Chapter 4: Unknown By Any Other Name
Phoebe awoke after having been sleepless for most of the night. She was uncertain of how much time had passed since she had fallen asleep. It could have been minutes or hours. The darkness of the basement didn’t allow her to venture a guess. She searched for and found the matches on the table beside the cot. The sights of the room started to creep out of the darkness.
She looked over at Mompsy and envied the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest. Phoebe spent most of the night hearing the whine of the Veeter’s hover sleds, while Mompsy had immediately fallen asleep in Phoebe’s arms while listening to her recount the tale of her Papa’s abduction for the hundreth time.
It was quiet in the basement, with the exception of the weak snoring coming from Mompsy. Phoebe realized that the whining of the hover sleds had stopped. She walked over to Mompsy and gently rubbed her shoulder.
“Hey, wake up.”
“Mompsy, it’s time to get up.”
“What time is it, Phoebe?”
“I’m not sure, I think it could be the morning, but I don’t know when I fell asleep,” she said. Phoebe pulled Mompsy up to a sitting position and hugged her fiercely. “I can’t take it anymore, these long nights are too much for me.”
“I know,” Mompsy said, as she hugged her back. She had a metallic taste in her mouth, and needed to drink water badly.
“Is there any water down here?”
Phoebe went to the table nearby and poured out a glass of water for Mompsy.
“I don’t understand why they came again so soon after the last time,” Mompsy said. Phoebe wondered the same thing. The attacks had become more frequent, and lasted for longer durations.
“They must be close to finding the one who will fulfill the prophecy. I can’t imagine them increasing their attacks without being close,” she said.
“I don’t understand,” Mompsy said between sips of her water, after Phoebe handed her the glass. “Why would that increase their attacks?”
“Because, they would want to find the chosen one more quickly Mompsy.”
“It just seems like they attack for no reason. I don’t know if I believe all that stuff in The Rote. It’s just stuff they told us to keep us scared,” she said.
“It’s not. Papa would never have lied about that stuff. He knew something very important about the attacks and the Veeters. He told me that they must never find the chosen one, or our world would fall into a darkness that we would never recover from.” Phoebe adjusted her shawl about her shoulders as a shiver went down her spine.
“It’s just that my parents never really talked about The Rote, except for the basics. They are too busy working in the fields to care about that. The Creators never gave us anything, and all they do is take from us. And if we don’t give enough, they take more. I hate them Phoebe, but it will never change.”
“Papa spoke of better time in the future, when we would all live in peace. A time when we could keep all that we made and worked to build, and a time when we would never have to worry about being taken by the Veeters ever again.”
Mompsy put her water glass down on the table after finishing it. She got up off the cot and grabbed Phoebe’s hand in hers and looked at her with sincerity. “It will never happen Phoebe. There is no hope.”
Phoebe pulled her hands away from Mompsy and turned toward the cabinet under the wooden ceiling beam. Her Certainty Book with all of the answers was sitting right inside of it. Unfortunately, she could not access it until she turned twenty-one. She knew the rules. As many times as she tried to pry open the book, it would never yield its secrets to her. The only thing that happened was that the book would get warm and start to glow with light.
“That book over there in the cabinet will give us the answers. It will tell us everything we need to know Mompsy. Papa promised.”
“It’s all lies Phoebe. I opened mine last year, and all it told me, was to be a good citizen and to support The Creators by working on the farm like my parents.” Mompsy turned her gaze from Phoebe, and looked down toward the ground.
“No, that can’t be,” Phoebe said.
“I’d show you, but obviously you can’t read it.”
Phoebe knew that Mompsy was right, even though Phoebe hard time believing that was all that her Certainty Book had yielded to her. Phoebe thought that Mompsy might be hiding something. She shot Mompsy a frown and then walked over to the cabinet. She opened the doors and inspected the contents.
Hanging on the left door was her grandfather’s white robe. It took on an orange hue in the candlelight, and she could see the outlined shapes of the many symbols sewn into the material. She ran a hand across it feeling its softness. She could have sworn that she felt her grandfather’s strength as well. Just inside the door, to the left, was where she kept his old staff. It was furrowed from many years of gripping by her grandfather’s hands. It curled upward from its base and rose to a knobby formation that Phoebe imagined would yield damage to anyone or anything it might strike. She knew it very well and fondly remembered all the times that she retrieved it from its place whenever her grandfather requested.
“Is that your grandfather’s staff?” Mompsy said.
“Show me how it lights up,” Mompsy’s eyes got large and she moved towards the cabinet where Phoebe was standing.
“It doesn’t work like that.” Phoebe said.
“I told you a hundred times that Papa only lit it once to distract the Veeters that were about to find my hiding place.”
“Well if he lit it once, then it can be lit again,” Mompsy said, as she grabbed hold of the staff
“I don’t know if it’s possible. I’ve never been able to get it to do anything.”
“Have you tried?”
“Yes, I’ve tried.”
“Maybe someone else could help us to get it to work.”
“Who would even know how to do that?”
“The man in black that is working on my farm told me a story of magical objects that couldn’t be explained.”
Phoebe laughed, “Magic? Who said anything about magic?”
“It has to be magic. That’s why we can’t get it to work.”
Phoebe’s tongue darted out of her mouth and licked her lips from the right to the left. Anytime she got nervous, she would wet her lips. She never really thought about it, but she had to admit that on the night her grandfather was abducted, that there was an inexplicable light that emanated from the staff. She had to consider that Mompsy could be right.
“When did that guy tell you about the magic objects?”
“Just last week when I brought him lunch, he pulled a coin from his breast pocket and made it disappear in a flourish. When I asked him where it went, he reached behind my ear and made it reappear in his hand and tumbled it over his knuckles back into his shirt pocket.”
Phoebe could tell that Mompsy was being serious, but she couldn’t help but giggle at the thought of Mompsy being fooled so easily by the strange man. She believed that magic was real, but didn’t want Mompsy to know how she felt about it. Throughout her childhood, there had been many instances where strange and mysterious things happened to Phoebe. Her grandfather tried his best to keep these things secret. He was fearful that it would bring unwanted attention to her. Her grandfather had always been cautious, and insisted that when the time was right that she would find out why all of these weird things happened to her.
She remembered the time that she set a fire in her bedroom by accident, and how she had been able to absorb the flames in her hands without it hurting her. She also thought about the time her grandfather was choking and she was able to reach into his throat and take out the foreign body as naturally as if there was no skin or cartilage there to obstruct her hand from plucking it out. She remembered the look on her grandfather’s face when she saved his life. He was in amazement and kept staring at Phoebe’s hands. For hours he ran his fingers over her hands and then would keep feeling his throat.
Phoebe looked in the bottom of the closet and found the glass jar that held the large cherry pit that her grandfather had choked on that day. She picked it up and rattled the pit around as if it held some hint as to the mystery that happened that day.
“What’s that?” Mompsy said as she grabbed the bottle from Phoebe’s hand.
Phoebe grabbed the bottle back from Mompsy, and stooped down and placed it back underneath some linen. When she got back up she turned to Mompsy and asked, “Would you bring me to this man on your farm?”
“What, the man in black?”
“Yes, the man in black. I want to talk with him.”
“I need to find out what he knows.”
“He’s there today. We can go as soon as your ready.”
Phoebe looked at her Certainty Book in its stand as she closed the doors to the closet. Then she and Mompsy went up the basement stairs to the barricaded door and removed the bars. Once they stepped out into the cottage, they saw that sunlight coming in through the windows. Phoebe opened the door to the cottage and stepped outside. She looked up into the morning sky and saw the sun and moon and realized that it was seven-thirty in the morning.
“It’s seven-thirty, Mompsy,” Phoebe called back to the cottage.
“Good, it should take us only ten minutes to get back to the farm. He’ll be up by eight.”
“Let’s get some food for the walk and lunch later.”
Phoebe walked back into the kitchen of the cottage and prepared three bundles of lunch and a snack pack for the walk. She was nervous about seeing the man in black, but hoped that he might be able to tell her something about her grandfather’s staff and about Certainty Books.
They started out over the path to Mompsy’s family farm. The path stretched back from the meadow on the other side of the road from Phoebe’s cottage, and wound inland until it passed two other farms before reaching hers. The path was unkempt and showed little or no wear. Mompsy was the only one who seemed to use it.
As they moved along, Phoebe looked up to the morning moon. The moon was named Chandra, and it was the twin brother of Chanrada the evening moon. The moons were named for the children heirs of the first King of Valkron. They lived two thousand years ago and started an age of peace and prosperity that lasted for five hundred years, until the first invaders came to Valkron.
Valkrons were unware that off-worlders moved among them for milenia. Somehow it was neglected in the histories, and soon forgotten after a few generations. Valkronians just grew to assume that all the people that had been there, had always been there. The bloodlines had been mixed, and time concealed their true identies. If the masses knew that life outside of this world existed, than the potential for the societies of the world to rise up against The Creators would certainly happen, as they would have motivation to strive for something outside of this life.
They had only been walking for five minutes when Mompsy started to talk about her discomfort. “I’m thirsty and tired,” she said.
“Tired. You just woke up.” Phoebe said as she passed the canteen back to Mompsy.
“I’ll catch a nap in the barn midday. My parents never notice if I’m gone. Especially, now that the man in black is there.”
“Does he have a name?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never asked him.”
“You found out that he does magic, and that he’s from the unknown territory, and you didn’t think to ask him his name?”
“No. I was too scared to.”
“Papa always said that if you knew someone’s name, then you had power over them.”
“Well, why don’t you ask him his name when we see him then?”
“I will,” Phoebe, said, as she took back the canteen from Mompsy and took a drink.
“C’mon, we only have a little further to go.”
They finished the trek to Mompsy’s farm in silence. Phoebe had a lot on her mind. She thought of her grandfather’s abduction again, as well as her upcoming birthday. She wondered why he had been so adamant about her concealing her secrets. She missed him and wanted to see if the man in black knew anything about what happened to Takes when the Veeters carried them off on the hover sleds. She tried to compose a list of things that she would ask the man in black, but she kept losing track of them all.
She was nervous about meeting him. She wondered what he looked like, and if he would talk to her. Most of her conversations at the market had become awkward lately. Although her customers had felt sorry for her after her grandfather was abducted in the raid, they were starting to talk about her because she was living alone. It was said by many in the village, that she needed to be married. Phoebe didn’t want to be married. She could take care of herself, just as he grandfather had taught her to do. Her shack was always a spectacle when the market opened, as she always had the best selections and most abundance of fish. Phoebe seemed to have a knack for finding the fish. Many single men in the village were biding their time until she turned twenty-one. Then the proposals would surely come, but since her grandfather was gone, there was no one to broker a marriage for her.
As Phoebe and Mompsy passed over the crest of the last hill before Mompsy’s farm, they saw the activity in the meadow before them. Mompsy’s parents were gathering the bundles of chaff, as the man in black was cutting through the rows with a scythe.
“He must have gotten up early,” said Mompsy.
“He’s not wearing a shirt.”
Phoebe watched him dance among the wheat stalks. There was fluidity to the movement that she recognized, yet it also seemed unfamiliar to her. He could certainly handle the scythe. It seemed that half an acre had been cleared already. It must be harvest time. Phoebe hadn’t realized that it was so close to that time of year. Pretty soon, she would be preparing the cottage for winter, and the long nights. Winter was always much worse for Valkronians, as the attacks increased. Although, she couldn’t imagine the attacks increasing any more than they already had.
Mompsy’s parents looked up from their work to see the travelers approaching the farm. When they realized it was Mompsy, they dropped their baskets and came running over to the fence.
“You scared us girl. We had no idea where you were. We had no idea if you were taken.”
“You know they can’t catch me. Besides, I always come home after an attack if I’m not here.”
“Where were you?” her father said.
“I was at Phoebe’s cottage.”
“Oh, hello Phoebe,” said Mompsy’s mother, “Seems as if our daughter is giving you trouble again.”
“No, it was nothing. I’m glad she was nearby when the attack came. We spent the night in my basement. We’re okay.”
“You’re a great friend, Phoebe,” said Mompsy’s father.
They came around the fence and hugged their daughter tightly, and then turned to Phoebe and hugged her as well. It had been a while since anyone other than Mompsy hugged her, and it felt nice to have affection from someone else.
“Why don’t the two of you come lend a hand?” said Mompsy’s mother.
Mompsy was happy that her mother suggested they help, as it would bring them closer to the man in black.
“Can you stay to help? Or are you going out to cast today?” Mompsy turned to her friend, pretending to act as if this wasn’t their plan all along.
“Yes, I can stay.”
“Great. You can both grab baskets from the barn. Why don’t you start over there where the chaff is being cut down?” Phoebe noticed that Mompsy’s father didn’t say too much. He was focused on the business at hand.
The two friends walked over to the barn and grabbed chaff baskets. Then they headed out into the field where the man in black was. When they reached the row he had just felled, they started to pick up the chaff and put it in the basket. They moved quickly, but respected the space he needed to wield the scythe. They didn’t want to be on the receiving end of one of those swipes.
“You see the marking on his back?” Mompsy pointed to the upper left half of his back. There were marking there that Phoebe recognized. They looked like the insignias sewn into her grandfather’s robes. There were three rows of them, starting at the shoulder and then coming down into the middle of his back.
“Yes. I see it,” she said.
In the follow through motion, the man in black saw Mompsy pointing at him and dropped the scythe where he stood. He walked over to the canteen on the ground and picked it up drinking from it generously. He was now facing them, and Phoebe could see his throat move with each lusty gulp of water.
“He must be really thirsty.”
He dropped the canteen and wiped his mouth with the back of his arm.
“What are you staring at?” he said.
Phoebe was embarrassed that she was caught staring at him, but Mompsy giggled.
“This is my friend, Phoebe.”
Phoebe flushed and started to move nervously from side to side. The man in black went back over to the scythe and picked it up. He started back into the row of wheat that he was cutting.
“Hi. Just Hi. You came all the way over here to just say hi,” said Mompsy as she poked Phoebe in the side.
“He seems like he doesn’t want to be bothered.”
“I can’t believe you, that not what we came her for today.”
“I know, but it didn’t feel like the right time to ask him.”
The girls followed him around the field until lunch picking up the cut wheat and putting it in the baskets. It seemed like the harvest was going rather quickly. Phoebe had no idea how long it usually took, but she heard Mompsy remark several times that they would be done in no time at all. For some reason, this made Phoebe worry, as she thought if the harvest were finished then the man in black would move on.
“Wait, Mompsy,” said Phoebe, “we’re speeding up the process by helping. The man in black will leave if the harvest gets finished.”
“The wheat still has to be ground and stored, and the sale portion must go to market. That could take up to another month. But, that should loosen your lips and give you reason to go talk with him during lunch.”
“I just got worried thinking he would leave.”
“You’re weird Phoebe.”
They brought their full baskets over to the gristmill for separating with the others. Once all the chaff was collected, then the separation could be done and finally the grinding. When they went toward the house, they saw Mompsy’s mother emerge from within with a tray of sandwiches and a picture of water. Mompsy rushed over and grabbed two halves of off of the platter. She shoved one half in her mouth and took a bite of the second half. Phoebe approached the platter and reached for a sandwich half. Just as she grabbed one, she realized that the man in black was reaching to the tray at the same time. She had no idea where he had come from. He wasn’t there a minute ago. Awkwardly, they both reached for the same sandwich half, and that is when it happened. Their hands touched.
Phoebe felt the hairs on the back of her arm stand straight up, and then there was an arcing electric spike that jumped across her arm and landed on his. Phoebe realized that the man in black tried to pull his hand back, but it seemed as if it was melded with hers. She caught his eyes and got lost for a moment. She felt safe again. When she let go of his hand they both fell back. Phoebe fell to the ground, and he went down on one knee. There was a smell of ozone in the air. Mompsy’s mother dropped the tray and went to Phoebe with Mompsy.
“Cliven, come out here. Something happened.”
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, something happened to Phoebe.”
Mompsy cradled Phoebe’s head in her lap, while her father had gone over to the man in black and tended to him. Phoebe was conscious and smiling.
“What are you smiling at Phoebe?” Mompsy said.
The man in black was now composed and came over to see if Phoebe was okay, but he kept his distance.
“Is she okay,” he said.
“I think so,” said Mompsy’s mother.
“What happened?” asked Cliven.
“I don’t know, we reached for the same sandwich and we got shocked.”
“Bethel, did you see it?”
“No honey, I was looking at Mompsy because she was making a mess.”
“Was not,” said Mompsy.
“They must have been standing over a pocket of stored energy. I’ve seen it happen once or twice in my years. It generally happens when two animals fight over something. And end on the pocket. But it doesn’t always end like this.”
“What do you mean, Cliven?”
“It’s just that, in the times I’ve seen it, the animals end up dead.”
Mompsy started to cry and hugged what parts of Phoebe that she could.
“Are you okay, Phoebe?”
“Yes, I’m okay. I’m just really thirsty.”
“Me too,” said the man in black.
Cliven brought over another picture of water that he grabbed from the nearby table. He said to Bethel, “go back into the house to get more glasses.” When Bethel returned, she handed a glass to the man in black and then one to her husband. Cliven filled out the first glass and handed it to his daughter. Mompsy pressed it to Phoebe’s lips, as she was now trying to sit up. Cliven poured the other glass when the man in black held it out in front of him. Phoebe sipped gingerly from the glass, but the man in black gulped noisily from his, and let spates of water escape the sides of his mouth.
Mompsy brought her friend over to rest against a nearby tree. Phoebe righted herself and gained some color back in her cheeks. She had been looking pale for a few minutes. The man in black walked over to her and said, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, but what about you?”
“It really tickled more than anything. I’m sorry that it hurt you.”
“It didn’t really hurt, it just disoriented me,” she said. She wondered how she could suddenly feel so comfortable with a complete stranger. She recalled the feeling of airiness that the back of her arms held when the hairs raised upon touching his hand. There were also butterflies in her stomach in that instant.
“Well, I hope you’ll be okay. We just met, and don’t normally leave such and impression on people.”
Phoebe couldn’t help but smile. This man in black intrigued her. It seemed as if Mompsy and her family disappeared, and Phoebe was only left with him.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“If I tell you my name, then you’ll have power over me.”
Phoebe lost her breath, and looked into the man’s eyes.
“That’s something my grandfather used to say.”
“Well, your grandfather was a wise man then,” he said as he smiled. He moved to put his glass down on the table, and headed back to the field. Phoebe followed him with her eyes, when suddenly he stopped and turned around saying, “My name is Jaxus. Jaxus Wrintha”