"Yes," He Said. "Pray For Me."

excerpt from Adamantine

Where the stonework was crumbled down along the side of the road the four of them got off, making their way through the frosty grass and autumn’s leaves to the red splendour of the alders which hung over the turbulent river. The river was very loud in the quiet, and swollen with the sun that had been all day on the snows in the mountains. Andor went ahead of them down to the thicket, startling four rabbits turning to their white winter coats; he broke off the chase them upstream.

Eikin had one eye on the dog as they dismounted and unpacked. “I miss a fight,” he admitted in an undertone to Adamant. “Sometimes I feel as if I just need a good fight and then I will be well again. It’s the black forest in my restless blood.”

Adamant looked from the Catti’s face to the red-flushed dark boughs of the alders overhead. There were several tawny birds up there, flickering against the gold of the sky, and breaking up the winter’s ploughland quiet which tried to mingle with the river’s rushing. There was something, she thought, to that black forest restlessness: Eikin always seemed lingering just on the brink of an odd tingling feeling, like that chiff-chaff: merely waiting for the right moment to bound free into flight. She only hoped it would not be Rhodri who provided the means of Eikin letting loose his pent-up tremors.

She left him to see to the animals and joined Rhodri with the medical kit. The fairy had got down off his roan, hobbled to a single curl of alder-root, and eased himself stiffly down, leaning wearily back against the bole of the tree. His recumbent posture was submissive, though he watched her almost warily out of the corner of his eye; nevertheless she felt awkward as she sat down tailor-fashion with the kit by her side.

Rhodri extended his foot into her lap, settling the heel in the crook her crossed ankles made. “Is that all right?” he asked.

“Yes. Just a moment and I’ll have your shoe off.” She undid the lacing and wiggled the boot free. Rhodri’s stone face never changed during the ordeal, but Adamant could sense the pain her movement was causing him. At last the boot came free, revealing the rumpled stocking beneath. This Adamant gently peeled off and hung over a stone to be washed later. She saw at once that the foot was in a sorry state. It was not crooked or disjoined from the ankle, but it still had a tinge of dead white to it and it looked weak. “Oh, the poor thing,” Adamant whispered instinctively. She opened a salve and spread it over the arch and heel.

“That is cold,” Rhodri remarked dryly.

“I am sorry,” replied Adamant. She began to rhythmically rub the salve into his foot while pressing out the ache along the mangled foot and calf. Andor returned, a big tawny shadow trotting through the snowy brake, and pitched himself down at Rhodri’s head, panting softly. Behind them, adding to the river’s rush and the frenetic murmuring of the birds, the roan stamped and Kielk shifted disconsolately while Eikin made a small fire.

Rhodri shifted, putting his head against Andor’s flank. “You have nice hands,” he murmured. “I should much prefer to be strangled by yours than by Eikin’s.”

Surprised, Adamant paused. “Why would I strangle you?” she inquired. “What a silly idea.”

“Silly idea,” Eikin confirmed from where he squatted, coaxing the flames. “I’d run you through with my framea before ever I touched you.”

Adamant frowned at the Catti. She went to protest that there was nothing wrong with strangling Rhodri with one’s bare hands, then thought perhaps that was not what she meant. But Rhodri said nothing, and presently Eikin slung the waterskin over his shoulder and set off for the riverbank. She turned her back on him and continued rubbing Rhodri’s foot. The fairy had his eyes partially shut, idly watching the swing of her pendant. As the sounds of Eikin’s footsteps died off in yesteryear’s bracken, the only noises were Andor licking his paws and Adamant’s own softly laboured breathing.

She thought at first that Rhodri would say something, but realized that he never did what was expected of him, so she resigned herself to the silence while thinking of a one-sided conversation to begin. They never seemed to go well with Rhodri, not any subject, and when it came to the point words threatened to fail her under the bitter, dying grey gaze he gave. Suddenly a thought came into her head.

Could you love Rhodri? He needs love badly. Could you be the one to love him?

She was a little taken aback by the question her mind had made. Her hands slowed as she observed the fairy’s face from under the windward brush of her hair. He was watching the chill breeze play in Andor’s fur, ruffling it into a brindled crest along his spine, and there was that uncuriousness in his countenance, that windowpane-greyness as though he gazed from nothing upon nothing. And then she knew the answer very clearly. No, she could not be the one—certainly not yet. He needed God more than anything else; he needed to know the depth of forgiveness God was capable of reaching and the freedom from all misery which only the Holy Spirit could acheive. She recalled, with a sense of expectant joy, the morning Rhodri had interrupted her thoughts and finished what her Stone had been telling her:

How lovely upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace…and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’

“You stopped.”

Adamant raised her head. Rhodri had propped himself up on his elbow and was staring at her quizzically. The wind stirred his blue hair, making the silver highlights twinkle in the last of the winter sunlight. She twisted her mouth into a smile to hide her blush. “I was…praying for you,” she said, in all honesty.

She expected him to ridicule her, but he said nothing. He dropped his eyes and plucked a stem of grass from the ground, rubbing it cruelly between his fingers. “Yes,” he said finally. “Pray for me. Pray I live forever. Pray I never die and face God. Pray he forgets I exist and what I’ve done and all I want to do.” His voice broke and he left off, flinging one arm over his face so she could not see him.

She knew then that she ought to leave him. Andor would be with him and, despite their dysfunctional beginning, Andor had come to adore Rhodri. So she rose, cast the corner of Rhodri’s cloak over the withered bare foot, and walked off to join Eikin at the river and to wash the socks.

Eikin was just finishing filling the waterskin as she descended the bank. “Do you have it?” he asked.

It took her a moment to understand him. “Andor has it,” she replied, and skirted him to kneel on a slab of rock over the water.

The little redwings played in the trees as Adamant began to work the grime from a woollen sock. Eikin, suddenly reluctant to leave, stood on the crest of the rock behind her, the dim light and wind obscuring the tawniness and brownness of his fur into a single blur.

“I hope his foot heals,” the Catti said at last, breaking the silence. “I mind that you have to tend it.”

“Yes, perhaps I mind as well,” said Adamant, hoping to be agreeable. “But I oughtn’t mind.” She paused in her work and looked up at him. The red shadows of the trees made the hazel of his eyes look brown. “One day you’ll realize that Rhodri has had a very, very hard time, much worse than even your people under the fairies.”

Eikin’s countenance was fixed and cold. “If you were a man,” he said, “I would send you into the river with my fist.”

Doomed to be disagreeable on the subject of the fairy, Adamant could only shake her head and rub her hand across her nose, for the cold made it run. “Don’t be so proud, Eikin,” she begged. “We’ve had this talk before. Imogin wouldn’t like it.”

“Even Imogin didn’t like Rhodri.”

“Maybe she disliked him, but only because he was being disagreeable. You still hate him. And, Eikin, you said you wouldn’t.” She shook the stocking hard. “Don’t break your promises.”

Eikin ran his claws through his hair and emitted a heavy sigh. “It is not,” he said wearily, “on mere account that he is a fairy. It is on account of the fact that you are so beautiful and he can see that. One day—”

“There won’t be a ‘one day’,” Adamant assured him hurriedly. “Trust me on that. Sometimes I think he is even more sinned against than sinning. He wants to try to come out, but every time he even gets close, you—you chase him back down the hole!”

Eikin remained silent, gazing back at her with such grim reproach that she felt her resolve waver a moment. What if—what if he was right? What if she had recoiled from Charles Demon only to stumble headlong into another mistake? But in the next instant she had hammered down the fear, jerking back around to scrub ruthlessly at the sock. She could not be wrong. The frankness, the undercurrent of fear—she could not believe that Rhodri had conjured them merely to deceive her.

“You doubt yourself.”

“No,” she replied, pursing her lips. She kept herself quiet for a count of ten before continuing. “Rhodri Fairy is ten times more intelligent than the two of us combined. He should have been a military general, not an orderly! I don’t know why God gave him such a small body, but there is so much inside him: there is potential under that rage, Eikin.”

He shook his head slowly—but almost, she thought, admittingly—with the light jinking green and brown and gold in his eyes. “How can you see this?” he asked.

Adamant looked away from those eyes. The evening mists were settling on the heights of the foothills, turning to a golden shroud where the lights struck them: a golden place where heaven and earth came to mingle in the upland solitude. “Once a Catti boy commended me for my character. I didn’t think, at the time, that what he said was true, but as time passes I think—I think he may have been right.”

Eikin moved to her side and sat by her, hunched over, playing with one paw in the water. “It was Brogi, wasn’t it?” he asked.

“That was his name, yes.”

Eikin nodded. “A wise child, if ever there was one. Brogi,” he added, “will be a seer one day. And because he spoke a high thing of you, I know it is true.” He looked at her curiously, searchingly. The wind ruffled his fur and hair, whistling into his cupped ears. “It is so hard, Adamant. I do not want to do it. You have no idea how satisfying it feels to hate long and good and hard.” His teeth glinted as he forced his words past them.

A little chilled, as if by premonition, Adamant objected, “Rhodri has never done you any bodily harm. Why are you so set on hating him?”

“Because of his character; and because of what his people are to mine. You cannot deny a person’s heritage just on a whim; it is what makes them. You told me not to be so proud; it is not that simple! We Catti were born proud. It is who we are. The fairies were born with a domineering spirit, a desire to rule the world. It is who they are. You cannot nullify that just because you pity a person.”

Adamant gave another compulsive sniff and pushed her hair behind her ear. “It’s when a person is most broken that he can be put together again, Eikin. I don’t know about you, but I have been praying for Rhodri. And I will keep praying for him. It’s there, the faith, the truth—or it will be, I’m sure of it. Rhodri has a fear of God—”

“The demons fear God.”

“—and he can, and I believe will, be brought back to the feet of God once more—if he was ever there before. Perhaps this will be the first real time. There was a time when Rhodri knew something of God.”

Eikin frowned terribly. “How can you know that?”

Adamant touched her lips with her tongue. She could not say—she could not tell of the moment in the bedroom when Rhodri had faced the splendour of the sunshot, snowy dawn and had spoken the words of God. She could not say that he looked like the face of the ploughlands being gouged up for the spring sowing. It was a conviction she could not make tangible. She sighed and picked the sock up again. “I can feel it. When you are born afresh yourself, you can tell sometimes.” She side-glanced Eikin’s way. “Not all the time, but sometimes.”

Eikin merely grunted, and she heard and felt the weight of his disapproval in his tone. His tone, his steadfast disapproval, her sudden bone-weariness and desperation, and everything on top of finding Wiglaf suddenly pressed down upon her, and without really realizing what was happening the world had become a red-gold, brown-shadowed blur and she had clamped her hands over her mouth to stifle the onrush of sobs. The Catti said nothing, but reached over and gripped her forearm hard, which hurt, and steadied her a little. The tears gushed out all at once and soon subsided; she would have a bruise, she thought, on her forearm after she had just healed the bruise on her upper arm. At that thought the tears sputtered out in a shaky, self-depricating laugh, and she wished she had a pocket handkerchief. The reflection that flickered back up at her in the iron-dark water, spangled with the light that was still lingering in the sky, was clouded and unlovely.

“I think Rhodri was right in one thing,” Eikin remarked, when she had finally fallen silent again. “You are too good for what this world can give. Too good for us.”

Adamant pushed the corner of her wrist under her nose, sniffing violently. “It’s not me—”

“It is you,” retorted Eikin. “It is the you that—it is the real you. The you that God is making. Even in your blindness you and Andor both shame us with your loyalty, your unquestioning faith—”

“Oh, I question, Eikin,” Adamant broke in. “My faith is so small.”

“And mine seems unborn,” Eikin growled. He let go of her arm. “More often than not I want to kill Rhodri. I want to spill his blood at my feet and the thought is a sweet, good thought to me.” He curled his paw closed and watched the curl of it and the way the last light struck the points of his claws to pricks of fire. “And when I see your compassion I lash out at you. I know I hate, but I do not want to change. I love my hate. It is sweet in my mouth.”

Adamant sighed. “I know what you mean. But Eikin—”

“No,” the Catti said sternly, rising. The wind kicked up his cloak as he stood over the riverbank, eyes set in hard, glittering lines. “If I sort this out, I will sort this out myself. I won’t kill Rhodri, I swear that. It may take me a lifetime to work out my hatred, but I won’t kill him.”

It was all she could ask for, and she was appreciative of that. She nodded, wordless.

He seemed almost on the brink of going, but looked back down at her, ears pricked into the wind. How wild and handsome he looked, Adamant thought, standing firm with the world all around him, a world he did not care about, a world which could not touch him. “Adamant,” he said, slow and thoughtful, and with a voice far-off, “while you pray for Rhodri, if you remember, mention my name as well.”

“Yes, Eikin. I will.”

[Edit: for those of you who might have missed it (though it is probably unlikely) here is my list of cast, mostly with illustrations.]

5 ripostes:

  1. That was lovely! It kept me interested all the way through. The way you describe the surroundings was beautiful and your dialog is gorgeous.

  2. Beautiful, Jenny. You use such vivid imagery to describe the surroundings, actions, and characters! Thank you for sharing!

    PS: Inspired by your (and others') posts about their characters, I posted an introduction to the characters of my novel! www.whisperabovethethunder.blogspot.com :)

  3. Thank you, Finvarra! Thank you, Keaghan! Everyone says I have a knack for the descriptive, but it's nice to hear someone who doesn't really know me (and is therefore mostly unbiased) tell me so. It is also always difficult to pick a section which isn't too confusing, but doesn't give too much away, either. I'm glad you enjoyed yourselves!

    I must trot round and have a look at your post, Keaghan. TTFN!

  4. Like I told you when I saw this the other night when I saw this, I really identify with Eikin somehow in the wanting to hate and with Adamantine of the mustard seed faith. Her finaly is a Heroine to look up too. Its awesome!!!

  5. 'A knack for the descriptive', is just about the word's largest understatement. You harness the very art that is storytelling and weave such beautiful, beautiful pictures with your words... Gives me chills. ^.^

    ... Yes. That would be me trying to say I thought this was glorious. *wipes teary-ified eyes*