THIS IS THE SECOND OF A TWO-PART STORY.
READ PART 1 HERE.
In the several years that passed since Aryllenia left this world, the protected forest slowly disappeared as the lands of Cartineig grew. Favian’s land was no longer isolated; it was surrounded by the daily commotion of an active village. In all this time, Favian kept his focus on his own homestead, eventually becoming the most successful farmer in Cartineig. His crops were always the tallest and most plentiful. When most farmers lost entire fields in poor weather, Favian’s crops were always enough to supply the entire kingdom. Year after year, Favian’s farm expanded. He now employed 30 men to tend the fields. Some of the villagers claimed Favian’s farm was worth more than the entire king’s fortune.
The highest-ranking member of Favian’s employ was a man named Oliver Mowbray. He was Favian’s first employee and now oversaw the day-to-day activities. Oliver was a jealous man and resented Favian’s success. He pretended to be Favian’s friend, but in secret, Oliver was raging with anger and wanted nothing more than to learn the secret to Favian’s skillful farming so he could use it himself.
One day, Favian and Oliver stood near a potato field. While they watched the workers toil in the dirt, Arlena, now eight years old, ran out to join them. Oliver noticed a slight reflection on her face, a mark that looked like three stars. He never noticed it before, but on this day it was all he could see. Here in midday sun, it was glowing.
In the distance, a worker held up a large potato and shouted, “Lords, look!”
Oliver looked away from Arlena to the worker in the field, then back again. I understand, he thought to himself. That girl is enchanted. She’s making the crops grow. She’s the reason why Favian succeeds.
That night, Oliver snuck into Favian’s cottage. Once inside, he knelt beside a Arlena as she slept in her bed. He reached out a finger to her left cheek. When his finger got close, the mark glowed, the same way it did in the field earlier that day. That’s it, he thought. He grabbed her, wrapping his hand around her mouth and drug her quietly out of the cottage the same way he came in. Favian stayed asleep, not realizing Arlena was taken.
Oliver put Arlena on the back of his horse and together they rode far away from Cartineig. When the kingdom was nothing more than a spec in the distance, they stopped and he sat her on the ground. He frantically dug a small hole in the dirt, pulled a few seeds from his pocket and sprinkled them inside. As he filled the hole back in, he said to Arlena, “Now, show me your magic.”
Arlena knew Oliver well and was not afraid. “Sir,” she said calmly, “What magic?”
“Use your magic on these seeds.”
Confused, Arlena shrugged her shoulders.
“Make them grow!” he shouted. As he got louder, Arlena grew more frightened. “Do it now. Show me how your power works.”
“Sir…” she said as a tear formed in her eye, “I do not know how to make seeds grow.”
“Don’t lie to me! I know that the mark on your face enchants your father’s crops!”
Arlena touched her cheek, embarrassed. “Tis just a mark. I was born with it.”
“But it glows!”
“Only sometimes,” she said.
Frustrated, Oliver picked Arlena up by her shoulders, high enough that her feet dangled off the ground. He peered into her eyes. “What magic hides within you?”
She said, “There is no magic.”
He threw her down, knocking the breath from her body. As she gasped, the mark on her cheek started to glow.
“There!” Oliver pointed at her face. “It’s glowing…you lie!”
Arlena touched her cheek. It was warm.
Oliver took a step forward.
“Please, do not come closer,” she said.
He grabbed her shoulders once again. The harder he squeezed, the brighter the mark glowed.
“Does pain make it glow?” In that moment, he thought of nothing but seeing the mark glow brighter. If it required harming the young girl, so be it. He forced her body around and put a firm grasp on her wrist. He pulled back hard on her arm. She screamed out in pain.
Oliver ignored the screaming, pulling back her arm even harder. The mark on her face glowed brighter and brighter as he pulled. To him, her screams were drowned out by the brilliance of the glow.
Soon it was so bright, he could no longer look directly at it. He closed his eyes and turned his face away. The mark glowed with such intensity, he could feel its warmth against his face. Oliver pulled harder and harder, now feeling resistance in her shoulder moving past the breaking point.
“No!” The shout came from an unknown voice in the distance.
Oliver paid no attention. He focused only on the glow and his efforts to make it brighter, but Arlena heard the voice. Despite the pain, she stopped screaming just in time to hear footsteps running toward them before a loud popping sound rang out, echoing off in the distance. Oliver’s grip loosened, and he fell over.
Released from his grip, Arlena relaxed and tried to rub the pain away from her arm. As she did, the glow on her cheek dimmed. She turned to see Oliver unconscious on the ground beside her. Standing above him was an old man, perhaps 30 years older than Oliver. He held a giant stick in his hand.
He raised it, ready to strike Oliver once again, but Oliver opened his eyes. When he saw the imminent strike, he threw his hands out and pleaded, “Please, no more!”
The old man relaxed his stance and brought the stick down to his side. “You would have killed that girl.”
Oliver sat up and rubbed the back of his head. “If I had to,” he said. “You don’t know what that girl can do.”
“I do,” sighed the old man. “More than you know.”
Without warning, Oliver jumped up at the old man, knocking him over. Arlena took the opportunity to run. Oliver tried to follow, but the old man reached forward, grabbing Oliver’s ankle, tripping him. Oliver lay on the ground and watched helplessly as Arlena disappeared into the distance and out of view.
Unknown to Oliver, Arlena did not go away. She snuck back and hid behind a rock to listen.
Oliver turned back to the old man. “You let her go, you fool! You haven’t seen what she can do!”
The old man released Oliver’s ankle. “She has powers, yes, but they are not what you think.”
Oliver asked, “How do you know?”
“Because I’m you,” the old man said. He gestured to his body, “Well, an older you.”
“I don’t understand–”
“I was in this very spot 30 years ago,” he interrupted. “I was hurting this poor girl, just like you were, to discover her power. That was a mistake.”
Oliver scoffed. “Leave me old man.” He picked himself up and turned away, heading in the direction Arlena fled.
“Wait,” the Old Oliver pleaded, but it was too late. He was gone.
A short distance away, Oliver spotted Arlena behind the rock. She tried to run, but he caught the back of her shirt. In the distance, he heard the Old Oliver shouting, but ignored it. All that mattered was the glow. And all that would cause the glow was pain. Now with Arlena in his grasp, he pulled his hand back, and with all his might, he swung it around to strike Arlena in the face. Just before his hand made contact, there was a brilliant flash of light.
Arlena stood, bracing for a hit that never came. The glowing mark on her face faded. She opened her eyes to see Oliver had disappeared.
The Old Oliver walked slowly to Arlena.
“What happened?” she asked him.
“The same thing that happened to me all those years ago,” he said, his voice soft and solemn. His gaze faded into the distance as he focused on a painful, invisible memory. “That mark on your face sent him back 30 years into the past.”
Arlena tilted her head in confusion. “What do you mean?”
Old Oliver turned his attention back to her. With great effort and cracking knees, he squatted in front of her. “Little Arlena,” he said, “you don’t yet realize it, but your mother gave you a powerful gift to keep you safe.” He explained that she was given the gift of protection. More than that, her gift was capable of redemption. While protecting her, it could also reveal all her assailant needed to know to change his ways. Some lessons take time to learn. He said, “In my case, I was sent into the past, spending 30 years learning my lesson.”
He continued, “After the bright flash of light, I opened my eyes, finding I was deep in a dark forest. After a few moments, there was another flash of light off in the distance. This time it revealed the most beautiful woman. I watched her from behind a tree and saw her standing before a man I knew very well.”
“Who was it?” Arlena asked.
“A much younger version of your father, Favian. You see, this was the moment he met your mother. Before going back in time, I was madly jealous of your father. From the safety of the shadows, I was able to watch your father in a different way. I saw an innocent man fall in love. I saw a man work hard for everything he had. Your mother used her powers to help him grow crops, but after she died, I saw a heartbroken man return to only hard work. After you were born, I continued to watch the hardest working man I had ever known.”
Arlena touched her cheek, the faded glow still warm to the touch. She thanked Old Oliver for the story. As he readied the horse for their return back to Favian’s farm, Arlena looked up at the stars and silently thanked her mother for her gift.
When Old Oliver and Arlena arrived back at Favian’s farm, it was still dark outside. Old Oliver knocked loudly on the door, waking Favian from a deep sleep. After a moment, he opened the door and gave Old Oliver a long look. “Oliver, is that you?”
“It is me,” he said. “At least, a much older version of me.” He placed a hand on Arlena’s shoulder. “I’m here to return her.”
Arlena ran to Favian and jumped in his arms.
As he hugged his daughter, he looked at Old Oliver and said, “Thank you. I’m glad she’s not hurt.” He sensed a hesitation in the old man. He lowered Arlena to the ground as he asked, “Was there anything else?”
“I must confess,” said Old Oliver. “In my youth, I was madly jealous of your success. I thought Arlena was the reason why your crops grew so well. I was mistaken. The girl does have power but not what I thought.” He rubbed the back of his aged, wrinkled hand. “After all these years, I’ve watched you silently from the shadows, trying to learn your secret. It seems the only secret is good luck.”
Favian laughed. “Not exactly. You see, my wife gave me a gift when she died.”
Old Oliver nodded. “I know, but she doesn’t help the crops grow.”
Favian looked down at Arlena and patted her head, “That is true, of course she’s a gift, but her mother gave me another one.”
Favian invited Old Oliver inside and led him into a back room. He pulled out a small cedar box, lifted its lid and pulled out a small glass ball. Holding it out to Old Oliver, he said, “Here. Hold this up to your eye and look into it.”
Old Oliver held the ball up to his face and peered inside. “It’s my future,” he whispered, almost to himself. “I can see what I do after I leave this room. I can see the entire year!” He pulled the ball away. “This is how you did it. This shows you what lies ahead.”
“That’s right,” said Favian. “I can see what crops will be difficult to grow and what the seasons will bring. Aryllenia gave me that ball the night she died.”
“You saw the future, but still had to work hard for your success.” Old Oliver gave Favian a friendly smile. “Thank you, old friend. You have taught me all I needed to know.” He gave Favian and Arlena a hug, then walked away, leaving Cartineig forever.
Favian and Arlena lived a happy life, not in their success, but in knowing they had each other. After nearly a lifetime, Oliver learned his most important lesson that day: even with magic to aid you, success only comes from hard work. From that day forward, Oliver worked honestly for everything he earned and was never jealous again.
Categories: Short Stories