Freebie Fridays: A Few Moons More; A Tale of Patience

Freebie Fridays: A Few Moons More; A Tale of Patience

When I asked my Facebook group which character they’d like to hear more about, they almost unanimously chose Rose.

After my Seven Deadly Domerins series, I played around with the idea of another series of Heavenly Virtues prompts. I only ever did one in the past, and they’re an interesting group of traits to consider. But I write a lot about Domerin (as you may have noticed) so I wanted to dedicate the project to someone else. At first, I wasn’t sure if I had enough available Roses to make it work. No one has quite as many incarnations as Domerin. But after considerable thought, I managed to find just enough.

The first Heavenly Rose featured the virtue of chastity. The next one tackled humility. Today we’re looking at patience, which is defined as: bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, delay, hardship, pain, etc., with fortitude and calm and without complaint, anger, or the like. It takes place in my Mad Max inspired fantasy dystopia which, sadly, has never been given a proper introduction.
. . .

She sensed him the moment he crossed the threshold of the village. He paused there, brushing the outskirts of her sensory range and, for the first time in a century, she thought she might lose her mind. She wanted to scream, but even a silent howl would surely drive him from her proximity. And if he left in a fright, he would never return.

Just like the others.

But he was the most promising prospect who had ever passed within her territory. His will was strong, like a sleek, dark blade against the backdrop of her cosmic perception. And the power reached for him with more strength and insistence than she had seen since the cataclysmic shift. He might not be able to fix the world, but he could certainly free her from her prison.

She met him first within the darkness of the world beside and beneath this one. The place magic inhabited before the foolish, greedy mages tore the watershed asunder. Now it was a place of shadows and foul creatures, dangerous and exhilarating, where hope still burned if one knew where to find its pockets.

He had been following the call of one of those bright patches when she stumbled upon him. She had been hunting dark things and hadn’t realized how far they had pulled her from her roots. She might not have been able to get back, if it hadn’t been for him. But she suspected he would have been equally lost if it hadn’t been for her.

With luck, he remembered that – and cared about what it meant.

“I don’t like it here.” The voice belonged to a stranger, one that stood beyond her range. She gauged little from the words, which were spoken commonly enough near her grove. But she could tell from her quarry’s reaction that he respected the voice which spoke.

Damn her foul luck!

“Nor do I,” he said softly, turning away, momentarily veiling his face from her otherworldly vision. “But I made a promise,” he added, turning back in her direction. She caught a glint in his dark blue eyes, an intensity that promised fear was not enough to drive him away.

Good.

“You don’t know for sure that she was real,” the voice insisted. Furred hands closed around the dark wrist of her quarry, trying to draw him aside. “She was just an image in the darkness. She could have been a ghost. A trick.”

Her prospect shook his head. “No, she was real. As real as you and I. And she had a reason for drawing me here. The least I can do is hear her request.”

He took a step closer, jerking his hand free of the stranger’s grip, and she allowed her vision to fade as she relaxed her senses. Not only did he remember, he was a man of his word.

Yes, he must surely be the one.

*   *   *

“Welcome, stranger!” The voice was warm and friendly, which instantly set Domerin on edge. No one in this world gave things away for free. If the people in this place wanted him to relax, it was because they wanted to steal something from him, and he wasn’t entirely convinced what they were after was corporeal.

When he hesitated, he expected the greeter’s smile to falter, but it didn’t. “Do you have business with the Oracle?” he asked instead, further increasing Domerin’s sense of danger.

“Is that what you call her?” It was a rude greeting by any definition, hardly more than a grunt, and nearly a growl by the end. From what he knew of the world before, they would have called her a fortune teller or, perhaps, a fraud. But in the typical parlance of the new world, they had a much darker name for the woman he sought: witch. And not the bright, shining kind that came to grant children wishes or heal the sick. The kind that brought nightmares and laid curses on those who displeased her.

“Does it matter?” the insistently cheerful greeter insisted, folding his hands in front of him. “No one comes here unless they have business with her.”

“Indeed,” Domerin retorted, his tone dry. “More importantly, do I need an appointment?” These important types usually surrounded themselves with ritual, making it difficult to gain an audience. It was a show of power, one Domerin was guilty of having cultivated a fair few times. It was pointless, ultimately, unless the recipient believed the performer really could wield power over them. And while Domerin liked for others to regard him that way, there were few he was willing to fear.

The witch may have helped him escape one of the empty spaces, but that didn’t mean she had genuine power here, beneath the light of the sun, moon or stars.

“Can I ask your name friend?” his greeter-turned-guide responded, still not bothered by his curt tone.

“Domerin Lorcasf,” he replied, uninterested in playing games. If the people here knew who he was, then his reputation would speak for itself. And if they didn’t, there was no use trying to throw it around.

His guide blinked, then bowed from the waist. “Ah, yes. We have been expecting you. Come, Domerin Lorcasf. For you, there is no need to wait. No, indeed. The Lady has waited long to speak with you.”

*   *   *

He looked different than she remembered. Younger. And only one scar sliced his left cheek, rising from a spot near his lips, embracing the sharp angle of his face to a point not far from his eye. Whatever carved it had been sharp – the mark wasn’t much more than a dark line against Domerin’s dusky skin. But had his reflexes been duller, he might have lost an eye to the clever weapon.

No sooner had she thought it than did she catch a dark glint in his intense eyes. They seemed to grow just a shade darker, as if clouds spread from the edges of his irises. And suddenly she recalled that there were two of them the first time.

For some reason, it was the other she remembered – and she saw him now, a faded image laying just beyond the outer shell. The second scar formed a cross shape, intersecting near the base of his left cheek. His eyes were older, darker and far more cynical. But aside from that, they were the same.

They had stood side by side when she saw them last, split when they crossed through the portal, the gruff old father and his reserved son. The one with both scars had been the talkative one, which might be why she remembered him better. He must be the one with the knowledge, though it was clear they shared the power.

Despite the smug humor simmering beneath Domerin’s steady gaze, she could tell she wasn’t at all what he expected. It was nice to be able to catch as weary a world traveler as him off-guard, though she wished it need not be so.

She drew a deep breath and the bark that encased her spread outward, fanning like a fish’s gills. It took effort to lean forward and extend one gnarled arm in his direction. The fingers were stubby and dry, but they translated a fair amount of sensory information when he allowed their fingers to touch. He was strong, for instance, and well-fed, despite the worn look of him.

“You came,” she whispered, her voice rasping from the depths of her trunk, grating on the air as it passed between them.

He almost winced, but caught himself as he lifted his gaze to meet her wood-carved eyes. “I said that I would.”

“I’m sure I need not tell you that many in this world make claims they never intend to keep.”

He bowed his head, momentarily lowering his eyes, a silent acknowledgement of her statement. He must realize now that she couldn’t hurt him, no matter how much she might want to. She couldn’t move from her position at the center of the grove, and her vision spread only as far as the roots of her tree. The gun at his hip might not prove helpful against her sturdy husk, but the sword strapped to his back could easily cause damage.

“You saved my life and asked only for a small journey in return. It seemed the least I could do.” Domerin looked up, catching her gaze again. “But you did not mention that you were a dryad. I thought all of them fled after the change.”

She laughed, a brittle rattle that survived the soft breeze for only a moment. “That may be true. I wouldn’t know, for I have never been one of their number.”

“Forgive me,” he said quickly. “I did not mean to assume-“

She waved one bark-shrouded hand in dismissal, a gesture that cost her more dearly than he could ever guess. “I have long since learned not to be offended by such trivial things. I would have few allies if I were that quick to anger.”

He relaxed only by a fraction, but she noted the tension leaking free of his muscles. He was like a whip cord, ready to snap at a moment’s notice. A warrior trained and true, no doubt honed by the wild world he traveled.

“When I saw you in the empty space, I assumed you would appear as you did there.”

“As you so clearly match your dual countenance?” she retorted, allowing a hint of dark humor to tinge her voice.

He grinned. “Point taken. But you do wander the emptiness. That must mean you have power.”

“Power enough to protect the grove,” she agreed, allowing the wind to shake her branches and her roots to stretch within their moorings. “Power enough to keep the dark things at bay. To keep the water clean and the green things growing. It flows to me through the earth, and I catch it the same way a tree catches rainfall from the soil. But the source of that power has gone far away, farther than I can travel on my own. I too, would have been lost in the darkness, if not for you.”

Again he bowed his head, perhaps understanding that she owed him as much as he owed her. That there was no true debt between them, and whatever came next would start a new transaction. Who would be indebted to who, she wondered, when this day drew to a close? The answer might well depend on the measure of the man standing in front of her.

“You are fae!” he exclaimed, suddenly, his eyes widening slightly when he said it. Where the revelation had come from, she couldn’t quite say. The silent one inside him had supplied it, no doubt, but the fact that he hadn’t recognized her from the start told her much.

“You’re quick,” she replied, “and clever.”

He shook his head. “But I thought they all died after the magic vanished. It’s part of their blood.”

Again she laughed, enhancing the sound with another shiver of her branches. “I’m sure there were plenty who did expire. And they were fools, all of them. We knew the change was coming well before your mages – for all the good it did. There was no stopping the greed of that bunch, nor the arrogance.” She snorted, and he allowed her a moment to regain her composure.

“As you can see, I took refuge in this tree. It didn’t go exactly according to plan, but I survived. And I continue to survive. I will survive as long as the planet has life left within its decaying body – though how long that will be, I cannot say.”

“Not as long as anyone would like if things remain unchanged,” Domerin said softly, his eyes on the ground.”

“Quite a bit longer if folk like you are willing to act,” she retorted, her tone pointed.

He cringed; it was an internal sensation more so than an external one. She felt it shiver through him even as he fought to suppress it.

“I still don’t understand how it works,” he insisted, though he lifted his chin to meet her gaze again. “And I can’t rely on instincts forever. You’ve seen where that leads.”

“The other would seem to have the knowledge you need,” she replied, cautious not to rouse its ire. That one was the dangerous one, she could sense it on the wind.

“Only part of it,” Domerin insisted. “He knows the past, not the present. He knows how to manipulate the power we find, but he can’t stop it from using us.”

“A problem,” the fae creature agreed, pursing her lips to the best of her ability. How she longed for the softness of flesh and the moistness of body! If she asked him now, he could give it to her – but at what cost? If he couldn’t control the power, there was danger to them both. Had she not learned the consequences of haste from the century she had spent in this tree?

“You would have the knowledge?” she said after a moment.

“As much as you can grant,” he agreed.

“What makes you think I know what you need?” she countered, unable to cease old habits. She had been swindled, even as a tree in the center of a powerful grove. She wouldn’t allow it to happen again.

“You walked through the emptiness and knew what its pieces were called,” Domerin replied slowly, obviously choosing each word with care. “You knew how to navigate it, what to watch for, and how to tame the creatures that dwell within. And if you truly were born of the fae, then you know far more about magic than I could ever hope to find on my own. If you want the world to change, you would do well to show me the way.”

“But you know the promise of change won’t be enough to draw the knowledge from my lips.” It wasn’t a question, but she let it hang between them anyway.

Again, he grinned. “No one in this world ever gives anything away for free. If you want to walk beyond this grove again, it seems a fair trade. Or have I underestimated the value of your request?”

For a moment, she was caught between anger that he had correctly identified the value of both her freedom and her knowledge and a deep sense of admiration that he hadn’t demanded more than she was willing to give. Clever he was, but also fair. He could have extorted her for far more. She would have had to pay it. She had little choice.

“It will take some time,” she replied. “What I have to teach cannot be gained in a night, or a week. Perhaps not even in a month.”

“No, I don’t imagine the knowledge to save the world would be easy to comprehend or impart. But if that is what you hold, it seems worth the effort.” He paused long enough to let her refute it, then added, “Have you a name other than Oracle?”

She sighed, the breath carried from her encased lungs to the branches swaying above her. “Once, long ago, before the tree dominated my form, they called me Rose, after the flower.”

“Rose,” Domerin said softly, nodding. “A fair name for a fair creature.”

“Flattery will serve you little here,” she retorted, but an unfamiliar warmth filled her chest that someone had finally treated her as more than a magical remnant.

“Pardon,” he replied, though his tone suggested no hint of regret. “But do you think the trade fair?”

“Fair,” she agreed. “If not convenient.”

“I am willing to endure the time if you are,” Domerin replied. Perhaps the words were meant as a silent promise that he would free her the moment he was confident he could do so. Rose chose to interpret it that way, if only to stave off the inevitable sense of impatience that threatened to drive her mad.

“I have waited this long,” she said. “What’s a few moons more?”

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