Yesterday I posted a piece of flash fiction for last week’s FFfAW challenge. As I mentioned there, I’d previously written another version that had to be abandoned as it was far too long for the 175 word limit. Well, I’ve decided to share it with you anyway. Technically, it’s still a piece of flash fiction, at 769 words long, so it shouldn’t take too long to read.
Yesterday’s story was from the viewpoint of the knight, Sir Jonin. It might be best if you read that one first. Today’s story is from the viewpoint of his friend Mikael, and hopefully will answer a few of the questions raised by the shorter piece…
The Burden of Truth
“And so we bade farewell to the grateful villagers, and mounted the fey beast, finally setting ourselves towards home.” Sir Jonin’s voice rose and fell dramatically as he neared the end of his tale, his gestures broad and extravagant. The younger knights watched, transfixed. “That it carried two made no difference to the creature. It was so swift, so smooth, we could have been riding the wind itself.”
Mikael gritted his teeth and tuned out his friend’s voice. He’d heard the story – and its multitude of variations – many times before. Each telling set him on edge. Unlike everyone else present, he actually knew the truth in the the tale.
More so than even Jonin.
There were a few undeniable facts, and these were common knowledge: the pair had been missing for several months after the battle of Ebden Moor – presumed dead – only to suddenly reappear, riding together on a mysterious steed that afterwards vanished. Anything beyond these few points was subject to Jonin’s wild imagination, and liable to change with each retelling.
It was the truth that set anxiety clawing at Mikael’s chest.
For the truth was that, whilst Jonin had definitely been present during their adventure all those years earlier, he hadn’t exactly been aware of what was happening. Mikael shuddered. The memory of blood staining his hands as his best friend bled out against the stones would remain with him forever. Jonin had remained blissfully unaware throughout it all.
His friend hadn’t seen how his blood caused the standing stones to glow, opening a gateway into the Shadowlands. He hadn’t seen the way the world shifted, twisting in kaleidoscopic fragments, until the landscape held a faintly alien appearance, and the air shimmered with magic. He hadn’t been witness to Mikael’s desperate pleas for help as he held his dying friend.
Nor had he been witness to the bargain Mikael had struck with the Faerie Lord who’d come to their aid. The other man had only regained awareness as they rode their benefactor’s obviously fey steed back into the mortal realms, the wound in his side healed as if it had never existed.
To them, their magical encounter had spanned mere minutes. For the rest of the world, however, they’d been absent for months. Never one to miss such an opportunity, Jonin had proceeded to fill the missing time with a myriad of imagined adventures – each wilder than the one before.
Mikael leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes as the hubbub of the feast washed over him. Men and women talked and laughed, their antics growing increasingly rowdy as brimming tankards were downed. Faint strains of music barely carried over the chatter. The air was filled with the mingled odours of rich food, wood smoke, and too many unwashed bodies. Jollity held sway.
It had been some time since Mikael had felt like joining in with such revelry. But tonight wasn’t a night when he was free to drown his sorrows – not when he and his young wife were the guests of honour. It was meant to be such a happy occasion. He forced a smile, a laugh, struggling to hold a cheerful mask in place, even as his mind drifted back to that fateful day.
At the time he’d thought the deal to be worth it. He and Jonin were more than just friends, they were brothers in arms. Brothers in everything except blood. He would have given anything to save him. When the Fae had named his price, Mikael hadn’t hesitated before agreeing.
Mikael gazed across the room at his beloved’s glowingly gravid form. She smiled tenderly, rubbing a hand across her stomach.
Now, he wasn’t so sure.
He rose to his feet and hurriedly left the hall, needing to be alone. He couldn’t stand the thought of sitting there a moment longer, faking happiness. Not when he knew that his world would soon shatter. A moment later he heard the sound of heavy footsteps following him.
He halted, closing his eyes. Of course Jonin had followed. Mikael sighed, leaning against a tapestry covered wall as bone deep weariness swamped him. He’d sworn himself to silence, had determined the other man didn’t need to know the price he’d paid. For years he’d kept his vow, whilst the payment remained in some indistinct future. Only now was his certainty wavering.
They’d always had each other’s backs. He wasn’t sure he could face the trials ahead on his own.
But how could he tell his best friend that the price of his recovery had been the life of his first born child?
Word count – 769 words