Journey to the West

                                                                                 By Bert McKenzie 

                                                                                  Copyright 2010

 

 


Chapter XXI

"I must go after it!" Akuta said as he tried to stand.  Before anyone could
react he jumped up and began to run down the hill.

"Akuta, wait!" Sharon called.

But as he reached the bottom of the hill a dark figure stepped in his path.
It reached out a dark, splotchy arm to stop him.  "Let me pass," the fairy
said as his vision began to swim and blur.

"No," the corpse said.  Its blue eyes glared fiercely at him.

"But I must go.  I have to," he pleaded.  Already the world seemed to be
spinning as the ground dipped and rose beneath his feet.

"No," the creature said again.  Akuta turned his head, and everything
suddenly seemed to swivel.  He fell down into the confused chaos of sound
and light, then let go of the world and sank into the soft, quiet darkness.

"He's lost too much blood," Sharon said as she ran down the hill after her
friend.  At the bottom, she had to take a step back in shock as she
realized that the man that now held the big fairy in his arms like a
sleeping child wasn't quite normal.  Akuta was being carried by a walking
dead man.  Rood, Dave and Dannemel lost no time in joining her at the
bottom of the hill, and all were equally as stunned by the creature that
carried her friend.

"Can I examine him?" Sharon finally said, working up her courage.

"Nofrahf," the creature said and gently placed the fairy in the soft grass
at the side of the road.  She and Dave both checked him over then finished
bandaging his wounds.  "His pulse is almost non-existent," she said, "but
then even in the best of health you guys have next to no pulse.  I'd say he
passed out from loss of blood.  There isn't much we can do here.  Let's get
him back to Esbereth as fast as possible."

"I concur," Dave said.  "He should be kept warm and transported
immediately."

"I had no idea the Order of Senchal were healers," Rood said suspiciously.

"There is obviously much you don't know about the Order...and me," Dave
replied.

"I carry," the corpse said as it stood nearby.

"I shall take him," Rood said and knelt beside his friend.

"I carry," the creature said again and stepped in close to pick up the
unconscious man.

Rood reached for his sword but found his arm restrained by the brother.
"Let him help.  It may be important."

"It is several days' ride," Rood said in concern.

"We may not have several days," Sharon responded.  "We need to get him to a
real healer now."

"Will this help?" Dannemel asked.  He reached in his tunic and pulled out a
tiny, pink crystal on a silver chain.  "I borrowed it in hope of a quick
escape, but I was afraid it might take me to Lirsta."

"I know where it will take me," Rood said and reached for the homing
crystal.  "Everybody hold hands."

"Get the baby," Sharon said to Dave.

"Baby?" Rood asked, suddenly looking at the girl, then giving a nasty look
toward Dave.

"I'll explain later," she said as she took the child from the basket that
Dave held out.  Dave took one of Akuta's limp hands in his as he reached to
touch Rood's shoulder.  Rood reached out for Sharon as Dannemel grabbed
hold of his other shoulder.  Just as Rood tapped the crystal with the
fingers of his free hand, Dannemel thought about the horses.  He reached
over to pat one of them.

* * *

Rowana had just finished straightening up the guard rooms.  All of the
guards took turns and this was her week.  She had changed the towels, hung
up clothing, put away items left lying about, and swept and mopped the
floor until it was spotless.  She smiled to herself as she admired her
work.  She and Caseldra were both proud to be among the few women who were
actual members of the palace guard, and yet she still felt a little of the
old stereotypes.  Rowana just did not feel anyone could get the barracks
looking as neat and spotless as she could.  She bragged to her mate that it
took a woman's touch.

She picked up her mop and broom and then turned to leave.  She had planned
to go give the private rooms that she and Melcot occupied a thorough going
over.  Rowana pulled the door closed and was just about to walk away when
she heard a tremendous crash as of splintering wood followed by the wail of
a baby.  She quickly jerked the door open again and saw that the empty
chambers now held a horse and six people.  Two reclining platforms were in
splinters beneath the horse's hooves.  "Hello," Rood said to her, then
looked around.  "Could you not have cleaned up these rooms before our
arrival?"  He managed to duck just in time as the mop went sailing by his
head.

* * *

"What do you mean she had a baby?" Scott asked Rood.  "She was only gone
for a month at most."

"I tell you she had an infant.  Her words were 'Give me my baby,' and the
brother gave it to her.  She was traveling with him and they carried the
child in a basket.  I know he was the father."  Rood was pacing back and
forth in the conference room next to the throne room.  Sharon, Dave,
Dannemel and the corpse went directly to the halls of healing with Akuta
while Rood came to report to the king.  Unfortunately Robin was trapped in
a lengthy discussion with several members of the high council regarding
what they thought should be done about the west.  Scott was able to slip
out of the throne room to meet Rood and get his report.

"What about Akuta?" Scott asked.

"He shall recover," Rood said as if the matter of his friend's injuries was
inconsequential.  "He was only mauled by a griffin.  The healers will have
him well in a day."

"Then they never made it to this western island everyone thought he was
looking for."

"Of course he did," the captain of the guard answered testily.  "How think
you he brought the dead griffin back to life?  And he also had a dead body
with him.  It was carrying him when we transported.  By the smell I would
guess it was human."

To say that Scott was a little confused by the sketchy story he was given
would be a vast understatement.  "What about this dead body?"

"Forget the dead body.  What about the baby?"

"What baby?"  Robin had managed to take a break in his discussions and
slipped into the room.

"Sharon had a baby," Rood whined.  "I thought she cared about me and she
had a baby with a brother of Senchal."

"So what is a brother of Senchal?" Scott asked.  "And what about the dead
body that Akuta was carrying?"

"A brother of Senchal would not couple with a woman," Robin said trying to
work things out.

"Good," Scott interjected.

"Unless he had a very good reason for such."

"I knew so," Rood said as he continued to pace.  "She never cared for me.
She only pretended to like me and all the time she was seeing me, she was
pleasuring herself with a religious fanatic."

"What do you mean?  She only met him in the last month," Scott argued.
"It's physically impossible to get pregnant and have a baby in less than a
month."

"Know you the gestation period of Tuathans?" Rood asked.

"No, but..."

"Then speak not."

"How could Sharon Gates be impregnated by the dead body of a brother of
Senchal?" Robin asked, totally lost.

"He was not dead," Rood said angrily.  "Not at all.  You should see how he
looked at her."

"How saw you his look if he was of Senchal?  Wore he not the veil?"

"Stop!" Scott shouted, trying to get control of the situation.  "Now let's
go to the halls of healing and get to the bottom of this."

"No," Rood said petulantly.  "I wish not to see her or her child."

"You know, there's one convenience about fairies having pointed ears,"
Scott said to his lover.

"And what is that?" Robin asked, confused by the non sequitur.

"They make it easy to discipline stubborn children."  With that he reached
up and grabbed Rood's left ear, pulling him toward the door.

The captain of the guard, the bravest and fiercest fighting man in all of
Faerie marched docilely to the door.  "Ow, alright.  Let go.  I shall come
with you," he squealed.  The three were soon crossing the courtyard toward
the halls of healing.

Once inside they were immediately escorted to the room Sharon used as an
office.  At the moment it was empty, but the apprentice healer said she
would find the doctor and return immediately.  The three men sat together
on a long bench, Rood in the middle flanked by his two friends.  "My lord,"
the captain asked the king.  "Cannot you send me away?  Surely there must
be a dragon to slay somewhere, or...I know.  I may still go to the western
kingdoms.  We never made it that far."  He stood up.

Robin reached up to grab his friend's sleeve and jerked him back down on
the bench.  "My friend, the humans have an expression," he said.

"Yes, lord?"

"Shut up," Robin told him.

A moment later Sharon and the hooded and veiled man entered.  Sharon
carried a tiny infant in her arms.  "See, I told you so," Rood wind
whispered to Robin who jabbed an elbow into his ribs in reply.

"My lady, we welcome you home.  All of us were most concerned at your
disappearance.  And welcome also are you, holy brother," the king said.

"Many thanks, my lord, the veiled man said.  "I have come on a most urgent
errand to seek you."  He took the child from Sharon.  "I was asked to
present you with this child and ask you to find it a suitable home in your
palace."  At this he offered the baby to Robin.

The king gingerly took the little bundle.  "I understand not," he said.
"Why should you give me this child?  Where are its parents?"

"They are dead, my lord.  The father asked that you take the child before
he died.  He wished you would raise it as your own.  You are its kinsman."

"Kinsman?" Robin repeated, looking up in shock from the tiny baby.

"The parents were your friend Clive and your cousin Ellenia," Sharon said
softly.  "I'm sorry, my lord."

Robin slowly sank back on the bench, tears coming to his eyes.  "Then they
are dead.  I felt it in my heart, but I told myself I was wrong."  He
clutched the little bundle tightly as Scott stepped to his side and hugged
him.  "How passed they?" Robin finally managed to ask.

The brother spoke up.  "She of the plague and he of the black bond."

"Then this is not your child?" Rood asked, his heart lightening.

"Of course not," Sharon said.  "Don't be silly."  She then reached over and
took the brother's free hand.  "We have some exciting news for you all."

Rood stared at them then wind whispered to Scott, "You see, I told you so."
Scott jabbed him in the ribs with an elbow.

"What is this news?" Robin asked, looking up from where he sat holding the
baby.

"You remember Dave Strahan, the missing human who we thought was somewhere
in Tuatha?  Well I found him."  With that, the brother unfastened his veil
and pulled back the hood.

"A human!" Rood exclaimed standing up.  "The brother of Senchal is a human.
It is no wonder."  He then turned and quickly stormed out of the office.

"What's with him?" Sharon asked.

"He's being incredibly stupid," Scott answered.  "Why don't you go talk to
him."  She smiled and ran out of the room after the guard.

"Well, we meet again," Dave said, once they were alone.  "Look, the last
time I saw you two it wasn't the best of situations.  I just wanted to
say..."

"It is I who should thank you for bringing this infant to me," Robin said.
"It is the joy that shall help temper my sorrow."

"I...I only wish I could have done more," Dave replied.  "I was with your
cousin when she died.  I just felt so helpless."

"I understand.  There is not much action any can take when the plague is
involved.  I am sure you brought both parents comfort in knowing their
child would be well cared for.  And now let me give this infant to the
healers until we may arrange for a nurse and proper care."  As if by magic
two young girls in apprentice garb appeared at the door.  They quickly took
the child and then disappeared again.

"Now what?" Scott asked.

"Now we see to our other problem.  Has the good doctor examined the
pregnant human?"

"Yes," Dave said.  "She seemed a little confused.  She kept asking about
the American embassy and saying she was drugged when she was brought here.
She seems to think this in Nicaragua of all places."

"But what about the baby?" Scott asked.

"It looks to me like she's going to have a normal, healthy baby if
everything continues on the same."

"So who's the father?" Scott asked.

"How should I know?"

"I mean can you tell if the baby's human?  You see, we have reason to
believe that it might be part fairy."

Dave looked totally shocked.  "I don't know if that's even possible," he
mused.

"It is possible," Robin said, then quickly added, "under certain special
circumstances."

"Well if that's true this could complicate things quite a bit.  The human
and alien blood would not be compatible in the least.  Her placenta would
have to be modified not to mention the composition of the amniotic fluid.
And giving birth might be totally out of the question.  If the child is
genetically alien I doubt it would survive natural childbirth from a human
mother."

"But can you tell?" Scott asked.

"You mean is it human?" Dave reiterated.  "No way of telling without tests
and equipment that you don't have here.  To be on the safe side I'd suggest
monitoring her closely and taking it by Cesarian when the time comes."

"Then she must stay," Robin said quietly.

"If there's a chance of her giving birth to an alien child I don't think
you can risk her leaving here.  You know what would happen to her in my
world," Dave told the two of them.

Robin and Scott then headed for the room where Akuta had been treated.
They found him lying on a reclining platform, his torso swathed in clean
bandages.  Melcot was keeping him company.  Also standing in the corner of
the room was the grisly corpse.  Everyone tended to give it a wide berth.
"He will not speak, my lord," Melcot said as they entered the room.

"My friend," Robin said as he stepped to Akuta's side and took his hand.
But the injured man only squeezed his eyes tightly shut.  A thin tear just
managed to escape to trickle down the side of his face.

Rood and Sharon entered the room and quickly joined their friends at
Akuta's bedside.  "Akuta, it's Sharon," the girl said as she gently stroked
his hair.

At last he opened his eyes and looked up at her.  "You saw it.  I had the
gift.  I actually succeeded.  I would have saved him from death."

"It's for the best," she said softly.

"How can you say so?" he asked sharply.  "I love him.  We would be together
now if not for those creatures.  To waste such a precious gift on a dead
griffin..."  The tears began to flow again.  "I wish only to die, but
Gilgamesh was correct.  I cannot die now.  It is my punishment for trying
to win immortality."  There was nothing anyone could say.

* * *

The following day dawned to an unaccustomed brightness.  Snow had fallen
heavily throughout the night, blanketing the paths and courtyards of the
castle in a soft coat of winter white.  Although the sky was still
overcast, the reflection of the white clouds and white snow made for a
blinding landscape.  The bleakness outside matched the bleakness in Akuta's
heart.  He knew what had to be done, but he wasn't sure if he could do it.
While they were gone Alex's body had been discovered where he had hidden it
among the memorial stones in the garden behind the white tower.  It was
again waiting on the altar in the worship grounds.  Akuta visited the
sanctuary during the night and could tell by the discoloration of the
flashweed bindings that the body had continued to decompose.  Without the
magic he had fought so hard to bring back there was nothing left to do.
Even if he tried to return again to the land of the dead, the body would be
gone before he could ever return.  Besides, Robin told him they would
consign Alex to the flames if he did not.  He agreed to complete the
ceremony at noon.

As the hour drew near Rood came to help Akuta dress.  He was still stiff
and sore despite the rapid healing worked by the women who assisted Sharon
in her Tuathan hospital.  As Rood entered he noticed the living corpse
still standing in the corner.  "Cannot we leave your...companion here?" he
asked.  "I fear it will frighten the women."

"He is human," Akuta explained.  "I promised Gilgamesh that I would escort
him back to his world.  He was banished from the land of death because he
helped me."

"And you plan to turn this loose in the human world?" Rood asked in
astonishment.

"Gilgamesh said he would live again when one who loves him makes a great
sacrifice."

"Until then he must wander around as an animated corpse?"  Rood shook his
head.  "As soon as you have completed the ceremony of passage we shall take
this bag of bones to the other world and lose him."

"Until then he must stay with me," Akuta said as he pulled on a heavy cape.

Rood held his breath and stepped close to the corpse.  He pulled the
bedraggled robe around its thin frame, and then pulled the hood farther
forward to hide its blackened face.  "Just stay to the back of the crowd,
okay?"

"No prahb," the creature said.

The three of them then left the halls of healing and waded through the snow
to the worship grounds.  Inside the area was decorated with brightly
colored banners as was the custom of the ceremony.  Brightly dressed and
standing in a tight knot at the foot of the altar dais were Akuta's close
friends.  Dave stood close to Sharon.  Beside them were Scott, Robin,
Jennifer and Caseldra.  Melcot and Rowana were the only others in
attendance as Robin thought it best to make this a private ceremony.  Rood
escorted Akuta to the dais where the old priest stood waiting with the lit
torch.

Akuta took the torch and climbed the three steps to the stone table.
"Return soon to one who loves you," he said with tears flowing freely.  He
reached down with the torch, but stopped only an inch from the body.  Akuta
stood there for a moment, frozen in time.  He remembered all the wonderful
moments he and Alex shared in their all too few month together.  He just
wasn't sure he could watch all that go up in flames.  "I love you so very
much," he wind whispered to the body on the altar.

Suddenly a voice seemed to speak in his mind.  "I know," it said.  That was
the motivation he needed.  Akuta placed the torch against the weed, then
stepped back.  The woven cocoon flared up brightly to burn with a savage
intensity for several minutes, and then just as quickly it died out.  Only
glowing embers and ashes remained on the stone.

"It is done," Akuta said solemnly, then turned to walk through the crowd.
As he did so he saw the robed figure at the back.  It seemed to be
shivering.  "Let us go," he said as he approached it.  "I shall take you
home now."

"Take me anywhere warm.  I'm freezing," the voice said clearly from beneath
the brown hood.  A familiar tone caught his attention and Akuta stopped in
his tracks.  He reached up and pulled the hood back to reveal the bright
red hair he had known so well.  The blue eyes looked back at him as the man
before him shivered.  "Can we go home now?"

Akuta grabbed his rejuvenated lover and held him tightly in his arms,
unrestrained tears of joy coursing down his face.  As Gilgamesh had
promised, the dead man lived again with the ultimate sacrifice of the one
who loved him.  Alex shivered in his lover's arms as everyone looked on in
amazement.

 

 

 

 

 

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