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EPISODE 7: OPENING HEARTS
We decide not to hunt down the remaining Evil immediately. I’m too wounded, and Faith wants to collect all of the arrows we can find. So we look for a good half-hour, and we successfully find fifteen arrows, twelve of which we pulled out of the bodies of beasts she shot. We find more jutting out of an Evil here or there, but not all of them are intact. We find a total of sixteen out of twenty-two.
Over an hour has passed since we woke up that morning. We return to our campsite, pleased to find everything is still there and unharmed. Then we begin the process of inspecting our wounds. “We should find a stream so that we can get some water to clean ourselves up,” I state.
“Yeah,” Faith agrees, wincing and grunting as she probes the cut on her thigh with her fingers.
“I’ll go,” I say, although I make no motion to rise from where I am sitting against a tree.
“No, it’s okay,” she says, rising. “You’re hurt more.”
“But your leg—” I begin.
“It’s fine,” she cuts me off.
I don’t say anything; I’m in no mood to argue, and I’m thankful for a moment to relax. She leaves taking one of our canteens and her knife. “Scream if you’re being attacked,” I call after her.
“I will,” she returns without looking back.
I sigh as I listen to her footsteps fade away, and I look up at the sky, squinting because the sun is so bright. I can tell this is going to be a warm day.
There are no seasons in the Golden Lands. We have no calendar that helps us to predict when the days will grow colder. That’s because, in the Golden Lands, the climate is only determined by where you are. The more north you are, the colder it gets, the more south you are, the warmer it gets. At the end of all four directions, North, West, East, and South, there is a beach, and after the beach there is a sea, and after the sea is the end of the Golden Lands; an endless, watery—and even sunny—abyss. Only the bravest of explorers ever see the end of this world.
Faith returns a half hour later with the canteen full of water. She is sweating, more than I think she should be, and I ask her, concerned, “Are you okay?” I stand up.
“I’m okay,” she says with a heavy breath falling from her lips. “I’ve never been injured like this before, that’s all. I need to get tougher.”
“Here, sit down!” I say, motioning to the blanket she slept on last sunset.
She sits and I help her clean the cut on her leg. I’m relieved that the wound isn’t very deep. I think she’s right; she’s not used to enduring pain. We bandage it, and although she seems to relax, I can tell she is still hurting. I feel bad for her.
Then we work together to clean and bandage my shoulder. It feels good to have it washed, but over time my wound reduces to a constant ache, which is just as annoying, if not as painful, as the hot, sharp pain I was experiencing.
Once we have finished tending to our injuries, we sit across from each other, my back against a tree, hers against a rock. The heat of the day is too overbearing for my taste, but after a while I find it relaxing. Faith and I sit in silence for several minutes, each of us seemingly content to rest.
A half hour passes. I finally stir, leaning forward, and I cock my head at Faith, “You know, you have to have had some experience fighting. It’s pretty impressive that you were able to kill so many of them.”
She shrugs, “I just taught myself.”
There’s a pause, and then I smile, “Hey, it’s pretty good that just the two of us can take on so many Evil. I’ve been worrying that we’ll be too outnumbered and we’ll have to rely on some impossible stealth mission to kill the leader of the band that almost killed me and rescue my siblings.”
Faith snorts, “And now you think we can get your brother and sister back using force alone?”
I frown, “I guess not. Still, all I’m saying is that we’re pretty good.”
“I guess,” she concedes with a smile.
After a moment, I say, “Tell me about your childhood.”
Faith takes a deep breath and then begins, “Well, before I left, I lived with my parents and three siblings; two brothers and one sister. We all got along really well, and we played with each other every day. As time went by, our parents, who were farmers, began to shoo us away as we got older. They always encouraged us to marry and do what we wanted to. My two older brothers left when they were about eighteen and got married and started lives practically identical to my parents. When I got older, I felt like there was nothing keeping me home; even my little sister had grown distant, my brothers were married, and my parents were starting to pay closer attention to the farm, and not us. I wanted something more than just the average life. So I left.” She smiles and looks at me, “Then I ran into you…”
I smile, “And I bet you wished you stayed with your parents.” It was a half-joke.
She shakes her head, “Nah. I’m starting to think this is what I wanted.”
“Interesting,” I think, “for a Beloved.”
We sit in silence for a moment, and then I hear her say, “Tell me about your childhood.”
I pause, and I feel a host of different emotions rise in me; anger, fear, confusion, love, nostalgia. “Well,” I scratch my head, starting to feel hot and uncomfortable, “when I was really little, I was really close to my parents. We lived alone at the neck of a forest, so they were all I had. Then came my sister, Soror, and I took on the role of big brother. For some reason, after the birth of my sister, I noticed my parents begin to grow a little more distant. Maybe they were just focusing a bit more on Soror. But we still shared happy times, and nothing changed when my brother, Frater, came along. My dad showed me how to hunt, and my mom made toys for me and my younger siblings.”
I pause, and I start to grow grim, continuing, “My parents told us every sunset that they loved us. We said the same to them. And my parents always told me I loved my siblings, that I should always care for them, and that this was an irrevocable duty I had. They told us to beware of Evil, and never to be evil ourselves, or otherwise it would find us. I partially believed them. I mean, I thought it could’ve been a bedtime story. But I did everything they said zealously. They were everything to me.” I pause and stare at the ground.
My shoulders droop, and I sigh, depression and bewilderment washing over me. “But then one morning, I noticed they hadn’t come out of their bedroom. When I checked their room, it was empty. I ran out into the woods, calling for them, but there was never a reply. I never knew what happened to them.”
I meet Faith’s eyes for a moment, and then look away, uneasy. She is listening closely, and her eyes are full of concern. I go on, “So I started looking after my siblings at age thirteen. I don’t exactly know what happened to them, but my siblings stopped talking to me, and they stopped acknowledging me too. It was like they didn’t care…” I shake my head, remembering how stubborn they could be, “…like they didn’t care about living. Then one night, a band of Evil attacked us. And that’s why I’m here with you today. I realized that all Evil must be punished and I also have to fulfill my duty to my siblings.”
I finish and swallow, a lump in my throat. “John,” I hear Faith say. I can tell she’s trying to speak with confidence, but she really doesn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I had no idea about your parents. That must have been really hard.”
I feel a tear forming in my eye. Why am I getting so emotional? Am I really about to cry in front of her? “Yeah,” I say in a thick voice. “It was.”
I snort and smile after a moment. Leaning back, I look up at the sky towards the sun. It has grown darker, for a group of clouds have gathered around the sun, but they are not covering it. The light has just become darker; more golden.
I laugh and say, still looking at the sky, “My parents used to tell me about this person. I never knew who ‘he’ was, or even his name. They just called him ‘he’. They said that ‘he’ was some mysterious warrior who would always be there to help me, no matter what I was going through. For a long time, I believed them. For so long, I wanted to go find him. I wanted to see this awesome, mysterious person. But I was never able to. And as time went on, I figured it was just a bedtime story. Something just to believe in. Something that would keep you going. But that’s all it is; that’s all ‘he’ is. An idea. Because,” I lower my head and stare at the ground, “if ‘he’ is real, I don’t think ‘he’ has ever helped me.”
My words bring about silence between us. My words seem to hang in the air, forcing us to dwell on their gravity. “That’s funny,” Faith breaks the lull, “because my parents told me about the same person. I only told you a part of the truth about why I left. I also left to find him. I thought that maybe ‘he’ would be able to give me what I’m looking for.” She looks down and says thoughtfully, “But I haven’t found him.”
I think of a reply to her words, but I don’t want to offend her, and I’m in no mood to argue. So I just grunt, and slowly silence falls between us.
TO BE CONTINUED…