The Lords of the Isle: A (Very Late) Valentine’s Day Special, Part II Hearts to make, hearts to break.
As opposed to the first installment, Part II extends and explores the idea of love. In part I everything is (relatively) clearer and more straightforward. But now things get a little murkier as we step slightly out of the focused center that is the Heirship and branch out into other stories, stories that again may or may not have repercussions in the future events. To be honest, even the compiler of these stories is not sure whether his project makes sense. So, if you find that everything is illuminated, then you may pat yourself on the back for a job well done. And with that, let us move forward.
“Mother, can you tell me another story?” “Well, Mariana... this old bag of bones is tired. And you have forgotten the magic word.” “...Please?” “Oh, all right.”
“...So Teddy the Bear climbed the mountains of Chocolate with his paddy, furry feet, and then – poof! – the mountains melted, because the sun was too hot!”
“Ugh! But Mother, you know that I never really liked Teddy the Bear.” “So what do you want me to tell you, sweet child?”
“Hmm...” The child called Mariana stopped for a moment, as if considering a tale that her adoptive mother (or actually, one of the mothers, for it was the entire Arkyari tribe of gypsies that adopted her some time ago) could not turn into another adventure of Teddy the Bear. It was quite funny, actually, now that she thought about it. But she was no longer a little child. “I have never heard of a story about our own people before, Mother,” Mariana spoke again at length. “It is always the Kings, the Elves, the Xianxi, and the Sea-peoples. But how about us Gypsies? Do we not have a story to tell?”
“...Yes,” Trisha replied, but somewhat evasively, her eyes lingering sideways for a little while. “We... do have our own stories.” “There! Can we not start there, Mother?” “...I suppose there is the first story where we Gypsies first figured.”
“So how does it go, Mother? Are there pirates and evil Uncles involved? Or is it lots of magic and romance and high towers and shining swords? Or is it –” “So are you going to tell me the story, Mariana?” “...Sorry.” “There, now. Settled? Well-seated? Then we begin. Once upon a time...”
Trent Traveller, with a groan, pushed himself up. Sand. There was sand everyone. That was odd. Last he checked, airplane seats were not made out of sand. (And had he further reflected, it was strange for him to be lying down when plane seats were supposed to be upright and closely clumped in tight rows.) Nor were they this hot. Nor wet. Heck, even he himself, judging by his heavy, drenched, clingy clothes, was wet.
Crash. Ssssh. He rubbed his eyes. But before he had opened them, Trent concluded that his ear had already gone crazy. Airplanes don’t make crashing, sssh-ing sounds. That’s the sound of waves, and waves are sea-sounds. And he had not enough money for a cruise ship. Crash. Ssssh.
But, of course, the Travellers were no longer in an airplane.
“Trisha? Trisha? Honey, wake up!” “Dad? Where are we? What happened? Dad?” “I’m not yet sure, Tina. but can you help me wake your Mom? Trisha, love, wake up!”
“...Ngh.” “Thank goodness! Trisha, are you alright?” “Mom? Where are we?”
“...and rice fields with big red walls and neat rows of houses with strange curving roofs...”
“...and lonely white cities with lots of gold and green trees and giant stone towers. Where are we, Mom?”
“Trent...” Unable to answer, Trisha turned to her husband, a mix of apprehension and a dawning dread causing her tone to tremble as she asked, “Where are we> What on earth happened?” Trent said, “I think our plane crashed, honey. And we’re lost.”
“What do you mean, ‘we’re lost,’ Trent?” “I mean that this place isn’t Twikkii Island, nor Takemizu Village, nor Three Lakes – it’s nothing like the vacation spots we planned to visit!” And then, with an enthusiastic smile that seemed out of place, he added in wonderment, “Isn’t it amazing?”
“Amazing? Had all those years of practicing Law finally warped your mind, Trent? This is certainly not amazing! We’re stuck in an island with strange big ruins, and look, our cellphones have no coverage!” “Easy, honey! Surely things can’t be so bad–” “’Things can’t be so bad!’ Trent, we’re in boony-land! And it’s your goddamn fault!”
“What? Just how did our plane crashing suddenly become my fault!?” “Well, if you haven’t quit your job so that we could go to stupid vacation – and, hey, look, we’re not even in Takemizu! We’re lost!” “Oh, sure, look at things that way. The thing with you, Trisha: you’re always afraid of adventures!”
“Adventure! You call quitting Law to crash-land into this crazy place an adventure?” “M-mom...?” “Yes! Now that’s something your obsessive cellphone lifestyle wouldn’t understand!” “D-d-dad?” “Well, then, Mr. Adventure, just how do you propose to get us out of here? huh?”
“S-stop it!” Tina exclaimed between sobs. “This vacation was supposed to be fun.” At that the couple stopped quarreling, though they still did not meet each other’s eyes. “I’m sorry, dearie,” Trisha said, her tone now motherly and soft. “Yeah, sweetie. We really are,” Trent added. But don’t worry, we’ll get through with this.”
And so the Travellers decided that they might as well stop bickering and make the best out of the situation. “Hey, Trisha,” Trent remarked as he passed by his wife. “Haven’t I told you how gorgeous you are when setting up camp?” “Hmph. I still hate you, you know.” But Trisha was already smiling a little bit.
“Sure, sure,” Trent chuckled as night fell and he walked past the tents. “I love you too, honey. Shall I get the fire going?” “You better,” Trisha called out from her tent in response. “I’m just going to take a nap.”
“Well, Tina, sweetie, I think it’s just you and me here... lighting the fire.” Tina looked on as her dad drew out a lighter, poised to set afire the logs the two of them have collected earlier. “is that safe, Dad?” “Of – of course it is! And it’s something we – er, you – would have to learn someday. For camping and such.”
“There. Phew. That was easy. Isn’t camping fun? Now we can get to cook marshmallows and tell campfire stories!”
“D-d-dad? Is the fire s-supposed to spread like... t-t-that?”
It took a long time before one of them said anything again. “That... that is not a very entertaining story, Mother,” commented Mariana, at last. The elder gave the smallest of sighs as she said, “You did ask for the story, my dear.” “So... where do we Gypsies figure, again?”
The next morning Trisha found herself awakening to the scent of burnt wood, soot, and synthetic materials. And everywhere she looked at, there were feet. Murmuring feet. “Is she coming to, now?” “I rather think that she is. Lo, she is getting up!”
“...Such a strange array of apparel.” “I say, what is wrong with her eyes? Why does she cover them so?” Trisha spoke at last. “Who... who are you people?” And the leader, the female with short, haphazardly cut hair answered, “We are the Arkyari, the Gypsies of this Isle. But the question is: Who are you?”
She never was able to answer the question. For the meantime, however, the gypsies brought her back to their refuge in the jungles. After learning of her story, they attempted to use all their resources to find both Trent and Tina... but to no avail. So when they failed to find her family, they welcomed the Traveller into theirs, and they endeavored to heal her of her wounds, which were not limited to the burns of the fire.
They took cared of her, cleaned her off the grime of soot and guilt and haunting memories, and dressed her in their own fashion.
The Gypsies even introduced her into their strange lore and rituals, teaching her how to feel the earth, interpret the fire, brew potent potions, and see beyond the reaches of mortal eyes. And, given time, the Traveller adapted to their world. She soon came to know of the Arkyari’s plight: of their long suffering, caught between the war of Elves and Men and Sea-peoples, persecuted and feared for their great knowledge, and driven to hiding into the heart of the Isla. And soon, as she came to identify with the Gypsies, their traditions became hers, too.
Indeed many of the Gypsies were glad when she fell in love again, this time to one of their own kind. With their union the Traveller indeed became one of the Arkyari, and the latter welcomed her into their world with open arms.
“So it is just like the case of Sister Jasmin!” Mariana concluded. “Yes. The Traveller and Jasmin are like – and yet unlike. But if I may say so, there is a lot more to happen, and Jasmin’s story has only but scarcely begun.” “But... did the Traveller ever find her old family? Were they able to meet again?”
“She tried searching for them, but no. She never was able to find her old husband and daughter. But among us Gypsies the word is still spread that until now, and in spite of the new life she had with us, she still goes on searching in vain.”
“There! Now, Mariana, I think it is time for you to sleep.” “Awww, Mother...” “Mariana.” “...You could have at least told me a cheerier story.”
“Where are we, Mila?” asked the swarthy man in white tunic. “in the Great City of Meridia. Where else?” his cloaked female companion replied. “Yes, but where exactly are we?”
“Welcome, Roland, to the Hall of Archives.” “And just what purpose do we have in heading here? Is this the place where I can learn of this secret you speak of?” “Yes. You are catching on quite quickly. In fact, your faculties are so sharp that I might no longer have to prod you into stepping inside the building.”
As he followed the lady, making his way into the Hall, Roland remarked, “Sarcasm does not become you, Mila.” “Well, I was rather afraid you’d not understand something that’s simply said,” Mila confessed. “You are the person who insists on loving Mr. Goodytwoshoes’s daughter even when you were explicitly told to scram. Nor did you fall for my charms, as a normal man would. The usual laws of intelligence do not seem, then, to apply to you.”
“So are you calling me a fool?” “Perhaps. But the wisdom of the fool is better than the folly of the wise.” At that Mila stopped and nodded toward the hooded figure in front of them. “Well, I really need say no more, now,” she said. “He’ll show you the way from here on.”
“The way?” the hooded man spoke in an obviously rehearsed hiss. “Oh, no. You flatter me overmuch, Miss Mila. Say, rather, the way toward one of many other ways. And in the latter, young Roland, even I could help you no longer.”
“For I can steer you only until the crossroads, Roland,” the strange man went on. “Knowledge I can give you, and this knowledge, no doubt, would be of great service. But how you would use the knowledge is up to you, and you alone. And what path would you take, I wonder?”
“Mila, by the Elf-King, I swear,” Roland growled. “It would have been better had you killed me outright! Dealing with crazed masqueraders is not part and parcel of my plan!” “My, my. For a big handsome boy, you are such a baby, aren’t you?” a yawning Mila drawled. “But you have only but wasted my time!”
“Roland, my patience grows veeeery thin, too, like so.” Mila demonstrated this by drawing a thin line on thin air. “Would you rather have wasted your time away outside the House of Bygone Days? Or would just trust me and this crazy man? Hey, who knows, whatever he’d show you might actually be something useful, right? Why not take a chance? You’ve got nothing to lose. Just have a little faith, why don’t you?”
“Alright, alright,” Roland said, though not with much conviction. “I go to the crazed man. Take a chance, as it were.” “Now there’s a gallant young knight!” Mila said, patting his arm. “Well, here’s hoping he doesn’t consume your soul or anything! ...What? I jest!”
“Erm... so you... you claim that you can help me, do you not?” Roland asked, his old reticence showing as he cautiously approached the strange man. “Do you know who that man was?” came the off-tangent reply as the other motioned toward the bronze bust. “That was the great philosopher, Tylopoda,” he went on, having not waited for Roland’s answer. “He was able, through reasoning, to prove that everything, save for the llama, is a llama. Imagine that.”
“...And why do I need to know this?” Roland snapped, provoking the other to turn toward him. With a hint of consternation and agitation, he answered, “Simple. Because that is history. Had Tylopoda not shown us the folly of reducing everything into the Same, then perhaps, even now, people would still be trying to make everything into a llama.”
“So basically you both have summoned me here only for a history lesson?” The hooded man threw his hands slightly upward in frustrated relief. “Yes, Roland. Yes!” he exclaimed, his voice now rising passionately. “Do you not see? The knowledge of the tragedy of history is the First Knowledge. And this First Knowledge is what I can give you, young Roland, if you would follow me.”
“So, then... the books?” “No, no. This is for my own light reading.”
Having settled himself upon one of the Hall’s old wooden chairs, Roland stared at the occult orb right before him. It was transparent, with nothing inside whatsoever. “Nothing unusual with this one,” he pronounced. “We have Seeing-Orbs like this in our House, you know.” The hooded, masked man chuckled. “Ah, but this one is different. It will not just make you see what was, nor is, nor will be in this Isla. It will show you a different world and a different time altogether.”
“If you say so,” Roland said, shrugging. “Oh, please. Just look already,” Mila said. “You have nothing to lose, have you?” “Well put,” Roland acceded. “And I have everything to gain. Here goes.”
“Are you still looking at the mirror?” “I... suppose.” Cecilia was surprised: not at seeing her self standing right behind her reflection. No, dreams such as these do happen. But what intrigued her was that her other self was younger. Much younger. “You are younger than I am,” she pointed out. “Why is that?” Evading the question, the other remarked, “And you are still gazing at your reflection.”
“I warned you, did I not? It was quite some time ago, and you were about to see that young man, that dashing stubborn young man.” “Yes, I think I remember.” “I told you that he was a Romancer. I told you he would, sooner or later, have left you. And I told you that Papa was right.”
“But you went on with your little adventure, did you not? You trusted him. Against Papa’s will you went out without his knowledge and met this charming young man.”
“And then,” she paused momentarily, flipping the pages of her book, before continuing, “It happened. Of course. It was bound to happen.”
“No, he is different,” Cecilia maintained to her younger dream self. “I trust him.” “He himself admitted to his unchaste act, did he not?” The other’s tone retained finesse as she spoke, ostensibly still reading. “Not that I blame him, of course. It can only be but his nature. Papa is right.” “But perhaps Papa is not–”
“Are you listening to what you are saying? And you forget too easily. Search your memories. What was it that brought you and Papa here in this Isle in the first place?” “Papa has a lot of plans. You know that. He brought us here because he had good business here.”
“There is truth in that,” the younger self agreed. “But he brought you from the Sea – not as an adult, but as a child.” “But I was a child. And Papa said that it would do be well for us to stay here. Ever since Mama died, he said–” “No. Dig deeper.”
“Papa supervised my younger years,” the older Cecilia said at length. “He enrolled me into the most expensive school, gave me the most excellent books, and had me taught by the best tutors.” “Yes. You are proceeding well. And now tell me: what was it like, feeling the wind rush against your face as you play tag with your friends? Or bringing any of them home? Or being invited into their homes, their families?”
“...I... do not know. I stayed at home as Papa made his way up the ranks. He persevered and, in the course of time, established the Textile Factory, ran successfully as the district’s Mayor, and gained a fortune.”
“Aha. And what can you say about that?” The older Cecilia stood up and, bypassing her dream self, replied, “Papa was... he was protecting me all that time. He was... he was keeping me from falling into the error of Love. ...the same Love that... that made me... sick... back Home.” “So you remember.“
“Yes. Papa hoped you would not fall in love and break your heart again,” the younger self affirmed. “It made you vulnerable at Home. It presented your weakness. And when unscrupulous forces decided to take advantage of that...” “Papa acted as he believed best, yes. But sometimes I wonder,” Cecilia cut in. “What was the price we had to pay for invulnerability?”
“Papa once said that life and its myriad struggles is the battlefield of chess, and to win, the Bishop must steer away from the taint of emotion. Only by being good and pure and faceless could he take the Queen and win the game. But I wonder...”
“There is no contesting that Papa, at Home or here in this Isle, has made numerous achievements, and everyone stands back in awe and respect of his many skills and successes,” the waking Cecilia acknowledged. “And yet, by avoiding the error of love, he has put himself without the reach of everyone else.”
“The Bishop stands alone. ...And for a long time, I was all alone, too. And I was lonely.”
“True, a part of me was worried then that Papa might find out and that he would be displeased, but... I made my own choice. And I chose not to be alone. And stepping out of solitude, linking arms with Roland that night – that made me happy.”
“But he is gone. After what happened, he is never coming back. He confessed himself guilty.” This time, it was not a reprimanding voice, but rather, a defeated one. Cecilia’s waking self, however, responded with firm conviction. “No. He is not gone,” she pronounced.
“And unless I am much mistaken, he yet has to renounce his promise. And I doubt he would.”
“It is not so dark, now, is it?” Cecilia’s waking self observed. “...No, it is not.” “I thought so, too.”
“So,” the younger self said, in a whisper now, “What happens?” Cecilia smiled at her younger reflection. The other smiled back.
“Well, for a start,” the adult Cecilia began, “It would not do for me to stay in this lonely room any longer, would it?” “I... suppose.” She mirrored the older self’s first words. “Then... do let’s take a walk, shall we?”
“Well, ‘bye!” “Yeah! See you tomorrow!” “Sure!”
“Look, Sephy. I am really sorry of what almost happened the other day. Matron is right: fighting is not nice, under any circumstances, after all. And... well... we all really should be friends here. So, yeah. I am sorry.”
“Hmph. I suppose you make a valid point. Well, I will not quarrel with you, nor with anyone here, from now on, as far as I am able.” “Thanks, Sephy. That is really something to know.” “My name is not Sephy.”
It was not long before Eowyn found out that all the courtyard doors leading into the inner house was locked.
“Hey, guys! This is not funny, you know! Let me in!”
“Guys! Guys! Let me in! ...Matron! Let me in, please!”
“Hey! HEY! Are you guys there? Matron? Let me in, please! Please! This is not funny!”
And so it was that one child, Eowyn, was left outside the warmth and the light of the Orphanage that night. And, of all nights, little Eowyn could not have picked a worse moment.
“...M-m-matron...” Unknown to Eowyn, a strange figure loomed behind her: a man arrayed in a deathly black robe, a robe that nonetheless seemed less dark than his faceless face as his heavy boots strode the ground, maiming the untainted blades of grass. And in his hand was a fell, cold blade. It was a Black Swordsman.
But Eowyn’s screams were drowned by the Swordsman’s shriek, ringing cold and cruel against the night, more terrible than a thousand men’s battle cries. That alone sufficed to scare Eowyn out of her wits, driving her to sprint in mad terror, a hunted doe fleeing that shriek that numbed her heart with cold and thoughts of shadow.
But Eowyn could only run so far, and at the end she was trapped like a frightened mouse in a stony corner. “Matron! Matron!” she cried out. “Help! Guys! Matron! Help!”
But all speech was banished from Eowyn’s lips as the terrible figure raised his sword, glinting a dead light as the moon’s sickly rays smote it. Trembling, Eowyn could think only of death. Oh, how unfair was it, she thought, that she should die at such a young age, and without ever knowing, at least, who her real parents were. She surely must be the unluckiest person in the world: friendless, without a family, and utterly alone.
The strange assailant approached Eowyn, its dark gaze upon her as he hissed, “Die now.” Eowyn closed her eyes and prepared for the blow. But it never came.
Daring to open her eyes again, Eowyn saw a masked figure advance upon her attacker. He rescuer, she saw, was agile, though armored, and fought with a prowess that seemed to come naturally to him. Or was it a he? Eowyn wondered, for her rescuer’s tone sounded lighter, even with the iron mask lending unnatural deepness to her voice. “Oi, you!” the newcomer shouted at Eowyn. “Get out of here, quick!”
So Eowyn ran with all her strength as the fighter, whom she suspected to be a woman, went on fighting the Black Man, her swift spins and brave strokes seeming like a fiery white dance in the dead of night.
And after a while, the Black-cloaked Man fled, riding his sable steed as he headed towards the horizon.
Although still shaken, Eowyn had found the voice to ask her rescuer, “What was that?”
“That was a Black Rider, supposedly one of Nine,” the other replied. “Whether they are men or wraiths, alive or dead, no one could be certain. But they are evil and cruel. And worse,” the warrior added, but this time apparently talking to herself, “they are not even supposed to be here. Something is wrong. Very wrong.”
“And what about you?” Eowyn further inquired. “Who are you?”
And so the newcomer knelt down so as to gaze at Eowyn face to face before removing her iron mask...
...revealing a face that seasoned readers of the volumes, The Lords of the Isle, would immediately recognize. “My name is Jeanne.” And knowing her family’s policy of secrecy, she added, “Just Jeanne. And what is your name, young lady?” “Eowyn. ...Just Eowyn.”
“Well, Just-Eowyn,” Jeanne began now, standing up once more to her full height, “you really ought to know better than to stay alone in the dead of night! With highwaymen and the Xianxi and loose elements abroad I rather thought your Mama would pull your ears and keep you safe at home.”
“But I have no Mama,” Eowyn plainly stated. “I have a Matron. But the Orphanage is locked.” “You have no Mama? ...And your Matron locked you out?” “no, I don’t think the latter’s true: the door is just locked. But I don’t have a Mama, yes.”
“Do you know who your Mama is?” “No, Ma’am.” “Or your Papa?” “no.”
But even as they spoke, Jeanne found something curious about the girl before her. I know that face. Eowyn...
“Eowyn.” “That is my name, yes.” “Well, Eowyn! Would you like to... well... to stay with me?”
“Really? As in, you’re adopting me?” “Well, I was originally thinking of bringing you over to my place tonight, seeing as it is dangerous for you to be out on your own.” Eowyn’s face fell. “But if you so desire it, I think we could make arrangements by the morrow. Adoption papers and such.” Eowyn beamed. “I’d love that!” she exclaimed in delight.
“Thanks, Ma’am!” “Please, that makes me sound ancient. You may call me Jeanne.”
“... Or Jeannie. Or Loony-bin Jeannie. Whichever.” “For an adult, Jeannie, you do ramble a bit. Can we go now?” “Hey, don’t hate on me.”
FIN Worry not; we will return to our scheduled programme in about a month.
“I told you, Dad. The disguise was stupid.” “Shut up, Johannine.” “But, begging your pardon, sir, I concur with the young lady.” “Shut up, butler.”
Credits: Profbutters (The Squeaky Clean Legacy) for the loaning of Cecil and Cecilia Goodytwoshoes, and the giving of informative advice. Peasant007 (The Devereaux Legacy) for the loaning of Zane Devereaux. Disclaimer: I do not own The Lord of the Rings nor Final Fantasy VII, from where the Nazgul and Sephiroth arise.