Chapter 2: The Pains of Life

My name is Varseth, named after the founders of Murdeth: the Great King Dimuvar and his military official, Sethinian. When I was six years old, I lived in a small cottage in the woods on the outskirts of Raveth, a city near Ronand. Raveth was well fortified for their present host, Lord Izan, kept its massive stone walls guarded with Ronands warriors: dressed in white-silver armor bearing the mark of the dove. Raveth was well known for the finest Markets in Murdeth, and men, women and children from all over the realm would come to purchase the newest trends and latest delicacies. Yet, to avoid the drunkards and vagabonds, my home lay away from the wills of men.

In our home, I was cared for by my mother: Eluvie. She was an Aran mutte´ (princess) from the great tribe of Murdeth. Eluvie was the Aran Kings only daughter, and one of the last immortals to walk the face of the earth. Her silver hair glittered in the pale moonlight and shone radiantly in the sun. Her blue eyes engulfed you like the sea. Her visage was so magnificent that even the most graceful creatures would bow their heads in deference to her. She was light itself; always illuminating the darkness of the unknown.

In the Aran culture, Aran can only wed other Aran within Murdeth: no matter the kingdom from which they hailed. It is unheard of for an Aran to marry or wed a human, yet I always wondered if any had. Sadly, my mother married a man who was only after her gift of immortality. My father, Lucius, son of Thadim and Knight of Ronand, only cared for what my mother could provide him; for whoever touched her lips would live forever. Being a friend of Lord Izan, the only attention or affection he paid me was new clothes, followed by a wry smile of acceptance when I stood before him. He would say no child of his should be seen in rags…for he hated the clothes my mother made for me. However, his smile always made my stomach turn and clench, although I was unsure why. His eyes, blue like mine, were so searing and bright that many did not gaze upon them. His pale skin, vibrantly white, contrasted jarringly with thick black hair that fell about his shoulders. The effect was imposing and alien, and to this day when I look in a mirror it haunts me to see his features on my own face.

I had always wondered which Aran kingdom my father came from, for he never spoke of such things with me. Yet, I wondered if they all looked as he did…if they all treated their children as such. Mother said it was just how he was brought up, yet I wondered why. Such answers were never given.

One thing I observed over the years was that before he left to ”protect the kingdom ”, was that he would always kiss my mother. This in itself wouldn be noteworthy, but when they would connect, his complexion paled, and a puff of steam-like vapor evaporated from his mouth when they parted. Before he turned to leave, he would always smile warmly at her—but that smile would dissolve as soon as he eyes settled on me. The only good thing about these trips was that he took the dour presence he maintained in our household with him when he left. As soon as he was out of sight, I found myself relaxing.

Of course, my mother missed him whenever he left, whether it was for a day, a week, or even months. When she felt especially lonely, one look at me would make her smile. At some point I realized that I reminded her of him. As loving and affectionate as my mother was to me, her heart was his.

Sometimes, my mother pulled me up into her warm lap and her fingers would play through my silver and black hair. I felt warm and safe in her arms as a song of the Tarean people ascended her lips:

Se sano che de waze (I will be with you my darling)

Co no mi mo te do ki- yo (Even through blizzards with sleet and snow)

Se sano she de wa- ze (I will be with you my darling)

No mo te de y ate- mare (Through the ends of the earth)

To te no chize tu ma-caye (You will remember my saying)

She to do wo se me ze-yo (When you have nowhere to turn)

Se sano che de- waze (I will be with you my darling)

Yo no mi ma de-ye (Forever and ever more)

Her calm voice and gentle swaying rocked me to sleep every time. Her warm, beautiful, song carried me softly into a deep sleep, a dream of never-ending joy. I slipped into thoughts of love and happiness, visions filled with the wonder of adventure, and things all little boys dream of—being a hero and saving the damsel in distress. It was a fairy tale; a story that Tarean brought to all who listened to its words.

Dreams were always interrupted by something. Sometimes it was Mother waking me up for a new day, just when I was prepared to slay a three-eyed demon with an axe. Or, like it was this morning, it could be the sound of a winged horse neighing outside the window, its wings beating against the trees. A small silver wolf statue on my windowsill was thrown into shadow by the silhouette outside.

My father had returned from his latest excursion. I was jolted into alertness as the front door to the house opened. There was a sudden flurry of whispers from the front of our cottage. It should have been only my father greeting my mother but something unnamed in the pit of my stomach knew that this time was different. I strained to hear them better without leaving my bed, but before I could catch any more of their conversation, I heard my fathers thick boots pound across the wooden floor like a sledgehammer.

Abruptly, the knob to my room turned, and my door opened to reveal my fathers imposing shadow. Father never came into my room. It was always as though I had some sort of plague that kept me quarantined from him, so why now? Why tonight? His black hair covered his eyes, making him appear ghastly. He took two long strides and knelt by the side of the bed. He smirked when he noticed me shaking and jerked the covers off me, pulling me by my shirt collar. My face was within inches of his.

”Ifen re. (Come, boy), ” he barked.

I shook my head, only to be yanked off my bed, pulled to my fathers side.

He dragged me out of my room, even as I clawed at the hand that nearly strangled me. Tears welled in my eyes as I stumbled towards the front door of our cottage. My eyes flicked wildly across the room, seeking my mother. She would stop him! She would make him let me go!

My mother was in her knitting chair. Upon seeing us, her face became a mask of confusion. She ran toward me. If my father noticed, he didn care because he did not slow his pace or falter in his steps.

Once she caught up to us, she forcefully grabbed my fathers arm. With his free hand he captured hers and turned around in frustration. Her eyes were sorrowful—bewildered. Seeing this only frightened me more.

”Te sho le co me tanre? (Where are you taking him?) ” Her voice quaked.

I couldn see my fathers face, but I could picture the wry smile he always gave me as he replied, ”Con re te lah! (If he is to be a king, he can no longer be coddled and weak)! ”

My father wrenched her hand from his arm, and mother could only stare after us as my father dragged me out the door. I yelled, frantically, for my mother to save me, but my father had already reached Jaydra; the black steed—a monstrous beast, known as a xanthar, with crimson eyes, looming black wings, and fire-huffing nostrils. Its wings thrashed violently as we neared, rearing its head and pawing its front hoof against the rocky ground as if warning us to stay away. This xanthar had never liked me and sensing my fathers mood along with my fear aroused its ire further still.

My father forcefully tossed me upon the creature. I instinctively grasped the pommel on the saddle, at the same time, madly seeking an escape route. My father hoisted himself behind me and took the reins, pinning me between him and Jaydras neck. My mind frantically circled as we took off, wondering in rapid fire thoughts what my mother and father discussed before I was dragged away. Being so young, I did not fully understand the Aran language. Had my mother meant for this to happen? Was I being sent off to my demise?

”Sigen Jaydra. (Come, Jaydra,) ” my father called as his steed sped off to the Baroke Mountains that separated us from Salsgard. Jaydras long black wings beat with tremendous speed, grace and power, as we flew over the mountains and into the dark starry sky. The cool air caressed my face as I firmly held onto the saddle, afraid of falling. My heartbeat slowed as I became mesmerized by my surroundings.

Maybe I misunderstood the situation. Maybe my father only meant to take me with haste—not to harm me. I shivered as the night engulfed our bodies. The higher we climbed, the colder the air became. It was as if we had journeyed far from the warmth of the sun and entered nothingness.

”Varseth, ” he says, as my curiosity piques. ”Look out and tell me what you see. ”

I look back at my father, as he motions to the land below. I see light twinkle from the villages outside of Raveths hills. Ive heard father refer to them as wulerit (wanderers), for they fed no allegiance to Uland. I had heard my parents speak of them and my father thought they would be more numbers to add in his popularity quest. It was no surprise, in my household, that my father wanted the crown. Ulands charm was fading, and my fathers allegiances had grown…yet, I was unsure how. Even though he was one of Ronands best warriors, and thus granting him fame, how had he gained the good graces of the human lords? And a king could not be ousted just because they
e terrible. Sure, Uland spent Murdethian coin on women and parties instead of giving grain to the towns when the famine swept our lands. Sure, he kept most of the crop in his kingdom as the rest of us scavenged for necessities, but it was his birthright. Yes, he had no sons and thus the crown was up for grabs amongst Murdeths finest, but he was still living. Until then, father or any other suitor had to wait.

To my right were the dark hues of the Baroke Mountains to the north and the Tarnoc Mountains to the west. I could see the fortified walls of towns in every direction, their torches lit amongst the dark abyss. As I looked over my left shoulder, I saw Ronand. I knew this from a sketch I had seen in our small study. Even in the darkness, its crystal-like towers glinted in the moonlight. Still, from up here, I felt I was close to its front doorstep. It was massive, encompassing most of the land below my home and before the Great Sea: its salty air filled my nostrils. Fire danced upon its heavily fortified walls that surrounded its foothold, as soldiers guarded its king. Impenetrable, thats what those of old had said, for the majestic castle sat upon a stronghold, a plateau created by the volcanoes of old, overlooking the four corners of Murdeth. Even through many wars, the keep of Ronand still stood unscathed.

I was in awe, never seeing my home as I did now. ”I see Murdeth. ”

”No, ” my fathers voice was low, ”you see our kingdom. ”

I turn to him, wanting to ask more of him, when suddenly his eyes turned the color of a brilliant ruby. A black mist, darker than the night itself, outlined my fathers figure—discernable even against the charcoal-colored sky.

My eyes widen in fear. I had never seen my father as thus…and I became terrified of what was to come. The seconds tick by, and in them, an eternity passes.

The dark mist slowly faded, and my father looked at me, smiling as if to say it was alright. Suddenly, he was familiar again. He pulled me closer to him. Was that a sign of affection? One I had been longing for, yet I couldn help but notice that familiar wry smile flicker across his lips. I stiffened but did not pull away, for I wanted this moment to last.

Five xanther, like Jaydra, appeared from the darkness. They floated, cloud-like as they surrounded us…guarding us. They also bore riders, but those men were different. One rider, whom I was able to see, was Aran, like my father, for this man had blond hair, black eyes, and pale peach skin. The other four riders were harder to make out, but something in how they carried themselves filled me with dread. As they drifted closer, I could discern their gray, bat-like wings, and charcoal skin. A pair of black horns protruded from their skulls, and the space where their eyes should have been… was black. Pitch black.

One of the monsters stared at me; an unsettling sort of delight nestled in the black holes of his eyes, and for the first time in my memory, I leaned closer into my fathers chest, clutching him fiercely. Some part of me hoped he would take pity on me—that he would send the monsters away. Father laughed, amused by my reaction, and roughly placed his hand on my head.

”These are Zacor. Gargoyles from the east who will help me build my empire. They won harm you. ”

The blond-haired man grinned at me. ”Whos the runt? ” he asked in a strong, yet mesmerizing accent. It sounded snake-like, as if his tongue flicked across the words rather than enunciating them. Something about it soothed me.

”Hes…my heir. ”

The blond man examined me. ”Oh, is that so? Well young one, Im Draces. ” His smile didn provide me the comfort that his voice did.

I noticed that something was different about him. He appeared Aran, but his teeth were sharp… too sharp. I winced and turned my head back into my fathers chest.

Draces was not Aran! He was something else—something that wanted to eat me… or worse.

My father grunted, and he harshly turned my face toward Draces. ”You speak after one tells you his name. This you must learn, Varseth. This is what a son of a king must do, do not forget that. ”

I whimpered but forced myself to look into Dracess black eyes. My fathers attitude had changed amongst his men, ”My—my name is Varseth. ”

Draces smirked and returned his attention to the sky before us. ”Varseth huh? Combining the names of the founders. Very clever indeed. And those highlights—Wind Aran? Must be. Immortality is a useful trait. ”

My fathers eyes strayed after Draces spoke, as if he were mulling something over. It was as if the words ”immortality ” brought a new strain in his life. What was it about being immortal that made my father become so lost in thought?

”My Lord, do you plan to proceed to Zareem? ” Draces asked, his serpentine voice even, almost reverent.

My father seemed to come back to his senses. ”Of course. We are already behind schedule. To Zareem! ”

At the booming sound of fathers voice, our xanthar sped off to the north like a blur into the skys unknown. Their wings lengthen and their hooves kicked faster into the oncoming wind. The air pounded my face like a heavy storm as I blocked my eyes from the punishing cold. It became harder to drag air into my lungs with each passing moment, and I found that I could only manage a full breath with my face buried in my fathers shirt. What was in Zareem? And why did my father seem to be in a rush to get there?

I couldn ponder over my thoughts long because we soon dropped toward the world below. As we sank toward the ground, my heart leapt into my mouth, making me yelp. The clouds brushed against my face like gauze as the clearing of a town appeared through the darkness. Torches flickered and flared amongst the city as people moseyed along, unaware of our arrival. Their walls were less guarded than Raveths, and if they even had soldiers, they seemed too preoccupied to notice our arrival. Yet, it seemed like a peaceful place. Men were laughing and drinking, women chatting merrily, and children running in the streets. Much unlike Raveth, Zareem appeared to be a town where people were family and friends as opposed to traders. Its massive wooden gates were open, even at these late hours. As if anyone was free to roam the inner curtain.

Yet, the joyous sounds of the city silenced as our xanthar sharply landed on the ground. The impact nearly jarred me loose from Jaydras saddle. As we trotted into the Zareem, I stared upon the grey-stone walls, hearing shouts of dismay as we breached the inner curtain. Shops began to shut their doors as those in the street moved away from our advances. My breath hitched as I spotted an array of guards, many of them on horseback. Men rushed towards us and blocked our path toward the keep. I wondered why they would deny us entry when they left their town undefended.

My father chuckled. I glanced between him and the men who stood before us. They shone in the dim torch-light, loaded with Ronand armor and wielding long swords with menacing glints. All were adorned such, save the man who confronted us. He donned a thick brown robe with a cowl that wrapped around his neck and a red wiry beard that extended to the middle of his chest.

”Lucius, it has been a while. ” The man spoke.

”Hasen. ” My father acknowledged. ”I was unsure lords dressed of that of nunnery. ”

Hasen seemed to chuckle at that, ”Are you too thick-headed than to prepare for the feast of thanks? Isn that what your people have done for generations…or is that gone now that you have changed? What a shame it must be for your wife to endure it. ”

Changed? What did this man mean?

I could hear my father scoff, surely unamused by Hasens comments.

”And you brought a boy with you. My…does he know what you are to do? Lad, do you know what kind of a man your father— ”

”Silence! ” My father shouted, his anger at its peak. ”You have one choice, Hasen. Surrender and submit to me or die where you stand. ”

Hasen laughed, along with his warriors. ”You are in no authority to bark orders, Lucius. You have what, five men with you? Look around. It is you Uland would love to see with his head on a pike. ”

I looked around the walls, seeing archers on the tower. Their arrows pointed towards us. They did have us at a disadvantage…would we even last? Yet, my father began to chuckle as I soon heard yells from above us. Hasen seemed distracted, as he looked upon his walls…fear dotting his eyes. Zacor now clung onto his ramparts. They threw his men towards us, as their bodies thudded and red leaked from their carcasses. The Zacors croaked, their spears and axes at the ready as one by one, my fathers warriors began to rise to hundreds.

”Kneel to your rightful king. ” Draces smirked.

Hasen, even though clouded with defeat, stood strong as more men joined him. ”We are Ronand! We will not surrender to a fiend who is planning to kill— ”

The Zacor on my right shot an arrow straight at the Hasens head. Red erupted from the wound like a waterfall. I squirmed, shocked and silent as my father gave the order to leave no one alive as his gargoyles attacked. I did not know why my father chose to give the order, but at the sight of men, women, and children going up in flames, nausea rose from my stomach and bile to my throat. This is not a righteous cause; it is pure slaughter.

The inhabitant of the town ran from the beasts who had death in their eyes. Tear-streaked women and children screamed in the streets before their clothes were torn and their throats slit. Red painted Zareems inhabitants as the Zacor paraded around, carrying limbs on sticks. A coppery stench filled the air, so sour and overpowering, my stomach heaved. Why had my father done this to our people?

”Father? ” I asked.

For a moment I was unsure if I spoke aloud. His gaze was glued to the spectacle of Zareem. I watched the flames flicker and glow in his eyes as they engulfed the town.

”Father, why are you killing them? Didn you already win? ” I repeated.

My father peered down at me as Draces drew closer, licking his crimson-soaked lips. My eyes widened with fear as he approached, making me peer into his the red of his eyes. I belatedly understood that he and my father were linked. Did that mean that they were the same?

”Why, my boy, your father had to kill these peasants to prove a point. Join us or perish. He gave Zareem a choice. Do remember that choices not only affect you, but those around you, ” Draces crooned and slurred like a drunkard.

”But Mom— ” I stammered.

Father interrupted before I could say more. ”Damn that woman! She knows nothing about our current predicament or how hard I work to create peace amongst the lands. I will not sit by as we stay slaves to a fool who is bringing about our demise. She and that Aran talk of hers is nothing but a horrible influence on you and is keeping you from the real world. But no matter. All pawns will soon be dealt with. ”

I looked up at him. Why did he curse my mom and what did he mean by pawns? My father is no mere Aran, I thought. He was a creature that fed off the lives of innocent people, someone who would never understand or protect the peace of Murdeth. Something in me snapped. It was an almost tangible feeling.

”Don curse my mother! She teaches peace amongst us, not death! I never got why mom— ” I started, but my words were cut short.

Id never felt the pain of a real slap until that day. I hadn seen it coming. My face burned hot then seared. I cried out, more in anguish than pain, helplessly holding my cheek.

”Do not speak of what you do not know, boy! You should consider yourself lucky to bear my name! The Crissils will be known throughout history as the rulers of Murdeth who created a righteous empire! Until you can see the truth, you will shut that mouth of yours! This is your life, Varseth. Accept it, or you shall be cast from it! ”

I sobbed as heat of the flames brushed against the raw skin of my cheek. The Zacor soon returned from their hunting and my father merrily greeted them. He only cared for the destruction of those who opposed him. He did not care for love. Or for me.

Accept it or be cast out…

My father elbowed me out of his way and took up Jaydras reigns. As we launched into flight, I watched my fathers banner flap within the bright glow that had only hours before been Zareem. What would Mother say when I told her? I was consumed by the hope that she would somehow force my father to stop. She will know what to do, I told myself. She has to know.

Our steeds wings gracefully caressed the winds as we flew home. Father lacked remorse for what he had done. He, the Zacor, and Draces talked and laughed merrily all the way home. The stories of their conquests only sickened me more. Why were they, and my father, so obsessed with mans destruction?

The xanthar neighed wildly as they dipped down to earth once more. Our house rose from the fog. Light glowed from the windows of the living room, where my mother sewed, and I knew she was waiting for our return. The xanthar hit the ground with great force. I was in such a state of shock that I was knocked from Jaydras back. I skidded across the gravel, scraping open my shoulders and elbows. Tears I had not yet shed welled in my eyes as my father, the Zacor, and Draces merely continued onward.

”Get up boy. This is no time to play, ” Draces shouted as he opened the front door for my father.

My father entered our house and I saw the dark grey of my mothers shadow as she jumped up. My father stood in her way—gently kissing her and caressing her face before beckoning his men in. His sign of affection was nothing more than a show of power. He wanted to show me that he could stand between me and my mother—that he could keep her from helping me.

”She is truly beautiful, ” Draces said.

My mother stared, an astonished look on her face, at the strange figures that walked through her door. I picked myself off the ground and forced my way through the Zacor. My mother instantly looked me over, spinning me away from my father as I cried into her warmth. At that moment, I felt her eyes burning into my fathers.

”Kew a su me? (What did you do to him?) ” She asks, her shoulder tensed as she ran her hands over my scars.

”Get the boy to bed. We need to talk. ” Fathers voice was filled with a quiet menace which stilled the sobs coursing through my chest.

My mother shook her head at him and left the room as ordered. From the darkness of the hallway, I caught a glimpse of my father and his ghouls making themselves comfortable. My mother opened the door to my room and helped me into bed. The wood creaked softly under me. Mother pulled the fluffy covers up to my chin and kissed me on my forehead. Her eyes were weary and terror-stricken. I was scared for her.

”Do se le loo (Sleep, my child.), ” she hums in Aran.

I closed my eyes as she quietly left my room. However, I was left tossing fitfully. I couldn sleep knowing they were out there alone with my mother.

I crept out of bed, letting my small feet carry me to the door. I cracked the door open, pushing up ever so slightly on the hinge to keep it from squeaking. A quick glance in both directions revealed that I was alone. I rushed into the shadowed hall, listening to my parents conversation until I was close enough to see them but remain undetected.

My father and mother were on opposite sides of the room as Draces and the Zacor ate and drank what little we had. My father leaned back in his chair, watching my mother closely. His eyes gleamed; a bright blue resurfaced over the red of his irises. A grin spread across his face.

”We will be leaving soon for Maroc. Its the sole city I have yet to capture ahead of facing those who are left within Salsgards walls. My friends will be staying here to rest up before we gather our troops who should be marching toward Maroc as we speak. ”

My mother looked away from my father as she sat in her chair. ”Shall I make room for them in the stable? ” she asked plainly, not in her Aran tongue, probably not wanting to arouse the ire of the newcomers.

My father chuckled. ”They will be staying in our home, not the stable. These are my men, not animals. ”

My mothers face fell into resignation, before utter resentment marred her features. ”Youve been off chasing your lust for the Gray Skull Throne for years now, Lucius, and every second I have been by your side. But these last five years, youve occupied your time with darkness instead of your family. These beings are changing the man I love, the man who would bend worlds for those he cared for, into someone I barely know. If this is the path you choose and want them here in our home, I will be sleeping with Varseth tonight! ”

My fathers face was a mask of rage. He rose from his seat and grabbed my mother from her chair, wrenching her by her arm until she stood directly before him. His harsh slap rang out and made me jump. The Zacor screeched in apparent delight at her agony, jumping up and down as if this were entertainment.

”No, you will not, ” he yells forcefully, shaking her.

My mother lifts her free hand, pinning the Zacor and Draces onto the walls. This enrages my father more, grasping my mothers throat. She coughs, hoarsely, as my father squeezed harder…her grip upon his men loosening.

I turned my head, as hot tears stung my eyes. I was torn between my fear of my father, and my love for my mother.

”Stop this, Eluvie, ” Father spat. ”Stop this now! ”

My heart filled with hatred so sharp it hurt. My joints quaked and my fists clenched. Every second I watched him holding my mother roughly a new surge of energy arose. In that moment I wanted nothing more than to fight back for her honor.

”You more than anyone know what you must do to survive in this world and yet you coddle our son. Wars are not won with kindness and sometimes you must break the spirits of others for them to realize your cause is righteous. Love of these heathens is your weakness and its why you waste away in a cottage instead of thriving on the battlefield, aiding your husband, fighting for the new world. Sit and shut up as you are told, for if you ever think of disrespecting me or my men again… ” he yelled, raising his hand to strike again.

My eyes burned, and the cold earthen floor shook furiously beneath my feet. Dust from the rafters fell into my hair as the house creaked and groaned. The turmoil caused everyone to turn their heads, likely seeking the source of the disruption. Eventually, one by one, their eyes found me. My father turned quickly toward me, a bewildered look on his face as I yelled and leapt from my hiding spot.

”Stop that now! ” I howled.

”Just like his father. ” Draces body trembled, as my mothers grip on him and the Zacor loosened.

My father dropped my mother. She rushed toward me, grasping my arm firmly and dragging me back from attacking my father. I stared at him through a haze of red. He looked at me, discomfort coming over his features, as my hand squeezed—his airways tightened with my grip.

”Sventhialet, ” an unfamiliar voice issued from my mouth. There was hate in my voice, and at this moment, I saw a mist grab hold of my father, almost as if ghoulish hands had taken hold. It was not of this world, yet I alone could see it, but my mothers hands grew warm as my mind blanked. She led me to my room as my hatred melts, as if her fingertips acted to disperse it—my father was released. My body shook and all I could do was grasp onto her for comfort. She ran her long, graceful fingers through my hair, as she softly whispered comforting things.

As we left, all I heard was my father roaring angrily. He yelled at his men, then slammed the door so hard the wood cracked. Through all this my mother held her head high. I had never felt so proud in my life. I, the little boy, stood up to my father, and it felt like I won. Yet underneath this glory, there was a new feeling that I couldn shake. What was that voice? Who did it belong to? If my father was something other than Aran, what was I? Nevertheless, I told myself that night would be the last I saw of my father. I reveled in that as I watched him swing himself up upon his steed and take off into the black night.

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