She ran the stone one last time along the edge of her sword, restoring its former sharpened perfection. It’d been a single year’s passing since it had been used. From such a distance it was of little use to her, hence the blade had become blunted. In the mountains that she left, there had been intrusions, events that had come to pass that were far from her control. The will that she could not bend darkened the forest even more than she thought possible. Her sons, who stayed behind, had seen a side of human nature that no child should ever see. It was time to stop the madness. Her youngest son, in particular, needed protection that she could not provide from that distance.
She stood, testing the strength in her arm. That, too, had become soft, but the memory of how to rule her kingdom was etched in her fibers, ready to be summoned at will. And now that time had come. He was coming home.
~ ~ ~ ~
Had it only been one year? He scrubbed his hand over his face. So much had happened in that time, most of which he’d rather forget. They’d be safe, she told them, until she prepared the way and summoned them, but no sooner had she left, than the shadow awoke. Without his mother’s protective energy, the darkness filled the crevices of the forest, threatening to steal his soul. The landscape had changed in a few short weeks after she had left. No longer were there stable paths lined with hope and promises of a beautiful tomorrow. The footing had become unpredictable, with no clear vision of what the next moment might hold.
If it were not for the quiet hum of her lingering energy pulsating beneath his feet, he would have fallen many moons ago. Oftentimes he would press his cheek to the ground and weep, struggling to drink in the light that she had left behind.
The shadow had raised its head time and time again, lashing out at him, crying out for her. Their savior, their strength. So far away.
The villagers converged and surrounded him, took him away, and offered protection when she could not. Though kind and generous, ‘twas not enough. He missed the connection, however frayed and blackened the threads were, for it was all he knew. Little by little he found his way back to the forest edge. But nothing had changed. The never-ending pulsating force still beat strong. Too many nights he sat, watching from afar as the shadow sat alone, tipping his head back, letting loose a soul-crushing howl, so full of sorrow, pain, and loneliness.
“It is not what we once knew,” his older brother said one night.
He clung to his brother, his only ally in the unrecognizable terrain. Though not much older, he still exuded stability and comfort.
“The forest is deceiving,” he continued to say. “The shadow hides well within the darkness. No, little brother. It is beyond repair now, and I would have you stay with me.”
So his brother led him away that very night.
“I miss her,” he said, blinking back the pain in his heart.
“As do I, but we will be as one, until we unite with her again.”
Displaced from the home they knew, they ventured out, and took to honing their skills of survival. Left to fend for themselves, their minds and shoulders broadened with seeking the truth and wielding their swords. No longer thin and timid, together they became a force to behold.
At long last, the summoning arrived. Settled now into his routine, he looked around. Could he truly leave everything and everyone behind? It had become a place he so desperately wished to escape, yet so desperately wanted to remain. He was strong now. He had proved that to himself. He could stay. But there was no choice. She had made that decision for him.
With heavy feet and saddened hearts, they walked together to the portal that would take him home.
“You’ve always been there for me,” he said.
“And will always be there for you.”
They clasped forearms and stood awkwardly for a few moments before pulling each other into an embrace.
“You behave yourself, little brother. Do not give her trouble.”
He swiped his sleeve across his eyes. “When will you join us?”
“As soon as I can,” his brother said, ruffling his hair. “I promise.”
He nodded. A shuddering breath and quivering lip betrayed his confidence.
“Go. She is waiting.”
Grasping the hilt of his sword, he was ready to face the adventure before him. There he would learn of different clans, different languages, a new way of life, completely leaving behind all that he has known.
The portal shimmered before him. His mother, the pillar in his life, stood on the other side, her image steadfast through the wavering fabric of worlds. A smile that promised a different path for him encouraged him onward. A smile that reminded him of her comfort, her strength, and that he would not be fighting battles alone.
Her arms extended into a welcoming gesture, beckoning him to join her. His shoulders squared in response, for though he was eager to see her, he was too old, too changed for such emotional release. Taking one step forward, he stoically reined in the feelings that unexpectedly bubbled to the surface. A sense of urgency swirled in his legs and feet and the corners of his mouth lifted against his will. The burden of the past, the nights of burning tears melted away into a lightness he had not known since he was a child.
He turned to his brother and removed his scabbard from his waist. “I won’t need this anymore,” he said, handing his sword to his brother. “I’m going home.”
He stepped through the portal and quickened his footsteps until he found himself surrounded by his mother’s arms.
She looked to the portal and held out her hand, a question forming on her lips.
Her oldest smiled through simmering eyes and shook his head.
“Soon, Mama. Soon.”