Chapter 1: With This Knife
"...You wrapped your hands tight around my heart
and squeezed it full of pain
With this knife I'll cut out the part of me
the part of me that cares for you.
With this knife I'll cutout the heart of me
the heart that cares for you.
I can't believe the way you took me down
I never saw the pain
coming in a million broken miles
like poison for my veins"
-Smile Empty Soul 'With This Knife"
The horse slowed down with its cloaked rider staring at the small village she was approaching. The desert horse was slowing down to a cantor, resting from its hard ride. Serra hadn't stopped for long in the months since she left the encampment near Laus, nearly three or four months before. She had lost count of how long it had been; only keeping count of the moon tides.
Her fingers slid under the cloak to the sizable bump under her ragged clothing. She looked exhausted from being on horseback and sleeping outside for the most part. The small village was at the base of a mountain pass, green and flowering with the smells of summer harvest on the wind. Stepping lightly down the path, the pregnant cleric gasped in awe at the almost picturesque village. She crossed a small bridge over an irrigation ditch, the water heading towards the fields a few houses down from where the bridge sat.
The morning smells of baking bread made her mouth salivate. Serra had been rather strict with her money since she had left, the coin pouch on her side attesting to that, being frugal for everything except horse feed, and warm bread. For some reason, she didn't crave some of the stranger things that other women did. Bread, however, was her only craving if anything, especially warm, soft bread with garlic cloves roasted in it.
The cleric shook her head firmly at the thought. Despite her thoughts on food, Serra knew it was time to stop her running and settle down. As she looked over the quaint village, people waking up and beginning to get their homes ready for the day, the woman came to decision. There was no place as beautiful or as better off to the sides of Lycia than this place it seemed.
"This will be it." She murmured softly to herself, fingers sliding against her bulging stomach. "This is our new home. Isn't that exciting, Serra?" Sighing, the pink-haired woman idly ran her fingers through her hair. "Real exciting."
Walking around, despite the early morning hour, the cleric frowned in thought. She might as well spend some silver for a piece of warmed just baked bread. The baker, a portly man with a whistle to his lips in a tune she had no idea of, was setting out his baked goods on a table in the market. The villagers were starting to walk around to and fro within the village square. Sliding off the grey mare, she adjusted herself before walking over to the fresh bread, inspecting the loaves.
"Good mornin' to yah, Miss!" Jumping from her thoughts, Serra looked at the man who called out to her. He was a taller man with a mustache that reminded her of two willow branches floating along his chin. His apron was dirty with flour and spices from the look of it as Serra's pink eyes took the man in. His blue eyes smiled with his lips and she could tell he laughed often from the amount of raven's feet around his eyes. "A silver for a Lausian-styled loaf. Mine are the Glerribury's county special after a while. I even get calls fer the baker's dozen in Bern if yah sure to believe it, Miss!"
"If your bread can lighten a "Stern Bern" then it's good enough for me to buy." She giggled softly, reaching over to point at the one she was eyeing moments before. The baker smiled, leaning down to pick up the bread and hand it to her before stopping, realizing she had no morning basket or waiting cloth for the bread.
"I can have my lad deliver it, if yah horse ain' got the room fer my bread, Miss." Lips dipping into a frown, the cleric glanced over her cloaked shoulder to see the horse behind her. Feeling slightly apprehensive about riding around with a full loaf of bread, Serra seemed to be contested in thought over the delicacy. Normally she would ride immediately after buying a loaf, trying to keep her travels continuing as fast as she could, phantom memories nipping at her heels. The difference this time was that she was sure that she couldn't stomach two more months on the horse, especially being so late in her pregnancy. Sensing some unease or perhaps taking in the tenseness of her shoulders, the baker piped up. "I can assure yah that our bread will get there all in one piece an' be as fresh as it was out of the oven in fron' of yah."
"T-that's not it." Biting her lower lip, Serra took in the baker once more. Waging another battle before opening her mouth again, Serra opened her clasp that held the cloak on her shoulders, sliding it down to her arm. Her rounded belly easily coming into view despite her long over-tunic barely letting her curves is seen. "I'm a healer and I can't continue on horseback any longer. Please….Is there someone I can talk with about buying a shack or even a broken down room?"
The baker smiled ruefully at the woman in front of him, scared, hand resting on her protruding stomach before answering her inquisitive plea.
"How far along are you, Miss?" Serra's clutched her long tunic with her fingers at the question. She chewed on her bottom lip slowly, heaving out a sigh as she realized just how truly long it had been since she had abandoned her post in the Lycian army.
"Seven months." Her voice was soft at the admission as if she was a school girl caught with the most mortifying secret of the century by the elder sisters of the priesthood, though that part in itself was a truth that she was a shame to the priesthood for her child she was bearing. The baker let out a soft sigh, glancing at the door behind him in thought. It took him only a moment longer to let a gentle smile on his lips towards Serra.
"Now, let it be known to St. Elimine that I never let a woman down on her luck without help, Miss, so you don't go an' be letting this out to just anyone." She leaned forward in suspense, uncertain of what his next words were going to be, eyes wide in fear that he wouldn't help her at all, either by not directing her to someone who could help or mocking her pregnancy with Erk as something terrible and demeaning, despite Serra's opinion that it wasn't. "Healer Bridgette retired jus' recently and didn' leave much of a healer for the rest of us to rely on. I've got a hunting lodg' up in the forest by one of the mountain trails. I'm sure if yah are willin' to part with som' coin fer it, I ain' got the means to keepin' it. I also want my family to not hav' to pay fer any help when we be needin' it. Got me, Miss?"
Serra gaped, all too happily feeling the fear drain away into a set of anticipating happiness. She laughed loudly, a bright smile upon her lips for the first time in perhaps months. She had been running too far in her brooding to rely on any bit of hope like this. She had expected to run into troubles every inch of her way; though for the most part she had barely missed almost any trouble she could have gotten into on her way.
"Here! Here! Just tell me how much!" She began reaching into her coin satchel, desperately trying to bring out the silver. The baker seemed to be taken back by her wide smile and laugh, before grinning to himself at her enthusiasm. His caked on hands reached out to her own, patting the hand over her coin pouch, making the cleric stop in her franticness.
"We can talk abou' it over some breakfast. My wife is inside with my lad. Tell her that you're comin' fer breakfast. She'll want to know all abou' yah fer sure." With that, Serra smiled to her horse, closing her satchel before going to the nearest tie-post to tie the horse's reigns around the wood. Her new life was just starting. The baker stopped her before she went to the door behind him. "What's yah name, Miss?"
"Healer Serra. I forgot to ask yours."
"Yah sure to learn it from my wife soon 'nough. Oh! Don' forget yah bread!"
"There's no time!" In a small cottage, quite a few months later, wooden floors and a hearth nearby, lying on the bed with beige muslin cloth twisted around Serra's hands, dangling from the wooden beams they were tied to, the woman in question was clenching her fingers tightly into balled muslin and fists with each moment. Her forehead seemed to pour sweat out in a fashion that made it seem like it was a hot summer day when it was truly the middle of the winter months. Her pink hair, tied back for her own convenience earlier that morning, was fighting to get out of its hand-wrought braid. Hovering over the pink-haired soon to be mother, a sturdier woman of 5'7" sat, coaching her through the sea of pain and suffering.
"DON'T YOU THINK I KNOW THAT?! TRUST ME! I KNOW THAT." Serra gulped for air after yelling at the woman above her, fixing her with a glare that seemed fit for a basilisk queen, though basilisk queens and she truly didn't share relations. The woman above her had the audacity to laugh, especially at her pain. To say that Serra De Ostia was amused would be an overstatement. Between the constant cramping in her lower abdomen, the symptom of giving birth, she countered easily in her mind, the violet-eyed woman had no true patience for the woman above her to be laughing at her. In fact, her only patience was with the child she was giving birth to. Even the non-existent father in his life was being placed with blame with the pain she felt. Another cramp assailed her lower half, making her twinge and grit her teeth. She was going to swear revenge against Erk De Etruia, if it was the last thing she did on this planet if for the pain she was feeling now.
Her hands tightened around the muslin ropes in pain.
Somewhere in Etruia, Erk was in pain, curling up on his couch in his study, arms around his middle as he cried out loudly. The pain was too intense to move.
Panting, straining with her body fighting her, Serra looked directly at the woman who was helping her give birth. Her name was Jun Ashvine, the blacksmith's daughter who had four boys, all adolescents whom got into trouble by trampling her small cottage garden. For Serra, she couldn't help but feel grateful for the mother running her through the process. The pain racking her body intensified in a shrill drilling point as the blacksmith's daughter nodded to Serra.
"I can see the head, Healer. Just one more push should do it." Gasping for breath as the darkness flittered around the edges of her sight, the pink-topped healer gripped tightly to the muslin sheets that were coiled tightly around her hands as she took in the most air that she could and let out a scream so loud, that she was sure a few countries away could have heard it.
Hector De Ostia, the Marquis of Ostia, perked his ears up from the boring amount of paperwork he was trying to finish at the behest of his busybody of a tactician. "What in all the hells was that scream?"
Oswin, wearing his general's heavy armor and holding his chained axe, took one long and hard piercing look at his liege before only shaking his head. "Milord, I think it's time for you to sleep. You seem to be hearing things."
The scream was long, almost endless seeming before Serra fell slack to the bed with her hands being held above her by the length of muslin cloth hanging from her wooden roof beams. There was an intense soreness that Serra didn't know how to describe other than riding saddle-sore for a month straight. That might compare the pain, but having never actually been saddle-sore for a month; Serra wasn't sure about that assumption.
Her eyes closed for a blissful few moments before her thoughts ran rampant. There was no sound where the child normally comes out. Wetting her cracked lips with her smooth tongue, strength gone from her limbs, she tried to raise herself up to see her child. Jun had yet to say anything to her. 'Elimine, let my child be safe!' The prayer she hoped reached home as her struggle to see won out her tiredness.
"I-Is my c-child….?" The word couldn't be said. She didn't want to believe the child she had felt kick only hours earlier before deciding it was time to leave his comfy inside carriage wasn't going to be kicking anymore in its sleep. Jun glanced over Serra, eyes wide with unshed tears and a grim line to her lips. For once in her life, Serra felt as if she wanted to truly die, as if there was nothing left for her, a thirsty woman who lost something she had such a brief time.
Jun held up a bundled newborn in the swaddling quilt that she had given Serra. The mother looked down at the child, bottom lip shaking before her hands moved to take the child in her weak, noodle arms, releasing her hold on the muslin completely. The newborn was beautiful, so very cherubic and innocent looking. She held onto him with such gentle care before the first sob escaped her. Her mouth opened to a torrent of tears. Jun looked down, beginning to try and help clean up the after birth.
"E-eli-elimine! Place y-your g-grace…..on t-this child!" Serra's quiet but forceful prayers echoed in the cottage as she pressed the infant upright to her collarbone, crying into its back, patting her hand against the child's back, body rocking back and forth in despair. "N-n-not m-mine, no-not mine and E-erk's….Please!"
A loud cough, barely heard over her fevered prayers between her hiccupping sobs stopped her in her tracks completely. Jun looked up at the child in Serra's hold, eyes wide with tear stains on her blotchy cheeks before the bundle in the new mother's arms started squirming. Serra glanced down at the newborn in confusion for a few moments before a loud wail pierced the air.
"By the Saints, healer! H-He's breathing!" Jun exclaimed loudly, dropping everything to come see the child in Serra's hands. Serra moved the child from lying on her chest to resting on her arms. Tears, happier ones than moments before began clouding her vision of the infant. His cheeks were burning red, tears falling down his chubby apple cheeks that Serra knew had to have come from her side of her family, whoever they were.
"He's crying! By Saint Elimine, he's a he! My son is alive! He's alive!" Her words were breathless in her astonishment, drowning out her fear from moments earlier before that cough woke him up from the embrace of Morinth, the Saint of Death. Jun smiled down at the new mother, all pink and worn out, but practically glowing from the look at the infant in her weak arms.
"What will you name him?" Jun's soft voice didn't cause Serra to look up from the child that might not have been only moments before. Reaching a hand to the child's still bloody cheek, Serra shook her mussed pink hair in thought, before she felt the name reach her lips a few seconds later.
"Reka. Reka, the child of Luna." Smiling softly, she held out the soiled cloth and the still bloody child to Jun. She bit her bottom lip as she handed Reka to Jun for cleaning. Erk would love him, every inch of him. His eyes were brilliant lavender that seemed to illuminate his rouge cheeks and she somewhat suspected that the tuft of hair on his head was really going to be the same as Erk's. Her hair tone was far too light to be the dark matted patch under the blood. He had her lungs as he quieted down as soon as the damp cleaning cloth was touching him.
She turned to watch her son through a haze of weariness. She could imagine Erk's dark eyes above her, cold alabaster fingers wiping down her forehead, and his soft deep voice speaking quietly of how Reka was the most beautiful thing in the world and that he was proud of her for her effort. A small smile on her lips, Serra fell back into the mountain of pillows behind her into a deeply, bone-tired sleep.
She thought, right before she hit the darkness of dreaming, that she could see Erk's face wide in a smile with the same red blossoms on his cheeks as Reka had.
It had been a year since he had seen her, a year since she left, a year since the letter he held sacred with him wherever he went was first read. He had calculated the dates, remembering the last time they had been drinking, when she was acting strangely the next morning, to now. She had been three months pregnant when she left, which meant that the child she told him about would have been five or six months old now.
He felt his heart nearly give at that thought. He had a child and that child did not know him, would not know him all because he was considered to not have the ability to take the responsibility. Hell, to him, he was denied the truest chance to even care, but then he knew Serra would take any of his caring as just wanting to take care of the life growing in her and not genuine concern for her.
In this, Erk De Etruia could not fault her for it would be probably true. He might have just cared enough and then when she gave birth, he would not care about her. He would grow to detest her more because he knew he would have doted upon any child of his own.
It was an ugly truth for him to face.
"Erk? Are you alright?"
Awake from his thoughts, wide-eyed in surprise, Erk realized he had been stuck in his thoughts again about the child he did not know. Light green eyes, eyes that belonged to a fresh cut grass, stared at him in concern before a fringe of dark red cut in them. He breathed a heavy sigh, looking down at his own horse, a brown mare he had bought cheaply a few months ago during the beginning of their newest campaign under Seras De Talunis, the tactician from the campaign to take Nergal down.
"I'm fine, Priscilla. Sorry to worry you so." He mumbled the necessary apologies to his friend. The other healer sighed softly, glancing around the plains their travelling column was going across. The wyvern knight with green hair the color of the sea was staring over at her from what Erk noticed. Guy, the sword fighter, was near the knight as well, taking a moment to take a glance over at the woman beside him. Erk could only grumble to himself. No one else in the entire army, except for Hector, the wolfish Marquis of Ostia, Seras, the tactician, and he knew about the real reason Serra had deserted them.
The pitiful looks he received had gotten worse from those in the circle of knowledge, especially when he told Seras the child had been born sometime, half-a-year ago from his counting Serra's months. He was plagued with her being, with what could have been with a small child that perhaps could have looked like him completely or look like Serra.
He began feeling the prickles of tears in his eyes again to only shake his head slightly. He had cried enough as it was for himself. In the past year, since she had left, he would turn to try and talk with her, or imagine her voice with a cheerful comment just waiting to be screeched into his ear. He would pause in the middle of saying the first syllable of her name, dying off as he remembered she wasn't there.
She would never be there again. There was no more excited chatter to fill his days to the point he would be able to vomit the visceral words she spoke. There was only loneliness and the occasional conversation with Priscilla and his foster parents, but for the most part, his days were spent as a shell of who he was before she left. He had fought, perhaps as hard as he always had when casting as that was the only time he felt that he could really come up for air from the suffocation of his regrets.
Erk had achieved becoming a sage of Etruia, passing his test with nary a party nor a drink to commend him for it as the memory of Serra's bishop promotion had still been raw with her leaving. The memory was particularly unsettling as he realized a few months before that she knew she would be leaving the army, deserting everyone for a child of his and he hadn't seen the signs any more than the tactician who was her friend had.
His memory could recall her invitation for dinner at a local home at the nearby town they had saved. Her face was cheerful, bright with enjoyment as she played with the children, intent on bringing them joy from the carnage of the plains near the town. He was distractedly talking with the parents as she played; only noticing once when she turned her gaze to him with eyes that felt like she was remorseful for something he had no name for. As if she had been pleading with him that they could be this family, who had settled, had children, were happy. He had looked away in embarrassment of getting caught looking at her in a manner that had implications. Erk felt another lash of self-loathing tie itself around his neck. He should have had the clarity to see what she was really wanting.
He had dismissed it as a trick of the light, dismissed her just as cruelly without even knowing.
Maybe that had been the last straw for her. Maybe that tiny refusal, that one look away had broken her.
All he knew now was that he needed to try and not think about her anymore, try to not think of the child he could have held as his own, taught as his own, treated as a son should be treated, like he wanted to be treated before his parents died. It all came down to a singular conclusion.
He would bury himself in magic and its research. Magic would be his boon companion.
AN: YES. So AWESOME INSPIRATION. I 3 you, muse of words. Please read and review! Have a good day!