“Damn you, Gow!” Anarr roared and his voice echoed in the empty hall of the place he called Sanctuary. Several men appeared quickly, as if they had been waiting for someone to shout.
“Calm yourself, Anarr,” the deep voice of a slender man resonated softly in the hall as he stepped next to the aggravated magus. To Anarr, it sounded more like the buzzing of a bee and he waved his hand, irritated that a measly insect would dare to interrupt him. He nearly slapped the man next to him in the face as he vented his anger and frustration. “Damn you, Gow!” he shouted again.
“Such outbursts are not tolerated here, Anarr. Either you calm yourself, or you will have to leave!” Though spoken just as softly as before, this time Anarr heard the words and took a deep breath. He hadn’t come here seeking refuge only to be thrown out in the middle of winter.
“Forgive me, brother. It shan’t happen again.” Anarr bowed, and kept his head low until the men had returned to their prior engagement. As soon as he was alone, he dropped to the ground and covered his face in his hands, his fingernails digging so deep into his scalp and the side of his face that he drew blood. The pain helped him focus. He managed to calm himself.
This outburst hadn’t been the first. Ever since he had washed ashore after his failed endeavor to retrieve the cursed statue of Gow back in Sy, Anarr had blamed the god for anything that went wrong in his life, past and present. He knew his problems were not really Gow’s fault, but of his own making. The curse on the statue had been placed by Amante, another god and Gow’s rival. He couldn’t picture Amante’s face and after staring at the statue’s screaming face for days, Gow had become the focus of his anger. He had tried to push the memories of the past year out of his mind and redirect his thinking, but with every attempt his guilt became stronger and forced him to relive the events of his failure.
“Why?” he cried silently. “Why do I have to lose every woman I love? Why do they leave me behind?”
He remembered Marie, his betrothed. She had been so beautiful. Her blond curls had framed her face perfectly and her blue eyes had sparkled like the ocean in sunlight. When he had returned from Magnus after the war to fulfill his promise, she’d been gone. He recalled Phoebe, whose passion had matched his. She had left him one day without an explanation. There had been other women as well, yet none of them had stayed with him long enough to leave a lasting impression.
The image of a red-haired woman with green eyes surfaced in his mind. “Zenia,” he whispered with a deep sigh and remembered the girl: her smile, the twinkle in her eyes when she laughed, the way the wind blew through her long, unbraided hair, the way her dress exposed her ankles when she ran, her lips … He thought, “She was only playing with me and married another. I got my revenge and placed a curse on her.
“A curse that not only affected her, but generations of women in her family,” he reminded himself. “I did a terrible thing! And when I had the chance to rectify the situation, I failed! Not once, but thrice!”
“Simona,” Anarr whimpered and a single tear left his eye, mixed with the blood on his face, and dropped onto his brown robe. Anarr curled up in a tight ball on the floor in an attempt to suppress his memories and find peace, but to no avail.
“Yes, Simona,” he remembered. “Pretty little Simona. So young, so vibrant. With eyes as blue as the sea she drowned in and hair as black as the darkness that envelops her now. I let her drown! It is my fault she is dead! I made a promise to her and didn’t keep it! I sent a dangerous object into a town without making sure its guardian would know how to keep it safe. I …”
Anarr sat up straight and dug his fingernails deeper in his scalp, drawing more drops of blood. “No! It wasn’t my fault. I …” he whimpered in an attempt to justify his actions, but couldn’t come up with a convincing argument.
“It was my fault,” he chided himself. “It was my curse that made her seek help in the first place.
“How was I to know?” Tears started running over his cheeks. He stood up and began pacing around the hall.
“And not just that! I left her lover out at sea to die so I wouldn’t have to tell him that his beloved was dead and, with her, his unborn child!
“I didn’t know she was pregnant, didn’t know until it was too late,” Anarr sobbed. “I did not know!
“But how could I have missed the obvious?” he tortured himself. “She was traveling with her lover. I couldn’t lift the curse I placed on her family over a century ago, a curse that had already started to weaken. If I had died when I was supposed to, Simona would still be alive, because the curse would have died with me. I missed such a simple thing as a pregnancy!
“She didn’t tell me –” Anarr began, but interrupted himself. “Of course not. She was too preoccupied trying get in my good graces so I would help her! I even failed to notice that she was a bard when she approached me for the first time. I was too busy playing the hero that saved a whole town.
“Why?” Anarr whimpered and dropped back to the ground, his hands covering his ears tightly. He couldn’t live with his guilt much longer.
“Things happen for a reason!” He reminded himself. “Yes they do. I set it all in motion. I can stop it, but how?
“Lisabet. Why did I have to lose her? She wasn’t connected with Zenia or Simona, was she?” Anarr found a little composure and loosened the grip on his scalp. “I loved her and she loved me. Why her?” But he couldn’t come up with an answer. Tears kept running down his face until he had none left.
A bell later, Anarr stood up and walked to the bathhouse to clean himself up, relieved that for the time being his internal turmoil seemed at rest. As he looked at his hands and saw the blood on them, he shuddered. Too many people had died due to his direct and indirect involvement. He took the scrub brush and cleaned his hands, turning the water pink.
The bathhouse master came and silently cleaned the wounds on Anarr’s head and applied a salve. Anarr wanted to thank him, but he wasn’t quick enough. The master had already vanished without a word.
Anarr walked back to his room with its sparse furnishings. A straw mat covered with an old blanket and a water jug on a stool was all the room had to offer. He let himself drop onto the mat, pulled the blanket over his body, and closed his eyes.
“Lisabet, beautiful woman, devoted mother, gentle lover,” Anarr thought and recalled the image of the plump widow with graying hair to his mind. Her once brown hair had silver threads spread throughout. Her face was tanned and full of wrinkles, which showed even more when she laughed. Her little boy was constantly clinging to her side.
She had found him stranded in his boat, helped him get to safety, and cared for him until he had regained some of his strength. Not once had she asked him what he’d been doing out at sea in a small sailboat when it was storming. He had been thankful for this favor because it spared him from having to explain his ordeal and misfortune.
Anarr remembered his encounter with Parris Dargon vividly. He had arrived in Dargon on the fourteenth of Sy, days late, ready to claim his payment for bringing the statue of Gow and make a final attempt to lift the curse off Simona. Much to his surprise, he found out that the statue’s curse had already wreaked havoc in the city and that Simona and her lover, Kal, had gotten hold of the statue and had escaped in a sailboat. Parris Dargon had insisted that Anarr accompany him and his hired hand Rilk in their pursuit of Simona and Kal. He had agreed and the three had set sail. A rainstorm had hindered their attempts to catch up. < a href=”/bin/gl.pl?3320″>Rilk had proven himself to be a decent sailor, unlike Parris, who was completely useless at the tiller. As the storm had gotten stronger, Anarr had taken his place to steer the boat. Just as they got close to Simona, Rilk and Parris had tried to kill him and Anarr had defended himself. He had taken hold of Rilk and killed him. Parris had been washed overboard and that was the last Anarr had seen of him.
Anarr had seen Simona in the waters as well. He had seen her clearly, her long black hair had surrounded her face, her lips as blue as her eyes. She had been deep in the water and he had raised her to the surface, had attempted to put life back in her dead body. He had bellowed in denial that she could not, should not die, but to no avail. Eventually, he had relented and then watched as the ocean claimed Simona. The image of her sinking body haunted his dreams.
Anarr didn’t remember how long he had drifted before his boat reached the shore. He’d been weakened as lightning struck the boat and him. He needed care and he received it. As Anarr regained his strength, he had gradually taken on some of the responsibilities on Lisabet’s farm and assisted her when needed. Her gentle manner and devotion to her son had intrigued Anarr and their love had grown slowly. The boy had been sickly and Anarr had planned to heal the child as a way to repay her generosity. Just when he thought he could settle with Lisabet and live out his days in peace and quiet, her son had fallen ill and died within a matter of days. Lisabet, who’d gotten the same illness as her son, had followed him the next day.
“Why?” Anarr cried silently. “Why do I have to lose every woman I love? Why do they leave me behind?”
Anarr fell asleep with the image of Lisabet in his mind. He hadn’t slept for more than a bell when a loud knock on his door ripped him out of his dream.
“Anarr! You have a visitor.”
“Who is it?” he barked, irritated that his sleep was interrupted.
“It is a bard named Ratray. He wishes to speak to you regarding one of his colleagues.”
Anarr felt the blood drain from his face. “Simona!” he thought and was thankful that no one could see him at that moment. Swallowing hard, he answered, “Send him to my room. I will speak with him.”
Two bells later, after his visitor had left him, Anarr still stared at the bag in front of him in disbelief. He had recognized it the moment the bard Ratray had placed it on the floor for him to see. It had belonged to Simona and contained what few belongings she used to carry around with her, as well as several small scrolls and her flute and lyre. Anarr reached for a scroll and unrolled it gently. Tiny letters in close succession covered most of the scroll. As he read what Simona had written, he realized just how much damage his foolishness had caused.
My dearest mother, so much has happened in the past sennights since I left your house that I don’t know where to begin. By now, Nai has explained the purpose of my travel and I hope you understand my need. All my life I have wished to be reunited with you and Megan and to rid our family of a curse that was placed upon our ancestress Zenia. I have found a mage to assist me in this quest and if I’m not mistaken it is the same one who originally placed the curse. He hasn’t mentioned it to me directly, but his detailed inquiries into our family history lead me to believe that he knows more about it than he lets on. He has made three attempts so far, but has been unsuccessful in lifting the curse. Only his promise to meet me in Dargon for another attempt made me continue on; however, as I write this, the mage is nowhere in sight and a different curse is sweeping through the city. Dargon needs my help and, at the moment, I’m the only one who can take care of it.
Anarr let his hand drop. He couldn’t continue reading.
“Coward!” he chided himself. “I’m nothing but a coward. Simona was desperate to find help and I failed her. I returned to the sanctuary to forget, to hide from my failures. Am I such a coward? Sanctuary! Ha! I cannot hide!
“I can silence my guilt! I can end it all.” Anarr said quietly and looked at the knife in front of him.
“Coward.” he muttered a mene later. “I’m afraid, just looking for the easy way out. Yet, I cannot even turn the knife against myself. I am a coward.”
Winter had come and gone and spring was nearing its end. Anna had given up all hope of her daughter Simona returning to her. No word had come from her or Kal, Simona’s traveling companion, since she had sent word from Dargon last Sy. The letter had been brief, saying that she was hoping to finish her business and return before winter. She sat in front of her house, enjoying the late afternoon sun, holding the letter in her hands.
Nai stepped beside her and placed his hand on her shoulder. Anna looked into his face.
“They’re not coming back, are they?” she asked with tears in her eyes.
“I don’t know. Simona is very resourceful and so is Kal. It may have taken them longer than anticipated to conclude their business.”
“Why didn’t they send word then? Maybe you should have gone with them.”
“Maybe the messenger got lost, or lost the letter? Don’t give up hope just yet. As for going with them, no. The two of them wanted to be alone and I …” Nai pulled Anna into a tight embrace. “Come, let me show you the smithy, it’s all ready for us to move in.”
“Someone’s coming,” Anna said as she looked over Nai’s shoulder. He released her and turned around to see a man approach, dressed in fine clothes, with thick black hair, carrying a bag on his back.
“Good day,” the man said when he reached the house. “My name is Anarr and I’m looking for Anna Molag and Nai the blacksmith.”
“You found us,” Nai said. “How may we help you?”
“I’m here to help you,” Anarr replied. “Unfortunately, I’m also the bearer of sad news. May we go inside and sit down?”
“Is it about Simona? Do you have news about my daughter?” Anna asked, feeling faint. Anarr nodded.
“Please,” Anna pleaded, “Tell me now!”
“I — I would really prefer to sit down before I begin. It will take time to tell,” Anarr spoke softly.
“Come inside then,” Nai said and opened the door. Anarr entered and carefully set his bag on the floor.
“Tell us about Simona then,” Nai demanded after all three sat at the table and Anna had placed a cup of hot brew in front of each. “Do you know anything about Kal as well?”
“I do,” Anarr said. “Let me be brief. I met Simona and Kal in Northern Hope. She had asked for my services to lift a family curse. I tried three times to lift it, but failed. After promising to meet them again in Dargon, I left both Simona and Kal on the barge we’d been traveling on. Yet when I finally reached Dargon, Simona and Kal had left.” Anarr paused for a moment and then reached out and placed his hand on Anna’s.
“Simona is dead. She –”
“No!” Anna screamed, interrupting Anarr’s speech. “No, she can’t be dead! She had just returned to me. I –” Anna broke into sobs and Nai took her in his arms to comfort her. He too had tears in his eyes. After Anna’s sobs turned into quiet tears, Nai pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket to dry her tears.
“How did she die?” Anna finally asked after she had regained some of her composure.
“She drowned. The storm at sea was so bad we couldn’t even attempt to rescue Kal. He was later picked up by a fishing boat and is now with his family in Armand. It was he who sent the bard Ratray to find me to fulfill my promise to Simona. He also brought Simona’s belongings.” Anarr pointed at the bag on the floor. “She left you a letter …”
Nai reached for the bag and emptied its contents on the table. Several scrolls rolled over the edge and fell to the ground. Quickly, he picked them up.
“I cannot read,” Nai admitted as he unrolled one of the scrolls, “And Anna’s knowledge is limited.”
“This will take time,” Anarr said slowly. “I will read the scrolls for you.” He put the scrolls in order and then took the first one and began to read.
“My dearest mother, so much has happened in the past sennights,” he began reading, swallowing hard after the first few words. He took a deep breath and continued on. Anarr only paused his reading when it was too dark to continue and he had to wait for Nai to place a candle on the table.
The fourth bell of night chimed softly from the bell tower across town when Anarr finally finished reading and rolled the scrolls back up. The silence that followed was unsettling. Nai held Anna in a tight embrace while she shook, silently crying.
“I can lift the curse I placed on your ancestress so many years ago. Will you let me do it?” Anarr finally spoke up.
“My daughter is dead,” sobbed Anna. “What good will it do to lift a curse?”
“Anna has a point,” Nai added harshly. “What makes you think you can do it now after you failed removing it from Simona?”
“I did my research well and have information now that I didn’t have before. I can do it if you let me,” Anarr said confidently.
“Why should we believe you?” Anna asked.
“I want to set things right again,” Anarr said, looking straight at the couple in front of him. “I want to make amends for what I did.”
“How could you? You can’t be any older than me, and Zenia is long dead,” Nai said.
“I am nearly 170 years old!” Anarr stated. He looked like he was close to losing his patience.
“You don’t look it,” Nai muttered. Anarr looked at Nai angrily.
“Answer me one more question,” Anna requested, looking directly at Anarr, wiping her tears. “Why? Why did you put the curse on Zenia in the first place?”
Anarr swallowed visibly. “I was in love with her and she only toyed with me and then married another. I couldn’t forgive her. In my haste for revenge, I initiated a curse that would live on for generations.”
Anna nodded. “And I didn’t want to believe my own daughter. Oh Nai, what have I done? I pushed her away when she tried to tell me the truth.” New tears rolled down Anna’s cheek. Turning to Anarr she said, “You may proceed.”
“I will need some time to do this and I need some rest first.”
“It’s late,” Nai agreed. “You can sleep in the room over there.”
“Thank you,” Anarr said and got up. “I will lift the curse first thing in the morning.”
Anna nodded and watched as Anarr entered the bedroom they had offered him and closed the curtain. She placed her head on Nai’s chest, closed her eyes, and continued her silent cries. She felt safe in his arms. Slowly, her tears abated and her breathing returned to normal. Anna let Nai guide her to their bedroom and remove her bodice and skirt.
“Hush,” he interrupted her. “We’ll talk in the morning.” He placed a kiss on her forehead.
Anna slipped under the covers and felt Nai settle down beside her and place his arm around her. After several menes she heard soft snoring and realized he’d fallen asleep. Anna stared into the darkness. Anarr’s revelation about the curse had made her angry, but the longer she thought about it, the less she blamed him.
“I knew about the curse and ignored it. Simona reminded me and I yelled at her.
“Simona,” she thought. “Why did I have to lose you, too? First you’re taken from me and your sister, then you miraculously come back only to tell me your sister Megan was dead, and then you take off again to never return. Why? Wasn’t it enough that I had to miss your childhood? That Megan suffered even worse? That we lost your little sister Mona as well? Or is this all part of the curse you were trying to tell me about?”
Anna paled as she remembered her encounter with her first husband Sarim’s parents. Her father-in-law had told her of a family curse, but Sarim had told her it was all just coincidences, even if she looked like the ancestress who was cursed so many generations ago. She recalled the argument Sarim and his father had then, whether or not she really was a descendant despite the family resemblance. She remembered the last bit of their argument, “Son, do you realize the chance you are taking by marrying her? If there is anything to this curse then –” Anna’s father-in-law had shouted.
“If there is anything to this curse,” Sarim had interrupted his father. “You said it yourself. If! I for one do not believe in it.” Sarim’s voice had sounded bitter. “If there is anything to this curse, father, then it will end with Anna and me. She will die, I will die, and if we have a daughter she will not survive, either. The curse will be broken! That should make everyone very happy.”
Sarim had died the day Megan and Simona were born. Anna remembered her second husband who had died the day little Mona was born.
“What have I done?” Anna thought, realizing the extent of her actions as well as the curse. Her tears welled up again. “What have we done?”
Anarr lay awake on his bed. Sleep hadn’t come easily for him during the past months, despite his travels. As soon as he found himself alone in the dark, the urge to end his life resurfaced and he fought against it. He felt ashamed for his actions, especially placing the curse on Zenia. He had expected Anna and Nai to attack him, scream at him, or show their disapproval in other forms after he revealed his involvement, but instead they had invited him in, listened to what he had to say, and even shown patience. Not once had either one of them put blame on him. Anarr felt heat rise to his face and his breathing became labored. Tears began rolling down his face.
After the bard Ratray had left him with Simona’s belongings, he had searched for the answer to end the curse he had so foolishly placed over a century ago. When he had finally found a way to resolve this disaster, he had been appalled. He had found two solutions, but liked neither. His death was one option and he contemplated taking the knife and using it against himself, ending his suffering.
“I haven’t sought to extend my life for decades only to kill myself now,” he thought bitterly. “But the other option is appalling as well.” Anarr sighed.
The crowing of a rooster under his window woke Anarr the next morning and he got up. As he walked into the main room, he found Anna preparing breakfast. Her eyes were red and swollen. A sharp pain stabbed him in the middle of his chest and he realized he could feel her pain. Anarr stepped outside to find the outhouse. After relieving himself, he completed his morning ablutions at the well and then re-entered the house. On the table were three plates and three mugs with a steaming brew.
“I hope you like eggs,” Anna said after she had wished him a good morning and spooned the contents of her pot equally onto the plates without waiting for his answer.
“Yes, thank you,” he managed to say. He shuddered briefly, remembering the last time he’d been forced to eat eggs.
When Nai joined them at the table, they ate their meal in silence. Anarr waited patiently until everyone had finished before he announced that he was ready to proceed.
He stood up and stepped behind Anna. “Whatever you do,” he said to Nai, “Don’t touch her, don’t speak, and don’t interrupt in any way until I’m done.”
Nai listened to Anarr’s instructions without showing any emotion. He gave a brief nod as the only sign he’d heard the mage, unsure of what to expect. The news of Simona’s death had affected him more than he’d let on. Pretending to be asleep, he’d listened to Anna’s crying, feeling helpless. Simona had been the reason he’d stopped drinking after his wife and daughter died. She’d also been crucial in putting his life back together. Her quest to find her mother and sister had become his, and her friendship had meant everything to him. He remembered how jealous he’d felt when he realized that she was in love with Kal, despite her attempts to hide her feelings. Then he had met Anna, and for the first time since his wife’s death, he’d imagined what it would be like to have a family again.
“Anna, don’t move. It won’t take long,” Anarr instructed. Anarr’s words ripped Nai out of his daydream. He watched as the mage placed one hand on Anna’s head and one on her lower back then muttered an incantation in a language Nai didn’t understand. A brief green glow emanated from Anarr’s hand, so brief that Nai thought it was a trick of the light. At the same time, Anarr seemed to age visibly. The mage’s black hair turned grey in front of Nai’s eyes and Anarr’s face now showed wrinkles in places where there hadn’t been wrinkles before. Nai stared in disbelief at the man in front of him. “How?” he thought. “How is this possible?”
Anarr removed his hands. “It’s done. The curse has been lifted.” His hands were shaking visibly and he had to hold on to a chair to steady himself.
“Now if you could bring Simona back –” Anna began, but didn’t complete her sentence. She too looked at Anarr, a surprised expression on her face. The magus looked as if he’d aged fifty years in less than a bell.
“That I cannot do, but you can have another child if you so desire,” Anarr said simply, his once vibrant voice now had the sound of old age in it.
“I am too old to have another child,” Anna replied. She reached out to touch Anarr’s arm, but he pulled it away. “What happened to you?”
“Nothing that should concern you,” Anarr replied and took a few weak steps towards the door. Nai reached out to support the man, but he shrugged him off.
“Why don’t you stay one more night?” Nai offered.
“It’s the least we can do,” Anna chimed in.
“No thank you. I had best be leaving now.” Anarr turned to face Anna. “You can have another child. I fixed that as well.” Anarr walked towards the door and opened it. “Good day,” he said and left without waiting for an answer.
Nai pulled Anna into a tight embrace and kissed her. “Do you think he’s really done it?”
“I don’t know,” Anna replied somberly. “So much has happened. I lost two husbands, my daughters are dead, and now he’s telling me I can have more children. I’ve put having children behind me, but …” Anna’s voice trailed off.
“I lost a wife and a daughter,” Nai said slowly. “And I had given up on having a family until I met you. Simona was more than a friend to me. In some aspects she was the daughter I could have had.”
“And you’re willing to try and have a new family?”
Nai nodded. “I am.”
“What if Anarr failed and the curse is still lingering? Do you really think he did it?”
“We won’t know unless we put it to the test,” Nai replied and wondered the same thing. Of all the things he had learned about the curse on Anna’s family the night before, the death of the husband upon the birth of a daughter had shocked him the most, and he asked himself if he was willing to put his life at risk to test whether the curse was truly gone. He looked into Anna’s face and any reservations he had harbored vanished.
Another winter had turned into spring and Nai was busy working in his smithy. Over the past year his business had grown steadily and he’d made friends with many of the people in Hawksbridge. He had just finished shoeing a horse when he heard the voice of his wife.
“Nai, it’s time! Please get Elena.”
He turned and wanted to ask her if she was sure, but something in her voice and face told him it was no joke. “I’ll be just a few menes,” he announced, but then decided otherwise.
“Joey,” he called his apprentice, a stout boy of twelve with brown, curly hair. “Joey!”
“Coming,” the grumpy voice of the boy answered.
“Go and fetch Elena and tell her to hurry.”
The boy’s eyes opened wide and he ran out the door. Nai grinned at Joey’s reaction and then guided his wife inside.
By evening Anna had given birth to twins. A black-haired girl they named Rowena and a red-haired boy they named Thomas. Nai held his son and daughter proudly.
“A fine pair,” Elena the midwife commented when she placed the twins into their bed.
“A fine pair indeed,” Nai whispered to his wife Anna and kissed her gently.