Echoes of Whispers

I’ve been staring at the wallpaper on Grandma’s kitchen wall for so long that the lines are starting to blur and the fruits are just blobs of color. I can hear Grandma opening and closing cupboards and plates tapping on the counter, ice cubes clinking in glasses as she fills them with Sprite, the only beverage she will drink when I’m here.

“Emma, come over and bring this stuff to the table,” her voice bursts into my reverie and I mechanically stand up and walk around the small island to where she is working. I pick up the small corelle plates that she’s had for as long as I can remember and take them over to the small table, only enough room for two of us. I walk back to grab the glasses and see she’s filled them completely to the brim. Why does she always do that? Resisting the urge to slurp some off the top, I carefully pick them up and slowly make my way back to the table, inevitably spilling some. Grandma is right behind me with a washcloth.

“A little too full, Grandma,” I say.

“Nonsense, Emma,” she chides with a wink. “The bad stuff rises to the top. You have to spill it to get it out.”

I roll my eyes and sit back down in my chair, brushing my black bangs out of my face.

“Take off that huge sweater, Emma. It’s not proper at the table.” Grandma sits down across from me and stares at me until I comply. I unzip my oversized sweatshirt held together with what must be a hundred safety pins and take it to the closet in the living room, hanging it up. I come back and sit down and flash Grandma a fake smile. She purses her lips at me and folds her hands.

“Gracious Lord,” she begins and I obediently bow my head and close my eyes, “thank you for this gift of food and for Emma. She is a gift the likes of which she can’t even begin to imagine. Bless this food to our bodies for strength in service to you. Amen.”

“Amen,” I echo.

Grandma takes a bit of the ham sandwich she made, a bit of lettuce sticking out of the corner of her mouth and tomato dribbling down her chin. She munches away and nods to me to eat. I gingerly pick up mine and take a small bite.

“So,” Grandma says. “What brings you here today, Emma? I doubt it’s my gourmet lunches.”

I smile in spite of myself and then take a deep breath and dive right in. “Well, Grandma, Brent is back on facebook.”

“Facebook. That’s that internet thing, right?” She folds her hands under her chin.

“Yes, the internet thing.”

“Right. So he was off the internet and now he’s on the internet?”

“Yeah,” I say, picking at the bread of my sandwich.

“Don’t pick, Emma. Eat it or leave it alone.” Grandma takes another bite of her sandwich and I follow suit.

“So,” Grandma continues. “What do you think of him being back on the internet?”

“Well,” I say, “I’m not really sure.”

“That’s not true. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here,” Grandma says, raising her eyebrows at me and taking another bite of her sandwich. I push my plate away, my stomach tying up in knots.

“Okay,” I answer slowly. “I was wondering if he noticed me, too.”

“Should he have?”

“We commented on the same picture of a friend.”

“Who commented first?”

“I did.”

“And you’re wondering if he noticed you too.”

“Yeah.”

“Is he a complete idiot?” Grandma asks, taking another bite.

“Probably,” I mutter.

Grandma lays her hands down on the table and stares intently at me. I squirm in my seat and look away.

“Emma,” she says. “Dear. Of course he noticed you. There is no way he couldn’t have. But,” she raises her finger at me, “it doesn’t matter.”

“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?” I ask, sitting up and leaning forward with my arms on the table.

“It doesn’t matter. Brent is in the past, correct?”

“Well, yeah,” I say. “But why does he still have so much power over me?”

“Because you let him.”

“So this is my fault?” I ask, slumping back down in my chair.

“I didn’t say that dear. This is life. Trying to figure these things out. Perhaps this is God telling you that you’re ready for the next step in your healing.” She takes another bite of her sandwich.

“For the next step? I thought I was already healed from it.”

“Of course you did,” she says, her mouth still full of sandwich.

“Grandma!” I say in mock horror. “Talking with food in your mouth!”

She smiles at me and swallows. “What I mean is that you thought you were over it, but his reappearance in your life is showing you that you’re not. God knows this. And he knows that you’re ready to take the next step. When he was off the internet, you had the luxury of not really realizing he still existed, right?”

“I suppose. He did sort of drop off the face of the earth for a few years.”

“My point exactly. Now that he’s there and if you have friends in common there is a chance you will continue to see him on the internet. A reminder that he does, in fact, exist.”

“I suppose you’re right,” I mumble and pull my plate back in front of me. I pick it up and take another bite.

“Of course I am right. Now, it’s up to you to decide what your next step is going to be.” She shoves the last bit of sandwich in her mouth and wipes her mouth with her napkin.

“So,” I say, “If he does exist and I have to be reminded of it, then I have to figure out how to handle it. Like, whether I’m going stalk him or try to do something to get him to notice me or if I’m just going to live life as is.”

“Precisely. Either you can keep letting him have power over you or you can give it up to God and let him heal you.”

“That’s what I’ve been doing for eight years now!” I exclaim. “How long is this supposed to take?”

“It all depends dear. After all, you did love him quite a lot.”

“Yeah,” I huff. “Before I knew better than to hold back.”

“But you shouldn’t hold back. That is the problem. You become wounded and then you think that everyone is going to do the same thing. Emma, look at me.”

I look directly into her gray eyes and brace myself for what is coming.

“Remember, God hurts when you hurt. AND,” she leaned forward, “he hurts when Brent hurts.”

“Grandma,” I say.

“No.” She cuts me off. “Do not Grandma me here. You are a child of God. Brent is a child of God. As a parent, you don’t choose which child you love more. No matter their behavior, and believe I know this, you love your children the same. Even Don in jail. Even Elizabeth the pastor’s wife. I love them the same and I want the best for them, but I can’t force them. It’s the same with God. He can’t force you and he can’t force Brent. You have to choose.”

“It’s too hard!” I cry, burying my head in my hands.

“Of course it’s hard, but look at how far you’ve come. Do you remember when you’d come here and cry puddles on my table or plan some way to murder him?”

I shake my head without saying a word. Of course I remember.

“And now, you’re here, trying to have a rational discussion about it. You’ve even said his name. Emma, you ARE healing. You didn’t fall in love in one day and you’re not going to heal from such an immense hurt in one day, either. It’s all a process. You have to be willing to go through that process.”

I look up at Grandma and she hands me a tissue. I wipe my eyes, black smudges left behind from my eye liner.

“You’re still trying to hide from these emotions. You hide behind your black hair and your black eye liner and your black sweatshirts. It’s time to let that go, Emma. You can’t hide if you want to heal.”

“What if I don’t want to heal?” I ask quietly.

“What if you want him to have this power over you when you’re my age, you mean? What if you want to be 76 years old and still pining over a lost love? Is that really what you want, Emma?”

“I just want to know if he hurts, too.”

“It doesn’t matter if he hurts,” Grandma says tenderly. “What matters is that you are still hurting and holding this relationship as an idol. Are you thinking of running to God or are you thinking of manipulating Brent? Whichever one comes to your mind and stays is the idol.”

I contemplate what she’s saying.

“You know,” I say slowly. “I don’t hate him anymore. Not even a little. The rage, the anger, the hatred it’s all gone. All that remains is a little hole, a tiny longing, a whisper of a wish for him to get it, but it isn’t a NEED. Not even a whisper – the echo of that whisper.”

“That, my dear, is healing,” Grandma says with a smile. “Whether he is on the internet or not, whether your internet paths cross, doesn’t matter. What matters is you moving forward, continuing to move forward. Yes, you might look backward sometimes, but the important thing is to keep moving forward.”

“You’re right,” I say, nodding.

“How did he look?” Grandma asks suddenly.

“What?”

“I’m sure you looked at his picture. How did he look?”

“Exactly the same,” I say with a half smile. “Exactly the same.”

Everything Changes Now

The continuing saga of Allyandrah and Kru’Nah.
This week’s prompt: Her life changed at that moment, nothing would ever be the same again.
Allyandrah woke up the next morning in a comfortable bed, wrapped up in thick, warm blankets, her stomach not growling, her head not hurting, brightness filtering gently through the forest green curtains, wind howling outside. It took several minutes before she could remember where she was and what had happened the day before.
Kru’Nah’s grandfather, who hadn’t yet shared his name, had gently led Allyandrah to a room and tucked her in after sharing her tale. She tried to remember what he’d said to her. “Get us together?” she whispered. Crawling out from under the covers, Allyandrah immediately started shivering. She found a bulky woven robe hanging from a hook on the wall at the end of her bed. Slipping into it, Allyandrah opened the door and nearly tripped over the house boots set outside her room. She slipped her bare feet into the lined, animal skin boots.
Allyandrah wandered to the end of the hallway and down three steps into the room where she’d spilled her story before. The interior was made entirely of smoothed boards, the pine scent offering a calm she’d never known. As she looked toward the back of the small house, she saw Kru’Nah’s grandfather sitting at a table drinking tea, the outside of the windows completely white. He glanced over as she stepped off the last step.
“Good morning, love!” he beamed. “Come, eat!”
Allyandrah settled herself into a simple wooden chair across the thick wooden table from him and stared directly at him. “You really Kru’Nah’s grandfather?”
“Do you think I’d make that up?”
“Prob’ly.”
“Well, dearest one, I assure you I am not lying. I have nothing to gain from lying. Eat some food here and I will show you.” Ha passed over a biscuit and some sort of preserved fruit spread. As Allyandrah ate, he bustled into the kitchen and rustled up a bit more dried meat and some dried fruits. He brought it all back in a wooden bowl and placed it in front of Allyandrah.
He then went into the main room and opened up a drawer in the small desk on the far end of the wall and pulled out a stack of letters. Bringing them back to the table, he sat quietly and untied the bundle. Opening one of the letters, he slid it across the table. Allyandrah looked at the meaningless scribbles on the page.
“Means nothin’. Can’t read,” Allyandrah said with her mouth full of biscuit.
“Oh, of course, of course,” Kru’Nah’s grandfather said, hastily standing. He pulled his chair around the table and settled next to Allyandrah. He pulled out a pair of glasses and started reading the letter, pointing at the words as he read.
Dad,
Here are more supplies.
Kru’Que’Nah
“How do I know you’re not lyin’?” Allyandrah asked.
“Now that’s a good question, isn’t it?” he replied. “I could tell you that I’m not creative enough to do that, but that still means you have to take my word. So how do I get you to believe me?”
Allyandrah pointed at the first word. “That really say ‘dad’?”
“Yes! It does. I can show you the same words.” He stood up and grabbed all the bundles. “These are just her replies. I’m a lonely old man, so I make two copies of my letters. Helps me remember what she isn’t answering.” He then walked back to the desk and pulled two more stacks.
“Those yours then?”
“Yes, you are quite smart.”
“For a slave,” Allyandrah finished his sentence.
“No, just smart. In this house, you are not a slave, no matter what the world outside says. In here you are–” he looked expectantly at her.
“Allyandrah?” she guessed, assuming he was searching for her name.
“Allyandrah. What a beautiful name.” He smiled at her in a proud, grandfatherly way. “Alright. Since we have a squall to live through here, there’s no time like the present to teach, right? Let’s move to the couches.” He quickly got up and gathered up the letters. “Bring that bowl of food, too.”
Allyandrah picked up the bowl and followed him. He pulled the low-lying table close to the couch and spread out all of Kru’Que’Nah’s letters. Each was short. Allyandrah looked at the top of each letter. They all began with the same combination of symbols. ‘Dad’
“So that one means ‘dad’.” Allyandrah said quietly as she slowly chewed on some dried fruit. Kru’Nah’s grandfather sat without speaking as he unfolded his own letters. Allyandrah picked up one of the letters and turned it over to see the writing on the back.
She noticed that the letters on the front matched the letters at the bottom of the note. Pointing at his name she asked, “what does this say?”
“Kru’Dael’Nah,” he replied. Allyandrah sat back, thinking.
“Okay, so you’re related,” she said. “Then why’re you up here?”
“Oh!” Kru’Dael’Nah exclaimed. “Right to the good stuff! Well, like you, I’ve been banished.”
“What?” Allyandrah asked. “How can she banish you?”
“She is the queen. She can do as she pleases.”
“But weren’t you king?”
“Technically, no. She married into it. Even as her slave you don’t know this?”
“Don’t tell us much. Plus I was always out in the forests and stuff. Not much time for stories and the like.”
“Yes, I imagine you were,” he said thoughtfully.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Would you care to hear some history?”
“Got nothin’ better to do, I s’pose.”
“I’ll take that,” Kru’Dael’Nah said. “Back about 200 years ago now, Kru’Que’Nah, who was simply known as Kru’Nah at the time like my grandson is now, was ready to be married. You must be what, about 125?”
“No!” Allyandrah scowled. “89.”
“Forgive me. My alone time here makes me tactless. So this was quite before your time. How old is your mother?”
“192.”
“Oh my, young isn’t she? It’s logical that you may not know this story at all then. I expected she would be older.”
“Gree-na dumped her off soon as she could. Too many others in the house, I s’pose. Ma just had Allya and me ‘fore she died. Gree-na took us in since all hers was gone by then.”
“That must have been difficult.”
“Weren’t so bad at first. Was young ‘nuf to be the playmates of the palace kids. I mostly ran around with them, doin’ stuff for ‘em and the like.”
“Presumably where you met Kru’Nah?”
“Yeah, we was close, always gettin’ in trouble. Well, I was always gettin’ in trouble. He never got in a lick of it, not that I’d let him. I always took the blame. They shoulda known I weren’t smart enough for most of that stuff.”
“I’m sure they did,” Kru’Dael,Nah said, “but who would pass up an opportunity to beat a slave?”
“Ha,” Allyandrah said angrily. “Not a one of ‘em.”
“What a sad, sorry state that is.”
“Is what it is. So she was gonna get married?”
“Right. The story. I was a palace official–,”
“Doin’ what?”
Kru’Dael’Nah smiled. “I was the treasury official, actually.”
“In charge of the money? What did you do?” Allyandrah sat up, her eyes large.
“Now, now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I was the treasury official and Kru’Que’Nah was ready to be married. I had my sights set on the son of the guard captain, but not Kru’Que’Nah. No, not her. Only the prince would do for her. If she’d had her way, it would have been the king, I’m sure. I fear she rather settled for that poor prince. She had a way about herself and wooed him. I was so busy at the time, I never suspected anything until the engagement announcement came. Imagine, finding out your daughter is marrying the prince through official announcement channels. I confronted her about it, privately of course, and she threatened me. The next year, after they were married, I was banished here. I’m sent supplies several times a year. No one writes, so I can only presume the general populace believes me dead. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting my grandson nor do I know anything about him, save his name. I only knew he’d been born because she changed how she signed her name. ‘Que’ like queen. Wasn’t enough to stick with family names, no, not for her. She needed to be her own star.” Kru’Dael’Nah winked, but Allyandrah could see the hurt in his eyes.
“I knew she’s horrible, but I didn’t know she was so horrible. I mean, sorry, shouldn’t talk bad–” Allyandrah began to slide off the couch into a submissive slave posture.
“No, no, sit. Sometimes the truth is terrible. After the king died, I’m certain it wasn’t natural causes, my couriers changed.”
“Least she feeds ya,” Allyandrah said.
“Oh, I suppose. I am still alive and without her, I likely wouldn’t be. I suppose she is doing what she can to keep favor with the Guardians. After all, they wouldn’t take kindly to her banishing me and killing me through starvation. She doesn’t care about me, she cares about herself. Keeping her place with the Guardians.” Kru’Dael’Nah grew quiet, his eyes focused on some far away point. Allyandrah took another piece of food from the bowl and nibbled on it while she waited for him.
“Y’know, I think I remember Gree-na saying somethin’ like his death was ‘spicious. Wish I could remember what he said.”
“It doesn’t matter now. The Guardians know. But that they led you to me tells me that her favor is wearing thin. I’ve lived a hard, lonely life in this little cabin for nearly two centuries, my companions are bears and vermin and the like. I think that Guardians have heard my prayers and have chosen you, Allyandrah.”
Allyandrah gasped and choked on the last bite she’d taken. “Guardians don’t care nothin’ ‘bout slaves,” she said.
“That is not true at all, love. Guardians care about us all. They’ve simply been waiting for the right moment to strike. With you and Kru’Nah, it couldn’t be a more humbling matching for her.”
“She ain’t gonna allow it. She banished me for him rescuin’ me.”
“I’m certain she sent you into the forest on purpose. I wouldn’t even be surprised if she had the fire set.”
“She wouldn’t do that! Not to the forest!”
“I fear she just might. Prudence is not her style. Only her fear of the Guardians keeps me alive, which ironically, just might be her undoing.”
“But me? Me? Chosen by the Guardians?”
“It does seem unlikely, yes, but what else could it be? These circumstances have no other logical explanation, wouldn’t you agree?”
Allyandrah nodded before she really thought about it. Besides, what else could she say? Who was she to try to figure out the plans of the Guardians? Their knowledge and way of thinking were so much higher than hers could ever be.
Her. A slave. Nothing. A nobody. Chosen.
This changed everything.

Imagine…

I came across this question on my facebook feed and found it to be a powerful writing prompt. I answered on the page that posted it, but I want to expand it more.

You are one of the disciples. Today is the day after the crucifixion. What are you thinking AND feeling?

I woke up this morning lost, confused, and scared. All of us are crammed in this little room. We’d been praying for most of the night, trying to figure out what was going on when exhaustion took over and we slept.

The morning light is filtering in through the window, the dust of the desert air floating through the rays. The morning is cool but I can tell it’s going to be hot today. Oh man, my  head is throbbing. What just happened yesterday? Is it even real?

I look around. The others are starting to stir, too. We all look at each other. I think their expressions match mine and match what I’m feeling inside.

“Am I dreaming?” I ask Matthew.

“I don’t even know,” he replies. He looks he’s just gotten word he’d lost everything. Like Job. I suppose we all have.

I get up and walk over to the window. The city is still silent. Joseph of Aramethia got the body and buried it hastily yesterday. We didn’t have time to do it properly before the Sabbath today.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.

Was it?

I can’t help but think that something has gone terribly wrong. I thought Jesus was supposed to save us. I thought he was supposed to overthrow Rome. I thought he was supposed to be a king. I thought… so many things. Did this really happen?

What are we supposed to do now? I feel so lost. Peter hasn’t said anything since the night before last, when he denied Jesus. When we all did. We all ran away. Is that why this happened? If only we’d all stood together, fought back. Things would be different then.

Maybe it’s all our fault.

We let him die. We just ran off and let them kill him.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Weren’t we just riding in Jerusalem like heroes? How did everything change so fast? What went wrong?

Was this really what he meant? He’d been talking about how he needed to die. I didn’t think he really meant die. I thought it was just a figure of speech. A parable. He talked like that so much. I just thought it was figurative.

I can hear more people moving around behind me. I hear someone sniffling. We all feel that way.

“We should keep praying,” John suggests.

“Pray for what?” I think that was Thomas. I don’t want to turn around. My eyes are brimming with tears.

“I don’t know,” John admits. “But we should anyway. It’s what he would have done.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Thomas replies. “It’s all over.”

In my mind, I agree with Thomas. It is over. God’s kingdom? Here? Now? It’s completely impossible. We can’t do anything else. We can’t do this by ourselves. My soul is heavy and aches in a way I never thought possible.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

I blink and the tears fall. I quickly wipe them away and clear my throat. I turn around and see that no one is looking at anyone. Everyone is looking at the floor. I see John’s lips moving. Thomas looks like death. I walk across the room and sit down next to John. I feel like Thomas, but I want to feel like John. Maybe if I sit close to him, it will rub off on me.

I breathe deeply and try to pray. I have nothing. All I can say is that it wasn’t supposed to end this way. All I can do is ask why.

Is that good enough for God? Will he condemn me for my lack of faith? How can I even believe anymore? I thought we were promised victory.

I can feel myself getting angry. How is John even praying? Who is he praying to, even?

I stand up and head for the door.

“Where are you going?” Thomas asks.

“I’m going for a walk.”

“But it’s Sabbath.”

“I’m going for a walk,” I repeat. What else can I do?

It’s over.

How I manage to stay home and stay sane

I’ve had a number of friends over the past three years comment to me about how they could NEVER stay home. They don’t understand how I can possibly stay sane while being surrounded by tiny human dictators completely incapable of controlling their emotions.

I’m going to spill the secret today.

I place a high level of importance on pursuing my own activities and hobbies throughout the day or throughout the week. That’s how I do it.

I have a number of creative endeavors I pursue, such as writing, knitting, and crocheting. I intentionally spend time away from the kids, yes when they’re awake, so they learn to play by themselves and I do something for me, whether it’s just going to the bathroom alone or writing up a blog post (such as now). I also pursue my hobbies in front of them. I crochet while they watch. I read while they watch. I write while they watch.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m screwing up like when my three-year-old makes sure she has a phone and laptop with her. I get really self-conscious about that sometimes. When I think about it, though, I’m not perfect. Some days, I spend WAY too much time on my technology because I feel like I need to escape. Other days, I spend a good portion of the day interacting and playing with them. I write on my laptop. I edit my youtube videos on my laptop. I do my social media stuff on my laptop. I do have a number of ventures that require technology and so her imitating that is inevitable.

What I don’t understand is how parents stay home and stay sane WITHOUT pursuing some kind of activity for themselves. I cannot overemphasize how important it is to find something you like and engage with it, especially when the kids are watching. They need to know that mom is a person outside of mom. Mom has interests. Mom has things she likes to do too. When they are really little, they don’t understand that fully, but as they get older, they will understand it.

Having my own hobbies and interests sets a good example for the kids, too. At 1 and 3, they are already learning the importance of self-care even if they don’t know what that is yet. They are watching someone else pursue hobbies.

It teaches them to entertain themselves, as well, which I believe is a key factor in being successful. If they find themselves bored, they need to figure out a solution. Sometimes that means they get into my vacuum cleaner and make a huge mess. Sometimes that means they go up to my daughter’s room and play for 20 or 30 minutes.

Yesterday, I asked my daughter if she wanted to play outside while I edited and everyone else napped. She took her friend Elmo outside and played for an hour and it was COLD! She came in and out getting various toys, we put on more and more layers as she got colder. She took a break for a snack. She played by herself the entire time, though. Sure, she needed my help for this or that and once I had to scold her for going into the street, but that’s exactly the kind of behavior I want to form in my kids. I was able to do what I needed to do and she was able to have fun by herself.

As the weather is getting nicer, we are spending much more time outside, too. Soon, I will have a garden to tend to and they will have to play outside while I tend the garden or pick up dog poop or do chicken chores. What I cannot do is spend every moment with my children. That will drive me crazy and make into the kind of person I don’t want to be. When I intentionally and openly take care of myself, I teach them valuable lessons.

It’s easy to take this too far, though, and start neglecting the kids in favor of my hobbies. I have days I do that because I need more self-care on those days, but they are days. Isolated events. I can be hard to find the balance between spending enough time with them and enough time by myself. After 3 years, I feel like I’m finally getting it figured out.

Of course, none of this is possible without the generous support of my wonderful husband. He thinks my hobbies are great and that I should pursue them. He doesn’t get huffy when the dishes have been ignored or the laundry I dragged downstairs yesterday is still in a massive pile in the laundry room unwashed or is washed but in baskets in the living room. He doesn’t get on my case about the house not being immaculate. He does his share. He does the dishes. He washes his own laundry because I couldn’t guarantee that I would give the care and attention necessary to keep his nice clothes in one piece. He offered to do that. He doesn’t complain. He does remind me when I’m going to far in one direction, though as much as I hate that in the moment. I know he cares. I know he wants the best for all of us. He knows that I need to take care of myself if I’m going to take care of the kids and still have energy for him in the evenings.

It’s a team effort. We can’t do this without each other. Mutual support, respect, and understanding. I love my kids, but they drive my crazy sometimes. I am an introvert and I need time by myself to regroup and fill my tank. I make sure to do that. I make sure to care for myself. Also, never underestimate the power of a good soundtrack mix on YouTube.

What about you? What do you like to do for yourself?

The Return

The continuing story of Allyandrah and Kru’Nah
This week’s prompt: A camping trip in the forest with friends. One disappears and comes back different.
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Kru’Nah and Commander Tra’Khil led the men back into the woods toward the outpost. It wasn’t likely that they would reach it before the storm hit in two days, but they needed to try. Kru’Nah took his position at the front instead of deferring to Commander Tra’Khil. Kru’Nah needed to reestablish himself in royal form in front of these men given the rumors that had been circling already. He felt grateful for the tracks in the snow to follow as his mind was somewhere other than on marching in the proper direction.
Perhaps he had left too soon after Allyandrah’s banishment, too soon after his rescue of her. He thought back to the day of the forest fire. He always kept tabs on Allyandrah as his mother worked and abused the slave more and more. He knew she was in the woods. He knew the danger of her being out there. He knew he should stay at the palace and leave her fate to the Guardians. The more he tried to leave her alone, the more he couldn’t do it. What do the Guardians care about slaves, anyway? They would have done nothing to slow the fire to allow her escape. It was then he knew his love for her was true.
“Sire?” Commander Tra’Khil’s voice broke through Kru’Nah’s thoughts.
Stopping, Kru’Nah turned around to face the commander. “What is it?” His voice was sharp.
Commander Tra’Khil shifted his weight showing his extreme discomfort. “Sire, we’ve orders to dispose of you out here.”
“To dispose of me?” Kru’Nah threw the full weight of his royal command behind his voice. Every soldier shifted in his spot as Kru’Nah glared from one to the next.
Commander Tra’Khil cleared his throat but formed no words after.
“I see,” Kru’Nah sneered. “None of you brave enough to comply. Then let us continue until one of you has found his bravery.”
Turning abruptly, Kru’Nah marched on, not caring whether any of them followed him. Kjelger honor forbade killing an opponent from behind. For now, as long as he moved forward, he would live, though the way his heart ached after losing Allyandrah again made him wish one of these men had been brave enough. He clenched his fists as he tried to steady his breathing and his emotions. If he was going to hold his royal command, he better start acting like it.
After hours of marching and the sun began to hang low in the sky, Kru’Nah found a small clearing of trees in which to camp. He’d noticed hours ago that all the soldiers had followed him, though at a further distance than they would have without his reproach. Kru’Nah didn’t care how much he alienated them. He was the prince, after all. He owed them nothing.
Kru’Nah stood watching while the men scrambled to gather supplies for a fire and build small shelters. Though he assumed that just a few miles more would have been a camp they’d used on the way out, he wanted to punish them and work them harder. He was angry at their cowardice but he owned them now after calling it out. As they worked, he set himself in the first finished shelter as one soldier cooked using the now blazing fire, the boiling resin jumping and landing on his thick furs.
Kru’Nah removed his hood and face covering to scowl more clearly at the men. None dared look directly at him, but he knew they were watching him out of the corners of their eyes. He waited for Commander Tra’Khil to approach him to offer penance. Kru’Nah tried to empty his mind of Allyandrah as he waited, but she continued to creep back in. He tried to think about where she could be, if she was even still alive. He believed she was, but he couldn’t be sure. They hadn’t joined their spark yet, so he could only guess.
Shortly, a bowl of hot vegetable stew was offered to him by Commander Tra’Khil. As Kru’Nah accepted it, he offered the first spoonful to Tra’Khil as an invitation to sit with him. Tra’Khil ate the first bite and sat down.
“Look at me, Tra’Khil.” Slowly, Tra’Khil removed his own hood and face mask and turned to look at Kru’Nah. Years of worry and work had etched lines deep into the face of Tra’Khil, betraying his age to one much older. “What is going on? Tell me plainly.”
Tra’Khil sat perfectly still as he explained, “The queen is none too pleased with you right now, sire. She is more than angry about your rescue of the slave and believes your disappearance has something to do with the slave, too. She has been raging in private while appearing as the concerned mother in public. The slave is not safe anywhere with other Kjelgers, at least not the ones loyal to your mother.”
Kru’Nah tried to keep his face completely devoid of reaction as Tra’Khil explained Allyandrah’s plight.
“Sire,” Tra’Khil continued, failing to keep his voice neutral and spoke more gently. “It would take the influence of the Guardians to save her out here. Who knows who else the queen has sent after her, too. All we know is that we were sent for you. There could be more out searching for her.”
“Where do you and your men stand, then?” Kru’Nah felt he knew the answer given he was still alive.
“Sire,” Tra’Khil cleared his throat.
“Speak plainly.” Kru’Nah ordered.
Tra’Khil shifted. Kru’Nah knew now that the truth was coming.
“Sire. What you do is of no concern to us as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the safety of the kingdom. We have heard reports from the messengers–”
“Unofficial reports?”
“Yes, sire, unofficial. We’ve heard unofficial reports from messengers that the people are in favor of the rescue of the slave. It has given you favor among the people, which your mother is losing.”
Kru’Nah stared incredulously at Tra’Khil.
“Sire, I don’t understand it either.”
“Commander Tra’Khil,” a voice interrupted.
“Yes?” Tra’Khil addressed the soldier.
“Permission to do a perimeter check.”
“Permission granted.”
“Parg’Noth out to check the perimeter.”
“Acknowledged, Parg’Noth.”
Turning back to Kru’Nah, Tra’Khil continued. “It seems some strange things are happening around here and I have no explanation.”
Kru’Nah slowly nodded. He looked around the now dark campsite and saw the men huddling together in various structures. Yesterday, everything out here had seemed so simple and now it all had a layer of complication.
“What kind of strange things?” Kru’Nah asked.
“Sire, it’s almost as though the Guardians are displeased and so are trying to corrupt us.”
“Corrupt who?”
“Corrupt us all!” Tra’Khil answered with unexpected passion. “Excuse my outburst, sire.”
Kru’Nah leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Continue.”
Tra’Khil’s eyes widened. He cleared his throat and looked around, then leaned in and spoke in a lowered voice. “Sire, the burning of the forest. The disfavor of your mother. Your decision to rescue a slave. The rumors of you running off with her. Do you remember the last time a dynasty had such rumors and indiscretions?”
“These events are the hands of the Guardians you think?”
“Sire, I don’t know what else it could be. I’ve never heard of a prince rescuing a slave from anything. And the last time a queen fell out of favor with the people?”
“It does seem like the meddling of the Guardians.” Kru’Nah rubbed his face. His fatigue was growing exponentially. Could his love be nothing more than the Guardians bent on making a point? “Is that why you and your men didn’t follow the orders of my mother?”
“Sire, of course. Could we willingly participate in the games of the Guardians if we knew about them? Should we not resist such interference?”
Shouts from the men interrupted Kru’Nah’s response. Commander Tra’Khil shot out from under the shelter to investigate. Kru’Nah rose slowly and followed. When he approached, he saw one of the soldiers wandering aimlessly in the middle of the circle of soldiers, his arms and legs bent at strange angles. Kru’Nah’s heart jumped up into his throat and he swallowed hard as the man turned to look at him, his soulless eyes burning inside Kru’Nah’s mind.
“Who is this?” Commander Tra’Khil barked.
“It’s Parg’Noth,” a soldier replied.
“Strange things,” Kru’Nah whispered.
“Those damn Guardians!” Commander Tra’Khil roared. “Put him down! Put him down!”
The soldiers hesitated for just a moment before diving in. To Kru’Nah’s horror and dismay, Parg’Noth was not the aimless wanderer he seemed to be. When attacked, he defended himself, resisting the advances of six men at once.
Parg’Noth slowly made his way toward Kru’Nah, pushing down soldier after soldier, though not killing them. Kru’Nah couldn’t make sense of what was happening and felt frozen in place though his mind screamed at him to run.
Parg’Noth reached out to Kru’Nah with a shriveled finger and opened his mouth just as a sword erupted from his abdomen. Kru’Nah jumped back and as Parg’Noth dropped to the ground, he whispered, “she lives.” His whisper sounded like the wind rustling through the needles of the trees in the forest. Kru’Nah shook his head, sure he’d heard incorrectly.
“He was dead before he spoke,” one soldier announced.
“Are you sure?” Commander Tra’Khil asked.
“I am certain. He uttered nothing. No harm will come.”
In shock, Kru’Nah stared at the eyes of the now dead man, his bony finger still pointed at Kru’Nah.
“What happens if he speaks?” Kru’Nah asked breathlessly.
“If he speaks, we are cursed to the destiny he tells. He’s like a fate-sealer,” Commander Tra’Khil replied.
“How do you know this?”
“We’ve lost a dozen men to this. Everything spoken comes true and the one he speaks to is sealed to that fate.”
Kru’Nah’s eyes widened and he shook his head. Was he really sure that the man had spoken? Or did he just imagine it? What did that mean for him if he had? What did it mean that she lives?
“Come, men,” Commander Tra’Khil barked. “Put him out of the camp and get in your shelters. We still have a storm to outrun.”
Kru’Nah slowly rose, trying to remember to be royal, to be princely. He pulled himself completely upright and walked to the shelter from which he’d come. He climbed inside, feeling a distinct chill at what he’d witnessed. Two soldiers were stationed by the fire to keep it raging. Kru’Nah supposed they would change guards throughout the night. No one could afford to be sleep deprived out here.
As he lay down, letting the heat of the fire warm his body, his inner chill was replaced with a growing excitement. She lives. He was sure now that he’d heard correctly. He was destined to a fate with her. Even if the Guardians were meddling, what did it matter? She lives. Even if things changed, what did it matter? She lives. A smile broke out across his face. He needed to push on, toward what he didn’t know, but it didn’t matter anymore.
She lives.

The journey

I am on the journey to becoming a published author.

I am already an author. I have already finished two first drafts of novels. I have several more in the works. I have written a myriad of short stories. I am an author.

I am now attempting to make money doing it.

Right now, that entails creating some social media channels – right now, that’s youtube, instagram, and facebook. I’ve also set up a website that will have a blog – all dedicated to my authoring journey.

I have editing to do, I have blog posts to write, I have videos to record and edit, a study to print, assemble, and mail… the list seems to go on and on. I feel overwhelmed. I feel perpetually behind.

I am wondering right now if it’s going to be worth it. I am wondering if I can do this. I am wondering if I can make this work. I am wondering a lot of things. I feel a lot of things – most of them are negative right now. I wonder and wonder and wonder. I try to move on and just do one thing at a time but it’s hard. I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough free time. I have too many other responsibilities, most of which involve the two tiny darlings of my heart.

How do I continue? Do I just keep plugging away, one piece at a time? Do I stop and throw in the towel? Do I acknowledge all the feelings and let them overwhelm me?

I’ve already broken this down into the smallest steps possible and it seems like so many steps. It seems impossible to do.

Really, though, what else can I do?

I must carry on though, must I not? What else can I do? One step, one little box on my spreadsheet at a time. One spec of free time at a time. That’s all I can do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

To pursue our dreams will always take work. It will always take sacrifice. It will always take just a little bit more than we think we have. So we push on, we move forward, we do what we need to do. We don’t let feelings get in our way of what needs to be done.

Push on, friends. Do that one thing you need to do to pursue your dream. And so will I.

 

 

 

The Decision

The next installment of the continuing story of Allyandrah and Kru’Nah.

This week’s prompt is: Faced with his or her worst fear, does your character run or stand and fight?

Part 1
Part 2

fear

The next morning, Allyandrah and Kru’Nah set off. The temperature had plummeted overnight and they bundled themselves up as tightly as possible to walk. They stuck to the woods, Kru’Nah taking the unfamiliar rear position. For a moment, it struck him as odd that he, the Prince, would be following a slave.

“Not a slave,” he said quietly to himself. “My love.”

Kru’Nah often checked his vectrometer to ensure they continued in the right direction. To his continued surprise, Allyandrah walked true and straight, never veering from northeast despite their incessant weaving through the thinning trees. Mile after mile, they walked steadily, silently. Kru’Nah had a vague idea of where he wanted to go, but his plan wasn’t fully formed yet.

Finally, after many hours and as the sun began to dip low in the sky, Allyandrah stopped among what appeared to be the last of the trees.

“We should make camp,” she said.

Kru’Nah bristled slightly at her giving him directions, but he quickly reframed his mind again, pushing out the idea of her having been a slave and him a prince. He was surprised by how deeply ingrained his training really was. When he thought and fantasized about being with Allyandrah, he was never troubled by her station, but now that it was reality, he had to continually check himself.

Allyandrah had no more than spoken before she began to collect Hornothol branches for a fire. She worked quietly for a few moments, keeping one eye on Kru’Nah, who stood regally in the snow watching her work. Her love and excitement at being with him was tempered by her weariness. Annoyance began to grow as she did all the work.

Dumping an armful of branches on the ground near him, Allyandrah looked at him for a moment, pursed her lips, and walked away to collect more.

“What was that look?” Kru’Nah asked with more severity than he’d intended.

Allyandrah felt the jolt of accusation and immediately retreated into her slave mindset, dropping low to the ground in a bow. “I regret my impertinence. It was not my place.” She recited the apology by heart, having learned the basic gist of its meaning through experience. Her heart hammered in her chest, waiting for the inevitable beating.

Kru’Nah sighed, annoyed at himself. He walked over and gently placed his hands on her shoulders, feeling her start slightly at his touch. He stayed there for a moment, unsure what to say. He was fighting against a lifetime of training.

Finally, he spoke softly. “Allyandrah, I will never beat you. You are not my slave out here.”

Slowly, Allyandrah lifted her head and rocked back onto her heels. She gazed up into the penitent face of Kru’Nah.

“We have much to unlearn,” he said, standing and offering his hand. Taking it, Allyandrah stood. “Would you like to start the fire while I gather more wood?”

“That’d be good,” Allyrandrah said. Without another word, she walked over to her pile of wood and began arranging it to start a fire. Kru’Nah continued to watch her for a moment, impressed by her deftness and skill. It seemed that she knew exactly how to do everything, whereas his own usefulness out here was limited. He felt strange depending on someone else in such a primal way. Finally, he turned and began to dig under the snow for hidden branches as he’d watched Allyandrah do.

Soon, a large fire was blazing radiating warmth and the two had filled their bellies with food and hot water, melted from the abundant snow. Kru’Nah and Allyandrah huddled together, one cape wrapped around their backs and the other around their fronts, nestled into a shallow snow dugout. Both shivered violently despite the large fire.

“I hate this,” Allyandrah said through chattering teeth. “I never been this cold in my life.”

“It is much warmer back home, certainly.” The difference in their speech was startling to him. He realized he hadn’t consciously noticed the difference before. A slave’s lack of education was apparent in the way they spoke and he’d never given it a second thought until now. He wriggled himself out of their capes and set several more large branches on the fire. As it grew, spitting resin everywhere, he settled back into the capes, feeling much warmer.

As they continued to sit not speaking, he noticed Allyandrah’s breathing become slow and regular, her body limp against his, an indication of her sleeping. His wrestled against his fatigue for as long as he could before also finally drifting off to sleep.

A low swishing slowly roused Kru’Nah from his sleep. A vaguely familiar sound, though he couldn’t immediately place it. The fire had long since died down and a chill had crept back into his body. Allyandrah continued to breathe slowly. It was just nearing dawn, the sky beginning to surrender the deepest darkness of night. All his senses returning, he now felt wide awake, turning his head this way and that to locate the sound. He nudged Allyandrah.

“Hey,” he whispered. “Wake up.”

“Hmm?” Allyandrah slowly stirred as he continued to nudge her. The sound he now recognized as wilderness soldiers. He’d spent enough time with them to know this sound. They must have been instructed to find him. Should he surrender and bank on his mother’s mercy for him or force them to kill him by not surrendering? Allyandrah’s purposeful movement shook him out of his contemplation.

“What–?” Allyandrah started to say, but Kru’Nah clamped his hand over her mouth.

“Don’t say anything. Just get up and stay silent.” The pair clumsily shuffled around trying to get their capes back on. He hadn’t anticipated the word getting out so quickly and their tracks were surely fresh and easy to follow in the snow.

“What’s going on?” Allyandrah whispered.

“They found us,” Kru’Nah whispered back.

Allyandrah finally heard the sound of the shuffling snow. Her eyes grew wide in terror and she began to shake, this time in fear and not from the cold. Surely she would not be pardoned a second time. Turning to look at Kru’Nah, his face betrayed his indecision. They hadn’t pushed hard enough. They trusted too much in the wilderness. They underestimated the queen. Allyandrah began to back away slowly from Kru’Nah and the sound of the incoming soldiers. Kru’Nah turned toward her.

“Allyandrah,” he whispered fiercely, holding out his hand.

Allyandrah slowly shook her head as she stumbled and fell. Pain crushed her chest and closed off her throat as she watched his understanding grow. He knew she was leaving and he knew she was leaving him behind. Tears spilled out of her eyes and she tried to breathe as she eased backward, going beyond the last of the trees. His mouth formed the word “No,” and his eyes begged her to stay with him. He reached out more insistently to her and she paused for just a moment before turning and sprinting away, leaving her heart and her love back in that small grove of trees.

Allyandrah’s mind whirled as she ran, trying to make sense of her decision. To stay with him would mean certain death of her body but to be away from him was death to her soul. Slaves’ lives weren’t supposed to be complicated like this! Tears poured from her eyes as she ran, trying to choke down breaths. She quickly turned west, hoping to find more trees in which to conceal her tracks. Bravery was no longer her concern. Survival was.

Kru’Nah watched as Allyandrah back away from him, his heart ripping out of his chest as she backed away, as though on a tether to her. “Please, no,” he whispered. She turned and ran, taking his heart with her, quickly disappearing from sight. Only her footprints gave any indication which direction she went. He stood there, frozen to the ground, his mind spinning.

“You there!” A firm voice broke into his thoughts. He turned and tried to plaster his royal face on over his brokenness, even though his face was mostly concealed by his furs.

“Show yourself!” The voice barked again. Kru’Nah knew for sure now. It was Commander Tra’Khil.

“You would dare speak to me in such an insolent manner?” Kru’Nah’s voice grew stronger as he spoke. He hoped that the cracked first syllables wouldn’t give him away.

“Sire!” Commander Tra’Khil and all his men immediately dropped to one knee, right arm crossed over their chests, heads bowed.

Kru’Nah tried to think quickly. He turned his back on the bowed men and shuffled through the tracks left by Allyandrah. When he felt he’d gone far enough, Kru’Nah turned around and, making a new set of tracks, walked back to the men still bowed low to the ground.

“You may rise,” Kru’Nah said, channeling all his frustration and disdain at the events of the past few minutes on the small group of men in front of him.

Slowly the group of men arose, none daring to look directly at Kru’Nah.

“Why are you you here?” Kru’Nah finally asked, staring down Commander Tra’Khil.

“We have been tasked with finding you,” Commander Tra’Khil said.

“Am I lost?” Kru’Nah challenged, his anger rising along with his voice. “Am I lost without my knowledge? Does an unlost man need finding?”

“No, sire,” Commander Tra’Khil replied, his voice slightly uneven betraying his discomfort. “The queen believed you to be lost or kidnapped, so we were commanded to find you, excuse me sire, to search you out.”

Kru’Nah laughed a cruel laugh, his mother’s laugh. “Who exactly would kidnap me?”

Commander Tra’Khil continued to stand perfectly still even though Kru’Nah was sure he was sweating in his suit. Mentally, Kru’Nah commended Tra’Khil for his composure.

“Sire, we were not given such information.”

“Not officially. I’m no idiot, I know there are many unofficial lines of communication. Why are you here?” Kru’Nah tried to clasp his heavily mittened hands behind his back, but they would not grip each other, so he simply held them there.

A slight shift from Tra’Khil. Kru’Nah smiled to himself. He had won.

“Sire, it’s believed that it has something to do with the slave girl.” Tra’Khil tried to keep his voice steady, but the bitterness of the resignation of such information was evident.

“My mother believes a slave girl kidnapped me?” Kru’Nah knew a response was unnecessary with such a ridiculous question and notion. If he was lucky, it would put them off searching any further for Allyandrah. Royalty certainly had its perks at times, even if it meant dealing with his mother. He screwed up his face in annoyance at the thought of her.

“Sire, shall we return to the outpost before the squall hits?”

“What squall?” Kru’Nah asked with concern, his thoughts turning back to Allyandrah.

“A squall is coming in from the west, sire. We’ll be lucky to reach the outpost before it does.”

Looking up at the brightening sky, Kru’Nah could also read the signs of the incoming weather. He and Allyndrah had been fools to not see them. Holding out his hand in the direction from which the men had come, and away from Allyandra’s tracks, he indicated to move. The men obediently turned and walked away. Kru’Nah resisted the impulse to glance behind him one last time, even with all their backs turned to him. He couldn’t afford to make the slightest mistake now.

Allyandrah had to stop running. Her lungs burned and she was drenched in sweat. The sun was now high in the sky. She must have been running for hours. The terror she’d felt as she left her dearest Kru’Nah behind had now faded to deep regret and sorrow. She should have trusted him to keep her alive. Slaves, however, were unaccustomed to trust.

As she looked around, a strange wrinkle the smooth snow caught her eye. Glancing behind her, for what reason she didn’t quite know, she set out toward the wrinkle. She had nowhere to hide out in the open. Her love was once again lost to her and this time it was her fault. What did she really have to lose?

As she approached, she saw the wrinkle was not a wrinkle at all, but some kind of house, blending in almost perfectly with the surroundings. As she approached, a fur-clothed figure stepped out. Allyandrah spread her arms out wide and knelt down in the snow, bowing her head. She tried to listen for the approaching footsteps.

“Who goes there?” A voice called out instead. It was old and weary.

Allyandrah looked up to see that the figure hadn’t moved at all. “A banished slave,” she called back.

The figure stood still for several minutes, clearly trying to make a decision. “Alright, come in,” it finally called back.

Allyandrah couldn’t believe her luck. She quickly stood. Her body was rapidly growing cold with her lack of movement and she nearly ran to the door. She was completely unprepared for what waited inside.

As she stepped in, she was greeted by a stuffed Hornothol bear. The giant bears were white and had claws the length of Allyandrah’s hands. She took several steps back and stumbled into the door, causing her host to burst into laughter.

“It’s dead, love.” Allyandrah finally recognized her host as an old man. “Come, let’s get these clothes off of you before you roast to death.” He helped Allyandrah out of her furs and out of her soaked underclothes.

“What are you doing getting yourself so wet! You’d have died out there tonight!” He shook his head incredulously at her.

“I was chased,” Allyandrah said noncommittally.

“Well, that would do it.” The man’s hair had long since turned white and his skin was old, but it was clearly iridescent. Who was he?

“Come, don’t stand naked by the front door, you’ll die of cold here too. Let’s get you some clothes.” He shuffled away and Allyandrah followed obediently, unbothered by her naked condition. As a slave, she was used to it.

He found her some thick, warm clothes, which she gratefully pulled on. He then led her into a sitting room and offered her some hot tea and dried meat. Allyandrah ate greedily, even as she tried to restrain herself. There was something about him that gave her permission to be greedy, but what it was she couldn’t quite tell.

“So now,” he began. “Tell me why you’re really out here.”

Allyandrah’s eyes grew large and she choked a little on the food in her mouth.

“I’m not going to hurt you, slave. That much I promise, otherwise I wouldn’t have shared so much precious food with you,” his eye twinkled as he smiled at her. “I’m just a lonely old man who would like to hear a good story. I think a story of how a slave made it this far north ought to be quite a good one.”

Allyandrah took a deep breath and cleared her throat. She started by telling him that she was a slave of the queen, how she’d met Kru’Nah, the tale of him saving her from the forest fire, how he’d persuaded her to come north, then followed her, and finished by sharing how they’d been tracked and found and her running away.

“I don’t know what they did to him.” Allyandrah dropped her head into her hands and began to sob uncontrollably. The old man rose and sat next to her, gathering her into his arms. She’d never known such tenderness and it caused her to sob even harder, an entire lifetime’s worth of hurt and pain rolled out of her in the arms of a complete stranger, her tears soaking his shirt.

At long last, her sobs subsided and she simply lay in his arms as he stroked her hair.

“Well, then,” he spoke up a while later. “We should figure out how to get you back with my grandson.”

 

Part 4