Elai”!” the warlord retorted. “And stop staring at me, servant!”

Archie’s heart filled with sorrow. Hatred followed, turning to rage rapidly. He constrained it. “For Enya’s sake.” He thought.

“Hold her hand, my lord. She’s been waiting for you… I… I brought him, Enya, he’s here.” He gently took her marble white hand and put it into Elai’s.
“Archie…” Enya whispered. “Where’s Elai?”
“Right here…” Archie made himself smile, but his lips trembled and tears ran down his cheeks. “He’s holding your hand…”
“Elai… Send for Elai…” Enya looked somewhere past the man she loved and waited for. “Where’s Elai?”
“Right here,” that was Elai himself speaking.
“Where?... Why wouldn’t he come?”

She called and called for him in a quiet whisper, but even that had been too much for her. Her bandages turned red with blood. Her wound had opened again.

Archie wept inconsolably no longer caring about how he looked. As to Elai, he caught himself thinking of yellow Aridian dunes and red canyons, so bright before his mind’s eye…

“You are indeed not here, Elai,” stated Archie tearing his dreams apart. “She’s been waiting for you for so long and you didn’t come… Go away.”

And he obeyed, gladly. Only hours later, on his way to Arid Lands he remembered that Archie forgot to address him as lord… He didn’t care to return and punish him, though.

...Her wound opened again. The healer said with a tired sigh:

“He could’ve saved her. Now she doesn’t wants to live anymore.”

Enya died in the morning. Her motionless face the first rays of the sun gently touched was cold and marble white. Later, when the sun had just risen over horizon, Archie jumped off the cliff, head first, his hands wide spread as if he was going to fly. He landed on the sharp stones below and died instantly. The waves rocking his lifeless body turned red.

That evening an unusually thick fog enveloped Ilsenoy.

Unseen for the living, two figures walked the sea, hand in hand. One was Enya, the other was Archie, only he stepped proudly now and kept his head high, no longer having to behave like a servant.

“It’s like back then, when we were kids.” Enya’s ghost smiled, transparent against the sea.

Archie nodded.

“I wonder whether Elai will ever join us,” she said, her smile fading in an instant.
“He won’t.” Archie shrugged. “He’s a lord’s son and a warrior. He will fall in battle and join the Sky Father in his army to feast and fight there forever! We and him have different Heavens.”
“No, Archie. I don’t think so. See, I died of a poisoned arrow, you jumped off the cliff. But I’m not with the Sky Army and you are not in the Underground Queendom where all the kind servants are supposed to go. We are walking the sea we always loved. Together. We chose our own Heavens. Maybe Elo will too.”
“Maybe,” Archie nodded, sincerely wanting to believe it. “Yes, our Elo might. As to the Elai, let the Sky Father get him, I don’t care.”

(September, 24, 2003)

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