Chapter 11: "Silhouette", "The Captor", and "Ashia"
Lesedi awoke softly, somehow both comforted and frightened by the words of the Woman. His eyes remained closed as he wondered at the meaning of those words. He could not wait to tell his lovely Ashia; she would know what to make of the mystical dream.
The salty smell of the sea in his mind had now been replaced by the smoky scent fire. Lesedi allowed his eyes to slip open as he rolled over to hold his beloved. But Ashia was not there. It was then that Lesedi began to notice the sounds around him. Screams of chaos poured in through the window. Lesedi sat up bolt straight, leapt out of bed, and rushed out the door in panic.
The village was ablaze, women and children scrambling for safety. But where was Ashia? Lesedi staggered through the streets, frantically searching for his love. It was almost impossible to see; acrid smoke hovered over everything and blood and flame smeared the streets.
At last, Lesedi caught the eye of his neighbor. The man saw Lesedi and covered his own mouth. The look of pity that fell over the man was gut-wrenching. Then the neighbor pointed to something silhouetted against the firelight a short distance off. It was low to the ground and still. A body.
Lesedi’s whole world seemed to slow as he approached that silhouette. He knew what he would find. And as he knelt down beside Ashia’s body, Lesedi’s world crumbled like the embers of his village.
He looked up in a daze and, once again, caught the eye of his neighbor. The man pointed to the treeline, just beyond the smoldering village boundaries. Lesedi looked just in time to see a gang of men disappear into the woods. Without thought, he dashed after them in a grief-stricken stupor. Lesedi broke the treeline in a matter of seconds. He drew his knife as instinctively as the beat of his own heart or the breath in his chest. The raiders did not have the time to even notice his presence before Lesedi was on them. His rage was an entity of its own; a monster that reached into his body and took hold.
Lesedi’s knife found its mark. Two men were cut down in an instant, then the next two fell just as easily. The last one—a brute with a black mark across his back—turned and darted further into the woods; Lesedi pursued with malice. The murderer made it only a few paces before Lesedi was able to pounce again. This time, Lesedi pinned the man to the ground and leaned in close with his blade pressed against the murderer’s throat. “You’ll never know how much she meant to me.” Then he slid the knife strongly across the man’s throat, opening it violently.
With the raiders dead, Lesedi returned to Ashia’s side. For a moment, his grieving heart hoped that his vengeance would have somehow brought Ashia back to him. But, of course, it did not. Killing those men only created a new sense of sickness in him. This sickness was as unwelcome as the pain of his lost love.
He held her body close. Ashia seemed so different now, so lifeless, so empty. Lesedi’s tears flowed freely over her beautiful face. She had been his happiness…his life. How could something so pure and bright be taken from this world so quickly? He whispered to her, “I will love you always, my Ashia. Always.”
The wind picked up and swept the smoke and ember across his nostrils as though mocking him. It carried the screams of the village and the fire and rubble around him in a whirlwind, chortling in his ear. “She is gone,” the wind laughed its sick taunt, “Why waste your love on the dead?”
Lesedi only held Ashia nearer and tried to ignore the mockery of the wind around him.
The Old Man wiped the tears from his own eyes.
“After I settled my love into the ground, I followed the Woman’s song to the inn.” Lesedi’s eyes never once left the horizon. “I journey for Ashia now. Truly, my life ended that day…yet my purpose had only begun. I knew that my path would lead to the Endless Sea. That is my destiny. I do not know how, but I must be the light in the darkness…the beast’s enemy.” Lesedi, for the first time since the Old Man had arrived, pried his gaze from the horizon and looked at his own hands. “My fury and hatred made a monster out of me. What if I cannot be the beast’s enemy because I, myself, have become a beast? What if I cannot be the Light because I am too consumed by the darkness?
The Old Man pondered that for a long moment. “I wish I had that answer, my friend. Perhaps it all comes down to hope and faith.”
“Perhaps that is all any of us ever really have.” Lesedi paused, as if contemplating his next words carefully. “I fear the Endless Sea. I am one of a very ancient people. We remember the ages that most others have chosen to forget. In the old times, the gods of this world roamed the lands and the skies with pride. But mankind grew impudent and forced the gods into the seas. These ancient deities are said to still dwell in the depths. Men are not welcome upon the waves. It is sacrilege…and it invites wrath from below. Only the pure may stand against the gods; it would be unwise to venture into their domain.”
The Old Man had no response for Lesedi’s warning. What could he possibly say? So, Lesedi’s shuddering prophecy was the end of their talk. Lesedi and the Old Man stood in silence, gazing out at the horizon for hours after.