A short story about Seth Raedwald from the Chronicles of Terra Saint Edmunds.
Year Of The Survivor 230, New East Anglia, Terra Saint Edmunds
In his two hundred years, all of the many brides and grooms Seth had seen were beautiful. The couple waltzing in the center of the room was no exception. The bride was a younger princess from the neighboring country of Midhe Nua while the groom was the son and heir of Leo Raedwald, the wealthy Duke of Finchworth.
Seth could sense the scrutiny of his host’s eyes from across the room. The Duke stood in silhouette with his back to one of the twelve bay windows ringing the hall. For the celebration, the window’s heavy draperies had been replaced with panels of white, airy lace so the room was flooded with light from the suns. The Duke nursed a draft beer while sharing stories with the wedding guests. Earlier between songs, two giggling, teenage girls had approached Seth with glittery eyes. When he smiled and leaned down to speak with them, the Duke set his mug aside and started toward him. Seth signaled his fellow musicians to launch into a tune that delighted the girls so much they twirled across the dance floor together. The Duke nodded to himself, the Duke retrieved his mug, and rejoined his guests’ conversation. However, whenever he sipped, the Duke glowered over his mug at the bandstand.
As the waltz drew to a close, Seth moistened his lips, pressed his bone flower flute against them, and sent his solo soaring over the music. His father had taught him how to make and play bone flower flutes. The two of them would perform music together for his mother whose eyes always misted over when they did. Despite the romantic beginning of his career, he found being an itinerant musician a practical way to hide in plain sight. As he reached the end of his solo, from the corner of his eyes he caught the whish and flurry of a farming couple arriving late with a painted oval-shaped box tied with ribbon. The farmer’s wife set it on the newlywed couple’s table as the farmer ordered a draft beer from a waiter and then headed to where the Duke and his friends talked.
Southwold was one of Seth’s favorite regions of New East Anglia. Most of the country, even the mountainous north, was covered in forests and woodlands. However, the open rolling hills and flat vistas of Southwold served as the center of agriculture and food production. The city itself was a major port for ships from all of Terra Saint Edmunds. The people were unpretentious, working folk who held simple values and were slow to panic. That last characteristic was especially important for Seth’s masquerade. He could journey elsewhere and then return years later and be accepted as the son or the grandson of the blond-haired, blue-eyed youth they’d met previously. To Southwold people life was straightforward, and since no one lives forever, who else would he be?
Applause resonated through the room and prodded Seth from his thoughts. The blushing, happy newlyweds were being shepherded across the marble floor on the arm of the farmer’s wife. When they reached their table, the farmer’s wife pulled out two of the elegant chairs for them, retrieved the oval-shaped gift box, and set it on the bride’s lap. The groom tugged unsuccessfully at the tightly knotted ribbon, causing the roomful of guests to laugh and his friends to chide him good-naturedly about how he might not be successful unwrapping things later that night. Finally, he drew out a pen knife and with great determination, sliced through the ribbon. His friends cheered. The bride gingerly removed the lid of the gift box and folded back the soft cloth lining the interior. Reaching in she lifted a large, opaque orb with a shadowy center and held it up for everyone to see.
“There’s something else in the box,” she told the groom. He pushed back more of the lining and retrieved an ornate stand made of gold. He set it on the table beside them, took the bulbous orb from his bride, and balanced it on the stand. She smiled graciously and asked, “What is it?”
“A precious stone from the far north mountains,” the farmer’s wife answered proudly. “They’re very rare.”
“They’re very strange,” the bride said, squinting at it.
“It’s an egg,” Seth interjected with concern. He had leaped down from the bandstand and was next to the bride and groom. “It is from the far north, but it is a living being, not a stone.”
The surprised groom stammered, “You say it’s an egg?”
The farmer’s wife rested her hands on her hips and pursed her lips in disbelief. Noting his wife’s unsettled expression, the farmer set down his mug and strode over to her side.
“Yes. The shadow inside of it is a neonate,” Seth explained. “It seems to be close to hatching.”
“Is it cute?” the bride asked, her face radiant with hope. “Can we keep it as a pet?”
“Well, some people think it’s cute,” Seth replied hesitantly. “It’s a wiggly worm-type thing that eventually grows so large that this entire room couldn’t hold it, and it can fly.”
The bride scrunched up her face in disgust as the farmer objected loudly, “That can’t be true. The peddler said it was called a veil stone. It mimics that…thing…that half-birds worship.”
Seth turned to the bride and groom, pressed the palms of his hands together pleadingly, and beseeched, “Please. Let me have it and take it somewhere it can hatch safely.”
“Those half-birds are ridiculous. It’s sacrilegious to even suggest the things they do —those creatures are not what crossing through the veil means,” the groom countered with revulsion. He studied the gift and then looked at Seth and shook his head. “The stand alone is worth a fortune.”
“I don’t want the stand. I only want to help the creature inside the egg. I don’t have much money on me, but I will give you everything I have, and send you more. I have friends who will happily contribute if you would please just give me time to contact them,” Seth promised. “Please.”
“I don’t think —” the groom began.
“It’s moving!” the bride cut him off as the egg wobbled in the stand. “The musician is right. It’s starting to hatch!”
The egg split and the tiny nose and antennae of a slug-type neonate worked their way out. The bride shrieked and smacked the flat of her hand against the side of the egg, sending it spinning to the floor. Seth grabbed for the falling egg, missed, and then dropped to his hands and knees to crawl after it.
The groom stepped toward Seth as if to intervene, but the bride collapsed against him in a faint. Sweeping her in his arms, the groom conveyed his bride from the grand hall and up the stairs to their private quarters. However, by then her hysterics had engulfed the room, and people anxious to vacate grabbed onto family and friends.
“Don’t move,” Seth cried loudly. “Please, don’t move. It’s small. You might step on it and hurt it.”
“That’s the point,” the farmer said harshly. “To flatten the creepy thing.”
“Here it is,” a man shouted. Everyone turned.
The tiny neonate flexed, squirmed, and rippled slowly toward one of the doors. The farmer darted toward it. Seth dove at the Baby Veil. Just as his right hand scooted it sideways, the heel of one of the farmer’s hard, dress shoes stomped down. Seth screamed. The farmer smashed Seth’s hand two more times before the Duke of Finchworth and three of the guests grabbed his arms to haul him from the room.
Seth cradled his broken hand against his chest, and frantically searched the floor, crying desperately, “Where is it? Where did it go?”
“I have it right here,” the farmer’s wife said as she straightened from a crouching position. She walked toward Seth and gestured with her cupped hand. Seth stumbled, got his balance, then approached her cautiously. The terrified Baby Veil was curled into a tight ball. “Take it and leave, before the others come back. They’ll crush it and hang you as a heretic. There’s no time to fix your hand. You’ll have to make the best of it on the road somewhere. Hold out your left hand so that I can tip it into your palm.”
“Thank you,” Seth muttered as he clutched the Baby Veil protectively.
“You need to know that the peddler has more of them,” the farmer’s wife said. “A basket full. She said that she had already been to Loystott and was going to follow the coast up to Pemberley-on-the Sea.”
“How long ago?” Seth questioned. The pain in his hand made it difficult to think clearly.
“We bought it two days ago,” she replied. She waved her hand toward the exit. “She’s at Brightonbrim by now, showing her merchandise to people vacationing on the ocean.”
Seth thanked her again, surveyed the room for threats, and then raced from the hall, down the drive, and onto the road. He paused to check the locations of the two suns so he could determine which direction was north and then broke into a run.
He kept going until his leg muscles burned. Seeing a small grove of trees and a brook, he veered off. Finding a circle of rocks and boulders arranged as if for travelers to rest, he tucked the neonate underneath a small ledge that jutted out from one of the boulders, then grabbed handfuls of grass and leaves that he piled next to the baby. Finally, he carried water from the stream in his left hand, allowed the neonate to drink, and then sprinkled it across the neonate so that it wouldn’t dry out from the ordeal it had suffered.
Once the baby was cared for, he exhaled slowly, closed his eyes, pulled his feet up onto the boulder where he sat, and dropped his forehead against his knees. He hurt so much and wished that Giric would come help. Giric always knew when Seth needed him, seemingly with nothing more than a thought on Seth’s part, but since most of the time, Seth was not conscious, he was not certain how the Veil knew to come to his rescue. He wondered how far away Giric was and whether he could come right away.
After a moment, he dismissed his thoughts, lowered himself to the ground, shuddering from pain as he did, and then sang softly, “The sky is open, tiny child —”
“Raedwald,” the Duke of Finchworth called, interrupting the prayer.
Seth’s head sprung up at the sound of his name. Seeing Finchworth’s hulking frame looming, he scooped up the Baby Veil, secured it in a pocket, and lunged to his feet.
“I should have recognized you. Seth, right?” Finchworth continued. “Your hair and eyes are pure Raedwald, and you don’t look a day over sixteen. That’s how old you were when it all started, isn’t it?” He tipped his head as if expecting an answer, but went on talking without waiting for one. “Do you have feathers, too? Mine are across my lower back and abdomen, and very pale like our Eolian ancestor,” the Duke said as he pulled an ornamental, yet very sharp, dagger and ominously strode forward.
He backed away as Finchworth continued talking. He wondered how he could get away. Open fields are difficult to hide in and Finchworth would be familiar with any spots that might offer concealment. He dipped his head in a slight, polite bow and responded, “Your Grace.”
“We’re what? Cousins?” the Duke asked.
“Several times removed.” Seth stepped backward, scanning the area worriedly for a means of escape.
“Well, cousin, or as King Noah was fond of calling you, Spawn of Ciph,” Finchworth said, feigning nonchalance. “You made a mistake coming to Southwold. We don’t coddle people who are traitors to the rightful king.”
“I am not and have never been a traitor,” Seth objected, stepping backward. “I never raised my voice, let alone arms, against my brother or any king since. Noah was too full of hatred and greed to be honest about the succession or about my lack of aggression toward him. It seems as if those attitudes have been handed down to you. We are all family. We are all Raedwalds.”
“That may be so,” the Duke conceded. “However, every generation in my line of descent from King Noah has been warned against you from the moment we’re born:
He has the Survivor’s blessing and control over death.
Be forewarned and take care of our brother Seth.
I admit it does not speak well to poetics, but it achieves its goal of being memorable. Let me be straightforward. You’re not welcome here. These are simple people who would find it hard to comprehend a son of the Survivor who never dies. You’re a myth. I’m going to be sure you stay that way.”
“I’ll go,” Seth agreed. He supported the wrist of his broken hand with his healthy one. “I was already leaving, I simply needed to rest while I thought about where I could find a healer to set my hand. I don’t want to lose the use of it.”
“Oh, you’ll lose the use of it,” Finchworth sneered and then laughed as he came closer. “And your other hand and both legs and anything else I can think of on the way to revealing the truth about your resurrection. No reason I can’t have a little fun since no one else will know, is there?”
Seth clasped his good hand across the pocket holding the Baby Veil, spun away from the Duke, and took off running. Behind him, Finchworth roared with amusement.
After several meters, Seth heard a horse’s hooves and the Duke’s laughter growing closer. He glanced behind him. As he did, his left foot wedged in a hole camouflaged by vegetation and sent him crashing to the ground. He turned sideways as he fell and yanked his shirt forward so the pocket with the Baby Veil would be cushioned against his chest. The snapping of the bones in his leg was audible. His shoulder smashed into the dirt and his temple and forehead struck a cluster of rocks. He lay still, his eyes unblinking. The blood that had seeped from his nostrils pooled on his upper lip and stopped.
The Duke of Finchworth slowed his dun mare and rode the horse in a careful circle around Seth. Finally, he dismounted, walked to the injured man, and felt for a pulse. Shaking his head in disappointment, he kicked Seth’s ribs and stomach in frustration. As he swung back into his saddle to ride home, he told the horse, “So much for nursery rhymes. He’s definitely dead.”
Several minutes passed and then the Baby Veil wiggled out of the pocket, squeezed between the fingers of Seth’s unresponsive hand, and rose up on its tail. A vibrating sound emerged from the neonate. Thunder rumbled in the distance and streaks of lightning flashed through the sky. The baby danced more eagerly when Giric the Veil landed in the open field and made his way to Seth. Giric dipped his antennae toward the Baby Veil and waited while it wiggled up the stem.
After the neonate was on board, the muscles on Giric’s side twitched, quivered, and bulged outward. A pair of hands protruded, and then with a popping noise, the Ghost of Seth’s father Ciph stepped from the Veil. Even though Ciph was no longer corporeal, he paused to shake out his feathers and flex his wings. As he did, the Ghost of Seth’s father-in-law Wells Gainor emerged next to him, and the Ghost of Ciph lamented, “I will never get used to seeing him this way. Did you know I was there the first time? When Noah stabbed him in the back? He died in my arms.”
“That was when he went back to visit his mother when she was so ill. My daughter Erin was beside herself with grief,” The Ghost of Wells replied. “I can’t imagine what this must be like for you. Let’s get him ready.”
The two ghosts hurried to the mangled youth. While the Ghost of Ciph removed Seth’s boots, the Ghost of Wells retrieved his belt, his knife, and all the personal effects he could find. They arranged them in a pile a few meters away. The Ghost of Ciph took a last look at his son and then, with a nod to the Ghost of Wells Gainor, they walked through Giric’s side, were absorbed, and the side of the Veil closed.
Giric crawled across Seth and allowed the ooze along his outer membrane to slather and enclose his friend. When he released Seth, the broken bones were knit together, the contusions and lacerations healed, and the brain injury mended.
Seth sat up, coughing and choking, then whispered, “Thank you, Giric.”
They were Brothers of the Dance, having bonded when the gastropod was a neonate and Seth a fetus in the Survivor’s womb. Seth leaned forward, hugged the gastropod, and embraced him. “Will the baby be all right?”
“That is my fervent wish,” Giric responded inside Seth’s mind. “Prepare yourself and climb on.”
Seth stripped down to his bare skin. Kneeling by the pile of personal effects, he wrapped his belt, his knife, his boots, and everything else first with his trousers and then with his shirt. Satisfied nothing was uncovered that might rub against the membrane of Giric’s skin and injure the Veil, Seth rested the pack on his shoulder and then climbed carefully up on Giric’s head so that he could hold onto one of the Veil’s antennae. Spotting the Baby Veil, Seth scooped it into the palm of his hand.
Giric widened and flattened. A humming sound surrounded them, and then they were airborne.
Seth started the prayer again:
The sky is open, tiny child
The sky is beckoning, tiny babe
Open your heart
Spread out into the air
Rise and rejoice, holy newborn,
He repeated the prayer twice. When a tendril of cloud unrolled across the sky, Seth opened his hand so the neonate could spread itself wider and thinner. The wisp embraced the Baby Veil and nestled it inside the cloud. Seth watched as the baby’s cloud moved away from the other clouds and headed toward the Veils’ mountain home.
“You need to go after that peddler and get the rest of the eggs. If she’s sold them, they could be all over New East Anglia by now,” Giric commented.
“I know,” Seth replied softly.
Thank you for reading my story. xo
This tale is a companion story based on my books in Chronicles of New East Anglia: The Second-Best King, The Wronged Prince, and The Dying Hero. All three are available at Amazon, B&N, and Kobo.
© 2022 Vera S. Scott