Authors: C.A Hines
The Eventide Child
The Eventide Child © December, 2015
By: C.A. Hines
Arkadia Chronicle Press, Orange California
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For more information contact: http://www.arkadiachronicle.com
author email [email protected]
Book cover design by: Red Velvet (https://www.artstation.com/artist/red_velvet)
Edited by: Melissa Scott
Arkadia Chronicle Press, First Edition: May 2016
The Eventide Child is dedicated to my unbelievable friends and family who supported me through this endeavor. Likewise, this book is especially dedicated to my mother who sadly passed away December 3rd 2015 while I was still writing the very first draft. It has been a long and incredible journey writing this book. I also dedicate this book to the readers and request that you review the book whether you love it or hate it so that I might learn.
Thick ash choked the air.
She found it increasingly difficult to breathe as each labored step carried her farther and farther away, rushing as fast as her small legs could manage. Plumes of shadow lay ahead; the light of the sun extinguished and hidden. It truly seemed to be the end of times.
“Hurry!” he shouted. Her small hand clutched a much larger one. The earth trembled. Flickers from the fires illuminated the distance. She tried to cry out, but no sound escaped her. Body collided against body as the flood of refugees pushed onward, her hand grasping as tightly as possible to that larger one lest she find herself swept under the tide of human flesh.
Just a little more.
There was no reprieve. Only shade. It chased after her, its long tendrils reaching behind her.
“I’m scared!” she finally cried, but her voice was lost in the sea of chaos. The protective hand only clenched her tighter, dragging her along. The trembling grew stronger. The darkness crept closer, and now pain burned her legs and lungs as ash fell upon the countryside like gray snow. This could be nothing short of the apocalypse.
She had taken comfort in the flickers of the torches, but that comfort was gone now. The ground shook harder. She heard screaming in the distance in a tongue she didn't recognize. She hoped to never hear it again; and then, there was the wailing. Grief stricken wailing. Some of those running alongside her collapsed, consumed by the darkness as others simply chose to lay down and die. But not she. Never she.
“We’re almost there!” the voice cried ahead of her.
She didn’t think it possible that there could ever be a there, that there could ever be a respite from this madness. The pain grew sharper, the absence of the sun’s warm embrace suddenly seemed all too familiar. Too cold. Too sore. She tried to breathe in, but the ash allowed no relief. Swirling mists of darkness rushed forward, her fingers growing weak
“Hold on!” the distant voice cried, slipping further still from her mind. The darkness crept closer. It enveloped her, consumed and comforted her. It felt like a gentle cloak had suddenly wrapped around her body and she simply let go, fingers releasing that strong hand as the figures drifted away and her eyes closed.
“Alexandra!” A voice suddenly bellowed, jostling her from her slumber.
She toppled off the bed, her limbs tangled in blanks that collapsed a around her, a squeak of distress escaping her mouth as she collided with the hard ground.
“Huh wha ... I’m a-awake,” she lied. Her arms flailed around as she tried to pry the blankets from her body. Sunlight bled through the thatched roof of her room. She had that strange dream again last night, as she did every so often. The older she got, the more vivid the dream became.
“Don’t ya lie to me, girl,” the voice replied, drawing Alexandra from her thoughts as she brushed herself off.
“I’ll be ready in a moment, father!”
The older man beyond her door gave a disgruntled grunt. It didn’t take long for her to get dressed as she tossed on her simple tunic and pulled her hair back. It was a dirty rag of a tunic, to be certain, but she was grateful for what she had. There was little of note to the room in the thatched hut where she resided. The room contained only her clothes and the bed of straw and wood that she slept on.
“I’m ready.” She emerged from the room as she reached up to fuss with her hair, shifting the odd strand out of her face.
“By the Gods! Hurry up, girl. We haven’t all day,” Petros barked. Her father's skin was old, like worn leather, and showed the scars of a man who once knew battle. However, he was more a shadow of what he once was. He was pale and gaunt, with a stubbly white beard that wrapped around his chin and matched the snowy white mane receding from his forehead. Her father never spoke much of the wars.
“Nnn... Where’s mother,” Alexandra asked.
“At mass.” Petros grumbled, biting into a chunk of bread and chewing. Her father preferred to keep to the Old Gods, but respected his wife well enough to tolerate her faith in this New God.
“There’s work to do, stop lollygagging about. Pay your respects to the Family Gods, girl. Hurry up.”
Alexandra groaned. She moved deftly across the floor to the small altar, bowing her head as she paid her respects to the Family Gods before she withdrew.
“Better.” The older man tossed her a roll. Alexandra flashed a cheeky little grin before she took a bite and swallowed.
There was nothing special about Alexandra—she was normal in all aspects. From her olive skin, tanned from the days in the field to her sun-kissed brown, disheveled hair.
“Jupiter’s Beard ... already fourteen summers old, Alexandra. You’ll be gettin’ suitors soon.”
“Geh! Please! They’ll all run when they see an old war horse like you, father.”
Petros laughed for a moment before his demeanor changed. He took a bite of his roll again, chewing quietly. She knew why he stilled. It was common for girls of her age and position to wed. She’d be leaving, soon, and he would be alone. Her brothers died in the war, and her mother threw herself at the mercy of her Messiah.
“I heard the Governor was going to close the Abbey. Neleos says it’s because the Monks keep taking young men in who want to avoid military service. They say if we throw away our worldly concerns, their Messiah will come save us all.”
Alexandra mused between bites of bread as she shuffled her feet. Her father seemed less than amused by the entire prospect, grunting his displeasure at the line of thought. Secretly, she knew the idea of her mother bringing her religion into their house annoyed him. Ever the superstitious man, Petros worried he would incur the ire of Jupiter if he allowed such nonsense to continue.
The roll was gone and he gave a small nod as he rose to his feet once more, a scarred hand beckoning Alexandra to do the same. “Don’t dally, girl. Work to be done.”
She groaned as she rose, reaching for her staff before the two set out.
Arkadia, her home. Located upon the Peloponnesian peninsula which lay separated from Greece by the Gulf of Corinth, her most famous city being the old City State of Sparta. Arkadia, however, was different from Sparta. It was an almost idyllic, pastoral land. There was a small village not far from her home, but beyond that were rolling meadows and small hills.
“I’ll take north. You go south,” Petros muttered and she obeyed.
She kept the staff hung over her shoulders, her arms draped over it as she marched. The herd of sheep following close by as they grazed in the pasture. Typically, this was the work of women, but some old goats like her father stubbornly refused to enter a political or merchant career and instead became shepherds. In Arkadia, the men went to war and the women watched over the land. Course, that was only how it used to be. Now there just weren’t any men left, plenty of younger lads and older men but very few men her age to choose from. Years of war with the Shahzad Empire had long depleted Arkadia of its young men, leaving the small province with infirm veterans and young boys not long removed from their mother’s teat. To make matters worse, the monks tempted young men with promises of milk and honey in the afterlife if they embraced their Messiah and forsook earthly desires.
Minutes bled into hours as the sun steadily rose into the sky, Alexandra kept to her flock as she passed the time and watched the animals graze. There was little to the work, and often it was tedious. Today however, was a more auspicious day. Her father whistled in the distance and she perked up, herding the sheep along their path.
“They’ve been well fed.” It was time to shear them. Well, sort of. Petros would shear the sheep while Alexandra went through the process of collecting the milk from the animals once they were returned to their paddock. In hard times such as these one made due with the provisions they had available. The wool they traded, the milk consumed. Her father often made trips to the Capital to sell their wool, but she’d never been allowed to attend.
“Will you really take me with you this time?”
Petros had long promised that on her fourteenth birthday, he would allow the girl to accompany him to the Capital. He paused mid-shear, leaning back before giving a deep sigh.
“I suppose, but you’ll have to stay close—the city isn’t like out here, Alexandra. It’s dangerous. The people don’t look after one another like they do here.”
She almost jumped for joy, her heart fluttering in her chest at the prospect. The city! She’d never seen it before! Father always said it was far too dangerous of a journey, and Mother always needed her around to help tend the house.
“Who knows, Father, maybe I’ll find a suitor.”
He still didn’t seem amused by the prospect. The day grew longer as they continued their tedious task, bundling the wool and securing the sheep within their paddock. Alexandra had just finished securing the last of the wool into their cart when she heard a familiar whistling tune. In their absence, Uncle Caius had agreed to tend the flock. Caius wasn’t actually her uncle, but had served alongside Petros in the Legion. They’d fought together. Bled together. They almost even died together, but Caius was one of few men Petros dared to trust.
It was to be a night of festivities, while Alexandra and her father would head out first thing in the morning. Her discipline faded away as she tore from the cart and bounded the dirt road in time to see Caius.
“Uncle! You made it!” she called out, her voice sweet as honey and teeming with excitement. Caius gave a simple nod. Old habits seemed to die hard for Caius, who had maintained his muscular physique over the years and still wore his hair short and his face clean. Like Petros, Caius bore scars that told tales of battles long since fought. Looking at him, you’d hardly think he was pushing sixty-five summers. Petros followed close behind her a stern look on his face. His glaring eyes made her wither a bit as she quickly ducked behind Caius and peered out from behind him at her father. His expression quickly melted when he caught sight of the befuddled Caius.
“Thank you again, Caius.”
“It’s nuffin, Petros. Sheep. Legionnaires. Is there really a difference?” His smile was broad, even earning a laugh from Petros for that remark. She always liked it when her father laughed. There was something about the sound that comforted her. She couldn’t recall the last time Petros had visited, but his visits were always fun. She loved to sit around the fire and listen to the two men swap tales of their days in the legion. Usually Mother would prepare supper for them, but it seemed that task would fall to her as Mother was still at the abbey.
“We’ve just finished up,” Petros gestured toward the cart. “Come inside and relax, old friend.”
Alexandra trailed behind the pair of men, moving into the small hut they called home. There wasn’t much that she could make in terms of a meal but fortunately, there wasn’t exactly much to go around. Petros and Caius bellowed with laughter and traded wine in the next room over. She was busy in their humble little kitchen, reaching for various ingredients that her mother had taught her.
An hour passed before she emerged into the other room, delicate in her step as she carefully placed the clay bowls down before Petros and Caius. They both exchanged looks as she departed the room returning with her own bowl as she joined them at the wooden table. She’d made a stew with bits of mutton and vegetables. The two legionnaires didn’t seem phased, Alexandra wondering if they could even taste after years of eating on the campaign trail.
“Looks delicious.” Caius said. It didn’t take him long to start devouring the stew, Petros giving an approving nod toward her before she began to eat as well. There was little conversation during dinner, the three simply devouring the stew. She found it to be bland, goopy, and mushy but spices were a luxury that few in Arkadia could afford. They had spices in the Capital, she had heard. Spices and lavish meals that consisted of more than bread and stew. The meal was enough to sustain them and soon the clay bowls were empty. The three found themselves seated around the fire.
Alexandra stared at the embers and watched the flames dance and flicker until she heard a voice.
“Would you like a story?”
“Absolutely!” They had never asked her before. Usually she resorted to eavesdropping on their conversations and hoping that they forgot she was in the room as they talked.
“Gods remember that thrice damned battle in that forest, what was it called again?”
“Olympos, if I recall.” Petros took a swig of the wine jug.
“Right, what a disaster that campaign was. We knew the Shahzad army had passed through the area so what does the Legatus do? Orders the whole Legion into the forest after them.” Caius laughed as he took the jug and swigged.
“Aye, an upstart Noble trying to please daddy. He didn’t have a lick of sense about him.”
“He was a spoiled cun—“
“Conniving Brat. A spoiled conniving brat. As I was sayin’, so there we were, barely able to muster up a proper formation when suddenly the Legatus gets cold feet and runs, I mean, he just drops his sword and runs in the thick of it.”
Alexandra stared at them, grinning from ear to ear as her father burst into laughter, Caius slapping his knee as she watched.
“Could you imagine the sight of it? Our fearless leader up and deserts the entire legion because he thinks he’s properly mucked things up and that the entire Shahzad Army is closing on us. So this noble—this man cries that his life is too valuable and flees.”
“Left us to die, s’more like it.”
“Quite right, Brother. Anyways, your father over here manages to muster our company together. We fight a retreating action through this forest while the Shahzad army keeps hurling everything at us. Shield by shield we made them pay for every inch of ground they took.”
Caius’ face had turned grim and Alexandra could see it, the laughter fading as he took the longest swig of wine she had seen.
“A lot of good men died in that battle, Alexandra. For what? Some stupid Noble who didn’t know better, that’s what.”
She watched as he slumped back, his features sunken and sullen as the thought of friends lost mingled in his mind.
“Only person you can trust is the one at your side, your brothers and sisters fighting and bleeding beside you, remember that. Outsider’s don’t give a shit about folk like us.”
“Brother, the hour is growing late.”
Alexandra had never been happier to hear her father put an end to a story. It was a somber reminder of the reality they had lived in. There wasn’t a soul from Arkadia that could say they hadn’t lost someone in the war. Caius was no exception. Friends he had grown up with, dead before his eyes. She couldn’t imagine what that must have felt like.
“Time for sleep, Alexandra. We leave in the morning.”
She rose to her feet, a glance cast over her shoulder one last time as Petros drew closer to Caius.
“Good night, Uncle.”
Caius raised his head and allowed her to see the sadness in his eyes for a brief moment as he nodded. He wore a mask of jovial fun, but in reality, Caius was just as broken as Father. She slunk off to bed, unable to shake the strange feeling that had befallen her.