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Not Alone

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The priest was still, his white-trimmed-gold robes making him appear as a ghost amongst the black-clad mourners. Had it not been for the quiet movement of his lips and the red flush in his cheeks, Aisling would’ve assumed he was. Ghosts lurked in these places, being that their bodies were stored here, never to touch the light of day again. Knowing that stirred something dreadful within her gut.

A sudden hand on her shoulder snapped Aisling to attention.

“Ah, pardon, didn’t mean to scare ya, lassie. How ye holdin’ up?” It wasn’t someone she knew, or at least, that’s what she thought. Something about him seemed familiar almost. A relative, perhaps? There was a slight possibility that he was pictured in one of their various portraits that adorned the halls.

“I am well.”

“That so?” he replied, the faintest sliver of doubt in his tone. The man didn’t press on, though, instead moving over to join a group of familiar faces. Everyone here was familiar in some aspect, Aisling supposed, whether it was in their reminiscing tones, mute gestures, or battle-weary faces. Familiar, but not quite. The reason as to why eluded her.

Then, the priest raised his hands, and the comforting atmosphere the room had slipped away with the last words leaving the attendants’ mouths. Aisling knew that it was rude to speak during such a ceremony, but she much preferred listening to the surrounding conversations. Anything to take her mind away from here.

“We gather here today to remember the life of Sir Cador…” he began, his words falling out of the air before they reached her ears. A faint memory of her father chasing her for not paying attention surfaced in her mind, but Aisling found herself unable to fully grasp it. She could hardly even latch onto her surroundings, the cluster of mourners turning to static as she blankly gazed at the tomb lying in front of her.

Time seemed to move in slow motion as her uncle marched forward, his footsteps echoing throughout the mausoleum. It was at that moment that Aisling became aware, the gleam of her father’s sword bringing her out of her trance-like state. Her heart was in her throat, pounding in sync with each step that brought the sword closer to an eternal rest. Then, something deep inside her stirred, pushing her forward until she stood next to the tomb, staring defiantly at the priest.

“You will not bury my father’s sword,” Aisling declared, her voice cracking. A dozen heads turned to look at her, a mixture of surprise and disapproval marking their faces. Even Sir Regius seemed to have been taken back by her plead. Aisling cleared her throat. “I am keeping it.” The priest gawked at her, clearly at a loss for words.

“My dear,” he started, his voice lined with sympathy, “the sword is essential to the burial rite. We musn’t break tradition.” Aisling shook her head.

“I will not repeat myself again.” The priest turned to look at her uncle before returning his gaze to her.

“Child-”

Sir Regius held up a hand, silencing him.

“I believe that we allow her to keep the sword. It’s what Sir Cador would’ve requested, given he had the chance.” Hushed whispers arose in the quiet air, sharing their thoughts of her childish behavior. Aisling didn’t pay them much attention, though. This wasn’t necessarily her place to speak out, but a quiet voice in the back of her mind told her that as long as she received his sword, everything would be okay.

The priest folded his hands and sighed, bowing his head.

“So be it. The child may keep the sword.”

-

Aisling held the sword close, resting her head against the flat of the blade. A small part of her believed that it would help keep her warm, that as long as she held it close she wouldn’t notice how deep the rain soaked into her clothes. Even with the cold steel burning her cheek, she wanted to believe it. To believe that she’s not alone. To believe that this was all just some elaborate nightmare she was having due to eating before bed.

“Dear? Are yeh alright?” Aisling glanced up. Standing before her was an old woman, a heavy cloak draped over her hunched form. Her hands were folded across a wooden cane, an assortment of rings squeezed around her fingers. Blue eyes gleamed at her from underneath her hood, reflecting sympathy. “You’ll catch cold out in this weather.”

“Yes...yes I am well.” Aisling straightened her posture, bowing her head in a greeting. “I can say the same for you.” The old woman’s face crinkled in a smile.

“That ya can.” She paused, furrowing her brow. “Might I ask why you’re sitting in the rain all by your lonesome? And by the mausoleum, nonetheless.” Aisling pursed her lips, her grip on the sword tightening. “Ah, pardon me. I should’ve taken more care before asking.” The old woman raised a withered hand to her chin, rubbing it in a thoughtful gesture. “If ye would like, I can bring him back.” She perked up almost immediately, eyes widening at the thought.

“Is...is that possible?”

“Aye.”

“...How do I know you’re being honest?”

“Ye don’t.” Without another word, she stepped into the mausoleum, her cane clacking against the concrete. As if transfixed, Aisling followed her in, dragging the sword behind her.

The old woman looked around, peering from tomb to tomb.

“Dear, might you direct me to yer relative’s tomb?”

“My Da’s,” she corrected, pointing at the intricately marked stone a few steps in front of her.

Slowly, the old woman wobbled over, studying the sarcophagus carefully.

“Alright.” She craned her head, her eyes fixated on the sword. “For this to work, I’ll need yer father’s sword. Is that alright?” Aisling gazed at the sword, peering at her reflection for a few moments before holding it over to her. “Thank you.” She gently took the sword, sliding it out of her tiny grasp.

The mausoleum went still.

And the old woman began to speak.

It was quiet at first, scarce murmurs that peeled through the cold air before growing louder, her words becoming more incomprehensible as it droned on. Carefully, she let go of her cane, the spindly wood collapsing against the floor with a loud thud as she raised the sword above her head, arms trembling with effort. To her amazement, a blue light began to waft out of her father’s grave, spiraling through the air before reaching the sword, surrounding the blade in a pale aura. Then, it vanished, and the mausoleum went dark.

The old woman collapsed against the tomb, wheezing. Aisling could not bring herself to move, trying to process what she had just witnessed. The woman’s voice snapped her out of her awestruck state.

“Take it.”

“Wh...what happened?” she asked, taking the sword from her. The old woman shook her head, bending down to retrieve her cane.

“As long as you keep with the blade, you shall find that you’re never alone.” Aisling stared at the blade, confused. However, before she could ask another question, she was gone.

She waited, eyes fixated on her father’s tomb. Hoping to see it move. To see her father rise up, looking just as he did before that cold gray morning. Ready to greet her with open arms, voice laden with worry as he apologizes for scaring her.

But the stone remained motionless.

It was at that moment that Aisling realized she could no longer hide from from the truth.

Never again would she hear him call her name out in praise, boasting proudly about his daughter to any knight who happened to be nearby. Never again would she hear her father’s stories, loud and compelling as he danced across the room, playing the part of all actors in his tale. Never again would she curl up in her father’s lap, falling asleep to the crackling of the fire as he brushed her hair.

For the first time in her life, Aisling was alone.

-

Aisling treaded forward without purpose, numb to the world around her. Her thoughts kept tracing back to that day. That day where she had been inside, snuggled up in his coat and being served a piping hot cup of tea while he was betrayed on that battlefield, left to die in the freezing cold rain. It wasn’t fair.

None of it was fair.

Just as a fresh wave of tears began to well in her eyes, a twig snapped behind her. Immediately, she went on the alert, whipping around and lifting up the sword as best as she could.

“Who goes there?!” she questioned, her voice not as threatening as she would’ve liked. The air was still, her blood roaring in her ears as she anticipated a response. “Show yourselves!”

Slowly, a small group of bandits slunk out of the bushes, maniacal grins twisting their faces as they sauntered forward. From what she could make out in the evening’s light, they were each armed with a sword. By the looks of their battered sheathes, they weren’t necessarily quality, either.

It didn’t take much to know what they were after.

“Give us the sword, girlie, and we won’t hafta hurt ya.” The sneer in his tone infuriated her.

“Found an easy victim, have you?” Aisling snarled. “A lone girl all by herself? You lot best flee while ye still have the chance. Make me raise this sword, and I promise you’ll get worse than you give.” The bandits laughed.

“Aw, how cute. Ya really think you can threaten us? Lookit you, you can barely even hold it!” Aisling tensed, ready to strike. “Guess we gotta do this the hard way.” A mistake on their part, really.

The bandit lunged, swinging his sword at her only to have her easily deflect the blow. Then, she swung the blade, slicing open a gash on his side with ease. The bandit yowled, falling back and clutching at his new wound. Surprised by her show of strength, the other three charged at once. However, they were no match for her. She dodged their strikes effortlessly and countered with twice as much power, the force of her attacks disarming them.

Injured and outpowered, the bandits scattered, their blades forgotten as they disappeared into the brush.

“An’ that’ll teach you!” she shouted, stepping forward after the fleeing bandits. Once they all vanished, Aisling stopped and steadied herself, taking deep breaths as she slowly let her muscles relax. She did it.

Sighing, Aisling lowered the blade, wiping a sheen of perspiration from her forehead. As she pulled her arm away, she noticed something. Around her shadow, the stone had been cast in a soft blue light, growing dim for a few moments before brightening up once more. Curious, she turned around, her eyes growing wide once she saw what it was.

A quiet gasp escaped her throat as she laid eyes on the specter, streaks of white tearing through her hair as its pale blue glow reflected in her eyes. Something about it was...familiar, but not like before. No, this familiarity resided on the tip of her tongue like a wordless definition. Although it carried no body, the translucent mass wore Karakeshian armor, the very same armor of her house. In one hand, it held a shield, poised to defend while in the other, it was equipped with a…

...a sword. The very same sword that now dropped to the floor with a loud clatter, her eyes widening as she was struck with realization.

“...Da?”