The Burden of the Protector by S.C. Eston [Book Spotlight – Fantasy / Dystopian]September 18, 2019
The Burden of the Protector
Fantasy/Dystopian, ~27,000 words, Published May 28, 2016
Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01G9SAHBI
Dàr was born to a long line of loyal protectors. He completed his training at a young age and was posted in the Yurita Highlands, a region known for its rugged terrain and frequent earthquakes. His career was very promising, until he stumbled on a strange object in the center of a meadow.
The moment he saw the object, Dàr knew he should report his discovery to the scholars, so they can investigate, so they can make it disappear. But he did not. His decision changed many lives, including his own.
Years later, as Dàr contemplates the whole of his life, he remembers the strange discovery and the choice he made as a young protector. Long buried memories resurface. Now consumed by regret, Dàr wonders if it is too late to make amends.
* * *
Such a deplorable injustice.
It was perpetrated many decades ago, at a time when I was innocent and naive, a young man in his early twenties. The series of events left deep scars on my soul. For many long years, that is for most of my life, using relentless denials and lies, I was able to ban the disturbing images and surround myself with the illusion that these events were nothing more than hallucinations born of childish nightmares.
I was able to forget.
I lived what could be perceived as a normal life in these regions, if nowhere else.
As I now approach the age of the end, unwanted memories and a promise made long ago have returned to haunt me. It started about a month ago, with inchoate words murmured to me through distant and moving dreams. I would awaken, disturbed, but unable to recall. The dreams came again and again. Relentlessly. Torturing me until a week ago, when, while taking my daily walk, I erred through the eastern woods until I reached a promontory. There I dared to look upon the Yurita Highlands, my eyes going naturally to the bridge of Saril. Overtaken by powerful emotions, I nonetheless placed the voice talking to me in my dreams. It was the voice of an old friend.
Following that revelation, my mind turned traitorous, plaguing me with manifestations of a past I didn’t want to acknowledge. Once a coward, always a coward. I again tried to forget. But possibly because of my old bones, or maybe it was my lack of stamina, I failed.
I desperately needed to find a way to alleviate my conscience. My troubled mind convinced me, against all better judgement, to go to the library and find the written history, see with my own eyes the immutable words as penned down by the scholars of the League.
I was convinced that whatever I would find would free me. But it didn’t or I would not be here, committing to paper the events as I remember them.
It was five days ago that I decided to visit the library. As the sun dropped behind the hills of the west, I made my way through our small village. With each step, I kept trying to convince myself that I was only going to the library to peruse, to find a good book, one of those fictitious stories written by a scholar with too wild an imagination, a fable that ends with the promise of a peaceful abode after death. Many, as they reach the age of the end, want to depart with such promises in their heads. A final plea for consolation and reassurance.
Nice thoughts, but the nature of my visit was anything but legitimate. Manuscripts, especially those about history, are property of the Sy’Iss and only a select few scholars are privy to their contents. I, born to a family of mere knights, knew this. But still I went, my despair having mutated into a deep curiosity.
The Sy’Iss and its scholars kept history, made history, and were history. I was now on a mission to disprove my own recollections, and I knew the words of the Sy’Iss would do just that. At the time, strangely, that was my only focus.
If I were not a retired knight protector and a senile old man, I am certain my intrusion would not have been permitted. As it was, the clerk and bookkeeper glanced briefly at me and discarded me. This indifference was reciprocal, I must admit, and at any given time in the village, I was able to walk by the scholars without seeing them. But this time, I was wary and it was impossible to take my eyes away from the two individuals. They showed no recognition as I looked upon them. They were scholars of the Sy’Iss, untouchable strangers and more important than I.
Not making a noise, I passed rapidly through two rooms I had seen on previous visits. Down a flight of stairs, inside another room. Then I stopped in front of a heavy door, located in a lone corner. A part of me hoped it would be locked, to put an end to my delirious quest.
With a tremulous hand, I turned the knob…and found it opened. I couldn’t believe my luck. Or damnation.
Inside I found a space so vast as to overwhelm the senses. A high dome, covered in a fresco depicting images of the old west and its scholars, young and old. On the floor stood hundreds of bookshelves, arranged with an impressive symmetry. From the outside, the library had a unique façade, humble in size. The building was stuffed between tall trees, hugged by branches and leaves. But here, in its belly, the library was grandiose.
Knowing I didn’t belong, I hesitantly went from shelf to shelf. I was ready to label the search as futile when I found, in a shadowy corner, two large wooden bookcases with documents seemingly related to Ta’Énia. A quick glance told me these texts were about our village’s history, ordered by year, starting with the arrival of the League.
My trepidation grew. But with surprising determination, I went through several documents, scripts, parchments, and scrolls, as well as those rare books, many times over, one by one. Then again, from the beginning. After several sweeps, I could not deny it any longer. My search was in vain.
I found not a single mention of the events in which I had taken part. Of the years ’63 to ’65, there was but a single manuscript, aged, rolled, and secured by a thin twine, containing a few words. Prosperity, it said. Good years…
Nothing really. Lies. But nothing.
I should have been elated. Instead, I was overtaken by cold fear. Confounded and shaking, I simply stood there. And there I stayed for a long while. How long, I don’t know. Everything was false. The Sy’Iss had confirmed it in writing. There was no more to be said. And yet, I wasn’t ready to give up.
I started to wander and slipped, unknowingly, into the Hall of Names. All knew of the main corridor of the library, although few had seen it. Long, narrow, with a high arched ceiling, the Hall of Names had on both walls small right-angled compartments, each holding a single scroll, a biography of each of the scholars of Ta’Énia, alive or gone. These were arranged by alphabetical order and so, now excited, I made my way to the end of the hallway.
My fear turned to terror.
Of Vìr, I found not a single mention. It was as if he had not existed. I looked and looked again. Varatàm, Véria, Volus, Waràm. And again…Véria, Volus, Waràm, Waria…
For a moment, my sanity almost left me. How was it possible that he wasn’t there?
And then I thought of Maéva. Certainly, she of all scholars would be here. And if she was I would find words about Vìr.
As I started moving toward the section that would contain information about Maéva, a door opened at the end of the hall. The keeper appeared. I lifted my hands and feigned being lost. Silently and rudely, with an iron grip on my elbow, the keeper escorted me outside. There he left me with a shouted warning not to return.
As I reached the family house, I was so taken by my discovery, or lack thereof, that I had already forgotten my transgression.
History, it seemed, had been altered. Some facts buried. Vìr…expunged. If only I had been able to look for Maéva. She had been one of their best. The Sy’Iss would not, could not, have erased her also.
It was thus that instead of discarding what I remembered, I became more certain of it. The more I thought about it all, the more convinced I was that I hadn’t imagined everything. At least part of my memories had to contain some parcels of truth. If nothing else, Vìr’s request had to have been real.
The next morning, I made an important decision, one I should have made at twenty-four when it would have truly mattered. This resolution went against everything I had been taught, but it had to be done. The poison had to come out.
I decided to defy the will of the Sy’Iss. I had done it once a long time ago, before becoming a loyal servant. I needed to tell about those accursed years of my life.
The truth as I know it is contained in the manuscript you are now reading.
The day of my resolution, they came for me.
My sixtieth birthday was one week away. Envoys usually came on the day one turned sixty. In some rare cases, they came earlier. Not once have I heard of them coming later.
I could only associate their early appearance with my transgression at the library. The keeper had made a report to the Sy’Iss, as he should. And the Sy’Iss, to prevent more misdemeanours, decided it was time. There were four knight soldiers, no protector. I recognized all of them, but no words were exchanged. They were young and impassive, well trained and wearing the dark orange banner of the Sy’Iss, with handmade silvery epaulets. Each had a long sword on his belt. I always hated those swords, which couldn’t compare to the elegance of the protectors’ bows.
They took me to a rest home on the outskirts of the village. Not one of the knights’ rest homes, as I had expected. Nor was it one of the scholars’ rest homes. A different home, unknown to me and probably to many others.
The accommodations were small, a single room with a bed, a rocking chair, a small fireplace, an even smaller desk, and a rectangular window…facing to the east…
Facing the Yurita Highlands.
Facing faraway Ul Darak.
I still shiver at the spectacle and its implications. To die with eyes upon the Borders promises an eternity of pointless wandering, ever vagabonding and never reaching the final rest.
At first, this realization sapped my vitality. The knights shoved me inside and left me. For the next two days, I took to the bed and barely moved. Lying down, I trembled from fear, crushed by the judgement passed upon me. I averted my eyes from the window. But the shapes of Ul Darak would not go away. The high crags, the piercing summits, the infinite and cloudy sky, the deep valleys and passes. And the storms, the deluges, the quakes, the opening of chasms and black abysses… I have lived my whole life looking at Ul Darak, guarding others from falling victim to its many dangers. It was impossible for me not to imagine it. Its silhouettes and grand presence were imprinted on my soul. As was the fear.
But even in that sorry state, I couldn’t forget the past. Vìr’s voice lingered, unrelenting, murmuring in my ear.
On the day before I started to write, I finally sat up and looked outside. Toward Ul Darak. Vìr was the only one I knew who had not been intimidated by the Borders. It was for him, and for Maéva, that I had decided to do this. And so I braved the sight of the cursed land and went on to fulfill my promise.
When the next knight came, delivering food, I asked for my eldest son. He visited shortly thereafter and I asked him for ink, a quill, and parchment, under the pretext of writing a short memoir, a text to be shared with my grandchildren and kept in the family annals. The lie came easily and my son obliged, although we both knew he would never share the text with any of my grandchildren.
Maybe Vìr knew it would come to this. His insistence was the only reason I accepted his teachings and learned the way of words. One would think that left to myself, I would have repudiated the practice. But I didn’t, for reasons unknown even to me. The love of words and reading is another of my many weaknesses.
Through Vìr, I learned to read and write and ultimately came to start this memoir. The memories are unnaturally vivid and blur the thin line between a disturbing past and a desperate present.
But let it begin from the start, with the discovery that changed everything.
About the author
S.C. ESTON grew up in the province of New Brunswick in Canada. He is the author of “The Burden of the Protector” (“More than an adventure story, an existential philosophy…”, Roger Moore, Poet) and “The Conclave” (“… I consider Eston a great teller of tales, indeed”, GlamAdelaide.com.au). He is a manager in technology services and lives in Fredericton with his wife Leigh, and their children.
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