The halls were the least expensive. Every ten feet or so, locked, and gated doors, led to private chambers which held the bodies of the wealthy and those with bloodlines of nobility. But in the end, they were all equally dead and equally forgotten. Their walls once white had now yellowed with age and neglect. Each room held the secrets of family members buried beneath stone, covered with the remains of the night creatures that thrive in this environment. The distinction between the classes was self-evident, hallways for the less fortunate and private cavities for the elite. None of this mattered anymore.
A forbidding iron door secured the meeting room, lit with oiled wicks, and walled torches. A fire had been started in the hearth that could also be used as an altar for burning incense. Centered in the room was a large table where the men sat.
Ty and Zellow were from Leighas. They wore excessive layers of hooded robes and shawls. Their dark clothing was banal and offered no distinction from each other. Gatious was from Tessa and wore a hooded robe. Tessian’s were noted for their bright layer of fur which covered their entire body. They wore equally bright layers of clothing. Their clothing was more for choice and adornment, for they needed no additional warmth.
Clayton from Juno wore a single robe. He chose not to wear the hood. Lastly, the veiled man, wore a dark purple robe, and seemingly the color for distinction. His hood was up. The edge was thick with fur causing shadow over his face.
Regardless of their clothing they all had one thing in common; to hide their emotions. Plans had begun to take shape which had taken years to conceive and implement.
“Finally,” Zellow said. “Soon we will control all the lands, Juno, Tessa, Leighas and LODS, and ultimately we and we alone will have total control.”
Crayton stared at Zellow. He did not like him. He believed Zellow never thought in the “we” theory. Zellow was out for himself and himself alone.
“What was it like in there?” Magnus asked.
“Like I said, I was very young when we were there. As all children we were given pleasures and self-indulgences. I suppose he and my mother prospered financially but suffered emotionally. My mother wanted her children to have the freedom that was denied to my father. Sending us to Joseff ’s was purely a selfless action.”
“When you say that your father was able to prosper, do you know how he was able too?” Magnus asked.
Quinn looked at Magnus. “Time son. It took time. When we first went there, we had nothing. Eventually he helped to sneak supplies, correspondence, luxuries and even people in and out of LODS. All for a price of course.”
Magnus continued to pry. “No offense, but why was your family sent to LODS in the first place?”
Quinn looked at the young man who stood before him. He was thirsty for answers. All young are, as it should be. Magnus was like a son to him. Quinn softened and smiled. “I’ll share with you as much as I can remember.” Quinn answered while brushing floating ashes from the fire, off his clothes.
“My mother was married to someone else before my father. I guess he didn’t treat her well, so she ran away and had to make her living on the streets. One day she walked into my father’s establishment looking for honest work. They fell in love. Eventually they married and had my brother and me. They made a good and happy home for all of us.
“The day came when a traveler came through and recognized my mother from her street days. Words were exchanged. In the end, my father cut out the man’s tongue.”
The vision of Quinn’s words staggered his audience as he continued to play with the fire.
“My brother and I never saw what my father had done, or really understood why we were moving. We just did what we were told. I learned the whole truth afterwards when we went to live with Joseff, my mothers’ sister. She told us the story out of kindness, not brutality. She made sure we knew the entire truth and the sacrifices my parents made for us. She loved my mother and father, and she loved us.”
The group sat motionless, and all conversation ceased until Quinn, once again, took control. “Let’s get some sleep.” And then he walked away.
Slowly, the blossoming of bodies eerily emerged from their environment. Some pulled away from the bark, where they had blended perfectly in shape and form. Others, leaf-like, hung from vines and branches, also in harmony with their surroundings. Like the trees and vines that surrounded them, they were a moving work of art which only nature in its rawest form could produce.
“It has been a long time.” Jonas reached out in words but did not touch the bark-man.
“Yes, a long time.” His voice was soothingly sincere. “I thought you were dead.”
“And I you. Especially when I saw the paths neglected and overgrown. It is so good to know that you’re not just a memory.”
“We had to abandon the trails which led to our homes. After the war our lands were invaded by uninvited foreigners. Soon they came in great numbers and misjudged our kindness. They did not follow our beliefs. They mocked our traditions. And they disrespected our milieu. They thought we were fools, but they were wrong. It is true we had been kind but when we saw their greed, we disappeared. We watched them turn on each other. When the food was gone, when the beauty of our land was no longer alive with color, but ashen and dead, those who survived left and never came back. So now we hide ourselves and our possessions. The paths which served a useful purpose long ago, are now hidden in obscurity. We live in the trees and only for ourselves.”
“These foreigners, from where did they come and who were they?”
“They were the war. They were the defeated and the undefeated, harboring both anger and entitlement. They came from everywhere, supported by the undefeated warring leaders as if it was their land to give away. And those gracious and giving leaders who supported them did so from a great distance, from their own protected and heavily indulged homes. It’s easy to give away property which does not belong to you. It was easy for them to destroy lives while theirs remained unchanged.”