Dragon Day

A princess that's not a lady. A king that's not a gentleman. And a wedding that does not go according to plan.

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14. Memories and Life in the Marshland

Memories and Life in the Marshland

 

The day after Dragon Day

 

                Darya regretted the moment she opened the door the day before. The man sitting in front of her took up most of the free space of her tiny cottage. She wanted to strangle him as he stared around at everything blankly. She had hoped for him to be an advantage, an unforeseen and unexpected source of income. Little Marsh didn’t have many sources of income.

                “You remember nothing?” she asked for the hundredth time, only to get the same infuriating shake of his head in response. She took a loaf of bread out of the cupboard, she had only a disappointing amount of it left. She placed the food at the table and left.

                She knew that he would be nothing but a dead weight for her. People who thought optimistically would reason that he was definitely rich and that he would gain his memory eventually. She had stopped being optimistic years before. She knew that until his memory was regained he would be practically useless, unfit for the physical work of a peasant’s life and not knowing any useful craft.

                There was a small forest behind her house. It was the reason that most people didn’t visit her, and it was the source of her livelihood. People whispered that the woods were part of Vrinda, the forest of lore protected by a powerful spirit. Darya knew otherwise, because after venturing into the woods every day for the past ten years she was still alive.

                The herbs in the woods were special. Some healed, some added aroma, and some added a taste to the blandest of foods. All the herbs were expensive, some were necessary to survive against the diseases that struck Marsh. She would’ve been a rich woman if the herbs weren’t so hard to find. Most of the people considered her to be cursed, stealing from the spirit. She had stopped believing in ghosts and gods a long time ago. Just as she had stopped praying, she had stopped fearing them.

                Leaving the man in the house she walked into the woods with her usual basket. She didn’t usually go very far, but that day she had to. If she wanted to be able to support herself and the man until someone came for him, she would have to work more, sell more. As she walked further into the forest she didn’t notice the subtle changes around her. The sunlight no longer penetrated the leaves of the treetops. There was no birdsong. By the time she noticed, she was lost.

                Darya knew it was impossible for her to be lost. The woods were small, she had never gotten lost in ten years. She worried about the man she left back in her house. She didn’t know why she was being kind to him. No one had ever been kind to her in her time of need. She knew what would happen if she didn’t return. He was helpless. The villagers would kill him and split his gold amongst themselves. It wasn’t the greed of most of the villagers that disgusted her, but their justification of it. They killed rich men and used their wealth to make the village prosper, agreeing in their little church that they had rid the world of men who did not work for their wealth.

                She looked around herself at the darkness. There was dust in the air and she blinked. Opening her eyes, she couldn’t be sure that they were open. Everything around her was pitch-black. No matter where she stepped or however far she walked it was the same, a flat and endless expanse of black. She stretched her arms out in front of him, struggling to find something that she knew had to be there, a tree, a branch, anything!

                “I need you to help him,” a woman’s voice said. The voice came from all sides of her, and Darya stiffened at the sudden presence.

                “Are you the spirit?” she asked stutteringly.

                “Yes, I’m Aravi.”

                “Everyone says you kill those that enter your forest,” Darya said. Her knees shook and she dropped to the ground, unable to handle the fear that suddenly filled her to the core.

                “I kill those that seek to harm my forest,” the spirit replied. “Or those that I do not need. But I need you, Darya. And you will want to help me.”

                “I…”

                “Have you ever wanted to get revenge? For your father?”

                “My father was a sailor, he drowned at sea,” Darya replied with hesitation. It was the news that they’d received. His ship had hit a storm, and nothing had remained.

                “Your father died at sea Darcy, but he did not drown. He was killed. The key to your revenge lies with the man who is now in your house. He will guide you to your father’s killer. Follow my command, and you will be the one to take his life.”

                “How can I trust you?”

                “Do not trust me, trust what you see,” the spirit’s voice replied.

                The blackness around her slowly disappeared to reveal sunrise on a boat’s deck. She recognized the merchant vessel that her father had worked on. Calliope. It was a beautiful name, for a beautiful ship. The figurehead was that of a beautiful woman with long golden hair, a foreign woman. Her father was the first mate.

                Darya looked around her surroundings. She saw everything as if she was there, heard everything. But the smell of the salt air was missing, the wind on her skin was not there. She felt like a spirit, watching everything without being part of it. Her father came out onto the deck with a smile on his face.

                Tears came into her eyes seeing her father’s face. She walked over to him and tried to touch his face. Her hand touched nothing. But it still felt wonderful, seeing his smile after all the years. A cannon sounded in the air and sailors suddenly were everywhere on the deck, adjusting the sails, filling gunpowder into the cannons, trying to delay the approach of the attacking ship.

                The sailors of the other ship, grimy pirates with gruesome sneers came onto her father’s ship. They attacked mercilessly and fought recklessly, knowing clearly that victory was on their side. The captain came last, a man with an oiled grey beard and a monocle, wearing clothing far too refined for his thieving profession.

                He was the one that stabbed her father in the back with his scimitar. The blade pierced through her father’s chest, silver at one end and scarlet at the other. Darya watched as her father fell to his knees. The other man bent as her father fell, held the scimitar with both hands and twisted the blade, a smile on his face. She covered her ears to block her father’s agonized screams, and looked away, not wanting to see the life go out of her his eyes.

                “Do you want revenge?” the spirit’s voice asked.

                She was on her knees in the forest again, a place she recognized to be quite near the edge. Her basket was on the ground next to her. A beautiful warrior stood in front of her, a black haired woman with kohl paintings on her cheeks and grace in her movements.

                “Yes, yes I do,” Darya answered unsteadily.

                “Well then, help the man recover his memories,” the spirit answered. “That is the first step to your quest. I will find you again Darya, when the time comes.”

                The spirit disappeared again, leaving her alone with a basket full of herbs. Darya remembered picking only a few. She picked up the basket nonetheless and briskly walked back to her hut. Her father’s murder played in her mind as she walked, and she tried to control her tears.

                A few of the village people straggling around the outskirts gave her a strange look as she passed them by. She ignored their looks, some curious and some scornful. In her hut the man was waiting for her. He had left her half the loaf, although he eyed it regretfully. She pushed the plate towards him and sat at the table.

                He slowly ambled towards the table and took at the seat at one of the crudely made chairs. Darya watched as he finished the loaf in two bites. He wiped his hands on his dirty shirt and flicked off a few specks of food stuck around his mouth.

                “So, what do you remember?” she asked.

                Dain looked at the woman sitting before him. She was a tall, sturdy woman with tan skin and straight black hair. He didn’t know why, but he found her skin to be strange. His was much paler, and his watery blue eyes contrasted deeply with her deep brown years.

                “I’m not from around here,” he answered. He remembered vaguely a colorful place, a place where he had done nothing. The women there wore lace and carried parasols, nothing like the working woman that had taken him in.

                “Figured as much,” she said. It was obvious he was a foreigner. But Collyria was one of the few places in the world that still held the old people, the natives that had disappeared off the face of the planet to be replaced by pale-skinned people.

                She got up off the table and beckoned for him to follow her. Behind her little hut there was a well. It was a well that had been dug by her mother’s grandfather, the well that had supplied her and her mother with at least water when they had starved after her father’s death, abandoned by everyone else in the village.

                “I want you to draw a hundred buckets from this well,” she told him. It was something she had done many times before, drawing water and emptying it into the large pit next to the well. It was the only thing that the man could possibly do. Although Aravi had told her about her past, she had not been kind enough to tell her about the stranger in front of her.

                “A hundred buckets?” he asked. She knew it would be hard for him, but it wasn’t impossible. If she as a gangly half-starved sixteen-year old did it, he could as well.

                “Yes, otherwise no dinner,” she warned. She went into the cottage, locking the door behind her. She cooked and occasionally looked out of the window. He toiled away, but the pit filled too slowly. Dinner time came and she saw that he was just half way through.

                “It’s alright for a first attempt,” she told him. He was covered in perspiration from head to toe. Wiping the sweat off his brow he dropped the bucket at his feet and trudged back into the cottage. She had already kept his dinner on the table. After gobbling it down he settled onto a rug on the floor and fell asleep.

                It was unfortunate. She had wanted to ask him questions, about who he was, about where he was from. Anything he could remember would be one more clue about her father’s killer. Her father had been her idol throughout her childhood, her best friend and her mentor. As a child she was unable to imagine life without him, without his stories of travel and his exotic gifts. But that pirate, that heartless stranger had taken everything away from her. He had killed her father. It was the man’s fault her mother had starved to death. Killing him wouldn’t rid her of her loneliness. Vengeance was something her father had always condoned. She reminded herself that it wasn’t just revenge, it was justice.

                The man in front started to snore. He was the key to her quest, as the spirit had said. She didn’t know why she trusted the spirit, but there was not a sliver of malevolence in the woman that she had seen. Darya knew the woman didn’t lie. But the man in the front of her was a disappointment. He wouldn’t lead her anywhere anytime soon. She reminded herself to be patient. Her hastiness was not going to be the reason for her losing her revenge. She found it strange, that a day before she had led her life with the sole intent of surviving and nothing more. She finally had a purpose, and although revenge was something that would most likely destroy her, she knew it was the only path she could lead.

                

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