Chapter 11 – Anarchy
All great changes are preceded by chaos.
~ Deepak Chopra ~
My father had executed the strike so swiftly that the offending head had rolled to a stop before anyone gasped or cried out. It was so quiet that I heard the thump as Darryn’s body pitched over onto the cobblestones. It was the blood spurting from the severed neck that incited exclamations of horror, a couple of screams, and the sound of someone vomiting. Several someones, in fact.
Father wasn’t finished, however.
“Let it be known throughout White Oak Grove that I, Liam Everlight, am no longer First Warrior to ArchDruid Sebrina,” Father said in a loud voice. “And let it also be known that Davis, my daughter’s chosen, was taken from a house of healing this morning – a sacred place of protection!”
Raising his sword to the sky, he bellowed: “I call upon you, great Zeus, most glorious and greatest, and to Helios, who sees and hears all things! Hear me, Gaea, earth mother! Listen, all you gods and goddesses in the realms above and below, and witness my oath this day: this heinous crime will not go unpunished! By the earth, sea, and sky, and by the blood I have spilled today, I swear that I shall not rest until I have found out the truth of what has befallen him!”
Shocked silence greeted his pronouncement.
Equally stunned by this development, I couldn’t blame them.
“That… that was… he made a…” I stammered.
“Blood sacrifice,” Padraig said, his tone grim.
“I can’t believe it!”
“Like your hearth culture doesn’t perform blood sacrifices.” He gave me a knowing look. Heat rose to my cheeks. People outside the Yoruba hearth culture always assumed we performed blood sacrifices, simply because pre-Fracture witch doctors and voodoo priests had also worshipped the Orisha.
“We do not!” I snapped. “Blood sacrifice is forbidden!”
Uncle Padraig shrugged. “He was going to kill Darryn anyway. May as well make use of it.”
My jaw dropped. Of all the things that had gone wrong within White Oak Grove, my father’s use of blood as a sacrifice to the gods and my uncle’s indifference to it demonstrated just how warped our society had become, and how far from our ancestors we had strayed.
“Besides, the ancient Greek peoples frequently engaged in blood sacrifice – animals and humans.”
“That’s not true!” I protested. What kind of madness was he advocating now?
“Oh no? Have you never heard of a scapegoat ritual?”
“They didn’t kill people!”
“Scholars have differing opinions on that, but there is a general agreement that unrepentant murderers were chosen as scapegoats and then executed.”
I could only stare at him.
“Terrible, isn’t it?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“The fact that human sacrifice is made more palatable to our delicate sensibilities because the blood spilled was that of an unrepentant murderer.”
He was right. It was terrible that someone could be dehumanized because they weren’t sorry for killing another human being. Yet, did not the very action of murder cause someone to lose his humanity? Could one kill in cold blood and still remain human?
Who truly dehumanized the scapegoat?
The murderer himself?
The society that condemned him?
I didn’t lose any sleep over it that night.
I hated Darryn Darkmane.
I was glad he was dead.
* * *
“I want you to stay with Padraig.”
“Yesterday you wanted me to come home with you.” Yesterday I had hated him, but today he was my avatar, my protector, and my hero.
“Aye, but that was before I beheaded Darryn Darkmane in the street,” Father said. “Sebrina won’t like that, and I imagine Betrys Darkmane will be wanting vengeance as well. I’ll not have her take it out on you.”
“Betrys is lucky that Nualla didn’t seek revenge herself,” Danica said.
“In that case, I’m sorry he’s already dead,” I said, imagining Nualla burning Darryn alive with elemental fire.
“Angie!” protested Danica, clearly mortified.
“He didn’t suffer nearly enough.” My fists clenched in a useless attempt to hang onto my earlier rage. In spite of my harsh words, anger was again fading into the empty despair of mourning. I wanted to be angry. I needed to be angry. Anything to fill the void of despair that threatened to swamp me at every turn.
Father knelt before me and took my hands. “Things may take a turn for the worse before they get better.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. Nothing could be worse than losing Charlie. Nothing could be worse than missing his quick smile, his strong arms around me, his determination and courage. Nothing could be worse than knowing I’d failed him, that I was the one truly responsible for his suffering and death. He’d been my rock and now he was gone.
“I swore a blood oath in the presence of our people, the nature spirits, the ancestors, and the Shining Ones,” he said. “I intend to fulfill it.”
“What do you aim to do?” Padraig asked, looking at my father skeptically.
“I’m going to search every square inch of this grove until I find Davis,” Father replied. “Have no fear, daughter. I will find your chosen.” With this pronouncement, he rose and strode to the door, closing it behind him with finality.
I looked at Uncle. “Don’t you think you should go with him?”
“If he wanted my help, he would have asked.”
“But wouldn’t it be easier to search if you used earth magic?”
He hesitated. “A seeking with earth is not always possible,” he said kindly. “We all have an element of spirit in our bodies, even if we can’t channel it. It is that spirit, that life force, for which an earth druid searches when performing a seeking. Should that life force be weak, or—”
I held up a hand. I understood. Father hadn’t asked Padraig to come along because he was not looking for a sick and injured man, but for a corpse.
* * *
As much as Uncle Padraig tried to protect me from what was occurring in the grove, rumors of my father’s activities intruded nevertheless. Over the next few days, people kept dropping by the house at all hours, beseeching Padraig to at least talk to Liam.
It wasn’t until Adalwulf Rask came by that Uncle paid attention. As usual, Wolfric’s father was in full leather armor with his long knives strapped to his back.
“There’s a problem,” he said without preamble. “You need to see to it, Padraig.”
“My brother’s business is his own,” Uncle replied. “He’ll not thank me for butting in.”
“Perhaps not, but the rest of the grove will.”
Uncle snorted. “I’ll join the ancestors before that ever happens.”
“Be that as it may, Liam is out of control and you are the only one with a chance of stopping him.”
“I really couldn’t care less if he spent the rest of his life breaking down doors and rifling through women’s underwear.”
“Eventually someone will object,” Adalwulf said, frowning at my uncle’s obvious lack of honor. “Perhaps violently.”
“Not if they’re smart.”
“He is no longer First Warrior. He has no authority to do such things!”
“His daughter’s chosen is missing,” said Uncle. “Can you blame him?” His tone was deceptively mild. I say deceptively because the temperature was starting to rise. I started to wonder if perhaps my father’s questionable activities stemmed from a sense of guilt. If so, it was too little, too late.
“Davis is dead,” Adalwulf stated with his characteristic bluntness. A loud sob rose up unbidden and escaped my lips, bringing with it a flood of tears. It brought Padraig to his feet and roused him like nothing else had.
“How dare you march in here making pronouncements like that in front of Angie!” he roared. “How dare you speak so disrespectfully of him! If it weren’t for Davis, it would be your son who is dead!”
Adalwulf stiffened, casting a quick look my way, then turning his eyes back to Padraig. “My apologies, Angelina. You are right, Padraig. What you say is true.”
Is it? I wondered, rubbing the still-warm scar of the oath mark. It seemed that the entirety of my grief and tears were from the agony of not knowing what had happened to him. Yes, he was likely dead. He’d been so sick it was nearly impossible for him not to be.
And yet Duncan had not returned. It was foolish, but my cousin’s continued absence gave me hope. Duncan was an earth elementalist and a skilled healer. It was well within his capabilities to have healed Charlie and moved him someplace safe.
“Padraig, you must listen to reason. Even Danica says there was no hope for him without magic—”
“Then where is the body?!” Padraig shouted. “Tell me that!”
Adalwulf looked away, as though ashamed. It seemed to pain him greatly, having to deliver this message. I wondered which would win the war inside him, his duty to his fellow citizens or honoring our wishes to mourn in peace?
“I do not know,” he replied quietly. “What I do know is that there is a man on the verge of madness rampaging through the grove at all hours of the day and night, kicking in doors and terrifying people.”
“Good! Let them tremble and faint from dread! Let them vomit with trepidation! Let the cowards piss down their legs and shit themselves in terror!”
Adalwulf’s frowned mightily at Padraig’s dishonorable attitude and display of temper.
“Don’t you look at me like that,” Uncle growled. “Why should we care one whit for their panic? Did my fellow citizens offer Davis support even once? No! When Sebrina announced that she was going to beat him, they slunk away like dogs with their tails between their legs! When Davis lay suffering, did any of them come to offer him comfort?” His chest heaved with wrath, and Adalwulf could no longer meet his eyes.
“And now that he’s gone, has even one person offered to perform a ritual for him? Has anyone lit a single candle or filled even a cup of water? Has one prayer been spoken or an offering for him given to the gods?”
The other man’s answering silence spoke volumes.
“That’s right. Nobody gave a damn about my family, but now that they are inconvenienced, I’m supposed jump right up and fix their problem,” Padraig said, his voice now husky. “You go tell those selfish, cowardly arseholes that I don’t give a shit about them or their problems.”
Still looking down at his boots, Adalwulf gave a respectful nod and started out the door with his shoulders slumped.
“One more thing.”
He stopped, then turned around and faced Padraig once more. It took a great man to again face the one whose words had just flayed him to the bone. Uncle was right, and the expression on Adalwulf’s face said that he knew it.
“This house is in mourning,” said Padraig. His voice broke and tears slid down his cheeks, “and we would appreciate it if the rest of you would remember that.”