Flower of Miran

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while now, you might remember that I was in a narrative writing class at one point. I posted one of my stories, “The Angels’ Secret”, but somehow I failed to post what I consider to be the best of the stories I wrote for that class. I came up with the idea for “Flower of Miran” when I was going through one of my picture files on my computer. I have the habit of saving random pictures onto my computer because I think they’re cool, whether or not they serve a purpose. The primary image that I used is the one below.

Inspiration for Navon

————

Flower of Miran

A cool, gentle breeze shifted over the hillcrest as a lone figure on horseback wound its way down a lonely dirt path. The moonlight streamed over the mountain peaks in the distance, glowing against the white snow patches and glinting off the surface of the stream that wound its way to the valley floor beyond. The path on which the lone figure travelled curled down into the valley, crossing over a bridge that spanned the stream before winding up again, toward a stone tower perched upon a far hill.

The whisper of the cool breeze stirred the tall field grass that crowded up against the edge of the dirt road, joining in chorus with the chirp of crickets, the croak of frogs, the gurgling of the stream and the rhythmic clip, clop, clip, clop of the rider’s mount. The horse snorted, tossing its head only enough to move its forelock out of its eyes, its deep black coat glistening under the moon’s watchful gaze.

The rider, who wore a heavy, hooded cloak, almost entirely blended in with his mount, seeming to be no more than an extension of the jet black creature that trotted along the desolate path.

It wasn’t long before the tower was looming above the pair. Quietly the rider dismounted, tucking a large object securely under his arm before turning toward the weather-beaten, wooden door that led into the tower’s dark interior.

“Navon? Is that you?”

The cloaked figure paused as a young girl appeared at the bottom of the tower staircase, a lit candle in one hand. She had stopped at the last steps, glancing out into the dark room, half crouched, half pressed against the wall. Her long, light brown hair fell in gentle waves over her shoulder, her ivory skin and bright blue eyes glittering like gemstones against her creamy-white nightgown.

“It’s okay, Zara,” the figure replied, pushing off the hood of his cloak with his free hand. “It’s just me.”

He was a young man, this cloaked figure who was now only barely visible in the candlelight. He didn’t appear to be more than 16. His hair was jet black and reached down to his shoulder blades. His eyes glinted pale gold in the dim half-light. Though his cloak covered most of his attire, the uneven hem of a strange robe could still be seen at the front, a blue sash and a brown leather belt encompassing his middle and heavy leather sandals adorning his feet. A strange red symbol was tattooed on his forehead, framed by his bangs on either side.

“Navon,” Zara smiled, relaxing visibly. “I’m glad. When you didn’t come for supper, I became worried.”

“Mmm,” Navon nodded, holding the object in his hand out toward her. “I was in town, and I found this.”

“Another book? Navon, you have too many books already,” the girl protested, following the young man over to a table on which a lantern sat.

Her comrade didn’t respond until he had lit the lantern, raising it to reveal a room full of bookshelves, tables, and stacks upon stacks of books.

“One can never have too many books, Zara,” he replied, proceeding to a pile of books in the far corner and laying the new one on top. “Books mean knowledge, and knowledge is power. And power, Zara…” he leaned over toward her, “power is what we don’t have on our side.”

At that he turned toward the outer door.

“I’m going to put Loyan in the stable. You should go to bed. You have nothing to worry about now that I am here.”

“Navon,” Zara protested, “are things really getting that bad?”

The young man paused in the open doorway, staring out into the dark night. A moment later he had reached for the door handle.

“Good night…Zara.”

The clack of the closing door was the final reply.

********

The bright morning sunlight streamed through the window in the library room of the tower in which Navon and Zara lived. It settled in a cheery golden patch on Navon’s face. Slowly, the young man lifted his head from the book on which it had been resting.

“You fell asleep at the desk again,” came Zara’s soft voice.

Navon sat up and turned to the young woman standing next to him. She was clad in a beige summer dress, her long, wavy, light brown hair pulled back into a simple ponytail.

“I took the privilege of opening the window for you,” the girl continued, putting her hands behind her back and smiling sweetly. “I thought the sun would be a much nicer way to wake up.”

“Ugh,” Navon grunted, letting his head fall back to the desk, his forehead coming to rest on the pages of the book he had been reading. “Zara, bright light is the worst thing to wake up to.”

“Oh…I’m sorry. I just thought…”

The young man glanced up, one eye open, to look at his companion. She appeared genuinely perplexed and embarrassed now, her cheeks a vivid pink. She had fisted one slender hand and put it to her lips in deep thought, her eyebrows furrowed with concern.

“Ah, don’t worry about it, princess,” Navon sighed, pushing his chair back and standing to his feet. “Thanks for the thought.”

“Navon!” Zara gasped as he lifted the book from the table under the window. “I…I apologize. I won’t do it again. I promise. I’ll…I’ll…”

“Zara,” the young man interrupted, closing his book and looking over at her. “Stop apologizing. Go outside. Pick some flowers. Stop worrying about me.”

The girl still look flustered, but she obeyed without another word, hurrying out the door to the field beyond.

Idly, Navon rearranged stacks of books and scrolls, pausing when at last he could see Zara through the open window. Zara-to-Mirsaj: eira, princess, daughter of the king of Miran. Had it really been three months since he first rescued her from the hands of the high priest and the sacrificial death she had been meant for? She was a good six years older than Navon himself, though she was as small and fragile as a child. Why now? Why her? What purpose could sacrificing a princess possibly serve. Navon had never had much regard for religion, but that had more to do with the priests than it had to do with their god, Kosak. Nonetheless, the young man had never taken Kosak as the stereotypical, blood-thirsty god. Not that he knew much about it, but still…human sacrifice?

“Navon!”

The young man jumped when Zara leaned through the window toward him. He hadn’t even noticed her presence.

“Come outside,” the girl said. “Sunshine is good for you, too. Better than dirty old books.”

“Nah,” Navon shrugged, picking up an armload of heavy volumes. “I’m going to clean up my study area, then I’ll make us some breakfast.”

The princess wrinkled her nose.

“Do you really have to cook? Can’t we eat something that you don’t make?”

“Well, I’m sorry my cooking doesn’t suit your royal palate. It’s better than starving.”

“Don’t they have books about that? About cooking?”

“No. And why would anyone waste their money on something like that if they did? Go…play with your flowers and stuff. I’ll call you when breakfast is ready.”

*************

“Won’t you come outside with me, Navon?” Zara begged as she helped the young man clear the table at which they had been eating. “I want to go up to that garden we found the other day.”

“I suppose,” Navon sighed. “We’ll just leave the dishes for later. It will give you something to do when I go into town again tomorrow.”

“Thank you!” the girl beamed excitedly, giving the young man a quick peck on the cheek before rushing up the stairs. “I’m going to get my shawl! I’ll be right back.”

“Princesses,” the young man grunted, wiping his cheek with his sleeve and turning toward his bookshelves. “Oh, well. I’ll just bring a book along.”

He crossed the small room to the shelf on which his newest book sat. Pulling it into his hands, he stared down at the gilded text on the leather cover. “Conjectures on the Nature of Kosak, god of Miran by Jayne Leigh.” Obviously written by an outsider, but still…it was information. Though Kosak was the god of Miran, Navon was sure there wasn’t a single Mirs who actually knew what that god was like.

The sound of quick footsteps caught the young man’s ears and he turned to see Zara hurrying toward him.

“I’m ready!”

“So I see,” Navon replied, tucking his book under one arm. “Alright. Let’s go.”

***********

The mountain air was cool and crisp as Navon and Zara hiked along a narrow trail at the summit of a large, grassy hill. Navon would have much preferred to ride his horse, but Zara would not go near the creature, so there was nothing he could do but walk. The landscape spread out in a surreal spiral, the tall grey mountain peaks veiled in a ceiling of clouds, the roots of the mountain reaching out in the direction of the sea as the range itself curled south. The valleys that nestled between the roots of the mountains glowed like emerald gems in the soft midmorning sunlight.

The pair came to a stop at the hilltop, looking down at a meadow below. Hardly a single whisp of green could be seen in the midst of a rainbow of color. Large, multicolor blooms reached skyward, their appearance so vivid they might as well have been glowing. They seemed to be variations of regular wildflowers. Only, the blooms of this feral garden were about seven times larger than the ones that grew elsewhere.

“What do you think, Navon?” Zara questioned as they stepped into the sea of color. She held up a bloom that was five-petalled, pale pink with magenta spots toward the center, and with multiple, pink-tipped stamen shooting out from all sides. It had a strange, round, pinkish bulb in the center and was roughly six inches in diameter.

“Huh?” Navon replied, raising an eyebrow at the princess.

“What do you think? Isn’t it pretty?”

“It’s pink.”

“Exactly!”

The young man sighed, then proceeded over to a large boulder set off to the side of the field. Here he sat down with his book, only half concentrating on the words on the page. Every now and again he would look up to make sure that Zara was still there or to secretly admire the flowers around him. Of course, he couldn’t let Zara know that he was looking at the flowers. That wasn’t a manly endeavor.

The place really was beautiful, though Navon knew that a darker history pervaded the landscape. He had inquired about this place at the village when he had last passed that way. The villagers had told him the legend behind this meadow, a story filled with magic, destruction, and bloodlust. That story…could it even be true? And even then, dare he tell Zara?

“What are you thinking about?” came an inquiring voice.

Navon jumped slightly when he realized that Zara was standing beside him.

“Nothing,” the young man replied, burying his nose back in his book.

The girl cocked her head to one side, her eyebrows knit in curious concern.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. It’s nothing.”

There was a moment of awkward silence as Zara stood there, hands behind her back, leaning over Navon’s shoulder while the young man focused intently on the page in front of him, hoping that the princess would get bored and go elsewhere.

“Navon?” the girl said at length.

“Huh?”

“Can I…show you something?”

Instantly the young man looked up from his book. This must be serious. Zara never asked permission for such things, nor did she vocalize such a desire with such timidity.

“Sure,” he replied, closing his book and standing to his feet. “What is it?”

The girl rocked back and forth on her feet before setting off at a brisk trot toward a rocky outcropping on the far side of the meadow. Navon followed behind, curious and slightly concerned. They came to a stop in front of a pool of water. Navon shivered when he saw it.

The outcropping consisted of chipped obsidian that glittered in the bright sunlight. It encircled the pool of water before which the pair now stood. A gnarled tree grew nearby, its twisting roots plunged deep into the water, which was rusty red in tint. A human skull sat motionless on the far side of the pool, its sightless eyes eerily staring at them, a gaunt guardian of the mysterious basin. Clusters of enormous red irises hugged the water’s edge, their heavy blooms bowing toward the shadowed surface.

Quietly Zara crouched in front of the water staring at her rippling reflection. She let her chin come to rest on her knees and hugged her legs, her eyes locked on the reflection. Navon could feel his whole body quivering. Something didn’t feel right about this place. His sharp golden eyes now wide and alert, he shook himself from his trance and glanced around at his surroundings. Images and sounds wholly foreign to him seemed to now race through his mind. Shrill screams and splashing blood danced through his mind’s eye. The story. Surely…it couldn’t possibly be true!

He glanced up at the mountain and across the meadow. A movement caught his eye. It was a figure, dressed in a blood-red cloak. And it was coming their way.

“What do you think, Navon?”

The young man spun back to Zara, who was now kneeling by the water. It was almost as though she had been hypnotized. Her eyes were staring and sightless.

“What do you think it is?” she continued, reaching out toward the water.

“No, Zara!” Navon exclaimed, grabbing the girl by the wrist and flinging her back toward himself. “We have to run. Do you understand me? We have to run!”

A look of sheer terror crossed the girl’s face and she looked back and forth in search of the foe from which they were fleeing. Her eyes landed on the solemn red figure coming toward them. Immediately her knees buckled and she pitched forward. Navon grabbed her by the arms and hauled her back to her feet.

“Don’t do this to me, Zara!” the young man warned, pulling her by the wrist. “Come on!”

The pair sped off toward the hill crest, the sound of their footfall echoing in their ears like a heartbeat. The enormous blooms of the meadow flowers whipped left and right, crushed under their racing feet. They did not pause until they had reached the top of the hill.

For a brief moment, Navon glanced back as his feet touched the hillcrest. The red figure had entirely disappeared. Had Navon been seeing things? He dared not stay to wonder. Giving Zara’s wrist another tug, the pair set off again, their hearts racing wildly, their minds filled with questions.

************

“Who was that?” Zara panted as Navon slammed the tower door behind them.

The young man shoved the bolt into its socket and collapsed against the door.

“I don’t know,” he replied, forcing himself to stand again and crossing the room. He let his book fall to the study table before sinking into the chair and letting his face fall into his hands.

“He didn’t chase us,” the girl said. “Why were we running?”

“I don’t know,” Navon admitted. “Something just…didn’t feel right.”

“Do you think someone is after us?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is it the priest?”

“I don’t know!”

Navon looked up at the princess with a frustrated frown. Immediately Zara’s face paled.

“I’m sorry,” the girl whispered, backing off.

“No…don’t be,” Navon sighed. “Just…just don’t ask any more questions, okay? Wait until I have answers, at least.”

“Okay,” Zara nodded. She paused a moment before continuing, “I’ll…make some supper.”

Her comrade raised an eyebrow at her.

“Can you cook?”

The girl stiffened for a moment, then replied slowly and emphatically, “Yes, I can.”

Navon eyed her warily for a moment, then shrugged and turned toward his book.

“Okay,” he said, “just don’t hurt yourself.”

He watched her go, then laid his head on his study table. Why had that red-cloaked man frightened him so much? And why had all those sounds and images come to his mind. He had always had an active imagination, but that…that was something entirely different. What was even more frightening was the look on Zara’s face when she had knelt by the pool. It had been as though she were a mere reflection of the skull at the water’s edge. He had to know more about that place…about the story behind it.

“The Luloudi,” he whispered aloud. “Could it be that she is…?”

“Navon!”

The young man sprang from his chair at the frightened outcry. Quickly he rushed into the side room attached to the tower, the place where all the cooking was done. There he found Zara, standing near the counter. She was holding her hand, blood dripping between her fingers.

“Good lord, Zara!” Navon gasped, ushering the girl to a seat next to the fireplace. “I told you not to hurt yourself!”

“The knife slipped,” Zara whimpered back.

A large pot of boiling water had been set over the fire, and quickly Navon pulled it toward him, dipping a clean cloth in the water and wincing only slightly at the heat. He waited for but a moment before gently taking Zara’s hand and pressing the cloth over her bleeding wound.

“Hold that there,” he told her. “I’ll need to clean my hands and find some bandages.”

At that the young man turned and went in search of an extra cloth. He was just about to pick one up when he realized that his hands were slightly tingly. Stunned, Navon glanced down at his hands, which had just moments before been covered in blood. They weren’t covered now, though. Instead, he could feel the muscles in his hands growing stronger.

“No…” he breathed. “So she is…”

He shook himself out of his trance and hurried up the stairs toward his room, which was located on the second floor of the tower. There he kept a chest of medical supplies. A moment later he had returned to the cooking area.

There sat Zara, still holding her bleeding hand. For a girl who utterly panicked at the thought of riding a horse, she sure was quiet now, staring deeply into the fire, ignoring the pain that Navon was sure she must have felt.

“Here, let me see your wound,” he said, sitting on a crate beside the girl and holding up the bandages.

Without protest, Zara held out her hand, removing the bloody cloth in her opposite hand. Carefully, Navon dipped the cloth back into the water pot, which was still quite warm, and gently brushed the cloth over Zara’s hand. Once he had removed the majority of the blood, he wrapped her hand in bandages and sat back, staring at her in wonder.

“Navon, is everything alright?” Zara inquired, noticing the young man’s stare.

“I…” Navon began to reply. He could not finish his sentence, however, before a look of terror crossed Zara’s face.

The girl let out a piercing scream and Navon spun in time to see a blur of red come charging toward him. Instinctively, the young man ducked, launching a fist at his attacker. The being bounded back and came to a stop in the doorway. It was at this point that Navon could finally get a good look at the intruder. His heart caught in his throat when he realized that it was none other than the red-cloaked figure from the meadow.

He was a tall fellow, with ivory skin, long, golden hair, and sharp blue eyes. His features were sharp, his frame light and lank. He was clad in a strange, robe-like garb of crimson and gold, with the hooded cloak to accent it. A long, two-edged sword was clasped in the stranger’s left hand, an ornate scabbard attached to his belt on his right.

“Who are you?” Navon demanded.

“Abraxas,” the stranger replied, his voice deep and rumbling.

“What do you want? Why are you here?”

The intruder smiled menacingly. Without responding, he bounded toward Navon, sword glinting in the sunlight that filtered through a window nearby. Quickly Navon sidestepped the attack but could not do so a second time before Abraxas had turned on him, falling on the young scholar with fury.

“Navon!” Zara wailed, bounding to her feet.

With no other options left, Navon did the only thing he could think of: he grabbed the sword blade with both hands. For a moment, it was as if time stood still. Everything…everyone seemed frozen. A moment later, Abraxas stepped away, eyeing Navon closely. The young man was staring at his hands, at the places where the sword blade had touched. There were no cuts; there was no sign of blood. Only huge, red welt marks.

“You devil,” the attacker growled, bracing himself for another attack. “You’ve already used her.”

Navon looked up at the intruder with shock.

“I…what?”

“You…”

Abraxas clenched his teeth and was about to attack when, all at once, Zara darted in the way, her eyes wide in fear.

“I…I don’t know what’s going on,” she whimpered. “But please don’t hurt him. He’s the only one I have to protect me.”

Now it was the intruder’s turn to look shocked.

“Protect you?”

“Yes,” the girl nodded. “The priests of Kosak, in my home country of Miran…they wanted to sacrifice me. But Navon saved me. The priests are still looking for me, so please don’t take Navon away. Besides…he’s my friend.”

Abraxas glanced from the girl, to the young man, then back to the girl.

“I was told,” he said at length, “that there was word of a Luloudi girl living in Miran whose life was in danger. I was not told that she would have a Mirs guard as well.”

“A Luloudi?” Zara questioned.

Navon turned to the stranger in astonishment.

“How did you come by this information?”

“Inside sources,” Abraxas replied, coldly eyeing Navon. “There are very few of us left. I had to find her. It was her attraction to the garden that proved to me her identity.”

“My identity?” Zara inquired. “What are you two talking about?”

“Zara…” Navon said, taking in a deep breath, “I think it’s time you know…you are a descendant of the Luloudi.”

“Yes,” Abraxas nodded. “The Luloudi…my people…your people. We are beings with great power. Our blood feeds living things…changes their composition…makes them bigger, stronger, more invincible. Look,” he grabbed Navon by the wrist and shoved the young man’s hand toward Zara. “Your blood must have come into contact with his hands at some point, for my sword did not even break his skin when he caught it by the blade.”

“Was that a minute ago…when I cut myself?” Zara questioned, staring wide-eyed at Navon’s hands, which were still welted.

“That’s right,” Navon replied, yanking his hand away from Abraxas and giving the intruder a steely glare.

“So then…that was why they wanted to sacrifice me? For my blood?”

Navon and Abraxas exchanged looks, then Abraxas replied, “Under normal circumstances, they would have simply kidnapped you and kept you for your blood. They would be able to use it longer that way, which is what the Mirs did to our ancestors in the old days. But sacrifice…it would have to be a large operation to require that much Luloudi blood at one time.”

“Which leaves you to wonder what they’re planning,” Navon sighed.

Zara’s face paled.

“Is that what you meant, Navon?” the girl questioned. “Is that why you keep searching for books, saying that they will give you power. Is it because the priests are still after us?”

“In large numbers,” Navon nodded. “They’ve been looking for you. Earlier, I was not sure why. Now that I know, however…I’m afraid we may be in even greater danger than I supposed.”

“Which is why you will need more people to help guard,” Abraxas responded. “There are very few of us Luloudi who remain alive. We must stay together. It is the only way we can stay safe.”

“That didn’t seem to help your ancestors,” Navon frowned. “They made a nice garden, but I’d rather not plant flowers that way.”

Abraxas shot a cold glare in the young man’s direction.

“Don’t you dare insult our ancestors,” he growled.

“I’m not,” Navon replied, turning his back to Abraxas and coming to stand next to Zara. Gently he put a hand on the girl’s shoulder, then continued,

“That was merely a metaphor. The priests called Zara the ‘Flower of Miran.’ I didn’t know what they meant back then. I understand now.”

Here he turned back to the intruder, his golden eyes hard and determined.

“But know this,” he said, “I will do everything in my power to protect Zara. I’m not after her blood. My father was a soldier and he swore allegiance to Miran. I am the son of a soldier, a soldier in my own right, and I, too, have sworn allegiance. But not to Miran. That country has betrayed the ideals that I have long upheld. Instead, I have sworn my allegiance to a different royalty: to Zara, to the Flower of Miran. And not even her own kinsmen can stop me from holding to my word.”

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