Of those who walked the world, there were those who knew from where and when they came. And there were those who lived under a veil of ignorance as to their destiny.
Hawk was among the former—-a rare man who remembered each life he had lived. For someone bound to a fate, this was rare. He knew it well, for in all his lifetimes he had not met a single soul who would speak of such an experience.
And his fate was simple. While his masters would change throughout each attempt at life, inevitably each time it would end with a battle in which he must fight to his death.
With the last of his strength, he would look to the sky and see the birds soaring above the bloodied earth. Each time, he wished himself among them – free of the cycle of endless destruction.
It took a dozen times before he noticed one other constant – a man in white who would observe the aftermath of war. And then he sought out news of this strange man, only to find out this was the second Taliesen – the great bard who wandered the world to seek out truth.
When he finally caught up with him in some traveling minstrel show, Hawk asked him what he might do to end this cycle. The old man smiled and offered him only this benediction. “You are already on your way there. At some point your wishes will be heard.”
It would take another lifetime before he could begin to hope. When he was born to a clan of halflings, he rejoiced. He would soon be a bird in the sky, free of endless wars. But that joy was short-lived. Humans who feared them enslaved them and were determined to burn away the heresy of their existence.
When the brother of the Queen of Swans had plucked him from death, he knew that the fool thought him a prize. He thought to warn him of his own destiny but kept quiet. He wanted to see this Garden and the princess this brother so cherished.
When they flew over the mountain and descended upon the glassy lake, he could see the magic of the Garden that existed on the edge of the intangible and the real. It was rooted in the stories and legends, religions and myths. And yet it was not merely a place—for it had a will of its own.
He found himself bowing deeply before the woman who had been placed as its ruler. And all too quickly he pledged his service. He could not help admire her strength. She was not afraid of him as Hawk the halfling or Hawk the doomed warrior. She did not have time nor the inclination to worry.
Or perhaps she accepted it – knowing that in the end that his fate might be her only escape from the one that would not let her go.
What her fate was he himself could not puzzle out. Her fate was drawn out over time to such a scale that no one, save the immortals, could discern its pattern.
* * *
For a time, it was only he and the Knight who were the strangers of the group. The fair queen had four of her six brothers to distract her and help her in the work the Lake demanded of them.
And he and the knight kept their distance. Neither sought to replace the brothers who had left their sister’s side. They could only guard her in their absence.
Nor were they in any position to stem the change that would follow—the wandering off of the other brothers. Over time, the lake’s allure had weakened. And the longer they lived, the more the princes grew bored and restless. The letters of their absent brothers taunted them with tales of excitement and glory. One by one, they would go out to seek the same. And soon those who would venture out brought back other retainers to guard her.
He–who once had brothers–could see the hurt that their absences inflicted upon the princess.But she remained silent on her feelings and comforted herself with the fairies.
Soon their letters lapsed. And he, who had become cynical, believed them dead.
But her belief in the elven tales was strong. She continued to pray and hope, believing that as long as she was still alive and unaging, they could not be gone. Her optimism forced him to consider instead that they still lived. Perhaps the brothers had gone so far from the lake, they had forgotten who they were. Or perhaps they had suffered some fate at the hand of those who would exploit halflings.
He could not hope as she did. Still, during the times of the year when the migrating birds took the skies, he would fly high above and keep his eyes trained for the sight of swans– wild swans with no memories of the one who waited for them.
* * *
Hawk was not all that pleased to be long gone from the garden.
Save the Knight, he did not think the other guards reliable. They were more trouble than help. They had not lived long enough to understand much of anything and were far too gullible for his liking.
Much to his irritation, the young ones had fallen in love with their queen.
The Knight had to remind him that this was an inevitable development. Any hot-blooded youth would fall in love with the beautiful woman who not only aided in their rescue but was there to mend their wounds and listen to their stories.
He did not deny that their wounds had been considerable and deep. In truth, they had come with many physical ones. But it was the psychological ones that were far worse.
Hahn– a captive– had been tortured with threats that he would be eaten if dared turn back into the shape he had been born with. As for Raven, his master had not intentionally tormented him. However, as a mage’s familiar, he had been forced to shoulder a portion of the burden of magic that the wizard wished to employ.
In truth because of the pitiable strength of his master, Raven was channeling all the magic and a particularly dark sort that brought nightmares upon most. By the time the call came to the Queen to do something about the dark mage, Raven had already begun the process of changing and twisting into something new.
In truth, none of the guards wanted to touch the blistering mass of feathers and bone that shrieked at them from its cage. To them all–it was clear that the imprisoned beast was impure. But the Queen simply wrapped the pitiable bird in a blanket she had woven with her own hands. Bravely, she held him inside it the entire journey home.
It took many months of being bathed in the Lake’s waters before the blisters would close and the strange scales on Raven fell off. It would be many more before he would stop snapping at her when she tried to help him. But on that day when he began to walk on his own and came to rest in her lap, the good Queen cried tears of relief.
Such tears shocked the guards, even that haughty elf.
From that day the emissary Azul began to pay her more attention. And Hawk wryly noted that the affections of the capricious elf had been captured at last.
The perspective of Hawk is a bit troublesome to use because he is the least likely to screw up and filter things. While most characters try their best to provide the closest “truth” in what they see to you the reader, they are not always on the mark or cooperative. In some sense, there is unreliable narration in certain places because the narrators are flawed or not cooperative. (COUNT, WE’RE LOOKING AT YOU.)
But Hawk is, like the name he has been given, a very good reader of the moment and very close to what I call a “reliable narrator” and able to present real truth as to the situation around him at least as it pertains to the dynamics of the guards and the garden. He is a little scary to use, as a result, and this kind of entry could only come later in the story as you sift through everything you know about the guards thus far.
Fortunately for me, he left the garden in chapter 1 and is not witness to the shenanigans going on there. Had he been, he might have punched a few of them around, called out them on their “B-S” as we like to say, and then told them to behave.
Note, not all characters live out a “fate.” In his case, however Hawk is one of them. He would have likely been on many a legendary battlefield, although not always in a position of authority. He’s probably the closest to having lived what I call “grimdark fantasy.” (This in contrast to Knight who I see as ‘chivalric fantasy’ and to Azul who I call ‘comedic snarky fantasy.’)
YEAH. I LIKE TO MIX MY FANTASY!!!
BTW — In the debate over what kind of life some of these poor characters are fated for– Hawk seems to be in the camp of karma/reincarnation.
So Azul was just there seeking respite from the court, until he saw her heart.
In the following sentence, “Had he been, he might have punched a few of them around, called out them on their “B-S” as we like to say, and then told them to behave.” Switch the position of “them” and “out”.
Azul was/is kind of doing his own thing. He admitted to not wanting to be at court (for if they knew exactly what kind of power he possessed, he would have been denied his freedom). But as for his real motives — I doubt he has ever really professed much. Hawk claims (internally) to have seen through at least some part of Azul–namely that he had fallen in love with the Queen (but most likely denied it).
And thanks for catching the typo!