Nameless

Written by: A.J. Nold

“No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

“I would have you happy.”

Not for the first time, I heard the echo of her voice playing in my head. I wished I could hear it again, or see Faolán materialize from the darkness, or hear Fechín’s melodic voice demanding my return to the Elder Glen, even knowing bad news would inevitably follow. But the Glen was so far away, and Simon’s Keep was so near that I could almost sense it chasing me. How long had we been riding? Logically I knew stones must be still, and yet I felt that if we turned back the keep would be mere minutes away.

He was staring at me, sitting not quite across the fire. Perhaps he was waiting for an explanation, some understanding of the events that had led him to become my guardian instead of my guard. I was not silent out of fear or defiance; I did not know what words to say, and so I waited.

“I would have you happy.”

“Then why would you send me to fetch that leather-bound curse?”

“Why don’t you have a name?” That was the question asked to me. Not why had I killed a man. Not where I got the journal. Not how I had gotten past the guards to get into the lord’s bedchamber to begin with, nor why I had been so careless leaving when I had been so gloriously specter-like coming in.

“Why is your name Liam?”

A flicker of surprise crossed his face. “Because that’s what my parents named me.”

“Because my parents didn’t name me.”

“Then how do people call you?”

“People have never been short of things to call me.” Silence.

She was the most beautiful woman in the world to everyone who saw her, and no two people saw her the same. She seemed to glide rather than walk, and wild heather bloomed wherever her feet touched the ground, only to fade the instant she stepped away.

She held out an exquisite flower, pale as moonlight, and waited for me to take it in hand. “What is it? I’ve never seen such a bloom.”

“It is not from this part of the world  a gift given me by my sister Kuanyin. It is called a white lotus, and I give it to your keeping. One day you will have need of it.”

My fingers trailed over the small satchel still dangling from my neck, a heavier leather that would keep it well.

“What is it for?”

“You will see, my daughter, when fate has prepared the paths for you to choose from. I would have you happy.”

He was staring at me, studying me like an injured wolf cub given to his keeping, unsure if I would scurry away or swipe at him. I kept my eyes on the fire. “You really aren’t going to ask.”

“I read the journal you gave me. It’s why I came back for you.” I wished he would find something else to look at; I was beginning to wonder if those eyes could peel back the layers of my brain to read everything inside. “It was your first kill.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I recognize shock when I see it. You didn’t get this way in the prison cell.”

Vaguely, I wondered what ‘this way’ meant. I hadn’t seen a mirror in days. Were my eyes still green, or had they turned some darker color? I felt sure my reflection now would show some stranger’s face.

“Why would you send me to fetch that leather-bound curse?”

She brushed half-fallen tears from my eyes with her thumb; I had not realized I was crying. “You are in desperate need of a protector, and I will send one for you. But this land needs one more, and I can send only you as its champion.”

I was not crying now, I don’t think.

“I would have you happy.” Whatever that meant.

“You put me in that cell.”

“You hadn’t given me the journal yet.” But he had been working for Simon. He had to have known something, and I didn’t know him. “I wasn’t the only guard; I couldn’t do anything then. I always planned to come back.”

“Why? You don’t know me.”

“And you don’t know me, so put a hold on the judgment. What you see isn’t always really what you see.”

Maybe if I stayed quiet he would assume I believed him.

“Someone like you should not have been made to do something like this. You should have shown that journal to someone who could fight for you earlier. You should have found a champion.”

“Champions are for nobles. Nameless people don’t get them.”

He grabbed his saddlebag from where he’d dropped it on the ground and came over to me in a crouch, moving as though he were stalking a deer.

I was standing perfectly still with Simon’s heart in my hand, squeezing hard enough that I felt my own pulse briefly and mistook it for a heartbeat. I didn’t flinch, even when the guards grabbed me and dragged me down to the dungeon. They were going to hang a murderer. It might have been me.

He removed a rag and doused it with water from his canteen, then grasped my hands and began wiping away the blood. I had forgotten it.

I still had the white lotus hanging around my neck. What was it for? The leather-bound curse was tucked into my shirt. I had to show it to someone. Just one person. The next guard I saw.

When he began washing my face, his hands moved slowly, as if he thought I might bolt at the first hint of aggression. He was right.

“I would have you happy.”

“They know I let you go.”

Just one person. Anyone.

Still kneeling in front of me, he held my hands as though I were a small child instead of a grown woman. “You don’t have to continue this alone. For better or worse, I am with you now.”

I do not remember when I started screaming, just the sudden realization that I was. Or maybe it was laughter; I really couldn’t tell the difference.

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