I am sharing from the second part of my serial novella. I already shared an excerpt from Part I, you can check it out here. We are almost to the end of the story, you can read these two segments to see how it all began. I hope you enjoy.
To Tread the Narrow Path
Book I: The Tale of the Little Bird
Part II: The Path Behind
I alone mourned him.
I alone whispered the prayers that sent him to the shadow world. Each word falling from my lips in harmony with the flames engulfing my master’s body. I watched his spirit rise with the embers into the wind. As sadness began to overcome me, I turned my thoughts to the things he had taught me.
And to all the things he had not. All the questions swum just below the surface of my thoughts like a fish beneath rushing waters. The questions cast me back to the beginning. I think of the events that occurred long before my birth. Events set in motion by distrust and disloyalty. Petty emotions that would grow to topple kingdoms. Petty emotions that led to the narrow path.
My master was emperor Gregor’s Nightwatch. A spy. An assassin. A servant who kept our master’s order by secret murders. My master served and protected his Lord from the blades of his enemies. He walked the narrow path alone, nameless and clanless. He served Gregor tirelessly. Until the day Lord Gregor took ill and soon died. It was then that the rule and title of the clan fell to Akana, Gregor’s son. He was only seven summers old. When he was nine, his forces suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of a rival warlord. Those who survived the battle of the Valley of Dragons call it a massacre.
That rival is Marcus, a former general of Akana’s father. He demanded that the boy proclaim him emperor. In the face of the crushing weight of the rebel armies, the boy retreated to his ancestral lands leaving the spoils to Marcus and his armies. Marcus’ rule was harsh. He stripped most of the nobles and loyal families of their lands and exiled them. Their peasants became landless and their loyal warriors became masterless wanderers and criminals. As the boy became a man, forces rallied behind him. Nobles and Lords begged him to return the glory of his father, and fight for his right to rule from his father's throne. Akana and his armies in recent summers have managed to retake much of his former kingdom. All from the ancient and powerful seat of kings built by his ancestors. For many summers now, only Akana stood against the usurper, only the walls of his castle, Sciath's Reach, stood between Marcus’ complete rule of the land. My master, on behalf of Akana was a constant thorn in Marcus’ side. He protected the young lord from the assassins that the warlord would send. My master was alone in his efforts, without the support and protection of a clan, and he trained me to be his successor. A second generation to guard our Lord from attacks.
A Nightwatch learns to not question, but one question was more troublesome during my training than any other. The question of my ancestors. I asked my master one evening after meditation, "Who is my father?"
I could not see his eyes for his mask but I recognized amusement within them. He replied, "You have never asked this before, little bird."
"I beg to know. I want to know the names of my ancestors."
"You do not ask the right question. Ask correctly and I will tell you."
This caught me off guard. I stammered, "Do you--?"
"Do not be hasty! Consider your wording; consider what it is you really wish to understand. It is not only your father you seek to know. It is yourself. I shall answer your question when you word it properly. It is as much a part of your training as anything else I teach you."
I went to ponder his words and actions and after a time I soon forgot the question. Training consumed my life. It was a daily mental and physical spectacle. Every waking moment held a lesson for me. Lessons of agility. Endurance. Patience. Stamina. All under the watchful eye of my master and all taught with the tutelage of pain. Summers later, as I neared the end of my training, my sixteenth summer, the same questions reared their head and settled foremost in my mind.
One day after our evening meal, I steeled myself to ask again. I prepared my words carefully and listened so as not to miss any nuances within my master’s words.
I asked, "Honorable and august teacher, I still have questions."
"I will answer them should they prove worthy."
"Are you my father?"
I expected repercussions for this wording. Instead, he placed his hand on my shoulder and replied, "No. Although you would be a welcome son."
His response pleased me so I pressed farther, "Does my father still live?"
My master stiffened at this question and said, "That matters little, my bird. Your duty to him, the honor you bring his name, would be a comfort to him alive or dead."
"And--?" I was seeking more. His answers did not deter my curiosity.
"I have said enough. Your ancestors are an old and illustrious clan; you honor them as they do you." My greatest efforts could not pry more information out of him.
More seasons passed, and many attacks came upon us. As an enemy of the warlord, we were often the focus of reprisals. A day before my master fell, we sat in meditation on the front patio of our sanctuary.
"Listen, Little Bird, to the rain," he began, but stopped short and stiffened. My sensei tensed, and whispered to me in a battle language that only we share, "Rainfall on cloth."
The sentence was simple and direct but I caught all of the implications. We were about to be attacked. I raised myself into a crouched position and my master drew his sword half out of the scabbard. He made a sniffing noise and whispered, "Six men." Sweat beaded on my forehead and I heard footfalls on the thatch roof that could be mistaken for raindrops. My master reached back and pulled his mask over his face. The black cloth, with the features of a fox painted onto the fabric, always intimidated foes and allies alike. He claimed that our mask imbued the wearer with supernatural abilities; the spirits empowered us as we fought.
Our enemies chose this moment to attack. They came from every angle in a blaze and fury of weapons and fist. My teacher’s movements as he danced around the assassins were beautiful. The blade of my master’s sword became the judgment of the spirits sending four of the assassins down the narrow path. I dispatched the other two with relative ease. As we stood ready for another attack, I wondered why such a small force came to assassinate my master. After what seemed like hours, my master finally breathed normally and relaxed; relaxed as much as a Nightwatch can. He ripped the shirt off the nearest corpse and exposed the sign of their clan. The tattoo on the man’s chest showed a serpent entwining itself around a blood red rose.
Nameless warriors for a nameless clan. I did not recognize the tattoo, but surely, my master did. He gave no sign one way or the other. He must have seen it before, just as he saw the storm to come, the clouds stirring dark and foreboding. He knew the red tide that threatened to engulf our home. For it was then that he sent me away to the stream, to the salmon weir. He told me that we needed to lay in fish for the coming winter. Now, I know it was to escape the crimson rain that was to come.
As I search our hidden cave, it brings me back to the present. When the assassins found our sanctuary, they undermined the security of our home. I cannot leave it bare to our enemies lest it give up any of my master’s secrets. The fire was glorious. It consumed all. All except the Wolf’s Blade, the last vestige of my master’s family line, and the scroll, his last message to our Lord. I would need the blade’s purity and strength for the coming journey.I understand he meant to spare me, but did he think that he also shamed me? A shame that might only be washed away by service to our Lord, to fulfill my master's oath. I vowed to choose the path of duty and honor above the path of vengeance. I would honor my master, my father, and my clan.
Hope you enjoyed. If you like please follow the link at the beginning of the post and check out the novella on Amazon.
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