Fantasy where heroes don't follow the rules
Paragon Forgotten Chapter 8
There are 5 Aspect Gods:
The Goddess of Fate, the Undergod, the R’th God Astorous, the Warrior God Crimstone, and the Dark Elf Goddess Ericoya.
Aspect Gods were mortals once. Sometimes the Paragons pay special attention to mortals’ great deeds and reward them with godhood.
- On Religion
Image by Angela Cutler
Cohthel woke when the wagon wheel dropped into a hole in the road, thudding him and rattling the glass jars.
Sunlight glowed through the canvas. Cohthel guessed noon. His stomach rumbled. The grinding of the wheels on axles and clip-clop of shod horse hooves masked the noises he made while he shifted in his small space, digging into his bag for a raw potato and water. He needed to urinate. Badly.
Did the caravan stop for meals and bowel complaints? Did they do both on the go? He would strive to wait until they stopped as long as the cart didn’t bump much longer. Otherwise, he eyed the knothole in the floorboards with increasing desire.
He stared at the warm canvas fluttering overhead, the adjusted position more accommodating, but after two more hours of constant bumping, he resigned. Those standing near his wagon would believe the wet trail came from the horse. While invisible, they wouldn’t see his urine stream, but they would see the visual effects left on the environment.
He laid back down with marked relief, if now bored. He played with a sack of figurines carved from coral he found in the wagon. The dolphins versus the crabs.
He again checked his guilt over leaving Mother with undone chores, though he balmed the guilt over knowing she’d seek out Thaen to inquire if he had seen her son, to which Thaen would show her the note he left him, and then to Bohrim who had been, maybe not a second father, but a willing neighbor to help a widow with heavy lifting and all other general labor when called.
Bohrim would not be proud of Cohthel for running away, and for that, his guilt finally sunk in.
Sunlight blasted into the wagon bed as the canvas flung away. Cohthel flinched even before the hand clenched the back of his shirt and hauled him straight out, throwing him to the dirt so he rolled three times before he stopped, coughing, and holding his chest. He rose to his knees. A boot pressed into his back.
“Stay down.” The male accent sounded Dark Elf.
“Okay, okay.” Cohthel covered the back of his head, expecting a blow.
“Mistress Kitannia! I found a stowaway.”
Cohthel recoiled under the stony gaze of the Caravan Master galloping toward him. The caravan rolled by, the attendants gawking as they passed.
Kitannia reined her horse to a dusty stop. “Let him up.”
The Dark Elf removed his boot. Dusting himself off, Cohthel stood, looking at the Caravan Master.
Long eyelashes blinked over gray eyes, her braided black hair tied in a leather thong. She wore a sleeveless shirt, short enough her deep belly button winked at him. “I’m split between yelling at last night’s watch who allowed you to crawl into the wagon, and praising you for getting away with it.” She looked at the Dark Elf. “How’d you find him?”
“Walked over to talk with Fimouniani and heard a heartbeat coming from the wagon.”
Undergod’s knuckles. The rumor is true.
“Thank you, Urouhi. Expect a bonus on your next pay. Join with the caravan.”
“Thank you, mistress.” Long legs and bolstered purpose took the Dark Elf in a sprint toward the caravan bumbling down the road.
Cohthel assumed bravery when he ran away from home and crawled into one of the caravan’s wagons despite the attentive watch they kept, but meet Kitannia’s gaze he would not.
“How’d you do it?” Kitannia leaned over the saddle horn. Her long braid swung past her ear. The horse snorted at the saddle adjustment, flicking flies off with his red tale.
“Sneak past the night watch into that wagon.” Calm, calculated. Knowing all the answers.
Don’t back down now. You got this far for a reason. He pulled back his shoulders and stared straight at her, unable to force his lips round enough for confident speech. “I can turn invisible.”
“I don’t believe you.”
She straightened with a laugh. Her horse’s ears twitched. “Undergod’s demons you can. How old are you? Fourteen?”
“I’m no one to chase children away from employment if they choose to mature sooner than expected, but I understand you did not sneak past my watch and hide in my wagon to ask for work.”
“No, mistress. And…” He reached for all the words to sound sincere and polite. The last wagon rumbled past, leaving the two of them alone on the road. “And I am very sorry for last night. I have a great desire to learn more about my father. I’m…not satisfied with my mother’s answer. I want to find the answers myself, even if she was right all along.”
“And you thought you’d find the answer in my wagon?”
“I hid in your wagon to get far enough from home you wouldn’t send me off right away. To nag on you enough to talk to me about my father.”
“I told you last night. I remember nothing about him.”
He reached for a gamble. “But yet you remember a reference to a judge and fly shit.”
Her eyes widened. “I can’t fathom how you came by that insignificant piece of information, but I’m impressed by your tenacity.”
“And…” He stretched for another gamble, like stretching out his throat for the executioner’s ax, “…and I know you would never forget anyone who died on your watch.”
She sat back in her saddle. “You look like your father.”
Hope soared in his chest. Blood drained out of his head, making him dizzy. “You r-remember him?” And, just like that, words and thoughts he’d rehearsed during the bumpy ride in the wagon escaped him. “Please, what happened to him? My mother said he walked off a cliff and a shark ate him. Is this true?”
Her shoulders stooped. He could not translate her half-smile.
“Is it true? Is it not? What happened to him? Is he alive?” He wanted to claw his way onto her horse to feel hopeful words closer to his face.
Her eyes softened, resembling murky water instead of roiling clouds. “Alive? I do not know. It’s been ten years. Lots of time and lots of ways for kindred to die. Your mother could be telling the truth about him walking off a cliff and being eaten by sharks. All I can promise you is it didn’t happen on my watch.”
Mother was mistaken about when he died, then. “My mother said you’d written a death report for him and gave it to Torc Thoraus. My mother said she read it. Did he die a different way?”
“Oh, I see what’s going on now.”
“What? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know why she said what she did, maybe she was mistaken? But I will not curse myself for contradicting a mother’s words.”
She’s superstitious. Ug! Kindred claimed Kitannia came from the Lands of the Two Moons. A hostile and distrustful culture. He wanted to climb into her saddle and strangle her, tears of frustration building in his throat.
She regarded him a long time, the caravan long since driven by, wagon wheels and horse hooves exchanged for birdsong and rustling leaves, sunlight wavering through them as if life didn’t hold secrets.
“Wait here. I’m going to catch up to the caravan and find an escort to take you home.”
She turned her horse and, with it, turned his hope out like a dog caught in the house. Swept away the tracked-in dirt from dusty paws quick and neat. The master needn’t even know. Pat the dog later and tell him what a good boy he was.
Cohthel had his answer. The rest of his life mapped. Why did Thaen get his wants and Cohthel did not? Thaen cashed in his desires while Cohthel could only write his down on lists never fulfilled, lists he could set on fire to no consequence.
He tried. Didn’t he? Approaching Kitannia last night while his passion bubbled over the rim, drinking the rest while he hid in her wagon this morning.
Kitannia rode away, the beating hooves becoming Thaen stomping into class and announcing: You went through all that effort to run away, hide in the wagon, only to come home because Kitannia said no?
Petty, hearing Thaen’s voice. The insufferable desire to find more about Father crucified on the altar of No. Father not even worth a two-letter word.
To his shock, Kitannia stopped and looked back, hesitating before closing the door behind the dog’s tail. Motivated by Thaen’s future nagging, he filled his lungs with air and crossed the distance with his voice. “Please. Let me stay. Let…let me work. Pay me a single link. Pay me nothing. Just let me stay.” If she wouldn’t talk, someone else in the caravan who worked with Father ten years ago might.
Again, that slow blinking stare. Finally, she nodded and beckoned for him.
Relief burst through him. He sprinted toward her and took her outstretched hand. Strong. Calloused. Many years wielding sword and bow. He sat behind her in the saddle. She turned her horse and galloped down the rutted dirt road Mianda said she learned during her engineer apprenticeship they had plans to pave soon.
The caravan made incredible time, taking them five minutes to catch the last wagon. Suppose they pushed to keep a good solid pace with minimal stoppage to maintain their scheduled arrival in every realm.
“I’ll have you walk as rear guard for now. So if you trip or walk too slow, you won’t get run over.”
“Yes, Caravan Master.”
“You won’t see much of me. I have twenty-eight wagons and a hundred and twelve attendants to manage. They’re generally good by themselves, but the dusutri likes to sneak out of line, run ahead, and uproot trees to lay across the road to show off his strength by removing them again while everyone watches. He thinks I don’t know. It’s petty, but I let him do it because I can’t chance him getting bored out of his mind and throwing kindred into trees.”
“So I will give you a sponsor. Slide off and I’ll send him back to you.”
He slid off the back, jogging to catch the last wagon and the two ecthore managing it. Both swung their furry heads toward him, nostrils flaring as they sniffed him.
“This is Evermore. He’s assigned to rear guard for now. Keep an eye on him and report if he dies or goes missing.”
“Yes, Caravan Master.”
Dust mushroomed into hazy clouds as the horse galloped back to the front of the train, Kitannia’s braid flouncing. He trailed the last wagon, skipping, elated enough to ignore any shame about leaving in the first place.
Cohthel’s sponsor reached him an hour later. Toward noon, Cohthel saw a caravan attendant standing on the side of the road, the caravan moving past him like a river ignorant to the rocks shaping it. A human. Older, late thirties with premature gray hair. When Cohthel passed him, the man turned and synced his steps with Cohthel, handing him a small bundle.
“Lunch,” the man said. “Mistress Kitannia assigned me as your sponsor during your stay with us. My name is Markie. If you need anything, you’ll come to me, be it an answer, a bandage, or a shoulder to bemoan all your girl troubles.”
Cohthel cracked a smile. He couldn’t help but think out of all the attendants in the caravan, Kitannia chose a human male as if to replace his father, as if to satiate him and his questions about his real one.
“Thanks.” He accepted the water skin Markie gave him and opened the sack, pulling out a square of yellow cake the two ecthore near him lovingly called “gamp”. Elves constructed this food to satisfy every racial diet in this caravan. “How long have you been in the caravan, Markie?”
“Going on twelve years now.”
Hope shot heat into Cohthel’s face. He employed all tethers to his willpower to restrain himself from bombarding Markie with questions. Cohthel would not chance biasing him against talking about Father like he’d unintentionally done to Kitannia. This remained Cohthel’s last chance to get the truth. He needed to watch, learn, and approach with strategy in the same way Thaen said the rangers did when facing physical problems. “Will you be my sponsor the entire three months?”
“I sure will. You okay with that?”
Intense desire pulsed in Cohthel’s fingers, a flawless plan weaving together in the few seconds he took to hold out the hand Markie shook. “I’m Evermore.”
“Just Evermore.” Kitannia refused Cohthel’s questions because she did not know him. But if someone connected to him on a personal level, saw inside his heart and soul, they would later hesitate refusing him. Unwittingly, Kitannia gave Cohthel three months to employ Thaen’s favorite drama: subterfuge.
“Okay, okay, I’ll go with it. So long as you tell me why your name is less awesome than mine.”
Cohthel chewed his cake, washing the sticky crumbs down with the water skin. “It’s my nickname my father gave me. It’s the only thing I have from him. Though, official birth records have me down as Cohthel.”
“I’m saddened to hear your father is no longer around. Is there a reason behind that nickname?”
“It comes from a legend that told of two kindred, Evermore and Nevercease, and together they conquered the world.”
“Oh boy, did you teach me a legend I didn’t know?”
“Teach you?” Markie twice his age, Cohthel assumed every adult learned the legend of Evermore and Nevercease. Father did. Thaen didn’t, though, but Cohthel never defaulted to Thaen for life answers. Thaen often fabricated them if he didn’t know or exaggerated them if he did. “There’s no way you don’t know that legend.”
“Trust me, I love history and stories, and I’ve never heard of it.”
Cohthel couldn’t decide if Markie was teasing him.
“Did they conquer the world?”
“That’s all I know.”
Markie made an exaggerated effort looking around. “They aren’t very good world-conquerors, now, are they? Life seems pretty normal. Sure your father didn’t make it up?”
To think Father named him after something Father invented crippled his ego. “Are you making fun of me?”
Markie grinned and bumped his shoulder. “That’s okay. I won’t tell anyone. We can still pretend.”
Cohthel smiled despite the mockery.
Markie talked and talked throughout the afternoon and evening, a sound Cohthel craved in Thaen’s father — that camaraderie between man and boy. But Bohrim’s camaraderie came in blips, only as often as Cohthel visited Thaen and Bohrim wasn’t away at work. But Markie…Cohthel would spend every minute of every day with him for the next three months.
Cohthel would seed and cultivate, nurture, and water, so over time the fruit of truth would ripen, eager for harvest. He could not afford to harvest too soon. He had three months to nurture but only one chance to convince Markie to talk about Father.