Dance Between Devils Chapter 3 / Strider Series

Dance Between Devils 3.1 – Sencis

Illustration by Djamila Knopf

Here I stand over the remains of my caretakers, my guardians, my beloved… Underneath this earth, she lies in death and decay, leaving me here with this life of mine because I could not stop time. But I remember, at the very least, how precious it is: the clouds watching over me, the wind kissing my face, the grass hugging my feet… how I love it so. Find me more beautiful self-perpetuating glory than the palace of my eternal surroundings. Without them, everything simply falls. So long as there is a cycle, everything can rise anew. The less it is changed, the better.

***

Night comes. A lone woman walked the free glade to her isolated cabin home. Entering, she grabbed a pot hanging over the hearth in the center. Then returning to the evening winds, she strolled along the precipice of a quiet lake, eventually dipping the pot inward to bring back to the Cottage full.

After feeding the hearth with more sticks, she let the ember intensify. Within: a pinch of salt, milk, oats, and honey. Once it was ready, she sat at the table alone, serving herself porridge.

She eventually grasped the solitude, laying her head down in gloom. Gentle tears spilled below her cheek and onto the rough wood surface. Wet as they were, her eyes painted an opalescent dream within the mundane surroundings of her home. And suddenly visualizing an apparition, she sat upright.

A tall, stout man in a black gambeson now sat across from her. To the side of them now rested a polished helmet, an intimidating barbuta she remembered for its rectangular eyes.

Entranced, she stared at the man across from her, a man with short, scruffy hair, a distinct blonde stubble, and blue eyes looking directly at her. He seemed locked in prayer with his hands clasped, at first, so she took after him. Even as they met eyes, he kept his hands together, but slowly began swaying his arms, sliding them left then right. She began mimicking him. He lifted his hands high and then low. She lifted her small, clasped hands high and low. He shifted his hands below the waist, to his right. She took left. He hung right; she hung left. He switched his hands inside left while she did inside right. Close left; close right. And then they hid their hands underneath the table.

“Sencis, you mature quicker than comfort would allow!” he exclaimed. “Your mother’s blessing, I must presume. At the least, I have been blessed to see you grow this far. I’ll take that…taking what I can before I leave again. So be strong while I’m gone. Be strong for your father, and help your mother while I’m away.”

“You will be back again, like always, won’t you?” Her young voice and old words came back to her, high-pitched, bemoaning, and innocent.

Yet the father hesitated. “Yes… Find health in the moments we have shared, love. And always remember your feet on the ground.”

“Yes, papa.”

“We always fight until we cannot. And even as I fight, you will be in my heart. Yours and your mother’s everlasting realm.”

Sencis could see nothing but blinding light beyond the door, forced to watch as her father stood, turned, and walked.” But before he reached the end, she stood on her chair and cried out, “Why do you have to go!?”

Thus, he stopped, turned his head and smiled. “Because I love you.” At last, vanished into the light.

She was small then, with blue eyes in mime of the sky, and letting tears down her puffed cheeks of juvenile lightness. The open door let the entering wind brush her arm and chestnut hair, a moment in shifting time turning tears of the past into tears of the present. Now, hair of living brown parted for eyes deeper as the likes of sapphire adorning ivory skin, and light freckles fairly decorating above her shapely cheekbones. Infallible maturity reflecting inevitable time.

“I have to be strong. None will say I was weak when you were gone.”

The next morning, upon awakening, Sencis took her mother’s dark cloak from the stand by the door. Before turning the knob, she found herself drawn to the longsword mounted on the wall beside. It simply rested there, in its elegant red scabbard, piercing her with restless curiosity until she held it in her hands. She gripped the black bone hilt, her hand running along the ring pommel with a ruby stud. Feeling fiendish for doing so, she parted blade from scabbard until its entire steel length lay plain before her eyes. The blade bore curious engravings pristinely legible in the fine steel, engravings that nearly crossed its entire length and ended before the angular guard. They were symbols she could not decipher.

I can hardly imagine the day I’ll need you, she thought, and then departed from her humble home due west on the dirt road.

The peace of quiet seemingly garnered the evergreen oaks to her path, glazed by warm rays as the sun began ascent over the hilly horizon just ahead. Not much time would pass before a distant village gradually lifted into view, a melody of mockingbirds serenely resounding in the morning air.

Reaching the road’s entry into the village, she saw a solo guard in a gambeson with a spear over his shoulder. He labored to stay awake with his cheek resting on his shaft.

As she walked, she paid no heed to anything but her destination. On both sides of her stood kiosks of diverse vendors, from average food and farm-good barterers to craftsmen. But she kept her stride until she reached the opposite end of the village, where a windmill sat isolated. It connected to a river flanking the village, flowing east and west down evergreen banks farther than the eye could see. So long as she observed those sails rounding above its cobble, she knew life would do the same.

Upon reaching the door, she saw that it was half-open.

“Hello?” a voice echoed as she set one foot inside. The mill interior was dark, but by the dim sunlight, she noted the unattended wheel of stone by its concentric well and another open doorway beside that. To her right, a spiral stairway.

“Jasper?” she uttered.

Footsteps. She could see an older fellow in a flower-ridden tunic promptly arriving down the stairs. One glance from his wrinkly eyes and they displayed recognition.

“Aye, Sencis? The time it’s been!”

“Yes it has,” she replied with soft enthusiasm. “And here I am for the same purpose. I need-“

“Flower, of course!” Moving around and past the grinder—through the left door, he recited to himself, “By my faith. By my faith. Falter me not, back!” And after a moment of Sencis waiting, the Miller returned with a modest sack for delivery. “Y’ know, I’m all too accustomed to your mother retrieving this. For a fleeting moment did I imagine her in the doorway. My sight, I tell ya.”

Troubled in finding her words, she moved from the subject. “So am I—”

“I miss it.”

“What is the sum?”

“Take that as a favor,”

She smiled a half-smile. “My thanks, Jasper. If I am being honest, I don’t know that I had enough coin.”

“Honesty is why I grew fond of thee,” mused Jasper. “The days your mother skipped you along, I was delighted in discovering the apple from the tree. But, maybe it’s time you found some work, lass. Unless the crops are finally sprouting anew?”

Sencis’s face embalmed hesitation. “Time will pass before there are crops to reap.”

“Then simply take my words as food for your thoughts.”

“There might be no way about it.” She stared at the small coins in her hand.

“It may be that you can be of great use to someone. That must be the case”

Sencis stuffed the money back. “As you have said, I shall consider. Farewell.” And she sauntered out the mill.

“Take care of yourself!”

Peering outside, she noticed a marginal increase in publicity, more locals now loitering the streets and children frolicking about. She would solemnly walk past them without a hint of expression.

“Bream and sturgeon for thee! And never too early for hard caught carp, aye?” The fish vendor had begun shouting as soon as Sencis reached him, and of the rampant children roaming about, one stumbled and crashed into his stand before she could see him.

“Young man, you must be more careful!” she exclaimed, dropping her flour sack. Kneeling beside him, she rushed and rubbed his gashed forehead. He whimpered, so she helped him to his feet. “Are you crying?”

“No!” the boy retorted, rubbing his wet eyes. “I’m not crying!”

“Good. A strong boy can avert tears,” she said, kneeling and meeting his gaze. “But, remember, there is nothing lost in shedding them.” The boy said nothing but stared in awe. She rubbed his hair and stood up. “Now go play,” she said, grinning. Thus, the boy sped off toward the other children.

Feeling a sudden pull on her robe, Sencis turned. “Do you have any food?” It was another boy whose somber voice perturbed her nearly as much as his thin figure. Not as lively as the others, he was dirty and with an ill look on his face. She reached into her pocket, sifting through what else she had. Then standing to face the fisherman, she said, “You have a catch or two you must be rid of ‘fore the sun beats you.”

“That there’s always the gambit, curica,” he replied.

“Sell one to me for two bronze Vic.”

“Hope you realize you’re gettn’ a fine catch for that price.” And from the counter the fisherman picked a yellowish fish by its silvery tail and handed it to Sencis, holding out his other hand. “Here you are, curica.”

She handed him the coin and grabbed the fish by its tail. Then, she handed it to the boy. “Take care, little one.” The boy smiled and ran off cradling the fish.

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