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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Irene sat under a cherry tree. It was mid-May, the cherry blossoms have long faded leaving nothing but the green leaves in its branches. She stared blankly at the scene around her. This was her favourite place amongst all places. The gentle breeze, the blue sky often patched with fluffy clouds reminded her of her home back in Canada. Tears began to stream down the side of her face as she remembered the wonderful times she had back there. How she missed everyone – her parents, her sister, and her friends. She leaned back against the trees as she recalled another incident that occurred almost last year...
It was a snowy day in January, the fifteenth of January – her birthday. She was waiting in the public library at downtown for Greg. He told her that he had something to give her. She was waiting for nearly an hour. Still Greg did not come. He was never the type to be this late for a date, she began to be worried. Standing up from the table she sat at she decided to leave. Maybe he had forgotten that it was her birthday today. She left the library and made her way to cross the street.
“Irene!” She heard a voice call out to her. She turned to see Greg waving across the street.
The traffic was just changing as pedestrians made their way across the street. Blinded by excitement, he ran across the street, not seeing a car make a sharp turn; nor did the driver see him darting in front of the vehicle. Irene froze in horror as she watched her boyfriend get hit. She hid her face in hope that it was a dream she could wake up, but found it too real. Seeing him tumble to the ground burned in her mind. Fearfully, she removed her hands from her face finding him still there in the street, the car stopped, people crowding around him.
“Greg!” she called him as she made her way through the crowd. There he lay on the pavement painfully opening his eyes. He looked up to see who called him. Irene fell to her knees and tried to lift him into her arms.
“You shouldn’t do that, Miss,” said a man, who knelt beside Greg. “He may have broken something.”
“Irene,” Greg said to her softly noticing the frightened look on her face.
Irene hushed him. “You shouldn’t talk,” she told him trying to be brave, yet the tears began to fall from her eyes.
Weakly Greg reached up and lovingly stroked her face. With the other hand he held up a golden box that was crushed from the impact. “I’m sorry I’m late,” he apologized.
Irene shook her head. “Don’t worry about that,” she sniffed. “We got to get you to a hospital.” She clasped onto both his hands as she tried to hide her tears. She did not hear the people asking what happened or whether someone called an ambulance.
“Irene, don’t cry,” Greg told her gently.
“I can’t help it, Silly!” she told him, “I can’t help being worried about you.” Tears fell on his face. His golden hair, now soiled with mud and black snow, made him look different, but his blue eyes were as bright as ever – as if he knew something she didn’t.
“I love you...Irene...Happy...birthday...” his voice faded as he closed his eyes with a smile.
Irene shook her head in horror. Still holding his hand she called his name, though in her heart she knew he had left the world.
“Hey, poo-head!” called a voice.
Irene’s mind flashed back to the present. Quickly wiping her tears from her face she looked up. A bunch of girls from the senior classes surrounded her.
“Hey, look. Diarrhea-hair is crying,” said one of the students.
“Oh, poor girl! Did you miss your home?” mocked another student.
Just walk away, Irene turned to leave. Suddenly felt her head snap back as something grabbed her by her hair.
“Hey! I’m talking to you!” the student dug her fingers in to Irene’s shoulders.
“Let go!” Irene began to fight, but there were more of them and they were stronger.
“Let’s see if these foreign girls have big boobs as they suggest in those magazines,” someone suggested. Hands reached out tearing at her clothes. Irene violently struggled and kicked around blindly. She felt something make contact with her foot and a yelp of pain.
“That bitch!” an injured voice ground out.
Run! Now! She dashed, forcing her legs to carry her home. She ran through the school grounds, past some bicycles leaning against the bike racks. She saw an old bike leaning against a post she grabbed it and jumped on.
“After her!” She pedaled off the school property, hearing shouts behind her she took a left towards a cluster of bamboo growing on a steep hill. She rode onto a path that cut through the tall bamboo. In a few minutes a cry and a loud crash came from there.
About half an hour later, Irene slowly made her way home covered in bruises and scrapes. Hot tears splashed down her cheeks, though she was in pain from taking a violent tumble on the bicycle, it was how the students at her school treated that hurt her the most.
“I’m home,” she muttered as she entered the house.
“You’re back,” said her great-aunt as she appeared from the kitchen busily wiping her hands. “Let’s have tea together. I’ve just bought us some green tea cake, the kind you like with the chocolate – Airi-chan, what happened to you?”
“It’s nothing, Aunty,” Irene smiled, tugging at her gaping blouse attempting to hide the missing buttons, but did not look at her aunt. “I just slipped and fell off a friend’s bike on the way home from school.” Irene continued as she removed her shoes.
“Airi-chan, is something wrong?”
“I’m – I’m fine, Aunty, I just need to wash up that’s all,” Irene said quietly as she made her way to her room.
After a warm shower, Irene came out of her room in her favourite jeans and shirt.
At the dining area, her aunt poured the green tea into teacups, as thin as eggshells, and served the green tea cake with chocolate frosting. She served her own portion and sat across from Irene.
Irene took a bite of the cake and sipped her tea. She appreciated the comforting presence her great-aunt provided. No questions asked, just there in silence as if she understood how Irene felt; a peaceful silence that Irene did not want to break with her sob story.
“Ah, yes! I have something for you.” The older woman reached into her pocket and brought out a small wooden box.
Irene took the box. “What is it?”
“Try to open it,” she smiled.
Irene tried to open the lid, but it did not move. She tried to twist it this way and that – still nothing happened.
“Is this a puzzle box?” Irene asked.
The woman smiled. “It is.”
Irene studied the box, she carefully felt its side and found a small latch nearly hidden from the naked eye. She lifted it and the lid opened. In the box, nestled in a satin cloth of wine red, was clear blue gemstone the size of a clam-shell. The stone, attached to a chain of gold, was cut and polished to look like a scallop shell.
“I meant to give this to you on your twentieth birthday, but I see that now is the time.”
Irene held up the stone by its chain and let the sunlight dance through its facets.
“This stone belonged to one of your ancestors, given to me by your grandmother Rose.” Aunty began, “We had a family union once. You were about eight then. Your father’s parents and your mother’s parents met at Canada one summer. Your father’s father asked me to come for this occasion, so I did. We have shared stories of our heritage, I was fascinated with some of the stories I have heard. Then Rose gave this to your father before us all.
“She said that she knows it is strange to give this to him at a time like this, but if something suddenly happened to anyone of us leaving someone with either you or your sister, then we are to give one of you this stone. Rose explained that this stone belonged to a white man who called himself Benik, which was passed down to his children and grandchildren. It was said that the stone was something Benik had received from his parents when something terrible happened to them. Anyway, it was the only thing that was brought and kept from the world Benik came from. I was told that he was the son of a chieftain, perhaps a king – I am not sure which. However, by how Rose had kept it I know that it is something of value.”
Irene looked up and noticed a somewhat sad look on her great-aunt’s face. “The moment I noticed the mark on your forehead I knew that Ishual had chose you for his purpose. Now the time has come.”
“Aunty, who is Ishual?” Irene asked.
“Ishual created this world and a sister world called Ditté. He’s – how would I put it? He is the ruler of time, space, and other worlds. He is the one who set the laws of nature to run its course as it is meant to be.”
“Have you met him?”
“Once, when I was three, I was lost in a field during the summer festival and he met me there. He later brought me home safely.”
Irene sat and pondered her aunt’s words.
Irene’s aunt reached over and held her hand. “Irene-chan,” she said gently as a mother would to her child, “Have you met Ishual?”
Irene looked at her aunt. “I think I have, I’m not sure. How do you know it’s him?”
The old woman smiled knowingly. “You just do.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Irene rose early the next morning after her great-aunt woke her. As Irene washed up and left for school, her feet suddenly felt like lead the moment they passed the front gates.
I don’t want to go to school, her heart groaned. Perhaps if I move fast enough and avoid meeting them I will be safe. So she took a route that was different from usual.
For fifteen minutes nothing happened. The usual people, neighbours, businessmen, children, all made their way to their daily destination. By the time she saw the school gates her heart sank. They were there, five of them waiting for her.
Irene closed her eyes. Should she skip school today? Perhaps take the back way to school? She remembered the bamboo forest and sprinted towards it. She climbed the steep hill.
“Whatcha doin’, poo-head?” she overheard someone calling after her. She kept running. Hands grabbed her and began to drag her.
“Where shall we take her?” someone asked.
“How about tying her up here?” Within moments, Irene found herself brought to a clearing in the woods. In the middle of the clearing was an old well with its roof gone from age and only poles that once held the roof was still standing. Someone brought out a pair of toy handcuffs and shackled her to an old pole standing at the well.
“Hey, let’s make her look nice!” someone suggested. One of the girls brought a covered coffee can. She opened it and threw something at Irene.
Seeing centipedes, worms and other bugs showered over her, Irene screamed trying to swat all of them off her body.
“Hey, look! She’s dancing!” Another girl shouted and they all laughed.
Once the bug fell from her Irene scrambled onto the edge of the well away from the creepy crawlies. Suddenly, she felt herself in the air. Her wrist gave a painful jerk, the handcuff around her left wrist kept her from falling into the well.
The girls leaned in over the edge. Then, the chain snapped and Irene fell down, down, down, down…
The moment the girls saw Irene disappear into the well, colour drained from their faces.
“She fell!” one of them said.
“It wasn’t our fault! She did it!”
“Let’s get out of here!”
By the time the school bell rang, all sat at their seats in class – all except Irene.
“Has anyone seen Solomon?” the teacher asked.
The girls looked at each other. Silently swearing to each other never to breathe a word about what just happened.
Irene woke up. Framed by treetops she saw the velvet blue sky studded with stars. Where am I?
She began to rub her wrist wondering why her wrist felt sore and felt something encircle her injured wrist. Then the memories rushed back. Immediately she jumped up examining her clothes for any other bugs. Seeing none, she sighed. Feeling something cool touch her chest she looked. It was the pendant her great-aunt had given her.
As she examined her surroundings, Irene saw a grove of moss-covered trees. Moss and lichen clung from the trees, like rags hanging from skeletons. She shuddered. What is this place? Seeing a pale blue moon appearing in the sky with a large ruby red star at its right and an emerald star at its left she knew she was not on Earth. Is this a dream?
“Nooo!” cried a voice of a child.
Irene started, wondered where the cry came from. Not far from where she stood, she saw two children standing with their backs against one of the gnarled trees, before them stood a huge figure clad in black armour.
One of children, a girl, cringed behind her brother. The boy picked up a rock and flung it at the man, only to his dismay did it land on the ground harmlessly.
“Go away!” screamed the girl, trying to be as courageous as her brother.
The figure speedily drew his sword and swung it at the helpless duo.
“Nooo!” Irene cried as she clutched the stone hanging from her neck. A sudden surge of strength and courage flowed through her body. The stone glowed brightly and let out a bright light as it transformed into a magnificent sword.
The black armour turned, the blood red eyes under his helmet grew as he saw a strange girl leaping from the trees and attacking him with the Sword of Light. Then, he saw a magnificent figure right beside her. He a high pitched screech came from within the helmet, setting the children’s teeth on edge.
In an arch of light, Irene swung. The helmet rolled, empty suit of armour collapsed with a loud clatter and crash.
Seeing the danger gone, Irene turned to the children. They stared back in awe at the scene. She looked at the sword. It glowed and quickly shrank into the stone it was with the chain still attached to it.
She approached the children, as she placed the stone into her pocket, she knelt to their height and asked gently, “Are you all right?”
The two children could only look at her with huge eyes, which made them look like a pair of owls.
“Are you Ishual?” asked the girl.
Irene blinked at this. “Ishual? No, I’m just a stranger here,” she said with a smile.
“Oh,” said the girl in disappointment.
“My name is Pine, this is Caleah. Thank you for saving us.” The boy smiled with appreciation.
“Where are your parents?” asked Irene.
“They live not far from here,” said Caleah, “Would you like to come with us?”
Irene hesitated for a second, but then she thought that perhaps they would help her find out why she was in that world. “May I?” she asked politely.
“Please do!” said Pine, overjoyed at the response, “Mamma would be happy to have company,”
The two children each took Irene’s hand and led her out of the grove.
* * * * * * * * * *
Year: 1630, about forty years after the overthrow of the Ephesus II Dynasty.
Place: The village of Terrona, on the Island of Vennik, one of the Islands of Arunea.
Dalel carried a basket of food to the fields where her husband and her two sons practiced their fencing. The sun was bright and warm as it brightened the green fields on the island. She smiled as she thought of the time when she first came to the island as a shy little girl. After the hardships of rebuilding a life, things were promising; their farm prospering as well as the business they were making in trade. She was always thankful that many supported them through their difficult start. Now as a mother of two handsome and healthy boys, she did not know what more to ask for.
Amon sprang from the ground as he attempted to make a crack at his brother with his rod. His brother quickly moved from where he stood, making Amon trip and lightly tapped his forehead.
“Are you trying to kill me?” he asked, giving Amon a dirty look.
“You always beat me in points, Aryn!” whined Amon, “That one was not called for!”
Their father laughed heartily that the sight. “I just hope you boys are mature enough to deal this like men – not savages.”
Just as Amon got up Dalel stepped into the scene.
“Your dinner’s here!” Dalel announced producing the basket of goods she prepared for her family.
Aryn turned to flash his mother an impressed smile. Amon gave him a sharp slap across the head.
“Hey!” Aryn glared at his brother.
Amon grinned mischievously. Dalel stepped between the boys and handed them each an apple to settle the matter. As a mother, she did not like it when her boys bickered at each other.
“Let us thank the High King,” their father, Illac, announced.
They looked up and sang an old song that was sung in thanks for the food. After the song ended, they all settled down to eat.
“I have noticed that you have learned ways of fooling your opponent,” said their mother good-naturedly.
“You should have seen the move Aryn showed, Mother. He moves so fast that I’ve added more bruises from yesterday,” Amon grinned. Although his brother beat him in fencing, he was still proud of him.
“Well, I found him learning to trip and attack me more than last time,” Aryn added humorously.
“Probably to pay back all the bruises you’ve given him these past few days,” Illac joked with them.
“I would appreciate it more if you would court with a young lady, Aryn. It would be nice to have a girl to help me with the chores around the house,” Dalel mentioned.
“Maybe Aryn could dress up as a girl and help you around the house, Mother. That way I could catch up with my fencing skills,” Amon piped up.
“That would be a problem. I am too masculine for my form to fit into Mother’s dresses,” Aryn pointed out, implying his mother’s petite form in comparison to his height and masculine build.
“Well, it would be nice to have a girl around here, although there is no need to think of it now.” Dalel sighed, still silently wishing for a daughter.
“Mother, I could go and find myself a girl. Maybe not now....” Aryn said in hope to bring his mother’s spirits up.
Dalel smiled and patted her eldest son’s face fondly. “Thank you, but there is no need to rush.”
Aryn looked shyly at her and said, “Well, actually, I was recently beginning to think of going out into the world and gain some experience.”
“In what? Courting?” Amon asked jokingly.
“Yes, and no,” Aryn answered. “I do want to find a wife soon – though not for now. But I want to go somewhere outside of this island and discover the world.”
This was something Dalel feared. “No! Absolutely not! You shall not leave this place. If you plan on travelling around this island you may, but leaving it I will not let you!”
Silence filled the whole place at Dalel’s sudden reaction.
“Come now, Dalel. Aryn is not going to a dangerous place. He just wants to experience adventure –” Illac tried to calm his wife, but knew it may take some time until she settled down.
“We have gone through this before, Illac. Last week, he has told me the same thing! I cannot let my son go to Korda,” Dalel explained.
Illac stared at his son grimly. “Where did you hear about Korda, Aryn?” he asked, his voice low
Aryn swallowed. He sensed his father’s anger coming like a thunderstorm. “Two weeks ago when I was talking to Wynn during an errand,” Aryn answered quietly. Though he was twenty, he still feared his own father’s anger. “Father, I’m sorry if you don’t want me to go. But remember the time when you gave me the ring on my tenth birthday? You told me that there will come a time when the High King will call you on a journey you will have to take. The High King had laid it in my heart to go to Korda.”
“How do you know if it is the High King?” Illac asked.
“I know this desire is from the High King. The moment I heard about Korda I felt this desire to go.”
Illac looked at his son and saw the determined look on his face. He sighed. Like himself, he knew his son was stubborn in taking risks and actions like these. “Let me tell you something about Korda, Aryn,” Illac began.
“Before I married your mother, I came from a royal family. My father – your grandfather – was a king who ruled Korda wisely and well. Your grandfather, King Ephesus II, was a servant of the High King himself. Yet, there came a time when he made a costly mistake. Your grandfather’s father – your great-grandfather, Ephesus I – died before your grandfather became king. There had been a rumour that Ephesus I’s prime minister, Malduke, put poison in his wine goblet one evening. Yet, your grandfather did not want to believe it because Malduke was good to him. It was several years later that Malduke’s plan was revealed.
“I was seven at the time. I remember it being the darkest day of my life. Ephesus II was at war against an army called the Order of Beliar, an army made by a band of evil magic artists. Your grandmother, Queen Ishi, received news that the king was slain in battle by Malduke. The messenger said that the royal family must flee to safety, before the Order reaches the castle. Queen Ishi had everyone in the castle dressed as peasants. She had us three children divided to the king’s most trusted and faithful friends. My sister, Princess Enka was handed to the royal bodyguard, Lord Bhodar. My brother, Prince Benik, was handed to our nurse Merri. As for me, I was handed to our tutor, Professor Garian. Before we parted, the queen handed each of us an item we are to hold close to us. Enka was given a garnet bracelet called Blood Stone. There was a legend that the stone was formed from the blood of Ishual – the son of High King – when he was killed. Benik was given a stone pendant he named Wind Voice. He gave the stone the name for its clear blue colour that reminded him of the wind and the sea. I was given the ring that I gave you on your birthday.”
Aryn looked at the ring he had on his finger.
“That ring,” Illac said, pointing to its bright green gem, “is called Hope Spring. I named it after a small spring we had not far from our palace, where we had wonderful times during the days of peace.”
Aryn looked at his father and noticed him appearing as if he had aged ten years more by remembering his past.
“We all left the castle, through secret passage ways and different routes. We did this so if one group were attacked the others would be safe. All who fled from that place hoped to leave the kingdom safely. Professor Garian took me to the harbor to leave the kingdom and come to this island for safety. Ever since I have left that place in fear I vowed to myself that I would return to help those who were unable to escape. Yet, as time flew, life was difficult for a start here and after I have married your mother and had you boys, I did not want to think of the place again. Too many sad memories.” Illac looked down sadly as he let out a deep sigh.
“My son, if the High King called you on this journey – then go. Whatever the reason, the High King may have a purpose for you there, perhaps to help those who are lost.” Illac then turned to his wife, “You know too well, my dear. Once the High King calls, there is no way we could stop him. For as the creator and the ruler of this world and many others, he makes sure his plan is established – even if dangers and risks must be taken.”
Dalel sadly looked at Aryn and nodded. “I understand,” she said quietly, as if speaking to the High King himself.
Year: 1998 A.D.
Place: Oume, Tokyo, Japan
Airi Solomon, or known as “Irene”, sat in her room. It had been four months since she was sent to Japan by her parents. Both of her parents and her older sister, Miho, promised her three months ago that they would join there. Two months ago, it rained heavily on their way to the airport, a driver lost control of his truck and rammed into the family van. Three passengers were in the van, no one survived that accident. A week after the accident, Irene returned to Canada to attend her family’s funeral. After the funeral, Irene’s lawyer gave her the news that it was her parents’ wishes that she would live with one of her relatives. Her father, who was half Jew and half German, once mentioned about visiting Jerusalem and live with her father’s brother’s family there. However, her father remembered that he was dead to his family due to an unsettled argument and decided to not send Irene there. Her mother, who was half Japanese and half Native, decided to send her to Japan to where Irene’s great-aunt lived.
Four months ago, Irene at first didn’t like the idea of going to Japan, but once her great-aunt welcomed her warmly she began to think that staying in Japan would not be so bad. Before the accident, Irene had received letters from her mother of how much she looked forward to seeing her daughter. Now that her parents were gone along with her sister, who was her only sibling, she was alone. Once returning to Japan from the funeral, Irene’s relatives began to argue over who will support the girl. Although she was seventeen, her Japanese was at a grade nine level. Her great-aunt was willing to take care of the girl and sent her to a high school not far from her home.
Irene at first did not mind attending the school, that was until the students stared at her and began to whisper behind her back saying, “Gai-jinga-kita (here comes the foreigner),” they say as they pointed at her.
She knew she was different and was also aware that she would be treated differently. Her features were like that of a typical Japanese girl with light-coloured skin and large almond shaped eyes inherited from her Japanese and Native blood. However, the main concern was her hair and the colour of her eyes. Her hair was auburn with a natural wave. Her eyes were green like the green pastures, and because of her strange appearance, along with her funny accent, some of the students began to bully her.
On the first day of school, a bunch of students poured soy sauce all over her lunch. The next day, her shoebox was sabotaged; her indoor shoes were covered with insulting words in calligraphy ink. Other days she would find her indoor shoes filled with sand, or her desk filled with trash.
“Why do you perm and dye your hair?” one of the senpais (a senior student) asked her one morning.
“This is my natural hair colour. The perm is natural too.” Irene retorted.
The senpai eyed her as if she was a detective studying a suspect and weighing her words. “Really?” she asked somewhat mockingly.
“Yes, really!” Irene responded clearly.
“Where is your proof that you didn’t dye your hair?”
“Ask the teachers!” Irene she wanted to shout, but the words died at her throat. As if they would care to believe her.
“If I were you,” said the senpai as she leaned over Irene’s desk, pressing her face towards the girl. “I would make sure my hair is black like everyone else.”
Irene said nothing to this for it was the very thing her homeroom teacher had told her.
Irene sat on her bed. If she were in Canada, she would sit on the floor. However, because of her fear of cockroaches, she detested sitting on the floor, fearing that they would scurry over and crawl on her. She opened her album remembering her once happy life in Canada; her family, alive and laughing with joy; her friends, accepting her for who she was, whether she was red-headed or not. She looked at a gold locket she received on her birthday. Inside were engraved the words: “To Irene, from Mom and Dad.”
She fell back on her bed and stared at the ceiling. Feeling tired, she closed her eyes. In her dream she saw a familiar scene of her house she had lived in Edmonton, Alberta. She was about eight years old at the time. As she walked around the house and entered the living room, she saw herself sitting beside her older sister; with them were two aging couples. One couple had Oriental features, yet the man had lighter skin than his wife. His body frame appeared larger and stronger than his wife, who appeared to be more on the fragile side. The second couple consisted of two Caucasians, the man was red headed with curly hair, and the wife was an attractive blonde. As Irene watched the scene disappeared, she woke up and found herself in her room, back at her great-aunt’s house.
* * * * * * * * * *
Irene sat at her desk next to the window. It was fifteen minutes before her class started, and her third month at school. Ever since the incident about her unnatural appearance, she began to attend class half-an-hour early to avoid seeing people she feared facing.
As Irene looked out of the window, she saw a man standing in the schoolyard. She noticed that the man was clean-shaven and had silver hair, which glittered in the morning sun. He was dressed in a white cotton tunic and wine red slacks; around his waist was a broad crimson sash. He was barefoot. He lifted his head and looked right at her. Astonished, Irene turned her back to him. Then, cautiously she turned to see if he was still looking at her only to find him gone. Irene blinked in disbelief. Was I seeing things? She thought.
“Hey, Poop-head,” said a voice, she dreaded to hear. “How come you didn’t dye your hair?”
Irene looked towards the direction of the voice and saw Mika Saito, one of her senpais. With her were two of her sidekicks, Rumi Nagatani and Yuka Katou. The three girls surrounded Irene like a pack of wolves surrounding their prey.
“I inherited this from one of my grandparents,” Irene explained, referring to her grandfather (her father’s father).
“Humph, as if. You just don’t dye it because you are a foreigner!” said Rumi.
“You know something, So-lo-mon?” Mika lowered her voice as she leaned against Irene’s desk, emphasizing each syllable on Irene’s last name. “Maybe you should return to your family back in Canada, since you are not welcome here?”
“How cruel of you, Mika,” said Yuka mockingly, “Remember? She is an orphan!”
Irene froze at the remark. “Say that again,” she demanded evenly,
“You are an –” Yuka began, but was interrupted by Irene who violently shoved the girl against the desks.
“Why you!” Yuka sprang on Irene, grabbing the front of her uniform.
Irene, with anger fuelling her strength, quickly tripped the girl and pinned her to the floor. “Say it!” she shouted at her furiously, “Say it!”
“What’s going on here!” Mr. Nagai entered the room, with some students peering at them from behind his back.
The girls stood up as they shamefully looked at the floor.
“Who started this?” the teacher demanded.
“She did!” Mika pointed an accusing finger to Irene.
Irene, aware of the gesture, said nothing.
“Solomon! I should have known!” Mr. Nagai grabbed her shoulder as he pulled her out of the classroom before them all. “Of all the foreign students we had, we never had an incident like this until you came. Who do you think you are? Huh?” He pushed her head forcefully before them all. “You think you could get away bullying your peers because you are a foreigner, don’t you?”
Remaining silent, Irene clenched her fist as she tried to control her anger.
“Well, we’ll talk to the board about this and deal with you later. But for now, you stay in the halls!” With these words he left the scene.
The students talked amongst themselves. The teacher returned with two pails full of water. “Here!” he said setting two on the floor. “Pick them up!” he commanded.
Irene stiffly glanced up, with each a hand she carried a pail. Humiliation crept up from her ankles and washed over her like an unpleasant flame as she felt all eyes of fellow students staring at her watching her receive discipline.
“Stand here!” the teacher ordered.
Irene meekly approached the place she was to stand.
The teacher quickly left and brought another pail, with it he filled both pails to the brim. “If you spill them, you’ll clean this hall. Understand?”
“Even if my arms are pulled out of the sockets?” she asked in sarcasm.
“Even if that happens you will be held responsible – not me!” The teacher turned to leave.
Irene glared at the floor, her wrath bubbling and frothing within her.
All the students snickered pointing to the red headed “haku-jin” as they whispered about her. Irene shot them an icy look. The voices stopped as all cringed away from her.
At lunch hour, Irene sat on the school roof as she had her lunch. No one was supposed to be on the roof, but she didn’t care. She wanted to be left alone for a while. Setting her now empty lunchbox aside, she lay on her back. Feeling the sun warming her face, she drifted of to sleep.
“Irene…Irene…” Irene opened her eyes and found herself in the middle of a field. She sat up.
“Irene…” she heard someone call her name again.
“Who’s calling me?” she asked. Her eyes scanned the field seeing only wild flowers dotting the emerald carpet.
“Irene…” the voice called again.
“Here!” she responded. “I’m right here!”
“There you are!” She turned and saw a tall man. No, it was the tall man; the man with the silver hair and white tunic – only this time he wore the garbs of a farmer.
She didn’t know why, but farmer seemed both familiar and mysterious. He held out his arms and she embraced him feeling at home for the first time in a long time.
Ding-dong, ding-dong… The sound of the school bell rang. Irene woke up. She slowly dragged her wrist to her face to look at her watch. Seeing she was going to be late, she sat up. Grabbing her lunchbox, she dashed to her next class.
At the end of the day, Irene made a stop the washroom and noticed something on her forehead. Peering into the mirror, she lifted her bangs. There, on her forehead, was a slender four-pointed star in the soft shade of a rose. Where did this come from? She wondered. Could it be a prank? If it were, they would draw something on her face something crude in a colour that would be very hard to hide. This colour was soft and gentle, not noticeable unless one searched for it.
“How odd,” Irene thought to herself. But felt a smile coming on her face, for that star gave her a warm pleasant feeling of comfort.
* * * * * * * * * *
Year: Forty years after the death of King Ephesus II
Place: Birrill Shire, Korda
“Here we are, four men sitting near a nice warm fire sipping tea, and no women. Maybe I should kill myself,” Philip Goldbrook, a young rilud with chestnut brown hair, said to his three friends. One of them, a blond haired rilud who nearly spewed his tea, covered his mouth with a napkin, trying to hide his laughter.
“Philip, if you are that desperate, why don’t you put up a sign on your door that says: ‘Wanted: pretty maid for wife.’ With fine print saying underneath: ‘Must tolerate crude jokes and pipes.’” commented Douglas Burrows, a red haired rilud who sat across from Philip and smiled as he lit his pipe.
“Have you considered Sunflower?” William Underoot suggested a childhood friend as he poured himself some more tea.
His friends looked at him and waved their hands at the idea.
“Well, thanks to the Order of Beliar most of our friends, families, relatives, and other possible courting candidates have left the shire,” Merlin Fourleaf, the blond haired rilud who was known by his friends as ‘Merl’, said with distaste at the reason behind their dwindling population.
The riluds were ‘little people’, whose height varied from three feet to four feet and two inches – with the exception of Douglas, Philip, and Merl. These three friends (who were also distant cousins) share the same human ancestor which explains their unusual height of five feet. The riluds generally had curly brown hair, large dark eyes, and hairy feet. Rilud males did not grow beards or mustaches; instead they had short tufts of hair growing on the backs of their hands and feet.
“Remember those days when we lived above ground in homes made on the surface?” Merl asked, recalling the peaceful times in their shire.
“Merl, you’re sounding like an old man,” Philip told his fifth cousin rather depressingly.
“You are certainly making me feel even more so,” Douglas pointed out, since he was the eldest of his friends.
“Well, it’s true,” Merl responded.
“And I agree. Our life here in Birrill Shire is not as safe as what we knew as lads,” William commented sadly.
“I can imagine years into the future when people will visit the shire as a historical site saying, ‘Now right here we have the ancient ruins of the Birrill Shire – home of the riluds. As you can see, these people were under oppression for so long that they lived like moles underground till the ends of their lives.’” Philip imitated a scholarly tone, then added, “And then guide shows the guests mummified riluds in these holes -” His friends groaned at the joke. Merl gave Philip a playful swipe with his hand only to be dodged by the chuckling rilud.
“Philip, you are terrible!” William said, “I think you’ve had enough tea and one too many cupcakes.”
“No more for you!” Douglas chimed in, moving the plate of cupcakes out of Philip’s reach.
“Have any of you considered getting a bride from outside of the shire?” Merl asked, suddenly changing the subject. His friends nearly fell out of their chairs.
“Merl,” Philip laid a hand on his cousin’s shoulder. “Are you that desperate to be married?”
Merl blushed slightly. “Well, no!” The last word was given a bit forcefully. “I – I just thought it would be nice to spend the rest of my life with someone.”
“Well, if you are that eager, I would suggest talking to good ol’ Glenn the Dwarf and ask if he knows any maids that are available,” Philip said, taking a bite of a cupcake he was able to snag from Merl’s plate who sat next to him.
Merl saw this and gave him a scowl as he took another from the tray for himself.
“I would prefer to have a rilud-maid for a wife,” William said as he downed the last of his tea.
“So would I. Someone who would not drive me to madness with naggings,” Merl gave his input.
Douglas smiled knowingly as he put out his pipe, remembering a young maid from their childhood who had indeed driven poor Merl nearly mad.
“What are you smiling at, Master Burrows?” Merl asked suspiciously.
“Just remembering someone we know, Master Fourleaf,” Douglas said with a grin.
“Someone on your mind that catches your interest, Douglas?” Philip asked with a sly grin.
“None at the moment,” came the reply.
“Aww, come on, Douglas! You must have a maid that would be of interest to you. Perhaps someone from your dreams?”
“Only if Ishual provides me one,” the redhead sipped his tea.
“Well, you certainly have faith in Ishual to provide. So...” Philip stood up, brought his chair closer and plunked down on it right in front of Douglas. “Tell us what you have in mind that Ishual should bring you.”
“You are really determined about this, aren’t you?”
“That is my specialty!”
Douglas rolled his eyes and sighed, “Oh, all right! She is tall, pretty, and red-haired.”
Silence settled over the room.
“That’s rather specific.” William said, “You mean a human maid, right?”
Douglas gave his surrendering reply, “Oh, why not!”
“And how do you expect this girl to appear?” Merl asked with interest.
“Like I said, Ishual will bring her to me… I don’t know! I’m just not sure if I’ll ever get married. I left it up to him to find someone and bring her to me. That is all I know.”
“That’s quite a step of faith you’ve made there, Douglas,” William said kindly.
Douglas looked down at the cup he cradled in his hands. “Actually, it is.” He took a sip of his tea and added: “Because I sensed him saying this to me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know I just told you things that sounded like I made them up, but I didn’t. I actually felt Ishual telling me that this maid I will meet later on is to be our prophetess.”
A momentary hush fell over them.
“All righty, I think you’re the one who’s had too much tea,” Philip said with concern as he moved the pot away from his friend.
“Come now, Douglas. I know that you are reminding us of our childhood games, but this is –” Merl reasoned, but was interrupted.
“It’s probably something else. I know.” Douglas sighed deeply, bowed his head. After gaining his peace he lifted his head. “Wishful thinking,” he said with a smile.
“I’m sure you’ll find someone,” William said, then added, “And I believe that as the son of the High King, Ishual will grant you your heart’s desire.”
“And then there’s the option of asking Mrs. Bobbid to match you with someone,” Philip grinned. Mrs. Bobbid was the local gossip who believed she had the gift to match people, which did not always happen that way. She once tried to pair Douglas with a widow who was old enough to be his mother.
“No, thank you,” Douglas replied, shuddering inwardly.
Place: In a log cabin hidden in the forest near the foot of Cobalt Mountains, Korda
A young woman sat on the floor of a deserted house. She stared off into the distance as she held a golden bracelet in her hand. The sun poured its beams from a broken window making her long blonde hair glow with a golden sheen. Her eyes were cold and blue like the depth of an arctic sea. The bracelet had a large polished stone (which she thought was a ruby) set in wide open-ended band of gold. On it were engraved in ancient writings, that her father taught her. “Err knoc T’urn-murren b’nai lonh Korda – Always shall the Morning Star watch over Korda.”
“The Morning Star,” Shyaina said to herself quietly.
She recalled to the time when she was very small. Her mother shut her up into a hidden room in a closet. Moments later, she heard the sounds of poundings, the crashing and shattering of glass and porcelain. The loud clang of copper pots and pans. Her mother screamed. Then a sickening sound of an axe fell many times. She wanted to know what was going on, but she obeyed her mother’s orders – never to open the secret door until her father comes home. She remembered stopping her ears with her fingers praying hard that her father would come home soon. Then, everything went black.
She woke up to find her father holding her in his arms, stroking her face. He was covered in blood! She looked to see where her mother was and saw something covered with a blanket. She tried to go over to see, but her father clung to her.
“Why, Father? Why can’t I see Mother?” she asked.
Tears streamed his face as he held her firmly. “You should not see her, Child. You should not see her.”
It was then she noticed the blood pooling on floor for the first time.
She covered her ears as she recalled the horrific scene. “Mother,” she said softly, like a child suffering from a nightmare.
Then another scene flashed before her when she was twelve. Her father lay in bed sick. He handed her the jewelled bracelet.
“Child,” he told her, “though I have been one of them I have never been for them. Remember what your mother had taught you. Even when I die, do not forget the origin of this stone. For where the stone came from shall truly save you.”
She opened her eyes. Her hand tightening on the bracelet, she recalled what she was supposed to do.