Found- Part Thirty-Four
Read parts one through thirty-three here.
The air pressed against me, thick and hot, despite the cool cover of trees. As we forged through the dense woods, following the starry path, a sense of dread bloomed within me. I did not want to find what I knew we’d find at the end of the trail.
“How did you meet him?” Dasha asked, unable to endure the heavy silence.
“He, uh… He found me. After I escaped the castle.” I answered without looking back. I listened to the rhythmic crunching of the leaves beneath as we pressed through the woods. Every few steps were accentuated with a loud thunk that seemed out of place. It took a few moments to remember it was coming from me.
“He helped you?”
“Why did you leave him?”
I turned the question over in my mind. Why had I left him? But I found the answer came much easier than I thought it would.
“To help him.”
After what felt like several eternities and mere moments all at once, we came upon a clearing. And my heart fell to my feet. The once sparkling pond, surrounded by dancing trees and caressed by gentle breezes, seemed to be devoid of color. The water was still and gray. Whatever calming presence that had once lived here was gone. It was winter with no beauty.
Beyond the murky water and dead meadow was his home. It, too, had bled away any color or mirth that it may have once held. I saw it then as I would have seen it upon arriving—through the eyes of someone with no hope. In my memory, this place was Magical, bright, and warm. But now, the veil was lifted. It was dark, lonely, and desperate. It was a reflection of the man who lived here.
“Is that it?” Cyrus asked. I had forgotten they were there.
“Yes,” I choked out.
“Then let’s go. We have no time to waste.” Cyrus pushed ahead, and Dasha was close behind him.
“I can’t,” I whispered. Cyrus and Dasha looked back. Dasha’s eyes held concern, but Cyrus’s gaze held only steel determination.
“I know,” he said. “But I’m sorry. You have to.”
When I didn’t move, Cyrus came back to me, his body rigid with cloaked panic. I shrank away from him. He won’t hurt me, I repeated to myself. But you could hurt him, another voice responded. Shut up.
“Everything in me wants to grab you by the wrist and drag you around this pond and into that cabin—”
“That would not end well for any of us.” A voice called from across the water.
He was smaller than I remembered. He wasn’t this fragile old man that spoke to us now. He couldn’t be.
“Why don’t you all come inside?” He shuffled back to his cabin, and the three of us followed. Our movements were stiff and hollow. Or maybe just mine. I followed as though an invisible force pulled me along.
Calum’s home had changed. The same grand cauldron filled the center of the room, but the fire beneath didn’t crackle and whisper like it did before. There were no dancing shadows or bubbling potions. It was cold and desolate. And so was he.
“Sir, we came from Haven’s End because—”
“I know why you’ve come, Healer,” Calum addressed Cyrus as he sank into a chair by the cauldron. “The tree has changed. Its Magic is fading.” He then turned his attention to me, and a slow smile spread across his face. “You seem to be well. Much better than when I last saw you. I’m relieved.”
“You’re not well,” I blurted out. He chuckled.
“No, I’m not. Please, why don’t you all have a seat. I’m sure you have much to say.”
“Sir—” Cyrus started again.
“Please, it’s Calum.”
“Calum, we don’t have much to say. We know the Enchantment is dying, and we know what that means. For you.”
“We need you to come back to Haven’s End with us,” Dasha added. “So, we can care for you and make you well again. We’ve often wondered why you didn’t come and stay with us. We can give you a home and look after you. You won’t have to be alone here.”
Calum stared at her with lifeless eyes. Those eyes that once searched me for my secrets, that once held a power to find the things you wanted to hide. Now those eyes were dull and empty. Magic didn’t live there anymore.
“It’s too late,” I said. Everyone looked at me. “You’ve already gone.”
Dasha and Cyrus stood up in alarm.
“What does that mean?” Cyrus asked.
“When Arion was dying, right here with me, he asked me to look after Haven’s End. His last words were, ‘Keep them safe for as long as you can.’ Then he left me. The pain I felt shifted into anger. Which, in turn, I directed at you. He used the last of his strength and Magic to cast that Enchantment. He should have reserved that strength. I recast the spell on the tree, but I added something else.”
“You made it so the leaves would change as a warning,” Cyrus whispered.
“I knew someone would come,” Calum said. “When I see you two, people saved by the Enchantment, I see him. I see Arion smiling at me. I’m not sure if that brings me peace or torment.” Calum’s eyes misted over with old tears.
“You loved him,” Dasha said.
“I did. Mutual doom brought us together. We kept each other alive. On the more dire days, he would sing. He had a horrible singing voice, but it kept me going. I had to live one more day so I could hear him sing.”
Cyrus, Dasha, and I sat around the dying embers beneath an empty cauldron. Calum seemed to fade right before my eyes.
“Please forgive me,” he continued. “I should have gone to Haven’s End. Served you all as Arion would have done. As he wanted me to do. But all I could think of whenever I tried to go is that he chose you over me. He chose Haven’s End over me. As my act of atonement, I added a warning to the Enchantment.”
“You made it so the leaves would change when you are dying. The Enchantment keeps you alive long enough for someone to come,” Cyrus mused.
“Oh no,” Dasha gasped. “When we leave, you’ll…”
“Yes. I will.”
All the warmth left my body. I did this. This is my fault. Calum looked at me, responded to my silent anguish. He looked at Cyrus and Dasha.
“Couldn’t you teach us how to redo it?” Dasha asked. Her eyes were glassy with fear. “I’m not Magical, but Cyrus and Nox are. They… they are strong. I’ve seen what they can do. Perhaps they would be able to recreate it.” As she made her desperate plea, Cyrus hung his head in defeat. “Please,” she whispered. “It can’t be over. It just can’t.”
My breath came in sharp, jagged pants. Anger? Fear? I couldn’t place the feeling.
“Can you both leave me alone with him?” I asked. My voice was strangled. There was a large lump in my throat that fought for some kind of release.
“Please. Just for a few minutes.”
Dasha stood and walked outside without a word. Cyrus followed, his eyes to the floor. I waited until they left. Calum looked at me and I caught a flash of who he had been. Bright eyes filled with Magic and mischief, a strong and young sorcerer once lived in this withered shell. It was that Calum that smiled at me.
“It’s good to see you, Nox.”
Featured Image by Free-Photos, courtesy of Pixabay