Chapter 12. Part 1.

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CHAPTER 12: WHEN THE RIVER MEETS THE ROAD

The twins had composed a song that morning about my defeat of the Umbra, and they firmly believed in singing to pass the time. That doesn’t mean they were good at it. Fwik kept saying that our journey needed a theme song. The problem was that their songs weren’t really songs, they were just a bunch of lines that all rhymed. Every once in a while they came up with a few funny ones, but for the most part they were annoying. At first it was fun to listen to them because they made a big deal at how badly they sang. They sort of talked the words to their song loudly with weird inflections in their voice.

“The Xander Boy hooray, hooray!
He blew the Umbra all away
And now we know just what to say
The legends true, it’s no cliché!
And Shishu’s saved. He is okay.
The human’s going to save the day
So come rejoice and don’t delay
You will not have to feel dismay
Mendrax he is going to slay
And hopefully he’ll get to stay
And eat a cold ice cream sundae,
Or Cherries Jubilee flambé,
Or maybe one big, sweet buffet.
But we will never find a way
That any of us could repay
The Xander Boy hooray, hooray!”

It translates to English incredibly well I must say. I didn’t really like the shortened form of my last name, though.

Their singing, combined with the cramped quarters, made the travel on the river enjoyable for about an hour. After that everyone in the group began to realize that the boat was a lot smaller when it had eleven bodies in it. Everyone had their own ways of coping with the boredom of the river travel. I think I coped the best out of all of us because I loved the boat itself so much. I would often sit at the bow and watch the water split as it hit the wood. Doctor Lee and I would talk about logic and being the outcasts. He told me a little bit more about how he came to know Brew, and how she was really like a big sister to him.

I told him more about my life back in Athens, and what it was like being a soldier. I told him about my olive orchard and the different kinds of olives I grew. I even told him about my dreams of building my own boat.

“It’s been fantastic getting to know the man who will provide the Syllogy with salvation. Tell me, do you have any family?” asked Doctor Lee with a lighthearted tone.

“Well, not really,” I said tersely.

“Ah, that is an answer that I’m afraid elicits more questions than it answers. I feel I must ask you what you mean by ‘not really,’” said Doctor Lee.

“Well, my parents died when I was fairly young, I think I was ten years old. They were… I don’t really know what happened to them. They just disappeared one day and then some members of the republic in Athens came to the orchard one day saying that they were killed in some sort of a military operation. They said it was sort of a raid by one of the other armies in the Greek empire. I never got the full story, but I was old enough to take ownership of their property, so, that’s what I did.”

“Any other family besides that? No loved ones left behind on this expedition?”

“Well, no not really. That’s sort of a long story.”

“I’m not sure if you noticed Nicholas, but we have time for sort of a long story,” said Doctor Lee with a big beetle grin.

I searched his tiny black eyes for a bit, and then noticed out of the corner of my eye that many other passengers in the boat had taken an interest in our conversation.

“You guys all want to know about Pathena I suppose?” I asked loudly to the boat at large. Everyone looked away and pretended they hadn’t heard anything up until that point. It was one of those scenes where you expect someone to start whistling innocently.

“What?” said Chak. “What do you mean? What’s a Pathena?”

Fwik piped up as well, “Yes, it’s definitely the first time I’ve heard the word. What makes you think we would want to know about something called Pathena?”

“So how long have you all known about her?” I asked hotly.

They all exchanged glances. It was Flye who spoke first from the back of the boat.

“Well Nicholas, you sort of say her name in your sleep,” she said.

“A lot,” added Fwik, whom I could tell had been disrupted by this in the past few nights.

“We’ve all sort of been curious about it, but we didn’t want to add to your,” Plink paused searching for the right word, “stress.”

“I guess I can tell you. Pathena is the only woman I’ve ever loved.” That’s when I got the idea to get back at these Umbili a little bit. I started out with the phrase, “you might not understand this, being Umbili and all,” and then progressed to, “but I’ll explain it the best I can. You see, humans experience this thing called love, sort of like a partnership in Umbili terms,” I was being as condescending and sarcastic in my tone as possible.

“Love is this awesome thing that is hard to describe to Umbili since you’ve never really felt it the way that we humans do.” I looked around at them all smiling at me. They knew exactly what I was doing and it brought levity to the situation that none of us had felt since we first exited the forest on the way to The City of Falling Water. Fwik, however, didn’t get it at all.

“What are you talking about? We know what love is Nicholas! We experience it all the time!”

Everyone looked at him with a facial expression that said seriously Fwik? Do you not know what sarcasm is?

“But basically,” I continued, “it’s caring for someone, caring for someone more than yourself. I guess you could describe love as being willing to do anything for another person, maybe even if it costs you something.”

“It’s a commitment of the will to the true good of another,” said Dr. Lee simply.[1]

“That’s a good way of putting it,” I said. “A commitment of the will to the true good of another. Love is when you choose to put one person’s good above your own in every situation. ”

At this point I decided to lay off the sarcastic teacher voice.

“That person was Pathena for me. She was wonderful, completely and utterly wonderful. She was beautiful, too. She had about my skin tone and this thick black hair that had a little bit of a wave to it and went almost down to her waist. She lived a few estates over from our orchard and we grew up together. I don’t know if she ever loved me the way I loved her though. She… she helped me get through my parents’ disappearance. That was the only time I thought she might one day love me back.”

I paused to catch my breath. Everyone in the boat was hanging on my every word. After listening to the stories Chak and Doctor Lee had told me, I had picked up on some storytelling techniques that were coming in handy now. I would pause and drop my voice low at exactly the right moment to draw everyone back into what I was saying.

“We went through our formative years as close friends, but then I went off to be trained in war at fifteen, and when I came back two years later she told me about this man she was falling in love with. I didn’t know much about him. He came to our area shortly after I started my training. She was deeply taken with the man. She described him as intriguing and mysterious, he always wore ‘flowing black cloth’ she used to say, and carried a golden scepter. Then one night, when I was back in the center of Athens to finish my training, he stole her away from me.

“I came back to our village and found out that he was a traveller involved in the slave trade. That was a year before the war in Troy began. After Pathena was taken, I searched for six months and I eventually caught up to the man in black. I came to a small farm just outside the city of Megara. The man had his entire caravan and traders there and had established a small trading post. I took shelter with one of the local farmers. He agreed to help me find Pathena.

“It took a few days, but eventually I located her inside of the man’s camp. The farmer, his three daughters, and I arranged a plan to rescue her, but on the night that we were going to put our plan into effect something went terribly wrong. Two of the traders of the man in black burst into the farmhouse wearing long dark clothes just like their leader. They tried to take the farmer’s daughters.”

I paused for a moment and drew a long breath. “There was a struggle, but eventually the farmer and I were able to overpower the two traders and kill them. The farmer received a large gash in his leg, and eventually lost it as a result, I got away with a simple scratch.” I raised arm and showed the scar that ran across my forearm. “As we were cleaning up the mess of the fight we discovered who the two traders were. The one I had killed was a plain looking older man that I had never seen before. The farmer said it was a friend of his from a few years before. He lived on the other side of Megara with a wife and no children. But the trader that the farmer had killed was smaller and more slender. It was Pathena.

“I still don’t know how she went from being a captive to an accomplice, and after her death, I rigorously devoted myself to the army, and soon thereafter went to Troy to fight for Helen. The rest of the story I think you know. Pathena was the one true love of my life, and I,” I hesitated. “It’s my fault she’s dead.” It was the first time I had ever admitted that out loud. “If I had been there that night, if had been there to stop the man in flowing black cloth, maybe I could have stopped her from joining his trade… maybe she would have loved me back.”

I finished my story somberly, and an ethereal quiet filled the air. Even the river seemed to hush as the weight of my story fell. After a few moments Doctor Lee decided to speak.

“Well yes, I’d have say that unquestionably qualifies as a ‘long story,’” he said. “I must say I’m glad I heard it though, if only to say that I now know you a bit better my friend.”

There was a murmured agreement from the rest of the boat. I turned around to face the air as we traveled down stream. It was sort of refreshing to tell someone about all of this. I had thought about telling someone that story so many times while on the shores of Troy, hoping someone would remember me. It felt good to finally share it.

[1]  Professor Theophilus, in “Homophobia, Part 1: Rage,” Ask Me Anything: Provocative Answers for College Students by J. Budziszewski


Want to keep reading? Go to the next section! >>> “Chapter 12. Part 2.”

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