Elementals-Chapter 4

From: Cheryl Baumgartner(C Baumgartner, Posted Date: Aug 23rd, 2011

Travelling.

            Benai saw his hometown looming in the distance.  Subconsciously, his pace slowed just a little bit.  There were so many memories there.  Good ones, horrible ones.  The events that had shaped most of his life had happened in that town.  And the last time he had seen it was 11 annuals ago.

            He was not worried about being recognized and arrested once he arrived.  For the last fifty or sixty moons, he had been training in unarmed combat and learning multiple weapons; short, medium, and long range.  There were several of these weapons hidden on his person and he could easily dispatch a dozen guards within seconds if he had to. 

            Of course, it would be better for him if that ended up not being necessary.  He had much more important things to do today.  It would never do to arrive at his parents’ home covered in blood.

            He’d received his mother’s letter 10 suns ago.  His father was dying of some sort of plague that had already taken a third of the town’s inhabitants.  She’d told of father’s repeated requests to see his son once more before passing, and implored Benai to come back, while at the same time acknowledging that he shouldn’t put himself in jeopardy by doing so. 

Mother had never believed he could have killed Grik.  Ever since he’d written to her when first settling on the island, she’d professed his innocence, and how much she and father missed him.  She’d been overjoyed at hearing of his marriage to Sarni, and their impending addition to the family, swearing that she would visit when the child was born.

That visit had never come to pass.

He caressed the gray pearl at his throat, nestled in its golden ellipse. 

“It’s our family.”

He shook his head.  No tears. 

As far as his mother now knew, his wife and child had both died that terrible day 5 annuals ago. 

It was for primarily that reason that he couldn’t bring Vila with him on this journey.  His daughter lived and thrived, growing like a shrub and filling her father’s days with sunlight and laughter.  She was beautiful, a perfect blend of her parents, having blue-green eyes and her mother’s red hair.  There was just enough of his blond mixed in to give her the look of a ripe peach, and she was just as sweet on the inside.

But she would never be a part of his original life. 

Just as importantly was that he would not expose his little girl to whatever disease was claiming his own father’s life.  She was staying with Sarni’s parents until Benai returned.

Whatever else happened here, Benai would be at his father’s side when the moment came.  He would hold and comfort his mother, danger of discovery be damned.  It was the least he could do for two of the only living people on the planet who still loved him.

Benai was also not worried for his own health.  He had never been ill, even as a child.  When she’d been annoyed with him, his mother had always said that germs wouldn’t attack him because they recognized one of their own.  Remembering this now, Benai smiled.

He forced his feet to speed up, no point in wasting time.  Fortunately, his parents’ house was removed from the main city and it was unlikely he’d be found there.  He took a secluded path through the forest to approach the house from the back.

Just before reaching the meadow, he paused by an especially large tree.  He’d been here before.  It was here he’d watched the pale man with the strange hair and the mark on his cheek assassinating old what’s-his-name from Deimos Two.  Benai looked up.  The tree’s branches, which had eluded his attempts to climb as a boy, were now easily attainable.  There were no signs of the bloody incident anywhere, but it had been a formative cornerstone of Benai’s current existence.

He continued on, through the meadow and up to the house.  The back door was open, swinging lightly in the breeze.  He noted the orange circle and chevron painted on the door, the mark of a household tainted by sickness.  He knew there was a similar symbol on the front door as well.

His mother poked her head out of the kitchen.

“Ben!  Oh Ben, you’re here!”  She flung her arms around him.  He lifted her easily off the floor and twirled her around, alarmed at how light she was.  Gently, he put her down, but she did not let go of him.

“Mother.  I’m back.  Everything’s…..”  He trailed off.  How could he tell her everything was going to be alright?  Her whole body began to vibrate against his and he knew the tears were gushing from her eyes.  She’d most likely not cried at all until just now.  She’d been waiting to let it out, afraid to weep in front of her dying husband, and needing her son’s strength as an anchor, to keep from collapsing.

He kissed the top of her head and held her until the sobs subsided.  Her shoulders felt bony and tight.  He pushed her a few inches away from him.  Behind the red puffiness around her eyes, he also saw dark circles and wrinkles that added twenty annuals to her face.  Her hair, that had always been brunette and shining, was now hanging limply in a hasty bun at the back of her neck, tinged with ruthless grey.

“I’m so glad you’re here” she said, releasing him and dabbing at her face with her apron.  “He’ll be glad too”.

Benai could only nod.  He followed her back into the kitchen, where she’d been heating two cauldrons.  He sniffed deeply over each.  Vegetable stew in the first.  An infusion of yarrow and meadowsweet in the other.  He glanced at his mother, who looked at the pot and sighed, an expression of helplessness on her face.  Father’s fever must be terrible indeed if these were her ingredients.

  A muffled moan came from somewhere down the hall.  Benai stiffened.  His mother leapt into action, quickly ladling some of the contents of each pot into two bowls.  He followed her down the hall to the back bedroom. 

The room was dark, with all the windows covered, and lit only by a single candle on a small bedside table.  It took a torturous few seconds for Benai’s eyes to adjust to the gloom.  He thought at first there was no one else in the room, but then he made out the impression of a small form in the bed, shivering under several blankets.  It couldn’t possibly be his father, the tall, meaty man that Benai remembered.  This must be someone else.  Where was father?

“Loat, darling” said his mother, sitting next to the bed and stroking the person’s forehead, “Look who’s here.  It’s Benai.”

The form turned its head.  Glassy bloodshot eyes met Benai’s blue-grey ones.  For a moment, neither one recognized the other.

“Ben?  Son, is that you?” his father rasped.

“By the Gods!” Benai choked, rushing forward and crashing to his knees next to the bed.  His father’s face was sunken and hollow.  The skin was dry, grey, and hanging limply from the flesh underneath.  Most of the man’s hair had been lost, including his eyelashes and brows.  There was barely the slightest hint of the true man left behind this emaciated being. 

When Benai took his hand, he could feel every bone protruding sharply just under the skin, could see each deep blue vein as if they’d been painted on.  His father’s pulse was far too slow, too weak, and he felt hotter than any person should ever be.

“Father….you’re burning up”.  Benai glanced to his mother, who already had the bowl of medicine ready. 

“Nonsense, my boy, I’m freezing” his father huffed, “Mayna, I don’t want that stuff again, I need another blanket”.

“I put honey in it this time, Loat.  It’ll taste much better.”  She handed the bowl and spoon to Benai and ran to fetch another blanket from a closet in the corner.  Benai sat on the bed and spooned up some of the elixir. 

“Father, you must take this.”  Grumpily, the old man opened his mouth and accepted the draught.  He coughed and spluttered, but got most of it down.

“Woman, are you sure you didn’t add bovine dung instead of honey?”

Benai’s mother scoffed as she tucked the new blanket around her husband.  “You just finish that and then start on the soup, you big lug”.

He ignored her and turned back to Benai.

“Son, I wanted to see you one last time bec…..”

He ran out of breath. 

After several pained and wheezing breaths and a coughing fit that shook the entire bed, he was able to continue. 

“…because I had to tell you how proud I am of you.”

Benai couldn’t speak, but just stared down into the bowl, seeing his own reflection on the surface of the liquid.

“You are destined for great things, my son, and you will achieve them….I know it.”  The old man had broken into a heavy sweat and his voice grew quieter with every word.  “And I never believed…..never.….you’re not a murderer.”

“Oh, but he is.” announced a voice from the doorway.

Benai whipped around, his eyes widening and his jaw dropping.  Danik stood there, smugly, eyebrows raised as if his presence should not be surprising at all.  He looked as if he’d aged far more than the 11 annuals it had been.  His skin was tanned and leathery, his black hair cut extremely short and streaked with white, and his brow wrinkled in too many places.  But he still stood tall, strong muscles filling out his clothes.

“You!” Benai jumped to his feet, overturning his bowl of medicine onto the floor.  “You will leave this house at once.”  He could barely keep from shouting, but contained himself for the sake of his parents.

“I’ve just come to visit the dear father of my very best friend, in his hour of need.” Danik practically cooed the words, a smile forming on his lips. 

Benai grabbed his adversary into what would look like an embrace to his parents, but had a much darker purpose. 

“I should remove your spine through your eye sockets” he hissed into Danik’s ear, but I will not disgrace my father’s bedchamber with the foul pestilence running through the sewers you call veins.”

“Come now, Ben” Danik chuckled, “That hardly matters now.  He’s already gone.”  Danik pointed back to the bed. 

Benai and his mother looked back at the pillows simultaneously.  His father no longer shivered, no longer contorted his face in pain.  He simply lay there, lifeless, with a single tear nestled in the corner of one eye.

“Loat…..oh Loat….!!” cried Benai’s mother.  She collapsed onto the bed, hugging her husband and sobbing cascades onto his chest.

“You should burn the body” said Danik, still smirking, “we can’t allow this plague to spread any further, can we?”

“We will bury him!”  Benai cried. 

Danik just shrugged.

“But first, we finish this” Benai said, “Outside”.

“You know, that’s a very good idea” replied Danik cheerfully.  He pulled a small pouch from his cloak and tossed it onto the bed.  “A gift for your mother, to ease the pain of her loss.  Shall we?”  He gestured toward the door. 

Benai said “Don’t open that, mother, I’ll be right back.”  Keeping a close eye on Danik, he walked out cautiously.

Outside, the air was cold and crisp, the temperature having dropped drastically since Benai had arrived.

A few paces away from the house sat a flying vehicle.  Benai had seen things like it made in factories in the industrial part of the city.  Danik headed toward it confidently.

“Where do you think you’re going, dead man?” asked Benai, poised to fight. 

“Come now, Ben” said Danik, only slightly turning his head as he walked, “You’ve never had a problem with stabbing someone in the back, have you?”

“Very well then!”  Benai had two knives in his hands in less than a blink.

An explosion from behind knocked him clear off his feet.  He landed in a nearby ditch, a wave of heat washing over him, singeing his clothes and hair.  Debris began raining down from above as smoke filled the air around him.  He curled into a ball, shielding himself from the flying chunks of wood and stone.  After a moment, when the deluge had passed, he raised his eyes to look back at the house.

His parents’ home was fully ablaze.  Through the flames and smoke, he saw the blackened structure, huge holes in the walls burning larger as he watched.  Sections of the roof collapsed, in what seemed like slow motion, causing more eruptions of flame as they crashed to the ground.

Father!

Mother!

By this time, Danik was inside his vehicle and was powering up the engine.

“Bug bomb” he called from the hatchway.

Benai was speechless.  He could only stare at the wreckage of the house.

“I did tell you to burn the body” Danik finished.  He closed the hatch and the craft lifted off the ground.