Last week I decided I would publish a short story to the site about Isabella and Noel, minor characters in The Eleventh Age. This week continues below with the second installment, but if you haven’t already read the beginning, you should see last week’s post. I’ll do my best to be diligent with my links as we go along.
“We apologize for interrupting your solitude, Zo,” Edward Frank said quietly, so as not to wake the children, asleep on their reed mats scattered across the layered rugs padding the ground of Zo Asan’s private quarters. He gave a gracious nod, laying his work aside, blowing out the lone candle that had lit the over-sized yurt, filling the room with the scent of long, warm darkness Isabella remembered from her childhood, as her father rose from his chair, his devotion to their Mardraim apparent in the quickness of his step as he crossed the room to wake his daughter. She had been pretending to sleep for the past hour, as she had done so often as a youngling, though her father had rarely allowed her to get away with it in her youth. She was certain he had been pretending as well, as he pursued his studies. That evening, his spirit had been still as ever, for the sake of the children who had been brought to spend the night under the watchful care of their Omdra, but he had withdrawn into himself shortly after Isabella’s breaths fell into deep whispers, lengthening like dreams in the night, and she suspected his solitude had been constrained by worry over the wanderer.
“He flies with such purpose,” she whispered, unable to contain her smile as her father bent down and laid a hand on her shoulder, not at all surprised to find her awake. The corners of his mouth drew up warmly, but there was concern still in his eyes. Perhaps she should have been afraid, she thought as she sat up, though she knew that was not what her father wanted. The outside world was a dangerous place, especially for young empaths, but this was just one lone man, hardly worth their worry. She had felt him take off from the ground only a few minutes before, swift as a black kite ascending for the hunt. Living in that mountain, their whole lives spent as stewards of Fate, Isabella had never known anyone to be consumed by such a desperate intention as this man was. It felt enlivening to her. How could she be afraid when she only wanted to know what he sought and why it drove him so, just as everyone else?
“Quickly, Issa,” her father answered as she crawled from under her blanket, “fetch your mother to watch over the children, and meet us in the chamber.” She hurried to do as she was told and began rolling up her bedding like she would any other time, but her father clicked his tongue as her mother used to do to hurry her along to her lessons with the mothers, holding out her aspirant’s tunic to her as he added, “Leave that. I doubt we will return before morning, and she will want to rest.”
“Forgive me,” the young woman smiled, kissing him swiftly on the cheek, pulling the pale yellow garment over her shoulders and tying it at her waist as she hurried out past the Mardraim, who stepped aside chuckling silently.
Harvey Frank, the Madraim’s grandson and aspirant for his clan, was waiting outside, leaned against the garden gate, but quickly fell into step at Isabella’s side as she cut across the vegetable patch, both of them darting through the vines that sprawled at their feet. “You are too happy,” he said, following her lead as she hopped over the garden fence. “You are aware you’re the only one enjoying this?”
“I’m aware. Do you really think he will find his way inside?” she asked as they hurried up the well-worn path toward the birthing house where her mother was working.
“He will,” Harvey answered darkly, with impossible conviction.
“And you are still convinced he brings misfortune?”
Now and then wanderers came to the mountain, to climb the summit, to explore the gorge for forgotten flora, to drink the pure waters from her many streams and listen for the whisperings of Fate, though only a very few had ever heard anything more than bird-songs and the mating call of the wild takin. Rarely were any of those who made their way to their home intent on actually finding a way inside, and never had anyone come seeking the council of the Mdrai. The Danquin people had long believed the outside world had forgotten the seers of old, messengers of Fate, yet somehow this son of the elves knew where to find them. Isabella’s father had felt the man coming the previous day, when he was still speeding toward them out over the ocean, though he said his exact purpose was not entirely clear. Harvey had felt him sooner, and he was certain the man sought to speak with the Mdrai of an ages old prophecy, yet this visit was nowhere to be found in their records.
He nodded, and Isabella loosed a hefty sigh. “Did Fate show you what this elf would do?” she asked, stopping to face him as they reached their destination. Harvey shook his head and pointed impatiently to the door, pushing his glasses up his nose, the way he always did when he was annoyed with her. She could not blame him. Fate did not speak directly to Harvey Frank. Though many augurs were neither empaths nor nurturers, it was highly unusual that they lacked the natural propensity as seers for receiving the Veils. Harvey considered this lack of ability his only flaw, though Isabella would have gladly pointed out several others, if her friend were ever to ask. It wasn’t as though he required foresight to be an Omdra. As an augur, he could still see all of the prophecies in the ancient books housed in the hall of records and interpret the visions of the seers, and his capacity for empathy was astounding, which was the reason his grandfather chose him as his aspirant. Isabella hadn’t intended to offend him, pointing out the one thing in the world he was insecure about, she only meant to remind him that as aspirants they were supposed to be learn wisdom, not rushing to cast judgment on every random elf who turned up seeking their guidance. Considering his extraordinary talent for empathy, she was certain he understood what she had intended the moment she said it and chose to be offended anyway—one flaw among many, she thought, smiling as she pushed open the door. “Harvey, even if Fate had shown you exactly what would happen, you should hardly speak with such certainty,” she said, pointing to his feet, as the mothers would.
He shifted anxiously, looking down at the ground where the imprint of his feet on the grass was supposed to remind him of one of the first lessons the mothers taught to every child in the mountain, whether seer, nurturer, or empath— The blade of grass does not bend before the takin takes his step. No matter the will of Fate, no thing can be done until it is done. This lesson of patience had been impressed upon all of them since they were very small, patience in each other, patience in oneself, and mostly patience in one’s dealings with Fate. Harvey raised an irritable brow, and huffed, “Do as your Omdra told you, Issa, and fetch your mother.”
“Ah, so you know I’m right?” Isabella laughed, shaking her head at him as she hurried inside. The old wood squeaked as he leaned against the wall to wait for her, and she heard him laughing quietly to himself as she started up the hall.
Given all of the lessons they had learned at the knees of the mothers, it was strange that patience was a courtesy the wanderer had not been afforded, Isabella thought as she sought out her own mother among those nurturers in the birthing house. To her, the stranger seemed perfectly harmless, if a bit preoccupied by the burden that was the source of his eagerness to find them. It was apparent his intentions toward them were not malicious, and she had the feeling that he considered the mountain his last resort, that he was as uncertain of that place and what he would find there as the Danquin were uncertain of him, and if he did not find a way inside, he would likely turn away and never look back, not just on their mountain, but on this thing that held onto his soul. But even if he did happen to find the way inside, it was not likely he would make it past the many hazards set in place, to keep intruders at bay. They could have just waited him out, to see what would happen, or even gone to meet him, but instead, as this elf set up his camp in the Tsangpo Gorge the previous night, the aspirants had been called to the divine chamber, a rare occurrence for an even rarer occasion. For years the Mdrai had made regular treks beyond the mountain to learn of the outside world, so they could teach their people about the world the prophecies foretold. They knew the elves were a gentle-natured people, mostly fishermen and farmers with herds of sons. Omdra Yang even pointed out to the Mardraim, “What harm could a fisherman’s son do in our mountain?” and Omdra Wallace had added with laughter, “If a fisherman’s son could make it inside.” But while it was clear they were unconvinced the man posed a real threat to their people, the Mdrai concluded they could not take any risks with someone who had come there with such an obvious aim of finding them, so they turned their attention to Fate. Throughout the night and well into the morning, the Mdrai and their aspirants drank of the waters that wash up from the deep beyond time and interlaced their souls with the energy of Fate, hoping Fate would see fit to give them some clue as to what this man came seeking.
Fate had answered their impatience with resounding silence.
Isabella rounded the corner to the nursery to find her mother standing by a window, cast in the blue glow of night, rocking a restless newborn soul to sleep, quietly humming the dragonfly’s lullaby she had sung to her own daughter every night until she was too big to sit on her lap. Her mother had likely sung this song to every newborn empath in the mountain for longer than Isabella had been alive, but this did not stop her from feeling as though it was her own. She listened from the doorway, taking comfort in the nurturing of her mother’s sweet voice until the song was through and the woman turned back to find her daughter standing there. “Father needs you to watch over the children now,” she whispered at last as the woman smiled the way only a nurturer could, peacefully, as though everything was as it should be.
“The traveler?” her mother said quietly, pressing her lips against the infant’s forehead as she went to lay him in his tiny, woven cradle, brushing a soft, warm hand over his sparse golden hair. Isabella nodded, and not wanting to worry her mother or to disturb the new soul under her care, she turned quickly to go meet Harvey, so they could make their way to the chamber where their Mdrai waited for them, though she was uncertain just what could be done, considering Fate’s silence. But as she stepped out into the hall, the lonely wanderer landed hard upon the summit, shivering with cold and no less driven in his determination to find them, and it was as if the entire mountain shuddered as fear rose up like a perfect storm inside her, and as the newborn empath her mother had been nurturing cried out into the darkness at his first taste of dread, Isabella felt the panic rise inside her and ran to find her father.