Chapter 17 – Bitter Pill

Note:  For those who have already read Chapter 16, the last few paragraphs of it were cut, rewritten, and moved to Chapter 17 for a little better flow and continuity. Work in progress!

~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ *~ * ~ * ~ *~

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived,
but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.
~ Maya Angelou ~

“What happened to Dragana?” I asked in a near whisper.

“She went running to Padraig for help. Why, I don’t know, because he can’t heal.”

Because he was her chosen, I thought. Because you seek the one you trust the most when you’re in trouble.

“Dragana died screaming in agony, and he couldn’t even touch her because the flames were too hot.”

“But… but he’s a fire druid,” I said, fighting back tears. “No other druid’s elemental fire can harm him.”

“No other druid’s fire should be able to burn him, but it did,” Father said, “I can only assume that the augmentations somehow potentiated whatever elements were given to the children.”

Poor Padraig. He was brave, righteous, loyal, and honest to a fault, and his chosen had deceived him.

“What happened after that?” I asked, wanting to move past this nightmare event in my family’s history.

“The political fallout was disastrous,” Father said. “The blame for all the augmentation-related deaths was laid at Connor’s feet. He was ousted as ArchDruid and exiled as well. Sebrina was voted in as our new leader, and the decision was made to take magic away from all the boys from that moment forth. We just couldn’t risk any more lives.”

I wanted to be disgusted. I really did. I wanted to argue that if the gods had seen fit to allow the augmentation of babies, then perhaps it should have been left in their hands. Or that maybe Sebrina and the council should have devoted the time and effort to finding out whether any of them truly were augmented.

Except that I understood that a community living in fear of annihilation by an overwhelming enemy would be terrified of losing anyone else who could help protect them, including the next generation. They had acted rashly, motivated by that fear.

“Why alter them still?” I asked. “Surely the danger had passed.”

“Because there are no guarantees, or so Sebrina likes to say. No one in my generation has forgotten that augmenting an unborn child is possible. Some may still know how it was done.”

“Surely no one has forgotten what a catastrophe it was!” I said. “Why not trust people to do what they know is right?”

“Once it was started, it was impossible to stop,” Father replied. “And Sebrina is not a trusting soul.”

Unscrupulous people rarely are, I thought.

“We’ve condemned an entire generation to irreparable damage,” he finished.

“Yes, now we have boys with warped minds instead of warped bodies,” I said.

“Their minds aren’t warped.”

“Orion’s is. Was. So was Darryn’s,” I said. “I don’t know how Niall escaped it, but I can name several others in the Warriors’ Third whose sanity is a bit precarious.”

“What’s done is done,” Father replied. “It’s all damage control from here on out.”

“Maybe so, but is continuing with a questionable course of action justified?”

“Whether it is or not, I no longer have a say in the matter.”

“We all have a say in the matter,” I responded. “Or at least we should.” A thought popped into my head, something so un-radical and so appropriate to our democratic druid society that it had never occurred to me to try.

“What if we did?”

“What do you mean?”

“What if we took a vote?”

“Even if you did, Sebrina would claim fraud and accuse you of manipulating the votes cast.”

“Not if she held the vote.”

“She’s not likely to do such a thing.”

“Right,” I replied. “It wouldn’t surprise me if altering them was a condition of her treaty with the ‘Ville.”

His gaze grew sharp. “What do you know about that?”

“Only what Davis told me after returning from his little trip with Niall and Darryn,” I said. “He said the bandits accused them of breaking the treaty by encroaching on their territory. He thought the treaty was why druid dyads weren’t out healing the earth or defending the neighboring towns anymore.” I paused. “He also said the bandits knew that Niall and Darryn didn’t have magic – that everyone knew our boys didn’t have magic.”

“That was not supposed to become common knowledge,” Father said, anger glinting in his eyes. “All the ‘Ville has to do is wait until my generation is old and they’ll own this grove.”

I nodded. “That’s what Davis said, too. ‘Once Liam’s generation is too old to fight, who will defend the grove?’ ”

“Something tells me I will come to regret the loss of your chosen more than I already do,” Father said, looking grim.

“Maybe we can use that.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Maybe we can use the future vulnerability of the grove to force Sebrina to allow a vote.”

“Allowing a vote to stop the alteration would be tantamount to admitting it was a mistake in the first place,” he replied.

“Not if we expressly point out that the old danger is past and has been replaced by a new one,” I insisted. “Sebrina might give in if enough people demanded it.”

Drumming his fingers on the table, Father pondered my words.

“It would also give us an idea of how many people will leave with us when we go,” I said, knowing he would not agree.

“Let’s not count our chickens before they hatch,” he said. “We’re not packing our bags just yet.”

It sounded like something Charlie would say – or his father, who had passed on a good many such proverbs on to his son.

Regardless of his thoughts on the matter, I knew that nothing would change at White Oak Grove. Sebrina liked holding power and enjoyed lording it over people even more. The general populace was too afraid of rocking the boat and suffering the consequences.

“However…” Father stopped, tapping his fingers on the table again.

“What?”

“We could ask for a vote to reinstate the druid council.”

There hadn’t been a council since Sebrina had taken office. She had disbanded the existing council – the one that had exiled Connor Shitozaki – and had installed her own supporters, creating the Tetrarch.

“I don’t see how that will help.”

“It’ll help if we have people sympathetic to our cause on it. A motion to vote on whether or not to continue altering boys would seem more legitimate coming from a council member.”

“And if this new council refuses to allow the vote?”

“Then we’ll know where we stand.”

“I already know where we stand,” I said, annoyed. “So does Padraig.”

More politics. I was sick to death of politics. Why couldn’t we just go back to the way things had been after the Rebirth? According to the history we’d been taught, the grove had been established in a spirit of unity and cooperation, with peoples of many faiths and backgrounds participating. If so many different people had come together to create a grove, why couldn’t we come together to save it?

“I have wronged him greatly,” Father said, breaking the silence. “I should have known it wasn’t Padraig who instilled Dragana’s child with elemental fire.”

“It sounds like you were in the middle of confusing and turbulent times,” I said.

“That doesn’t excuse me from forming such an ill opinion of my own brother.”

“It may have been unkind of you to have assumed such a thing, but at least you never accused him directly. That would have been worse, I think.”

“I’ll never be able to make amends,” Father said. “To him or anyone else, I fear.”

Never in my entire life had my father revealed such vulnerability to me. I always thought he never cared what anyone thought about his actions; that he acted out of conscience and his personal morals

“Gods know I’ve done my best to do what was right, but somehow all those decisions took us further down wrong paths.” He sighed. “I should never have agreed to be First Warrior.”

I placed my hand over his. “Maybe you could have done some things better,” I said. “But the fact of the matter is that Sebrina acted out of fear and the rest of the grove was looking for someone to save them. Things would have been much worse if you hadn’t been First Warrior.”

“How do you figure?”

“It was your idea to create the Warriors’ Third and start formally training the boys to fight. Sebrina may have taken away their magic, but you gave them a new purpose.”

“I couldn’t allow them to be defenseless.”

“It was also your idea for them to learn how to shoot, and for the blacksmiths to make shotguns.”

“It wasn’t enough.”

“You took me north so I could find my chosen.”

“And look how that turned out.”

Around the lump in my throat, I said, “I don’t regret finding him and I never will. In spite of what’s happened, my life is infinitely better for having him in it.”

Father nodded. “It seems we never have enough time with the ones we love.” He rubbed his palm, which was still bandaged but no longer bloody from where he had severed the oath that had bound him to Sebrina.

“Does it still hurt?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No. It’s cold, like I’m holding a sliver of ice.”

I touched my own palm where the oath mark was still warm.

“Does the mark always feel cold like that when the oath is broken?” I asked.

“Such oaths are not often made, but yes. Their warmth is derived from the binding magic.”

“We’ll both get used to it eventually,” he said, compassion in his eyes.

“I suppose we will,” I replied, lowering my eyes so he could not see my true feeling – elation. A rush of joy and optimism filled my heart to overflowing and soon my eyes were, too. These were not tears of sadness, however, but of relief and sheer gratitude.

His severed bond was cold, but mine was not. The person to whom he had been linked was alive, and even so the mark had gone cold when the oath was broken. The silvery mark on my palm was still warm, which could only mean the magic of the oath was alive and well. Therefore, the one to whom I was bound was also alive. Combined with Duncan’s continued absence, it could only mean one thing.

Charlie Davis was alive.

 

 

 

 

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