I love to create story. Two of my favorite authors are Neil Gaiman and Orson Scott Card. Both of them are advanced artists in creating meaningful, vivid, unforgettable story. The former speaks about this here, in a message that has inspired me many times by now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plWexCID-kA
I created a story not long ago. I did so in the setting of a class where I was asked and encouraged to create. But… I don’t want to stop now. There is something addicting about creating meaning and story where none had existed. The kind of addiction that I want to nourish.
So, without further ado: Aleutia’s Lost Heir. Created in April and May, 2013.
Aleutia’s Lost Heir
The twinkling lights of the landscape below punctuated Anara’s thoughts as she gazed pensively around at each horizon from her sturdy lookout tower. The kingdom had known peace for some time now, thanks to the newly-implemented Ranger Division, setting in motion the constant vigilance of many others like herself. Threats still loomed on the eastern horizon, but the wise advice of the king’s counselors had reduced their roar to a rumble. Now the question remaining was that of succession, a question the brightest minds in the realm had already pondered at length to no avail. Everyone knew that years ago a prince had been born, then kidnapped within days. Neither his mother’s grief nor his father’s desperate investigation campaigns had borne any fruit; the prince was gone.
Certainly there were enemies who would have desired to see Aleutia without an heir, but none were known to possess such resources or stealth as would be required in order to compromise the very palace. The day the infant prince disappeared had gone by like any other day until the nurse’s horrifying discovery of the empty cradle at the end of naptime. No abductor had ever been found, no one suspicious among all of the many who were questioned immediately and in the days that followed. Who would have done such a thing, and who could have? The haunting, unanswerable queries hung like dark clouds over the saddened domain as the customary dancing and feasts gave way to worried brainstorming sessions and harried search parties.
Shouts from the village nearby startled the young ranger from her reverie. The alarm being raised was unmistakable and quickly alerted her to descend her station’s ladder, armed and ready for whatever threat was waiting for her below. Arriving in the town, all was silent—but it was not the silence of peace. Every door was locked, every window shuttered; whence the alarm of just seconds ago, and the disturbance that had summoned her? Anara circled the perimeter of the cluster of houses that lined the one main street of Gwynett and found the answer. Crouched in a field and huddled with two newly stolen chickens was a wild-looking man who looked hungry enough to eat both of the birds on the spot. Ragged and unkempt, he looked distrustingly at the ranger, clearly waiting for the aggression he expected would follow. Anara did feel a measure of concern about this intruder who had scared the villagers and made off with two of their chickens. Yet more than anything, she was intrigued. Whence was he and why had he appeared, obviously starving and pilfering food to survive?
“Halt!” her voice rang out. “Who are you, and what is your business?”
The gaze fixed on Anara was not what she expected from a chicken thief. “Lady, I flee for my life; if my name becomes known, that is over. Are you certain that you want my blood on your hands?”
Taken aback, the ranger considered the possibility that this newcomer’s words, however unlikely sounding, might be true. If they were, she needed to know why. Whatever threat pursued him now concerned the entire village over which she stood guard. This would require further investigation. “Come with me. No harm will come to you.” The strange man came, bringing the ill-gotten chickens, and silently they walked to her post in the center of the too-quiet town. All the way Anara wondered what strange business pursued this stranger, and who he really was. She had a feeling the answers would reveal themselves before long.
Ten hours later, thundering hooves shattered the peaceful morning murmur of Gwynett. Wheeling to a halt before the ranger’s post, five masked riders dismounted and hammered on the door. Anara stepped outside and confronted the group. “In whose name are you come?” she demanded.
“We are of this kingdom, loyal to king Zahn and the lovely Estella, but not of its name; no man names us.”
“What then seek you here?”
“We seek one of our own number, disoriented and wondering. He was last seen traveling this way.”
“None of yours have come here, but I bid you ride with all speed; you may yet find this one on the road where he has gone,” responded Anara with finality. Reluctantly the group remounted, speeding off to the southwest to continue their chase.
Back inside the post, Anara faced her unforthcoming prisoner, hands on her hips. “Why are they after you? Speak!”
“They say I am one of them,” he replied in a measured tone. “I am not. I knew that I did not belong, but I did not know why. Then I secretly investigated their hidden scrolls, which they did not know that I knew existed. By their own record, I was stolen by them as an infant. Where I truly belong, I know not. But not there.”
“We cannot safely shelter you here,” said Anara, and the unnamed stranger nodded in agreement. They both knew her ruse had bought him only temporary safety. “I will call in my deputy,” she continued. “We ride for the capitol, directly through the forest. We can reach there by nightfall.” Long before the threatening riders returned, she earnestly hoped. Then she wondered: What would happen in Royal City? Would she ever learn the stranger’s identity or hear the rest of his story?
The rhythm of her horse’s gallop and the sound of his hooves on the path had worn into Anara’s consciousness until she would have felt and heard them even in a dark, empty room. The nameless stranger, riding behind her, was as eager as she was to reach Royal City. With less than an hour’s ride left, she pulled the horse to a halt in a thick stand of trees, tied the horse by a stream, and built a fire. Almost to safety with the fugitive, she was not about to approach the capitol without learning his story. So she roasted a rabbit, and as they sat by the fire, she turned to her now-willing captive.
“We must find answers to what happened with you. Tell me your story; leave nothing out.”
Slowly and thoughtfully, he began. “They called me Roland; my true name I know not. My earliest memory is of grinding grain with a mortar and pestle to make bread. They would buy or steal the sacks of grain; I would turn the grain into flour and the flour into bread. I became skilled and learned to love my task, taking pride in the flavor and texture of the loaves I created.”
“As I grew up, they taught me to hunt, venturing out from our home in the caves under the mountains in what I now know to be northeastern Aleutia. They watched me with a careful eye, however, and if other people appeared in the distance we returned home.”
“I always wondered what it was they were keeping from me, and why I was the only child among grown men, none of whom was my father. At times I would catch them deep in conversation across the large cavern with their eyes fixed on me, but as soon as I noticed they would abruptly stop talking. Many times I begged them to tell me who I was, but the more I asked, the less they told. I felt left out and lonely in the only home I knew, and lost because I had no identity.
“Until the day not so long ago when I was putting supplies away in the storage caverns on the lower level of our honeycomb of caves. Absentmindedly I turned a doorknob that always before had been locked—and the door opened! Inside I found an intricately embroidered baby blanket and a rack full of scrolls that I knew would answer my questions at last. Most of the others were out on a hunting expedition, so for several days I hid down there devouring the strange history of the group that had raised me.
“Many things I learned in those days, secret things very few in Aleutia would imagine were possible. Of greatest importance to me, of course, was the record of my own life and origin. I learned the exact date they ‘brought me home,’ as they said, but the language surrounding this was cryptic. I had a home, from which they took me; where that was and why they did so were unspecified.
“Almost two weeks ago, a group of us went on a hunt. We spread out in a circle to surround our prey, and for once they were not quite as vigilant in watching me. I saw my chance and ran; I’ve been running ever since. Herbs, nuts, and berries have sustained me, for I dared not take time to hunt. Until Gwynett, I avoided all towns, but by the time I reached there I was too ravenous to still be afraid.
“That is all I know of myself. How to find my true home I know not. I must find safe haven soon, for I have seen the devices of my captors and know that if they retake me, I will never be heard from again.”
His words hung in the air for a long moment as Anara mused on the emptiness of a life without family or knowing one’s true home. Roland rose. “We must go.”
In silence they advanced toward the capitol, each lost in thought. They reached the gate just before sundown and passed through quickly before the guards sealed the city for the night. Hastily they made their way to Ranger Headquarters, where the ancient Chief Ranger offered his wisdom as freely as his dear wife ladled stew into their bowls. “Stay; you’re safe here,” they both insisted. Relieved and exhausted, the weary travelers found spots in front of the fire and took turns sharing their tale as they ate. When all had been told, the hour was late. They dozed off, murmuring thanks for the kind hospitality. The Chief Ranger, however, whispered to his wife and slipped out the door on an errand that could not wait until morning.
A few hours later, Roland was startled awake by a lamp shining in his eyes. Rising instantly, he saw with shock a face that he knew instinctively. “Father?” he gasped.
“Indeed,” the regal visitor replied, “so it would seem. Is this possible? Are you our lost Aaron?”
“I was taken in June, thirty years ago, sir.”
Overcome with joy, the king wrapped his son in a warm embrace and then hurried him back to the palace. “I hadn’t the heart to tell your mother; we’ve had a hundred ‘lost sons’ show up, and every one a heartbreak. Ah, here we are! Estella, come and see what one of our faithful rangers has brought!”
With cries of joy the long-grieved queen fell on her son and wept. The king joined in, embracing them both as the little family rejoiced to be reunited.
“Mother, Father,” the long-lost prince said, “how I grieved to grow up without you! And now to find the family I never knew; I’ve found a paradise on Earth! Only one thing is lacking.”
Anara was startled to be awakened halfway through the night, but was instantly alert. Presenting herself at the palace, she was welcomed by a very grateful king and queen. “Your faithfulness brought our son back, without your even knowing who he was. We can never repay you.”
Anara bowed low. Then Aaron approached her. “I’ll never forget how you rescued me,” he said. “When the whole world seemed to be against me, you risked your own life to spare mine. I’ve seen who you are, and there’s no one like you. Stay here with me, love; there’s no other I’d want for my queen!”
Anara stared at the prince in shock, at the same time realizing how much she had been dreading leaving him. Collecting her wits, she answered finally, “I’d be honored.” Simultaneously they reached for each other and melted into a kiss.