Laws of Gods and Men

Michel Salvatore is a boy saved by a benevolent Queen. A rags-to-riches narrative at first glance, Michel soon realises he had entered a court of gods at Her Majesty's behest, a feat of great honour to a mere mortal.

He did not care for glory or all the others.

For his hatred burns for them.

*An entry for the "Strange the Dreamer: A Writing Competition" with the theme of GODS AND MORTALS.*

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5. Gods

I no longer remember how long I've been here. I lost count days ago. I imagine Peadar must have taken my place as royal adviser.

Good, let him aid the gods. I will rot in here, if that means I will never have to serve them ever again.

The door creaks open.

It is not the soft-spoken Hest with his food, not Aimeric with his silent gaze, not Yeva with her boastful arrogance, not Irri with his persuasion, and not Lethe with the threat her smokes bring to my memories.

It is Valencia.

Queen Maria.

Valencia.

It doesn't matter.

'What do you want?' I whisper. Everything I say has become a whisper now. 'Another advice for your royal exploits?'

‘That is not-’ She stresses. ‘That’s not what I’ve come for.’

‘Then what?’ I yell.

A realisation dawns on me. ‘Have you come to kill me?’ I whisper. My voice comes barely audible, delirious, mad.

‘No,’ she replies. ‘I just wanted to ask something.’

‘What?’

‘Did it feel good, when you sentenced your father to die?’

My blood rushes to my head, and I grab my tray and throw it at her. She dodges it in swift grace. ‘You’re despicable!’ I shout.

‘So you’re not going to even deny how good it felt?’ Her voice is cold, just as I remembered in Aerith. ‘How good it felt to be a god?’ She cocks her head, her smile unsettling. ‘You knew he deserved it.’

‘He didn’t,’ I mutter.

‘Of course he did. Like those ungrateful mortals in the Rift, horrible people like him have no place in our care.’

I shove her to the wall, my teeth bared. ‘We don’t get to decide who deserves to die.’

‘Of course we do!’ She screams. She glides and pushes herself in front of me. ‘That, is the difference from us gods and you mortals! We get to decide! I gave you a glimpse of that luxury, and you took it up wholeheartedly!’

‘You’re mad!’ I yell back.

‘We’ve been merciful, obedient, even, to the rules of your world. So why do you reject us? Why?!’ Her voice becomes high-pitched. ‘I care for you, Michel! I care for all of you! I just want to bring happiness to all of you, why is that so damned hard to understand?!’

She grabs my hand. Her eyes are wet with tears, and her voice becomes soft, rueful.

‘Please, Michel. I don’t want to lose you, so…’ She reaches for a pouch. She opens it, and on her hand lies a smooth, gilded baton made from some sort of azure metal. ‘Please, open it.’

‘No,’ I say. ‘I don’t want anything from you!’

‘Please, Michel! You shall be as a god! No, you shall be a god yourself! Think of it!’

‘If becoming despicable beings you are is what it takes, I’d rather not be one!’ I slap the baton away from her hand.

‘What more do you want from me?! Was it not enough for you to take Mother and my hands away from me, you had to take me too? What more do you want from me?’ I scream. My words immediately drop to a pathetic, helpless whisper. ‘Or was I just a plaything for you? Was I that fun to play with?’

Tears fall down my cheeks. They fall down hers as well.

‘Please, just let me have this one choice. Let me rot in here, let me die,’ I plead, my voice cracking.

'Oh, Michel.' she sobs. She wraps her arms around my body and I struggle. I yell and thrash around like an animal.

'Don't touch me!' I say over and over again. 'Michel, please,' she whispers. 'It's me.'

'You're one of them,' I growl.

'I know,' she replies. 'And I'm sorry.'

'I know,' my voice cracks. 'I know.'

She soothes my back and I sob into her embrace. 'I'm sorry,' I keep whispering. 'I'm sorry.'

My fire, my hatred, my anger… They all leave me, and now we're alone in the crypt, in the dark.

 

***

 

'You've been shunning every care I sent for,' she finally says. 'Why?'

I keep my lips shut. She doesn't say anything else, nor does she leave me. She won't let this one slide, I realised.

'You knew,' I whisper. 'I told you everything that night, and you said nothing.' She flinches.

'What was I supposed to do?' She asks me. 'You hated us so, but I... I couldn't help but to care for you. I wanted a new life, full of love for you. That night was as real for me as it was for you.'

Cared for me. Why then? Why-

'You're thinking, why did we abandon you all. Correct?'

I say nothing, and that is enough answer for her. 'We didn't want to.' She begins to speak. 'Say, Michel. Let's take this to the balcony, once you've cleaned up, yes?'

It was summer when I entered that crypt, and exactly one season has passed. The winds of autumn graze my cheeks as we step out to the balcony, to the moonlight. We both sit down and gaze at the stars. I see a note of longing in her eyes. A longing, for what has been lost before.

'Do you know of the Forgotten Gods?'

I nod. 'I noticed as soon as Peadar said "gods".' She chuckles. 'Always the perceptive one, you are.' The wind blows her ever dynamic silver hair from her face, revealing a golden glint on her pale skin.

'You're Valencia, the goddess of conquest,' I add on. She chuckles again. 'Yes, conquest. Anything to do with wars and reigns, really.' She lets it sink in my mind before she continues on. 'Before humanity forgot of us, and hubris was born.'

'What happened?' I ask. She sighs and reaches for a pair of goblets. 'Let's drink, you and I. Water, of course. I do remember your disdain for wines.'

'Not that it's possible to obtain now.'

'Yes, thanks to your devious mind, Michel.'

We both laugh. She turns her gaze once more to the skies. 'The birth of the mortals' hubris meant our downfall, although I do not know how it exactly happened myself. One day, we were there. The next, we were no more. All we knew was that we were stranded, in the middle of nowhere in mortal land.

'Nowhere to go, we walked on blindly. Reached the Westlands, and Amare eventually. I suppose that happened around the time you said your mother died.'

I blink twice, speechless. 'Wait, I thought- Why- I didn't know of that.'

She bumps her arm against mine. 'Of course, you didn't. You hailed from the Midlands, and you did say your father was a swine, yes?'

'Well, yes, but I would have heard of it from the market-'

'Pshh, the market.' She snorted. 'I told you, we were forgotten. They got too arrogant, they wouldn't even acknowledge us even if they knew. That's why we're called the Forgotten Gods. Of course word wouldn't have spread.'

'Then how did you land on the throne of Amare?'

'Ah, I think that's a story best left untold,' she smirks at the memory.

'Must have been a devious tale,' I retort. She nods.

'Yes, I suppose you could put it that way. Turns out, we still had our virtues as gods. You remember Hest and your fingers.'

I hold up my hand, and call forth the memory of the pain.

'Yes, I do.'

'He took it the worst when we fell down. He was working on many mortals that time, your mother as well. She was the first whose fate we learned of. That's why, you were one of the first, Michel.'

'But the others, the rest of us-'

'Yes, I wanted to help them as well. To care for them. But you see....' Her voice begins to crack again, and her eyes turns glassy, wet with tears. 'As gods up above, we were able to watch over everyone. We had the privilege of the all-seeing eye. But now... now....' She buries her face on her palms and lets out a single sob. 'We could only do so much, Michel.'

My heart sinks at the sight. What was hatred before, turned to pity. Regret. Understanding.

'That's why we needed each other.' Irri's voice comes to mind. Because of our hubris, they have fallen. Because they have fallen, we too, have fallen.

Gods and mortals. One cannot exist without the other. This, only now do I understand.

She quickly wipes her tears and drinks from the goblet.

'At first, I didn't really want to rule Amare. Told Irri to do it, as he's the best of us in nature. But then he told me that if I wanted to care for all of you, to help all mortals.... We needed as much range as we could. So I agreed. I thought....'

'Conquest was the best way,' I finished.

'Yes, Michel. That's what I thought. I admit, I have gone too far and that is one mistake I can never turn back, nor do I have any excuse for it.' She takes a sip. 'But I never ruled a kingdom, let alone two, or more. So I had the others as my advisers. Peadar was the very first we came across. Our fall cost him his family, so we took him in. Now, we have you.'

She turns, and smiles at me.

'Believe me when I say, I love you all the same. Of course, that might not be apparent now, not with what I can do now. But trust me, I'm learning. Amare is our starting point, but I believe we'll get there. Eventually.'

'I'm sorry,' I tell her. Her intentions were noble, and what did I make of it? I used her, I made her dispatch my enemies, made her earn my desires, made her exact my vengeance.

Me, me, me.

I'm just as selfish as my father.

'I'm sorry,' I say it again. No matter how many times I say it, I- we still will have to live with it. Learn from it. Be better.

'I'm sorry too,' she replies. 'What you did to your father, I shouldn't have put you through that.'

'Never mind him,' I said. 'He deserved it.'

'Hypocrite,' she mutters.

'Guilty as charged.' We take another sip from our crystal goblets. Unsure what to do, we both chuckle afterwards. As morbid as it is, I find myself no longer having any sort of care towards that man.

That chapter in my life is over.

This, is what matters now. Where I am, and where I go next. Where we go next.

Her rueful smile turns into a bright, stellar one. That night, was real. This night, is also real. Everything that happened between us, and before, those are real as well.

And our future? That will be real.

Our world may have been a paradise lost, but I believe we can make it a paradise, regained. Gods and mortals, hand in hand.....

Together.

 

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