Thursday, January 22, 2015

Down in the Darkness Deep--Part 32

"So you'll be leaving us?" said Marduk quietly, as they stood there on the arch of Great Gate of White Pine.

Aethelstan nodded. "The Hardheels have reformed, and mean to retake the Abbey of the Divine Mother Eternally Victorious. And so, I am gathering a new Revered Band to help them."

"Well, you are the Graharz," noted Ursula.

"Until I die, and another brother takes the title," said Aethelstan.

"You have more brothers than Aedwyn?" asked Marduk, surprised.

"I..." Aethelstan gave a quiet, sad laugh. "I've many more brothers, living and dead. Aedwyn and I... well, we were brothers, yes, but not by the same mother, nor even the same father..."

Ursula blinked. "What are you...?" She shook her head. "Were you adopted, or... something, or...?"

"You were not blood related, then?" asked Marduk.

"Well, our parents were cousins, which made us... some sort of blood relation," muttered Aethelstan, trying to puzzle it out, before giving a rather pronounced shake of his head. "It doesn't matter. The important thing is--by the laws of the Revered Band, he who stands with the Graharz in blood and battle is his brother. So, yes, Aedwyn and I were brothers." He clapped a hand on Marduk's shoulder. "As are you." He turned to Ursula. "And you would be my sister."

Ursula glanced away. "I am not going to shake your hand, or clap your back, or anything like that."

"Well, I will," said Marduk, grasping Aethelstan's hand. "Good luck to you."

"And you," answered Aethelstan.

"Oh, I will not need it,"said Marduk. He turned and glanced off into the horizon. "You see--Mother Night... spoke to me. At the Cthonique Mines. She took me by the hands and showed me my fate, if I would but take it."

"And what was that?" asked Ursula.

"I will fight many battles," said Marduk, in a half-whisper. "Against the wicked, and the corrupt, and the powerful. And I will win, until the last, and even then, my line will go on. She showed me my descendants, a great and illustrious line stretching down through the years, battling in Her name, to shatter chains and defeat the wicked. Oh, not all will do so--there will be cruel and bad folk among them, as in any family that grows large enough... but when the need is there, and the moments of truth come, they will hold true to me, my blood. Hold true, and do what must be done."

Aethelstan nodded. "Well, rest assured, my descendants will be there to help them. Generations will pass, but I will make sure that the line of the Graharz remembers the man who saved it."

"I know," said Marduk, with a nod. Aethelstan chuckled, gave a bow, and headed away.

Ursula watched him leave, then glanced at her lover. "You know, that all sounds very, very grand..."

Marduk glanced at her. "And...?"

She shut her eyes, hand going almost reflexively to her missing nose. "Marduk--you're a Lord now, a man of renown, and I..."

"Am the same woman I pledged my troth to in the mines of Cthonique." He took her scarred face in his misshapen hands. "My fortune has not changed my heart, beloved. Has it changed the heart I love?"

Ursula smiled, and shook her head, and then leaned down to kiss him, and for a moment, the Dark Lord of White Pine and his lady were as fair as any who had loved.

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