Ward of New Dawn Chapter 3
He had said he needed to be by himself.
Here, he had never been so alone.
John swallowed, his eyes narrow against the persistent wind in his face. He had refused one of the neighbor’s offer of his cloak in a foolish daze of disbelief and his black leather jacket did not do much against the cold. He leaned against a tree that he had been reassured was not someone’s house and looked out over the steep cliff that marked the edge of Mistveil. Leofred had given him straightforward directions - “Just walk in a straight line that way; if you feel like coming back, turn around again.” - and he had marched away without looking back.
Now, though, it was all more real than before.
The forest dipped into a violent ravine, trees sprouting nearly perpendicular to the wall of packed soil until it merged into a riverbed. John listened to the subtle echoes of the roars of a distant waterfall, somewhere beyond the massive expanse of evergreen forest and flat cliff rising from the other side of the river and the purple mountains piercing the low layer of grey clouds. It went on and on, painting a picture of undisturbed nature against the grey sky.
This was a world that was not his. This was a world that was beautiful in its own, severe way. No cell towers, telephone lines, highways, or jet streams marring the perfect slate of the sky. From his vantage point, there was not even a sound besides the urgent river down below and the forceful wind shoving its way through the trees. No motor growls, no airplane hisses. Nothing familiar.
John released a slow sigh, glancing down at his hands. They had started trembling violently earlier at Mistveil, somewhere between Sicarius explaining that the forest’s inhabitants were a hermit community who glorified Bara Vinyu and Leofred throwing John a raised eyebrow as the teenager collapsed to his knees in delayed shock. His hands were better now, though his fingers were white with cold. He should go back.
“But what happens if I don’t?”
The teenager looked down at the river again. It was a long way down and fast moving, but he might be able to make it. His mom had spent enough money on swim lessons to merit that.
He knew he was kidding himself. He would die if he tried to escape that way.
There had obviously been some huge misunderstanding. He was not a warrior. He did not even belong here. Sicarius and his story seemed to think those were all the qualifications for their Promise, their Ward, but John was sure he did not know this Bara Vinyu. He sounded an awful lot like God from home, but even God was some distant character to John. His mom had never been religious and since when did God care about football or the electoral college or Kelsey? He was willing to bet this Bara Vinyu was on the same page with God there. He must have been as indifferent about John as John was of Him, or He would not have let his dad walk away. He would not have let John grow up wondering why the man, who was supposed to be one of the most important people in his life, did not care about him. He would not have made John leave Kelsey, the love of his life and the only girl who could make him truly happy.
John wondered where she was. Out on the porch, waiting for him to pick her up for the football game at school? Looking at her watch, her white and purple letterman jacket wrapped around her slender shoulders? She probably even painted her face, just to encourage spirit in the bleachers. John could depend on her for things like that. Did God really care about John or anyone if He was willing to leave Kelsey out in the cold, waiting for someone who was not coming? Was God or Bara Vinyu or Whomever looking out for her there?
John doubted it.
So why him? Nothing about this made any sort of sense. Different worlds...trees guarding the door to hell...Manwe?
None of that changed the fact that he was cold.
He clenched his jaw and took one step closer to the edge of the cliff. His toe protruded precariously over a deadly drop. His hands curled into fists, his lungs filled with air, and he released one long scream. It echoed powerfully throughout the ravine, slowly melding into the roar of the river until it disappeared. John nodded to himself in satisfaction and turned back into the forest, trudging back towards Mistveil. The ground was hard beneath his shoes and frost crusted grass brushed his toes. He shivered.
Autumn back home was much better than this.
The tall, imposing shadow of Sicarius stood at the edge of the little tree-dwelling community. He waved his staff in greeting.
“You were not gone long.”
John shrugged, stopping a few feet in front of him. “I saw all I needed to see.”
Sicarius tilted his head a fraction, drumming long fingers on his staff. “I think not.”
John frowned, looking up at him. “Why? You were the one who wanted me to accept all this!”
“You have not. You are still stubborn, still proud.” He nodded sagely. “I can see it in your eyes.”
The young man moaned, thrusting his hands out in emphasized irritation. “Well, forgive me for being proud! You’re the people living in trees!”
The old man chuckled, his beard trembling over his chest. “That is a statement to make to Leofred! The place in which you woke is his house.”
John stiffened, his eyes sliding over Sicarius’ broad shoulder. Leofred leant against another tree, talking quietly with the middle-aged man standing in the doorway. He had not heard. Everyone was outside, talking, exchanging books with worn covers, and watching little ones play with a large dog that had appeared in his absence.
“Okay. Well...do you live with him?”
“No, no,” Sicarius sighed contentedly, turning back into the neighborhood. John hesitated a few seconds, then followed. There was nowhere else to go. As before, eyes flicked to him, studying him. Then smiles. John looked away self-consciously. If they knew what he was thinking... “I do not particularly live anywhere. I wander Lae Aurora and rely on the goodness of others and Bara Vinyu’s Providence for shelter and sustenance.”
John chose not to say anything.
“You think it a foolish way to live.”
He sighed. “Well, it does seem presumptuous, relying on others to take care of you. Doesn’t it?”
“Not at all. I simply provide for them another opportunity to see Bara Vinyu in their fellow man, just as I try to see Him in them.”
The teenager shrugged. “Okay. So how did you happen to find me? I landed here while you were in the neighborhood?”
Sicarius smiled through the shadow of his grey hood. “It is never so simple as it sounds. I never plan my routes. I never know where I shall be the next day, yet I have been present for the arrival of the last two Wards of New Dawn.”
John stopped walking and Sicarius followed suit, turning to face him. The new arrival slowly rose an accusing finger, his eyes narrow with suspicion.
“You’re involved in this,” he muttered. “You know where I came from.”
“I do not.”
“Than you know how to get me back!”
“I do not.”
“Than what good are you?”
Sicarius was silent for long moments. John felt the small eyes beneath the hood bore into him. His stomach twisted. There had never been an opportunity for him to be so explosive and he knew that he had been thoughtless, but he did not know what else to do. He had barely managed to rein in his temper enough to keep from saying more than that. The old man straightened a little, taking his weight off of the walking stick in his hand.
“I believe that I have been selected as a part of Bara Vinyu’s plan for the Wards. I have been present to ease those He has chosen into their new lives here in Lae Aurora. I have made myself available for training and guidance until that day when the Ward has completed his duty and -”
“Gone home?” John prompted. Sicarius rose a silencing hand.
“You are quick to jump to conclusions, young one.”
“So I don’t go home.”
“I did not say that.”
John groaned, dropping his chin to his chest and splaying his hands rigidly in the air, as if choking the obstacle blocking his brain from full comprehension. Slowly, he released a breath through pursed lips, dropped his hands, and looked up at Sicarius again.
“I’m here now, and you don’t know how to get me back home. Okay, I understand that. What were you going to say?”
Sicarius gazed evenly at John with a sparkle of expression that John could not fully decipher. The slightest hint of a smile twisted his mouth upwards and the teenager cocked his head a little, feeling unusually warm. The man was joyful. And sad. And hopeful. There was so much emotion in that little attitude that John felt himself succumbing to it. He was sad, but hopeful that there was joy...somewhere.
“When you learn,” Sicarius breathed, his words hanging before his lips in frozen clouds. “When you truly give yourself to the study and service of Bara Vinyu, you will find that where He is - everywhere - you are home, and that you never wish to leave His presence. That you will give anything in order to glorify Him and remain with Him forever.”
“I can’t stay here, Sicarius,” John murmured, lowering his eyes. “Back home, in America, on Earth, I...I have too much going on. I’m not a hero.”
“Not on your own, John. No man is a hero of his own power.” The ancient wanderer laid a hand on the young man’s shoulder. It was surprisingly heavy. “But let He who is the holder of all true power work through you and you may become what you were always meant to be.”
John shook his head slowly. “What is that?”
John stared into the vagabond’s eyes for a long minute. However crazy the man sounded, he could tell the elder believed in what he was saying with all his heart. His commitment was inspiring and the peace and joy he seemed to find in it made John curious. Not convinced, but curious.
He sighed with a shrug.
“Well, that sounds good for now.”
The old man looked over his shoulder. “Leofred!”
The black clad character glanced away from his conversation and made a polite gesture to his neighbor, turning to jog to Sicarius’ side.
“John has accepted the mission set before him. We must prepare him.”
Leofred’s eyes skipped up and down John’s form and he shrank beneath the scrutiny. He knew he was in near perfect shape, but he had a feeling Leofred would not make things that easy for him.
“Fine. We start before dawn.”
John’s eyebrows shot up. “Before dawn. Okay, so is that normal around here? And do I get a tree?”
“You will stay with Leofred tonight, per his kind offer,” Sicarius informed him. “And we must be on the road before the sun rises. We’ve much ground to cover between here and Saor’in.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“You’ll learn,” Sicarius smiled, patting him on the shoulder. Leofred shrugged.
“You’re going to have to.” He turned back towards his tree, his feet seeming to glide over the cold hardened ground. John frowned.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think he likes me at all.”
Sicarius sighed lightly. “Do not hold his lack of expression against him. All things considered, Leofred has suffered enough to render him far more grave than he is.”
“Did the Baki get to him?”
The old man’s eyes swung in a slow arc to pin John with another steady stare. John physically fidgeted, letting his eyes slide away and twiddling his thumbs.
“Leofred has dedicated his life and spirit to the service of Bara Vinyu through the Wards of New Dawn,” Sicarius articulated, his thin voice becoming as hard as the ground beneath him. “But his parents, his brother, have made no such vows.”
“Oh.” John glanced once more Leofred’s way as the black clad hermit ducked into his tree, leaving the door open. A part of him suddenly sympathized, suddenly understood. Family, parents, fathers, were so important in the shaping of a young man’s character. It seemed that he and Leofred had something in common. But why should a young man like him offer so much to a Creator who picked up random boys from different worlds and left them here as this people’s only hope?
“Bara Vinyu does not promise peace in one’s own household in return for glory and praise,” Sicarius continued. “Nor does He offer comfort or ease in life. Faith in the Creator is the warrior’s choice, for it is a state of being fit only for those who are willing to fight for their beliefs. If you have not that strength, then you are vulnerable to Kau’s subtle wiles.”
John cleared his throat. “Okay, so be strong, good to remember. Sounds like Leofred’s got it right.”
“While we all are human and are flawed by nature, he has indeed the firm stance of a soldier in his faith. He has been tested through fire.”
The teenager took a half step towards the treehouse, then turned back again. “Would he...I don’t know, be willing to share? Cause, I mean, if I’m this Ward warrior person, and I’m supposed to know stuff that I don’t already, would he be okay with maybe helping me? I still have a million questions. Why give everything to someone who keeps you away from your family? Why would the lady from the story touch a tree she knew would kill her and why didn’t it actually, physically kill her? Does that make Bara Vinyu a liar? How come you all know English?”
“English? No, indeed!” A gentle smile touched Sicarius’ thin lips. “Leofred will help you. Little makes him happier than when he is teaching.”
“Does he smile when he’s happy? Cause I haven’t seen any of that action…”
“He chooses to express his joy in other ways. Now, come; we must get you settled. We have a long day ahead of us.”