Secrets and Lies
From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then—in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.
Edgar Allan Poe, “Alone”
“Val doesn’t have a father, does he?”
“Yes, he does. I told you, he just died,” Filia answered, not even turning to look at the woman beside her. Her eyes stood transfixed on a young boy dashing amongst the tall grass. He huffed slightly as he ran, his long mane of aqua hair tossing wildly with each beat of his shoes on the ground. Thin legs stretched out from scruffy blue shorts, leaping over shoots of tall grass. His face held a blank yet wide-eyed expression, mouth open to fill his needing lungs. “Wait for me!” he shouted between breaths, the troupe of boys ahead of him only responding with laughter.
“You’re awfully young to be a widow,” said Calandra Bartram matter-of-factly. Once she spoke she daintily lifted her teacup to her lips, pinky out, and took a small delicate sip.
‘And you’re awfully nosy,’ Filia thought to herself, but bit her tongue so as not to risk offense. “Yes, I suppose I am.”
“Dear, you can be honest. Tell me, did he run off with another woman?” Mrs. Bartram asked. A look of annoyance then suddenly spread across the woman’s face as she felt a lock of brown hair come loose from her perfect coif, she immediately lifting her hand to delicately smooth it back.
“No, he died,” Filia insisted—monotone—still turned away, “He was shot…one day, out hunting. He was good at that. A villager mistook him for an animal and shot him through the heart. It was just an innocent accident. He was a very good man…my husband.”
Mrs. Bartram sat back in her white wicker chair and daintily took another sip of tea. “It’s a shame,” she said as she again set her teacup down on its saucer, “Such a boy having to grow up without a father. They tend to have so many problems you know. Why, old Widow Hiltraud had to raise her son without a father, and you simply wouldn’t believe how that boy turned out. He’s dead and gone, but he certainly was an eerie sight. He’d just keep to himself and stare at people all the time, from dusk till dawn. It certainly used to frighten me when I was younger; I was about courting age, only a little older than him. Eventually he just withered away, I suppose. And then, of course, Widow Hiltraud simply had a fit and left for the outskirts of town. Of course, all of them were probably a bit touched in the head, a bit too hysterical.
“Anyway, I simply couldn’t see myself raising my dear Bram without Eamon. He’s such a good provider, bless his little heart. It’s such a shame you have to live all alone at such a young girl, still having to raise that boy alone. Especially with Val’s little problem. That must be absolutely terrible to deal with.”
Filia’s eyes opened wider for only a second, then quickly returned to normal. “There is no problem. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied calmly.
“Filia dear, don’t lie. I know you simply cannot be so oblivious. You’re the one who has to keep buying new clothes for him. Val looks like he’s six or seven now, the same as my dear Bram. Only last year he looked about three years old, about Pernella’s age.”
“Oh, Pernella. You have such a precious little daughter, Calandra. How is she?” Filia asked, her lips slowly curling into the semblance of a smile.
“Don’t try to change the subject, Filia dear. What’s wrong with Val? Is the boy bewitched?”
Filia said nothing. Her eyes stared out into the tall, untamed field of grass behind the Bartram’s house. She picked Val out amongst the prairie, aqua locks tossing as he ran. He still trodded after the pack of boys, but the sound of gleeful laughter had stopped. Now they bore disgusted scowls each time they looked back to see if Val still followed.
One stopped. Val’s eyes widened; he stopped suddenly to keep from running into the boy. “You freak! Get away from us!” the boy shouted as he rushed forward. Angry arms struck at Val. The startled dragon fell to the dirt. Peals of laughter erupted. One boy descended with him, knocking Val squarely in the jaw with his fist.
Filia sprang up from her chair, eyes flashing. She immediately sprinted forward. The pack of boys backed away as she approached, their faces suddenly stricken with the fear of retribution. “Why did you do that?!” she screamed, her face curled into a snarl.
Filia quickly knelt down next to Val. Her eyes scanned over his body. Val’s body looked relatively unharmed, his cheek having yet the time to swell. He sat up quickly, purposefully staring down his assailants. Val’s eyes were squinted slightly, his face hardening to hide an emotion which he could not express.
Filia recognized the expression all too well.
“No…” she said quietly to herself, “I won’t have anyone making you look that way again.”
Filia was visibly shaking as she sprung up and moved in for the attack. “Why did you do that?!” she yelled as she loomed over the group of frightened boys. “How dare you?! How dare you hit him! You should be ashamed of yourselves!”
“Filia, do calm down,” Mrs. Bartram said as she slowly arrived on the scene, “You know how boys are. These things happen all the time.”
“Then it’ll never happen again, I’ll make sure of it! This will never, ever happen when I’m around! Never! These boys have to learn a lesson! My boy won't be called a freak!”
“Yes, yes, I’ll be sure to tell his mother about all this, and I’m certain those boys will go to bed without supper. You—,”
“No!” Filia yelled back, “I won’t have them getting just any slap on the wrist! They can’t do this to him and just go unpunished! I won’t have this happening ever again!” Filia’s hand reached out for the guilty boy.
“Filia mama, stop! It’s out!” Val yelled nervously, quickly moving to cover her backside from view.
She straightened suddenly, realizing what he had said. Her tail was showing. She would have given them away. She took in deep breaths as she moved away, trying her best to curl her tail under the protection of her dress. “I’m sorry. I just…lost my head for a minute,” she murmured.
“It’s quite all right, Filia, dear. You should sit down for a moment. Relax,” Mrs. Bartram said, standing in place. Val’s eyes narrowed.
“No…that’s alright. I think I should go. I’ve caused you enough trouble for one day. Thank you for inviting me. I really do enjoys these Saturday afternoon chats,” Filia said apologetically, retreating slowly.
“Oh, no trouble at all, Filia dear. Do come by again. So many of the townswomen have to work night and day; it’s nice to have someone like you to pass the time with every once in a while,” Mrs. Bartram said. She then turned her attention away from them, kneeling down to look at her young boy. “Did you have a nice time with Val today, Bram? I’m sure you were just as sweet as sugar to that boy, weren’t you? Really, your friends should learn something from you, sweetie.”
Bram gave his mother a sweet smile, staying silent. “Oh, what a good boy you are! I’ll have to treat you to a macaroon once we get back in the house.” She gave Bram a small kiss on the forehead, then rose and walked towards the house.
“I think I’ll be going now, Calandra. You have a nice afternoon,” Filia said politely, backing away.
“Oh, goodbye, Filia dear,” Mrs. Bartram said, not even stopping or looking back from her trip towards the kitchen.
Val suddenly felt something: the weight of eyes boring into him. He turned away from his mother to look forward, immediately catching the angry gaze of Bram’s brown eyes. The Bartram boy stood as still as a rock, tall and straight. Nothing in his form changed, not even the blinking of an eye. Val’s eyes narrowed.
“Come on, Val. Let’s go home,” Filia said softly, catching Val’s attention. Her hand reached out for his, threading his small fingers through her own. He dutifully followed her, walking a bit faster than usual.
They walked away from the Bartram house together, a huge structure set slightly apart from the rest of the village. The wind was strong, blowing both Filia’s and Val’s hair away from their faces. Filia looked out into the dusty streets that awaited them. “Val, do you want to go back to play next Saturday?” Filia asked wearily, pausing for a moment before adding, “Be honest.”
“No,” he replied simply.
“Good,” she said, a smile creeping into her lips, “Me neither.” Val smiled.
Filia turned to Val for a moment, running her hands through his long, aquamarine hair. “Your hair’s past your shoulders now. I’ll have to give you another haircut soon.”
“Didn’t you just give me one three days ago?” Val replied irritably.
Filia sighed. “Yes…yes, I did.” There was silence for a long minute on the road, every sound being engulfed by the strong wind. They simply walked forward, hands threaded together. They both knew what each other was thinking about, but putting it into words was another matter.
Finally, Filia spoke. “I don’t know why that boy had to do that, you know. So many of those children have absolutely no manners,” she said, her voice slowly rising in pitch, “I mean, that was just uncalled for. You had done nothing to them, and here they are—hitting you and calling you that!”
“Please, Filia mama, don’t worry about it,” Val said quietly, “Besides, you shouldn’t get so excited; we don’t want your tail showing again.”
Filia sighed once again. “I know, I know, but what am I supposed to do? I can’t just let those little brats treat you like that! I just can’t. How could I say that I love you if I just let them do that to you? I can’t let that happen to you, Val. I just can’t.” Filia tightened her grip on Val’s small hand, lowering her gaze to the ground. “I just don’t know, Val. I want you to go out and have friends, to be happy. I want everyone to love you as much as I do, and I know you deserve that. But when I see this keep happening, I…I just don’t know what’s best for you.”
“I’m happy in the shop, Filia mama. I talk to people there. I’ll just come straight home from school instead, okay? Don’t worry about me,” he insisted.
Filia sighed, turning her gaze upward. “Oh, Ceipheed…this isn’t what I wanted for you. I wanted you to be happy and loved and to just be a kid, for gods’ sakes.” She shook her head wearily, turning to look at Val as they walked. “But don’t ever think I’m disappointed in you, Val. Don’t ever think that! None of this is your fault. People are just fickle; sometimes they’ll reject people for the silliest reasons. Please, always remember that you don’t deserve any of this…you never did.” Filia gave Val’s hand an extra squeeze, the golden dragon feeling something in her heart tighten.
“Is that why you don’t want anyone to know that we’re dragons? Because they reject people like that?” he asked.
“Yes, Val, yes. I wanted to do everything for you, everything to make you happy. I know it can be a bit hard sometimes, keeping things from people like that…but if it means you’ll be happy—”
“When we get home, will you tell me about Daddy?” Val asked innocently. The golden dragon abruptly stopped walking.
“Yes…” Filia answered with a trembling voice, “I’ll tell you about Daddy.” Val could feel her hand shaking in his. “Filia mama?” he asked cautiously, looking up at her. “Why are you crying, Filia mama?” he asked with concern, reaching up to her face with his free hand.
Filia sobbed, reaching up her hands and taking both of his in her own. “I’m sorry, Val…I’m sorry. It’s just been a long day. Your Filia mama is just tired, that’s all. And worried, worried about you. It’s been such a long, long day for both of us. Let’s not go back there, okay? It brings down the both of us. I won’t have things like that happen to you, even if you have to stay at home forever. I’ll find a way to make you happy, Val. Your Filia mama promises you.”
Filia knelt down in the dirt and wrapped her arms around Val in a comforting embrace. He responded in kind, his hands gently threading through her long blond hair. “Your father…” she began, her voice slightly strained, “your father was a wonderful man. If he was alive today, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he would love you just as much as I do. He would be so proud of you, Val.”
“But I’m just a kid. What have I done to be proud of?” Val asked.
“Oh, he would be proud of you, Val. Very proud. You’re living a life he never had the chance to lead. Your father…had seen many bad things in his life, and he grew up very differently from you. But he didn’t deserve any of it, just like you don’t deserve to be hated by all the other children. He was a very sad man because of it; he was so haunted. Sometimes…I see you get that same sadness in your eyes that your father had, and it…it just makes me worry about you so much, Val. But he would love you and be so happy for you if he were here.”
“Do I look like him?” Val asked excitedly, “I don’t think I look at all like you do, Filia mama. Your wings are different, and your tail is different…”
Filia smiled wryly. “No, you don’t look anything like me, do you?” She chuckled lightly. Thank the gods he was still so naïve. “Yes, you look exactly like your father. The very image. You’ll look just like he did when you grow up, I’m sure of it.”
“Now,” Filia said, releasing her hold and rising to her feet, “I’ll tell you more on the way home, if you want. Now, let’s get home so I can start cooking dinner.”
Val obeyed and again clasped his hand with Filia’s. They began walking yet again, the wind now calming to a light breeze. She sighed, looking down at Val with a small smile. “Those ratty shorts. I don’t know why you insist on wearing them,” she said good-naturedly.
Val shrugged, simply replying, “They’re comfortable.”
“I know, I know. You always say that,” Filia said, still smiling slightly. “I’m sorry I get a little riled up this morning about you wearing them. I just think they don’t make the right impression, that’s all. You understand, don’t you?”
Val shrugged again. “You only have to stand them for a few months or so.”
Filia sighed. “Yes, I suppose that’s true.” There was silence for a few minutes more.
“…You know, I really don’t like the Bartrams,” Val said, “At all. Pernella’s sweet, but I hate the rest of them.”
“Now, Val, you know what I say about the word ‘hate’,” Filia warned, “That’s a strong word to use with people. Dislike is a more proper word. I know the Bartram’s can be…vexing, but they still haven’t done anything so serious as to warrant that word.”
‘Such as massacre an entire race of people,’ Filia thought to herself.
“I know, I know,” Val replied, “But they’re so…horrible.”
“I suppose they are,” Filia agreed, “But it’s strange. Calandra Bartram was so sweet and welcoming when we came.” Filia sighed, shaking her head.
“I don’t want to talk to them anymore,” Val said, “But I’ll miss Pernella.”
“Yes, I will too. But maybe you can see her sometime after school,” Filia suggested. Val was silent. Filia sighed, looking down at her blue gingham dress. Two dusty brown circles stained the front from when she had kneeled in the dirt to hug him. She frowned momentarily, then turned her head up to stare at the road ahead. They had entered into the merchant section of town, which meant home was near. Filia could see their shop sign just barely from here, with the mace and pink vase painted on the wood. It was a rather large structure for its kind, with wattle and daub serving as insulation between the wooden boards that covered the place inside and out. Filia could see Mr. Drumet’s bread shop as well, the store being directly across from her own.
“My legs are beginning to cramp, Filia mama,” Val mentioned, winced, “They feel stretched. Could I just run home real quick? I’ll wait for you.”
“No, no!” Filia said, “It’ll only get worse if you do that. I bet it’s because of all the running you did this afternoon. You have to remember not to overexert yourself; you know how your growing pains always get worse because of that. Just walk normally, Val. No, I see you speeding up! You may not be on your feet as long if you run, but you know that only makes it worse. Come on now, just walk normally and once you get inside you march straight on to bed. And I don’t want to see you move an inch after that, Val. I’ll bring anything you want: pencils, paper, books, anything.”
“Thank you, Filia mama,” Val murmured.
“You’re welcome, Val. Now, see, we’re there. You get into bed and I’ll bring you something to do. What do you want, Val?” Filia opened the heavy wooden door, the ‘closed’ sign sent swinging. Bells tinkled to announce their arrival into the shop.
“Just my pencils and some paper,” Val said. He then entered and quickly passed the numerous shelves full of maces and pottery, walking to the oak desk. Behind it was a door, the young dragon taking its bronze handle in his hand and turning. It opened with a slight creak. Val left the door open for Filia—who was only a few steps behind him—and entered.
Filia stopped to shut the door, watching Val speedily walk down the hallway towards his room. She lingered in the living room for a moment, the weak scent of potpourri wafting to her nose. She smiled; she was glad she had put the dried herbs a few days ago. She then stared disappointedly—as she always did—at the blank, white walls. Filia sighed. She had tried to decorate the room well: a pretty rug, a vase full of wildflowers, and the best furniture she could afford. None did anything to hide the wall’s blandness. She needed something to decorate the walls with, anything to distract her eye. However, she knew hanging ornaments and paintings cost more money than she could spend right now. They had only been here a few years and had only paid off all expenses by the end of the second year. The town was entirely too close-knit, Filia feared; communities like this often did not accept newcomers so easily. Business was well enough, but certainly not as good as it should be. They were too reluctant to buy from unfamiliar people. Cities were often dirty and full of criminal element. She had wanted to live in a small town; all the better to raise—
“Filia mama? Are you coming?” Val inquired loudly from his bed.
“Oh! I’m sorry, Val, I got lost in thought. I’ll be coming in a minute!” she shouted, turning back to walk into the shop. She opened the door and walked to the desk, opening and rifling through the drawers. She then found a stack of unused white paper, the golden dragon carefully taking it in her hands as she shut the drawer with a swing of her hips. She quickly walked back into the house portion of the structure, shutting the door behind her.
“I’m coming! I’m coming!” she called, walking back into the living room and into the hallway. The first door she encountered was Val’s room, the door wide open. He lay on the wooden bed, nestled between dark blue sheets.
She walked towards him, nearly tripping over a stray stack of books. “Here you go, Val,” she said cheerfully, placing the paper in his awaiting hands. He smiled, taking up a large book that had been leaning by the bed. Filia then turned to the pine dresser-drawer. On its top were stacked a random assortment of objects: little books, large books, scraps of used paper, lovely smoothed rocks from forest scavenging, old toys from younger days, and—of course—the pencils. Filia lifted them from the desk.
"You cleaned your room only a few days ago..." she muttered. Val looked up at her sheepishly. Filia sighed. "You've always been such a pack rat. Well, don't worry about it now. You can do that when you're feeling better...maybe tomorrow." She crouched down to hand the colored pencils to him.
Val took them and lay them on his dark blue sheets, the pencils rolling with his movements beneath the sheets. “Thank you, Filia mama.”
“You’re welcome, Val. How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine,” Val replied, purposely nondescript.
She didn’t know why he felt the need to lie like that. “Well… you just stay here; I don’t want it getting worse. Oh, how about I bring you some tea? I’ll make your favorite.”
“That’d be good,” Val responded with a smile.
“Alright, I’ll go make you some tea and start on dinner. I’m counting on you to draw something really nice when I get back,” Filia said with an encouraging grin, turning and walking from his room. She sped through the hallway, passed the living room, and entered into the small dining room which adjoined the kitchen.
“Ah, Oneesan! How’d your visit go?” Jillas piped up from the dining room table, on which was sprawled several metal parts from his latest project. He sat there in the wooden dining room chair—which was far too big for the fox—turning a screwdriver into some mysterious metal contraption.
Filia sighed. “I don’t think we’ll be going back.” She bustled over to her sky-blue tea rack, quickly finding the spice tea amongst the different varieties.
“That bad, eh?” said the fox man, his gloved hands picking up another shiny part from the table. “Them ladies in the village ain’t too nice, if you ask me. But don’t you worry about ‘em, Oneesan. They’re just jealous is all. You know how many men have been talking ‘bout you? And I don’t mean that gossip them ladies are always carrying on with, I mean real nice things, Oneesan. All a’ them ladies are jealous ‘cause they know they ain’t as pretty as you! They don’t like some pretty lady coming out a’ nowhere and stealing all the hearts a’ their men!”
A hint of pink appeared on Filia’s cheeks as she placed the teapot on the stove. “I don’t really do anything to…provoke that kind of attention,” she huffed.
“Yeah, but you don’t have to, Oneesan. Men got eyes.”
“Well, that’s just superficial!” Filia said indignantly, blush still apparent, “I mean, for so many men to focus their attention on a person just because of the way they look. What about how someone thinks and acts? Whatever happened to love? I could simply never associate myself with any of them; anyone who thinks so superficially is worth nothing to me.”
“Surely you don’t mean to stay all by ya’ lonesome forever, Oneesan?” the fox man asked. "It's bad enough you ain't goin' to the Bartram's no more. The other women just ain't friendly to ya at all."
Filia paused for a moment--staring blankly at the tea rack--before turning to answer Jillas.“Better to be alone than with someone I don’t like. I mean…I suppose there are times when I think it would be nice, but… I’m happy like this. Really, all I need is you, Gravos, and Val. Besides, why is it so wrong for me to be alone? What about you Jillas? That a bit of a double-standard, isn’t it?”
“Well, ain’t too many foxes around here,” Jillas replied, scratching the back of his furry head, “I’d prob’ly have to leave the village for that, and I wouldn’t leave Valga—Val for anything. My loyalty to ‘im don’t waver!”
“Well, I feel the same way,” Filia said, happy to have tied up the discussion. Smiling, she took a few steps towards the small cupboard, threw open its door, and began sorting out what would be needed for dinner.
The sound of stone sliding against stone echoed into the darkness. Next came a voice, loud and demanding: “Lighting!” A ball of white light appeared, hovering over a hand of stone and blue-tinted skin. The hand thrust the glowing ball towards the high, stone ceiling, it stopping and hovering there once it reached the top.
“Ah,” he said to himself as he stepped off the narrow stone stairway. Finally, he had found the deepest chamber; he afforded himself a small smile before quickly walking to the rows of bookcases. Many of the books looked as if they were about to crumble with age, their pages sallowed yellow and their covers caked with dust. The shelves themselves were weak and termite-ridden. The air in the chamber was so dusty and cloying that it was a wonder that anything could breathe in such a space. A large wooden table was placed in front of the rows of shelves. Atop it lay a few books, a candle, and a few magical implements covered with dust and cobwebs. Searching through all those books would take him hours, at the very least; of course, that never mattered much to him. Slowly he began scanning the titles, determining which would be useful to him. Books of various languages began accumulating in his arms. Once he could no longer hold anymore, he walked over to the table, swept away whatever dust he could, and dropped them over its wooden surface.
“Here we go again,” he muttered to himself as he sat down and opened one of the numerous tomes.
“Val, supper’s ready!” Filia said, taking another sip of tea from her cup. She had to walk into the hallway for any messsage, long ago learning that he couldn’t hear her from the kitchen no matter how loudly she called. But she was certain he had heard her through the closed door. Besides, sometimes he liked to finish up his sketch before he went to eat.
Filia was about to turn around and walk back to the kitchen when she noticed an odd scratching sound coming from Val’s room. She quirked a brow, taking another sip of her tea. “Val? Are you okay?” She walked to the door, pushing it open with her hand.
The teacup fell to the ground and shattered. Red raspberry tea spread over the floor. Val’s eyes were blank, unmoving, not even looking at what he was drawing. His head was tilted slightly upward, mouth agape. “Val!” Filia screamed. His hand moved feverishly, frantically, as if drawing on its own accord. It continued to trace over the same lines. “VAL!” No trances in the Temple of the Fire Dragon Kind had ever been this deep, this frightening.
Filia thrust her arms around him, shaking him furiously. She forced the drawing board from his hands. His eyes remained blank. Val’s mouth formed silent syllables which Filia could not recognize. His hands now shook uselessly.
“What’s wrong?” Jillas asked as he suddenly rushed in, “What’s wrong wit’ ‘em?”
Filia didn’t know. “Val! Val!” she continued. She shook him desperately. Val’s body bobbed back and forth like a rag doll. “VAL!” Her voice was shrill, piercing. “Val! Gods, Val! Answer me! ANSWER ME!” Her chest heaved.
“Val!” Jillas yelled. The fox put his hands on the boy. “C’mon buddy, wake up! Wake up!”
Only Val’s mouth moved, continuing to form words long dead. She pressed her head to the boy’s shoulder. “Gods, help me,” she whispered helplessly. “Someone help me…Valvazard, Ceipheed, Volphied…”
Val’s eyes slowly began to focus, blinking as comprehension finally returned to his mind. “Filia mama…” he muttered slowly as she realized she was clutching him fiercely. “Filia mama?”
Filia’s head slowly rose, staring back at him with anxious eyes. Her face softened, a smile of relief spreading across her face. “Thank the gods!” she cried, softly hugging the boy to her.
“Ya had us worried there, buddy,” Jillas said with a relieved smile.
“What happened?” Val asked, confused, “I don’t remember doing anything.”
“Ya blanked out there or somethin’. I’m not quite sure.”
Filia sniffled, lifting herself away from Val. She took a deep breath to calm herself, staring at Val as if to assure herself of his well-being. “It was a trance,” she said. “I’ve had to do it many times before. But…they aren’t supposed to be like this.” Filia’s eyes wandered to the ground, the drawing board and paper spread over the floor. A few pieces were stained with raspberry tea, Filia having stepped on the puddle and smeared it in her excitement. Her brows creased. She picked up the paper which he had been drawing on. “Strange…what is this?” she whispered to herself fearfully.
“Looks almost like some weird family crest, it does,” Jillas said, his one good eye peering at the sketch.
“Crest?” Filia asked, her voice a mixture of confusion and dread. The image was clear, even though the lines had been redrawn over and over again. It was circular, with strange markings inside of it. “I don’t understand…”
“Who did that?” Val asked curiously.
“Why, you did!” Jillas said. “Ya must really not remember anythin’.”
Filia carefully folded the piece of paper into a small square. It didn’t seem like there was any way to find out what had just happened. “Val?”
“Yes, Filia mama?”
“Do you remember anything? Anything at all? Did you see anything? Feel anything?”
“Um…” Val thought for a moment. “No. Not really. A second ago I was drawing, and then you were hugging me. I don’t remember anything else.”
Filia sighed. “Well…” she said, pausing, “I suppose there’s not much else we can do for now. Dinner’s on the table, Val.”
A blue hand rasped across a clean, new book. Well, comparatively new. This was the only book he had found that looked like it was made in the past forty years. The rest had nearly fell apart in his hands. "Odd. It doesn't seem like him to be interested in something recent." He flipped it open. "Could it be some recent alchemical discovery?"
His eyes lay upon the familiar script of his great-grandfather, each few pages carefully dated. His face fell. "Didn't seem like the type to keep a diary," he muttered to himself. His eyes scanned across the first entry, and suddenly it occured to him why he wrote it. "I see. Charting his findings. This may prove useful after all."
Reading the diary was a test in itself. In order to find what he needed, he would have to see the true thoughts of his enemy. He would have to either block out his words altogether, or admit that the man he vilified was a person after all. Bared for him were his insecurities, his bottled feelings, his inner moments of ugliness and beauty. Each great discovery was met by his great-grandfather with excitement, then suddenly dissapointment at its failure in a cure. Little notes were written about his servants--their moods, peculiarities, and his earnest but kind way of pushing them forward. His knowledge of magic was vast in all forms, often puzzling the young man reading it. Finally, he came to his great-grandfather's final entry, made only a few days before that infamous day he had deformed his great-grandson with magic.
"When I was younger, I thought I could heal the entire world with magic. When you're the helpless little blind boy who everyone ignores, learning that you could do things others could not was simply amazing. Learning that you could be the hero afterall. But I cannot forget my mother's dissapointment at what hand fate had dealt me. I cannot forget, and I cannot rectify it. She encouraged me to learn magic. She was the one who was proudest of all. I have been able to raise myself from a helpless, sightless boy to a healer with the astral sight. My name ranks amongst the greatest of mages. I have cured thousands. I also cannot forget that she died whilst I was gone, off to learn more spells that might cure my eyes.
"I have lived far too long. Actions and ideas of my youth only haunt me. I ignored others for the sake of my work. No matter my skill, I could not help the ones I cared about. I thought the Elixir of Life would make me happy and youthful forever, never desiring the grave. I have grown old inside this skin.
"I have dug myself a hole too deep. My only choice left is to continue onward.
"As I said, I once thought that magic could fix everything. Magic will not fix you, Zelgadis. It is an aid, not a cure." He quirked a brow, mumbled irritably to himself, and continued reading. "Your problem runs deeper. You remind me sometimes of myself. Nothing both fills me with joy and fear than that knowledge. I hope you find this someday. I hope you someday understand. But I hope--most of all--that you will be a better man than me and be able to cure yourself. Magic is the aid, not the cure. It would soothe my soul if I finally was able to help someone I cared about."
The entry ended. He flipped to new pages, only to find them blank. The book smacked across the opposite wall. "Bastard."
"Can't sleep, Oneesan?" Jillas asked as he walked into the dimly lit kitchen. Filia sat there in her pale blue nightgown, sipping her cup of tea by the light of a single candle.
"Camomile usually gets me to sleep. I'll be fine in no time," she said, daintily taking another sip.
"You've been havin' to drink a lot of it," Jillas remarked, pulling a chair away from the dining table and throwing himself into it.
"You have a hard time sleeping too sometimes."
"That's cuz a' Gravos's snorin'. I can hear it in the next room," the fox nodded, "I can sleep through it usually, but..."
"I could switch your room with one of the storage rooms, if you'd like," she stopped, taking another sip of her tea, "I have no idea why whoever lived here before had so many rooms made."
"Villagers say it was the Hiltraud place. Widow just abandoned it for the boonies, I hear. Ya could ask her, if ya really wanna know."
Filia sighed wearily. "That was the last thing I needed to hear." She looked down into her tea.
"Waddaya mean by that, Oneesan?" The fox quirked a furry brow.
"I just worry about Val. Being reminded of what happened to the Widow's son doesn't exactly improve matters," Filia took another sip of tea, her face turning to irritation. "It's bad enough to feel like we're inheriting that legacy just by living here. The ostracized widow with a 'bewitched' son. Although Hiltraud probably actually had a husband, instead of one she made up."
"I'll admit it's partially me n' Gravos to blame. Village folk ain't used to our kind, and--"
"No, Jillas, don't apologize. It's not you or Gravos's fault. I should have known. I should have given in and just lived in a city. We wouldn't be having these problems there."
Jillas gently placed his paw on Filia's shoulder. "We all tried our best, Oneesan. Ain't no one who knows the future."
Filia said nothing for a moment. She simply stared into the small candle flame, watching it wave and flicker."Sometimes I wonder if I've traded one life of lies for another," she said, setting down the mug of tea on the dining table, "Look at me. I'm a 'human' with an imaginary, dead husband. Val doesn't know anything that's going on, much less that he's a completely different race of dragon than his 'mother.' And only Ceipheed knows what's wrong with Val. I hope to Ceipheed that Ancients age unusually quickly when they're young. I hope to Ceipheed. And I simply don't know what to make of what happened today."
"We couldn't have it any other way, Oneesan. Besides, I bet if Val's real mother was lookin' down on us right now, she'd be darn happy."
Filia sighed, pausing to take another sip of tea. "I think about her...sometimes. I wonder what she was like. Wonder if she looked like Val. What their life was like. You know...things like that."
"Ya know, it's not a crime if Val calls ya just 'Mommy.'" Jillas mentioned.
"But I'm not his mother. She is. I won't tarnish her." Filia sighed as she stared at her empty cup. She lifted herself up from the chair and carried the sullied mug to the sink. "I think I'll try to go to sleep again. The cup of Chamomile should do the trick." Her ruffled nightgown swayed with her movements as she walked to the table, her hand lifting up the candleholder.
"Could ya leave it, Oneesan? I might brew meself some of that stuff. I'll try anythin' to get through that snorin.'"
Filia smiled and put the candleholder back. "Certainly, Jillas. Hope it works for you. Good night!"
"You too, Oneesan!"
Filia walked through the living room, walking slowly to accustom her eyes to the darkness. It took little time for her to see and know her surroundings once her eyes had focused, her years of living in the house making it simple. She reached the hallway and paused for a moment at Val's door. She stared for only a moment before walking on to her own room. 'Don't be silly. Only real mothers have mother's intuition. You're just being irrational, Filia. Nothing's wrong.'
Val stirred, squinty eyes forced open. He winced when consciousness brought back the growing pains in his legs. When the pain flared, it was difficult to concentrate on much else. But the two familiar forms in the darkness demanded his attention. "Uncle?"
"Yes, Val, I'm back again." Val could almost hear the man's smile through his voice. "I wouldn't neglect my favorite little poppet, would I?" The talking figure pushed the second figure forward slightly. They both walked forward, the second seeming more lumbering and reluctant than the first. The second knelt before Val's bed, a spell already forming in his hands. By the light of it, Val could see the man. He had a wrinkle here and there, enough to look roughly middle-aged. Pointed ears poked out of dark hair. He looked solemn as he applied the spell to Val, but the boy had never seen him with any other expression. He had never asked the man's name. The man had never given it either.
All Val could make out of "Uncle" were a pair of tan boots and black pants. "Uncle, why do you always do this? Why can't we play another game instead?"
"I've already told you, Val! It'll make you grow up big and strong. You want that, don't you? I only want the best for my favorite poppet."
"But what is it?"
The man giggled slightly. "That, my dear Val, is a secret."