Featured in Left of the Lake’s second issue, click picture for link
My red-rimmed eyes dropped to the ebony box. It couldn’t be my duty to deliver it. I didn’t want it to be my duty. I saw the box as nothing more than dark wood – dark wood that summoned memories of the Battle of Fort LuLi. Tobian’s King, my new father-in-law, saw a dead tree freshly scarred with carvings. Just as he grieved the loss of his kingdom’s soldier, the King mourned this tree. He passed the box to me and said, “This tree gave its life for another just as the man it represents did.”
I fought beside this man, the one who shot a perfectly aligned arrow, at Fort LuLi. He held no qualm about fighting beside a new Manipulator. The wind, the rocks … they gravitated to me and allowed me to influence them, but I could only shield so many men with the wind.
The weeping tree branches of my new home rustled with the wind’s chilly sway as the sun peeked over the eastern horizon. This was how I’d start my day. With the war done and the arranged marriage finally completed, my royal duties could wait no longer. It did not matter that my physical wounds had not yet healed. Freshly scabbed gashes hidden, long scratches evident on my hands and a limp to my gait, I negotiated and weaved Tobian’s roads. I had never seen weeping tree branches nor had I ever delivered a death notice.
I stood motionless and alone on the walkway up to the very first house. The white flag secured within the ebony box I held offered the dead soldier’s family the right to mourn. I had passed many doors with similar white flags affixed to them. Before the marriage, the Queen delivered ebony boxes and comforted families with her words.
With downcast eyes and a fear etched with sorrow, I forced myself forward. Grass and flowers of every color – pink, lilac, turquoise – surrounded me, but all I smelled was the rot of war. The small house built from stone was home to a mother and father as well as an older sister – or so the King said. I lifted a trembling, clenched hand and knocked on a door of wood. My stomach fluttered then compressed into a fist. The constricting tightness stole my breath. I prayed to gods I swore I no longer believed in for the ability and articulation to speak when the door…opened.
A woman, already distraught, stood before me with her mouth gaping. Her body wracked with convulsions that drained the blood from her face. Her husband, with his veiny, wrinkled hands, held her around the shoulders and kept her standing up. How did he manage? A curly haired girl, looking no older than I was, raced to the door – hopeful that this was the day her brother finally returned home – and skidded to a stop.
I attempted to wet my lips and offered forth the box.
Copyright ©2010-2014 by Kristine A. Strauss, Amara SuraShakta.
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