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The Ancients

Chapter Thirteen

By NCS NapierPublished 3 months ago 11 min read


Gavriil’s frayed boot sunk deep into the endless mud, flooding it with filth that entered the many holes in the worn-out leather. He didn’t mind. It had been happening all day, and he was used to having semi-frozen feet. Besides, he was too busy searching for tracks that hadn’t been washed away by the unusual summer rain.

He walked by his favourite tree that had been struck by lightning halfway up and snapped, then grew around its frayed end in a c curve before continuing its growth as if nothing had occurred. It wasn’t the most solid tree, certainly not the tallest, but it always gave Gavriil hope. As if everything would be okay; and it would be.

He remembered the storm that felled the tree. All the Mothers were angry that night. Veteemä had sent that unrelenting sideways rain that could chill a man to the bone in beats. Tulle-Emä’s breath swirled to envelop and confuse any foolish enough to leave their shelter. Päike hurled big bolts of lightning that flew across the sky like fingers reaching out to take the breath of those who had upset the Mothers and would be spending their eternity in Taara’s abyss. Gavriil’s family had spent that whole night praying and the Mothers had heard, sparing their little house.

The horizon lit up as the sun sank behind a low cloud, beaming red and purple across the sky. A beautiful sight sent by Taara as a warning to Gavriil that he should stop thinking of her as sun dip would soon become sundown. He picked up the pace, his eyes darting back and forth along the uneven ground, searching for rabbit holes, paw prints, or deer droppings. There was nothing. But he knew everything would be okay. He arrived at the edge of the scattered forest and sighed. “I’ll find something tomorrow.” He assured himself, slinging his misshapen bow behind his back and grabbing his long walking stick, which he had left at the forest's edge.

Gavriil jumped over the makeshift fence at the edge of Pa’s property and walked through the barren field. He remembered when it was filled with crops in the summer season; now, it had nothing more than mud and puddles. He came across a dry patch and knelt, placing his cheek on the dirt and gazing across the field, hoping to find a sprout. Nothing. But he knew it would get better.

“I will make you grow. I swear it.” He said, taking his stick and creating rivets in the soil. He reached into his satchel and retrieved a handful of seeds, placing them in different positions about the dried dirt. He closed his eyes and held his hands above the seeds. “Taara, hear my prayers. Let these seeds grow for my family. I know you won’t let me down.” He opened his eyes and stared at the dirt as if expecting to see a full-grown crop in front of him. “I know you won’t.”

Gavriil picked up his stick, brushed the dirt from his face, and continued trudging through the field, keeping his eyes forward so as not to dampen his spirits anymore. It was a short walk to the old wooden house dwarfed by gigantic oaks on all sides. It had miscoloured planks of wood and boarded-up window slots that had been missing glass for as long as he could remember. He had tried to repair the old house once, but when he ripped a board from the exterior and exposed hundreds of little wood eaters, he decided it would be too expensive.

He slammed his shoulder into the jammed door and groaned as he pushed it open. “Gavriil!” Macy yelled excitedly as she rushed for a hug. He was surprised to see Na sitting on her chair, helping Macy repair a tunic with needle and thread. Macy would be glad for the help, she hated the work, but Na was too old to be alone. Macy’s gaunt face beamed at him like she hadn’t seen him in days. “I found an ant hill today! They was crawling all over. Some went on me hands.”

“Sounds exciting!” Gavriil said, clapping her on the shoulder before kissing Na’s cheek. “What’re you doing up, Na? D’you come out here yourself?”

“Is that you, Pabiyan?” Na wheezed as she squinted up at Gavriil. Her eyesight had been getting worse, along with her hearing and… everything. Some days were good, others bad.

“No Na, it’s me, Gavriil.”

“Oh, Gavriil. Good to have you home.” She croaked, reaching her trembling hand up to pat him. “Your father will just be -”

As if on cue, Pabiyan entered from the kitchen, his face falling as he saw Na sitting on the chair with the tunic and needle on the floor. “What are you doing up?” He asked, rushing over to make sure she was okay. “Macy, I told you not to bother your Na. You’re in charge of the needle now. I’ll take her back -”

“I didn’t bother her!” Macy shouted at Pabiyan. “She came out herself! She wanted to help.”

“You should’ve told me. Na needs her rest.” Pabiyan said as he prepared to carry her back to her room. “I’ll take her back then -”

“Stop it,” Na said, slapping Pabiyan’s hand away. “I can look after myself. I’m sick of that damn bed and all the sores it gives me.”

Macy couldn’t help but laugh at Na’s curse word. Pabiyan rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Fine, have it your way.” He turned to Gavriil, who was leaning his walking stick in the corner of the house. “Anything?”

“Nothing. They’ve all gone.” Gavriil said, hanging the bow and seed satchel by the door. “I was at it all day. They’ll be back. They have to be.”

Pabiyan did a poor job of hiding his disappointment as he swivelled around and exited back into the kitchen. Gavriil sighed, smiled, then produced a small rock from his pocket and knelt beside Macy, who had already placed down her needle and thread for a second time. “I found this Mace, I thought you might like it,” Gavriil said, pretending to gallop the rock along the ground towards Macy. “Looks like a horse, ya’see.”

She pushed a piece of her filthy, straight black hair off her tiny face and broke into the widest smile he had ever seen. She snatched the rock from his hands and repeated the galloping action while shouting a neigh. “Thank you!” She cried, throwing her arms around Gavriil. “Thank you.”

“One day, I’ll get you a real one. Then we can ride the world together.”

“And eat whatever we want?” She said distractedly, playing with her rock.

Gavriil inhaled sharply. “We’ll have enough coin to eat like the Korol.”

“I rode a horse once when I was a little girl,” Na said, her mouth trembling as she stared at the ceiling and smiled as if she could see the memory playing out in front of her. “It was a marvellous time, oh yes. The wind rushed through my hair as I sped around the countryside. It ruined walking for me.” Gavriil and Macy laughed. “I have no doubt you’ll take well to it young lady, a free spirit you are. No one can hold you down for long.”

“Finish your work,” Pabiyan instructed Macy from the kitchen doorway. He nodded for Gavriil to join him, who did, and the two men huddled around the large pot of stew cooking on the fire in the centre of the kitchen.

“How’d you go today?” Gavriil asked as he picked up the ladle and stirred what was mostly water.

“Five carrots,” Pabiyan replied, sighing as he added some chopped herbs. “How’d the paddocks look?”

“Not even a spout.” Gavriil said dejectedly before perking up and saying, “I did find dry ground to plant some seeds.”

“Good,” Pabiyan said as he ladled out four bowls of soup. “Hopefully, they take soon, and Päike gives us some solid shine.” He handed two bowls to Gavriil, plonked in some spoons, and the two moved into the main room around the table. “Come on,” He said, spreading the bowls out in front of the seats. Macy helped Na to her feet, who wobbled over to the table and sat at the head. Pabiyan raised a spoonful to his mouth.

“We thank the Mothers for their generosity,” Na started, glaring at Pabiyan as he placed the spoon back into his bowl. “We ask them to watch over us, to give us what we need and help those who are needy.” She gasped and coughed, smacking at her chest as she cleared her throat. “Sit, sit, I’m fine. Gavriil, finish.”

“Uhh… okay,” Gavriil said. “We thank the Mothers for all we have and ask them to look over our crops and fill our forest with their best blessings. We hope those who have gone before us, like Markus and Oulda, are doing well at Taara’s feast and know that we here have not forgotten their life or love. Päike, Maaemä, Tuule-Emä, Veteemä, Taara.” The family performed the blessing of the Mothers before inhaling their soup. It was mostly water and salt, but there was enough carrot and taste from the bones to fill Gavriil’s aching stomach.

“Macy is a real natural with the needle,” Na said, still patting her chest and recovering from her coughing fit. “Might have given your Mother a run for her money.”

Pabiyan slammed the table with such ferocity that soup spilled up and over the sides of the bowls. Macy shrunk into her chair and covered her eyes as Pabiyan stared at Na. “Do not mention that woman.”

“Gavriil’s mother, you mean?”

Pabiyan jumped to his feet and knocked his chair backwards. Gavriil stared at his soup and tried to take up as little room as possible as Pabiyan leaned forward and placed his palms on the table. “If you -”

“Yes, yes, you’re a big scary man. We’re all very afraid.” Na said as she slurped at her spoon and swished the soup over her gums. “As afraid of you as you are a name. Seventeen years and still… This.” A vein in Pabiyan’s forehead looked like it was about to explode. His hands had turned white as they clawed at the table, his chest heaved as he sucked in air and pushed it out his nose. He grunted. He lifted his chair. He sat. “As I was saying.” Na slurped again. Gavriil had refused to look up from his soup and swirled his spoon through the carrots. “Macy here has a real talent with the needle. Your Mother made all her own dresses, you know Gavriil? A real beauty. She dazzled in everything she wore. Was never confined to the fashions of the upper ladies because she could make her clothes. She had a way with the needle that -” Pabiyan threw his soup across the room. The bowl smashed against the wall and shattered into a thousand pieces. The soup splattered all over the room as pieces of the bowl gently rocked on the ground. Macy clung to her ears and screamed at the top of her lungs as Na said, “Pabiyan, you are excused from the table.”

Gavriil never lifted his head from his soup. His father’s breath heaved beside him. He shouted something, slammed his hand on the table, grabbed his coat and pulled the front door behind him with a bang. Macy was still screaming at the top of her lungs; Na ignoring it all and spooning soup into her mouth. “I’ll clean it,” Gavriil said, rising from his chair.

Na’s frail arm rested on his. “Sit Gavriil. Eat your meal. Your father can clean it.”

“But -”

“But nothing. He made the mess, it is his to clean.” Na pushed her chair back from the table and used it to help her stand. She slowly shuffled towards Macy and began to stroke her hair. She hummed a quiet song and spoke softly to her, getting closer and closer as the screams died down until they were hugging. Macy sat with wet eyes clutching Na close, clinging to her for dear life. “Have you finished your soup?” Na asked. Macy nodded. “Good. How about we finish your needlework, then head to bed.” Na shuffled back to her chair and groaned, watching Macy return to her tunic and push the needle in and out of the cloth.

Gavriil stared at his soup, the carrots dancing around his spoon. Pa never spoke of Gavriil’s Mother and always avoided questions, his anger rising when she was spoken of for more than a sentence. Gavriil knew his Mother had been dead for many years but still longed to see her. One day Na wondered aloud about where she was in the world and filled Gavriil with excitement, but Pa insisted Na was on one of her delusional rambles. He had never even told him her name or what she looked like. Gavriil couldn’t remember himself; he was too young. But something he had smelt once reminded him of her when they went to the markets. He didn’t know what it was, but it was her. That smell was all he had left. Gavriil glanced at the door.

“Stop your worry,” Na said, smiling sweetly from her chair. “He will be back soon. Everything will be okay. Come. Join me, Pabiyan.”

Gavriil didn’t have the heart to correct her, and it wasn’t important. He swirled his carrots round and round. Na was right; everything would be okay.

AdventureSci FiFantasy

About the Creator

NCS Napier

New chapters every week :)

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